ASPEN " Silbi Stainton isn't convinced that gunboat diplomacy works, so the Carbondale resident started a nonprofit organization to give peace a chance.
Stainton is the founder, president and executive director of the Marshall Direct Fund, dedicated to improving conditions in areas that are breeding grounds for terrorists. The new nonprofit has raised about $50,000 this year and started its first project " construction of a school in a small village outside of Islamabad, Pakistan. The school will serve double duty " providing traditional education for youngsters in grades one through five by day and teaching vocational skills to adults at night.
Stainton, who earned a master's degree in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, found inspiration for the nonprofit in the Marshall Plan implemented after World War II to help ravaged countries of Europe rebound economically.
The Marshall Direct Fund will provide aid directly, rather than pass funds through a government or another organization.
Stainton concentrated on southwest Asia during her studies and learned that the country of 170 million people has a high level of illiteracy. Government spending is skewed toward the military, so the economy is weak and opportunities are few for the uneducated masses. Extremism thrives in such an environment, Stainton said, and it will continue to thrive despite military interventions.
"You can't bomb an idea," Stainton said.
She believes western powers such as the U.S. would benefit by shoring up the economies of countries like Pakistan. Helping citizens improve their lives makes it tougher for extremists to sow seeds of discontent.
"The school seemed the right place to start," Stainton said.
The village was selected by a Pakistan native that Stainton knew. That man, Hassan Abbas, is now a professor at Harvard and vice president of the Marshall Direct Fund. Abbas donated the land where the school will be built donated the land for the school.
The Marshall Direct Fund was created in September 2007 and started raising funds this year. The organization is new enough that it hasn't been required yet to file a form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. Those forms detail a nonprofit organization's finances.
Stainton said the virtually all of the $50,000 raised thus far was through private donations made at one event, a Mad Tea Party in July. Everyone from corporate executives to low-wage workers have contributed to the cause.
"It goes to show that people want to see success in that part of the world," Stainton said.
The fund-raising efforts have cost about $13,000. The Mad Tea Party will become an annual event, she said, and other fund raisers will be held.
Stainton's family have covered about $16,000 in overhead so far, including travel and office support. Stainton isn't paid for the 40-plus hours she puts in per week; the board of directors volunteer their time.
Other than fund-raising, nearly all revenues raised will go directly toward the construction of the school, Stainton said.
Construction of the school will begin in October. If all goes as planned, it will open next fall. The construction cost is estimated at between $35,000 and $50,000. Once it is open, the Marshall Direct Fund will raise money for operations, but the idea is to make it self-sufficient by recouping funds once students trained through the vocational training program start earning incomes and can repay the school for their education.
The school will have roughly 20 students per grade. "We want to accept as many kids as possible," Stainton said, but she acknowledged there will likely be more applicants than openings. Tuition will be charged on a sliding scale based on a family's income, but it will be free for the children of many poor families, Stainton said. Teachers will be recruited from the region.
Stainton spent the first half of August in Pakistan visiting the village where the school will be built and networking in other parts of the country. She said she never saw another white person during her tour, which leads her to question the West's understanding of current affairs in Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf resigned last week. He was regarded as a U.S. ally although his government's commitment to fight terrorists, crossing the border from Afghanistan, was questioned.
Stainton said she has traveled the world and never felt more welcome than she did in Pakistan. She is anxious to help the people of the country.
More information on the Marshall Direct Fund will be available by October on a new website, www.marshalldirectfund.org and calls are being taken at 963-3150.