Strolling in Kandahar: A One Hour Walk to School

The InterWebz is a fascinating place. There, as we all know, time and space shrinks as we encounter up-close images and real-time exchanges with strangers and friends situated around the world. This general form is nothing new–it’s regular old-school Web 2.0. What changes, what is new, are the details of such encounters and how they make–or don’t make–an impression on users while they are on- and off-line. If we can take a step back and give ourselves a minute to reflect and process even .5% of the information we encounter online within an hour, throughout the day, or even within a few minutes…we are guaranteed to have a richer experience and we might even change our minds.

Disclosure: My tried and true methods for creating the space and distance to reflect are: a regular meditation practice, unplugged sport, and–following Kurt Vonnegut’s advice–“farting around.” Each morning–before checking any gadget–I sit in the same corner of my room and meditate for at least 20 minutes. At another point in my day I run–outside–with nothing plugged into my ears. (To this day I cannot understand the desire to run on a treadmill while watching TV…) At the end of day, I read books only–no gadgets–and giggle and goof with my husband before drifting off to sleep tangled up in jokes.

It was during my offline reflection that I realized a sort of poem that arose from encounters online yesterday. It started with an article about the deep budget cuts suffered by Pennsylvania public schools in 2011. Here are some details that lingered in my mind (until they later connected with a far-flung image from the other side of the world and an encounter with a young Afghani):

This budget is bad for students. This budget puts the state’s budget problems on the backs of students,” Ron Cowell, a former state legislator who is president of the Education Policy and Leadership Council in Harrisburg, said after the state budget presentation in March.


As a result, the board was forced to cut 47 jobs, eliminate the freshman academy at the high school and the team teaching approach at the middle school, and consolidate bus routes and stops, resulting in students having to walk up to four-tenths of a mile to catch their bus.

(Emphasis added.)

A bit later in the day, I came across this powerful image of an Egyptian boy studying while sitting on the street and selling tissues. How far do you think this boy would walk to get to school–any school?

Image source

Nobody Likes to be Tricked

Last night–before signing off for giggles and goofing–I ran into my Afghan student on Skype. We typically meet for our one-hour classes, twice a week, on Friday and Sunday nights at 9:40pm EST time, which is Saturday and Monday mornings at 7:10am in Kandahar. During our informal chat, I asked my student if she still had the sniffles (and we quickly reviewed that new vocabulary!). She told me that it’s hard to get rid of her sniffles because she is very tired. Each morning she and her mother walk over five miles together to the school. Her mom continues on to her work place after leaving S at the school. Later in the conversation she told me “Everything is so hard for me” and then asked, “Do you think I will become my dreams?” (Translation: Do you think I will achieve my goals?)

Dear Pennsylvania, I am sorry to read that your public schools suffered a $900 million budget cut in 2011 but…well…this might not make me very popular…oh, well, here goes: It is outrageous to whine about children walking LESS THAN a half mile to catch the bus. Let’s be honest, American kids need A LOT more exercise. It’s good for them. Let’s be more realistic about what we can and should trim and what we really shouldn’t.

How, if at all, do your online encounters change your perspective? Is four-tenths of a mile really too far a distance for a school-aged kid to walk? 

Read this for inspiration!

Program | WISE – World Innovation Summit for Education

Program | WISE – World Innovation Summit for Education.

Oh! How sad that I was not able to participate in the WISE conference…indeed, I am just discovering it now! A quick review of the website will put you in contact with a handful of exciting projects. The longer you hang around, the more you will discover. A few cool examples:

Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio educates farmers in Nigeria by delivering 8 to 10 hours per day of agriculture-related programming. The programs are hosted by former/current farmers and feature insights and best practices shared by other local farmers, whom the radio hosts typically visit on location. The program regularly reaches over 250,000 listeners on a daily basis!

The projects selected for the WISE Award are also worth exploring. You will find the winners from 2009, 2010, and 2011 on the website. According to the folks at wise, projects were selected according to the following criteria:

The Winners were selected for their innovative approaches and positive impact upon societies and education, within the perennial theme of Transforming Education: Investment, Innovation and Inclusion.

The following projects won this year’s WISE Award:

Al-Jisr School-Business Partnerships–This Moroccan initiative brings businesses and schools together to collaborate in effort to improve teaching and learning.

BBC Janala–Providing English language lessons through radio, television, CDs, and mobile phones.

Connexions–This project focuses on creating personal learning networks for students around the world by compiling open source learning resources and organizing the into content-based modules.

Creative Partnerships–This project connects young people with creative professionals with the aim to “raise aspirations, skills and attainment levels and prepare young people for the world of work.” I know a high schooler that would LOVE to have such an opportunity!

SuenaLetras–This Chilean project provides literacy instruction and support for children with hearing disabilities.

Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)–TESSA is a network of universities and organizations, and led by the Open University, who are committed to collaboratively creating materials to be used for teacher education in order to address the critical shortage of qualified teachers in the region.

Interested in exploring how people around the world are designing and implementing creative solutions to a variety of issues from agriculture, teacher training, and social inclusion? Keep your eye on WISE. Get inspired, get connected, and get to work. ;-)

Today’s Top Four Reasons I Heart Zuckerberg

Image Source

Hearts and stars and good vibes to you, Mark Zuckerberg. Why? Facebook is influencing my life–and others–in an increasingly and positively transformative way. In the last three days the following Facebook-related magical moments shaped my relationships and my work in digital cross-cultural exchange.

A young Egyptian in the Soliya Connect Program shared with our group that people in Egypt believe that their revolution was successful because of Facebook, and therefore many joined Facebook in order to keep informed. The numbers certainly back this up. A bit of quick research into the number of Facebook subscriptions in Egypt shows the dramatic increase in registrations. Here is a quick glance at those stats:

Background: Internet penetration rate in Egypt in June 30th, 2011 (Source):

 Population (2011 estimate): 82,079,636                                                                                                                                                                    Internet users in December 2000: 450,000                                                                                                                                                          Internet users latest data (June, 2011): 20,136,000                                                                                                                                      Penetration (% population): 24.5%                                                                                                                                                                                Users in Africa at large: 16.9%

Registered Facebook accounts in Egypt by date:

  November 2010: 3,951,440 (Source)                                                                                                                                                                         January 2011: 5,079,367 (Source)                                                                                                                                                                                 June 2011: 7,295,240 (Source)                                                                                                                                                                                   October 23, 2011: 8,929,740 (Source)

I connected with many Egyptian activists and linked up with two on Skype to talk about our respective ongoing peacebuilding efforts and explored how we might collaborate and support each other in our work. It was a great thrill, honor, and inspiration to spend two hours chatting with two very bright, active, and courageous women committed to positive change-making in Egypt. Our conversations focused on education and educational efforts, what is working and what is S*&% (want to assess your new friend’s command of English slang? Simply introduce the topic of education and you will soon get a very clear sense of the number of four-letter-words at her disposal!). Both women offered to connect me with friends of theirs who are working in the NGO sector, in schools, or independently working to address various social needs across Egypt related to education. That is, addressing the major issues that are keeping kids out of school, causing them to drop, or preventing them from learning even if they are attending classes.

A young woman from Pakistan sent me a message and asked me about my work with AIWR, Soliya, and other education projects I’ve posted about on my profile and how any of those projects might be brought to her village in Pakistan. This was perhaps the most exciting and inspiring Facebook-related exchange I’ve had today. Out of the blue, a young Pakistani woman wrote to me and said, “I added your profile because it looks like you work for an NGO.” In response, I shared a bit about some of the projects I am working on (Soliya, AIWR, and Girls Can!). She wrote back immediately:

Thank’s for your nice reply .I am student of 3rd year of business studies in Pakistan .I don’t work with an n.g.o yet but i am really interested on such project’s .Moreover ,i want you to guide me on your project GIRLS CAN so that i can promote the girl’s of my community as i belong from a small town of Pakistan but which is full of such potential people that if given a chance can do alot .

and isn’t Alliance for International Women Rights having any English language classes for Pakistani girls? do u have any idea

Is anyone else blown away by this energy, drive, and eagerness to connect and make real change happen? I am buzzing with excitement. I heart you Mark Zuckerberg!!!

An old friend of mine–who I hadn’t heard from in some time–reconnected with me to share her interest in the peacebuilding projects I am engaged in and to share an update about her work in protecting girls from the modeling industry, which exploits them by commodifying, sexualizing, and putting them at risk. You can learn more about this by checking out the documentary Girl Model. She wrote to ask if I could put her into contact with anyone working in child protection or anti-human trafficking work. And I’m suspecting that any minute now I will get a message from someone, somewhere, who is doing such work.

How has Facebook changed your life and your work?

A few of my colleagues at Soliya and I will be talking about opportunities and obstacles for collaboration and positive change-making in post-Mubarak Egypt at the Global Washington Annual Conference. Good times!


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