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This guest post contributed by Robert Rose, Executive Director of one of our partner organizations – TRIFC.

Last year on my yearly project/programs visit to Nepal we had an unusual experience with a group of Nepali Rotarian friends.

We all got together in the early evening at a new restaurant that at that point in time was going to open in several weeks named ‘Chop-Sticks’. We were going to get a ‘sneak-preview’ to try out the location, ambience and snacks.  The restaurant had a trendy look with interesting and colorful lighting/décor.  We all sat down and were about to be served some ‘finger-food’ and tea/coffee.  Just before the food arrived, our TRIFC.org board member, Rabendra announced, “I have an interesting idea that I’d like to see if you are all game for…why don’t we turn off the room lights, close our eyes and experience just a bit of what it’s like to be without sight?  When the food and drinks arrive, keep your eyes closed and try to navigate the different dishes and choices onto your plate and into your mouth!”

We had about twenty Rotarian friends surrounding the coffee tables in the comfortable lounge chairs and they all agreed to give it a try.  The restaurant staff were a bit confused by the whole thing, but they agreed to turn every light off except a cell phone light which they used to bring the food in and set it down in the right place. 

It was quite illuminating being without sight and trying to locate where food had been placed and then trying to place it on your plate! I slowly passed my hand over the table, like a magician casting a spell.  The first thing I noticed was the warmth that radiated from the heated food.  You could figure out where to drop your hand, crane-like over the plate where you could feel the heat.  My first ‘catch’ was some French-fries which I scooped up and placed on the plate I managed to get under the food.  I decided not to press my luck and try to put some ketchup on the plate, however!

The others were experiencing similar thoughts and feelings.  Without the sense of sight your other senses pick up different information and feed it to the brain to fill in the gaps.  Eating became a much more tactile experience with shape, texture, temperature and size telling us the story of the food item we currently held in our hands.  Other food items were quietly placed on the table by the waiters, whose presence could only be perceived by the sound of their footsteps and gentle placement of the plates on the table.  I managed to find a different food item which I found to be shaped like a French-fry in length, but more textured on the outside.  This I found to be a breaded chicken-strip, which I proceeded to consume and then reached out to find more! 

What I ate tasted different…more vibrant and vivid.  The taste sensations in my mouth were working overtime to help overcome the absence of sight.  Then Rabendra suggested, “Now let us just sit quietly for one or two minutes and focus on what we are eating, hearing and feeling.  Let us experience and appreciate this moment by living ‘in the moment’.”  This was a magical minute or two, as we sat together in the darkness with our eyes closed, living ‘in the moment’, with me from half-way around the world sharing such moving experiences with my Nepali Rotarian friends. 

Of course, this was but a ‘taste’ of living without sight (no pun intended!) but it was definitely an educational and enriching experience.  I would encourage all of you reading this post to give it a try at home with your family.  It was truly illuminating, bringing the light of understanding out of darkness.

TRIFC.org is about awareness, empowerment and tangible programs to help the ‘differently-abled’ in Nepal.  Our “Backpacks for the Blind/Visually-Impaired” program currently listed on Jolkona.org is a high-impact program that can help blind children in Nepal have a better chance to succeed in school.  Please check it out!

Dear Jolkona Foundation Supporters,

 

Jolkona Foundation (www.jolkona.org) is a startup nonprofit organization based in Seattle that lets people choose how to impact the world through small donations with tangible proofs of impact.

 

When we launched Jolkona Foundation to the public in June 2009, we were very excited at the potential of Jolkona Foundation to make giving more fun, transparent and engaging for all donors. Since then, we have seen a tremendous response to our service. Over 350 donations have been made through Jolkona Foundation thus far. We now have over 50 projects in more than 30 countries and continue to add new projects on a weekly basis. We have received a lot media coverage as well, including a front page article in Seattle Times. Most importantly, together we have made very tangible impacts around the world:

 

  • Supplied more than 250 books to schools in Tibet
  • Educated over 25 girls in Afghanistan
  • Provided more than 15 artificial limbs in Bangladesh
  • Supplied over 25 desks to schools in Zambia
  • Trained over 15 children in computers in Guatemala
  • Planted over 4,000 trees worldwide
  • And much much more…

I would like to start this holiday season by thanking you – our biggest supporters. Your support has played a crucial role in making Jolkona successful in our first 5 months. We will continue to look to you to help reach out to more philanthropists and change the lives of more people on the ground. This holiday season I have 4 specific asks of you:

 

1.    Make at least one more donation to the Jolkona Foundation. Whether it is $5 to buy a malaria net in India, $30 to train a low income individual in USA, or $40 to buy a solar stove in Tibet, please make at least more 1 donation through Jolkona Foundation this holiday season. Check out our projects at http://www.jolkona.org/projects/?view=list and give.

2.    Vote for Jolkona Foundation in the Facebook Chase Giving Challenge and help us win $25,000 and a chance to win $1,000,000. It just takes one click to vote for Jolkona Foundation. Just follow this link – http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/339790, login into Facebook, and vote today. Once you have voted, please get at least 10 of your Facebook friends to also vote for us. We will be planting a tree for every vote we get in this challenge.

3.    Please tell at least 5 people about Jolkona Foundation and give them the opportunity to feel empowered by the difference they can make by giving to a project that inspires them. The more people we can get to give, the more impact we can have around the world.

4.    Stay tuned for our holiday giving features. Give the gift of making a difference to your friends, family, or co-workers.  Holiday gift cards will be available on our website shortly and will make great holiday gifts, stock stuffers, etc.    

 

We started Jolkona Foundation with a vision to galvanize a new generation of philanthropists – young people who want to see the difference their small donations can make. This message has resonated very well and as a result, our team has grown from just Nadia and I to a team of 20 capable, passionate, young people. We have been able to accomplish a lot because of this team and we are looking to accomplish a lot more in 2010. However, we need your help in helping us reach more people and get them to use Jolkona Foundation. I look forward to your continued support this holiday season and in 2010. If you have any questions/comments, please feel free to contact me any time.

 

Happy Holidays from Jolkona Foundation!

 

All the Best,

Adnan

 This guest post was written by Yifat, on behalf of Madre, a Jolkona Foundation partner.

Fatima Ahmed, the president of the Sudanese women’s organization Zenab for Women in Development, recently stopped by the MADRE office with exciting news.  The ground-breaking women farmers union led by her organization had harvested a successful crop-and the results are changing people’s lives.
Founded by Zenab in 2006 and supported by MADRE, this project has brought together women who make up the majority of farmers working on small-scale organic farms in Sudan.  Amplifying their voices, they have been able to demand access to seeds, better tools, and assistance in farming.

Women have been able to share knowledge on how to better prepare their land for cultivation and how to manage weeds that destroy the crops. Fatima was excited to share that these women have not only been successful in providing food for their own families but have also been able to provide crops for other regions in Sudan.

Fatima shared with us a story about one village where the women had been denied access to education. With her help and with the resources generated by their successful farming projects, they organized a much-needed adult education program. The women built a center where they could host their school and opened the space for community meetings.

Their improved farming has increased production and has enabled them to generate an income, in some areas even allowing them the chance to bring in electricity.  In yet another village, three women farmers were able to raise enough funds to send their daughters to university, a victory that would have been otherwise impossible.

Together, women farmers are creating new possibilities for themselves, their families and their communities.

Microsoft announced a contest inviting non-profits to submit videos about 7 ways that PCs are changing the world. We thought we would be a great fit, except there was one catch. It needed to be made by folks outside of Microsoft. We were lucky enough to have enthusiastic supporters who came together to put together this video in a very short time.

Special thanks to Henry, Cheryl, Matthew, Kalid, Lindsay, Gaffer, and Raymond!

Let us know what you think about the video and feel free leave your comments!

Last month, David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, set off a storm with a post on Kiva’s model. His post received tons of comments, a reply blog post from Matt Flannery (Kiva CEO), and a revision of the Kiva website. Couple of days ago, even the New York Times published an article about this issue. We have received lots of emails from our supporters asking us what is our response to this public discussion.

Before I get into our thoughts, here is some background info:

Transparency has been a problem in the nonprofit sector for years. We have tried different approaches to tackle this problem. For example, World Vision provides photo of the child a donor is supporting. Charity Navigator gives the donor information about the financial efficiency of an organization. However, donors still feel that they don’t have a true grasp of exactly how their gifts are being utilized. This is especially true for donors who give small amounts of money.

With the technological advances of the past decade and rise in popularity of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) smaller donors are now demanding more transparency.  If you add the current economic conditions, there is increasing pressure on non-profits to show how every dollar is being spent. It is not easy for non-profits to change their models overnight to meet this new demand. It requires significant investment in building an infrastructure and requires more manpower – something that is hard for many organizations to justify. So, what you have are these organizations (non-profits and MFIs) with very good intentions building make-shift solutions that never quite meet the donors’ needs. This leads to the inconsistencies that Mr. Roodman pointed out in his blog post.

Before I continue, it is important, to make couple of observations here:

  1. Organizations like Kiva and GlobalGiving have been real pioneers in this field. They have shown that there is a really high demand from the everyday donor to feel connected to the change that their small donations are making. For the recent criticisms facing these organizations, we can’t forget the tremendous impact they have had so far.
  2. There isn’t a perfect system and it is impossible to devise one. There will always be people who will try to find the loopholes and abuse the system. However, we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of the good. We should try to explore as many of these models as possible and try to take them forward as much as possible.

The challenge facing all of us in the nonprofit sector is how do we effectively provide transparency to donors without burdening the organizations excessively? To meet the donor demand for high-impact and high transparency, we believe the following conditions have to be met:

  1. Make donors feel like he/she is a Changemaker by showing the impact for their every donation, including the small ones. Every dollar truly does count.
  2. Give donor choices. Not every person wants to give a loan or feed a child. However, most people want to make a difference. Give them as many choices as possible.
  3. Measure the impact so that everyone involved feels like we are making progress. No one wants to see money being thrown into a black hole.
  4. Connect with the smaller donors. Individually, they do not have a lot of money to donate, but, as a group they can provide critical support to a cause. Nowhere was this more evident than last year’s US presidential elections.
  5. Provide affordable tools to nonprofit organizations so that they can engage the donors in an efficient, cost-effective way and more importantly, learn from each other and knowledge share best practices.

I founded Jolkona Foundation with the goal of meeting the conditions outlined above. Jolkona Foundation seeks to inspire a new generation of philanthropists to make high-impact changes through low-cost solutions. The key differences between Jolkona Foundation and Kiva or Global Giving is that we provide donation level feedback – i.e. every donation gets a unique feedback. We work with our non-profit partners to develop rich, meaningful feedback for the donors. For example, with $40, a donor can provide year-long accelerated education to a girl in Afghanistan. In exchange, the donor receives a photo and background info about the girl at the time of donation and a report card at the end of the year. We spend a significant amount of time working with each of our partners to create the feedback type that would be cost-effective for them, compelling for the donor, and not be detrimental to security and privacy of the beneficiary. It is important to note that our partners’ implement the donations in 1 of 2 ways:

  1. Once the donation is received, the partner actually goes and implements the gift. For example, if you provide books in tibet, our partner actually goes to the local market and buys books once the donation is received.
  2. The donations are used to release “locked” funds for the partners so that they can go and use those funds for other purposes. Let’s say our partner already has plans to educate 100 girls for a cost of $40 per girl in Afghanistan this year. That means they have $4,000 dedicated for this purpose this year. If they receive donations for educating 10 girls, then, that would free up $400 from their allocated funds for other purposes.

Rich feedback for donors is not our only focus. We are also building the infrastructure that other nonprofits (i.e. our partners) can leverage, thereby, allowing them to focus more on the job that they are good at – making a difference on the ground. For example, our partners are able to connect with each other through a private discussion group and share best practices with each other.

We are still a very young organization and we still have a long way to go. However, we are encouraged by the trends in the philanthropic sector. We will see an increasing number of non-profit organizations embrace tranparency and provide donors with an experience that is richer than anything we have ever seen before. Jolkona Foundation will continue to do our best to meet the needs of both the donors and the partner organizations.

I invite your comments and thoughts on this post as part of the ongoing dialogue. We are eager to learn from people who are passionate about this topic.

Last month, David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, set off a storm with a post on Kiva’s model. His post received tons of comments, a reply blog post from Matt Flannery (Kiva CEO), and a revision of the Kiva website. Couple of days ago, even the New York Times published an article about this issue. We have received lots of emails from our supporters asking us what is our response to this public discussion.

Before I get into our thoughts, here is some background info:

Transparency has been a problem in the nonprofit sector for years. We have tried different approaches to tackle this problem. For example, World Vision provides photo of the child a donor is supporting. Charity Navigator gives the donor information about the financial efficiency of an organization. However, donors still feel that they don’t have a true grasp of exactly how their gifts are being utilized. This is especially true for donors who give small amounts of money.

With the technological advances of the past decade and rise in popularity of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) smaller donors are now demanding more transparency.  If you add the current economic conditions, there is increasing pressure on non-profits to show how every dollar is being spent. It is not easy for non-profits to change their models overnight to meet this new demand. It requires significant investment in building an infrastructure and requires more manpower – something that is hard for many organizations to justify. So, what you have are these organizations (non-profits and MFIs) with very good intentions building make-shift solutions that never quite meet the donors’ needs. This leads to the inconsistencies that Mr. Roodman pointed out in his blog post.

Before I continue, it is important, to make couple of observations here:

  1. Organizations like Kiva and GlobalGiving have been real pioneers in this field. They have shown that there is a really high demand from the everyday donor to feel connected to the change that their small donations are making. For the recent criticisms facing these organizations, we can’t forget the tremendous impact they have had so far.
  2. There isn’t a perfect system and it is impossible to devise one. There will always be people who will try to find the loopholes and abuse the system. However, we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of the good. We should try to explore as many of these models as possible and try to take them forward as much as possible.

The challenge facing all of us in the nonprofit sector is how do we effectively provide transparency to donors without burdening the organizations excessively? To meet the donor demand for high-impact and high transparency, we believe the following conditions have to be met:

  1. Make donors feel like he/she is a Changemaker by showing the impact for their every donation, including the small ones. Every dollar truly does count.
  2. Give donor choices. Not every person wants to give a loan or feed a child. However, most people want to make a difference. Give them as many choices as possible.
  3. Measure the impact so that everyone involved feels like we are making progress. No one wants to see money being thrown into a black hole.
  4. Connect with the smaller donors. Individually, they do not have a lot of money to donate, but, as a group they can provide critical support to a cause. Nowhere was this more evident than last year’s US presidential elections.
  5. Provide affordable tools to nonprofit organizations so that they can engage the donors in an efficient, cost-effective way and more importantly, learn from each other and knowledge share best practices.

I founded Jolkona Foundation with the goal of meeting the conditions outlined above. Jolkona Foundation seeks to inspire a new generation of philanthropists to make high-impact changes through low-cost solutions. The key differences between Jolkona Foundation and Kiva or Global Giving is that we provide donation level feedback – i.e. every donation gets a unique feedback. We work with our non-profit partners to develop rich, meaningful feedback for the donors. For example, with $40, a donor can provide year-long accelerated education to a girl in Afghanistan. In exchange, the donor receives a photo and background info about the girl at the time of donation and a report card at the end of the year. We spend a significant amount of time working with each of our partners to create the feedback type that would be cost-effective for them, compelling for the donor, and not be detrimental to security and privacy of the beneficiary. It is important to note that our partners’ implement the donations in 1 of 2 ways:

  1. Once the donation is received, the partner actually goes and implements the gift. For example, if you provide books in tibet, our partner actually goes to the local market and buys books once the donation is received.
  2. The donations are used to release “locked” funds for the partners so that they can go and use those funds for other purposes. Let’s say our partner already has plans to educate 100 girls for a cost of $40 per girl in Afghanistan this year. That means they have $4,000 dedicated for this purpose this year. If they receive donations for educating 10 girls, then, that would free up $400 from their allocated funds for other purposes.

Rich feedback for donors is not our only focus. We are also building the infrastructure that other nonprofits (i.e. our partners) can leverage, thereby, allowing them to focus more on the job that they are good at – making a difference on the ground. For example, our partners are able to connect with each other through a private discussion group and share best practices with each other.

We are still a very young organization and we still have a long way to go. However, we are encouraged by the trends in the philanthropic sector. We will see an increasing number of non-profit organizations embrace tranparency and provide donors with an experience that is richer than anything we have ever seen before. Jolkona Foundation will continue to do our best to meet the needs of both the donors and the partner organizations.

I invite your comments and thoughts on this post as part of the ongoing dialogue. We are eager to learn from people who are passionate about this topic.

This guest post was written by Derya Rose, on behalf of Yachana Foundation, a Jolkona Foundation partner.

Evenings in rural Ecuador are often filled with the familiar whirring of diesel generators, providing a little bit of power to communities off the country’s main electricity grid. When these machines are off, the soft glow of candles fills the night. Families cooking, students studying and children playing – all by candlelight.

Although this environment may seem charming (after all, candlelight often inspires romantic thoughts), it presents a real burden to the rural poor. Families not only pay up to $270 per year for candles, they also encounter frequent burns as well as accidentally set fire to their houses on occasion. Add strained eyes from reading in dim light to the equation, and one can see that this situation isn’t quite as charming.

Founded by Douglas McMeekin, the Yachana Foundation has been operating in the Ecuadorian Amazon since 1991.  Recently, Douglas found out about an innovative, flexible mini solar panel that was designed specifically for use by the rural poor, or who Douglas calls, the people that live at the base of the economic pyramid.  This solar panel, which contains no glass and is virtually unbreakable, provides clean power to four useful accessories. The first is an LED lamp, which can be recharged over 500 times and can last between six and thirty hours per charge, depending on the intensity selected. This product alone can easily solve many of the economic, health and environmental problems posed by candle use. Other accessories include rechargeable radio batteries, a mobile phone charger and a spare battery pack, each with its own set of economic, social and environmental benefits.

We at Yachana found in these products an opportunity to operate a triple bottom line distribution business. First, the end user would enjoy the benefits described above (and more), allowing them to invest more money on their kids’ educations, health, clothes, businesses and so on.  Next, the environment would benefit from tons less spent on the disposal of wax as well as millions of used batteries being discarded.  Lastly, 100% of the business’ profits would go to support the Yachana Technical High School.

Right now, with the help of various government agencies, we are rolling out this product regionally and aim to offer it in all regions of Ecuador within the next year. 

If you would like more information about how you can support Yachana and it’s various community development initiatives, please contact Hugh Yarbrough at hugh.yarbrough@yachana.org.ec

Submitted by Jorji Knickrehm, Grants Manager at Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help (or Washington CASH).

Figuring out how to foster new small businesses in low income communities is an ongoing passion here at Washington CASH. Yesterday, all twelve of our program staffers packed themselves into a small conference room, and tinkered for 4 hours with the curriculum of our core business development class. Maybe if we add a weekly lab to each of our classes, it will help more of our clients build businesses that will be around five years from now — businesses that will provide them with a living wage income and the happiness that comes from being self-determined. We’ve helped a lot of people, but we know there’s more out there with unfulfilled hopes.

Many times it is people who are new to the U.S. who encounter barriers as they try to get their feet under themselves financially. Tri Nguyen, for example, moved to Washington as a refugee from Southern Vietnam when he was 22 years old with his parents and two older brothers. “Before coming to America, we went overseas from Vietnam to Malaysia where we lived in a refugee camp for 7 years. We were then sent back to Vietnam for two more years, where we continued to await acceptance into the United States as political refugees. Finally, the United States government opened its doors and welcomed us to America, a free country we had been seeking for almost half of our lives.”

After spending two years learning English, he attended Highline Community College where he received his Associates degree before transferring to Washington State University and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in education. While an undergraduate, Tri worked for two years with a cleaning company where 99% of employees were Vietnamese. His fluency in English allowed Tri to take on a management role within the company, which ultimately provided him the experience and knowledge necessary to start his own venture. “I started my own business to help fellow Vietnamese people by providing job opportunities here in America.”

Tri completed Business Development Training with Washington CASH in June 2009 and has since entered Business Groups, a program providing business support and access to capital in the form of peer loans. His new business, Tri Mountain Cleaning Services, Inc., offers both commercial and residential cleaning services, using only non-toxic products to create a safe environment for pets and children.

The name of his business, Tri Mountain Cleaning Services, Inc., stems not only from his first name, but for the three mountains he says complete his business: himself, family & friends, and Washington CASH. “My company cannot stand by itself. Before CASH, I didn’t know how to do the things necessary to open a business. Now I’m ready to go.”

While he currently has about ten regular customers and employees as needed, Tri envisions expanding to include about five new customers every month, opening more commercial accounts, and hiring more employees. “I was so excited when I got my first customer with Tri Mountain. In that moment, I knew I was going to be successful. Even though it was a small contract, it was a big moment. Owning my own business has given me confidence I never knew I had.” Figuring out how to help more people get that great feeling of empowerment; that’s what gets us out of bed in the morning at Washington CASH.

This post was contributed by Ian Anderson, Machik Intern and Summer Enrichment Program Coordinator

A mixture of excitement and uncertainty hung in the air as the volunteers for the Machik Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) met in Chengdu for the first time before students arrived and classes began. We were volunteer teachers and facilitators from diverse backgrounds: Tibetans, Chinese, Canadians, and Americans. We were high school, university, and graduate students as well as working professionals. Students came not only from the Chungba Schools and Litang County, as in the past, but from all over the Tibetan plateau. This was the first summer for the scaling up of the SEP, and this time the program incorporated almost a hundred volunteers and students in total.

With such a large number of volunteers, our programming opportunities were virtually limitless. Each of the volunteers had a unique background and skill-set. While some volunteers taught English and Chinese classes, some turned out to be expert seamstresses who taught students how to fabricate pillows and clothing in a North American style. Others shared their knowledge of yoga, painting or dramatic improvisation. I was lucky enough to be one of the leaders of a music section, where the students learned how to perform basic songs on the recorder. To teach this class was a joy. The students were excited and engaged, absorbing the notes and melodies with ease. By the time the end of the week came and our small group was ready to perform, all the students had obtained the fundamental skill of reading music and were able to transform the notation they saw on the page into something beautiful.

Teaching is not a one-way street. The students who arrived from various communities on the Tibetan Plateau brought with them different backgrounds and experiences that they were eager to share. Through day-to-day interactions and chats, visits to local museums, and Tibetan sites, the students took great pride in instructing us, the volunteers, in multiple aspects of their cultural heritage.

The students, who came from very dissimilar and often remote parts of the Tibetan plateau, would also often compare notes about differences among each other’s experiences, underlining the richness and variety of Tibetan culture. I think the magic of the SEP came from the sharing of these unique experiences. Volunteers and students alike forged friendships and new connections that not only enriched and changed how we perceive the world, but also created new channels to engage in the important task of talking and thinking together about how to create a better future.

What Machik does–and does well–is to open the door to a new and hopeful future by helping to build the capacity of communities on the Tibetan plateau. The Summer Enrichment Program is an important part of Machik’s efforts to help improve education in rural Tibetan communities, and will touch the lives of an even greater number of students as it continues to grow in the future. I’m so proud to have been a part of this amazing and important work.

I’m heading out for Peru tomorrow to check out Cusco and Machu Picchu, completely sans guilt about missing a week of class.  Being an anthropology major allows me to justify just about any sort of travel as “experiential learning,” especially in this case since I have a test on Incan culture and religion the day after I get back, so what better way to prepare than by seeing the Sacred Valley in person? Right? Right. Anyway, I’m feeling economical today, and so before my somewhat feisty Internet goes out again I want to start a conversation about the economic situation here, especially as related to poverty and inequality. The following information come from the 2008 United Nations Human Development Report website, so pop on over and brush up on your global statistics if you are so inclined.

  • Using the UN’s Human Development Index (a combined measure of education, life expectancy, and income), Chile ranks 40th out of 179 countries, just between Poland and Slovakia
  • There is a high degree of income inequality: using the UN Gini coefficient as a measure, Chile ranks 40th in the world (as in, 39 countries have less income inequality than Chile).
    • A Gini coefficient of 0 represents absolute income equality, while 100 represents absolute inequality. Chile’s is 54.9.
  • The GDP per capita is $12,997 (56th in the world), compared to $41,890 in the U.S (2nd in the world).
  • According to a study on socioeconomics conducted by the Chilean government in 2006, 13.7% of the population was living in poverty as compared with 38.6% in 1990 and 45.1% in 1987 during Pinochet’s military regime.
  • The minimum wage is $144.000 pesos per month (about $260 US dollars)

The Concertación government, a center-left coalition that has been in power since 1990, has made significant social and economic progress since the end of Pinochet’s regime, and Chile is one of the most economically and politically stable countries in Latin America. However, it still faces significant problems with poverty and inequality. One article I read for my Chilean Politics and Economics class (“Chilean Economic Policy under the Concertación: The Triumph of the Market?” by Lois Hecht Oppenheim if you want a bit of policy analysis) holds that the “Chilean miracle” that resulted from a decade and a half of militant neoliberalism under Pinochet, followed by only minor adjustments has left a market-and-export based economic model that has overlooked other areas of social improvement like education and access to it, gender equality, and classism. Furthermore, Chile’s economy is almost entirely based on primary products: fruit, wine, copper, and nitrates. Unless Chile can eventually diversify it’s economy to include services, it is unlikely to see much more economic growth.

Along with this, chilenos I’ve talked to have mentioned a fairly rigid system of social classes. The other day, my host mom was describing the difficulty of moving up from lower middle class as a direct product of a lack of educational access. College tuition is prohibitively expensive for many students, even those with great academic potential. Scholarships exist, but are limited. Families that can afford it send their children to private schools, though public schools and state-subsidized private schools (similar to charter schools in the U.S) are more common, and suffer from underfunding and overcrowding. Classism is a much bigger problem in Chile than racism or ethnic discrimination, since 90% of the population shares Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) heritage. Friends that volunteer at Cerro Navia Joven, a nonprofit community organization that serves the a poor area in the western sector of Santiago, reported that many of the people at the center need to lie about where they live in order to get hired anywhere. To admit to being from a bad neighborhood would doom them to unemployment.

Much, much more on these topics to follow. I just wanted to put a few themes up for now, so stay tuned!

This post was contributed by Yifat Susskind, MADRE’s Policy & Communications Director. MADRE is one of Jolkona Foundation’s partner organizations. 

Yesterday I had coffee and a good long talk with Yanar Mohommad, MADRE’s partner and the director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). It was Yanar who first launched the OWFI women’s shelters that MADRE has supported since 2004.
 
She showed me pictures of some of the women and girls at the Baghdad shelter. Two teenaged girls looking up and smiling from a computer. A middle-aged woman in jeans showing off a meal she had prepared for all the other women. I wish I could post the photos here, but it would be too dangerous for the women. The shelter’s exact location and the identities of the women who are there have to be kept secret. These women are still at risk for “honor killing.” For now, the shelter keeps them safe and while they are there, some of them will learn skills to help them relocate, get jobs, and begin to rebuild their lives.
 
Talking with Yanar, I was reminded that the OWFI shelters provide more than just temporary refuge to women threatened by war and violence in Baghdad. OWFI gives the women “a sense of home,” as Yanar said,  “a close network of sisters who are risking their own lives to stand up for other women in Iraq.”
 
Yanar told me the story of Fatin, a young woman who escaped from a Baghdad brothel with the help of an OWFI activist. At 16, Fatin was barely literate. She was physically and emotionally scarred from years of rape and beatings. The code of “family honor” meant she could never go home again. But thanks to Hind, an older OWFI activist who had infiltrated the brothel to reach out to women trapped there, Fatin is free. For now, she is living in the OWFI shelter that this site helps support. She is finishing her studies and working on OWFI’s newspapper, Al-Mousawat, which means Equality. “Fatin is no longer a victim,” Yanar said with a grin. “In fact, I think one day she may be a great journalist.”

Health is a pivotal step towards the economic development and sustainability of communities. For children in many villages in India, health care, particularly preventative care, is almost unheard of and limited to either poorly staffed government health centers or private clinics, usually run by con artists or unqualified apprentices. While there are many ways to prevent and treat malaria, the developing world often has limited access to these technologies. Without bringing these solutions to the people in rural tropical climates, scientific progress completes only half the battle.

Malaria cuts economic growth rates in countries with high prevalence rates and countries ravaged by malaria suffer from a compromised, unhealthy workforce. An increase in malaria prevalence is statistically correlated with a decrease in literacy and school attendance, which limits the potential of each new generation. This health crisis threatens long-run prosperity at the individual, family, community, and national levels.

Bed nets, specifically Long-Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets (LLINs), are one of the most effective daily deterrents to mosquitoes. A LLIN is a ready-to-use insecticide treated mosquito net created in response to low re-treatment rates of traditional insecticide-treated nets.  These nets require no additional insecticide treatment and remain effective for years, even after multiple washes. They are recommended by the World Health Organization and are the preferred choice of mosquito nets for many groups, including UNICEF. A treated bed net can reduce the overall number of mosquitoes that enter the home and can reduce transmission as much as 90% in areas with high coverage rates. LLINs are rarely used in rural areas because of their cost, limited availability, and a lack of knowledge of their importance and existence.

Thus, there are two interrelated problems: lack of knowledge and lack of access. This project aims to address both these problems.

The Barakat Initiative Against Malaria will distribute LLINs to students enrolled in the Barakat schools in Uttar Pradesh, India. Nets will be distributed prior to the next monsoon season, when the mosquito count peaks. Prior to receiving their nets, students and their parents will attend classes on malaria transmission, community prevention, proper use and care of bed nets, identification of early symptoms, and the importance of preventative medicine. Learning about malaria is a key step in order to ensure that the nets are used diligently, and that steps are taken in the community to reduce overall mosquito breeding levels. For example, currently, basic, effective knowledge such as reducing stagnant water and covering water tanks to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds is unheard of in this area.

The Barakat Initiative Against Malaria is now able to purchase LLINs to be shipped to India at a subsidized rate of approximately $5.00 a net. For less than the price of lunch, one can tangibly improve the health of one student. No gift is too small, as just $5 can save a life.

I remember well the first time I laid my eyes on Sengdruk Taktse School. I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle, clutching the jacket of the Tibetan man who offered me a ride from the nearby town of Darlag, as we flew swiftly down the dirt road. Making our way down the road alongside the snake-like Machu River, or Yellow River in Chinese, I kept wondering when would arrive at the school. Finally, as we turned a corner, a large open valley came into sight, and I could see the school sitting at the top of a small plateau nestled into the left side of the valley.

At that time I knew very little about Sengdruk Taktse School except that it was a school for mostly orphans and was started by an influential Buddhist teacher named Khenpo Kunzang. Over the next few months, as I taught English at the school, and spent time with the students and the teachers, I realized that my relationship with this school was going to be something more than just teaching there.

I remember, one cold morning after a night of snow, as I took a short walk outside of the school, I stood for a bit looking back at the school from a distance. I could hear the children of the school, ranging in ages from 5 to 18, beginning their day. I could hear some of the younger students making sounds of joy as they chased one another playfully from their dormitory to the classroom, while some of the older kids sounded like teachers giving orders to the younger students. All the sounds were held together by a common thread of concern for one another, like a close family.

Standing there, I started to think about how great it was that these kids, most of whom are the first ones in their family to ever receive an education, have been given a chance to receive an education. Many of these students not only come from extremely poor nomadic families, but many have also lost one or both parents. Some of the parents have died of natural causes, others have died in accidents, and others have simply not survived the harsh struggle of the life of a nomad on the highest plateau on earth.

As I thought about the students and the education they were receiving I noticed that my expectations for these students was quite low. I realized that disguised within my thoughts of compassion were actually thoughts of pity, as if getting an education here was just some kind of token gesture. As soon as I recognized that mentality within myself, those thoughts turned into something much more genuine and hopeful. I thought to myself, “No, these kids don’t deserve an education that is any less than the education any of us in America would receive. Why can’t this school become a place of unsurpassed, quality education? There is so much potential here!”

It was after I had those thoughts that I finally felt that I was seeing eye to eye with the founders of Sengdruk Taktse School. Their vision for the students and children of the Tibetan plateau is nothing less than to provide the best education possible in order to fully restore the greatness of Tibetan culture and society.

Building upon the vast and profound traditions of the past and uniting them with modern education and science, the students of Sengdruk Taktse are some of the brightest hopes for the future of the people of the Tibetan plateau. This has been proven by the fact that for the past two years, the students of Sengdruk Taktse School have had the highest standardized test scores out of any school in the entire Golok region, an area approximately the size of Austria, located in southern Qinghai Provence, China. The education these students get at Sengdruk Taktse School is unlike any other school in the region.

It is with all these thoughts in mind that the Joru Foundation works to ensure that Sengdruk Taktse School will be able to continue providing quality education for Tibetans inside Tibet. Our primary tool for gathering supporters of our work thus far has been the internet. Never before has it been possible to share your message and goals with so many people from all walks of life and all geographical location, than it is now due to the power of modern technology.

Adnan and the team at Jolkona understand the power of the internet fully well. Not only that, they understand the power of people working together to support each others visions to make this world a better place. This was the initial feeling I had when I first came upon the Jolkona website. I knew that partnering with the Jolkona Team was a win win situation for everyone, so I did not hesitate to join.

It didn’t take long for us to benefit from our partnership with Jolkona. Out of the blue, I received an email from someone stating that they wanted to help our project to support Sengdruk Taktse School. In particular, this individual wanted to sponsor all the girls in the first grade! Through Jolkona, this sponsor was able to make a connection to our project – a connection that will hopefully last a long time. This sponsor has not only shown her commitment by sponsoring the girls of the first grade, but she has also shown her concern for our project by working with us to ensure that a mentorship infrastructure is in place in order to help the girls of the first grade continue their education until graduation.

I hope that visitors to the Jolkona website will offer any support they can, whether it is by telling a friend about one of the many great and deserving projects on this site, or by contributing to a project themselves. We are much stronger when we work together. Projects like Jolkona can help all of our efforts become more concentrated by coming together to achieve common goals. Our project to give education to Tibetans has benefited from this vision, and I hope your project does too.

One of the reasons that I picked the Santiago study abroad program was the Poverty and Development class that it offers.  The class meets once a week for three hours (sometimes a struggle after a morning of commuting and classes, but I try my best) and includes three hours weekly of volunteer work.  There were several sites to choose from, varying from a homeless shelter to shadowing a social worker to teaching classes to middle and high school kids.  I opted for the Centro Abierto de Santa Adriana, a community center that offers runs an after-school program for low-income children, among other things.  It’s located in a poorer neighborhood where many of the kids can only go to school for half the day because of limited resources, so the other half of the day they spend at the Centro under the supervision of the tías.

I go in the afternoons with two of my friends from Notre Dame.  We started about two weeks ago, and the first time getting there was a bit of an experience.  By bit of an experience, I mean we got lost on the micro (bus) for a solid two hours after a random detour sent us sailing past the correct turnoff and onto a tour of an area of Santiago that none of us had ever seen.  In retrospect it was necessary, since the neighborhoods our host families live in are upper-middle class and not representative of Santiago, let alone Chile, where income inequality, a rigid class structure and poverty are significant problems.  We had earnestly set out from the university around one in the afternoon expecting to be at Santa Adriana by two at the latest, but after waiting nearly an hour for what turned out to be the wrong micro, taking said micro to the end of its route, and then prevailing upon a benevolent bus driver to drop us at a micro that could take us back to the metro, we had given up on finding Santa Adriana.  We got on the next micro, resigned to trying again sometime later in the week, and not 10 minutes into the ride one of my friends glanced out the window and, lo and behold, there was Santa Adriana.  Victory!–albeit late, and unnecessarily confusing, but at least we finally made it.

The first day we stayed until the Centro closed at 5:30, getting to know the other tías and keeping the kids entertained.  The kids are absolutely wonderful, affectionate, welcoming and accommodating of our gringa Spanish.  When we arrive they come running up to greet us, then pull us in different directions to play futbol, read stories, or give piggyback rides as the case may be.  In addition to general supervision, we can lead talleres (workshops) for specific activities.  We can decide exactly what we want to do, but popular requests from the kids are sports (especially futbol), music, karaoke, dancing, art projects, and cooking.  Last week we lead a cooking taller in which we attempted to make brownies from scratch with 12 small children.  It was actually pretty successful:  the final product was pretty good, and only burned in one corner–not that this deterred the kids from devouring every last crumb.

I’ve been very impressed at how well-run the program is and how respectful the kids are.  I’ve volunteered at similar programs in the U.S that were really disorganized, with the kids running all over and no one knowing what’s going on.  The tías at Santa Adriana make sure people behave without being overly strict–a good environment for the kids, especially since I don’t know how much structure they really get the rest of the day.  Low-income areas in Chile struggle with many of the same problems as low-income areas in U.S, including drugs, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and early onset of sexual activity (some kids as young as 11 or 12).  I sometimes wonder how much help we gringas really provide, since there’s still something of a language barrier and we’re only there once a week.  But the kids seem to really appreciate the extra attention and activities.  I’m interested to learn more about the neighborhood and get to know the kids and tías better in the coming weeks.

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