Spotlighting great work being done to improve education in the developing world.

A Creative Approach to Counter Bullying in a School in Iran

School children in Bam

A teacher in Iran shaved his head to show solidarity to a student who was being bullied after losing hair due to an illness.

Ali Mohammadian, a teacher at Sheikh Shaltoot’s elementary school in the Kurdistan Province of Marivan in western Iran, noticed that his eight-year-old student, Mahan Rahimi “had become isolated after going bald.” Mohammadian stated, “ smiled had disappeared from his face and I was concerned about his class performance.” He decided to become bald, and posted a photo of himself with Mahan on Facebook, captioned, “our heads are sensitive to hair.” Not only did his post go viral, but soon after, his entire class of over 20 students also decided to shave their heads and show solidarity, rather than hostility, toward their classmate.

Since his gesture in early January, Mohammadian has not only become a hero amongst the Iranian public, he has also received praise from President Hassan Rouhani, and was invited by Education Minister Ali Ashar Fani for a formal thank-you. Moreover, the Iranian government has agreed to financially support Mahan’s treatment, which doctors say is due to an immune disorder.

In the United States, 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying in their school, and it is found that adults intervene 4 percent of the time according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Indeed, it is a struggle for any teacher, no matter the location, to effectively counter bullying given the demands of the job. Juggling large class sizes, achievement targets, and administrative responsibilities, addressing bullying is often at the bottom of the priority list. The case of Mohammadian, who has 23 years of teaching experience, shows how a small gesture can go a long way. It transformed the culture of his classroom, and “Mahan’s classmates have…become supportive of him and a smile is back on face.”

Creative Commons Love: Unicef Iran on flickr

African Refugees Find Asylum in Irseal

IDP and Refugees Conference There are approximately 55,000 African asylum seekers who have ventured from various countries to Israel in search of safety to escape violence in their native lands.  However, once arriving in Israel, often their legal status is in a chronic state of flux, thus deeming it extremely difficult to engage in many aspects of life in their new home.

The African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) in Tel Aviv, Israel, is trying to make a difference. Yohannes Bayu, a refugee from Ethiopia, who is still the Executive Director today, founded the ARDC in 2004. Bayu was motivated by his own difficult experience as an asylum seeker in Israel and strove to help others in his position.

The mission of the African Refugee Development Center is to protect and empower refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. The ARDC seeks to ensure access to basic social services, and to facilitate refugee and asylum seeker integration, self-sufficiency and ownership in matters affecting their lives.  In response to the community’s overwhelming request for it in recent years, a huge emphasis has been placed on providing education opportunities.

Without proficiency in Hebrew and English, refugees and asylum seekers remain disadvantaged, isolated and marginalised. Limited Hebrew and/or English skills heighten depression and social isolation amongst asylum seekers as it prevents them from functioning independently in Israeli society.  They often experience acute frustration in everyday situations and in the workplace for their lack of Hebrew and English, making them vulnerable to exploitation as they cannot negotiate for improved terms of employment or safer working conditions.

By delivering language tuition to refugees and asylum seekers of all ages and facilitating access to vocational training, private tutoring, and higher education, many people’s lives have improved.

“I am writing these few lines to express my gratitude towards the assistance and help that I received from this organization. … My Hebrew and English have progress significantly. … I finally started communicating,” said Abdel, asylum seeker from Central African Republic.

The programs aims to develop their communication skills in order to help them integrate into the local community and/or to be a part of the reconstruction of their country of origin upon their return.  This program also proves to be a very rewarding experience for the cohort of approximately 25 volunteer teachers.

“My time teaching English to adult asylum seekers has been both challenging and extremely rewarding. When my class started, only one of my students could write their name in English and now they can write and carry on full conversations coherently,” said Aminah, a volunteer English teacher.

“Although their situation is extremely difficult in almost every way, knowing that we are providing asylum seekers the opportunity to improve their situation is not only motivating but also very rewarding,” said Julia, former Education Programme Manager.

Creative Commons Love: UNAMID on

Educational Community Center Increases Opportunities for Sri Lankan Students

Lanka (1) 327

Rainbow Bridge is a community education center situated in Batticaloa, on the East coast of the island of Sri lanka.

Sri Lanka is an island racked with the consequences of a 30 year long civil war, which caused a rift between the two main ethnic groups. Education became secondary to warfare, and many young people’s educational development was interrupted.

But peacetime has brought with it many new opportunities for learning from a dedicated group of empathetic educators, both native and expatriate, who are seeking to make up for lost time and give extra classes to children living in areas previously agitated by the conflict.

Rainbow Bridge is a small and unassuming building with a a big and heartwarming mission, which is to bridge gaps between the different factions of Sri Lankan society with education at the heart of it’s mandate. The center offers courses for all levels and age groups in English Language, attracting students due to the increase in tourism in the area. Students are for the first time being confronted by tourists who flock to the area to enjoy it’s beautiful beaches. They therefore see job opportunities within the growing tourism industry, and realize that English Language acquisition is the first step necessary.

The school attracts a number of international volunteers who work as teachers and business developers to try and increase enrollment and contribute to the overall educational effort. Volunteers offer the relatively sheltered community an insight into their country and culture, and design lessons which open students minds and broaden their intellectual horizons.

Creative Commons Love: Photo by Ashleigh Brown

Zambian Children Make Connections Through iSchool

School children perform during a rally in Lusaka, Zambia

Zambian children are gaining access to education and curriculum through an “e-learning,” curriculum provided via the latest internet resources. This is possible as a result of expanding internet access and emerging business strategies in developing countries such as Zambia.

AfriConnect Development and Cambridge University are creating initiatives to use e-learning across the African continent. The result, iSchool, aims to improve the standards of education, increase the degree of internet connectivity, and increase access to quality education and teacher materials among the urban and rural poor of Zambia. According to iSchool statistics, 85% of teachers in Zambian community schools are untrained. iSchools address obstacles including a shortage of learning materials, unavailable educational infrastructure for a growing population, and an insufficient amount of trained teachers. In addition, the iSchools provide a solution for young girls that have been unable to access education due to common cultural or societal limitations, early marriage, or pregnancies. Zambia’s iSchool program includes 5,500 primary school lessons, a one-year training curriculum for teachers, and an adult literacy program available to anyone who purchases a tablet. The business strategy is to establish a sustainable model that will supply funds for commercial interests and re-investment into the ongoing development of the iSchools.

The iSchool startup, founded in 2011 by British serial entrepreneur Mark Bennett, is the first in the world to bring e-learning to vernacular languages (iSchool curriculum is available in eight local languages as well as English for grades 1-7). According to Bennett, “We’ve taken the entire Zambian primary curriculum, mapped every single subject and every single grade, and created a very detailed lesson plan for the teacher for every single lesson.”

With the growth of iSchools, as the demand for access to the internet and educational resources increases in Zambia, the potential for the children of the African continent is limitless.

Creative Commons Love: Oxfam International on

Children of Migrant In China Workers Vulnerable But Not Forgotten

chinese children

China’s growing migrant worker population is leaving a generation of “left-behind children” vulnerable. Migrant Children’s Foundation (MCF), created in 2009, wants to make sure these children are more than statistics. MCF, a non-profit organization registered in the United Kingdom, works with the migrant population in Beijing to provide children with basic educational and social services.

An increasing number of migrant workers have left their homes in rural areas to seek potential employment in urban areas of China. This migration has resulted in many couples leaving behind children and their parental responsibilities–resulting in this young generation having to fend for themselves.

A recent 2012 statistical bulletin taken from China’s National Statistics Bureau reports that China has 262.6 million migrant workers, which is an increase of 3.9 percent from the previous year. According to the All-China Women’s Federation (CWF), the number of “left-behind children” in rural areas totals 61.026 million–accounting for  37.7 percent of the rural youth population and 21.9 percent of all children nationwide. Another stunning statistic, according to CWF, shows 53.3 percent of left-behind children in rural areas without either parent. The remaining 46.7 percent of the children may grow up with one parent. The number of abandoned children living alone in China totals 2.057 million.

Educational opportunities for migrant children remain elusive. The hukou registration system discourages migrant workers from obtaining education and medical care for their children in major cities.  Parents will often leave their children in packed boarding houses attached to public schools in order to finish their nine-year public education.  A survey conducted by the Population Development Center at China’s Renmin University, reported that “only 88 percent of 14 year old left-behind children remain in school.  Those who remain in school struggle to keep up.”  Language training is neglected as the priorities for survival leave children at a serious disadvantage.  Migrant children often do not have access to employment opportunities due to the lack of job training and skills necessary for employment.

The CWF findings suggest that the government should create safety nets for left-behind children through community systems, such as schools, to improve the safety and well being of China’s generation of children.

Creative Commons Love: joan vila on flickr

Pakistan’s Burka Avenger to Fight for Girls’ Right to Education

A girl studying in Pakistan's flooded area.

Pakistan’s newest animated series will star the Burka Avenger, a compassionate teacher who combats gangsters trying to close down the girls’ school in which she works.  The show portrays this avenger as a burka-wearing ninja whose only weapons are her books and pens and whose sidekicks are three students from the local village.

Pakistan’s first animated series, Burka Avenger, presents a struggle relevant to Pakistan’s current battles with education, as the nation’s northwest area is a front for the Taliban’s attacks on education for girls. The Taliban is believed to have bombed countless schools, attacked Pakistani educational activists, and shot 15-year old Malala Yousafzai for campaigning for girls’ educational rights last October.

A group of orphans who were shown an early screening of the series gave encouraging reviews; Ten year-old Samia Naeem said she liked the crusading heroine “because she saved kids’ lives. She motivated them for education and school.”

The idea for this Urdu language series was conceived by one of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon, who sees it as a way to emphasize the importance of girls’ education. Haroon’s goal was to combine Pakistani culture with an educational message; he hopes Pakistani girls will be empowered by the avenger’s use of the burka. It will premiere early August on GeoTV.

Creative Commons Love: srizki on

Environmental Protection and Philanthropy at Work in Kosovo Cap Project

In December 2011, students at the American University of Kosovo launched a humanitarian project aimed at helping those who need but can’t afford a wheelchair. Originally, the idea for “caps for wheelchairs” project came from Kushtrim Ahmeti, a Kosovo native studying in Turkey. He teamed up with the local recycling company who agreed to donate one wheelchair for every 250kg (cca.550lbs) of recycled plastic caps. The idea soon spread globally and in less than two years, over 44 countries took part in collecting plastic caps in exchange for 1500 wheelchairs.
Day 57/365 - Bottle Caps
In Kosovo, the project was initiated by Kushtrim’s brother, Korab, then a senior at the American University of Kosovo. It is currently implemented by AUK’s Green Club and Charity Club. Although the university still serves as a main hub for collection of plastic caps, project activities are spread across the country. With the support of Rugove Water, local, privately owned company, collection bins were placed inside other universities and schools, bars, restaurants and other public and government institutions in Kosovo, making the project more visible to the wider public. Once collected, plastic caps are transported to Turkey to be recycled and exchanged for wheelchairs.

So far, 50 wheelchairs have been donated to needy families across Kosovo. But “Caps for wheelchairs” is doing more than helping make lives easier for those in need. It helps protect the environment from the product that would otherwise end up on the landfills. It is estimated that plastic takes around 700 years to decompose, contaminating waters and soils and poisoning the animal life in the process.

Creative Commons Love: Bunches and Bits {Karina}on

Gift of Music for At-Risk Youth in El Salvador

Music guitar

El Salvador has launched a music education program as part of a violence prevention project.  The program seeks to keep youth from engaging in violent street gangs and other illegal activities by offering alternatives for at-risk youth. Since 2010, as many as 175 young Salvadorans have been given the gift of music that might not have been afforded to them without this initiative.

El Salvador is known to have one of the highest crime rates in the Americas. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, El Salvador also suffers from one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Participants of the program are trained by music teachers from all parts of the world in after-school classes. The initiative offers various types of music classes, including music theory, rhythm, melody, music appreciation, and vocal lessons.

As the program grows, the founders hope to develop the program into a well-established music academy that includes a youth choir and youth symphony orchestra. The program plans to implement participatory cultural dissemination activities in San Salvador risk zones as well.

Financial aid from the Japanese Social Development Fund and the World Bank have provided the opportunity to develop these music programs.  “We are committed to these children and young people who are transforming their present for a better future,” says Maria Gonzalez de Asis, World Bank senior public sector specialist and leader of the initiative. “The music has helped them all to have discipline, motivation, self-confidence, and above all, a perspective of life. Their young teachers are true leaders who make a difference in the lives of these students,” Gonzales added.

El Salvador strives to provide sustainable opportunities that will benefit youth and eradicate violent culture.

Creative Commons Love: @Doug88888 on


Roma Children Create Art With Hungary’s “Real Pearl” Foundation

Crayons for Grown UpsAt the Igazgyöngy (“Real Pearl”) Foundation in Eastern Hungary, hundreds of Roma children learn to express themselves through art classes. The Real Pearl Foundation runs drawing, painting, sculpture, handiwork, and dancing lessons for the children, most of whom come from impoverished families.

An estimated 700,000 Roma live in Hungary, most of them in economically disadvantaged areas in the southeast.

The Real Pearl Foundation aims to give students a chance to escape poverty. Many of its students come from families with jobless parents and homes lacking sewage or running water.

In Real Pearl’s classes children paint pictures of fairytale birds and colorful houses. Many enter their work into international competitions.

Istan Otvos, a 15-year-old Foundation student, won a prize last year at an international art contest in Portugal. This fall he hopes to attend one of Hungary’s best secondary schools. According the Nora Ritok, Real Pearl’s founder, students win hundreds of prizes each year.

Ritok says that the goal of the classes is not for every student to become an artist. Instead, she says, it’s more important to “help them develop their personalities in a way that builds self esteem… and could strengthen their will and give them a goal in life.”

In addition to the art classes, the Real Pearl Foundation assists families with financial advice, community development activities, and monthly grants based on their children’s school attendance.

The foundation also involves parents in its activities. In one project, teachers taught local mothers needlepoint, and asked them to embroider patterns based on their children’s drawings. In another, they taught a carpentry workshop for village men. The goal was to encourage creativity and introduce parents to a possible new source of income.

According the Ritok, changing the parents’ future is key to changing the child’s.

Ritok has high standards for her Foundation’s work. She won’t be satisfied if her students win art prizes, or if one or two attend college. The “real success,” she says, comes when hundreds of them achieve positive goals.

To see examples of students’ work, please visit the Real Pearl Foundation’s online gallery.

Creative Commons Love: Josh Kenzer on

Teach for Bangladesh: Inspiring Educational Leadership

Teach for Bangladesh is a leadership development program of talented university graduates and young professionals who are invested in expanding educational opportunities for underprivileged children.

Game Time

Taking a bottoms-up approach to education, the program recruits the best graduates from top universities to work in government and NGO-run primary schools. Officials state that teachers will be handsomely rewarded as a way to encourage more talented graduates to pursue the profession.

Maimuna Ahmad, the chief executive officer of Teach for Bangladesh, states: “The goal of Teach For Bangladesh is to address the disparity that exists in education today. We want to bridge the gap. The way we are doing this is: we are recruiting the best graduates coming out from the best universities of our country-people with the most leadership potential, and we will place them in lowest income schools to teach for two years.”

Although the country has made significant progress in the education sector over recent years, educational disparity continues to be a major issue. Authorities often neglect government primary schools where underprivileged children go to receive free education.

Teacher shortages are an especially common issue. Most graduates of top universities prefer not to go into the teaching profession because it offers lower salary wages and limited career opportunities. At the city’s Nobaberbagh Government Primary school, there are currently only eight teachers for some 800 students. In contrast, many private schools typically enjoy teacher-student ratios of 1:20 or 1:25.

The program is designed to help to bridge this educational gap through a built-in support and reward system. In addition to receiving higher wages, teachers will have professional opportunities to improve and apply their leadership abilities.

“They will have the leadership development and they will get experience and exposure that will make them competent candidates in the long term for employment in the education sector or in the development sector,” says Ahmad.

The program officially launched on May 16th. The application process is ongoing. Interested graduates may apply for fellowship until June 1st.

Creative Commons Love: Save the Children on