Charities

Trees, not fees: School in India encourages parents to plant tree saplings instead of paying tuition

A primary school in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh is making education more inclusive while raising awareness for environmental concern: it’s asking parents not to pay tuition, but to plant trees instead. For more on #TreesNotFees check out our blog, 

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The initiative was set up by local professionals and business owners in response to the rising unaffordability of education. Little of the Indian government’s budget is allocated to education, leaving parents responsible for forking out high fees. As a result, many children cannot afford to go to school, and the consequences are evident: an education report in 2014 found that nearly 20% of children in grade two cannot recognize the numbers between one and nine.

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While not a means to an end, this school’s initiative is opening its classroom doors to children who otherwise would not have access to education, therefore giving them a chance at a brighter future and raising the country’s literacy rate.

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So far, the school has received an overwhelming response, and 700 saplings have been planted across the village over the last year.

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At the same time, parents being encouraged to plant trees is also educating the next generation on the importance of environmental care. This is especially needed in India, where air pollution is becoming a worsening problem.

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It is hoped that this school’s initiative will inspire others to follow suit to promote heightened accessibility of education for all and awareness of the country’s environmental issues.

One woman’s mission to light up her town for Christmas

This Christmas, one American town is shining a little brighter – thanks to Victoria Coakley and her project to “light up” the west end of Louisville, Kentucky.

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Coakley told local news station WLKY that it is her mission to bring more decorations to West Louisville.

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“Instead of seeing the abandoned houses with cardboard on them and graffiti, I want them to see Christmas lights,” Coakley said.

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Since the beginning of December, Coakley has been collecting decorations and stringing them around the neighborhood with the help of volunteers. Coakley received enough to decorate about 100 homes.

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Coakley’s efforts to light up the this part of Louisville have been well received by the people of the neighborhood, who agree that this gives the town some much needed positivity.

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“It is all about the kids, just trying to give them some kind of inspiration,” Stallard, a local resident, said.

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As captioned in a Facebook post, the west end of Louisville doesn’t have many Christmas lights. Children deserve to see Christmas spirit, regardless of the neighborhood they live in.

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"It changes the atmosphere of everything. There's not really a lot of activity or positive things going on that you can visually see. So the lights are something that you can see," Coakley said.

Inmates find puppy love in women’s prison

Ellen Dennett’s life as an inmate at Fraser Valley Institution for Women at Abbottsford, British Columbia isn’t what you imagine being behind bars to be like: she spends a couple of hours each day taking care of dogs while their owners are away at work.

Dennett is part of the Doghouse program, a collaboration between the prison and Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS). Through Doghouse, inmates who are recognized for their good behavior work together to run a dog daycare. More than 150 women have benefitted from the Doghouse program.

"All day long, from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, these women are feeding, exercising, scooping poop, washing muddy paws. And they work really, really hard," program manager Alicia Santella says.

Through Doghouse the women are able to learn work ethic skills that would be valuable in any job. Many of the women who have left this program look for jobs specifically in this industry, finding that working with dogs gives them solace.

"They don't look at you as an inmate," says Dennett, who was convicted for second-degree murder. "They don't know the horrible crime I did. They love you just the way you are. The good stuff, the bad stuff, they don't care."

A program like Doghouse that entrusts responsibilities to inmates that feel they have been shut off from society. This is important in empowering them, giving hope that everyone has it in them to engage with the communities around them.

For Dennett, working with dogs has put her on a path for a kinder, calmer life after prison.

"I know we're not supposed to have a good time, that we're not supposed to laugh with the dogs, but that's why this is here — to help us cope with what we've done and to get back on track, and to move on with whatever life I have left."

Art-through-pods fights homelessness with art in Oak Park, California

Rapid gentrification in the neighborhood of Oak Park, California, has exacerbated the homelessness problem in the area, prompting residents Aimee Phelps and Kevin Greenberg to take action with their creative project, Art-through-Pods.

Concerned at the growing number of people sleeping outside on the conrete, Phelps, who is a local artist, decided to take action. With some tubing, plastic cardboard, wheels and a matress pad, all wrapped up in swirls and a striking shade of green, the Art-through-Pods project began.

“The idea is that we can build these pods so people aren’t sleeping on the sidewalk and sleeping on the street, but we also cover them with art,” said Greenberg. “So instead of just leaving them with shopping carts and blue tarps in the alley, you’re looking at this.”

Greenberg, a welder, modified Aimee’s initial pod designs, changing its shape to be small enough to fit on a sidewalk, in a parking spot and down a bike lane, but big enough for two adults. He also added welded steel, plywood and switched out bicycle wheels for wheelchair parts for a sturdier structure.

Each pod has a customized design: one is emblazoned with a replica of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, and another is lavender with delicate orchid patterns.

The pair’s project has gained much attention in the local community. Phelps receives letters on her porch from people requesting for pods, and people come up to her asking how they can get on the list.

While these creative pods don’t provide a means for permanent housing, they are offering the homeless a place to store their belongings in the day and a shelter to sleep in at night. They’re also showing them that their plights aren’t going unheard in the community.

"I can't even explain how happy it makes us to go out and give these pods away to people who need it and deserve it and shouldn't be sleeping in alcoves and forgotten," said Phelps.