How Kiva is Providing Microloans to Help Refugees Rebuild their Lives

The older I get and the further I travel, the more I realize how fortunate I am to have been born to a family who believes strongly in education and has afforded me with many opportunities to follow my dreams. Growing up, I never had to worry about what to eat each day, whether or not my water was safe to drink, or if my family would be forced to run from war, strife or conflict. I have been blessed and am fully aware of it which is why I have dedicated a big part of my life to giving back by either volunteering, donating money or my time as a writer for social justice causes.

With the tremendous need and upheaval in the world today, it is easy to become overwhelmed and complacent. Trust me, I have had to put the newspaper aside many times and I relish the moments when I can escape from all the bad news. Yet, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing good in the world or nothing you can do to help. There is indeed a lot of good happening every single moment of the day. The news just doesn’t cover it always as unfortunately the bad news is the news that sells. Therefore, I will continue to share some of the amazingly good and beautiful things happening out there in the world today on my blog and how you can personally make a difference.

“Dreams are universal, opportunity is not” – Kiva

Over the past several years, we have all heard many harrowing stories about the refugee crisis. If you are like me, I read the stories with a heavy heart, often feeling completely helpless on what on earth I can do to help change such a massive problem. Despite the fact that more people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than any time since World War II, there is hope that refugees can rebuild and change their lives and there are organizations out there that are making a difference.

Kiva, the world’s largest crowdfunding organization, is doing just that by offering micro loans to refugees, something often perceived too risky due to their undocumented credit history and unstable livelihood. The good news is that Kiva’s newly released World Refugee Fund Impact Report has shown excellent results.  Kiva found that loans to refugees have a repayment rate of 96.6%, right on par with 96.8% for all non-refugee loans during that same period. Through the help of Kiva, refugees who are financially excluded now have the opportunity to get a small loan, and these loans can make an enormous difference on their lives.

As a strong supporter and lender to Kiva, I was immediately intrigued by this exciting news and had the opportunity to interview Jessica Hansen, Global Engagement Manager at Kiva to share more about Kiva’s mission and how they are making a difference in the lives of people around the world. Here is what she has to say.

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Photos above: Samira came to Lebanon in 2010. Her Lebanese neighbor Soaud encouraged her to take out a small loan from Kiva so that they could start a business reselling wedding dresses, and in turn, Samira could supplement her hairdressing business. Samira doubled her income with this money, and now calls Soaud – her business partner – “more than a sister.” Photo credit: Brandon Smith for Kiva

Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Humanitarian SOCIAL GOOD
Warwick Castle

A Day Trip out of London to the Warwick Castle

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to get out of the big city and take a day trip somewhere in the countryside. As much as I love all the culture, art, museums, restaurants, tourist attractions and shopping there is to do in a city, after a few days I crave some fresh air and peace away from all the crowds and stimulation. It was no different with our recent trip to London. We had planned on four full days in London and knew that we would be able to cover all the things we wanted to do in three, meaning we would have time to do a side trip.

There are many options for day trips outside of London and it all depends on how much you want to spend and what you want to do. The most popular day trip is to Bath, the Windsor Castle and Stonehenge yet this trip can take over ten to twelve long hours to complete and the most economical way to do it is via tour bus. We wanted to do something a little different so instead we opted to hire a private driver for the day. We had used the same driver for our transportation from the airport to central London and Mr. Singh proved to be a fantastic guide.

Normally I am a huge planner however for this trip we decided to wing it. That was probably our first mistake because careful research would have told us that the Windsor Castle – home to the Queen and 900 years of history – was closed on the day we were hoping to visit. It is the most popular castle to see given it is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and only an hour and a half drive outside of London. We didn’t realize it was closed until the morning of our day trip so we had to come up with a Plan B immediately. I knew that the girls would love to see a castle over Stonehenge so we decided on the Warwick Castle located about two and a half hours northwest of London. It was going to be a long day but hopefully worth it.

We left at nine am from our perfectly located apartment at the Citadines Trafalgar Square with our driver Mr. Dil Singh in a six passenger SUV. Dil was born in India but has been living in London for years and was a real treat. I sat up front as I like to always talk with the locals to learn as much as I possibly can about where I’m visiting. I told Dil that although we have been enjoying London it was a bit too touristy at this time of year and he wistfully replied “London is like a four bedroom house with 15 people living in it“. I laughed and agreed with his assessment of trying to fight the crowds of people walking the streets of Central London. It was going to be nice to get away from it all for the day.

Getting there 

We took M40 due north passing the rolling green hills of the countryside, talking away.  About an hour into the drive, my niece noticed with concern that the speedometer read 100. Silly me told her not to worry and that we were going 100 kilometers per hour not miles per hour which converts into approximately 62 mph, our standard speed limit on most US Highways. I then launched into a speech on how Europe and most of the world go by km/h and how we are different in that regard. It took our driver Dil three attempts to correct my mistake because I thought he was joking. After all these years I honestly had no idea that England does indeed use miles per hour! When it finally got through my head that we were truly going 100 mph we told him to slow down. He was just going with the flow of traffic but for us, it felt a bit nerve-wracking because we never drive that fast in the US even on huge open highways in the middle of South Dakota. We continued our drive in the slow lane being passed by everyone but at least we felt more relaxed. Poor Dil was mortified that he upset us which we assured him that he did not. It is just one of those cultural differences that comes with traveling (not to mention driving on the other side of the road!).

We arrived at the Warwick Castle just before lunch and it unfortunately began to rain. The skies were dark and gloomy yet it gave the entire place a rather mystical feel like you’d imagine when visiting a medieval castle in the English countryside. Based on the website, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the castle. I had imagined it would be like some over-the-top Disney-like place but it actually ended up being pretty darn cool and a great first castle for the girls to see. Best of all, it wasn’t mobbed with tourists like most of the other attractions we’d seen.

The Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 on the grounds of a burg (hilltop settlement) dating back to 914. Located in Warwick at the bend of the River Avon, in 2001 the castle was named one of Britain’s “Top 10 Historic Houses and Monuments” by the British Tourist Authority. Its long, fascinating history of well over a thousand years is what brings many tourists to its grounds and you can easily spend an entire day exploring the castle and taking in some of their shows, activities  and attractions.  For us, we only had three hours which was enough to see most of the grounds, visit the Great Hall exhibits and take in some of the Birds of Prey show. We had also purchased tickets to the Castle Dungeon Tour which includes creepy encounters with live actors and special effects but unfortunately our show was unexpectedly canceled. Ironically, a tourist had fainted during the horror show and paramedics had to be called. Maybe it was a little too scary?

The Castle Grounds

The entrance to the Warwick Castle is located at The Stables Courtyard where there is a small restaurant and cafe, gift shop and ticket office. Once you purchase your tickets, you follow the gravel roads that surround the great walls, battlements, towers and turrets of the castle. It is quite majestic! There is a fun maze for the kids surrounding the castle grounds as well as a beautiful park and historic Mill and Engine House all outside the walls and Central Courtyard. If you want to make a day or even a night out of your visit, you can attend some of the shows during the day or evening, and even spend a night at the Tower Suites, Knights Village Lodges or try Medieval Glamping. There is plenty to do and keep you busy.

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The Great Hall

My favorite part of the castle was the Great Hall and State Rooms. It is the only furnished part of the castle and is loaded with history on all the past inhabitants who lived in the castle over the years. There are even wax replicas of some of the most famous residents and at first glance they look eerily real. I could have spent a lot of time inside this part of the castle but the girls were constantly on the go and had more fun running around the maze than reading all the plaques about history.

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The Mill and Engine House

Behind the castle right next to the river lies the Mill and Engine House which is interesting to visit and affords a gorgeous view of the river and the castle’s 64 acres of lush, rolling landscape and gardens. If it wasn’t raining, it would have been lovely to spend time viewing the gardens.

By 1:30 pm, we were all famished and the dining options at the Castle were disappointing. We decided to drive a bit further to Stratford-Upon-Avon, known as “Shakespearetown” since it is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We arrived around 2 o’clock on a Sunday which happened to be Father’s Day so the town was bustling with activity. We settled on a lovely Italian restaurant for lunch and only had a few minutes to run over and peak at Shakespeare’s birthplace and family home. We regretted not having more time because Stratford-Upon-Avon is a lovely, charming town that we just happened to fall upon. Next time as I always like to say!

We arrived back in London a little past six exhausted from such a long day of travel but a bit refreshed. The country air had done us well! It was a quick shower, off to dinner and bed way too late as usual. But of course it was all very worth showing the girls their very first castle.

If you go:

Stay: Rent a studio or roomy two bedroom apartment at the Citadines Trafalgar Square. The location could not be more perfect as you are within walking distance to all the main attractions and tons of shopping and dining options. This is the second time I’ve stayed at this hotel and if I go back, I will stay there again. Tip: Ask for an apartment on a lower level if you are going in the summer as the air-conditioning isn’t great and these rooms are generally cooler.

You can also stay at one of the available lodging near the castle if you truly want to take it all in. I personally think the glamping option would be a blast.

See: The Warwick Castle is an excellent option for children. Plan on a minimum of 2 1/2 – 3 hours to visit the castle however there are plenty of other activities you can do if you want to make a day out of it. The Castle offers birds of prey shows, a dungeon show, and much more. Plus it has a lovely park behind the castle for a picnic if the weather is nice. If you book your tickets in advance online, you can save 30% which is huge as the castle tour is not cheap.

Learn: To learn more about the castle and view all the different attractions, visit www.warwick-castle.com

England Family Travel TRAVEL

Highlights of Our Three-Week Family Trip to Europe

I will never forget the one-page article I read decades ago in Newsweek by a prominent female journalist about the importance of transgenerational travel and how it changed her life. I was in my late 20s at the time, living and working in Chicago and had just returned from skiing in the French Alps with my parents. I was soon to be married and start a family of my own yet I could not let go of the love and joy I felt traveling with my parents as an adult. The article talked about how the writer had traveled the world with her mother well into her mother’s 80s and how that time together journeying around the world were some of their most sacred, special times ever together as mother and child. It struck a chord with my soul for I too had always traveled with my parents and they were the ones who introduced me to travel at a young age and gave me my wanderlust soul.

Decades and trips later, I have continued to travel with my parents to such far-reaching places as the Himalayas of Nepal, the Andes of South America, the perched villages of Provence and the European cities of Prague, Paris and London adding my sister into the mix. These times together have been some of the most sacred memories of my life and without question our shared love of travel meant that at some point we would have to introduce our own children to exploring the world.

The idea of a transgenerational trip to Europe launched a few years back when my mom, sister and I did a trip to London, Paris and the south of France. We knew that we wanted to do a girl’s trip once again with my mom yet include our daughters. We just needed to wait until they reached the age where they could handle all the walking and traveling. With my daughter Sophia at the age of 11 and my niece Hanna turning 13, this summer was the prefect time to do a three-generational trip to Europe and it was planned.

As the time for our departure approached, there was a last minute change of plans. My husband had planned on flying over to Europe with our son Max to meet up with us at the end of the girl’s trip yet he injured his back and couldn’t go. Since the trip was already planned and mostly paid for, we changed plans and had my father fly over to Europe with Max and take my husband’s place. We would be doing another transgenerational trip, this time with my dad, my son and daughter, throughout Germany and Austria. Despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t go on the trip, there was a silver lining. My dad was able to come and get to spend 13 days with his grandkids exploring the Austrian Alps.

All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip with lots of silly travel mishaps, magnificent moments and fun stories along the way. It will take me quite some time to put the entire journey into words but I’m excited to start sharing our trip with this first post on some of the main highlights. I hope you enjoy!

Our route: First a flight from Minneapolis to JFK then London. Four days in London with a day trip to Warwick. Next the Eurostar to Lille, the TGV to Paris and then a flight to Munich where we met my dad and Max and picked up our car. The rest a driving tour through Germany and Austria.

Austria England Europe Family Travel France TRAVEL
Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

Adventure Awaits: Europe Bound!

Today, as I set off on a three week transatlantic, transgenerational adventure I reflect on what adventure means to me and think about this post I wrote for LifeStraw’s “Adventure Awaits” campaign. Reaching this point has been bittersweet with many mishaps and silver linings along the way. It will take another full blog post to discuss all that has gone on over the past few months. That said, I am thrilled to be bringing 11-year-old Sophia on her first trip to Europe along with my mom, sister and 13-year-old niece. We will be starting in London, taking the chunnel to Lille and then a train to Paris, where it all began for me. I went to Paris when I was 13 and decided on the spot that I would learn French and live in Paris someday which I did seven years later. That fateful trip changed my life and began a lifelong love of travel and exploring.

My husband was supposed to join me and Sophia with our 13-year-old son Max in Munich after my family left. However a turn of events which has left him at home with back pain for the past month means my 75-year-old dad will be taking his place. My dad will fly to Germany with Max, pick me and Sophia up at the airport where we will continue our journey through Germany and the mountains of Austria for the next ten days.

I cannot express the gratitude that my kids will be able to spend this special time with their grandparents. I am certain it will be an unforgettable trip which I deeply hope changes their lives and makes them fall in love with seeing the world as much as me. In the meantime, I will leave you with this post and all will be quiet on the blog for the next month. I look forward to taking lots of pictures and will have many stories to tell upon my return. Bon Voyage!

 

What Adventure Means to Me

To me, adventure means freedom. Freedom to dive in and to completely let go, living in the moment and forgetting my to do list. Freedom to feel alive, like my true self, and like I’m ten again. Adventure feeds my soul with curiosity, passion and unleashes a zest for life that makes my heart sing. For me, adventure means everything and is my world.

There is no better place I can embrace adventure than the outdoors and exploring the world. Being immersed in nature or traveling to new places brings adventure to life. Whether it is hiking in the Himalayas, learning to surf in Nicaragua, walking with the Maasai in Tanzania or simply exploring my own backyard in Minnesota, adventure awaits and can always be found.

Last February, I had the honor of traveling to Kenya with LifeStraw to join the Follow the Liters campaign to reach the one-millionth child to receive safe drinking water. LifeStraw began the Follow the Liters program four years ago in Western Kenya after realizing they could be a catalyst for positive change throughout the region. Children were getting sick and missing many days of school due to waterborne diseases and illness caused by drinking unsafe water. Some were even dying. The need was immense, and LifeStraw had the answer.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

I heard about LifeStraw’s Follow the Liters campaign through social media and discovered that they were running a contest to pick three adventurous storytellers to join the trip to Western Kenya to help document the campaign. I put together a video of my work, crossed my fingers I’d be selected and was thrilled to win a spot on their upcoming trip. I had never been to Kenya before and could hardly wait for the adventure to begin.

I left for Kenya on a Thursday afternoon feeling the normal pre-trip jitters of an exceptionally long 24 hours of travel ahead. I had a packet of detailed information about the program and the campaign but that was all I honestly knew. I was traveling alone and would meet up with ten of the 130 members of the international LifeStraw team in Amsterdam to continue our journey. I was taking a big step into the unknown, having no idea of what lay ahead for the next seven days. Thankfully I had done a lot of these kinds of trips before. In my view, the further I go out of my comfort zone, the more alive and adventurous I feel. These kinds of experiences are always the ones in which I learn and grow the most. These are the adventures that I live for.

We landed in Nairobi to a sea of darkness and sparkling lights. It was already ten o’clock in the evening and we would spend the night at a hotel before continuing our journey to Western Kenya in the morning. Despite the jet lag and pure excitement, I was so exhausted from all the flying that I slept peacefully. The next morning, we boarded a domestic flight to Kisumu, and then continued by car for another hour and a half to reach our base in Kakamega. If reaching Kakamega was an adventure, getting out in the field and visiting the schools would be even more exciting. Some of us would travel hours on bumpy gravel roads each day while others traveled by small boat to reach the most remote schools in the area. A few people on our international team had never left their home country let alone go to Africa. Most of us had no idea what we had in store for the next week.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were welcomed with song and dance by the local Kenya staff, all wearing their blue LifeStraw t-shirts. I would soon discover that song and dance is an essential part of Kenyan life as we would be singing and dancing all week long with the school children. We spent the next two days training and getting to know our amazing international teams.

The highlight of the weekend was the group hike to the Kakamega Rainforest on Sunday. After we completed a long day of technical training, we loaded up into a long caravan of cars and headed to the outskirts of town where we did a forty-minute steep hike up to the top of Kakamega Hill. The views on top were absolutely stunning as all you could see where the lush, green tops of the trees. Somewhere out there in the sea of green lived the children of the schools we would be visiting over the next week.

Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

Monday was the first day of the campaign and I was up at the crack of dawn hardly able to contain my excitement and anticipation for the week ahead. Although the sky was still an inky black, the world outside my window was alive with noise and commotion as drivers rolled into the parking lot thumping African rap music and fellow LifeStraw staff talked robustly as we all began to start our day. The smell of breakfast being served two floors below crept through the cracks of my door. Despite the early morning hour and my fatigue, the exhilaration of the adventure ahead filled my veins with a rush of adrenaline. I could hardly wait. Little did I know what a massive operation this would be and how incredibly inspired I’d feel by my time in Kenya. By the end of the week, we reached our goal and it was a monumental feeling to know that now 1,015,652 kids at 1,621 schools now have safe water.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Demonstrating washing hands with safe water

When my flight took off over the African savannah I reflected on the miraculous realization that a week can truly change your life. I took a leap of faith when I boarded the first flight to Africa only seven day prior, feeling uncertain of the adventure and my own personal journey that loomed ahead. Yet I realized that it is only through taking chances that we will grow and thrive as a human being. The beauty of adventure is it can always be found for those who seek it, trust it and are willing to take the leap.

Africa TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Ian Plant Photography

Ian Plant’s Magical World of Photography and Finding the Extreme

Your job as a photographer is to show the world what you see” said Ian Plant during a recent day-long photography seminar I was lucky enough to attend in Minnesota. Ian Plant is world renown for his incredible landscape, wildlife and street photography that often delves on the edge of the extreme perspective. Ian uses a unique combination of light, composition, mood and the magic of the moment to captivate his audience and tell us a story. Whether it be the gorillas in Rwanda, the polar bears in the Arctic, the Maasai in Africa or the sea caves off the shore of Lake Superior, Ian’s incredible artistic gift for photography will never disappoint and keep his audience longing for more.

I left Ian’s seminar feeling so inspired by his incredible ability to show the beauty of the world through his lens that I knew I had to do an interview and share his sensational work with my own audience on my blog. Welcome to the magical world of Ian Plant and his jaw-dropping photography. Once you see his work, you won’t be able to let it go.

Ian Plant Photography

Los Cuernos sunrise. Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia,Chile. Photo Credit: Ian Plant

Tell me a little about your background. Where are you originally from? What did you study in school and where? When did you learn photography?

I’m originally from upstate New York. After college, I went to law school and then practiced antitrust law for eight years with a large firm in Washington, D.C. After my first year in law school, I worked for a law firm in New York City, and it was then when I bought my first camera. I was instantly hooked on photography, and soon I realized I had made a huge, $100,000 mistake on my legal education!

Why did you decide to leave your job as a lawyer and pursue photography?

After eight years of practice, I had finally paid of my school debt, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I quit. That was thirteen years ago. I’ve been a full-time professional photographer since then, and I’ve never looked back.

Ian Plant Photography

Aurora borealis. Lónsfjördur, Iceland. Photo credit: Ian Plant

CULTURE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Backpacking with a Purpose with Operation Groundswell

For the past two years, I’ve been a proud member of Impact Travel Alliance, a global community of change makers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good. Through this amazing network of sustainable travel organizations, writers and travel enthusiasts around the globe, I’ve learned a lot about how we can use travel to make the world a better place.

For the next several months, I am working on putting together a searchable database of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations on the planet. While I’m researching these different organizations, I will be sharing guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by fellow Impact Travel Alliance Media Network member Marissa Sutera (creator of Little Things Travel Blog) who introduces us to Operation Groundswell a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world through travel and backpacking with a purpose.

Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell Ecuador trip

Backpacking with a Purpose

When seeking out more purposeful work to do while traveling, it can be challenging to dig deep enough to find the best route to take and the organizations that are truly carrying out positive work. In this interview you’ll hear from Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director at Operation Groundswell, who will be sharing her insight into what questions to ask when volunteering abroad, where to begin, and how to know what sort of impact you will make.

Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that facilitates experiential education programs on a host of social justice issues around the world. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability. Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. Their programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region they go to. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.

Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.

Operation Groundswell

Meeting with our partners at De La Gente, a coffee cooperative in San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala

How can someone seeking a volunteer program abroad determine if they will actually be making a difference?

First and foremost, whatever volunteer project you work on abroad should be done in partnership with the local community. If you want to make even the slightest difference, be sure to find an organization that puts the needs of the local community first. Contributing to a project that your host community actually wants and needs is the first step towards responsible international volunteering.

But it’s also important to set realistic expectations of what exactly “making a difference” means. For many people, this requires a bit of a rethink. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many volunteers going abroad expect to “save Africa”, or Asia, or Latin America. And that’s just not the reality.

The majority of volunteer programs are often short-term projects that range from one week to a few months. So when you’re seeking a volunteer program abroad, consider the time you’ll be spending abroad and align that with your expectations. Because real talk – if you’re only going to be spending one or two-weeks in any given country or community, you may not actually make that much of a difference.

You’ll accomplish some things, of course: you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of development and what it takes to actually achieve social change, you’ll make a strong connection with a handful of people who you will hopefully stay in touch with, and you’ll contribute in some small way to a project.

But honestly, you’ll likely leave with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. This is a process.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks or months. Often, the work that you do when you return home, as a result of what you learned abroad, will be where you make the most difference.”

Just remember to have humility when taking part in work like this!

Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Study Abroad Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL TRAVEL RESOURCES Volunteering Abroad

Where it is Best and Worst in the World to be a Child

Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organization for children, has released the second annual End of Childhood Index in honor of International Children’s Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness on children’s rights and wellbeing around the world. Save the Children’s annual End of Childhood Index ranks 175 countries based on eight childhood “ender” events that jeopardize children’s chance of a happy, healthy and safe childhood. While the report shows that the majority of countries have made progress for children since last year (95 out of 175 countries), conditions in about 40 countries appear significantly worse and are not improving fast enough.

No country is on track to meet the 2030 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for children.  Over 1 billion children around the world live in countries plagued by poverty and it is not just a developing world problem. In the 2018 report, the United States didn’t rank in the top 10 or top 25. Instead, the U.S. shockingly ranked 36th place smack between Belarus and Russia. The growing urban and rural child poverty rate within the United States continues to widen.  The results of the report may surprise you.

This year’s report has two components: “The Many Faces of Exclusion” and “Growing Up in Rural America”, a new U.S. complement that offers first-of-its kind analysis of rural child poverty rates across America as well as state by state ranking of where childhood is most and least threatened. In advance of the report’s release, I listened in on a telebriefing by Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children to get some of the key highlights of the report and a call to action by governments around the world.

Here are some of the key findings worldwide and in America.

Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Food Security Global Health Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Humanitarian Poverty SOCIAL GOOD Women and Girls
Ignite

Meet Ignite: Journeys that Connect, Inspire and Transform

Over the past decade I have been fortunate to have been able to travel the world and also do good along the way. For me, it all began during that fateful trip to Nepal in 2010. I had gone on four different volunteer trips before Nepal but for some reason this trip truly changed my life and made me realize that even I can make a difference and impact in people’s lives. After returning from the trip, I engaged my children in helping me raise $4,000 to open up a reading center in rural Nepal through the non-profit organization  Read Global. I realized that little things can make a big difference and have a ripple effect within a community. I was hooked. And, I’ve realized that I am not the only one.

There is a growing market for impact-based travel as more people like myself want to travel and do good. However, finding those opportunities can be a bit daunting especially ensuring that “the doing good” is truly doing more good than damage.  For instance, there has been a call by many international children’s welfare organizations to put an end to orphanage volunteering as it can have a negative impact on vulnerable children. In the past, I have volunteered with children in developing countries and wasn’t fully aware of some of the potential consequences and ethical complications until I became more involved in social justice work.

Over the next several months, I am working on putting together a list of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations around the globe. While I’m researching these different organizations, I am rounding up guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by the team at Ignite, an organization whose mission is to provide experiences that benefit humanity and the planet.

Ignite Journeys

Hiking in Nicaragua. Photo credit: Ignite

Ignite: Journeys that Connect, Inspire and Transform

There is a growing demand among travelers to engage in travel for good. More than $2 billion is spent annually on impact-focused travel and year-over-year demand continues to increase, as people look for something more than a stay at an all-inclusive resort. They want to travel responsibly and support sustainable development around the world.

Ignite is energized by this growing demand to pursue purpose, social responsibility and global citizenship. Fundamentally, Ignite is a people development company. We help people become the best versions of themselves through purposeful journeys that combine cultural immersion and adventure. We provide these journeys for individual travelers and we also work with companies who offer our journeys as a way to recognize and develop their employees.

Study Abroad TRAVEL TRAVEL RESOURCES Volunteering Abroad
Street Art Minneapolis

My Epic Guide to Exploring Street Art in South Minneapolis

Despite living in Minneapolis for decades, I’m embarrassed to admit that I know little about my own city outside of my home and life in Southwest Minneapolis. Blame it on years of raising a family or perhaps just my own tendency to stay where things are familiar and comfortable. But I found it ironic that as a world traveler and explorer at heart, I know little the dynamic culture and art in my very own backyard. Just last November, I spent three full days in Valparaiso, Chile exploring its vibrant street art scene. So why not do the same justice in my own home town?

Minneapolis is a huge, diverse city with many different neighborhoods and cultures. Although highly Scandinavian in heritage (there are too many “sons’ to name – Anderson, Johnson, Olson, etc), today Minnesota can boast being home to over 400,000 immigrants from around the world. In fact, per the City of Minneapolis’ most recent census the ten largest groups of foreign-born residents in Minnesota are (in descending order): Mexico, India, Laos, Somalia, Vietnam, China, Thailand (including Hmong), Ethiopia, Korea, and Canada. Believe it or not, Minneapolis has the largest Somali population outside of Somalia.

Given such a cultural melting pot, it is no wonder that Minneapolis has some of the richest street art and murals in the upper Midwest. During a recent self-made tour of South and Southwest Minneapolis, I discovered hundreds of colorful, impressive street art painted across the walls, buildings and garages of the city. I was so incredibly inspired and awe-struck by the incredible art I saw that a newfound love and devotion to my city began.

I have ignored you for too long, Minneapolis. It is now time that I start to share with the world your beauty, richness and culture. Better yet, I too will learn along the way.

The idea for this series on street art began when I decided to look out the car window and notice what I saw. I began to see that there was street art in many unexpected places and there was a lot of it. I did some research on the internet and found that there are not many up to date posts or articles about Minneapolis’ vibrant street art scene. I jotted down a few addresses that I found from the City of Minneapolis’ interactive street art guide (The Public “ Art Map”) but found that a lot of the art had changed.

So I decided to make my own street art guide, neighborhood by neighborhood, starting with what I know best: South and Southwest Minneapolis. Over time, I hope to hit North, Northeast and other parts of the city to complete the guide and even go across the river to neighboring St. Paul to see what kind of street art is over there. In this one sweep, I found over 80 murals so I had to cut it down to my personal favorites. Please feel free to add any locations of your favorites in the comments. I also had a hard time tracking down the artists of each work. Perhaps that will be a project for the next post.

Without further ado, here is my Epic Guide to exploring street art in South Minneapolis. Enjoy

Street Art Guide Part 1

Starting point:  Lyndale and 38th Street

Mode of transportation: Drive, bike or walk. The complete route covers over 4 miles on mostly urban streets so driving is easiest. However if you do chose to bike (Minneapolis is a very bike-friendly city) be aware that these are very busy streets without dedicated bike lanes. If you want to bike along biker-friendly streets running parallel check out this site for a safer, more pleasant route. If you drive, street parking is very easy and I simply pulled over at each work of art. Finally, Minneapolis is a great walking city and I always love to explore a place on foot. Just don’t do it in the dead of winter! You’ll be very cold!

To complete this portion below, the total distance is: Around 2.5 miles

Time to drive: approximately 10 minutes without stops.

Time to bike: approximately 12 minutes without stops.

Time to walk: approximately 45 minutes depending on speed.

Starting at Lyndale Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare that cuts through the city, head north towards uptown.

CULTURE Minnesota United States

The Five Best Family Hikes Along Minnesota’s North Shore

With the arrival of spring in Minnesota, there is no better time than now to start planning your next visit to the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior.  Less than four hours away from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, lay hundreds of opportunities to explore pure and relatively untouched nature. Extending for 150 miles along the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada, the North Shore is a place of unspoiled beauty and pristine nature. Home to a multitude of scenic waterfalls, rivers, state parks and the 310-mile long Superior Hiking Trail, it is a hikers paradise and offers a treasure trove of opportunities to explore wild, relatively untouched nature.

The North Shore has been a special place all my life. Every fall since I was a baby, my parents would pack up our old station wagon and do the drive north to spend a weekend enjoying the splendid fall colors and hiking the wonderful trails. This tradition started before I could walk and ended when I left for college at the age of 18. Fast forward several years, the North Shore has once again become a place I visit often with my own family and our family hikes have continued.

For the past four years, we have been visiting with my children and have discovered the very best hikes that the entire family will enjoy.   This list of my top five favorites is a great start to creating family memories of your own. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

 

Map of North Shore

Photo credit: NorthShoreVisitor.com.  

 

1. Gooseberry Falls

Description: Gooseberry Falls is a beautiful hike along the Gooseberry River which affords stunning views of waterfalls and lovely forest. There is a nice easy hike along the falls for all abilities and more moderate hiking if you prefer to go further. It can be slippery when wet.

Location: 12 miles northeast of Two Harbors along highway 61

Length of Hike: About five miles roundtrip (however entire park has around 18 miles of trails if you want to go further).

Highlights: The best part of this hike is exploring the cascading waterfalls and stopping to enjoy the fascinating roots of the tree trunks and forest flowers along the trail. It is a nice place to also bring along a picnic.

Tip: The trail alongside Gooseberry Falls is relatively easy and somewhat kid-friendly given the steps (but remember no guard rails or safety fences!). If you want to really explore this fabulous park, there are footpaths for miles on end on the other side following the river upstream.

Adventure Travel Minnesota North America TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States

How FLYTE is Empowering Students to Study Abroad

Traveling and studying abroad has the ability to change and transform a person’s life and create more cross-cultural understanding. In today’s world, it is critical that we understand other cultures, and there is no better time to experience the transformative power of travel than when you are young and impressionable. Unfortunately, travel is expensive and usually only available to those who have the money to pay for it. This results in an entire segment of the world’s population who are denied the transformative experiences of seeing and exploring new places, and is especially true when it comes to teens and young adults. Organizations like FLYTE are trying to change the game and empower more youth to see the world.

Founded in 2015 by the New York Times Bestselling travel author, Matthew Kepnes of the website Nomadic Matt, FLYTE is a nonprofit organization that empowers students living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences.

I was able to speak with FLYTE to learn more about how they are empowering youth to take FLYTE and experience the world. Here is what Matt has to say.

FLYTE Ecuador

Students participating in one of Flyte’s programs in Ecuador

Why More Students Should Tale FLYTE and Travel Abroad

By Matt Kepnes (Founder of FLYTE) and Carmela Resuma (Executive Director, FLYTE)

As travel enthusiasts, we all understand the power of travel. It’s one of the most impactful educational tools that changes perspectives. It breaks down borders, fosters empathy, and makes us realize how connected we all are.

As a former high school history teacher, I know the value of an education. I understand that I am privileged enough to be able to travel the world and do what I want because of getting a good education. Not everyone gets that chance. Let’s face it: Not everyone is able to travel. Whether it’s money, family obligations, or circumstance, travel is out of reach for a large percentage of the world’s population. Most people never even leave their own state let alone the country (only 35% of Americans have a passport!).

This is especially true for students in underserved communities – from inner city Chicago to the middle-of-nowhere Idaho. These students – in communities and from families with limited resources – don’t get a chance to expand their worldview, meet people from other cultures, and bring what they learn in the classroom to life!

That is why in 2015, I created FLYTE. While many wealthy school districts send students on overseas educational trips, schools and teachers in underserved areas have little or no opportunity to offer their students these experiences. Their schools and communities lack the resources to make such a trip happen. I wanted to create an organization which was open to everyone around the country. I wanted an organization that helped people in forgotten parts of the United States because everyone deserves a chance to see and learn about the world!

At FLYTE, we empower youth living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. We provide teachers and students with the planning and funding they need to take what they learn in the classroom and put it to use in the real world!

CULTURE Study Abroad TRAVEL RESOURCES

Gifts for Good Tackles the Corporate Gifting Industry to Give Back

Today, U.S. corporations spend over $60 billion every year on corporate gifts but donate less than a third of that to charitable causes. For Jerry Eisenberg and Laura Hertz, this offered an amazing opportunity to tap into this market with the launch of their unique business, Gifts for Good. Gifts for Good curates premium corporate gifts that give back. Each product supports one of 40 non-profit and social enterprise partners tackling the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.

Since their launch last fall, Gifts for Good has generated impact in over 19 states and 65 countries around the globe supporting such causes as children in need, women at risk, environment, economic development, homelessness, health and wildlife conservation. Gifts for Good believes that if every corporation purchased gifts that gave back―without spending any more money―they could redirect billions of dollars every year a year to create sustainable change. I had the opportunity to chat with Gifts for Good’s Chief Impact Officer Jenise Sterverding to learn more about this exciting new organization. Here is what she had to say.

You have an interesting educational and business background mixing sociology, business, and philanthropy and went back to school in 2005 to receive a Masters in Public Management. Why did you want to combine all of these disciplines and what benefit has it been for your career?

It’s funny, I never really felt like I fit in when I graduated college because it seemed that if I cared about making the world better I had to go into non-profit and if I wanted to go the business route, it was mostly about creating high profits for the business owner.  At the time there was nothing in-between and not a lot of people using business for good. 

As someone whose personality is more of a hybrid, when I looked at roles in non-profit, they were mostly about running programs and doing service delivery and that didn’t feel like the right fit.  I started my career in small businesses, but was not fulfilled because the sole focus was on profit.  After about 5 years, I quit and moved to San Francisco and ended up going to work in higher education at Stanford University School of Medicine.  Again, after a few years, I was frustrated by the bureaucracy of higher education as I have an entrepreneurial mind.  I decided to go back to school but didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one field.  At the time, in the United States, my choices were a Master’s in Business Administration, Master’s in Nonprofit Management, or a Master’s in Public Administration. Each one of those felt too specific for me.  I did some research and found SDA Bocconi University in Milan, Italy that had a Master’s in Public Management which was combining business, government, and nonprofit.  So I quit my job and moved again, this time out of the country. 

After you received your Master’s degree, you worked for a non-profit organization called Giving Children Hope and then at TOMS in the giving department. Tell me a little bit about your role and what you learned. How has that experience helped you in your job today?

I first went to work for a non-profit called Giving Children Hope, a faith-based non-profit organization that works to alleviate poverty, both domestically and internationally, through disaster relief, health and community development, vocational training and advocacy. Shortly after being deployed to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, I was put in touch with TOMS’ newly hired Director of Giving.  I had been watching TOMS grow and was interested in their model but I wasn’t certain they were really interested in making an impact.  At first I declined talking to them, but later changed my mind.  What I discovered is that TOMS wasn’t a marketing ploy but was truly working to drive impact.  Additionally, my background in gifts-in-kind from Giving Children Hope uniquely positioned me to help them grow since that was such a specific niche; I had been moving product around the world for 4 years into impoverished communities.  By the Spring of 2010 I jumped in as the second hire in the new Giving department.

Like any fast-growing company, you learn a lot.  I was hired to manage the relationships between TOMS and it’s non-profit Giving Partners, but we were growing so quickly that I could not do it alone.  By the end of the year I had hired someone in Ethiopia (where TOMS was doing quite a bit of work), inherited a team member in Argentina, and hired two direct reports in the office.  Within 6 months I had a few more direct reports in HQ.  I remained solely focused on building and scaling shoe-giving as the Director was building out new programs like TOMS sight-giving. 

On the shoe-giving side, we had numerous challenges we had to decide how to handle: at what point would we put a cap on giving in any particular country; how did we ensure kids weren’t being given shoes by more than one organization; how did we ensure we weren’t hurting local economies; how did we know what sizes to send since we were doing custom orders; could we give additional funds to cover the expenses of shoe-distribution; and so many more lessons and challenges.  It was like getting a second MBA only you weren’t reading a case study and when you are living it out, emotions and people are involved.

Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD