Tag Archives: Children

Going Head2Head to Combat Childhood Poverty in New Zealand

3 Aug

Finally, after much searching, I found a wonderful volunteer project in New Zealand. Due to the dates I’m here, and most requirements by local agencies and organizations that I commit six-months to their project, well, it’s been a challenge. So while I didn’t get hands on this time, Paul Dickson from Head2Head Charity was nice enough to take me on a tour of one of their projects and tell me more about the organization which he founded.

On the day Paul and I met he took me to meet the folks at Papatoetoe-West School, an elementary school catering mostly to students (ages 5-11) from lower-income households. It was there that I met 10-year-old Oscar who, along with some friends, proudly showed me the mock-up of a hen-house which he designed. Oscar’s class was challenged to design the perfect hen-house (also known as a chicken coop) and draw the plans. The next step was to go home and gather materials lying around and build their hen-house. Oscar worked hard gathering materials and working, through trial-and-error, to construct his house. His materials included an empty cocoa powder carton, plastic from a water-bottle, wood, a tin can, and discarded plastic tubing. The kids all brought their hen-houses to school, voted for the best design, and Oscar’s won. Once the school can gather the materials, including obtaining some donated lumber, they’ll ask the school’s grounds-keeper to build it to house the hens which they hope to get. Oscar’s hen-house design includes a rainwater gathering system, a comfortable indoor area, and even an outdoor play area with a retractable cover so, as Oscar explains, “the hens can play outside even when it’s raining!” It’s important for hens to play.Hen HouseThis is all part of a national environmental studies program, called Enviroschools, which Papatoetoe joined approximately a year-and-a-half ago. With the help of Head2Head Charity, the school now has garden-beds located Greenhousearound the grounds, as well as a greenhouse, gardening equipment, a composting box and more. The kids spend time tending their gardens each week while learning about horticulture. “Kids love getting their hands dirty,” says Paul Dickson, founder of Head2Head Charity.

Head2HeadHead2Head raises money to sponsor deserving and under-supported organizations and projects. It began in 2012, when Paul organized a simple fund-raising walk to combat childhood poverty. Paul was working in the Geo Thermal field when he and some work colleagues decided to organize the 125km walk around Manukau Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand. With the success of the first walk, Paul became hooked on being a do-gooder and quit his job to establish Head2Head Charity. The next year, in order to draft more participants, the 125km was changed to a relay.

Thus far, the Head2Head Walk has raised over NZ$40,000 by over 150 participants. And Papatoetoe has isn’t its only benefactor. Head2Dead is committed to helping with creative solutions to child poverty in New Zealand wherever they may be. The next step for the Papatoetoe-West School, its Garden-to-Table program, will be implemented soon. A kitchen is being built and the kids will learn how to harvest their fruits and vegetables, and prepare and cook them. Not only will they learn about cooking, but also table manners and social-skills. Head2Head could sure use some volunteers to help with this part. As Paul says, “There’s almost no point growing all this stuff if there’s no one around to help teach them what to do with it.” As well as volunteers, donations of kitchen equipment will gladly be accepted.

School gardenIt’s clear to see the pride the kids take in their gardens. Gardening is just a part of what the kids learn in this program. They also learn patience, a sense of ownership, teamwork, and follow-through.

gardenWhen I asked Paul what Head2Head needs most he told me, for now, it’s volunteers. While Paul quit his job to establish Head2Head, he takes no salary (other than the 100 hours he’s billed at $10 per hour to cover a small part of his time), as he wants as much as possible to go to the projects. But he’s a one-man show and could really use some helping hands. Donations of cash and supplies would also be fantastic. Hubbard Foods has become a corporate sponsor for the Head2Head Charity Walk but there is room for many more.

Head2Head is the little fish in a big pond of much larger charities. What sets it apart from many is that you can actually see the difference your money and assistance are making. Another difference is that Head2Head is committed to two major issues; childhood poverty and environmental education. It’s a worthy charity which could use, and would greatly appreciate, any help offered.

Want to help out? Contact Paul at Head2Head at this E-mail address: paul@head2head.org.nz

If you want to donate some kitchen equipment to the school, please contact Principal Diana Tregoweth at dianat@pap-west.school.nz

 

 

Volunteer Vietnam

18 Jun Vietnam - Child

His name is Dang Van Quoc Viet, but he goes simply by Viet. He’s a child of war; what the Americans call the Vietnam War and what the Vietnamese call the American War. To him, it’s simply The War. He was one a year-old riding in a car with his family when the car hit a land mine. His father and brother were killed. He, his mother, and his unborn sister survived. It was a tragedy that caused his mother such mental distress that she could no longer care for him. He was a year old and found himself in an orphanage.

A year passed and his mother was doing better. She claimed him from the orphanage and he returned to live with her and his nine month-old sister. The war raged on for another five years. Things were tough. He finished school and went to work, saving his money with the goal of, someday, attending college. At twenty-six he enrolled in college and, at thirty, he graduated, proving that if you want something badly enough and work hard enough, you can do just about anything. He taught English at the university for some time before finding his true calling – philanthropy.

Truong and Viet

Truong, 15 years-old, and Viet, Director of Volunteer Vietnam

Viet is Founder and Director of Volunteer Vietnam, a non-profit organization supporting various orphanages, social centers, homeless centers and low-income schools. While some of the buildings Childrenare governmental, most of the staff is not. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Social Support Center, which houses approximately two-hundred people, most of whom used to be homeless. The children, many of whom suffer from severe mental and physical disabilities which have been blamed on Agent Orange, include Hga, who is ten years-old and was found living on the streets. And Truong, who has no parents but does have a grandmother who left him a scar on his face due to her physical abuse. He’s fifteen but is about the size of a ten year-old.

Injured Child

This is Truc after she injured her foot. All I could do was hold her ankle and try to comfort her.

Then there’s Truc, ten years-old, who has severe mental and physical disabilities. She has spasms which sometimes cause her to injure herself. On the day I was there, we took her to the on-site hospital as she had injured her foot during a spasm and was crying inHurt Foot pain. The doctor applied medication to guard against infection and bandaged it and, for the next hour, I held her foot up to prevent her from re-injuring it, as well as from causing her discomfort. It was a small thing and I wished I could do more.

The center also houses abandoned, elderly people. Some are physically disable, some have lost their mental facilities either due to age or, in the case of some, due to trauma experienced from the war – they’ve never been the same.

 

Shower Bucket

Shower Bucket, soon to be replaced by an actual shower made possible by one volunteer and the contributions she collected

Showers

New showers being built

Besides the hospital, the building includes an area called “Step-by-Step” which is the physical therapy room, beds for children and adults, a schoolroom, in which Viet and other staff teach English, a newly built shower, made possible by Anouk, a volunteer from the Netherlands who raised money on a Facebook page when she saw elderly bathing from water in a bucket, as the facility had no showers. Other volunteers I met, Marikan and Danielle created a similar Facebook fundraising page which allowed for the purchase of wheelchairs and other needed equipment. Some of the money also went to painting the dank walls. While there, I also helped paint murals on the now more brightly colored blank walls in order to help make it a place of hope and comfort. And that’s what these people are doing here – creating hope and comfort where there was once hopelessness and pain. Nobody should be forgotten or abandoned.

PaintingYou may know that I once worked for Disney Cruise Line. We called each other our Ohana, a line taken from the movie Lilo and Stitch. In it, Lilo is heard to say, “Ohana means family. And family means, no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Viet truly believes this and, while their families seem to have forgotten this, Viet is making sure that his Ohana are taken care of.

When asked what Volunteer Vietnam needs, Viet responds, “Volunteers! Volunteers are our number-one need.” He makes it easy, as anyone who volunteers with them can pay a small fee which takes care of their housing at the Volunteer Center with shared rooms, air conditioning, showers and WiFi (I checked out the rooms and they’re basic, but nice and clean), three meals per-day, and transfers to and from the volunteer sites. Evenings and weekends are free to check out the surrounding area.

The second item on Viet’s wish-list is funding. They do so much with so little, but a Vietnamese Dong (the currency) can only be stretched so far.

This is not a place which exists to make life nicer for people. This place exists to make life livable for people who, through no fault of their own, are in dire straits and have little hope. If you have some extra cash, or even better, a desire to visit Vietnam and really make a difference, please consider Volunteer Vietnam.

For more information, please visit their website at http://www.volunteervietnam.vn/

Or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/vnvolunteer.org?fref=ts

A Special School for Special People in Bali

29 Apr

If you’re a regular reader, you know that Rebel-With-A-Cause is part of a larger project called www.DropMeAnywhere.com where readers choose where I travel to without a plan. This time, the readers have chosen to drop me in Bali, Indonesia. It was there that I had the chance to volunteer with a wonderful organization helping to change the lives of some special people. It’s in Ubud, a town in Bali, and it serves a community that can use all the help it can get; the mentally disabled.

It’s called Sjaki-Tari-Us and it’s a school for mentally disabled children and teens. Sjaki-Tari-Us is the brainchild of Thais and Karen van Harte. Thais and his twin brother Sjaki are the children of a Dutch father and an Indonesian mother and, while they grew up in The Netherlands, they visited Bali often as children and adults.

As Thais and his wife Karen had a child, Tari, who was born Down’s Syndrome, they and their friends decided to investigate the quality of special education services while on a visit to Bali. What they found was not great. While there are schools for these kids, the teachers aren’t trained in special ed. and students must meet minimum requirements such as a measured IQ of 55. If they don’t meet the qualifications, they have no opportunity to receive an education.

face paintingI visited Sjaki-Tari-Us on King’s Day, a day of celebration in the Netherlands and therefore, a day a celebration at Sjaki-Tar-Us. The early morning was spent in the classroom with five and six year-olds, where they learned how to introduce themselves, how to say the date and worked on writing letters of the alphabet. Beginning in the late-morning, a party was underway with sack-races, ring-tosses and face-painting. Just like other kids, these kids need both structure and physical activity and the staff at Sjaki Tari-Us provides just the right balance.

Thais and Karen founded Sjaki-Tari-Us in 2006 and named it after Thais’ brother, Sjaki, who died in 2002, Thais and Karen’s daughter, Tari, and Us, as in all of us. The first school was located in Singaraja and they soon opened one in Ubud. While the Ubud school is the larger of the two, both schools are still currently operating. The Singaraje school has five full-time teachers, twenty-five smaller children and three teens, while the Ubud school currently has seven teachers, twenty-five to thirty younger students and thirteen teenagers. Interns from Holland work at both schools as part of their university program

InternsSjaki-Tari-Us provides education to all. Parents can choose to enroll their struggling kids here with the goal of getting them qualified for the special education governmental schools within a few years. If a child does not qualify for the government run schools, they’re welcome to stay at Sjaki-Tari-Us. There is a small, one-time fee for the first school T-shirt and shorts, and then it is free to attend. And if a family can’t afford the initial fee, they won’t be turned down.

ClassroomThe youngest kids – up to eight years old – participate in “Play-Learn Groups” which provide two to three lessons each the morning and include play as part of the educational process, as these kids tend to learn differently than thers. Kids are split into groups depending on their disability and ability to learn and sit still.

The program for teenagers concentrates more on life-skills such as personal hygiene and job training, which they can use working in the on-site restaurant, of which all profits go back to the school. They’re also taught craft skills which are common in Bali and are sold at the Sjaki-Tari-Us gift shop in order to help support the school. Teenagers also have the chance to play sports which helps them socialize, learn teamwork and increase their fitness levels.

Finally, they offer a “Teach the Teacher Program” which educates Balinese teachers on teaching those with mental disabilities. Knowledge is then passed on from teacher to teacher and adds to the wealth of information and understanding about people with special needs.

StudentsSjaki-Tari-Us is supported by the original foundation and the on-site gift shop and restaurant, as well as private donations. While the school is happy to accept school supplies, money is the best gift, as it can be used for a variety of needs from gas for the small shuttle bus which picks up students from further out whose parents have no transportation, to cleaning supplies, to paying the minimal staff in the restaurant, to funding for field trips. And if you’re ever in Bali, they’d love for you to visit one of their schools take a tour or eat at the restaurant. By helping these special people live up to their full potential, the people at Sjaki-Tari-Us are doing important work and all support is greatly appreciated.

To find out more about Sjaki-Tari-Us, and how you can help, visit their website at http://www.sjakitarius.nl/

Also check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SjakiTariUs

Tutoring Refugee Kids in Malaysia

11 Apr

His name is Rohollah. He’s 17 years-old and was born in Iran; he and his family then moved to Afghanistan. Fearing for their lives, in March they fled Afghanistan and were temporarily resettled in Malaysia. Rohollah is very smart, but it’s tough adapting to a new country after escaping a country at war; especially when you don’t speak the language. Rohollah attends Pandawas Academy, a school for refugee children in Kuala Lumpur. Pandawas Academy employs five teachers, only one of whom speaks English as their primary language. The school charges no fees, which is a great thing because, while these families were all settled through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), they receive no financial or educational assistance.

I had the pleasure of tutoring Rohollah, one-on-one, for two-hours one recent Saturday. Tutoring was organized by the volunteer group Let’s Tutor a Refugee Child which I found through Facebook (see link at the end of this article).

Each Saturday volunteers show up at the school to offer tutoring to some of the child refugees who have been temporarily resettled in Malaysia. While this group has been assisting at the Pandawas Academy for over a year, they’re now planning to search for another school to help, as there are many others in even more desperate need.

Volunteers for RefugeesVolunteers arrive at 11:30am where they then meet to find out more about the organization, as well as the structure for the next couple of hours. This group has an international group of volunteers from Germany, America, Malaysia, Australia, England and more. They’re either living in Kuala Lumpur or visiting temporarily. Upon arrival, volunteers meet in the office while students in the warehouse-like classroom are assigned a desk number where they take their seats. At 12:00, volunteers are asked to choose a piece of paper with a number  on it and head over to the desk with their corresponding number. There they find their student, along with some basic school books and a notebook. In the back of the notebook they find the notes on that student which previous tutors have written. As volunteers are not required to commit to coming every week, the children tend to work with a variety of volunteers.

Though the concentration is teachingEnglish, the students and tutors also work on math and science. Still everyone recognizes that the kids need to learn English in order to thrive in Malaysia, or wherever they eventually end up.

Though Rohollah is 17-years old, the books he is using are for five to eight year-olds as Pandawas Academy works with students of a variety of ages, yet funding for books is limited. While not the perfect tool, it’s fine to teach English. Unfortunately, his math and science books are at the same grade level. And while languages vary from country to country, math and science are the same wherever you go. His math book offers basic arithmetic, but Rohollah knows Geometry. I spend part of a day during the next week buying books for all the kids, but especially some math books for Rohollah which, while not completely up to his level (they’re difficult to find at everyday book stores), are definitely more advanced than his current ones.

The final half-hour of our two hours working with the children is allotted to games. When the whistle blows, the students go running to the game desks where they find Connect Four, Chess and Checkers, card games and more. They return to their desks to teach their tutors their favorite games. Many have missing pieces but the kids don’t seem to mind. They’re just happy to have games to play. Volunteers have also begun smaller tutoring groups which teach photography, music, football and chess.

On May 9th, Let’s Tutor a Refugee Child will be holding a fund-raising event at the Bentley Music Auditorium, in Kuala Lumpur, in which attendees can receive advice from top Malaysian investment experts. Tickets to this event are for sale through the contact below and proceeds will be distributed amongst some of the schools for refugees in Kuala Lumpur. They will ask the UNHCR to advise them on the ones most in need. Information on this fund-raiser, as well as volunteering and other ways to help this great group of volunteers is on their Facebook page.

If you’re in Malaysia, they’d love to have you come meet the kids and teach for a few hours. There’s no long-term commitment, but you might just find yourself wanting to return. (I did!) It’s rewarding work with people who are making a difference.

To find out more, please visit the Facebook page Let’s Tutor a Refugee Child

Visit the Pandawas Academy Facebook page to find out more about the school and how you can help at https://www.facebook.com/pandawasacademy/timeline

To find out how to secure your ticket to their fundraising event please write to jessica.wee@cimb.com

Literacy, Learning and Love

21 Oct Mexico Estefani

On the most recent Drop Me Anywhere trip I had the privilege of volunteering with an incredible organization. The Hekab Be Biblioteca is officially the library in Akumal, Mexico, unofficially, it’s a central location for the children of this town of about 1300 (according to a 2010 census) to learn, play and socialize.Reading at the Library

The history of the library is quite interesting; opened in 1994 by Brenda Dettering, an American woman married to a Mexican man and living in Akumal. Her idea was to open a library which, as part of the curriculum, offered locals an opportunity to learn English. This wasn’t an American coming in with the idea that everyone should speak English because she did. She was doing it because, due to Akumal’s proximity to the resort cities of Cancun and now, Playa del Carmen (twenty-years ago Playa was not the booming tourist destination it is now), a person who knows English as well as Spanish can double their earning potential. Brenda planned to begin teaching English to women, as this would provide the knowledge and skill for them to be independent and have more options for their future, and then expand the offering to anyone in the community who wished to participate. What she found was that a great deal of the population of Akumal could neither read nor write in Spanish, let alone in English. It was then that she adjusted her focus.

Michelangelo

Estefani painting in an art class where the children learned about Michelangelo

Currently, the Hekab Be Biblioteca serves  a total of about eighty kids in addition to any adults in the community who wish to come and check out books, which are offered in both English and Spanish, or participate in programs. The concentration of the library tends to be on the children for many reasons; it’s important to provide early intervention for literacy as children pick up languages much easier. Also, rural Kid playingpublic schools are overcrowded and severely in need of more resources and qualified staff members. In addition, many adults are working during the day and the library provides an after-school program as well as a playground to allow for a safe environment for the kids to just be kids. Finally, as most parents know, school has costs associated with it; parents must pay for supplies, uniforms and books. Some parents can’t afford these fees and the library can be the next best thing. The ultimate goal of the Hekab Be Biblioteca is “to offer classes in English, music, art, environmental education, and yoga, as well as homework help. To keep the children learning and excited about learning so they will do all they can to stay in school and have the opportunity for whatever future they desire to pursue.”

Anne

Anne and “her kids”

Anne Gabbert works at the Hekab Be Biblioteca. Officially she is the Director; unofficially she’s the teacher, librarian, fundraiser, psychologist, social worker, mom, bus driver, volunteer coordinator and mentor. After years visiting Akumal, in 2010, she arrived to stay and got a job teaching English at the local school. The following year, two parents told her about the library, and, in 2013, Anne began her job there. She also works a second job at a local reservations company in order to make ends meet. Anne arrives each afternoon and, at 2:30, she heads off in her personal SUV to drive around town and collect upwards of thirty-five children from their houses to deliver them to the library (it takes three to five trips as there are sometimes many more kids). At 5:15 she begins the process all over again to deliver the children back home, dropping each one directly at their house. And while some of the kids live in decent apartments, others live in wooden and tin structures which can only be described as shacks. The after-school program begins at 2:00 and some of the kids’ parents are able to bring their children there on their own. Anne would be the first to tell you that, while her salary is minimal, the rewards she gets from working at the library make her a rich woman. She is assisted at the library by Angel, Lety and Tere, three locals who help supervise the kids, but speak only Spanish.

The library has traditionally been open all day, however, due to a lack of staff that can be there and speak English, it’s currently open only in the afternoon (Anne is at her second job in the morning).

Recipe

Vegetable Soup Recipe from the Cooking/English class.

The Hekab Be Biblioteca is solely supported by donations. “What do these donations go to?” you ask. Well, cash donations go to day-to-day expenses including: bottled water for the children, electric and water bills, cleaning supplies, copies, food supplies for cooking classes, employee salaries, etc.

As far as non-monetary donations go, the need is quite extensive. They accept a variety of items including books (Spanish and English), as well as art, school and sports supplies. They also accept items to sell at their bazaar/yard sale which they hold three times per year, and are always happy to receive donations of gently used clothes, shoes, toys, etc. The kids’ clothes and shoes sell fast as they are quite expensive in Akumal and not very well made.

Anne also tells me, “We love to have visitors come and share their experiences, and also any type of handyman kind of work is appreciated. We had a plumber come and put in a new sink, we would love to have folks come and repaint, and just spending time with the children like you did is awesome.” Volunteers also help teach the children English (as I did a bit of one-on-one) or, if there are enough expats there for a six-week class, Anne organizes adult classes.

Kids in Hats

Volunteering at the library

I’ve included links to the Hekab Be Biblioteca website and Facebook below. Through these links, you can find out more about this incredible place and how you can help. I can tell you from personal experience, this place will change you. I had planned to spend a few hours here, I ended up spending part of each day for five days. And you can read more about my personal experience volunteering at the Hekab Be Biblioteca on Drop Me Anywhere beginning with “Child’s Play.

Hekab Be Biblioteca Website

Hekab Be Biblioteca Facebook Page

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