Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Educating a Girl, Educates a Village

There is power in education. Especially when we educate girls. There is a wave of energy spreading across this planet focusing on the education of girls in 3rd world countries. Time after time we hear people confirming the importance and power of educating females. Females are the center of the family. She cares for children, spouses, parents; females are the hub of family. It's a natural tendency for women and girls to nurture and educate. When a girl is educated, in most cases, she will naturally turn around and share that education.

We believe, along with so many others, that this planet will be best served by raising the level of education of women. Women will nurture this sick planet and our work is devoted to this goal. The following was written by our documentary team to explain our work.

"There is no toll for development more effective than
girls' education and the empowerment of women."

Kofi Annan

The problem
There are one billion people in the world who are illiterate and 2/3 of them are women. In India alone, 200 million women cannot read and write. Illiteracy causes extreme poverty and puts women and children at the risk of human trafficking. After arms and drugs, human trafficking is the most lucrative exploitation occurring in the world. Two areas of the world where this situation is at it worse are in the state of Bihar in India and among the hill tribes and Burmese refugees in Northern Thailand. Ninety percent of these illiterate people live in rural villages that are difficult to access, hampering the efforts by the governments and NGO’s.

The poverty and desperation is so extreme that parents are compelled to take the lives of newborn girls who are less valued to avoid having another mouth to feed. These parents also sell their daughters as young as 8 years old. What happens to them? They end up in brothels or as bonded laborers in homes all over the world. Entire villages can be complicit in this situation.
There are two problems: the parents do not understand education and are reluctant to lose their children to the necessary workforce for the family survival.

It is extremely difficult to find committed and dedicated teachers to work in these areas. In traditional cultures, deeply ingrained prejudices hamper the commitment of state trained teachers. These people are trapped in the cycle of ignorance and poverty and the solution begins with education -- particularly with emphasis on those who have been disenfranchised -- women and girls.

The loss of human potential is staggering. Research shows that if women were educated the result would be lower birthrates, fewer and healthier children, empowerment of women to contribute economically to their families, the breakdown of cultural and religious barriers, the encouragement of civic participation and responsibility, and a civilizing affect on society in general.

The Solution
The Free School project began in 1996 as a free evening school project in Motihari, Bihar. Free Schools World Literacy is a secular educational system involving teachers and supervisors from a variety of religious backgrounds. The mission of Free Schools is to break the cycle of ignorance and poverty by empowering women and children through free education.

In 2005, Free Schools World Literacy was incorporated and schools were expanded in Bihar, opened in Thailand and introduced to Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. From 2005 – 2008, this program went from 2 schools to over 70. Existing facilities and donated structures safe for children are used after closing hours where possible. Female teachers are trained from the same villages where the children live -- teachers who are known and trusted by the villages. In India, the quality primary curriculum involves reading, writing, arithmetic and health, civics, AIDS awareness and the perils of human trafficking as well as income producing skills. Nutritious snacks and clothing are provided.

The money raised for Free Schools pays for salaries for teachers, snacks and clothing, and educational materials. For some who pass a rigorous testing process and who excel academically, Free Schools provides scholarships to continue their education. One surprising outcome has been the emergence of the performance arts, including singing, dancing, art and oral history.
Now when a village asks for a Free School, the men must provide the land and labor and build the school structure before Free Schools provides the teacher. When complete, a teacher is carefully chosen and trained.

The criterion for success is the number of free schools students who are able to complete the program through grade 5. Some families are able to afford the modest tuition fees to go on to formal education after grade 5. Others receive partial scholarship.

The Documentary
Like the Micro Credit project where women are given small loans to start their own businesses, Free Schools are a means toward having a major positive impact with minimal expense. With the cooperation of Free Schools World Literacy we will produce an hour long documentary for airing on public television. The purpose of this documentary is to give a voice to the suffering of women and children who have no means of speaking out for themselves, and to illustrate the benefits of education for them.

The video will begin with images and the story of poverty, desperation, lack of education and the dire situations that force parents to sell their children. We will take a film crew to Bihar, India to capture the images and voices of these women and children, teachers and volunteers. Our goal is to capture the image of Free Schools and what they do so the world will be made aware, reaching out for more groups to help the women and children on our planet. Through this documentary, we also hope to raise funds to give directly to Free Schools International for more schools and scholarships. Ninety five percent of all funds raised go to the Free Schools and staff. We ask for your partnership and assistance to create possibilities for these women and children.

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