Posted by admin on 09.22.2008 at 3:49 pm
I met Mulbah earlier this year in his hometown. He is a Liberian college student in his early twenties who has spent most of his life coping with the twenty years of civil war that ravaged his country through 2003. Mulbah is a persistent guy. Though we initially spoke for less than ten minutes, as I was rushing off to our next meeting, Mulbah made sure to collect my contact information so that he could keep the conversation going. Before I had even made it back home to California I had this e-mail waiting for me [ed.: misspellings kept, sic neglected]:
I am very happy to extend my sincere greeting to you, including your family members, love one, friends and the entire Better World .
Sir, you give me your call card including you E-mail address at the ALPP/ Creative Associates International Inc. office which is commonly called Bong LRC during your trip to Africa for Vision In Action, Million Books Match for Africa.
Justin, you and are got into conversation but we did not end due to your busy schedule, that is I graduated since 2004-2005, and I started my Freshman Courses at the Cuttington University, Suakoko, Bong County but due to lack of finance I drop from school and my parents don’t have money to sponser my education. […]
It’s Mulbah [redacted].
He wanted to know if I could help him find a scholarship to continue his study of economics at Cuttington University – one of the schools that has received books through the partnership between Better World Books, USAID, and Vision In Action. Though I did not have the personal means to help him pay for college I wanted to find a way to help him continue his education.
1 Comment » | Tagged Impact, books for africa, economics, Impact, justin brandon, liberia, students
Posted by admin on 08.29.2008 at 9:59 am
Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.
The man was struck by the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.
He came up to the person and said, “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and picked up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, “It sure made a difference to that one!”
This is the story that inspired the name for David Leiners’ Starfish School (Escola Estrela do Mar for our Portuguese speaking friends) outside of Maceio Brazil. It also serves as the perfect metaphor for what is happening at this remarkable place. While it would be impossible to help every child in this area, the Starfish School sure is making a difference for every child that walks through the door.
Driving through the slums outside of Maceio you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer poverty surrounding you–shacks stacked on top of one another like Legos on the hillside, grown men sitting on the railroad tracks and drinking beer at 1:00 on a Friday afternoon. We stop at what at first glance appears to be a beautiful and majestic bay, but upon further inspection we see that the water is so polluted that you wouldn’t dare dip a toe into the sewage infested water. As we drive back towards the school you wonder how anyone ever makes it out of such a sad place.
You wonder until you set foot inside the Starfish School. It’s a completely different world inside of these walls. There are children laughing and playing and an overwhelming sense of hope and joy fills the air, something totally absent from the world outside.
David tells us stories of the children’s lives outside of school. One child’s father had sold every possession in their home to raise money for drugs, another child had recently come to school without a uniform because that was sold as well. After hearing these stories you truly develop an appreciation for what is taking place at this school. Not only is it a place of learning, but it serves as a sanctuary from the harsh realities of the day to day struggles of just living in a community like this one.
Students must meet several criteria to gain acceptance into the school. They must reside in the area and be from a low income family and home visits are made to confirm these factors. For children to gain admittance to the elementary levels an emphasis is placed on adaptability. This means they must be able to join the program without being a distraction or without slowing the progress of the existing students. There is no tuition to attend the school, however they do ask several things of the parents. They must show up at the school every few months and clean for several hours. They also require the parents to sign a contract, stating that they will be strong supporters of their child’s education. Education cannot be a part time commitment.
Sure, the school is amazing, but why did we visit? Well, it has been with the aid of our friends at Worldfund that this school has been able to thrive. The school was started in a small shack in 2005 and now resides in a beautiful building, walled in and protected from the crime outside. Starting with 27 students the school now has an enrollment of 90. The curriculum at the Starfish Schools aims to provide a complete education, with an emphasis on health and personal development. They also serve nothing but nutritious meals at the school. During our visit I enjoyed what was far and away the tastiest and healthiest school lunch I’ve ever had.
In an area where 11,000 school-age children don’t have access to education, it’s inspiring to visit a place like Escola Estrela do Mar. These children are gaining invaluable tools that will hopefully help them break free from the poverty in which they currently reside. In the years to come, with the continued support of Worldfund, the Starfish School will be able to reach out to even more children, and make a difference in even more lives.
Posted by Yanna on 08.28.2008 at 12:17 pm
In the past few weeks there have been some new developments with the Walk Sudan initiative to send a sea container to Southern Sudan using the Better World Books Fund.
We had two major pickups in late July yielding over 15,000 books! Since that time and due to the positive media coverage Walk Sudan has been able to collect another 2000 books!
Pick up at Newberry Library, Chicago, with Better World Books and Endless Eye
In other news an official letter was sent out to Pacodes (Walk Sudan’s partner) with details of Better World Books participation in the project. The highlights include that Better World Books has committed to front the money for the shipment of all the books to Southern Sudan. This will allow us to begin coordinating the spring shipment with Books for Africa. We look forward to working with Walk Sudan, Endless Eye and PACODES to fill the library in Panyijiar, Southern Sudan.
Have your say » | Tagged Book Reviews, Impact, Impact, Our Partners, walk sudan
Posted by admin on 08.26.2008 at 10:21 am
A note to us from Miracles in Action:
Last week the Florida teacher volunteers returned from Guatemala, where they implemented a teacher training project that focuses on reading. Your Better World books were a big part of the supplies we delivered and taught the rural Guatemalan teachers how to best use in teaching the students to read. This Saturday we are having a planning meeting to discuss the future of this project. It has worked well in two rural schools (both built with funds from Miracles in Action), and now we are ready to take the program to other schools. Of course we need lots of books. I will send you a few photos of the kids reading the books you shipped. Your staff may enjoy seeing how their efforts have benefited some very poor children, who are totally grateful for the blessing of books.
Miracles In Action, a 501(c)(3) non-profit
Have your say » | Tagged Impact, book drives, Impact, miracles in action
Posted by David on 08.22.2008 at 10:48 am
Exciting news to share: Better World Books has won a National Literacy Award (the 2008 National Coalition For Literacy Leadership Award!)
This Award is being presented by the National Coalition for Literacy (“NCL”), a Washington DC-based non-profit whose mission is to “advance adult education, family literacy, and English language acquisition in the U.S by increasing public awareness for the need to increase funding and programs; promoting effective public policy; and serving as an authoritative resource for the field on national adult education issues; www.national-coalition-literacy.org. Note: NCL here is not to be confused with our major non-profit literacy partner NCFL (The National Center for Family Literacy) they are two completely separate and distinct organizations!
The Award is in recognition of the commitment and service of Better World Books to the field of adult education and family literacy. To quote the NCL: “This award recognizes individuals and organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to improving literacy in the United States. Award recipients have demonstrated a deep and sustained individual, organizational, or corporate commitment by supporting literacy across the lifespan of the local, state and national level.”
Additional 2008 award recipients include Rep. Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, The National Council of La Raza (Janet Murguia, President and CEO), and John Comings, former Director of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.
The 2008 NCL Literacy Leadership Awards will be presented at a reception on Wednesday, September 10th, at the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress. I have been asked to receive the reward and speak at the award ceremony and I look forward to representing all of you there.
2 Comments » | Tagged Uncategorized, awards, david murphy, Impact, NCL, press
Posted by Yanna on 08.22.2008 at 10:26 am
[The following is one of the accounts from Better World Books' trip to Brazil to tour schools with our Latin American literacy partner: Worldfund. Stay tuned for more!]
Women are the teachers, women are the mothers, women share what they know and lead by example. Unfortunately many women in Brazil don’t have the education or skills to support themselves. They turn to prostitution or low paying, obtuse work to support themselves and their families. While Brazil’s economy is booming, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. As I traveled Brazil visiting schools and community programs with our partner organization Worldfund, I noticed many injustices. What struck me most was the role of women in society.
Bebedour is a community outside the beach town of Maceio. Bebedour is like many Brazilian communities. Homes are run down, unemployment is high, waterways are polluted, streets are littered, and the public education system is deplorable. This particular town has an estimated 115,000 human beings living in it and of those 11,000 are school age children NOT attending school. Bebedour may be a typical Brazilian city, but it has one school that is not typical, it is a progressive school that nourishes not only the student’s minds and bodies, but their hearts.
Bebedour, Brazil – Greater Maceio Area
One of the volunteers at the starfish school said something that really impacted me; he said, “For many of the girls in this neighborhood their dream job is to become a maid in a hotel.” These girls have had few positive female role models in their lives to show them that there is more out there than marriage and bearing children. The starfish school is trying to change this by bringing in female professionals monthly. This is an important program because now these girls have dreams of being educators, doctors, and business professionals. Even at the ripe age of nine, these young girls are seeing a bright future and one of independence.
Starfish School – Greater Maceio Area
Entirely too many of the woman of Brazil depend on men to support them. Too often women are left alone because her husband abandons her or he dies. These women are often unprepared to feed their children and care for their home. Thankfully initiatives like the Mao Amiga Women’s Center are available. On the outskirts of the sprawling city of Sao Paulo, this particular program teaches women skills that can provide income for themselves and their family. Classes include computer skills, baking, cooking, hair styling, and many more. These classes last for one year and the women that complete the program leave with more than knowledge; they leave with a self confidence they didn’t have a year before. They can now go out into their communities and earn a living wage.
Mao Amiga Women’s Center – Greater Sao Paulo Area
Thankfully, educational initiatives are changing in Brazil. The government recently made some changes that will help the failing public school system. Within the last year they have increased teacher’s salaries, and standardized the public school curriculum. The change may be slow coming, but thanks to organizations like Worldfund, there are already exceptional programs in place like the Starfish School and the Mao Amiga Women’s Center. These programs not only educate people’s minds, but provide them with a respect for their bodies and self. Self respect and confidence are the fundamental tools to success. Success breeds success and with more positive women role models, the future of Brazilian women and education is hopeful.
Mao Amiga School – Greater Sao Paulo Area
Posted by admin on 07.29.2008 at 9:51 am
Taken from PJStar.com, apparently we’re doing something good again. You know that we’re really doing the right thing when the so-called evangelist can’t even keep up with all of them!
From PJStar.com -
Many college students have a hard time committing to weekend plans, let alone a pledge to rebuild a community in Sudan.
But recent Illinois Central College graduate Matt Hoffman vowed to make a difference – one book at a time – in the lives of the “Lost Boys.”
Over the past two decades, more than 27,000 boys have escaped villages in southern Sudan during a civil war that has claimed millions of lives. While their parents and sisters were being slaughtered, the young boys banded together for the 1,000-mile walk to refuge.
Though the violence mostly has subsided, the survivors have had little incentive to return to their war-torn villages. But Hoffman and other members of ICC’s honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, want to give the Lost Boys a reason to go home.
The fraternity recently partnered with Chicago media company Endless Eye Productions and national bookseller Better World Books to conceive a plan to build and stock a library in Sudan’s Punyijiar County. Over the past few months, the effort, called “Walk Sudan,” has collected more than 8,000 books, which volunteers loaded onto a truck Thursday to be shipped to Africa.
“We wanted to start with a library because education is a way to empower them,” said Hoffman, adding that most of the Lost Boys have seen no more than three books in their lives. “We want to give them something to come back to.”
Hoffman, who graduated from ICC in May, sat down with friend Sean Fahey from Endless Eye earlier this year to devise a plan about how to help Fahey’s friend, Justin Machien Luoi, a Lost Boy who was educated in the United States as a refugee.
After just an evening of brainstorming, the two set out to raise awareness and money to rebuild part of Luoi’s country. Nearly 50 members of Phi Theta Kappa began speaking at area schools and churches during the spring semester, asking for monetary donations as well as books. They also sponsored a 3-mile walk from Bradley University to the Peoria riverfront in May to raise awareness about their campaign and to simulate the trek the Lost Boys made to refuge.
While Hoffman has remained involved in the effort, his graduation from ICC and move to Loyola University in Chicago required him to pass on the reins to new Phi Theta Kappa president Thomas Aguilar, who is just as devoted to the cause.
Aguilar was covered in sweat Thursday, as he and other volunteers loaded the hundreds of boxes of books onto a truck. Better World Books also is donating texts and shipping the first batch to Sudan shortly, as construction of the library is scheduled to begin within the next few months. Endless Eye will follow along to capture the effort in a documentary called “A Library for Panyijiar.”
Walk Sudan has promised the library is just the beginning of the effort to rebuild the African community over the next 20 years. A school will follow, Aguilar said, then a water treatment plant. The project has no limit.
“This is our way of showing that Peoria can make a difference for people on the other side of the world,” he said.
2 Comments » | Tagged Impact, Our Partners, africa, better world books, Illinois, Impact, Our Partners, peoria, pjstar, press, walk sudan
Posted by admin on 04.01.2008 at 1:19 pm
Check out this month’s edition of our recurring feature, Worldfund’s Student of the Month. Worldfund is our Latin American non-profit literacy partner and we look to support them in any way we can as they support youths such as:
Six-year-old Dina is a kindergarten student at Worldfund’s partner school in El Salvador, Mano Amiga San Antonio . A confident and friendly girl, Dina works hard in school and helps with chores at home.
Sadly, she already has experienced myriad hardships, including a life of poverty, abandonment by her father, and the death of her mother. Dina and her younger brother Oscar live with their elderly grandmother, Adela. Until recently, they lived in a house that was constructed with sticks and scrap materials and located in a community made up of small islands surrounded by raw sewage and trash.
In 2006, the school’s Director arranged for Dina to attend Mano Amiga San Antonio. Dina’s enrollment marked a turning point in the lives of everyone in her family. Dina’s brother Oscar is now a student at the school, and the Director facilitated the family’s move into a house in CIDECO (Centro Integral de Desarrollo Comunitario), a special community affiliated with the school that provides housing, medical care and access to literacy, hygiene and other classes that help families live with dignity and transition out of poverty. Adela, Dina and Oscar have benefited from the activities and classes, learning to eat with plates and utensils, and learning about personal hygiene, among other things.
The scholarship that Dina receives enables her to receive a high-quality education and she takes advantage of all that the school has to offer. Since Dina enrolled in the school, her attitude has improved significantly. She especially enjoys attending her pre-mathematics class and playing soccer with her friends.
The stark contrast between Dina’s life before and after enrolling in the school demonstrates the transformative effect that generous donations and high-quality education have on impoverished children’s lives.
Have your say » | Tagged Impact, Our Partners, Impact, Our Partners, worldfund
Posted by King on 03.14.2008 at 12:23 pm
[This is Part Six of Aaron's "Campus Division in Cambodia" story. Here's Part Five and this is the final installment!]
Friday January 4, 2008
I think it can go without saying that we began our day with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop today was to visit a couple of floating schools; schools actually on large boats in the river. Apparently as the seasons change, and the fishing areas change, and the level of the river changes, this school can be in several areas up and down the river. We were told that one challenge is that sometimes during the rainy season, some families will leave the village, and the students are unable to attend school.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by all the children and a beautiful bouquet of flowers. On the floating school we saw first hand a library that RTR had created. We were able to ask the students and teachers what it was like before this library, and it was as we expected: without fun books to read, the students had no real passion for reading. But in the middle of this library filled with children’s books, there was genuine joy and excitement amongst the children, their passion for learning was being fueled by this library.
We got a chance to speak to some of the school children, and again we were all infused with a great respect and love for the people there.
We got to go on another beautiful boat ride along the river before returning to town for lunch, this time not at a buffet. Our food was really good.
In the afternoon, we concluded our school visits with a trip to a large school in the heart of the city, 6000 students we were told. RTR was able to give this school a computer lab, a language room and a library, which all seemed to be huge helps to the school.
In the library, we saw the same exuberance in the children as we had seen in the library on the boat. The kids are so much more inclined to love reading and learning when they have books to enjoy! A couple of the girls here actually knew some English, and we were able to have some candid conversations for the first time without our translator. Speaking to these young girls in English, knowing how difficult their lives are was a uniquely exhilarating experience.
We concluded the afternoon with some Q and A with some teachers and administrators at this school, and then we were off to a dinner.
This time they had selected a fancy restaurant in downtown for us, and we again narrowly avoided international incident as we ordered our vegetarian specialties, deviating from their standard meal. I believe the waitress said to me “sure, I can make that without fish, but I don’t think it will be any good”
We had some good final conversations with the RTR staff, and then went off to relax and enjoy our final night in Cambodia, hoping beyond hope that everything great we had experienced could truly sink in. It was sad to leave at the time, and it is sad still to remember, but I have a sense of renewed vigor to work harder, better, faster stronger, and hopefully provide even more support for our non profit literacy friends, and count down the days until the next big adventure.
Posted by King on 03.12.2008 at 8:49 am
[This is Part Five of Aaron's "Campus Division in Cambodia" story. Here's Part Four and look out for the subsequent tales in the coming week...]
Thursday January 3, 2008
Believe it or not, we again began the day with a phenomenal breakfast. We met up with a few Room to Read staff, and then took a van out to see the first school. Upon entrance, all the students were lined up and clapping for us. Similar to the fanfare of our first night, this was quite humbling; these students were so appreciative of Room to Read, and I was left feeling like I hadn’t done enough.
We spent some time doing Q and A with the teachers at the school, learning a lot more than we ever knew about what these schools and areas are really like.
We then got to meet the parents of the girls who were receiving Room to Read scholarships. This was a group of amazing people. I do not think I had ever seen true hardship before meeting these folks. Most of them labored all day as farmers, not even making enough to completely support their families. They had to sacrifice even more to allow their daughters to leave, not help on the farm, but instead go to school. But they were all willing to do so, to give their daughters a chance at a better life. I could see real love in all of their eyes.
We next got to meet the scholarship recipients themselves, again a heartwarming experience. They were all eager and cheerful and really loved school. It really made me want to do even more to help.
After the school visit, we again had lunch at the buffet, which sadly was no better than our previous excursion there. But our energy and spirits were so high from seeing that school, those parents, and the students, that I am pretty sure they could have fed us dirt and we would have been content.
The afternoon of January 3rd was probably the most astonishing, incredible, phenomenal, breathtaking experience of them all. We embarked to visit a remote village where we visited the homes of 3 Room to Read scholarship recipients
I used the word remote to describe that village, but I don’t think that begins to capture the real nature of this village.
We began by piling into the van, and driving far from the city, deep out onto an extremely bumpy road for what seemed like an hour. The whole time we were thinking “wow, this is pretty far from everything”. We were mistaken however, because by comparison, this dirt road was actually pretty close. At some points, the road was so bumpy we thought the van would overturn, our heads almost hitting the ceiling. We then stopped, thinking again, “ok, this is far out and remote”. We were not there yet, but rather we were just switching from our van to more of an all terrain vehicle, for the road had in fact become too bumpy to continue. Somewhere somehow some Cambodian must have gotten a deal from an army surplus dealer, because this truck was ridiculous. Imagine a mix between a pick up truck and a Tank. Well not quite a tank, it still had actual tires and not treads, but the tires were pretty huge. We all sat in the back on the bed of this truck like school kids on our way to a barn dance. Several times we felt like we might bounce out or tip over, and that poor van certainly would have ended up inverted had we not switched vehicles. On the bright side, there was no roof to bump our head into. At one point I peered forward thinking “there is no way any vehicle could every traverse that”. Well we did, and from that point on I decided it was better to not peek ahead. Some stretches of the road looked as if it had survived a meteor shower. I also noticed that the front part of the truck where the driver sat, did not technically have a floor, you could in fact see directly down to the road below. Since the driver did not seem too worried, I did not bring it up, but it certainly added to my experience.
The sun and breeze were both fantastic during this truck ride, and even with the bumpiness, it was one of the best journeys I have ever been on. You could even look out across the fields and see people working in the rice patties, exactly as you would expect it to look if you had seen it in a movie. I am also running out of synonyms for the word “surreal”. There was no “civilization” for miles in any direction. All we could see were beautiful wide open fields, mountains in the far distance, and a bumpy road that seemed to extend indefinitely in front of us.
Again we thought “wow, we are pretty far out here”, and again we were mistaken. After what again seemed like an hour in the back of this truck, we finally came to the end of the road. We were not at the village just yet, we were actually at a spot where the road dead ended… into a river. And so, it was time to change vehicles yet again. We climbed off the truck, dusted ourselves off, and made our way onto a large covered motor boat. The splendor of this area continued as we made our way through this river, alternating between patches of thick brush, and wide open areas with an amazing view of the countryside. After another long while, our boat emerged from a thick patch of brush, and we saw what looked like a large log cabin build up on stilts sticking out of the water. Our jaws dropped as we turned the corner and saw an entire array of these stilt houses. We had arrived at Broken Palm, the most remote village we had ever seen.
The village existed as a large number of these cabins built up on stilts, some in the water, others set along what was basically a long dirt alley that we could walk through. Most of the stilts were at least 12 if not 20 feet high. We were told that during the rainy season the river actually rises up above the stilts, and a boat is required to enter the home. Sometimes the water had even risen above the floor level, and the family would have to quickly build another level within their home.
Amazingly enough, in spite of the harsh conditions, this felt like a true community, I sensed true happiness around me.
We were welcomed with open arms into the home of a single Mom whose daughter was off at school on an Room to Read scholarship. The scholarship actually allowed the girl to board at the school, which makes a lot of sense after the ridiculous commute we just experienced. If the parents we had met that morning showed love in their eyes, this woman was beaming love out of every pore. She spoke with such pride and care for her daughter, and we had the most priceless of interviews. This same mother has also taken in a young boy (nephew?) who had lost his parents, and during our conversation with her, he was lying in the back room, working on his alphabet. We finally comprehended what it really meant for a young girl to be able to leave a village and go to school. This day will forever go down as one of the most amazing of my life.
The ride back was even more epic than the ride out, because by this time it was getting dark. I could look up from the bed of the truck and see stars, and I again felt that I could have stayed there for days and been happy.
Upon returning to town, we went to dinner with a couple of the Room To Read folks at a different buffet restaurant. Alas, this buffet had nothing amazing about it, but our day leading up to it was so incredible that again, we could have eaten dirt and been the happiest travelers in the world.
We went to bed this night in true awe of all we had seen: the landscape, the people, the community, the commitment, the remote village, the love. We smiled for having been able to have such a once in a lifetime experience, and I think it is safe to say we all felt a renewed vigor to work even harder upon our return, to do everything we can to aide the people we had seen this day, and all others like them around the world.
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