Aug 5, 2008

Sorry state of education in Lanao del Sur, Philippines

Thanks for hat tip to Rohaniza 'honey', AAI's Philippines branch Officer-In-Charge and Program Coordinator, for this video and information. It details the sorry state of education in Lanao del Sur, Philippines. This is why we need very specific, highly selective intervention and effective monitoring of such interventions to tackle these issues at the grassroot level.

Every year, the Department of Education holds the National Elementary Achievement Test for all schools and every year, schools in Mindanao end up in the bottom ten. This year, Ariman Guro Elementary School in Lanao del Sur got an average score of 21.7%, the lowest grade among all elementary schools in the Philippines.

I-Witness' Sandra Aguinaldo heads to Lanao del Sur to find out why.

She discovers Ariman Guro only has six teachers for all grade levels, teachers with no subject specializations. The school sorely lacks chairs and tables and the only textbooks sent to them by government is for the Makabayan subject, forcing the teachers to buy textbooks using money from their own pockets.

The students at Ariman Guro often miss class. Their primary reason: the prevalence of "rido" or clan wars in the area.

Many of the students here belong to warring families. 11-year old Fahad Cosain recently lost his uncle to Rido. For his own safety, he stays at home now instead of going to school. His young cousins now carry guns to protect themselves from attack.

The school's candidate for valedictorian, Rahimah Nasroden, was also affected by her family's clan war. Rahimah was not allowed to go to school during the height of the conflict, for fear of abduction and possibly even assassination. Rahimah is back to school now and determined to finish her education, believing this is her only way out of poverty.

This gripping documentary on the lives of the students and teachers of Ariman Guro airs this Monday late night on I-Witness. Entitled "Iskulelat?", the documentary was hosted and written by Sandra Aguinaldo, recently awarded as Investigative Journalist of the Year at the Rotary Journalism Awards.

Jul 23, 2008

Community Involvement: Key to Project Sustainability

(There have been a lot of talks about project sustainability in the development arena. This blog post highlights the key aspects of sustainability—community management and ownership of development projects. Read how AAI has been able to achieve sustainability of its projects in Mindanao, Philippines.)
Some of the regions in Mindanao like Jolo and Sulu regions have schools that have one of the lowest education attainments in the whole country. The whole region is not only deficient in schools but whatever schools they have right now lack necessary items like chairs, blackboards, desks, and books for library. Worse, the government has cutback education funding for the region. Unfortunately, this region is also one of the breeding grounds for terrorist recruitment.

The AAI started with intervention in the education system by providing scholarships to poor kids who otherwise would have either worked in the farms or get brainwashed by the rebels to join their organization. The AAI also constructed new schools and built libraries. Unlike the big donor funded education reform programs, the AAI approach was highly selective intervention—a need based intervention to avoid mismanagement of funds. This approach is efficient and result-oriented—which is reflected in high achievement of students in the schools AAI has intervened.

Sustainability of these kinds of intervention requires a multidimensional approach. Simply attracting kids to schools is not sufficient. The households needs to be provided with some sort of livelihood generation programs so that they have something to engage on every day rather than being sympathetic to the rebels and supporting their cause. So, the AAI launched a livelihood generation program aimed at generating a sustainable source of income for the households.

Our model worked because we did not impose our own projects in the community. We respected the local activities and designed interventions to make the locally produced goods marketable. We respected the local culture and social norms, encouraged people and informed the locals about the progress made during the intervention process.

We believe that peace can be achieved through economic development but this has to be done by respecting local customs and culture, by directly engaging local community and stakeholders, and by engaging on highly selective intervention aimed at producing the best outcomes with least funds, i.e. high efficiency and high productivity.

Apr 29, 2008

AAI combating global hunger

A commentary by Jeff Allen from One World was recently featured on Yahoo News. He talks about how individual NGOs, such as AAI are taking responsibility to aid the hungry populations in the parts of the world where we/they are already working. Our director, Al Santoli was also quoted in Allen's commentary.

In powerful overview of the situation, our friend Al Santoli at the Asia America Initiative summed it up this way:

"A new Cold War is taking shape, around energy and food. The world intelligentsia has been asleep at the wheel. While we rage over global warming, global hunger has swept under the radar."
But as Al Santoli pointed out to me the other day, even $1 billion -- divided by 100 million people -- is only $10 per person-in-need worldwide. And that's just the beginning of the crisis, and it assumes a fundraising goal that the WFP is unlikely to meet. Individual NGOs are taking responsibility for aiding the hungry populations in the parts of the world where they are already working. The Asia America Initiative, for example, has a long-established presence in the Sulu province of the Philippines, where they've been doing peace building and development work since 2002. Al told me that $10-50 can feed a family in the region for a short period of time. About $100 can buy the seeds and build the irrigation needed for them to be able to feed themselves long into the future. Right now, both initiatives are needed, and AAI is helping to make the links between Americans who want to help and those who need help far away.
For the complete article, see here. 

Apr 14, 2008

What's driving up food prices?

Jehea thinks the casuses are:
  1. Global shifting of diet: Shifting to meat consumption, which requires more grains, causes shortage in food for people.
  2. Increased interest to biofuel issues
  3. Demand for grains is increasing.
  4. Climatic conditions: Recent droughts in Australia, Central Europe, and many other places in the world.
  5. Low stocks: Growing grains tend to be seasonal and time consuming. Therefore the stocks tend to be quite low.
  6. Crisis in Financial Markets: Illiquidity created by the crisis in financial market makes investment difficult. As a result, investment is not reached to the community which concentrates in agriculture. Therefore, harvest is not expected.


Robert Zoellick, President of World Bank, Opening Press briefing at the WB-IMF meetings 2008.
Davao Norte farmers rue high costs, low gains from farming, By Frinston Lim Mindanao Bureau,, April 06, 2008

Apr 11, 2008

Solutions to the Philippines Rice Crisis?

Just to make sure that I'm not stealing anyone's thunder, I want all of you to know that JEN (not I) came across this article from UPI Asia Online written by a Mong Palatino, a Filipino youth activist commenting on the government's proposed solutions to the current rice crisis. Here is a good portion of the article:
MANILA, Philippines 

Earlier, the government had proposed the reduction of tariffs to ease prices of agricultural products, especially rice. A Cabinet member is appealing to the public to reduce consumption of rice or to replace rice with other root crops. Restaurants are asked to serve a half-cup of rice to their customers. The private sector is enjoined to practice corporate farming or to ensure that employees are given rice subsidies through planting of rice by the country's biggest corporations.

Public universities are told to open their gymnasiums so they can be used as rice warehouses. Agricultural colleges are encouraged to increase farm demonstration laboratories to bolster the administration's food security and stability program.

The military was ordered to make military trucks and aerial logistics available for the delivery and distribution of rice around the country. Police forces were mobilized to guard against rice smuggling. The government cancelled the licenses of rice traders to weed out unscrupulous merchants. Agricultural officials are conducting spot inspections of rice warehouses to monitor the rice supply in the country.

President Arroyo reported that she has succeeded in persuading Vietnam and other countries from Southeast Asia to continue exporting rice to the Philippines.

Is the government doing enough to avert a full-blown rice and food crisis? Many people are not satisfied with the proposed action plan of the government. Senators are looking for a master plan which will comprehensively tackle the modernization of Philippine agriculture.

Many people believe the government failed to act quickly when Thailand and Vietnam restricted rice exports to the Philippines a few years ago. What was done to raise rice production in the Philippines? What support programs were implemented to boost productivity of Filipino farmers? The government-sponsored food summit was a belated effort of the government to compensate for its initial failure to draft a sustainable agricultural program.

Accusing the people of wasteful consumption of rice is unfair. The Senate president was right when he asserted, "There is nothing wrong with our eating habits, but there is with the government's spending priorities." Another lawmaker also argued, "The problem is not wasteful consumption but inadequate consumption. How can you waste rice when there is no rice to waste in the first place?"

Opposition parties are proposing the immediate release of local calamity funds for farmers. They also suggest that local governments should establish a food security early warning mechanism to ensure targeted distribution of rice.

The opposition believes that reactivation of peace talks with rebels will allow the unimpeded cultivation, planting, tending and harvesting of crops in conflict areas. Finally, creation of special investigative and prosecutorial teams is proposed to run after hoarders and corrupt elements in the agriculture department.

The government's proposed solutions to the rice and food crisis can be described as palliative. They do not address the root of the problem. The government continues to endorse rice importation and agricultural liberalization despite its failure to revive Philippine agriculture.

In fact, peasant groups explain that the country's growing dependence on rice imports is the reason behind the worsening rice crisis. A senator notes that rice importation "symbolizes the government's neglect of the local agriculture sector." An NGO adds, "Rice importation has not resulted in lowered rice prices, but worsened the bankruptcy of farmers and even placed the country in greater food insecurity."

Peasant groups want the government to increase local procurement of rice instead of relying on imports. The government, not rice traders, should buy more rice and other agricultural products from farmers. This will improve farmers' income while preventing greedy merchants from exploiting poor farmers.

Land-use conversions of rice lands should be stopped. Food crops should be prioritized over cash crops and biofuel crops. The bloated funding for debt and war spending should be realigned to food production. The rice cartel should be dismantled. Rice smugglers should be charged with economic sabotage.

Finally, the rice crisis today is an opportunity to review the land reform programs of the government in the past four decades. Landlessness remains a fundamental problem in Philippine society. Agricultural production is still backward. Perhaps it is time to implement a genuine agrarian reform. A sound agricultural system will propel the Philippine economy. At the same time, it will ensure that all Filipinos have access to food at all times.
**Read the complete article

Personally I think the government's agricultural reform is too little and too late. Self-sufficiency should be the first priority. Instead of over-relying on imports, they should try investing in the domestic rice trade and develop locations like Mindanao, where there is so much potential to grow and mass produce rice. All these farmers need is an incentive to grow–to be able to make a profit AND feed their own families at the same time. No straight-headed farmer is going to work the land if they don't reap any benefits right?

It's definitely a win-win solution for the Philippines if they invest smartly in their own agricultural sector. This would mean less foreign dependency, more supply and affordable rice for the nation, and a chance to stimulate the local economies of neglected (but resourceful) regions of the Philippines.

Apr 9, 2008

Short and Sweet Video

Hola everyone! It's Mindy again, Jen (fab intern#2) and Hanayo (fab intern#3) seem to be pretty shy about blogging on here. I'm slowly teasing them out of their shell, they'll be blogging and talking about all kinds of stuff in no time!

So I've put together a video using field footage from our DPIS (Development for Peace in Sulu) initiative in 2005 and 2006. Sulu province is the circled area in the southern tip of the Philippines. See map:

Basically, Sulu has experienced years of conflict between Muslim insurgent groups– Abu Sayyaf Group and the Moro National Liberation Front– and government troops. Consequently, it left Sulu severely underdeveloped with their educational system in shambles. 

So since 2002, Asia America Initiative has attempted to revitalize the educational system in Sulu through:
  • Providing educational equipment and supplies to a dozen "model" public schools
  • Training teachers and school administrators
  • Providing learning and information technology, such as computers and educational television
  • Initiating programs such as the "Adopt-a-Classroom," which links individuals from other parts of the Philippines and the U.S. to contribute educational materials
Well, here's the video:

Click here for more information on Asia America Initiative and our DPIS project.

Apr 3, 2008

Free Rice!

Hello everyone!

I am Mindy, one of the fabulous 3 new spring interns for Asia America Initiative. Coming to D.C. from the Bay Area in California is definitely a huge change for me. I'm still getting used to the freezing temperature here..brrrrr, and am also starting to adapt to a more "serious" city. But I am super thankful that I actually get to walk to places now, instead of being over-dependent on my car. Because you know in Cali, not having a car is like not having legs. 

Being the big food person as I am, I've been pretty impressed with the local eateries here, especially at Dupont Circle. They've got some fine thin crust pizza and italian cuisine! However, being a true Taiwanese, I have yet to come across a teaplace that sells tapioca/boba/pearl drinks!! Wussup with that? Are they all hiding from me? I'm desperately craving that stuff, so please if anyone knows of some place with good tea drinks, hit me up!

Anyway, enough with the self-introduction...Today is day 6 for me at AAI and we already have some exciting and important campaigns to work on. First, as many of you may know, there is a pretty severe rice shortage in Southeast Asia, and the Philippines in particular, is getting hit hard. See article .

Jen (fab intern #2), Hanayo (fab intern #3), and I created a cause on Facebook today called "Help Mindanao farmers grow rice" to rally support and spread awareness among our friends and communities about this global issue. Due to regional instability and mismanagement and corruption in the rice industry, these poor farmers have been discouraged to grow anything because of the lack of profit from harvests and unfair trading practices. It's such a shame because Mindanao has such huge potential to mass produce rice– it is one of the only areas in SE Asia with year round growing season, ample water and no tropical storms. 

Helping Mindanao farmers grow rice looks like a great solution to me, because 1) they can be self-sufficient in growing their own rice and not be dependent on foreign imports, 2) economic development from the rice trade will strengthen the peace process and deter armed conflicts in the Muslim region, 3) it will ultimately prevent political and social unrest in the whole nation. So they really need all the help they can get to mobilize themselves to produce rice for their country. 

So what can you do to help out?

Specifically, you could:
  • Join our cause on Facebook- "Help Mindanao Farmer Grow Rice"-and donate what you can. 
  • Be a member of our Facebook group- Asia America Initiative
Generally, you could:
  • Log on to and hone your vocab skills to donate free rice to needy refugees!
  • Not waste rice...get half-portion rice meals if you know you can't finish. Greediness and wastefulness is not attractive as my mom would say..
That's all for now kids, stay tuned for more later!

Mar 31, 2008

Dispatches from the Philippines: "Once Upon a Time"

"Once Upon A Time" is usually how writers begin their fairytale stories. Sometimes, with all the issues and challenging realities that our country has been facing, we wish we could be in a fairytale where there's always a happy ending. Life in this world is full of uncertainties. As we live each day of our lives, our society makes us ponder what exactly will happen to us at present and in the future. At the end of it all, we find ourselves questioning, "What is it that we really need in response to the prevailing problems in our country?" Actually, the answer is found deep within us. As responsible and concerned citizens, we should MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

honey4 There have been a lot of extra-ordinary people who have been true examples of good leadership and selflessness. As the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation (RMAF) would describe their awardees, these are people who embody 'greatness of human spirit' through 'selfless service to others.' Together with other young leaders, I was fortunate to have a dialogue with two of RMAF's laureates through the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation's Video Conference. This took place during the launching of its 50th Year Celebration as one of its highlights. This experience inspired me to take further steps in doing my work and to fulfill, which I believe is my mission.

As a young Muslim woman working in conflict areas in Mindanao through the Asia America Initiative (AAI), it was a risky step to take. But despite the risk, I know it's worth it especially when you have witnessed children and their families having to sacrifice and even perishing because of war. We all are aware that the path towards what we want our society to be may seem far-fetched. Some people have given up, while others are continuing to make their own steps for change even without certainty. However, despite our country's thorns, we should not give up. We have good people to emulate like the two laureates that we interacted with, Mr. Jon Ungphakorn and Arvind Kejriwal. They keep reminding us that positive change can actually happen. We can be of service to others within our own beliefs and spheres of influence.

Both of the Laureates believe that youth has great potential. I will share some remarkable statements by Mr. Ungphakorn and Mr. Kejriwal with my own title: " FIVE WAYS IN MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH AN INTER-GENERATIONAL APPROACH."

(1) Attitude of the youth changes once they are immersed, have experienced and understand certain issues. Mr. Ungphakorn stated the Educational System should strongly support and encourage youth to volunteer and do community work. That makes me reflect on my work with AAI on peace and development in Mindanao . One of our programs called Catalysts for Peace encourages youth to be involved in peace-building. We believe that in order for youth to have an active role in peace initiatives, they should first be given proper knowledge and awareness in order to become effective advocates for peace.

honey1 I conducted a study in college entitled ASSUMPTION AND MADRASAH EDUCATION: A Comparative Study on the Development of Human Values. I found that Muslim students do not know much about the Christian Culture and Christians know little about Muslim Culture, which is the main cause of prejudice. As a graduate of Assumption College , a Catholic School , I gained much insight that my classmates' thoughts about Muslims are mostly negative. They were surprised once they found out I am a Muslim. This applies with people I meet even today. I think if peace education classes are implemented in schools as early as Elementary and more interfaith sessions are available for immersion, we can change popular outlook and encourage more young people to be ambassadors for peace.

(2) Creating change is a long process. Mr. Ungphakorn added that the process should be constantly strengthened. More young people should be involved. I personally believe for the needed consistency, the younger generation should be mentored to partake in a continued process of coming up with solutions.

(3) We need to have an effective democracy, said Mr. Kejriwal. Lack of credible institutions only leads to change of faces but not true change. Just like what we see in the news, people have been looking for their own heroes to hear them out and help them. Some have been lucky while mostly are unfortunate. Credible institutions may help in this process.


(4) We should believe in the potential of the youth. If we can create an understanding of peace, we can create a better society. We should recognize the diversity of cultures and allow some form of autonomy to exist so that different sectors can have more control on their own. Promoting these values and raising awareness should be factored into providing an understanding of peace and diversity. Different institutions, especially schools, should implement this approach.

(5) There are issues commonly overlooked by mainstream media. We should also be the voice of the people at the grassroots level. One of the significant insights that I've had with my AAI mediation work and with my involvement in the Ayala Young Leaders, is that in order to serve and help others we must first listen to their needs. Even though the media's responsibility is to inform us on what's happening, it does not mean it is the whole story or even reality. We should not impose on others simply what we see on TV or hear on the radio. In the end, what really matters is whether we are able to assist those in need.

honey2 Although these five points are simple and probably already known by most people, sometimes we need to be reminded to rekindle our spirits. Perhaps a dialogue with present day heroes like Mr. Ungphakorn and Mr. Kejriwal can motivate us to keep moving forward to selflessly serve others. Such experience has made me contemplate if I'm doing the right thing for my own people. It has caused me to evaluate if I need to take more steps to further my goals for the benefit of my community.

Another perspective on selfless service is found in Islam. Similar to Christian beliefs, Allah taught that deep and abiding respect for those whom God has created is respect for God himself. If we desire the mercy and forgiveness of Allah then we must extend that to others. Selfless service is what Allah shows us in His words and His guidance for life through Islam. Inspiring thoughts expressed in various philosophies, including Islam and Christianity, show that we should continue with our mission for unity and peace. We were all born into this world for a purpose; we should create our own stories. With all of us working together, who knows, everything might just have a happy ending…

Rohaniza "Honey" Sumndad is the Philippines Officer-in-Charge and Program Coordinator of Asia America Initiative, Inc., which aims to promote peace and prosperity in conflict-ridden communities through people-to-people initiatives integrate health, education, arts and livelihood as a basis for mediation. Honey is also the Associate Editor of Starfish Magazine, a youth leadership magazine dedicated to the Filipino youth crafted by young servant leaders from all over the country.

Source: Changing Asia: The RMAF Blog

Mar 28, 2008

Welcome new interns!

Three new interns joined AAI yesterday. The AAI team welcomes them and hopes that they will have a fruitful internship. We hope that they meet their expectations! The new interns are:
  1. Jennifer Doyle, University of California Riverside
  2. Mindy Chen, University of California Davis
  3. Hanayo Oya, University of California Santa Barbara

Again, welcome guys!

Crunching rice supply in East Asia

The FT has a nice story about rice supply, rising prices brought about by declining production, and its implications on security and social stability in Asia, particularly East Asia. Rising prices have already forced major rice exporters like Vietnam, Australia, and Egypt to curtail exports. Meanwhile, India has banned temporarily banned exports as well to satisfy domestic demand. This is going to put further upward pressure on rice price in the internatinal market. This is going to hit the South Asians (and to some extent East Asia and the Pacific) the most because rice is a major component of daily lunch and dinner (rice is consumed almost 365 days a year in South Asia). More on food prices here, and here (UN Secretary General writes about food crisis), here (People eating mud coookies in Haiti). For those interested in more economic interpretation of the rising food prices check this one out by Nobel laureate Gary Becker and Richard Ponser.
Some experts aruge that the Filipino rice shortage problem is exacerbated by the government and some special interest groups. It is said that the government is trying to siphon off a huge amount of money while importing rice from foreign countries. It is alleged that the Filipino government and special interest groups are trying to dissuade farmers not to grow rice, which would give them an exclusive control over rice sourcing and distribution in the whole country.

...Rice prices jumped 30 per cent to an all-time high on Thursday, raising fears of fresh outbreaks of social unrest across Asia where the grain is a staple food for more than 2.5bn people.

...The increase came after Egypt, a leading exporter, imposed a formal ban on selling rice abroad to keep local prices down, and the Philippines announced plans for a major purchase of the grain in the international market to boost supplies. Global rice stocks are at their lowest since 1976.

...The Philippines, the world’s largest buyer of the grain, said on Thursday it wanted to purchase 500,000 tonnes after it failed to buy a similar amount earlier this month. It is struggling to import 1.8m-2.1m tonnes to cover a production shortfall and on Thursday confirmed it would tap emergency stocks maintained by Vietnam and Thailand.

Oppression in Tibet: Is it about mainland Tibet or natural resources in Tibet?

The director of Asia America Initiative (AAI), Mr. Albert Santoli, has written a brief about the real intention of China in Tibet. He argues that the Chinese are more interested in controling natural resources in Tibet. He writes:

"The struggle for survival of the Tibetan people under Chinese occupation has been largely depicted as a human rights tragedy. There is, however, a significant strategic dimension to China's behavior.
Beijing's control of Tibet's vast landscape, its water resources, mineral and natural wealth, as well as its strategic location on "the roof of the world," is a major component of China's plans for expanded political, military and economic influence on a global scale"

Here are some of the little know facts about Tibet

  • Tibet is the largest region of China, encompassing one-eighth of the empirical land mass. This does not include the historical and resource-rich Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo, which are larger than the Chinese official Tibet Autonomous Region, and were annexed by China after the 1950 invasion.
  • Deposits of uranium in the hills around Lhasa are considered the largest in the world. Tibet is also rich in gold, copper, zinc, lithium and other scarce minerals.
  • There are at least three major nuclear weapons bases in Tibet. The "Ninth Academy," China's primary nuclear weapons research and design facility is located in Haibei on the Tibetan plateau.
  • Deforestation by Chinese loggers is rampant. At least 50 percent of Tibet's ancient forests have been destroyed, causing severe environmental damage, flooding and ecological devastation.
    Tibetans are now a minority population in the capitol Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and are vastly outnumbered in the annexed territories. In the Amdo region, now the Chinese Qinghai province, in 1953 there were only 100,000 Han Chinese. According to the official Chinese Statistical Yearbook, in 1985 there were 2.5 million Chinese compared to only 750,000 thousand Tibetans.
  • The ethnic ratio has gotten much more out of balance since 1992, when Deng Xiaoping began advocating the settlement of Han Chinese from other regions to Tibet and the Muslim Xinjiang region. Han settlers were given economic subsidies and other incentives and had houses and shops built for them by the government.
  • The UN and the West have enabled and funded this cultural genocide by investing in the railroad into Tibet, which was opened in 2006. Under "economic development," as well as the relocation of thousands at least 130,000 Han settlers into the fertile Lhasa Valley.

Mar 27, 2008

AAI videos and its peace-fostering works in the Philippines

This video (sorry, it is in Filipino language...but it has English subtitles), is made by Asia America Initiative (AAI), which depicts how a simple humor-based program like Fun Days can bring smiles and psychological relief to children's in the war-torn region of Sulu, Philippines. AAI credited for deterring terrorism and fostering peace through its selective intervention in education, health care, and livelihood building programs in Sulu, Mindanao, Philippines. Fortunately, this semester I am interning at the AAI headquarter in D.C.

Good news: You don't need think stack of greenbacks to make a difference in the lives of people. By just donating just over $1 cash or in-kind stuff, you can make a difference to generate livelihood and to foster peace in the war-torn regions of the world. Donate right here:

Ways you can help:

  1. Sponsor a girl to go to a public school
  2. Provide classroom chairs for 5 students
  3. Support and sustain the monthly work of 4 rural midwives
  4. Provide musical instruments to promote Peace
  5. Buy a chair for one student in Philippine war zone
  6. Provide medicines and health support in Philippines
  7. Building Peace: One Child at a Time
  8. Toys for Children Victims of War
  9. Help Feed a Child Victim of War
  10. Medical assistance to children in Philippines
  11. Art supplies for 1st grade class in Philippine war zone
  12. Paint a classroom in Philippine peace zone
  13. Provide food and water to a refugee family
  14. Provide clean water and sanitation for an elementary school
  15. Kiddie Corner: Put a smile on a refugee child's face