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Posts Tagged ‘opportunity’

Photo: Boston Globe
Students at Abaarso, the secondary school that a former hedge fund manager founded in Somaliland. Over the past eight years, the school has placed more than 80 students in international boarding schools or colleges.

Some people in tech start-ups or finance make a lot of money at a young age and then decide to do something for the world. Johnathan Starr is such a person.

James Sullivan has the story at the Boston Globe.

“It was no ordinary test for Mubarik Mohamoud. As the first student from the Abaarso School of Science and Technology to be accepted into an American school, Mubarik could create untold opportunities for his schoolmates with a successful transition to Worcester Academy.

“On the other hand, if he stumbled, his peers’ hopes might be dashed.

“Jonathan Starr, a former hedge fund manager who started Abaarso eight years ago in the breakaway African republic of Somaliland, chuckles as he recalls his demanding expectations for Mubarik. When he learned that his prize student was worried ‘the entire future is on his shoulders,’ he responded, ‘Good! He’s been listening.’

“Starr … has just published a book, ‘It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s No. 1 Failed State,’ about his rash decision to bring a rigorous education to the former region of Somalia, and the remarkable group of teachers and students who brought that vision to reality.

“By his early 30s, Starr had amassed significant wealth and achievement as a systems savant for Fidelity Investments and later with his own hedge fund, Cambridge-based Flagg Street Capital. But he still felt a nagging desire to do something meaningful with his life. …

“A movie buff, he was drawn to inspirational classroom films like ‘Stand and Deliver,’ the 1988 story of East Los Angeles math teacher Jaime Escalante. And for some time, he writes in his book, he had harbored an idea ‘to start a school for really talented kids who have great potential that will otherwise go wasted.’ …

“When he first arrived in Somaliland, almost all of the republic’s schools had been destroyed or run into the ground by the Somali civil war. Covering grades 7-12, Abaarso, named for the town the school is in, now serves 212 students on its walled, multibuilding campus. Acceptance is competitive. …

“Mubarik graduated from Worcester Academy — Starr’s alma mater — in 2013. This spring, after majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, he’ll graduate from M.I.T. Having specialized in autonomous robotics, he’d like to help engineer driverless cars. It’s an astounding trajectory for a boy who grew up in a world so rural, he mistook the first motor vehicles he saw to be some kind of bizarre domesticated animal.

“ ‘I do not feel exceptional,’ says Mubarik, ‘but I do feel lucky.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
From left, Army veteran Kevin Faherty speaking with Paul Connor, veteran services coordinator, and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian in January.

A sad fact of war is that those who serve too often come back suffering from emotional trauma or addiction.

Fortunately, there are understanding people who can help them move on. We just need more of them.

Kevin Cullen at the Boston Globe describes what one Massachusetts sheriff is doing to make veterans’ lives more hopeful.

“For the past year, with hardly any attention, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and his staff have developed an innovative approach that is transforming lives for the better, lowering recidivism rates and raising the odds that those who have served their country can become more responsible, productive citizens.

“[Jan. 13] marked the first anniversary of the Housing Unit for Military Veterans at the Middlesex jail and house of correction, the first of its kind in New England, and really the only one quite like it nationwide. Its acronym is HUMV, or Humvee, an armored vehicle that once protected many of the younger vets in the unit. …

“Koutoujian tapped Paul Connor, an Army veteran, to run the unit. They got a waiver from the state, so that pre-trial prisoners and inmates already serving their sentences could be housed together. The HUMV is set up like a barracks, bunks lined up in the self-contained unit. …

“The men in the unit are broken down into squads, sharing chores and other duties, which builds camaraderie and accountability. …

“Connor’s veteran status makes a real connection with those in the unit. His decade of sobriety, meanwhile, makes him a role model. Like the vast majority of inmates in the general population, most of the vets in the HUMV have struggled with alcohol and substance abuse. …

“Amy Bonneau, a social worker from the Boston Vets Center, runs a support group at the HUMV.

” ‘For a lot of these guys, their underlying issues can be traced back to their service,’ she said. ‘If we don’t treat what got them here, they end up coming back. What we see is the camaraderie that this unit fosters makes them more willing to take the treatment seriously. It’s more than helping themselves. They don’t want to let down their brothers.’

“Connor, still a captain in the National Guard, puts it in terms that everybody in the unit understands.

“ ‘In boot camp, they break you down,’ he said. ‘A lot of these guys come in here broken. We are building them back up.’ ”

More here.

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Speaking of libraries, if any of you decide to publish a collection of stories on the value of libraries, be sure to include this one about a family in India.

The nonprofit Read Global provided opportunity to them. “Om Prakash and his wife Sheela Devi raised three daughters and a son in the rural community of Geejgarh, in Rajasthan India. There were no educational resources nearby except for underfunded public schools, where books and computers were rare. …

“When we opened a READ Center in their village, the whole family was excited to join.

“ ‘It is a safe place for my daughters and wife to visit because it is close by, and it’s community owned and operated,’ Om Prakash says, ‘The staff are like family members. Anyone can visit and see what’s going on.’

“Their daughter Anuradha was the first to join the local READ Center. She took trainings in English, computer skills, and radio, where she created programs on health and women’s rights to help spread awareness in her community.  …

“Their daughter Archana started an online college program, and uses the books and computers at the Center for school. After graduating, she wants to become a teacher …

“Their son Pankaj is applying for government jobs. He took computer training from the Center and uses the library daily to prepare for the government’s required entrance exam.

“Mahima is the youngest. She participated in beautician training at the Center, and now she plans to become a makeup artist and open a beauty parlor of her own. …

“Anuradha says there has been a change in social norms in her community because of the Center: ‘Earlier, villagers were totally against letting their wives and daughters work, but now many of them have changed. They see women with respect, and they value their opinions.’ ”

More at Read Global.

Photo: ReadGlobal.org 

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Pamela Boykoff at CNN has a nice story about a ballet school in the Philippines and the hope it offers children from very poor families.

“Jessa Balote is 14-years-old and training to be a professional ballerina in Manila,” writes Boykoff.

“It is a task that takes enormous amounts of dedication for even the most determined of young women, but Balote’s challenge is nothing compared to life outside the dance studio where she has to support her entire family.

” ‘I’m the only one they expect to bring the family out of poverty,’ she says.

“Balote is one of 54 students enrolled in ‘Project Ballet Futures,’ a program run by Ballet Manila to provide free ballet training to children from some of the city’s most deprived neighborhoods.

“Balote lives in Tondo, a slum built next to a major waste dump in Manila. Her parents make what little money they have by selling trash. If Balote was not involved in the dance program, she says she wouldn’t be able to eat everyday.

” ‘They want to earn money to be able to survive,’ says Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, founder of the program and the Philippines’ first prima ballerina. She believes in her students, personally paying for their lessons and uniforms.

“Macuja-Elizalde’s goal is to help these children become professional members of the company with incomes to match. They are among her most focused students, she says, not afraid to work hard and to push themselves and their bodies.”

Read more.

Photograph: CNN

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The other day John brought up the topic of Andrew Carnegie. Whatever else might be said about this 19th Century steel baron, you have to give him credit for putting so much of his fortune into philanthropy, especially libraries.

Today John Wood is carrying on that work in impoverished countries around the world. As Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times, “Wood’s charity, Room to Read, has opened 12,000 … libraries around the world, along with 1,500 schools. …

“He has opened nearly five times as many libraries as Carnegie, even if his are mostly single-room affairs that look nothing like the grand Carnegie libraries. Room to Read is one of America’s fastest-growing charities and is now opening new libraries at an astonishing clip of six a day. …

“He also runs Room to Read with an aggressive businesslike efficiency that he learned at Microsoft, attacking illiteracy as if it were Netscape. He tells supporters that they aren’t donating to charity but making an investment: Where can you get more bang for the buck than starting a library for $5,000? …

“ ‘In 20 years,’ Wood told me, ‘I’d like to have 100,000 libraries, reaching 50 million kids. Our 50-year goal is to reverse the notion that any child can be told “you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and so you will not get educated.” ‘ ” Read more.

Photograph of John Wood: Room to Read

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Don’t you love “secret benefactor” stories? You remember, of course, that in Great Expectations Pip was convinced Miss Havisham was his secret benefactor. (Spoiler alert! she wasn’t.)

A similar theme is found in Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s A Little Princess, about a much-abused but uncomplaining orphan who one day trudges the weary steps to her bare-bones garret and discovers a magical world of comfort has been created for her.

In 1912, the American writer Jean Webster wrote an epistolary novel in the same vein, Daddy LongLegs. It’s about a poor girl in an orphanage whose little essays capture the attention of a man on the orphanage board. He doesn’t like girls and wants nothing to do with her other than to send her to college anonymously and see if she can be a success. He keeps tabs by reading letters he has required her to write every month.

Well, you can imagine …

The book was hugely popular in its day and has been made into all manner of anime and films, including one with Shirley Temple and one with Fred Astaire ( both of which have snippets on YouTube and seem to be in pure gag-me-with-a-spoon territory).

Last night we saw a musical version of Daddy LongLegs at the Merrimack Rep and liked it very much. Some might find it too epistolary for the stage or too sweet for 2012, but it wasn’t Shirley Temple and the audience was crazy for it.

John Caird, famous in part for the Royal Shakespeare Theater’s Nicholas Nickleby, wrote the book and directed. Paul Gordon wrote the music and lyrics. Megan McGinnis was the orphan, and Rob Hancock was the benefactor she assumed to be 83 and bald. (Spoiler alert! he isn’t.)

What was surprising was the strong feminist and socialist vibe, which the program notes explain were characteristic of the author. “Webster was actively involved in remedying the plight of the impoverished, not only from a financial standpoint, but from a cultural standpoint as well.” She believed that no matter what the poor had missed out on in their early years (we discussed that here), many could succeed if just given a chance.

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A while back I watched the movie The Little Red Truck, a documentary by producer Pam Voth and director Rob Whitehair highlighting the work of the Missoula Children’s Theatre. It was a moving experience.

The Missoula (Montana) Children’s Theatre travels by truck from city to city all over America to put on productions with children in low-income urban and rural areas. The transformation of some of these children in the week it takes to produce a full-scale, one-hour musical is something to see, with many insecure children discovering talents that no one, including the children themselves, knew they had.

For kids who have never seen a play and have no place to rehearse — nor any props or costumes or sets other than what the theater company can pack into the truck —  putting on a production seems unimaginable.

As the movie unfolds, you see how doing the unimaginable builds self-confidence, and generates both laughter and ideas about possible futures. It’s not about growing up to be actors. It’s about seeing that there are options, and starting to think differently.

And in case anyone is more interested in the academic skills boosted through theater, this Education Week article makes that case. Not a bad case to be made, but it’s the magic of Queen Mab that speaks to me.

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