Interview with Glenn Fawcett
LO's Field Director Extraordinaire
For our first newsletter of the year we wanted to freshen up on what Lotus Outreach is all about. There is no one that knows Lotus Outreach better than our Director of Field Operations extraordinaire, Mr. Glenn Fawcett. He is the heart and driving force of the organization. This remarkable gentleman has dedicated the last 21 years of his life to fighting injustice and empowering underprivileged communities. In this interview he shares with us where Lotus Outreach started, how far it has come and what kind of impact it has had on the communities it works with.
You have been working with Lotus Outreach since the inception of the organization over 20 years ago. You were present when Lotus Outreach was first imagined. How did you get involved with this initiative of Khyentse Norbu?
I’ve known Khyentse Norbu since 1985 and every year since, my respect for him and his profound concern for humanity has only deepened. Around 1993 he asked me to come and work with him in India. I had been mulling over spending time in Asia with agencies like Volunteers Abroad and the invitation to come and work in India gave me the opportunity to work as a volunteer for a couple of years in his organization after which I became Director of White Lotus Trust and the rest is history!
In these two decades of tireless, completely dedicated and passionate service, did you ever have a moment of hopelessness? And if so, what got you through that?
This work continues to inspire and get me out of bed everyday. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt hopeless about the work. It was depressing and frustrating when a project partner was not performing and we had to change our approach or leave what we were doing and evolve elsewhere.
There is so much injustice in the world. I have learned that it’s mostly not a lack of resources that cause hunger and deny right to education so seeing injustice makes me angry and determined to change the conditions causing it. This is my deepest inspiration aside from the resilience I find in human beings even when they’ve never had anything like the opportunities most of us have had.
Lotus Outreach began as an organization to help the Tibetan refugees in the Tibetan settlements in India. How did the shift towards Cambodia and other parts of India unfold?
We began working with children of Tibetan refuges in 1993 and by the year 2000 our programs had developed from individual scholarships to school and community based programs. We developed computer literacy right across their administration, their schools and to individuals on a large scale. During those 7 years, Tibetan Refugee settlements began receiving remittances from family members that had immigrated to the US and Switzerland. At certain point we had to admit that these relatively small settlements with 100% child enrolment provided by the Central Schools System were better off than the swathes of Indians whose homeland Tibetan refugees were given sanctuary in, and so we moved our focus to the Urban slums in Delhi.
Adding Cambodia came about with encouragement from our Founder Khyentse Norbu who spent a lot of time in South East Asia and learned about the plight of it’s children, especially those trafficked for sex work. I began research in 2003 to find a good approach and where precisely we would begin work. After visiting development work in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, we all agreed that Cambodia was where the greatest need was. People make a lot of noise about there being thousands of NGOs working in Cambodia, but, in reality, there are only a few hundred working sincerely and since funding our first program in 2005, we’ve consistently found a plethora of gaps we’ve developed programs to fill.
What are the greatest challenges that you have faced in carrying out Lotus Outreach's work? In India? In Cambodia?
Finding really sincere people that are really committed to helping others has been and continues to be a big challenge. It took years to set Lotus Outreach up in Cambodia after arriving there alone in 2004 with a brief to set up an office, search out honest partners, and establish an approach always conscious that there was a lot of corruption there.
I’ve already spoken about moving from the Tibetan Refugee work – it was very hard to take our support away, even knowing we were aiming at children and families that were more needy. But the Tibetans in those areas were in fact doing okay at that point and much better off than when we first began working there.
Finding ways that are sustainable, replicable and scalable that impact on problems takes time and deep consideration. You have to admit at some point, no matter how painful it may be, that while the work you are doing may be really helpful for a handful of people, you might need to switch support to other programs if through them you can have an impact on tens of thousands of children – for instance by working on ensuring delivery of an already existing government resource, whether it be village schools or village health services.
In all these years working for LO, is there a story from a specific beneficiary that really stands out in your mind? Could you share it with us?
There are at least a hundred that come to mind! Hundreds of GATE girls with variations of a common story told through a veil of tears – stories of living on the knife edge of poverty for years on end, the pain of being withdrawn from school to work and support their families, and the joy at returning to study. More than 100 of these girls are now in University and other Tertiary programs with assistance from the GATEways program.
Vannah, a determined and capable graduate of our Non Formal Education and Life Options program with a deep thirst for learning, escaped from a violent marriage and karaoke bar work by completing skills training for beauty and tailoring and returned to her village to run multiple businesses which grew to employ over 100 local people.
Bhurrie, a 12 year old Indian girl who attended Lotus Outreach’s Street Kids Outreach Program for urban slum dwellers in Delhi. Bhurrie worked as a ‘rag-picker’ scavenging in rubbish for plastic and recyclables to sell at 1 rupee a kg. She and a small group of girls used to scavenge in the Old Delhi markets and she was brave enough to tell us that some of the girls were being enticed with offers of a few rupees to allow shopkeepers to sexually abuse them on a daily basis. Her bravery saved many girls from the same fate. That was in 2000 – I wonder where she is now.
GATEways Graduates Reach Their Goal
In November last year we shared with you the great news of Soven Mealea graduating from accounting school in the fall and subsequently being hired as an accountant by Jeram Coconut. Mealea was a GATE scholarship recipient since she was 13 and continued on a GATEways scholarship through college. Along with Soven Mealea there were 9 additional GATEways scholarship recipients that graduated from college last year. These 10 are the first batch of GATEways graduates.
Each one of them, just like Mealea, had been receiving scholarship from Lotus Outreach since their primary schooling. These young women, when first approached by Lotus Outreach in their childhood, were on the brink of dropping out of school, constrained by their family’s struggle for survival, and many times coping with a situation of violence at home. Gaining a college degree and leading professional careers of their choice was unimaginable for them as children, but it is their reality today.
• 2013 GATEways Graduates •
Naloeun graduated with a secondary teaching degree from the Pedagogy School. She is currently teaching at the Preah Theat Secondary School in Siem Reap.
Chhiet graduated with a primary teaching degree from the Pedagogy School. She is currently teaching at the Krohom Primary School in Banteay Meanchey.
Sreyleak graduated with a primary teaching degree from the Pedagogy School. She is currently teaching at the Sarong Primary School in Banteay Meanchey.
Sopheap graduated with a secondary teaching degree from the Pedagogy School. She is currently employed as a teacher at Tapho Secondary school in Banteay Meanchey.
Srey graduated with an Accounting degree from the Vanda Accounting Institute. She is currently employed as a sales representative at Sunsimiko Company in Phnom Penh.
Sreyvang graduated with a degree in nursing from the Nurse Training School. She decided to continue her studies further and gain a midwifery degree.
Navy graduated with a primary teaching degree from the Pedagogy School. She is currently teaching at the Svay Sor Primary School in Banteay Meanchey.
Mealea graduated with a degree in accounting from the Vanda Accounting Institute. She is currently employed as an accountant at Jeram Coconut Co. in Phnom Penh.
Chanry graduated with a degree in nursing from the Nurse Training School. She is pursuing a position in her home village as a nurse.
Seda graduated with a primary teaching degree from the Pedagogy School. She is currently teaching at the Srah Sor Primary School in Banteay Meanchey.
Their impressive results show the long-term sustainability of GATE and GATEways and demonstrate complete fulfillment of both programs’ mission. These young women now have the skills they need to bring on the positive transformation that Cambodia yearns for!
Successful Job Seekers
With dozens of girls now reaching their dream of graduating college, the most important step of their professional lives looms ahead: getting their first professional job! Because most of the GATEways scholars still have no idea how to write a CV and do well in an interview, Lotus Outreach’s Skills Training and Employment Matching (STREAM) program helps connect them to opportunities and ready them for the hiring process.
Over the last few months, STREAM has conducted “Successful Job Seeking” workshops to inform the GATEways scholars about job information sources, how to look for employment through online job postings, and how to know if the job is a right fit. The participatory workshops encouraged the GATEways girls to get fully involved and voice all their ideas and experience about each topic. They went through several interview exercises and practiced writing their first curriculum vitae.
More than a quarter of GATEways scholars already work full or part-time while in college with an average salary of $90 per month, more than twice the poverty line. Of the 10 scholars who graduated in Fall 2013, eight have already found employment! We can see how vital STREAM is to the complete empowerment of the GATEways scholarship recipients
Scholarships for Child Laborers: 6 Years of Impact
The Scholarship for Child Laborers program has been implemented for the past six years and is currently active in 32 brick kilns of Mewat, India. As a direct result of the program, the number of children dropping out of school to join their parents on a lifetime of grueling, unhealthy work has been greatly diminished at those brick kilns.
Since the program’s inception in 2008, every year we have been able to successfully enroll and support more than 200 children per year. As seen in the table below, overall there has been a decrease in the number of children supported by the program.
This is a reflection of a decrease in the number of migrant labors coming to work in Mewat’s brick kilns because of improving conditions and labor opportunities in their home states. We have good reasons to be hopeful that those parents who remained in their home states, and whose children have been through our program, are carrying on their commitment to their children’s education and making sure they complete their studies.
One of the principle components of the scholarship program is education advocacy - encouraging parents to be as supportive as possible in their child’s education as a means to ensure a better future for them. A study by Poverty Action Lab at MIT has shown that giving parents information on the benefits of education, such as higher wages earned by graduates, is the most cost effective approach to increasing children’s school years: for every U$100 spent in advocating for education there are 20 added years of student participation in return.
Without attending school in Mewat these children would not be able to keep up with their classes back home. Through the years of working in Mewat, we have witnessed that these migrant laborers would not even be able to send their children to their native village schools, without the program’s support. It’s extremely encouraging to see that about one tenth of parents choose not to return to their native villages, but instead stay in Mewat during the monsoon months to not risk that their children miss any school at all.
It’s been reassuring for us that teachers in Mewat schools attended by children of brick kiln laborers have been extremely supportive of the program. The shared sentiment of the teachers is that the children receiving the scholarship are more sincere and regular in classes, and that in general they are even better learners than the other children.
Lotus Outreach has been very fortunate to have Eileen Fisher partner with us since December 2012 on this program. The outcomes we see today have been only possible with such partnership, and because of the support of so many generous donors. How wonderful that these children can now envision a brighter, healthier future!