Hello everyone, I am very happy and honored to be here today. Thank you very much to the International Ladies Benevolent Society for giving us the grant, and inviting me here today, and to the ambassador and everyone at the embassy for hosting the event today
I am here today as the representative director for Global Catalyst.
I would like to talk about our thoughts regarding humanitarian work, and about the schools of Minehaha Helping Free Educational Centre.
We are a small organization focused on supporting projects in developing countries, and bridging Japan and other developed countries, to encourage international cooperation and exchange of ideas. Lately we have been doing projects with exchange between handicapped children and people from Scandinavia and Japan, and we are also looking to do more exchange with elderly people
I established the organization in 2013 with my adopted Danish son. I met him when I was teaching at the University of Copenhagen. Before I established my organization, we started preparing in 2011. To understand what life was in some developing countries, and what methods and approaches were good and bad, we travelled as backpackers for ten months in South East Asia. (Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and so on)We visited villages, had homestays, and meet with many local and international NGOs and NPOs.
We learned about the importance of working in close consultation with the local groups; about involving women actively in the work and decision processes; and the role of education in shaping the mindset necessary to address future challenges. But we also experienced how some organizations, while trying to help, could end up having a negative effect.
One Japanese orphanage in Myanmar was extremely nice and clean, but when we offered chickens to give eggs to children, they refused to have farm animals, saying it would be too dirty to let into the orphanage. But right outside, the local people were living together with the animals, as a natural part of daily life. If the children are raised without regard to how the local way of life is, how can they live in local society once they leave the orphanage?
Another international orphanage in Laos was said to be very nice, offering high quality education and good opportunities later in life. But exactly because of this, local people were said to sometimes abandon their children, to give their children a better life. Again, even though the institutions purpose is to help orphans, it risks ending up creating more orphans, maybe because the difference is too big between the inside and the world outside.
Finally, travelling just after the tsunami of 2011, many local organizations told us how they had been forced to give up their programs, orphanages, dormitories, schools and support for handicapped people, poor people and women, as funding was no longer coming in from Japan. None of them had any bad will towards Japan, expressing only gratitude and sympathy. We even saw posters for “help Japan” at a post office deep in the countryside in Laos, where people might live on a dollar a day! Even so, this highlighted the problem with donations – that someday the donations may disappear, and then their situation will possibly be worse off than before they started the projects.
As we started working on projects in Sri Lanka, eventually working with minority Tamil handicapped people in areas affected by the civil war and tsunami, and street children in the north-east of Thailand, we continually tried to find ways to implement what we had come to understand as the most important principles:
• To always work closely with the local groups, discussing everything and understanding each other’s backgrounds, values, wishes and ways of thinking.
• To always let local projects be run by the people living there, to avoid the mistake of us forcing our own misconceptions on them. That is why we are always a partner to a local organization, never the boss.
• And to strive for self-sufficiency. Even if the project has to rely on donations in the beginning, the goal has to be to eventually be able to run without outside assistance.
To have a big impact, we need to inspire and motivate other people to also work towards a solution. This is much more likely if we can show that it is possible to do locally, without a wealthy donor or a developed country to foot the bill.
In doing projects, the single most important factor is that we can trust and communicate well with the local organization – that we share the same vision, goals, ideals and values. We have experienced people changing after two to three years, suddenly demanding money and saying they are tired of working for others. On the other hand, we have experienced partners who said support was not necessary at the moment, and they would rather wait until it might be more needed in the future.
While looking for the latter kind of partner, people we can truly trust to do what is best for their local communities, we were introduced to Mr. Dharmendra Kumar Yadav and his two schools in India Bodhgaya, the Mine Haha Helping Free Educational Centre.
The schools were established in 2007 by Mr. Dharmendra, later with the support of a group from Japan. As a child, he used to attend school, but when his mother died, he had to leave school and work to support his younger brother and sister. He did whatever work he could get, carrying bags or working as a day laborer, earning what he could to feed his family, sometimes going without food himself. He was still just 14.
At the time, many Japanese tourists visited Bodhgaya, and the young Dharmendra thought he might have better opportunities if he could communicate with them. So he borrowed a Japanese textbook, and would study on his own. Eventually he could speak Japanese well enough to work as a guide, and little by little could put money aside, later starting a small tourist office and small hotel.
With a modestly successful business, he took care of his brother and sister until they were married, but rather than seeking a comfortable life, he now chose to dedicate his time and money to give India’s children what he himself had been denied: an education.
At the beginning together with a group of Japanese people, Mr. Dharmendra established and ran the schools of Minehaha Free Helping Educational Centre working on fundraising activities in Japan. Unfortunately, it turned out that the leader of the Japanese group had kept most of the donated money for herself, with only a small percentage going to the school. After it was exposed, she suddenly closed that group. In the end Mr. Dharmendra could not get any of the money donated to the schools, and over the next years he ran the schools locally, with some support from other people in Japan.
Two years ago, it was decided to improve the quality of the school, both regarding the teachers and the buildings themselves, in order to get official recognition from the Indian government. This is called CBSE-affiliation, named from the Central Board of Secondary Education. I am happy to say that also thanks to the kind support of the International Ladies Benevolent Society, the school got this certification in August this year.
Most schools in India are simply created locally, without any connection to or oversight from the government. As the schools are completely independent, there is no guarantee of the teachers’ quality, or the quality of education
Only ten percent of secondary schools in India have this affiliation, but if you look at all primary and secondary schools, the number drops to only one percent!
Naturally, then, there is a large demand for CBSE-affiliated schools, and one reason the school decided to apply, was to be able to attract more children, and from more varied backgrounds. This will help us achieving the goal of having children from high and low casts, poorer and richer backgrounds, and different religions studying, eating and playing together.
The two schools of Mine Haha Free Helping Educational Centre have been focused on educating children from the lowest classes and poorest backgrounds, for free. This is an important goal, but unfortunately parents often do not value free education. While the children can attend some primary years, as they get older, the parents may demand they stop attending school, to work in the fields or beg in the streets instead. So if we have 40 students in class one, we might only have 20 in class four, and less than 10 in class six.
At one of the two schools, we have chosen to charge 500 rupees per month, roughly 880 yen, from the parents of children attending the CBSE-affiliated school. This may seem like a lot, but other local CBSE schools may charge 2000 rupees, four times as much. The other school remains free, for the families who cannot afford this limited expense. By charging for tuition, we are able to change the mindset of the parents. Before, they might say “help us work, don’t waste your time on school’. But now, the focus changes to: “are you learning enough at school, are the teachers doing their best?” and “make sure you do your homework, we don’t want you to waste the money we pay”. This also motivates the teachers, since if they do not teach well enough, parents will take their children out of school, resulting in the teachers losing their jobs.
The income from tuition will also enable the school to start other programs, like vocational training or extra-curricular activities. The goal is also to sponsor the tuition fees for some of the students, so even those from the poorest backgrounds will be able to attend.
Another problem is how to help the children once they graduate school. Without CBSE-affiliation, schools can only teach until the 8th year of schooling. This leaves a very large group of children, who are unable to continue further schooling, and typically only those from richer backgrounds are able to get higher education. Having now gotten the affiliation, we will be able to support the children until they graduate high school, improving the poorer children’s chances of attending university or getting qualified work training.
As I mentioned earlier, the school was able to get the CBSE-affiliation in August. But in order to get this, the school had to pass a two-day inspection of all buildings, facilities, teaching materials, and the quality of the teachers. To clear this inspection, the school had to undergo many changes, including hiring new teachers, building new toilets and classrooms, and get the necessary tables and such for the new rooms.
Let me once more thank you for your support towards attaining the tables and benches for school. Had it not been for the International Ladies Benevolent Society, getting these would have been a big challenge, as would getting the CBSE-affiliation.
The tables and benches had to be manufactured locally, first purchasing the materials, then hiring carpenters to make them. But thanks to your support, all classrooms now have everything needed for the children to focus on their studies.
School is not only learning to read and write, or doing simple math. Children also need skills related to everything from manual skills like sewing or mechanics, to advanced skills like computer skills. But even more important, school should be a place where children from all casts, backgrounds and religions learn to appreciate each other and work together. When they leave school, they should not only have knowledgeable and skills, but have the desire to be good members of society, play an active part in their communities, and be able to work and take care of themselves in the India of the future.
Now that the school has government recognition, it will hopefully attract a wide group of children from varied backgrounds when the next school year starts in April 2018. The school will try to be financially independent, and start doing different projects for the children. We hope to have guest teachers with various backgrounds visit, to implement a vocational training program, and have the children participate in various programs – from cleanliness and hygiene, or climate change and respect for nature, to respect for each other and themselves, irrespective of sex, religion or background.
It is our hope that the children of this school can then go on to play a positive role in the future of India, and thereby of Asia and the world, and that the school may act as a model school, and inspire other schools to provide the same high quality education. Only then can we truly hope to achieve positive change locally, in India, and further abroad.
Thank you very much for your time, and thank you once more for your support.