Buy A Book, Fund An Education

The “Buy A Book, Fund An Education” initiative is part of my long-term (personal) project to help reform educational initiatives in developing countries and conflict zones, especially Afghanistan.

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£0.01 is equivalent to 2 large pieces of nan (or bread) for the entire family in Afghanistan.

Just imagine the impact this has on the community, that by your buying a book, you are uniting and galvanising the community to become involved in a worldwide literacy programme, so that every Afghan child can potentially read, write, and think, and transform their own world.

My favourite quote comes from Paulo Freire, the Brazilian author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Girls in a Classroom

Girls in a Classroom


How does this initiative work?

I have signed up as an Affiliate Associate with Amazon. When you buy a book or movie from the catalogue below, Amazon recognises your purchase from a link that ties to my account. Without increasing the cost for you as the end user, a portion of what you pay to  Amazon comes back to me — to help me start a seed fund for a Foundation which I will establish once my student visa status in the UK allows me to move forward with the legal proceedings.

Again, it may be hard to imagine this in a developed country, but £0.01 from a purchased book from my affiliate link can buy 2 pieces of bread for the Afghan family, so imagine how much more we can do together when the educational seed fund grow — to build mobile schools, to provide educational materials, to provide training for teachers, and to offer overseas scholarships to Afghan youths wanting to further their education.

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What if the book I want is not in your catalogue?

At the moment, there are 2 Amazon stores: UK and US. Both catalogues are different.
Message me here, or on Facebook, or email me the product title from your regular Amazon search, and I will set up an affiliate link and insert it into my catalogue here. I will then send you the link to click. Voila!

It does not have to be about Afghanistan. Any book you want to buy essentially feeds the Fund, and the Fund eventually feeds the minds in Afghanistan.

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Why are you doing this?

When I was in Afghanistan, I see many children wandering in the streets, some of whom are begging for money or selling knickknacks, presumably just to buy a piece of nan to feed the family. Some are washing cars parked along the streets. Some are playing in the nearby park. My colleagues and I have had long discussions over this. One of the reasons the children are out in the streets is that they need to find money and/or food for their family. If they are in schools, they cannot fulfil those obligations.

This is why I think the educational system has little relevance for the struggling family in Afghanistan. If we are able to provide a schooling system that allows the children to also make money and feed their family, for example learning a craft and selling their wares while getting insights into mathematics, economics, and basic engineering concepts, or even geography and physics if they have a piece of arable land to harvest a crop, they can be self-sustainable. They learn to do it in a way that supports their livelihood, their communities, and their environments. Education must be relevant for them. 

You see, with the seed Fund, I will be able to open up a charity account, speak to donors, and eventually work alongside teachers and educators in Afghanistan, as well as build mobile schools that will allow children and youths to have access to learning materials all the way to the university level — and still be able to help them in their entrepreneurial goals to build not only their lives, but also the economy.

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Why don’t you partner with other NGOs or Foundations?

The truth is, people have reached a level of what we call “donor fatigue”. There is too much to be done for the world at large and, for some, donating has become a chore. Besides, the nagging question of “where is my money going to” always comes to the front of any donation drive or campaign.

Furthermore, corruption is still a pervasive issue that needs to be structurally tackled by the peoples in Afghanistan. Even how NGOs function is questionable, based on my firsthand experience while I was working for one. To know which are the ‘right’ organisations to partner with requires a lot more time to understand their processes, and I am not in the position to endorse any organisation as yet.

But I had made contacts with a few local organisations which I have been impressed with, and would like to further their cause. One example is the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), supported by the Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation whose mission is “Rebuilding Afghanistan, One Book At A Time” (see link). I have visited their site at the Kabul University and am impressed with what they do. In fact, their digitisation of many Dari and Pashto books has helped me in my own academic research on Afghan theatres and cultures.

There are other foundations out there, but I have yet to speak with them as I have nothing tangible to offer them at the moment. Examples include Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see link), Khaled Hosseini Foundation (see link), and the aforementioned Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation (see link).

If there are other organisations and foundations who believe in an educational cause, please contact me.

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How useful is it for Afghans if you are focusing on the arts?

The educational initiative “Buy A Book, Fund An Education” is not solely for Afghans, nor is it solely for the study of the arts.

In many people’s perceptions, the arts are non-lucrative, non-productive activities that are possibly classed as hobbies or fluffy, frivolous upper-class pursuits. This is a rather flawed perspective.

In March 2014, Arts Council England reported that “[b]usinesses in the UK arts and culture industry generated an aggregate turnover of £12.4 billion in 2011” and the “[t]he subsets of the arts and culture industry’s productive activities of book publishing, performing arts and artistic creation are the largest contributors to the industry’s aggregate turnover performance – an estimated £5.9 billion of gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy” (see link). It is a huge industry, as you can see. An economy that does not support the arts is an economy that is imbalanced. After all, the arts and culture are the soul of any society.

But the pragmatic concern here, briefly speaking, is the fostering of creativity and imagination. Not many subjects allow for divergent thinking. Reading fiction, for example, opens the minds to possibilities, and helps people to understand human behaviours in a more complex way. To focus on the arts is to focus on building up human capital, that is the mind. Even an Apple software engineer has to be creative enough to think of better, innovative ways to sell the next generation of mobile technology — and coding or computer knowledge is just a small fraction of the entire equation. Marketing, for instance, involves creativity and imagination. Who else but people trained in the arts and humanities have the knack for it?

My bias towards the arts also stems from the fact that I have been working in the prisons as a teacher, using drama to engage the inmates towards rehabilitation and educational goals. The creative aspects had been ‘locked away’ for too long for these inmates, and when these energies were released, I could sense the inner sense of joy and happiness, connecting with themselves and with each other. The arts is a powerful way to stay alive in the most dire of circumstances. The arts give hope when hope is fractured by war and conflict. The arts are prayerful, soulful expressions of life, of fears, of dreams — all of which cannot be measured by a “standard of living”, but by “quality of life and wellbeing”.

The development of the arts and creative industries indicates the level of maturity of that society. The more ‘artistic’ it is for a community, the more developed it is of that community. Arts infrastructure and economic infrastructure are twin pillars of development.

Be cautious, though, that I am not explicitly advocating for performance arts, dance, theatre, or any visible forms that may still be contentious in the Afghan society. In my academic research, I am very aware of cultural insensitivities and the ‘good’ we profess to do. So we do step with caution. But the arts, to me, also means the study of literature, poems, calligraphy, pottery, carpet weaving, jewellery design, and all the fine craftsmanship that Afghanistan boasts of.

Thank you for your contributions.

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MMCC Children and Edmund Chow

Yours sincerely,
Edmund Chow
02 April 2015