World Change Starts With Educated Children

This week we’re all undoubtedly working on something we call “pre-reading”.  This post isn’t about our school work, it isn’t about our travels, and it isn’t about work-life balance, it’s about something small in that one phrase that we take for granted…reading.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a rural town in North Carolina.  More specifically I grew up on a farm 30 minutes outside of a town called Roxboro, about an hour from our beautiful Duke campus.  I guess you could say life growing up was simple.  My younger brother and I had lots of options to entertain ourselves, like fishing, weeding the garden, jumping our bike off of a bolder, and swimming in the lake.  But what I remember most about my entertainment on those long summer days was going through my mother’s library of books and sneaking one out to the barn so I could read at the top of the hay stack.  It was the best of all possible worlds for me.  There in the barn I could smell the sweet aroma of the alfalfa hay, catch the cool breeze coming across the fields and day dream about adventures in far- away places.

“Oh, to be the heroine in this novel or that.  Oh, to get to see  faraway places.”  Those were dreams and seemed so far away, but with each turn of the page I felt that world slowly became more real.  When the novels ran out it was history books, when the history books ran out it was the Merck manual, or old National Geographics.  Whatever I could find I would read.  It was through my love of reading that I saw doors open that would have otherwise been closed.

It’s years later and all those open doors and windy roads have brought me to Duke.  But they’ve also taken me to some countries where children who were born into the same situation as me, just a little farm girl, do not have the opportunity to learn to read.  I was 18 the first time I realized the blessing we have in our education.  It was in Andros Island in the Bahamas.  The largest island in the Bahamas, Andros is also the least populated, with only 300 residents.  The school house was located in the middle of the island, and children no matter how far away walked barefoot just to get a sixth grade level education.  Life after “graduation” meant success for 2-3 students a year when the entire community pitched in to send them to a community college in Nassau or if they were lucky Miami.  I was expecting a tropical paradise and everyone lived just like us, but with a beachfront property.  That was my first wake up call.

Since then I’ve been to Thailand where I’ve seen a child prostitute bartered off by his adult caretaker to a European man.  I’ve seen refugees run across the border from Myanmar with all their earthly possessions in a wheelbarrow.  I’ve seen mile upon mile of shanty town outside the airport in beautiful Cape Town.  All these things I’ve seen because I have received an education that has allowed me to travel to see them.  But how could I change these tragedies?  What caused them in the first place?

There are lots of answers to those two questions, but it was in India that I first became convinced of one of the best solutions for how to truly make a difference.  I was in India for work, and we were given Easter Sunday off.  After an adventure to an Easter Mass I will never forget, the driver drove me to see the sites in Mysore.  It was at a temple overlooking the city where I was greeted by a young boy who looked to be in his early teens.  He offered me a set of postcards for only a few rupees.  “Please, ma’am, it’s for my tuition.  For my school.”  I had been approached all day and was overwhelmed with the need I saw, but this boy gave me a reason, more than just begging.  I bought a pack of post cards and after I left the boy greeted me again at the exit.  “Ma’am I know the capital of every country.  Give me a country I will give you the capital.  I learned it in school.  I am a good student.”  I admittedly do not know very many capital cities so I threw out countries I thought impossible to know the capital of.  Whether he was right or wrong, I didn’t know, but I always acted impressed.  As we walked along the boy pointed down to a building that seemed crude in construction.  “That is my school.”  I said, “You learned all those capitals in that tiny school?”  “Yes, ma’am.”, he replied.  “Well you must keep going then.  You are very smart.”  I don’t remember how much more I gave him, but I left feeling like that small amount for someone’s tuition might make a difference beyond just one meal or one pair of shoes.

Education, and in particular reading, is the key to helping so many people.  That’s why I’ve become involved with an organization called Room to Read.  Their motto is “World Change Starts With Educated Children.”  Room to Read (RtR) focuses on two areas, literacy and gender equality in education.  They do that by building libraries, reading rooms, and schools.  They provide books written in local languages.  They pay salaries for teachers.  And they pay for scholarships for girls’ education.  Here are some facts that Room to Read has provided about India.

• 35% of the world’s illiterate population lives in India.
• 40% of students – mostly girls – drop out before secondary school (age 14)
• In 2005 it was estimated that 35 MILLION primary school children were not enrolled in school
• If this trend is not stopped it is estimated that more than 50% of the world’s illiterate population will live in India.

So I pose this challenge to those of us who are future leaders of consequence.  Let’s all do our part to help stop this trend.  Click on any of the links here or on the Facebook page where challenging our class of 150 students to raise $2,500.  That’s $16.70 each if we all donate.  And what will this do for someone in India?  For $250 Room to Read can provide a year of tuition money, a uniform, a bike, book bag, and books for a girl to go to school.  For a grand total of $2,500 the Duke CCMBA 2012 class can pay for 10 years of a girl’s education.  What a wonderful legacy to leave to someone.

Donate your extra per diem money, ask your friends, your family, your place of business.  Let’s see how many lives we can change in Term 4!

The Shanghai Residency Pt-2 : Finding Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell joined Peace Corps at age 23. It was the summer of 1965 and his first assignment was to go work in Bassi, a small village in North India, about 20 miles east of Jaipur. The villagers, none of whom spoke English, took him for a British when they saw him the first time.  Sensing a faint resentment that had built for him, the headmaster of the local school explained it to people that he was from “umreeka”, a different country that was also a British colony once. A lot of people then didn’t know about the US and then he would  make a reference to Hiroshima. I personally find it amusing how those people knew about Japan when they didn’t know the US but that’s a separate discussion altogether.

Many years later, in the 1990s, I spent my early teenage years in Bassi. It was then I came to know about Tom Purcell. I also came to know that my father who was a college student back then often played the role of his translator. He was in fact 1 of the 2 college students in the whole village who spoke some English and thus being given the responsibility was inevitable. Tom lived in the village for about 2 years and worked tirelessly during his stint. People, who knew him, remembered him fondly – he’d helped start scholarship program at the local school, helped set up first public lavatories in the village, and most importantly, he was master at consensus building for solving problems compared to the other “foreigners” before him who came to rule, always used force and often guns.

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