Bum Nua, Vietnam


Photographer: Annie Griffiths

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In Bum Nua, a remote region of north-west Vietnam near the border with Laos and China, a visiting teacher leads an exercise class for a group of La Hu children. The teacher has been trained as part of a project run by Church World Service, an organisation backed by 37 Christian communities from around the world. The project’s main goal is to raise teaching standards in under-served communities. Project staff also work with mothers, helping them gain a better understanding of the importance of hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. Originally from a region on the Tibetan plateau, the La Hu migrated southwards into China and south-east Asia around two hundred years ago. Today, around 9,000 La Hu live in Vietnam, a tiny number compared with the more than 700,000 who live across the border in China’s Yunnan province.


Atabae, Timor-Leste


Photographer: Lee Tan

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In the 1990s, Pedro Vieira was a student leader in the resistance movement fighting to free Timor-Leste, then known as East Timor, from Indonesian occupation. He learnt politics from books, his fellow students and sympathetic academics. The son of a local chief from the Fatuluku-speaking community in eastern Timor-Leste, in 2001, on the eve of the country’s formal declaration of independence, he became the head of education at Haburas Foundation, an environmental non-governmental organisation which he had helped found. Since then, Pedro has spent much time travelling across Timor-Leste. Wherever he goes, he sits down with village elders and craftspeople, listens to their stories and talks with them about the ways in which local cultures and their long-established ways of doing things can contribute to ecological sustainability.


Pattani, Thailand


Photographer: Biel Calderon

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In southern Thailand, being a teacher can be dangerous. Across the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, a conflict between the government and an Islamic separatist movement has killed more than 6,000 people since 2004, about 200 of them teachers. “Teachers are worried, but we have to do our job, otherwise, who else would take care of the children?” says Wattana Iso, vice-principal at Pakaharang School, which was set on fire in 2006 and had one of its teachers killed in 2007. Government officials suspect that “pondoks”, traditional Islamic schools, are breeding grounds for radical Islam, and would like to see them closed down. Muslims, for their part, see the secular teaching of government schools as a threat to their religion and culture. Teachers from government-run schools have been one of the main targets of the insurgency. Talks between the government and insurgents started in February 2013, but stalled a few months later. A resolution to the conflict, which dates back to the late 1940s, looks as far off as ever.

Text by Laura Villadiego


Galle, Sri Lanka


Photographer: Brett Davies

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Hemaloka Thero is senior monk at the Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple in Galle, a city in southern Sri Lanka. He has lived there for almost thirty years, offering people his guidance on how to live good, peaceful and meaningful lives. He has two students, young monks who began studying with him as small boys after he promised their parents he would raise and teach them until he drew his last breath. Each day, early in the morning and before noon, Hemaloka and his two pupils eat food given to them by people from local villages and a nearby town. As they eat, Hemaloka teaches them the principles he believes are important for their future. First, he says, improve your mind by listening, learning and studying. Second, give yourself to the people; help those who need guidance, especially those who are disadvantaged. Third, respect all people, regardless of their religion, race or position in life. Hemaloka learned these principles from his master. He hopes that one day his students will in turn pass them on to another generation of monks.


Yishun, Singapore


Photographer: Bernice Wong

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Mel, 35, runs Pluspoint, a dance group for at-risk young men in Singapore. The group’s eight to ten members meet around three times a week to practise their repertoire of hip-hop, folk and modern Indian dance. Mel has been imprisoned twice for drug-related offences. She set up Pluspoint after being released from her second spell in jail in 2010. Its mission is to help young people avoid drugs and drug-related crime. A single mother, Mel supports herself and her seven children by working as a cleaner at Orchard Gateway, a shopping mall in downtown Singapore. The group’s running costs are low. When new costumes are needed, everyone chips in a little money.


Moscow, Russia


Photographer: Nataliya Kharlamova

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

For nearly two decades, Viktor Krotov, 70, has run a free creative-writing studio for children and adults with and without disabilities. In his classes, he helps people discover and explore their own creativity. His students play games using poetry, fiction, essays and aphorisms and see what emerges – a process Viktor calls “shaking by genres”. For most of his students, Viktor’s creative games are a therapy in their own right – ways of helping them understand and cope with everyday life. For a few, the games have led to a new vocation. Sonya Shatalova (right) has severe autism that prevents her from speaking or writing by herself. Through Viktor’s classes, she discovered a talent for writing poetry. A collection of her work, I Am Not Mute, was published in Moscow in 2015.


Dulag, Philippines


Photographer: Dana Romanoff

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In 2013, after a super typhoon wreaked destruction across much of the Philippines, Robin Lim returned to her home country to head up a disaster relief team. In the typhoon’s aftermath she and a team of midwives delivered 489 babies in a five-squaremetre tent. Before her return to the Philippines, Robin worked in Indonesia, Haiti and Nepal, working with international non-governmental organisations providing care for pregnant and birthing women in the aftermath of natural disasters. Robin decided to work in reducing maternal and infant mortality after her sister died of a preventable condition in pregnancy. As well as her disaster relief work, she also teaches at skills seminars for midwives.


Islamabad, Pakistan


Photographer: Khaula Jamil

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Civil servant Mohammad Ayub Khan spends his after-work hours and weekends teaching students in an open-air school in north-east Islamabad. Known to his pupils as Master Ayub, he has no formal training as a teacher. But he does have a quarter century of experience. Twenty-five years ago he arrived in Islamabad in search of work. Seeing many children on the streets collecting trash and rags instead of attending school, he decided to offer them free lessons. Today, he has 250 students enrolled in the makeshift school he runs in a public park. On weekdays, he works as a chief fire officer. He splits his salary three ways – one part to his wife, who also runs a small school, one part for his own basic needs, and the rest for his school. Whenever he can, he helps his pupils with their medical expenses and other necessities. “My hope is that one child will join the army, one will become a doctor, one will become a policeman, and so on. This is how I can make this country a better place,” says Master Ayub.


Pyongsong, North Korea


Photographer: Mark Edward Harris

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

''You’re looking in top form!” “Something got you down?” “I got my report card and I’m not happy about it.” “Long time no see!” “Many happy returns of the day.” “My gracious!” At Kim Jong Suk Higher Middle School in the North Korean city of Pyongsong, students are taking an afternoon English class. It seems unlikely any of them will ever put their learning to use in an English-speaking country. But if that bothers them, they don’t show it. Occasionally, visitors from Western countries are brought to watch the class. In a brief question-and-answer session that follows, every student wants to ask a question. “Why is America so dangerous?” one of them asks a visitor from England. His teacher gently reprimands him: “It is not polite to ask such a question of our guest.” The students laugh. The English visitor laughs. The teacher laughs.


Kathmandu, Nepal


Photographer: Mark Edward Harris

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

The hundred students at Kathmandu’s Oscar International College of Film Studies have a dream – to make a name for “Nepaliwood”, and take their country’s film industry out of the shadow of their giant neighbour India’s Bollywood. Even the earthquake that shook Nepal on 25 April 2015, killing more than 9,000 people, hasn’t changed that. The school was closed that week, and none of its students or staff were injured. But its main four-storey building was destroyed, and classes are now held in temporary structures put up on its campus. Later that year, student Min Bahadur Bham screened his feature film “The Black Hen” at the Venice International Film Festival. And others are starting to pick up awards at international film festivals around the world. “Our students are creating a new wave in the Nepalese film industry,” says Binod Paudel, the college’s principal and acting coach.


Yangon, Myanmar


Photographer: Carsten Snejbjerg

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In Myanmar, Buddhist schools offer girls from poor families the opportunity to receive an education. At the end of their final year, students can choose whether to remain at the school and teach, go on to further education or return to their homes. Although attendance at the schools is free, all students are expected to go out on to the streets of Yangon collecting food and donations twice a week.


Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


Photographer: Sofie Knijff

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In a backroom near the centre of Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, Norovsambou trains young girls to become contortionists. Her students are following a long tradition. Since the founding of the Mongolian State Circus in the 1940s, Mongolia has been one of the world’s top sources of contortionists, the best of whom have gone to perform everywhere from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre to the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival. Norovsambou runs a tough regime. Her students start their training at the age of five. For the next seven years, they practice for at least three hours a day. Only a few will become professionals. Some of them will get injured along the way. Others will lack the necessary mental toughness. Before she took up training, Norovsambou was a top contortionist herself, travelling the world giving performances and winning prizes. As well as her coaching work, she helps students from poor families find sponsors who can pay for their training.


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Photographer: Nikt Wong

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

June Low is a sex educator in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. In a country where many people regard talking about sex as taboo, her job often has its tricky moments. According to June, Malaysia’s long-standing approach to sex education – focused almost solely on abstinence – has never really been effective. To give teenagers better knowledge about sex, in 2015 June began hosting an internet sex education show. Titled “Popek-Popek” – Malay slang for “talking” – the show, made in the living room of her home, offers a comprehensive view of the options available to young people wondering about sex. “My videos are available online for free, so no one can stop me from reaching young people seeking information,” says June.


Luang Prabang, Laos


Photographer: Michael Sakas

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

At a village in northern Laos, staff from Luang Prabang Public Library and Village Science, a US-based non-governmental organisation, hand out soap and books about hygiene to children. They read the books with older students and do colouring or writing exercises with younger ones. The books have been written by a volunteer at the library and been brought to the village on the library’s Library Boat for Lao Children. The project is one of several the library has done with Village Science delivering books and other learning materials to villages around Luang Prabang.


Chek, Kyrgyzstan


Photographer: Elyor Nematov

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Sixty-year-old Ainysa squats outside her home in Chek, a village in western Kyrgyzstan, with her six-year-old grandson. After the parents of her grandson divorced, like millions of other adults from Central Asia, they both went to work in Russia. For the last few years, her grandson has only seen his mother once a year. He has had no contact with his father. The local government provides Ainysa with almost no support for her grandson. She is one of many grandmothers across Central Asia who have become the main source of learning for a young child.


Seoul, South Korea


Photographer: Habibul Haque

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Seoul-based South Korean lawyer Young Joon Kim is a trustee of Asian University for Women, an independent, international university based in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Founded in 2008, the university’s mission is to educate a new generation of women leaders. It draws its students from around 15 countries across Asia, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria and Vietnam, admitting them solely on the basis of merit, regardless of their family’s income level. As a trustee, Young Joon helps set the university’s policies, offers advice on key strategic decisions and strives to raise its profile around the world. Nearly all of AUW’s students are on full scholarships. Young Joon leads a group of supporters in South Korea, among them Ewha Womans University, the world’s oldest women’s university, and Export-Import Bank of Korea. Young Joon grew up in South Korea in the 1960s and early 1970s before moving with his family to the United States when he was 16. After an undergraduate degree at Yale, he studied law at Harvard Law School. Since graduating, he has worked with the same law firm for 33 years successively in New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and now Seoul. As well as his work with Asian University for Women, Young Joon mentors young North Koreans who have fled their homeland and are now studying at universities in South Korea. Through the Korea Unification Leadership Academy, he brings them and South Korean students together to think about the kind of roles they might play in a unified Korea.


Numazu, Japan


Photographer: Kazuhiro Yokozeki

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Yumi Muguruma, 45, is a social welfare worker at Smile Home, a day-care facility for the elderly in Numazu, a coastal city in central Japan. She’s also a former university professor of ethnology who believes oral histories can be a valuable tool in the care of older people, offering them a way to reconstruct memories, dignity and a sense of belonging. Through telling stories about themselves and their experiences, people make themselves active members of their community, says Yumi, who calls what she does “caring ethnology”. To encourage the residents of Smile Home to open up, Yumi shares folk narrative recordings she collected when she was a professional ethnologist. Then over meals of traditional Japanese food or at folklore dance evenings, people tell their own stories. Yumi believes that, as populations around the world age, approaches that recognise and respect the rich personal histories of older people will help bring generations together, creating more caring communities.


Serang, Indonesia


Photographer: Putu Sayoga

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition)

The sun has yet to rise, but Ridwan Sururi is already up and looking after his horses in his home village of Serang at the foot of Slamet volcano in central Java, Indonesia. Soon he will start his main task for the day: using one of his horses to carry a small mobile library to nearby schools. The idea for Ridwan’s “Kudapustaka” (horse library) first came up in a chat with a friend, Nirwan Arsuka, a fellow horse lover from Jakarta who helped launch the project with a gift of 136 children’s books. Since then, with more and more people hearing of the library through social media and local and international press coverage, book donations have grown into the thousands. Today, Ridwan is heading to Serang’s Elementary School No. 5. At nine o’clock, when the bell rings for the morning’s first break, children will run from their classrooms to return the books they have read and borrow new ones.


Medan, Indonesia


Photographer: Sutanta Aditya

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In a tiny, open-air classroom beside a railway track in the city of Medan in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, Dosri Bakkara teaches poor children. “My students haven’t been lucky with their lives, so I have to find ways to help them,” says Dosri. Born in the nearby town of Sidikalang in 1979, Dosri knew she wanted to be a teacher even before she graduated with a degree in social studies from North Sumatra University. She started her school in 2007 using US$225 she received in severance pay after working at a non-governmental organisation and funds from her parents. Helped by volunteers, her pupils study reading, maths, ethics, spiritual guidance and other subjects. The school has no government support; instead it is funded by donations from Dosri’s friends and former colleagues.


Kolkata, India


Photographer: Sudipto Das

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Mohd Alamgir, 61, dreams of the day when everyone in his home neighbourhood of Darpara can read. That day may not be far off. Thanks in good part to his work over three and a half decades, nine out of ten people in this century-old slum district of central Kolkata are literate, and 8% of its school students, mostly girls, are going on to graduate from universities. Mohd began his career as a school teacher at a government-run school in 1981, straight after completing a law degree. He has remained there ever since, concentrating in particular on teaching girls. A literate mother, he says, will never leave her children uneducated.