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In June, we launched an awareness drive to increase the membership in our social networks. We had promised to plant a tree for every supporter in Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. At end of the drive, we gained enough supporters to plant 750 trees. Our supporters decided to plant the trees in India, Ethiopia, and Haiti.

At Jolkona Foundation, we are committed to showing impact for EVERY donation. We try to take that approach with all of our activities. So, we are excited to share videos from our partners – Trees for the Future – showing planting of moringa trees in India. Most of the videos show the planting of the trees while the last video shows moringa trees planted last year.

These videos serve as clear proof of the impact that our supporters had by simply following us on Twitter or becoming a Facebook fan or joining our LinkedIn group. Thank you for the support and we hope you will continue to have even more impact in other projects.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to represent the World Youth Alliance at the Open Development Bar Camp at the World Bank in Washington D.C. It was a really good camp. I had the chance to meet with my “development expert celebrities” like Owen Barder (yes, I know already, I’m weird kid, my mates fan Angelina Jolie–I fan Bill Easterly) and to listen to really smart development people from all over the world talk about development and how to make development data more accessible to all sorts of people who want to help poor people. I learnt a lot from their discussions and I listened to people from USAID and MCC talk about the challenges they face in development work (one that stuck with me was a USAID official talking about dumb questions the US congress asks like “What is USAID doing for Coptic Christian in Ethiopia ?”..I’m like hunh?? but whatever…) Anyway, I learnt a lot and I am sure you will join the discussion there but I want to comment on a few things I learnt at this event.

1.) Randomized experiments are the in thing !!!! I knew what this term was before the conference , but it was the kind of term I would skim over when I read international development literature. I now realize it has become foundational to development and data research. I just wonder from my limited knowledge of this field what kind of ethics are behind it. I mean, controlled experiment testing for say the impact of a poverty alleviation program in a community may necessitate intentionally keeping a family poor to see what would happen but without the program. If I was the bad experiment for some reason and I didn’t get a chance to get out of poverty because people wanted to compare me to someone who got the help they needed, I’ll be really pissed. But hey, dats just my inexperienced self talking. But I sure hope randomized does development economics some good at the littlest human cost.

2. Where are developing countries? I wondered a lot about why people from developing countries were hardly present at the meeting. Apart from myself, I could basically count the number of people from developing countries that were at the conference and the number is not pretty. At the risk of shameless self aggrandizement, I did mention that it was necessary to involve more developing countries in development efforts. I was happy a lot of people came up to me and said it was very important to do this. I certainly hope that in the future more and more people would see the sense in empowering people from developing countries to get active in development issues.

3. Everyone is looking for a silver bullet. Now this is the point that kind of scares me about development. People in development and you donors have to realize that there is hardly a silver bullet as far as poverty is concerned. Yep. Sorry to disappoint you. None-at least not yet! Not micro finance, not mobile phones, surely not just aid, even the effect of good governance or corruption is somewhat questionable (Alan Beattie’s False Economy has a good article on corruption and economic development. We have to co-ordinate all these efforts to solve poverty. Technology can only do so much. At the conference, I think people romanticized too much about mobile phones and the impact the could make on development. Especially when you consider that the most effective development applications can only be accessed on certain smart phones poor people cannot afford, you tend to wonder whether the bars are’nt being raised too high.

4. In the end development is still all about developing countries. Truth is that in development work, there is only so much you can do as a person especially if what is driving your action is benign intentions and not self interest . Ok. Yes accuse me of launching a capitalist rant but realistically speaking, there is little you can really do if you don’t have skin in the game. When you have skin in the game, the stakes are higher. Perhaps to buttress this point, the projects that most impressed me during the conference were projects from Africa. And what is especially wonderful about these projects is that they don’t need the “African label” to be authentic (something Bill Easterly has roundly criticized). They are wonderful ideas with huge prospects and potential in their own right.

One of the projects from Africa that especially made me beam during this conference was Maker Faire Africa (a project set up by one of my favorite development expert celebrities, Nii Simmonds. The project celebrates African inventors. God knows nothing is more important for development than African inventors and innovators.

5. Technology is amazing. That you are reading this is enough of an explanation.

But in concluding, I still want to press the two things that I think should be kept in mind when we are talking about development. First, that development is primarily the responsibility of people in developing countries. It is important that programs that empower them to take on their role in development are increased. Second students in developing countries are still an untapped resource when it comes to development. Many people still have this binary thinking about education that its return come long term and it costs so much. I disagree. I think students can find dealing with problems in their societies not just as a positive way of putting to use their youth fervor but also very useful for their learning. This way, education is not just a long term cost that should be charged to the IMF credit card or generous donors but something that is in itself productive for developing countries and indeed central to their development efforts. Development people and agencies should increase the incentives for students especially in the developing world to participate in the development of their own countries.

I raise these issues because I am especially concerned about youth like me, who are jobless in Nigeria and other countries but have nothing to do (which is why you receive so much spam email), we should always keep them in mind when we are developing programs. For example, I know a lot youth who will be willing to help with finding data so long as someone is willing to pay for it. Even better, equipping youth with the knowledge and tools they need to be at the forefront of efforts in development is the best investment in a country’s development–because they realize that only the best ideas are good enough since they have “skin in the game”. Maker Faire Africa is trying very hard to do this by partnering with universities like Asheshi University in engaging African students in innovative and productive enterprise. I hope with time, they go farther than that to engage less affluent youth like those creative “yahoo-yahoo” boys who send you spam emails. My joy is that there is a growing awareness of the importance of engaging the youth in developing countries in development efforts especially through technology.

We are at the end of my disjointed rant about everything and I am sure you are releived. However, some of you maybe glumly asking “what can I, the fortunate foreigner, do for the world’s poor ?” The best thing you can do for the poor is empower them to solve their own problems. So donate to Jolkona’s education projects because Africa needs its own home grown Bills, whether they be Easterly’s or Gates.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve reached Dhaka safe and sound! Over 24 hours of traveling (19 hour lay over in Singapore, eek!), 5 delicious Muslim meals, 7 carry on bags, 100 pages of President Obama’s autobiography, and one Nikon D40, alas, I’ve made it.

I sort of craved the smog, the heat, the odor of rotting street trash, the erratic harmony of rikshaw bells and car honks, and the monotonous pleas of street beggars. And oh boy, when I got the first whiff of sooty Bangladeshi air, I knew I was home. It was a pleasant reunion.

On the 9th, I had the pleasure of spending my day with Deni Robey, Americans for UNFPA Vice President of Public Affairs and Nicole Paprocki (check out her blog at http://www.americansforunfpa.blogspot.com/ ) to visit a women’s empowerment organization in Bangladesh named Tarango (meaning river waves in Bengali-symbolic of women rising with the waves). Words cannot fully express what I saw and felt that day. I felt hope, I sensed beauty, I saw community, and most significantly, I was surrounded by progressive minded women. The women seeking aid from Tarango are flawless. I use the term flawless because they truly are. They are kind, ambitious, patient, and endlessly warm to everyone around them-with a sense of humor too! But they’re not only women- they’re also mothers, wives, and even grandmothers-incredibly proud ones. From what I saw, Tarango was obviously more than a place to work, it was a haven for women seeking community, friendship, and basic human rights.

Meeting Ms. Kohinoor Yeasmin, the current manager of Tarango, was also deeply influential. She spoke vibrantly about the women in Tarango, the work being done, and most importantly, the work she aspires to accomplish in the future. She’s a modest dreamer. Every time she outlined a potential plan, she always concluded with, “but it’s only a dream right now.” But every reality starts with a dream, and I’m certain that Ms. Yeasmin-with her caliber and passion-can make all her dreams true for the women in Tarango.

On a side note, later that afternoon, Deni, Nicole, and I had the chance to have lunch with Mr. Fuad Chowdhury- a renowned film director in Bangladesh. He gave us a quick tour of his company, United Network Limited, and explained a bit of what he did. His work ranged from directing advertisements, to short commercial films, to even Bangladeshi Sesame Street episodes! But most remarkable of all was his involvement in producing documentary films. He took the time to share one of these films, “Nodeer Mohonai Barisaler Mehndigonj” (Mehendigonj of Barisal at Estuary of Meghna). It was a beautiful short film about how the people of Mehendigonj are seeking national and international aid to stop the river erosion for the rehabilitation of those affected. I brought a copy with me and am hoping to share it with the Seattle community!

It has just been so gratifying to see Bangladeshis empowering minorities at so many levels!

 
 
 
 

 

 

Recently, Semonti, one of our bloggers, visited Tarango – a project in Bangladesh that empowers women by helping them produce fair trade handcrafted products.

Here is a video that Semonti created based on her visit to Tarango

Here is an excerpt about Tarango from their website (http://www.tarango-bd.org): “Tarango works with some of the most marginalized women in the country, and assists them with entrepreneurship development, marketing facilitation, business advisory services, gender rights training, and personal and family health services.”

Semonti will soon follow up with a full-blown blog post about her Tarango experience.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere with an estimated 50% of the workforce unemployed or underemployed. A traditional way for women in Nicaragua to bring an income in to their household is making pottery. At least 85% of the female potters are also peasant farmers, or live in families where agriculture is an important part of their livelihood. Increasing poverty has forced many people to leave the agricultural areas or their traditional lives as artisans in hope of better wages in the urban sector. This trend is leading to a loss of cultural traditions, technical and craft skills, and inevitably, further impoverishment. Potters for Peace has worked in Nicaragua for 23 years offering support to women potters of Nicaragua through assistance with appropriate technologies sustained using local skills, education of new processes, and assistance in marketing that improves their livelihood while preserving cultural traditions. With assistance in better production methods, we can avoid the loss of this traditional way of making a living for these women.

With 23 years experience, we have listened to the artisans and buyers to find out what our focus should be, and responded with appropriate programs. With frequent visits and seeing the changes in their workshops, their families and the leadership roles they have taken in communities, we have been able to gauge their needs and respond quickly. We’ve established a Training Center in La Paz Centro where we can bring the artisans to a central location to work and learn improved methods, designs, finishing skills and new technology to improve their production yet maintain cultural integrity. We’ve found that bringing the artisans into a school/workshop environment they can devote all their time to learning over a week long period for an intense training. We can bring in a specialist and maximize the number of people learning new techniques and designs. The artisans in turn go back to their communities and teach others what they have learned, exponentially increasing the number of benefactors from this learning experience.

With a contribution of $25, you will sponsor an artisan to attend a week long training. The tangible impact is an immediate increase in their production, as well as the ability for the artisan to offer more products at better quality thereby increasing orders. Education being the way out of poverty, your contribution is setting an artisan on the immediate path of improving the living standards of their family and community.

(This is a guest post by Beverly Pillers of Potters for Peace)

On Saturday I’ll be aboard a plane bound for Santiago with seventeen of my classmates from Notre Dame. Even the prospect of a twenty-four hour transcontinental trek involving multiple layovers can’t dampen my enthusiasm, because compared to the agonizingly slow study-abroad approval process and subsequent flurry of activity sorting out visas, vaccines, and packing lists, getting to Chile is easy. But even though I have planned for a semester abroad since my freshman year, I haven’t really reflected yet on what that means.

My classmates and I will be in Chile for about six months, living with host families and taking classes at La Católica, a large university in Santiago. Along with classes in Spanish, Chilean Politics and Society, and a few electives, we are all taking a seminar called Approaches to Poverty and Development. We’ll each pick a site and volunteer there weekly throughout the semester, an experience that will take us out of the comfortable university neighborhood and into parts of Santiago that we wouldn’t otherwise see.

Most of us in the Santiago group have experience volunteering locally and have already started to learn the tough lessons about service: that real social change takes time, that it’s not always possible to help everyone in the community, that despite volunteers’ best efforts some people may never escape poverty or attain educations, and that volunteering is not always fun or easy.

Things get additionally complicated in international development efforts, where even volunteers with the best of intentions, convinced they know exactly what assistance is needed, may not listen to the community in their rush to fix problems. Worse, some may not understand the cultures or even attempt to learn the language of the community they travel to serve. Finally, efficient use of resources is a major issue. In preparing for our semester in Santiago, we read a piece by Joanne Von Engen that originally appeared in Catapult magazine, in which she points out the money people spend to travel to do international service for a short time could be sent directly to organizations and achieve much more. This has the additional benefit of employing local labor and empowering citizens by letting them work on their own projects.

So if volunteering is so rife with problems, why bother? Why not just send checks to development efforts and call it good? My answer is that direct service has its own value, which lies in what you learn from taking part in a community—particularly one that may be unfamiliar at first.  Experiencing other cultures helps us realize the human connections that unite us. Such cross-cultural experiences are just as easily attained through work in any large U.S. city as they are in traveling halfway around the world, and thus don’t even require large amounts of money or time. Either way, volunteering teaches in a way that donations can’t, even if it is not as efficient.

One of the reasons I am excited to work with the Jolkona Foundation is that it combines the efficiency of direct donations with the personal connection to each project. Both elements are important for development efforts, as well as listening to the community in charge of the project. I’ll be keeping these themes in mind as I embark on my excellent South American adventure.

Spontaneity is not how I roll…except for today. My thoughts sort of randomly flooded my brain in the midst of packing, so I’m taking a break.

First of all, packing for any international trip is a wild roller coaster! I fatigue just at the thought of everything I need to accomplish between now and my flight….despite this, I’m still blogging.

Two nights ago I gave my Nanu (maternal Grandmother) a call. It was meant to be a quick exchange of words- a simple “assalam alaikum” and “walaikum assalam” (Islamic greetings), a check on her health, a few stories about school, asking for her du’a (blessings), and then relaying the phone to my mom. It’s the same every week or so, a quick verbal acknowledgement as nanu and nathni (grandmother and granddaughter). It’s not that we don’t care for or think of one another whenever we can, it’s just difficult to find a context of communication over the phone (our primary means of communicating when I’m in the U.S.).

This may be very difficult to conceptualize for those who leave near or frequently see their grandparents. But this is also reality for many second generation men and women born in the U.S. Just think about it-first, in terms of our lifestyles. That morning, I ate cereal for breakfast, I caught the bus to campus, picked up a camera, updated my ipod with new songs/photos, grabbed coffee with my girlfriends, came home, watched a little Bangla TV/CNN with my parents….etc. My nanu most probably awoke with a cup of cha (milk tea) and a freshly prepared Bangladeshi breakfast, read a bit of Prothom Alo (Bangladeshi newspaper), asked the driver to bring in a casket of fresh mangoes, prepared some achar (pickle) for her grandchildren, watched a little Zeetv (Indian channel), chatted with my nana (maternal grandfather), etc.

Very different, yeah? Not only is there a generation gap, but we exist in very different cultures with very different expectations. Despite this evidence, my Nanu and I conversed for an hour that night.

Topics ranged from Barack Obama’s autobiographies, to personal habits, to managing stress, to Michael Jackson’s sudden death, etc. It was sweet to say to least- to finally feel like were bridging that gap. But now that I reflect back, I begin to question whether there really was a gap. There’s an implicit connection between me and my Nanu-one beyond the fact we share my mother as a common relative…or have identical mitochondrial DNA. Furthermore, I think there is an implicit connection between any individual, regardless of age, gender, nationality. It’s part of the human condition.

As I think about the trip to come, and the poeple I’ll sit next to, walk by, run into, and meet throughout the journey, I have to to think about the connections we all implicitly share. In order to communicate, there needs to be a mutual welcoming of that connection within. I’m eager to apply this perspective as I meet new people in a land my family calls home. I hope you’ll enjoy their stories.

This blog post was contributed by Deanna Wallace, All As One Executive Director:

All As One is dedicated to helping the orphaned and destitute children of Sierra Leone, West Africa by providing a loving home, education, medical care, and a chance for a better future.  We accomplish this through the All As One Children’s Center (an orphanage), school, and medical clinic in the capital city of Freetown.

Sierra Leone is officially the worst place in the world to be born, ranking as the world’s least developed country with the highest infant mortality rate according to the United Nations.  But, despite that, the beautiful kids in All As One’s care (that I have come to know and love), fill my heart with so much joy!   Whether it is 6-year-old Hayley running and jumping to give me a big hug, or 8-year-old Kadie asking if my hair is a wig (it isn’t), or 5-year-old Sahr showing me his wide grin and comedic talents (that kid can make you smile!), or 13-year-old Mohamed displaying his growing artistic side, or 12-year-old Monjama becoming such a beautiful young woman before my eyes.the list of special joys and memories could just go on and on.  I wish I had time to tell you about each one.

I have been living and working in Sierra Leone for nine years now and have been privileged to see many of the children grow from infancy to toddlers to school-age and beyond – and they are fantastic – such really special  human beings.  And I can tell you from firsthand experience that All As One’s work is urgent and necessary and worth doing because the kids are worth it!

Right now we are working hard to upgrade our current school – and the kids need new metal chairs!  The old chairs the children have been using are made of wood and have mostly been broken beyond repair at this time.  You can help in such a significant way by donating through the Jolkona Foundation to buy a chair for either a kindergartener ($15) or an older student ($25). Just click on this badge to see the project details:

Your donation toward this school chair project would be a terrific gift to the kids and their education!!!

On behalf of the children, I want to thank Jolkona Foundation and YOU for your support!  You are all greatly appreciated!

To learn more about the children and All As One’s work in Sierra Leone, please visit www.allasone.org

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