A Turtle Fountain, From Every Angle


I chose the turtles of the Phelps Fountain in the Lyndale Park Rose Gardens as my subject for the weekly photo challenge From Every Angle.  A cherished Minneapolis institution since 1908, the rose garden on the southeastern shore of Lake Harriet is the second oldest public rose garden in the United States.  But the turtle fountain was not always there.

One piece of history that I learned recently: for decades, thousands of people gathered on the hillside adjacent to where the turtle fountain is now to watch a popular annual children’s pageant. According to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board,  “The public visibility of the gardens got a boost beginning in 1917 when the first playground pageant was performed on the hill above the rose garden overlooking the lake. The playground pageants included performances written specifically for the occasion and featured children in costumes from every park in the city. The first year the pageant drew a crowd of 15,000 and in later years the performance was extended to two evenings and played to crowds of 40,000. The pageant remained a popular annual event, with a hiatus during the Depression, until 1941. The pageants drew such large crowds that in 1930 the park board considered building an 18,000-seat amphitheater on the hillside at Lyndale Park to accommodate pageant crowds and host other outdoor concerts. With the onset of the Great Depression, however, funds for such a project never materialized.”

Meanwhile, in downtown Minneapolis, the 1915 Edmund J. Phelps Fountain, with its bronze turtles, sat at the center of the Gateway Park’s Beaux Arts Pavilion.  During the Great Depression, the park became a gathering place for the unemployed, homeless and transients moving through the area looking for work.   Eventually, the city drained the water from the basin of the turtle fountain to keep men from bathing in and drinking from it. Turns out that the turtles in my neighborhood park’s fountain were mute witnesses to dire poverty and suffering.

The turtle fountain was spared when Gateway Park was demolished.  In the early 1960s, a Perennial Garden was added just east of the rose garden.  The fountain was relocated in 1963 from downtown Minneapolis to the east end of this garden.

The turtle fountain, a familiar neighborhood icon, is different when seen from every (historic) angle.

See more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge here.

Humanity

Yaounde, Cameroun

“All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family…”

– Mahatma Gandhi

I took this photo of a young girl coming home from school in Yaounde, Cameroon.  It is a photo that always reminds me that, as Gandhi once said, all of humanity is one family.

To see more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity, click here.

Adventure on an African Road

Motorcycle taxis speed toward Douala, Cameroon's major port and commercial center

 

Motorcycle taxis speed toward Douala, Cameroon’s major port and commercial center.

Just getting around can be an adventure in and of itself in many parts of the world.  In Cameroon, the motorcycle taxis are used by many people to get around the city of Douala.  Most motorcycle taxis carry two passengers, but a few times I saw three passengers.  I took this photo from the back of a taxi speeding in the opposite direction.  There were hundreds of motorcycle taxis heading into the city, so I just snapped a couple photos at random.  I was shocked that this photo captured the scene as well as it did!

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure.  Follow the link to see more entries!

A Transatlantic Dialogue

 

When you look out at the ocean, do you ever wonder who is on the other side?  I do! So when we were at the beach in South Carolina, I felt compelled to look it up.  Turns out that Morocco is directly across the Atlantic from South Carolina.  I had recently been to Morocco, so I could vividly picture what was on the ocean as I walked along the shore.

For this week’s Photo Challenge: Dialogue, we are asked to bring  two photos into dialogue.  The first photo, taken on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, looks directly east across the Atlantic Ocean towards Morocco.  The second photo, taken in Rabat, looks directly west towards South Carolina.  The photographic dialogue even reflects the time difference; the first photo was taken in the early morning, which is afternoon in Morocco.

Sometimes we need a reminder that our beautiful world is really not so big after all. And that often our connections can be greater than our differences.

 

What to find out what’s on the other side of the ocean from where you are?  The Washington Post published a quick reference – check it out here!

Rainbow Looming Our Way To Gender Equality

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There are little plastic rubber bands all over our house.  On my way upstairs this morning, I noticed them strewn on the stair treads like colorful flower petals after a spring storm.  That’s because my 11 year-old son spent more than an hour yesterday at the top of the stairs, “where the light is good”, perfecting his starburst bracelet on the Rainbow Loom.   Technically, it’s his 8 year-old sister’s, but his Rainbow Loom will be arriving tomorrow via Amazon Prime.  He used some of his Christmas money to buy one for himself.

Anyone with kids in elementary or middle school will understand what I’m talking about, but this is something worth talking about even if you don’t have kids.   The Rainbow Loom has been popular for months. What is striking for me as a parent, however, is that this is a toy that is equally popular with both boys and girls.  Of the more than $3 million in sales since August, almost half of the Rainbow Looms reportedly were purchased for boys.

I first noticed the Rainbow Loom’s gender-neutral popularity last month at a PeeWee hockey tournament.  Since the tournament was out-of-town, the team and their families were all staying at the same hotel.  I noticed that all of the younger siblings – especially the boys – were prodigious Rainbow Loomers.   A group of younger brothers, all 9 and 10, were Rainbow Looming by the pool.  Later that night, they were Rainbow Looming at the rink before the game.

“Do the guys on your team like to Rainbow Loom, too?”  I asked my son.  He’s one of the youngest on his PeeWee team; most of the boys are already 12.

“Sure,” he said.  “But we didn’t have much time for it this weekend. You know, because we had to focus on hockey.”

Before my oldest son was born 14 years ago, I thought I could raise my kids in a gender-neutral way.  I had a wide range of toys on hand for him to choose from, including a baby doll.  But he and his younger brother showed no interest at all in playing with dolls or stuffed animals or Barbies or anything like that. When I caught them drop-kicking the doll, I finally gave it away to a more loving home.   By the time our daughter was born, we had no toys left that could be characterized as stereotypically female.   That is, until the day that I found her cradling a Darth Vader action figure.  She was kneeling next to a bowling pin that she had put to bed with a Kleenex for a blanket.   The premise of my nurture v. nature theory having been blown out of the water, I took her to Target and let her pick out a baby doll.  At eight, she is still taking excellent care of her “family”.

The bigger lesson for me was that kids will choose to play with what is interesting to them.   My kids inherited a substantial Hotwheels collection from my brother, but the boys never played with them much.   My daughter has always enjoyed playing with the cars, although she often plays with them differently.   Sometimes I’ll find them all lined up by color, for example.  Instead of making car noises like “Vroom! Vroom!”, the conversations I’ve overheard coming out her room are about relationships.  “Oh, Baby car!  Are you lonely? Do you want to park by Mommy car?”

Toy choice is the single most sex-typed behavior that children display.   Sure, my daughter chooses the stereotypical feminine toy most of the time.But the point is that she should be able to play with any toy and in any way that she wants to, regardless of what our society traditionally dictates as the appropriate gender-based toys.  And that goes for her brothers, too.

This holiday season, my daughter and I talked a lot about the gender-based marketing of toys.  It’s especially noticeable in the toy section – some stores even have aisles blatantly identified with pink for girls and blue for boys.   On the same toy aisle where she picked out her first baby doll, we noticed a ultra-pink display for “Lego Friends”.  My daughter, unimpressed at this new line of Legos marketed to girls, observed that,  “I don’t get it. It seems like they should just sell all the Legos in the same aisle.”

Which brings me back to the Rainbow Loom, a toy that has grown tremendously popular without much marketing at all. Rainbow Loom is popular because of word of mouth and YouTube.  Kids decided it is cool and fun to Rainbow Loom, and they shared that information (along with the colorful, plastic bracelets) with each other.

I witnessed something similar last summer when my son and the other boys at camp were obsessed with fingerweaving.  I have a mental picture of a group of them, all 11 and 12 years old, sitting around and fingerweaving during their free time.  In the middle of the circle was a huge mound – yards and yards and yards – of their collective fingerweaving.  Every once in a while, someone would call out, “I need more yarn!” and someone else would make a run for the craft room.  Fingerweaving was cool and fun in their social context and everyone, regardless of sex, was doing it.

I see the same phenomenon with the Rainbow Loom.  When tween boys are making jewelry at the hockey rink, you know it is not a popularity bogged down by gender-stereotypes.

“Why do you like to make things on your Rainbow Loom?”  I asked my daughter.   “Because it is creative and fun!” she replied.

When I asked my son the same question, he replied,  “Because it’s fun.  And creative.”

That pretty much says it all.   In a gender-biased world, they found a gender-neutral toy that they both love for the same reasons.   So I ordered them each a new package of 1800 colorful little rubber bands.  I won’t even mind picking them up off the floor.

The Rainbow Loom – and the kids that have made it wildly popular – give me hope.  Hope that this generation will keep our society moving, slowly but surely,  towards gender equality.

Les Fantômes de Montréal (The Ghosts of Montreal)

 Vieux-Montréal
Rue Saint-Paul in Vieux-Montréal

Growing up in south Louisiana, I couldn’t help but develop a healthy respect for the paranormal.  So when I landed in Montréal last week on the Day of The Dead, my thoughts naturally turned to the eerie possibility of fantômes ( French for ghosts).   The early November weather was grey and damp and chilly, making it seem even more plausible that there were haunted souls lurking in this old city.

A little research proved that Montreal is indeed a city with an ample supply of ghost stories.  Tourists can even go on a tour of haunted places in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) with tour guides dressed as famous fantômes.   I didn’t go on the tour, but in my three days of rambling around the city I did pass by several of the places where fantômes are frequently  sighted. 

Notre Dame Basilica, Vieux-Montréal
Notre Dame Basilica, Vieux-Montréal

From what I read on Haunted North America, les fantômes de Montréal represent just about every era in the city’s rich history.  The area in the St. Lawrence valley known today as Montreal was  inhabited by the Algoquinto, Huron, and Iroquois peoples at least 2,000 years ago.  Since at least the 14th century, humans have lived in a population center near the modest (only 780 feet tall)  mountain with the grand name Mont-Royal.   Previously, it was called Hochelega by the Saint Lawrence Iroquoians who had established a good-sized village here at least two centuries before the French  explorer Jacques Cartier first visited  the area in 1535.  The city allegedly gained the name “Montreal”  in 1556, when geographer Giovanni Battista Ramusio wrote the Italian “Monte Real” instead of the French “Mont-Royal” on his map of Hochelaga.

In 1611, Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post here and Montreal soon became a center for the fur trade and base for French exploration in North America .   Quebec was officially established as a French colony on May 17, 1642, with  Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve as governor.

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Statues of French colonial leaders, Place d’Armes, Vieux-Montréal

Things were pretty rough in Nouvelle-France (New France) in those days.   Vieux-Montréal,  the oldest part of the city near the port,  was the scene of numerous human rights abuses, including public hangings and torture.  People have reported seeing numerous apparitions covered with burn and whip marks in this part of the city.   Along the cobblestoned Rue Saint-Paul, figures have been seen disappearing in upstairs windows.  There is another story of a blonde woman who was murdered and now wanders the streets. Sometimes people in the area report a general feeling of unease, a feeling of being watched – even in broad daylight.

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Place Vacquelin and Place Jacques-Cartier

On Saturday morning, we walked up Avenue du Parc from downtown on our way to the Plateau neighborhood in search of the infamous Montreal bagels.  We walked past Parc Jeanne-Mance, which is bordered on the east side by Avenue deL’Espanade.  I read later that the apparition of a  French soldier wearing a cape is often seen walking here.   Montreal saw a lot of military action in the 1750s and 60s during La guerre de la Conquête (“The War of Conquest”).  At least that is what most French Canadians call it; officially in Canada, it is the “Seven Years War” or the “Anglo-French rivalry” .  In United States history, however, the conflict is referred to as the “French and Indian War”.   Whatever you call it, this particular French soldier was likely a victim.  He reportedly has a limp (and some say they have seen him with a cane) as he walks down Ave de L’Esplanade from Rue Rachel towards Avenue Duluth.  Sometimes, he is seen entering a building across the street from the park.  On this particular drizzly Saturday morning, however, I saw nothing in the park more creepy than some kids playing football (American football, that is, not soccer.)

Twice we walked past the severe, grey stone Hôpital Royal Victoria.   France lost the war with England, of course, ceding control over all its territory east of the Mississippi River in the1763  Treaty of Paris.  Quebec was under British control until 1867, when all of Canada became a self-governing British colony.   “The Dominion of Canada” created a unified federation of the former British and French colonies.   Canada and England maintained close ties (Canada did not become an independent country until 1982!), so it is no surprise that the hospital built in 1893 was named after the British queen Victoria.  The “Royal Vic” definitely looks like the kind of place that would have its own fair share of ghosts.  Indeed, hospital patients, visitors and staff have reported seeing ghosts of former patients and hearing disembodied footsteps and voices.   Odd occurrences have also been reported, things  like buzzers and lights going on and off in empty rooms.

Mont-Royal Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in North America.   Divided into three sections (Mont-Royal, Cote-Des-Neiges and Notre Dame), several hundred thousand graves are in a beautiful, serene park.  The Mont-Royal section is said to be the most active, with ghosts (including a famous Algonquin warrior) reportedly wandering about in the cemetery.  There is a popular scenic overlook on the serpentine road near the top of Mont-Royal.   Many people have reported seeing ghostly apparitions  standing at the edge of the cemetery grounds on the high rock cliffs above the overlook.   Perhaps, like me and the other tourists,  they are just enjoying the view of  the city below.  No ghosts were in evidence, however, on the sunny Sunday morning that  I rode my bike past the cemetery on my way to the top of Mont-Royal.

Later that day, we passed McGill University on our way to Montreal’s Musee des Beaux-Artes.   McGill reportedly has more than one ghost, including a young boy who has been known to interact with students.  Apparently, there is a bulletin board on campus where people can share information about where they have spotted the McGill University Ghost(s).

Although I did not experience any eerie paranormal activity during my recent visit, it was still fun to read about les fantômes de Montréal and to take a few creepy photos.   (This post is also a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie.)

One Day in Zanzibar

House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar
House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar

A little more than 10 years ago, I had a rare moment of clarity.  I was sitting with my second child, who was 9 months old, on my lap while my 2-year-old danced and swayed around me.  Everyone else in the Mommy and Me class was singing – with gusto – the Barney song “I Love You”.  Glancing at the clock, I realized that the week before – at exactly this time – I was being interviewed live on national TV in Peru about that country’s truth and reconciliation commission.

The stark contrast made me realize that I had chosen a life in which there might never really be a “typical” day.   Setting aside the insipidity of Barney, I realized that these small moments with my young sons were as important and valuable as the other, more high-profile moments of my career, which often takes me to exotic locales.  I learned not to compare my days.  Not to sift through the experiences of each day and measure the worth of one against another, but to see them all as a whole.  To acknowledge that each endeavor for work and for family gives me strength for the other. To realize that I am fortunate to have these varied experiences, which, woven together form the rich tapestry of my life.

So for the Weekly Photo Challenge: A Day in the Life, I am choosing to share one day that I recently spent in Zanzibar for work.  As I write this, my daughter is sitting beside me, looking at the photos and talking about them with me.  One day in Zanzibar, one day of spring break at home. Days and experiences, knitted together – so many days to be thankful for!

 

(See more Weekly Photo Challenge entries here.)

In Morocco

View of the Kasbah in Rabat
View of the Kasbah in Rabat
January 2013

There is no guidebook to Morocco, and no way of knowing, once one has left Tangier behind, where the long trail over the Rif is going to land one, in the sense understood by any one accustomed to European certainties.  The air of the unforeseen blows on one from the roadless passes of the Atlas.

I recently visited the Kingdom of Morocco for the first time.  Looking for reading material before my trip, I discovered a book about Morocco by Edith Wharton.  This came as a deep surprise to me, a longtime Wharton fan.  I thought that I had read every Edith Wharton publication in print, from her ghost stories right down to her interior design book (I wrote a paper on that one in college).  I knew, of course, that she had written some travel books; I had even read some of them.  But until I saw it listed as a free title on Kindle, I had never heard of In Morocco.  

Published in 1920 (the same year as Age of Innocence), In Morocco is widely considered the first travel guide to Morocco.  (Wharton certainly thought so, as she states, “Having begun my book with the statement that Morocco still lacks a guide-book, I should have wished to take a first step toward remedying that deficiency.”)

I’ve always admired Wharton’s  highly descriptive style, which lends itself exceptionally well to travel writing.  In Morocco is the account of Wharton’s motor trip across Morocco in the fall of 1917, at the tail end of the First World War.  Much of Morocco had become a French protectorate in 1912, so she made the trip at the invitation of the French Resident-General Hubert Lyautey.  It is no secret that Wharton was a committed supporter of French imperialism (she described herself as a “rabid imperialist”) and this comes across strongly in In Morocco.  (Unless you want read a love letter to colonialism, skip the chapter on Gen. Lyautey’s Work In Morocco.)  Equally hard to take is her paternalistic attitude towards and use of  racist terminology to describe Moroccans and their culture.

In spite of this, I enjoyed the historical perspective provided by In Morocco. More than anything,  In Morocco is a series of sketches of a place where past and present are intermingled, at a moment when the country was on the verge of change.  Wharton was very cognisant of the fact that post-war tourism would alter Morocco forever.

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Morocco is too curious, too beautiful, too rich in landscape and architecture, and above all too much of a novelty, not to attract one of the main streams of spring travel as soon as Mediterranean passenger traffic is resumed.

Visiting Morocco nearly 100 years after Wharton, I found it interesting to read her admiring documentation of this specific moment in time, which she has preserved in prose as solidly as if in amber.

To see Morocco during the war was therefore to see it in the last phase of its curiously abrupt transition from remoteness and danger to security and accessibility …

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Yet I also found the Morocco of 2013 to be a place where the boundaries between past and present are still slightly blurred.  Visiting many of the same places that Wharton had visited nearly a century before, I discovered that her descriptions were, in many cases, still brilliantly apt. The following photographs were taken by me but the words were written by Edith Wharton.

Tangier

View of the Medina in Tangier
View of the Medina in Tangier

This feeling of adventure is heightened by the contrast between Tangier – cosmopolitan, frowsy, familiar Tangier, that every tourist has visited for the last forty years – and the vast unknown just beyond.

 Rabat

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The European town of Rabat, a rapidly developing community, lies almost wholly outside of the walls of the old Arab city.  The latter, founded in the twelfth century by the great Almohad conqueror of Spain, Yacoub-el-Mansour, stretches its mighty walls to the river’s mouth.  Thence they climb the cliff to enclose the Kasbah of the Oudayas…. Great crenallated ramparts, cyclopean, superb, follow the curve of the cliff.

Kasbah of Rabat
Kasbah of Rabat

Salé the white and Rabat the red frown at each other over the foaming bar of the Bou-Regreg, each walled, terraced, minareted, and presenting a singularly complete picture of the two types of Moroccan town, the snowy and the tawny.  To the gates of both, the Atlantic breakers roll in with the boom of northern seas, and under a misty northern sky.

Kasbah in Rabat
View of Salé from the Kasbah in Rabat

It is one of the surprises of Morocco to find the familiar African pictures bathed in this unfamiliar haze. Even the fierce midday sun does not wholly dispel it – the air remains thick, opalescent, like water slightly clouded by milk.

Seawalk in Rabat
Seawalk in Rabat

Kasbah of the Oudayas

Garden of the Oudayas

Inside the gate of the Kasbah one comes on more waste land and on other walls – for all Moroccan towns are enclosed in circuit within circuit of battlemented masonry.  Then, unexpectedly, a gate in one of the inner walls lets one into a tiled court enclosed in a traciered clositer and overlooking an orange-grove that rises out of a carpet of roses.  This peaceful and well-ordered place is the interior of the Medersa (the college) of the Oudayas.

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The Tower of Hassan

Tower of Hassan, Rabat
Tower of Hassan, Rabat

The “Tower of Hassan,” as the Sultan’s tower is called, rised from the plateau above old Rabat, overlooking the steep cliff that drops down to the last winding of the Bou-Regreg. Truncated at half its height, it stand on the edge of a cliff, a far-off beacon to travellers by land and sea.  It is one of the world’s great monuments, so sufficient in strength and majesty that until one its fellow, the Koutoubya of Marrakech, one wonders if the genius of the builder could have carried such perfect balance of massive wall-spaces and traceried openings to a triumphant conclusion.

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Near the tower, the red-brown walls and huge piers of the mosque built at the same time stretch their roofless alignment beneath the sky. This mosque, before it was destroyed, must have been one of the finest monuments of Almohad architecture in Morocco: now, with its tumbled red masses of masonry and vast cisterns overhung by clumps of blue aloes, it still forms a ruin of Roman grandeur.

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The founder of Rabat, the great Yacoub-el-Mansour, called it, in memory of the battle of Alarcos, “The Camp of Victory” (Ribat-el-Path), and the monuments he bestowed on it justified the name in another sense, by giving it the beauty that lives when battles are forgotten.

Casablanca

On the west coast, especially, where the Mediterranean peoples, from the Phenicians to the Portuguese, have had trading-ports for over two thousand years, the harm done to such seaboard towns as Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca is hard to estimate.  The modern European colonist apparently imagined that to plant his warehouses, cafes, and cinema-palaces within the walls which for so long had fiercely excluded him was the most impressive way of proclaiming his domination.

Casablanca
Casablanca

These are just a few of the words and images I found on my recent trip to Morocco.  I was in Morocco for work, however, so my own version of In Morocco will not be a guidebook or travelogue. My version of In Morocco will be a series of sketches, too, but it will the stories of people who are working to improve human rights in their country.  I am not a writer with Edith Wharton’s powers of description, but these are stories that can and should be told.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

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Girl walking home from school

Yaoundé, Cameroun

February 3, 2013

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Cattle head home past the US Embassy

Avenue Rosa Parks, Yaoundé, Cameroun

February 4, 2013

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Incredibly unsafe school bus (NO SEATS!) brings school kids home

Douala, Cameroun

February 8, 2013

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A young boy plays in front of his home, which has a small shop on the front porch

Nkolfoulou, Cameroun

February 9, 2013

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Welcome home (and happy Vanitimse day)!

Minneapolis, MN

February 10, 2013

This week’s Photo Challenge calls for photos that evoke “home”.  See more Weekly Photo Challenge: Home posts.

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 of gross inequality for girls that is repeated in communities 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 another 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.

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.
Nepal
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 travel there regularly to monitor progress at the school.
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 For several years, 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.
Pre-K student at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, Nepal

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.
 

 9th Grade students at SPCS

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.

 

This post was originally written for World Moms Blog.

Photo credit for photo to Dulce Foster