When the world comes together..

Three weeks ago, 12 young boys went missing. When their coach heard of the news, he went looking for the boys, going missing in the process as well. The world was shocked. Where could the team be? Nine days after their disappearance, they were discovered trapped inside a flooding cave.

For weeks, I’ve been anxiously following the story of the young boys and their coach. The whole world was watching. Divers from all over the world flew to Thailand to help save the team, and every day there was breaking news. First it was the news of their discovery, then the news that they could not be rescued right away, the news of the difficulties they would face, and the news of the death of Saman Gunan, an Navy SEAL who died helping them. The divers were unsure if they would be able to extract all of the boys in time -- they anticipated it would be months before they could safely rescue the boys. The caves were narrow, long, and were flooding fast. It was a dangerous task, but that did not deter these heroes.

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 The whole world came together to help the missing boys. They were in the thoughts and prayers of millions globally. Divers from across the world helped the Thai Navy SEALs, passing oxygen assembly-line style throughout the labyrinth of caves. Israeli entrepreneurs provided video and voice connections to the boys. The boys’ coach, Ekapol Chanthawong was also a Buddhist monk and taught the boys to meditate to help them through the whole ordeal. All of these pieces, interwoven, interconnected, each working on one piece to help these kids – all of these pieces worked together to save their lives. When the world comes together, we can accomplish great things. People thought it would be months before the boys would be rescued, yet it happened in less than two weeks. There is a lesson in here, and one that the world desperately needs in these times.

We cannot simply define ourselves by our borders.

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At Impact Network, we believe that we must give help where help is needed, regardless of country, race, or religion. And our scholars in Zambia need our support – without our schools, thousands of kids would not have the opportunity to receive a quality education. We do not just build schools and supply tablets. With your support – from right here in NYC to across the globe – whether you are a teacher, donor, board member, or adviser – we can serve and inspire these students to be their best selves. When the world comes together, great things can happen. 

 

-Eli

2018 Literacy Day

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As I walked up to David S. school in the chilly morning hours, I met Nelia, a somewhat quiet but passionate grade one teacher.  “How’s it going?” I asked.  She shrugged her shoulders and looked at the sky. It was a cold and blustery day. The wind whipped across the open field connecting the school to the rest of the village, and even the grazing cattle huddled together for protection.  “Only two parents so far, maybe the weather will keep everyone away.” She looked disheartened as she said the words.  I looked around at the empty school yard feeling her anxiousness for the day to begin.

It was my first Literacy Day and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Literacy Day is a day for the parents of grade one students to come to school with their children, meet the teachers, engage in lessons, and see their students participate in educational activities.  It is an annual event at our schools and a chance for parents to learn about the Impact Network model, how the tablets are utilized, and what lessons such as math and reading their children are involved in when they leave to go to school each morning.   

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Getting parents out at 8am on a Saturday morning seemed liked quite the challenge even in the best of weather. “Well, give it a little more time,” I replied, “It is early yet.”  I made my way to one of the larger classrooms and entered to find teachers busying themselves with preparations.  While one teacher set up a tablet and a projector, another drew pictures on the board. Other teachers brought in extra desks and benches.   They worked quietly to gather pencils, marks books, and posters covered in math problems and words searches for the coming activities.  Each teacher stopped and politely greeted me.

Slowly at first the parents began to arrive until they were coming in waves.  They walked up through the blowing dust in colorful winter coats and hats.  The children led the way, meeting up with friends to laugh and wrestle in the school yard. Most parents came with younger siblings in tow and many of the women had sleeping babies strapped to their backs with colorful fabrics and warm blankets.  They arrived with uncertain faces and filed into the room to be seated in front of the projector.

After a tablet lesson and a question and answer session, the expressions of uncertainty had changed to ones of chuckles and excitement.  Particularly outspoken individuals stood up as they asked questions and made comments to the teachers.  Soon parents were cheering on their children as the students raced to find words in a word search or answer simple math questions.  As the teachers assigned individual work, parents sat with their child and helped them answer the questions.

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As the midday meal approached, the sun had peaked out from behind the clouds and the air was beginning to warm.  The parents and students came streaming from the classrooms, chatting with one another and holding exercise books with drawings, equations, and corrected spelling words. The teachers said their final words to the large group in the school yard.  I looked around and noticed how full it had become.  I peaked over at Nelia. She had a shining smile on her face as she chatted with one of the parents.  The day was well spent in the company of the students, teachers, and the proud parents.

-Naomi

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

As you might have guessed – I’ve been reading about Mister Rogers a lot this week J

If you were a child sometime between 1968 and 2001, and you had access to a TV, you likely watched Mister Rogers.  And you’ll probably remember some of the most emblematic components of his show – his zipper sweaters, the shoelaces on his sneakers, and the famous theme song.  But the recent film Won’t You Be My Neighbor has brought out some lesser known facts about him – or at least, facts that I didn’t know.

For one, he was a Presbyterian minister, but he had always wanted to work in television. He started his own show because he was displeased with the content of children’s programming at the time, and thought that he could use the medium for good. It was visually very simple, low-budget, without a lot of the bells and whistles that we have now come to expect from children’s programming. He didn’t believe in putting on a clown suit or taking on a new persona to be in front of kids, opting instead to trust that children appreciate honesty. While we learned our letters from Sesame Street and learned how to read from Reading Rainbow, it’s widely thought that we learned “emotional literacy” from Mister Rogers.

And looking back – it’s true. Mister Rogers guided parents and children through the assassination of RFK. His show highlighted people of color and women in senior roles (Mayor Maggie, Lady Elaine). After 9/11, he created public service announcements for parents on how to talk to their kids about what happened. Time and time again – crisis after crisis – tragedy after tragedy – Mister Rogers showed up, and remained a constant advisor for children and parents alike.

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.

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These words guide the work at Impact Network every single day. Given what is going on in the country right now, I find them to be even more powerful.

- Reshma

 

Meet Eli - our Summer Event Intern

Hi there!

My name is Eli and I’m the new Events Intern at Impact Network’s New York office! I’ll be helping to plan our annual Chefs for Impact Event as well as helping out with communications and social media this summer. I really believe in Impact Network’s mission and am super excited to join the team!

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I’m a junior at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study where I am concentrating on Oppression and the Effects of Colonization and pursuing a minor in Anthropology. I have a passion for learning, and at Gallatin, I am able to take really cool, niche classes that help me understand the world in an interdisciplinary way. Some of my favorite classes include “Race and Criminal Law,” “Media, Democracy, and the New Political,” and “Work, Freedom, and Social Change.” I’m also really excited for my “Politics of Contemporary Africa” and “Democracy and Difference” classes that I will be taking next semester.

 

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Similar to how my studies are all tailored toward social justice, so are my internships. Last summer, I worked as the marketing intern for a women’s networking company with the goal of closing the gender achievement gap in business. I helped plan events, increase social media presence, and increase search engine optimization. I also learned a lot about sexism in the workplace, and I now know how to spot it and combat it. Before that, I was a Jewish Learning Fellow focusing on the intersection of Judaism and social justice. And before that, I was a research training intern at a company that emphasized intersectional feminism and social justice.

 

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I am also really passionate about art and comedy. I rarely travel without my sketchbook, and on the off chance that I do, you can find doodles on any and all of the papers near me. I also love watching stand up and reading satire. Some of my favorite comedians include Trevor Noah and John Mulaney. I think comedy and art are such a powerful tools to help people understand the world in different ways, and they’re also highly entertaining.

 

A few weeks ago, I returned from my semester abroad in Sydney where I got the opportunity to explore new and exciting places like Uluru, Melbourne, Cairns, Bali, and New Zealand. My travels really opened up my eyes to the problems facing the world, and I realized that I wanted to effectuate change globally, not just at home. And that’s how I ended up at Impact Network!

I’m really excited to be working with Impact Network this summer because I believe that education is the key to a better world. Everyone deserves access to quality education, and I am really eager to do my part and help bring education to kids who, without Impact Network, would not be in school.

-Eli

#AgainstAllOdds

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Last month I saw a video on Shaquem Griffin, who is the first one-handed player picked in the modern draft of the NFL.  Griffin was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 5th round as part of the 2018 draft and will play along his twin brother Shaquill Griffin. His is a story of inspiration, determination, setbacks and brotherly love.

Shaquem Griffin had his left hand amputated when he was four because of a prenatal condition called amniotic band syndrome, which caused his hand to be underdeveloped. When he was seven, he was told for the first time by a little league coach that being one-handed precluded him from playing the sport he loved – football. He was determined to prove the naysayers wrong. Griffin was able to continue playing sports without his left hand, competing in track, baseball, and football alongside his brother.

Both brothers played college football at Central Florida, Shaquill rejecting offers from other teams including the Miami Hurricanes, his dream team, so he could play with Shaquem.  After some initial setbacks, Shaquem flourished under a new head coach where he was named the 2016 American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year and also served as a captain for last season's 13-0 team.

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Despite his successful college career at UCF, Shaquem had to campaign for an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.  He stole the show in the NFL’s week-long talent showcase with impressive results including 20 bench reps at 225 lbs using a prosthetic arm and a lightning fast 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds – fastest linebacker since 2003. His performance there led Griffin to become internationally known and there was talk of him being drafted in the second or third round. Shaquem tweeted a video of him being drafted by the Seahawks, and titled it #AgainstAllOdds

“That was the phone call I've been waiting for my entire life. I couldn't breathe, At the end of the day, you have to show what you can do. You can't set limits on what you can do, whether you have two hands or 30 hands.  Show me what you can do, and we'll go from there. Don't set limits for me, because when I wake up in the morning and I brush my teeth and I look at myself in the mirror, it's only me that I see in the mirror. I'm not going to see anybody else in the mirror. That's how I live, day by day. When I look in the mirror, it's up to me to accomplish everything I want out of life."

This story has lessons for all of us – the power of brotherhood, the importance of persistence, and the ability to overcome the obstacles in our path. On any given day for our team, there are challenges – for our teachers, it might be a student with a learning disability who needs more attention; for our teacher supervisors, it might be a teacher who is struggling with his lesson plans; for our operations managers, it might be trying to get school supplies from point A to point B in really challenging conditions. But with the right supports, every person can be a success story.  At Impact, we work to provide access to a quality education to all children, no matter what their circumstance is. We work incredibly hard to make sure our students succeed #AgainstAllOdds.  Because even when there are setbacks, with hard work, determination and a little love – anything is possible.  

 

-Katie

Never Give Up!

I know that everyone is engrossed in watching the World Cup – I myself have Sweden in our Impact Network competition (tough game yesterday!). 

Lionel Messi is making waves again this year – after first announcing his retirement two years ago, he changed his mind and led his country (Argentina) to qualify for the World Cup this year! Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina to humble beginnings – his father was a factory steel worker, and his mother was a part-time cleaner.  He played football from a very young age – at around five he started playing at a local club coached by his father, and became part of a practically undefeated local team.

Then, at 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency – a medical condition caused by problems in the pituitary gland, which often leads to growth failure.  He was the size of most 8-9 year olds at the time. The director of Futbol Club Barcelona had heard about Messi’s talent, auditioned him, and offered to pay his medical bills on the condition that he moved to Spain.  A decade later, he had received Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards.  He’s commonly ranked as the best player in the world, and rated by some as the greatest of all time. 

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It strikes me just how easy it would have been for Messi and his family to give up on his dream.  When he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency, he and his family could have just resolved that he would play football recreationally.  When his family could not afford the treatment, they could have stopped there.  When he started playing for Futbol Club Barcelona, there were times where he was nearly released from the club because of financial constraints.  At every bend, Messi came across obstacles, and he and his family found ways to overcome them.  In short – they never gave up.  And we have to live by that credo – when we are faced with students that are struggling in certain subjects, when we have teachers that we need to improve, when we are faced with complications in our classrooms – it’s up to us to persevere.  It’s up to us to never give up on our students and communities. 

If you’re interested – I was entertained by these ads while looking into Messi’s story a bit more!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QarsixZigs8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn9MbpY2iHI

- Reshma

 

Meet Naomi: An Education Fellow Working with us in Zambia

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I arrived in Katete on a Thursday afternoon; I had left home three day earlier at 3am Monday.  The long flights and long bus ride left a lingering exhaustion in the back of my head.  The air was warm and the sky blue so I sat a minute on the steps of Impact Network’s main office and watched as the red dust settled on the road.  Soon I am off, helping input data into spread sheets and experiencing the hustle and bustle of the busy staff working in the office.    

So here I am…on the next adventure!  My name is Naomi and I have come from the forests of Maine in the USA to intern with Impact Network for three months.  I am a Master’s student studying Global Policy with the University of Maine’s School of Policy and International Affairs.  Since volunteering at an orphanage in Zimbabwe in 2016, I have been excited to return to this part of Africa and working with an education NGO fits wonderfully with my studies and personal career goals. 

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                When I arrive in Joel village where I will be staying, it has already turned dark. My first impression of the village is the sounds of chatter all around. There is the sound of singing, drumming, babies crying, and laughter, laughter, laughter.  Sharon, another intern, and Lweendo, a Zambian staff member, show me to my modest room nestled between two classrooms in a block of the school.   As I settle in and await sleep, the music begins to rise and rise.  It feels as if it is all around me where I lay in my bed. I have arrived on the eve of a holiday and the village is celebrating!  The next morning, I emerge to the see the landscape.  The sun is just rising and already women crowd around the borehole to pump water in the middle of town.  They walk elegantly posed straight backed, bucket on head, back to their homes to begin the day’s activities.  Sharon and I have breakfast at our Zambian village host Bessie’s house, and then we are in the office and off to work.

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                By the end of my first week, I feel I have been here for much longer.  Under the guidance of the Director of Academics and Evaluation, Felicia, I am inputting and processing the data from last terms exams. This includes grades for 6,000 students and evaluations of over 120 teachers. I am using excel in all sorts of new ways!  I also started working with school support officers to help build sexual education and life skills curriculums.  Next, I will be headed out to schools to help with the literacy assessments of grade five students.   I can already tell that the summer will be packed full and I will learn a lot! 

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                Most days I am surrounded by people.  The students are excited to come talk to me.  Most children laugh and laugh as I greet them, Mwauka Bwanji, Muli Bwanji?   Again and again, I hear… how are you? How are you? How are you?   Me, I am just fine.  I am enjoying my new African home and looking forward to the months ahead.

- Naomi

 

How is Iceland like Rural Zambia?

Every four years over a billion fans tune in watch 32 nations compete in the World Cup, the most watched sporting event in the world. Soccer/football is the most popular sport with our students and staff and you can catch students playing a sunset game many days on a field near our schools. This year’s World Cup is in Russia, and includes 5 teams from Africa.

Iceland is surprising us all and making waves this year with its first World Cup appearance. It’s the smallest country to ever qualify with a population of 340,000 (just 3% of the population of New York City!). To put that into perspective, the next smallest country to qualify was Trinidad and Tobago in 2006 with 1.3 million people. Iceland began their unlikely journey by beating England in the semifinals of the Euro Cup in 2016 and then solidified their spot by defeating Kosovo in October 2017 of the European Championships. Iceland has slowly been putting itself on the map in the soccer world contrary to the prior belief that they were too small to ever be on this world stage. The road to the World Cup began almost 20 years earlier when the country focused on providing quality coaches and access to everyone regardless of the ability and socio-economic status. The surprisingly easy access that players had to training facilities and top-rate coaching allowed them to continue their training regardless of the size of their town or the bad weather outside.

Iceland’s cast of characters is made up of an unlikely bunch, and coach Hallgrimsson, a part-time dentist, is asked about this in every media encounter. He began a press conference at the World Cup by saying, “before anyone asks, I’m still a dentist and I will never stop being a dentist.” The goal keeper is a movie director that has put his career on hold, but was behind the a World Cup Coca-Cola commercial that includes the famous thunderclap.

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The more I read about the team, the more I see consistent themes and messages on why they are successful: laying the groundwork, hard work paying off, believing in yourself and believing that you deserve to be there.

These are lessons we try to instill in our students every day. While Iceland and its glaciers, hot springs and fjords could not be more different than our farming villages in rural Zambia, I can’t help but notice that at first glance, someone might overlook our students or think our villages are too remote or rural. Much like Iceland, most people don’t know much about Zambia. It is our collective responsibility to put Zambia on the map and share the stories of our amazing students and staff. With access to quality education paired with hard work and believing in themselves, our students have the opportunity to become the next teachers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs – and hopefully even, soccer stars at the World Cup.

Most of the world has celebrated the Iceland soccer story but the odds of them making it out of their group stage were small. However, on Saturday Iceland had a draw 1-1 with favorite Argentina, surprising the world and overcoming the odds once again. I hope Iceland and our students in Zambia keep surprising the world and blowing past the world’s perceptions!

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- Katie

Parts Unknown: The Curiosity of Anthony Bourdain

As tributes to Anthony Bourdain have been pouring into every news outlet across the country, I must confess not knowing very much about him before yesterday.  I knew he was an NYC Chef, hosted a food show, had eaten with President Obama in Vietnam, and Mike reminded me that he wrote Kitchen Confidential. But beyond that, I really never paid much attention.

That changed yesterday as I read so many articles about how he has changed the travel landscape almost as much as the food one.  Throughout the day, the thing that stuck with me most could be pared down to just one word:  curiosity.

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Bourdain was curious about the world.  When he traveled around to “parts unknown”, he wasn’t just curious about the food.  He wasn’t just interested in the best restaurant.  He was interested in the people, in the culture, and in the heart of the cities he went to. It’s a curiosity that I know I don’t have inherently, though I aspire to.  And it goes so much deeper than the superficial exterior of just tasting one dish at a local hotspot. Take the episode “Iran” for example, from Season 4.  He masterfully showed Americans a version of Iran that they had not considered – one that was tolerant, warm, and in his words, even pro-American. His episode “Los Angeles” pretended that everyone who lived there was Korean and stayed within the confines of LA’s bustling Koreatown.

A quote that has been making the rounds over the last day:

“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Reflecting on his message, I can’t help but feel that Bourdain’s work and life served the world of international development too.  One of the toughest things about running a non-profit that benefits students in Zambia is trying to get people here in the US to understand what life is like for rural Zambians.  What it is like to have children, and to want desperately for them to learn to read and write, but to have no options for schooling. Or to have options that are too expensive, or ineffective.  It’s a hard thing to try and get people to put themselves in the shoes of people they know, never mind a culture of people halfway across the world in a country they haven’t heard about.

But Bourdain inspired and challenged all of us to be a little more adventurous.  To be a little more open-minded.  To be a little more curious about the world around us.  May we honor him by doing just that in our future years.

-Reshma

Treating All Students as Scholars...

I got to listen to a podcast last week from an education author I admire – Paul Tough (who’s the author of How Children Succeed and more recently, Helping Children Succeed).  There are a lot of lessons from his work in the US education system and what is happening in our colleges to try and make sure that students from all backgrounds have equal opportunity in this country (this article has a good summary).  But what struck me is how many of the lessons translate into every day interactions and how we treat our peers, our colleagues, and even our strangers.

The first, is that framing matters.  Treating students, even struggling ones, as scholars is important. It changes how they think of themselves. It changes their perception of what is possible.  And it’s the difference between overcoming obstacles, and giving up.  It’s not something I’ve emphasized before – we always talk about all of our students deserving access to a quality education.  But it’s equally true that our students – our scholars – have immense potential in Zambia, if they have the opportunity to reach it.

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The second, is that messaging matters.  We send and receive messages every single day – be it by email, phone, or in person (and yes, those count as messages!).  Those messages can make a difference.  It’s often the difference between a student who feels like they belong to a community of peers, and one who feels like they will never fit in.  It’s the difference between having symptoms of depression, and not.  And it can be the difference between a student staying in college just a little bit longer, and dropping out. In every interaction we have, we have an opportunity to make our messages both stick, and be positive. 

And last, students need support.  In the case of a 4-year college that has resources available, this translates to smaller classes, advising, and additional instruction.  In the case of our 2,500+ students in rural Zambia – it means some of those same things!  We have smaller class sizes compared to government schools.  We may not have a formal advising system, but we have Teacher Supervisors who coach our teachers closely to improve, and a management staff that knows our students and populations well. Our teachers use classrooms outside of regularly scheduled times to provide additional instruction in the form of tutoring.

- Reshma