Be the Cause

A Summary of the August 9, 2008 Evening of Awareness, Education: A Path to Empowerment

Thank you to everyone who came to Education: A Path to Empowerment, the Evening of Awareness on Saturday August 9, 2008 at the Sikh Center of Orange County. This blog post contains a summary of the evening.

A 10-year-old girl sews garments instead of going to school.
An older brother raises his siblings because his parents have passed away with HIV.
Kids in the inner city not having the same opportunities as their peers.

Do any of these images sound familiar? Many of us have traveled and seen firsthand the realities of children throughout the world, and even within our communities here in Southern California. Something needs to change, to give young people both locally and abroad opportunities, so that poverty does not become a continuous cycle.

There are 93 million children of primary school age throughout the world who are not in school (UNICEF, 2005).

6 million K-12 students in California are at serious risk (California Budget Project, 2008).

Why is education a path to empowerment?
How can we, as individuals be inspired to take action- so that there are equal opportunities in education throughout the world?
At this Evening of Awareness, we learned how we are all a part of the solution.

Why an Evening of Awareness on this issue?

Education is not just about literacy. Young people need a wide range of programs such as the arts, sports and leadership development. Unfortunately, not every student has access to quality education or other programs to enhance their learning. There are organizations based in Southern California working locally and abroad that are dedicated to making sure that every young person has the chance to reach their potential.

At this Evening of Awareness, we learned about all of the incredible projects that organizations within our community have developed and are sustaining with great dedication. Their work ranges from giving youth in Cambodia breakdancing as an alternative (Tiny Toones Cambodia), ensuring the well-being of South Asian families through supporting victims of domestic violence (SAHARA), to empowering girls in Uguanda to become leaders (Bavubuka Girls).

Every organization present at the Evening Awareness is creating great impact within communities, which collectively will make the world better. It’s an amazing, just to think that these are just a few of many NGOs based in Southern California!

Below is an overview of the Evening:
• Be the Cause hosts Evenings of Awareness to educate community members on social issues and to inspire them to do something about it. Past Evening of Awareness themes include: Human Trafficking and Refugees, a Tsunami Candle Light Vigil, along with evenings in India, Africa, and Sudan.
• The following is a piece that relates to the evening’s theme. It refers to the poor, but it connects to lives of young people as well:

“To me, the poor are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a six –inch-deep flower pot, you get a perfect replica of the tallest tree, but it is only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil base you provided was inadequate.

Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds. Only society never gave them a base to grow on. All that is required to get poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment. Once the poor are allowed to unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.”

Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammad Yunus
Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Founder of the Grameen Bank

• Christine Bulaoro a Be the Cause Volunteer, spoke of her experience in Northern India with Yuvsatta, where she learned of how infant girls were killed because of lack of hope.
• Farshad Jahed from the Baha’i community, spoke about the need of education to be universal and inclusive so that we can bring about change in our world.

The Wall of Inspiration:
Guests were asked to respond to the question: “What does education mean to you?”
Here are some of the powerful messages posted on the Wall of Inspiration.

The success of every generation and a nation depends on the education of its youth.

Easy access to education for all those who can’t afford to have it will make the world a better place for us all.

Education needs to be available to everyone and I’m hoping in the future, that there will be no blocks for education to be offered for anyone who seeks it…it doesn’t need to be a privilege or a reward…but as natural as walking on the street to the nearest grocery store. I pray for education to be free and easy to locate…not so unreachable and distant. Empowering individuals to learn is the key!

Education exposes the beauty of knowledge. It empowers us to discover, transform, and disseminate the knowledge in a creative and inspirational way that makes our existence worthwhile.

Education is the root to prevention, eradication of injustices and poverty. Education starts with the self; self-awareness and the willingness to look within. Education is the opportunity to change yourself, to change the world.

Don’t take education for granted, especially your four years of high school!
There are choices and there is hope and light.

Understanding, Acceptance, Unity


Education is life key to wisdom.


Break the cycle of negativity.

Education is the power that you hold on.

Ticket to freedom


To provide knowledge and information for individuals that contributes to the evolution of their consciousness.



Education makes you be part of the world.

Education is empowerment and knowledge of self. Truly holistic education teaches the whole person.

A noble future

Education is how we expand our minds beyond the neighborhoods and explore what the world has to offer

Open minded

Education means a way towards God, empowers, however it is a tool that perpetuates racism…and needs to change.

Education makes us human.

Education: Access to power

Connection 2 life

Life and Freedom

Each day, I learn something that opens my mind to what exists beyond the borders in which I live. Each day, I hope that someone else in the world has the luxury to do the same.

I love basketball

Education to me is about having a key which unlocks your inner self and the world. It provides you with the tools to grow, to broaden your horizons and to make a positive difference in the world.

Education is the key to understanding the past, act in the present, and prepare for the future…

I love doing art!!!

Education is relevant knowledge. It helps students adapt to their surroundings. It is critical to give the students a way to question their reality.

Education symbolizes the difference between a life of ignorance and poverty vs. a life of fulfillment and opportunity

A way to help more people more efficiently

Education is empowerment.

Education means sustainability, freedom, safety.

Education is power. It gives people opportunities and promotes self-reliance.

Education means… empowerment, the freedom to be aware of the TRUTH at all times, and to be open to growth, strength, and the power to shine knowledge on the world.

Education should help us discover lasting values in order to break all social barriers.

Education means having choices to change your life.

Empowerment of people, independent investigation of truth.

Education means: endless learning process to improve your own life and to others.

i like skool

Keeping a promise

Education is the great equalizer

Freedom of thought and spirit

The Web Activity:
Guests passed on a roll of yarn as they shared their stories with members of their table and created a web, finding the interconnectedness or relationships between the experiences. The stories in the web activity are true, while some are based on the travels, experiences and readings on the realities of youth around the world.

Nora is a 4-year-old Yupik Eskimo from the village Kwethluk in Western Alaska. The State of Alaska is considering funding a costly head-start program for pre-K education that would help Nora. At the same time, they are considering cutting emergency services. (Every dolalr invested in Pre-K education saves taxpayers up to $7, reduces the need for remedial and special education, welfare, and the criminal justice services.)

Juan is an ambitious 16-year-old sophomore in high school living in Santa Maria, California. Because of his family’s financial situation, each morning he is asked to pick strawberries in the fields before school. He recently began skipping some of his classes in order to go home and rest, which has greatly affected his grades.

Barbara is 46-years-old and homeless. Because of her low reading and comprehension skills she is unable to get a job. Barbara came from a low- income family where her parent’s abused drugs and alcohol.

John grew up as a foster child in Long Beach, California and changed schools often. While john was an average student who attended class daily, he received very little attention from his teachers, which led to a disinterest in school. When John turned 18 and was no longer part of the foster system he found himself on the street without aspirations for higher education and unrealistic career plans. John then followed his friend’s footsteps in selling drugs to make money.

Felipe grew up in the slums of Caracas. Thanks to a philanthropist that started a non-profit that funds a local orchestra, Felipe was able to learn a musical instrument and have a place away from the streets where he learned to be dedicated to his music. His grades improved as did his self-confidence. More doors have opened for him, as people now know him as an accomplished young musician.

Alma is a 13-year-old girl in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who cannot go to school because she has to collect water four times a day. She wants to go to school so that she can improve her quality of life.

Boreth’s parents died of AIDS when he was 9-years-old, and he himself is also infected. There are NGOs in his hometown of Phnom Penh, Cambodia that can help him, but he has been unable to remain with any of them because he does not feel comfortable. He was finally drawn to an NGO that he could be a part of because they offered a brakedancing program.

Professor Sarkisian grew up in Laguna Beach, California. As a child he learned to play the violin, attended tennis camp, and spent his summers in Europe with his family. He attended an ivy league college and is now a professor of History at UCLA.

Nandita is a young mother in Northern India with an abusive husband. Traditionally, girls in her village do not go to school. She doesn’t know how to read, so she cannot take the train station back to her parents’ village. In addition, she does not know basic arithmetic, so she is dependent upon her husband.

Scott’s high school lost their after school drama program due to a cutback in funds. His single father does not come home until late at night, so he spends his free time doing graffiti on the freeway overpass.

Tien is a 6-year-old orphan girl in Vietnam. The factory that she works in is her home. She cannot read the children’s books which she assembles.

Natasha holds monthly workshops that explain how to fill out citizenship applications to immigrants.

Thoughts from some of the guests during the web activity:
• Education is the key and can “make or break your life.”
• Getting an education is a challenge.
• Education alleviates poverty and hunger.
• Education builds self-esteem.
• We take for granted the act of knowing how to read. For example, people have died because they were unable to read prescription bottles.
• “It spoke to the barriers of education, whether in America, in foster homes, or abroad. The need and desire are there, but barriers are persistent.”

Interactive Panel Discussion:

Alpa Patel Marketing, Pratham USA

Alpa is a Marketing Director of the Southern California chapter of Pratham USA. Pratham is the largest non-profit organization working in the area of education in India. Alpa is helping coordinate the awareness of Pratham’s work in the community and leading the fund-raising effort among corporations and individuals.

She is a graduate of University of Texas with a BS degree in Business Administration. She is passionate about working with non-profit organizations achieve their challenging goals. She is highly motivated self-starter and her strong organizational skills help to get a lot done efficiently.

Alpa is a social entrepreneur and owns a graphics & printing business through which she reaches out to non profits to help them minimize their printing expense. She is a volunteer with Pratham USA’s So California chapter.

Annie Kates Program Manager, Developments in Literacy

Annie Kates joined Developments in Literacy (DIL) in December 2006 as the Program Manager. Her work focuses primarily on developing the curriculum used in DIL’s schools throughout Pakistan. Her previous experience includes teaching internationally and domestically and she currently holds a Masters degree in International Education from Harvard University.

Divinity Barkley Program Director, Bavubuka Girls Project

Divinity recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Southern California with degrees in Political Science and African-American Studies. She is part of USC’s Epsilon chapter of the distinguished Phi Beta Kappa National Honor’s Society and was honored as the 2008 Valedictorian at the USC African-American Graduation Ceremony. After having a transformative experience while studying in Africa , Divinity decided to follow her passion for women’s issues and African culture by founding the Bavubuka Girls Project, the latest educational initiative launched by the Bavubuka Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating spaces and educational programs that will nurture and empower a new generation of young leaders in Uganda.

The Bavubuka Girls Project is committed to empowering, educating, and enriching the lives of Ugandan girls. Promoting sisterhood and leadership, the Bavubuka Girls Project provides adolescent girls with a forum in which they can define themselves, discover their self-worth, and determine their futures.

Jesse Ross Special Projects Liason, Peace4Kids

Hailing from all over, Jesse took a year off after finishing grad school at NYU to help out in the Katrina aftermath. While working with the H.O.P.E. Project, he watched children, roofed houses, and did a little bioremediation. After that, he moved out to L.A. to get back into film and music post-production. On the side, he works with the Peace for Kids organization in Watts volunteering with foster kids and helping out with the logistics of several off-site projects. His ethical stance is largely rooted in preference utilitarianism, humanistic psychology, and Catholicism. He’s also a great cook.

Andrew Ollero, Academic Advisor, Stepping UP by OCCHC (Orange County Community Housing Corporation)

A senior at Cal State Long Beach, Andrew has nearly three years experience working in educational outreach and equity programs. As an academic advisor for the OCCHC/Stepping UP program, Andrew has not only assisted youth in pursuing higher education but also worked with social justice campaigns for Disney workers and AB540 students. After receiving his B.A. in Social Work, Andrew plans to pursue his Masters in Social Work Administration.

Why are the panelists passionate about their work?

Andrew Ollero, Stepping UP
• There is no equality– there are not the same offerings of classes for kids in different areas.
• it is unfair because education is the key to where you want to go.
Divinity Barkley, Bavubuka Girls
• Believes in a holistic curriculum, focusing on music and arts.
• The objective is to provide all kids the access to their creative side.
Jesse Ross, Peace4Kids
• It fills a need.
• After seeing Katrina victims first-hand, realized that he needed to do something to help kids who don’t even have basic needs met.
Annie Kates, Developments in Literacy
• Worked on providing education to young girls in Pakistan, as well as developing curriculum because educating girls is like educating a nation.
Alpa Patel, Pratham USA
• Education opens up the world to children and gives them opportunities they would otherwise not have.
Interactive Panel Discussion:

Why is educating girls so important?

Divinity Barkley, Bavubuka Girls:
• A midwife makes more money for male delivery in Uganda.
• The locals don’t want girls because they will be married off and can’t give back to family—education empowers girls to be able to provide for their families and elevates self-esteem.
• Not only results abstract, but also tangible—countries that have educated their girls, have gained higher GDPs and have lower infant mortality rates.
Annie Kates, Developments in Literacy
• After 11 years of service in Pakistan, even the teachers have more self-esteem and higher value of their own lives.
• Many of the girls feel so proud to go to school and often come back as teachers.

Are human rights ranked, or interconnected?

Jesse Ross, Peace4Kids
• Yes, but how do we be objective, and who do we help first, maybe it should be based on hierarchy of needs.
Divinity Barkley, Bavubuka Girls
• Rights are interconnected.
• Many donors have donor fatigue because they keep pouring in money to patch up problems.
• Why not teach kids how to address their own issues so that they can learn how to feed themselves and face their challenges.
• If there is no self-knowledge the cycle of poverty can’t be broken.
Andrew Ollero, Stepping UP
• There is no hierarchy because education is the key,
• When you educate, you are addressing the other issues as well.

What’s missing in an overdeveloped country?

Annie Kates, Developments in Literacy
• No international education– kids here are out of touch with what is going on in the world
Jesse Ross, Peace4Kids
• Place greater value on teaching ethics and put talent where it is best suited.
• You don’t have to be a doctor to treat a sick person, but can do other things to help out that person.

Define education?

Alpa Patel, Pratham USA
• Education enables a child to make smart decisions for themselves.
• it opens up the world for them.
• Education is the most important factor that made her who she is, and she wants to be an instrument to continue that process.
Annie Kates, Developments in Literacy
• it gives someone the power and self-confidence to not be reliant on others.
Divinity Barkley, Bavubua Girls
• Being well-rounded, not just book-smart, but also have non-formal education through the sharing of history and experiences with members of your own community.
Andrew Ollero, Stepping UP
• It is not only what you learn in school, but also understand cultures and society.
• it starts from helping people close to you.
• Education is a foundation to grow.
• “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Johnny Daelucian


Sulu from SEA Charter Schools


Now, it’s your turn to do something. Get involved with one of the organizations represented at the Evening of Awareness. Visit their web sites for details on their projects and how to get involved. Ways to be a part of their efforts include volunteering, donating supplies, attending events, raising awareness on the issues they focus on and providing financial support.
Contact if you have any questions.

Be the Cause
One Imagination
African Well Fund
Bavubuka Girls
Developments in Literacy
Ekal Vidyalaya
Living Values Education
Manav Sadhna
Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) SOAR
Pratham USA
SAHARA (South Asian Helpline and Referral Agency)
SEA (Soledad Enrichment Action) Charter Schools
Stepping UP by OCCHC (Orange County Community Housing Corporation)
The Torch Foundation
Tiny Toones Cambodia

Laziness, or Circumstances?

I had a wonderful time at Change of Heart Weekend, even though I didn’t get to experience all of it. I thought i’d share something interesting that happened to me the day after the event. I was working out at the gym and one of the personal trainers was trying to convince me to sign up for personal training. I was telling him about how i’d love the extra help to meet my goals, but that I would just be unable to sign up for it at this time because I cannot afford it at the moment. He kept telling me that if I really want something I will do anything for it, and that I will find a way to pay for a trainer if I really want to get fit.

Anyway, I didn’t think anything of this conversation until I got home. If the Espinozas (the couple that my partner and I role played as) really wanted to eat a proper meal,wouldn’t Tony just deal with his back pain and get to work? I realized its connection to Saturday’s food bank activity. What I found was that when we are unable to afford anything beyond the basics, or even the basics, others tend to assume that there is something inherently wrong with you, that you may be lazy for example. I jokingly accused Tony, my husband in the activity of being lazy, but it actually became real on Sunday. It is so easy for others to blame you rather than your circumstances. My experience cannot be compared to someone who cannot even afford to buy a meal, but it was a great lesson which I would not have even comprehended if it weren’t for Saturday’s activity.

When looking at poverty, we often fail to look at the system. For example, Maria Espinoza made $1,540 a month with $4 a day for both Tony and her to spend on food. In addition, Tony was suffering from a back injury, so he was unable to work. In spite of all of this, they were rejected for food stamps! Perhaps real solutions can be reached once it is realized that we are trying our best, and that it is not necessarily we as individuals who have failed, but rather, there are external forces sometimes beyond our control that have failed us.

Just something to think about…

I’d like to end this by thanking all of the wonderful speakers and participants who created such life-impacting dialogue.

:) Sana Saeed