September 23, 2009

We Will Make Change Again

There are those who want to fuss and fight
And would rather scream and shout
Than try to find some common ground
And calmly talk things out

Some people are just so hell bent
On getting their own way
That they show utter disregard
For what others have to say

It is almost common place these days
To dismiss and reject
Those that have a different view
As down right incorrect.

It seems like some are delighted
With the chaos and the craze
They spread their anger and disdain
And expect to get high praise

The President speaks to Congress
To make us all aware
Of reforms he will be making
To bring us all healthcare

But with blatant disrespect
One chooses to defy
The President of the United States
And scream at him “YOU LIE !”

Have some people lost their manners
Do they simply have no shame?
Or is it easier to look outward
To find someone to blame?

Some are just determined
To make it their game plan
To fight against the social change
That could help the common man

Social issues are a reality
that some choose not to face
But to turn a blind eye to them
Would be simply a disgrace

If we have a moral calling
To help improve the lives of others
Then how can we ignore the plight of our
Sisters and our brothers?

The time is now to make real change
We have waited long enough
There will always be resistance
Because change is often tough

But as a country we have made change before
And we will make change again
The only questions that now remain are
What cause will you join…and WHEN?

This post was written by Robert Connor, Sr. IT Manager for Giorgio Armani Corp and formerly a Computer Consultant for companies such as Anne Klein II, Donna Karan & Chanel Cosmetics. Robert is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy 'n' Poverty Project. Please leave your comments or email with questions.

September 14, 2009

The Real Price of that Puppy in the Window

Taking a walk down your neighborhood block on a warm, sunny afternoon, you couldn’t resist stopping and cooing at the adorable puppies staring back at you through a pet store window. Although that golden retriever may seem happy with his wide brown eyes, he may be hiding a dark secret that the Amish, a community who appears to be so peaceful, is hiding from you.

In Lancaster County, PA, many puppy mills are currently operating under horrid and secret conditions. ABC News reports, “Rescue workers estimate 600 unlicensed facilities operate in barns and sheds. Those breeders go to great measures to avoid discovery.”
Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, tells ABC News some of these facilities even "de-bark" their dogs. “The farmers, the Amish and the Mennonites, they pull the heads back and then they hammer sharp instruments down their throats to scar their vocal cords so they can't bark. So that way they can have 500-600 dogs in a barn and no one knows. As we said, it's an industry of secrecy."

Even more horrifying, Smith continues, “Unfortunately if a kennel breeds less than 60 dogs they can shoot them." During their lives, many female dogs are forced into terrible living conditions – spending their days in cages so they can barely walk and only kept alive to breed litter after litter. Once they no longer can, many are euthanized and some shot.

What can be done to save these helpless dogs? When you’re ready to welcome a pet into your family, ADOPT! The Humane Society reports that 3-4 million cats and dogs who need homes are euthanized each year. Due to the recent economic turmoil, shelters are overflowing with pets looking for families. By rescuing an animal, you save a life -- and keep money out of the hands of puppy mill owners whose litters are sold and end up in pet stores.

Also, let the governor of Pennsylvania know exactly how you feel! Your voice DOES make a difference! Call Governor Rendell at (717) 787-2500.

This post was written by Lauren Metz, a volunteer guest blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Lauren is a journalist that lives in New York City and has contributed to numerous publications. For the past year she has been advocating for The Animal Rescue Site, a website that provides food and care for rescued animals. Please leave your comments or email with your questions.

September 10, 2009

Keys to Increasing Graduation Rates at Community Colleges Remains Elusive

In July, President Obama announced his $12 billion investment plans for community colleges. He set the benchmark of success at an additional 5 million community college graduates within in the next 11 years – by 2020.

However, research by the Brookings Institution, noted in an Education Week article earlier this month, showed that in 2002, only 1 in 10 students who started at a community college had earned an associates degree within three years. So, how do we increase graduation rates among community college students?

Before we address that question, let’s take a step back and look at the role community colleges play in the educational system and why they are crucial to America’s success.

Community colleges were started by President Truman to increase the educational opportunities for World War II veterans. They actually represent a larger portion of the higher education system than traditional four-year colleges. 40-45% of all college undergraduates attend community colleges. They are often seen as a first step on the path to a four-year college and also educational opportunities to older adults. However, they also offer an education to underserved populations.

The open enrollment policies, coupled with low tuition, make community colleges often the only option for high need and low income students – populations largely comprised of minority students and new immigrants. The success of community colleges are intrinsically tied to the success of many underserved Americans.

So, how do we work to increase success among community college students? The experts say that there is a significant lack of research in the field. However, they do offer a number of suggestions that are being tested at various schools around the country:

• “Learning Communities” at Kingsborough Community College where 25 students take three classes together: a developmental course, a college level course and a class focused on successful study skills

• Collaborative teaching in Washington State called I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training), where a basic-skills instructor is teamed with a college-level instructor or professor to teach the same class.

Community colleges offer an egalitarian education option. While I have an undergraduate degree and M.B.A. from four-year universities, I have greatly benefited from the local community college system in Pittsburgh, PA. I took courses there one summer to help defray the cost of my education. I was exposed to a learning environment at the community college with much more diversity than I saw at my four-year college, which was a valuable opportunity beyond books and instruction.

All Americans deserve access to a quality education. Community colleges serve that purpose. Future posts will be devoted to covering the new research on community colleges and the programs which are helping students to succeed as a result of the stimulus funding.

* Brookings (May 2009) “Transforming America’s Community Colleges”
* Education Week (September 2, 2009) “Community College a Research Puzzle”
* The USA Today (July 14, 2009) “Obama plans $12B boost to community colleges”

This post was written by Leslie Marie, a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Leslie lives in New York City and has done outreach and research for the Ad Council. For the past year she directed the marketing and recruiting efforts for an alternative teaching certification program run by a national education consulting organization. Please leave your comments or email with your questions.

September 3, 2009

Do We Matter Online: Empowering Marginalized People on the Internet

During the decade I recently spent in East Africa, I spent the majority of my time experimenting with disadvantaged communities to explore ways that participating in the Internet could influence their lives in positive ways. What I learned is that empowering the poor through the Internet is much more complex than teaching people where to click to find information. There are fundamental perception issues at play that serve to keep Africa’s engagement in the online world lower than it should be.

One widespread misperception is that enabling Africa to access information from the rest of the world is going to empower African people - as if Africa’s problems would be solved if the average semi-literate African woman could simply find, read and digest what the rest of the world has to teach her.

Fundamentally, however, empowering people means helping them believe that they matter, and that what they have to offer has value. Unfortunately, foreign information and culture pushed at Africa often reinforces local feelings of inadequacy – for empowerment to happen, it’s got to be a two way street.

Online communities can offer that kind of empowerment, but there are hurdles to global relationship building that the average African faces. Literacy and language issues top the list.

In the online world, people who write with faulty grammar and bad spelling are all too often dismissed as unworthy of our serious attention. So even with the will to engage and access to a connected computer, the average semi-literate African woman who wants to connect has challenges to overcome that the online world at large is not geared to appreciate, to accept, or to help her with.

And indeed, help – in very concrete and practical terms - is what she has been conditioned to want and expect from the world. Global charity-based development systems in Africa have taught her that the way to get ahead, especially with foreigners, is to present herself as a deserving case for charity. The most obvious reason to engage online that her conditioned mindset thus allows her to see, is to find help for immediate daily survival issues. But in truth there is very little tolerance for people we perceive to be begging online. They are routinely rebuffed, and not to be trusted.

As such, the Internet demands that the average semi-literate African woman, whom our systems have taught to present herself to the outside world as a charity case, now needs to learn to think about herself and present herself in a whole different light when she engages online. She needs to do that in a foreign language, without making too many grammar mistakes. Technology infrastructure issues aside, is it any wonder we don’t see more Africans engaged in substantive online discussions?

Founder of the Internet, Sir Tim Berners Lee, recently spoke about the web in developing countries and said

“we must enable them to create a web that they need and that they want, and they will. If they're enabled, if they're given an open Internet platform, a neutral Internet platform, they will do that. So we must not think that we will be feeding them our culture, we must realize that their culture is going to be coming back very strongly and that is going to be very exciting for the world."

When I allow myself to imagine the world’s poor majority online and actively engaged in co-creating the world we all live in, I see hope that our most challenging global issues can be solved. But for that day to come, there is work needed to adjust perceptions on both sides of the street.

We need tools and spaces that encourage people in under-connected parts of the world to start recognizing their own value and sharing the knowledge they have. We need to stop judging according to Western literacy standards and strive to seek the meaning in what people are trying to say.

The most empowering gift we can give to the world’s most marginalized people when we meet them online is to let them know that they matter – not just for what they don’t have, but for who they are – “developed” or not.

Christina Jordan is an Ashoka Fellow and the retired founder of Life in Africa – a Ugandan based initiative to help people in Africa find opportunities for self development through the Internet. Originally American, she currently lives in Belgium, where she is developing a new initiative to foster increased collaboration in the global social change sector online. You can follow her on Twitter or at her personal blog Please leave your comments or email with your questions.

September 2, 2009

See the Change You Wish to Make in the World

** Editor’s Post **

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Many organizations, social entrepreneurs and citizens of the world share his philosophy. World Flix, a non-profit organization, displays a powerful variation of the quote on their homepage. They encourage individuals to “SEE the change you wish to MAKE in the world.” It’s a strong and encouraging message that seems to resonate with online donators.

If you haven’t heard of World Flix yet, it’s because their website just launched this August. I stumbled upon their site last week when doing some research for the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project (LnP). What struck me most about this young organization is the similar passion and drive for social change that it shares with LnP. World Flix is determined to change the world by advocating through new and traditional media. More specifically, they are bringing attention to important social issues through video clips on the Internet. Essentially, they are merging the concept of YouTube and charity, challenging the traditional model of philanthropy.

World Flix’s website highlights user-submitted video clips to bring awareness to global issues surrounding food, water, shelter, sanitation and health care. These videos empower individuals to donate to a cause of their choosing. It’s an incredibly fascinating take on raising donations and awareness for causes. The concept of e-philanthropy, I believe, is the future of charitable giving.

The great thing about e-philanthropy is that you don't have to be Bill Gates or Oprah to be a social entrepreneur or philanthropist. The founder, Laika Grant Mann, intended it to be that way. According to their website, “the mission of World Flix is to make it simple for people from any background to donate to social programs.” A nice bonus is that you will know exactly where your donation is going. For example, I just donated to the “Tibet Vision Project” and all proceeds will go towards purchasing a slit-lamp microscope for their new eye care centers in Tibet. Individuals can donate as much or as little as they want and know where they are making a difference.

I encourage you to take some time exploring World Flix and e-philanthropy. Watch some videos, too. And most importantly, spread the word.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stay tuned. I’m excited to SEE the change that I helped MAKE happen.

World Flix:

This is the first of many editor's posts written by Olivia Chao, a Volunteer Online Editor with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Olivia lives in New York City and also volunteers her time at the Covenant House where she assists troubled youth and their families. For the past three years she has been working in online marketing in the book publishing industry. Please leave your comments or email with your questions.