By Matthew Pendergast
Mongolia conjures images of nature in its pristine state: broad grasslands, wild horses, and a nomadic people deeply connected with the land. What is less known is that Mongolia is currently the site of a massive gold rush, similar to that of 19th century California. A legacy of irresponsible mining launched in Mongolia in the mid-1990s has polluted the rivers of a country and culture that for centuries has held water as a sacred resource. Hundreds of thousands of small-scale miners employ irresponsible practices, including using illegal chemicals like mercury and cyanide.
The Asia Foundation — through its landmark environmental project, “Securing Our Future” — recently brought teachers from Mongolia’s remote eastern and northern provinces, and two officials from the Ministry of Education, to California. The idea was to teach them about water quality monitoring, and how they can introduce simple experiential learning into their classrooms and involve their communities in a dialogue on mining development, helping them participate in a conversation that affects them directly. In a country as poor and sparsely populated as Mongolia, water quality monitoring — particularly biological monitoring which uses bugs as indicators of relative river health — is low-tech, inexpensive, and accessible.
This monitoring is relatively uncommon in Mongolia. Led by instructors from the Yosemite Institute, the teachers got their feet wet in the crystal waters of Yosemite National Park, learning how to engage students in the scientific process as they measure the abundance and diversity of certain benthic macro-invertebrates – aka bugs – whose presence or absence points to the health of a river. The group worked with American high school students who were themselves learning to test water quality in the park’s rivers.
The group then traveled to the Headlands Institute in Marin County to study water ecology before returning to Mongolia.
Once back home, it is hoped that this pioneering group will integrate experiential education into the Mongolian science curriculum. Their most important tool will be the understanding that simple science skills involving observation, action research, and basic bug identification can lead to more informed public decision-making, and give the public a real stake in the country’s future.
Matthew Pendergast is based in San Francisco at the Foundation’s headquarters, where he works in Communications.
By Dr. Surin Pitsuwan
Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, a trustee of The Asia Foundation, was confirmed as Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in January 2008. Forty years after the formation of ASEAN and 10 years after the Asian financial crisis, ASEAN faces mounting regional and global challenges such as terrorism, climate change, and economic growth. For the first time in its history, a new charter has been written to establish greater integration in the region on a more formal basis, including a set of norms in the areas of good governance, rule of law, and human rights. The ASEAN charter also commits its 10 member nations to achieving economic reforms that promote the free flow of goods, services and skilled labor. Dr. Surin will serve as Secretary-General through December 31, 2012. This is an exclusive excerpt from Dr. Surin’s electronic journal, edited for The Asia Foundation and published in In Asia, following his first 100 days of service as Secretary-General of ASEAN. These are Dr. Surin’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of The Asia Foundation.
The first trip out is Singapore, January 8. The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies organized its annual conference, “East Asian Outlook.” Then it was meeting the ASEAN Cultures Minister in Myanmar and after that the ASEAN Tourism Minister. Then the ASEAN senior officials meeting, and then, before I could return for a fresh set of clothes in either Jakarta or Bangkok, the ASEAN Standing Committee retreat in Brunei.
The World Economic Forum in Switzerland came before I could regain my composure from all the flying and airline meals. The leaders of ASEAN, led by the current Chair, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, brought ASEAN to the world stage, high in the Swiss Alps. It was a swift operation.
On stage, Prime Minister Lee was asked, “ASEAN is 40, and it now has a charter for the first time. With all the plans and projects that you have to build a community over there, don’t you need a strong central bureaucracy?” PM Lee answered, “Yes, we have the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta and our new Secretary-General is here with us. Surin, would you like to say something?”
All eyes turned to me on the stage, just behind Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia, flanked by Professor Klaus Schwab, Chairman and CEO of the World Economic Forum. I almost fell off my chair. Here I was, new in the post, in the company of the summit leadership of ASEAN and was being asked to say something about ASEAN.
I couldn’t shrink from this. I had to rise to the occasion. I leaned over, grasped the microphone in front of Professor Schwab and began my first sermon to the world about the “sanctity of ASEAN.” I belted out, in a clear and confident voice, “Our ASEAN Secretariat is based in the capital of Indonesia, the largest member of the group, a small contingent of 210 able men and women, fighting fit, serving 567 million people. We want to be one market, one production base.”
I received the applause of the full house. In such an atmosphere of anxiety over wars, tensions, terrorism, and economic uncertainty, a note of confidence from a corner of the world able to manage its own affairs fairly well seemed a relief to the participants.
Tuberculosis is a curable disease that killed an estimated 1.5 million people worldwide in 2006. The World Health Organization estimates that in Pakistan the incidence of TB (including TB/HIV cases) is 181 cases per 100,000 people per year.
Four years ago, The Asia Foundation joined the fight against TB in Pakistan. With a grant from The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and in partnership with Pakistan’s National TB Control Program, provincial, district and sub-district-level government, non-profit organizations, and the communities they serve, the Foundation is working in 20 districts in all four provinces to increase rates of detection and help cure TB.
The work focuses on the grassroots level: trainers conduct interactive video sessions to raise awareness and explain treatment. One crucial outcome of these sessions is identification and referral of suspected cases of TB; another is that people in these communities often become volunteers themselves to help their own neighborhoods fight TB. They assist in identifying and referring possible TB cases and visit homes to ascertain whether treatment is being followed. A new aspect of the Foundation’s program is piloting the inclusion of social services in addition to medical services, and introducing food incentives.
The program seeks to directly involve political leaders and government officials in the fight against TB. Once TB patients are identified, the Foundation refers them to Pakistan’s health system and provides forums for people to discuss difficulties in accessing health services from the government. This information is then relayed to government authorities so they can act. By working this way, the hope is that health programs will be more responsive to broader governance concerns in ways that can positively impact the delivery of services.
While much attention is devoted to Korea’s relations with the U.S. and its neighbors China and Japan, Korea’s interaction with Southeast Asia receives little attention from scholars and policymakers. The popularity of Korean television dramas and stars (termed hallyu, or “Korean wave”) in the region has been widely celebrated, but other more challenging aspects of the relationship have largely been overlooked. For this reason The Asia Foundation’s Korea Office organized an international conference in Seoul, March 20-21, to focus attention on Korea-Southeast Asia relations, encourage Southeast Asian studies in Korea, and facilitate interaction between Korean and regional scholars.
The conference – supported by grants from the Pacific Century Institute, the Korea Foundation, and the Friends of The Asia Foundation in Korea – covered issues such as security, commercial ties, development cooperation, migrant workers, international marriage, tourism, and a fresh look at the hallyu phenomenon. Participants concluded Korea has a major leadership role to play in promoting peace and prosperity in the region, but this can only be achieved by building relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN and a trustee of The Asia Foundation, (see front page story) reinforced this theme in his keynote address. The papers presented at the conference will be published later this year in a volume edited by David Steinberg, Distinguished Professor at Georgetown University and former Asia Foundation Representative in Korea.
EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR MIGRANT WOMEN WORKERS IN CHINA
One of the driving forces behind China’s economic rise is its more than 200 million migrant workers, many of them women. Most of these migrant workers are between 18 and 25 years old, single, and have only secondary-level education. They often work long hours on assembly lines in labor-intensive export sectors such as toys, garments, footwear, or plastics. For nine years, The Asia Foundation, with the support of corporate partners, has worked to broaden services for these women in various capacities and in many regions.
In 2005, with the support of the May Department Stores Company, the Foundation launched the first vocational school and university scholarship program for migrant women workers in China. In 2007, Macy’s Inc. supported the replication of this program in Nanjing. In March, representatives from the Foundation, along with Henry Lau, Financial Controller for Macy’s Merchandising Group Asia and Europe, attended the graduation ceremony for 36 scholarship recipients sponsored by Macy’s Inc. The young women each gave a presentation about what the scholarship had enabled them to do. Many spoke about being the first in their families to attend college, being able to pursue their biggest dreams, and feeling empowered by the ability to give back to the world and their families through their newfound skills.
ELECTIONS IN NEPAL
The Asia Foundation provided support and technical assistance for monitoring during Nepal’s groundbreaking Constituent Assembly elections held on April 10. More than 60,000 ballot boxes from across districts in remote terrain were collected, and votes for 601 seats had to be counted. A popular uprising in 2006 overthrew the government of King Gyanendra and cleared the way for a formal peace process involving Maoist rebels and mainstream political parties. The newly elected members were sworn in at the end of May and are expected to soon begin rewriting the country’s constitution.
GALA BENEFITS THE FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The Asian Chefs Association presented the Chefs Without Borders Gala on March 21 in San Francisco. Forty of San Francisco’s top chefs cooked for the 650 people who attended and raised $75,000 for programs to fight human trafficking in Asia. Give2Asia and The Asia Foundation were philanthropic sponsors for the event, and Marielle Sander Lindstrom, the Chief of Party for the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Program (CTIP) in Cambodia, represented the Foundation and presented a new CTIP campaign. Give2Asia is now working with the Foundation’s Vietnam office on a proposal for supporting vocational training and scholarships in communities within the Mekong River Delta.
In the late 1950s, Muhammad Yunus was a college student in Bangladesh. The future Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank, Yunus likely did not know he would one day establish micro-credit — loans for very small businesses, radically altering poor people’s ability to make money. He was struggling then, too — but he did have an advantage, he remembers: “beautiful textbooks,” donated by Books for Asia. He credits the pristine, English-language books with illuminating the world of economics and inspiring him to learn more.
Since 1954, Books for Asia, the Foundation’s longest-running program, has been committed to the belief that knowledge and education are critical for Asian nations to advance their citizens and societies. Books for Asia puts nearly one million up-to-date books and resources of the highest quality into the hands of students, teachers, and librarians in 17 Asian countries each year. For more information, visit www.booksforasia.org.
Program Manager, Vietnam
To Kim Lien was the first local staff person hired in The Asia Foundation’s Vietnam office eight years ago. Among her many accomplishments, she’s most proud of a program that brings anti-trafficking and safe migration education into schools in Vietnam. Many children migrate for employment at a very young age to provide income for their families, making them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. In response, Lien led the Foundation’s efforts to introduce Safe Migration in Schools, reaching at-risk students. The project first trained teachers on safe migration, labor, and employment issues relevant to young people who taught students using school-based campaign activities like writing and art contests, games, and performances. This is the first time these topics have ever been integrated into Vietnam’s schools.
Lien learned early in her career that coordination between various levels of government is necessary to effective development. She began her career working on rural development projects, as well as agriculture and forestry programs for the Vietnam-Sweden Cooperation Program for Rural Development, the Committee for Mountainous and Minority Areas, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. “I had chances to work at different levels of the government from the national down to villages including those in rural, mountainous, and remote areas. I gained a solid understanding of government and policy-making structures, as well as different ways of thinking, solving problems, interests of different target groups and stakeholders at all administration levels.”
Now a Program Manager for the Foundation in Vietnam, Lien has brought those experiences to her work on women’s empowerment and anti-trafficking programs, as well as labor rights, public participation, and local budget transparency programs.
Lien thrives as a facilitator and coordinator, bringing together communities, organizations, and government units to solve problems. “I am grateful for the opportunity to design and support programs for many disadvantaged groups, especially women and children, in my country,” Lien says. She says finds working with these groups tremendously inspiring. “I am happy to be able to facilitate support to those who really need it.”