Category Archives: Education

Khurshid Drabu – a life well lived

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A Surrey reader draws our attention to Khurshid Drabu’s obituary in the Times.  

Khurshid Hassan Drabu was born in Srinagar in Kashmir. He graduated in political science from Sri Pratap College. There he captained the cricket team in the Ranji Trophy, playing alongside two future captains of India, the Nawab of Pataudi and Bishan Bedi, Indeed, he once hit the great spin bowler for four fours in an over, and went on to play for Jammu and Kashmir.

Khurshid Drabu arrived in Britain in 1971 with a few pounds in his pocket. In 1977 he was called to the Bar, then returned with his wife Reefat to Kashmir. He practised at the High Court in Srinagar, as well as teaching at Kashmir University, but felt that he was not given the job he had been promised. They returned to Britain in 1980 and settled in Hampshire, first in Southampton, then in the village of Otterbourne. He was also an avid gardener — “he loved a water feature,” said Aliya — and, with Reefat, took an overgrown mess of a garden in Otterbourne and transformed it into one his daughters could use for their weddings. He loved birds and had an aviary with finches and quails.

Drabu resumed his human rights work. One of his former colleagues, Meekal Hashmi, who is now a senior lawyer with an asset management company, recalled: “My first legal job was working for the Commission for Racial Equality in 1994. . . He was a natural leader; there were some big personalities and he managed to command respect. We felt we were driven by a purpose and, under his watch, he cleverly managed to stop the organisation from becoming too politicised, which could easily have happened”.

In 1996 Khurshid Drabu became Britain’s first Muslim judge. By then he was one of the country’s most influential Muslims, having won a number of significant immigration cases in the 1980s. A Home Office minister described him as “the authority in immigration law”.

He co-founded the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body for 500 mosques, schools and associations, in 1997. MCB’s profile grew, sometimes controversially, with its vocal opposition to alleged human rights violations in Palestine, but Drabu defended its right to speak out. He went farther, telling the Muslim community that they had a responsibility to condemn terrorism, even if, as he put it, they found it “extremely offensive and insulting” to be asked to do so. The attacks of 2001 and 2005, he said, should galvanise the community into displaying the “true spirit of Islam”, which involved the acceptance of other religions.

Drabu was appointed an honorary adviser to the Ministry of Defence in 2002 when there were only 25 Muslims in the armed forces. He promoted new policies such as allowing Muslims to sport beards and to have a full-time imam. Over the next few years the numbers rose to more than 800 in active service. “All I told them was to provide halal food and the rest just happened,” he said.

In 2006 he helped to launch the Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board, Minab, and declared that the vision of reforming British mosques and winning back what was referred to as a “lost generation” of young Muslims was being undermined by the poor quality of many imams.

In 2007 he gave a speech to 300 imams from around the country and told them that mosques should not function as “men’s prayer clubs”. He urged them to ensure that women received absolutely equal treatment.

He was a mentor to the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who started his career as a human rights lawyer. “He was a pioneer in promoting community cohesion and interfaith work in Britain,” Khan said. “He spent his life bringing people from all walks of life together: young and old, rich and poor, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Jews and people from all backgrounds.” He was awarded a CBE in 2010, his reward for “bringing communities together”.

Drabu’s goals and his vision were simple: “I just hope one day we will live in a society where there is a better understanding of each other,” he said in 2013. “That is all I seek.” 

Khurshid Drabu was born on March 8, 1946. He died on April 20, 2018, aged 72, after a heart attack

 

 

 

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Smaller charities which genuinely help the poorest in Uganda, Cambodia, Ladakh and India

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In his seminal book, Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock presented a chilling exposé of the mainstream ‘aid game’ and the ‘well-heeled czars who control this multi-billion-dollar industry’.

He gave a brutally frank account of the strings attached to aid and questioned the criteria and agendas set by western aid agencies in disbursing aid. The Times of India comments, “As we have seen in our own part of the world, a plethora of middlemen has come up in the aid business. It is they who negotiate on behalf of the voiceless dispossessed and it is into their pockets that the bulk of the aid resources goes. (TOI: 8.2.03)

        Brief accounts of four projects which have in common:

  • they have voluntary organisers or co-ordinators,
  • they are supported by voluntary fund raisers in the UK,
  • centred on service to the young
  • and staffed by well-motivated and capable local people.

Ben Parkinson and the Butterfly Project in Uganda

The Butterfly Project was founded in 2009, recruiting able and socially concerned children from rural Lyantonde and slum areas in Kampala.

The initial recruits are now young changemakers, winning awards, and establishing social projects, attracting international funding for their work. They are creative thinkers, working to solve some of Uganda’s social problems, forming a team used to working with others on projects, most recently the Slum Run for children working in quarries, the Active Youths magazine and the Changemaker Band.

There are now almost 40 young changemakers who are in or have completed their training, which starts with a one-year intensive programme in Kampala, then continues with support and guidance, through giving opportunities to deliver and participate in youth programmes, as they go through school.

In Year 1, tuition is paid for Butterfly members in a school in Kampala, but the plan, for all subsequent years, is to teach members in a specially empowering school, to be called the Chrysalis Secondary School, which will encourage its students, whether they are a member of the core project or not, to see themselves as architects of change in Uganda, just as Butterfly Project members already do.

During term-time, the school will offer regular ICT training to its pupils, both during the school day and after, helping some to become programmers and games designers.  Regular sports, athletics, netball, volleyball and football, will be provided. Children are encouraged to expand their vision, by engaging other leisure pursuits, to discover their passion and how they might focus this passion by becoming a changemaker.  The Butterfly Project believes in play for young people and will include games (sports, boardgames and computer games) in both teaching and leisure time.

Christine Parkinson and others raise funds in UK via CYEN.

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The Sacred New Era (SNE) School in Ladakh

The Sacred New Era (SNE) School provides holistic education to those in need. Founded by Shabir Banday, with the help of his parents, friends and supporters, the school opened in 2001 with 5 pupils aged 2½ & 3 years of different faiths and ethnic groups, from villages around Leh, and even further away.

Progressive knowledge is offered. This does not mean abandoning the age-old culture but upholding the rich heritage and promoting it along with modern concepts.

A Montessori approach encourages children from an early age to think for themselves and become aware. This school is different from general Ladakhi Schools and is growing because parents are realizing its beneficial qualities. It offers a unique education and is an example of diverse communities within Ladakh working together.

The main difference between SNE and other private schools in Leh is that children and teachers are from Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. In addition to their general studies/subjects, they are also taught their own basic religious studies. They work and play alongside those of other Faiths, where friendship and knowledge can contribute to tolerance and understanding between faith cultures—so vital for our troubled world today.

On 2nd July 2011, Denise Moll, Rachel Tolmie, Phillida Ball and Shabir Banday got together and founded SESOL Charity (SC041237) in Scotland. The primary aim of the charity is to help SNE School in India, and also to help disadvantaged communities in Scotland.

In the latest newsletter, Shabir Banday and Denise write about challenges faced by the school. The government decreed that the school could only teach pupils up to 12 years, so the older class and 2 of the teachers had to leave (all have done well since then). The building, which had enjoyed a solitary life, was now being crowded in by much building of houses all round it, and they lost a crucial playground … building in Leh has accelerated almost as much as in Europe, with hotels popping up everywhere, some roads being tarmacked and many improvements made to attract tourists. The school building also was in need of some repair and decoration. Throughout this period, the teachers have been patient and understanding. It was a real test for their commitment to the school. They showed enthusiasm and belief in the school, its teaching and place in Leh with regard to other schools. They are all owed money as, during the unsettled period, payments were deferred. After much discussion and thoughtful consideration, they decided they themselves could not find a better school in Leh and banded together to do what they could to keep SNE alive and kicking. They donated spare time to making necessary repairs to the building and painted it from top to toe. Money had been put aside for the needed materials, and they prioritised this over their own pay which has amazed and awed Shabir’s family and myself!

Whilst in Ladakh last year Shabir had meetings with a wider group outside the School about the piece of donated Government land on which it is proposed to build a new SNE School with greater facilities. First, a wall needs to be built round the land for protection, and the land levelled. He met with an architect to discuss a draft design for a new school building, and the architect, together with a small group will be seeking appropriate funding.

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Grace House, Cambodia

Grace House Community Centre works in several villages between Siem Reap and Tonle Sap. Little of the tourist dollar reach the families who rely on subsistence farming and fishing. Bridget Cordory (Chair) is one of the original founders of GHCC and managed the project in Cambodia for 8 years and remains actively involved with GHCC. Her husband, Alan, remained in Cambodia as Bridget returned to work in social care and the arts in Gloucestershire.

At Grace House we strongly believe education and inclusion will improve the livelihoods of this generation and the next. Our programmes start from early years and continue through to further education. Sometimes poverty leads parents to place their children in orphanages; we support the families ensuring children remain in education in English language, health, leadership, IT, training electricians and craft and stay in the family unit.

Starting with a converted Khmer house and 70 students GHCC has grown to educating 300 + students in 8 classrooms, a library, IT suite, electrician’s training room, 2 social enterprises, special needs classroom and small group home. In providing opportunities to learn vocational, craft and language skills, families will increase their ability to earn an income or run a business, enabling them to become self-sufficient.

Grace House Community Centre intends to achieve this by –

  • Educating the children in English Language and ensuring they receive a state education.
  • Supporting families while learning new skills and setting up new business with the help of micro loans.
  • Access to health care sanitation, clean water, dry homes and safe electricity.
  • Encourage inclusion of children with special needs in Siem Reap Province by enabling them to receive specialist education and a safe, caring environment for respite and transitional care.

Learn more and see the video pictured above here: https://www.gracehousecambodia.net

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VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh : the project continues, but the volunteering scheme closes

Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it. Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome. “There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on. There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement. Read about their work on the VRI website.

 

 

 

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Mumbai’s Tree Saviour 1: neighbourhood trees

This is a brief account of a citizen of Mumbai battling – in his spare time – to prevent the destruction of trees in his city.

After realising that the fine rain trees which shaded the roads in his neighbourhood were being cut down, Zoru Bhathena discovered online that over 2000 trees had been axed due to infection by mealybugs and the municipal authority was taking no action to limit this. He points out that the problem is simply resolved: once a tree has been infected it needs to be felled to prevent the infection from spreading to healthy trees. See the latest video here:

He draws attention to the Tree Act (1975) which gives extensive instructions ofr increasing tree cover in Maharashtra – summarised below.

Zoru decided to file a public interest litigation (PIL) as well as actively campaigning with protesting neighbourhood groups and publicising the case on Facebook.

It is reported that judges presiding over the Bombay High Court (HC) hearing in 2016 asked BMC:  “Unless you conduct a tree census in a proper scientific manner with the help of experts, how will you know the situation?” The HC said it will have to examine the manner in which BMC conducts the tree census. Advocate Joaquim Reis and advocate Trupti Puranik, representing said BMC had planted about 1,546 new trees in place of the dead trees, but the petitioner’s counsel, Kainaz Irani, pointed out: “The corporations plant young saplings which do not survive”. Another report added some interesting details.

The HC said that it would focus on two issues — preservation of existing trees and the census of trees so that they can be protected and increasing the green cover, by planting more trees.  

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Fintech startups – Bethnal Green Ventures: Paul Miller

Our attention has been drawn to  a recent article by Paul Miller, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures.

He recalls that in the midst of the financial turmoil of 2008 BGV decided to try something new. They brought together technologists and engineers with people who worked at the sharp end of social and environmental problems in ‘social innovation camps’.

The fintech startup scene had yet to emerge and whole swathes of society, low-income households, people dependent on care, former prisoners, migrant workers, homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers had been poorly served by traditional financial institutions.

In a report, Access to Financial Services in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority painted a bleak picture of how well the existing financial services companies are rising to the challenge. Paul says: “Fast forward almost ten years and a lot has changed. Now there is a huge startup scene in the UK and the tech for good community has mushroomed with thousands of people putting their technology skills to use, solving problems in health, education, the environment and democracy”.

The FT reports that Bethnal Green Ventures is another early stage UK investor backing tech innovators addressing social problems.

Since 2012, the company has helped launch more than 90 “tech for good” ventures through a twice-yearly accelerator programme. Funded by Nesta and Nominet Trust — the company’s founding partners — as well as the UK Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, these three-month programmes offer start-ups a £20,000 investment as well as mentoring in return for 6% equity.

Investments include Dr Doctor’s appointment management service, which claims to save the NHS more than £1.2m a year by reducing the number of patients failing to attend medical appointments, and Open Utility, which plans to allow people to buy excess solar power from their neighbours instead of power stations.

Bethnal Green Ventures holds meetings every few months for nearly 6,000 members, many of them working at banks or advertising agencies, but with an interest in donating their time to social projects at the weekend. Paul Miller, chief executive of Bethnal Green Ventures, says it has so far doubled the estimated market value of its investments.

Paul continues: “At Bethnal Green Ventures we want to invest in these new ventures tackling financial inclusion and income inequality. We’re interested in ideas that could:

  • Enable excluded people to gain access to a bank account in the first place. There are an estimated 1.5 million ‘unbanked’ people in the UK and evidence suggests that some groups of people are more likely to experience difficulties proving their identity and/or their address in order to open an account. There’s no need to change the know your customer rules but new services are needed to help people identify themselves in a way that is realistic in their circumstances.
  • Provide fair access to credit. We’re interested in new business models that help reduce risk (both real and perceived) in lending to groups that have found it hard to get loans in the past.
  • Create high quality financial advice extended to previously excluded groups. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be offered financial planning advice, augmenting the assets of those who are already financially secure. There’s an opportunity to provide financial education and advice into new markets at low cost.
  • Provide access to benefits and insurance that are relevant to the modern world of work. With the rise of the gig economy and changing patterns of work people need new ways of protecting themselves for when things go wrong or their circumstances change”.

He ends: “If the fintech sector is to avoid the social pariah fate of the financial services sector following the 2008 crisis, it needs to take creating a positive social impact seriously. It’s not just about ‘doing good’, we believe that it presents a brilliant business opportunity as well”.

Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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Citizen to Activist – news from Australia

A reader sent a link to this text (summary below) and the video, prompting further searches.

Average Australian citizens from farmers to doctors, are being compelled to fight battles they never imagined they would need to, with reports out of Standing Rock about America’s North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), filling news feeds on global social media sites, and people powered planetary protection happening in just about every nook and cranny of the world. One blog is headed: Australia has its own Dakota pipleine story and it’s happening right now!

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Koonorigan filmmakers David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (our reader’s sister-in-law) produced, directed and edited the clip, working with local artivist filmmakers Cloudcatcher Media, who spend much of their time documenting these struggles and were themselves compelled to create a short animation as a response to those who would if they could, but didn’t know how.

Citizen to Activist, or as it is affectionately known C2A, is a not-so serious guide to becoming an activist, using the example of the Australian fight against unconventional gas and coal mining, travelling the film festival circuit for almost a year with national and international screenings. It has had great success with audiences from every quarter enjoying the film, as well as some wins at film festivals including a place at the Noosa International Film Festival and winning the jury prize for best film at Byron All Shorts.

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Everyone involved with the film gave tirelessly and freely of their time and energy. David and Eve felt that with no money made or exchanged in the making of the film, it was destined to be a part of the Creative Commons, so C2A has one more gift to give – the film has just been released on several platforms for free public viewing.

‘With NGOs being hamstrung by fears of losing tax deductibility, the ABC under the hammer and much of the private media increasingly owned by mining interests, it’s up to citizens to educate and uplift one another,’ says Cloudcatcher David Lowe.

‘This is why we’re giving this film away for free.’

It is hoped that citizens will watch and share the film and gain strength and hope from its message as we step one more day into the fray.

You can view the clip on YouTube, Vimeo or on Facebook

 

 

 

There are plenty of brilliant plans for getting us moving without trashing the planet

George Monbiot asks: “So why aren’t they happening?”

In the Guardian he described and denounced the current inefficient and polluting transport system.

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“If you controlled the billions that are spent every year, privately and publicly, on the transport system, and your aim was to smooth the passage of those who use it, is this what you would do? Only if your imagination had been surgically excised.

“Even in a small, economically mature, densely-populated nation like this one, where change is easy, we’re still driving in the wrong direction.

“The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget, as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent and ensured that it doesn’t happen again”.

So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st Century transport system for the 21st Century? Here is a summary of the excellent constructive advice he gave:

  • aggregate people’s requests via a smartphone app,
  • use minibus services to collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes.
  • build a network of such safe, pleasant and convenient walking and cycling paths (like those in Hamburg) that no one with the ability to do otherwise set a date by which no new car is manufactured unless it’s electric,
  • set up household charging points, allowing people to plug in without having to take their car off the road,
  • introduce a scrappage payment to replace old cars with no car at all: it would take the form of public transport tokens,
  • facilitate ‘walking buses’ to school: parents take turns to lead a crocodile of children,
  • organise local drop-off points, so that parcel companies don’t clog our streets, and we never miss deliveries,
  • provide bikes to hire at train and bus stations,   synchronising bus and train timetables,
  • reopen old rail lines which were closed in the mistaken belief that train travel was on the way out and build new lines to bridge the gaps,
  • bring train services under public control and use the money now spent on road building to make tickets affordable for everyone,
  • implement the brilliant plan proposed by Dr Alan Storkey: for an intercity bus network faster and more convenient than car travel, using dedicated lanes on the motorways and interchanges at the motorway junctions and
  • build new settlements around public transport hubs – light rail, tram and electric bus systems – rather than around the car.
  • (Ed: place more bulky freight on our waterways.

What is difficult about any of this? What technological barriers stand in the way? None. Transport is among the simplest of our problems to solve.