_[Soundtrack to this post: ”School Days” by Chuck Berry]
Imagine you had to walk an hour to work on an empty stomach. Then, come lunch time, you didn’t have any money, so you had to walk back home where the only lunch you could afford was salted rice. How much would you dread returning to work in the afternoon? How well would you be able to concentrate once you got there?
For kids in rural parts of developing countries like the Philippines, distance from school and lack of nutritious food are unbelievably strong deterrents to their staying in school. (Not to mention a shortage of books and pencils, jam-packed classrooms, and roofs that drip on their heads).
Amazingly, $15 per year will provide a nutritious lunch to one student and increase their chance of staying in school by something like 50%! (I have to check in to the actual figure, but it was astounding).
The Feeding Program is just one initiative by the New York-based “Advancement for Rural Kids” a.k.a. ARK. The program involves parents and local farmers to cultivate a garden right next to the school and prepare hot, nutritious lunches. The kids’ health improves, they pay better attention, and their test scores go up.
I couldn’t help myself. I whispered to the girl next to me, “We’re so lucky.” I doubted that any of the women assembled at Columbia University that day had ever risked dropping out of school.
In my Communicating for Social Change class, we recently talked about the powerful effects of education, particularly for teen girls. Do you remember the “Girl Effect” video that circulated wildly a couple of years ago? Briefly, if a girl stays in school, there’s a much better chance that she will not marry as a young teen, that she will stay healthy, and be able to support her family financially. A follow-up video, hosted on a site that is packed with resources to help viewers spread the message, focuses on the benefits of putting off marriage and children for young girls.
So please take a look! And if your pocketbook is weighing you down in a very immediate way, please go straight here to pick a girl-focused project to support directly. And of course, please consider packing a hot, nutritious lunch for one rural kid by giving to ARK here. Bon appétit!
If these kids can prolong their school days, they’ll do much better in life.
_ When I was researching options for going back to school, being the “value shopper” that I am, I calculated that an MBA would be the degree most likely to catapult me into a top, richly-paid job in communications. What a bargain – the Groupon of Master’s degrees! But would I be satisfied? After all, it was a longing for more meaningful work that gave me the courage to leave my job and go back to school in the first place.
At various information sessions, when I asked to what extent the program du jour married the goals of profit and social good, I was met with a mix of blank stares, mumblings about a “fringe movement,” and off-track quips about sustainably sourced printer paper. To be fair, there may be more progressive, socially oriented MBA programs out there. My narrow research was limited to schools that randomly appealed to me either based on ranking or cost or geography (whether in Toronto or Singapore or Fontainbleau, France). In any case, as I begin my second semester in Strategic Communications at Columbia University in the City of New York, I am happy with my choice.
Last night was the first class of Communicating for Social Change. Right off the top, our instructor Barbara Becker emphasized that it’s not only traditional non-profits that can use communications to transform the world. Non-profits, government agencies, and even arms of major corporations can support the arts, advocate for education, and promote social change. This was exactly what I wanted to hear!
As I continue my job hunt, I don’t yet know whether I’ll join a non-profit, or perhaps, for a start, a creative corporation that employs happy people and serves fair trade coffee in the cafeteria. I’m applying for one impressive corporate foundation that annually invests tens of millions of dollars in the communities where they do their manufacturing. And employee volunteerism truly seems to be an integral part of the corporate culture.
Last semester, I was happy to land a short contract in UNICEF’s Communications Division. I was inspired that everyone assembled around the table was motivated to help the children of the world. Yet, UNICEFers didn’t walk around in some kind of righteous buzz. Day-to-day operations unfolded like any other large corporation, with a typical amount of bureaucracy. As we put pen to paper on a framework for a multi-year communications and advocacy strategy, there were many stakeholders to consult and to please. I hope to combine that experience with what I learn in my classes, and to soon be back in the boardroom, designing communications strategies in a like-minded organization.
Today and Friday, I am attending the Womensphere Emerging Leaders Global Summit hosted right here at Columbia University. The event dovetails into a career and social innovation fair at the end of day one. I am excited to meet some women who are making great things happen in their various fields and begin making some change of my own.
About this blog
I'll use this space to write about movies, bikes, communications trends, pop culture, and my adventures as a new New Yorker.