Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Service Stars Align

You don't know Moses. He's a rather short man with a gentle demeanor and shy but honest smile. He's married to a woman who was recently granted asylum in Australia there and, we are told by the UNHCR, even if he was interviewed next week it would be over two years before he got the paperwork to follow his wife. In the meantime he has set up - quite single handedly - a small school for children from Myanmar, like himself. 

The children at the school have little by way of educational opportunities. Public school is most often not an option. The cost of private school is prohibitive. So they attend the school Moses set up just 4 km away from ISKL's Ampang campus.The one bedroom apartment that he uses as a school is tucked on the first floor of a rather drab and dreary apartment building. Moses teaches daily from 8 am to 3 pm and runs two classes concurrently, shuttling from one room to the next to write things on the board and answer questions in English, math and science. If he's sick, school is off for the day. If he does, eventually, receive asylum, the school will be shut down unless another teacher can be found. Moses can't afford to pay a salary for a second teacher (which amounts to roughly RM500 per month) and so he runs the school on his own.  He gets a stipend from the UNHCR to make ends meet, and applies for grants through the UNHCR for supplies, but that's about it.  

Four short kilometers away Dave Neudorf, our Director of Technology, was speaking to me earlier in the year about coming up with a plan that would allow ISKL to donate our old computers, to avoid them being sent to the landfill. Wanting to avoid the typical disposal of equipment, or the simple handover of equipment to often un-trained individuals, he was looking into finding schools that would benefit from computers but also somewhat regular ongoing technical support.

Julie James, our HS GAP and Community Service Coordinator, is doing her part to get the word out that service can open the door to empathy, empowerment, personal growth and mutual benefit for recipients and providers alike. She's always looking for community needs that might also make good 'fits' with our schedule and programming at the high school.

It all came together recently, in one of those "all the stars lined up" opportunities. If all goes well - we're crossing fingers, feet, arms, you name it - ISKL will be working with the UNHCR to provide funding for an additional teacher at Moses' school, a woman. The funding will come from this year's GAP Fair Trade project whose aim was to support women in low-income communities. The hope is that that funding will then be "picked up" by the UNHCR, as they can only provide funding for teachers after they have been working in the same school for one year.  The Technology department will be providing the computers and support to allow free-access software and browser capabilities (perhaps a Google-based set up similar to that which we enjoy at ISKL) as well as on-going technical support. We have already identified a few students students to become 'tutors' for the 32 children that go to the school. Our 'tutors' can hugely benefit these students and teachers by developing curriculum and teaching English and computer skills to both students and teachers alike.

Why Moses?  Why this place?  Well, largely because it was where the UNHCR determined the need to be, somewhat serendipitously. Partly because it's close enough. Partly because we could make an immediate impact. Partly because it's the right thing to do. It's a win-win for everyone. It keeps children off the street and provides them with educational resources that might just give them a chance to change their own stars one day. It allows our students to learn about the power of service while doing something productive in their community. It allows us to reach each other, for our worlds to come together ever so slightly, with a common purpose. It allows all these students - at ISKL and Baru Cheras School - to edge their way to becoming "socially responsible global citizens".  

This article, of course, is intended to highlight the creation of a service-related program by identifying a local need and our response to it. It is not intended to outshine the already existing service programming that is taking place at all levels. Every day service is part of our school's universe. Every day the stars align for someone. Just as they should. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Getting the (Cyber) Word Out

Chinese New Year allowed me a trip to Siem Reap to visit, among other things, a small NGO called The Green Gecko Project. It is an organization that United World College in Singapore has linked up with for part of their service programming and I was interested in checking it out in the search for service related opportunities at ISKL. 

Apart from how impressed I was with the scope of the organization and the profound difference they have made in the lives of the children they work with, I noted how they were 'getting the word out' regarding their programs. They offer daily tours to visitors and have a well-stocked visitor's center. In addition, they run several non-profit social enterprises in town. But I was equally impressed with the breadth of their lines of cyber communication. 

The visit got me thinking about how to best get the message out and involve as many people as possible in the sustainability and service related programs at ISKL. To this end, we have recently started a new Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/sustainableiskl) aimed at celebrating our daily dealings. Intended as a more friendly and low-key form of communication to the Panther News articles or this blog, we are hopeful you'll "like" the page and take an active role in sharing information through its portal. What's next?  We intend to create a YouTube channel before long to share the increasing number of audio visual evidence of sustainability at our school and community.  

Oh, and speaking of getting the word out, the February 12th edition of the New Straits Times featured a short article on our HS Earth Club and Eco Schools efforts toward the theme of biodiversity. Take a look if you have a moment: http://www.nst.com.my/streets/central/iskl-s-earth-club-helps-green-school-compound-1.216507

Any thoughts on how to best use the internet and all the power it has to offer?  I'm happy to listen. Conversations are always so much more constructive than monologues, don't you think?  It's all part of communicating effectively in any and every direction. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Food, Health, the Environment... and an invite!

It doesn't take a quantum physicist to recognize the aggregate effect that food choices make on humanity and nature. Processed food generally increases the chance of sugar, salt and fat related illness. High vitamin food sources increase our chance of being healthy. But not so many people recognize the value of personal food choice in the environmental front. To be sure, this comes up in classrooms - from 1st grade Field to Table unit to high school health classes - but it's important to take a look at our choices collectively, as a larger community, and realize that we don't have to go too far to make a difference. 

Red meat such as beef is a good source of protein, but it is also becoming more scrutinized for its part in increasing the chance of heart-disease, as well as the increase in methane in the atmosphere, the degradation of rain forests through its transformation into pasture land and the side effects that that brings with it, including, according to the book Forecast, an increase in dengue-carrying Ades mosquitos. Who would have thought, as we head over to Suzi's for that New Zealand steak, that the juicy t-bone sitting on our plate, could bring forth such a commotion?  

For some all this talk of beef (in particular) as a greenhouse gas producer is a nuisance, but for others it matters. Take our school's initiative to support Meatless Monday's. Introduced a two years ago as a CAS project, the signs still adorn our cafeteria on Mondays. Students discuss the benefits - to human health and the environment - of making such choices at least some of the time.  

With this in mind, some members of our community are making conscious decisions to be vegetarian while others, such as myself, are trying to limit our consumption of meat. Kim McNaughton and Drew Davis, ISKL teachers, have decided to do something about it and create what is hoped to be an ongoing vegetarian group. They are extending an invitation to anyone and everyone who would like to enjoy vegetarian food and enjoy time with like-minded people in the community. It's a Vegetarian Potluck Lunch from 12 noon to 2 pm on Sunday, February 17th.  If you're interested feel free to write to Kim by February 10 and she'll be delighted to add you to the list! 

Sometimes grassroots movements are the best way to really make a splash, and I for one applaud their effort to share their enthusiasm for healthy food choices. At the very least it's a meal that is healthy for both humanity and the environment, so why not? At the very best it is a whole new way to look at food.