Lotus Outreach

Lotus Outreach International is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world. Lotus Outreach achieves its mission by supporting effective grassroots projects in vulnerable communities.
Jul 11, 2013

Turning the educated into educators...

A joyful Nheun
A joyful Nheun

Nheun grew up in a small ethnic Phnong village about 3 km from Oraing lower secondary school in Mondulkiri, Cambodia. Like all Phnong, Nheun’s family spoke their own language at home and gradually picked up Khmer while being forced to adapt in the early grades of primary school at a time when there were few, if any, Phnong teachers. Minority communities everywhere face varying degrees of social exclusion that often negatively impact the broad spectrum of human development indicators including education, health, and infant mortality.

It’s for these reasons and more that the Phnong Education Initiative (PEI) was conceived in 2009. The PEI program, which is delivered in partnership with Kampuchean Action for Primary Education, has two goals: a) ensure Phnong girls can stay in school through basic scholarships and b) support teacher trainees from the Phnong community who will return to minority classrooms and pay forward the gift of education.

Nheun started in as a basic PEI scholarship recipient in 2009, and continued on to teacher training college in Stung Treang with support from the project. In July 2012, Nheun took the national pedagogy exam and ranked fourth in the entire province. Today Nheun is back in the classroom about 15 km from her home village, and now teaches a class of 13 third-graders.

Nheun recently received her first paycheck which was a long-awaited event for her entire family. She tells us, “my parents and two elder sisters didn’t go to school at all but my mother always supported my education, especially as no one else in the family was educated. While I still had to work like everyone else, I wasn’t made to work too hard and had time to study. From my own side, I always wanted to remain in school as long as possible no matter what difficulties I faced. My father was sick for many years and that brought a lot of pressure on all of us to make up for the loss of income. He died in 2006, and my elder brother was the one that had to drop school in year 9 to become the breadwinner.”

In terms of her teaching career, Nheun tells us the village children are very irregular at attending school which makes subject mastery difficult. Despite the challenges, Nheun pushes forward. “I go to the village very often to ask why parents are not sending the children and try to motivate them to send the children to school every day,” she shares. Nheun’s passion for education also shows in her colorful classroom, which is sprinkled with creative teaching-aids she collected during her time in pedagogy school.

Though Nheun tells us Khmer is becoming more widespread in her community, she still encounters many Phnong children that struggle with the language. “Many of these children arrive at primary school with very little Khmer. I’m happy that I’m able to help my students with my mother tongue so they can get ahead more quickly than children in my school days. Back then, there were absolutely no Phnong speaking teachers.”

PEI is working to change that, and will graduate an additional 16 Phnong teachers this year. In addition to mainstreaming Phnong children into the Khmer-based education system, PEI is celebrating and preserving Phnong culture through the creation of a brand new cultural research center and museum in the region.

To learn more or make a donation to this project, please visit http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/pei/.

Nheun with her pupils
Nheun with her pupils

Links:

Jul 10, 2013

Breaking the cycle of poverty in Mewat

Firoz
Firoz

We visited Bhanguri Primary School in the Hathin block of Mewat, Haryana this past week, and met with 26 of the children enrolled in school through the Child Laborer Scholarship program. In addition to receiving basic school supplies and enrollment assistance, these children are picked up each morning at 7:00 am via a school bus supported by the program. The bus visits three brick kilns in the vicinity of Mathura, a holy city with a written history stretching back for millennia, to ensure these children can safely get to and from school each day.

At first glance, the fact that nearly 60% of Bhanguri’s pupils are girls surprised us. After digging a bit deeper, however, we discovered that many of the local boys had instead been enrolled in nearby private institutions, while their sisters were left with inferior education in Mewat’s dismal public facilities. Improving the decrepit infrastructure and poor teaching quality notorious in Mewat’s public schools is one of the main goals of the Child Laborer Scholarship program’s sister project in the region, LEARN.

There is a silver lining to this story, however. Through LEARN, we believe we have begun facilitating a sea change in Mewat, evidenced by the fact that thousands of girls have entered upper-secondary school over the past few years. Further, many of these bright young women will go down in history as the first females in their villages to graduate high school.

We entered the school just as the teachers were sitting down to lunch after serving the children midday meal, one of the many incentives promised to public school children by India’s landmark Right to Education Act of 2009. The next class was to be mathematics, and we had a few minutes to sit down with some of the children before the class started.

We asked one of the girls, Sukhi, her name and age. While she shared her name, she laughed while telling us she didn’t know her age (we later met her parents and they told us she was 10).  “I’ve been coming to school here for four years and attending regularly for three,” Sukhi shares. “Altogether we are four siblings attending school, myself in grade 4, my two younger sisters Madina (9, grade 3) and Nitha (6, grade 1), and my elder brother Firoz (12, grade 5).” Sukhi tells us she likes studying but is not able to tell us how long she would like to remain in school. Her brother Firoz is more forthcoming, “I would like to complete year 12 and become a teacher. We have a high school near enough to my village so I can do that.”

It’s very satisfying that since the project launched in 2009, we’ve been able to keep more than a thousand children of migrant laborers in school and often out of the hazardous labor conditions of Mewat’s brick kilns. Further, because of the positive habits developed as a result of the program, many families will keep their children in school even after they return home following the brick-making work season.

We left the school and headed for the brick kiln to meet the parents of Sukhi and the other brick kilns kids. A three km drive and some seriously dusty roads later, we arrived at the kiln. There was heavy grey smoke of sump oil, wood, and coal billowing from the 50 metre high smoke stack, the icon that marks brick kilns across India. A few families were gathered waiting for us around a couple of charpoy beds, with several bleating goats as company.

Sukhi and Firoz (and parents Gufir and Karina) were there along with an aunt and uncle and some other workers. Gufir and Karina have six children, four of them going to school on the brick kilns bus. Their entire family stays at the kiln year-round and the oldest daughter, 15 year-old Shabana, offers a stark contrast to her siblings and other girls that have been given better opportunities. Shabana tells us, “There was no education in the primary school in my home village. Children only attended for the midday meal and didn’t learn anything from the teachers who just let them play. Because of this, I dropped school and began working as a laborer from an early age. By the time we arrived at Mewat and learned of the scholarship program, I was too old to enter primary school.”

We asked the parents about community attitudes toward education both in their villages and in Indian society more broadly. Shabana’s Aunt Mumina tells us, “we have a good primary school in our village and a high school within a few kms so my daughter (Shabana’s first cousin) completed up to grade 12 while married, and is now looking to take up tertiary studies. There are now many girls and boys completing grade 12 our home villages.”

We can conclude attitudes toward education, especially of girls, in communities of largely illiterate laborers and farmers are indeed changing for the better. We can also deduce from Shabana’s case that a lack of opportunity--and not simply lack of awareness--can destroy the future of any child. Public schools must be functional and create an atmosphere that engages and encourages first generation learners.

It is important to see the big picture, and Shabana is just one of millions of children across India whose potential has been thrown against a wall. The Child Laborer Scholarship and LEARN programs are designed to change that, and we thank you for becoming a stakeholder in these children’s futures.

Madina and Sukhi
Madina and Sukhi
Firoz, Nitha, Madina and Sukhi
Firoz, Nitha, Madina and Sukhi
Shabana
Shabana

Links:

Jun 18, 2013

Trafficking survivor starts a new life in Cambodia

Van
Van's daughter in front of the new chicken coop

We arrived at Van Kun Phet’s family’s tiny hutment, located precisely in the middle of nowhere about an hour’s drive from Sisophon, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial capital. The last six miles of the journey took place on a deeply rutted dirt track which even the 4WD had difficulty managing.  Van, a mere 23 years old, is single mother of a three year-old daughter and lives with her mother and father. Van’s dad, now 53, is a landmine victim from his short stint fighting against the Vietnamese as a child soldier where he lost a leg at the tender age of 14.

Van herself was a victim of labor trafficking in Thailand after accompanying her brother to work on a construction site in Bangkok.  The owner absconded from the project without paying anyone. “I then went to work at a Japanese-owned factory making machine parts,” Van shares. “After a month I didn’t get paid there either. I was very despondent having been cheated twice and absolutely broke.  I walked three days and nights until I reached the Cambodian border.  I did not have the proper papers and was arrested by the border police in Thailand. They kept me overnight and deported me the following day. The whole experience was disappointing and painful,” she continues. “I went to Thailand in the hope of earning money as we were facing dire poverty and then in the end didn’t earn anything and was beaten and abused.”

Unfortunately, cases like Van Phet’s are not rare. The Khmer Rouge genocide halted economic and industrial growth and good paying manufacturing jobs are scarce even today.  With few domestic employment opportunities, Cambodia’s poor are drawn to foreign countries for any opportunity for paid work and are highly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous factory owners and labor brokers.

Van’s choice to illegally migrate to Thailand in search of work is hardly surprising, given her family’s hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence. “My father forages in nearby forest land for firewood to sell and in the rivers and streams for fish and frogs to eat and support the family,” Van shares. “My mum searches for reed to make roof tiles to sell.”

Fortunately Lotus Outreach has provided some cushioning against these hardships in the form of shelter-based training and reintegration assistance, where trafficking victims like Van can seek refuge, learn about the dangers of migrating on a “promise”, and obtain valuable entrepreneurial skills.

“I arrived at the shelter in February 2012 and graduated in November. I applied for and received a small business grant of $250 to start a chicken-raising business, as well as $50 as new-life start up assistance. My father and I designed and built the chicken coop ourselves and we spent $100 on chickens as stock. The chickens are free-range, and we supplement their diets with a feeding formula that I learned to make in the shelter.”

In the training, Van also learned to keep and manage a journal of income and expenditure and is very clear about the investment against returns. “When the chickens reach 1.5 kg I’ll be able to get $3 per kg return and will sell some while keeping back enough to increase my stock through breeding.” With a beaming smile Van tells us, “I feel very happy to have my own animal raising business, I had always dreamed of raising chickens and now I am doing it! I now have 3 roosters, 11 large and 3 small hens with 15 chicks.”

We are delighted to have met Van and her family. Van is such a nice person, and so lively and full of enthusiasm. We are excited that someone like her--someone who has been cheated and exploited through no fault of her own--is now getting a chance and establishing herself and her family on a sound economic footing.

Van Kun Phet
Van Kun Phet
The author (right) with program staff and Van
The author (right) with program staff and Van

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