A Mother’s Love is a Force of Nature

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Mother and daughter in Nepal

There are more than 2 billion mothers in the world today by some estimates. In my travels, I have seen the special role that mothers play in making the world a better place for all children.

A mother’s love is a force of nature, whether making sacrifices to ensure that her daughter is able to get an education or fighting for justice for their children. The mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Ayacucho, Peru lost their sons during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out who killed their sons and where their remains are.  

Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru
Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru

With their love, mothers are changing the world – one kid at a time.

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Me with my daughter in Norway.

Happy Mother’s Day – and thank you – to each of you mothers!

“All our SPCS family r safe”

SPCS students enjoying recess.  March 2015. (Credit:  Jennifer Prestholdt)
Students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School enjoying recess in March, 2015. (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Originally published on The Advocates’ Post.

“All our SPCS family r safe …”

This was the message I received from Anoop Poudel, headmaster at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS), on Monday night. We had been desperately trying to reach Anoop and others connected with SPCS since the 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, April 25.  Our concern grew as the death toll mounted and the strong aftershocks continued in the Kathmandu Valley. What a relief to learn that the teachers and 340 students at the school, as well as their families, are safe!

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)

In my role as The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, I coordinate The Advocates’ Nepal School Project. I was in Nepal just a few weeks ago with a team of volunteers to conduct our annual monitoring visit. The Advocates has been partnering with the Sankhu-Palubari community since 1999 to provide education as an alternative to child labor for low-income children in the area who would otherwise be working in brick yards or in the fields.

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School provides free, high quality education to children in grades pre-K through 10. Many of the students walk a long way to get to school – some as long as two hours each way.

The students’ standardized test scores are among the highest in Nepal, a highly competitive honor. And the school was awarded Nepal’s prestigious National Education Service Felicitation Award in 2014. Graduates are now studying at universities, preparing to become doctors, social workers, teachers, and agronomists; many plan to return to their village to improve the community’s quality of life. Their contributions will be even more important now, in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.

Some students walk - up to 2 hours each way - to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education.  (Credit: Laura Sandall)
Some students walk – up to 2 hours each way – to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education. (Credit: Laura Sandall)

The school is especially important for girls, who make up 52 percent of the student body. When SPCS began, girls often left school at an early age to marry or work. Now, they are staying and graduating because families have experienced the benefits of education. (You can read the inspiring story of SPCS’ first female graduate in Kanchi’s Story.)

First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

The new school year had just started at SPCS, but school was not in session when the earthquake hit. Students in Nepal attend school six days a week; Saturday is the only day when there is no school. Many people believe that, had it been a school day, the numbers of dead and injured in Kathmandu and throughout the Kathmandu Valley could have been much higher.

Even with that one tiny bright spot in a terrible national tragedy, UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.8 million children in Nepal were severely affected by the earthquake. Most of our students, who come from extremely poor agricultural families, are included in that number. Anoop sent me several more texts after the first, describing heavy damage in the area of the eastern Kathmandu Valley where the school is located. Media sources and other Nepali contacts also confirm extensive destruction in the Sankhu area. While we don’t have a lot of information yet, Anoop reported that he believes that more than 90 percent of the students and teachers have lost their homes in the earthquake. They are living outside in temporary shelters because of continuing aftershocks.  Word about the school building’s fate is yet to be received.  The first relief teams are reportedly scheduled to arrive in the area on Wednesday.

Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Our hearts go out to everyone in our SPCS family, as well as to the millions of other Nepalis affected by the “Black Saturday” earthquake.  At The Advocates, we believe that support for basic human needs such as water, food, and medical assistance in Nepal is the most urgent need at this point in time. We encourage people to give to reputable international humanitarian assistance organizations involved in the earthquake relief effort (you can find more information in the links below). In the long term, Nepal will need sustainable rebuilding and development programs.

Because education is essential to reducing poverty and inequality, the best way that The Advocates can support the rebuilding of Nepal is to is to ensure that the education of the students at our school continues with the least amount of interruption possible. We remain focused on that goal.

To find people in Nepal:

Use the Restoring Family Links tool on the ICRC website to search for a family member or friend in the area hit by the earthquake.

Use Google Person Finder if you are looking for, or have information about, someone in the affected area.

Use Facebook Safety Check to connect with you friends in the area and mark them as safe if you know that they’re ok.

Articles about how to contribute to the earthquake relief effort in Nepal: 

How to Help The Relief Effort in Nepal

Nepal Earthquake: How To Donate

How To Help Nepal: 7 Vetted Charities Doing Relief Work Following the Earthquake

Don’t Rush to Nepal. Read This First. 

Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)
Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)

Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt interviewing a student.Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.  In March 2015, she made her sixth trip to the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal.

News You May Have Missed (11-18 April, 2015)

Photo: MOhammad MOheimany  jamejamiage.irhttp://image.jamejamonline.ir/ImagePreviewSlider?nn=1869842704282503769&m=840228
Photo: MOhammad MOheimany jamejamiage.irhttp://image.jamejamonline.ir/ImagePreviewSlider?nn=1869842704282503769&m=840228

Although women in IRAN are still banned from riding a motorbike in public and are not able to get licenses, Behnaz Shafiei (the only Iranian female rider to have done professional road racing) was among the first group of women to obtain official permission to practice on off-road circuits. 

I was traveling for work during the month of March, so did not have time to do my weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I think deserve a little more attention. But I’m back now … so here we go with the news you may have missed this week!  

In the past 10 years, social campaigning by health workers and government regulations have forced the practice of female genital mutilation into the fringes in INDONESIA. But while the worst forms of female circumcision have largely fallen out of custom, the subtler practice still persists in potentially harmful ways.  Atas Habsjah, vice-chairwoman of the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI), acknowledges a transition from “scissor snipping” to “needle scratching,” but says it’s not enough. Most Indonesian girls, she says, still undergo some kind of circumcision. She argues that many clinics continue offering female circumcision because it’s “good business.” Female circumcision, like ear piercing, is charged as an optional extra to delivery. “They shouldn’t do anything at all. There is no medical indication, and it’s not in the Quran. We say don’t touch the genitals, it’s against human rights,” she says.

After determining that 10% of passengers experience unwanted sexual behavior on public transportation in London, UNITED KINGDOM but that only 1 in 10 reported it, Transport for London launched at new “Report it to stop it’” campaign.  The campaign aims to increase reporting of unwanted sexual harassment and assault on public transportation and gives specifics about how and what you need to report. 

Refugee family finds shelter in the Bili camp, just across the river from the Central African Republic.  UN Foundation/Corentin Fohlen
Refugee family finds shelter in the Bili camp, just across the river from the Central African Republic. UN Foundation/Corentin Fohlen

More than 20,000 new refugees from the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC have arrived in northern CONGO since the end of 2014, bringing the total number here to almost 90,000. They live in spontaneous settlements near the banks of the Oubangui River, where malaria is endemic. Small medical teams have arrived to care for the refugees who left everything. They are also providing the mosquito nets they need to protect themselves.

The video Hilary Clinton used to launch her 2016 UNITED STATES presidential campaign will run in RUSSIA on TV Rain (Russia’s only remaining independent network) – but with an 18-and-over rating. A TV Rain spokesman told ABC News on Monday that the age warning was meant to avoid prosecution under the country’s ban on homosexual “propaganda” among minors.  One scene of the video shows two men holding hands and discussing their plans to get married this summer.

KENYA  has urged the UN refugee agency to remove the Dadaab camp housing more than half a million refugees from SOMALIA within three months, or it will do so itself. The request is part of a response to the recent killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university. Kenya says it is protecting national security, having in the past accused fighters of hiding out in Dadaab camp, the world’s largest refugee complex, which it now wants moved across the border to Somalia. In response, the UN refugee agency warned that forcibly repatriating the refugees (mostly Somali women and children, who have been living there for years or were born there, and have never been to Somalia) violates international law. 

Photo: Girl Up https://medium.com/@unfoundation/5-days-5-facts-educate-a-girl-change-the-world-2991193b319b
Photo: Girl Up https://medium.com/@unfoundation/5-days-5-facts-educate-a-girl-change-the-world-2991193b319b

The good news: According to the latest report on the Millennium Development Goals, “In 2012, all developing regions achieved, or were close to achieving, gender parity in primary education.”  The bad news: We still have further to go to make sure every girl can learn, especially as she advances into secondary school and beyond. Right now, more than 60 million girls are out of school. Poverty, discrimination, and conflict keep many girls from school. And in too many communities, girls are forced to marry young, drop out of school, and work in the home.

At the Paris Marathon last Sunday, Siabatou Sanneh of GAMBIA stood out from the other racers — in addition to her race number, she wore traditional Gambian garb and carried 45 pounds of water on her head. Sanneh, who had never left her home country before, participated in the marathon on behalf of Water for Africa to raise awareness of the difficulties African women face in accessing clean water. While she walked the race, she also wore a sign that read: “In Africa, women travel this distance everyday to get potable water. Help us shorten the distance.”

Good Morning from Kathmandu!

Early morning view from my window at the Kathmandu Guest House in Nepal.(March 2015)

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird.  See more photos here.

Views from a Zanzibar Ferry

Sunrise in Dar es Salaam
Sunrise in over the harbor in Dar es Salaam
On the ferry, waiting for it to leave Zanzibar Gate
On the ferry, waiting for it to leave Zanzibar Gate
Commuters at the Kigamboni Ferry Terminal
Commuters at the Kigamboni Ferry Terminal
Rainbow over Dar es Salaam Bay
Rainbow over Dar es Salaam Bay
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House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar

 

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Afloat.”