Professor, students campaign to aid Nepalese children
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Updated: Monday, February 14, 2011 19:02
In Nepal, where roughly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, many children are forced to live in conditions beyond their control by virtue of being born in one of the least developed countries of the world. However, one cultural anthropology class at Baruch is campaigning to ensure that Nepalese children receive much-needed resources.
$2shoes, a non-profit organization whose name might mistakenly suggest that its purpose is to provide students with shoes costing $2, is actually the most recent campaign to come out of Professor Kyra Gaunt's Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class with the purpose of raising money for an incessant cause: education.
The name refers to the hope that flourished from the low cost of providing the students of the Koseli School in Nepal with footwear, which was made possible by a local factory's donation of 70 pairs of shoes.
Gaunt's campaign would aid Koseli in providing not only clothing and shoes, but also education, health care and proper hygiene for its students, whose ages range from four to 13.
Between Nov. 28 and Jan. 20, students in both sections of Gaunt's class worked together to spread the word about the campaign to meet a goal of $600. The campaign's Facebook page has served as an informative middleman that linked to a Chipin.com account where donors could pledge their contributions.
$600 was not an unrealistic goal, considering the $728 her classes in the fall of 2008 raised during finals week for One Child One Laptop, an initiative in which people can purchase a laptop for $199 and send it anywhere in the world and which was launched by the TED talks blog, an organization Gaunt is a fellow of.
The original idea for her fall 2010 courses had been to continue with the One Child One Laptop campaign, which students had been continuing to participate in since its debut in Gaunt's courses, and the Koseli School was the intended beneficiary.
Being an organic thinker, however, Gaunt quickly changed her plan when learning of the 70 donated pairs of shoes.
"Why buy a laptop when people need shoes?" said Gaunt.
Koseli, which translates to gift, is located in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, and is run by Renu Shah Bagaria, a woman Gaunt met in the fall of 2009 while in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The two went on to collaborate, along with 37 people from five different continents, on "The Audacity of Hope," a book on social issues that Gaunt curated and edited and that was published in April 2010.
Bagaria's essay focused on her school, which takes some of the 800,000 "slum and street children" without an education in Nepal and gives them a place to learn. "We have wasted so many generations, lets save this one with the gift of education," Bagaria writes.
Students in Gaunt's class were able to communicate directly with Bagaria, students who had graduated from Koseli (some of which are now studying in college) and a few of Koseli's teachers via blogging and Skype.
"It was an eye-opening experience," said senior Kristina Piedrahita. "It allowed us to make a connection with someone on the other side of the globe."
These campaigns, however philanthropic, are meant to engage her students, and they seem to be working. Gaunt hopes the overall experience will help them "pop," as she calls it. "Each student will pop like a kernel. Some people will pop early, some at the end of the semester, and some people won't pop until after," she said in an inspirational manner, much like an informal lecture, during a phone interview.
The experience made sophomore Bingqing Jiang "pop" because helping others is a "win-win" situation that makes her happy. In her reflective essay for Gaunt's class she mentions a proverb, which she felt was appropriate: "If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else."
One of sophomore JunJie Li's "popping" moments was learning of Bagaria and all she is doing for Nepalese children. "If more people [were to do] what Renu is doing, the world will be a better place to live," she wrote in her reflective essay.
Sophomore Bin Yang did not necessarily find it to be a "popping" moment but it made him appreciate what he has. In his reflective essay he wrote, "We are very fortunate [compared] to the children living in Nepal with poor conditions."
As of Jan. 20, $2shoes raised $315, enough to cover the $297 cost of attending Koseli for a year. For those who wish to donate, the campaign will pick up again this semester as a promise to raise more money for the school.
Gaunt wants to take fund raising from the classroom a step further; she plans on leaving the college at the end of this semester to continue promoting the cause.
"I'm trying to reawaken that you can make a difference," Gaunt said. "A course about humanity should give you your humanity back."