“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 (17-23 January)

A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed
A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed

There was some good news about human rights around the world this week.  

SOMALIA has become the 195th state party to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A ceremony was held to mark the ratification at a local school in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.  In agreeing to be bound by the treaty, the government of Somalia is obligating itself to take steps to improve the lives of its youngest citizens.   The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in existence.  Once Somalia’s ratification is officially deposited with the UN, the United States and South Sudan will be the only countries in the world that have not yet ratified the CRC.  (The US has signed but not ratified the CRC and South Sudan – the world’s newest country, established in 2011 – has taken no action on the CRC yet.  If you are wondering why the US hasn’t ratified the CRC, you can read more here.)

In SAUDI ARABIA, the public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi has been postponed for a second consecutive week.  As I previously reported, Raif Badawi, founder of Free Saudi Liberals blog, was brought to a public square in Jeddahon on January 9 and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators – the first of 20 weeks of punishment with 50 lashes.  Protests and vigils have been held in public places and outside Saudi embassies across the world, keeping up the momentum after a medical committee said last week that he should not undergo a second round of 50 lashes on health grounds.  There is widespread belief that the postponements are not based solely on medical assessments, but also reflect increasing pressure on the Saudi government from the international community.  

In GUATEMALA,  a former police chief has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1980 deadly raid on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City. A group of indigenous rights activists had occupied the embassy to draw attention to government repression during Guatemala’s civil war. (According to United Nations estimates, almost a quarter of a million people, mostly indigenous and rural, were killed or forcibly disappeared during the 36-year-long conflict.) Thirty-seven people burned to death in a fire triggered by the police when they stormed the embassy; Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, was one of those killed in the fire.  Pedro Garcia Arredondo was found guilty this week of ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the building as it burned. Indigenous rights activists and relatives of the victims, who have been waiting more than 3 decades for justice, celebrated a sentencing.

Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS
Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS

U.N. peacekeepers in the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC have arrested Rodrigue Ngaibona, (known as Andilo), a senior leader of the anti-balaka militia, wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.  In 2013,  the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian CAR.  Their brief rule spawned a backlash from the Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.  The U.N. has documented that the anti-balaka used ethnic cleansing in their attacks on the Muslim minority, and reported that “Andilo is currently the most enigmatic, feared and powerful military commander of the anti-balaka.”  Andilo could potentially be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is investigating the violence in Central African Republic.

One piece of negative human rights news that has not received much mainstream media attention:  BAHRAIN sentenced Nabeel Rajab, one of the highest-profile democracy campaigners in the Arab world, to six months in jail on Tuesday over remarks critical of the government.  The founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab took a leading role in Shi’ite-led demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011 that demanded reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab Kingdom.  

I noted a couple of items of good news on LGBT rights this week:

  1. In CHILE, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  The bill passed by a wide margin with 86-23 vote with two abstentions. The Chilean Senate last October advanced the measure, known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into “life partner agreement” in English. –President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the civil unions bill into law.
  2. In the UNITED STATES, President Obama made history by using the terms “lesbian”, “transgender” and “bisexual” for the first time in a State of the Union address. President Obama was the second US president to use the word “gay” (somewhat generically) in the 2010 State of the Union address; President Clinton was the first.

Finally, I read an inspiring story this week about teens in BANGLADESH called “Golden Girls” who are volunteering their time to ensure that Bangladeshi women have access to maternal health care.  Bangladesh has been working to reduce maternal mortality by training government female health workers as highly skilled birth attendants, but only 27 percent of pregnant women have access to these birth attendants. To fill the gap, the Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit based in Dhaka, educates nearly 300 girls in grades 9 to 12 about pregnancy and childbirth and then links them to pregnant women in their community through the government birth attendants.  

The Golden Girl Project volunteers help increase awareness among pregnant women and facilitate access to skilled birth attendants, bringing down maternal mortality risks.  Their efforts are proving critical in a country where 7,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes every year. For example, when a woman in her village went into labor in the middle of the night her panicked family turned to 14-year-old Khatun, a grade 10 student who lived nearby and was able to arrange for the community’s skilled birth attendant to come in time, saving the lives of the mother and newborn. In addition to their training in reproductive and sexual health, the Golden Girls themselves also commit to completing high school and campaigning to end early marriage and delaying motherhood. Volunteers’ parents consent to the training and affirm their daughters will not be married before graduation. This contributes to reducing dropouts as well as early marriage. You can read more about the Golden Girls here

I’ll close with a powerful advertisement from AUSTRALIA called “The Invisible Discriminator” which reminds us that subtle or ‘casual’ racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. #StopThinkRespect encourages everyone in Australia to check their behaviour.

Universal Children’s Day Photo Essay

Nepal
Children in Nepal

Today, November 20,  is Universal Children’s Day!  In 1954, the United Nations General Assembly established Universal Children’s Day to encourage all countries to take action to actively promote the welfare of the world’s children.   On November 20, 1959 the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

Thirty years later, on November 20, 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rightscivil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been acceded to or ratified by 193 countries –  more countries than any other international treaty.

One of the objectives of Universal Children’s Day is to raise awareness about the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Convention sets out the basic human rights that every child should have to develop to their fullest human potential, regardless of  where they live in the world. The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; promoting the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.  The Conventionalso protects children’s rights by setting standards that governments should provide in the areas of health care, education, and legal, civil and social services.

In honor of Universal Children’s Day 2013, I’m sharing a few of the rights guaranteed by the Convention along with photos of children I have taken around the world.

Article 1: “A child means every human being below the age of 18 years.”

Yaounde, Cameroun
A child in Cameroon

Article 2:  Children must be treated “ … without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of … race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” 

A child in Zanzibar

Article 3: “In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Peru
Children in Peru

Articles 5 & 18: State signatories must “… respect the … rights and duties of parents … [and recognize that] both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing … of the child.”

A family in Morocco
A family in Morocco

Articles 12-14: “… the child who is capable of forming his or her own views [has] the right to express those views [and] the right to freedom of … thought, conscience and religion.”

A child in Iceland

Article 19: Children must be protected from “… injury or abuse … including sexual abuse, while in the care of parents … or any other person….”

A child in Nepal
A child in Nepal

Article 22: “… a child who is seeking refugee status or who is … a refugee … [shall] receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance ….”

Buduburam, Ghana
Children in Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana
 

Article 23: The State recognizes “… the right of the disabled child to special care” and the right to “… enjoy a full and decent life in conditions which ensure dignity ….”

IMG_1800

Article 24: All children have the right to “the highest attainable standard of health … [including access to] primary health care … nutritious foods and clean drinking-water.” 

Children in Norway

Article 27:  Every child has “the right to a standard of living adequate for [her/his] physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”

A child in the USA
A child in the USA

Articles 28 & 29:  State signatories must “recognize the right of a child to education…[that develops] the child’s personality, talents, mental and physical abilities.” 

Children in  Nepal
Children in Nepal

Articles 32 & 36:   Children must be “protected from economic exploitation … and from [hazardous] work [and] all other forms of exploitation. 

A child in Cameroon
A child in Cameroon

These are just some of the rights set forth in the Convention.  You can read the full text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child here.  

So on Universal Children’s Day 2013 (and every  other day), remember to:

Love your youngers!  (Sign posted on the wall of a school in Nepal.)

“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.

IMG_0327

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.

HUMAN RIGHTS: Speaking the Language

I’m over at World Moms Blog with this post today.  Check it out!

Sometimes I have trouble finding the words to talk to my kids about the violence that hear about in the news, the injustices that they see in our own community.  As a human rights lawyer, it is my job is to document and expose human rights abuses. But I have always struggled with how to communicate to my kids what human rights are and why they should care about them.

Recently, however, I was preparing for a project that involved interviewing children about their experiences.  Experts advise that interviewers use simple language when speaking with children about difficult topics.  “Simple language” means avoiding big words, of  course, but it also means using simple, direct sentences.  Straight-forward grammar – subject and predicate in sentences; basic speech parts – nouns and verbs and adjectives.  I suddenly realized what I was doing wrong in talking about human rights with my kids. Rather than explaining complicated concepts, what I needed to do was break it down to the core values that everyone needs to live fully in this world. I needed to start with the basic building blocks of language: words.

Once I realized this, I started to see human rights words all around me!  Words like:

and

and

Verbs like

and


and

and

Nouns were all around me!

and

and

and

I saw adjectives, too!

and

I started pointing out these words to my daughter, who is seven. Just last week, she was running past the table in the entryway where we put our mail.  Suddenly, she came to a screeching halt in front of the stamps.

“Look, mommy,” she said.  “The stamps are speaking the language of human rights!”

My daughter was exactly right.  The stamps said: equality, justice, freedom, liberty.  Powerful words that convey basic human rights concepts.

What human rights words do you see around you? Take a picture and post them on the World Moms Blog facebook page.

We can’t wait to see the human rights words in your community!

NEPAL: Visiting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School

Some students walk – up to 2 hours each way – to the Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education.

I’ve been in Nepal for the past ten days with a team of staff and volunteers.  We are here to visit the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in the rural Kathmandu Valley.  The Advocates for Human Rights, the organization I work for, has supported the school since it was founded in 1999 to prevent child labor, encourage gender parity in education, and improve the lives and well-being of the most disadvantaged children in the area.  The school in Palubari village is only about 40 km outside of Kathmandu, but the peaceful, green valley in which it is nestled feels worlds away. The drive out is nerve-wracking (in the terrible Kathmandu traffic), then bone-jarring (on the bumpy, rutted roads). But the sight of these bright, alert children makes it all worthwhile.

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.

Most of the students’ families work in agriculture.  They are farmers with little or no money to spare on school fees, uniforms and supplies.   Frequently, the adults in the family are illiterate. Many of them are from marginalized groups such as the Tamang. An indigenous group with their own culture and language, the Tamang students must learn Nepali as well as English when they come to school.  A pre-K program was added in 2011 to provide pre-literacy eduction to better prepare the students for school.

This week, The Advocates’ team has been conducting a site visit which includes interviewing students in grades 5 through 10 about their experiences at the school and their plans for the future.  It has been a treat to interview these kids and learn more about their lives, their hopes, their dreams for the future.

We’ve been inspired to hear from so many of the girls about their commitment to getting a good education. 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, work in the fields or enter domestic work.
Their efforts have definitely 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 school this year are girls. And a girl is at the top of the class in every single grade at SPCS.
Students had so much to tell us about their hopes and dreams for the future.  Some wanted to be doctors and nurses. Some wanted to be teachers. Some even wanted to be professional football (soccer) players! (Football is very popular here in Nepal, especially among boys. The Nepali national football championship is coincidentally going on right now in Kathmandu.  The national police team has won for the past three years.)  This student demonstrated for me his prowess at left forward.
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.  The impact that they have on their community, their country and – hopefully, the world – will be thrilling to watch.
Pre-K students enjoying their noodles at lunch.
7th graders in one of my English conversation practice small groups.
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THEADVOCATESPOST.
PHOTO CREDITS:  Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt and Laura Sandall
Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights

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.
 cropped-spcs-program1.jpg
 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

10 Things To Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day!

This is a post that I wrote for World Moms Blog.  Originally published here.

Make your own human rights tapestry!

Human Rights Day is December 10! 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.  Here are some ideas 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. Check out the UDHR plain language version  or the Amnesty International UK book We Are All Born Free (15 of the illustrated pages of the book can be found on The Guardian’s website if you want to look at them online or print them out). You can also watch  a short video together and talk about it with your kids. My kids loved this animated video version of the UDHR even back when they couldn’t understand what the words meant. For a more historical view, check out The Story of Human Rights.

2.  Exercise your right to freedom of expression! Draw pictures together of the rights and freedoms that are important to you. You can make your own family “Human Rights Tapestry” by drawing on index cards and using a hole punch to make holes in each corner.  Use yarn to tie together the cards to make a tapestry. (See the picture above of the Human Rights Tapestry conceived of by Chanida Phaengdara Potter and created by visitors to The Advocates for Human Rights‘ booth at the Minnesota State Fair.) You can alsomake posters or collages together.  Help your kids write a poem or story about human rights.  Older kids can even make a video!

3.  Listen to some human rights music with your kids. Here are a few suggestions, but you might also want to check out the folk music songbook Rise Up Singing.  The book contains the chords and lyrics for more than the 1200 songs on a wide variety of social justice issues.

  • The Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog  Someday we’ll find it!
  • If I Had a Hammer – Pete Seeger   Really, anything by Pete Seeger.  Pete is my own personal antidote to Barney.
  • Free to Be You and Me   – Marlo Thomas & Friends     In my opinion, one of the best things about being a kid in the 70s.
  • The Preamble – Schoolhouse Rock      Did you know that the U.S. Constitution is one of the first documents to establish universal principles of human rights?
  • Star Wars Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner – John Williams   People say Star Wars was a Western set in space, but I see it as a movie about the fight for human rights against the Empire.

4.  Same and Different.  I started doing this activity in my childrens’ classrooms and really learned a lot from the kids about tolerance and respect.  Show your 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.  Here’s an example but more can be found on my blog post Same and Different:

photo by Dulce Foster

The kids’ responses:  ”I like that bracelet.”  ”I sometimes wear my hair in braids, too.” “They have dark skin and I have white skin.”  ”We have different trees here, like conifers.”  ”We have snow here right now.”  ”Is that corn growing behind them?  Because I LOVE to eat corn, too.”  ”Is that a house? It’s not like my house.”  ”You couldn’t live in that house in Minnesota.  You would get too cold.”

5.  Let your kids use their screen time to learn about human rights!  Play games and quizzes on the UN cyberschoolbus.  Check out these free, downloadable video games:

  • Against All Odds  Experience life as a refugee, for ages 7+.
  • Stop Disasters!  Learn how to respond to different humanitarian disasters.
  • Food Force   Gamers ages 8-16 undertake 6 virtual missions to stop world hunger. Download the game in English, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Korean, etc. (I’ll be testing newly launched Food Force 2  with my 12 year old gamer son. Something tells me he’s going to kick my butt at saving the world!)

Photo from Food Force 2

6.  Talk to someone you know who is from another country.  Where are they from?  What was their life like there?  What language did they speak?  Did they go to school? What do they miss?  What do they like about their new country?

7.  Make a Helping Hands Wreath to symbolize the responsibility we all have to help each other.  Trace your hands on different color construction paper.  Cut out the hand shapes and glue or staple them on a paper plate to make a wreath.

8.  Act out a skit with puppets.  You can use any puppets or even make your own paper bag or sock puppets.  This skit is from RAISING CHILDREN WITH ROOTS, RIGHTS, & RESPONSIBILITIES , but you can also write your own skit, using a problem that your children have had to deal with themselves.

  • Example skit: Puppet 1: Hi everybody, my name is Jan.Puppet 2: Hi, everybody! I’m Sam, and I’m building a bridge. (Puppet is working with blocks.) Jan: Hey, Sam, I need those blocks for the airport I’m building. (Jan takes some blocks.) Sam: Hey! Don’t do that! You’re taking away my right to play!  (Puppets tussle over a block.)
  • Discussion:  What do you think Jan could have done differently? Has anyone ever interfered with your play?  How did that make you feel?
  • “Can you do a different ending to the story?” Choose children to act out the play again with the puppets, but coach them in some respectful ways to play together to share, take turns, or use other solutions they think of themselves.
  • “I know you can act very respectfully and responsibly toward each other. In fact, I’ve seen ________________________ (give examples of a time when acted responsibly).

9.  Read a book about human rights.   There are so many, but for young children, I like  Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,  Giving Hand, For Every Child, A Better World by Kermit the Frog. (Yes, I have a thing for Kermit.)

Photo from Wiki Muppets

Older kids may enjoy books more like The Hunger Games and Diary of Anne Frank.  For more ideas for books for teens and tweens, see the Discover Human Rights Institute resources, especially the Peace and Justice booklist and the  Equality and Tolerance booklist.

10.  Take action!  Teach your kids that they really can make a difference in the world.  Collect food and bring it to a local foodshelf.  Write a letter or sign a petition on behalf of a prisoner of conscience. Volunteer to help serve a meal at a homeless shelter.  Raise money from friends or neighbors for UNICEF or another organization working on human rights. (Remember to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF next Halloween.)  Check out additional service learning ideas for kids in grades K-12 at 160 Ways To Help The World

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 2012 HUMAN RIGHTS DAY POST 10 MORE THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR KIDS ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY!

MY 2013 HUMAN RIGHTS DAY POST HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ACTIVITIES TO DO WITH YOUR KIDS

MY 2014 HUMAN RIGHTS DAY POST HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ACTIVITIES FOR YOU & YOUR KIDS

ABC – Teaching Human Rights – practical activities in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish

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