Wednesday, September 5, 2007
A Bit of History....
While teaching at privately run Jakarta International School (JIS) in January of 2007, I was amazed at JIS's extensive resources. Not only does JIS offer small class sizes but their staff was the most talented group of teachers I have ever encountered. All JIS students work with art, music, computer, library, and P.E specialists. There seemed to be a small army of tutors, counselors, and support staff ready to aid students. JIS's libraries are packed with books, their computer labs have all the latest equipment, and their athletic facilities are state of the art. All in all, a very impressive, school!
I left the school wishing that all kids could get even half the education that JIS students were offered; after visiting Indonesian public schools which have startlingly little, my feelings became even stronger.
My son runs an organic vegetable farm two hours outside of Jakarta, in a poor region of central Java. The school just down the road from his farm is totally packed, so packed, the students are forced to come in two different sessions. Their school day is short because the same teachers teach both groups of students. Due to lack of funds, this double-session schooling has been going on for a number of years and will continue until money to complete the school is found.
One day, I visited the school near my son's farm. The school will someday be two story; for now only the bottom rooms are complete. The school rooms had a few old tables and chairs, a chalkboard but not much else. I spotted a few books scattered about. The contrast to JIS could not have been more dramatic. But in certain way these kids are lucky; Their school may be simple but they have a school to attend.
While walking through the village, I noticed that many young people were working in the local shops, selling small items. When kids only go to school for a few hours a day, they are available to work beginning at a very young age.
These days, back in America, I am spending a good bit of time in U.S. public schools. Compared to the school near my son's farm, American schools have so much! Certainly we have our own problems, big challenges to face down. But somehow, I cannot forget those little Indonesian kids working in their family's shops. They are so sweet, so lively, but they have no choice but to spend much of their time working; school is available to them for just a few hours of each day.
I discovered Room to Read at an SCBWI (www.SCBWI.org) conference in Davis soon after I returned to the U.S. The moment I read Room to Read's goals, I knew I wanted to support their effort to do something to face down global illiteracy.
I developed a plan: I will use this year's speaking fees to build a school in Vietnam. Since it costs $17,000.00, to build a school in Vietnam, (Yes, you read the number right!) I hope to reach my goal during the 2007-08 school year. It is my sincere hope that the students and teachers I visit here in the U.S. will be gratified to be a part of Room to Read's efforts!