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US Philanthropy Helps Rebuild Schools in Tsunami-Ravaged Areas

A philanthropic foundation, based in the northeastern U.S. state of Vermont, has donated almost $2 million to help rebuild schools and make other contributions to education in areas of Indonesia and Thailand that were hit hard by the December tsunami.

The Freeman Foundation has long been involved in education and Asian-related philanthropic projects, supporting Asian Studies programs at U.S. universities, clearing landmines in Vietnam, and providing relief to earthquake victims in Thailand.

Every year, the foundation also brings 22 students from Asia to study at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. After the tsunami struck, the foundation canvassed the Wesleyan alumni in Indonesia and Thailand for their recommendations on how best to help.

Houghton Freeman, the head of the foundation, says the focus will be on education. "It will be for education. It may be scholarships. It may be schoolbooks. It may be rebuilding a schoolhouse. It may be bringing in teachers from other areas - whatever they think will do the best and the most good," he said.

The foundation asked the New York-based Institute of International Education to administer the donation.

The institute's Peggy Blumenthal says everything in the educational infrastructure needs rebuilding.

"Particularly in the coastal regions, where the entire communities were leveled, the first thing is just getting a place for the students to sit, and get together, and have pencils and pens, and have the teachers talk to them," she said. "Ultimately, it is to build structures. The first step is just getting people some place to continue going to school, and then to rebuild structures, and then to retrain teachers, because teachers were lost, as well as students and families."

The Freeman contribution will be used to help youngsters of all ages, from elementary through secondary school. In Indonesia, some of the funds will also be used to prepare older students for university entrance exams.

The Institute of International Education's representative in Indonesia, Irid Agoes, spoke with VOA Correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta. Ms. Agoes says the donation will focus on four areas.

"First, is for helping the national examination preparation program in many places, around seven places in Aceh, and then the book donation that will be distributed to around five schools," she said. "So, they are sending around 3,000 sets of books to those schools, to high schools. And then, of course, the rehabilitation of school buildings in five schools in Banda Aceh, two schools in Aceh Besar, two schools also in Pidie, and the last would be scholarship for high school students, around 800 students, and it's still now in the selection process, and 10 university students."

In addition to helping restart schools, the institute's Peggy Blumenthal says the program has another benefit, keeping the local Wesleyan graduates involved.

"This was actually part of the design that the Freeman Foundation had, which I think was so wise, to try to help returned students become more engaged with philanthropy in their own country, by giving them this very good experience of helping to identify the appropriate grant recipients, and to stay involved with the project. So, it is both a very timely gift to the countries, and also a way of having these alumnae become philanthropists in training," she said.