FOOD FIGHT! – Hip Hop Video Teaches Dangers of Processed Foods

We are fighting for our lives every day with the food choices we make. Photo: Courtesy New Message Media

We are fighting for our lives every day with the food choices we make. Photo: Courtesy New Message Media

In FOOD FIGHT!, a video released early this morning by filmmaker Ben Zolno (New Message Media), a boy runs for his life after witnessing a murder in a convenience store. This murder, however, isn’t done with conventional weapons but with junk food.

What ensues is a life-and-death struggle as citizens of the boy’s community come together to fight against the snack foods that fill store shelves by brandishing real food. It’s billed as a comedic musical, but the message is far from funny: We are dying from the foods we eat while the corporations that manufacture, market, and sell them to us get rich at our expense.

Odd as the story setup is, the battle between healthy and disease-inducing foods is a reality; with every bite and sip we take, we determine how long we will live and how healthy we will be.

I can almost hear readers saying, “Well, that’s obvious.” If it’s so obvious, why are we in a health crisis of obesity? Is it just that we have no self-control? Or does much of the problem lie in the “foods” themselves?

Professor Boyd Swinburn, with the World Health Organizations Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention in Melbourne, Australia, is quoted by CNN Health as saying that nearly all countries, save the very poorest, are experiencing an obesity epidemic. “ ‘There is quite a lot of evidence now coming out that this is being driven by changes in the food system,’  he says. ‘The food supply: increasingly processed, available, affordable and highly promoted tasty food.’”

And, though we say we know better, as a society we persist in our bad eating habits, succumbing to marketing as much as to the addictive appeal of super-sweet, super-sized, super-convenient, processed foods.

What can we do about this (partially self-inflicted) epidemic that is leading to a future in which our children will die at younger ages than their parents?

Taking on the Problem

Zolno and his New Message Media colleagues address the obesity issue through a video their publicists describe as a “cross between Boyz N’ The Hood [sic] and The Matrix.” They’re hoping the video will be picked up by junior and senior high schools, a demographic old enough to understand the implications of the food choices they’re making and young enough to redeem their futures by changing their habits.

The promotional literature accompanying the release describes the match-up between the two films parodied, by saying,

Turning the Boyz N’ The Hood [sic] dynamic on its head — where bad guys robbing a convenience store are now actually putting bad food into the store — seemed a natural response to the irony that people in suits get rich for helping kill kids through diabetes and conversely starving large parts of the rest of the world, while people most affected by it in the US often go to prison for decades, often for crimes largely inspired by circumstances partly created by this corrupt system.

Adding Matrix elements should remind us all that while the odds are against us — that we will escape and rebuild the food and marketing system we blindly participate in like drones — it is ultimately the choice of many individuals who will step up, once we are awoken [sic] by leaders in the movement who can show us that choice.

Watch the video here:


To make life easier for teachers who may want to use the video in their instruction, curriculum expert Vanessa Carter has designed lessons to accompany it. Carter is self-described as “an interdisciplinary high school teacher dedicated to cultivating ecoliteracy and critical thinking skills in youth.” She writes,

FOOD FIGHT! invites students to question their relationships to food, food deserts, food access, global food sovereignty, ecological justice, stereotypes, drug use, racism and more. Young people are experts at consuming media. This film asks them to polish their media literacy skills, question their relationships to the systems around them and join a movement.

While a semester course could be devoted to deconstructing all of the issues raised in the film, I encourage teachers to include FOOD FIGHT! in their students’ experience, if only for one lesson!  They’ll find the video online and continue to explore the questions most salient to their communities.

The artists dedicated to making this film a reality are all solutionaries, engaging in the world at critical leverage points and inviting change towards a more healthy, just and vibrant world.

Shaking Things Up

FOOD FIGHT! and the curriculum accompanying it provide a powerful one-two punch that promises to shake viewers out of the complacency that plagues us. And it promises to shake up the consciousness of some of the most vulnerable kids, those who live in food deserts in our inner cities.

Recognizing the problem is a first, giant step, and the video makes the problem very clear. But recognition is nothing unless we are also willing to change our behavior. And that’s the purpose of the curriculum.

Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)B

Superman Versus Supermemes

October 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Children, Education, Front Page, Slideshow, U.S.

In the new film Waiting for Superman — which chronicles the collapse of the American educational system — a forlorn mother waits in a gymnasium with thousands of other parents for her lottery number to be called. The drawing will determine which students will attend a good school, and which will be relegated to a failing institution. The mother explains the gravity of the situation: “It’s the difference between whether my son goes to college, or goes to prison. . .”

How did we allow our educational systems to fall so far, so fast? When did the welfare of our children go the same way as healthcare, the safety of our food and the callous obliteration of our environment? How did we allow ourselves to become obese, dependent on antidepressants, and willing to wage inhumane wars over oil, land and beliefs?

Something is happening. Everyone knows we are leaving a worse world behind for our children.

But up to this point, we have been looking at these problems as separate issues. But would it surprise you to know that there is a dangerous commonality emerging — an intricate interconnectedness between our seemingly intractable problems?

In The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction, I describe a context, a framework, an explanation, for our inability to address our greatest threats by going straight to the source of the problem. The book points to the fact that our most challenging problems have one frightening characteristic in common: they are so complex, so difficult to get our arms around, they may be beyond the capabilities the human brain has evolved to this point. After all, there is a limit to what our brains have physically evolved to fix.

In the book, I explain that complexity is a condition where there are many more wrong choices than right ones. So over time, we become “incompetent pickers” who can’t determine which solutions will work.

When complexity makes it impossible to obtain facts and proceed on a rational basis, humans have a history of conveniently substituting facts with unproven beliefs. This substitution preceded the collapse of every great civilization before our time: it happened to the Mayans, the Romans, the Khmer, and the Egyptians. The powerful, pervasive beliefs and behaviors we adopt in lieu of facts are called supermemes (named after Richard Dawkin’s 1976 discovery of memes.)

Which supermemes currently prevent progress in education? The Watchman’s Rattle describes five universal behaviors that inhibit solving the problem once and for all:

1) Irrational Opposition: This occurs when people are more comfortable rejecting remedies rather than advocating solutions. If every solution which is proposed can be found to be flawed then none will be adopted. Simply put, across-the-board opposition results in gridlock.

2) Counterfeit Correlation: When we hastily determine the relationship between a cause and effect(s), this leads to an incorrect diagnosis our problems. We are left to pursue one ineffective remedy after another, all the while wasting precious time and resources as the problem continues to grow in magnitude. In the case of education, we have sited [sic] everything from outdated textbooks, the eradication of physical education, poor school lunch programs and low teacher salaries as the culprit — but how many of these quick-fixes are based on valid scientific studies?

3) Personalization of Blame: As soon as we hold each individual accountable for debt, obesity, and depression, and other such issues, society is off the hook. Blame the parents for the fact that they aren’t more involved in their children’s education and the systemic problem doesn’t have to be addressed.

4) Silo Thinking: In tackling complex, multi-dimensional problems, it is crucial that nations, organizations, and individuals work in tandem. Adopting a territorial mindset greatly impedes progress. In the case of education, why aren’t neuroscientists who understand how the human brain learns part of the discussion? Does it make sense to fix education without first understanding how the brain loads content, solves problems and retains information?

5) Extreme Economics: The financial bottom line becomes the unilateral litmus test in determining which solutions are valid. Economic considerations drive decisions for everything, from hospital care, immigration policy, to whether each child needs a locker, computer or physical education. We begin to speak in economic terms such as “investing in our children’s education.” Really? Since when was education an investment? It was supposed to be a “right.”

It must be obvious by now that reforming the education system is a complex problem that cannot be solved by simply raising teacher salaries, increasing parental participation, or providing schools with the latest technology. Quick fixes don’t make a dent when it comes to highly complex problems. The solution to complexity is to launch a wide variety of rational, progressive and innovative solutions in tandem. Some will succeed, some will fail, but we avoid the problem of trying to pick the winners from the losers when we no longer have the capability to. If we launch solutions aimed at overcoming all five of the supermemes that stand in the way of progress, there will no longer be any need for worried parents to sit in a gymnasium and hope they get lucky.

When it comes to education, here’s the bottom line: In the battle between Superman and the Supermemes, who comes out on top?

We decide.

And the time to decide is now.

© 2010 Rebecca Costa, author of The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction

Author Bio

Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist whose unique expertise is to spot and explain emerging trends in relationship to human evolution, global markets, and new technologies. Costa joins distinguished business leaders, Nobel Laureates, scientists, innovators and Pulitzer Prize — winning authors from around the world to address growing concerns over dangerous threats such as global warming, pandemic viruses, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and failing public education. A popular speaker at thought-leader and technology conferences as well as major universities, Costa is the former CEO of Silicon Valley start-up Dazai Advertising, Inc. Costa’s clients included technology giants such as Apple Computer, Hewlett- Packard, Oracle Corporation, 3M, Amdahl, Seibel Systems and General Electric. She graduated from the University of California with a BA in Social Sciences. Rebecca Costa lives on the central coast of California.

For more information please visit and follow the author on Twitter and Facebook.

Energy Healing, A Form of Holistic Medicine

Dr. Longworth provides an Energy Healing to a client. Photo: Julia Wasson

Natural healing modalities allow us to tread lightly on the earth while improving our health. They don’t require synthetic chemicals or an investment in expensive technology. And, they have been used in various traditions since homo sapiens first trod the earth.

Today, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviews Maureen Longworth, M.D., who is board certified in both Holistic Medicine and Family Medicine, and is an internationally respected Energy Healer. Dr. Longworth practices medicine in Juneau, Alaska, and is visiting Iowa City through July 17. She will be teaching a Root of Healing Mini Workshop in Iowa City this Sunday and is available for private healing sessions throughout the coming week. More information is provided below. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

BPGL: What is Energy Healing?

LONGWORTH: Energy Healing is a global term to describe healing that occurs by creating a shift in the energy field. In a way, even prescription drugs and surgery are Energy Healings because a shift occurs. But when we speak of Energy Healing in holistic medicine, we mean the natural shift that can occur without drugs, herbs, or surgical intervention.

You might begin by comparing Energy Healing to any energy modality you know, like chiropractic, massage, Reiki, acupuncture or acupressure, etc. All of these are energy-healing modalities. Even prior to my certification in Holistic Medicine I studied many of these modalities. This tradition I have settled with is the most effective for my patients — and for me personally — for ongoing health and well-being.

The method of Energy Healing I’ve studied is a unique discipline that originated with Robert Moore in Ireland, when he blended his electrical engineering knowledge with ancient Eastern traditions he studied with renowned Eastern spiritual leaders. The result is a precise, scientific collection of a dual-component Energy Healing System that is simple for anyone to learn and easy to practice. It is much more common in Europe and in Israel than in the United States, because I am one of the only doctors here in the U.S. trained in it.

One aspect includes hands-on healing from a trained healer, working on points of the energy field that have been recognized for all time. These points were even identified in ancient caves, written in Sanskrit. The other component is a practice of focused awareness on prescribed energy points to self-balance one’s own energy field.

Dr. Longworth will be doing healing sessions in Iowa City this coming week. Photo: Julia Wasson

BPGL: When you talk about an energy field, what does that “look” like in practical terms in the human body?

LONGWORTH: The premise is that we each have an energy field surrounding our body and multi-dimensionally flowing through every cell of the body. The spine is central in our physical vertical plane, and the heart chakra in the horizontal plane. Think of it as a network of lines surrounding and through us that coalesce into larger and larger rivers of energy or meridians. The points we use for healing are where these powerful meridians intersect.

Energy is running through our respective energy fields. We feel it, and sometimes see, hear, or taste it. We all have had the experience of entering a room with people present that we don’t know. We can tell by the atmosphere if they just had an argument or a loving embrace. We all sense energy shifts all the time, though we often fail to consciously recognize it, as it is part of our automatic survival mechanism.

Even when we sit down on a plane next to a stranger, we can sense from our neighbor enough clues that we either speak to them or stay silent for the duration of the flight. It changes with our energy flow and theirs.

BPGL: How can a person learn to identify their own energy field?

LONGWORTH: In my classes, I teach ways to connect with these powerful energy points on and around your body through focused awareness. So when we focus on them with the mind, or activate them by hand, there is a domino effect on the energy flow, and the entire stream around and through us is altered toward a more balanced state.

Imagine a mountain stream where you remove a small boulder from the water momentarily and then return the boulder to the stream. Even if you could replace the boulder in its exact original position — which you can’t, because the movement has changed the stream — everything upstream and downstream from the boulder will be forever changed. That change will also be transmitted throughout the entire system, so all the tributaries will shift.

With Energy Healing, that subtle shift, even if temporary, affects the whole person on deep mind-body-spirit multi-dimensional levels, bringing the individual toward deeper balance. The body-mind-spirit gets a new experience of balance that it will remember and be able to access in the future. In fact, the movement toward balance is not new, but a returning to the perfection of balance in our creation.

Both the hands-on Energy Healings and the focused-awareness self-balancing exercises have a restorative healing effect on the energy flow that is already naturally running in the energy field. The densities and movements of energy are measurable and have been documented by scientists all over the world. (See the book The Field by Lynne McTaggart for a very readable summary.)

BPGL: What does a person feel after a typical session of Energy Healing?

LONGWORTH: The neurohormones shift. There can be an increase in some of the same natural chemicals people take drugs to induce or augment. Many people feel the shift, and it can be quite pleasant, but even people who don’t feel anything often have a shift in the everyday symptoms they are dealing with.

For example, after a head injury, someone may begin sleeping better or managing their anger with more control. Or someone with thyroid disease may need less medication for balancing the thyroid. A new diabetic may have more resilience in following a new eating plan that is healthier. Many people with chronic pain are able to get off of their pain medication and quit looking for external “fixes” after using the self-balancing, focused-awareness exercises I teach.

Energy is stabilized for people with too much energy or for people with not enough energy. Mood is shifted, and people with anxiety learn focused awareness exercises to control their anxiety and improve thinking and function, while people with depression can gain access to joy. Even people without symptoms comment on increased ability to mentally focus, remember details and formulate thoughts, simply as a result of the greater brain balance and health that is restored. All these things have occurred for my patients and my students.

BPGL: What happens during a healing session?

LONGWORTH: In an individual session, we spend some time talking about whatever you are focusing on in your healing. Then I do hands-on healing, activating points in your energy field. You don’t need to remove clothing, as the energy field is accessed through the clothing. In fact, the body does not need to be touched, if preferred, as the energy field extends to about 2 centimeters around the body, and the entire healing can be done on that etheric layer when someone is sensitive to touch on the body

To complete the individual session, I give a homework exercise for you to do on your own that is specific to what you are working on for your health. I select your homework based on what has come forward into my awareness during your session, when I am connecting with you. You’ll focus on these specific energy points that I give you to continue balancing your energy field on your own and to address the focus of your individual healing journey.

BPGL: What if someone has questions after their healing or wants to continue working with you?

LONGWORTH: Since I can connect energetically with people at any distance in any location, people are able to work with me long-distance from Juneau by phone and internet. In a long-distance healing, I still have the same components of talking time to discuss the person’s concerns and focus for the healing: a “hands-on” healing, where I connect with the points long distance, and a homework assignment designed for the person and the focus of their healing. I then follow up in person when people travel to the places I am visiting.

BPGL: You offer both classes and individual sessions. What are the advantages to doing one versus the other?

LONGWORTH: Some people prefer the class atmosphere, some prefer an individual session, and some like to do both. Anyone is welcome to try whichever they are drawn to. No experience is necessary.

BPGL: What are some reasons people seek out Energy Healing?

LONGWORTH: There is no problem that cannot be addressed with Energy Healing. It does not interfere with anything you are doing with your medical doctor or medicines you are taking. It only leads toward balance, and there is no such thing as “overdoing it.” So it is safe for anyone to learn and practice, or to receive Energy Healing.

Brain function is required to be able to participate, but children as young as four years old are successful doing the exercises. One of my four-year-old patients cured her bed-wetting by the third visit. Another child, who was experiencing a difficult divorce transition in her family and had been acting out in school, learned to use energy exercises on the playground to control her temper. And she is the one who figured out how to do it on the spot after learning some techniques in my office.

Maureen Longworth, M.D., board certified in Holistic Medicine and Family Medicine. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Longworth

BPGL: How can people learn more about Energy Healing?

LONGWORTH: I invite people who are interested to ask me if they have any question about what we can work on with their Energy Healing. I’m also happy to answer questions about my work. And, if someone has personal questions about their own healing, they can schedule an individual session or attend one of my classes.

BPGL: What kinds of topics will be covered in the workshop you will be doing in Iowa City on Sunday (and presumably in other places at other times)?

LONGWORTH: Attendees will learn self-balancing techniques for every part of their body, head to toe, and for every physical organ in the body. They will learn ways to balance moods and their thinking process to integrate their entire energy field and bring overall healing for all their chakras, or energy organs, wherever the energy transformation is needed.

By the end of the class, they will have practiced and learned several focused-awareness, energy-balancing exercises and a specific chakra meditation that they can use for their own healing process for their lifetime.

The full Root of Healing course is a comprehensive course covering the chakras and how the chakra system overlaps our understanding of anatomy and physiology. We’ll also discuss, specifically, how to use the chakras for one’s own medical diseases and health. The Root of Healing Mini Workshop I’m offering on Sunday is a half-day version, designed especially for individuals or groups who want to learn some of the techniques in a shorter format.

Note: Dr. Longworth’s class will be held on Sunday, July 11, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time in Iowa City. Call to learn more, to register for the class, and to get directions to the session. Dr. Longworth is available for a limited number of healing sessions in Iowa City through July 16.

To arrange for a workshop or class in your city or to schedule a healing session in Juneau or a place she is currently visiting, please contact Dr. Longworth at 907.209.2005. Or, visit her website,

Full-Circle Learning – Global Partnerships Unlock Potential

FCL learners in India perform a dance for Communal Harmony. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

After the 1992 civil unrest in South Central Los Angeles, a small grassroots group began an after-school program to show the children living in the area that diverse members of their community cared about them. Teresa Henkle Langness, who later founded Full-Circle Learning, was among them. “Over time,” Langness says, “we began to see that what these children needed was to be a part of a community, to be a part of the solution, instead of feeling like victims of society’s ills.”

Langness adds, “When we began to incorporate character themes linked to local and global service within each lesson plan, the students’ scores suddenly began to leap. They became much better students, much better people. They began to teach their parents conflict resolution. Outside organizations in the community began to benefit from their work. Families wanted to replicate the model and began asking us for help in doing so.”

Today, Full-Circle Learning provides a full preschool-through-high school curriculum in 13 nations. Langness told Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL), “The mission of Full-Circle Learning is to help young people embrace their role as humanitarians and change agents. We do this through educational programs that integrate and expand students’ character strength, academic excellence, creative capacities, and conflict resolution skills.”

We asked Langness to tell us more about the program, which depends on donations to provide services to the low-income children they serve around the globe. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

FCL students engage in integrated learning project at the School of the Nations in Brazil. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

LANGNESS: Every learning unit has character and community service as the bookends. The skills they’re learning become vehicles for transforming the self and transforming the community. We need to look at our ability to problem-solve, to collaborate, and to let our curiosity and creativity be guided by our altruistic instinct.

In Full-Circle Learning, we measure these altruistic identities even while we are teaching the skills that allow young people to grow up as collaborators, thinking of ways to apply these skills to reduce worldwide pandemics, to prevent wars, to understand issues as important as climate change.

Within every Full Circle Learning curriculum you will find activities that address environmental themes, poverty, public health, girls’ education or other current social themes affecting humanity around the world.

We train teachers in the strategies to create a learning environment and a supportive peer culture. We help students become benevolent world leaders —in their classroom, in their families, in their communities, and in their work communities — leaders whose work is not driven by ego, but by compassion.

BPGL: How do you do this?

FCL Lesotho director Maureen Mungai works with children on a lesson at the newly formed Lerato (Love) preschool. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

LANGNESS: One way is by connecting students with classrooms around the world. Whenever they do a local project, they also do a global service project.

For example, the Full-Circle Learning students in a little mountain community in Lesotho might be studying the relationship between deforestation and hunger.

At the same time, students in America will be doing a project on hunger in their community, or studying their environment. The students correspond back and forth, challenging each other.

They begin to see global issues through a local lens, yet honor those across the ocean who are addressing similar problems. They don’t grow up thinking that they have all the answers — or, that they have all the problems.

BPGL: When did you begin to involve schools from other countries in the project?

LANGNESS: I had some foster children in other countries who I was just helping with a little bit of funding and writing letters to them. My own children were growing up and didn’t have time to write letters anymore, so I said to our students, “Would you please write a letter to So-and-So in Kenya or to this girl in Indonesia and give her a little encouragement?”

A seven-year-old student from Ethiopia writes to a partner class in the U.S. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

The kids overseas would take these letters to their school, and would send us back artifacts. We would then do a project for them and send them a challenge. And these back-and-forth challenges began to become a deep and rich part of the learning.

I realized, what was helping these students overseas and in the American classroom to feel really engaged was to realize that skills needed to address problems in an urban city in the United States are really not that much different from those needed in their own communities.

They may be different on the surface, but when you really go down to the core, what we’re talking about are basic human needs. They can learn so much by honoring the wisdom and the tenacity of students in other countries facing similar issues in different ways.

Now we’re in 13 countries on a regular basis with global exchanges. Of 26 projects, there are some projects we manage and help provide funding for, and others we just provide mentorship, training, and the curriculum. Still others, we just provide online mentorship or whatever is needed.

Kenyan FCL students plant a tree as part of a class project. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

Very few of those we serve, in the United States or abroad, have funding to pay for what we give. If a school can pay for the printing cost or the books, that’s about as good as it gets. Mostly they can’t reimburse us for that either.

BPGL: Are all of the overseas schools connected with a U.S. partner classroom?

LANGNESS: The curriculum states that they be connected to a school in U.S. But some connections happen more smoothly than others. In some cases, we might recommend that they partner with a different country — maybe somebody who already speaks the same language or somebody for whom, if they decide to physically mail something, the postage might be less. Everybody is connected with somebody, but not all the countries are equally responsive.

BPGL: Which grades participate?

An FCL student at the Ocean of Light International School in Tonga smiles at the camera. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

LANGNESS: It can be anybody, in preschool through high school. For instance, in Tonga, some of the teachers are more facile with English and with this model of education.

So some of them have taken the lead and said, “Our grade level will be the one to send something this time.”

Some others hang back and do more local projects. It’s up to the school to take a certain amount of initiative in determining how they will do it. Smaller schools always do a school-wide approach.

BPGL: When you talk about local projects, are those projects connected to your curriculum?

Instructors demonstrate to South African FCL teachers how to use the conflict bridge. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learing

LANGNESS: Absolutely. When you do a Full-Circle Learning project, it should permeate the culture of the school. For example, at the school in Zambia, from the minute they received the training, they changed everything that they were doing.

Every class has a new identity. As second graders, you might call them the Forgivers, if they’re struggling with conflict resolution. Kindergartners might be the Helpers. Fourth graders might be the Humanitarians. And the things they do in the community to connect to their learning have some bearing on the identity the teachers are fostering in the students.

If you have guest presenters from the community, you showcase their careers in relation to the particular habit-of-heart, as we call it.

BPGL: What is a “habit-of-heart”?

LANGNESS: It’s a character trait, but we also want them to know it’s something that they can make habitual — not an innate virtue that they do or do not have.

Each habit-of-heart relates to what they will eventually do with their lives, to the skills they learn throughout their school days, to their home life, and to what they might do for the theme we’re studying.

The second graders in the Healers class in one of our Los Angeles charter schools did a homelessness project. They had read Finding Grace: The Face of America’s Homeless, an award-winning photography book by Lynn Blodgett that featured pictures of homeless people.

Children from the FCL Academy charter school in Los Angeles drew portraits of homeless persons to wear on a sandwich board in a march against homelessness. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

So they learned to make beautiful portraits of their favorite homeless face from the book. They put that on the front of a sandwich sign. These were homeless people from all over the country, but a lot of them were from the local area where they live.

On the back of their sandwich board, they put the real picture from the book. And they marched with 17,000 people to advocate for the visibility of homeless people and for their plight.

Gentrification of the downtown area was displacing a lot of homeless people who had nowhere to go. Many of the old hotels, which functioned as shelters, were being closed or upgraded. Now the homeless were pushed out onto the street, and the police were putting them in jail. People were asking the City Council to find a better solution.

So the children looked at the statistics of homelessness in the city. How many were homeless? How many were homeless because of joblessness? How many because of mental illness? How many were elders who couldn’t afford housing?

The children met as a group and discussed what they would do if they were the City Council. They wrote essays. They turned the statistics into bar charts. They took the portraits and made color Xeroxes. They put these all in a book.

They had met the mayor on their march, and he had patted them on the head. Later, they sent one copy of their book to the mayor and reminded him of this challenge to do something about homelessness. They sent the other copy to their global partner in India. And they said, “Here’s what we’re trying to do to help the poor in our community. What are you doing?”

BPGL: What did the children in India do?

This is a page from the book FCL learners in India sent to their partners in Los Angeles. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

LANGNESS: Their habit-of-heart theme had been advocacy. In India, the children had been studying respect — and sympathy, because a girl in their class had passed away. After receiving this challenge, they talked about who in their community was poor.

In India, of course, there is no safety net; your children are your social security plan. So if you lose a child or are childless, you basically grow old and poor with nowhere to go.

They decided to do their project for orphaned grandparents. They wrote a beautiful book of essays about respect and sympathy, and they made beautiful artwork with recycled objects. They turned pencil shavings into flowers. They used toothpicks and types of beans that we don’t have here, and flower petals — everything you can imagine — to make beautiful pieces of art.

Then they put some of the art in the book that they sent back to America. Some they put in books for the orphaned grandparents. They made food. They made music. They exchanged kisses for blessings, because the grandparents have nobody to bless.

The Polaroids they put in the books brought us to tears: They are bowing down on the ground, prostrating themselves, and then getting up and giving kisses to the orphaned grandparents. And the grandparents are blessing them.

The teacher in Los Angeles kept the book in the classroom for a long time, because the students wanted to go back and look at that book again and again. They all wanted to learn the Tamil language and get on a plane and go to India. It was so profound to see what effect it had on them.

BPGL: How does participation in Full-Circle Learning affect the children you work with?

LANGNESS: This is an area of gang conflict, not an easy area of town. That’s why the charter school is where it is. Some of the children had been homeless. So it was a really interesting experience. It’s so much easier to get outside yourself and beyond your own problems when you see how children across the world are dealing with poverty in their communities.

Members of the Alumni Club, along with a parent, an advisor, and Langness (back row far right). Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

We talk a lot about that. We say, “Here’s how you can afford to travel: Go to college, then join the Peace Corps.” A lot of them have the idea that the only way they will ever do anything is to join the military and get their education that way.

The parents of the original program challenged us to start a charter school so that their children could sustain this kind of education throughout the school day. We told them how much work it is to start a charter school, especially a K-8 charter school.

They said, “That’s okay. We’ll help. We’ll be the founding families.”

And we said, “You realize, by the time we finish this process, your children will no longer be young enough to attend it.”

And they said, “That’s okay too.” So their children have done the work to start it. They’re now in high school, and they are the Alumni Club. They help enroll students, do outreach, and do service projects.

BPGL: How is Full-Circle Learning most different from other programs?

FCL learners in China perform a play about their habit-of-heart. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

LANGNESS: Schools spend so much focus on teaching students what to learn, and in some cases teaching them how to learn, but not why to learn. We give students a purpose for learning.

Maybe that’s the distinction between this and other models. Not only does it help us address the world’s problems, it also helps us unlock the potential in the child.

I have a story to illustrate this. A guest presenter talking to second graders was linking compassion with his work as an orthopedic surgeon. He talked about what he does, fixing broken arms and legs and so forth. He also talked about the math and science classes he took.

A year later, a journalist interviewed a third-grade girl and asked what she wanted to be. She said, “Oh, I want to be an orthopedic surgeon, of course.”

He asked, “Where did you get that idea?”

And she said, “We have a lot of people coming through here, but this one presentation helped me understand my interest in math and science.”

Now this girl was from a foster home of nine kids. She was very shy. She had no role models at all who had anything to do with math or science, or anything academic. She said, “I thought these were just throwaway subjects, and I was never going to use them. Now I understand why I need to apply myself. Now I know my purpose in life.”

Under the direction of artist John Paul Thornton, California students created original artwork showing the relationship of peace and the environment. Some of their art was displayed at the Nobel Peace Prize Center the following summer. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

Years went by. She was very quiet about this. Her mother called me when the girl was in the ninth grade. She said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. This girl has found an article in the paper about a new orthopedic magnet high school, and she wants me to enroll her. I had no idea she has an interest in this, but their enrollment is closed.”

I said, “You didn’t know why she’s been working so hard in math and science all these years? Take her down there and show them her grades. They’ll enroll her.”

And they did. Now this girl is in a premed program, and is getting scholarships to be an orthopedic doctor.

So that’s the example of linking the purpose in life and the altruistic inclinations of the heart with plugging somebody into the community in ways that match their natural gifts. At an age where you don’t know the possibilities yet, to explore as many of those possibilities as you can gives you a better impetus for choosing something that fits later in life.

BPGL: How are the kids in your program doing on state exams?

LANGNESS: The district challenges charter schools to meet and exceed the test scores of the surrounding schools with a similar demographic, and they challenge us to bring the scores up about 4 percent a year.

In our charter school, Full-Circle Learning Academy, we got a baseline score in year one. In year two, we took the exams again. The scores went up 145 points. That’s about 19 percent. That’s almost unheard of.

Tarzana, California, FCL students took the top three prizes in the Fair Housing Bureau's poster contest, a 200 school invitational. Photo: Courtesy Full-Circle Learning

BPGL: What are your fund-raising needs right now?

LANGNESS: Both the international projects and the local projects have dire needs right now. Making a contribution to the general fund would allow us to support both and to allocate the funds based on how much comes in.

Publisher’s Note: Full-Circle Learning is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Donations by U.S. taxpayers are deductible to the fullest extent allowed under the law. Donations may be made on the FCL website.

Full-Circle Learning is a nonprofit member of 1% for the Planet. If your business is a member, too, consider making your annual donation to support this worthy group.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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A Message to Graduates – Everything Is Connected

July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Education, Events, Front Page

 Dear Graduates, Everything is connected! Photo: Julia Wasson

Dear Graduates, Everything is connected! Photo: Julia Wasson

Miriam Kashia, Blue Planet Green Living’s international editor, recently was invited to give a graduation address in British Columbia. When we read her speech, we instantly knew that it was a powerful message we wanted to share. Whether you have long ago graduated or are soon heading in that direction, we believe you’ll find Miriam’s inspiring words worth reading, pondering, and remembering. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Dear Graduates,

When thinking about this event, I considered what it is that I believe most strongly that might be useful to you. In my 66 years of life’s lessons with all the challenges, hardships, successes, adventures, work, play, educational endeavors, relationships, and spiritual seeking, the most salient thing I can share with you is something you already know. It is actually very simple and nothing new:


I am tempted to stop there, because I have just said it all. Kurt Vonnegut, when delivering a commencement address to a graduating class, once said, “Everything is going to become unbelievably worse and will never get better again,” and walked off the stage.

It may have enabled him to avoid having to write a lengthy address and get to an early golf game, and it undoubtedly caused quite a stir, but I doubt his cynicism was particularly helpful or inspiring to the graduates. I don’t aspire to be Kurt Vonnegut, although I enjoyed his books many years ago, so I will elaborate and try to explain something about what it means to me when I say, “EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.”

Before I continue, however, it’s important that I tell you I am not professing to speak “The Truth.” Rather, I am speaking my version of the Truth as I understand it today. There are undoubtedly as many versions of the Truth as there are people, and certainly Truth changes over time. Remember the flat earth?

Growth is about examining the evidence of what you experience and adapting your thinking according to what fits for you. With real growth, much of what we understand to be Truth is malleable and flexible over time. If anyone approaches you with the absolute TRUTH about what you SHOULD think or feel, I suggest you smile and leave the premises. Even the Buddha, on his deathbed, told his followers to examine everything they read or were told – even by him – according to their own internal compass. Find your inner compass, and pay attention to it. Most of the big mistakes we make in life come from ignoring it.


This is going to be a bit heady for a few minutes, but please stay with me. The implications of what I’m going to attempt to describe are off the charts.

Since the middle 20th century and even earlier, scientists have revisited their long-held beliefs about the cause-and-effect mechanics of the universe. I am definitely not a physicist, but from what I have read and the meager amount I can comprehend, I understand that there have been several groundbreaking research projects, done under carefully controlled conditions, that examined the behavior of the smallest sub-particles currently known. What they discovered was that the observer, by the very act of paying attention, affected the outcome.

The implications of this are mind-boggling. We now understand that it is not possible to be non-participating. What we pay attention to and feel strongly about is changed, whether internally in ourselves or externally in the world. As a result of that research, Quantum Physics is now well established within the scientific world, and there are several new theories about what it all means and how the universe works.

The old rules of physics still apply, but something new has been added which may explain certain things, such as spontaneous healing, bi-location, remote viewing, or other so-called parapsychological or mystical events, which heretofore have been ignored or denied in scientific circles. My thanks to Gregg Braden in his incredible book, The Divine Matrix, for explaining and synthesizing this complex body of material so that it is accessible to the layperson.

To start at the beginning, everything that was merged and compressed within what some scientists say was our pea-sized cosmos 13 to 20 billion years ago before the big bang is still connected! That means absolutely everything is connected. The newly verified and subtle force that serves to connect everything in what we think of as empty space, is called by various names and has been referred to for ages by mystics as well as some ancient cultures and modern, indigenous peoples. Braden calls it the “Divine Matrix.” What they have been telling us for centuries about the Oneness of Everything can now be validated in the laboratory. Not only that, but as it turns out, we are the creators of the universe we experience. In Braden’s words:

A growing body of research suggests that we are more than cosmic latecomers simply passing through a universe that was completed long ago. Experimental evidence in physics is leading to the conclusion that we’re actually creating the universe as we go and adding to what already exists! In other words, we appear to be the very energy that’s forming the cosmos, as well as the beings who experience what we’re creating. That’s because we are consciousness, and consciousness appears to be the same “stuff” from which the universe is made.

Rumi said it thus in the 13th century: “We are the mirror as well as the face in it.”

Margaret Atwood, a famous Canadian poet and novelist, said it in this non-scientific way, in her commencement address at the University of Toronto in 1983: “You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it, and this, paradoxically, alters reality. Try it and see.”

Braden goes on to explain that the powerful Quantum Language of Consciousness that enables this creative change to happen is our deeply felt, non ego-based emotional states: compassion, imagination, and prayer paired with our absolute recognition that what we desire is already true. When we suspend disbelief, our consciousness has the power to alter the essence of the universe in ways that can change DNA, heal our bodies, create peace, and change lifelong patterns. If that isn’t enough, there is also growing evidence that our brain allows for experiences that transcend time and space. Albert Einstein knew that when he said, “Time is not at all what it seems. It does not flow in only one direction, and the future exists simultaneously with the past.”

Braden tells us,

It should be clear that it’s impossible for us to be simply bystanders in our world. As conscious observers, we’re part of all that we see. In the realm of quantum possibilities, we appear to be made to participate in our creation. We’re wired to create! Because we appear to be universally joined on the quantum level, ultimately our connectedness promises that the seemingly little shifts in our lives can have a huge influence on our world and even the universe beyond. Our quantum link with the cosmos runs so deep that scientists have created a new vocabulary to describe what such connections really mean. It’s called the “butterfly effect.” The bottom line of this phenomenon suggests that a single small change in one part of the world can be the trigger for a huge alteration in another place and time. The quantum net or matrix that connects everything suggests that you and I direct a force within us that works in a realm that’s free from the limits of physics as we know them.

What we see as our universe is really us — our individual and collective minds — transforming the possibilities … into physical reality. This radical new way of viewing ourselves and the universe gives nothing less than direct access to every possibility that we could ever wish or pray for, dream or imagine. The key to experiencing the power of these potential outcomes is that we must think of ourselves in this new way. And when we do, something wonderful begins to happen: We’re changed.

I cannot tell you how thrilling it is for me to realize that what I have long believed and sometimes experienced is being validated and studied by the scientific community. I want to talk to you a bit about some of the things this can mean in your life.

First, it means is that you are not bound by the same limitations that have been unknowingly self-imposed on the generations that preceded you.

The men and women who have made a positive mark on history often turn out to be those few who operated from this place of creative consciousness.

I quote Barack Obama from a graduation speech in spring 2008, six months before his election:

I hope you’ll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naïve about your impulse to change the world. Because all it takes is one act of service — one blow against injustice — to send forth what Robert Kennedy called that “tiny ripple of hope.” That’s what changes the world.

Here’s a simplified version of the quantum formula for conscious creation, as I currently understand it:

  1. Start with your unqualified belief that your creative consciousness has the power to make your tiny ripple spread beyond your wildest imaginings.
  2. Add your heartfelt, ego-less investment in that change.
  3. Create your ripple by doing whatever you do from a place of compassion.
  4. Know that the change you seek is already a reality.
  5. And, voila! Whatever problem you choose to tackle will be transformed in some meaningful way.

You are no doubt painfully aware that the most massive, dangerous, and seemingly insoluble problem facing the world today is the degradation and destruction of our planet’s ecosystem. How’s that as a testing ground for implementing this newly identified quantum creative consciousness?!

Paul Hawken is an environmental activist, entrepreneur, author, and, most important, a dreamer. He spoke to the graduates at the University of Portland this spring. You can hear him using the formula I just outlined, though he may never have heard of it. I quote:

Here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power.

Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, re-imagine, and reconsider.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.”

Gloria Steinem, a ground-busting American journalist and feminist leader talks about tackling the impossible in her commencement address at Tufts University in 1987:

Whatever you want to do, just do it. Don’t worry about making a damn fool of yourself. Making a damn fool of yourself is absolutely essential. And you will have a great time.

Remember: You are not bound by the same limitations that have been unknowingly self-imposed on the generations that preceded you.

What else does quantum consciousness, that “Butterfly Effect,” mean in your life?

It means we must shed our addiction to power, material “success,” and our personal and cultural narcissism. The newly recognized “language” of Quantum Physics is deeply felt emotion, especially compassion, because compassion is always from the heart, not from the ego.

Compassion has an open heart and long, open arms, and can only be experienced when we allow ourselves to deeply feel the connection we have with others, even those we will never meet. Compassion is also contagious. I allowed myself to be cracked open by what I experienced in my work with the Peace Corps in Namibia. When I wrote about the effects of poverty on the children, my friends and family responded with compassion and action, followed by the compassion and participation of others. When someone initiates a process for positive change without self-serving motivations, others are inspired to do likewise. It is, indeed, contagious.

And finally, what this means in your life is that you are free to be all you are. Not only free, but compelled by the laws of the universe to create yourself and your world.

Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios said in his commencement address at Stanford University
 in 2005:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was preparing to write this speech, I read about 30 commencement addresses delivered over the past 70 years that Mr. Google told me were the best. For my money, Alan Alda’s speech, delivered at Connecticut College in 1980, is the best of the best. He, too, understands what it means to be all of oneself in order to create not only your life, but also your world. He says:

I want you to be potent, to do good when you can, and to hold your wit and your intelligence like a shield against other people’s wantonness. And above all, to laugh and enjoy yourself in a life of your own choosing and in a world of your own making. I want you to be strong and aggressive and tough and resilient and full of feeling. I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.

I want you to have chutzpah. Be bold. Let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. Move with all of yourself. When you embark for strange places don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.

There is far more to explore in this reality-transforming old/new understanding of the laws of the universe. You will be watching this century unfold in ways we can only try to imagine. But that’s the whole point — the Quantum power of compassion and imagination and creative consciousness will become commonly understood scientific belief, as well as daily wisdom for living. For today, I hope you will remember these three things:

  • You are not bound by the same limitations that have been unknowingly self imposed on the generations that preceded you.
  • The language of creative consciousness is deeply felt emotion, especially compassion, because compassion is always from the heart, not from the ego. And it is contagious.
  • You are free to be all you are. Not only free, but compelled by the laws of the universe to create yourself and your world.

My warm congratulations. Thank you for inviting me to share in this most memorable day of celebration and transition. I challenge you to grow your own Truth throughout life and to live that Truth to the fullest. By the time you are my age, perhaps the expanding awareness that we are all quite literally connected with everything and everyone will have altered the way we live on this planet. You will be the conscious creators of that better world, tiny ripples that spread.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Emmanuel:

Destiny is the soul’s consciousness flowing ever and ever more strongly and swiftly toward Light and toward Truth and toward Oneness. There is no other destiny than this.

Miriam Kashia

International Editor
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Fairchild Challenge Prepares Youth to Protect the Planet

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” — John F. Kennedy

A Fairchild Challenge participant gives a presentation. Photo Courtesy: Fairchild Challenge

Today’s adults will not solve every environmental challenge we face in the world. We will make progress, certainly, but the solutions to most of the major problems that plague us will not come in our lifetimes. The future of our species — and with it, the future of all life on Earth — hinges on the actions of our children and their children.

We cannot sit back idly and expect generations yet to come to take up the banner of environmentalism and sustainability. We must begin by educating — and inspiring — our youth to learn about the problems and to take action to fix them. One program that has been successfully motivating youth to learn about the environment is the Fairchild Challenge.

The seven year-old program, which began at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, provides junior high and high school students with competitive projects, contests, and performance opportunities that engage them in a study of the natural world. More than 40,000 students participated in this free, educational experience in Florida alone this academic year.

Caroline Lewis, director of education for the Fairchild Challenge

Caroline Lewis, director of education for the Fairchild Challenge. Photo Courtesy: Fairchild Challenge

Caroline Lewis, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s director of education, who oversees the Fairchild Challenge, says, “The Fairchild Challenge promotes, provokes and celebrates young people’s engagement in environmental issues. The program is a vital tool to give young people a voice in the national and international conversation about the critical issues affecting our planet – and to foster lifelong environmental stewardship in the students, in their families and in their communities. We are gratified to see our youths becoming more passionate about protecting our planet.”

Current Challenge options include:

Students participate in an eco skit, "What a Waste," at the Fairchild Challenge

Students participate in an eco skit, "What a Waste," at the Fairchild Challenge. Photo Courtesy: Fairchild Challenge

  • Write opinion and research papers
  • Perform songs and skits
  • Create gardens, artwork and newsletters
  • Design solar-powered devices

Participating students can earn points for their sponsoring organization. By earning a specified number of points, students qualify their school or organization for the Fairchild Challenge Award, which is presented in May. Qualifying schools win a monetary prize to be used for a green project of their choice.

Fairchild Challenge Satellite Training class February 2008

Fairchild Challenge Satellite Training class February 2008. Photo Courtesy: Fairchild Challenge

According to Lewis, the template for the Fairchild Challenge initiative is expanding across the US and other nations, to foster “environmental awareness, scholarship, and stewardship in teenagers and pre-teens.” Satellite Training workshops provide educators from schools, museums, and other public and private facilities with the opportunity to learn about and implement the Fairchild Challenge in their own communities. The program is active in Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Utah, USA; South Africa, Venezuela, and Costa Rica.

In February 2008, the Conservation Fund’s National Forum on Children and Nature (NFCN) endorsed the Fairchild Challenge as one of 30 models that provide novel means for connecting youth to the environment. Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund, said, “We celebrate these projects for demonstrating how to get kids back outdoors. This is critical for children’s health — and for the future of our environment. Saving a generation is not a spectator sport. These ideas invite corporate leaders, educators, community planners, government officials and others into the game.”

To find out how an educational organization in your community can become a part of the Fairchild Challenge, visit the Fairchild Challenge website or call (305) 667-1651.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

ANSWER – Ending Caste in Nepal with Education and Jobs

Education is essential for children to overcome poverty and the caste system. Photo: Anita Elder

Conscientious donors around the world give money to NGOs with the full expectation that their contributions will work toward the benefit of the intended recipients. But, as Earle Canfield, explains in today’s post, the reality is often quite different, with too many NGOs working ultimately for their own sustainability and not delivering “real help.”

Canfield’s NGO, American-Nepali Student & Women’s Educational Relief (ANSWER), is different. “Instead of fostering dependency,” Canfield says, “we empower students.” ANSWER gives “just enough help” to impoverished low-caste families by paying for one child’s private school education. The families, in turn, pay for a small part of their children’s school needs. By requiring a personal investment, ANSWER motivates families to continue the child’s participation through college, whereupon the graduate secures a good-paying job. Education not only breaks the cycle of poverty for the families, it also empowers low-caste students to become part of the new middle class that will overturn Nepal‘s caste system in their lifetime.

This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with ANSWER’s founder, Earle Canfield. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

BPGL: What got you interested in helping children in Nepal?

CANFIELD: I went to Nepal first as a medical volunteer. I worked in a children’s hospital. All I saw was a revolving door of poor people coming in, getting fixed up and being sent out, and no [lasting] good coming of it.

Children in private schools have an opportunity to overcome poverty through education. Photo: Anita Elder

During my first three months there, I went on a medical mission with the crew from a hospital. We went to a remote village where there was a community clinic. It had power; the village did not. The people would have to wait for hours to be seen by a doctor; there were four practitioners and hundreds of children to be seen. So we did some health education.

We put the families in a room, and they didn’t know what was happening. There was all this talk and buzz. We were going to show them some slides. None of them had seen a TV or been to a movie. So we quieted them down, and I ran the projector while a Nepali doctor gave explanations of the slides. We went on with our talk about malaria, until I flashed a slide of a mosquito. At that point, all the excitement died, and there was dead silence in the room. It was like a big weight of gloom and doom had come down on the people.

I asked the doctor who was translating, “What’s going on?”

She said, “They are afraid of that mosquito.”

“Well, they need to be afraid of that mosquito, it’s malarial!”

“You don’t understand, they’re afraid of this mosquito, right here. It’s got a four-foot wingspan.” She smiled, and I got it. She explained everything, and we finished the slide show.

That moment haunted me. As funny as it is, it made me realize that, if I take a microscope, a slide, and some pond water, and show them a germ and say, “That’s what’s making you sick,” they don’t understand. They think it’s that water right there, the water they’re looking at, that’s making them sick. They can’t understand scaling, so they don’t know how small a germ is. They don’t understand large numbers of germs.

There’s no way that you can teach health education to illiterate people. It’s just too demanding. And so the best way, the simple way, to do this is to educate the children. With a liberal education, they would have the math, the science, the literacy, the concepts to really grasp the idea. Then they can teach the fundamentals to the parents: “No, Mother, don’t drink that!”

BPGL: So you send children to school. Why not send them to public schools?

Public school children sit on the floor in crowded classrooms. Photo: Anita Elder

Public school children sit on the floor in crowded classrooms. Photo: Anita Elder

CANFIELD: The educational system is built with caste in mind. It reinforces the caste system. Only by paying enough money to go to a private school that teaches in English can you go to college. In the public schools, they teach English in the 3rd or 4th grade, but it’s really directed at being able to read Nepali words in Roman letters, not to learn English. At the end of the 10th grade, everyone who wants to do so will take an exam, and that will determine if their scores are high enough to go to college. But they have to score high in English. About 40% of the students nationwide fail that exam. Most of those who fail are out of the public schools.

Almost all nonprofits will help children in basic education, maybe even up to the 10th grade, but then they drop them. We have taken some of these children, who were sustained but dropped by other organizations, even though they did very well on 10th grade exam, and found spots for them in private colleges. After the 12th grade, the students take another exam, and that will determine whether they are awarded a diploma and/or go on to the university.

BPGL: Is your goal to send students to university?

CANFIELD: The university level is kind of a dead end. The kids want to become engineers, but they’ll never get a job in engineering in this country. The engineering jobs go to foreign contractors. So, even before the 10th grade, we’re discouraging them from going into engineering. Even so, some of the kids want to do it. So, “Okay, you can take the science that leads up to engineering. If you do well enough on the exam and get a scholarship, you’re in. But if you don’t get a job, you can’t come crying back to us. Your decision is made now.” That’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. We try to coddle these students enough so that they can do what we say and understand what we say.

BPGL: When you spoke in Iowa City, you mentioned a club for the high school students. What is the purpose of the club?

CANFIELD: What we do is not only put the kids in good schools — the private, high-caste schools — but we also have what’s called a Social Welfare Club. They meet on Saturdays for three or four hours. We work to educate poor people to the point where they can not only take care of themselves, but they also reach a level of understanding that they’ve been taken care of through the graces of help from outside.

Nepali teens like these participate in Social Welfare Clubs through ANSWER. Photo: Anita Elder

Nepali teens like these participate in Social Welfare Clubs through ANSWER. Photo: Anita Elder

About every other week, we show a movie. For the most part, they are Western-produced movies that have a morality theme. What we’re doing with these films is raising the students’ social consciousness. These are movies like March of the Penguins. One of the things that comes out of that particular movie is that animals have societies too. They have a struggle against the elements to survive, and they handle it by division of labor. The father’s job is to stay home and hatch the egg. The mother’s job is to go out fishing, and she brings home the dinner. Then the children begin to understand that there’s more than one way to look at society. Fathers can do child rearing, and mothers can have careers. We discuss things like that.

These meetings are structured to have discussions. Very few schools in Nepal have discussions; 99.9 percent use rote teaching. You spoon feed the answers, so that when it comes up on the test, you get back the answer. Nothing more than that, just the answer.

All of the kids are extremely shy, and it’s very hard for them to raise their hands. But after a couple of weeks like this, they catch on. They start participating, and they raise their hand. We don’t have an attendance problem on Saturday.

BPGL: Do you see your efforts working?

CANFIELD: I think we will be very successful in producing socially conscious and aware and active students. And that, in a Third World setting, is unheard of. They come out of a subsistence background, and in a subsistence background, you don’t share; not-sharing is a survival skill.

At the Social Welfare Clubs, we instill a sense of the power of sharing. We say, “There are sponsors on the other side of the world that believe so strongly in you and want to help you. You must be committed to helping others, too, because you got help. You couldn’t have done it by yourself.”

I remember asking one class, “Why do you think that people on the other side of the world care enough to help you?” There were interesting responses. I said, “No, it’s not because you are helpless.”

And one little girl said, “Because we’re just like them.”

I responded, “If you’re just like them, what about other poor people? Aren’t they just like you?” The lights went on all over the room. These kids do understand what the purpose is in all of this.

BPGL: Doesn’t it cost more to support a college student? How do you manage to continue supporting them?

CANFIELD: College is more expensive, but it’s only for a couple of years, so we put part of the commitment onto the families. We say, “You have to pay a certain percentage. We usually try to get a third of the cost of college from the family. If they still can’t do it, those children borrow from the college fund. And if they borrow from the college fund, they pay it back, so that other children can borrow from the college fund.

Everything we do is thought out pretty carefully in terms of sustainability, empowerment, and political/personal will.

BPGL: What else do the kids do in the Social Welfare Clubs to get involved in the community?

CANFIELD: We might go up to the children’s hospital and visit with patients there, or go to the old folks’ home and talk with the people. There’s only one government nursing home for the elderly in Kathmandu. We take our kids there, so they can socialize with the older people and find out their stories. These are people who don’t have relatives, who have been left alone to support themselves and were living and sleeping on the streets.

In the cities, poor families live in 8' x 8' rooms. Photo: Anita Elder

In the cities, poor families often live in 8' x 8' rooms. Photo: Anita Elder

One time, we had a mother who was having a very difficult time at home. It was in Kathmandu in one of these little, 8 x 8-foot, one-room bunkers. It was a ground-floor apartment, and the floor was damp. There was mildew growing up on the walls. When you walked into it, it smelled like your worst science experiment. So I got the children together. The girls went to the well and fetched the water. We took the bedding off the bed. The girls helped the mother do the laundry.

When we took the bed up, the bottom of the mattress was all moldy and wet. And that’s where all of this was coming from. We put that out in the sun and sun-bleached the mold. The boys and I bleached the floor, the walls, the ceiling.

Afterward, we went to a momo [a Tibetan ravioli dumpling] shop, and talked about it. I asked, “Did we do good?”

The kids said, “We should feel good about what we did.”

“Was it sustainable?”

They said, “Oh, yes. The place is very nice.”

“Well, do you think we’ll have to come back and do it all over again?”

“No, not for a long time,” they said.

I asked, “Have we solved the problem?” Then I told them about the mattress, because they didn’t really understand the biology of mold. And I said, “What we did is, we put it out in the air. The air and the sun will dry it out, and the mold won’t grow. But if you put it back on the damp floor (with the seepage through the thin layer of concrete), the mold will just come back.

ANSWER families must contribute to their student's uniform costs. Photo: Anita Elder

Then the kids were a little bit downcast. I said, “There are solutions to problems. What are the solutions to this problem?”

They know about beds being elevated off the floor, so we discussed that. I said, “Well, what are we going to do?”

“Oh, let’s buy them a bed.”

“Do you think buying things for people is going to solve their problems? When we send you to school, do we pay for everything?”

“No. Father pays for our sandals or tennis shoes.”

What I could have had them do is go out and make the money to pay for it. But it’s very hard for children to make money. So I said, “Why don’t we put up half the money, and have the father, who is a painter, put up the other half?”

The husband wasn’t going to buy a bed. We went back and talked to the mother, and the mother explained to the father that they could sleep on a bed again for the first time, and they’d only have to pay half of it. So when she presented it that way, they agreed, and that solved the problem. It was a very good mini lesson on development, on how to help. You don’t just provide aid. You have to give instruction and get them invested.

BPGL: Do you serve an equal number of boys and girls?

CANFIELD: We have two-thirds as many girls as boys, because the literacy rate — or the school occupancy rate, if you will — is two-thirds boys. The literacy rate is twice as high for boys as it is for girls. We in the West are savvy enough to know that we want to help girls more than boys, and the girls play a leading role in educating the family and providing health care to the family. So, no question, that money is well spent on girls. But we feel the necessity of educating boys, as well — even if it’s a third instead of two-thirds, which is to say it’s two to one in favor of the girls — because if you educate just girls and leave out the boys, then the boys will have no role models to follow.

Boys must not be overlooked; they need good role models. Photo: Anita Elder

It’s very important to provide the stimulus for the boys to improve, as well. Too often, it is the case that the women take care of the home, the families, the babies and so forth, and the men provide the work. But when there’s no work to be had, what happens to the men? There’s very little alcoholism with women in Nepal, but something like 30 or 40 percent of the men are alcoholics in Nepal. It’s very important that boys are not left behind. That’s why we don’t exclusively support girls. I think that is a shortcoming of many nonprofits that are strictly about girls’ education. Granted that girls have been left behind, but you’re going to have angry men, if you don’t do something for them; they’re going to rise up and keep the women under burkas and not let them out of the house. I’m speaking of Afghanistan, of course, but the sentiments are universal, I’m sure.

BPGL: Do you have more groups planned for children of other ages?

CANFIELD: By doing this for several years now, almost all the schools in the Kathmandu Valley feed into the schools where we do the Social Welfare Clubs. Now it’s time, as we get older students in college and high school, to take the next step, to have an Alumni Club. They will take control of what kind of social welfare they want to commit to.

We’re going to start that this year, because we have 40 or 50 college students now and a dozen graduates. The nucleus will be our nursing and health science students. We have a lot of those, and they’re graduating. They have greater social consciousness. They are respected by the others, because they have landed good-paying jobs. When we form this club, the other college kids will be coming in and getting a peek at what they’re doing. They know that when they graduate, they can participate, too.

Ultimately there will be enough graduates so that some of them can start sponsoring children as well. They can participate in other community activities — whatever they opt for. These things are designed to address empowerment and will and sustainability.

Slowly and surely, the board and the organization will be taken over by our own children. That’s probably about 10 years away. Ten years, for a nonprofit organization, is not a long time at all.

ANSWER supports students in 120 schools across Nepal. Map: ANSWER

ANSWER supports students in 120 schools across Nepal. Map: Courtesy of ANSWER

We now have approximately 500 kids enrolled in about 120 schools. At our present rate of growth, in ten years, we will have produced probably about 700 graduates. We’ll be sending out over 100 graduates a year. We’re talking about hundreds of a new kind of populace. These are low-caste children who have grown up with good educations, running their own businesses and having good jobs. These children will form a new social middle class. Education has always played a big role in overturning the caste society. Once the low castes become richer and more powerful, you replace the caste society with a socio-economic class society. This has occurred in feudal societies in the West and in Japan.

BPGL: I understand that Nepal has thousands of relief agencies. Are they making progress?

CANFIELD: Here are the statistics: There are approximately 40,000 nonprofit organizations in Nepal. Yet there are only 4,000 villages and towns and cities. Why is it, with 10 nonprofit organizations for every village, that there is an overall diminishing return, that the country gets poorer and poorer every year?

If we were all working together, we could save Nepal. It’s a country a little bit larger than Iowa. It’s 100 x 500 miles. Nepalis know, and people in the Third World know, that many NGOs are just self profiteering organizations, that the people who benefit are the ones who work for the organization. They may install a hydroelectric facility somewhere, a local village-run thing, but who’s going to maintain it? The country has dams, and the inspector comes in and signs off. They don’t do the inspection, they just sign off. So eventually, the turbine breaks down, and Kathmandu is without lights.


With only a public education, the future is not very promising for this lower caste Nepali boy. Photo: Anita Elder

People in the Third World know that many nonprofits are self-serving. In Nepal and, I wouldn’t be surprised, in other parts of the world, nonprofits are called the “NGO Mafia.” I even see that printed in the newspapers over there. So, when we founded ANSWER, I told my country director, Som, that there was no way we were going to be part of the mafia, that we needed to make sure that everything was volunteer. And that was when it was just him and me.

As we have evolved, we’ve added a very few salaried staff. We probably pay 1/3 of what other NGOs pay and maybe even less than that, so we needed to find people who did it for the love of what they were doing, rather than for the salary.

Som started as a volunteer, because I wasn’t going to pay him. He wanted to go to school, so I paid for his education, and he got a master’s degree in hospital administration. When you start up an organization, it’s very important how you lay out the framework, because that carries on and on. So our staff is way underpaid, and they willingly work.

Ball, our other person in the office, is also in school. He gets minimal salary with a minimal stipend for education, but it all helps. That’s to keep the costs down so that our fundraisers can make enough money to support the organization, the administration. And in doing that, the sponsors can be reassured that all the money is going just for the education of that child, be it uniforms or books and tuition and so forth.

I am not salaried, I’m a volunteer. I do this from my own savings. I pay for my own transportation, everything. I’m self supporting. The administration is self supporting, and the children are supported entirely by the funds of the sponsors. We’re a 501c3, so that makes it deductible, too.

BPGL: This will sound like an insensitive question, but do you have a succession plan for when you pass on someday far in the future, to make sure your work will carry on in the US?

ANSWER's students of today are its leaders of tomorrow. Photo: Anita Elder

ANSWER's students will become part of a new middle class, toppling the caste system that constrains them today. Photo: Anita Elder

CANFIELD: The whole idea is to have the Nepalis to support their own children, isn’t it? As more of the children come on and take over the office, and the Alumni Club starts supporting their own students, then there’s no need for an office in Grand Rapids. They can fly on their own.

I used to think our mission would be done as soon as there was universal education in Nepal. But it won’t be done. You can just proclaim universal education, but unless schools are accessible, it won’t happen. Unless people have enough money and time — and motivation — to send their children to school, it’s not going to happen. It comes down to a problem of the caste system. I see our end goal not as trying to establish universal education so much as toppling the caste system.

We need to establish a level playing field — through education — to get out of that feudal society way of doing things and thinking, and create a society based on socio-economic class. ANSWER has a role to play. Let’s get to where the students’ own initiative can reap rewards, and they are not limited by birth. I feel that in a decade or two, at the most, we will be near the “tipping point.” Our growth and the impact of these socially aware children, both in quantity and quality, will be phenomenal.

Publisher’s Note: To find out more about sponsoring an ANSWER student for only $5 a week, contact Earle Canfield at .

Part I: ANSWER – A Sustainable Future for Low-Caste Children

Part 2: ANSWER – Ending Caste in Nepal with Education and Jobs (Top of Page)

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

ANSWER — A Sustainable Future for Low-Caste Children

Canfield (right) with ANSWER students, teachers, and visitors. Photo: Anita Elder

“We could see the end of the caste system in Nepal in our lifetime,” said Earle Canfield, addressing an attentive audience in Iowa City this past Sunday. Canfield had come to talk about an NGO he started in Nepal eight years before. American-Nepali Student and Women’s Educational Relief (ANSWER) “places low-caste Nepalese children whose families cannot afford to pay for an education in private, high-caste schools,” according to Canfield.

Several members of the audience are ANSWER sponsors, committing to pay $5 a week to support a child’s education. Unlike many nonprofits that provide assistance to children in developing countries, ANSWER puts every single penny of a sponsor’s donation to work directly helping that person’s sponsored child. Joe and I were moved to hear Canfield speak about the work ANSWER is doing to help Nepal’s forgotten children, the impoverished, low-caste untouchables, earn their high school and college diplomas, then go on to jobs that will help them become productive members of Nepal’s emerging middle class.

We asked Canfield to spend time with us by phone, explaining how ANSWER achieves its ambitious goals. What we found was surprising and refreshing. ANSWER’s story inspires more than just hope; it inspires confidence. This is the first of a two-part interview. — Julia Wasson

CANFIELD: There are two points that I think are important when it comes to any kind of development work. One student put it this way, “These countries do not need aid, they just need help.” We all know what aid is: Aid is throwing money down the toilet. Help is getting them on their feet. There’s a basic paradox that derives out of this: If you help them, you foster dependency. But you have to help them enough, or it’s futile.

Education is a good example. If you teach someone to read in the Third World, but they can’t afford the textbooks, and they can’t afford the newspapers [it doesn’t help them]. You have to understand, they do not get Better Homes and Gardens and Time Magazine delivered to their door.

This is subsistence level. And everything they get is to provide them with subsistence. So, basic education, adult literacy, education through high school is not enough. That doesn’t help anyone. That just makes them literate, but unemployed. They don’t have the skills to get a good job. If you’re going to provide them with education, it has to be enough education and enough training.

Photo: Anita Elder

The low-caste Nepali people live at a subsistence level. Photo: Anita Elder

BPGL: How do you get people who have no education engaged enough to make your work successful?

CANFIELD: Only a few people on the top of each organization really understand the principles of development work. There are three things you need:

  1. Empowerment.
  2. Political or personal will. They have to have the will; they have to be motivated.
  3. Sustainability.

In terms of sustainability, first, every aspect of the program has to be sustainable. One, financially, ANSWER has to be sustainable. Two, it has to be sustainable for the school. Three, it has to be sustainable for the family. If taking a child away from the fields or taking them away from begging on the street puts a financial crimp on the family, you can’t help that family. It’s not going to work.

We’ve tried a number of ways to get around things like that. We’ve said, “We will pay you to bring your child to school.” And if we give them money, they just go and drink it. So then we tried, “We will pay you in palm oil.” Then they’d go and sell it on the black market. We’ve tried things like that; sometimes they’re successful, sometimes they’re not.

This student's family had to help pay for her uniform. Photo: Anita Elder

To create the political will, we have them invest in part of the package. The tuition may be half the cost. All the various fees and the uniforms and tutoring, and whatever else, is the other half. There’s usually a package that includes two uniforms, two sets of shoes, and so forth. If they’re very, very poor, they only have to buy the canvas shoes, and we buy the black leather shoes. If they’re better off, they’ll buy the canvas shoes and the book bag, and so forth. We do it according to each family’s needs. Shoes have to be bought every year, the book bag may last two years. If the families aren’t financially vested in their children’s education, there’s a bigger chance that it won’t succeed.

BPGL: How do you choose the children who will be in the ANSWER program?

CANFIELD: When we first got started, I relied on my director, who is a Nepali, to choose the children. I thought we were very successful, they all stayed in school for a year or two. But many of them were irregular, and it finally caught up with them and they dropped out.

We have three criteria for selection:

  1. The families have to be poor. That’s easy; 99% of them are poor.
  2. The child has to be motivated; he wants to go to school. We say, “He’s bright.” By “bright,” that means he’s motivated.
  3. The parents have to be motivated. If the parents aren’t going to get them ready for school in the morning and clean their uniforms, or they pull the children out of school for whatever reason, it’s not going to work.

We talked to the families very, very sternly. Even so, we had maybe 20% drop out the first couple of years. Now the principal goes out into the community and finds students. He’s motivated to do that. He actually supports them through the first year. But after that, the principals have a free ride; our sponsors will pay for the children’s education.

A young student from the ANSWER program. Photo: Anita Elder

We employ the principles of empowerment. The principals will do the initial screening, and take responsibility for becoming invested in the child. So we have good information to run on — the students’ performance records and attendance records and so on.

And, of course, it’s “their” child. They selected that child. Using those principles and being creative and coming up with ways to manage a program, you can really cut down attrition and have people develop responsibilities. And that’s the name of the game in the Third World.

The principal recommends the students to us. We have to be very careful and make it clear to the principals that no kind of favoritism be shown. Some of the principals are likely to select children from the community, who happen to belong to their teachers, because they are underpaid, and they are poor and they have too many children, and so forth. We make it very clear to them — but some of them try to slide them by anyhow — that nepotism is not something that we permit.

The upshot is that there’s a little educational process here for the teachers, because everything in the Third World is all nepotistic. You take care of your own. When you’re in a subsistence situation, it’s personal survival, family survival, and so forth. So what happens is, we have to spend time educating the teachers.

They make a selection and we carefully screen them. If I’m not there with my director, then the country director does that screening and refers the child on to me. I do the final selection. It’s really a three-layer filter. In doing that, we come up with very carefully selected children that are not prone to drop out.

BPGL: What are the guidelines you use?

CANFIELD: You have to understand a lot about the grading system. I’m now a master at reading report cards. [Laughs.] I’ve read about 10,000 report cards at this point. The principals and teachers are pretty hard pressed to slip anything by.

What we would call a B-, we felt, initially, that was enough, because we’re dealing with low-caste, impoverished children. Now that we’ve got them enrolled in school, and we can see how their performance is, we’ve increased that to an A-.

Children and their parents, ready for a day at school. Photo: Anita Elder

Children and their parents, ready for a day at school. Photo: Anita Elder

But you have to also understand that in the lower grades, the private schools have three levels of preschool, nursery, lower kindergarten, and upper kindergarten. So the kids can start at about three and a half years of age.

Sometimes, if they come in with a six-year-old, they’ll want to stick the child back in nursery school to show us how good their marks are. Also, if they put a child in nursery school, that’s one more year we’ll have to pay for in the end. It’s always a challenge to try to see things analytically and what’s really happened in the big scope of things.

We also have to watch out for grade inflation. They might be a B student, and they’ve inflated him up to an A-. Like I say, I’m an expert in reading these report cards now. I can see if Basket Weaving is an A+ and Math is a C-, and if you have enough basket weaving classes, you can bring that C- up to an A- average. All in all, after doing this for eight years, we’re pretty good at it.

BPGL: What do you consider to be enough education? Is a high school education sufficient to get a job that will help the graduates support their families?

CANFIELD: In the Third World, having enough education mostly means they have to have a college education …  at least 12 years. Many of the schools use the European system, which ends in 10th grade. College is at least two more years, and the university is at least three or four more years on top of that.

If you send them to the university, you feed them right into the brain drain. Those jobs are usually over specialized with more training than they need. Everyone takes that route, so there’s more competition for fewer jobs.

Education at private schools provides a sustainable future for low-caste children. Photo: Anita Elder

Education at private schools provides a sustainable future for low-caste children. Photo: Anita Elder

If you take them up through high school and provide them with two or three years of vocational or professional training — such as lab technicians, pharmacists, animal husbandry, agricultural specialists — if you provide them with those kind of jobs that are available in the Third World, they fit it like a cup of tea.

But if you turn them into university professors in botany, when there are only two or three schools that have botany departments, what good is it? They’ll never get a job [in their own country].

BPGL: What you’re doing is helping the children build a better future, which is different from a lot of aid programs that focus only on feeding kids and helping them survive in the moment.

CANFIELD: There are two kinds of aid: Relief aid and development aid. In relief aid, you just keep people alive. Development aid is what I’m talking about. In development aid, the paradox is, you need to help them enough, but you have to be leery of fostering dependency.

So, what we try to do — it’s heartless for sure — is to make them work for their education. We make it easy for them to get an education, but more difficult for them to survive. We take a child out of the field, or the mothers have to spend more time washing uniforms, and so forth, getting the children ready and off to school. Illiterate people do not understand the commitment that it takes to educate a child. Most likely they’ve never been to school themselves. Or, if they’ve ever been to school, they were never regular, and they never progressed very far.

Their idea of education is, if you can learn to plow a field in a week, you can certainly learn to read in a week. So when [education] goes on for 10 or 12 years, they have no comprehension.

The parents receive the report cards, and they can’t read them. They have no idea what 60 percent means. They don’t understand the subject matter. They never had mathematics. They never had ecology. So the parents do not reward the children, because they don’t understand the grading system, they don’t understand the courses. There are all kinds of built-in problems that come with any kind of help you try to provide. The biggest one is fostering dependency. The parents have to have a strong understanding of the commitment that it takes beforehand and of what the responsibilities are.

That also goes for the schools and the principals. We tell them, “We expect the kids to come to school, and if they don’t come to school, you’re not going to get paid. It’s your responsibility to make sure that the parents bring the children to school.”

A Nepali farming village. Photo: Anita Elder

A Nepali farming village perched high on a hill. Photo: Anita Elder

BPGL: What is life like for a child from the lower caste?

CANFIELD: Nepal is one of the five poorest countries in the world. Ninety-five percent of the personal earnings come from agriculture. They are heavily invested in agriculture. The poor are poor because they’re subsistence farmers.

The farmhouses all have mudpack floors; the clay will pack down. They’re usually mud and wattle houses. They’re framed in wood, and then they’re plastered with mud. The only lights that are inside are what the windows provide, and there’s no glass in the windows. There are shutters, so at night they may have a fire going in the kitchen to keep them warm while they’re there. Then they run upstairs and cuddle together under blankets.

At school, the children have to have shoes. Out in the village, it’s zoris or flip flops; if it’s a public school, that’s all that’s required. At the private schools, they require actual shoes, tennis shoes or leather shoes.

There’s very little light. If they’re lucky, they’ll have electricity, because some NGO has placed a small generator in the river for the houses. When we think of a village, we think of a road going through and a small town. But these are huts on the hillside, and each hut has farmland around it. It’s nothing that’s sequestered together to form a municipal unit.

In the cities, the houses are made of concrete pillars with bricks running between them to make the walls. They usually have glass in the windows. The electricity provided is only to the extent of having a light bulb. They have one room. The toilet is a hole in the ground. Oftentimes no one has maintained it. So, it’s a disaster zone. These are in the slum areas.

The water is brought in from city wells. People do their laundry around the city wells. During the dry season, there are so many people now, and because there are so many roads and concrete buildings, the water doesn’t seep through. It runs off and doesn’t maintain the water table. Early summer, late spring, many of the wells go dry. Children have to walk a mile or two to find a well to get a bucket of water. They’re only carrying a bucket or two back to the family every day. If children are at school, they’re not around to do that until evening. They have just enough water to cook their rice and to drink. Those are the basic problems.

BPGL: With barely enough water, how do children keep clean for school?

Families may have to walk a long way to wash their clothes. Photo: Anita Elder

Families may have to walk a long way to wash their clothes. Photo: Anita Elder

CANFIELD: The schools require children to have clean uniforms, but this presents a problem for the lower-caste families. They don’t have water to launder their uniforms. They may have to walk a long way to get to the well where they can wash their clothes. Then, by the time they get back to their homes, the dust has made the uniforms dirty again. We’ve had to work with the principals to help them understand that our students’ uniforms may not be quite as clean as those of the upper-caste children.

BPGL: What are their homes like?

CANFIELD: The rooms in the slums have a bare concrete floor and brick walls, which are also bare. Some people like to put up wallpaper, which is like a newspaper stuck on the wall right above the kerosene stove. You can see that the paper has caught fire. They have a one burner kerosene stove, the ceiling is blackened from the smoke that the kerosene gives off.

They often have a window, but not necessarily. The door doesn’t latch, but it’s secured with a padlock. A room is typically 8 by 8, or 64 sq ft. It will accommodate mother and father and a couple of kids, and they all sleep in the same bed. If the kids get too big, then they’re sleeping down on the floor. Or another cot is brought in, and there’s no room on the floor. Between the big bed and the little cot, they usually have to sit up next to each other. There’s not room to walk or for the door to open. So, the housing does not lend itself to homework. These kids usually have their chores to do. The kids are always respectful because they’re from traditional families, and they demand that. There’s not a discipline problem in school.

BPGL: But there are many homeless children in Nepal. What is life like for the street children?

CANFIELD: A large number of children have come into the city and are homeless. There are gangs now that are beginning to form and rowdy children that are begging on the street. Prostitution is illegal, but it’s conducted anyhow. There’s child prostitution there. The only children that we can help are the ones that have families and are grounded. If they are homeless, the only way to help them is to disperse them into boarding schools that are bolted, where they cannot run away.

A city street in Kathmandu. Photo: Anita Elder

I know of a couple of people who started boarding schools like that away from the city. The kids would run away, and this woman would chase them down and bring them back. And bring them back. And bring them back. It was a full-time job. After about a year, the kids started to appreciate the comforts of home. She had crossed the line. She was fostering dependency. In order to stay there, the kids would want to watch TV and be fed. They were never stellar students. They grew up feeling entitled. I have worked with several groups like that trying to help them. It’s an interesting phenomenon in the Third World.

ANSWER requires family units [to support the children in their education]. But in Nepal, marriages don’t survive. They have a very high divorce rate. Divorces are expensive and a legal hassle, so the man or woman will just leave the family. The children become a handicap to the remaining parent. Not only do they have to provide for them, but no one else wants other people’s children. So that’s where the abandoned children come from, children who are installed in orphanages.

The parents oftentimes are around, they just don’t want to have anything to do with their children. So there are a lot of abandoned children. But if they go to orphanages, you can help them. You can give them education. You can install them in structure.

But more times than not, the orphanages will take advantage of the children, send them out into the street to beg to bring in money to support the house mother or the house parents. They may or may not get an education. If they get an education at all, they’ll be lucky to get a public education. And the public education is not enough help. They may learn to read, but they won’t be able to do anything more than beg.

Part I: ANSWER – A Sustainable Future for Low-Caste Children (Top of Page)

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)