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.