“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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Good Morning from Kathmandu!

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

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

News You May Have Missed (8-14 February 2015)

A weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I’m following that I think deserve some more attention.

Image: http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com/
Image: http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com/
SONIA SINGH, a mom in TASMANIA, has been buying Bratz dolls at secondhand shops and giving them “makeunders” with beautiful results.  She calls them “Tree Change Dolls because “These lil fashion dolls have opted for a “tree change”, swapping high-maintenance glitz ‘n’ glamour for down-to-earth style.” Sonia finds dolls at secondhand stores (“tip shops”, repaints their faces, restyles their hair, and gives them new feet. Her mum makes them new clothes.  You can see her creations on her website Tree Change Dolls.  Tree Change Dolls went viral this week and her new etsy shop was sold out immediately. Watch the video of Sonia describing her process here.

NEPAL could become the first Asian country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples if the government accepts the recommendations of a committee that studied the issue. Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2007 that the country’s new government must provide legal protections to LGBT Nepalese citizens and amend laws that discriminated against them. In 2008, the same court ordered the creation committee to study the possibility of same-sex marriage in the Asian country.  It may be a while before Nepal’s government is able to take action (they have been trying to adopt a new constitution for more than six years) but most see this as a promising step and credit it to the advocacy efforts of the Blue Diamond Society organization.

Former military chiefs and politicians implicated in the deaths of thousands through Operation Condor will finally face justice in ITALY. After decades of impunity, those responsible for the wave of political violence that swept Latin America under the dictatorships of 1970s and 1980s will be tried in court this week in Rome, Italy. Thirty-three people have been formally charged for their links to the operation, which left 50,000 people dead, 30,000 disappeared, and 400,000 jailed. Among those killed were 23 Italian citizens, which is why Italy’s justice system is now ruling on the case, opened in 1999.

 

A gathering to promote the rights of girls and education for all in Barrod village of Rajasthan’s Alwar district. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh ChandokA gathering to promote the rights of girls and education for all in Barrod village of Rajasthan’s Alwar district. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh Chandok

A new UNITED Nations human rights report analyzing the problem of attacks against girls trying to access education found that schools in at least 70 different countries were attacked in between 2009 and 2014, with many attacks specifically targeting girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education. “The educational rights of girls and women are often targeted due to the fact that they represent a challenge to existing gender and age-based systems of oppression.”

 MENG LIM took the bench as superior court judge for the Tallapoosa judicial circuit, becoming the first Asian American elected as superior court judge in GEORGIA, UNITED STATES.  Lim escaped atrocities in his homeland of CAMBODIA as a child and overcame challenges of being refugee in rural Georgia to become a successful lawyer and judge.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) celebrated WORLD RADIO DAY  on February 13 to highlight the main role this media plays in the whole American hemisphere as a vehicle for freedom of expression and information, and as a source of information for the peoples and the communities.

In the UNITED STATES, February is Black History Month.  While I believe that Black History IS American History, this annual observance of the contributions of African-Americans to our nation always provides an opportunity for me to learn more about people and events in our past.  Here are some of the things I have learned so far this month:

On June 30, 1974, ALBERTA WILLIAMS KING was was shot and killed while she was playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  She was the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so the story of her assassination has been overshadowed by her son’s legacy.  Read more about Alberta Williams King here.

ELLA FITZGERALD, one of our nation’s greatest jazz icons, was confined as an orphaned teenager for more than a year in a reformatory called the New York State Training School for Girls.  She and the other girls were treated harshly; “she had been held in the basement of one of the cottages once and all but tortured”.  While there was an excellent music program and choir at the institution, Ella Fitzgerald was not allowed to sing in it – the choir was all white.  Read more about this chapter of Ella Fitzgerald’s life here and here.

 

Image from: http://mic.com/articles/109642/historic-poc-is-the-powerful-illustration-of-black-history-month-everyone-needs-to-see
Image from: http://mic.com/articles/109642/historic-poc-is-the-powerful-illustration-of-black-history-month-everyone-needs-to-see

MIKKI KENDALL started  a new crowdsourced project to prove that people of color are part of history.  She created the hashtag #HistoricPOC and turned to social media.  “I encouraged fellow users to post pictures of people of color (POC) throughout history. Whether they posted family photos or links to famous images, I wanted there to be an easily accessible visual historic record.”  People began posting family photos, photos of  heroes, photos of events – the resulting tapestry of personal narratives is both beautiful and inspirational.  #HistoricPOC shows the interconnected reality of our history that everyone needs to see.  I hope it endures well beyond this February!   Read more about #HistoricPOC here and here.

 

Human Rights News You May Have Missed (1 – 9 January, 2015)

Mahdu Bai Kinner, India's first openly transgender mayor, was elected on January 4
Mahdu Bai Kinner, India’s first openly transgender mayor, was elected on January 4. Photo (c) M. Krishnan retrieved from starobserver.com.au

It probably won’t surprise you one bit that there is a lot of human rights news that is not covered by the US and other Western media.  Or sometimes it IS covered, but given only a few lines or buried so deep that you can’t help but miss it.  Because of my job as a human rights lawyer, I follow multiple international media outlets and subscribe to numerous listserves.  It is frustrating to me that human rights crises can go on for weeks or months before anyone in the mainstream media takes notice.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. Obviously, there have been changes in US media over the past decade that have resulted in decimated coverage of pretty much all news coverage.  But I also I don’t think that as many people care about celebrity gossip as much as the media appears to think that we do.  In addition, I strongly believe that the first step towards change is knowledge.  But without information, how can we know what is happening in other parts of the world?  If people who actually care about human rights do not know about human rights abuses as they occur, how can we have empathy with the people whose lives are impacted?  How can we take action? How can we work together across borders to make real change?

Based on these theories, when I taught International Human Rights Law I gave my students a weekly assignment to watch the news for human rights stories.  I challenged them to look for things they might have missed before.  I asked them to look for one news item on an international issue, one on a national issue, and one on a local issue.  At least one of these news items had to be good news.

So I’m going to try something new in 2015. I’m going to try to do a roundup each week of some of the things that happened that did not get the coverage that I think they deserved.  I realize that some of you may find this exercise somewhat depressing, but I will be looking for GOOD human rights news as well as bad.  Believe me, while it often doesn’t feel like it on a macro level, there is indeed progress happening on human rights all over the world.  You just need to look for it.

The Human Rights News You May Have Missed weekly roundup is definitely not intended to be exhaustive. It is simply a summary of some of the news items that I followed this week that I thought did not get enough attention, along with links so that you can read more.  Please feel free to add a link to a news item that I missed in the comments section.

So here we go!  Here are a few news items that should have received more attention during the first week or so of January 2015:

Policemen hold a photo of one of the victims of a car bomb attack outside the police college in Sanaa January 7, 2015. (c) REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
Policemen hold a photo of one of the victims of a car bomb attack outside the police college in Sanaa January 7, 2015. (c) REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

In an apparent attack by Islamic militants in Yemen, a mini-bus full of explosives was rammed into recruits outside a police academy in the heart of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa on Wednesday, killing at least 37 people and injuring more than 66.  It was the second bombing in Yemen to cause multiple casualties in a week, following a suicide attack that killed 26 people at a cultural centre in Ibb city.  Violence has soared in Yemen since Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, captured Sanaa and other cities last year.  “Tribal leaders and Yemeni officials have said the rising power of the Houthis, their advance into Sunni areas and the backlash over drone strikes has caused al-Qaida to surge in strength and find new recruits.”

There was definitely also good news this week. Here are a few stories about some of the positive developments that you may have missed:

Today – January 11 – is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States. Human trafficking is a criminal enterprise, a multi-billion dollar industry where perpetrators profit from the control and exploitation of others. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. Find out what you can do to raise awareness about the issue and help victims of human trafficking find the support they need to reclaim their lives here.  

Location of potential human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (2007-2012)
Location of potential human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (2007-2012) Find out more here.

I hope you found something to interest and/or inspire you.   Please do let me know what you think about this new feature on The Human Rights Warrior blog.  See you next week!

Late Afternoon in Rural Nepal

Kathmandu Valley Nepal

The late afternoon sun casts long shadows as people walk home in the rural Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.

 

 
Sometimes they meet friends along the way and stop to socialize and to rest after a long day of labor. nepaliroad3

 

Eventually, they must pick up their loads again and continue home in the lengthening shadows before darkness descends on the valley.

nepaliroad2

 

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge Shadowed.

Swayambhunath: Nepal’s Monkey Temple

Swayambhunath Temple
The stupa at Swayambhunath seemed aglow on the rainy afternoon that I visited in September 2012.

Located at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath (स्वयम्भूनाथ स्तुप) is among the oldest and most important religious sites in Nepal. The Swayambhunath complex consists of a domed stupa and a variety of shrines and temples that date back to the 5th century.  Each temple is extremely ornate and richly decorated with gold.  The complex also includes a Tibetan monastery, museum, library, and hostels for religious pilgrims.

Prayer flags flutter in the breeze, while prayer wheels in graduated sizes turn almost silently as pilgrims circle the stupa in prayer.

cropped-img_0728.jpg

This sacred pilgrimage site is also known as the Monkey Temple because it is home to HUNDREDS (maybe thousands!) of monkeys. According to legend, Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom, was in the process of raising the temple hill when he let his short hair grow out and he got lice.  The lice in his hair transformed into these monkeys.

Looking down on Kathmandu, Nepla

Although it is primarily an important Buddhist site, Swayambhunath (which means “Self-Created” or “Self-Arisen”) is also considered important to Hindus.  To get to the main site of Swaymbhunath, you have to climb a looooong stairway – 365 steps!  Pratap Malla, the powerful Hindu king of Kathmandu, was responsible for the construction of this eastern stairway in the 17th century

It is definitely worth the climb, however.  Swayambhunath is perhaps the oldest Buddhist monument and well worth the trip!

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument.