I’m currently deployed with a small special ops unit somewhere in the middle of nowhere third world. The location is basically classified and really doesn’t matter anyway. The third world is the same everywhere. The only thing that changes is the language and the color of people’s skin. The sights, smells, and general lack of resources are pretty much a global common denominator. I basically run a clinic here for a small group of people, and wait on standby if something worse were to happen. So, needless to say I have a ton of free time which allows me to search out other projects (often to the dismay of my command). This is the story of one such project that I’m going to try and manage.
In 2008 a cook by the name Gisele was working for an embassy worker at their home. The occupants of the house occasionally would give Gisele toys to take back to the children in her village. Gisele opened her home up to the local children, and it wasn’t long until her small house transformed into the local afternoon playground. Word in Gisele’s community spread and after a short time parents began dropping their children off at her house with the claim that she was running a school. Gisele initially denied these false allegations, but the local parents were persistent, and literally demanded that their children be admitted to “Gisele’s school”. Gisele knowing that the local parents could not afford the eighty some dollars per year that it cost to send their children to local government schooling saw the desperation of the situation. Inspired by her communities demands she took it upon herself to develop some kind of educational environment for these children. Over the year that followed she slowly and rudimentarily pieced together a small kindergarten in the back of her house. In 2009 funded by her own paycheck as a cook and part time translator she took her small project to the next level and rented a gated parcel of land for fifty dollars a month that had a small one story concrete building on it and hired a part time teacher to run her now budding school. Over the following two years Gisele hired an additional two teachers to run three separate classes all being taught in the same shanty building for the now 48 children ages three to six. Gisele devotes the majority of her paycheck each month to sustain this minimal operation.
Gisele faces many challenges in further developing her school. The playground, which is no more than a teeter-totter and some make shift money bars is littered with broken glass as people frequently vandalize the property, and she currently cannot afford full time security. When I visited the school kids were running around a playground dodging random shards of glass and garbage. The building has no electricity, and there is one small dug out latrine to name but just a few obstacles. But, perhaps the most pressing obstacle Gisele’s school faces is that after this year she will no longer have room for her most senior class of six year olds. For the last year Gisele has been attempting to build a small expansion building on the same property to house another classroom to address this issue. Through some small private donations she has managed to fund a stone foundation and four concrete walls. Currently there is no roof, floor, windows, or door on the building.
At the moment there is no income source for Gisele to continue to expand her school, or make necessarychanges to improve her existing operation. The government recognizes her school, but will not contribute funds. The situation is indeed desperate. Without necessary funds the senior children in the school will have no other option for education and will return back to the streets by the fall. These children come from families that are at the absolute bottom of poverty, eighty dollars a year for government sponsored schooling is unattainable when the average income for parents at this level is less than two hundred and fifty dollars a year.
Gisele’s immediate goal is to finish her expansion and be able to continue to educate and provide for the children currently enrolled in her school. She has dreams of being able to devote her career to the improvement of her school and potentially the building of future schools. Its important to understand that without the efforts of people like Gisele children in this part of the world, at this level of poverty would have no option for education. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the door to freedom, democracy, and development”. With the growing threat of violent extremism and increased recruitment activity by Al-Qaeda that surrounds this region, nowhere can this statement hold truer. For mere minimal costs a balanced education can be procured for a generation of children who may otherwise fall victim to the influence and teachings of terrorist organizations.
This is clearly not something I can just turn my back on and say that it’s not my problem. The impact that a few thousand dollars can make in this situation is substantial. I haven’t quite figured out how, but I am fully determined to get Gisele the funds she needs. If I have to pay out of pocket in the immediate future to help with the roof then so be it, but I would like to establish some definitive funding for her. You would think that funding a program like this would be in the military’s best interest, however today I found out from people far above my pay grade that to pull humanitarian aid money for a school the school must be on local government land, or owned by the local government. I brought up the point that these people cannot afford to go to the government schools. This was met with sympathy, and I was politely informed that the title that this clause comes from has been under the amendment process for the last four years with no clear resolution and there was nothing that could be done for me. So it’s starting to look like I might be on my own for fund raising. I have a range of ideas that vary between calling old friends or relatives with extra cash to developing my own NGO complete with a website and volunteer staff. Seriously I’m at the drawing board on this one, so if anyone reading this has a suggestion please post away. Or ya know….if you can spare some change?