February 2016                                                                                                                    Issue 61

Happy Chinese New Year!


By Glenn Fawcett, Director of Field Operations, with input from Professor Ramu Mannivannan of Buddha Smiles.

Buddha Smile scholars

Buddha Smile scholars

Children and families of rural villages areas face many difficulties while trying to educate their children. One of the biggest problems is most of the parents of the new generation of children from these areas are totally illiterate. 

How does this impact the children's education? In the Indian context, most Indian families that can afford education hire a home tutor and additionally, educated parents assist with their children’s home-work on a daily basis. Children of poor illiterate parents cannot afford tutors and are not able to assist their children with reading or writing or further education.

Buddha Smiles-Lotus Tutors was conceived to address these social inequalities and since 2002, Lotus Outreach and Garden of Peace have worked together to provide evening tutoring to the children of stone quarry laborers, small farmers, daily wage-workers and weavers in Vellore and Thiruvannamalai Districts of Tamil Nadu. We are deeply indebted to Guru Kupa Trust for their support that has funded the Buddha Smiles/Lotus Tutors program since 2012.

During the academic year of 2014-2015, the program provided exciting and engaging learning activities through play on a daily basis. The program operated five and six days a week and served 361 children, including 199 girls who represented 55% of the students. 

In June 2015, Buddha Smiles engaged one of it’s own teacher/volunteers, Mr Chandrashekar, who comes from the Amirthi forest area, to begin creating a trusting relationship with communities in five additional villages in the tribal areas neighbouring our current work area with the aim of expanding the program by five more classes to a total of 15.

These five additional villages lie in the areas of the Amirthi forests and Javadhu Hills in Vellore and Thiruvannamali districts. The Javadhu Hills (also spelled; Jawadhi, Jawadhu Hills) are an extension of the Eastern Ghats spread across parts of Vellore and Tiruvannamalai districts in the northern part of the state of Tamil Nadu in Southeastern India.

These hills are sparsely populated; the majority of the inhabitants are Malayalee tribes-people. The Malayalee (Mala means Hills and yalee means rulers)  are one of the primitive tribes in India living in Jawadhu and Kalryan Hills of Tamil Nadu.

 

Sadly, the area is known for very low levels of education among its people, paired with steady deforestation activities controlled by manipulative sandel-wood/red-wood mafia groups. Poor, tribal people in these areas are exploited by timber smugglers who mobilize them into cutting and processing these precious and protected trees. Poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy is commonly found among the people of this area. These eminent issues contribute to the criminal nexus and violent atrocities in the region. 

Buddha Smiles meditation class

Buddha Smiles meditation class

 

Oftentimes simply because there are precious few other opportunities, men take to smuggling sandalwood and redwood trees. Local NGO’s[1] state high levels of malnutrition in children and women who face neglect and are socially marginalized. Alcoholism is endemic among both men and women of this region. All of the Buddha Smiles children of these 5 villages come from tribal families of this forested hill region.  

 

Lotus Outreach and Garden of Peace initiative have made a conscious decision in choosing to work with these troubled areas as a part of our committed extension of Buddha Smiles program. The program has been very busy preparing the groundwork in this difficult social terrain. We held a number of meetings with the community leaders, parents, and children as a part of our preparations, including sessions to identity teaching candidates and volunteers.

By the end of 2015 we established the 5 centers as planned and 50 to 70 students who are regularly attending classes. LO is excited to move forward with these new centers and continue to provide accessible education and support for these illiterate communities. 

Lunch time for Buddha Smiles


[1]Peoples Organization for Planning and Education  (POPE) report http://www.popeindia.org/english/pope/the-tribes


By  Suraj Kumar, Project Manager in India

We are please to report that the Blossom Bus Program has continued its marked success creating education opportunities for young girls and developing young agents of change in Mewat, India into 2016. On behalf of all the children and communities who benefit from enhanced access to education, Lotus Outreach wishes to thank our major supporters: The Guru Krupa Foundation, the Forix Foundation, and the Fred and June MacMurray Foundation for their high-impact support in the lives of these you students.  

Lotus Outreach has run Blossom Bus since 2009 with two central objectives.

  •  Provide needy families on the outer limits of poverty in Mewat, India with a girls-only bus to safely deliver girls to secondary school, thereby inspiring young pioneers to become vocal, passionate advocates for girls’ education in their district.

  • Support girls in all villages until wider access to secondary school is available. Establish female education as the norm rather than an anomaly; mitigate gender imbalances; bolster individual self-esteem and foster a greater, more active role for women in Indian society. 

Thus far in 2015, Lotus Outreach has built upon the historic success of the Blossom Bus program. Blossom Bus is providing regular weekday transport to and from school for 254 girls currently studying in grade 9 to 12 in Haryana and Rajasthan, and another 20 young women attending college in Palwal, for a total of 274 regular bus riders. 200 of the girls are attending two schools in Aharwan village, Girls High School and Senior Secondary School in the Hathin block of Palwal district and 50 girls are attending School in Satpura, in the Kaman block of the Bharatpur district in Rajasthan.    

The girls come from eight separate villages of Haryana, and from seven villages in Rajasthan. Each village represented has extremely high drop-out rates among school-age girls, especially when transitioning from primary to Lower Secondary (LS) to High School. Local secondary schools are not available, and in the absence of a safe transport, parents are often not willing to let teenagers walk to distant villages for school. There is a prevalent myth in these districts, and even more broadly throughout India, that Muslim parents do not want to educate their female children. Muslim parents in Mewat are intent on debunking this fallacy, but remain concerned about the safety of their young daughters walking a distance of two-to-four sometimes even ten kilometers each day to and from school, passing through fields and villages where women are all too often harassed verbally and violently. 

Blossom Bus has been as busy as ever over the academic year thus far ensuring an education previously out of reach for these girl students. Without Blossom Bus, many of the girls would have little other option than joining their less fortunate peers, dropping out of school after eighth grade, marrying, and even having children in their early teens.      

Blossom University students en route to class

Progress Report Blossom Bus to University

We couldn’t be more proud of our 20 Blossom University scholars. All come from backgrounds on the outer limits of poverty, and have shown a tremendous dedication to their own educations and futures, many riding with Blossom Bus since secondary school. The majority are the very first in their family to pass grade 10. 

Staffing

The Blossom Bus Project staff has remained the same: our project coordinator is Suraj Kumar, Director of Field Operations is Glenn Fawcett, and the Independent Contractors (Bus Drivers) employed by the program include Balbir Singh, Yashpal, Subhash Chand, and Umesh Kumar—all trusted members of the Mewat community. 

 

Current Milestones

There are currently four buses deployed serving 204 girls in Haryana and two vans serving 50 girls in Rajasthan. Up until March we were providing transport to a combined 300 secondary school girls in Haryana and Rajasthan. At the beginning of new academic session in April 2015, however, several local schools were upgraded from primary school (through 5th grade) to upper primary schools, which goes through 8th grade, and consequently we lost approximately 26 riders. 

Occasionally our drivers will report that some girls not affiliated with the program are riding Blossom Bus to school. Blossom Bus maintains monthly school attendance records of its riders, which have not been impacted by these additional riders on the bus. However, for the well-being and safety of everyone on Blossom Bus, we have been working with drivers on strategies to keep only program participants on the bus for the rest of the academic year.

Recently, Lotus OUtreach's sister organization and Blossom Bus administrator White Lotus Trust was selected as a participant in The Women's Empowerment Track, an initiative of the Harvard University South-Asia Institute and Tata Trust Project on Social Entrepreneurship in India. The workshop was conducted from January 28th to 30th in Mumbai with the fundamental objective of providing a platform for social development professionals to share their stories and advice from international and national experts on improving sustainable intervention. After concluding the workshop in Mumbai, Lotus Outreach has begun to develop even more effective research tools to assess outcomes of the Blossom Bus program on girls and their families.

We are also pleased to report that Blossom Bs was shown in a documentary film produced by the Haryana Government, and presented to the Ministry of Human Resources Development in front of the national Indian government.  The film and our program were both received quite well by the government officials.

 Blossom Bus students

 Blossom Bus students

 

Future Milestones

The Blossom Bus has not only rerouted the lives of its girl students, but also has worked to drastically change the mindset of the girls’ parents. Many have approached the program requesting that we increase the number of seats available to young girls, especially in Rajasthan where more schools have recently been closed due to a controversial government policy change. We are considering the possibility of increasing the number of seats available, but only first upon an expansion of resources.

We are tremendously excited about the academic progress of some of our riders. 20 girls from Mewat who had never considered attending college, who became the first women in their villages to reach grade 10 or 12, now are enrolled in university at Palwal, and openly talk about a career and a better future. They are powerful examples of the capabilities of the Blossom Bus, and represent a broader goal for the bus’ activities.

Community-wide prejudices are steadily being disproven as well. Many parents in the area are extraordinarily grateful for the ease and facility of this transport, without which their children would be deprived of the means to secondary education.

Unfortunately, it seems that the difficulties of transportation for young women seeking a high school education will remain for a long time to come. Many of the young girls who do not have the chance to join the Blossom Bus continue to drop out because of the great safety risks inherent to the long walking distance to and from school each day. Blossom Bus is constantly being approached by parents in Haryana and Rajasthan to increase the number of buses for their children’s educations, but our resources prevent us from taking on any more riders at this time.

The need for a safe transport will remain in Mewat for many years to come, and our project coordinator Suraj Kumar has estimated that the withdrawal of the Bus for any reason would result the dropping out of at least 75% of the secondary school girls. We have tried to motivate parents to contribute to the project in some way, but many families are extremely poor and have very little to offer towards the program. On behalf  of all the girls that depend on Blossom Bus each day for their education and chance at a bright future, Lotus Outreach wishes to thank all of the donors for their tremendous support of this vital program.

 


By Alexandra Land, Executive Assistant ,with input from Glenn Fawcett

The GATE and GATEways objective is to enhance the life options of at-risk girls and their families and to reduce their vulnerability to violence and trafficking. The GATE program currently provides primary and secondary educational scholarships and holistic support to 422 girls in Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh provinces. This past year, 87 GATEways scholars were supported by Lotus Outreach and Cambodian Women’s Crises Center (CWCC) which was made possible through the support of donors like you. The following is Sima's story, a driven scholar that has been supported by both the GATE and GATEways program.

Sima, who is currently twenty-three, joined the GATE program in tenth grade. Sima states, “My family situation was such that going from grade sixth to grade seventh – my parents wanted me to drop school. So, I didn't attend school in the 2nd semester. Being very young at that time, I had to follow my parents and although the CWCC were looking for scholarship girls, my parents did not hear about it.”

When Sima was in ninth grade her parents were once again putting pressure on her to drop out of school due to family poverty. Once the school principles found out and immediately approached Sima’s parents to let them know that Sima could receive a GATE scholarship if they kept her in school.

 

While Sima was receiving her GATE scholarship, she was determined to make a positive change for all of the GATE scholars. It is importantly noted that when Sima sees room for improvement, she lets people know! Sima was the first GATE student to request rice support which inevitably became part of the GATE program. Sima also requested that stipends be distributed in the beginning of the month rather than middle, to make paying rent and purchasing food easier. Sima has shown signs of her forward thinking since high school!

Sima

Sima said, “I was the special case in 2010 and while two other girls didn’t get the funds until later, I got my stipend every month.” Sima reflects on her past, “In grade 11 I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. One of my friends told me she wanted to be a lawyer and we were one and two in the class. We were very competitive. We also ended up studying in the same university and we were always competing, she even did the French degree as well.”

Upon her graduation a few years later, she received a scholarship at the Royal University of Law and Economics. After graduating from University with a double degree in Law and French with the support of GATEways, Sima received a scholarship to peruse her Masters degree in Law. Although this was a great opportunity, Sima’s family requested that she take a few years off of school because they needed her to work to help make ends meet.  

Sima in front of her work

Sima in front of her work

 

In July 2014, Sima started at working for ADHOC (The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association). Since then, her salary has increased impressively and she is now sending more than half of her salary home to her family. Some of the money that she is sending home is supporting one of her other sisters in school.

 

Sima speaks about her recent job experience, “First I was working for enfant du Mekong as a social worker, not really the job I wanted. Then I saw there was a job available at ADHOC. The job is teaching Law to the community and I really love that. It was especially interesting to me as it is helpful to the community to teach them about rights. Sometimes I advise them on how to approach the court – domestic violence/gender/women’s rights/marriage – right age and not forced – marriage certificate – many of them don’t therefore have marriage certificate / rape.”

 

“70% of the rape cases I have put forward have been processed in the court and I do the follow-up to ensure case are being taken up or issue a legal position to push the process and ensure the case is going through the court toward a verdict,” Sima says proudly (rightfully so!).

Sima at  work

Sima at  work

Sima plans to go back to school to earn her Masters in Law after a few years of working. We are encouraging her because of the great work we know she will do and the many lives that she will impact.

Sima is very thankful for the support that has provided by donors like you. Her success is a wonderful example of how GATEways can change lives and impact many more. Thank you for believing in women like Sima! 

Below is an Interview with Sima and two other GATEway Program Participants, Sim Chenda and Lea Phea.