Category Archives: News

Empowering Students through Nutrition

Empowering children in classrooms through nutrition. Asia America Initiative’s feeding program in the under-served schools in the Philippines was intensified this week of national exams.

Day 3 feeding at Palan Elementary School.

Team efforts that we have built over the years helped create total community teamwork for daily feeding. Teachers rode motorcycles to farm markets and parents entered school kitchens to start cooking. Within two hours, all children received bowls of healthy chicken porridge with lots of vegetables served by teachers and parents.

AAI’s beneficiary schools proudly display pictures of happy students, teachers and parents. The feeding program at the start of 2018 is showing good results, just in time to energize students for their big exams.

Students and teachers at Kasambuhan Village Elementary School.
“Thank you, Sir Albert Santoli.”

Wishing our students best of luck!

Help support AAI to expand this program by donating at our website: OR by clicking:

Holiday Season: A Time for Peace, Joy and Hope

At the end of 2017, many areas of the world are facing man made conflicts and natural disasters. In this time of confusion and fear, Asia America Initiative invites you to observe the creative joy and spirit among children in our Christian and Muslim communities.


May all hearts be filled with wondrous joy!

–– Albert Santoli, President of AAI, and all staff members of Asia America Initiative

Special Education: The First Paralympics Brings Joy in Rural Capiz

In most developing communities, the acceptance of children with learning disorders or physical and mental handicaps is sadly lacking. Many of these children are restricted to their homes without access to any form of education or nurturing. Since our founding, Asia America Initiative has placed an emphasis on education equity for all children, regardless of their special needs. We have found wonderful educators in the Philippines in both Muslim and Christian communities who champion the establishment of Special Education [SPED] programs.

At the award ceremony.

In Cuartero, Capiz, the residents are both Christian and from indigenous mountain tribes. A significant special needs program is growing at Cuartero Central School, with the largest student population in the province. Asia America Initiative has strongly supported Principal Luz Roxas Mayo in setting a model that can be replicated in many other schools. In helping the children to feel accepted the SPED program includes arts and sports activities.

Cuartero Central School Special Education students are ready to race.

During the week of September 20, 2017, a Paralympics competition was conducted in nearby Tapaz, Capiz that included the Central School and a few others with similar programs. The children competed enthusiastically in various sports activities, including running, badminton and basketball. The thrill of competition and the cheering crowd of families and friends was a great experience. Mark Frugal, SPED teacher and coach for Cuartero CS, says, “We are so proud of the effort made by all of the children. They proved that our emphasis on developing a SPED Program is not only a wonderful virtue, but empowers those incredible children to prove themselves and inspire us all.”

Running like the wind.

Saving Commander Bara Elementary School Brings New Life to a War Torn Community in Muslim Mindanao

On September 4, 2017, in a joyful ceremony with teachers, students and parents in attendance, Cmdr. Bara Jalaidi Elementary School in the area of armed conflict and severe poverty in Indanan Sulu, Philippines celebrated the inauguration of its newly renovated building. This facility that previously lacked a roof, windows, covered floors, chairs and tables offered harsh learning conditions for boys and girls eager to learn basic learning skills. With the persistence of new school leader, Nagz Sasapan, financial assistance from Asia America Initiative and donors, local craftsmen and village volunteers, Cmdr. Bara Jalaidi ES finally has become a comfortable school for its children.

For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof
For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof.

For more than twenty years under a blazing tropical sun or heavy monsoon rains, destructed school shack, children had to sit on a dirt or muddy floor and their parents were volunteering as teachers. The school, which was built during ongoing civil war encountered severe damages during the never-ending military confrontations, local violence and natural disasters. School head, Nagz Sasapan, remembered how challenging conditions were from the start. “No school building, no teachers and no books,” he says.

For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof
For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof.

After Asia America Initiative intervened due to Principal Sasapan’s numerous appeals, two months of construction led to school children starting to experience humane and colorful classrooms. “This achievement is a symbol of what Sulu can be if everyone works together for the benefit of the next generations,” said AAI Director, Albert Santoli, “children will benefit from the legacy and labor of love by their parents, teachers and local officials.”

September 2017, celebrating a school reborn
September 2017, celebrating a school reborn.

The teachers and the parents devoted their time and effort to make sure their children attended school every day, even under deplorable conditions. That, in turn, inspired people from around the world to donate their hard-earned money and compassion to Asia America Initiative’s appeal. “If there will be peace and progress,” Santoli says, “the actions we take like here at Commander Bara Jalaidi Elementary School is the foundation of teamwork and trust needed for success.”

A letter from AAI Director Santoli at the school’s reopening
A letter from AAI Director Santoli at the school’s reopening.

(Photo on top: Principal Nagz Sapasan and his joyful students at Cmdr. Bara Elementary School.)

LESSONS LEARNED: 2017 Hurricane Harvey, 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan

The two most powerful storms in recent memory are the current Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and the 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas Region of the Philippines. In both emergency situations, the true heroes have been ordinary people of humble backgrounds and local service providers who have made sacrifices needed to rescue their neighbours. Even though these areas are a half-planet distance from each other, the Ilongos and the Texans and Cajuns are distinguished by their unselfish attitudes and tireless acts of mutual support. These every day heroes have compensated for any lack of government resources. Resilient people are the key to survival and long-term rebuilding of devastated communities requires teamwork.

While I have relatives living in Houston who are displaced by the heavy rainfall and floods, in Cuartero, Capiz in the Philippines as director of Asia America Initiative I have had the good fortune to work for the past four years with hard-working landless farmers in rural upland areas damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Rebuilding houses, schools and churches takes time, as we have learned after four years of solid effort by residents of all ages. We have overcome a lack of financial resources through maintaining humble Faith, our hands in the soil and a consistent enterprising attitude.

Malnourished children have been fed through school-based gardens with Grandmothers and Moms cooking daily lunches on-site. Everyone eats together, without exclusions. This has built unbreakable community bonds. Texas, although better off financially, will be faced with an arduous and at times frustrating recovery period.


Shared lessons learned: Teamwork and community-spirit beyond any politics is vital for rescue and recovery.

Education For Children With Special Needs Transforms A Community

In most developing communities, the access for children with learning disorders or special needs to quality education is sadly lacking. Since our founding, Asia America Initiative has placed an emphasis on education equity for all children in our beneficiary communities. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is one of the most impoverished and underserved territories in the world. AAI and the province of Sulu’s Department of Education, with a 98 percent Muslim population and a poverty rate of well over 50 percent, has developed a model education program for children with special needs.

At the present in a climate of martial law, a fierce war on drugs by the government and the arrival of members of the ISIS terror organization seeking to recruit children as young as 11 and 12 years old, our compassionate and dedicated education programs serve as a deterrent to violence and extremist ideologies. We have found in more than a decade of providing holistic educational and health programs into communities often considered too dangerous to improve that success is possible.

At the Nursing Section of the Sulu Department of Education, Head Nurse Hja Shareen Lakibul says, “The reason for our success is because even with so many people who have suffered and are in need, the programs we are creating have fundamentally changed their attitudes about what is possible.  These programs – such as inclusion of children with special needs – have made the entire community think differently toward overcoming their fear of failure. A new attitude of joy and contentment has taken root, no matter how much they have suffered in the past.”

The Little Nurses of Sulu Inspire Their Communities

On August 17 and 18, the second group of 50 nurses’ assistants representing more than ten elementary schools concluded their training session to conduct first aid and promote safety measures in their schools. The girls and boys, between the ages of 10 and 12 years old, have become enthusiastic helpers of their school nurses. The Training, conducted by Red Cross volunteers, introduced them to healthy lifestyles and opening their young minds to consider careers in public health services.

The training for “mini nurses” is crucial to places such as the Philippine islands of Sulu where unstable militancy and natural disasters seem to be never-ending. By empowering the 4th to 6th graders, their joyful awareness of public health reaches the whole community and creates a continuous source of health services.

The Mini Nurses program on Jolo island is supported by the private NGO, Asia America Initiative, the Sulu Department of Education, the Red Cross, local nurses, teachers and college volunteers. The program has expanded in its second year from three schools to almost thirty. The recent mass training is the first community-wide “Child To Child” [C2C] peer learning opportunity since the idea blossomed in 2014.

Red Cross volunteers and the Sulu’s Department of Education school nurses instructed attentive mini nurses how to create bandages for head wounds in the case of earthquakes or other natural disasters. “The children’s focus speaks highly of the encouragement from their families and teachers in their communities,” AAI Director Albert Santoli said.

The program is intended to prepare future generations of healthcare professionals within isolated communities. This is essential in rural areas where public health is not available. Positive results, starting with a positive attitude, are already apparent.

Fukushima Radiation Crisis

Fukushima Radiation Crisis

Can Trauma be Passed from Parent to Child?

Editor: Albert Santoli

This psychological and genetic successive-generation trauma underscores the necessity of trauma counseling for children and adults in today’s conflict zones and also in each of our lives.  I believe it can be overcome by finding peace inside of ourselves and understanding our family and community histories. Faith, forgiveness and transformative lifestyles all have a role in the healing process.  See the following article:

Recent studies on the science behind intergenerational trauma — between Holocaust survivors and their children, for instance — have discovered that trauma can be passed between generations. The epigenetic inheritance theory holds that environmental factors can affect the genes of future generations. Chemical tags acting like Post-its can latch onto our DNA, switching genes off and on. A research team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital led by Rachel Yehuda, a leading expert on post-traumatic stress and epigenetics, concluded that some of these tags could be transferred across generations. When Yehuda researched mothers who were pregnant and in the World Trade Center during 9/11, she discovered that environmental fallout could even leave an imprint in utero.

There is an upside, however. “The idea that we can be transformed by our environment gives us powerful tools for resilience building,” says Yehuda. The plasticity of genes points toward the possibility of future transformation — though precisely how has yet to be determined. In the meantime, the Canadian Roots Exchange fosters cultural exchanges and dialogue between indigenous youth and high school students to promote understanding and reconciliation. Khmer Girls in Action, an all-female group in Long Beach, California, combats “historical forgetting” of the Cambodian genocide in the 1980s. By creating safe spaces for women to grieve and console one another and organizing public talks addressing the tragedy, collective healing is put into action.  Read the entire article here.



What Can Intercultural Communication Do? King Philip’s War, Norman Borlaug and AAI

What Can Intercultural Communication Do?: King Philip’s War, Norman Borlaug and AAI

Asia-America Initiative’s approach may be considered a direct descendant of traditional American experiences in cooperating with native populations at home and overseas during periods of development and war. This is a uniquely American tradition which can be traced, in part, to the relationship between early settlers in the New England colonies and native peoples. The nature and civility of these relationships varied from colony to colony, and had a significant role in their mutual survival during natural and man-made survival threats and disasters. In the early days, cross-cultural communication was led by the native peoples who mentored Europeans to survive in an unfamiliar land. During more recent generations, descendants of American colonists and pioneers have shared bio-technology and improved food growing techniques with indigenous peoples on a number of continents and with neighbors such as Mexico and India where population growth had outpaced food supplies. AAI works to modernize this tradition of development through personal and intercultural relationships with an emphasis on education and self-reliance.

American Intercultural Tradition – King Philip’s War

One of the first examples of the American intercultural tradition is derived from the experience of the Connecticut colony in 1675-76 Great Narragansett or King Phillip’s War. There, a courageous and relatively moderate leadership helped the colony endure one of the bloodiest Indian wars in early American history.  This was due to their cooperative relationship with the Mohegan and Pequot tribes. U.S. Army War College historian Major Jason W. Warren, author of Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narraganset War, 1675-1676, considers this relationship the decisive factor in the colony’s survival.  Major Warren notes that “[Mohegan sachem] Chief Uncas formed close personal bonds with the colonists during the Pequot War [of 1636-8, while]…Connecticut’s leadership formulated the policies that drove the colony’s friendly relationship with the Indians thus laid the foundation for eventual military success.”[1] Without that alliance, it is unlikely that Connecticut would have withstood repeated attacks by the Narragansett. Whatever the Connecticut colonists did not understand about inter-tribal relations, they delegated to those who did: the Pequot and Mohegans. “Allied Indian forces,” notes Warren, “nullified the [Narragansett] coalition’s advantage in “suspitious places,” difficult terrain, and anywhere the enemy could ambush the less-experienced English.”[2]

As a result, Connecticut was never ambushed once during the war; even Benjamin Church, forerunner of the Army Rangers, could not make such a claim. Public faith in intercultural communication as a technique would rise and fall as American history progressed. Everywhere it was tried it brought significant accomplishments for those willing to engage.

American 20th Century Intercultural Engagement – Dr. Norman Borlaug

One significant accomplishment was the invention of contemporary farming. Following World War II, the scientist-pioneer Norman Borlaug, known as the Father of Modern Agriculture, helped to prevent civil war and the spread of communism in the Third World by promoting his revolutionary farming practices in order to alleviate hunger. Dr. Borlaug, who was born in a cabin on the Minnesota prairie, created standards to which anyone working in development should aspire. His methods, which combined technology, interpersonal skills, discipline, and most importantly, education, have ensured that his contributions will last forever.

Dr. Borlaug had been a farmer all his life, but was the first in his immediate family to go to an agricultural college. After graduating, he began work at DuPont until 1944, when one of his professors, Elvin Charles Stakman, invited him to a project to stop the spread of wheat rust disease in Mexico; a major hindrance of the country’s food supply and development. Borlaug attacked this problem using the first major plank of what would become his signature development approach: trust in technological innovation. His ingenuity led him to first develop a rust-resistant wheat strain by crossbreeding thousands of types of wheat in a painstaking, months-long process. Secondly, he sped along this crossbreeding by growing two crops simultaneously in different fields, a practice called “shuttle breeding.” Finally, not content just to stop wheat rust disease, Borlaug also crossbred regular wheat with Japanese dwarf wheat to create a new breed that yielded twice as much offspring and almost never fell over. These innovations in agricultural technology would come to make Dr. Borlaug the ‘Father of the Green Revolution.’

This revolution might not have spread if he had not been able to build interpersonal relationships. Early on in his experiments in Mexico, Dr. Borlaug recalls an incident wherein he had to address the country’s business culture. As his biographer, Leon Hesser, describes it, “[in] the Mexican culture, scientists were above hand labor or getting dirty…a manager was designated as a “limpio saco,” or clean shirt, to distinguish him from his inferiors…” While Dr. Borlaug tried to be sensitive to cultural differences, he also knew when an inefficient practice needed to be stopped. He firmly told the project managers: “That’s why the farmers have no respect for you. If you don’t know how to do something properly yourself, how can you possibly advise them?” Hesser then relates that “from that day on, the Mexican scientists worked in the field with Borlaug.”[3] Almost twenty years later, Borlaug faced a similar problem in Pakistan. There, a government official told him that farmers would prefer to grow white wheat over red wheat. Dr. Borlaug responded by testing whether he could tell the difference between the two. He could not. Nevertheless, Dr. Borlaug still reached out to a colleague to obtain more white wheat anyway as a favor.

This firm-but-fair approach manifested in another key aspect of Borlaug’s strategy: personal initiative. Everything Borlaug accomplished had been done either by himself or through his small but far-reaching network of colleagues in the private and public sectors. While repairing a wheat research facility in Mexico’s Yaqui Valley, Dr. Borlaug had to sleep on a bedroll inside the abandoned laboratory with only a can of beans to eat and surrounded by the rats that had overtaken the building. He was away from home for years at a time, but still kept at his crossbreeding efforts. Borlaug’s perseverance was crucial to seeing the wheat-breeding project and its international spread through to its end.

Dr. Borlaug also understood that his work could not truly last unless others understood it. For this reason, he set out to teach both experienced and novice farmers how to grow the rust-resistant wheat. In Mexico, Borlaug hired young boys from the local farms to help with wheat breeding for this very purpose. This apprenticeship-style training eventually yielded results. According to Hesser, Borlaug’s student Reyes Vega “on his own came up with a technique to increase by ten- to twenty-fold the efficiency of pollinating wheat plants.”[4] Dr. Borlaug’s field education thus ensured that his indispensable work would last long after he was gone.

Contemporary development and aid workers still have much to learn from the American tradition of intercultural communication, and especially from Norman Borlaug’s contributions to the field. His openness to technology led him toward new problem-solving techniques. The relationships he cultivated gave him influence to implement badly-needed changes. His perseverance kept his innovative projects alive whenever others had lost faith and his dedication to educating others through experience made his discoveries applicable and sustainable for everyone. Dr. Borlaug’s work will always be worthy of emulation for anyone interested in saving and improving lives around the world.

American Intercultural Tradition – Asia America Initiative

Asia America Initiative was founded in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States by Albert Santoli, a military veteran of the Vietnam War experienced in conventional and unconventional counter-guerilla warfare including intercultural relationships. Director Santoli, now a Professor in the Master’s Degree Program for Peace and Development at the Institute of World Politics, was also was an expert on Afghanistan for the U.S. Congress from 1996-2002. His focus area included stopping recruitment methods of the Taliban and al-Qaeda; to develop intercultural methods for preventing the recruitment of youths by extremists. In addition, Mr. Santoli worked with human rights organizations such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights and Freedom House for twenty years, where he organized and coordinated programs in refugee protection and emergency humanitarian interventions in areas of armed conflict.

Coincidentally, among of the early advisers to Mr. Santoli in creating AAI was Dr. Hardt. Hardt, was a doctoral student under the mentorship of Dr. Norman Borlaug at Texas A&M University. Their early discussions focused with how to build sustainability in a start-up NGO like AAI. Similar to the human quality of Dr. Borlaug’s programs, although she was an African specialist, Dr. Hardt understood and acted as a sounding board for the universal methodologies required for successful developmental programs in any area of the world.

Works Cited

Hesser, Leon. The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger. Dallas: Durban House, 2006

Warren, Jason W. Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narraganset War, 1675-1676. Norman, O.K.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014

[1] Jason W. Warren, Connecticut Unscathed: Victory in the Great Narraganset War, 1675-1676 (Norman, O.K.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 8-10

[2] Ibid., 153

[3] Leon Hesser, The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger (Dallas: Durban House, 2006), 43

[4] Ibid., 59