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Monsoon season in Bangladesh brings in the flood waters, and as a result, thousands of students are unable to attend school. Many of these students are rural and have issues accessing schooling in the first place. This brings to mind perhaps the most essential tools a student needs for learning: a school. One man came up with a creative solution to address the issue and brought the school to the students during times of flooding, rather than leaving them behind.

Mohammed Rezwan founded a nonprofit called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sansgstha, which runs a fleet of boats acting as schoolhouses, libraries and adult education services. Since his family had a boat growing up, he was able to go to school year round, but he saw that many of his friends didn’t have the same access. He started with one boat and a few small grants, then his project garnered much more attention. With the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2005, he added solar powered electricity and computers, and expanded the fleet to its current size, with 20 school boats, 10 mobile libraries, and even 7 centers for adult education on practical issues like agriculture, and 5 clinics. Since it’s beginning, Rezwan has brought schooling to 70,000 students, and hopes to reach 100,000 more in the next five years. This is an amazing project, since, for many in Bangladesh, it is the only way to learn.

Shidhulai imageThis story shows that creative educational tools can overcome adverse conditions, and with enough support, bring schooling to more people than ever. Here at Jolkona, we know that making a big difference starts with a small and creative idea, just like Rezwan’s single boat has turned into an expanding educational flotilla. Through our Give Together Program, you can support similar innovations, and help students all over the world to expand their education.

One project that also approaches impediments to education with creative solutions is Enlighten Playgrounds Inc. which you can support this month through Give Together. This project provides innovative LED lanterns, charged with playground equipment to rural Ghanaian students to take home and study with at night. By providing something as simple as light, EPI improves the access and the quality of education in villages that don’t even have electricity.

Both Shidhulai and Empower Playgrounds Inc. confronted a seemingly immoveable issue, such as flooding and natural disaster, or lack of electricity with creative and clever solutions. Support the efforts of innovative educators like those behind EPI with Give Together. Many students do not have access to things like light at night, or even solid ground on which to attend school, that we take for granted. When we think about the tools needed for a successful education, we do not think of those needs, but they are absolutely vital.

With just a $5 donation, you can join in on Give Together, and make a difference on education. We only have a week left to focus on education, so remember to vote for your favorite organization!

Photo Credit: Amy Yee, NYT

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Each month we will be helping you get to know our partners and their projects a little better with our Partner Spotlight posts. The first in our Education series is our super cool partner, Empower Playgrounds. They are based in Ghana and harness kinetic energy from school playgrounds to power LED lamps, which the children can then take home after school to study. Told you they were cool. We caught up with them, shot them a few questions, and here’s what they had to say about who they are, what they do, and why you should get involved in our Give Together program and donate to their project.

What is the inspiration behind your organization?

The inspiration behind Empower Playgrounds is that there is energy all around us, everyday, and if captured, this energy can empower tomorrow’s leaders and light their way towards achieving their fullest potentials. 

What’s the story behind your project?

Empower Playgrounds Inc (EPI) was started after our founder, Ben Markham, and his wife, Julie, who lived in Ghana for 18 months as humanitarian missionaries. While here, Ben often held meetings in rural school houses and noticed how dark it got early in the evenings and wondered how students were able to study or read in their homes with such conditions. He was also struck by the simplicity of play equipment available to children, usually nothing more than old bike tires and tin cans that would be turned into rudimentary cars. Ben decided to try and solve both of these problems and developed the electricity-generating merry-go-round we use today. 

Kinetic merry-go-round

How did you become connected with Jolkona

EPI’s executive director, Chris Cannon, was in Seattle visiting NGOs and social ventures with a group of MPA students from Brigham Young University when he learned about the innovative fundraising and advocacy work Jolkona was doing. And after talking with Nadia he quickly decided that this was a partnership worth pursuing and that he hoped would help EPI fulfill its mission of providing the light of opportunity to students of Ghana.

Can you tell us a bit more about your project and how it’s going currently?

Empower Playgrounds is currently operating in nearly 40 schools, providing light to over 6,000 students in some of Ghana’s most deprived areas. We continue to gain support from individuals concerned about the quality of education students are receiving in these deprived areas and by groups working to provide similar opportunities. We are hopeful that this year will see wider expansion, both within Ghana and to similar countries, as we gain more momentum and work with a tried and tested system and wonderful corporate partners like Goal Zero and Playworld Systems, Inc. 

What kind of lasting change does the project hope to engender?

Our vision for the future is to have educated parents, especially mothers, in every village who will instill a love of learning in their children. This next generation of children will be much better suited to tackle the generational triggers of poverty and inequality that we as outsiders are often unable to define or solve. We are beginning to see this change take place in some of our earliest schools in the form of increased school completion, attendance, and national test scores. 

So say I give $50 to the project, can you explain a little further the impact that is achieved?

For $50 you provide a group of students a portable LED lantern powered by play! This lantern will provide 40 hours of reading and study time with each charge and is expected to last around 5 years, meaning that they are ensured the light of opportunity for just $10 per year!

Ghanaian students

We love stories at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite impact story you can share?

One of our students, Gabriel, is just one example of how hard students are working to rise above adverse conditions and better themselves in order to better their communities. At 16 Gabriel is the oldest student in his 6th grade class, towering above his classmates and even some of his teachers, however his meek demeanor shines in his bright eyes and constantly beaming smile. This same smile is somewhat out of place when he starts talking about his life and the conditions he struggles with everyday.

He has lived alone in the tiny village of Terhey for several years after his parents moved away to look for work, taking with them his younger siblings. His weekends and evenings are spent doing odd jobs in order to provide for himself: cutting wood for charcoal, helping local farmers, fixing bicycles. And what he earns from these odd jobs he often sends to his siblings so they can buy books and pay for school uniforms, leaving himself to rely on the generosity of his favorite teacher.

Gabriel is now in middle school, still older than his classmates but at least now the same height, and well on his way towards High School. He is a success in the village of Terhey because he is a trendsetter in a community that often sees little use for school and its postponed payoff when so many competing needs have such immediacy. He is one of the lights shining in darkness that makes Ghana such a trailblazer in West Africa.

Such a great story. So, in a nutshell, why should someone give to this project?

With so many organizations and nonprofits doing good things, it’s often hard to choose between so many good options. At EPI we strive to be among the best. We do this by maintaining focus on a single cause – one that we feel is at the root of so many other problems. 

With a generation of educated people Ghana will be filled with home-grown solvers and thinkers who can tackle the difficult problems that plague so many developing countries, resulting in long-lasting and effective change that will benefit the world.

Sign up or sign in to Give Together and donate to Empowerment Playground. Empower tomorrow’s leaders and light their way towards achieving their fullest potentials today.

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Give Together is live! And our opening feature issue is Education1005044_10151427376962396_1217417665_n

We have three projects that significantly help both teachers and students internationally move towards a brighter future. Give Together today, choosing your favorite project and pooling your contributions with others who share your same interests.

Here is an introduction to our featured projects:

Empower Burmese Women to Become Effective Teachers

Educational Empowerment supports education in SE Asia, especially in Myanmar. A third of children in the country are unable to access education at all, and 70% of those who do never move beyond primary school. Educational Empowerment has made it their goal to fix this deficit by providing training and educational materials to teachers (90% of whom are women) in poverty stricken communities in Myanmar.

This project not only enhances the education of young children, providing them greater opportunities in the future, but it also empowers the women who teach, allowing them to be more effective in the classroom, and prepare them better for their careers. Both teachers and children face poverty and unequal opportunity. The $250 fundraising goal for Educational Empowerment will purchase the necessary materials to contribute to the essential development of primary school children, and allow their teachers to become confident  role models.

Providing Play-Powered Lanterns for Rural Students in Ghana

Empower Playgrounds, Inc. is an innovative company that installs playground equipment for schools in Ghana, which charge special lanterns that students can take home with them after school to study. In most villages in Ghana, there isn’t a reliable source of power. The village of Ahiatroga, is no different. This makes it difficult for students to continue their education outside of the classroom, which is essential for increasing the quality of their education.

The $500 fundraising goal will install a merry-go-round for Ahiatroga’s school, charging portable LED lanterns for students to take home and study with. Empower Playgrounds, Inc. has already installed 40 of these innovative merry-go-rounds, benefitting almost 10,000 students in Ghana. Donate today, and add the students of Ahiatroga to this growing number.

Fund the Education of Underserved Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) is an organization in King County, Washington, that is working on improving the STEM education for communities of color, better equipping underserved students to enter college, and helping them pursue careers in fields of science and technology. Their summer program provides camps focused on a number of topics, such as robotics, aviation and design. The students attend a field trip, and present their work at the end of the session.

The fundraising goal of 2 scholarships at $350 will allow some of the highest need students from White Center Washington, where as many as 82% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, to have an in-depth, and hands on experience with a STEM field of their interest. The summer program will supplement their education, preparing them for college and science and tech based career.

Donate today, and use Give Together to pick one of these organizations and improve education worldwide!

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Exciting News! We at Jolkona are happy to announce two new partner projects in Ghana! Lumana is an organization providing microfinance programs in rural areas, as well as connecting young entrepreneurs with great opportunities. Empower Playgrounds Inc. (EPI) builds electricity-generating playground equipment, which can light up entire communities, as well as lamps and science kits for schools.

Why Ghana?

In 1957, when Ghana gained its independence, its potential was roughly equivalent to that of South Korea. However, South Korea today is much further ahead than Ghana by any growth metrics. This is because Ghana saw a series of debilitating military coups between 1966-1979, each one devastating for Ghana’s development, leading to a steep decline in GDP and standard of living. In 1981, flight lieutenant Jerry Rawlings had wrested control a second time, and began a decade long struggle to reform Ghana’s economy. In 1992, Ghana held free elections and set up a constitution. While now seen as an example of political reform and economic recovery, Ghana’s development was stunted by its turbulent history.

Ghana also has a large wealth gap, inflating its statistics without addressing the problem. While Ghana is an ambitious nation with a space program, and seemingly with money to spare as it spent $20 million on a lavish 50th anniversary celebration in 2007, there are stark problems that Ghana is not focusing on. Fully one half of Ghanaians do not have access to electricity, and many also have no running water, especially in rural areas. Ghana is also ranked 69th in the Corruption Perception Index, meaning that a fair amount of foreign aid doesn’t reach the people its meant to serve.

How can we fix this?

  • The aim of Empower Playgrounds Inc (EPI) is to provide opportunities for bright children in dark situations to succeed and break through the poverty cycle. Executive Director Chris Owen told me. Our new project with them allows you to donate $50 to provide a child with an electric lantern, which can be charged during the day and used to do homework at night. Children are often expected to help out with chores or on family farms after school, and can’t do their homework in the dark. Many families resort to using gas lamps, which are detrimental to health when burned in-doors. This project addresses these basic needs of rural Ghaneans, and can decrease the wealth gap by providing an equal chance at education.
  • Lumana found that 80% of microfinance programs in Ghana are in urban centers, and the vast majority of Ghana’s poor have no access to them. Our new project with them means that your gift of $50 will fund a 3-day training session for 1st time borrowers, people who will then have the skills to set up their own business. This project further reduces the wealth gap by providing small-business owners the skills they need to expand and thrive.

And our new partners are just as excited about us as we are about them! “After meeting with Jolkona staff and hearing about the innovative force it is in the non-profit world we knew we had to get involved” says Mr. Owen.

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