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Tag Archives: inspirational

#Inspirational: Bending it like Beckham…in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi village football coach Mofiz Uddin only decided to form a girls’ team in 2011 out of frustration at the local boys’ failure to bring home any trophies. Less than five years on, his young female players have won every national tournament going, becoming minor celebrities in the conservative, Muslim-majority …

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#Inspirational: Meet Aziza Rahim Zada – The ‘Afghan Malala’.

At the age of just 14, Afghan rights activist Aziza Rahimzada has already surmounted legal hurdles preventing 25,000 refugee children from attending school, and cajoled authorities into providing tap water to a camp housing more than 100 families.

Now she has been nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize an award previously won by Malala Yousafzai and, like her Pakistani counterpart, hopes to spread her message of universal education and fundamental rights for Afghanistan's youth.

"These children are the products of war," Aziza says during an interview with AFP from the Kabul camp for internally displaced people where she was born after her family fled fighting in the Parwan province in 2001.

"They have suffered a lot during the war years. I give them advice and council them on the value of education," she says in Dari, wearing a black-and-white headscarf as she sits on the floor of the tiny mud brick home that houses her family of eight.

"Their families are also uneducated so sometimes we have to convince them too."

It is a thin line to walk, both for someone so young and without stirring a backlash in a conservative society unused to children, particularly girls, speaking up for themselves.

Aziza's confidence impressed the Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMCC), an international humanitarian group founded by Danes Berit Muhlhausen and David Mason, who moved to Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

The group works throughout Afghanistan with a local partner and aims to bring children together through play, while identifying young leaders who can represent the needs of their communities.

In a country ravaged by decades of war, where more than 60 percent of the population are under 25, those needs are great.

"She was very special from the beginning. She was thinking more than the others, advocating for others, asking questions. Gradually she became a representative for the other children," said Mason.

In "shuras" (consultative councils) organised by the group, Aziza quickly identified pressing issues faced by the 500 or so children in her camp, and others like it in Kabul.

Foremost among these was the lack of running water, which meant children were sent far away to fetch heavy pails of waters for the family -- until Aziza intervened, securing a pipe that pumps water into the camp and serves 144 families.

Another key issue was education. As children of refugees born into abject poverty, those in the camps lacked the necessary documentation for admission into the capital city's schools, with Kabul authorities viewing the internally displaced people as temporary migrants who would eventually return to their home districts.

Helped by the MMCC, Aziza led the children in lobbying local officials and then parliament, with the aid of some high-profile lawmakers like women's rights activist Fawzia Koofi.

Her persistence eventually led to a breakthrough allowing some 25,000 children living in Kabul's 59 refugee camps to register in the capital, making them eligible to attend school.

"This was an achievement of astronomic scale. I saw those kids in school uniform, and I couldn't recognise them. It was such a relief to see them it was such a radical transformation," said Mason, the MMCC director.

Aziza's unique talent, Mason's partner Muhlhausen argues, lies not only in her gifted rhetoric, but in her ability to forcefully advocate for her fellow children without stirring controversy.

She is among the final three nominees for the award along with Abraham Keita, 17, from Liberia and Jeanesha Bou, also 17, of Puerto Rico, with the winner announced in the Hague on November 9.

But the teenager, who says she wants to found her country's first Ombudsman's office to redress her fellow citizen's grievances, says her work is far from complete.

"What I have achieved so far is nothing," she says, emphasising that as time goes on, her country will have to stand on its own feet.

"The foreign NGOs will one day stop their aid. That's why we need to strengthen our own institutions and improve social justice for our people," she said.

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#Inspirational: Global Teacher Prize winner to give away $1 million award

An English teacher from the United States has won the inaugural Global Teacher Prize awarded by billionaire Indian businessman Sunny Varkey's Varkey Foundation.

Nancie Atwell from Maine was honoured for more than four decades of work as an innovator and pioneer in teaching literature.  She plans to donate her $1 million prize to the Center for Teaching and Learning which she founded in 1990 in Edgecomb, Maine as a nonprofit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating teaching methods.

The school says 97 percent of its graduates have gone on to university.

Atwell said that winning the award is a valedictory for her life's work, but that her true validation comes from the responses of students.

"I really find that I'm validated every day just by the experiences I have with children in the classroom," she told The Associated Press after receiving the award.
Atwell was selected from a pool of 1,300 applicants from 127 countries.

The top 10 finalists, which included two other teachers from the U.S. and others from Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Cambodia, Malaysia, Kenya, and the U.K., were flown to Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the ceremony.

The winner was announced on stage by Dubai-based Mr Varkey, founder of the GEMS education company and whose foundation focuses on education issues.

The award was created to be the largest prize of its kind and to serve as a sort-of Nobel Prize for one exceptional teacher each year.

After Atwell won the award, a young boy no older than 11 with a book bag strapped to his back waited patiently with his mother for a photograph with the winning teacher.

Varkey said that the award is aimed at fostering that kind of admiration for teachers and to say "to a celebrity-obsessed world that teachers are important and worthy of respect."

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is honorary chair of the Varkey Foundation, were also on-hand to give Atwell the award.

Atwell has received numerous other awards throughout her life for her innovative approach to teaching.

She has authored nine books about teaching, including "In The Middle," which sold more than half a million copies.

"The other recognition I've received has been content-area specific," she said. "This is global... this is really an award for a body of work, for a lifetime of teaching."

Hundreds of teachers have visited her center in Maine over the years to learn its writing-reading practices.

Her school's eighth grade students read an average of 40 books per year, compared to the national average of about 10. They also write extensively, and many of her students have gone on to become published authors.

All of her students choose the subjects they write about and the books they read. The school's website boasts that there is "never a raised voice or standardized test," but that there are tens of thousands of books and time to read from among them every day.

"If we want them to be highly literate, we have to value the power of stories and self-expression," she said, explaining her approach. "Anything else is a false choice. Anything else will be an exercise that gets kids good at doing exercises."

This is the first year for the Global Teacher Prize to be awarded, though the Varkey Foundation plans it to be an annual event.

Experts, including other teachers and school administrators, shortlisted the top 50 finalists and a prize committee helped select the top 10. The winner was then selected by a group of more than 60 people that included CEO's, investors, professors, journalists and public figures such as Oscar Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and Grammy Award-winning artist Esperanza Spalding.

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#Inspirational: New film on revered spiritual guru Swami Chinmayananda comes to UK

The spiritual leader Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati is famous across the world as someone who brought the essence of Hinduism.

Now a new film explores the extraordinary life of the man.

'On A Quest' had its UK premier this week and relates the remarkable story of self-discovery of the man born Balakrishna Menon in Kerala, south India.

The film masterfully depicts the remarkable transformation of a young college student and staunch atheist, from a fiery freedom fighter to a successful journalist, then to an ardent but rational seeker of truth and, finally, to the revered master of Vedanta - one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. 

The mission of his life was simple - to bring the powerful Vedantic knowledge contained in ancient texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita down from the peaks of the Himalayas and make them accessible to all in order to bring “..maximum happiness to the maximum number of people for maximum time”.

It was a mantra that would become the motto of the Chinmaya Mission, the non-profit organization founded by Swami Chinmayananda in 1953 and which continues to disseminate Vedanta knowledge around the world.

‘On A Quest’ was produced by the Mission to mark the birth centenary of Swami Chinmayananda.

In keeping with the collaborative ethos of the Mission, the film's cast and crew were drawn from among Swami Chinmayananda followers from around the world - including cinematographer Siddartha Nuni and London-based writer Natasha Chawla. 

Further screenings are planned around the UK, details of which will be posted on www.facebook.com/ChinmayaUK. 

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#Inspirational: From Boxing Day tragedy to Flip Flops. The story of Gandys.

The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 caused biblical levels of devastation and loss of life across large parts of south and southeast Asia. 

The scale of the tragedy was only matched by the myriad extraordinary stories of survival and generosity - from the tales of people who helped shelter those affected to the remarkable outpouring of support from right across the world. 

The story of British brothers Rob and Paul Forkan is not only one of survival against terrible odds but also of generosity of spirit.

The brothers (Rob was 17 and Paul 15) lost their parents on that fateful day - dad Kevin and mom Sandra managed to get their youngest daughters, 12-year-old Mattie and 8-year-old Rosie to safety before being swept away.

Rob and Paul had survived by clinging to the roof of a building.

Their parents had quit their jobs in fashion and sold their home in south London in 2001 to travel the world and work on charity projects with their brood.

After the tragedy, the kids managed to find their way from southern Sri Lanka to the British High Commission in Colombo with the help of locals.  After returning to the UK and completing their education, the brothers came up with the idea to create Gandys Flip Flops, an ethical footwear company which donates a portion of profits to supporting disadvantaged and orphaned children in Sri Lanka and south India.

Rob Forkan was the guest of honour at a special commemorative ceremony at the Sri Lankan High Commission this week, held to mark ten years since the events of 26 December 2004.

Weeks earlier, Rob and Paul had returned from Sri Lanka after overseeing the establishment of a brand new children's home, funded by their foundation. 

Guests at the event also heard from Cherie Blair, about her memories of the day and a disaster management expert on Sri Lanka's response in the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami.

But first, the UKasian caught up Rob Forkan to discuss his remarkable journey and flip flops. 

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