The three winners of the “Search for Cultural Ambassadors” contest–Ms. Nguyen Do Thuy Anh, Ms. Than Nguyen Thuy Linh, and Ms. Pham Thuy Tien–were awarded a 10-day trip to the U.S., with stops in San Francisco, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. The contest was a joint collaboration between The Asia Foundation and the National Library of Vietnam. Candidates aged 18-22 participated in a nationwide English essay contest and were asked to express their hopes for Vietnam’s future in 1,000 words or less.
The visit, which began in late June, focused on civic engagement among American youth and provided opportunities for the young women to meet with their American peers at university campuses and grassroots organizations, observe youth political activities around the 2008 presidential elections, and participate in social service programs. They also visited national institutions, attended cultural events, and experienced home stays with American families. Upon their return to Vietnam, these cultural ambassadors shared their experiences in the United States and their impressions of American culture and society through presentations in the capital and in their home communities. Kim Ninh, Country Representative for The Asia Foundation in Vietnam, said, “I am particularly struck by the insistence of hope that permeates not only these three essays, but also most of the essays in the competition.”
By Kye Young
Kye Young is Grants Manager for Corporate and Foundation Relations at The Asia Foundation. He is based in San Francisco, and was working in the Foundation’s Beijing office prior to and during the Olympics.
Recently, I visited the center of Beijing’s international art scene: the 798 Art District. This area, once a site of numerous electronics factories, has been transformed into a vibrant community of art galleries, shops, cafes, and restaurants.
I was struck by the starkly contrasting themes at work in many of the art pieces. From oil paintings to prints, and from sculptures to stylized photography, many artists seem to reference China’s rocket-like trajectory toward modernization and have cleverly juxtaposed it against more traditional Chinese images. Charcoal drawings depict historical scenes of Guilin hills shrouded in clouds, but the ancient hills are replaced with skyscrapers, antennas, and cranes. A sculpture exhibit presents photos of present-day migrant laborers embossed on bricks and arranged in a formation reminiscent of the terra cotta warriors in Xi’an. A third, stirring exhibit incorporates gloves actually used to construct the city’s new Olympic Stadium. Other pieces presented singular images of “old” China: paintings of smiling children in rural villages, photos of Chinese students in traditional garb, and Chinese warrior sculptures.
These themes succinctly illustrate Beijing’s remarkable and startling development – with the Games of the 29th Olympiad, new hotels, malls, and skyscrapers seem to have appeared over-night. World class modern architecture has sprung up, street peddlers have vanished, many street signs are in English, and new subway lines have been established. On its surface, Beijing appears confident and ready to welcome the world to the Olympic Games. Perhaps even more interesting will be observing Beijing after the Olympics are over. Sitting here in Beijing at this moment, it is easy to imagine when the games end and the Olympic torch makes its way towards London, China’s trend toward modernization will continue.
Beijing is bringing these dramatic artistic images from the canvas to life in a way few will be lucky enough to witness firsthand. Beijing is rapidly morphing in appearance to resemble other bustling, dramatic urban landscapes. I feel privileged to be here during this dramatic moment in China’s history as it balances old and new in a dazzling juggling act.
Indonesia’s two largest Muslim mass-based organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, have received a grant from The Asia Foundation to help provide services for the poor. The Asia Foundation received the 3-year GBP 2 million grant from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) to continue the Civil Society Initiative against Poverty (CSIAP) program.
This grant is expected to expand the scope and impact of similar work carried out since 2004, which has helped to make district and city level government policies more responsive to the needs of poor citizens. “Through this initiative, civil society actors have already succeeded in improving access to better health care, basic education, affordable housing, and other services,” said Shan Mitra, the director of DFID in Indonesia. “Over the past three years, we have developed a model that really seems to work, and now we are ready to implement it more widely.”
The main approach of this program is to engage Islamic organizations in advocating for better government services for the poor. “What this initiative does is bring the local knowledge, grassroots connections, and political influence that groups like NU and Muhammadiyah possess into the equation, so that policy change actually takes place and responds to the real needs of communities,” explained Douglas Ramage, the Indonesia Country Representative of The Asia Foundation. “Development organizations like DFID and The Asia Foundation should work with religious groups to alleviate poverty because of their centrality to Indonesian society, their sheer size, and their ability to get things done,” said Dr. Ramage. “Their involvement is crucial in improving lives of Indonesian citizens,” he added.
For the past three years, many women in Aceh have received microcredit loans and training through The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program. This microcredit project is helping Acehnese women rebuild their lives and communities following the devastating tsunami of December 2004. Many women were widowed by the tsunami and must now support their families. In a region where the average per capita income is less than $1 per day, these small loans help Acehnese women start businesses and generate more income.
United Way International has made a challenge grant to The Asia Foundation that will match every dollar we raise with two dollars for a total of $160,000, the amount needed to strengthen and expand the newly established women-led microcredit organizations. By providing management training, computers, and loan funds, the project will be able to make more and larger loans to poor women in seven districts in Aceh. Women in Aceh are very entrepreneurial. These loans will enable them to create and expand small businesses and home industries that will increase family income and pave the way for more rapid community development. Read more about The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Program.
Quality Texts Address Critical Education Deficit
The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program is contributing more than 300,000 children’s books to eight Asian countries. Schools, community libraries, and child care centers in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand will receive the brand-new books donated by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company that were procured by Brother’s Brother Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based charity, which provides medical supplies, textbooks, food, seeds, and other humanitarian supplies to people around the world.
Eight shipping containers departed the United States in May with the donation, with two more containers to follow. Upon arrival, Books for Asia staff sort each shipment and work with local partners to ensure that the books are delivered to schools, reading centers, and libraries with the greatest need.
SUPPORT FOR AFGHAN GIRLS’ EDUCATION
Educating girls in Afghanistan is of supreme importance to the recovery of the war-torn nation. Girls in Afghanistan have received new hope from The Asia Foundation, which has received a third grant from The National Geographic Society to continue its work supporting the Rabia-e-Balkhi Girls High School and Resource Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. The grant provides support to rebuild classrooms, establish science labs, and develop a library and resource center at the school. Critical infrastructure issues such as safe drinking water and poor sanitation will also be tackled.
“Education and women’s empowerment are essential components of rebuilding Afghanistan, and this new grant from the National Geographic Society helps ensure that these issues are addressed,” said Douglas Bereuter, president of The Asia Foundation.
THE ASIA FOUNDATION WELCOMES NEW CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
Ambassador Michael H. Armacost has been appointed as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation. Ambassador Armacost is currently a Shorenstein Distinguished Fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and served for 24 years in government. He succeeds Mr. William L. Ball, III, former Secretary of the Navy, who served as Chairman since 2002. Dr. Harry Harding and Ms. Missie Rennie have been named as new Vice-Chairpersons of the Board.
NEW TIMOR-LESTE NATIONAL PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY OPENS
Timor-Leste’s parliament faced a major lack of essential research facilities, equipment, and informational resources. Through a partnership between the U.S. House Democracy Assistance Commission, the National Parliament of Timor-Leste, the U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. Embassy in Dili, and The Asia Foundation, the National Parliament now has a new library. The new institution, which opened in early June, will play a significant role in lawmaking and democracy-building for this young nation by serving as a resource to help legislators make well-informed decisions addressing their country’s needs.
DOUGLAS RAMAGE CO-AUTHORS REPORT ON INDONESIA-AUSTRALIA RELATIONS
An Australian Strategic Policy Institute strategy paper entitled, “Seeing Indonesia as a normal country – Implications for Australia,” was coauthored by Douglas Ramage, The Asia Foundation Representative in Indonesia, and Andrew MacIntyre, professor of political science and Director of the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University. The paper is designed to take stock of developments in Indonesia and identify ways of enhancing the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship.
THE ASIA FOUNDATION WELCOMES HO-DONG LEE AS VISITING RESEARCHER
Dr. Ho-Dong Lee has joined The Asia Foundation as a visiting researcher through the Korean Government’s Overseas Research Fellowship Program. He is the second recipient of the fellowship to be affiliated with The Asia Foundation. Dr. Lee will be based at the Foundation’s San Francisco headquarters for a year-and-a-half to conduct research on a comparative study of fiscal policies and management systems of the U.S. and other advanced countries, and their possible applications in Asia, including Korea. Dr. Lee has served in the Korean government for 16 years and has worked at the Ministry of Planning and Budget (MPB) since 1998.
SENIOR LAW EXPERTS FROM LAOS VISIT THAILAND
Twelve delegates from the Lao Bar Association and associated legal groups took part in a four-day observation tour of The Asia Foundation’s legal aid program in tsunami-affected areas in Thailand, including the Tsunami Rights and Legal Aid Referral Center (T-LAC), which will serve as the model for the new project with the Lao Bar Association. The tour is part of a recently-launched comprehensive legal aid and legal education program in Laos – supported by The Asia Foundation and funded by The McConnell Foundation. The program will establish legal aid clinics, and will create the country’s first-ever mobile legal aid service.
Japan Program Director
In a career spanning three continents and covering the fields of agricultural science, journalism, and international development, an overheard subway conversation turned out to be a highlight. Keiko Tamai, The Asia Foundation’s Japan Program Director, heard two women talk on the subway about the fact that human trafficking is an issue in Japan, and it confirmed that all of her work was achieving real results.
“Listening to them talk, I was almost in tears,” Tamai says. “I was so happy that our efforts in increasing awareness were actually making a bit of difference in ordinary life in Japan.”
Tamai joined The Asia Foundation staff in 2002. Despite an educational background in agricultural science, she was drawn to journalism, eventually working for the Tokyo Bureau of the New York Times. She sees a strong connection between scientific research and reporting, in which curiosity is the first step, followed by investigation and conclusion.
She first learned of The Asia Foundation while at the New York Times, and quickly targeted trafficking in persons (TIP) as a vital issue in Japan. From her work in the Philippines in the late 1990’s, Tamai was familiar with the linkage between migrant workers and TIP.
She worked to raise the visibility of the issue in Japan, meeting with individual journalists, and creating partnerships with stakeholders including police, lawmakers, and other NGOs. As a result, she organized the first cross-sector symposium about TIP within Japan. Building on these accomplishments, Tamai and The Asia Foundation are now focused on seeking Japanese support to prevent trafficking, provide options for potential victims, and offer support services in source countries in developing parts of Asia.
In addition to her work in Asia, Tamai lived on a South Dakota Indian Reservation, reporting about life there while working as a journalist in the early 1990s. She also spent a year in England.
“It is truly a fulfilling moment when you see the actual outcomes of the impact you’ve made on society with the projects you’ve designed and managed,” says Tamai.