LifeStraw Follow the Liters

The Hidden Cost of Consumer Consumption and Water Scarcity

Did you know that avocados have an estimated water footprint of almost 2,000 litres per kilogram. In Chile’s arid Petorca region, every cultivated hectare of avocados requires 100,000 litres a day of irrigation. Villagers nearby now depend on trucked-in water supplies, after underground aquifers and rivers dried up. That is the reality of the hidden cost of consumer consumption and water scarcity. 

Today, March 22 is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention to the importance and need of safe water around the world. Water is life and access to safe water is a basic human right. However, 2.1 billion people around the world live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education and livelihoods. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that it was added by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes measures to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution.

Unfortunately we are falling well short of achieving this goal and billions of people are still living without safe water in their homes, schools, workplaces and businesses making it difficult to survive and to thrive. The impact of water poverty hits even harder on marginalized groups such as women, children, refugees and other disadvantaged people who have an even harder time getting access to safe water spending hours a day making a long, treacherous journey to remote water sources.

In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and write about safe water and have witnessed firsthand the impact of bringing safe water to communities during a trip to Western Kenya last year with LifeStraw.  I have also been fortunate to have seen the work of WaterAid -the world’s leading nonprofit providing safe water and sanitation around the world – on the ground in both India and Ethiopia. The more I’ve seen, the more passionate I’ve become about spreading awareness about water poverty and injustice and what we can personally do to make a difference.

In honor of World Water Day, WaterAid has published a new report, Beneath the Surface, that uncovers why and how water poverty exists and identifies the massive amounts of water used in daily products, such as coffee, wheat, rice, cotton and more. The results of the reports are surprising and a bit scary. However, the upside is that the report suggests what we as consumers can do about it and how we can personally make a difference.

LifeStraw

Carrying a 20 L Jerrycan of water on your head isn’t easy but these Kenyan women do it several times a day.

Here are some of the key findings in the report:

Lack of Access:

Whether you have access to water for drinking, cooking, washing and other daily needs greatly depends on where you live in the world. Even some places that you would think would have enough water simply don’t and the list of water scarce countries may surprise you. For example, 130 million people in the United States live part of the year without enough water which is the same figure as in Bangladesh.

One in nine people do not have access to clean water close to home, and just under two-thirds of the world’s population – 4 billion – live in areas of physical water scarcity, where for at least part of the year demand exceeds supply.

Women and children gather water from the water source in Nacoto village, Mossuril District, Nampula Province, Mozambique – October 2017. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

What Countries are under the greatest risk?

Countries with large populations living with water scarcity include India, Bangladesh, China, USA, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico. In India, about 1 billion people live with water scarcity during at least one part of the year and surprisingly about 130 million people in the US do as well. However, the US has one of the largest water “footprints” in the world consuming approximately 7,800 litres per person per day! A water footprint is the amount of water needed to create a product from start to finish. For example, to make a cup of coffee it does not just take the water to brew it, it includes the water used to irrigate the crops and process the beans making the water footprint of your daily cup of coffee about seven 20-litre jerrycans full.

Why Does Water Scarcity Exist?

First of all, water scarcity exists based on physical scarcity. About 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia and the Middle East, yet that area only receives slightly more than a third of the world’s water from rain or melting snow. Simply stated, some of these countries have a huge population with very little water. Second of all, water scarcity is also due to social-economic scarcity making it unavailable due to lack of investment in safe water and political will. Many poor countries use up a great deal of their own water to make the goods that wealthy countries want to buy. While this does create economic growth and opportunity for the exporters, they often deplete their own water without having enough water for their own people. This water that is used to produce goods, clothing, and food is called “Virtual water” and inadvertently acts to further exasperate water poverty and scarcity. It is estimated that 22% of the world’s water is used towards producing products for export.

Did you know that a lunchtime hamburger of about 110 grams might not appear to contain much water, but, on average, it took 1,700 litres of water, or 85 jerrycans, to get it to your plate.

Helene Jemussene (R) carries her baby Agostinho, aged 3, on her back as she gathers water from the river near M’Mele Village, Cuamba District, Niassa Province, Mozambique – May 2017. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Why are we not making much progress in achieving water for all?

Per the report: “Globally, we now use six times as much water as we did 100 years ago – and that figure is growing by 1% every year. Population growth and changes in diet are expected to increase the water demands of agriculture by around 60% by 2025.” Combine this with climate change and competing demands from industry and agriculture, the threat of having enough water for basic human consumption and needs is even more daunting.

What Can We Do?

Governments, businesses, retailers, investors and consumers all play an important role in ensuring we have water for all. While governments around the world need to prioritize water security by ensuring proper legislation and regulations, businesses and industries also must commit to water sustainability roadmaps and guidelines. We as consumers can use our purchasing power to make a difference by minimizing our own use of virtual water by such simple things as not wasting so much food, being mindful of what we purchase, consume and eat, and by simply consuming less.

Eevelyne collecting dirty water from a hole dug in the sand, in a partially dried riverbed located next to her family compound. This was what she used to do when there was no safe water point in her district, in the village of Sablogo, in the Commune of Lalgaye, province of Koulpelogo, Region of Centre-East, Burkina Faso, January 2018. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

All of the information used in this post are used with permission from WaterAid’s Beneath the Surface report. 

Want to Learn more?

Download and read WaterAid’s report: Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019. It is fascinating and a quick read.

Here are some more facts about water from the UN Water Day:

  • 2.1 billion people live without safe water at home.
  • One in four primary schools have no drinking water service, with pupils using unprotected sources or going thirsty.
  • More than 700 children under five years of age die every day from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.
  • Globally, 80% of the people who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources live in rural areas.
  • Women and girls are responsible for water collection in eight out of ten households with water off-premises.

About WaterAid:
WaterAid
 is the world’s largest international nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to helping the world’s poorest people transform their lives through access to safe water, toilets and hygiene education. WaterAid works closely together with local governments, community-based organizations and individuals in 26 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific region to employ affordable and locally appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene solutions. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 21 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 18 million people with toilets and sanitation. www.wateraid.org

Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD Water and Sanitation
Mkura Maasi Training Camp Tanzania

How We As Consumers Can “Buy The Change You Want To See”

In 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Mosbacher Morris, Founder and CEO of TO THE MARKET at a social good conference. TO THE MARKET is an amazing, creative social enterprise that showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods “to the market,” the organization takes an active role in equipping the survivors they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.

I have featured TO THE MARKET’s products on my “Gifts that Give Back” page on my blog and have stayed in touch with Jane over the years to see what new initiatives they are working on. I was thrilled to read and review Jane’s recently released book, “Buy The Change You Want To See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place“. Together with writer Wendy Paris, the new book discusses how every day people (both businesses and consumers) can use their purchasing power for good and make a difference in the world. Obviously this book is a huge hit with me given my love of gifts that give back and make a social impact with the power of your own wallet. In reading the book, I learned a lot that I didn’t know especially about the coffee and chocolate industries and the power of the ethical supply chain to create a better world for people, the planet and businesses.

Throughout the book there is insight into how Jane created TO THE MARKET as well as great tips on what is behind coffee certification labels, a list of coffee and chocolate terminology,  ideas on recycled sustainable products, tips on how to check if clothing is made ethically, and best of all a list of small upcoming chocolate makers producing excellent chocolate and doing good. “Buy The Change you Want To See” offers a wealth of information and tools for those who want to join the bandwagon of being a socially conscious consumer. It is a book worthy of keeping in your bookshelf as a reference on how you can use your personal buying power for good.

Without giving away the incredible content in the book, I opted to do an interview with Jane to discuss in further depth how we as consumers can buy the change we want to see. Here is what she has to say.

TO THE MARKET

Jane in Northern Kenya (photo credit Neil Ruskin for TO THE MARKET)

Gifts that Give Back Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD

Gifts that Give Back: Beautiful Products that Help Fight Human Trafficking

The month of January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Per Polaris, a global leader in the fight to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking is “the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into providing commercial sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world”.

As non-profit organizations, governments and business around the world work to spread awareness and fight this hidden epidemic, we as consumers can use our purchasing power to make a difference and change lives. Per Jane Mosbacher Morris (Founder and CEO of To the Market, a social enterprise that connects business and consumers to ethically made products around the world), the retail market is a massive force in the U.S. economy – a $2.6 trillion industry – meaning retail purchases can be powerful tools for social change. Consumers now have the power to make a huge difference on such social issues as fighting poverty, climate change, human trafficking, and sending girls around the world to school. This was the inspiration behind Jane founding To The Market: To economically empower vulnerable communities around the world by hiring them to make the kinds of products people buy every day, harnessing the purchasing power of people and businesses to address social issues. (1)

In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness month, I have compiled a list of my favorite for-profit and non-profit companies working hard to fight human trafficking. A purchase from any of these organizations goes to help victims of human trafficking to not only find an escape but find a future.

To The Market

TO THE MARKET | Survivor-made Goods (TTM) combines the powers of commerce and storytelling to empower the world’s most courageous survivor populations, in the belief that resilience is more powerful than suffering. TTM showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods “to the market,” we take an active role in equipping the survivor’s they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face. www.tothemarket.com

Purpose Jewelry

Purpose is the brand under International Sanctuary, which is a nonprofit whose mission is to empower people escaping trafficking to embrace their true identity and worth. Purpose Jewelry provides freedom from slavery for young women around the world. Each piece of jewelry is beautifully crafted by young women rescued from human trafficking and by purchasing with Purpose, you are providing freedom, dignity and hope for these amazing artisans.

To raise awareness and combat human trafficking, Purpose Jewelry is offering two limited-edition Human Trafficking Awareness Month bracelets. 100% of the proceeds go to support survivors their artisans at International Sanctuary.

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

How HANDS in Nepal is Working to Provide Education and Hope in the Most Remote Villages of the Himalayas

In 2010, I went on a life-changing trip to Nepal with my father to hike the Annapurna trek in the Himalayas. Despite having traveled quite a bit, there was something truly magical and mind-blowing about Nepal. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. The chaotic mix of utter poverty and lack of infrastructure juxtaposed against the beauty of the Himalayas, the people and the culture truly touched my soul.

As we trekked through one beautiful remote village after another, I began to wonder how could it be that in this tiny, mountainous country where over 80% of its people live in remote villages like the ones we’d seen, that many people have little or no access to education. I learned that only half of Nepalese women over age 15 know how to read and write and many people are barely making ends meet to survive.

I’d always taken education for granted and it stunned me to realize that so many people in Nepal and around the world didn’t even have the choice to go to school. I also took safe drinking water, proper sanitation, electricity, health care, a warm stable home and access to medical care and employment for granted as well. I had been living in a bubble, and from that point on was determined to change my life and figure out a way to give back, and thankfully I did.

As a stay-at-home mother of two young children, my trip to Nepal reawakened a strong desire to become a writer and do good. I returned home and immediately started my travel and social good blog, Thirdeyemom, and also began building my work as a humanitarian by raising money and telling the stories of the progress being made by amazing non-profit and social good enterprises around the world.

As we were leaving Nepal, Rajan Simkahada, the owner of Earthbound Expeditions, our trekking company, gave me his card and mentioned some of the social work he was involved with in Nepal.  On the back of the card was HANDS in Nepal, a small grassroots, non-profit organization based in California working to bring education to women and children in remote, rural areas of the Himalayas.  As soon as I got home, I contacted them. I worked with the founder Danny’s mother, Jan Sprague, for almost a year helping raise money for HANDS in Nepal by selling beautiful, homemade Nepali goods that Jan purchased in Nepal and sent to me. It was a wonderful way to give back and in the end I knew that every sale helped improve the lives of both the women who made the blankets and scarves and the villagers supported by HANDS in Nepal.

Over the following eight years, I kept the promise I made to myself and have continued writing and doing good, raising awareness of such issues as women and girls empowerment, global health, poverty and education. I’ve featured many different non-profit organizations and social enterprises on the blog however I had lost touch with Nepal. A few weeks ago, I serendipitously reconnected with Jan Sprague, now the Director of HANDS in Nepal and it felt like fate. HANDS in Nepal is still working hard to promote education and reduce poverty in the remote Himalayan villages and has began many new projects. Since Nepal will forever be within my heart, I wanted to do an update on the incredible work being done by HANDS in Nepal. I know Nepal is calling me to come back for a visit and I hope too soon.

Interview with Jan Sprague, Director of HANDS in Nepal

HANDS in Nepal

HANDS in Nepal Director Jan Sprague inspecting the building of Learning Center #2 in the Astam Village area of Nepal

How did Hands in Nepal get started?

At the age of 20, my son Danny went on his own to Kathmandu after reading about an orphanage called Buddhist Child Home that needed volunteers. He lived with the lady who ran the orphanage for the first month and then moved in with a Tibetan family to study Tibetan Buddhism. He walked to the orphanage each day from his Tibetan house. While working at the orphanage, he met Rajan Simkahada, and they became good friends. Rajan told Danny the “real” Nepal was up in the villages, and he would never see or learn about Nepal if he didn’t go up to the villages. So he went up to the village where Rajan grew up and was blown away by the poverty, the lack of roads, old, ruined school building, and the poor condition of homes. Rajan told Danny how kids up in villages have to walk great distances to attend a school and he asked Danny if he would build a school in his village, Dharka.

HANDS in Nepal

Danny Chaffin started HANDS in Nepal after volunteering at an orphanage called Buddhist Child Home in Kathmandu, Nepal.

HANDS in Nepal

Danny discovered many children in Nepal work on the streets or beg because of a lack of schools in the villages.

Most of Nepalese live in extremely remote, hard to reach areas.  Rajan’s village Dharka is located in the Ganesh Himalayas, an area like many that most people have never heard of. Dharka is reached by first taking a bus from Kathmandu to Dhading Besi, then a bush taxi to where the road ends, then you hike about 5-6 hours up a mountain to the village. This is common for many villages in Nepal which demonstrates the immense challenge in development areas such as education, water and sanitation, health and more. Danny was blown away by his experience in Nepal, and it forever changed the trajectory of his life.

After returning to the US to start college at Naropa University, a private Buddhist University in Boulder, Colorado, Danny did all he could to save up money and return to Nepal to help build the school. The two of us returned the following summer and began figuring out a plan for how we would build their first school in Rajan’s village, Dharka. It would have to be through the creation of a non-profit. We returned home to the US, filed papers for a 501(c)(3) for the start of a non-profit. Hands in Nepal was officially founded in 2007 and the school in Dharka was completed in 2008 and a second school called Shree Ganesh Primary School was opened in 2009.

 

HANDS in Nepal

Danny founded the first school in Dharka, Dhading Besi, in the Ganesh Himalayas, one of the more remote and poorest areas of Nepal.

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

Transformational Travel to Guatemala: An Exclusive Interview with Tricia Hall

Awhile back, I was walking around one of my favorite urban lakes in Minneapolis with a good friend and she told me about an amazing program in Guatemala being run by two local non-profits, the Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry and the Community Cloud Forest Conservation. Through a unique partnership, they have been offering transformative intergenerational travel trips to a remote part of Guatemala where families, couples and solo travelers alike can work side by side the local community and do good. The trip brings travelers to the highlands of Guatemala for an intercultural and educational opportunity to work with the Community Cloud Forest Conservation on projects in education and agroecology.

As a strong supporter of sustainable travel, I was instantly intrigued and had the chance to meet with both Tricia Hall of the Community Cloud Forest Conservation and Mary Peterson of the Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry to learn more about their work and the trips to Guatemala. Tricia, a family doctor, humanitarian and mother of three, has been leading the trips to Guatemala since 2013 and I asked her to share a bit more about her inspiring work.

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and what were your hobbies when you were a child?

I grew up in Minneapolis and have always loved the lakes and parks of this area.  We spent time in Minneapolis, but we also traveled to distant places.  My parents are both social workers and we grew up with a strong sense of social justice, both locally and abroad.  From an early age, I loved to travel and learn about new and different cultures.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan for undergrad and then to Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine for medical school.  I have always loved literature and so my undergraduate degree was in English, which I did alongside my pre-med science classes.  I enjoyed the variety and have never regretted having both of these areas of study.

Why did you decide to become a doctor and what is your area of expertise?

I started to think about medicine in my high school anatomy class when we dissected a cat and I found it so interesting, particularly all of the muscles. Concurrently, I was starting to do service trips with my church.  I knew that I wanted to work in some aspect of service and that muscles were cool, so there you have it!  I decided on the specialty of Family Medicine because I loved the interactions with the whole family at the various stages of life.

Tricia and her daughter in Guatemala. Photo credit: Tricia Hall

How did you first get involved with the Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC)?

We first visited Community Cloud Forest Conservation in 2013 when our daughter was just 18 months and our sons were 7 and 10.  I wanted to see what my cousin Tara (CCFC co-director with Rob Cahill) and her family had been doing in Guatemala and I was immediately hooked on the beautiful area, but more importantly I was compelled by the beautiful people and the mission of CCFC.

Tell me more about the CCFC. What is their mission and how are they making an impact with the people they work with in Guatemala.

CCFC’s mission is to alleviate poverty and protect forests in the Highlands of Guatemala. These two objectives, although not obvious synergistic goals to most residents of the United States, definitely go hand in hand.  The Q’eqchi’ Maya people of this region of Guatemala live in and by the land.  As the land is deforested, their lives are denuded as well.  Through education, reforestation, sustainable development, leadership scholarships, and ecological improvements to agriculture, CCFC is fulfilling its mission from the ground up. As kids learn about conservation, as young women are empowered to stay in school and fulfill their dreams, and as people from remote, rural villages are partners in collaboration, the physical landscape of the cloud forest improves and the personal landscape of the communities thrives.

Where in Guatemala do they work? What do most of the people in this community do for a living? What are some of the challenges they face?

CCFC is located in Alta Verapaz in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, a mountainous region which is largely indigenous and suffers from extreme poverty. The vast majority of the people in these communities are subsistence farmers, farming corn and beans on the steep sides of the mountains.  Although corn is an important part of their diet and also the Mayan culture, when corn is grown as a monocrop, both the land and the nutrition of the people suffer. CCFC is working to increase agricultural diversity, often using ancient Mayan and native cloud forest heirloom crops to decrease deforestation and to dramatically improve nutrition.

What is your role with CCFC?

I feel very blessed to be able to work alongside the directors, staff and volunteers at CCFC and to bring a focus on community health.  I have been working with Guatemalan nurses and nursing students over the past three years to assess the health needs and successes of the communities, identify areas for improvement, and develop initiatives to improve the health of the people in the communities.

CCFC in partnership with Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry, offers a unique intergenerational trip each year to see the work in Guatemala. How was the partnership formed?

We have been supporters of Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry for many years and I served on the board until recently and so I knew about LPGM’s partnerships with organizations around the world, building relationships, breaking down barriers, and partnering in the essential areas of need.  A collaboration between LPGM and CCFC seemed like a great fit for both organizations.  We started with a pilot travel experience and have continued to grow the partnership; because of this partnership, dozens of individuals and congregations around the United States have been able to travel to and work alongside CCFC in Guatemala, expanding the worldviews and potential of people both in Guatemala and here in the US.

What is the mission of the trip? What does a week look like?

The mission of the trip is to:

  • Experience and learn from a different culture,
  • Work alongside CCFC on projects that are ongoing in education and agro-ecology
  • Shareour lives and God’s love with each other and with those we meet in Guatemala.

When we arrive in Guatemala City, we get an introduction to Guatemalan culture and then we head to the mountains!  We spend 4 days partnering with a group of children from a local village school, learning and experiencing together, and at the end of the week, we accompany them to their village, often with trees or other native products to plant. Throughout the week, we are hiking, cave-exploring, making native cloud-forest products, learning about coffee-production, playing soccer, and packing in as much learning and fun as we can. At the end of the trip, we spend a day “adventuring,” either in a natural waterpark or on a volcano.

Group photo of US travelers along with the village school children and teachers that we partnered with for the week. Photo credit: Tricia Hall

How does this experience change you?

This summer will be my 6thyear bringing a group to CCFC and I never tire of witnessing the beautiful connections that occur on these trips. To see a 7-year-old US girl from the city and a Q’eqchi’ Maya girl from a remote village walking together, smiling, communicating through hand gestures, and learning about themselves, each other and the world around them—it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Want to learn more about the upcoming summer trips?

June 19-29 2019 | Community Cloud Forest Conservation | Intergenerational Trip – Open

July 27 – August 6 2019 | Community Cloud Forest Conservation | Intergenerational Trip – Open

The usual trip size is around 10-18 people, filled with a mixture of families, couples and even solo travelers ranging from all ages. Cost is $1250 per person plus airfare. To learn more about the trips please click here.

https://lutheranpartners.org/transformational-travel/guatemala/

About Community Cloud Forest Conservation

Community Cloud Forest Conservation alleviates poverty and protects forests through education, reforestation, sustainable  development, leadership training, and ecological improvements to agriculture. CCFC believes that holistic human / community development through education and capacity building is the key to conservation and development in Guatemala’s central highlands. Education, especially for young women, is key to building peace in this region.

cloudforestconservation.org

About Lutheran Partners of Global Ministry

Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry was created in 1995 out of a pressing need to connect people with opportunities around the world and build relationships. Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry shares resources and hope through: Partnerships (with local, national, and overseas organizations), Education (for women and children, transforming lives for a brighter future), Empowerment (empower peace, stability and sustainability through leadership development), and Transformational Travel (to India, Guatemala and the Central African Republic).

lutheranpartners.org

Conservation/Environment Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Poverty SOCIAL GOOD Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES

Gifts that Give Back That Help Kids: Kupendo Kids

Over the years, I’ve cultivated an ever-growing list of amazing organizations around the world that offer amazing gifts that also give back to charity. What makes me thrilled is to see so many new, innovative organizations and products entering the industry providing unique often handmade gifts that do good. What a better way to use our consumer dollars this giving season and year-round than to purchase a gift that gives back?

Kupendo Kids is a social impact company that is working to make a difference in Sub-Saharan Africa by selling ethically sourced, handcrafted toys that create jobs for women who need fair paying jobs to support their families. Every time you purchase a toy from Kupendo Kids, they deliver a toy to a child in need. They are currently partnering with SOS Children’s Villages in Namibia and plan to expand to other partnerships as they grow. In 2014, I visited a SOS Children’s Villages site in Ethiopia and I can attest to the amazing work they are doing to help the children. I am so excited to introduce Kupendo Kids and their work.

Can toys really help children learn and grow?

In October 2018, Philip Evangelou, an Australian corporate lawyer based in London visited an orphanage in Namibia where he personally delivered toys, stationary and books and saw how much joy this brought to the children. This filled up Phillip’s heart with so much joy and gratitude for all the toys and love he received in his childhood.

After doing some research, Philip was astounded to find out that there are over 34 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa and figured that most of them had probably never received a toy.

Further to the above shocking statistic, according to UNESCO’s eAtlas of Literacy countries which have the lowest youth literacy rates in the world are Chad (31%), Central African Republic (36%) South Sudan (37%), Niger (40%) and Guinea (46%). This means children in these countries, have less access to educational toys and books.

This sparked a fire in Philip’s belly to do something about the lack of fun, toys and very low literacy rates. Philip thought “Why don’t I start a toy shop that provides a toy or book to an orphan in need, each time a toy is sold?... and so Kupendo Kids was born. Kupendo is Swahili for Love and supplying educational toys and books to vulnerable children in nations such as this will show them love and help lift the youth literacy rates.

Benefits of playing with toys backed by science

Research published by Parenting Science confirms that there are many cognitive benefits of playing with toys in developing the learning brain of children. The benefits include improved memory, brain cell growth, greater attention span, creative problem solving, reasoning, self-regulation, language and numerical skills.

Kupendo Kids

The toys

Philip visited a few toy makers in Cape Town, South Africa and found one that employed local talented artisan women who specialise in embroidery and stitching. Philip made sure that the materials used were high quality and the women making the toys were paid fairly for their work and had good working conditions.

Kupendo Kids

Women artisans working on Kupendo Kids toys

Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Gifts that Give Back Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD

How Feeding America is Helping to Feed America

On one of the largest holidays of the year in America, Thanksgiving, when most Americans are so full after eating such an enormous meal and a lot of the leftovers go to waste, it is hard to image that millions of people in this country go hungry.

In fact, 1 in 8 people struggle with hunger in the U.S. 

As I enter the kitchen and begin to start preparing the Thanksgiving meal for our family of four, I reflect on this tragic fact. That despite the grocery stores filled with more food than you can ever imagine possible and the tables around the country awash with food, that so many Americans simply don’t have enough to eat nor have enough healthy food to eat. Ironically enough, our nation struggles too with some of the highest obesity rates in the world: Per the CDC, the prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016.

It is so ironic in a nation of plenty that so many have so little and so little healthy to eat. In fact, billions of pounds of food is wasted every single year. Yet the problem of hunger is complex.

So, Who Goes Hungry? 

While researching on Feeding America, a leading non-profit in America fighting to combat hunger, I found these somewhat surprising statistics that delve into the often hidden facts of who in America is going hungry.

Child:

It’s a simple fact: A child’s chance for a bright tomorrow starts with getting enough food to eat today. But in America, 1 in 6 children may not know where they will get their next meal. For the more than 12 million kids in the U.S. facing hunger, getting the energy they need to learn and grow can be a daily challenge.

Senior

Nearly 5 million senior citizens currently face hunger in our country. After a lifetime of hard work, 63% of the households with older adults (50+) that Feeding America serves find themselves facing an impossible choice — to buy groceries or medical care. And as the baby-boom generation ages, the number of seniors facing hunger is only expected to increase.

Rural

Many rural and farm communities — the very places where crops are grown to feed the world — face hunger. It seems impossible, but in lands of plenty, hunger pains can be the sharpest.

African American

African American households face hunger at a rate more than twice that of white, non-Hispanic households. And getting enough to eat is a consistent struggle for 1 in 4 African American children.

Latino

Latino families face hunger at staggering rates in America. One in six Latino households in the United States struggles with hunger. For Latino children, the disparity is even more severe. Nearly 1 in 4 Latino children is at risk of hunger, compared to 12% of White, non-Hispanic children.

Poverty

40 million Americans struggle with hunger, the same as the number of people officially living in poverty. Based on annual income, 72% of the households the Feeding America network served in 2014 lived at or below the federal poverty level with a median annual household income of $9,175.

Source: Feeding America

However daunting it may seem there is a is a silver lining. There are many amazing organizations out there trying to fight hunger and make a difference.

How Feeding America is Making a Difference

Feeding America is a hunger relief organization with the mission to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. With over 35 years of experience in fighting hunger, Feeding America is making an enormous impact with a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs strong throughout the United States.

Through Feeding America’s Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs, they are reaching over 46 million people each year. Along with the food banks and pantries, Feeding America provides the following programs: Mobile Pantry Program, Disaster Food Assistance, Summer Child Nutrition Programs, Backpack Program, School Pantry Program, Kids Cafe, Senior Grocery Program and SNAP Outreach.

You can help too by donating to Feeding America’s many programs, volunteering or becoming an advocate. To learn more, visit www.feeedingamerica.org.

Food Security SOCIAL GOOD

2018 Gifts that Give Back Guide for the Holidays

For the past four years, I have curated an ever-growing list of amazing Gifts that Give Back. My guide has become so popular that I have devoted an entire page on my blog that is updated frequently and features these wonderful organizations and the causes they support. Whether it be fighting hunger, gender inequality or providing educational or income opportunities, there are a ton of ways you can use your buying power as a consumer to do good and make a difference in someone’s life.

Every holiday season, I gather up a list of my most favorite gifts that give back to inspire you to purchase something more meaningful this holiday season and put your money towards a fabulous present that supports a good cause. The products and organizations listed below are just a few that these amazing organizations have to offer. Please visit their website to browse the entire collection. You can also view my extended list of Gifts that Give Back on my blog which also has links to past guides as well.

As you look through the post, you will notice that I included a brief description of each product in the caption. To read it in full or view the image at a larger size, click on the image and it will enlarge. You may also find more detailed information on the organization’s website. I hope you enjoy this year’s guide! If so, please share!

Happy Shopping!

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LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

International Day of the Girl: A Skilled GirlForce

Today, October 11, is the International Day of the Girl, a day declared by the United Nations in 2011 to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality around the world.  It’s a day when activist groups come together under the same goal to highlight, discuss, and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. Fast forward to today and the International Day of the Girl has become a global movement of hope, inspiration and advocacy to better the lives of half our planet who is being left behind.

Each year the United Nations selects a theme. The theme for 2018 is “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce”. Per the UN:

Today’s generation of girls are preparing to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. Educated and skilled workers are in great demand, but roughly a quarter of young people – most of them female – are currently neither employed or in education or training.

Of the 1 billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – that will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.

On 11 October, International Day of the Girl, we are working alongside all girls to expand existing learning opportunities, chart new pathways and calling on the global community to rethink how to prepare them for a successful transition into the world of work.

Under the theme, With Her: A Skilled GirlForce, International Day of the Girl will mark the beginning of a year-long effort to bring together partners and stakeholders to advocate for, and draw attention and investments to, the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability.

Source: www.un.org/en/events/girlchild/

Preparing a new generation of skilled female workers will be an enormous undertaking to say the least. There are tremendous challenges that girls living in poverty and crisis face in the areas of education, health, safety and violence, discrimination and lack of opportunity. These obstacles hold girls back and harm us all. When we don’t utilize half of our population, we are all missing out. Girls hold an enormous source of energy, power and creativity in their voices and passion to make their lives and communities better.

A girl with an education is a supergirl — she can change her future and her community. She can even change the world. -UNICEF

While I was in Kenya last February with LifeStraw, I witnessed firsthand the resilient perseverance of girls when it comes to getting an education and improving their lives. Some of these girls walked hours and worked all day and night just to receive an education knowing very well what it could do for their future and their family.

These girls were as curious about me as I was about them. As I left the group assembly to check out the school they shyly followed me and asked my name and questions about America. I asked if I could interview them to learn about their dreams for the future. Here is what they had to say. 

Yet, more than 130 million girls are out of school around the world today.  Think about that loss of potential for these girls and society as a whole. It has been proven that keeping girls in school will have a ripple effect throughout their community by delaying an early marriage, childbirth and allowing girls to enter the workforce to escape poverty.

Photos of me with the kids in Kenya during the LifeStraw Follow the Liters Campaign. 

Girl Up, an advocacy group run by and for girls, supports United Nations programs promoting the health, safety, education, and leadership of girls in developing countries. Girl Up also is a tremendous resource providing facts and information on the unique challenges that girls around the world face.

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Humanity Unified

Meet Maria Russo of Humanity Unified

A few years ago, I met Maria Russo, founder of the award-wining online media platform for travel and social good, The Culture-ist  and Executive Director of Humanity Unified, a nonprofit organization that invests in education, food security projects and economic development programs to empower people to rise above poverty. I was instantly inspired by her incredible work to improve the lives of women and communities in Rwanda and have followed her work ever since. I had the opportunity to catch up with Maria and learn more about her life and what it is like to lead Humanity Unified. Here is what she has to say.

Tell me about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What were your hobbies and passions? Do you have any siblings?

I grew up with my parents, younger sister and maternal grandmother in a quaint little town in NJ called Berkeley Heights. Our house was always full and family time was everything – most weekends were spent visiting cousins, aunts and uncles and home cooked meals were always at the center of the celebration. As a child I was drawn to history, dance and nature. I could spend hours exploring rocks, worms, flowers and trees. I think my passion for humanitarian work was sparked by my involvement with the Girl Scouts of America. The service projects helped me to see beyond my own needs and focus on the needs of others at a very young age.

Did you travel as a child? Where was the first place you went that inspired you? When was the first time you left the country?

Most of my travels as a child were within the U.S, with a few trips to the Caribbean peppered in between. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I traveled across continents to Italy and shortly after to South Africa. These trips, particularly my time in South Africa, sparked an unquenchable desire to see the world that lead me to over 35 countries over the following 10 years.

Where did you go to college and what did you study? Why did you choose this area?

I went to American University in Washington DC. where I studied journalism and international studies. Throughout high school I became increasingly interested in politics and international affairs. I think it was the realization that a vast, complex, dynamic world existed far beyond the world I had known growing up. I became avidly involved in the Junior Statesman of America and traveled to D.C. three times a year for student conferences. It was through my involvement with the organization that I became infatuated with the history and culture of D.C., so the decision to attend college there seemed intuitive. My time at AU deepened my interest in journalism and helped me realize how I could marry it with my love of global affairs.

What inspired you to launch The Culture-ist and when did you start it? Tell me more about the mission behind it and how it is run. What did you learn from this line of work?

My husband and I launched The Culture-ist in 2011 as a passion project that allowed us to engage in and develop our passions – for me that was writing about things I cared most about such as travel, global affairs, sustainable development, women’s issues, entrepreneurship and humanitarian work. The Culture-ist was also a really powerful channel of connection for us. I was constantly interviewing people, working with other writers and collaborating with media organizations and brands…it was truly a gift to meet so many interesting individuals who were contributing to the world in unique and inspiring ways. So far I’ve learned that no matter the line of work you’re in, kindness and openness is key to building a business that is grounded in integrity. I’ve also learned that while it’s important to be flexible, sacrificing your vision to ‘keep up’ with fads and trends will have you chasing something that will steer you far off track only to force you to back pedal to your original intention.

Humanity Unified

Maria and Anthony Russo. Photo credit: Humanity Unified

What inspired you to launch Humanity Unified? 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be involved in humanitarian work. To me, a life spent trying to make the world more equitable for all just seemed to make sense. It also creates a deep sense of purpose and gratitude for the life I have now. For years I waited for the right time to launch a nonprofit and an opening finally came in 2014. Right around that time Anthony and I traveled to Rwanda where we explored program possibilities. We knew that we were interested in investing in education, food security and economic development and serendipitously found a local Rwandan NGO that aligned with our vision and mission for Humanity Unified. After almost two years of developing our programming and completing the 501(c)(3) application process we launched our first project.

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How Elisabetta Colabianchi of Kurandza is Helping Girls in Mozambique Go to School

While the world often seems like a rather daunting place, there are some truly amazing, inspiring people out there doing tremendous good and making an enormous impact on such critical issues as fighting poverty, climate change, educational opportunity, and improving the lives of women and girls. Over the years of running my blog, I’ve met some of these changemakers and have been impressed to learn that many of them are women (like Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder of Kurandza) helping other women and girls around the world.

To be a woman or girl in the some parts of the world is a lot more challenging than a man or a boy: Most girls give birth well before 18, are married young, are not able to attend school, live in poverty and have less financial opportunities than men. However, when you invest in a woman or girl, the opportunity to make a difference and impact change is immense and creates a ripple impact throughout the entire community. That is why investing in girls and women is not only the right thing to do but also very smart.

This new series, Inspiring Women, is all about the courageous women who are taking a leap of faith and making a huge impact in the world. These women are not getting enough attention in the mainstream press so my goal is to honor them and shed light on their inspiring work.

Photo of Elisabetta and Percina, our co-founders of Kurandza

Photo of Elisabetta and Percina, our co-founders. Best friends and a strong team. All photos in this post are credited to Elisabetta Colabianchi.

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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

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