Accomplished photojournalists document individuals inspired by books
The Asia Foundation’s longest running program, Books for Asia, recently launched an online exhibit, The Power of a Book: Books for Asia Stories, to increase awareness of the impact that donated English-language books can have, and are having, in Asia.
Accomplished independent photojournalists Ted Wood, portrait contributor to Vanity Fair, and Josef Polleross, international contributor to The New York Times, and others, use their stunning photos to tell the stories of real people and communities transformed by books. The absorbing images, presented in rich, full-screen slideshows, are viewable at: http://www.booksforasia.org along with an accompanying video on the Books for Asia program.
“Knowledge transforms lives and communities, and educators want to empower their students. English-language skills allow students to boost their potential-potential for improved income, potential for a broader experience of life,” said Melody Zavala, director of Books for Asia. “Across Asia, there is a thirst for English-language knowledge and skills, and it spans every sector of society.”
The online exhibit depicts four individuals in four different regions. One, photographed by Polleross, tells the story of Pranorn Maisan, a teacher in Phuket, Thailand, who helped distribute more than 90,000 Books for Asia-donated textbooks to tsunami-affected schools. In another, photographed by Wood in gripping, wide-lens images, Bat-erdene Khayanhyarvaa, a former governor of his province on the stark Mongolian frontier, who taught himself English using Books for Asia texts, says, “You can’t succeed without thinking beyond your town.” Stories from China and Pakistan are also featured. The exhibit is generously underwritten by AARP and Chevron.
Books for Asia supports Asia’s development goals by providing needed texts from world-class publishers. Books for Asia plans to donate and deliver one million books this year.
Two long-time Asia Foundation program partners, Syeda Rizwana Hasan of Bangladesh, and Yuyun Ismawati (left) of Indonesia, were each awarded the highly-coveted Goldman Environmental Prize. The $150,000 prizes recognize outstanding individuals who have led local efforts that have achieved significant environmental impact. The award was created to further enable these leaders to continue their work.
“For many years, both Rizwana in Bangladesh, and Yuyun in Indonesia have been at the forefront of Asia Foundation environment initiatives,” said Christopher Plante, director of The Asia Foundation’s Environment Program. “Their dedication in the face of immeasurable challenges has inspired us, and we salute them for receiving this well-deserved recognition.”
Syeda Rizwana Hasan (below), 40, is a lawyer and executive director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), a non-governmental organization established in 1992. BELA has played a leading role in promoting environmental legal advocacy in Bangladesh. The Asia Foundation is one of BELA’s original supporters.
BELA’s achievements include landmark court decisions that recognized the constitutional right to a clean environment, stemmed industrial pollution, banned smoking in public vehicles, ordered environmental compensation, and, directed public agencies to take actions to protect the environment.
Through BELA, Ms. Hasan has represented communities through numerous cases involving encroachment on public property, air, water, and soil pollution. Most recently, Ms. Hasan has lobbied for legislation to protect Bangladesh’s environment and reduce the environmental health and safety hazards faced by workers in the ship-breaking industry.
Yuyun Ismawati, 44, is founder and director of Bali Fokus Foundation, an Indonesian non-governmental organization working on environmental management, pollution control and prevention, and sustainable development issues since 2000.
Ms. Yuyun’s environmental projects have received support from The Asia Foundation since 1996, during which time she successfully pressured major hotels in Bali to reduce solid waste and improve recycling. Her promotion of “green tourism” became a model that has successfully been replicated in the resort areas of Ubud, Candi Dasa, and Hua Hin, Thailand.
Ms. Yuyun’s work focuses on finding community-based solutions for adequate, safe, and sustainable waste management. Ms. Yuyun has spearheaded numerous initiatives with funding from The Asia Foundation including the NGO-Business Environmental Partnership project.
By Michael Howe
Philanthropy in China is changing. Over the past five years, the Chinese government has created regulations to help develop private foundations and to recognize the role that an independent, non-profit sector can play in development. The government has begun to embrace philanthropy-including that coming from overseas.
In April, one year after the Sichuan Earthquake, Give2Asia assembled 60 leaders from philanthropy, government, and business to discuss a variety of topics, including new opportunities for philanthropy for China. This event, the first of its kind for many attendees, addressed the emerging non-profit sector, as well as the expectations of philanthropists. Government officials listened to philanthropic leaders, while philanthropists gained a better understanding of challenges faced by the government as it encourages charitable investment.
Dr. Wang Zhengyao, Director General of Social Affairs and Charity Promotion at China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, described how social policies are currently mismatched with economic development. To help, philanthropy is taking a leading role, with a tenfold jump in annual giving. After the earthquake, volunteerism, which was uncommon in China, has grown to 100 million volunteers nationally.
New independent foundations bring new challenges, such as integrating national and local programs, and ensuring that charitable groups are properly monitored. Mr. Wang Xingzui, Executive Director of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, spoke of new government contracts with local non-profits for social programs. In addition, foundations are creating best practices to self-monitor performance.
Yet, issues exist between non-profit organizations and the government, such as creating tax incentives for charitable contributions, fostering well-managed independent non-profits, and further defining the roles of foundations. But much has been done, and in the next five years the landscape will likely change significantly, with new opportunities for philanthropy within and outside of China.
Michael Howe is Give2Asia’s President & CEO. Give2Asia is a U.S.-based public charity founded by The Asia Foundation in 2001.
The Asia Foundation received its first ever grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of a new 18-month project to strengthen public library institutions and support public Internet access in Vietnam. The project will help expand the public’s access to information in rural areas and provide opportunities for Vietnamese citizens to significantly improve their daily lives.
The Asia Foundation will work closely with its long-term partner, the National Library of Vietnam (NLV), and other public library institutions in Vietnam to expand access to information, especially for disadvantaged groups and communities. Under this initiative, approximately 90 public library staff at the provincial and district levels, and 270 commune staff from 90 selected sites, will be trained to educate library patrons on effective use of the Internet, significantly increasing their access to information.
Pakistan: Supporting Human Rights
With funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, The Asia Foundation began a new initiative in Pakistan called the Human Rights Fund. The project is designed to engage Pakistani civil society groups, the government, and media agencies to work to improve protection and promotion of human rights in Pakistan.
The Fund focuses on five areas: freedom from torture and other rights related to prisoners; freedom of speech and access to information; stemming gender-based violence and discrimination; rights of religious and ethnic minorities; and economic rights. Through the Fund, the Foundation is making small grants to civil society organizations or civil society-government partnerships to address human rights issues. In December, the Foundation issued a solicitation for proposals and received more than 280 responses from throughout the country.
New Annual Report Available
From the cover shot of Bat-Erdene, a herder’s son from Eastern Mongolia who benefited from our Books for Asia program, to the compelling stories told in each country and program write-up, The Asia Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2008 Annual Report gives a glimpse of our work through the eyes of some of the top Getty photographers. The report is viewable on the Foundation’s website.
The Asia Foundation is now on Facebook. To become a fan of The Asia Foundation, simply log in to your Facebook account, type “The Asia Foundation” into the search feature, and click “Become a Fan.” If you’re not a member of Facebook, visit Facebook for more information on membership.
Delegation Studies India Elections
The Asia Foundation recently organized a seven-member delegation made up of
representatives of the Election Commissions of Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines to study the process of the 15th Lok Sabha elections in India. The Asia Foundation’s India Programs Director and former Ambassador Rajendra M. Abhyankar accompanied the group, which observed polling at some of the country’s 800,000 polling stations, many of which used electronic voting machines for the first time.
According to Abhyankar, “the General Elections were impeccably conducted, free of violence (barring sporadic incidents), and were transparent, free, and fair. The election [had] innovative features worthy of universal replication: photo electoral rolls to avoid impersonation or duplication; mapping in all constituencies to identify areas vulnerable to threat and intimidation; and the strict observance of the Model Code of Conduct for all political parties.”
By Almerio Borges and Hugo Fernandes
Almerio Borges is The Asia Foundation’s MobileLibrary Project Officer and Hugo Fernandes is the Foundation’s Books for Asia Manager in Timor-Leste.
Last summer, we drove a mobile library-a specially equipped mini-bus -outfitted with books, audio recordings, and visual media from Dili to remote parts of the country. Nothing like it had ever existed in Timor-Leste before, and what we saw on our travels confirmed the deep intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm this young nation has for books.
In Timor-Leste, nearly 50 percent of the total population is illiterate. In this new, democratic nation with no lending library and no postal system, pervasive poverty and a lack of public access to information hampers a culture of reading.
The mobile library project was launched to help reverse this situation. At each village stop, we visited the local schools and, repeatedly, we witnessed the same scene: children would curiously approach the van and become ecstatic when they discovered books inside. Then, we would stay behind to read the books aloud.
The mobile library project in Timor-Leste has stimulated demand for access to books from schools ordinarily isolated by poverty and a legacy of neglect. In six months,
the Mobile Library Program in Timor-Leste was able to reach over 100 schools, donating more than 13,000 books in remote and underserved areas in all 13 districts.
With continued support, this innovative initiative could reach thousands more children. For more information about Books for Asia in Timor-Leste, visit www.booksforasia.org.