Education Committed to Social Justice and Human Dignity

This past Monday, January 15th, we commemorated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King often spoke about the “inescapable network of mutuality.” In many of his letters, Dr. King noted that our shared humanity was tied to our shared success as a society. In his sermon on January 7, 1968, he expressed this interconnectedness this way: “For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.”

I am often reminded of Dr. King’s words. Dr. King—like Fe y Alegría founder Fr. José María Vélaz, S.J.—was convinced that the path to lasting peace, true peace, would be forged through education. Both of these consequential and deeply spiritual individuals believed that education was not an act of rote learning, but a tool for social change. In the words of Fr. Vélaz, “The mission of Fe y Alegría is not to build schools, but to transform, through education, social structures.”

That is the role of Jesuit education programs. Building women and men for and with others, capable of becoming protagonists in their individual and communal development. An education that is anchored in a profound commitment to social justice and human dignity.

Jesuit education networks, like Fe y Alegría, understand that education is a fundamental human right, a public good, and a public responsibility. Together with national ministries of education, they work to prioritize and ensure access to quality education for all, transcending any form of barrier. Together with Magis Americas, our partners work to build multi-stakeholder alliances that meld public-private partnerships in support of quality and inclusive education.

Crucial to these alliances is our shared conviction that quality and inclusive education is key to:

  • guaranteeing equal opportunities
  • caring for our Common Home the Earth
  • promoting tolerance and diversity
  • encouraging citizen participation
  • empowering individuals and communities to become protagonists in their own development

Most fundamental, though, is our firm belief that education is key to accessing and enjoying all other human rights and that, more than anything else, is the linchpin to lasting peace.

As we mark the sixth International Day of Education, I am humbled to walk alongside you, and so many other individuals, working toward more just societies through education programs that promote social change and a lasting peace. Thank you.

Education at the Margins in Cambodia

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to spend a week in Cambodia as part of Advantere School of Management’s Purpose to Impact initiative.

It was my first time visiting Southeast Asia and I was excited.

Not excited about spending time at the temples in Siem Reap (I was) nor excited about spending a weekend in Phnom Penh with a friend from graduate school (also excited). No, what excited me most about this trip was the opportunity to spend time with Fr. Kike Figaredo, S.J.

Kike is a legend. Along with Sister Denise Coghlan, and countless others, he is widely-regarded, in Jesuit circles and others, for his humanitarian work with victims of landmines in Cambodia. As the Apostolic Prefect of Battambang, though, he is incredibly in demand. He doesn’t tend to have three days, let alone one, available on his schedule to meet with people. But here I was, along with my cohort, spending invaluable time with him and his team, learning about the tremendous work done by the Prefecture.

I’m not sure what I expected going into the trip. I imagine that I anticipated spending time at the social businesses and centers that the Prefect runs in support of individuals with disabilities. I knew that I would be working with a group from my cohort to analyze the viability of creating a rural hotel. What I did not expect, however, was to get a crash course in Cambodia’s education system.

Located roughly two hours west of Battambang, it was the epitome of Fr. José María Vélaz, S.J.’s words “where the asphalt stops”. Down bumpy, mountain roads, across a river, and in a region once controlled by the Khmer Rouge stood a simple two structure school. Here stood one of the many schools that make up the Prefect ‘s network of rural schools. Donde termina el asfalto, donde se acaba el cemento, donde no llega el agua potable.

Education is at a precarious moment in the country. While huge strides have been made to increase access to education, dropout rates, teacher shortages and learning outcomes are still major obstacles. For the 60% of the population that is under the age of 25, education is the key factor in accessing all other rights.

This experience, and the events in Nicaragua this past August, reaffirmed four of my deeply-held beliefs about education:

  1. Education is not just a fundamental human right; it is a powerful tool for social transformation. Education promotes social cohesion and stability. It fosters understanding, tolerance, and unity among diverse groups, contributing to peaceful coexistence. It is a powerful force for positive change, bridging divides and building stronger, more inclusive societies.
  2. Education is instrumental in advancing gender equality. By defending the right to education, we are dismantling barriers that hold girls and women back. We are ensuring that they have equal access to educational opportunities, enabling them to fulfill their potential and contribute to their communities and nations.
  3. Education, especially at the margins, is under attack. While hope abounds in places such as Cambodia, education is under devastating attack in other parts of the world. Nicaragua is just the latest country to stifle access to quality and inclusive education. Where access is limited, the cycle of poverty, inequality, and social instability persists.
  4. We all have a role in protecting and promoting education. Defending the right to education is not just a moral imperative; it is a responsibility we all share as global citizens. Your continued support and dedication to Jesuit education initiatives are the difference maker in places like Cambodia and Nicaragua. Together, we are shaping a brighter future, one where education unlocks doors of opportunity for countless individuals and entire communities.

The work being done by the Prefect of Battambang, and more recently Fe y Alegría, is just one more example of the work being done by the Jesuits to ensure access to quality and inclusive education at the margins. To ensure education for the poor is not a poor education. Thank you for being part of this vital mission to support Jesuit education initiatives at the margins.

Magis Americas renews collaboration with NED

Magis Americas (MA) has renewed its collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), signing a new 18-month grant valued at $190,498 USD. The new grant will allow MA to continue its work with local partners to implement civic education and entrepreneurship classes for marginalized communities in the Global South. The announcement follows completion of a one-year $77,293 grant signed by MA and the NED in September 2021.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the NED,” said Nate Radomski, executive director of Magis Americas. “The NED’s mission to grow and strengthen democratic institutions perfectly compliments our mission to build just societies through mobilizing support for Jesuit education, migration, and ecology initiatives. This collaboration is a wonderful opportunity to continue our support and promotion of quality and inclusive education programs in the Global South.”

The program supported by the NED will use community centers to (1) promote civic education and reconciliation through workshops, dialogue sessions, and exchanges; and (2) implement entrepreneurship classes and technical assistance to marginalized communities, with a particular focus on reaching female participants.

Over the last two-plus years, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced more than “100 million people worldwide into poverty and more than 4 billion have little or no social support, healthcare or income protection” as stated by the United Nations. In an effort to support the post-pandemic development of societies, Magis Americas, in collaboration with local Jesuit partners, is working to promote the development of education projects that focus on strengthening the ability of individuals to participate in their broader economies.

“One of the strongest tools that we have in combating inequality and poverty is guaranteeing all have access to quality education,” said Radomski. “Education is an investment that opens the doors for individuals to become agents in their individual and communal development, giving them the tools and knowledge necessary to become protagonists of their own lives and enabling them to have agency.”