We are very excited to announce the opening of AS’ first schools in Abuja, Nigeria. Nigeria, as you may know, is one of the most under-educated countries in the world, where extremists viciously perpetuate the stranglehold ignorance has on millions of people. Only education will deprive the extremists of the unreasoning support and blind obedience they must have in order to succeed. AS is partnering with Nigerian NGO The Rural Package Community Development Initiative (RUPA). The Chairman of RUPA, The Hon. Kingsley Ntui, described the partnership as “very strategic to the general development of education of poor children in Nigeria.”
Just as exciting is the opening of AS’ newest school, in Pakistan. Pakistan is another most seriously under-educated country: it’s no coincidence that it was also recently ranked as the most dangerous country in the world (although we find little to distinguish the levels of violence and extremism in the other countries in which we operate). As in Nigeria, AS in Pakistan is very fortunate in its partnership with an excellent local NGO, The Roshni Welfare Organization. Under the inspiring leadership of President Syeda Farah Azmi, RWO works toward empowerment of women through education and advocacy programmes, initiatives demanding genuine courage.
Our favourite cosmetics company, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, a wonderful model of corporate social responsibility, has endeared itself to us once again by renewing its generous support. Special thanks go to Pearl Gottschalk and her vibrant team. Now, if they could somehow send the fragrance of a Lush store into our slum schools along with their other benefits and goodwill…
The Rotary Club of Manchester-Essex, Massachusetts, a fine club in a beautiful setting, has informed AS that it will be undertaking with its Interact Club (a club for youth aged 12 to 18) to sponsor an AS Women’s School. This, of course, is an ambitious project for such clubs, and they’re to be congratulated on their vision. The two clubs will be setting an example of what powerful change can be effected by well-directed effort. AS and our mothers and children send their thanks to Josephine McCullough, Manchester-Essex’ Interact Chairperson, and to everyone involved.
Under the auspices of Nick Lawley, President of Paragon Travel (Toronto) and a member of the Rotary Club of East York, a courageous band of AS supporters more than fulfilled Paragon’s slogan of “Travel Beyond the Ordinary” by travelling from across Canada to visit Bangladesh, with special attention paid to AS’ operations there. Our teachers and mothers were pleased to welcome their visitors into many of their schools. New friendships were forged, along with heart-felt first meetings between mothers and their long-time sponsors/correspondents. A splendid cultural programme of dances, songs and drama was presented to our visitors by mothers/students of The Libby Women’s School, augmented by children of the mothers’ own schools, all under the guidance of our teacher, Salma. Paragon Travel is organizing another trip for Jan., 2016. Anyone interested in a truly meaningful trip far beyond the ordinary can contact AS, or Paragon Travel at email@example.com or (toll-free) 1-888-461-0231.
Special guest at the presentation was the Panel Mayor of Khulna. The hundreds of people in attendance were treated to lovely performances of dances, poetic recitations, testaments of mothers, and a very stirring rendition of what has been established by A.S. mothers as their ‘Commitment Song’: ‘We Shall Overcome’.
The slums of South Asia provide dreadful proof of how far we must go to overcome; what amounts to household slavery, or, perhaps, sweat-shop slavery are the only prospects for most lower-level women. However, we’ve seen time and again that those deplorable conditions can’t withstand the efforts and courage of our A.S. mothers.
Particularly appropriate to the Libby Women’s School is the fact that its teacher, Salma, has as a student her own, previously-uneducated mother.
A surrounding flood – and the necessity to wade through it – and an accompanying blackout did nothing to dampen or darken the spirits of those attending the opening ceremony of the Edson Rotary Women’s School. The enrolling mothers heard encouraging words in a speech from the teacher of the Edson School, Ferdousi, who herself entered an AS Women’s School as an uneducated mother a few short years ago. Several mothers of other AS schools performed songs and recited poems that showcased some of the skills they’ve gained within their schools, and children of the mothers’ own little schools put on a fine display, as well. Dignitaries spoke at length, and then Gem Munro spoke at lesser length.
The Calgary-Crowchild Rotary Women’s School opening was another splendid celebration. The school’s teacher, Shuly, like Ferdousi, began her education career as an illiterate mother daring to enter our Bashundhara school, and she, too, surely serves as an inspiration to the mothers enrolling. Traditional dances, songs and recitations were presented by AS sisters from neighbouring schools and by the children they teach. It’s said by many organizations that they constitute families, but that is definitely true of Amarok Society: our mothers celebrate the opening of a new school as joyfully as they celebrate the achievements of their own.
Among other dignitaries in attendance was Dhaka City Commissioner, who expressed his admiration and gratitude for the work of A.S. In his speech, he posed a very interesting question we’ve heard often before: Why, in a country and world desperate for education, did only Amarok Society think to teach mothers to teach children?
The women of the slum of the Calgary-Crowchild Rotary W.S. first asked for a school more than nine years ago, and it’s taken that long for AS to be in a position to provide one. Our waiting list is very long.
The documentary ‘Heart to Head: How Amarok Society Women are Teaching the World’s Poorest Children’ will be screened at the downtown branch of the Edmonton Public Library on Thursday June 20th and on Friday June 20th, at 7:00 pm both evenings. Admission is $5.00, or $10.00 for a family. Gem Munro will be on hand to meet the audiences and answer questions. The screenings have been arranged and promoted through the terrific effort of Rotary Clubs of Edmonton. Special AS thanks are due to Bruce Clark of Edmonton Sunrise Rotary and to Ken Germain of Edmonton Strathcona Rotary.
Tanyss and Gem Munro have completed the first part of their two-part speaking tour of California. They express their gratitude to the wonderful California Rotary Clubs for the hospitality, friendship and support they received everywhere.
Amarok Society is pleased to have gained the support of Softchoice Corp.
Softchoice provides IT products and services to companies and government agencies in Canada and the US. Through its benevolent programme, Softchoice Cares, the firm and its employees utilize its unique position to improve lives by providing those in need with access to technology for education and personal advancement, so that people of all walks can achieve their potential.
Tanyss and Gem Munro (accompanied by the indispensible tech-ace, Alastair) are in the midst of an international speaking tour that takes them to England, Canada and the U.S.A. in succession. Gracious welcomes and enthusiasm for Amarok Society’s projects greet them everywhere, for which heart-felt thanks are given all ’round. Special appreciation is due to Joe Fischer and his young son, Will, of Napa, California, for exceptional generosity and support. Thanks, too, to the Westin Verasa Napa Hotel for hospitality and a liberal reaction to Canadian Women’s defeat of U.S. Women in Olympic Hockey.
From the Rotary Club of Westchester (Los Angeles) website: “The club’s senior member said that G.E.M.’s program was possibly the most fabulous and important program he had ever heard in his 50 years in Rotary. His speech should be given to every Rotary Club and board meeting in the world.”
Tanyss and Gem Munro were delighted to attend the naming ceremony of the Medicine Hat Women’s School. The school is named in recognition of the support for AS provided by the Connaught School Me-to-We Club, under the guidance and inspiration of Mesdames Joanne Hamel and Rene Houle, and the Rotary Club of Medicine Hat Sunrise, which met the funding challenge of the Connaught School. Funding was augmented by a successful screening event for ‘Heart to Head’. Special recognition is due to Sylvain Bellefeuille of Medicine Hat Sunrise Rotary and Michele Meier of the late, lamented Medicine Hat PAC Rotary.
The ceremony was a wonderful celebration in song and dance performed by the mothers of the school and by the children they teach, all demonstrating the talents that aren’t supposed to exist in these slums. Highlights were an enactment of a song about the issue of wife-abuse and -abandonment, and a moving rendition of what has been adopted by AS mothers as their “Motivation Song”: ‘We Shall Overcome’
This is a special school for AS, as, at a time when extremists in Bangladesh are razing Hindu communities – killing and raping as they go -, the AS Medicine Hat Women’s School is a model of cooperation and sisterhood between the Muslim and Hindu women who there attend.
To see a video of the naming celebration, click below:
Thanks to Perry Halls and the Rotary Club of Pickering for their effort in arranging a public screening of ‘Heart to Head’. Many thanks, too, to the company of which Perry is Regional Director, Paymentus (paymentus.com) for its generous donation of audio-visual equipment to Amarok Society.
Amarok Society has been made a Participating Charity of the Aeroplan Beyond Miles programme. That means that supporters can now donate air miles for AS’ use. Donations of air miles may be made by visiting our Donate page.
Amarok Society has been adopted as a partner in Lush Handmade Cosmetic’s Charity Pot programme. Lush donates 100% of the purchase price of all Charity Pot Hand and Body Lotion to a partner charity. Gem Munro had a lovely time speaking to Lush’s convention of its North American executives and managers in Toronto. AS extends its thanks to Nicole Chetwynd, Tricia Stevens and Pearl Gottschalk. Lush represents the sort of principled, activist company of which we need to see many more.
The production of a feature-length documentary film about AS’ operations, “Heart to Head: How Amarok Society Women are Teaching the World’s Poorest Children”, is now complete. The film will be screened across Canada beginning this autumn.
Below is a trailer for the film.
Thanks to the generosity of Rotary Clubs of Sidney by the Sea and Vancouver Quadra, we are now in a position to open our two latest schools (our 15th and 16th). This support, along with that coming from so many Rotary Clubs, demonstrates the depth of Rotary’s commitment to “Peace Through Service”.
Through the generous support of Kamsen Iyer and his family, of Edson, Alberta, we have opened our latest school in Dhaka. Mothers enrolled in the P.M. Iyer Women’s School (named in honour of our benefactor’s grandfather) are receiving instruction from Rohima and Farzana, respectively AS’ longest-standing and newest employee.
Local dignitaries joined Tanyss and Gem and more than 70 slum mothers in celebrating the opening of Amarok Society’s latest school, the Santevia Women’s School in Khulna, Bangladesh. The school is sponsored by Santevia, a water purification and alkalization company based in Delta, BC (see www.santevia.com). AS thanks Yvonne and David Anderson, CEO and President of Santevia, respectively, for their generous support. Such is the local enthusiasm for our new school, we’ll be unable to enrol all applicants for it (alas).
A lovely ceremony marked the renaming of AS Nurerchala Women’s School as the Suzanne Women’s School in honour of our dear departed Suzanne Borst, late wife of AS Board member John Borst and a good friend to Amarok Society. The school in Nurerchala slum has, in one location or another, been operating for seven years, making it AS’ longest-running school (by a few weeks). A daughter of one of SWS’ mothers, and an MOI student herself, gave a charming performance in song and dance.
It has been announced that Amarok Society co-founders and co-Directors, Dr. Tanyss and Gem Munro, are to receive Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals in recognition of their work. The Munros were nominated by Senator Grant Mitchell of Alberta.
The Grants Committee of the Rotary Club of Quinte Sunrise has bestowed a generous grant to Amarok Society. This is another good example of the vision, compassion, and commitment to creating “Peace Through Service” that distinguish the best Rotary Clubs, one of which the Rotary Club of Quinte Sunrise is. And it’s also the club with the coolest souvenir Rotary pen.
At left, Amarok Society Chairperson Angela Macri receives the donation from Quinte Sunrise Rotarians Rob Fleming and Gord Leverton.
Mothers in all our schools celebrated International Women’s Day this month with discussions, marches, drama and games. They also shared their personal stories with one another of the changes that have occured to them in their families and neighbourhoods since joining Amarok Society. Many of them are delighted to be partnering with their husbands in small businesses, in monitoring daily expenses (not that there’s more than a penny of leeway), and are truly delighted in their ability to be able to help their neighbours in so many ways – from teaching their children to providing knowledge in child care and basic healthcare.
Visit our facebook page to see more pictures and stories.
Gem Munro and his son Alastair are on a speaking/book tour across western Canada. Below is a story produced by Curtis Anderson of Shaw TV Saskatoon:
We are pleased to unveil our new website, created through the splendid effort of Toronto volunteer James Dallas Smith, who dealt admirably with all our unreasonable requests. Any flaws to be found are the fault of our subsequent clumsy paws, not of James.
We are also happy to unveil our unique Mother’s Day Card for 2012. If you would like to honour any deserving, inspiring mother (not just your own) while supporting Amarok Society at the same time, please see our card under “Gifts” in the menu list above.
Statement made in the Senate on 15 December 2011 by Senator Grant Mitchell of Alberta:
Hon. Grant Mitchell:
Honourable senators, Amarok Society is a Canadian charitable organization founded by Tanyss and G.E.M. Munro and their four children. This remarkable family that lives in Bangladesh found an innovative way to help educate children living in extreme poverty in the miserable slums of Dhaka.
Amarok Society opens schools for mothers in the shantytowns. Each mother, who never received an education herself, learns to become a neighbourhood teacher. She then teaches at least five children per day what she has learned. This is a very economical method of providing an education to such poor children.
I recently met Tanyss and G.E.M. Munro. Their dedication to the cause of providing autonomy for mothers and their children in Bangladesh profoundly touched me. Bangladesh is the poorest country in South Asia, a region that continues to be the poorest in the world. The country has over 150 million people in an area one-sixth the size of Alberta. Many of its people live in inconceivable poverty, danger and fear.
Amarok Society enables families and communities to live a more meaningful life, to be in better health and to reduce birth rates. Furthermore, education is the best prevention against the extremist forces in Bangladesh that are trying to radicalize the country.
I encourage Canadians to visit their website at www.amaroksociety.org to learn more about Amarok Society. Its innovative work has a huge impact on the lives of thousands of Bangladeshi children and their mothers.
From the Flats of Bangladesh to the Hill in Ottawa
Tanyss and Gem Munro have been graciously received by several Parliamentarians in Ottawa recently who are receptive to Amarok Society’s message and intentions. AS is especially appreciative of the efforts of Senators Jim Munson of Ontario and Grant Mitchell of Alberta on AS’ behalf (and grateful to their hardworking staff members, as well).
Interview with Gem, Tanyss and Gabriel (who’s actually 22, not 25)
Our schools’ Anniversary Celebrations, as always, featured songs, recitations, dances and the awarding of prizes for academic and teaching achievements.
Our schools may be rough hovels, but our mothers’ accomplishments — and celebrations — sparkle within them.
Amarok Society Chairwoman Angela Macri is to be honoured (again).
It has been announced that Angela Macri, Chairwoman of Amarok Society’s Board of Governors, is to be the 2010 recipient of the Toronto District Catholic School Board Alumni Award in recognition of her humanitarian work. Notice of this award was awaiting her on her return from her first trip to Bangladesh to visit Amarok Society’s ‘Mothers of Intention’ Schools.
“I see this honour as an opportunity to spread the word about Amarok Society,” Angela said after receiving notification of the award. This award follows her being named recipient of the Order of Mary Ward.
With her father looking on, Grace speaks to the Rotary Club of Collingwood, ON.
Although Grace and Tanyss are now (Feb. 2010) working in Bangladesh, Gem and Alastair are continuing with their speaking/book tour in Canada.
Amarok Society Chairwoman Angela Macri
has just returned from a visit to our operations and schools in Bangladesh. This is an excerpt from her report:
Many at home in Canada have asked if I got depressed at what I saw in this extremely poor, densely populated and under-developed country. Yes, the density of the population living on top of each other without clean water, surrounded by debris and breathing in thick pollution and dust, and, if able to get jobs, parents working for less than a pittance or resorting to begging or prostitution would have been completely overwhelming if not for the distinctive positive changes I witnessed in the families and communities of the mothers who have been going to Amarok Schools. Thank you to our supporters who have provided new skills to cope with a tough, tough environment.
Our visit was highly anticipated by the teacher-mothers and children who were always ready for us with brilliant smiles, homemade bouquets of flowers, artwork (drawing for the very first time because of Amarok!) and proud salutations of “Good Morning!! How are you?”
Despite the unparalleled hospitality, I was painfully aware, in particular in Dhaka, of the lack of accessibility to nutritious food, clean water, clean air and space in contrast to the ubiquitous toxic elements and debris from whence might come the next meal.
We had been prepped for the worst (and the best) of Bangladesh having read Gem’s ‘handbook’ of true stories, South Asian Adventures with the Active Poor, but most certainly traveled beyond our comfort zones here, which, thankfully, for us, has always been an enjoyable experience unto itself.
Beyond the reckless rickshaw rides through congested, erratic traffic and relentless noise as thick as the smog, beyond the blackouts and a newborn’s death, we witnessed progress and, with that, hope through our Mothers of Intention.