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This guest post contributed by Action Against Hunger – one of our partner organizations.

The beginning of the year means many things-New Year’s resolutions, increasingly brighter days, budding flowers and baby animals. But for the Race Against Hunger team, the first of the year means only one thing: the beginning of our educational presentations!

The Race Against Hunger is the largest initiative in Action Against Hunger’s educational portfolio. The annual program, initially launched in Chicago during the 2007/08 school year, is an outreach campaign educating students across the United States about the causes and effects of severe acute malnutrition. The past two years have shown remarkable growth for the Race. Since launching the Race with a pilot group of 4 schools in Chicago, we expanded last year to 40 schools spread across 12 states and Canada. For the 2010 school year, we are planning to expand the Race to 100 schools, and I’m proud to report that we’re well on our way to meeting this ambitious goal. We’ve already recruited nearly 90 schools from New York to Los Angeles, Houston to Chicago-and everywhere in between!

The Race occurs in two parts: an educational section-designed to integrate hunger education into curriculum standards-followed by a fundraising fun-run to support Action Against Hunger’s global programs. Our Race Against Hunger team enhances the classroom component by providing interactive educational presentations to each participating school.

Each presentation empowers students in the fight to end global hunger. This year, we’ve chosen to highlight the importance of community. Often times, students are overwhelmed by the incomprehensible numbers-over 1 billion people around the world suffer from malnutrition, 15,000 die every day from hunger-related causes-and wonder how one individual can make an impact. While it may be difficult for one student to draw attention to this pandemic, an entire class, school, or city can certainly garner interest and support. Through our Race presentations, we are able to show students that by combining energy, enthusiasm, and funds, their community can affect communities in countries around the world.

Our rigorous presentation schedule kicked off with schools in Arizona and Texas last week and heads to California and Chicago next. While our team has already fielded intelligent questions about water contamination, malnutrition treatments, and long-term effects on child health, one question sticks out in my mind. During the presentation, a kindergartener in Austin raised her hand and quietly asked, “It seems like lots of these kids are dying; what can we do to help?” For an inspired community, the possibilities are endless.

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!

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.

I love this time of year. Enrollment opened on Monday for TAF’s TechStart After-School Program and the steady stream of families bringing in their applications is heartening, to say the least. Seeing the familiar faces of our returning students and families has definitely ramped up the excitement for the coming school year here at the office. It’s a real reminder of one of the impacts we are making in the community – that is, our families see TechStart as so valuable, that they are rushing in to sign up early and bringing along their neighbors, younger siblings, and schoolmates to join, too. Nearly half of our Seattle classes are full after only 3 days of open enrollment. Yep, I definitely love this time of the year.  

 

Another of my favorite times is the rare occasion when I get to substitute as a TechStart teacher (this is not an invitation to call in sick, teachers!). Being in the classroom with our bright, eager kids is so inspiring and a real, front lines kind of confirmation that we are definitely doing right by them. Seeing the students experiment and create animations in the MIT developed program Scratch, for example, or watching them troubleshoot their robot’s program in Lego Mindstorms. I mean, forget the numbers and statistics (for a moment, at least) and imagine Marcutio, one of our Southern Heights Elementary students, plugging away at his Scratch project – a dynamic depiction of the human muscular system. Marcutio raised his hand and said, “Ms. Johnson, I’m done.” Hmmm, I thought. There are two weeks left in this project and he’s done? After a quick conversation and tutorial on a new technique, he was off and running again, now furiously working to improve his project that just five minutes ago was “done.” That’s the power of the technology tools we use like Scratch, Alice (a 3D design program), and Lego Mindstorms (robotics) – they are nearly limitless in their ability to allow each student to advance. Combine that with our Project Based Learning approach to curriculum and dynamic teachers and you have a recipe for success.

 

Seriously, getting Marcutio to dive back in and work to improve his supposedly finished project was that easy? Yeah, it really was. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a challenge to get every kid to have an experience like his, but it’s one that our exceptional teachers, curriculum team, and staff gladly accept. Who am I kidding? I love every part of the TechStart year.

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)

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