Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Brand New School That Needs Our Help

All of this brings me to Mamoon's latest project, which I visited yesterday. At the moment it's only a ramshackle building in the middle of the worst neighbourhood you can imagine.

I walked in through a narrow alley of closed doors, turning left to follow the river of open sewage, piled with garbage. Here I saw the women washing their clothes and themselves. Children played all around them. There were also huge piles of something that looked like long paper firecrackers. I asked Mamoon what they were. "They wrap thread around them," he said. They were the centre of thread spindles, almost worthless as far as production, yet here were the people who made them. "Which people" I asked. "The children," Mamoon said. This was backed with an interview with four of the children, all of different ages. None went to school, all of them made the paper spindles.

By the time we reached the building for the future school we were completely surrounded by children of all ages, many of the youngest ones wearing dark eyeliner. They laughed when I made faces at the youngest children, loved seeing themselves on video and followed us everywhere. The building was a basic concrete construction, sturdy but needing a lot of work. It had a huge yard surrounded by high brick walls (very useful for a neighbourhood such as this), and lots of potential. The property was donated. From the roof I could look out over the expanse of the district, a barren place littered with garbage, shacks and sewage. But a large group of laughing, beautiful children huddled outside in front of the school waving at me . While filming them I started to cry, but quickly wiped the tears away since Mamoon isn't used to such shows of emotion. But how could I not look at this and cry? Not a single one of these children was in school, had ever been to school. And they all worked for what was essentially an outdoor factory making these paper spindles. Is this progress? Whatever it is, it's plain wrong.

So the school needs everything, from refurbishing to all supplies. When I show you the pictures and video of these kids I know you will feel as strongly about it as I do--it's not possible to see them and not want to help them. The best part is there is a leader in place here, Mamoon, who will make sure everything runs efficiently and not a dollar is wasted (of course we will keep track as well, as is our policy). But first I will give this project due diligence and make sure we're in the best position to help. He has appealed to another organization with more funding, so if he can get that he may not need us for this particular project.

He also has a bigger dream--to build and run a full-fledged school from kindergarten to grade 10. He has collected some funds toward this dream, but nowhere near what he needs. This project is likely out of our league because of the large costs involved, but if you know a person or organization who might be interested in helping him let us know! Right now, most of Jai Dee's help on this project has been in an advisory capacity--sharing best practices and ideas on fundraising, building leadership capacity, and ideas for future local ventures that could support the school.

I will spend the next two weeks visiting the various existing projects learning as much as I can, in order to find out the best way we can help with our limited resources. We have a small amount of money to spend on this project right now, approximately $1,000--which will likely go directly toward books and similar resources for the children, as well as toward a busted water tank for the toilet. Of course I will continue sharing whatever happens with you!


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