How Social Entrepreneurs Use Rice Husks to Fuel Micro Power Grids in India
RAY SUAREZ: Our next story comes from India, where entrepreneurs are turning crippling power grid problems into opportunity.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this report for our “Agents for Change” series.
RAJDEEP SARDESAI, journalist: There’s been another blackout. It’s the second in as many days, leaving almost half of India today without power.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Last year, when India suffered a massive power blackout, the worst in its history, television anchorman Rajdeep Sardesai happened to be lunching with the top government official in charge of power as the news came in.
RAJDEEP SARDESAI: For the next hour, we didn’t stop the lunch. We went ahead with the lunch. The power minister was lunching with a journalist, rather than being perhaps there in his office directing operations. That in itself epitomized for me that it wasn’t being treated as some kind of a national emergency, but another day in the office.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite billions of dollars in new infrastructure, power interruptions are chronic in India. Consumers large and small rely on backup systems, at huge cost to both the environment and economy, says energy expert Kirit Parikh. He traces the problem to policies that never really took into account the cost of power and gave it away to some consumers.
KIRIT PARIKH, energy expert: We started out with saying that farmers should get cheap and free electricity. This was 30 years ago, when we wanted farmers to really adopt more modern technologies. It was considered a good way to promote green revolution.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Power was distributed cheaply or free to farmers and other groups whose votes politicians courted. Little effort was made to meter it. That prompted many people to hook themselves up illegally. Parikh says a third of all power is stolen off the grid.
KIRIT PARIKH: Thirty percent of the generated electricity is not charged to anyone.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With little new money coming in, public utilities haven’t been able to expand capacity or buy enough fuel, like coal or natural gas, both in short supply anyway. Power must be rationed, but some regions overdraw their allotment. That can cause the system to shut down, or, as it did last year, collapse.
But power failures are just the tip of the iceberg, the urban half of a much larger problem. The grid failure may have knocked out power out to a vast area — 600 million people live in it. But to anywhere from a third to a half of them, it really didn’t matter, because they have never been hooked up to the electric grid.
Vast swathes of rural India remain off the grid or get minimal, unpredictable service from it.
RATNESH YADAV, Husk Power: In the evening, nothing is visible. It’s all dark. Life ceases to exist after sunset.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ratnesh Yadav has tried to tackle at least this part of the problem. He and a partner founded a company called Husk Power. Their idea? Village-based micro-grids.
At this one in the village of Patelli (ph) in the northeastern Bihar state, tractors arrive with rice husks, the byproduct of milling this region’s staple crop. It is poured into a hopper, about 100 pounds per hour, and gassified to run a simple turbine. Each evening, 700 customers have access to power for five hours.
Baguam Singh is one. He runs a tiny snack shop that he says he can keep open later.
MAN (through translator): We used to work with a gas light. This is much cheaper. We used to stay open until 9:00 in the evening. Now we stay open until 10:00 or 10:30, so it’s a benefit.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The newly electrified homes stand out in the dark with children clustered around the single lightbulb doing homework. Just one low-power turbine is enough to make the enterprise viable, Yadav says.
RATNESH YADAV: Thirty-two kilowatt is a small amount of energy, but for places like these, it is huge. It can power — on an average, it powers 450 households, because their primary need right now is light and cell phone recharging.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In five years, Husk Power has installed 75 of these simple plants. Their networks cover an area no bigger than a couple of square miles, with wires strung on poles made from bamboo, a renewable resource like the rice husk fuel.
RATNESH YADAV: The good thing about this rice husk is, it has no alternate uses. It doesn’t burn easily, so you can’t use it for cooking. You cannot feed it to cattle because it has high silica in it. So it is a waste. It has no value for anybody else. And that is why — and it is in plenty.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Yadav was speaking on this day to a group of foreign, so-called impact investors, who put their dollars into socially conscious enterprises.
The business model, he said, relies on simple, cheap and green technology and local control. Each plant is franchised to local entrepreneurs. In this village, it’s Shambhu Singh.
RATNESH YADAV: Ownership and operation is his responsibility. And we take care of maintenance and after-sales service.
MAN: And how is electricity distributed?
RATNESH YADAV: We use double-jacketed wires and we lay down our own distribution network and connect customers’ houses from that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jacketed or insulated wires prevent both accidental electrocution and power theft. Local franchisee Singh, whose family was in the textile business, said he’s had no problem signing people up.
MAN (through translator): In the first month, I got 25.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In just five months, Singh told the group, that number has grown to 700. He collects payment in advance each month, not hard, he says because service is reliable and costs the equivalent of just 50 cents, less than the far dimmer and dirtier kerosene lanterns or candles.
MAN: How long does it take to recover the investment that you did in this plant?
MAN (through translator): Two, two-and-a-half years.
RATNESH YADAV: Everybody is making profit. Everybody’s benefiting. It’s not a charity or donation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The visitors seem to agree and want in. Eric Berkowitz is with a Singapore-based fund that has invested $2.5 million. He likes Husk Power’s growth prospects.
ERIC BERKOWITZ, investor: As people increase income, which hopefully they will, that will create new livelihood opportunities, they will have opportunities to incrementally increase electricity that they will take from these kind of solutions, and maybe add maybe two lights, three lights, a radio, a TV, a refrigerator.
It’s not the only solution. There’s other solutions that involve solar technologies. And Husk Power is actually looking at those kind of solutions as well.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Renewable fuel plants also qualify for subsidies from India’s government and possibly credits in a global carbon trade. Power expert Parikh appreciates what micro-plants can provide, but he doesn’t see them as a long-term solution.
KIRIT PARIKH: Most people aspire to have electricity when they flip the system button and get the power as and when they want it. So this is the kind of enterprises that do work, but they are all small-scale examples.
When you really add up, how many megawatts can you really provide this way? I’m sure it’s a wonderful idea. They’re getting electricity until the time the grid comes and reaches them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He acknowledges that time may be a ways off before 24/7 grid power reaches all of India, or even urban areas that suffered most from the massive blackout.
As the debate rages on in Delhi over the right mix of coal, nuclear and green energy, Husk Power’s goal is to install almost 2,000 new micro-grids in the rural areas by 2015.
JEFFREY BROWN: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
ALAWITE ANXIETY IN TURKEY
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Turkey is predominantly Muslim, but residents of the southern Hatay region like to tout its rich, historic, religious mosaic. Christ’s apostles, Peter and Paul, spent time in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, the biblical Antioch, which is often called the cradle of Christianity.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: (through translator) Antakya is a city of tolerance. We have tolerance for every different culture and religion.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: (through translator) We have been living in Antakya with Arabs, with Sunnis, with Armenian people, with Kurdish people all together.
DE SAM LAZARO: But beneath the appearance of business as usual, there’s deep anxiety here as events unfold a few miles across the border in Syria. In furniture shops and truck repair shops, business has actually been terrible since the Syrian conflict began.
ALI ASKAR: (through translator) Of course, there was a friendship. There were organic ties between Antakya and Syria. People were coming and going between the two countries.
DE SAM LAZARO: The Syrians used to come as traders and shoppers. Now they come as refugees, and there’s a new fear of sectarian or inter-religious conflict. The refugees-some 100,000 have arrived in southern Turkey-are predominantly opponents of the Assad regime in Syria. In Hatay, that’s made for a guarded welcome.
(to Mohammad Manzalgi): Do you think many people in Antakya are sympathetic to the Assad regime?
MOHAMMAD MANZALGI: Yes, only the Alawi, yes, yes, sure, sure. Absolutely.
DE SAM LAZARO: Mohammad Manzalgi, a Sunni Syrian, said he’s tried without success to rent an apartment in Antakya as he attempts to resettle family members fleeing from Syria.
MANZALGI: The majority here in this town are from Alawi, and when they hear that you are from Syria-or you are Sunni-they tell you directly no, we don’t want to rent to you, and they meet you with anger.
DE SAM LAZARO: He’s convinced this anger is rooted in sympathy for Syrian President Bashar Assad who is Alawite-an offshoot of Shia Islam. Perhaps fifty percent of Hatay’s residents are Alawite.
Many Turkish Alawites say their concerns are driven less by sympathy for the Assad regime than a fear of what might replace it.
SERIT LIF (Newspaper Columnist): (through translator) I am an Alawite, but I do not approve of what the Assad regime is doing. I believe in the rule of law and democracy, but I don’t think this is the right approach to achieving it.
DE SAM LAZARO: He and many others fear that religious extremists have infiltrated the Syrian opposition force.
ALI YERAL (Alawite Association): (through translator) One group is chanting things like, “Christians should go to Beirut, and Alawites should go to cemeteries.” This group consists of Salafis, Al Qaeda members, and if these terrorists are able to change the Assad regime, then there will be a huge massacre against the Alawite people.
DE SAM LAZARO: Experts agree the Syrian conflict has drawn Islamic radicals, though they aren’t certain of their number and influence in the opposition forces. But the Alawite fears are well-founded in their history.
Alawites typically don’t fast during Ramadan and prayers are conducted privately or in small groups, not in mosques. They’ve not always been recognized or accepted as Muslim, especially among the Sunni majority, and at times during the Ottoman period they were put to death as infidels.
Alawites have long lived in this region that straddles the borders of modern-day Turkey and Syria, minorities in both nations. But their imprint in Syria has been huge since the 1960s after the rise of a military officer named Hafez al Assad. He spawned an Alawite military and security elite that his son, the current leader, inherited. Even though both Assads discourage sectarianism, Syria’s conflict is increasingly seen in such terms: an Alawite-dominated military against a majority Sunni opposition.
Turkey’s government has made no secret of its support of the opposition, offering not just refuge to civilians, but apparently in-and-out privileges to opposition fighters.
MOHAMMAD RAJBO (Free Syrian Army Fighter): (through translator) People on the Turkish side received us very well. They really helped us. I go to Syria for 15 to 20 days to fight, come here for 5 days at a time to rest.
DE SAM LAZARO: The close proximity of fighters and others who may have scores to settle has brought the Syrian conflict uncomfortably close for many in Hatay.
ALATTIN TAS: (through translator) Both Sunni and Alawi people have relatives or roots in Syria that have remained since the Ottoman period. So we know that any uprising, any tension in Syria is bound to have an impact here.
DE SAM LAZARO: And some of the conflict and antagonisms have spilled over onto the Turkish side.
SEMSETTIN GUNAY: (through translator) When Syrian refugees started to come here in greater numbers, we saw some of those conflicts between families spilling over on this side of the border, too.
DE SAM LAZARO: Semsettin Gunay, who is Sunni, and Alattin Tas, an Alawite, helped start a multi-sectarian civic group. They’ve used media messages to plead for calm to preserve the tolerance this community has enjoyed for decades. And they’ve worked with government officials to disperse refugees to other cities away from Alawite communities or to confine them to camps to keep the conflict from escalating here.
GUNAY: (through translator) Alawites in Hatay have a real fear, especially as the number of Syrians increased, with their different clothes and religious outlook, and there were rumors of assaults. We have succeeded in making these people less visible.
DE SAM LAZARO: They say they’re proud of Turkey’s humanitarian role and want to keep the country’s door open to refugees of all religions, but not their political issues.
The vast majority of Syrians who’ve sought refuge in Turkey have been Sunni Muslims. They hope for the imminent fall of the Assad regime. They hope to soon return to their country. The question for Turks, yet unanswered, is whether there’ll be a new wave of refugees, this time from the Alawite and other minority communities in Syria.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro along the Turkish-Syrian border.
FATHER FRECHETTE, MD
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Early each morning in the chapel of St. Damien’s Children’s Hospital, the shrouded bodies of infants—and one adult on this day—are counted, the names written down for prayers that follow at daily Mass.
REV. RICHARD FRECHETTE: Anybody that dies in our arms, as they say in Creole, in our place, then their body is first brought to the chapel so that the very next Mass we have the prayers for the dead and for their peace and for the transformation of their life to eternity and for the strength and courage of their family.
DE SAM LAZARO: Father Rick Frechette spends much of his day attacking the infant mortality he sees so literally each morning. He’s the founder of one of the largest medical care facilities for children and many adults in Haiti. It’s grown by necessity, often out of tragedy. Frechette is a member of the Community of Passionists, a global Catholic order, and he began 25 years ago with what seemed a more straightforward mission: a shelter and school for orphans. Today, 800 children are housed at several centers. This one, taking in the overflow, functions out of converted shipping containers. The shelter’s young managers themselves grew up here. Billy Jean is one. He was brought at age three to NPH, the orphanage’s local acronym. Today, he works to master English and is in law school.
BILLY JEAN: My mother became pregnant very early, about 16 years old, and my father took off, and then my mother couldn’t take care of me. She heard about NPH and she decided to put me there…
DE SAM LAZARO: His mother visits occasionally, he says, but the orphanage is very much his family.
REV. FRECHETTE: That’s our goal, to restore the family over one generation, to raise the children together so they have memories of their own childhood, restored childhood, and that later in life they become aunts and uncles to each other’s children and their family regenerates after a generation. That’s our goal, so we have community of families that have been broken by tragedy.
DE SAM LAZARO: The tragedy of Haiti’s AIDS epidemic, beginning in the nineties, brought big change for the organization and Frechette himself. HIV was bringing in very ill children that the orphanages were ill-equipped to care for.
REV. FRECHETTE: That really engraved itself hard on my memory. Seeing such terrible things and honestly not having a clue, not having a clue as to what to do.
DE SAM LAZARO: Frechette received permission from his order to go to medical school, a multiyear commitment which he completed in his mid 40s. Back in Haiti, his newly-acquired expertise, combined with astute fundraising, resulted in a modern pediatric hospital. It expanded with a new building in 2006, the largest of its kind in the country, with a 22-bed center for neonatology.
DR. JACQUELINE GAUTIER (Medical Director): Neonatology is a luxury for Haiti.
DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Jacqueline Gautier is the medical director.
DR. GAUTIER: We have central oxygen. We can offer CPAP, which is external ventilation.
DE SAM LAZARO: (to Dr. Gautier) So on any given day, you have 22 kids in here who would not have lived were it not for this facility?
Dr. Jacqueline GautierDR. GAUTIER: Correct. All the 22s are not very intensive. Half of it. Half of them.
DE SAM LAZARO: Many of these premature births result from conditions like hypertension or diabetes in the mothers. For them, a maternity unit was added in 2010 after the capital’s major hospital for high risk pregnancies was destroyed.
DR. GAUTIER: Fortunately, 2010 we were not really damaged by the earthquake. It was a few cracks. A few cracks only.
DE SAM LAZARO: The quake did not damage this hospital, but it quickly overwhelmed it.
DR. GAUTIER: The yard was transformed into a trauma center. We had patients everywhere.
DE SAM LAZARO: In a few weeks, Frechette says the decision was made to use donations that were pouring in to start a new adult hospital. Ten months later, a cholera ward had to be added after the deadly outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 people in its first year.
REV. FRECHETTE: So we kind of mushroomed out in response to all of these problems. I think the surprise to everybody, including to us, is that we could do it all pretty much without batting an eyelash. And the real wonder of it, to tell you the truth, this is a country of no infrastructures practically, and it’s a country of failed NGOs.
DE SAM LAZARO: He says three years after the quake, despite billions of dollars given to thousands of NGOs—non-government organizations—the rebuilding has been painfully slow.
REV. FRECHETTE: There’s too much disjointedness. It’s goodwill, and it should be recognized fully as that and appreciated, but it doesn’t get channeled in a way that makes sense, and in fact it’s a way that gets disruptive.
DE SAM LAZARO: Many smaller NGOs, often church-based, have come and gone as their funding allowed. Bureaucracy has slowed larger agencies as they’ve planned major projects in housing, clean water and sanitation. Some 360,000 earthquake victims remain displaced in tent camps. For it’s part, Frechette’s organization took in $9 million in earthquake-related donations. Its approach now is focused on community.
RAPHAEL LOUIGENE (Project Manager): (translation) Organizations come in with their own ideas and do things their own way. The way that Fr. Rick works is we don’t come into a community and give our idea of what to do and how to do it. We listen to the community, listen to their needs because they know them the best, and then we work together to accomplish it.
DE SAM LAZARO: In the sprawling Port au Prince slum called Cite Soleil, the group is partnering with the community to build homes to replace the sea of shacks and squalor. They’re simple two room structures built on the principle that if you wait to do things right, nothing will get done for years, prolonging the suffering.
post07-haiti-priest-doctorREV. FRECHETTE: The way that we look at it and explain it to our donors, we’re investing in the purchase of time. You know, they’re simple block structures, we make most of the blocks ourselves. They’re simple aluminum roofs. It’s more towards normal than anything that they have known, but we’re just buying time while the people with big money and big plans, an interwoven network of organizations can do a proper urban development. That’s what we’re doing.
DE SAM LAZARO: They’re also doing health care here. A new facility is being built in Cite Soleil. All told, about 1,800 Haitians work for the mission begun by Frechette. Hundred of thousands have been served in orphanages, schools and hospitals. Funding comes from private individuals, foundations, and government grants. This year, Frechette was awarded the one million dollar Opus Prize, given to a faith-based social entrepreneur by the Minnesota-based Opus Foundation.
Frechette himself does not see his work in charitable or heroic terms.
REV. FRECHETTE: Rather than saying, I gave you this chance, I say, I was fortunate. I had that chance. It came to me. I didn’t make it. And we want that same chance to come to you so that we have the same chance. We’re people who care by being the bridge between resources that have benefited us in our life for our education and well-being, and we just want to be the bridge for letting that happen by people who have their own capacity and dreams.
DE SAM LAZARO: A long road, he admits, where success is built one small stretch at a time.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Cite Soleil, Haiti.
CHOLERA IN HAITI
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti may still loom large in Americans’ memory, but, in Haiti itself, that was at least three disasters ago, before Hurricanes Tomas last year, Isaac in August, and recently Sandy.
Each storm brought a grim reminder of yet one more ever-present disaster: the deadly cholera epidemic that started 10 months after the quake.
At the cholera ward of Saint Luc’s Hospital just outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, Dr. Jackinson Davilmar says since Hurricane Sandy admissions have doubled from 20 to 40 patients each day.
DR. JACKINSON DAVILMAR, Saint Luc Medical Center (through translator): Most of the new cases are coming from further up the hill in places like Petionville where we had not seen them before. I’m not positive, but perhaps the wells there have been contaminated.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts believe cholera was brought here by U.N. peacekeepers at the time, a battalion from Nepal. Untreated sewage from this base flowed into a tributary of the ArtiboniteRiver, the major source of water for both washing and drinking.
Cholera is spread by fecal-oral contact. Two years on, 200,000 patients have been sickened, 7,500 have died from the extreme diarrhea and fluid loss. Each flood brings more contaminated water, more cases.
The epidemic prompted massive relief efforts and public campaigns on the streets and in classrooms promoting hygiene and sanitation. Fatalities have dropped from 10 percent of cases early on to about 1 percent.
Still, 600 people have died from cholera this year, many in remote areas, even those unaffected by floods. There’s now plenty of awareness of cholera in Haiti. The biggest challenge for people today is distance.
As the epidemic subsided over the last few months, many treatment centers have been closed in the remote areas. So, getting to places that remain open is a huge challenge. It can take hours. And that delay can be fatal.
Sentiment Joseph, a 27-year-old mother of three, will likely recover, having made it in time to get prompt antibiotics and rehydration therapy. Her husband wasn’t so lucky. He died a week earlier in their home less than an hour away by motorcycle.
SENTIMENT JOSEPH, Cholera survivor (through translator): He took ill around midnight. There was no one to care for the children, no means to bring him in. We didn’t have the money to hire a motorcycle.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across this spartan treatment center run by the Boston-based charity Partners in Health, other challenges were apparent from patient stories.
MAN (through translator): We don’t have hygienic facilities. We treat our water, but don’t have a formal latrine.
MAN (through translator): I was staying in my sister’s home, and I’m not sure she treated the water.
MAN (through translator): There are 14 people living in our house. And it’s very expensive to treat the water for so many people. And our only latrine was destroyed in a road-building project. So, we don’t have that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cholera, not seen in Haiti for almost a century since 2010, is likely to remain for some time, says Partners in Health physician David Walton.
DR. DAVID WALTON, Partners in Health: Cholera endemic to the region, to the country is the last thing that they needed. Permanent solutions need to be put in play to be able to really stem the tide of this epidemic that is still ongoing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says cholera’s persistence is a proxy for a much larger rebuilding effort that’s fallen short, one that should have provided far more access to clean water and sanitation.
DR. DAVID WALTON: On a scale of A. through F., it’s a D.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At least 360,000 people remain in crowded tent camps, he notes. Other people have rebuilt in poor neighborhoods destroyed in the quake, like this one in the hilly suburb of Petionville.
Water had to be carried in. And there are few toilets, so there’s a threat of cholera.
James Sanvil lives in the U.S., but was visiting family here.
JAMES SANVIL, Haiti: There is no water, no way for them to get water down here, because there’s no water came, like, down here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kevin Fussell is one of many small providers who have tried to bring relief. He’s a Georgia physician who started a charity to provide safe drinking water.
His group installed clean water facilities into six schools in the central Haitian town of Mirebalais before running out of donated funds.
He says they’d like to put in many more, but have had no luck applying for funds the U.N. has for water projects.
DR. KEVIN FUSSELL, World Water Relief: They’re basically trying to come up wore water solutions for an entire country. And we’re working in a very small region. And they’re looking for bigger global solutions.
My problem with that thinking is that three years later somebody is still thinking about global solutions, when we have real problems right here. And nothing is being done.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s a complaint that’s widely heard. In water and sanitation projects or anything else, there’s little to show for the billions in aid that came in or was pledged to Haiti, says human rights activist Antonil Mortime.
ANTONIL MORTIME, Human Rights activist (through translator): I have talked to people in the tent camps. If you look at Cite Soleil, you can see that the situation is actually worse.
There’s no change with education, with infrastructure or health care. Corruption, poverty and hunger haven’t decreased.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nigel Fisher, head of the U.N.’s large Haiti mission here, acknowledges the slow pace, but says there has been some progress on the massive rebuilding task, a much smaller number of tent dwellings since last year, for example.
NIGEL FISHER, Deputy special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General: If Haiti were a glass, and it’s gone from being 10 percent full to 15 percent full, let’s recognize that without in any way diminishing the fact that you have still got 85 percent of the glass full.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But Fisher says many of the problems were endemic to Haiti long before the earthquake.
NIGEL FISHER: What we’re seeing is people who are in camps because of entrenched poverty. Many of these people were hidden before in slums. They’re now in the open in camps.
And that is a function of underdevelopment. It’s a function of weak governance. It’s a function of lack of alternatives, and which these people faced before.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says one of the biggest problems is that Haiti’s government, crippled by the quake and a corrupt reputation, hasn’t been able to lay down national priorities for the rebuilding.
That’s largely been led by foreign non-government organizations, at least 10,000 of them, everything from small church groups to the large international agencies. NGOs have received more than 90 percent of all aid dollars.
DR. DAVID WALTON: The amount of redundancy with the more than 10,000 NGOs that the U.N. special envoy’s office has estimated exist Haiti just leaves one wondering where all the money has gone.
And, frankly, if you look at, as they have done, where all the money has gone, hardly any of it has gone to strengthen the government.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Partners in Health, which has been in Haiti for 25 years, is trying to restore what it says is the appropriate role for the government.
DR. DAVID WALTON: So, 60 percent of our beds have medical gas. They also have electrical receptacles and data capacity.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The group raised $22 million to build a 300-bed state-of-the-art teaching hospital in central Haiti. However, it then partnered with Haiti’s Ministry of Health to design and run it. It will turn over the hospital to the government in 10 years.
Dr. Walton says Haiti can never be rebuilt unless it has a strong, accountable government.
DR. DAVID WALTON: It would be so much easier for us to run it the way we wanted to run it and not coordinate with anybody but ourselves, because, hey, we’re really smart, or at least we think we are.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And you are the guys with the money.
DR. DAVID WALTON: We are the guys with the money. And, again, NGOs don’t guarantee the right of health to citizens of any country. But the government does. And we see ourselves as supporting the government.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: President Michel Martelly cut the ribbon on the new hospital, vowing his administration will do better.
International donors, who have withheld half the $5 billion they pledged to rebuild Haiti, will closely watch how projects like this hospital fare.
For many ordinary Haitians, the goal, as one health worker put it, is to make it to the end of each day alive.
India Organizes One of Largest ID Registration Drives Ever
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: to one of the largest registration drives of all time. It’s taking place in India, where authorities are mounting an effort to give every resident an official biometric identification card and number.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this story as part of our Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across India, in community centers and schools like this one in New Delhi, people line up for hours. Patience, like application forms they seek, is often in short supply. It seems like a big deal over a rather mundane prize: a new government-issued I.D. But the man behind it all calls this the largest social inclusion project in history.
NANDAN NILEKANI, Retired Software Billionaire: We still have a large number of residents of India who don’t have a birth certificate or any other form of official I.D. And in the old days, when they lived their entire life in a single village, it maybe didn’t matter, but now, with the highly mobile and aspirational society, you need some kind of an I.D.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nandan Nilekani says an I.D. is the first step to better account for hundreds of millions of people in this vast nation of 1.2 billion. The government asked Nilekani, a 58-year-old retired software billionaire, to head the massive undertaking. He says it will greatly improve the way it serves the poor.
NANDAN NILEKANI: It will make it more effective, efficient, and equitable. This will play a huge role in reducing corruption and harassment for the common man. The government wants to make sure that benefits go electronically and directly to the genuine beneficiary.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The new identifications are electronic, online, and designed to be foolproof.
The unique identification project, called UID, goes much farther than the usual mug shot or even fingerprints. Each applicant also looks into a viewfinder through which the irises of both eyes are scanned. From these so-called biometrics, an online identification is generated with a unique 12-digit number, which is delivered on a card a few weeks later by mail.
People in India do have other cards that serve as I.D.s. The majority of poor and middle-class families have ration cards that allow them to buy basic foods at subsidized prices in special ration shops.
This lady has shown me the one for her family. She says she receives four kilos of rice, which is about 10 pounds of rice. She’s also eligible for cooking and heating oil, but rarely gets them. Items are frequently out of stock. Corruption, mainly through diverted commodities and fake I.D.s, is widely blamed.
The government hopes to change all this by opening and linking bank accounts with the new more secure I.D.s. Instead of food grants, assistance would come in direct deposits, and recipients would have cash to shop in regular stores.
Vijay Kumar, waiting to enroll for his new I.D., likes the idea.
VIJAY KUMAR, India: There are a lot of benefits from government programs, but middlemen steal from them. I don’t come from a well-to-do family. There are 12 people, and many depend on assistance. Maybe they will be able to benefit from this card.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Just a few dozen people here in Bangalore manage the avalanche of data from 30,000 enrollment centers across the country. One of the few tasks at this center that requires a human hand is here.
About two percent of all applications are flagged because there appear to be similar biometrics like fingerprints between often very different people.
MAN: The photograph clearly says that these are two different people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There usually is a simple explanation, says manager Kiran Chowbene, like a fingerprint screen with remnants of a previous impression.
I can see that the screen looks it’s pretty dirty, hasn’t been wiped clean.
KIRAN CHOWBENE, Manager: Yes. Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What percentage are adjudicated successfully here?
KIRAN CHOWBENE: Everything.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every single one?
KIRAN CHOWBENE: Yes, everything goes through.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s no mysteries at the end of this process?
KIRAN CHOWBENE: No.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chowbene and almost all of the 100,000 workers on the I.D. project work for private companies contracted by the government. They are paid for each person successfully enrolled, an incentive system that’s brought speed unusual for a government project.
A quarter of a billion people have been signed up or scanned in, in just two years. Already, India’s unique I.D. project has the largest biometric database in the world. It’s fast becoming twice as large as the second biggest one, which is at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But there are critics concerned about privacy who say it’s all too rushed. They worry about abusive surveillance, particularly of political, ethnic, or religious minorities.
Social activist Gopal Krishna notes Britain scrapped a national I.D. program in 2010 after years of debates. Here, he says, the project headed by Nilekani has not been debated, and the government is only beginning to draft a privacy law.
GOPAL KRISHNA, Social Activist: Nilekani has mastered the art of putting the cart before the horse. If privacy is a concern, shouldn’t a privacy bill come first, and then UID database?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Other critics say the new I.D.s won’t reduce corruption, merely create new middlemen to replace the old in banks, instead of ration shops, for example.
Usha Ramanathan, a lawyer and human rights activist, is also skeptical about the program’s stated objective.
USHA RAMANATHAN, Human Rights Activist: The agenda is not in providing identity to the poor, so that the poor can get everything and become un-poor. That’s been — I need to be really gullible to believe that. And I’m not that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says the real agenda is to privatize poverty and welfare programs for all but the very poorest people, who would remain in the public distribution system. Right now, the system protects all recipients from the worst effects of market swings and escalating food costs.
USHA RAMANATHAN: There is a desire to do a certain kind of social sorting, where we — where the state will identify those who they cannot not deliver things to. You just have to do it because they are so extremely poor that you don’t want an image of yourself as being a country where people are dying of starvation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Nilekani says he has no problem with market-based reforms, which will empower many people to assert their rights as citizens and consumers. He insists the universal I.D. database is secure, that privacy can be safeguarded. That said, Nilekani adds the very nature of privacy is being redefined.
NANDAN NILEKANI: I think the privacy and convenience are opposites. It’s always a tradeoff. When you go and buy things at an e-commerce site, that e-commerce organization knows exactly what you’re buying. So, you know, it works both ways.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The I.D. project may well be subjected to court challenges. It will likely be debated as it comes up for renewal in 2014. By then, the program, at an officially estimated cost of $3.5 billion dollars, expects to have enrolled 600 million people, half of all Indians and a 10th of all humanity.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Ancient Manuscripts May Be Among Casualties of Mali Conflict
JEFFREY BROWN: There remains a great deal of confusion about the extent
of the damage in Timbuktu. What is known is that the city, a United Nations World Heritage Site, is home to more than 200,000 ancient manuscripts and other artifacts, spanning many centuries, stored in small private libraries and a large research center.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro visited Timbuktu 10 years ago for the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
Here’s an excerpt from his report.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s an impoverished town of about 30,000, most of them nomadic traders or subsistence farmers. But Timbuktu is rich in history — history that contradicts a commonly held impression in the West that sub-Saharan Africa has only oral and no written traditions.
SALEM OULD EL HAJJ, Professor: Well before there was an America, Timbuktu was a thriving center of learning, with the university. Professors were teaching philosophy, theology, mathematics.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Professor El Hajj says the earliest records of Timbuktu go back to the 11th century, to a prosperous desert crossroads where salt, gold, slaves, and scholarship were exchanged. That all ended in the late 1500s with Moroccan invasions and later French conquest.
Today, much of Timbuktu’s architecture seems frozen — or, more appropriately, baked in time.
The 15th century Sankore Mosque was Timbuktu’s nerve center of intellectual life.
IMAM ESSAYOUTI, Timbuktu: This place was used for a classroom. In summertime, they gave lectures here. You have a circle here — at least 40 or 45 or 50 students.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Well before Europe’s Renaissance, students and scholars — as many as 25,000 — came from West and North Africa and the Middle East to study Islamic law, theology, and a range of secular subjects.
Today, the legacy of that scholarship lies in a vast, scattered collection of historical manuscripts.
ALI OULD SIDI, Guide: Yes, this is the library.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Ahmed Baba collection, named after a 15th century scholar, with some 40,000 manuscripts.
Arabic was used for theological, as well as secular works — testament to the Islamic world’s leadership during the period in medicine and the sciences.
Every now and then, there’s a manuscript in Hebrew. This one is a 16th century letter by a Jewish trader, writing home to Morocco about market prices in Timbuktu.
MAN: The author is bilingual.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bilingual?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite a wealth of content, the priority now for scholars and manuscript owners, like Abdel Kader Haidara, is the uphill task of saving the crumbling manuscripts.
MAN: So, we have some manuscripts deteriorated by water, by fire.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their survival is a tribute to the ancient binders. This Koran survived a building collapse. The classic geometric artwork on its goatskin cover is still pristine on the back.
MAN: Seventeenth century.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Seventeenth century?
MAN: Yes. But this is the oldest one.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: 1114.
MAN: 1114, the oldest one.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A handful of collections, like Haidara’s, have gotten support from universities and foundations in the West to catalog, conserve, and restore manuscripts.
JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, we are joined by Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress. She was involved in the digital curation of Timbuktu manuscripts with the help of one of the ancient city’s librarians. The views she expresses here are her own.
Welcome to you.
First, we want to be careful about how much we know or don’t know, right, at this point, because we’re seeing some reports that some of these manuscripts have in fact been saved.
MARY-JANE DEEB, Library of Congress: Absolutely.
And this is the case in many wars. In Iraq, it was the same thing. So the first reports say that everything has been destroyed. But then when we get closer, we see that the librarians themselves saved the manuscripts. The owners of those libraries, the directors, the people who work there are aware of the danger, and they start pulling them out and hiding them.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, give us a sense of the owners of the libraries. Right? There are private, small private libraries. There’s this one larger research. Tell us a little bit about the place and the libraries.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Traditionally, both in Africa and the Middle East, the owners of those libraries were families who passed those manuscripts from generation to generation. And the eldest son became the librarian, if you want, responsible for the preservation of those manuscripts.
The case in Timbuktu is the same. There are about 32 private libraries, families owning the manuscripts and keeping them. And Abdel Kader Haidara, whom you have just seen, has worked to preserve his own manuscripts, and also those of some of his friends and relatives.
And he has worked with the Library of Congress. And we have over a period of time started to digitize some of those manuscripts.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the manuscripts themselves, spanning many centuries, right, 13th to the 19th, all kinds of subjects? Who wrote them? Tell us a little bit about the work.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Well, it’s wonderful.
They’re scholars. They’re jewelers. They’re travelers. They’re historians. All kinds of people who worked in Timbuktu wrote those manuscripts. So, for example, there are manuscripts on botany and on the medicinal properties of plants which really are relevant even to this day.
There are manuscripts on putting people on trial and the need for proof that the person has been a criminal. There are manuscripts on astronomy, and not just the movement of stars, but how the movement of stars relate to a culture, how it relates to the seasons. There are manuscripts on social conditions, for example, on the issue of inheritance, who inherits how.
There are traditional laws. There are Islamic laws. So there are also manuscripts on politics, you know, manuscripts telling governors and leaders, well, this is as far as your authority goes. And in an Islamic law, those are your limits. They’re fascinating.
JEFFREY BROWN: This all, of course, goes to this cultural heritage of the place that Fred de Sam Lazaro showing a little bit. Tell us a little — this was a very vibrant place of culture, of law, of study.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Absolutely.
You know, it began like — as a commercial center, because it was at the crossroads of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. It was also on the route of pilgrims going from North Africa to Saudi Arabia to Mecca and Medina. So, it began as a commercial center. It became very wealthy.
And, of course, when people are wealthy, what do they do? They start building mosques to celebrate and to thank God for their wealth. Those big mosques became centers of learning. And then learned men came on their way to — from pilgrimages, scholars from Cairo, from Fez in Morocco, from Kairouan in Tunisia, came in.
And their own scholars began major debates on issues of religion, of law, and shared scientific knowledge.
JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s the melting pot, right, because of all those different cultures, because it was such a commercial center.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Absolutely.
It was a wealthy center. It was a commercial center. And it was open, open to people coming from different parts of Africa, of the Middle East, and even from Turkey and from Europe. So it was an enormously cosmopolitan, if you want, as well as a learned center.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s no longer that, and yet it preserves much of that past. I mean, how much is — how much of that life still goes on now?
MARY-JANE DEEB: Well, it’s limited, obviously.
It is still at the crossroads. It is still important in that sense, but it is those manuscripts that are the heart of Timbuktu. It is that that preserves the history of the people who live there. And, of course, the monuments themselves — Timbuktu is a World Heritage Site.
So it remains, like some of the ancient cities, a place of wonder and of beauty.
JEFFREY BROWN: And again with caution, because we don’t exactly know about the results here, but to the extent that things — if things are lost, what is lost?
MARY-JANE DEEB: Well, it’s an enormous amount of knowledge that we will not be able to replace, because it is knowledge created by the people of the region.
It is their knowledge of their tradition, their culture. It is knowledge of plants, of deserts, of skies, of science, of philosophy, of law that really is a universal patrimony, and to lose that is really very sad.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Mary-Jane Deeb, thank you so much.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: And you can watch all of Fred’s story on the Ahmed Baba collection. That’s on our Web site.
As Turkish Society Changes, Domestic Violence Increases
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: two stories about combating violence against women.
In Turkey, a fast-changing society has brought new opportunities for women, but also increased domestic abuse.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this story as part of our Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Istanbul presents an elegant blend of history and modernity, a sprawling symbol of Turkeys growing global importance. It is the world’s 16th largest economy.
Modernization has transformed this nation of 75 million from a mostly rural, traditional society to a predominantly urban one. Three of four Turks live in a city today. But by some measures, Turkey ranks among the worst places in the world for women. Women are less educated than men. Far fewer have jobs outside the home. And in the home, half of all Turkish women report having suffered some form of domestic violence.
Inci Kerestecioglu is a sociologist at Istanbul University.
To meet other Agents of Change and learn their stories, click here.
INCI KERESTECIOGLU, Istanbul University: Violence against women in Turkey has increased in response to the demands women are making to become freer, and men feel powerless and resort to violence.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Women have taken to the streets in recent years. This demonstration was last march. A big problem, many say, is the indifference of police and government officials, even as Turkey’s government reports the number of women murdered in a year in this country went up 1400 percent between 2002 and 2009.
GULSUN KANAT-DINC, Social Worker: They don’t want to deal with this problem, because they don’t see it seriously. This is a women’s issue. That’s why they don’t see it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Gulsun Kanat-Dinc works for a group called Mor Cati, one of few refuges for women like this 39-year-old mother of three who endured almost two decades of abuse.
WOMAN: My head would be split and bleeding and I would go to the police. I would tell them to rescue me, and they would say, we cannot intervene between a husband and a wife. And he would come, and they would give me back to him.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mor Cati finds what resources it can and has lobbied for more to help dozens of clients who seek help each day, like this 36-year-old mother of two.
WOMAN: They helped me find psychological support for my children through the divorce. They directed me to a safe house, then took me to the prosecutor’s office for protection under Article 4320.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That article, a 1998 law that entitles women to protection, was passed with pressure from Mor Cati. It was updated last year by Turkey’s prime minister.
Many of Turkey’s statutes now conform to those of the European Union, which it has long wanted to join. But Kanat Dinc says things work differently here compared to, say, Sweden.
GULSUN KANAT-DINC: If I go to police in Sweden, I will trust police. I wouldn’t have this fear that police would send me back to my home, and they wouldn’t — they would judge me. I wouldn’t have this kind of fear. But if I go to police here, I know that they can easily judge me.
INCI KERESTECIOGLU: Turkey is a diverse country. You can find similarities to Bangladesh, and you can also find similarities to Switzerland within Turkey.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kerestecioglu says Turkey straddles Europe and Asia not just in geography, but also a complex mix of social mores. She says, although domestic violence affects all income groups, women from migrant families, newly arrived from rural areas, face some of the most daunting strains on family life.
Tradition confines them to the home, but financial pressures — 20 percent in Turkey live below the poverty line — demands they find acceptable work.
SENGUL ACKAR, Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work: They have domestic responsibilities, mainly child care. So, there is no child care services.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sengul Ackar started the foundation for the support of women’s work 25 years ago to help poor migrant women get what they need to help themselves and their families.
The first challenge was child care. There were very few publicly run preschools, Ackar says, and daunting staffing and building regulations. She says Turkey has long had centralized planning, rigid rules laid down in this case by Education Ministry that prevented private startups, even nonprofit ones.
Her foundation organized and trained women to negotiate with authorities to modify the rules. That’s enabled new parent-managed, cooperative preschools in low-income areas of several Turkish cities.
SENGUL ACKAR: The community, also they feel that this is …
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They own it?
SENGUL ACKAR: They own it. Plus, for the woman, you need legitimate reasons to go out.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s socially acceptable.
SENGUL ACKAR: Yes, socially acceptable.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Foundation for Women’s Work provides a range of other services that are socially acceptable to the more traditional migrants. It taps into women’s labor and craft skills, provides small business loans and even markets their products online and in an Istanbul boutique.
EMINE UNAL, Turkey: The products that you see, I started making them just to pass time for my daughter. I knit shoes for babies out of wool and people like them, and I started getting orders.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This couple is one the women’s foundation helped to straddle two worlds. Emine and Ahmet Unal come from traditional family backgrounds, part of the vast migration to Istanbul for better opportunities. But they want to make a better life for their 6-year-old daughter, Zuha.
EMINE UNAL: I really do want my daughter to have the opportunities that I never had.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ahmet completed high school, but Emine Unal only went through fifth grade. Women traditionally were less educated in Turkey, but in her case it was state-imposed modernity that kept her home.
EMINE UNAL: I couldn’t go to school because of my head scarf. Even if I would have gone to the school, I wouldn’t be able to find a job because, at that time, nobody would give a job to someone like me with a head scarf.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That ban on head scarves was part of predominantly Islamic Turkey’s attempt to enforce a rigid secularism, which lasted for much of the 20th century.
But like the rest of life in Turkey, that is slowly changing says Professor Kerestecioglu. Today, Turkey has a conservative prime minister whose wife covers her hair.
INCI KERESTECIOGLU: The main issue here was having conservatively dressed women in the public sphere. As long as these women remained in villages, in traditional roles, the educated didn’t consider wearing a scarf to be an issue. However, when this group came with demands, such as attending university and participating in the public sphere, their demands made the progressive elites uncomfortable.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For their part, Ahmet and Emine Unal see much more of a blending than a clash of old and new in today’s Turkey.
EMINE UNAL: I didn’t decide to cover my hair because of pressure from my family. It was my own decision, so I’m not going to pressure my daughter to cover her hair. She will make her own decision.
AHMET UNAL, Turkey: It’s her own life. I’m not going to intervene.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ahmet Unal is also grateful for his wife’s income, having struggled to provide enough from his own work.
AHMET UNAL: I run a cell phone and accessories store, and business is tough because there are a lot of large stores and you can’t match their advertising and discounts.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Women’s Work Foundation has made a huge difference, Emine says, providing self-confidence, as much as financial help.
EMINE UNAL: This organization represents the soul and the energy of many women. It’s wonderful to just breathe in such an environment.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The foundation Sengul Ackar began has now organized 100,000 women into cooperative enterprises of various types across Turkey.
SENGUL ACKAR: We gave them the confidence, collective confidence that they can change something. They are using their own energies, and they’re providing services for the community, for the others, not for only themselves.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s much more to be done, she says, but the first step to closing Turkey’s gender gap, to reducing problems like domestic violence is giving women a voice.
JEFFREY BROWN: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
And you can meet other Agents for Change and learn their stories. You will find that on our website.
SPARKING ENTHUSIASM FOR SCHOOL IN INDIA
JEFFREY BROWN: Next, Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from India on a group that’s put together perhaps the world’s largest campaign to improve remedial education.
His story is part of our Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Madhav Chavan is trying to revolutionize the way India’s children learn and the way they are taught, starting as early as possible. As these preschoolers identify the first letter in Hindi for the word mango, he egged them on.
MADHAV CHAVAN, Founder, Pratham: So what kind of face do you make when the mango is sour?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Unfortunately, Chavan says, as they get older, most of these children will be bound for schools that are failing their students on many levels, beginning with rigid, outdated methods of instruction.
MADHAV CHAVAN: This regimentation, rote learning, learning by heart, tell me the answer, that is what kids — kids are being taught.
WATCH: In Senegal, a Campaign of Education and Dialogue on a Painful Rite of Passage
WATCH: In Senegal, a Campaign of Education and Dialogue on a Painful Rite of Passage
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chavan founded a group 19 years ago called “Pratham,” or “First,” aimed at generating a love of learning. It has trained about 120,000 young tutors and community volunteers to run learning centers and camps.
So far, three million children have been tutored in rented rooms, houses of worship and in schools themselves in low-income communities across India.
Pratham’s goal is to change the way school has long been perceived here: a solemn temple of learning.
MADHAV CHAVAN: The kids think to be in school is to stand like that. And the whole informality, non-formality of the learning process is completely lost.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It takes the fun out of learning, basically?
MADHAV CHAVAN: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With profound consequences. Aside from an elite system that serves about 10 percent of India’s 140 million schoolchildren, Chavan says education, largely the domain of central and state governments, is in deep crisis.
MADHAV CHAVAN: After spending five years in a primary school, barely about 50 percent of kids can learn to the level of second grade. We have an old system of going from first grade to post-graduation for a certain number of kids, and others sort of fall by the wayside.
See, the complaint of the employers at the very entry-level positions is that the product of the schooling system is not even trainable — forget about employable.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s easy to see the problem unfold in the poorly equipped and crowded classrooms. A student-teacher ratio of 80-1 is not uncommon.
Rukmini Banerji is the author of Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report.
RUKMINI BANERJI, Pratham: You’re a fifth grade teacher, and this is a typical classroom in India. You have kids there that are not even at first grade level. You’re a committed teacher. Who are you going to teach and with what?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You have 80 kids.
RUKMINI BANERJI: You have 80 kids. So you end up teaching the kids who are easiest to teach.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Under Banerji, a University of Chicago Ph.D., Pratham has developed programs to boost student achievement. It works with hundreds of schools like this one in the small town of Jehanabad in the populous eastern Bihar state.
Instead of clustering students by age and grade, they are tested, then grouped by skill level in math and reading, those able to read at a one-word level, for instance, a sentence, or a paragraph. Several months into the program, Principal Rizwana Parveen says there is marked improvement.
RIZWANA PARVEEN, School Principal: Children who could only read a letter are now almost reading paragraphs. And children who were reading paragraphs are now reading whole stories.
WOMAN: Now, what we’re going to do here is, we’re going to read these sentences carefully.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The next step is to get children to think and write about what they’re reading, as a Pratham tutor did with children in the small Bihar village of Supan Chak. Typically, students are required to memorize the text, whether or not they understand it.
WOMAN: Read it and understand it. After you have finished reading it, write what you think, OK?
RUKMINI BANERJI: You’re reading a story, so that you can then chat about it. Now, this chatting about it often doesn’t happen in our schools. We have very traditional notions about writing. Writing has to be correct, not writing has to be from your heart. So we often encourage kids to say — say what you feel.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Pratham begins its work in communities like this by testing children’s reading and math. Those with the lowest scores then attend an intense seven-day learning camp. This one was held just outside the village school.
There’s no shortage of enthusiasm among children we visited, who said they much preferred learning here than from their regular school. A peek inside may explain.
This is the village’s one-room schoolhouse. And it doesn’t look like it sees very much academic activity. It’s more like a storage shack. There’s cow dung cakes, which are fuel for cooking. There’s some pots and pans. There’s some iron rebar. And even if it were mostly used as a school, there’s just 400 square feet of space and 109 enrolled children.
STUDENT: I like the way Didi teaches us. I like school also.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These shy 10- and 11-year-olds dared not criticize their schoolteachers, who are, after all, addressed as master. But it wasn’t hard to pry out a preference for the Pratham tutor called “Didi,” or “big sister.”
STUDENT: I like Didi better.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You don’t like the masters as much? Why?
STUDENT: It’s easier to learn. They tell stories, and we have questions and answers after that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Perhaps the most telling answer came when I asked how often their teachers showed up to school.
STUDENT: One of them comes daily, the other two, not so much.
STUDENT: They are here about once in a week.
RUKMINI BANERJI: Now, accountability is a big word, and you know, many things need to happen. I think we’re at a pre-accountability stage.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Banerji says the hope is that the marked improvement children show after just a week at learning camp will spur communities to begin taking responsibility for their schools, long considered the domain of a distant government bureaucracy.
RUKMINI BANERJI: We are big into blaming. You know, we often start from blaming the British, then the prime minister, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. Somebody else is always at fault. So how do you get away from this fault business and let’s do something?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Pratham’s founder, Chavan, feels momentum is building across Indian society to do something about education.
MADHAV CHAVAN: We are in East Delhi standing in sort of a slum community.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says it’s especially true in places like these, closer to India’s prosperous, mostly urban new economy. Here, he says, parents willingly pay nominal tuition for Pratham’s services.
But most of the group’s $16.5 million dollar budget comes from individual, corporate, and foundation donors in India and overseas. For its part, India’s government passed a right to education law in 2009, and has managed to enroll 96 percent of all children. That doesn’t address the quality of education, Chavan says, but does show a willingness to entertain new ideas and different ways to run school systems.
MADHAV CHAVAN: By 2018, ’19, 50 percent of India’s children will be paying for their own education in private schools.
But on the other hand, the governments are also playing with different models, public-private partnerships, like charter schools, if you will. So India could come up with its own system of education as we go forward.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And what do they want to be when they grow up? We took that as an undecided.
STUDENT: A math scholar.
STUDENT: A doctor.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s not clear how their ambitions could ever be realized. But for perhaps the first time, these children, whose parents never went to school, can dream of something other than subsistence farming. That’s been the lot of such children for generations.
JEFFREY BROWN: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
An Awakening in India to Scourge of Violence Against Women
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: an awakening in India to the problem of violence against women.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has a report, part of our “Agents for Change” series.
And a warning: Some scenes in his story are disturbing.
WOMAN: Outrage against a barbaric crime is only growing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It used to be socially taboo to talk about rape or sexual assault in India. Now it’s in the news almost every day. And advocates who have tried to bring attention to these issues say it might just bring a shift in attitudes after decades of indifference.
RANJANA KUMARI, Center for Social Research: People really, really are very angry.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ranjana Kumari, who runs the Delhi-based Center for Social Research, says that anger welled over after last December’s gang rape in Delhi of a 23-year-old medical student who died from her injuries. The incident dominated global headlines and touched a nerve across this vast country.
RANJANA KUMARI: We saw so much of brutality, six men brutalizing this girl beyond anybody’s imagination. And here is this system which didn’t respond.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: National crime records show a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. Kumari says perhaps one in 10 cases of rape is actually reported, with minimal consequence.
RANJANA KUMARI: Look, there are 95,000 cases of rape are pending at different levels of the court system. We know that seven to nine years it takes to get a conviction. Three out of four perpetrators of crime just go scot-free.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The criminal justice system is beholden to corrupt political leaders, says Kiran Bedi. She was one of the country’s top police officials before retiring three years ago.
KIRAN BEDI, Retired Police Official: If you are a nobody, then the law is heavy on you. But if you’re somebody, then the law is very alert, very selective on you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only have politicians been indifferent toward violence against women, she says. Dozens of themselves accused of crimes and yet unpunished.
KIRAN BEDI: Yet they go on as being members of the sitting members of the legislative assembly and the parliament. They’re sitting members. It’s a clear violation of their oath.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And some of them are actually accused and charged with sexual crimes against women?
KIRAN BEDI: As I said, yes, of course.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Uma Vangal says the cultural acceptance of sexual violence against women is reinforced in India’s influential cinema. Vangal is a professor of film in the Southern city of Chennai. She showed me one scene from a movie in the regional Tamil language. It was an elaborately choreographed rape.
UMA VANGAL, L.V. Prasad Film Institute: She’s pleading, says, OK, I said something, I humiliated you in public, but can we forget about it?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The film’s hero, as male leads are called, has been spurned by his prospective bride. The marriage had been arranged by the families, according to local tradition.
UMA VANGAL: Look at this. Look at the insensitive way it’s been handled. You don’t know whether to laugh or whether take it seriously. But the audience obviously accepted the argument that it’s all right to rape a woman if you want to prove your masculinity.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, this film was such a hit, she says, it now is being remade in Bollywood, whose Hindi-speaking audience is many times larger.
Rape may be the extreme, but many scenes mirror male behavior that is commonplace on the street.
UMA VANGAL: Catcalls, comments, sometimes rude gestures, sometimes actually feeling up, everything. I think any woman who ventures out is subject to some kind of harassment.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Harassment.
UMA VANGAL: Though they don’t perceive it as harassment. The men don’t see it as harassment. They see it as harmless fun.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Either that or, invariably, she says, there’s a hero in the wings to do right by the wrong woman.
UMA VANGAL: The mainstay of Indian cinema is the male hero. So, it’s all about that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At least one group is trying to harness the power of the media to shift attitudes about violence against women. Its best-known campaign has been broadcast spots like this one since 2008. When you hear domestic abuse, they suggest, ring the bell.
SONALI KHAN, Breakthrough: That was a very, very simple message. It was a concept to really, if metaphorically looked at, that let’s ring the bell and break the silence. But, very interestingly, people took it literally.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The campaign has been taken beyond India to Pakistan, China, even a cable system in Atlanta, Georgia.
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, United Nationa: I’m Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations. This is a simple step, but a very effective one.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recently, it launched a global anti-violence initiative in partnership with the United Nations. The group also studied the impact of its work in two local areas in India, looking especially at attitudes among women.
SONALI KHAN: They didn’t feel confident to go out of the household, to complain to either an NGO or to some legal officer, seek counseling. But post the campaign, there was a lot of difference in terms of women actually exhibiting confidence in going out, men and communities recognizing that it is fine for women to go out and complain, and they don’t need to resolve it only in the marital or, you know, the natal family space.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But there are few places women can go when they are in trouble. The Center for Social Research offers crisis counseling and intervention for victims of violence in four locations in the capital.
Sangita, a 32-year-old mother of three boys, presents a classic case.
WOMAN: So, what is your thought now? Do you want to give him another chance?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sangita was married when she was 15, and her family gave a large dowry to her in-laws, even though both dowry and marriage before age 18 are illegal.
Her husband’s beatings got so bad, she wound up in hospital, and that’s where she learned she could get help at the center.
SANGITA: When I look at the kids, I really want to make things work.
I have been married for 18 years and my children are 15, 13 and 11. I just want a future in which my children are well provided for and grow up in a good family.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The center has helped her get a protective court order that has stopped the abuse, she says. It’s a limited service available to a tiny number of women. But many advocates hope that the sustained media attention following December’s rape and the public outrage, which included many young men for the first time, may just signal a new sensitivity and accountability.
India’s parliament, not known for moving fast, quickly approved laws that broadened the definition of sexual assault and stiffened the penalties. One university even announced a quota of admission slots for victims of sexual harassment and human trafficking.
SONALI KHAN: Actually, it’s really sad that we needed a moment like this to shake things up, because we have been talking about mind-set change, getting men engaged, talking about all this for a while now. And then this tragedy sort of shook everyone out of their complacency and then got everyone into the sort of arena, as it were.
But it’s very easy to slip back. We as women’s groups are also very active and pushing, so where we really want to make sure, as Breakthrough, that the conversation doesn’t drop.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s not likely to happen, at least for the next few months, as the trial of five men charged in December’s gang rape in Delhi gets under way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Molly Melching Interview: Changing Minds in Senegal to Protect Girls From Genital Cutting
Pervasive Preference for Boys Prevails Among Indian Parents
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, from India, worries about the age-old bias favoring male children.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro updates a story he did a dozen years ago about the skewed sex ratio of children born in India.
It’s another in our Agents of Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For some months, Pooja, a 22-year-old mother of three, has been coming to this crisis counseling center in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Delhi.
Pooja is trying to keep her family together. Her husband and in-laws have tried to throw her out. Their problem: All three children are girls.
POOJA, Mother: The family says they need sons to carry on their name and since I have only three daughters, they tried to trick me into signing divorce papers so that their son could marry again. That led to some violence when I refused, and I had to run away to my mother’s house for safety.
WATCH: An Awakening in India to Scourge of Violence Against Women
WATCH: An Awakening in India to Scourge of Violence Against Women
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The preference for boys goes back millennia. Boys performed the last rites at their parents’ funeral. They carry the family name and when they marry they bring a dowry into the family.
Dowries were outlawed 50 years ago, but they’re pervasive and mistakenly believed to have roots in Hindu scriptures, says Ranjana Kumari of the Delhi-based Center for Social Research.
RANJANA KUMARI, Center for Social Research: This was never a practice anywhere prescribed, but certainly it was said that when the princess goes, she must carry a number of horses because she’s used to a certain level of comfort. And so it is the duty of the king to insure the daughter is, ensure the daughter is given the — and that gets distorted.
Now even the poorest of the poor who cannot afford two square meals will also have to buy things for the wedding of the daughter.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With rising aspirations in a rapidly growing economy, daughters have become an increasing financial liability for their families, says sociologist Ravinder Kaur.
RAVINDER KAUR, Indian Institute of Technology: That don’t want to pay dowries, they want to receive dowries. They want to give more education to the boys than to the girls because for them the boys are still more important.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And the census shows Indians are acting on that bias. For every 1,000 male infants born, there are just 914 females, in some regions, far fewer. In nature, those numbers are about equal.
The gap began to widen in the ’90s with new ultrasound machines that made it easy to learn a fetus’ sex. These scans have led to the termination of millions of female pregnancies. In Delhi, the Center for Social Research has organized women into neighborhood groups trying to shift the ingrained gender bias, even invoking Hinduism’s goddess of prosperity.
WOMAN: We must begin to welcome girl babies into our homes, like the goddess Lakshmi has come into our home.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They’re also made aware of the law that’s become known by its English acronym. That’s the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technology Act. Abortion is legal in India, but the act makes it illegal when done for sex selection.
RANJANA KUMARI: A lot of people don’t even know that we have a very strong law. If you, A., go for sex selection and also the doctor, the clinic, the radiologist can go to jail up to seven years if they’re caught doing it. We’re trying to tell people, instill some fear in the minds of people that should not go for sex selection.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, absent extensive surveillance and sting operations — and they have been absent — it’s difficult to police something that happens in the privacy of a doctor’s office, as one obstetrician told me in a NewsHour report on the same subject that I produced 12 years ago.
Prakash Kakodkar candidly admitted he performed sex-selected abortions routinely.
So you freely admit that you do, basically, contravene the law, I mean …
DR. PRAKASH KAKODKAR, India: Yes, most of us do, I would say. I won’t deny that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Do you face any legal sanctions?
DR. PRAKASH KAKODKAR: No, that’s what I said. There is no legal sanction because there is nothing on paper. I mean, who can ask you?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So despite the efforts of activists, in the two decades since it was outlawed, only 46 sex selection cases have been brought against medical practitioners, with just one, one single conviction.
Meanwhile, census figures show the practice has become even more prevalent. Two decades ago, it was mainly in the northern farm states, whose green revolution had moved a lot of farmers into the middle class. Today, that middle class and lopsided gender ratio have spread widely.
RAVINDER KAUR: Places like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, which are becoming more prosperous where there will be greater availability of technology and more incomes in the hands of families, they will tend to shape the family and sex select.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Here’s a huge irony: As these areas become more affluent, fertility rates, the number of children born per woman, are declining. That’s good news, especially in some of India’s most densely populated states. But when it comes to gender balance, it’s not good news.
RAVINDER KAUR: You know when you want a smaller family, then the squeeze is on the girls, because, interestingly, suppose you’re moving from a fertility rate of four to three. Then you want two boys and one girl. So if a lot of families in populous states want two boys and one girl, then obviously there’s going to be a great excess of boys.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kaur is seeing the consequences that she says are already becoming visible in those northern farm states. A shortage of brides is forcing men into marriage outside their communities, very awkward in a tradition-bound society.
RAVINDER KAUR: Men in these states have been importing brides from let’s say the east of India, the south of India. They’re sort of going shopping for brides wherever they can.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the same time, Kaur sees a slight improvement in the gender ratio in the states that saw skewed ones early on. She attributes this to growing affluence.
RAVINDER KAUR: Once people reach the higher rungs of the middle class, which I call the stable middle class, they don’t sex select. Then they tend to view girls and boys as being of equal value. So they don’t really care whether they have two girls, whether they have one girl, one boy, et cetera.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She admits it will take many years and vast numbers making it into the stable middle class to correct India’s gender ratio. The Center for Social Research’s Kumari sees one other hopeful development that is also tied to India’s growing and middle class. More girls are going to school.
RANJANA KUMARI: India is full of contradictions. On the one side you see women in the villages still very disempowered, but on the other side there is a brighter picture. We have the largest number of doctors, lawyers, professionals. Our education level is going up for the girls.
Women are filling the ranks in a very major way.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Counseling center client Pooja never set foot in a school, but she wants an education for her daughters. That’s why she’s pursuing the uphill battle to stay married.
POOJA: Women are progressing more in society and I need the support of their father so that they can grow up in a proper family, so that they can get a good education, so that they can grow up and have good marriages.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The best dowry for a young bride, she and many others say, is an education.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A version of Fred’s story aired on the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
His reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
In Senegal, a Campaign on a Painful Rite of Passage
JEFFREY BROWN: Next: abandoning a widespread and painful rite of passage.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro visited the West African nation of Senegal. His report is part of our Agents for Change series.
And a note: Some viewers may find the subject matter troubling.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As dusk approaches, a group called Tostan sets up a giant screen in this remote village in Senegal. To overcome language barriers, the feature will be a 1929 Buster Keaton silent film. The film is a hit, as were events put on earlier in the day by Tostan.
Its mission is to teach about human rights, specifically the right to health, but its seminars and skits will often lead to a discussion of an age-old custom: female genital cutting.
WOMAN: She needs to be cut. All girls need that. You can’t have a recognized marriage if she’s not cut.
WATCH: Changing Minds in Senegal to Protect Girls From Genital Cutting
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This painful rite of passage is practiced by both Muslims and Christians across a swathe of mostly African nations, from Senegal to Egypt.
Each year, the World Health Organization says up to three million girls in Africa are subjected to genital mutilation, and up to 140 million women live with its consequences. Genital cutting probably originated in the harems of ancient rulers as a means of controlling women’s fidelity, or a sign of chastity among those who aspired to be consorts, according to Molly Melching, who started Tostan.
MOLLY MELCHING, Founder, Tostan: As the years went on, I mean, 2,220 years, it became very much a part of what was considered criteria for good marriage.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Melching is an Illinois native who has lived here for about four decades, first as a student, then a Peace Corps worker.
Genital cutting was rarely discussed publicly, and in fact when she began Tostan 20 years ago, her goal wasn’t to end it, but instead to simply provide information that was sorely lacking.
MOLLY MELCHING: When you see a friend that you’ve known for several months and you’ve gone to her house for lunch, and then she tells you her child has some problem, that it’s someone who has cast an evil spell on the child, the baby, and that she’s going to take them to a religious leader to get the spell taken off, and you don’t know what to say, and it turns out the baby was dehydrated.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the more Tostan’s staff and volunteers talked to local communities about health, the more the topic Melching calls FGC came up, since people began to tie it to bad health.
MOLLY MELCHING: So, suddenly, as they started learning germ transmission and the consequences of FGC and how these infections occur and why they had more problems in childbirth than other women who have not been cut, they started saying, wait a minute.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To go from talking about an age-old cultural norm to actually changing it presented a huge challenge. Tostan’s approach has been to go to local imams to get their agreement that the ritual is not a religious obligation.
MOLLY MELCHING: We share our modules with the religious leaders, so that they see that everything that we do is for the well-being of the community, the health, and all these things are things that Islam espouses. And so they’re very happy in general, but first of all they’re happy because we start with them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That respect also carries over into the group’s messages in general.
MOLLY MELCHING: Tostan found that using approaches that shame or blame people really was just the opposite of what would work in changing social norms.
When you say to someone, we know you love your daughter and you’re doing things because you love your daughter, but let’s look at this and let’s try to understand together exactly what are the consequences of this practice, but you are the ones that will have to make the decision, then suddenly people are willing to listen. They don’t get defensive.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s been far more effective than the approach of many aid groups, says University of California, San Diego, Professor Gerry Mackie.
GERRY MACKIE, University of California, San Diego: When we think of an ideal way of making a change, we’d say it’s democratic. We all get together and talk it over and decide what the best thing is to do, whereas some development approaches would, say, force them to do it, pay them to do it, trick them into doing it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In Tostan’s approach, local leaders and elders produce the skits and lead discussions. Their words and personal experience carry strong credibility.
Diarre Ba used to make a living as a cutter.
DIARRE BA, Senegal: I was part of this process. I felt bad. This is not right. But I didn’t know anything at the time. I had no learning.
MARIAM BAMBA, Senegal: It’s painful. I can never forget the pain, so painful.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mariam Bamba is a longtime campaigner for Tostan, and she spared her 10-year-old daughter the trauma. Yet, early in her own marriage, she was determined to keep up the tradition, even though her own husband was opposed to it.
SULEYMAN TRAORE, Senegal: She insisted that she had to do it. There were so many problems if you didn’t do it. If you cooked meals, no one would eat your food. It’s because we didn’t know.
People told us that it was our religion. If you don’t do it, you’ll be going against your religion. All this is false. But I alone can’t do this in the village.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Doing this alone could render one’s daughters unmarriageable.
So one of Tostan’s most critical roles today is to lessen the stigma by getting whole communities and others into which they might marry to jointly declare an end to cutting. Public rallies called declarations have increased to include hundreds of villages who gather to celebrate the decision.
GERRY MACKIE: One part of bringing about a change like this is to get everyone to change at once, what we call coordinated abandonment. Everyone has to see that everyone else sees that everyone is changing.
MOLLY MELCHING: Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be sitting here years later, saying that 4,792 communities in Senegal had abandoned. In the beginning, it was just unthought of, unbelievable, because it was so taboo.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Since our visit, the number of communities has grown to more than 5,000, and many have also pledged to change another tradition, the frequent practice of allowing older men to marry adolescent girls, acknowledging both the health risks and the girls’ human rights.
Molly Melching says there are examples in history of this kind of sweeping shift in social norms and attitudes. She sees a very current one every time she comes home in American views on smoking.
MOLLY MELCHING: People were smoking, and nobody said anything about it much through the ’50s, the ’60s, and even the ’70s. And as people became more and more aware of the harm that it causes, more and more people — there was a critical mass of people who started really protesting. It was amazing for me, coming from Senegal to the United States, to see how quickly things turned around.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tostan’s efforts have now expanded beyond Senegal to seven other African nations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A version of Fred’s story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
His reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota. He talks more with Molly Melching on our World page. Find their conversation about how she got her start in activism against genital mutilation.
A SCHOOL FOR INDIA’S TRIBAL CHILDREN
GWEN IFILL: Next: bringing opportunity to a vast hidden population of aboriginal children in India.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro visited one school that is trying to break the cycle of poverty on a massive scale.
His report was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and is part of our series Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The 18,000 students at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, only half of them were gathered in this assembly, have two things in common. They come from India’s so-called tribal communities, and they’re extremely poor.
The school offers grades one through 12, and is an ambitious attempt to transform their lives, the brainchild of Achyuta Samanta, a 47-year-old entrepreneur.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA, Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (through translator): The children who come here to study, they are stricken with poverty and illiteracy, and their parents themselves have not had much of an education. My goal is to eradicate poverty through education and bring them into the mainstream.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Though not a tribal member himself, Samanta grew up in poverty. But he was able to use scholarships to get a college education.
In the ’90s, Samanta founded a private university, offering high-demand fields in engineering, business, and medicine, just as the Indian economy took off here in Eastern Bhubaneswar and in cities across India. Revenues from the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology largely fund the school for tribal children.
Samanta lives simply and takes no salary, and he says he simply wants to give tribal children the same opportunities he got.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA (through translator): The major difference between the urban poverty we see and the poverty among aboriginal people is that the aboriginal people who live in the forests are completely cut off, in terms of awareness of the outside world.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: India has about 400 distinct aboriginal tribes who number perhaps 80 million. They have lived far outside the mainstream for millennia, in forests across central and eastern India.
British colonization and in recent times corrupt or absent governance and mining activity have all displaced tribal people and helped spawn a radical Maoist insurgency, says Macalester College professor James Laine.
JAMES LAINE, Macalester College: In terms of social status, they more or less translate as similar to untouchable castes. You’re completely left out, and someone comes along and says we’d like to create an egalitarian society. That might be very attractive to a young person of tribal background.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Maoist movement is about four decades old, and has turned increasingly violent in recent years. In May, Maoist guerrillas ambushed a convoy and killed several regional political leaders and their bodyguards, the most recent of some 6,000 deaths over the years, many of innocent tribal members.
JAMES LAINE: There’s a big chunk of India which is largely forested where fundamentally the government doesn’t reach.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And it’s in one corner of the region, eastern Orissa state, that the Kalinga school has reached out.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA (through translator): Education offers the best alternative to the path of the Maoists.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Here, education begins with meeting the most basic needs on an industrial scale and free of charge to the students.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA: Now they’re going for lunch.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How many students?
ACHYUTA SAMANTA: It is approximately now 8,000-plus are going for lunch.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Eight thousand?
These students followed 10,000 others who have just finished. It takes four shifts of 45 minutes to get everyone their lunch, most days a staple rice and lentil curry. They will be back a few hours later for supper. With the exception of the actual cooking, students help out with almost everything: serving food, cleaning, even producing their own clothing.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA: For us, the challenge is finance. If I would have more finance, I would have been able to give them more comfortable…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With more money, he said he’d provide better food and more comfortable living conditions. Dormitories are so crowded, some younger children must share bunks.
The academic challenge is even greater. The school has to teach students from over 60 tribes with distinct languages and customs.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA (through translator): Our major concern was how to bring all these children under one roof and mold a single curriculum without sacrificing their own heritage and traits. So over the years, we have tried to strike a balance.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Students spend time in craft work and programs to help preserve and retain indigenous traditions and languages. Classes are taught in the official regional language, Oriya, until high school, when students switch to English.
We caught some of them practicing one evening.
STUDENT: And you see the students are studying.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They marveled at what for them certainly were uncrowded classrooms and other images of everyday life in America. Both pictures and this conference room were donated by the U.S. Embassy, one of several foreign missions that have offered some support to the school.
STUDENT: There is the flag of USA flag. It shows how they love their country very much.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And on a scale not usually seen in India, this school places huge emphasis on sports, to build discipline and camaraderie. Students have all sorts of options, the Indian sport of kabaddi, basketball, and even American baseball.
But the hands-down popular sport is rugby. The game has taken many students far from their rural homes. It began with a chance visit from members of a Bombay rugby team a few years ago and caught on quickly.
ACHYUTA SAMANTA: So, this is 2011, London. This is 2007 London.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kalinga teams have participated in tournaments in Australia and England sponsored by professional rugby organizations. Almost as heady as winning this tournament over a South African team was the chance to travel abroad, to tour London, says senior Hadi Majhi.
HADI MAJHI, rugby player (through translator): We trained in Calcutta for the tournament. Prior to leaving, we were given English lessons, shown how to use the toilet, and they taught us table manners.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His teammate and fellow senior Rajkishore Murmu says their success on the pitch reinforced a message the school tries to convey.
RAJKISHORE MURMU, rugby player (through translator): We have learned in this school to never think of ourselves as inferior to anybody else, and I think others respect us, also.
Rugby has taught me a lot of things, most importantly discipline, which is critical when you’re learning the intricacies of the game. For example, I know now if I suddenly encounter a tiger, I will know how to dodge it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For parents, having children in school means fewer hands to help out with the daily struggle for survival. But Hadi’s father, Mongola Dhangda Majhi, says he’s happy to have secured his son’s future.
MONGOLA DHANGDA MAJHI, father (through translator): He’s already gotten more than I got in my entire lifetime. There’s no going back. There is nothing in our village. Maybe in the future, my son will be able to help bring better facilities to our area, a hospital or medical clinic or some kind of school.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hadi and Rajkishore, like other Kalinga graduates, can take advantage of seats reserved for them at the colleges founded by Samanta. He says most of these students opt to remain close to home, where they’re most urgently needed.
DR. ACHYUTA SAMANTA (through translator): I don’t want these children, once educated, to remain primarily in urban areas. Rather, we would like them to be agents of change in their own communities.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To do that, he plans to open 20 branches of the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in rural communities across the region.
Bangladesh NGO Offers Support to Improve Work Conditions
GWEN IFILL: Next: an update on moves to improve conditions for workers in Bangladesh, after the tragedy at a clothing factory earlier this year. A development organization dedicated to tackling poverty is offering a hand.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story, another in our series “Agents for Change.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This is what’s left of Rana Plaza, the seven-story building that collapsed in April, a memorial, already weathered by heat and monsoons, to the deadliest of Bangladesh’s recent garment factory disasters, the death toll here, 1,127 and counting.
Many victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy may never be accounted for. More than 200 bodies, some decomposed beyond recognition, had to be buried before they could be identified.
BILQUIS, Bangladesh: I’m tired, I have no energy to look for her any more. I don’t know where to go.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: An anguished crowd bearing images of loved ones quickly gathered around us, grandmothers like Bilquis, whose daughter Shahinoor is among those missing. Many here gave DNA samples in hopes a match could be found with someone buried. So far, they said, no word and no compensation.
SEE MORE: What Makes One of Bangladesh’s Largest Aid Organizations Work?
SEE MORE: What Makes One of Bangladesh’s Largest Aid Organizations Work?
BILQUIS: I had two sons and a daughter-in-law working on the second floor. We got the bodies of my older son and daughter-in-law, but they haven’t found my younger son.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One organization that has since promised to help them is BRAC, originally the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. It is the world’s largest nongovernment organization. BRAC is providing artificial limbs and rehabilitation to scores of survivors.
JOSNA AKTER, Bangladesh: I don’t know about my future. I have no strength and it is difficult for me to move.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Josna Akter was rescued after two days under the rubble. She may not feel like it, but doctors say she’s lucky. Her back injury, though severe, should heal in a few months.
BRAC arranged for her family to receive some $600 dollars, equivalent to several months’ pay, and will keep tabs on Josna and all victims and families.
FAZLE HASAN ABED, Founder, BRAC: We have collected all the statistics of what happened to whom, what kind of compensation they collect and whether or not BRAC can help.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: BRAC has been a familiar presence in disaster relief since Fazle Abed founded it in the early 1970s, in the wake of two epic ones: a cyclone that killed 300,000 and Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence, whose death toll was many times that number.
Abed at the time was an up-and-coming London-based executive for Shell Oil.
FAZLE HASAN ABED: I saw dead bodies all over the place, and that sort of gave me the feeling that my — the work I do has kind of — has no meaning. So I set up BRAC, initially very small, because I didn’t have much resources. I had sold my house in London, brought the £15,000 pounds and started work.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He started small, but never lost the large-scale thinking of his big oil background.
Today, BRAC’s programs help about 80 percent of this country’s 160 million people. It runs 38,000 schools, a major university and is everything from a large bank to the largest producer of seeds in Bangladesh.
FAZLE HASAN ABED: So every business that we have gone into has something to do with poor people’s needs.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One business BRAC is not in is garment making. But Abed says it too is a vital avenue out of poverty, especially for rural women.
FAZLE HASAN ABED: It’s created about four million jobs, almost 3.5 — more three million jobs for women. So it is very critical.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says BRAC will be monitoring improvements that have been promised since the Rana Plaza disaster.
FAZLE HASAN ABED: And we are looking at opportunities as to what will be the more effective role that we could play. There is certainly more awareness everywhere that we need to do something very quickly. Otherwise, Bangladesh might lose a lot of business.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, in June, the U.S. government, citing safety and labor rights concerns, suspended trade preferences for certain Bangladeshi exports, which will raise their price. The move doesn’t directly impact garments, but there’s fear that it could drive away investors.
For its part, the government says it will make land available for new safer factories and says it will train 400 new inspectors. It has just 18 overseeing 5,000 factories, many in rapidly built structures like Rana Plaza.
Commerce Minister Ghulam Quader says the industry grew much faster than the capacity to regulate it. And he admits, the government wanted to protect an important source of export earnings.
GHULAM MOHAMMED QUADER, Bangladesh Commerce Minister: Government thought that this is a sector which needs to have some sort of protection, especially …
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … with the manufacturers.
GHULAM MOHAMMED QUADER: And the manufacturers in a way that yes — so that’s why we try to restrict labor union activities.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says unions, kept down in the past will now be allowed a greater voice, a move Abed has urged.
FAZLE HASAN ABED: Only a couple of months ago, if you asked a garment industry owner what do you think of a union, they will say no, no, no, no unions. But now they’re — many of them are saying that yes, maybe.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: David Hasanat runs a rare company that would allow our cameras in. He’s leery of unions, at least in his plants, saying he offers higher-than-average wages, on-site day care, pensions and good fire control systems.
In any event, he says, Western buyers really hold the cards and they continue to squeeze local producers. After previous disasters, like a string of fatal factory fires, he says there was talk, but no action.
DAVID HASANAT, Viyellatex Group: Couple of months, lot of media, international media. And, believe me, few months later, the customer, they act the same way, the price, price, price.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What is your share of this pound price tag?
DAVID HASANAT: Roughly, something like two pounds.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says there’s unrelenting pressure from buyers to cut costs. So many producers cut corners. Perhaps a third of Dhaka’s factories are substandard, he says, and Western clients could change this if they insisted on better conditions.
DAVID HASANAT: If there is demand, everybody would set up the right kind of factory because business is not going to reduce. The prices we’re offering, we’re getting from Bangladesh, you cannot get from other parts of the world. You have to come to Bangladesh.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Major brand buyers say they have stepped up their own plant inspections, though none would allow us to go along on a visit.
NAZMA AKTER, Bangladesh: You people also have responsibility. It’s a global business. It’s a global supply chain.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Former garment worker and union organizer Nazma Akter says workers have a message for everyone else up that global supply chain.
NAZMA AKTER: Everybody is cheating the workers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Everybody is cheating the workers?
NAZMA AKTER: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The consumers are not paying enough for their clothes? The brands …
NAZMA AKTER: Are not paying enough …
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … are not paying a fair price to the manufacturers?
NAZMA AKTER: Even the manufacturer is not paying proper. Even our government, the law enforcement also is not properly implementing, these are the problems.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says better wages and conditions will be critical to sustain an industry that remains the best opportunity for millions of poor women. BRAC founder Abed agrees, even as he works to expand their options with programs like driver training.
NASREEN SULTANA, Student Driver: Driving is challenging, but it is a good job. And I thought, if boys can do it, so can I.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nasreen Sultana and Mahfuz Begum are training to become chauffeurs.
MAHFUZ BEGUM, Student Driver: I may start lower, but I know that when I get a license and have some experience, I will be able to earn much more than garment workers. If I didn’t have this chance, maybe I would have to be a garment worker.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In this crowded capital, it’s not for the faint of heart and, in this traditional society, not usually for women. But it does promise perhaps two to three times the $37 dollars-a-month minimum that’s earned by garment workers.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
A version of his story will air this weekend on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
Interview with Fazle Abed, founder of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee
Organization Fights to Unravel India’s Widespread Child Labor Abuses
GWEN IFILL: And now we take a look at illegal child labor in India and the ongoing struggle to end it.
NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When Kailash Satyarthi conducts rescue raids of underage workers, he always bring along cameras to document evidence.
On a hot summer afternoon, Satyarthi group quietly fanned out in Delhi’s bakery district, rounding up children into waiting vehicles. A local magistrate and police contingent were along in case there was any trouble.
KAILASH SATYARTHI, children’s rights activist (through translator): You don’t have to fear.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At a government processing center, they’d determine if these children were already registered as missing or if they’d been sold to their employers.
KAILASH SATYARTHI (through translator): These are all government officials. They’re all here to help you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s what he said to the young men. He told me not all officials are reliable allies and that this day’s total of 22 should have been much bigger, he said:
KAILASH SATYARTHI: We wanted to rescue at least 50 to 60 children from two areas. Many of them are already hidden, so when we reached there, we could not find most of the children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Who tips them off?
KAILASH SATYARTHI: Sometimes police, sometimes other authorities and sometimes the local people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He said the combination of official and middle-class indifference and dire poverty drives perhaps 50 million Indian children into the workplace, some as young as 6 or 7. Most are from the minority Muslim, tribal or lower-caste Hindu communities. Many are bonded, sold into virtual slavery, working often in grimy, grossly unhealthy conditions.
KAILASH SATYARTHI (through translator): Let me see your hands. What we say is that children’s hands should have books in them, pens and pencils in them.
CHILD (through translator): But we are helpless. We have to do what we do.
KAILASH SATYARTHI (through translator): Helpless, yes, but we will see to your studies and try to get work for your mother and father, God willing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: India actually has laws against child labor. School is mandatory up to age 14. And there are funds to rehabilitate rescued children. Despite all that, Satyarthi says it’s mainly up to private activist groups like his to make sure the laws are actually implemented.
KAILASH SATYARTHI (through translator): I am free.
This is Mukti Ashram. This is a transitory rehabilitation center for freed bonded children. All the children have been rescued by us over the last one month or so. First of all, we have to assert in them that they are free.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They haven’t fully conceptualized it yet?
KAILASH SATYARTHI: Not really. They cannot do it so fast.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Frequently, newcomers still stick to instructions they have gotten from employers on how to respond to certain questions, like my first one, how old are you? Fifteen, they said, in boy’s choir voices; 15 is a legal working age.
More accurate are the stories they shared of abuse when they worked in the embroidery business, notorious for its use of children.
CHILD (through translator): We worked from 8:00 a.m. until midnight.
CHILD (through translator): If you ever did something wrong, they would beat us. We got beaten every day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Niaz Ali’s story is similar to many others from this group. A trafficker came to his village several hundred miles from here in Eastern India. He gave Niaz’s parents money to take the boy to Bombay, where he promised he’d be taught a trade and could earn a good living.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How much money did they give your parents?
CHILD (through translator): Twenty thousand rupees.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s about $400, a large sum for parents who were not difficult to convince that this is their child’s ticket out of dire poverty.
KAILASH SATYARTHI: Almost all the parents are illiterate. I always advocate that poverty, child labor and illiteracy are three interrelated cause-and-consequence factors.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kailash Satyarthi is an engineer by training, but calls himself a Gandhian by inspiration. He began his advocacy three decades ago in India’s rug industry, where child labor was pervasive, taking a message to consumers in Germany and the United States.
KAILASH SATYARTHI: I had a strong belief that once a person is sensitized towards child slavery, whether it could be carpet or shoes or apparels, you cannot limit that social concern and social motivation. And that worked.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, a group he founded, now called GoodWeave, offers a labeling system that guarantees that no child labor was used in making the rugs. Some 120 carpet merchants and retailers in Europe and the U.S. now carry GoodWeave-certified rugs.
Some 70 Indian exporters have licensing agreements with GoodWeave. They agree to unannounced inspections of their factories and suppliers, like this one in the northern city of Varanasi, producing rugs bound for Australia.
After a quick look around, GoodWeave staffers interviewed Weavers and examined employment records. This producer got a clean bill of health. But inspector Jawed Ahmed says its still sometimes a cat-and-mouse game.
JAWED AHMED, GoodWeave (through translator): Sometimes, we will enter a place and hear people running or scattering, and you have to believe that they’re using children. If there are just adults, there’d be no reason for people to run.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: GoodWeave India’s chief, Manoj Bhatt, says a big challenge for Western importers is to know whether to trust all the layers of subcontractors. At least 500 supply GoodWeave’s 70 approved licensees.
MANOJ BHATT, GoodWeave: The supply chain is very, very decentralized and scattered in different districts, and sometimes in different states in India. They have to believe what their exporters are telling them. And even for exporters, it’s really hard to actually keep track of what is happening in their supply chains.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s villages like this in eastern Uttar Pradesh that are the starting links of the long supply chain that leads to the export houses and the rug markets in the West. From dawn to dusk, you can hear the sound of hundreds of carpet looms.
They’re housed in ramshackle buildings. We popped in unannounced, posing as tourists and at times received as prospective buyers. Using hidden cameras and cell phones in Uttar Pradesh and other areas, it was easy to document clearly underage boys toiling alongside veterans, who themselves may have been here since they were boys.
The appropriate authorities rarely patrol here and GoodWeave’s Bhatt says it’s out of their control.
MANOJ BHATT: That’s one of our limitations, that we cannot access looms which are not part of our licensees.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When they are discovered, boys like Zahidul are returned to their families. He was found four years ago, when he was 10. Poverty might have driven him to work, but Zahidul wasn’t trafficked into the job. His mother, Faratun Bibi, says he volunteered to go to work in the carpet business after his father, the family breadwinner, suffered a stroke, worsening their already desperate condition.
FARATUN BIBI, mother (through translator): After his illness, Zahidul himself said, mom, why don’t you let me go to work? I could earn some money. In fact, the middleman didn’t want to take him. He said he was underage. But I pleaded with him, please do it for me.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Just days after he began working, Zahidul was found hiding in a carpet factory hundreds of miles from home.
CHILD (through translator): They told me to roll myself into a blanket, that the people were coming to get me and put me in school.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: GoodWeave did enroll Zahidul in school. Neither of his parents or two older siblings ever went to school. After showing proof that Zahidul is actually attending, the family receives a monthly stipend to help make ends meet.
MAN (through translator): How far have you read?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Now 14, Zahidul is in fourth grade and still struggles. He may never thrive in school, but GoodWeave’s Bhatt says even basic reading ability can be useful. And basic arithmetic is essential to be able to count one’s salary.
MANOJ BHATT: The idea here is to break that cycle of illiteracy, so that this, you know, literate person can, you know, understand the value of education for their kids.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: GoodWeave estimates the number of children working in South Asian rug looms is down to about a fourth of the one million who once did.
But for Kailash Satyarthi, there are always other industries to tackle. It comes at a cost. He’s been beaten up several times and two colleagues were murdered because of their activism, he says.
Child labor is a critical part of India’s largely unorganized economy, and for one simple reason, he says. They’re cheap.
KAILASH SATYARTHI: You can buy a child for lesser price than an animal. The buffaloes and cows are much more expensive than buying a child to work full-time and for the whole of his life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says it’s one explanation why India has 50 million children working full-time. And at the same time 50 million adults, many of them parents of those working children, are unemployed.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Most churches in Pakistan, like Karachi’s Trinity Methodist, are the legacy of British colonial rule. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built to serve Irish Catholic soldiers in the British army.
Today’s Christians are less than two percent of Pakistan’s population. Most are descendants of people converted from Hinduism or Islam by missionaries, generations-in some cases centuries-ago. They consider themselves fully Pakistani. But often, Catholic archbishop Joseph Coutts says, that’s not how they’re perceived.
BISHOP JOSEPH COUTTS (Catholic Archbishop of Karachi): Because of our colonial past Christianity has been, is being identified with colonialism.
DE SAM LAZARO: With the West.
COUTTS: With the West in general. We are sort of linked with being products of the West.
DE SAM LAZARO: That has made Christians targets for all kinds of grievances against the West-whether a drone strike in the region or an anti-Islamic pronouncement in Florida.
COUTTS: I can give you a very dramatic example. We had, I think about two years back, a pastor, or he claimed to be a pastor, but if he was, I don’t know, Terry Jones, an American pastor who wanted to burn the Holy Qur’an, and of course there was the sort of a backlash on the Christians, and we had to make it very clear that we are not to be identified with this Reverend Terry Jones.
DE SAM LAZARO: Last week’s suicide bombing (September 22) that killed at least 78 in a Peshawar church compound was the worst ever but not the first attack against Christians even this year. In March, two churches and 100 Christian homes were attacked in the eastern city of Lahore.
COUTTS: We see an increasing form of Islam which is much more militant, which is much narrower and even quite extremist. Even Islamic sects that are not considered orthodox are also being targeted, which is not the Islam of the majority, which is a very moderate, open-minded Islam.
DE SAM LAZARO: He says a moderate Islam shaped early Pakistan, created in 1947 by the departing British to be a home for Muslims. But that moderation began to erode with growing fundamentalism. Christians, long subject to social and economic discrimination, became constitutionally second-class. Non-Muslims are ineligible to be president or prime minister, for example. In the late ’70s a militant resistance, today’s Taliban, grew to the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan, with strong U.S support, Coutts adds.
COUTTS: So the policy was “Stop the darn communists, stop them at any cost.” And that’s the time these, this brand of Islam was the madrasah, which is a centuries-old institution in Islam to teach the Qur’an. Many madrasahs became sort of centers for a religious kind of brainwashing, for jihad. And with American blessing and support and training and money. Our economy became strong. The worst military dictator we had, Zia-ul-Haq, was kept in power.
DE SAM LAZARO: Zia supported the jihadists and also imposed a conservative interpretation of Muslim sharia law. Most frightening for many even today is a blasphemy law. Anyone accused is subject to imprisonment without bail and at least on paper faces a death sentence. This law is commonly used against non-Muslims, often to settle personal grudges or business disputes, says Roland de Souza, partner in a Karachi engineering firm.
ROLAND DE SOUZA: Somebody comes and accuses someone of either burning a page of the Qur’an or having said something against the Prophet of Islam, and before anybody can actually be arrested under the law, vigilante justice takes over. The news is spread in the neighborhood, and most of these neighborhoods are either slums or rural areas, and people come out wanting to lynch the accused.
DE SAM LAZARO: Since the late ’80s, some 250 blasphemy cases have been brought and an estimated 52 people lynched or killed after being accused of blasphemy.
(to de Souza) Why would somebody believe me if I ran out into the street and said you are burning pages of the Qur’an or doing something else that was insulting of your religion?
DE SOUZA: I can see you come from America. Just on the road here, if somebody stood in the middle and said a mosque has been burned someplace, whether it’s Jordan or Saudi Arabia, let’s go and burn St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he could probably collect 5 to 10,000 people within 15 minutes. If I was in New York City and I were to stand up there and say the Muslims have destroyed St. Peter’s Cathedral, let’s go and burn that mosque three blocks down, somebody would probably slip down to the nearest telephone and call the police and say, “There’s a crazy guy who’s standing out here. Can you come get him?” That is the difference.
DE SAM LAZARO: That crazy guy in New York, why does he become the credible guy on the street here?
DE SOUZA: It’s a good question. I’m not sure that I can answer entirely. One is the level of education. The second is the level of frustration. So you want to hit out against somebody. A big bogeyman is the West, America, and by consequence of relation, Christians.
DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the relatively low number of Christians, Christian-run orphanages, hospitals, and schools still thrive. Many of the country’s Muslim elite attended Christian schools. Principal Irene Pearl says Trinity Methodist Girls School is committed to admitting children from poor families, many of them from the Christian minority. But there’s no hint in the morning prayer of Trinity’s religious affiliation.
IRENE PEARL (Principal, Trinity Methodist Girls Higher Secondary School): We do not talk or quote the Holy Bible. We say let us be good human beings. Let us be good daughters, let us be good Pakistanis, but above all let us be good human beings.
DE SAM LAZARO: It is illegal in Pakistan for a Muslim to convert to any other faith, and Pearl wants to dispel any notion that the school is trying to convert Muslims, who account for 60 percent of her students.
PEARL: I have to be extremely careful how I word myself. Sometimes, you know, like we have a Christmas concert. The children want to participate, the Muslim children want to participate, but I say no, get a permission letter from your parents.
DE SAM LAZARO: She thinks Muslim parents are mostly satisfied that their children are getting a good education with patriotic values. But she fears few would come to her support in a pinch, for fear of their safety. Just two years ago a prominent political leader was gunned down after calling for mercy for a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. His assassin was cheered by crowds, and dozens of lawyers offered to defend him for free.
COUTTS: We feel most of the time we are not equal. Not only not equal, but the growing feeling that we are not even wanted.
DE SAM LAZARO: Is it safe to assume that Christians, you know, the majority of whom are very modest or low economic means, but those who can leave would like to leave Pakistan?
COUTTS: Not only Christians, others as well. We, I think, have lost a lot of the Christian community, the educated community. Those who are economically better off and were able to afford migrating to greener pastures have already done so, and there are many others who would like to do so.
DE SAM LAZARO: For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Karachi.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: The large cathedral towers over the small English city of Durham, but Durham Cathedral’s historical imprint is far wider. The foundation of Christianity on the British Isles was profoundly shaped by events, people, and relics connected to this eleven-hundred-year-old structure-including one relic that’s come home to visit from safekeeping in the British Library in London: a book that is thirteen hundred years old.
PROFESSOR RICHARD GAMESON (History Department, Durham University): This is a book that has been dragged around the north of England on a cart, fleeing from the Vikings, and the fact that it is still in near perfect condition shows how highly valued it was over the centuries, that people did look after it as well as they could.
DE SAM LAZARO: And to keep protecting it, Professor Richard Gameson says visitors to the exhibit get to see just one open page of the Lindisfarne Gospels-the illumination of St. John that precedes his gospel. The space is kept cool and gently lit.
GAMESON: “The Lindisfarne Gospels is a remarkable book…”
DE SAM LAZARO: Scholars like Gameson work off facsimiles. This one is a $16,000 exact replica of what he calls a technological and artistic masterpiece and a religious landmark: the first translation of the four gospels into English-an Old English that it takes a scholar to interpret.
GAMESON: “Here begins”: “On gynneth, on gynneth.” It sounds a bit like “begin.” “Evangelium godspell”-close to our “gospel.”
DE SAM LAZARO: The book was first hand-written in Latin around the year 700 from texts brought over from Rome. Three centuries later it was translated word-by-word in English between the lines of the original text by a monk named Aldred. He took special care to clarify critical passages, like the one describing the relationship of Mary and Joseph.
GAMESON: He added the Old English word “bewedded”-“wedded,” we’ve still got the same modern word. However, “wedded” had sexual implications, and of course that would conflict with the doctrine of the virgin birth, and so he then adds various alternatives. He was still not satisfied, and so he added in a note saying that Mary was “entrusted” to Joseph, and he adds “in no wise to have as a wife, but for him to look after her.”
DE SAM LAZARO: Almost as important to Gameson is a side-note written by translator Aldred. It tells of the book’s creation on the remote island of Lindisfarne, just off England’s East coast.
GAMESON: There is a poem hidden within this that goes back to nearer the time the book was made and provides us with the key facts that Eadfrith the bishop made the book, and now we’re told the book is for God, for Saint Cuthbert, and all the saints on Holy Island.
DE SAM LAZARO: On Holy Island or Lindisfarne the spirits of Cuthbert and those long-ago saints can still loom large. Mark Douglas is with English Heritage, a public agency that maintains historic sites and ruins including those at Lindisfarne Island.
MARK DOUGLAS (Properties Curator, English Heritage): The island itself has a certain draw. There’s something special about this island. You find a lot of people actually coming for the spiritual benefits. You get this sort of a tingling of the spirituality of the place.
DE SAM LAZARO: It was here in the year 635 that Irish monks set up the priory, establishing Christianity in a largely pagan land and the cult of Cuthbert, a revered early prior. The quiet monastic life ended when Holy Island was discovered by the Vikings, notorious invaders from Scandinavia. By the late ninth century, the monks decided they had had enough of the ever-present threat of Viking raids. They decided to abandon this windswept island of Lindisfarne. They took off for the mainland and took with them two of their most prized possessions: the body of Saint Cuthbert and the gospels.
After a years-long trek across the north of England, Cuthbert was reburied in Durham Cathedral, where the monastery was reestablished. His tomb still attracts thousands of visitors. As for the gospels, the book wound up in private hands after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the sixteenth century, and it was later donated to the British Library. Today,
Gameson says it offers a chance to rethink a period often dismissed as the Dark Ages: this elegant calligraphy under daunting conditions, parchment from the skins of 149 calves, colored inks made from diverse animal and vegetable sources.
Also, amid the vivid display of his talent, the scribe Bishop Eadfrith was human and made mistakes.
GAMESON: Beautifully set out-Liber generationis, but we can see, as he gets to the last line, slight desperation. He has to fit letters in between other words, and here he even has to bend the frame in order to fit all the words in.
DE SAM LAZARO: In Durham, the exhibit has far exceeded the 80,000 visitors organizers expected.
EXHIBITION VISITOR: I think they’re an important piece of world history, because they are something special from the so-called Dark Ages and a copy of what shaped the Western world, Christianity.
EXHIBITION VISITOR: I think it’s very, very impressive.
EXHIBITION VISITOR: It’s really nice for the gospels to come back here where they belong, and we think they should stay here.
DE SAM LAZARO: Alas, it’s in Durham just through September. After that it would take a trip to London’s British Library to catch a glimpse. For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Durham, England.
Buddhist University in India
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Only a tiny fraction of India’s population is Buddhist, but its tourist ads and foreign policy tout India’s Buddhist heritage, beckoning visitors to the land where one of the world’s oldest belief systems took root 2,500 years ago.
The ancient city of Bodh Gaya is one of Buddhism’s holiest locations. Once past the street entertainers, panhandlers and trinket salesmen, pilgrims enter the imposing Mahabodhi Temple.
VEN BHIKU CHALINDA (Chief Monk): (through translator) We have people visiting from many Buddhist countries: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand. Most of our visitors are from Sri Lanka and Thailand.
DE SAM LAZARO: Devotees line up to enter and pray in the inner sanctum. They spend hours meditating just outside, under the ancient bodhi tree-a direct descendent of the one under which Buddhists believe Siddharth Gautama, the royal prince, also meditated as he embraced a life of asceticism and became enlightened.
SAMORN SRI (Thai pilgrim): I also would like to do the meditation here to discover myself, for my soul. And I believe this is the best place to do the meditation.
LAURENCE SHEPHARD (Canadian pilgrim): Buddhists believe that this is a very powerful place and anything that you do here is magnified, so any wishes you make for other people, any good wishes, any practice that you do, it’s increased. The power is increased. So for example you see people prostrating you know, going down, I’ve been doing this for a month and that’s a purification practice and it gets rid of pride and they believe it’s much stronger to do it here.
DE SAM LAZARO: The arrival of pilgrims is part of a decades-long revival effort by India’s government-beginning in the 1950s when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to use Buddhism to ally Asian neighbors, many themselves coming out of colonialism and World War II.
RANJANA MUKHOPADHYAYA (Buddhism Scholar): So Nehru declares Bodh Gaya as an international city of Buddhism and he starts inviting Buddhist countries to come and establish their temples in Bodh Gaya.
DE SAM LAZARO: Today in Bodh Gaya, temples and guest houses from several majority Buddhist nations welcome compatriot pilgrims. Soon, the host country hopes, they’ll be joined by scholars as well.
There’s no more than a walled compound now, but beginning next year, a large campus will be built on this site in the eastern state of Bihar, a place that can still evoke the era of the Buddha. The new Nalanda will resurrect one of the world’s oldest universities that once thrived just a few miles away.
Today tourists come to the ruins of the large residential campus of Nalanda that flourished more than 1,400 years ago, well before Cambridge, Oxford, and universities in the West were founded.
MUKHOPADHYAYA: It was not just teaching Buddhism. There was astronomy. Then they were teaching what you call even mathematics, carpentry, architecture, various other subjects were being taught so it was it had a very comprehensive multidisciplinary approach towards education. People were coming to Nalanda to study from Japan, China, Korea of course, and all other places.
DE SAM LAZARO: It’s one way that Buddhism spread elsewhere in Asia. But in India it declined or was assimilated into Hinduism, as Hindu rulers-and later Muslim ones-replaced those who supported or embraced Buddhism. By the 12th century, Nalanda had fallen into ruin.
GOPA SABHARWAL (Vice Chancellor, Nalanda University): The decline of a university like Nalanda also saw a power shift in knowledge to the West because the decline of Nalanda coincides with the rise of the Western university and the Western system of knowledge and its transmission. And also follows and soon after, you had colonialism come in. Now there is a desire for people once again to discover their neighbors rather than only look towards the West.
DE SAM LAZARO: The new Nalanda is an attempt to revive the one-time pan-Asian partnership. Several nations-Japan, China, Thailand, and even Laos-have already chipped in with financial support. The first structure to go up will be the new Nalanda Library, a strong symbol from the ancient campus, funded by the government of Singapore.
SABHARWAL: They’re clearly inspired by the records from old Nalanda, which talk about these very tall library structures that were kissing the clouds. And you know the myth says that when the library was burned, it burned for many months. So I think in the whole Buddhist world that the story of the Nalanda library is a story that evokes a very strong response.
DE SAM LAZARO: The new campus will offer studies in comparative religion and history, as well as current issues ranging from agriculture to ecology. It hopes to draw scholars from both East and West for a vigorous exchange of ideas and debate, seeking knowledge and enlightenment in a secular and classically Buddhist setting.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Bihar, India.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Jains have often been confused with and even counted in census surveys as Hindus. While there are fundamental similarities, like the belief in rebirth after death, Jainism is a distinct belief system dating back at least to the sixth century BC. Its numbers declined as ancient rulers who supported Jainism faded into history and India fell under new conquests. Today there are only about five million Jains in a country of 1.2 billion. But Jainism’s imprint on Indian history is large, including-profoundly-India’s independence movement.
PROFESSOR JAMES LAINE (Religious Studies, Macalester College): When we think about the notion of ahimsa or nonviolence that is central to Gandhi’s thought, you know, that goes back to Jain teachings and is very, very central. It’s probably the most important doctrine that they uphold.
DE SAM LAZARO: Mahatma Gandhi was Hindu, not Jain. But his approach-nonviolent resistance to British rulers, his shunning of most material possessions, and celibacy-are key Jain teachings, as is truthfulness. Stealing is prohibited. Jainism’s strictest followers-monks like Pulak Sagar-take these teachings to the absolute extreme, renouncing even clothing. His routine of prayer and meditation begins each day at 4:00 am, interrupted by one daily meal at around 10:00 am.
MUNI PULAK SAGAR: (through translator) We don’t eat off plates or use any utensils. We eat with our hands. After the meal and until about 3:00 pm, a period of meditation follows, after which we receive people.
DE SAM LAZARO: Monks or gurus are revered for adopting the ways of Jainism’s ancient teachers. The last and most influential of these was Mahavira, the son of a powerful king who lived in the sixth century BC. Today, there are about 1,300 monks and nuns. Unlike male religious, nuns cover themselves with simple white garments. Sagar is 41, a college graduate who came from a well-to-do family. He became a monk at 23, inspired on a visit to a Jain guru by the peace and contentment that he says comes through liberation from bodily and material want.
MUNI PULAK SAGAR: (through translator) We have to always keep this in mind: that the things we’ve collected we have to leave behind. We can acquire all the diamonds and jewels in the world, but the shroud of a dead person has no pockets. You can’t take these things with you.
DE SAM LAZARO: Ironically, Jains are well-known for their wealth and business success, particularly in the jewelry business. In contrast to the ascetic lifestyle of monks and nuns, Jain temples are grand edifices. There’s even one in Antwerp, Belgium, the world’s diamond-trading capital. But ostentation rarely extends to the lay Jain lifestyle.
Professor James Laine
LAINE: There are a lot of people who are quite wealthy, quite successful but they take from the ascetic ideal just enough to give them the kind of self-discipline and work ethic that ultimately also helps in their business, and then they have the sense of it’s my responsibility as a wealthy person not to simply indulge in my own pleasures but to also make gifts back to the religious community to support those heroic figures who are going to go the whole way and wear just a piece of cloth or nothing and fast all the time.
DE SAM LAZARO: Mahavir Parshad Jain is a third-generation jeweler in Delhi. His three sons also run the business. And three generations of the family share a large home in India’s joint family tradition. They are very well-to-do by India’s standards, but insist their lives are simple and devoid of excess.
MAHAVIR PARSHAD JAIN (Family Patriarch): (through translator) We earn our money by ethical, humane means. We avoid wealth that would be acquired by cheating others or by any violent means, and we only accumulate that which we need. I have just one store. We’ve had it for the past 65 years, and that is how we feed our family.
SHOBHA RANI JAIN (Family Matriarch): (through translator) We never eat outside. All our food is cooked in the home, and we only eat from about 20 vegetables.
DE SAM LAZARO: The Jain diet is informed by the call for nonviolence toward all life, animal and plant. So it’s not just vegetarian, but also forbids plants that grow below ground, like onions or potatoes, since extracting them kills the whole plant and might also hurt insects and worms. In the Jain home-and Jain is a common surname-the grandparents avoid eating after sundown. They keep a daily regimen of prayer rituals at temple, and they provide food for monks. They also took a vow of celibacy eight years ago.
RAJIV JAIN (Son): Jainism-the foremost thing is to have control on your willpower, on your thoughts.
DE SAM LAZARO: It’s asceticism on a kind of sliding scale, informed by one’s circumstances.
GEETIKA JAIN (Granddaughter): The high ideals and a lot of other things that our grandparents follow-it is very difficult for the present generation.
DE SAM LAZARO: Twenty-year-old Geetika Jain who attends university says she has no difficulty resisting smoking and drinking. But living in a modern world demands more flexibility.
GEETIKA JAIN: My grandparents said they don’t eat food at night. But going out with friends, having a social circle and having to maintain those social circles, we sometimes-we can’t be as strict as our grandparents. So we won’t eat food at night when we’re at home. But when we have to go to a social gathering or marriage or something like that, we take a side-step and we follow what socially we are able to do.
DE SAM LAZARO: That flexibility to “take a side-step,” to choose one’s individual pace, may be traced back to Jainism’s early days. Twenty-five-hundred years ago Jainism thrived here. It was the dawn of long-distance trade that opened people to new goods and new ideas, and this appealed to the rulers and traders of the day. They had long been bound by the dogma and scriptural interpretation of Hindu priests.
LAINE: They simply broke with religious orthodoxy. They said we’re not going to rely upon scriptures; we’re going to analyze the world as we see it. And their analysis of the world came down to the idea that your rebirth in this world, the karma that you accumulate comes from the violence that you do to the world. And so our ultimate freedom will be the result of our reduction of that violence to an absolute.
GEETIKA JAIN: Harming another being-that’s what my idea of what violence is.
DE SAM LAZARO: Preventing violence can involve wearing a mask to guard against accidentally swallowing a flying insect. So can proper diet and ethical business dealings. Such actions wipe the soul of harmful karma, bringing one closer to god and liberation from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It might take more cycles of rebirth to achieve that liberation. Until then, Jains are asked to support monks like Pulak Sagar, who are much farther along in that path.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Delhi.
Bride Trafficking in India
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Gudia and Babitha are sisters and they share a lot in common. Each is a mother of two young sons, both live in the same extended family home and they’re even married to brothers. With their husbands, they have far less in common: the young women come from hundreds of miles away, where dialect and diet are very different. How young are they? That’s a sensitive question.
GUDIA: (through translator) I’m 28 and she is 25 or 26.
DE SAM LAZARO: Neither woman went to school and may not actually know her age. But Yudhvir Zaildar, a Ph.D. student who studied the growing number of marriages like theirs, says women’s ages are exaggerated because it’s illegal to marry before age 18.
YUDHVIR ZAILDAR: (through translator) I would say in that case that both of them were under 18 at the time of marriage. And in such cases the husbands are often twice, sometimes three times their age.
DE SAM LAZARO: Their husbands told me they were 40 and 35. They’re caught in what demographers call a marriage squeeze.
There are no local women to marry, they said, and those who are eligible are taken by people of more means.
BRIJENDER: (through translator) We have no land, we have no steady job. That is the big problem.
DE SAM LAZARO: The northern farm states of Punjab and Haryana have a lopsided gender ratio. In some regions, particularly economically prosperous ones, there are as few as 650 female births for every 1000 males.
That’s because for at least two decades, ultrasound scanners have been used to detect the sex of fetuses and have led to widespread abortion of females. One generation later, it’s led to a shortage of brides in a culture where everyone is expected to marry.
PROF. RAVINDER KAUR (Indian Institute of Technology): 98 to 99% of Indian men and women do get married. So it is considered to be the socially honorable thing to do. It gives people social adulthood because there is no courting, there is no cohabiting before marriage and so how do you move on to the next stage of life?
DE SAM LAZARO: Men like Ramesh and Brijender find brides like Babitha and Gudia in impoverished parts of India. For their part these women say their own marital prospects were dim in eastern Bihar state where they grew up. Marriage has, literally, been a meal ticket.
GUDIA: (through translator) I know my husband is much older but then we were so poor, there was not enough food, not enough for simple clothing. Here we eat, we have everything. We didn’t have a refrigerator, cooler, fans, television.
DE SAM LAZARO: But marriage is not always what such women from other regions are led to believe.
The northern farm states, where India’s Green Revolution began in the 1970s, have a reputation in other parts of the country for abundant food and prosperity.
So, 20 year old Beena says, in the impoverished east where she’s from, it was not hard to convince her parents to consent to a marriage that would take her a thousand miles away.
BEENA: (through translator) They said it would be fancy, like life in a Hindi movie – big houses, things like that.
DE SAM LAZARO: And what did she find? Well, you can see for yourself, she said.
Beena’s parents also had a financial incentive: they didn’t have to come up with a dowry. She says they could never afford one anyway.
BEENA: (through translator) My family did not receive anything but they also gave nothing. The middleman got about 30 to 35,000 rupees, and the groom’s family paid for that.
DE SAM LAZARO: That’s about 500 dollars. Life can be lonesome at times, says Beena, who was married at 15 and now has two children. No one speaks her native Bengali and it took her time to adjust to the local diet and customs but she says she’s become reconciled to it.
BEENA: (through translator) I’m married now, this is just the way it is. It’s my fate.
DE SAM LAZARO: Visit any village here in the impoverished rural areas of Beena’s native Bengal and you’ll hear stories of missing young women, many of them minors.
SALEHA BIBI: (through translator) I prayed for my daughter in the mosque, and I gave sacrificial offerings, and I keep praying so I can find her.
DE SAM LAZARO: It’s been ten years since Saleha Bibi heard from her daughter Manuara. She and husband Mazlum Momin were approached by a stranger proposing marriage to their daughter. They say she was 18 then. Momin says the supposed groom quickly slipped away with their daughter and was never heard from again.
MAZLUM MOMIN: (through translator) I went to the police, they said “Fine, but we need a photo of the girl first,” and we did not have a photo to give them.
DE SAM LAZARO: In any event, many people here say, the police are indifferent or worse in such cases.
JABANI ROY: (through translator) There’s no use in going to the police, they would simply accuse us of selling our daughter.
DE SAM LAZARO: In fact some people, like Jabani Roy, here with her son Bimal, do receive money.
ROY: (through translator) Two thousand rupees.
DE SAM LAZARO: Two thousand rupees, she said, about 40 dollars. It’s been years, and she’s never heard from her daughter.
ROY: (through translator) I think something bad happened.
BIMAL: (through translator) If she would have returned at least once we would feel better, that she was okay. But she hasn’t even returned once.
DE SAM LAZARO: Kailash Satyarti, one of India’s best-known anti-trafficking activists, says marriage is but one fate tens of thousands of young women face every year across India.
KAILASH SATYARTI (Sociologist): They are stolen, they are sold and resold and resold at different prices and eventually they end up as child prostitute, child slave, many of the missing girls from West Bengal and Orissa and Assam other northeastern state, they are found being married to old man in Punjab and Haryana and sometimes in Delhi. A 14 year old girl could have been married to a 40 year old man.
DE SAM LAZARO: Back in Haryana, elders in the village we visited say the root cause of the so-called imported brides phenomenom – the illegal practice of sex selective abortion – continues.
SRI RANBIT SINGH: (through translator) It goes on underground. It’s continuing.
JOGINDER SINGH: (through translator) In our society, the status of women is still low. It’s in the mindset of people. That needs to change. Otherwise how do we sustain a society?
DE SAM LAZARO: Sociologist Kaur says everyone knows it’s a problem for the larger society. The challenge is to change the mindset of individual families.
PROF. KAUR: They don’t connect the dots. They’re not seeing that, you know, eliminating their own daughters is leading to this bride shortage. So if, as long as they can get somebody from somewhere else, they think that’s okay.
DE SAM LAZARO: But ironically, experts say, the young sons of Gudia and Babitha may well face less of a bride shortage. Grad student Yudhvir Zaildar says it’s for unlikely reasons.
YUDHVIR ZAILDAR: (through translator) The reason is these wives who are brought in from outside, they make them pregnant as quickly as possible and produce many children so that they won’t run away.
DE SAM LAZARO: The young women may feel tricked or homesick but they are far less likely to run way if tied down with children or pregnant. And that means fewer abortions and more girl babies.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro.
Expanding access to education for Pakistan’s poorest children
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: closing the gap between haves and have-nots in Pakistan.
On Friday, 16-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai, considered a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, told the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner she believes equal access to education is the key.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI, civil rights activist: I have a prize in my mind that — for which I will struggle, for which I will do the campaign, and it is the prize that is the award to see every child to go to school. And I will serve my whole life for that, for that is the prize that I want to get in my life.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A group of businessmen in Pakistan has found a way to advance that goal. They have built an alternative public school system designed to educate poor children, especially girls.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro’s report is part of our Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Eighteen-year-old Munawara Shahabuddin is a top student, as her red sash indicates, and she’s lucky. Many children don’t attend school in Pakistan, and, on average, girls are half as likely as boys to be enrolled.
The gender gap is particularly wide in rural and tribal areas, where Taliban militants hold sway. For urban students like Munawara, who covers with a niqab when she leaves, school also is also a sanctuary from the turmoil and violence just outside the gate.
MUNAWARA SHAHABUDDIN, student (through interpreter): A couple of days ago, a guy was picked up from this area, taken away, and he was chopped into pieces and his body was thrown in the water. A lot happens, but it’s not good to even talk about it, because you make enemies.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Munawara and her 12-year-old sister, Tahira, live in a Karachi slum called Machar Colony, literally “Colony of Flies.” The stench of rotting fish pervades it.
For them, homework is real work: peeling shrimp from a nearby fishery with their mother. A 16-year-old brother is not in school and works full-time in a fishery. He has replaced the family’s father, Shahabuddin, who is now disabled, as the main breadwinner.
Like two-thirds of Pakistan’s 190 million people, this family lives on less than $2 a day.
MOHAMMAD SHAHABUDDIN, father (through interpreter): I’m sick, I can’t do anything. I can’t even feed them. I want them to be educated and make something out of their lives.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA, The Citizens Foundation: This is a primary school.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The founder of the school these girls attend says the solution to this family’s poverty and just about any of Pakistan’s economic and social problems lies in education.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: Now, take, for instance, family planning. If you educate a girl or a man, that child, that person will never have eight or 10 children. If you come to health, hygiene probably accounts for 50 percent of health problems. If a person is educated, he will be more clean, and keep his children clean.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mushtaq Chhapra says he and a few other successful businessmen decided they wanted to give back to society, and in 1995 they began building schools for the poor.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: If you look at the construction, we try to maximize or use the materials which are locally available.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They founded The Citizens Foundation, widely known as TCF, which built and runs this K-12 school and nearly 500 others in villages and slums across Pakistan.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: We wanted to give them what our children, the children from well-to-do families, have been through and who have gotten that kind of education, with proper classrooms, books, curriculum.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Things mostly absent from a deeply corrupt public government school system these children would otherwise attend, he says, with telling consequences, like the difference in graduation rates.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: The average percentage of the government’s results from the high school is in the vicinity of 40 percent to 43 percent. Citizens Foundation children have results of in excess of 95 percent.
SYED ASAAD AYUB AHMED, The Citizens Foundation: We’re not doing some rocket science here. We are doing basic stuff. We are just doing it right.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Syed Asaad Ahmed, The Citizens Foundation CEO, says TCF is a charity funded largely by donations, but it is run like a business. Every school must show progress, their goals clearly stated. A big goal for the organization is closing the typical 20 percent enrollment gap between boys and girls.
SYED ASAAD AYUB AHMED: And one of my own key performance indicators is that, is my percentage of girls increasing or not? And we are pretty close to 50/50 — 46 percent, 47 percent girls are studying in our schools. Our goal is to take it to 51 percent, and, inshallah, we will do that in the next few years.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: TCF schools have a number of amenities that are not taken for granted in Pakistan’s schools: a safe environment, clean classroom, books, desks. But perhaps the most critical, at least to get girls to attend, are working bathrooms.
In a society where tradition and modesty are important, one other decision was key to enrolling girls, made at the insistence of a parent.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: She said that if you have male teachers in the schools, I’m not sending my daughter to your schools. With one stroke, we decided that we have no male teachers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The teachers, the principal, and even the training staff is all female. However, TCF schools are co-educational, unlike most public schools. To sell the concept, the group invites parents and community leaders to visit.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: When they come and see the utter respect in the way the education is being handled, the way that the boys are being taught to respect the girls, so, there is a total change of outlook and mind-set of the parents.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And TCF hopes to shift student attitudes on matters of gender.
SHAZIA KAMAL, curriculum developer: It’s called “Amal and Zain”. So, it’s the story of a brother and sister.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The foundation has begun printing some of its own textbooks. Shazia Kamal, a curriculum developer, says they’re cheaper and more updated than what’s available in the market. They encourage critical thinking and new ideas, as in this fifth-grade English text showing boys and girls playing cricket together.
SHAZIA KAMAL: They can actually play against each other. They can actually play cricket, and in doing so, these kind of messages, talk of equality, gender equality.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The messages are subtle, she says. This can be a culturally sensitive matter.
SHAZIA KAMAL: One doesn’t feel that there is any reason to rock the boat.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Founder Chhapra says threats from extremists are infrequent. But he admits there are no-go areas, notably the Swat Valley, where Taliban gunmen shot the young activist Malala Yousafzai last year.
Girls who do attend often find their lives transformed. Fatma Ayoub now teaches in a semi-rural TCF school.
FATMA AYOUB, teacher (through interpreter): I attended this school. I live in this village. In the past, nobody knew who I was, but now everyone knows me. If I go to the doctor’s office, parents, the children all call out, “Teacher, teacher” when I walk by. So I’m very happy.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her colleague Saima Naz says many students now set their sights higher.
SAIMA NAZ, teacher (through interpreter): When they first come in, the boys have one concept in their mind: Matriculate from high school by hook or by crook and get a job as a driver. Once here, their eyes are opened. And they realize there is more to life than being a driver or going to work in Dubai.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chhapra expects the 125,000 students who attend TCF schools will go on to be their main source of support. For now, the $20 million annual budget comes largely from individual, corporate, and foundation donors.
MUSHTAQ CHHAPRA: They will be economically powerful. They will be educated, and they will go back to their villages and their slums and look after their own brothers and sisters who are starting in that school.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Munawara Shahabuddin hopes she can be in that group.
MUNAWARA SHAHABUDDIN (through interpreter): I want to become a reporter. There are so many things that happen in this area, and nobody reports about it. I would like to create an awareness of what goes on here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But what about the fear she’d expressed earlier about saying things that could make her enemies?
“I will be an undercover reporter,” she said.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
You can see Margaret’s entire interview with Malala Yousafzai on our home page.
Pakistan Polio Campaign
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Slums like this one in Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi, are the home stretch of one of history’s most extensive disease eradication campaigns. Polio cases-tens of thousands a decade ago-number just a few dozen today. But in Pakistan, one of just three countries where the virus remains endemic, the campaign has stalled if not gone backwards. It’s especially frustrating since neighbor India-with similar urban slums and crowded unsanitary conditions that expose children to the paralyzing virus-India was declared polio-free in 2012.
DR. ANITA ZAIDI: The fact that they’ve done it is what makes me think that we can do it. If you can put enough boots on the ground and do high-quality campaigns-because if India can do it, Pakistan can do it.
DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Anita Zaidi says it hasn’t because of a perfect storm: epic floods, political turmoil, and religious extremists who’ve fought the campaign with guns and rumors. And there was one more setback: the hunt here in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden, in which the US Central Intelligence Agency ran a fake vaccine campaign to gather DNA samples.
ZAIDI: Which has hugely damaged public health programs, not only in Pakistan but in many, many countries, because people ask all kinds of questions. They now think that the vaccine programs might actually be spy operations.
DE SAM LAZARO: The perceived violation of Pakistani sovereignty in bin Laden’s capture, the continuing drone attacks targeting militants have made the US deeply unpopular here. And it’s helped extremists, who’ve long fueled a rumor that the polio campaign is a plot against Muslims. Businessman Aziz Memon is with Rotary International, which has spent $1.2 billion over the past two decades and led the global polio effort. He says Taliban militants have stepped up their anti-vaccination efforts.
AZIZ MEMON (Rotary International): They issued a ban on polio immunization, which is today also existing. These are the same people who at one time were rejecting it on the basis that it is going to make that child infertile.
DE SAM LAZARO: The polio eradication campaign enlisted prominent mainline religious leaders.
ZAIDI: The Council of Islamic Ideology now has a very active program, and there is a declaration that the Council of Ulemas has made that says that the polio vaccine is effective, that it’s not harmful, and it is allowed by Islam and that Muslim children can have it.
DE SAM LAZARO: Muhammad Hanif Tayyab helped author the document, which is being distributed to mosques across Pakistan.
MUHAMMAD HANIF TAYYAB: (through translator) They will go and explain to the people, “Look, in the rest of the Muslim world, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, this crippling curse has been eradicated. Why is it that we cannot eradicate it from our country?”
DE SAM LAZARO: The declaration or fatwa by top leaders has enabled local imams like Bilal Ahmed to tell his congregants, most of them not literate, that receiving the vaccine is not haram, or sinful.
IMAM BILIL AHMED: (through translator) People come to me and ask if it is haram, and I say you’ve been taking English medicines all your life, and none of them are haram. So why would this one be?
DE SAM LAZARO: That may increase public acceptance of the vaccine. But it hasn’t made life any safer for vaccinators. At least 22 have been gunned down in the past year or so.
MEMON: Polio workers, they love to target them not just because of polio, but because touching a polio worker makes news. They know that. I’ll give you one example…
DE SAM LAZARO: You mean they’re after the publicity?
MEMON: Yes. Yes, sir, they’re after the publicity.
DE SAM LAZARO: Who exactly is after the publicity?
MEMON: These Taliban groups…so you know this becomes quite an international news also.
DE SAM LAZARO: In Karachi, workers we spoke to-paid about $5 a day-said they were undeterred.
First Male: (through translator) The security situation is tough all over the country, but this is something we have to do for the children.
First Female: (through translator) This disease cripples children, not just for a day but for their entire lives, and it affects the whole family.
Second Female: (through translator) This is important. As women health workers, it is our job to help kids. Polio teams are being attacked, but this is something we have to do.
DE SAM LAZARO: They fanned out across city neighborhoods, sometimes accompanied by armed policemen, which has not prevented some attacks. Difficult as it is for vaccinators to work in the cities, it’s becoming virtually impossible in the north and northwest of this country, near the Afghan border. Extremist militant leaders there have declared the polio campaign off limits.
For now the polio eradication campaign has targeted children on buses to and from the no-go regions. Dr. Zaidi says this will, at best, contain polio, not wipe it out. To do that, she says Pakistan’s military will need to take on the militants to allow vaccinators safe access.
ZAIDI: If you look at the number one problem of Pakistan right now is terrorism. I mean polio is just a byproduct of this issue right now. The central issue is fighting terrorism, and if you address the security situation, the polio problem will automatically be addressed.
DE SAM LAZARO: But there’s yet one more complication that we saw workers encounter in the Karachi slum: public ambivalence. Even as they urged parents to bring children out to get the vaccine drops, even as people in this community introduced us to polio victims who live here, it’s not clear if all of the children were immunized. Vaccinators say they got a little bit of resistance to the polio campaign, but they mostly got complaints. It’s about to rain, and their shelters are flimsy. There’s no clean drinking water, no sanitation, no schools. For millions of Pakistanis who live in conditions like these, polio is hardly the most pressing concern.
Some health professionals and political leaders also feel Pakistan has more pressing problems. After all, education, clean water, and sanitation would remove conditions that spread the polio virus. But those are long term solutions. Polio campaigners say a comprehensive strategy to simply get drops to all children could wipe out the scourge much sooner. It would also remove the stigma Pakistan endures internationally as an exporter of the virus. Dr. Zaidi says it’s outside pressure driven by that concern-and a religious imperative-that could finally propel Pakistan to act.
ZAIDI: I think the main source of external pressure is going to come from Saudi Arabia, because they are going to be very concerned about the hajj acting as a magnifier and multiplier of polio cases all over the world. If we don’t get our act together, they may easily say no Pakistanis for hajj and umrah. And it might just come to that.
DE SAM LAZARO: For now, among the millions who travel to Mecca for the annual hajj and umrah pilgrimages, Pakistanis must prove they’ve been vaccinated for polio. And even if they have, they must take yet one more dose on arrival in Saudi Arabia.
For Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Karachi, Pakistan.