Yesterday, I attended “Innovations in Education in Latin America, Africa and Asia,” a panel discussion held by IPSA and the Education Policy Studies Association (WEPSA) as part of NYU Wagner’s “International Week.”
The discussion focused on the innovative educational practices NGO’s are implementing in conflict-afflicted regions.
The evening began with an introduction of the panel’s distinguished speakers:
- Anita Anastacio – Senior Technical Advisor for the International Rescue Committee (IRC)
- Louisa Benton – Director of Development and Communications at WorldFund
- Tzvetomira Laub – Coordinator for Minimum Standards at the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)
Next, the moderator Conor Grennan, Executive Director of Next Generation Nepal, posed a series of provocative questions that spurred a lively conversation:
- What is the role of education in conflict and post-conflict regions?
- What are the challenges and barriers that NGOs such as the IRC, WorldFund and INEE face in providing quality educational programs and services in these regions?
- What promising innovations are NGOs adopting to mitigate these challenges and barriers?
All the panelists spoke passionately about the important role education plays in conflict and post-conflict regions. Ms. Anastacio stated that at times of chaos (which is often the case in conflict-riddled regions), education can “create a sense of stability and normalcy.” Additionally, she added that, if done well, education can help “develop positive skills, attitudes and behaviors and increase people’s sense of empathy, inclusiveness, and collaboration.” In essence, Ms. Anastocio and the other panelists argued, that good education could alleviate many of the problems flagrant in these regions.
The panelists also discussed some of the challenges they have faced in implementing their programs. Ms. Benton pointed to teacher and principal training programs that the WorldFund has recently implemented in Brazil and Mexico. She worried that, in the future, it may struggle to secure long term funding from donors who want to see short-term results. She also mentioned the challenge of working with the local government in both countries, which have offered little support for the programs – the training efforts have rested heavily on WorldFund’s shoulders.
Ms. Anastacio also cited obtaining long-term funding and maneuvering local politics as a barrier to creating and sustaining the programs in the Middle Eastern and African countries in which she works. Ms. Benton mentioned that based on her conversations with donors, practitioners and researchers, one of the biggest barrier might come from the funding and NGO community itself. She noted that some donors see investing in education as too costly and requiring too much of a prolonged effort. These donors often see the biggest bang for their buck in smaller, more tangible programs such food drives or homeless shelters, which offer a greater probability of gaining short-term wins.
There was no consensus on what new practices or innovations could best mitigate these barriers. Ms. Laub and Ms. Benton suggested that NGOs will need to develop more robust assessment tools to evaluate their programs. Having readily-available outcome data could be used as leverage to retaining funding from donors. Ms. Benton also mentioned getting donors more involved in their work beyond funding – for example, seeking their advice on various aspects of program development. Ms. Anastocio added that another innovative approach would be to engage the local communities in the educational services they receive. This might lesson some of the tension that these communities feel about NGOs coming in and altering the systems that they have become accustomed to.
All agreed that though great inroads in education have been made in conflict areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa, much room remains finding innovative solutions to the most prevailing challenges.
By: Bukola Awobamise
Last year, the New York Times, reported on the rising influx of Americans students studying in China. Pointing to findings from the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Times noted that China is now “the fifth-most-popular destination,” for American study abroad students, right on the heels of Britain, France, Spain and France. In an August 2009 story, the Times reported that a growing number of recent American graduates, facing rising unemployment at home, are flocking to China in search for better career opportunities.
So what makes China such a dynamic, lucrative place to study and work? To gain some insight, I tracked down my friend Jennifer Tippins who recently spent a year in Hong Kong on a U.S. Fulbright grant (awarded by IIE).
Jennifer, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and an animator, is now living in Shangri-La, China. You can learn more about Jenn’s experiences in China here:
What sparked your interest in applying for a Fulbright grant? What interested you in Hong Kong?
I was interested in applying for a Fulbright while I was in college. I always wanted to study abroad, but unfortunately I did not have the opportunity because there were too many classes and requirements that had to be fulfilled in the NYC campus. Beyond my interest in living in a foreign country, I also had this film idea that I had kept in the back of my mind, based on stories my mother told me about her childhood growing up in Hong Kong. Since Hong Kong also has a strong cinematic history, I thought it would be good place to accomplish several goals- learn more about film/animation/artistic traditions in Hong Kong/Chinese culture; research Hong Kong history during the time my mother and her family lived there; collect reference material in the form of photographs, video, sound recordings, writings and drawings; and also see and experience Hong Kong for myself, to better understand its culture, and its people.
What expectations did you have about living and studying in Hong Kong? How were your expectations met? How were they challenged?
My personal expectations about my time abroad were I hoped to have a better understanding of the place where my mom and her family came from and to challenge myself that I could live in a foreign country on my own. In terms of my research and studies, I hoped to learn a lot more Mandarin Chinese, make progress on my film, and do a lot of drawing.
My Fulbright grant exceeded all my expectations about living and studying there. Nothing you think of can really ever live up to the realities of what it’s like to live in a different place. I found Hong Kong to be a very modern and convenient city, in some aspects more modern than New York City. Its transportation, technology, and many other things made living in Hong Kong a breeze. I also didn’t realize just how much people there speak English, which made communication very easy. I also didn’t expect that I would make a lot of international friends from all different countries, but Hong Kong truly is an international city, and small enough to meet people and network easily. Now I have friends from countries all over Europe and Asia. I also improved my Mandarin Chinese a lot, and picked up more Cantonese. By the last few months of my grant, I remember walking around the city, riding the tram, or getting lost in its magnificent hills and hiking trails and thinking to myself how much I love Hong Kong. I didn’t think I would like it that much, but I do!
How has your year abroad benefited you personally and professionally?
I have grown personally in so many ways. Living abroad has made me a better world citizen, one who knows more about other cultures and sees everything in more grays than in black-and-white. Professionally, I have made some great contacts and have benefited from the friendships and connections I have made within Hong Kong’s art scene. I have a wealth of ideas and new developments I want to explore with my film and future projects, all based on my experiences living in Hong Kong the past year.
What advice would you give graduates and professionals seeking to work and study in Hong Kong and in China in general? Any suggestions on how to gain the most out of an international experience.
I would highly encourage graduates and professionals to give work or study in Hong Kong and China a chance. As China continues to grow economically, it will be ever more important for Americans to understand this country and its culture. I would say the best thing to do with any opportunity is to approach it with an open mind and really stretch your comfort zone. And I mean really stretch it. Chinese culture is vastly different from Western culture, which can be overwhelming to some. I have seen expats move to Hong Kong for work, but they choose to live ‘the expat life’ and don’t really try to explore or understand the local culture of Hong Kong. I have found the people who do the best here are the ones who are willing to try new ideas and new ways of doing things, whether it be learning the language, digging in and exploring the vast and unique tastes of Chinese cuisine, or just engaging with the Chinese about their views on their country and other cultures and suspending your own pre-formed notions on what Hong Kong and China is and is not.
I would also add that Hong Kong is a great starting point to China. Often called “China Lite,” Hong Kong still affords a lot of comfort of Western living and does not have the political restrictions mainland China has (i.e. un-restricted internet access). For those who have never been to China or Asia, Hong Kong is not a bad place to start. I would also recommend doing some reading beforehand, which never hurts. I found reading Peter Hessler’s River Town and Oracle Bones offer both a personal account of an American’s experience in China and also historical information about China’s history and culture. A basic understanding of Chinese history, and of course language skills are also good. Mandarin Chinese will get you far in mainland China. Knowing Chinese characters also really helps, especially for reading menus, signs, etc. For Hong Kong you don’t really need to know a lot of Cantonese or Mandarin, but knowledge of Cantonese will give you access to more local areas and communities, and earn you points with your Cantonese-speaking co-workers or boss!
By: Bukola Awobamise
On July 1, the IPSA book club met to discuss Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson at the bar Swift, a few blocks from the Puck building. The meeting was a success! There were seven people at the meeting – 3 current students, 2 new students, and 2 friends of an IPSA member.
The group discussed how impressed we all were with the extreme dedication Mortenson showed to his mission of building schools in rural Pakistan and later rural Afghanistan. He spent years of his life working with the local people, for very little money, often putting himself in danger. We discussed how we felt his made a different in empowering rural communities, particularly because aside from helping with the building, the school’s were run by the local people without an American influence. We agreed that work like Mortenson’s, by offering an alternative, can prevent poor people from turning to terrorism. However, we did note that the leaders of terrorist organizations often have high levels of education. We also talked about how Mortenson could have benefited from some organizational management and help with his finances and fundraising operations. He was luckily able to succeed, but his organization was constantly on the brink of financial ruin in its beginning days.
In the end, we were all amazed at the power one individual can have to change so many peoples lives and have such a positive impact.
We arrived in Cape Town on July 7th for a month-long study on community health in South Africa. After a few days of classes and site visits to various health and treatment centers in the surrounding townships, I began observing at Sonke, an organization which works to strengthen government, civil society, and citizen capacity to support men and boys to take action to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence and reduce the spread of impact of HIV/AIDS. Sonke uses a broad range of social change strategies including working with government to promote the development of new policies, advocacy, activism, and community mobilization to ensure deliverance from government, strengthening organization capacity among partner organizations, using communications and digital stories, community education, and research. Main sponsors include USAID, PEPFAR, UNICEF, and University of California. This is particularly relevant as South Africa has the highest incidence of rap
e in the world, domestic abuse is rampant, and women have little value associated with them; behaviors which developed from a variety of historical, cultural, and economic circumstances.
In the township of Khayelitsha, which is the second largest township in South Africa (nearly 1 million residents), I observed Sonke’s One Man Can Campaign, which focuses on community education including workshops, community events, murals, door-to-door campaigns, street soccer festivals etc. I attended several community hospitals, where Sonke’s representative (who was a local man of about 30 years old) used the waiting room filled with approx. 75 patients, as a platform for disseminating sexual health information and gender sensitivity, talking about current events (such as an ongoing rape trial), providing information on health resources, and then attempting to create a dialogue within the waiting room. They partnered with another NGO, Treatment Action Campaign, who informed those waiting on HIV and treatment options. This was important because the link between sexual violence and HIV is not well understood. Although women were more vocal then men, both used the time to sha
re opinions and fears, ask definitional questions of rape, and voice anger/concerns; since forums like this are not often available, the participants were happy to have this opportunity and thanked “Sonke” as we left. The hospital has become more than a place of treatment, but a place to become educated and participate in dialogue; a town hall meeting feeling. We also attended a men’s clinic, which was housed in a trailer about fifty feet away from the hospital, which gives information on men’s health, trains on gender sensitivity, testing, treatment, and counseling. The room was filled with men of all ages, actively asking questions and engaging in discussion. The counselors and nurses were from surrounding townships and were excellent and passionate teachers. The greatest part of the experience so far is understanding that people really want information, particularly on health, and are seeking it out wherever they can; unfortunately the places to find these resources are often far from their homes and expensive to reach.
More on Sonke and other orgs soon to come!
June 21, 2009
Originally home to over 200,000 refugees, Meheba now houses approximately 14,000 people hailing from Angola, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and Sudan. Those that are left have hopes of being offered resettlement in the U.S. or Europe (in actuality only about 1% of refugees world-wide are able to utilize this option), or being absorbed into the Zambian population. Some, such as one of FORGE’s employees, were born here in Zambia but are still considered refugees and unable to obtain citizenship.
In theory, refugees are supposed to have the right to travel and work within the country of acceptance, but that is not the case in Zambia. In Meheba, FORGE is one of only three employers and the 50 or so jobs that we offer to refugees is by far the largest number. The UN and Zambian government occasionally hire refugees, but most of their positions are held by Zambians.
In many ways Meheba is not a traditional refugee camp. Each family has land for cultivation and the main center of the settlement houses a fairly large market with fresh vegetables, rice, beans, and bread. Many of the miners based near Solwezi will visit Meheba for produce as it is better quality and cheaper than in town. One of FORGE’s employees has an extensive garden and he supplies us with fresh greens, tomatoes, and onions on a regular basis. Cooking them is more problematic as our stove/oven consists of a charcoal brazier that is “slightly” difficult to light in the mornings. I’m getting the hang of it though.
FORGE operates multiple different programs in the settlement. I am here to help with the pre-schools of which there are three spread out throughout the camp. There are also multiple libraries, two health programs, a Women’s Center, an agricultural loan program, and a high school sponsorship program.
This past Saturday (June 20) was World Refugee Day and the UN sponsored a huge celebration on the grounds of one of the schools in the settlement. There was native dancing and skits based on sexual & gender based violence and the flight of refugees during war. It was slightly disturbing to watch the cheering whenever women’s rights were mentioned or anti-violence speeches were given knowing that only two days earlier a two-year-old had been raped in the settlement. We’re hopeful that things will improve though.
So, I leave next week for Zambia! I will be working for FORGE in the Meheba Refugee Settlement in northern Zambia, primarily focusing on refugee-driven educational development projects for young children.
The Meheba Refugee Settlement first began accepting refugees in 1971 during the Angolan civil war, and now there are refugees from Angola, DRC, Rwanda, and Burundi currently living there. Due to Zambia’s stable governance situation and continued economic prosperity, it has become a safe haven for refugees from throughout the sub-Saharan region. Furthermore, it’s considered a great tourist destination due to the large numbers of wildlife parks and sanctuaries, the Zambezi River, Lake Kariba (a major hydro-electrical project between Zambia & Zimbabwe), and Victoria Falls…not that I’ll be anywhere near water.
I would like to say how awed I am by the level of dedication so many Wagnerites are showing in heading out to the field for the summer. It is so easy as students to get drawn into the comfort of academia, but it’s important for us as practitioners to really see what is happening in the areas where we want to work.
I’m hoping to be able to blog a few times from Africa, but sadly will not have Internet access in Meheba so we’ll see. If my next post is not until I return, then I promise pictures!
Happy Travel Wagnerites!!!