CUBA 2012

THE PENCIL PROMISE just returned from an exciting cultural emersion and philanthropic journey to the exotic, and until recently forbidden world of Cuba.

The most important part of this incredible journey was our visit to the Angela Landa Primary School in central Havana. Visits from Americans are rare and exciting for these children; we were greeted with outstretched arms and open hearts. Cuba, with the highest literacy rate of any Latin nation, sets a fantastic example of prioritizing education for its citizens. This mystery-shrouded part of the world is a place everyone dreams of visiting, and to do so while having the opportunity to make s difference in the lives of these children was amazing.

At the Angela Landa Primary School we were greeted by the principal, Professor Sonia Garcia, and she graciously lead us on a tour of the school. We gained insight as to how the educational system in Cuba works. Cuba has prioritized its educational system making literacy mandatory for all, and higher education highly respected. Irrespective of your class, your income or where you live, education at every level is free. School meals and uniforms are free. But school supplies are not free, and can be very expensive and very scarce.

That is why Ace of Good is here. We had the pleasure of giving school supplies to these wonderful kids to help support their pursuit of an education. They were charming and delightful, and we enjoyed a cultural exchange with these students as they practice their English with us.

We asked how Cuba has achieved such an impressive literacy rate of 99.5%. (The literacy rates in the US and other first world countries are far lower.) This is seen by Cubans as one of Fidel Castro’s greatest achievements. When he took power in 1960 he froze the education system and put all students 13 to 18 years old through a teachers training course and then dispatched them to families all over Cuba as a private teacher. The students were charged with educating each member of their assigned family whether they were 5 years old or 95 years old. Castro created a huge propaganda campaign to enthuse the country towards this goal. Many wealthy teens were sent from their lavish homes in Havana to live and work with farmer’s families in remote mountain towns or seaside villages, leaving their families for a year and doing chores by day and teaching reading and writing by night.

The program was a huge success and according to Mira, the Cuban representative from the Department of education that Ace of Good met with, the country went from 20% literacy to 99.5% literacy in one year.

We asked about the television in every classroom at Angela Landa School. This is a very important aspect of the Cuban education system. Every classroom across Cuba has a TV we are told, and this is how each classroom is delivered each lesson each day. In fact every fourth grade class, for example, views the same lesson at the same time across Cuba. The education system is that regulated. This assures that every student is learning the same thing in the same way at the same time- and that no child has an advantage or disadvantage because they have a better or worse teacher.

Mira also talked proudly about the access to higher education that is available to all and completely free. However the success of this higher education program she confides, has frustrated many scholars. For example, Cuban PHD’s in the sciences want to meet with others from other nations studying the same things. They want to go to conferences around the world and collaborate with scientists that are at the leading edge of their field. The frustration for these Cuban PHD’s is that they can not leave Cuba. They have limited access to internet (Only 5% of Cubans have access to the internet) and limited communication with others in other countries. There are also no jobs in Cuba for these scientists. This creates dissent in the scientific community. She tells us that there is a new push by Raoul Castro to direct students away from intellectual studies and into farming, by offering them a small piece of land in the interior of Cuba if they study agriculture. The strategy is to redirect students from intellectual pursuits that will make them want to leave Cuba and focus them on practical studies that will make them want to stay because they now own land there. The frustration of the intellectual community in Cuba was palpable and we also saw this theme repeated in much of the art in Cuba.

We arrived in Havana during one of the most anticipated events in the contemporary art world: the 2012 International Havana Art Biennial. This is a wonderful opportunity to further understand the culture of Cuba and its people. Art curators and museum directors led us through Old Havana, where the entire capital became an expansive gallery of exhibitions, installations and performances. Every venue in this historic UNESCO city hosted an array of artistic events from massive installations on the Malecon (the great sea wall surrounding Havana) to the ancient prison cells at the armory being used as individual galleries.

The energy and level and sophistication of the Cuban contemporary art world was so impressive. The major theme was a sense of the artists wanting to have the opportunity to explore the world, to leave Cuba. There was a huge installation on the Malecon of a 25ft tall by 40 ft wide chain link fence with a huge silhouette of a plane taking off cut out of the middle. The curator of this work said it was meant to represent the shared dream of being able to take off from Cuba but being trapped here in a spider’s web of sorts. Very powerful, and frankly we were surprised that the art we saw was so uncensored.

We were also so fortunate to be invited to private receptions with five highly renowned Cuban artists at their studios and homes. Each artist has transformed their home into a living breathing work of art. From the artist Lazaro, a street artist who started an art school for poor children on the sidewalk outside his studio who’s fantastical animal sculptures are created solely from found objects from a nearby dumpster, to Fiora Fong, a painter and professor who is credited with founding the contemporary art movement in Cuba, we enjoyed unprecedented access to the the full width and breadth of the Cuban art scene.

In addition, we had the opportunity to dine in Havana’s Paladares, restaurants in locals’ houses. It was quite an eye opening experience to see the locals homes and speak with them about their lives and dreams. The Cuban people are warm and welcoming and joyous. Despite poverty and underemployment, they share an optimism and joie de vivre that is infectious.

At first blush Havana looks like a beautiful European seaside city with massive boulevards and elaborate architecture, but frozen in time and left to decay for the last 50 years. We left Cuba with a far more intimate understanding of the people and their dreams and their hopes for their children.

Our delivery to The Massai Girls

Our guide, William (surely not his original name) is a Massai warrior. He has earned this title by killing a lion with his spear. It is unbelievable to think that a man would pit himself against one of these lions, but for the Massai it is a right of passage. Until a son has killed a lion he has not proved to his father that he can protect their herd of cows and goats.

The amazing jewelry William and the other Massai Men wear is not just for decoration but tells the person’s life story. One beaded necklace with a long drop means he is a warrior and has killed a lion. Another necklace with three thick strands means he has three girlfriends. Each of the three girlfriends made one strand and then they worked together to weave them into one necklace. The metal bracelet on his left wrist means his father is dead. When Massai meet each other for the first time they know so much about the others life story just by their jewelry.

We have driven for hours and finally this morning Ace of Good team arrives at the Enkteng Lepa School at the Widows Village in Maji Moto, where we will make our first school supply delivery in Kenya. We arrive on Kenya time, an hour ½ late, due to the woefully pitted dirt roads, but Helen, the schools director is not even there yet. No one wears a watch or is too burdened by the constraints of modern society.

We are greeted by several Massai warriors who work at the school and The Widows Village protecting the girls from kidnappings and wild animals. They are the security detail! They all wear the traditional shuka ( cloth wrapped around them) and Massai jewelry. Each carries a sword, spear, and club at all times. As intimidating as they look, they are so open and welcoming and gracious as they wrap each of us in the shukah and sing and dance with us. Many aspects of the Massai culture with regard to young men is to be the strongest, the fastest, and jump the highest, and their dance reflects this. They sing and chant and compete to see who can jump highest – and they can and do jump impossibly high!

The sign in front of the school says ‘don’t exchange girls for cows give them an education.’ This is the central issue in the Massai culture that Helen is fighting, and Ace of Good is here to support her.

As Helen brings us on a tour of her 4-room schoolhouse, she explains why she founded Enkteng Lepa. In the traditional Massai culture girls are not given an education, and Helen sees this as child abuse. The girls suffer genital mutilation and are married off very young, at 10 or 12 years old by their fathers in exchange for a cow as a dowry.

 

Quality Control for the Dept of Education in Kenya

We are in Elementaita to meet with John Gakunga, a Senior quality control Officer from the Kenyan Department of Education.  We are looking forward to speaking with him learning more about the barriers to education in Kenya and he is interested in learning more about Ace of Good. Back at our camp we sit down with him over breakfast as he candidly lays out the challenges he faces in providing quality education to the children of Kenya.Meeting with John Gakunga, Senior Quality Control Advisor for the Kenyan Dept of Ed.

The Kenyan government, since 2003, provides free compulsory primary and secondary education to all.  Between the theory and the reality however, is a large gap:

The government provides the teachers but not the school building.  Yes, that is not a typo.

In the many marginalized communities where people can’t afford proper shelter for their families, they certainly can’t afford to build a school building to the standard that is required by the government.

When a community does build a school, the government must approve the building, and then they will send teachers, but not supplies.

Local Massai girls who deserve the right to go to school.

John explains that girls have many barriers to education including they can’t afford sanitary napkins so they don’t go out of their home at all during that time, so they don’t go to school.

Girls get married off by their fathers when they are 9, 10, or maybe 12 year old so the families see educating girls as a waste.

Nomadic tribes keep moving, chasing grazing land for their herds, so their children can’t go to school. The government tried a pilot program called the mobile school. It did not succeed for many reasons including they could not find teachers willing to live the nomadic lifestyle out of a truck.

The Government only gives 12 dollars per student per year for school. The government doesn’t provide school supplies and families cant afford them. (This is where the Pencil Promise can really make a difference.)Having lunch

The money for the school lunch programs requires the community to provide a proper kitchen a cook and utensils. If the community cannot or does not provide these, then the lunch money goes back to the government. This causes many communities to strike against the schools.

Many outlying areas have a bad climate and not enough food and insufficient roads. Teachers don’t want to work there so the schools are very understaffed and underfunded.

Private school kids compete with government school kids for places in free government colleges and they take most of the slots because the private school students are better ranked in national tests.

John discusses bringing TPP women’s empowerment program to northern Kenya to provide job skills training and employment for the women and school supplies for the children.

 

Follow us on our Journey to Kenya

38 hours later we arrive at our camp at Lake Elementaita in the North of Kenya.

We arrived at night in the pitch dark and had no idea where we were but woke up this morning to the most glorious setting on Lake Elementaita. We set out for a 6am game drive to explore this most beautiful region.

Kenya - Zebras

 

As the sun rose, the plains came alive teaming with animals – first water buck, then gazelle. As we drive through the candelabra trees we find herds of Zebra, their psychedelic coats creating an optical illusion making it hard to tell where one animal ends and the next begins. We see across the lake a thin pink line – flamingos! We drive around to get a better look. We pass a family of warthogs running with their tails straight up in the air, and then a dikdik and a water buffalo. As we approach the shore the sun is rising but still low on the horizon backlighting the flamingos, silhouetting them against the sparkling lake. We get out of the jeep and slowly walk closer. The sun rises as we stroll watching in awe and suddenly in a cloud of pink, hundreds of flamingoes take off flying right past us and then in formation they circle the lake.

Kenya - Flamingos

We start heading back to camp and the land is fully alive with herds of all shapes and sizes running and grazing in the golden grasses among the acacia trees. Then only a few yards from us we spot a full grown male giraffe. We estimate his height at twenty feet and he is magnificent. His neck and legs impossibly long and his body impressively muscular. He looks at us and walks closer. Every muscle is visible, his patterned coat surprisingly glossy. He stares at us and tilts his two stubby horns to one side. We are just feet away and he is so majestic – then he casually trots off and he is amazing to watch – all those limbs so gracefully coordinated. You can’t help but fall in love with Kenya.

Kenya - Giraffe

Follow us into Kenya!

Imagine your dad called you tomorrow morning and said: “Listen, you have to kill a lion tomorrow.  If you don’t, society won’t view you as an adult.  You can’t use a gun, though.  You have to use a spear, a dagger, or a wooden club.  I’ve left all three under your bed.  Good luck!”This male lion was photographed in Kenya by Ace of Good team 1/6/12

Sound impossible?  It’s not.  In Kenya, Masaai young men kill a lion in this way before they are considered a warrior, and mature enough to be entrusted with the family’s herd of cows.

The Massai Warriors with Susan and Helen at Maji Moto

The Masaai and Samburu tribes call Kenya home.  They are used to having zebras trot into their villages, which are among the most sustainable housing units on earth.  Their local bar – “The Hippo Bar” – is where patrons can buy a drink….while a hippopotamus splash and swim just feet away.  The Masaai and Samburu people routinely watch elephants lumber across the savannah, silhouetted against the setting sun.

It’s hard not to fall in love with this gorgeous African country.  On January 2nd, 2012, Ace of Good team headed to JFK airport.  It was our first delivery to Kenya.  Helen and Rebecca, our Kenyan partners, were waiting for backpacks and school supplies.  Follow our journey in the upcoming blog series.

 

Saudi Arabia Changes Texbooks

If you take a snapshot of curriculums from schools across the globe, you’ll probably find a huge diversity of lessons. Each country has its own history, political philosophy, and culture to express to students as part of the educational process. Most curriculums also contain some global history which focuses on developments in other parts of the world. Countries like Saudi Arabia, however, have long perpetuated isolationist attitudes and focus their primary school lessons on traditional religious concepts along with their math and science. Recently, the Saudi Royal family has mandated modifications.

An article on Slate.com, Changing the Way Saudis Learn (read the full article here),discusses the struggle within Saudi Arabia to delete sections of their textbooks that advocate for Walaa wal Baraa, the question of whether Muslims should associate with non-Muslims. As the article explains, “The concept of al Walaa wal Baraa simply means that Muslims should not go out of their way to befriend non-Muslims, the teacher says—more specifically, that Muslims should be “emancipated” from non-Muslims.”

Some parents have conversely expressed a desire to train their children about considerations outside of Islam. Jamal al Khashoggi, editor of Saudi newspaper Al Watan, says “We need to start a serious debate … on this paragraph, that paragraph, of the textbooks. We need to start comparing our students’ performance with students in, say, Jordan. We in the media have to be part of this debate. It’s not just a question of making my sons and daughters good Muslims. It’s making sure they can get a job in the future.”

When our CEO, Susan, visited with the 17th Gyawang Karmapa, the second most revered spiritual leader of the Tibetan people in exile, she asked him what she, as an American traveler could do to help. His response was astounding. He asked that she use what she absorbed on her trip to help Tibetan children learn about their culture, even if they were far removed from that region of the world.From Saudi Arabia to Tibet, the question of how to keep children in line with their heritage and also up-to-date with reading, writing, and arithmetic remains a struggle for parents.

Saudi questions about what makes appropriate education has us thinking about Ace of Good partner schools. At the Tibetan Children’s Village in Suja, India many of the children endure tremendous struggles to leave China and enter India for the chance to attend school. These children identify themselves as Tibetan but there are few resources for them to express or learn about their cultural heritage.

Libya – The Struggle for Back to School Post Quaddafi

Since the beginning of its revolution last February, Libya has been in the news for the ousting of strongman Muammar Quaddafi from government. A brutal conflict has been fought between regions loyal to Quaddafi and the National Transition Council (TNC), which was created as the opposition government.

Something that hasn’t been in the news as frequently is how Libyan public schools, teachers, and children are adapting to the revolutionary changes. At Ace of Good, we study the barriers to education domestically and internationally.  We were touched by a recent article in the New York Times, “Back to School in Libya and Struggling to Adjust” (read the full article here) which addresses some of the daily concerns for schools within the transitioning state.

In Libya, teachers must bridge the political divide between pro-Quaddafi students and those sympathetic to the revolution. Schools have been bombed, used as arms shelters, and recruiting grounds for teenage soldiers. Through all of these obstacles, teachers struggle to build a new nation of proud citizens, who don’t identify solely along tribal or regional divisions. Textbooks must be thrown away. School’s renamed from pro-Quaddafi titles. New flags hung on the classroom walls.

Even the desks are a problem, as this quote from the article explains: “they threw up their hands at the Qaddafi-era etchings inscribed by students in dozens of desks: “God and Muammar and Libya and that’s all,” read one, the most popular slogan of the colonel’s supporters. “Down, down Sarkozy,” written on one desk, signaled a student’s opposition to the rebels’ foreign backers. This is all before teachers can get to the lessons.

Once they begin the lessons, teachers must face a nation divided.  Not all the children come from families who agree with the politics of the TNC. One teacher within the article accounts being slapped while engaging in a debate with a pro-Quaddafi student. Respect for political differences becomes difficult when both sides of the conflict rally for violent revolt against the other.

In many of our partner schools, children face daunting obstacles.  At the TCV in Suja, India, Tibetan children escape to India with only the clothes on their backs, to live in exile in pursuit of freedom and the right to an education. At the Enkiteng Lepa School in Kenya, female students are kept cloistered for fear they will be kidnapped by their fathers and married off in exchange for a dowry of a cow. At the Nambak Orphanage in Laos, the teachers and students grow their own food and make their own clothes, but they can not make their own school supplies.  Getting an education can be a more complex venture than simply showing up to school.

Students weigh in on the Occupy Wall St movement

Whether you agree with the Occupy Wall Street protest or are hesitant to pledge solidarity, we can all agree that issues of economic injustice are being seriously debated (if not addressed) on a national level. While the specific demands of the movement remain unclear, Slate recently wrote an excellent article that gives context to the underlying message of the 99 percent. (Read the full article here)

Here are some interesting tidbits:

  • – According to an analysis of Internal Revenue Service data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, the 99 percent account for 79 percent of income in 2008, with the top 1 percent taking the other 21 percent.
  • – The top 1 percent of households took a bigger share of overall income in 2007 than they did at any time since 1928.
  • – From 2002 until 2007, about two-thirds of all income gains went to the top 1 percent of households.
  • – Growing inequality may also mean lessening opportunity. Lessening opportunity means that society as a whole isn’t using its best assets—its people—in the most advantageous ways.

On the Pencil Promise website we discuss themes of poverty, educational opportunity, and access to resources. It’s clear that these issues are not only relevant abroad but also on our doorstep, literally a 20-minute ride on the subway from Ace of Good workspace. To get a better perspective, we decided to talk to some students at the protest about education here in the United States.

Sojourning into the heart of the protest at Zuccotti Square, we encountered Alex, a 22-year-old recent college graduate. While relaxing on yoga mats on the outer corner of tent city (not to far from the poster making station), the price of a college education was discussed. Alex said, “Getting your B.A shouldn’t be the privilege of the richest. There are scholarships available, but it would take three or four of these very competitive funds to subsidize the entirety of a $100,000 or more price-tag.”

Not everyone agrees with Alex. Another fellow protest visitor, Fiona, originally from Venezuela, expressed frustration that many of the protesters were ungrateful for the high quality of education in the United States. She argues that the expense is justified by the dedication of professors and access to state of the art research facilities at academic initiations.

“We can complain, but the reality is that people from across the world travel to the United States to learn. These are top institutions that make it possible for students to gain training so they can progress into careers that wouldn’t have been possible in their own country. Its worth the price,” Fiona explains.

Either way, at TPP we look forward to hearing more from both sides of the debate.

One-for-One For All

 

Buy one get one free. Buy one get one half off. Give one get one. The one-for-one promotional concept has been in use since the advent of retail marketing, but this sure-fire sales strategy is getting a makeover. There is a new set of social entrepreneurs that are reimagining the one-for-one concept: buy one and get one for someone in need. Tom’s Shoes, SOMA Style, Warby Parker, and of course, the Pencil Promise, are all companies that are using this strategy as a platform to increase awareness about social and environmental issues worldwide.

Take TOMS Shoes, one of the most recognized brands in the one-for-one movement. In 2006, Blake Mycoskie, founder or TOMS shoes, visited Argentina and found that many of the children had no shoes to protect their feet. Lack of footwear in developing nations often leads to increased transmission of diseases, painful infections, and prohibits children from attending school because they are a mandatory part of required uniforms. With the price point for a pair of TOMS shoes at approximately 44 dollars, giving back is built into their sourcing, production, and distribution costs.

Another lesser known company is the One World Futbol Project, which has developed an all-terrain football (or soccer ball in North American lingo) that will never fall flat, regardless of whether it is punctured. The founder, Tim Jahnigen, conceived of the idea when he saw video of Darfur refugees playing with a make-shift ball that didn’t seem to glide the right way. For every ball purchased, one will be distributed to a refugee camp, war zone, or poverty-stricken community.

At the Pencil Promise we’re committed to giving you the highest quality packs, pens, and pencils so we can afford to give our Pencil Promise kids highest quality materials for their academic success.

Our Mission-Loud and Proud

 

Ace of Good is a backpack company that began with a promise. This was not a promise to end world hunger, create peace in war-ravage countries, or change the socio-economic distribution of resources. It was a far humbler promise, a promise to deliver school supplies to children on the outskirts of the city of Phenom Phen, Cambodia after a chance encounter between some children living on a garbage dump and our CEO, Susan Barron Trenk.

School supplies? The UN estimates that there are 120 million children world-wide that cannot attend school, not because there isn’t a school available, but because they cannot afford the basic school supplies necessary to enroll. UNESCO estimates that if every child could read, 171 million children would be lifted out of poverty. If 171 million children can be lifted out of poverty from the opportunity of an education, this is just about the best anti-hunger, poverty eliminating project available.

In the year 2011, where a pencil costs less than 10 cents to produce, it is unacceptable that a child is denied an education because this price is too high. For every backpack purchased on our website, the Pencil Promise delivers a backpack to a child in need filled with all the supplies necessary to achieve academic success. In 2010, our kids won academic prizes in competition with students throughout India. That’s one example of our pencils being put to good use.

Since that initial trip to Cambodia in 2009, the Pencil Promise has made three additional trips delivering backpacks filled with school supplies to thousands of children in need. We have many trips planned for the 2011-2012 academic year, starting with Kenya in January and revisiting all of our schools around the world.

We began with a simple promise. It was a promise to start a backpack company that did something more than just sell backpacks (although we’re very proud of our bags). It was a promise to remove the barriers to education to build stronger, more economically viable communities. One backpack purchased, one delivered. One child given access to an education, one family able to break the cycle of poverty. One family out of poverty, the next generation given a greater chance to succeed.

Maybe it wasn’t such a simple promise after all. One backpack = one education= one future. Join us.

Ace of Good

 

Ace of Good has recently returned from an incredible journey to India, delivering school supplies to over one thousand children. We bring back  with us countless stories and many lives touched. Here is a retrospective of some of our favorite moments from the trip:

Mother enjoying time with her child.
Families invited us into their homes and talked about dreams for their children’s future. This mom told us that her two older children want to be doctors.

Students from the Tent School showing off their Pencil Promise gearStudents from the Tent School showing off their Pencil Promise gear.

Two students eager to use their supplies.
As we were leaving the Charan Khad neighborhood we noticed two students eager to use their supplies.

Susan with the girs of the Hostel School Susan with the girls of the Hostel School.

Empowering Women Program Dharamsala, India

Empowering Women

The next time the Pencil Promise makes a school supply delivery in India, instead of bringing backpacks from the United States, we look to source our backpacks right here in Dharamsala. We met with the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA), an organization that gives jobs training to Tibetan Refugee women and wives of Political Prisoners in Tibet. One of their programs, Stitches of Tibet (SOT), teaches women sewing skills. We met with the director and the seamstresses to discuss hiring them to sew all of our backpacks for our India deliveries next year.

This mirrors our program in Cambodia where we have partnered with Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC), an organization that runs a similar sewing program outside of Siem Reap. Ace of Good has sponsored a classroom and will hire the seamstress students to sew all backpacks that we will deliver during our Cambodia trip in December.

At the Pencil Promise, we believe that locally sourcing our production gives us the opportunity to help women within the community achieve financial independence. This allows us to tackle the problem of poverty from two levels: parents and children. It also lets us deliver some beautifully-made school supplies at lowered shipping costs. That’s a win-win in our books.

Tibetan Children’s Village School, Suja

Tibetan Children’s Village School, Suja
Tibetan Children’s Village School, Suja

In upper Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama is living in exile, the Pencil Promise made a delivery to hundreds of Tibetan refugee children at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) in Suja. This school, started by the Dalai Lama’s sister, provides shelter and education for Tibetan refugee children, many orphaned and destitute.

Every year, between two to three thousand Tibetans flee to India to pursue an education. Once they arrive in Dharamsala, India, they are placed in a Refugee Reception Center until their transition into a school can be arranged. While their basic needs such as food and accommodation are provided, supplies such as backpacks, notebooks, and pencils are in desperate need for school-aged children.

Sonam, the principal of the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Suja talks to us about his Tibetan refugee students:

“My students have all left everything behind; their families, their friends, their homes, in pursuit of an education and the freedom to study their Tibetan heritage. They come with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They risk their lives making the journey here. They are so highly motivated to learn that they wake up at 4 in the morning to study. We tell them that they have to pursue a strong body as well as a strong mind and that they need sleep, but they’re still up at 4am studying.”

The Tent School in Charan Khad, Dharamsala

A Tibetan monk, Jamyang discussing the Tent School with Susan
(A Tibetan monk, Jamyang discussing the Tent School with Susan)

In Lower Dharamsala, Ace of Good made a delivery of school supplies to local Indian children living in Charan Khad, a slum where the entire community survives solely through begging and scavenging through garbage. With the introduction of the Tent School founded by The Tong-Len Charitable Trust, these children now have access to an education, which is the only way to break the cycle of poverty experienced for the past five generations. A Tibetan monk, Jamyang, founded Tong-Len as a way to give back to the local Indian community that has welcomed the exiled Tibetan population.

One of the main problems facing the Tent School is that children can earn up to 500 Rupees (about $10 per day) begging in the nearby town, making begging a more economically viable option than attending school. Compared to the $2 per day made by adults working on a sponsored highway maintenance projects, this income is substantial. Tong-Len Trust offsets this loss by giving families a stipend for every child enrolled in school. Enrolling the children in school, however, is only partially successful if the children don’t have school supplies to participate. Most of the families in the Charan Khad community barely have money for food let alone pencils, notebooks, and other essential classroom materials.

Ace of Good was honored to bring 115 backpacks filled with school supplies to the Tent School. Where an education is possible, the Pencil Promise is committed to delivering.

The Hostel School in Dharamsala, India

 

For students at the Tent School who show dedication and academic excellence, the Tong-Len Charitable Trust has started a program called the Hostel School. They provide housing and education for twenty boys and girls in a hostel setting not far from Charan Khad. During our delivery there, some of students shared their stories with us.

One girl told us of begging with her mother on the streets of town starting before she reached the age of three. Since coming to the Tent School at ten years-old, not knowing how to read or write, she is now at the Hostel School winning academic prizes against other students her age throughout India.

A young boy told us about coming to the Hostel School from Charan Khad, after his father died of alcoholism. He told of his father sending him out daily to scavenge through garbage dumpsters in search of anything to sell while his father was home drinking. He is excelling in his studies and hopes to be a doctor.

Ace of Good looks forward to making an annual delivery to revisit with the Hostel School students and refresh their supplies.  Each new school year they progress one step closer to their professional aspirations (many of them hoping to be doctors or teachers) and we look forward to participating in this growth.

Blessings from His Holiness the 17th Gyawang Karmapa

At Gyuto Tantric University, Ace of Good was granted the honor of an audience with His Holiness The 17th Gyawang Karmapa, the second most revered spiritual leader of the Tibetan people in exile. During our chatty and delightful meeting, His Holiness shared much about his personal life, his surprise at learning he was the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, and as the youngest of many, how this new found fame meant his older brothers and sisters couldn’t boss him around anymore! He spoke of his personal feelings about the Tibetan dilemma, and of living in exile. His Holiness thanked and blessed Ace of Good group and our mission to deliver school supplies to children in need.

Karmapa

Ace of Good group with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, wearing the traditional white silk scarves that His Holiness blessed for us.

Ace of Good Group Arrives in Northern India

Ace of Good group arrived in Northern India, at the foothills of the Himalayas, by plane from Delhi, gratefully landing in between storms, thus saving us the 13 hour bus ride that was our Plan B.

We were greeted by the amazing sights of Dharamsala; Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the breeze and Tibetan Monks and Nuns in deep red robes, scurrying everywhere under colorful umbrellas. The traffic was a mix of goats, monkeys, cows, donkeys, motorbikes, mule-carts, and cars all traveling on two way streets that are, infact, not quite one lane wide. The descriptor ‘hills’ in the word ‘foothills’ is indeed misleading and the steep hairpin turns of the cliff-like mountain roads necessitated that the eight members of our group traveled in three separate compact cars because a larger van could not make the turns.

The temples are stunning, the echoes of monks from the monasteries are enchanting, and the weather changes from a glorious sunny day to completely fogged-in at the drop of a turban.