“We empower communities to rise out of poverty through education, food security projects and economic opportunities. We start by investing in women”. – Maria and Anthony Russo, co-founders of Humanity Unified.
It all began with a trip to Rwanda. In 2014, Maria Russo and her husband Anthony, the creative minds behind the award-wining online media platform for travel and social good, The Culture-ist took a leap of faith and went to Rwanda in search of opportunities to start a non-profit organization. As world-travelers who over the past 12 years have visited over 35 countries, Maria and Anthony both felt compelled to give back and help the amazing people and cultures they had seen.
For a few years prior to going to Rwanda, the pair had been running The Culture-ist, an online media platform for social good that revolves around a community of storytellers, travelers, creatives and change makers who aspire to make the world a better place. Although The Culture-ist has seen extraordinary success, Maria and Anthony yearned to do more. They had tossed around different ideas in their head on what else they could do to make a difference and impact change when they connected with the founder of Kula Project who invited them to go to Rwanda and see the work they are doing. The trip was in three months.
It was in Rwanda where Maria and Anthony met an amazing Rwandan woman named Peace. Peace’s story was heartbreaking and filled with hope. Peace’s family fled to Kenya in the 60’s when civil conflict erupted in Rwanda, and spent several years in Kenya where she opened her home and her heart to women survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Many of the women have suffered unimaginable trauma and are widows or single mothers, illiterate and unskilled, HIV positive, and victims of domestic abuse. The women were poor with little opportunities to support themselves or their children. Peace’s home became a place of support, empowerment and hope for over 300 women.
In 2009, together with Sophie McCann from the non-profit Network for Africa, Peace co-founded Aspire Rwanda, an organization that equips Rwandan women with literacy, vocational skills, and training in sustainable agriculture, health and human rights that helps lift them and their families out of poverty. Aspire’s mission is founded on the belief that the promotion of human dignity and women’s rights will lead to sustainable community development and strong and lasting grassroots reconciliation. Aspire Rwanda also provides counseling, nutrition, family planning services and childcare for young children so the women can attend the 12-month training program. After graduation the women join a cooperative where they work and support themselves, contributing to a self-sustaining and peaceful community. In the last five years, Aspire has helped 450 vulnerable but resilient women rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide.
“Aspire helps to give resilient, hard-working women the skills and confidence to make their own choices, become self-sufficient, and take control of their lives.”
When Maria and Anthony heard Peace’s story, it felt like fate. Aspire Rwanda was the organization that had captured their hearts and was the perfect partner to launch their first project with through their soon-to-be non-profit organization. “We will work together” Peace smiled as she held Maria’s hand. Serendipitously the opportunity that Maria and Anthony had been looking for was right before their eyes.
Starting a non-profit organization is no easy feat especially if you have never done it. Maria and Anthony decided on a two-prong model that would work together to enable them to donate 100% of their net profits to their programs. In 2014, they launched Humanity Unified, a for-profit enterprise that donates 100% of net profits to Humanity Unified International, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to lifting vulnerable populations out of poverty through education, food security programs and economic opportunities such as entrepreneurship programs, vocational training and cooperatives.
Here is a short video where Maria and Anthony Russo share their recent experience in Rwanda where they are working through the organization to empower 100 women farmers to rise above poverty.
Humanity Unified raises funds for Humanity Unified International in a couple of different ways:
The Humanity Unified store:
Humanity Unified believes the best way to build up communities in the developing world is by empowering women. Women are 10 times as likely to invest their earnings back into their families and communities than men and can be the most influential forces in breaking the cycle of poverty.
100% of Humanity Unified’s net profits are donated to Humanity Unified International. Together with local NGO, Aspire Rwanda, they are developing a food security project that will benefit 100 women living in poverty. The project will provide a women’s farming cooperative with the education, tools and training necessary to generate livable incomes, so that they can be self-sustaining and provide for their families after one year.
The store offers a wonderful collection of fair-trade, ethically and sustainably made cotton t-shirts made by Threads for Thought and designed by Humanity Unified.
Beautiful “Mala” bracelets made in India with healing elements of howlite, a crystal for cultivating awareness and calmness and black lava stone, which symbolizes strength, courage and stability. Some of the males are also made with rudraksha. The sachets are made by Sewing New Futures a non-profit based in Delhi that supports underprivileged women who were forced into prostitution.
The bookmarks reflect Humanity Unified’s mission and dedication to empower women and girls with the education and skills necessary to lift themselves and their families out of poverty through programs that create a support system of love, kindness and assurance for the women. Buy a pack of them and share with friends.
To view Humanity Online’s store and all the full collection of products, click here.
Give empowerment. For $45 a month you can sponsor a woman in Rwanda. The sponsorship includes health, rights and business education along with all the tools, training and inputs necessary to thrive as a smallholder farmer. Your donation will be part of a collective effort to empower 100 women and their families to rise above poverty. You can also donate to a seeds, a training class or other sponsorships to help empower women. To see all ways you can donate, click here.
Humanity Unified organizes trips around the world through their venture, Travel for Humanity that give back to local communities through financial support. The trips involve supporting local communities, yoga, wellness, and service projects. The next trip is this June in Bali. 100% of the net profits go to Humanity Unified International, their nonprofit that works with local organizations to break the cycle of poverty in developing nations. To learn more, click here.
Maria is a writer, editor and the co-founder of Humanity Unified Int’l, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to lifting vulnerable populations out of poverty through education, food security programs and economic opportunities. She has worked in television, print and broadcast media companies such as: MTV Networks, People, Harper’s Bazaar, Warner Bros. and WOR News Talk Radio and is currently a contributing writer at Inc.com. Her work with The Culture-ist has been featured by Architectural Digest, National Geographic, BBC America, The Huffington Post, FATHOM, StyleList and Men’s Health among others. Russo is a humanitarian and avid traveler who loves nature, slow food, yoga and good conversation over a cup of matcha tea. Follow Maria on Twitter @MariaCultureist
Author’s note: I had the lovely opportunity to interview Maria for this post. I was so delighted to speak with her and learn about their amazing work. All photos were provided by photographer Arnelle Lozada and Humanity Unified.