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'One village, one child at a time'

Last modified: 9/10/2010 12:00:00 AM
Here in New Hampshire, it's back-to-school time. But according to the World Bank, 72 million kids who aren't in primary school won't be learning the Three R's, or anything else, this year. Those numbers are likely to go even higher given the recent flooding in Pakistan, which destroyed schools along with other infrastructure.

What does this have to do with us? Why should Congress pass the Education for All Act, with so many pressing issues before it? Because universal access to basic education will change the world.

There are plenty of studies correlating the stunning economic, health and social benefits of education in the developing world. Civilian and military leaders across the political spectrum point to the importance of winning hearts and minds in the fight against global terrorism. Many military personnel in Afghanistan are required to read Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, so they will understand how schools can make the world safer and better. Somewhere in the world, a child who has no access to education may be the very child who could one day cure cancer or solve hunger or perfect renewable energy.

You've heard all this before. So let me tell you instead about a man who was tired of hearing it.

We are bombarded by news about the biggest problems on earth - poverty, disease, war, terrorism, hunger, drought, disaster. Many people want to turn away, thinking, 'what can I do?' Gibson's Bookstore in Concord recently hosted Jackson Kaguri, author of The Price of Stones, who decided that he could do something. He established Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project in his native Uganda, which makes education available to some of the world's poorest, most vulnerable kids. Looking at the photos on the project's website (nyakaschool.org), I noticed a simple chalkboard drawing which illustrated the connection between Uganda and the United States, Kaguri's two homes. The kids in his schools love America - all because caring individuals put those kids' 'what I want to be when I grow up' dreams in reach.

But what about all those other 72 million-plus kids' dreams? The Education for All Act calls for the U.S. to leverage exactly this kind of successful project and to work with governments and organizations to ensure that no child is really left behind, without any school or teacher at all. It's a bipartisan proposal committing U.S. support to multilateral programs that would ensure all children can go to school, including orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS, children in rural areas, religious and ethnic minorities, disabled children, child laborers, and victims of violence or trafficking. The EFA makes universal education a U.S. foreign policy priority. And it calls for coordination between school, health, community support, democracy education, entrepreneurial and agricultural programs so that stronger communities can flourish on many fronts. This holistic approach is working in Nyaka, where teachers realized that kids do their best in school if their families are able to meet their other basic needs.

Is it possible to help every child on earth get a basic education? I might have said I wasn't sure, until I met Jackson Kaguri. Now I believe it is possible, one village, one school, one child at a time.

As you watch kids in your neighborhood head back to school, take a moment to contact your congressional representatives and tell them that all of our futures depend on Education for All.

(Deb Baker is the events coordinator for Gibson's Bookstore in Concord and a longtime volunteer for advocacy groups working to end poverty.)


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