Women at the Center

Dr. Ann Evans, September 6, 2017Women celebrate gift of hand grain grinders from Dr. Ann

For several years, I’ve been traveling to Old Fangak, South Sudan, a community once known as a sleepy little riverside village that has grown dramatically. My trips began to support the medical work of a truly amazing woman, Dr. Jill Seaman. She would never say it, but her work in humanitarian healthcare is legendary. Unexpectedly, my involvement in Old Fangak greatly expanded after I gave a modest gift of grinders to a group of local women.

Their gratitude was overwhelming, and we were soon working side by side, grinding grain and clearing weeds from a half-finished, abandoned cement block building. The women cut thigh-high brush with their “pangas” and I finished construction by adding a roof. The building became the anchor for the “Women at the Center – South Sudan” project in Old Fangak.

Two classes of women studentsEducation for All
Each time I met with the women, it was clear that lack of education is a heartbreaking gap for them and their children. At a first informal literacy/numeracy class, 400 women showed up. We also spoke about the lack of even one functioning primary school for the children. More construction ensued with metal buildings for classrooms. Today, there are 1,300 children attending with textbooks aligned to the national curriculum. Girls are 50% of new students. It was an honor when South Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology nominated the work for a UNESCO prize. Click here to watch a video.

Porridge Servings_Old Fangak Community School_2017Hunger is an Enemy
Last year, was particularly hard for these women and their community. One brutal reality of South Sudan is the impact of hunger. In 2016, women and children we serve had to literally forage for food. We are eternally grateful that this year, with support from nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, the Women at the Center project includes a daily serving of porridge to all children at the Old Fangak primary school and a sustainable agriculture pilot with fast-growing crops. By the end of this year, an even more substantial meals program should be in place for older children who have longer school days. The agriculture pilot is also being expanded to include a greater variety of grains and vegetables.

Old_Fangak_South_Sudan_Patricia_Shafer_and_Ann_Evans_600Collaborations Matter
On this challenging but rewarding journey, I’ve met incredible, like-minded people. Canadian Sister Barbara Paleczny has become a lifelong friend while bringing teacher training to the community through nonprofit South Sudan. And it was a welcome surprise to meet Patricia Shafer, Executive Director of Mothering Across Continents, and learn of MAC’s similar work in a totally different part of South Sudan. We spent a year establishing a relationship, and 10 months ago Women at the Center became a MAC flagship project. This management support and nonprofit status accelerated and increased Women at the Center – South Sudan’s impact.

Students with Personal Chalkboards_Old Fangak School_May 2017On My Next Trip
This November, the first thing I’ll do when I return to Old Fangak is meet with the women to discuss how things are going with them and children attending primary school. The project’s recent addition of an Early Childhood Development program is unique to much of Africa and previously unknown in Old Fangak. There will be a planning session ways to keep expanding classes for adults, especially women who have never had the most basic education.

But as much as has been accomplished, I’m just one woman. Being a flagship project of MAC sustains the vision. The project can always use more desks, education scholarships for women, uniforms, teacher training . . . I welcome support for these women and children with open arms.

Click Here to Donate

Thumbs Up, Eyes on the Sky . . . for Peace

Patricia Shafer, August 25, 20172 NewGen 2 IYLEP thumbs up

At NewGen Peacebuilders, our mission is: “to make learning to be a peacebuilder a rite of passage (for everyone).” Typically, this involves facilitating intense, locally-specific training and peace project mentoring for high school and university students in multiple states and countries.

But we didn’t hesitate when invited to host a customized session that brought together Iraqi and US high school students at International House in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Iraqi students were visiting through the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) sponsored by the US Embassy in Baghdad and US State Department, and administered by World Learning. The US students are outstanding NewGen Peacebuilders alumni certified during a Spring 2017 cohort in Charlotte made possible with funds from District 7680 of Rotary International.

Ayah and Qaisy-NametagsAppreciation & Role Models
Imagine 25 Iraqi and US high school students sharing ideas about citizen diplomacy and peacebuilding. Before walking in, they knew nothing about one another. To break the ice, students shared favorite songs; practiced greeting each other in English, Arabic and Kurdish; and listed people they admire as peace role models. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., resonates across borders and cultures.

Group eclipse tightBonding Over an Eclipse
This NewGen Peacebuilders session occurred on August 21, a day highly anticipated for the “Great American Eclipse.” We leveraged the eclipse as a shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow opportunity to build bonds. Students learned that a famous eclipse occurred in 763 BCE during the Assyrian Empire, what is now modern-day Iraq. Some records indicate that insurrection in the city of Ashur was interpreted as a consequence of the 5-minute total eclipse. Notes from Greek historian Herodotus record that a solar eclipse in 585 BCE prompted an end to war between the Lydians and Medes who saw dark skies as a sign to make peace.

Simon and Bug handshake tighterTheir Story, Our Story
A multi-step exercise involved shifting from perceptions of one another (“they”) to a unified story of how to shape peace projects at home in both countries (“we”). First, Iraqi and US students separately listed notions of “the other” that are reinforced by the media. Then, in pairs, each Iraqi and US student expressed who he/she REALLY is and practiced Active Listening. Last, Iraqi and US students worked in groups to imagine solutions to three common problems: 1) educational barriers; 2) racial and ethnic conflicts; and 3) political violence.

Cross Cultural Peacebuilder Workshop IYLEP 2017What Next – Projects
Good talk should lead to action. The IYLEP program requires Iraqi students to pursue change projects when they return home. Many of the US students called the session “one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done.” Several said they are inspired to build on peace projects they technically completed earlier in 2017. One project involves being cross-cultural mentors to refugees and immigrants. Another project focuses on training voters how to be open to differing political viewpoints.

Want to know more about NewGen Peacebuilders? Click here to watch a short video.

Do Umbrellas Make Good Teachers?

Patricia Shafer, August 18, 2017

Teachers with UmbrellasWhen people first hear about our Raising South Sudan education project they often say, “Do you build schools?” Answer: “Yes.”

For example, there’s the Nyarweng Primary School inspired by former Lost Boys of Sudan James Lubo Mijak and Ngor Kur Mayol and their friends Phillips Bragg and Karen Puckett. And we’re improving the facilities of the Gumriak Primary School established by former Lost Boy James Manyror.

But sustainable education also depends on teachers being paid, appreciated, and provided with resources – from classroom materials to coats, boots and umbrellas during the rainy season.

MealsLunch, Tea, Agriculture
Hunger is one big barrier to learning. In 2017, two agencies of the United Nations declared famine in certain parts of the country. At Raising South Sudan project schools, meals are provided to all students. Lunch and tea breaks are a daily treat and motivator for teachers. And through a collaboration with nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, we’ve been expanding gardens and farms to improve nutrition and create cash crops that help sustain schools.

BooksBooks, Materials, Training
South Sudan has an approved national curriculum, but most schools don’t have materials. With donations from US schools participating in our Walk for Wisdom service learning fundraisers, we bought teacher guides and student workbooks for all subjects across all grades. Grants from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Foundation and the Peeler/Casey Foundation funded an illustrated series of folktales and continuous training on lesson plan development for 30+ teachers and staff.

Sarah TeachingWomen, Girls, ECD Innovations
Most women in South Sudan haven’t finished primary school, so teaching staffs are generally male. So, we’re emphasizing education for girls. Thanks to proactive recruiting, girls make up 30+% of students at Raising South Sudan project schools and 50+% in Early Childhood Development classes. We were honored when South Sudan nominated this work for a UNESCO prize for girls’ and women’s literacy.

Gerald and Principal with computerSerious About Testing
Eighth graders (last year of primary school in South Sudan) recently completed mock national exams. The Gumriak school ranked #1 in Ruweng State, and Nyarweng ranked #3. But aspirations are even higher. Teachers must develop “schemes of work” and lesson plans, but professional development is rare. So, in September, our education facilitators are reviewing exam results and helping teachers set personal improvement goals for 2017 final exams and next year.

Will you help us continue this progress? Support the Teachers, Embrace Our Kids.
http://tinyurl.com/RSS-SupportTeachers

Letters of Thanks

Patricia Shafer, February 5, 2016

Piet age 13_ZambiaIt’s always heartwarming to open letters from a young man or woman expressing gratitude. We just received a Thank You from Piet Ng’andu in Zambia and Monykong Mijak Dau in South Sudan.

Piet, in his second year at Zambia’s Copperbelt University, wishes everyone a successful 2016. He received his first annual scholarship from a donor connected with Mothering Across Continents at age 13. His update includes: “I love all my courses. Calculus has been interesting as it has a lot of applications in engineering . . . I have enjoyed principles of Statics and Dynamics, as well as Surveying and Engineering Ngor in South SudanDesign. I thank you for your support without which I would not have managed to achieve what I have so far. Faithfully, Piet.“

Monykong – a nephew of our Raising South Sudan project catalyst and former Lost Boy of Sudan Ngor Kur Mayol – finished high school, Nov. 14, 2015, at a boarding school in Uganda. Over the years, he received scholarship support from his uncle Ngor and a friend, supplemented by a foundation in Salisbury, NC, and several Mothering Across Continents catalysts and supporters. In his letter, he writes of God bringing sponsors into Monykong Dau 2016his life and feeling loved. Reflecting, Monykong writes: “Here in Africa . . . I have discovered the significant role education plays in building character, unearthing and developing human potential, for the collective benefit of both a particular nation and the world at large.”

The thanks from Monykong and Piet remind us, in turn, to appreciate everyone who invests in another person’s development – especially a child’s. Education opens eyes and reveals a world otherwise unknown.

My Story, Our Story, Their Story

Patricia Shafer, February 1, 2016

We’re finding that “My Story, Our Story, Their Story” is a great way to facilitate conversations about conflict and peace. Introducing it to a Global Leadership Academy (GLA) that we’re facilitating at Vance High School in Charlotte, NC, added a new layer of insight and meaning.
 
NewGen Peacebuilders Mini Workshop GLA at Vance HS_Stories Excercise (2)_Jan 2016Consultant and collaborator Jim Ruberg first introduced us to the “Stories” exercise when we were looking for an activity to include in the NewGen Peacebuilders program. Our goal was to engage participating students in the notion that we all have many stories about conflict and peace in common. But everyone has unique personal experiences that are important to share, too. We captured this idea in an interactive poster exercise with “My” in the center for the individual, “Our” representing community stories, and “Their” in reference to global events. Thanks to the generosity of an individual donor and Foundation funding, we’ve been able to adapt and transfer the materials from NewGen Peacebuilders into the Vance global leadership learning journey.
 
NewGen Peacebuilders Mini Workshop GLA at Vance HS (3)_Stories Exercise_Jan 2016As often happens at Vance, creativity shone through. Even though the poster title reads “Stories of Peace,” several students decided that you can’t talk about peace without recognizing the presence of conflict, and the two are diametrically opposed. So, they took a marker and drew a big, heavy line down the middle. They added a level of intense artistry to the poster that we had never seen before. The laminated poster is washable, so we could clean it and use it again. But we won’t. Instead, we’ll frame it as an example for everyone of an all-out, fully-engaged conversation about what it takes to be a peacebuilder.  
 
Thank you, Vance, for allowing us to support you, and in the process helping us have more fun.

Connecting Children to Self, One Another, and the World

Patricia Shafer, December 18, 2015

Lynda-Boozer-in-La-PazStepping Stones – Mexico catalyst Lynda Boozer is getting ready to lead a third youth arts and creativity camp at La Ciudad de Los Niños y Niñas (Boys and Girls Town) orphanage in La Paz, Baja, Mexico. What’s becoming an annual event gets us excited every December when we anticipate Lynda’s mid-January trip with supporting volunteers.

Lynda launched Stepping Stones – Mexico via Mothering Across Continents after I bumped into her while I was on a whale watching trip. We met briefly one morning in the hotel.  A few days later, volunteer Jane Tanner took me to visit the children and staff at the orphanage. We all met again in
Charlotte, NC, after our respective returns.

Kids-paintingOn the January 2016 trip, Lynda and volunteers will again bring thoughtful creative activities and lots of joy as they work with 50 youth living at La Ciudad orphanage. The focus is always on using the arts, interactively, to build character and a sense of connection between the youth, the earth, and the local environment. The “padre” of the orphanage has said, “Even the energy you bring is a gift; it empowers our small staff and the children.”

Photo_Escuela Nueva_Girl with OrangesLynda and the Stepping Stones – Mexico project have inspired creation of sustainable food gardens and the dream of a large park space to (hopefully) be developed on an adjacent empty lot. For the past year, the project has also included daily lunch for 80 schoolchildren at Escuela Nueva Creación primary school on the edge of La Paz. (Just $50 sponsors one child’s lunch for a whole year.)

None of this would be possible without friends and strangers. Donations of all sizes are essential. This past year, a donation of more than $2,000 from students at East Mecklenburg High School under the guidance of the school’s Global Immersion Steering Team co-chair Martha Deiss was a real boost to the project. In the past few days, a Girl Scout troop leader inquired about directing a portion of profits from cookie sales.

We often think: how appropriate that Lynda named this project Stepping Stones . . . in January, there she will go again . . . putting in place a few more elements of this lovely act of relationship building between 130 children in Mexico and kind supporters in the US.

Want to help? Click here

Amazing Women: Grâce Françoise Nibizi

Patricia Shafer, November 16, 2015

Photo_Sacode_Grace Francoise NbiziOne of the beautiful surprise benefits of our work is the amazing women we meet, like Grâce Françoise Nibizi, from Burundi. Her story is so inspiring. We met her at the annual Opportunity Collaboration social impact conference in October. In follow-up, we are exploring a relationship with Grâce Françoise and the organization she leads – SaCoDe, which stands for Sante Communaute Developpement (“Promotion of Health for Community Development”).
 
Grâce Françoise was born the third of 10 children. At age 4, she was sent to live in an all-girls boarding school. Over the years, Grâce Françoise remained very close to and cared for her sick grandmother. She cared for her hospitalized grandmother while studying nursing. Later, while working as a young nurse in a public hospital, Grâce Françoise moved in with her single mother to help raise younger brothers and sisters.
 
Grâce Françoise married and gave birth to two sons. In 1993, the family moved to Kenya and while raising her sons, Grâce Françoise completed university degrees in International Business Management and Administration and International Business Communication. She also volunteered in Kenyan refugee camps.  
 
In 1997, Grâce Françoise returned to Burundi and held positions with Catholic Relief Services, United Nations organizations, and the European Union. In 2010, she created SaCoDe with a passionate commitment to help disadvantaged women raise their children in dignity.
 
Burundi_ Sacode-Cell phonesToday, Grâce Françoise oversees programs that use mobile phone SMS for reproductive health education; provide counseling in youth centers and public schools; and produce education and information videos, many of which focus on the needs of girls. Women in the ISUKU (“hygiene”) project learn to clean homes and offices in ways that prevent transfer of bacteria and promote wellness. Outstanding alumni are hired into hotels, cafes and offices in Burundi’s capital of Burundi_ Sacode-Hotel workersBujumbura. Through the TERINTAMBWE (“move forward”) project, rural women receive business management and financial tips via mobile phone SMS messages disseminated by representatives of village women’s associations.
 
Projects that blend humanitarian work with an entrepreneurial business sensibility is right in line with our philosophy at Mothering Across Continents. The world needs thoughtful women social innovators. We look forward to a continuing connection with Grâce Françoise. 

Exceptional Teacher – Outstanding Contributions

Patricia Shafer, October 21, 2015

Photo_2015 Global Teacher PrizeIt’s official. We just nominated physics teacher Deb Semmler for the Global Teacher Prize, an annual $1 million award to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. This award recognizes an individual who practices innovative instruction, models excellence, encourages others to become teachers, achieves demonstrable student learning, and engages young people as global citizens.Deb Semmler-1

Over three-plus years we’ve come to know Deb and other teachers where she works – East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, NC, USA. We’ve had the honor of partnering with East Meck on a variety of programs, including Any1Can, The Global Class, and facilitation of a staff Global Immersion Learning Journey. We’ve witnessed “Eagle Pride” at this incredibly diverse, partial magnet IB school of 2,000 students. If we had the ability, we’d make the case for multiple awards spread far and wide to many teachers. So, why did we nominate Deb for an award that’s informally called the “Nobel Prize for Teaching”?

  • In an age when Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) education is a global need and opportunity, Deb is an Advanced Placement Physics teacher and co-founding member of East Meck’s National Academy Foundation (NAF) Academy of Engineering (AOE)
  • In 18 years of teaching, she’s coached 15 Science Olympiad teams that qualified for North Carolina statewide competitions, and since she’s been teaching IB diploma physics, East Meck’s overall score has increased dramatically and is now above the world average
  • Her spirit is about being “all in” for and “all about” students and teachers, always finding new ways to coach and mentor both
  • She’s a co-founder of the school’s Global Immersion Steering Team (GIST), which is ambitiously developing materials, frameworks and professional development experiences to incorporate global education in the classroom

Deb leads S4 discussion_Byimana_Gitarama_07-06-2015These are some of our “just the facts, ma’am” evidence of Deb’s teaching impact in the city of Charlotte . . . But we also nominated Deb for her growing impact on education around the world. In summer 2015, Deb accepted our invitation to travel to Rwanda and learn about challenges of and gaps in science and engineering education in East Africa. She worked alongside teachers at two all-girl’s secondary schools in remote, rural areas, visited eight rural public and private Deb teaches Noe and Amir_7-01-2015schools overall, and met with the Minister of Science Education. Now, she is building on this experience with Mothering Across Continents as lead project catalyst developing “Pivot Academy,” an approach to helping schools in even the most challenged communities to shift from teaching through textbook memorization to approaches that use the design cycle and hands-on experiments to solve problems: food/hunger, water/sanitation, and environment/sustainability.

Soccer for Everyone . . . Please.

Patricia Shafer, July 24, 2015

Creative-Players_D-AraujoInspired by the Charlotte Soccer Initiative, we’re deep in analyses of which US youth (geography, gender, race, ethnicity, household income) have (or don’t have) access. What a gift to meet Daniel Araujo of Creative Player Sports Foundation. He was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, to parents that didn’t finish elementary school. As he says, “The chance to play soccer saved me and gave me every opportunity.”
 
Today, Daniel’s a former professional soccer player; coach/consultant and FIFA agent; and co-creator of a youth soccer learning system and training methodology. He’s also Creative-Players_garageturning an overgrown lot next to a stone restoration business and warehouse into a proverbial “Field of Dreams.” The project is unfolding in Charlotte, on Wilkinson Boulevard, a road that Charlotte Magazine contributor Chuck McShane described this way: “Beyond uptown’s gleaming glass towers . . . Amid the industrial warehouses and barbed-wire fence lots filled with tractor-trailers, faded neon glows Creative-Players_garage2on the rusted signs of converted service stations, roadside motels, and drive-in restaurants.”
 
I was introduced to Daniel, thanks to Chase Saunders, attorney and Chair of the Charlotte Rotary Club’s participation in what’s being called the Charlotte Soccer Initiative. He kept saying, “This is a story of the American Dream, an entrepreneur’s dream, a dream for serving the community.”
 
And so he was right . . . When you arrive at Creative Player Sports on Wilkinson Blvd., you then drive through a broad passageway with an imposing warehouse on the left, dump trucks on the right, and a bright, beautiful green patch behind – the area’s only soccer pitch. Enter a less imposing secondary warehouse behind the first, and it might as well be a visit to Emerald City – an enormous patch of artificial turf marks out the area for indoor soccer play. To the left: the display case with memorabilia and a framed letter from a young girl expressing thanks in bold colors and proclaiming: “Soccer Rocks.” From this location, Daniel and Creative Player Sports are managing soccer play, training, coaching, life skills classes, and side classes to engage moms and create a feeling of community.
 
According to data reported by Forbes, ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the writer of the letter (thanks to Daniel) is a statistical anomaly. Across the US, the sport that the world often calls “the Beautiful Game” is generally hard to access if you live in an urban setting, are Hispanic or African-American, and are a girl. Even if you know about and are interested in soccer, you will likely begin to play at a later age, have few opportunities to play competitively, and leave the game after middle school due to the under-development of the sport in public schools operating on restricted athletic and extra-curricular budgets. While soccer seems inexpensive (All you need is a ball, right?), the all-in costs of competitive soccer are out of reach for many youth – a heartbreaking reality for newcomers, refugees and immigrants – many of whom may come from countries where soccer is a passion. According to Daniel, the average cost for playing soccer in Charlotte at a “pay for play” club starts with a yearly fee that ranges from $350 to $1,750 not including tournament fees, equipment, shoes or clothes.
 
Photo_PeacePassers from Concacaf Match_July 2015Is this little gem of a facility created out of nothing the answer? Of course not, it’s just one foundational piece of the puzzle that is conceived of as the Charlotte Soccer Initiative. But it’s enough to spark our imagination at Mothering Across Continents . . . What if we connect Daniel with Candace Murray, founder of nonprofit PeacePassers, a network model designed to inspire schools and community groups to collect gently-used soccer equipment and donate it where there is a need? What if civic leaders see, objectively, based on data, the economic development and poverty alleviation value of more facilities like Daniel’s? What if the next time a report comes out on the “most soccer-friendly cities in the US,” one of them is in the Southeast?

Daniel Araujo FOX News playSee Daniel’s interview on FOX 46 Charlotte!

Click image to watch.

From Knowledge Comes Beauty

Patricia Shafer, July 20, 2015

Daphrose-Receives-Any1Can“From Knowledge Comes Beauty” reads a hand-painted T-shirt, a gift to a high school merit scholar in Rwanda, originally painted by a student in the US . . . Why? Did the US student who painted the T-shirt believe deep down inside that there is a connection between knowledge and beauty? Does the recipient, Daphrose, now feel a sense of connection with a young person thousands of miles away that she may never meet?

T-Shirts-MwikoScholarsWe will likely never know the true answers. However, when Mothering Across Continents special projects coordinator Elizabeth Peacock packed her luggage and more than 20 hand-painted T-shirts for a trip to Rwanda, she wondered what magic might be created. T-shirts, she reminded us, have become a global medium of expression, especially for youth. Likewise – hearts, peace signs, flowers and books are images that translate well across many cultures. The languages of love, compassion and quality education are bridge-builders.  

Yet, Elizabeth’s bearing of T-shirt gifts had an even bigger purpose. Three years ago, she led an enormous T-shirt painting exercise across middle and high schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. After workshops learning about seven global issues (poverty, education/illiteracy, hunger, water/infrastructure, environment, conflict/peace, and intolerance), students were invited to paint a white T-shirt in a way that expressed what he or she had learned about what can be done to address one issue. Schools and students raised money to participate. The funds were designated to help build a school in South Sudan. The school, Nyarweng Primary, is operating today.
Sensoria
Then what? What becomes of the T-shirts? First, they toured Charlotte, including an installation of 2,000 T-shirts at the annual Sensoria Arts Festival at Central Piedmont Community College. The exhibit was called “Any1Can” – a theme carried on each of the T-shirts and reminder that Any1Can Promote Education, Any1Can Teach Tolerance, Any1Can Stop Hunger, Any1Can . . .

Some have been set aside, almost museum-like, to be untouched, and only replicated through social enterprise products available in the Mothering Across Continents store. Special gifts have been made of others – the group that Elizabeth just took to students in Rwanda, for example. And another group have been looked at, not as T-shirts to wear per se, but as accidental canvases to be upcycled into purses, bags and backpacks – a potential social enterprise to help fund more education projects.

But I digress . . . I’ve started to share the material and potential marketing impact of these T-shirts, which is easy to do, because we’re often told that T-shirts are a powerful and affordable marketing opportunity. Practically speaking, that may be true. But speaking with purpose, what matters more is that students in the US were introduced to the idea of global issues and the idea that Any1Can make a difference; they were asked to react through art; and their thoughts are being conveyed as gifts half-way around the world. Coming full-circle: “From Knowledge Comes Beauty.”