How to turn trash into jobs, education, and laptop bags – Day with XS

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On July 20, I was able to visit XS Project, an organization turning trash into quality products, creating jobs, and providing educational scholarships.

I arrived to the office and met staff doing everything from sorting and cleaning loads of trash, unused car seat covers, and old marketing banners, to working on product development, and sewing the products. I sat down with one of the sewers, and he explained he had been with XS since 2005. What brought him here? He said a friend was working at XS. He used to make seat covers for airplanes, but now he can make products from recycled products. At the time, the team was putting together very cool laptop cases created from a combination of seat covers and discarded marketing banners.

I then met the head of product design and the head of finance.  The head of finance explained, XS is “not just cleaning the environment, but it is creating jobs for those who need it. XS is also providing education scholarships – it’s like 3-in-1.” The head of product design explained that he was first introduced to XS in college and thought it would be a great challenge to create products out of recycled material.

After meeting the staff and watching the process of turning recycled material into new goods, Retno and I went to visit the community where it all starts – the trash pickers. When we arrived the kids were so excited and everyone came out to say hi and play. Retno brought a box of pencils and crayons gathered from other schools, and the children all dove in to grab their handfuls. We stopped to speak with every family and to hear their current needs and issues. The families live on this land and work for a “lampak” which is the boss of that trash picker community.

I asked the kids what they studied and they all shouted out, “math, Bahasa (Indonesian), Ingrish (English), and Quran reading!” I then asked a few what they wanted to be when they grow up – and 2 young girls said a chef and teacher. Another young girl said a doctor. XS provides funding for the children’s schooling directly to the school and follows up with the school and teachers to see how their progress is. Retno encouraged the moms to tell their kids to go to class. In this community, the parents’ generation mostly did not attend school so this is a new opportunity for their children.

Creating change for Burma-Myanmar through education and change-makers

Imagine living in a country where it was virtually impossible to access high quality, affordable education. Imagine that 30-50% of the population of this country lived in extreme poverty, and that education was a key factor in bringing desperately needed development to marginalized communities. This is the situation in Burma today.

Thabyay Education Network (TEN) works to solve this issue by providing access to higher education and professional development opportunities to people from marginalized communities who can make a difference. On May 8, 2012, I met with TENs staff, learned about its programs, and joined two scholarship recipients in a tour of their university in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  The staff I met all took time to show me the process, explain to me all of the background and steps, shared why they joined TEN, and the challenges they have faced along the way.

Michael, who runs TEN’s ‘low cost, high impact’ self-study university preparation program, explained to me how this program helps community development workers in Burma access international university education. “These individuals want to improve their skills so they can increase the impact of their work, but access to decent education is a major obstacle. They lack the necessary qualifications, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to be eligible for international universities outside Burma. However, to get these qualifications, they usually have to attend expensive private classes, which they cannot afford.” Michael continues, “When they enroll with us they get full support to self-study in their own time so that they can obtain the university qualifications they need.”

“This program is just one piece of the jigsaw of services that we provide”, explained the Development Director, Quentin Hewitt. “Many of the individuals who successfully gain the necessary university entrance qualifications with us go on to receive a university scholarship administered by us. We also support the development of communities in Burma through providing curriculum development and teacher training, organizing professional internships for community workers, running schools and placing skilled volunteers with community-based organizations. Through our efforts, we would like to create a generation of motivated individuals with the knowledge, skills and networks to make a profound and positive impact on their country.”

After visiting the office and learning about TEN’s projects, I was off to meet two Burmese scholarship recipients who now attend Chiang Mai University. Kaythi and Naing Lin (names changed for security reasons) are both enrolled in CMU’s new Social Science program which includes courses on environment, sociology, statistics, and economics.  What did they like about their program? The fact that CMU offers a great social science curriculum, unavailable in Burma, challenges the way they think, and generates learning through class discussion. Such experiences are virtually unknown in universities in Burma where analytical thinking is discouraged and an overriding emphasis is placed on rote learning outdated and often irrelevant texts.

Kaythi previously worked as a volunteer with an international organization working with the elderly in Burma. Naing Lin was a teacher and a volunteer. Why did they volunteer? Because they “want to help people and want to be life trainers”, said Kaythi.  Education is extremely important and they wanted to spread awareness about it – “we are the pioneers”, Naing Lin said.  Although she had a good job, Kaythi decided to apply for a scholarship because she felt that she could work more effectively if she was better educated . Her parents are small-scale farmers who had no opportunity to attend formal education. Although they need the help of every family member to obtain enough food from their land, her parents encouraged her to take this opportunity. “Don’t come back to the fields. Continue to study,” they said.  Naing Lin explained that learning English is “a great tool to attain knowledge and then share it.” He wanted to promote awareness about education to his Shan community – “if I don’t have anything to share with them, what’s the purpose of learning?”

w/ Scholarship Recipients and Thabyay @ university

w/ Scholarship Recipients and Thabyay @ university

Afterwards, we all went to the Chiang Mai University campus to meet the scholars’ Director and Coordinator of the Social Science program, accompanied by TEN’s Development Officer, Tom. The Director explained that the goal of the program was to prepare the students in multidisciplinary studies, but a big challenge was the certification of Burma’s education systems – which often is not internationally recognized. Through the international school at Chiang Mai University, the Director stressed the importance of extracurricular activities to promote integration among the students from Burma. Kaythi and Naing Lin both spoke passionately about their university life and the difference it will make in their future endeavors.

To support Thabyay provide more scholarships visit: http://www.globalgiving.org/donate/5168/thabyay-education-network/

Beautiful tree on campus… Thabyay is creating leaves of change to trickle down into the community

Jacqueline
GlobalGiving InTheField Representative | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here. 

Case on Scholarships for Students – Breaking the Cycle of Poverty w/ CCEF

On March 21, Alexis and I visited Cambodian Children’s Education Fund scholarship recipients’ schools, and we had dinner with a recipient family of CCEF’s scholarship program. A quick note before I share about the site visit… since the Khmer Rouge, education in Cambodia is basically starting at square 1. The Khmer Rouge killed/wiped out anyone who was educated in order to destroy the social class system/rich vs. poor – they murdered an estimated 1/3 of the population. The country is now in a state of re-building its education system, educated citizens, and even re-teaching and preserving its cultural heritage (all of the former documents were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge party). The importance of education in a country where every highly educated citizen was murdered or fled the country is EXTREMELY vital and organizations are now working to ensure that children are able to COMPLETE their education since a large number of the population cannot afford for the kids to finish schooling much less afford books and uniforms. The children normally have to stop going to school in order to start working some at the age of 10 to provide additional income for the family. On to the site visit…

The first stop was New York International School in Siem Reap, Cambodia where 12 students are being sponsored by CCEF. Alexis and I were able to observe a class with some of the sponsored students and then meet with the staff and principal.  The school has grades kindergarten through 12th grade.  We asked what the difference is between the public and private schools and the staff explained: security, holding students accountable (for example when they are absent the school calls the parents), and number of students per teacher and class. The students were getting more 1-on-1 support and courses in both English and Khmer (the local language). Later in the day, we visited Sunrise Children’s Village where CCEF sponsors 10 students. This is an orphanage that takes not only children without parents but also children whose families who cannot afford to take care of them or provide education – “economic orphans”.

That night we had dinner with Somalin, the first scholarship recipient, and her family.  Somalin, received a full scholarship since she was 3 to attend private school, and now has amazing English skills. Her dad often stopped to ask her how to say a word. Her dad said that she is determined to do well, doing more homework than is required and studying more than necessary every night.  Somalin’s father is a tuktuk driver – a common form of transportation in Cambodia which barely provides sufficient income for an entire family. Because of her education, her father now learned English too, and they both teach the whole family at home. Her dad also stays up late to help her with homework and says sometimes he has to keep the dictionary out to be able to complete it with her when it is very difficult.

Somalin’s education has installed the importance of education in their family. She was the first to receive formal schooling, formal English, and math training. It was incredible and inspiring to meet the children who can afford to go to school now, receive an education, and contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Alexis and I at dinner with Somalin and her family