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September 05 2011

China: “Free Lunch” for Rural Students via Micro-Donations

Students at Hongban Primary School

Students at Hongban Primary School enjoy lunch. Photo from fundraising page, shared by @anna313 on Weibo

The wealth gap between China’s urban and rural regions has badly skewed China’s education. Due to lack of funding, rural students in China are disadvantaged by systemic problems in areas like teaching, management, infrastructure and educational resources. In the poorest regions, even feeding school children so they have enough energy for learning can be a real challenge.

According to research released in March 2011 by the China Development Research Foundation of the Chinese State Council, poverty in the western provinces of China has led to malnutrition and developmental delays among primary school students. In a sample of 1,458 students aged 10-13 from rural boarding schools in Ningxia, Guangxi and Yunnan, 12% have growth retardation and 9% are underweight.

Liang Shuxin

Liang Shuxin

To tackle this problem, Guangzhou-based charity activist Liang Shuxin started the project “Free Lunch” on 1 April 2011, in collaboration with the semi-official Guizhou Youth Development Foundation. This is a project of the Micro Foundation, an NGO founded by Liang in 2010 with the aim of harnessing the power of the Internet to improve rural education in China.

The explosive growth in the number of Internet users in China allows unlimited possibilities. The popularity of Internet tools like Weibo (China’s Twitter-like service) and web portals facilitate the involvement of a large number of people. At the heart of the project is the concept of “micro donations”. For example, the project has set up a virtual shop on the platform Taobao, where netizens can buy two lunch meals for school kids for just RMB 5.00 (around $0.80 USD). To ensure transparency and accountability, the project has also created a blog with stories, photos and feedback about how the donations are used.

Logo of Micro FoundationThe project has achieved some real successes. Since April this year, it has supplied lunch meals for the 205 students at Hongban Primary School in Guizhou province. Over two thirds of students at the school cannot enjoy a proper lunch due to financial difficulties and long distances from home. In collaboration with local authorities, a “love snack shop” will be built next to the school to supply free lunch for needy students over the next few years. Similar projects will be gradually implemented across the impoverished regions of Guizhou.

The civil-official collaboration is planned to continue for three years, and aims to raise RMB 10 million (more than $1.5 million USD) this year. In an interview with China's Southern Daily newspaper, Liang admitted that there are a number of challenges, such as the sustainability of donations and the building up of a proper lunch supply system. He thinks that the problem of malnutrition among rural students ultimately needs to be solved with governmental initiatives. It is for this reason he has picked the semi-official Guizhou Youth Development Foundation as a partner, which has extensive professional educational networks. Nevertheless, he does believe that a civil organization like Micro Foundation could add vitality to the collaboration by way of its creative, communicative and integrative abilities over the Internet.

Pakistan: Empowering Youth for a Better Tomorrow

Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) is a humble, community youth organization in Lahore, Pakistan which aims to empower Pakistani youth and groom them to face up to today’s challenges. Whereas most of the youth in Pakistan is unable to get a decent education, IPSS intends to reach out to as many youngsters as possible and ready them to shape their own future.

Pakistan boasts one of the largest youth population percentages around the globe, standing currently at an estimated 63%. According to British Council’s ‘The Next Generation’ report, this percentage will continue to rise until 2045, after which the percentage of adults will overtake that of youth. Through its youth, then, Pakistan has an immense opportunity to avail. The question is whether the youth population will translate to a demographic dividend or disaster. It is a window of opportunity for Pakistan to reap social and economic benefits that depends on it’s young generation.

Discussion during workshop 'Alternatives to Violence'

IPSS was founded some 15 years ago by Diep Saeeda, a lawyer and an ardent social activist, who intends to provide a platform for the youth to indulge in liberal discourse. Speaking about why their activities are mostly youth-centric, she says:

The youth in our country needs to be empowered, to be heard. It needs to come forth and speak and view both sides of the reality. This platform is meant to provide them with the alternate discourse towards different political, economic and social issues. It also lets them share their opinions with others and gain a valuable feedback.

Open Mic Night. Photo by IPSS

Overshadowed by an economic, social and humanitarian crisis in the wake of a bloody war against terrorism, Pakistan’s sole hope lies with the youth. Education and social awareness, Diep says, are key to ensuring that Pakistan’s future is not as nightmarish as the present.

IPSS regularly organizes different events specifically for youth. These include Open Mic nights every week, film screenings and lectures, and workshops for intellectual discussions.

Open Mic events enable its young participants to share their thoughts in the form of different, interactive snippets. These include essays, papers, articles, poetry, songs, music compositions and more or less anything that helps one express thoughts and creativity.

Film screenings are also held on a regular basis. The films are carefully chosen, to engage youth in a thoughtful 2-hour visual journey of culture, history and philosophy.

IPSS also engages youth in peaceful demonstrations and vigils over different socio-political issues. This encourages youth to exercise their right to have a say in these issues.

The aim of the IPSS is to empower youth, giving them a platform to raise their voice and share their thoughts with peers, in a society that would often rather see them silenced.

September 02 2011

Zimbabwe: Changing Young Lives Through Theatre

Boyce Chaka is a 27 year-old poet and stage actor in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. Since last year, he has been investing his time towards teaching high school kids about Shakespearean works and poetry as part of what he says is an attempt to “keep them off the streets.”

Boyce Chaka

With few amenities to go around for extra curricular activities, tutoring young high school children acting and poetry has become one of the activities Chaka says will fill what would otherwise have been idle hours.

This is his own way of bringing school children into the “wonderful world of Shakespeare” and also encourage them to read at a time when there are concerns in Zimbabwe that there is no culture of reading among young people.

Chaka says:

These are stories they can easily relate to outside pulp fiction. There is always something to be learned in Shakespeare and if I can encourage these youngsters to master these texts at an early age, they could take it up to wherever they want. For example, many say they want to be lawyers, and in Zimbabwe to be accepted at the university to study law you must at least have aced English literature. So this is one the reasons why I am doing this. I teach at a number of schools in the city [Bulawayo] and the response has been great. It is not just about knowing the plays by Shakespeare, but I am also giving acting classes.

Chaka tells me he wants to connect the “township street theatre” with Shakespearean stage plays and see how children from different backgrounds can learn from each of these genres. It is from this passion that he set his ambitions on creating this rich cultural mosaic in Bulawayo, which is already celebrated as Zimbabwe’s cultural hub.

 Saturday morning market outside Bulawayo city hall

Merchant of Venice? Saturday morning market by Bulawayo city hall. By Sokwanele on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

His is an initiative based on a desire to contribute towards creating not just a reading culture among young school-going boys and girls, but effectively to open their eyes to other career opportunities. Zimbabwean youths are the largest demographic group in Zimbabwe, and opportunities for school leavers remain few.

Chaka says he wants to open these young people to other career possibilities after they leave school. “I believe if taken seriously, they can become professional stage actors as theatre is gaining popularity across the country,” Chaka says.

National flower of Zimbabwe, Gloriosa Superba

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

- Romeo and Juliet

The National flower of Zimbabwe, Gloriosa Superba, in Bulawayo. By The Botser on Flickr (CC BY-SA)

Chaka has also been invited to teach literature to university students and says it feels great knowing that what he is doing is being taken seriously. “I will be teaching literature and stage acting to some university students as part of a course they are doing and this is one thing that I have wanted to do for a long time,” he says.

As the world population grows to hit the 7 billion mark, and bleak stories are beamed by international news agencies, citizens of the world such as Chaka have found other means to make this a better place and contribute towards making a difference in their own small but very significant ways.

August 31 2011

Egypt: Using Twitter to Help a Cairo Community

After seeing the huge impact of social media on the Egyptian revolution, Egyptian blogger and Twitter user, Mahmoud Salem (@SandMonkey) decided to collaborate with a local non-profit organisation to help them raise funds using the power of Twitter to offer basic services in an impoverished neighborhood of Cairo.

Ezbet Khairalla is one of the largest unplanned communities in Egypt, with a population close to 650,000 inhabitants. It is a sprawling area of about 12 square kilometres on a rocky plateau that lies in the southern part of Cairo. Although Ezbet Khairalla is located within the boundaries of Cairo, most basic services are missing; not only sewage and garbage collection, but also inadequate education, poor health and social services. Hence the densely populated area is considered fertile soil for crime and social unrest.

kindergarten in Ezbet Khairallah

Tweeps visited a kindergarten in Ezbet Khairallah, Cairo. Photo by @pakinamamer (July 30, 2011)

Ezbet Khairallah street

Snapshot of Ezbet Khairallah street by @pakinamamer on Yfrog

To help improve the quality of life in Ezbet Khairalla, Khair Wa Baraka (Peace and Plenty), an organisation founded in 2004, started working on educational, health and environmental programs, especially after their research showed that the most important issue in the community was dealing with both solid and liquid waster (sewage). They also provide medical caravans and pilot educational centres.

With the support of people on Twitter, Peace and Plenty and raised EGP 2 million Egyptian pounds (over $330,000 US dollars as well as awareness for the community. Salem called his initiative “tweetback” (@tweetbackevent), and it relied on the social capital of 20 of power-Twitter users who collectively have around a quarter of a million followers. They each raised money from donors in exchange for giving contributing companies PR among their followers. They also created a buzz about the initiative and helped explain to people how they can help.

Tweeting from the Tweetback event. Photo by Rania Helmy, a co-organiser.

Peace and Plenty held a fundraising event on July 26, 2011 at the Marriott hotel in Cairo, where they announced that EGP 1,349,000 ($226,600) had already been raised.

The twitter users who were attending also tweeted about each of the donors and how much they donated, whether it was a beverage company, a mobile operator, or even donors who refused to reveal their identities. They also created a short-number for people to call to donate EGP 3 ($0.50), and again Twitter was used to spread the info.

The Tweetback organizers believe that this is only an initial step, and as Salem wrote in his blog, “More of these initiatives will only happen if you show support for this very first one, which by virtue of the timing, and novelty, is in desperate need for your sponsorship.” Peace and Plenty called Ezbet Khairalla, a prototype of an “unplanned community” in need of development. Perhaps we will soon see more initiatives to help develop other unplanned communities too.

Global Voices Partners with UNFPA on 7 Billion Actions

In 2011 the world's population will exceed 7 billion people. To mark this milestone, Global Voices has been commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to write a series of posts that celebrate how one person or group can still make a difference in a world of 7 billion people. The stories, by Global Voices authors in different countries, will form part of a global campaign called 7 Billion Actions. Every story will also be translated by Lingua into the UN languages French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic.

The challenges of keeping the world's people alive and healthy are many.

Young and old in Sri Lanka

Young and old in Sri Lanka by Michael Foley on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

Nearly all of the population growth taking place (97 out of every 100 people) is happening in less developed countries, where people are already vulnerable and at risk from weather disasters, water and food insecurity. In wealthier countries, people are concerned about low fertility, and ageing populations. And across the world, the gaps between rich and poor are growing.

Global Voices covers the challenges of global development year round (see our special coverage on the Millenium Development Goals) but with this series we're looking forward to trying something a little different. We'll be celebrating the positive initiatives of individuals and organizations with short portraits that could inspire action elsewhere. Women's rights, education, sustainable urban and environmental development, are all issues that require urgent solutions, and clearly citizens themselves need to be a part of them.

Our authors for this series are based in Malawi, Egypt, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil, and many more countries. Between them, they speak more than a dozen languages. Through their writing and translating we hope to introduce you to many new people, ideas and stories you won't hear about elsewhere!

Visit 7 Billion Actions to engage with the campaign.

Here's a slideshow by the UNFPA about the population challenges ahead.

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