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In the international development sector, we are constantly highlighting the importance of education. We strive to educate the Global North about poverty-related issues, and we push for improvements in schooling in the Global South. Education plays such a vital role in alleviating poverty, but when a community is living in poverty, it is often the first thing to be overlooked.
In unstable living environments, such as in new settlement areas and refugee camps, education can often take a back seat. The health and safety of families takes priority, and rightly so, but this doesn’t mean that education should be ignored.
An article on the BBC website addressed this issue in Zimbabwe. Six years ago, families were evicted from their homes as part of Operation Murambatsvina. Their slums were destroyed and they were resettled in order to give them a better quality of life, but it didn’t quite go to plan.
An Amnesty International report argues that the move has simply created greater problems, with education being one such issue. Children previously had access to education, however, it has not been provided by the government in the new settlements. Unregistered primary schools have been set up in some areas, but a lack of trained teachers and resources is affecting future prospects for the children.
The organisation found that, because they could not go to school, some young women were encouraged to get married earlier in order to be provided for, whilst others entered into the sex industry. These are common consequences throughout the Global South due to limited options for uneducated girls.
Despite the mention of girls, it’s important to recognise that access to education isn’t about gender in this case. Both boys and girls are being denied an education because of the area they’re living in, giving them fewer opportunities for the future.
Education offers children a chance to a life free from poverty, as discussed in the context of a refugee camp in a recent article. After genocide and violence in Sudan, there are over 250,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad living in unstable conditions. In a situation such as this, it is easy to forget about educating the children. However, schools and learning centres have been set up in camps, providing hope for the community. It means that when the children return home or become settled in another area, they will not have suffered academically.
The camps in Chad are an example of how NGOs and other actors in development can create positivity in unstable living environments. Access to high quality education can improve quality of life, and ensure that children have greater opportunities in the long term. Among all the challenges they face in unstable living environments, education can create a crucial path towards establishing stability.
To learn more about how you can help to ensure universal access to education, check out the actions of RESULTS.
Any movie that makes education seem like a luxury is a film every child should see.
Every child — and for that matter, every grown-up — should see The First Grader, because in watching one human being struggle to rise from the dust of illiteracy with resolve and dedication, we not only learn to appreciate the preciousness of our access to education, we feel the profound emotional impact of realized potential.
The First Grader tells the tale of Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo).
Maruge wants to go to school and learn to read and write. The good news is that it's 2003 and even in the remote village where Maruge lives, the Kenyan government is proclaiming education a right for all. After decades of violent strife and the casting off of British rule, education is coming to the land of the Mau Mau uprising. The only obstacle for Maruge is that he is an 84 year-old Kikuyu tribesman.
Even though Maruge can’t read, he believes he has a right to education.
When Maruge shows up to register for classes at the new village school, the head teacher, Jane (Naomie Harris), at first tells him it's impossible. The man has a thirst for learning, but the local school is already over-crowded with kids. They have no place for an old man but Maruge, himself a Mau Mau who was imprisoned and tortured for years after defying British rule, keeps dragging his stooped body back to the school grounds.
When she tells him he needs a pencil and paper, he returns the next day with supplies. When she tells him he needs a school uniform, he sits down to sew up a pair of short pants and a cardigan. Eventually she relents and Maruge — who doesn't even know how to hold his new pencil — is admitted to the school and settles into a small desk alongside people half his size.
But his fight for the right of education is far from over. The district superintendent battles Teacher Jane over Maruge's right to be there. The superintendent wants Maruge to attend a big-city adult school that is filled with rowdy teens who ignore their teachers, but Maruge wants to stay in the village school. Then the villagers turn against the old man, fearing he's taking resources from their own children.
On the one hand, Maruge is the perfect poster octogenarian for education. On the other, he's rocking the boat of opportunity by taking a seat a child might otherwise occupy and the audience is forced to weigh the sacrifices of one generation against the rights of another.
The film evolves into a story of new hope fighting to survive against instantly entrenched bureaucracy, prejudice — there are still plenty of tribal resentments — and, obviously, ageism.
Though Maruge eventually settles in at school the film doesn’t end on a typical Hollywood style happy ending. Maruge brain still burns at times with post-traumatic stress syndrome and he flashes back to the brutal treatment that caused the young Maruge to rise up in rebellion.
This isn't "The King's Speech", the British overlords are absolutely monstrous and it really hits home that the injustices in Africa are not over. Yes, it's a stand-up-and-cheer movie, but it's also a film that considers what the cheering is all about.
This has been a huge year for the Global Poverty Project UK, seeing the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation reach over 35,000 individuals throughout the country since our launch in 2010. Now in the last few months of 2011, we have trained and mobilised 15 Global Poverty Ambassadors in London and the South East in partnership with The Co-operative Membership to help us take the important messages of extreme poverty even further into local communities on a truly grassroots level.
These Ambassadors were recruited to deliver the presentation to small community groups and organisations in their local communities to champion the message that extreme poverty can be ended and progress is being made, and to promote actions that can create real change.
“Becoming a Global Poverty Ambassador is about how we can all play a role to end extreme poverty. It will give people the skills to really make a difference in the communities that we serve. This is an exciting opportunity to harness the passion people have to change the world. It’s an incredibly powerful message for communities to hear and will enable people to take that extra step.”
And it’s already working! One of our Ambassadors, Roxanne Fox, recently delivered the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation to a small group at her church and immediately felt the importance of this Ambassador Programme.
Read below to hear why Roxanne thinks taking out this message is so important.
For a long time I have had a burning desire to do something meaningful as a contribution towards helping the world’s poorest. My biggest challenge was always finding a suitable outlet for my compassion. I felt like I was caught in a cycle of feeling burdened, wanting to do something then left feeling desperate and simply carrying on with my daily routine.
Things changed a few months ago when I was personally impacted by the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation and subsequently applied to be involved with GPP through the UK Ambassador Programme. As an individual who is passionate about taking a stand against injustice, I realised that delivering the presentation would be a great way for me to empower my community to take action in the fight against extreme poverty.
Having recently presented 1.4 Billion Reasons for the first time, I am now even more excited about being involved with the programme. The feedback after the presentation was so encouraging; individuals voiced how they felt positive and hopeful about the possibility of ending extreme poverty. Many admitted that they often feel overwhelmed by stories of poverty but the presentation helped them to see that if we all do our small bit, we can make a big difference. I loved hearing someone say that the action points suggested for individuals felt ‘accessible’. For many of us, the desire to make a difference is suppressed by the vastness of the issues. Yet, it was evident that the audience no longer felt disillusioned. Rather, there was a real sense of, ‘Yes, we can do this…together.’
Positive feedback such as this is confirmation of the potential impact and momentum that could result from more and more people having the opportunity to see 1.4 Billion Reasons.
Being a Global Poverty Ambassador has afforded me the chance to channel my energy into something that feels significant; a way to reach audiences as well as the world’s poor who will be positively impacted by the movement towards change that the presentation promotes. How exciting to be involved with something that has such incredible potential to change the world.
Meet Dudu. With his positive drive and wisecracking antics, he is probably one of the main reasons for seeing Africa United. A film that inspires us with a soulful and upbeat view of Africa as a mismatched band of children embark on a road trip 3,000 miles from the tiny hill country of Rwanda to the World Cup in South Africa. A film that shows us how to make a world class football from a condom.
This is not a film about football. It’s a film about community- the places the children visit and the journey they take, but most importantly it is the bond between the five that overcomes the obstacles they face and the differences between them. From different countries, backgrounds and classes – including a runaway, a child soldier and an orphan of the genocide, the group un-ashamedly parallel the message for a united Africa. A message for ‘Ubuntu’, a phrase that means ‘community’ in several Southern African countries, but specifically refers to the importance of working with others and kindness in Kinyarwanda (Rwandan).
Metaphors in the film are barely disguised but carry some valid comments for development – and while the majority of the 90 minutes is aimed at a younger and uninitiated audience, it wouldn’t hurt many of us in the sector to learn from it. Dudu, the film’s charismatic narrator embodies much of the journey’s sentiment while staying decidedly bouncy throughout, wearing an oversized jacket that symbolises his street wise maturity, while remaining effectively ‘cute’ as the youngest of the five.
Through the childrens’ journey, the film touches briefly on some of the difficulties that communities in Rwanda, the DR. Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa face without offsetting the fantastically positive energy of the characters, subtly hinting at the effects of the Rwandan genocide, the abduction and use of child soldiers, sex workers, HIV and lack of access to basic services.
Issues that the children both acknowledge and work around in the film; enforcing the -admittedly obvious- point that African communities are vibrant, full of energy and most of all, able. Truths that are hard to find in films about Africa.
The journey itself is narrated simultaneously by the incorporation of colourful animations illustrating a story about overcoming conflict, by bringing people together with football. Oh and just in case you missed it, the film is about making the impossible, possible:
While the film tends to verge on fantasy with the group miraculously passing from country to country with few interruptions, it provides a reflection of East and South African society that is refreshingly authentic. In similar trend to Slumdog Millionaire, the film deliberately integrated local people and customs into the filming process, casting almost exclusively from Rwanda and Uganda where Rwandan producer Eric Kabera helped combine shoots from three countries with some incredible African music and uniquely African perspective.
Ultimately this is a movie that you can get excited about. You can watch it with the kids and you can enjoy it without a huge emotional investment in Africa’s so called ‘problems’.. and you should, because Africa is full of vibrant, generous, intelligent and capable communities that rarely get such an open platform to express themselves.
Do the children make it to South Africa in time for the World Cup? And how do they deal with the constant phone-calls from Fabrice’s mum? Watch the film and find out - I’m off to book some tickets to Rwanda.
A Small Act is the inspiring true story of how a small monthly donation from Hilde Back, a Jewish refugee living in Sweden, enabled bright but poor Kenyan student Chris Mburu to attend secondary school. He went on to study at Harvard and became a human rights lawyer for the United Nations, eventually setting up his own scholarship fund for Kenyan children in Hilde Back’s name, continuing the help that his benefactor provided.
The film combines Hilde and Chris’s story with the story of the new generation of pupils at Mukubu Primary School, particularly following the lives of the top three students – Kimani, Ruth and Caroline, who are preparing for their national KCPE exams. The results of these exams determine whether the students are eligible for a Hilde Back Education Fund Scholarship to attend secondary school. The film follows the children’s hard work, anticipation, disappointment and happiness throughout the exam period – stages which all former students can relate to!
The consequences of disappointing results, however, are far more severe for these pupils. For the vast majority of the pupils at Mukubu Primary, failing to obtain a scholarship rules out the possibility of attending secondary school. This means that many of these students, particularly girls, fall into what Chris’s cousin Jane, calls “the same vicious cycle of poverty”.
The film poignantly captures the chronic disappointment of those left behind, and raises the question of what will follow the attainment of the second Millennium Development Goal – achieving universal primary education. Is the next step ensuring secondary education for all?
Startling links between the lives of Chris and Hilde Back make this story even more powerful. As a Jewish child, Hilde was forced to flee the genocide in Nazi Germany and start a new life in Sweden. Her parents, however, were not so lucky and perished under the Nazis. Chris, her beneficiary, now fights this kind of genocide in his job as a human rights lawyer.
The strongest message in the film, however, is the need for and the possible effect of a small act. The incredible story of Hilde and Chris clearly demonstrates the real-life ripple effect of a single act of kindness and inspires us to make similar gestures in our own lives.
The numerous children who have not been selected for a scholarship remind us at the end of the film that there is a chronic need for many more small gestures on the part of those who are able to do something. In the words of Chris Mburu:
“You have to do something. You have to say, ‘I know that I cannot provide support, relief and help to all the suffering that is around me. But I want to do one thing; I want to take one action that will work towards relieving that situation.”
Each of us can do something; each of us can make a small gesture – and it’s not just about financial donations. This is what we at the Global Poverty Project are all about: we have written extensively about what each of us can do, what small gesture we can make, in order to make a difference and do our bit in the fight against extreme poverty.
Imagine the ripple effect if each of us made one small act today.
A Small Act was released on DVD on 20 June 2011. You can view the trailer here.