“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.

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Human Rights Day Activities For You and Your Kids!

Image by ZenPencils.com
Image by Zen Pencils created for Blog Action Day 2013

   Originally published on World Moms Blog.

Each year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.  

The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.

As we have done on World Moms Blog before (see

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day

and

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids),

we’re sharing some ideas this year for simple yet meaningful ways for your family to celebrate the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

 

 

 

 

1.  Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The full UDHR is on the UN website here, but you can also find a simplified version of the UDHR here.  And check out this cool video created by the Human Rights Action Center that summarizes the rights in the UDHR:

2.  Be a mapper for UNICEF Voices of Youth.   UNICEF has created an online platform to empower youth around the world to map important issues in their community, advocate and bring change. A featured tool from Voices of Youth Maps is UNICEF-GIS – a youth-friendly mobile mapping application that produces web maps and visual reports on youth-related issues. UNICEF is asking youth to

Open a window into your community and share issues that you and your friends and family face. Tell us about the experiences you live, share your success stories and show us the beauty of your cultural background. Post on Voices of Youth and make your voice heard!

You and your kids can read about and see photo galleries by youth mappers in Brazil and Haiti here.   Click here to get involved in Voices of Youth.

 

 

UDHR Article 21 right to participate in government –  perfect for elections in November!

3.  Make a Human Rights Calendar for 2015.  Choose a UDHR article (or two or three) to focus on each month.  Decorate the calendar with photos and drawings that illustrate the right(s).  Try to coordinate the UDHR rights with local, national, and international holidays.  For example, choose Article 15 (right to a nationality) for the month of your country’s national independence day and Article 18 (right to practice your religion) during a religious holiday period.  You can download free calendar templates here.

4.  Learn about a human rights heroine or hero.  Pick your favorite activist for social justice, either from your country or another country.  Go to the library to find a biography or search online for information about her/his life.  Try to find out:

Mandela memorial painted on a building in Capetown, South Africa.
Mandela memorial painted on a building in Capetown, South Africa.
  • When the person lived (if not still living).
  • What problem (or problems) they faced.
  • Who or what formed their opposition.
  • What was the outcome of the stand they took, in which they believed?
  • What tactics did they use in their campaign?
  • How much success do you think they had?

What did you learn that surprised you?  What else would you like to know about this person?  Brainstorm your own questions together!

5.  Explore what it means to be a peacemaker.  You can interview each other or other kids or adults.  Ask each other

  • What does peace mean to you?
  • Describe a time when you experienced peace.  Where were you?  What were you doing? Who was with you?
  • When was a time when you were a peacemaker? What happened? Who were the people involved? How did it turn out?
  • Are there some ways that you think you are not a peacemaker?
  • Who do you know who you would describe as a peacemaker?  What does this person do that you consider peacemaking? Why do think of these actions as peacemaking?

Ideas number 4 and 5 are from the Hague Appeal for Peace’s curriculum Learning to Abolish War: Teaching Toward a Culture of Peace.  Check out more ideas for teaching about peace in this resource.

6.  Learn more about the work of United Nations human rights experts.  “Special Rapporteur” is a title given to individuals working on behalf of the United Nations who bear a specific mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions to human rights problems. Appointed by the UN Secretary General, these experts are “of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights.” They act independently of governments.  Special Rapporteurs often conduct fact-finding missions to countries to investigate allegations of human rights violations.  They also regularly assess and verify complaints from alleged victims of human rights violations. Once a complaint is verified as legitimate, an urgent letter or appeal is sent to the government that has allegedly committed the violation. To learn more, you can listen to the podcast series Meet the Special Rapporteurs.

 7.  Participate in the 7 Billion Others project.  In this beautiful series of portraits of humanity, more than 6000 people from around the world have answered the same 40 questions, including: What did you learn from your parents? What would you like to pass on to your children? What challenges have you had to face? What does love mean to you?  Series creator Yann Arthus-Bertrand says,

There are more than seven billion of us on Earth, and there will be no sustainable development if we cannot manage to live together. That is why 7 billion Others is so important to me. I believe in it because it concerns all of us and because it encourages us to take action. I hope that each one of us will want to reach out and make these encounters to listen to other people and to contribute to the life of 7 billion Others by adding our own experiences and expressing our desire to live together. 

Download chapters of the eBook to read what more than 500 people shared about their experiences or simply spend some time exploring the videos of people testifying (there is even a helpful search function).    Listen to thematically organized podcasts to hear people from different parts of the world voice their opinions on common experiences like freedom, anger, love, and family.  You can even add your own testimony by video or text.  

8.  Look for human rights in the news.   Clip articles about local, national and international human rights issues out of newspapers and magazines.  Listen to radio or watch television news programming and point out the human rights coverage.  Be sure to look for news about human rights successes as well as news about human rights problems.

9.  Learn more about the human rights issues related to the products you buy.  The International Labour Organization estimates that more than a quarter of a million children work in the cocoa plantations of West Africa that produce most of the world’s chocolate. It’s hazardous work, which exposes children to injury and highly toxic pesticides. Hershey’s, the largest chocolate manufacturer in North America, has not thoroughly addressed accusations of child labor in its supply chain and refuses to release any information about where it sources its cocoa. Consumers play an essential role in diminishing the food industry’s injustices. You and your children can make the choice to buy chocolate that is not made with child labor.  See a list of the companies that do NOT use child labor in their chocolate production here.  Read more about child labor in the cocoa industry here.

Twin Cities March to Bring Back Our Girls, May 2014

 

10.  Get out there and raise your voice for what you believe in. Participate in a march or protest related to an issue that is important to you. And be sure to bring your kids!  There is no better way to teach empathy and compassion for others than by doing it together.

 

 

 

You and your kids are on your way to a great Human Rights Day!  What are YOU going to do this year? Please share YOUR ideas for human rights activities with us in the comments.

 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:  If you are a classroom teacher or homeschooling your kids (or if you just want to dig deeper), you can find tons more ideas through the following resources:

United Nations Cyber Schoolbus – human rights activities and information about the United Nations’ work

ABC – Teaching Human Rights – practical activities in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Discover Human Rights Institute – human rights education lesson plans and curriculum

Human Rights Here and Now  – human rights lesson plans and resources

Raising Children With Roots, Rights and Responsibilities – activities for preschool and young elementary children

UNRIC’s Human Rights Education website –  great source for multimedia on human rights!
See also my past posts on Human Rights Day activities:

 

Human Rights Day Activities To Do With Your Kids

This post was originally written for World Moms Blog.

IMG_1800Every December 10, people around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.  The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.  As we have done on World Moms Blog before (see 10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day), we’re sharing some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways for your family to celebrate the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

1.  Make a World Wishes Dove with your family.  Cut feathers from white paper or colored construction paper.  Have everyone in the family decorate and write their wish for the world on a feather.    Cut out the body of a dove or other bird and glue all the feathers on it.  Once decorated, your bird will be a beautiful and hopeful expression of your family’s hopes for our world.

Template for a doveImage Source
Template for a dove
Image Source
2.  Play a game that helps kids understand human rights.  Blind Trust (from ABC – Teaching Human Rights):  In pairs, have one child blindfold the other and have the sighted member of the pair lead the “blind” one about for a few minutes. Make sure the leading child is not abusing the power to lead, since the idea is to nurture trust, not to destroy it. The “leader” of the pair should try to provide as wide a variety of experiences as possible, such as hav- ing the “blind” partner feel things with his or her feet or fingers, leading with vocal directions or even playing a game. After a few minutes have the children reverse the roles and repeat the process so that the “leader” is now the led, and the “blind” partner is now the sighted one.

Once the activity is over, allow the children to talk about what happened. Discuss how they felt – not just as “blind” partners but their feelings of responsibility as “leaders” too. This can lead not only to a greater awareness of what life is like for people with sight (or hearing) disabilities, but to a discussion of the importance of trust in the whole community. This can lead in turn to a discussion of world society, how it works and how it can fail to work too.  (teaches about Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 28; Convention on the Rights of the Child articles 3, 23)

3.  Learn about how children live in other countries.  For example, you can learn what kinds of food children in East Africa grow and eat from the Lessons from Africa resource created by the British non-governmental organization Send A Cow (also check out their website http://www.cowforce.com).  You can download the  powerpoint  about typical East African food.   You can also print out some of the recipes for things like chapatis and pepper soup to make and try for yourself.

4.  Find out what kids and teens can do to help stop child labor.  The ILO’s Youth in Action against Child Labour campaign has ideas, information,  videos and other resources to help young people take action to end child labor.

5.  Play Human Rights Twister to teach about cooperation, respect and inclusion.   Make a “Twister” game in which kids spell out key human rights words using their feet and hands.  Draw a grid with 6 columns and 5 rows with marker on a  large piece of cloth (like an old sheet) or plastic (like a plastic tablecloth). You can also use chalk to draw it on the ground. Write the following letters in the grid:

(blank) W X Y Z(blank)


Q R S T U V

K L M N O P

E F G H I J

(blank space)A B C D(blank)

Ask the children to name some rights and list them on a large piece of paper or whiteboard. Underline a key word in each right from this list of rights in one word:

Dignity            Education            Equality             Food            Freedom            Home            Love (from parents)            Name

Nationality          Opinion          Participation (in decisions that affect us)          Play          Protection          Religion

When you have listed at least 3 or 4 rights, have the children spell out the key word in the human right from the list by placing their hands and feet on the  appropriate letters of the “Twister” game.  When 1 child’s hands and feet are in place and the word is not yet completed, ask another child to join in  to complete the word. If the hand or foot of another  child already covers a letter, the player just has to touch the child that is on that letter.  When a letter is too far to reach, invite another child to join in.  (This activity and dozens of others to teach about human rights values and peaceful conflict resolution are available for free download in the Canadian organization EquitasPlay It Fair Toolkit. )

6.  Make toys and play games that children play in other countries.  Many kids throughout the world live in poverty and don’t have money to buy toys and games.  They make their own toys out of recycled materials that they find.  Your kids can try making a football (soccer ball) out of recycled plastic bags or a toy car made from a plastic bottle.

You can also  make and play the Sudanese game “Dala” (the Cow Herder Game).  In many parts of the world, games mimic everyday life; this game mimics the Sudanese practice of bull herding.  Sudanese people play it on the ground, using sticks to make the lines and pebbles or seeds as “bulls”.

7.  Ask the question “What Does a Child Need?”  Have your child lie down on a large piece of paper and trace their outline on the paper.  Ask your child(ren) to name this paper child. Discuss and decide on the mental, physical, spiritual and character qualities they want this ideal child to have as an adult (e.g. good health, sense of humour, kindness) and write these qualities inside the outline. They might also make symbols on or around the child to represent these ideal qualities (e.g. books to represent education). Talk about what human and material resources the child will need to achieve these qualities (e.g. if the child is to be healthy, it will need food and health care); write them down on the paper outside of the outline.  You can also read a simplified version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German, etc.)  When children hear an article that guarantees a child each of the needs they have listed, they can write the number of the articles next to that item. Circle any needs identified but not covered by the Convention.

DSC_0599

 

8.  Read some books with strong female characters.   Non-discrimination and equality are key concepts in international human rights law.  Yet girls and women are generally not been portrayed as equals to boys and men in literature.  A Mighty Girl has compiled several great lists of girl-empowering books, including Top Read Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls,  Top 100 Mighty Girl Picture BooksTop Graphic Novels Starring Mighty Girls, and Top Mighty Girl Books & Films on Women’s History.

9.   Get creative and enter your work in a contest with a human rights theme.   Local, regional or international contests are powerful activities for getting youth involved and learning about human rights.  Take action by entering some of the contests listed here on the Youth For Human Rights website.  (You can also learn more on the website about their educational programs, projects, awareness campaigns and human rights outreach campaigns.)

10.  Make a Human Rights Day card.  You can give the card to a friend or member of your family.  Or you can make multiple cards to decorate your house.   My eight year old daughter (that’s her self-portrait in the background) made this card for all the children of the world.

IMG_1502

 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:  You’re on your way to a great Human Rights Day!  If you are a classroom teacher or homeschooling your kids (or if you just want to dig deeper), you can find tons more ideas through the following resources:

My past posts on Human Rights Day activities:

United Nations Cyber Schoolbus – human rights activities and information about the United Nations’ work

ABC – Teaching Human Rights – practical activities in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Discover Human Rights Institute – human rights education lesson plans and curriculum

Human Rights Here and Now  – human rights lesson plans and resources

Raising Children With Roots, Rights and Responsibilities – activities for preschool and young elementary children

UNRIC’s Human Rights Education website –  great source for multimedia on human rights!

“U Have To Struggle More”: A Poem for International Day of the Girl

Kanchi Photo - Young

Last year on the International Day of the Girl, I wrote about a girl named Kanchi and her determination to overcome all obstacles and obtain an education in rural Nepal.  The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is now studying horticulture in university. She also writes poetry in her spare time and asked me to share the following poem that she wrote about her life.

It is a poem that seems particularly fitting on this,  the second  International Day of the Girl.

When I was born in small hut,

i’d be a heavy load,

i’d be a heavy load,

Anyhow i have to accept all the things

which were asked by father & mother

because i’m a daughter,

because i’m a daughter.

Father& Mother always used to say

that i don’t have any right to read & write

because 1 day i have to leave birth place

& i have to be someone’s wife,

i have to be someone’s wife.

They says that i cannot do anything in my life because

my life is like an egg which can

Creak at anytime if it falls,

Which never be join back,

which never be join back.

They say that to do household work,

that’s my big property &

during the time of my marriage

when i get more dowry,

during the time of my marriage

when i get more dowry.

These heart pinches words

collided in my ear,

my heart nearly go to burst,

,my heart nearly go to burst.

At that time my 1 heart says

that u have to leave this selfish world.

But another heart says that don’t get tired

to achieve goal u have to struggle more,

u have to struggle more.

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL:  KANCHI’S STORY

Originally published October 11, 2012 on The Advocates Post.

Every morning when I come into work, I am greeted by the smiling face of a young girl. Her hair is pulled neatly back into two braids, glossy black against her pink hairbands.  Her eyes, dark and alert, shine at me – I swear I can see them twinkle.

She wears the blue uniform of her school, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in rural Nepal.  The Advocates for Human Rights supports the school to provide the right to education to the most disadvantaged kids in the area and to prevent them from becoming involved in child labor.  Photographs from the school hang on the walls of our office, reminders to us of the lives that we impact with our human rights work.

Even though I see her every day, until last month I had never met this cheerful young girl, a girl whose smile – even in a photo – comes from her core, seems to light her entire being. Until last month, I did not know that her name was Kanchi.  And I had never heard her incredible story.

*****

In 1999, Kanchi was six years old.  She lived with her family in a village in the Kathmandu Valley.  Her parents were poor farmers; they had only a little land and some cattle and they struggled to feed their family.  Kanchi was the youngest of six sisters.  She and her sisters (and also her  brother) had to help their parents in the fields and with household chores.  Kanchi’s job was also to take the cattle to the forest to graze.   Kanchi did not go to school.   There were many children in Nepal that did not go to school at that time, but girls, like Kanchi, were more likely than boys to work rather than go to school – particularly in rural areas like the Suntole district where she lived.

Kanchi was a very smart and determined little girl.  She wanted to go to school.   So when she heard that a new school was opening in the Sankhu-Palubari community – a school for kids who were not able to go to school because they couldn’t pay or were discriminated against – she was very excited.  She rushed off to tell her parents.  But her parents, who had never themselves been educated, were not as excited as Kanchi.  Why should they let her go to school?  Who would help feed the family? Why should they send her to school if she was only going to get married in a few years anyway?

Kanchi says that she cried for a month and begged her parents to let her go to school.  One day, teachers from the new school came to visit Kanchi’s parents to talk to them about the school. The teachers explained that it would help THEM if Kanchi could read and write.  They explained why it was important for all children to go to school, even girls.  They told them that all children – even the poorest, the lowest-caste, members of indigenous groups – had a right to education.

Kanchi’s older sisters, who had never had the opportunity to go to school, took her side. Instead getting an education, they had all married young and were working in the fields.  Kanchi’s sisters argued that Kanchi should go to school, take this opportunity for a life that would be different from theirs.  Finally, their parents agreed to let Kanchi go to school.

Kanchi started at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in 1999, one of 39  students in the first kindergarten class.  To get to school, Kanchi had to walk one and a half hours each way.  There were many other obstacles along the way, too.  At various times, her parents wanted her to stop school and help them with farming.  But she stayed in school and worked hard. She told her parents,  “I want to do something different from the others.”

Kanchi liked her teachers and felt supported by them.  She felt that the best thing about the school was the teaching environment.  She stayed in school and was one of only two girls in the first class to graduate from 8th grade.  She continued on to high school and completed 12th grade at  Siddhartha College of Banepa in 2012.  The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is also the first girl from the Sankhu-Palubari Community School to graduate from 12th grade.

I met Kanchi for the first time in September.  Almost exactly 13 years after this brave little girl started kindergarten, she is a lovely young woman who is preparing for her university entrance exams.  She plans to study agriculture  starting in January.   Her parents are proud of her and they are happy now – she has chosen the family profession – but Kanchi is interested in learning more about organic farming so she can bring techniques back to her village.  “I want to live a healthy life and give a healthy life to others,” she says.

Sitting in the principal’s office at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, I asked her what the school meant to her.  Kanchi said, “I gained from this school my life.  If I hadn’t learned to read and write, I would be a housewife.”  When asked about her sisters, she told me that they had made sure to send their own children to school.

In her free time, Kanchi likes to sing and dance and make handicrafts to decorate her room.  She likes to play with her sisters’ children.  She has a smile that lights the whole world.  She told me her nickname, Himshila.  She smiled when she told me it means “mountain snow, strong rock”.  Strong rock.  That seems just about right.

*****

October 11, 2012 is the first International Day of the Girl Child.  The United Nations has designated this day to promote the rights of girls, highlight gender inequalities and the challenges girls face, and address discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe.  In many ways, the story of Kanchi and her sisters reflects the experience of girls in many countries throughout the world.  All over the world, girls are denied equal access to education, forced into child labor, married off at a young age, pressured to drop out of school because of their gender.

There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls like Kanchi, however. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development.

“Investing in girls is smart,” says World Bank President, Robert Zoellick. “It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer and more productive lives.”

The International Day of the Girl is a day to recommit ourselves to ensuring that girls like Kanchi have the chance to live their lives to their fullest possible potential.  To redouble our efforts to promote the rights of girls wherever they live in the world.   This first International Day of the Girl is also a day to honor girls like Kanchi.  A day to take the story of her success in one tiny corner of Nepal and shout it out, an inspiration for girls all around the world.  Girls like Kanchi with the strength, the bravery, the determination to change the world, but who  just need the opportunity.

Back to School

I haven’t been able to do much blogging this summer.  This photo may help explain why:

photo(1)

Today is the first day of school for my kids.  We had a great summer, but – clearly –  it is time for them to go back to to school!  Hopefully it also means that I will have a little more time to myself to think and write and post to The Human Rights Warrior.

In the meantime, here is a repost on The Importance of Educating Girls that I originally wrote for World Moms Blog in 2012.  The first day of school always makes me so thankful that my children, especially my daughter, are able to access their right to education.

The Importance of Educating Girls

Fifth grade class in Chuchoquesera, Peru

When I visited the classroom pictured above in the Peruvian highlands back in 2004, I noticed that slightly more than half of the students were girls. I remarked on this fact to the human rights activist who was giving us the tour of this Quechua-speaking indigenous community.  He smiled sadly and said, “Yes, but this is fifth grade.  In sixth grade, children go to a lower secondary school that is farther away.  Most of the girls won’t go.  It takes too long to walk there and they are needed to help at home, so the parents won’t let them go.  Besides, most of them will be married soon.” Unfortunately, this is a situation that is repeated throughout the world

In the United States, where education is both compulsory and free, we often forget that the right to education is not meaningfully available in many parts of the world – especially for girls.  The UN estimates that there were more than 67 million primary school-age and 73 million lower secondary school-age children out of school worldwide in 2009.  In addition, an estimated 793 million adults lack basic literacy skills. The majority of them are women.

Since then, I have visited classrooms and asked questions about girls’ access to education in countries on several continents.  This is a photo I took at Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana.

Kindergarten class, Buduburam Refugee Settlement, Ghana

Boys far outnumbered girls in this classroom, illustrating one of the problems for girls in accessing education.  When resources are scarce, parents will often choose to spend the money on school fees for their sons rather than their daughters.

Boys also outnumbered girls at this school that I visited outside of Yaounde, Cameroon.

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Attendance Board in primary grade class in a school outside of Yaounde, Cameroon

There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls, however. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to promote economic growth and development.

“Investing in girls is smart,” says World Bank President, Robert Zoellick. “It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer and more productive lives.”

Ensuring equal access to education for all girls by 2015 is part of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, making this issue a major focus of work by the United Nations (for more info, check out the UN Girls’ Education Initiative site), the World Bank and many international non-governmental organizations.   October 11 has been designated as the International Day of the Girl Child to draw attention to the topic.
 
 
Fourth grade student at Sankhu-Palubari Community School wearing Newari traditional dress
 
On a much smaller scale, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal is doing its part to encourage gender parity in education and  increase literacy rates.  The school works in partnership with The Advocates for Human Rights (the non-profit where I work) to prevent child labor and improve the lives and well-being of the neediest children in this community in the Kathmandu Valley. I travelled there in January for our annual monitoring visit.
 
Pre-K student at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, Nepal

This year, the school has successfully met goals for gender parity among students in both the primary and lower secondary grades. For the 2011-2012 school year, 147 of the 283 students in pre-school through eighth grade are girls. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, 15 of the 31 students in ninth and tenth grade are young women.
 
9th Grade students at SPCS
 
Most of the students’ families work in agriculture.  They are farmers with little or no money to spare on school fees, uniforms and supplies.   Many of them are from disadvantaged groups such as the Tamang and Newari.  Indigenous group with their own cultures and languages, the indigenous students must learn Nepali as well as English when they come to school.  Frequently, the adults in the family are illiterate.
 
How has the teaching staff managed this success at keeping girls in school?  Since the school’s founding in 1999, the teachers have conducted outreach to parents and worked hard to encourage female students to attend and stay in school in spite of societal pressure to get married or enter domestic work. It took more than 10 years, but their efforts have paid off.  While girls worldwide generally are less likely to access, remain in, or achieve in school, 52% of the students in K-8th grades at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School this year are girls. And a girl is at the top of the class in most of the grades at SPCS.
 
The impact of the school both on the individual students and on the community over the past 12 years has been profound.  When I was there in March of 2011, we interviewed approximately 60% of the parents of SPCS students.  It was clear to me that parents value the education that their children are receiving and, seeing the value, have ensured that the younger siblings are also enrolled in school rather than put to work.  Twelve years ago, there were many students in the area out of school but now most are attending school. I could also see the physical benefits that the students derived from attending school when they stood next to their parents.  Even the 5th grade girls towered over their parents, illustrating the simple cause-and-effect of adequate nutrition, wellness checkups, and not having to work in the fields from a very young age.
 
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School may be a small school in a remote valley, but it is a place where the human right to education is alive and well, providing a better future for these children.  In particular, the effect that these girls have on their community, their country and – hopefully, the world – will be thrilling to watch.
 
I’ll be heading back to Nepal to visit the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in just a few weeks. Stay tuned!
 
Yaounde, Cameroon
Pre-K classroom at a school near Yaounde, Cameroon
 

End Child Labor: An Estimated 215 Million Children Still Need Alternatives

September:  Interviewing students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal
September: Interviewing students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal

What do you say to a child who has experienced child labor? I found myself in this position in Nepal recently. I was interviewing a teenager, who I will call Shree.  He described how as a little boy he had worked with his parents in the brick factories of Bhaktapur, rising at 1 a.m. to carry mud and mix bricks. Luckily, when he was 7, a school opened in in his community to provide Shree and other children at risk of child labor a free education, as well as the chance for a childhood and a promising future.

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) was launched in 1999 by The Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization based in the Twin Cities, to provide an alternative to child labor. Now, 14 years later, about 350 students are enrolled in grades pre-K through 10 at the school, which is located about an hour from the capital city of Kathmandu. Many of the students are from families that are low-caste, indigenous, or other marginalized groups.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 215 million girls and boys around the world are swept up into child labor, some into human trafficking. Children, like Shree, are engaged in work that not only deprives them of their rights and an adequate education, but also is hazardous to their health and commits them to a life of poverty.

The ILO launched the first World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to highlight the plight of these children. Observed on June 12, the day works as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement against child labor.

When in his final year at Sankhu-Palubari, Shree, one of the best students in the area, passed his 10th grade School Leaving Certificate exam with distinction. When I met him recently, he was in his his last year of high school.  He likes to write poetry and listen to music. In the afternoons, he volunteers at SPCS, the school that changed the course of his life and where his two younger brothers now study instead of working in the brick factories. He helps the teachers in the classroom and encourages the students to study hard. When they get discouraged, he tells them, “Choose the road that makes your future very bright.”

The bright future Shree envisions for himself is to continue his education after high school and become a math and science teacher to work in rural Nepal with children who, without a school and teachers, would most likely work instead of learn.

So, what do you say to the young girl beading blouses with tiny fingers in a suffocating textile sweatshop in India? What do you say to the little boy in Gambia working in an auto-repair garage or selling items on the street? What do you say to the young girl who is working as a petite bonne (domestic servant) in Morocco?  To the child  sold into human trafficking?

Through his deeds and goals, Shree is telling these children that he is working to break this cycle of abuse.

For you and me, I say that we speak with a loud, unified voice today and proclaim, “We are committed to protecting you, the world’s children, by ending child labor.”

Then, we put our words into action.

Originally published in MinnPost on June 12, 2013.

The Human Rights Lesson

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I spent some time in my daughter’s classroom last week talking to the second graders about human rights.  I’ve been a guest speaker in all of my kids’ classrooms and have done this presentation (a kind of human rightsy mash-up of show-and-tell and career day) pretty much every year since my oldest was in second grade.  But this time was different.  I discovered the night before I was scheduled to speak in her class that my daughter, who just turned 8, was planning to do the presentation on human rights WITH me.

I have a more-or-less standard routine and she knew it well.  (I wrote a post called Same and Different about doing this human rights lesson in my sons’ classrooms.)  First, I do an activity that I call Same and Different.  I have several photos from West Africa that I had blown up and mounted on foamcore.  I show the kids a photo and have them point out what they see in the picture that is the same in their lives and what is different.  It always generates great discussion and often the kids see things in the photos and make connections that I never did.  Hopefully, by showing that all humans have similarities in spite of our differences, it also plants some seeds of respect and tolerance.

When I got to her classroom, my daughter brought her small plastic chair to the front of the class and set it down firmly right next to mine.  After introducing me (with the class microphone), she sat down beside me.  She had assigned herself the assistant’s job of holding the photos for all to see while I led the discussion.  A couple of times I had to remind her to hold the photo out so that all the kids could see, but overall she did a great job.

The next activity I do is to pass around a selection of items that I have picked up on my travels for work.  As we pass them around so that everyone gets a chance to touch them, we again discuss what is the same and different in our lives.  This time, I didn’t gather a thing for the activity; my daughter collected everything the night before our presentation.  A yak wool blanket from Nepal, a wooden statue of  a traditional palava hut from Liberia, coins and bills from Cameroon – all went into a bag I had brought her from Ghana.  She even added her pink beaded pointy-toed slippers from Morocco.  When I reminded her that she would have to share and let everyone touch them and try them on,  she hesitated for a moment.  In the end, though, her slippers went into the bag.

To close out the presentation, I usually read a children’s book or two about human rights.  I have a couple of favorites.  For Every Child, A Better World by Kermit the Frog is one that we own two copies of, but of course we couldn’t find either when we needed it.  I went to library to check out a copy and discovered shelved right beside it I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres.  This beautifully illustrated book presents the concept of human rights, especially those of children as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

When I brought the books home from the library, I asked my daughter,

“Which do you want me to read to your class?”

“I want to read them both,” she said.

She did a beautiful job of reading both books to the class.  I was so proud that I teared up, right there in front of all the second graders and their teacher.

In some ways, it is easier to talk to kids about human rights than adults.  Because children generally see things in terms of black and white, right and wrong, it is easy for them to understand that we all have rights – the right to voice our opinions, to go to school, to be free from violence.  The right to have food and shelter and clean air and water.  The thing about kids is that they have a very strong natural sense of justice (as it applies to them, at least) they understand the inequities of a world where not everyone is able to access those rights.

One girl  came up and hugged me after the human rights lesson.

“It makes me sad,” she said, “to think that not all kids have enough to eat.”

“What you are feeling is empathy,” said the teacher.  “And that’s good.”

Knowing about the problem – caring about it and wanting to do something about it – is the first step towards change.

The last thing I heard as I left the classroom was another little girl saying,

“I think I am going to write a letter to President Obama and ask him why we are not part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

There are a lot of things about working in human rights that are not easy, but this was a very  good day!

More ideas for human rights activities to do with children:

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day

10 More Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day

Same and Different