The pioneer story held my imagination captive during childhood. Caddie Woodlawn, Little House on the Prairie, and later Willa Cather’s novels. It was on my eighth birthday that I received the full series of Laura Ingalls Wilder books, each crispy, fresh-smelling book more enticing than the last. I was fortunate as a child to be provided such gifts. I was blessed to have parents who promoted reading and the accessibility of a library.
It was American author and literacy educator Pam Allyn who began in 2007 to advocate for literacy as not just a privilege for some but a human right for all. It was with this belief that she set about establishing the non-profit organization, LitWorld, which led to the formation of World Read Aloud Day, celebrated on February 1, 2018. (1)
Photo by Annie Spratt
Much like Felicia McKenzie’s founding of Brighter Tanzania Foundation, Allyn’s path began with a visit to an impoverished community in Africa which inspired her to act to improve the lives of kids. Specifically, in Kiberia, an area of extreme poverty in Nairobi, Kenya, she witnessed the intense desire of children to read, write and share stories. She also observed the obstacles that kept them from doing so. (1)
Photo by Steve Shreve
Through Allyn’s advocacy, World Read Aloud Day began in 2010. Organizers strive to bring awareness to the importance of reading aloud to all children. The need is real, the literacy statistics startling. Worldwide, 750 million adults (2/3 of these women) lack basic reading and writing skills. Reading aloud every day to children puts them almost a year ahead of children who lack this effort. As Allyn once said, “Stories are more than a gentle escape. They are a life raft.” (1)
LitWorld provides resources and activity ideas to teachers, parents and other adults participating. It promotes author read alouds while visiting classrooms or via video chats. Most importantly, LitWorld is a microphone through which the mission of advocating worldwide literacy is spread.
The mission is indeed global. Scholastic Books is one of LitWorld’s sponsors. It hosts read aloud events in Australia, Africa, Asia, Canada, India, Latin America, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. (2)
The message has been heard loud and clear in South Africa. In 2017, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which assessed students in grade 4 of South Africa’s schools, released some dismal results. The study found that 78% of the students were illiterate. (5)
Though the results were alarming, the government had already recognized the need for literacy intervention. In 2012, a national campaign began called Nal’ibali which means “Here’s the story” in isiXhosa. The campaign identifies the link between reading for pleasure and improved outcomes for kids. (3)
Because the campaign attempts to create a reading culture, South Africans readily embraced Read Aloud Day. In fact, a different story is chosen for South African children each year and the country seeks to outdo its participation rate in reading this story from the preceding year. In 2018, South Africans read “The Final Minute” by local author Zkiswa Wanner. Nal’ibali provided downloadable copies of the story, available in 11 official languages. On Read Aloud Day, Wanner read the book in isiZulu to 1000 school children in an open-air venue. In total, over 1,000,000 South African children heard the story read that day. (4)
Back in the U.S., the importance of reading aloud to our children continues to gain attention. A Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic Books noted an increase in this beneficial habit between the years 2014 and 2016. The national study surveyed kids, ages 6 to 17 and their parents. The study found that the percentage of parents who read to their children before three months of age increased from 30% to 40% during this time period. Parents who read to their children 5 to 7 times per week increased from 55% to 62% for children between the ages of 3 and 5. (2)
Whether Laura Ingalls, Harry Potter or Dr. Seuss, a book allows a young mind to travel, transform and grow. A caring adult who reads it can take a child on an even longer journey.
Population: 12 million
Languages: French, Susu, Fulani, Mandingo
Area: 94,926 mi²
Life expectancy: Male 58.2, female 59.8
Median age: 19 years
Literacy: 30.4% (total) 22.8% (women)
School life expectancy: 8 years for girls, 10 years for boys
Population below poverty line: 40.9% on less than $1.25 a day.
Top religions: Islam, Christianity, indigenous beliefs
Summary: Located on the coast of west Africa, Guinea is formally known as The Republic of Guinea. This tiny nation has substantial mineral deposits, which generate a significant portion of the nation’s wealth. However, Guinea still has one of the poorest populations in west Africa. Regional instability has limited economic growth, and contributed to religious and ethnic tensions. Guinea also struggles with an overwhelming refugee population from Liberia and Sierra Leone. (1)
The recent Ebola virus had a significant impact on the Republic of Guinea. 11,000 died and 28,000 were infected. Before the outbreak in 2014, Guinea had severely underdeveloped health resources. There were high levels of maternal and infant mortality. On average it spent 9$ per capital on health, and there were fewer than 3 health workers per 20,000. This is partly why the disease spread unchecked for several months before it was detected. Another reason the disease could spread freely was because health workers were so rare, rural populations actually distrusted and avoided them. During the beginning of the outbreak, some people believed that health workers were spreading the disease. Health workers who won past this distrust created local clinics in tents near affected villages. This encouraged transparency and trust. Even so, a military presence was required to ensure quarantine compliance and health workers’ safety. (1, 5,6,7,8,9)
The outbreak strained available health resources beyond their capacity, and the Guinean Ministry of Health is still trying to repair their health system. A silver lining, perhaps, is that the intervention of foreign health care workers helped identify specific areas of improvement for the Guinean healthcare system. President Conde also mobilized hundreds of newly graduated medical students to work with Ebola patients. These young health workers now have a stake in building their health care system to prevent a similar outbreak occurring again. The process of fighting Ebola- setting up hospitals, clinics, clinical trials, marshalling and training health care workers, etc. is believed to have laid the groundwork for additional development of the Guinean healthcare system. The long-term sustainability of this groundwork remains to be seen, as donations and funding have fallen dramatically since the end of the outbreak. (1, 5,6,7,8,9)
Colonized by the French in 1891, they secured independence in 1958. The first President, Ahmed Sekou Toure remains in power until his death in 1984, when he is replaced by President Lansana Conte. In 1990, a new constitution is adopted which permits civilian leaders. 1993 ushers in the first multiparty election, in which Conte is the victor. Despite insurrections, violence, and protests, Conte remains in power until his death in 2008, whereupon the military seized control of the government. These decades of violence had crippled the economy, healthcare system, and other national infrastructure. After the assassination of the military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, there’s a gradual return to civillan rule. A contentious election in 2010 (which had to be run twice due to no clear victor) saw the eventual instatement of President Alpha Conde. Opposition supporters clashed with security forces and accused the president of rigging the presidential election and the parliamentary election. President Conde blamed the military government for emptying the nation’s treasury. In 2014 the international pandemic Ebola strikes, and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. US President Barak Obama sent 3,000 military personel to build health facilities and train health workers. In 2015 President Conde wins a second term, despite accusations of irregularities. (1, 2) Ebola-related travel restrictions were lifted in 2016. (3)
Educational attainment and access to education has fluctuated over the past few decades. In general, due to high levels of poverty, and insufficient school facilities, educational resources, and low teacher-to-student ratios, Guinea has low national educational attainment. The recent ebola crisis had further destabilized fragile infastucre. Primary education is mandatory in Guinea, a policy which has increased primary school enrollment and attendance, however poverty still creates obstacles for higher education, and girls have a lower rate of primary school completion than boys. (10,11, 12, 13, 14)
A year past the ebola crisis, Guinea is still rebuilding their educational infrastructure, and it remains to be seen what post-ebola enrollment and graduation rates average out at. Before the ebole crisis, in 2012, 55% of girls and 68% of boys completed primary school. 32% of girls and 41% of boys advanced to secondary education. (10) On average, girls will spend 8 years in school, and boys will spend 10. (14)
Given the critical necessity of building their healthcare infrastructure and training the next generation of healthcare workers, experts hope that these needs will be reflected in increased resources being directed into education.
Tourism is undeniably powerful: it moves people, money and ideas around the world, and in increasingly greater numbers. It has the potential to encourage economic development in far flung places and encourage mutual, positive understanding between people who would never otherwise meet. However, it also has the potential to waste or destroy natural resources, and the wealth gap between locals and visitors in some places might accidentally create exploitative situations. (7,9,10)
Fortunately, a vibrant community of international tourism organizations and travel agencies strives for an ethical balance of the diverse needs in this growing, global industry.
In fact, every fall, World Responsible Tourism Day celebrates over a decade of advocacy for beneficial and regulated tourism around the world. This year, the theme is sustainable development. In the past, it has focused on eco-tourism and poverty reduction. This year’s theme of sustainable development, focuses on both ecological sustainability and economic sustainability- encouraging initiatives that don’t strain the environment and have a good chance at continued economic success after an initial support period. (1,2,3,7)
Advocates for ethical and responsible tourism tend to focus on areas with sensitive ecosystems or significant poverty. Yet tourism can bring benefits and challenges to any environment. Take Paris, France for an example. A wealthy city in a first-world country which is regularly flooded with tourists (some well-mannered, some not) who contribute to the city's severe congestion and other infrastructure strains. 2017 might even be a record-breaking year for tourists pouring into the city, despite concerns about terrorism. Even though tourism presents diverse challenges for the city’s infrastructure, resources and security, it remains a leading economic force, creating significant employment and business opportunities.(4)
These and other strains are also felt by newly invigorated tourism industries in developing countries and rural regions, but these areas often lack the experience, resources and existing infrastructure to meet sudden increases in demand if a location suddenly surges in popularity. Tourists' interests can be seasonal and fad-driven, creating an unreliable or volatile source of income. (5,10)
Therefore, every year, international tourist organizations gather to celebrate successes and discuss areas which need improvement or protection. Governmental agencies also focus on tourism, especially harnessing the revenue provided by tourism to fuel ecological projects and infrastructure development. The Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE), organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), convened recently to review how the expansion of the tourism sector could help support and promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and fuel nation-specific economic goals. (SDG are internationally promoted goals to encourage specific kinds of growth in developing regions.) (11) An example of harnessing tourism for the greater good can be found in can be found in Tanzania, where the Responsible Tourism Tanzania (RTT) organization focuses on the nation’s unique cultural, social and economic needs. (5,8)
One such recent success story is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA)’s recent nomination for registration as a Global Geopark of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Dr. Freddy Manongi, director general of NCAA, stated that the area would soon get its registration as a 'Unesco Geopark.' (6)
Unesco Global Geoparks' are unified geographical spaces where sites and landscapes of international significance are holistically managed to protect, educate and sustainably develop the area. There are currently 127 Unesco Global Geoparks in 35 countries. (6)
UNESCO Global Geoparks empower local communities with opportunity to develop the common goal of promoting the area's geological interests, historical trends connected to geology, or natural beauty. These geoparks are built with a grass roots prosses, involving all regional stakeholders. Dr. Manongi reported that the area gets approximately 600,000 visitors annually, about half of those local. This official registration is a chance to further local and national pride in the region and attract more international tourists. In many ways, the registration serves to validate an area, certifying it’s natural, historical and sustainable merits, so international visitors get an extra ‘feel-good’ boost for supporting a good cause and giving back to the local area. More pragmatically, the registration also provides greater international exposure. (6) Dr. Manongi and other regional leaders are hopeful that the new registration will
Two packs of gum. A cup of coffee at Starbucks. Three postage stamps. Less than one gallon of gas. Two bars of soap. What do all of these things have in common? They can all be purchased with $1.90 or less. (4) For just under 10% of the world population, this is also the minuscule amount that an individual must forge a living on each day.
October 17, 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, an annual effort to bring awareness to the plight of many in developing countries living in extreme poverty.
It is necessary (though challenging) to get past the numbers in order to comprehend what living on less than two dollars a day looks like. For Peter Mumo it meant a scant meal of boiled maize and beans once a day when he was a child growing up in Kenya. Mumo suffered from Malaria in addition to malnutrition. As a result, a large chunk of his family’s income was funneled into paying for his hospital bills. (1)
For Sham Bai in India, extreme poverty means raising a family alone. Her late husband, Jethuram, unable to access health care after being bit by a rabid dog, died from what in other countries is a treatable disease. More people die of dog bites in India than any other nation on earth. At least 30,000 people perish each year as a result of the disease. (2)
Extreme poverty for Shedrack at Saving Grace School means living a childhood without smiles. The reason? Malnutrition led to rickets, a softening of the bones, which resulted in knock-knee and missing front teeth. Embarrassed by his missing teeth, Shedrack would not smile. Unable to easily walk or run from the knock-knee, Shedrack was unable to play with the other children.
Extreme poverty exists in developed nations like the US too. Unbeknownst to many, 1.5 million Americans are living on less than $2 per day. Many sell their blood plasma to earn a little extra cash for necessities. An individual can earn up to $30 per donation and is able to give up to two times per week. (3) For Elva May Hicks in the Mississippi Delta, extreme poverty means trading in one necessity for another. By trading in her food stamps, she is able to make 50 cents on the dollar in order to keep her heat and lights turned on. (3)
The U.N.continues to set goals and work towards decreasing the number living in abject conditions. In 2000 the organization established its Millennium Development Goals which included halving extreme poverty by 2015. The good news - not only did they accomplish this goal, they met it five years early. The bad news - the easing of poverty was regionally uneven. In Africa, one in two still live in extreme poverty, more than four times greater than the world average. (5)
Next, the UN enacted its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. This time the goal is to end extreme poverty everywhere by 2030. Much more ambitious than its predecessor, global income inequality and climate change also add to the challenge. (6)
At Saving Grace School, Shedrack is a success story. His mother’s diligence saving money led to surgery which corrected his legs. The meals provided by the school have led to better health for Shedrack including the growth of his front teeth. Today Shedrack smiles, runs and laughs with the other children.
The UN continues to work to ensure more successes like Shedrack’s. As you stop to fill your car with a tank of gas today or make a trip to the grocery store, take a moment to consider how far $1.90 will - or won’t - get you.
In Linda Sue Park’s 2010 novel, A Long Walk to Water, the plight of the rural female in South Sudan is underscored. Nya is an eleven-year-old girl whose daily task is to walk shoeless two hours one way to gather water. Her family’s survival depends on it. Though Nya is fictional she is based on a contemporary representation of children in South Sudan.
Park’s historical fiction novel, now read by school and reading groups alike, speaks to the concerns of the United Nations who in 2008 began a day of awareness, Rural Women’s Day, so that females like Nya do not continue to go unnoticed.
Consider the following statistics:
Aside from generating income and producing food, rural women have additional challenges and responsibilities with which to contend. Gender inequality. Child rearing. Vulnerability to violence. Added to that is climate change. As floods and droughts increase, women and girls increase their time collecting water and fuel. (Remember, Nya already spends four hours per day!) This means that women miss out on opportunities for education and income producing work. When spending one’s day on daily survival tasks, the plate for a woman becomes quickly and ironically full. Accordingly, the 2017 theme of Rural Women’s Day is “challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”
The challenges are visible, but what are the opportunities? Some estimates show that closing the gender gap could increase agricultural production by up to 20% in Africa, leading to an increased rate of climate-resilient agricultural practices. Closing this gap means implementing efforts to increase access for women to land, information, technology, financing, water and energy.
The UN is not alone in creating an awareness campaign to illuminate the struggles of the rural woman. An effort sprang up in Tanzania in 2016 among groups from 22 African nations. The Tanzanian Gender Networking Program, along with other organizations including Oxfam, ActionAid, and International Land Coalition, supported efforts of rural women to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. This initiative gave voice to rural women in many African nations who want a role in decisions about land and natural resources. A delegation of sixteen women, representing rural women, summited the mountain in October of 2016 carrying a charter of demands which they later delivered to organizational leaders including the UN secretary general.
Whether walking four hours each day to retrieve water in South Sudan, or climbing Africa’s highest peak in Tanzania, rural African women continue to steadfastly place one foot in front of the other on the path towards economic stability.
Park, Linda Sue. A Long Walk To Water. New York: Clarion Books, 2010.
Photo 1: By Oxfam East Africa - A mass grave for children in Dadaab, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16001983
Photo 2: By CIAT - 2DU Kenya 86, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30331271
Shedrack began attending Saving Grace in 2014, shortly after the school opened. When he began, he suffered from rickets, a softening of the bone caused by malnutrition, and had knock-knee as a result. He was also missing many teeth, and kept his mouth closed in embarrassment.
Because his knees bowed in, it was difficult for him to walk, run, and play like the rest of the children. His mother saved up to get him surgery to straighten his legs, which took him out of school for many months while they healed.
When Shedrack was finally able to return to school, he was behind his classmates in numerous capacities: motor skills, social skills, and academics. Shedrack kept to himself more than ever, and often didn’t participate in the lessons. He was still missing many teeth, and continued to be embarrassed by their absence.
As more funding became available, BTF began providing funds for school lunches in addition to the student’s daily porridge. This meant that students began receiving the proper nutrition they needed, with fruits, vegetables, and meats added to their diets. For many students, the school became the best source of nutrition available.
Being aware of Shedrack’s situation, Grace began keeping him after school to make sure he received a well-balanced dinner. In addition, she started giving him one-on-one lessons to get him up to speed with his classmates.
A few months ago, Shedrack began playing with the other students again. He is running, playing soccer, and rough-housing. This has enabled him to make some very close friendships with a few other students.
During the last exam period, Shedrack received an average grade of a B. For the first time, he is excelling in his studies.
The cherry on top came a few weeks ago, when Grace sent a photo of Shedrack smiling. His front teeth have finally come in after more than two years. He is strong and happy like a little boy should be.
Like many parents, instilling gratitude was among my early teaching moments. When one of my children was receiving an offering of some sort, I piped in with, “Don’t forget to say thank you!” And then repeated myself again and again and again until that recognition of gratitude became ingrained, and my child would repeat the two words himself.
Grown ups need reminders sometimes too. World Gratitude Day, celebrated each year on September 21, does just that. It cues us to acknowledge those things in our lives, large and small, for which we are grateful. This day of international reflection began in Hawaii in 1965 and was recognized by the United Nations Meditation Group beginning in 1977. At its best it can lead to a daily practice of reflecting on those positive things we have in our lives.
Gratitude is part etiquette, part kindness, part spiritual growth. Many believe that it leads to an increase in happiness. Psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons, considered by some the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, is one of those people. The practice of gratitude can increase happiness by 25%, according to Emmons. Studies have shown that grateful people reap many benefits. They tend to have more energy, are more resilient, and accomplish more. They are less likely to be depressed or lonely.
That is not to say that gratitude inoculates us from hard times. But rather it enables us to resist despair when those hard times inevitably occur. “Under crisis conditions, we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.” Emmons says that gratitude is a choice, an attitude that endures through good and bad.
It’s not just emotional health that improves but also physical health. The Journal of Health Psychology reported that grateful people eat 25% fewer fatty foods and have better blood pressure readings than ungrateful people. Emmons, along with Dr. Michael McCullough, completed a study in 2003 in which they prompted people to list five sources of gratitude several times a week. The researchers reported an upward swing in their moods. The practice also resulted in the commitment of more time to exercise.
Helping others was yet another byproduct that Emmons and McCullough discovered in their study. It was this human connectedness and empathy that famous author Ann Patchett and her friend Elissa Kim experienced. During a trip to India, Kim witnessed extreme poverty and felt guilt for her comparative wealth. Later, Kim embarked on another journey of sorts to live without material items that she had previously taken for granted. In 2017, Patchett joined in and spent an entire year shopping free. She allowed herself to buy small personal items that she might need along with groceries but no clothes, jewelry, bags, shoes or other luxury items. Both women acknowledge a shift in their attitudes towards consumerism, a realization of how much they had and didn’t necessarily need. It seems that they experienced a new sense of gratitude.
Similarly, it was Felicia McKenzie’s trip to Tanzania in 2013 that six months later led to the creation of Brighter Tanzania Foundation and Saving Grace School. McKenzie, founder and executive director of BTF, worked as a volunteer teacher for three weeks in Tanzania. Her gratitude for this opportunity led her to reflect on the role of volunteers in Arusha. She realized that her own plane fare was equivalent to a year’s salary for a teacher in Tanzania. It is the reason that part of the mission of BTF is to support the local economy of Arusha and employ only Tanzanian residents.
As the original founders of World Gratitude Day realized, growing a grateful heart can lead to small changes such as a shift in an individual’s outlook and groundswells such as Saving Grace School.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Tiffany. I live in Minnesota, I’m married, and I have two little boys. They’re both attending a Spanish immersion school that is very culturally aware and we are actively involved in our church.
Who do you sponsor, and what can you tell me about them?
I sponsor 4 people… Queen, Samwell, Naomi, and Rasul. I don’t have a lot of information on any of them except Queen because I have been sponsoring her the longest, and I have more than one letter from her. Queen likes school, her favorite color is pink, and she’s a really good artist! And they are all so cute! I love their handwriting – they all have such good handwriting! And like, you can tell that it really matters to them, they don’t take their education for granted. Kids here don’t care about their handwriting and they take their education for granted, but these kids work really hard at it.
How long have you been sponsoring?
I think it’s been a year and a half… We started in April of last year. We were sponsoring two students the first year.
Your sponsorship funds come from your church. Tell me a little bit about that.
My church is Trinity Lutheran in Lindstrom, Minnesota. My kids both go to Sunday school there and I volunteer there. As part of that I was allowed to fill out an application for an outreach endowment. Last year they got a really big donation from a lady who passed away; since it wasn’t earmarked, half of it had to go to the endowment. So I filled out the application and got approved last year for two sponsorships and this year for four. I was hoping there would be some sort of a committee or group or something to be actively involved in it, but no. And that’s how I got involved.
How has sponsoring affected you and your children?
For my children, its affected them because they see the challenges that other kids face and it teaches them how important it is to help other people. They’ve written back and forth with the kids and that’s been really fun for them to write letters to kids so far away and get letters back from kids so far away.
For me, the money isn’t coming out of my pocket… but it still feels good to be helping people and it feels good to be teaching my kids it’s important to help people.
What do you like most about being a sponsor?
This is going to sound really dumb but getting mail from the kids, and seeing how they’re doing in school! I just love their handwriting; its super cute. I have one letter that just says, “I know math.”
What would you tell other people considering sponsoring a student?
I would say that they should absolutely do it – its worth their time and money to be helping kids, and it’s rewarding for you and the kids.
Michelle Dunphy is the current Development Director for Brighter Tanzania Foundation. She’s a mom of two young boys who keep her very busy. She enjoys running (slowly!), politics, reading, board games, gardening and learning to play the ukulele. When she’s not doing Brighter Tanzania work, she’s probably geeking out over a new flower she wants to plant, playing a board game with her kids, or trying to finally get the hang of singing and playing uke at the same time.
How did you get involved with Brighter Tanzania?
I came on board with BTF back in January right before moving back home to Wisconsin. I was looking for something that would challenge me and an organization where I could make an impact. Brighter Tanzania definitely fit the bill! It has been nice spending my time dedicated to this cause. Being a smaller organization definitely has its frustrations, but these kids are just too adorable and they deserve a great start in life via education. I sponsor one of our students, Shedrack, who was recently featured in our Foundations for the Future video and learning what attending Saving Grace school has done for him brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it. We can do so much there, even as a small organization. Think of what we can do as we continue to grow!
What is the most difficult or challenging part of your job?
I think the hardest part so far has been being a small organization. We are able to make a huge impact with so little, but it’d be nice to have more donor and sponsor engagement. If there is something you’d like to see us doing, let me know. We are definitely open to donor suggestions!
What’s your personal philosophy on what should be done about poverty?
I think we have a moral obligation as one of the wealthiest nations in the world to help out those in need. It’s what my mother taught me - if you’re lucky enough to be able to help, then do it. And help doesn’t mean you have to be one of the wealthiest in this wealthy nation of ours. Doing something as simple as skipping a night out for dinner or your drive through Starbucks and instead donating that money to an organization such as Brighter Tanzania--think of the changes we could make if we all did that! $5 here in the US means a lot more back in Tanzania. Your coffee could be books and supplies for a few students or your dinner could be the utility bills for the month.
What is your greatest accomplishment at BTF?
Well, I’ve only been here for a little while, but I am proud of the virtual Cheetah Challenge 5k and am really looking forward to hearing about everyone’s runs! We had such great event prize donors and the energy we’ve received from our participants has been fantastic. I love that it has really helped to open people’s eyes to the struggles of children in Tanzania.
What sort of projects have you worked on in the past?
My non-profit past project is fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I have run two RunDisney challenges (19.3 miles in one weekend) for Team AFSP and fundraised over $5,000. I’ve done all sorts of things to fundraise including an eBay auction of autographed merchandise from voice actors, a virtual 5k (sound familiar?), a voice mail from voice actors raffle, etc. When I lived in Los Angeles and Seattle, I used to be a voice actor so I have lots of wonderful talented friends who donated their time to my fundraising for AFSP.
What’s one major accomplishment you’d like to see BTF achieve in the next year?
I’ve been so impressed with what the team has been able to accomplish in just three years, to go from a handful of students to over 70! I would like to see us reach our goal with “Foundations for the Future.” I cannot wait until we get our own acreage and building up so we can help even more. We are changing lives. These children now have a future that was previously unattainable. The teachers are employed. The supplies and money we spend is spent in the community, furthering the positive impact the school is making to all. I really hope you’ll join me in supporting the Foundations for the Future campaign over on Razoo. We have the power to change lives with just a few clicks. Let’s do it.
Officially known as the Republic of Rwanda, this African nation the size of Maryland has worked to overcome a tumultuous history. Most westerners will be familiar with Rwanda from the film Hotel Rwanda, a film about the Rwandan Genocide. This genocide was a government sponsored atrocity, where for 100 days the ruling ethnic Hutu massacred the Tutsis, an ethnic minority. Two decades later, the nation is still struggling to heal, as those born from mass rape come of age. (1, 3, 6)
The Rwandan Coat of Arms, from Wikimedia Commons
Rwanda has a long history of ethnic tension. In recent history, ethnic tensions were exacerbated by Belgium colonists. Hutu and Tutsi were required to carry cards identifying their ethnicity. The Belgians also supported Tutsi dominance, offering quality education and government jobs. The Hutu were typically delegated to labor roles. Near the end of their rule, the Belgians attempted to set up tribal power sharing. In 1960 a civil war drove out many of the Tutsi, who fled to Uganda. In 1962, Rwanda achieved independence under a Hutu government. The current President, Paul Kagame, fled Rwanda as a child during this war. In 1990, Tutsi rebels, based in Uganda, tried and failed to overthrow the Hutu dominated government. A peace treaty was signed, but conflicted continued to build. In 1994, the Hutu government planned and led a genocide targeting Tusti citizens. No international aid was made available during the conflict. The UN felt unequipped to address the violence and withdrew its peacekeeping forces. The genocide was ended when the Tutsi army, led by current day president Paul Kagame, overthrew the Hutu government. Despite the end of the genocide, periodic massacres were committed and gorilla warfare waged by Hutu forces who hid with refugees fleeing to Zaire (now the Congo). The Congo's leadership had issues with their own Tutsi minority, which contributed to a conflict between the Congo and Rwanda for the next four years. (Some consider this time period to be one war, others refer to it as the Fist and Second Congo wars, due to power and alliance shifts halfway through.) (4, 1, 5, 6)
Map of Rwanda and surrounding region. Credit: BBC (3)
Politics and Gender:
The President, Paul Kagame, has controlled the Rwandan government since his rebel army ended the genocide and seized control of the capital. First as vice president, then as president for 3 terms (so far). His public image has shifted over time, from folk hero and liberator, to dictator. The press has limited freedom and most critical journalists are based overseas. (3)
So many men died during the genocide, the Rwandan government was forced to call upon women to fill the gaps. Now Rwanda’s parliament is half women, an amazing degree of gender inclusivity. Yet traditional gender roles haven’t changed. Unlike other countries that experienced a ‘feminist uprising’ that gradually forced inclusion, Rwanda never had a feminist movement. Women were asked to be patriotic and sacrifice for their country. Women’s political presence is not considered a right, but a privilege, and female parliamentary leaders are still expected to maintain their traditional roles of wife, mother, and caretaker. Young women today, chafe under this contradiction. The older generation who came of age before the massacre are largely unwilling to protest. They want national stability and security. The younger generation of women, were children during, or born after the genocide, are more willing to make tentative, yet bold gestures of independence. Such acts include pursuing higher education in greater numbers, starting businesses, and choosing to work after childbirth. Young men are becoming increasingly used to seeing women in the work place, and seemingly independent in public. The next generation will continue this shift of accepting "the new normal." However, Rwanda doesn't yet have a tradition of feminism, these ideas are just beginning to build. Widespread, but private, gender violence, gender differences in poverty rates, and stiff government control of the media and any criticism made sustainable change a slow process. (2,9)
Rwandan Flag, from Wikimedia Commons
At least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in the Rwandan Genocide. Today the average life expectancy is 54 (men) and 57 (women). Agriculture is their strongest economic sector, as tea and coffee are the main exports. A majority of the population is employed in agriculture, or live in a rural environment. (3, 6)
A landlocked nation, with poor transportation infrastructure to neighboring countries, Rwanda hopes to attract investors and develop local business by setting up economic zones and developing the internet and communication infrastructure in these areas. (8)
Rwandan students, 2015, Randazzo. Photo Credit: UNICEF (7)
Ethnic conflict was extremely disruptive to the national education strategy through the 60’s to the 90’s. However, after the genocide, the government focused on building up human capital, including increasing funding for education. In 2009, the national literacy rate was roughly 75%. Rwanda has roughly equal gender enrollment in primary school. This is promising growth. Completion of primary education fluctuates, but is often around 60%. (5, 7)
Despite 6 years of mandatory, government funded schooling, the average Rwandan will only receive 3 years of education, due to insufficient facilities and other obstacles. Infrastructure challenges are compounded by teachers’ frustration with too few textbooks that are often old, damaged or of poor quality. The teachers are also typically inexperienced, with 3-5 years teaching experience on average. Additionally, many Rwandan teachers report feeling underpaid, and if they pursue additional training or education, it is usually in a field outside of education. (5, 7)
Rwanda’s national education strategy hopes to create the foundation for it to become a center for information and communication technology. For these goals to become a reality, issues of unequal access to learning materials and teacher training and pay must be addressed. (5, 8)
1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2017/06/11/rwandas-children-of-rape-are-coming-of-age-against-the-odds/?utm_term=.82200fda4c0d \
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