I swear, this is not what I typically spend my weekend nights doing. Really.
I swear, this is not what I typically spend my weekend nights doing. Really.
Between being really sick for the past 24 hours, trying to still work today, and having some valuable discussions on the IC controversy, I didn’t get around to acknowledging #IWD on the blog!
This world is filled with some really amazing women and girls doing some really amazing work with great social impact. I can’t give every individual and organization a shout out, but I do encourage people to check out the following:
The International Rescue Committee: Wake Up
As most of you know, I’ve always respected this organization and am a huge fan of their work and the integrity with which they do it. Recently, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with some of their staff (who aren’t even on the program side), and I can see the integrity, diligence, careful thought, and passion with which they work.
Below is a video from their Wake Up campaign, which seeks to educate people on the violence and injustice that women face around the world. I think the statistic is 1 in 3 women globally will have been raped, beaten, coerced into sex, and/or abused in her lifetime.
The Wake Up campaign was listed today in Mashable’s “5 Social Media Campaigns Rocking International Women’s Day.” Makes me glad!
The Adventure Project
Yeah, I know you all are probably sick of me always talking about TAP, but the vision that Becky Straw and Jody Landers have is incredible: to eliminate extreme poverty, not through charity but through job creation.
TAP wants to educate Americans on smart giving. Donating to an organization is a social investment, and the women of TAP believe that investing in economic empowerment programs, training programs, and job creation for women in developing countries is an investment in sustainable solutions to poverty, hunger, the water crisis, and global health issues.
This is an old video from over a year ago, but it highlights one of the projects in one of the communities that they partner with: training women mechanics in rural India to repair the broken wells in surrounding areas. Love their projects so much.
(On a side note, co-founder Becky Straw was invited to speak today at the UN on International Women’s Day and women’s empowerment through social business.)
Camfed fights poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa by educating girls and empowering women to become leaders of change. The organization began in 1993 with a goal to improve the lives of two million children by 2013, and is currently at over 1,400,000 impacted.
“When rural girls and young women graduate from high school, they enter an adult world of massive unemployment.”
What I like about Camfed is that it doesn’t just stop at education; they continue to walk alongside young female graduates by providing seed money (microloans) to help them develop their economic skills and launch small businesses.
Okay, I think it’s time for me to pop some meds and get some rest. But let’s continue celebrating women and girls (not just on March 8th)!
I had posted this TED Talk a while back on my previous blog but recently came across is again. I think it’s great, and Jacqueline, as I had said in that old post, is an amazing woman.
The video is a bit lengthy but it’s really great, I assure you. Among the many inspiring stories she tells is one of a little girl during the United States’ early stages of desegregation (around 14:25 in the clip), which is a favorite for me.
Jacqueline Novogratz is the author of The Blue Sweater and the founder of Acumen Fund.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some work at Free To Be Kids, an organization that works with kids who have been exploited or were at extremely high risks of trafficking. Many of them have been in abusive/violent domestic situations. FTBK has multiple sites but the main one is here in south Kolkata, with a 25 kids living in the center (5 of them are boys). After a rigorous screening and approval process, the kids are admitted into the Home (which the staff does a really good job at making into a family model) where they live, can attend school nearby, get 3 meals a day, and are involved in other activities.
The main focus of FTBK (next to providing a loving home) is education. They have the kids go to the English school nearby during the mornings* and then they run a tutoring program in the afternoons after lunch. Tuition time includes about half an hour to an hour of working on homework and then about 2 hours of additional lessons by FTBK on life skills, soft skills, and more academics.
*I had asked why they chose an English-speaking school rather than a Bengali- or even Hindi-speaking school. I found out that in India, in order to graduate high school, you need to be pretty fluent in English, as the last two grades are conducted solely in English and university is often in English.
Last week, our tuition program revolved around understanding careers and helping the kids develop their dreams for the future. This week, I’ve been working on increased self-confidence and building resilience, which will allow the kids to better develop those dreams. A lot of them are relatively happy children, being in this safe and loving environment, but at the same time I’ve noticed they don’t have a very good concept of their strengths and talents. They also have a lower level of self-awareness than most kids their age (of course, I’m not sure if this has anything to do with culture too, which it might). So the focus is on creating activities for this week to help them be more aware and to build up esteem and vision, and developing a program that the staff can continue to carry out later on.
And of course, I did some academics with them. For instance, teaching them what vowels are and why it’s important to know them; sounding out words; addition, subtraction, and multiplication; etc. But I’ll probably write another post on my views of education in places like Kolkata…
FTBK also doesn’t have any formal or informal counseling in place currently. They don’t have any social workers, which is new to me in a non-profit like this one. So Jeanette had actually contacted me to specifically develop a training for the staff on basic methods of counseling. But after having been here for a bit of time, I’m realizing that there is a need to lay the foundation of understanding what counseling is and why it is needed for populations that have experienced trauma, because it’s just not a concept many Indians, like the staff, comprehend.
So the rest of this week and next week, I’ll be focusing on training the staff on “counseling 101″ and basic counseling skills — being attentive to the kids, noticing signs in behavior and affect, listening to and validating the child, etc. as well as a specific overview of TF-CBT (trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy) and easy therapeutic methods that work well with kids, like art therapy and relaxation methods.
When i’m back in the States, I’ll do follow-up with Jeanette and continue to help her prepare the staff for the implementation of a structured counseling program within FTBK.
Exciting that they will be doing this! We both agreed it’s definitely needed. In my short time of observation, I’ve noticed a few of the kids exhibiting some troubling signs. I think FTBK’s program will be a lot stronger and more beneficial for the children after a few tweaks here and there.
Oh, and the kids are unbelievably adorable.
A few weeks ago in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to visit a number of organizations. One of them was Red Window, which focuses on developing economic opportunities for adolescent girls and young women who have been sexually exploited — many at a high risk of re-trafficking.
Red Window was actually founded by a former board member of Restore NYC who had also previously worked in a number of anti-trafficking initiatives such as Hagar. I was not able to meet Laura unfortunately as she’s actually in New York getting her PhD at Columbia School of Social Work (we’ve swapped locations).
I met with Amy Collins, who was the first social work intern at Restore back when it was just launching and is currently part of the staff at Red Window. After talking over dinner with me about her work at the organization, she invited me to observe a day of class with the students.
A few days later, I hopped on a jeepney and headed over to her building, just in time for a class. I actually recognized a few of the students from working with them at The Haven and at Welcome House and was glad to be able to take part in a bit more of their post-care experience.
I actually connected with Red Window because they had helped Restore quite a bit this past year in developing our own job readiness program for our clients. It was pretty exciting to see where our program first stemmed from and how it’s tailored for the two different populations in NYC and in Cebu.
The lesson I observed was conducted pretty much all in Cebuano by two locals but fortunately I understood enough to get by. The focus of the class was developing their vision statements.
I cannot express how much I LOVED this class and how it was run. The teachers were phenomenal and handled everything so wonderfully. I can’t go into the details of the lesson for the sake of respecting Red Window’s lesson plan and program that they worked so hard to create, but I’ll try to give a small glimpse into it.
After the first part of the class, which entailed an exercise that encouraged the girls to develop a sense of their strengths, interests, and aspirations, they were given a short explanation on how to create and write a vision statement. Each girl was given a card to write out her statement.
After each one presented her statement, they moved on to a self-awareness portion. When asked how they felt about their statements — what thoughts and feelings they were experiencing in relation to the statement — they began to shout out things such as “hopeful” and “inspired” and “excited.” I started to wonder how the teacher would handle the girls having completely negative reactions of discouragement towards this activity. And then the girls must have read my mind because some began to say things like “not real/possible” and “too ambitious” and “inadequate.”
I loved what the teacher did then. She wrote each one down on the board, just as they were calling them out. After the list was compiled, she acknowledged the positive feelings/thoughts and then circled the negative ones. She asked, “These statements are not as encouraging, right? These feelings can overwhelm us at times and hinder us greatly. But they’re not true statements. What true statements can we tell ourselves to counter these negative ones?” And as she went down the list, each of the girls began to shout out things targeted to each negative statement.
As she wrote them down, she had them all say it loudly.
“I will be strong!”
“You can do it!”
“I will be confident!”
I then had to butt in. I turned to them and said, “You shouldn’t say ‘I will be strong.’ There is no need to tell yourself to be strong and confidence because you already are strong and confident. Do you know what I’m saying?”
And they all began to nod and rephrase the counter statements to be assertive.
“I AM strong!”
“I AM confident!”
“I can do it!”
“I will not quit!”
The teacher asked for added phrases or quotes or verses as well. Since the girls expressed that they enjoyed Bible verses (it’s a heavily Catholic society) I shared with them Joshua 1:9 — “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid for I, the LORD, and with you wherever you go.”
Each girl chose one or two statements to write down for herself before sharing with the class. A number of them recited the verse from Joshua, which was encouraging to hear from them. The teacher made them re-say it if they didn’t say these positive statements with oomph too, haha. It was nice.
Before I left, I noticed their goals and dreams collages on the wall, which was the first lesson that Kelly had conducted with our clients at Restore and which I had conducted with the girls at The Haven also. Loved seeing it done in so many places!
Though I was at Red Window just for one day and only to observe, I absolutely loved my experience there. The program is great and the staff is great. The students there definitely display some difficulties in seeing their own potential and self-worth but at the same time, there is a lot of resilience shining through which is being encouraged even more by Red Window’s program.
Yesterday morning I had planned to stay in and relax a bit before going out to Good Shepherd’s center in Cebu, scheduled for noon. Jiji, a family friend who is showing me around, told me that we actually were going to visit a kid in the neighborhood around 9am first. Having learned from Doña over my visits to the Dominican Republic, one always needs to be flexible when abroad (first lesson Doña and Maria pushed on me). So I signed off on my boyfriend (sorry, Brian!), got dressed, and met Jiji outside her home.
I wish I had brought my camera but I didn’t. I’ll try to take some pictures of the neighborhood though and post them up — but it’s very similar to the DR and most Spanish-colonized countries.
We trekked through the area, walking through people’s properties, stepping over mangy dogs and cats, avoiding the free range chicken and sitting ducks, hopping on stones over muddy pits, and pushing aside tall grass and plants hanging in our faces. Not too long of a walk and definitely not as treacherous as some of those hilly, rocky, steep paths in El Baden, DR.
We reached a shack of a home where two women — a mother and grandmother — were sitting. The mother was perched on a bench with a bucket of shelled oysters on one side and a small bin of de-shelled oysters on the other. Knife in hand, she was swiftly breaking them open and cutting out the meat. Despite her rapid work, the bin filled up very slowly since oysters are so small. She explained that she had to walk very far to get the oysters and walk very far again to sell them. She could sell the whole bunch for about 8 pesos — equivalent to around $0.18 ro $0.19 USD — which was her income to feed herself, her mother, her 6 kids, and her mentally-ill brother.
She called over her 5-year-old daughter Grace* and pulled aside part of her hair to reveal to us a fungal infection. They were really concerned because it was getting worse and because it’s on her scalp so close to her brain. The grandmother explained that they went to an expensive doctor and were giving Grace Amoxicillin now but feared it was not doing enough though they spent so much money seeing the doctor and paying for the medicine.
For once, I was able to speak up and use some past knowledge!
In the years I visited the Dominican Republic, I was a “pharmacist” for our makeshift medical mission clinic. Essentially, I took supplements, prenatal vitamins, antibiotics, etc. out of their original bottles, divvied them into makeshift pocket envelopes (I’m a skilled envelope maker now also, bt-dubs) and wrote Spanish instructions on each packet of how to take the medicine and what the dosage was. Ghetto pharmacy work but it worked (will not go into that right now though).
One of the makeshift prescriptions I had to portion out and instruct on were bottles of Selsun Blue that I poured into small containers. These bottles were given out to the locals we saw who had fungal infections and skin rashes. Years later, a friend of mine from home had a bad skin fungus spread across her back and her dermatologist recommended washing her back with Selsun Blue — so it’s pretty legit! Always good to know that we’re not randomly distributing gobs of blue goo in vain.
So I told Grace’s grandmother and mother about Selsun Blue, a common dandruff shampoo that one can buy in most stores. Jiji told me that they did in fact sell this in the Philippines and that she would buy a bottle for the family.
I mentioned personal hygiene cautions as well. If Grace’s scalp was oozing as they mentioned, that meant there’s an open wound somewhere under her hair and it was important that they refrain from touching her scalp with dirty hands (the mother kept showing us the girl’s scalp by pulling back her hair with muddy-oyster-water hands). They explained that bathing had become tougher since the hand pump that provided water to the surrounding houses was broken. They now had to walk far to the next pump to fetch buckets of water, which are heavy and for which they have to pay. This led Jiji and me to believe that the fungal infection may have come from or worsened because of them not bathing Grace enough.
I was reminded of how great a need there is for water well/pump maintenance and repairs. Many organizations focus on building wells, which I am 100% for, but it’s important that we not only build wells but also provide education to the communities about how to care for their pumps and how to repaid them if broken. I’m super grateful for organizations that focus on the whole picture, like Lifewater International. Or awareness and advocacy campaigns around well repaid, like the one done by The Adventure Project.
Afterwards, we bought some food from a local vendor (literally a teenage boy sitting outside with pots and plates of home-cooked meats and veggies on top of a kitchen table) and brought it back to Grace’s family. We said goodbye and headed back to Rick & Jiji’s tutoring center for the children of the area.
I saw that Daniela had tweeted this video just a moment ago. Reading the title, I was on the fence about clicking the link but eventually decided to just watch, even if it might end up not being worthwhile. Turned out to be a TED Talk (and y’all know how much I love those) and a good one at that.
Watch it and consider what kind of bubbles we’re being shuffled into.
It hasn’t even been a week since the 60 Minutes feature that damaged Greg Mortenson’s reputation forever, but I’m already kind of tired of reading about it everywhere.
Yes, he was wrong about a lot of things. Yes, he’s made a lot of people angry and bitter and jaded. Yes, we can learn a lot from his mistakes (though you would have thought he would have learned from James Frey’s mistakes about fake memoir writing). But I think we’ve done plenty of analyzing and critiquing and learning (and I’m definitely grateful to everyone who has blogged, written, and tweeted to better help me understand the bigger picture too!) — but can we now re-focus on the positive efforts in girls’ education that deserve our attention?
So below are some [more transparent and effective] organizations with the mission to bring education to various communities, especially for young girls:
Obviously, these aren’t the only organizations focused on some kind of education effort, but it’s a handful. The point: let’s continue focusing attention and supporting the organizations that are taking the right approaches…and haven’t been busted on 60 Minutes…