Sunday, July 02, 2006

University, not brooms

Some weeks ago I mentioned that Blue Dragon was participating in the World Bank Innovation Day, competing for funds to run programs for disadvantaged youth.

Since then, a few people have written to ask me the result - we lost! Our two proposals failed to gain support.

This was kinda surprising for us, because we (obviously) believed that the proposals were very good. One was to help disadvantaged girls improve their chances of navigating through the education system; the other was to train people who work with disabled kids and youth.

So what were the winning proposals, if ours didn't make the grade?

They were much simpler proposals than ours - whereas we tried to be comprehensive (resource booklets for families, workshops with role models, training packages, a photography course and exhibition), the winning proposals were much 'neater' packages. One was simply to rent a room that children could visit; another was to teach poor children to make a video documentary about themselves.

In light of missing out on up to $20,000 in funding, my staff and I have to ask if we should have done things differently. Should we have made our proposals simpler, too?

And the answer to that is: no.

Many of the winning proposals will result in fun activities for poor children, but they'll do nothing to get anybody out of poverty.

Some proposals, in fact, were clearly aimed at keeping people IN poverty!

Activities such as teaching orphans to make straw brooms or to create paper flowers are the antithesis of anti-poverty programs. But these are the proposals that won.

Or maybe I am just naive! Maybe teaching children low-value skills, such as how to make a broom, really is a good idea. Forget computers and school, kids - the future is in straw brooms!

At the same time that we were competing for the Innovation Day funding, one of our kids - a boy named hoang - was heading to Sai Gon to sit an entrance exam to university. (Hoang is pictured below, standing with the bike).

When I met Hoang, he was a shoe shine boy. His parents had died a few years earlier in a flood, so Hoang had quit school to earn money for his elderly grandparents, and also for his younger sisters - so that they could go to school.

Blue Dragon got Hoang off the streets and into a motorbike repair course. He did really well in his studies, and then returned to the countryside where for the next two years he worked part time in a repair shop, while going to school during the evenings.

Now he's applying for uni, so that he can be a sports teacher.

Hoang is an inspiration to me, and everybody who knows him is amazed at his achievements. From shoeshine to university... it doesn't happen very often.

But if only I had persuaded Hoang to make brooms instead, I might have received that funding!