By Wanda Bedard
We had the perfect evening planned. Everything was set up, organized, coordinated, printed, ordered, thought out, written, practiced, and tested. We were close to being sold out. We weren’t worried about snow storms, volcanic ash in the sky. There were no flood warnings, no wild fires here. And yet, our highly anticipated 5th anniversary conference didn’t take place.
Our disappointment was keen as it was for the hundreds of guests who looked forward to hearing Greg Mortenson and understanding even more just what impact education of girls has on entire communities everywhere around the world. Our understanding is that all his speaking engagements for the next months have been cancelled due to his health situation.
We were disappointed that the conference presentation could not take place as we had expected but we were even more disappointed to not be able to share our annual evening with you: to update you on the latest reports on our projects, to talk about the projects and partners we are supporting this year in Sierra Leone, in Ivory Coast and in Kenya and Malawi. We missed not having had the chance of seeing you and being able to celebrate what we’ve accomplished together.
But… we do have a few ideas up our sleeves for a way to celebrate our 5th anniversary with you in another way. We’ll keep you posted.
Please take a look at the articles in this newsletter to get some idea of what is happening across the country in support of 60 million girls and some recent additions and changes to help us keep you better informed about the foundation and other links to girls education through our new and improved website and our presence on Facebook, Twitter and our new blogs. We are so fortunate to be able to count on amazing, talented, creative and generous volunteers who keep us linked, updated, on-line (and in line!!) and in the know.
Thank you for being part of our team to support girls around the world!
By Wanda Bedard
The temptation was the description in an e-mail I received last November: a trek in the Himalayas in Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon. How could I pass up such an opportunity? The fabled land of Bhutan, the world’s youngest democracy, only very recently opened to regulated tourism. Television is part of its environment since just 1999, the internet since 2003. And… Gross National Happiness. Just what is this country that believes in actually measuring and ensuring the quality of life and social progress of its citizens through a formal system of review of all economic and development plans of its government??? Is the government actually interested in the fundamental well-being of its citizens to the point of denying economic development at any cost? Throw in the possibility of a school visit in this far off country and this 60MG volunteer just couldn’t resist anymore!
Twenty-eight hours of travelling brought me and my tour group to land amongst the peaks of the Himalayas in Paro, the only airport in Bhutan. At 7,500 ft altitude in this valley, the views of the mountains surrounding us were absolutely breathtaking and somewhat surreal. After 4 months of planning and training, I was finally there, my trusty -10C sleeping bag safely in my arms. Trekking meant altitude, steep climbs and winter camping conditions. What more could you want to relax on your yearly vacation??
While the trekking was spectacular, it was also one of the most grueling physical activities that I have ever done. The altitude literally takes your breath away. But what an occasion to understand just what the country is all about and to start getting an appreciation of why GNH is almost the natural extension of Bhutan’s cultural values and the religious values of Buddhism.
One only need look at the 100 ft tall trees, the pristine forests, lakes, rivers, the 38 varieties of rhododendrons growing wild everywhere on the mountainsides to understand that the Bhutanese live by the Buddhist principles of respecting all sentient things. Virgin forest still covers over 25% of the country. Forests must total over 70% of the landmass at all times. Bhutan is working towards becoming the first country in the world to produce 100% organic food. Cigarettes are banned along with plastic bags. Fishing and hunting are almost unheard of.
Ok. So good for the environment. What about people? Progress? Economic development? GNH is in place to ensure that economic decisions are made while always keeping in mind the well-being of citizens.
We had the opportunity to meet with the Centre for Bhutan Studies’ Director, Dasho Karma Ura as well as with Mr. Karma Tshiteem, Secretary of Bhutan’s GNH Commission who is responsible for coordinating Bhutan’s socio-economic plan and policies. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement which is similar to the tools often used by environmental groups to assess the impact of government planned decisions on the environment.
We learned that the four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. The Centre for Bhutan Studies further defined these four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness: physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. Although the GNH framework reflects its Buddhist origins, it is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and wellbeing.
Suffice it to say that GNH is no afterthought or political slogan. It is a seriously conceived, studied, analyzed and measured system by a country and its leaders and citizens believing that economic development is not the only path to the well-being of a people. It is a very reasonable approach to including all the costs of ”progress” before heading inexorably in a direction which may cause more harm than good in the long term.
Will Bhutan manage to stave off the negative aspects of development from its increasing openness to outside influences and values while embracing the positive ones? What will Bhutan look like in 5 to 10 years? I can only wish the country well in preserving its identity, values and commitment to peace and harmony. In my travels through other developing countries, I have never yet seen how visionary leadership, cultural foundations and peace can lead to such a positive society despite still very low economic indicators.
In terms of education, I think Mr. Karma Tshiteem answered my question the way I’ve always dreamed all country leaders would: what place does education play in your plans for Bhutan? ”Without it there is no hope for our country. Education is not a cost. It is an investment in each and every individual that we must make to ensure that all that talent and potential is working hard for our whole society, to help each other. We will surpass the Millenium Development Goal in Education by a wide margin and well before the 2015 deadline. Our goal is 100% enrolment for all children at least until 12 years of schooling. We are almost there now.”
We had a chance to visit one rural school where this was clearly in evidence along with a whole host of holistic and creative approaches to hygiene, water, well-being and curriculum. Daily 30 minute meditation time is set aside for all students throughout the country first thing in the morning to help them focus on their inner development and bring thoughtful commitment to their studies into play. When you see and hear the impact of Buddhist values at every turn, everywhere, you have to believe that inner time for reflection has a lot to recommend it.
I can’t argue with this kind of progress.
Some interesting links on Bhutan:
- Wikipedia entry on Bhutan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan
- Ted Talks – Chip Conley, Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile:www.ted.com/talks/chip_conley_measuring_what_makes_life_worthwhile.html
By Paula Gallagher
The Vancouver team of the 60 million girls foundation was truly invigorated by our launch on March 8, 2011, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day! New supporters were gained, old acquaintances renewed, and many more people in Vancouver now recognize 60 million girls, and understand the need for increased awareness and support of girls’ education internationally. The evening was everything we had hoped for!
In the weeks since, the Vancouver team has been busy:
- We are promoting 60 million girls donation cards ($25) for thank-you gifts (especially for teachers at this time of year), for birthday gifts (the socially-minded friend or the friend who wants for nothing!), and for memorial gifts.
- We are reaching out to local educators and service groups for 60 million girlsfoundation speaker opportunities.
- We are arranging two upcoming guest speaker evenings. One will be later this summer, and the other will take place likely in early 2012. Both speakers are well-known at home and abroad, are expert in their professions and are Canadian! We will post further information soon.
The months ahead look both busy and bright…just the way we want them!
By Wanda Bedard
When 60 million girls was first incorporated in February 2006, we figured that a website would be important to enable us to share information with our eventual supporters. When one of our friends first offered to create the website for us, she asked me how many web pages I expected we would need. In my infinite wisdom, I told her 5-6 pages should be plenty. And so the website was designed accordingly!
Needless to say, I rather underestimated the power of a website and I certainly didn’t anticipate the foundation’s growth and the ever increasing amount of information we felt we needed to share with our community. Enter Louise Dalpé, Lee Ehler, Negin Atashband and Liah Fereydoonzad, who made me understand the website had to be re-designed, now!
Two months of preparation meetings and 6 months of work (I have been afraid to ask how many hours) have resulted in a new website that is much easier to update, which can now easily feature video and pictures, enables easy transfer between the English and French pages, better layout for information such as report updates on past projects, clearer access to 2G2 activities and links to Facebook, Twitter and our blog. And, as with almost every single thing we do, all this work was done pro-bono (and exactly on schedule!).
So thank you to our wonderful web team for making this happen and for making life at 60 million girls easier and more efficient and for enabling us to provide more timely and meaningful information to all our supporters.
By Lesley Stewart
Like everyone else, 60 milion girls must embrace the 21st century with open arms. In an age of advancing technology and social media, we realize our message needs to be accessible to you in the most convenient way possible. Now, there are 3 new ways to follow what 60 million girls is doing: our blog in English, our blog in French and Twitter.
Our blogs will keep you updated on 60 million girls‘ important events and information about what’s happening in girls’ education. With Twitter, you will be able to follow our events as well as interesting links to news, research and the people and trends that we are following.
Join us, follow us and share the message. Keep informed on why education for girls is so vitally important and how healthy, safe and empowered girls transform families, communities and countries.
By Lesley Stewart
Lake Martin-LeBlanc, a grade six student, is probably very much like many other girls of her age. She participates in sports of all kinds, enjoys writing poetry and reading, and loves musical theatre. She attends Williamson Road School, a school that has worked closely for several years with Free the Children. As an ambassador of Williamson Road’s Life in Actionteam, Lake has helped raise funds for a school in Ecuador.
Perhaps this and the fact that her cousin, Kristen, spent a month in Kenya with Marc Kielburger have generated Lake’s interest in girls’ education. Shortly before her twelfth birthday, she decided to research charities online and, in particular, charities that support girls. After checking the CanadaHelps website, she found 60 million girls. Lake then asked her relatives to donate to our foundation rather than give her a gift for her birthday. At first, they questioned her decision. Was this her idea? Was she sure? However, she convinced them and they all donated to the foundation.
Lake’s gesture was a generous one and reflects an awareness of the importance of education for girls as well as the plight of others less fortunate than herself. In her own words, “I am glad that my donations to your charity will help. It has always been a dream of mine to travel somewhere and help others in need!!!” Lake has proven that one need not be an adult to make wise and informed choices. She is an example to us all.
By Vida Fereydoonzad
The 60 million girls t-shirt has been traveling all over the world. Just this year, it has visited Machu Picchu, the French Alps, the Himalayas in Bhutan, Tuscany, London, Geneva, Mozambique and Jerusalem to name a few.
We have a great collection of pictures from our growing community. You can find them all on the 2GENERATION2 website along with all the information on how to get your own traveling t-shirt.
For more information or to send us your pictures please email us at email@example.com.