Posts Tagged ‘building schools’

Room to Read–the Gift of Literacy Around the World

I hope you’re getting ready, as I am, to put on your gratitude pants (with handy elastic waist for post-prandial expansion from the Thanksgiving feast). I truly hope you and yours have much to be thankful for and are able to share the good fortune you enjoy with others who may not be as lucky.

There are so many arenas where I recognize I am so outrageously fortunate–one of them being the access to education I had when I was young. Not everyone, of course, has that, and access to education can be quite discriminatory, not only divisive along financial lines, but with heinous gender inequality as well. An educated girl is simply not as highly prized as an educated boy in many parts of the world, and 42% of girls in developing nations are not enrolled in school. Room to Read is one of many organizations trying to do something about that. Believing that world change starts with education, they work with local communities and educators in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Africa, and Zambia (with plans to move into other literacy-challenged regions) to bring hope of an education to all children, develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school. Through initiatives like “Reading Room” (building and stocking libraries–more than 10,000 so far), Local Language Publishing (giving kids access to materials in their native language), School Room (building primary and secondary school classrooms), and Girls’ Education, Room to Read is spreading the word–literally.

They have a strong devotion to supporting the communities where they work, and employing local teachers and builders/tradespeople, so they don’t have overseas volunteer opportunities–but go to the site, spin around a bit, and support the work of bringing access to education to all.

My Trip to Haiti…and You

My apologies for being AWOL last week. I was sick as a dog. While everyone else on the East Coast (and much of America) was sweating through a heatwave, I was buried under mounds of covers with an electric blanket set on “7” and shivering because I still couldn’t get warm from a raging fever. I’m back in the saddle, but bummed I missed a bunch of blogging days.

Photo by Renee Dietrich

I leave for Haiti in less than a week (and hope to be able to blog from there, but may be inconsistent, as I’m told Internet…and electricity, are going to be inconsistent as well) and wanted to be sure folks know what I’m up to. I also wanted to create an opening for anyone who might be inspired, to support the work our little band of volunteers (myself, a 27-year-old woman from Florida, and a 45-year-old mom and her 15-year-old daughter) will be doing. Here is a link to a secure donations/fundraising page for my project (http://www.firstgiving.com/andrewmersmann). The organization is a 501(c)(3) charity, so donations are tax-deductible as charitable contributions.

My explanatory text from the First Giving web page:

The January 12, 2010 Earthquake shook the already frail country of Haiti mercilessly.  Around 230,000 deaths resulted as well as the displacement and destruction of legions of families and lives. Just over six months later, human resilience prevails as Haitians move to pick up the pieces, making a new life out of less than the little most people once had. The emergency stage is over, and now the long-term rebuilding begins. Volunteers who were not medical or engineering professionals were urged to stay away, as one in-country Doctors Without Borders physician told me “It [Haiti] is like an intensive care patient. It has healing to do before there can be visitors.”

Now there is a way for me to be useful. The hard work of locals is being supplemented by carefully curated volunteer projects. On August 15, I go to Haiti for 2 weeks to do a construction project, building a computer lab/classroom space for a school in Jacmel. (Jacmel is a town 2 1/2 hours from Port-au-Prince…70% of Jacmel’s buildings fell or were damaged, but like so many cities that are not the well known capital, they are getting far less foreign aid). Nearly every leader from within Haiti and of international aid programs and efforts agrees that education is at the top of the list of infrastructure that must be prioritized in a new Haiti. This school serves the poorest in the community who would otherwise be unable to access education, as well as the restavek population (“restavek” children are essentially modern day slaves, and this is the first outreach education to this alarmingly large population in Jacmel)

Elevate Destinations, Scopa Group, and Make a Difference Now are joining forces to support rebuilding efforts…and put me to work. I’ve paid for my trip, gotten my shots, bought my mosquito net, and am filling an extra suitcase with as many extra donated items as I can squeeze into American Airlines’ luggage rules. Now I want to ask your help, and just provide an opening for you to support the project. Money you donate will go directly toward paying the professional crews at the project (a huge consideration is that we NOT take paying jobs away from locals, but support them) and building materials. By the time we leave, the computer lab will be finished and ready to open doors, literally and figuratively/electronically, for the kids.

I hope you’ll find a way to pitch in. You’ll be in my heart and head while I’m there, it’d be cool if you were in the mortar and paint and plaster as well.

It wasn’t just rhetoric when everyone said rebuilding would take years. Join me and be a part of that. Thank you for standing by Haitians as they start anew. Please forward this to anyone who you think has been moved into solidarity and action by the tragic events of January 12th.

Thank you so much,

-Andrew

“We think that we’re not happy because of what we’re not getting, but really we’re not happy because of what we’re not giving.”
–Marianne Williamson

Off Target?

One of the things I try to emphasize when speaking to people about choosing a volunteer vacation, is the importance of knowing who assessed the need for the project in the first place. If you are working on community building and helping with social issues, it is hugely important that the community members being served are the ones who decided they need help, and what kind of help they need. Well meaning but misdirected volunteers and organizations can undo some of their good will and best intentions by forcing a foreign perspective onto a culture where it is not a very good fit.

Madonna ran into a situation like this quite recently. I am not one to disparage Madonna or any celebrity involved in generous causes around the world–I kind of think they are superstars, not for their fame, but for bringing attention to important issues in ways only their fame allows. They are able to open doors as well as unite fans and followers in ways many of the rest of us cannot. We certainly would if we could. The fact that celebrities are willing to lend their names, their wallets, and quite often their hands-on work, gets more people involved, and that can only be a good thing.

IF–the projects and organizations with which they align themselves are in step with the community served. In Malawi, a nation Madonna holds dear to her heart and family, the national government has told a group of villagers that they will lose their homes and be forced to move away to make room for a girl’s school the pop star is having built. Residents, according to an Associated Press story from yesterday, have refused to leave the site just outside of capital city Lilongwe. 200 villagers are being displaced, and I have to wonder if there isn’t perhaps a better, less intrusive location for the new school. The government has offered the residents other government land–and I don’t know the details of why THAT land is not a good site for the school, but it truly underlines the point about being sure the goals of the charities with whom we work are the SAME goals as the people we choose to help. I’m sure they will find a solution that benefits the village children AND keeps the village united…but what a tough first step motivated by love and philanthropy, but perhaps, unknowingly, off target.

It is important due diligence research you need to do before signing up for your volunteer work. Who determines the need? And who decides what is a successful outcome of our work?

Journeys Within Our Community

Village communities in Southeast Asia get nurturing help from within and with the assistance of international volunteers via short breaks (a week or so) or longer stints for service (month or more) from Journeys Within Our Community. By working at the local level and focusing on community-determined needs like clean water, education, health, shelter, and emergency relief, JWOC starts projects small that then grow with outside support, gaining momentum and changing lives.

Work projects are in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma). Over the last five years of work, there are now over 70 students in those three nations going to university thanks to the JWOC Scholarship Program. There are three JWOC Free Schools in Cambodia and Laos that operate six days a week.  There are over 300 wells offering clean water to villagers in the Siem Reap area and in Laos local children now have the resources they need thanks to the JWOC Village School Sponsorship. JWOC has also given out over 200 micro loans to families living below the poverty line.

Volunteers work with specialized programs based on the skills you bring (and your skills need be no more elaborate than a willingness to work…but if you have teaching experience or carpentry skills or medical training, let them know when you sign up), and a nice element of the management of this grassroots organization is that long-term projects are re-evaluated regularly, and monthly priorities are established in response to the shifting terrain of change. This responsiveness is hugely important and surprisingly rare among NGOs.

JWOC was founded under the ideal of See a Problem, Solve a Problem…words to live by.

Following in Their Footsteps

One of the causes of trepidation when you embark upon a volunteer adventure is our very human fear of the unknown. I always recommend that you vet a possible service trip you might be considering by interviewing, by phone and/or email questions, the organizers—and you should also ask to speak with past participants/graduates of the volunteer trip.

The Omprakash Foundation is a service organization “wiki” website, user-generated information posted via social media, YouTube videos, and reviews and feedback for international grassroots educational and service projects.

As their websites says, in an effort to allow all of us to play a role in social change, “…as people young and old travel the world to volunteer and build relationships with scattered schools and libraries, we invite them to bring these educational projects into the Omprakash network.

Each project is given the opportunity to represent its own needs on this website, and to make public its wish for volunteers, money, curricular materials, and the like. Omprakash responds to these needs by helping the world learn about them: once informed about the many foreign educational projects that need books, buildings, teachers, and other material resources, members of the Omprakash network realize that they can make a difference, and are inspired to donate or raise funds and collect other material resources under the umbrella of Omprakash. Likewise, by providing people with informational and financial resources that enable them to volunteer around the world, Omprakash also helps foreign projects find the human resources that they need.”

Read and watch to learn about the experiences of those that have already done the work you are considering…find the organization with which you’d like to partner to CHANGE THE WORLD, and start packing.

Pakistan Education

TCF Primary School , Machar Colony, Karachi

It’s tough being a kid anywhere, and in Pakistan, the cultural influences discouraging and effectively prohibiting education for girls as well as the impoverished makes it nearly impossible for the next generation to break the cycle. Rural Pakistani children have not had access to education in meaningful ways, and tend to be forced by circumstance to follow in the heavily trod footsteps of their parents. The Citizen’s Foundation is a non-profit organization set up in 1995 in Pakistan to try and open the doors of education, both literally and figuratively, to children regardless of sex and class.

They have built 600 schools from the ground up, enrolling 80,000 students. Even more astounding in this region is that female enrollment makes up 50% of the student body. This is shaping up to be the first generation where girls and young women have had these opportunities. The schools have also employed a female work force of teachers, giving jobs to 4,150 women, most of whom would otherwise never have had the chance to work and earn income for their families. 6,025 jobs have been created by TCF, and there are more on the way.

More are on the way, because there is a lofty and brilliant goal of building 400 ADDITIONAL schools in the poorest urban slums and remote rural communities of Pakistan.

This is where you come in. Of course, donated dollars are a huge help in this fight for education and freedom from poverty…and donated volunteer hours are also an enormous gift. From the website: “You may contribute in many different ways regardless of your age or your country of residence. You can give as little or as much time as you choose. Volunteer work with TCF can range from projects available at the head office, collection of books for school libraries, teacher training, running a donation drive, to helping out in the fundraisers organized by our chapters, setting TCF chapters worldwide for rounding up global support, etc.” Find out about the volunteer position that fits your passion and talents here.

This isn’t even about giving people a second chance–it’s about giving them a first chance. You want to be part of that.