US Firms Back 'Support My School' Campaign in India

Washington, Dec 18 (IANS): Several American companies and organizations have expressed interest in a unique initiative to help children in rural and semi-urban India get access to better educational facilities.

Among them is Global Water Challenge, a coalition of leading organizations committed to universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene, which has helped spread awareness in US about "Support My School" campaign launched by Coca-Cola India and NDTV in January.

GWC "has sought to leverage the programme's impact by supporting outreach to US based organizations and individuals" and in conjunction with Coca-Cola India "has brought new partners to the table including H2O for Life, Merck and Weston Solutions," Monica Ellis, CEO, Global Water Challenge told IANS.

"GWC will continue its support of the campaign into 2012 by engaging new organizations in the effort to reach more schools across India," she said after a presentation here last week.

Besides providing libraries, teacher training, computer and internet access, playgrounds and sports equipment the project aims to provide improved access and sanitation facilities as one in two children, particularly girls, drop out of schools by eighth grade because of lack of basic amenities like clean water and toilets.

J.P. Morgan, Cummins, Rotary International and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have expressed interest in the campaign which has already revitalised 26 schools at a cost of $11,000 each Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

With $1.4 million pledged for the campaign, work has begun in over 50 schools in 10 states across India. "We aim to complete 100 schools by April 2012. After that, we would target taking up at least another 200 schools," said Deepak Jolly, Sr VP Coca-Cola India and South West Asia.

"We have launched a youth ambassador programme to channelise the power of youth to the campaign," he said as many students have expressed interest in working on the campaign supported by the likes of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

"Students studying in US on their summer break in India have contributed tremendously and we are seeing a lot of interest in youngsters from India and US to contribute and strengthen the campaign," Jolly said.

UN-HABITAT, which has been part of the campaign from the beginning has contributed towards drafting the framework of 'Support My School' apart from contributing towards the core corpus of the campaign.

Learning partner, Pearson Foundation has provided for libraries and teacher training in these schools besides sponsoring one cluster of six schools.

USAID itself has not become a partner as yet, but its Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, came out in all out support for this important initiative. Stressing the importance of school infrastructure improvement for economic development, she encouraged more and more US firms to join.


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