#IStandForGirls: Why Getting Girls to School is More Important than Ever

Did you know that over 132 million girls around the world are out of school?  This number was before the COVID pandemic began and now millions of more girls are at risk of not receiving an education this school year. As my own thirteen-year-old daughter prepares to begin her hybrid version of 8th grade, I often realize how incredibly blessed we are to have the opportunity and the resources to continue her education. Millions of children, especially girls, will miss out this year and not have the opportunity to learn. However, there is something we can do to help out and make a difference.

I’m thrilled to be partnering for the fourth year in a row with Kurandza this month for the #IStandForGirls campaign. I learned about Kurandza’s work five years ago when I started researching my popular Gifts that Give Back page and international nonprofits that are changing the world. I shared Elisabetta and Percina’s powerful story about why they founded Kurandza on the blog and have been an avid supporter of their work in Mozambique ever since.

While the global pandemic has impacted us all, it has impacted some of the most vulnerable communities around the world even more. Thanks to organizations like Kurandza girls are able to continue to receive an education and continue learning and thriving despite these new challenges. Now it is more important than ever before to stand up and support girls’ education.

#IStandForGirls because I believe all girls around the world should have equal access to education and opportunities no matter where they’re from. I believe in the power of education, and that all girls have the ability to reach their dreams when given the chance at an education.

When a girl gets an education she…

  • Is less likely to become a child bride

  • Has improved nutrition and access to better health care

  • Is likely to do what she can to uplift other girls in her community

  • Can dream about a bright future!

Photo courtesy of Kurandza

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

Gifts that Give Back to Support Fight Against COVID-19

In unprecedented times of COVID-19, now more than ever your purchasing power matters. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, many social enterprises, business and nonprofits are offering ways that you can use your purchasing power to help give back by either providing medical masks, supplies or your own facemasks to keep you and your loved ones healthy. Here are a few of my favorites.

Anchal  

www.anchalproject.org

Anchal [on-chal] believes design can change lives. As a non-profit social enterprise, Anchal uses design thinking to create innovative products and sustainable employment for exploited women worldwide. To date, Anchal has provided alternative careers in textiles and design to over 200 women in Ajmer, India and Louisville, KY.

Anchal is committed to producing the highest quality home goods & accessories while maintaining the integrity of our artisans and natural resources. Distinct design, craftsmanship and a personal signature connect you to the individual maker. Our eco-friendly products are entirely hand-stitched from vintage materials, certified organic cotton and low-impact dyes.

Anchal’s organic and vintage cotton face masks are made from two layers of quilted fabric. The dense weave of this durable cotton barrier provides protection and breathability. Anchal’s cotton bandanas also make for a versatile face mask option that can still be worn when COVID-19 pandemic ends. You can learn how to make your own Bandana Mask here. All masks are washable and reusable. The fabric is hand embroidered by an Artisan in Ajmer, India. The mask is cut and sewn by our team in Louisville, KY. All masks are pre-washed and delivered in polybags. Cost $20.00.

Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD

International Women’s Day 2020 #EqualForEach

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. It is International Women’s Day, a day around the world to celebrate women and girls and to look at the progress that has been made and the work that remains to be done. For those who have followed my blog for a while, you know that the rights of women and girls lie near and dear to my heart. I’ve witnessed the inequities and injustice firsthand throughout my travels around the world.

This year’s theme is Equal for Each, meaning an equal world is an enabled world. Per the World Bank, “not a single country has achieved economic equality between women and men. As of 2019, women only had equal rights in six countries.” Global Citizen states that we will never end extreme poverty without tackling gender inequality.

Women and girls are more likely to be poor, unable to go to school, be married young and not have the same opportunities as boys and men. Women still die during childbirth at alarming rates and are being victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking even here in the United States. The list of tragedies goes on and on.

However, the exciting news is this reality is rapidly changing. More women and girls are being empowered with education, training, and access to healthcare, mobile money, micro-financing, and technology. The future is looking much brighter for women and girls than it did just a decade ago. So instead of dwelling on the bad things, I want to honor the good things that are happening by highlighting a few of my favorite women and girls I’ve met along the way.

Bolivia

Woman in La Paz Bolivia

SOCIAL GOOD Women and Girls

A Float in the Dead Sea and the Quest to Save it

On my last day in Jordan, there was one culturally and historically significant place left to visit: The Dead Sea. After an incredible week exploring this magical kingdom, I had opened my mind to an ancient world from the surreal beauty of the Wadi Rum to the Roman Ruins of Jerash and of course the icing on the cake, a day and a half exploring the ancient city of Petra. I was disappointed with our visit to the Red Sea, overwhelmed walking the hot, dusty streets of Amman and wishing I had more time to spend a night and hike in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. Yet taking a float in the Dead Sea was that last one thing on my traveler’s bucket list to do in Jordan and thankfully I’d get to experience it before I left.

The Dead Sea has been a place of refuge and mystique since Biblical times. Formed over 3 million years ago, the Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water in the world with a salinity of 34% (9.6 times saltier than the ocean) and its salty waters and nutrient-rich mud have been attracting humans to its shores for millennia. Due to its high levels of salt, no animals or plants can survive hence the name “Dead Sea” however tourists and industry alike flock to the Dead Sea to reap the health and financial benefits of its products. In fact, the global market for Dead Sea mud-based cosmetics hit 678 million US dollars in 2015 and is predicted to grow. Tourism to the Dead Sea is also significant with an explosion in tourism. I could hardly wait to be one of those tourists, covering myself in mud, basking in the sun like a turtle and then floating in the Dead Sea.

The Magical Dead Sea. Photo credit: Pixabay

After a delightful morning exploring the Roman Ruins of Jerash, we set off for an hour and a half drive south to the Dead Sea. Many people chose to spend a night or two at one of the fancy resorts and spas located along the Dead Sea however since we were on a set seven-day tour of Jordan we would only have the afternoon. For me, that was all I needed as I’m not one who likes to lounge around however there were a few fellow travelers on our tour who opted to spend their last few days in Jordan there. Either way, the Dead Sea is only an hour’s drive from Amman so it is easy to do for a half a day or full-day trip from the capital.

As we left Jerash, we learned from our Jordan guide about the importance of the olive tree in Jordan culture and industry. The northern part of Jordan, where Jerash is located, is considered to be the breadbasket of this arid nation and is where 72% of the olive trees are grown in Jordan. You cannot find a breakfast table in Jordan without olive oil and Jordan is the 10th largest producer of olive oil in the world. It was surprising to see a greener landscape but it wasn’t long until the trees disappeared and the landscape returned to its dusty, sandy self.

Located in the Jordan Rift Valley, the Dead Sea sits at the lowest point on Earth at 422 meters (1,385 feet) below sea level. As you descend to the Dead Sea, your ears begin to pop similar to how you feel when descending in an airplane. It is a rather strange sensation but perhaps not as surreal as catching your first glimpse of the Dead Sea. It first appears almost as an apparition off in the distance of hazy, stirred up sand and it is hard to get a true idea of how big it is. The Dead Sea measures roughly 50 km (31 miles) long by and 15 km (9.3 miles) long and borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. The main tributary is the Jordan River and that has been part of the problem. The Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking at a rate of 3 feet (1 meter) annually and humans are to blame. Without swift intervention, the Dead Sea could almost disappear by 2050 some scientists warn.

Dead Sea, Jordan

The first sight of the tourist beach at the Dead Sea

Conservation/Environment SOCIAL GOOD

2019 Gifts that Give Back Guide for the Holidays

For the past five 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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Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD

Smile Network International: Kim Valentini’s Quest to Change Lives Around the World, One Smile at a Time

It was early May of 2003, Kim Valentini, an accomplished marketing and public relations executive and a mother of two had just quit her career after 25 years of moving up the ranks. She got her kids off to school and was lounging around the house in her pajamas when she heard Oprah say on TV, “If you are a woman in your forties, put down everything you are doing, grab a pen and paper, and listen to my show. This show is for you”. Little did Kim know, that that show would change her life forever and lead her to a greater purpose in her life.

Almost like a bit of fate, Oprah’s show featured author Po Bronson who just released his new book titled “What Should I Do with My Life”. Kim was wondering this exact same question.  Kim wanted to make a difference, be a voice for the people who didn’t have one. Immediately following the show, Kim launched a five-hour a week service project called the Smile Network. Little did she know, this five-hour a week service project would become a major global nonprofit organization.

Smile Network International is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides life-altering reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children and young adults around the world. Their mission is “to reconstruct lives, one bright, smiling face at a time”. Since 2003, Smile Network has become a truly global operation, performing over 4,000 life-changing surgeries in 11 countries across five continents.

I read about Kim’s story in a local magazine and I was so incredibly inspired by her story and her mission in life that I decided to meet with her in person and learn more. Over the next hour together we laughed, cried and bonded over what it means to be a woman, a mother and most of all, to find a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives. I realized that I had come to meet with Kim at a pivotal time in my own life where I have been searching myself for what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Here is Kim’s inspiring story of how she has transformed thousands of lives including her own.

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

World Oceans Day: What it Means to Us and How You Can Help Conserve Our Oceans

Did you know that around 70% of our Earth’s surface is covered by oceans? June 8th is World Oceans Day, a day delegated by the United Nations to raise awareness, and to protect and celebrate the major role that oceans have in supporting everyday life. Oceans are critical to life as they provide most of the oxygen we breathe, are a major source of food and medicines and are an essential part of the biosphere. Oceans also intrinsically bless us with beauty and wonder.  However, between rising temperatures, climate change, ocean acidification, and single-use plastics polluting our seas, we are taking a detrimental toll on our oceans, not only negatively affecting marine life but also compromising human health. The good news is there are ways we as travelers can protect our oceans.

In honor of the 17th annual World Oceans Day on June 8, Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professional) is asking travelers to take a stand for our oceans by making conscious changes to their routines as they explore the world. As a devoted member of the Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) and an ocean-lover myself, I wanted to share some tips and resources on how we as travelers can make a difference and help protect the future of our oceans. 

“Destinations on or near the ocean continue to be a favorite for travelers,” said Kelley Louise, ITA founder and executive director. “But with our oceans’ health at serious risk from climate change and overpopulation, it’s important to understand how we can make a difference with small, individual decisions we make while away from home.”

 


Ocean Conservation Travel Tips

The Ocean Project has worked in partnership with hundreds of organizations and networks from all sectors to help rally the world around World Oceans Day, a way to bring about a healthier ocean and a better future. Check out these guidelines on how you can make a difference and help conserve our oceans.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Conservation/Environment Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD

EOS International: Bringing Safe Drinking Water to Central America

For the past couple of months I’ve been doing a work-trade position at the Minneapolis Impact Hub to learn more about the incredible social impact work being done in my own hometown. The Impact Hub is part of a global network of over 100 hubs around the world that works to inspire, connect and provide resources to help entrepreneurs drive positive social impact. Through my work at the Impact Hub I’ve met a lot of amazing people doing some pretty inspiring work such as Wes Meier, CEO and Co-Founder of EOS International. EOS stands for Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability. EOS’s mission is to empower rural families in Central America with access to safe drinking water and opportunities to generate income through simple technology solutions and education. 

Since their founding in 2008, EOS has accomplished 2,325 installations of simple, inexpensive, and locally serviceable technologies helping over 534,167 Central Americans access safe drinking water improving lives and prosperity in Nicaragua and Honduras. I had the opportunity to talk with Wes about EOS International and here is what he had to say.

How did you get into this line of work?

I grew up in Iowa and studied Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University. After I graduated I was scared to jump right into a 9-5 job so I looked into other opportunities. I love travel and wanted to explore a new area and learn Spanish.  So, I decided to join the Peace Corps. 

In the Peace Corps, I served in the Agricultural and Food Security sector in Nicaragua. I lived in a rural community near El Sauce, Leon, and it was a truly life-changing experience. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and I realized that I was extremely passionate about this kind of work. 

I initially started working with local farmers to incorporate sustainable farming practices such as live erosion barriers, improved fertilization strategies, and planting nutritious family vegetable gardens. My work quickly morphed into technology design and implementation, where I implemented several of our early-stage technology solutions in the community. This quickly grew to other Peace Corps volunteer sites throughout the country.

The journey has kind of been a slow process but I’m really happy that I had the opportunity as a Peace Corps Volunteer to test out models, technology solutions and really understand some of the needs and resources available. It was during this time that I met our co-founder and current country director Alvaro Rodriguez, and we founded EOS International. That was back in 2008 and we have been learning and growing ever since. 

EOS International

Children in one of the local communities that EOS works with in Central America. Photo credit: EOS International

Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD Water and Sanitation
Above Safaris

Earth Day Travel Guide: Top Tours that Help Protect Wildlife Around the World

On April 22nd, the 49th annual Earth Day is being celebrated around the world. This year’s theme – to protect the Earth’s endangered and threatened species – could not be more important. The world is facing unprecedented climate change and a mass extinction of many of the amazing species of plants and wildlife that make our planet so incredibly unique. Unlike the extinction of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago, the devastating changes to our planet are driven by us. As concerns grow, there is still hope that we can fight climate change and reverse the mess we’ve made of our planet. As travelers, we have a choice on how we spend our money and we can make a difference by supporting travel organizations that help protect the environment and its wildlife.

In honor of Earth Day’s Protect Our Species campaign and as a member of Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals), I am highlighting some of the amazing tour operators working to help travelers responsibly visit and protect wildlife around the world.

“Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat can become some of our most vivid travel memories. I was deeply impacted by a trip to Uganda where I watched gorillas go about their daily lives in the Bwindi National Park and I bonded deeply with elephants while interacting with them at a conservation park in Thailand,” said Kelley Louise, Impact Travel Alliance founder and executive director. “It’s important to take the time to research and book wildlife tours that put the animals and their environment first.” As an avid traveler and nature lover, I could not agree more. Whatever we can do as travelers to make a difference is better than not doing anything at all. By choosing to travel with an ethical organization, we are making a big difference in hope that these incredible animals will be around for future generations.

Photo credit Playa Viva and Dave Krugman

Leatherback Sea Turtles on the shore of Playa Viva, Mexico. Photo credit Playa Viva and Dave Krugman

Here is a list of sustainable tours that help travelers see and protect Earth’s wildlife:

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura’s mission is to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share by offering unique trips, sharing stories, holding events and fostering a global community to create a comprehensive database of the world’s most wondrous places and foods.

Atlas Obscura offers some pretty fabulous trips such as tracking wild bumblebees in the wild with expert biologists. Travel to Sequoia National Park with Atlas Obscura and expert biologists to track, conduct research on and help protect wild bumblebee populations and explore this peaceful landscape. You will learn firsthand about the plight of the humble bumblebee while also supporting them.

Atlas Obscura

Giant sequoia grove near auburn california trees, nature landscapes. Photo credit: Atlas Obscura

Playa Viva

Playa Viva is a unique yoga retreat destination where you will enjoy the rugged, unspoiled beauty of Mexico in the guilt-free luxury of an environmentally conscious resort. Become immersed in nature, volunteer in the turtle sanctuary, give back to the local community, engage in a workshop, or just relax completely.

Stay in Playa Viva’s sustainable hotel in Mexico and participate in the Playa Viva Turtle Sanctuary’s efforts to protect leatherback sea turtle eggs from predators.

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Conservation/Environment Global Issues Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES
dignify kantha throw

2019 Gifts that Give Back for Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day, why not considering giving a gift to that special mom in your life that also gives back to someone in need? Over the years, I have curated an ever-growing list of Gifts that Give Back and am delighted to share some of the latest gifts that give back for this Mother’s Day. Each organization below works to create a beautiful, meaningful gift that also gives back to the women who make the products or helps to support a cause.

Here are some of my top picks for the mom in your life from some of my most favorite organizations. I hope you enjoy the list, and please share this giving guide with friends and family.  To read product descriptions and price details, click on the image to enlarge to full size and open up a slideshow. Enjoy!

All Across Africa

www.allacrossafrica.org

All Across Africa currently works with over 3,000 artisans in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, paying artisans up front for the goods at many times what they could sell them for in a local market. This sustainable income allows them to send their children to school, feed their families and even create savings accounts (something that is unheard of in this part of the world). In addition, money goes back into the communities in the form of education and training programs. All Across Africa believes that job creation is the solution for the rural poor in these countries.

Here are some of the latest ideas for Mother’s Day:

Anchal Project

www.anchalproject.org

Anchal [on-chal] believes design can change lives. As a non-profit social enterprise, Anchal uses design thinking to create innovative products and sustainable employment for exploited women worldwide. To date, we have provided alternative careers in textiles and design to over 200 women in Ajmer, India and Louisville, KY.

Anchal is committed to producing the highest quality home goods & accessories while maintaining the integrity of our artisans and natural resources. Distinct design, craftsmanship and a personal signature connect you to the individual maker. Our eco-friendly products are entirely hand-stitched from vintage materials, certified organic cotton and low-impact dyes.

Here are a few favorites for Mother’s Day:

Bloom & Give

www.bloomandgive.com

Bloom & Give sells beautifully handcrafted scarves and bags made in India using techniques passed on from generation to generation. Each product is designed in the US by one of Bloom & Give’s designers, and made in India with love. Bloom & Give donates 50% of their profits to support girls education programs in India through their partner Educate Girls to improve the lives of girls in Rajasthan.

Some great gift ideas include:

dignify

www.shopdignify.com

dignify helps women shop for excellent quality, meaningful gifts and goods: items that promote dignity, empower humanity, and champion good. dignify’s online boutique sells premium quality, ethically made “kantha” quilts — blankets stitched by hand from layers of sari cloth using a centuries old tradition in Bangladesh. The women who sew dignify’s blankets are the most vulnerable in society: recovering from sexual exploitation or in a high risk environment. Now, they are employed with dignity in safe, loving, and sustainable work, producing beautiful blankets that customers love.

The most popular gift for moms is their Classic Kantha Throw. Each is $98 USD and each throw is made one-of-a-kind.  dignify’s classic “kantha” throw is a quilt made from six layers of vintage sari cloth, hand-stitched together by women in Bangladesh working in a job with dignity:

Ecuadane

www.ecuadane.com

Ecuadane is a social enterprise started by three sisters who love to travel and share cultures and traditions around the world. Ecuadane sells traditional wool and Alpaca blankets from Ecuador made by native Otavaleños living amidst the Andes Mountains and volcanoes. These soft, warm and beautiful blankets celebrate the customs and traditions of Ecuadorian villagers while each purchase helps support the craftsmen and their families. 10% of the proceeds from the blankets in Ecuador go back to the community.

Give Back Goods

www.givebackgoods.com

Give Back Goods mission is to create a positive impact on the world with every purchase. Give Back Goods wants to make it easy for people to purchase goods that are eco-friendly, sustainable, ethically sourced and support the people who make them with fair wages and healthy work environments. Each Give Back Good purchase will give 10% back to important grass-roots causes. The products carried at Give Back Goods includes home goods, jewelry, electronics, accessories, toys for children and pets, and more.

For this Mother’s Day, check out these wonderful gift ideas:

Gifts for Good

www.giftsforgood.com

Gifts for Good serves companies and professionals with high quality goods that people will love to give and love to receive. Their gifts are made by nonprofit or social enterprise partners who make and sell their own products to support their mission. Each product supports one of 40 nonprofit and social enterprise partners tackling the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges. Gifts for Good generates impact in over 19 states and 65 countries around the globe.

Here are a few awesome picks for Mother’s Day:

Nomi Network

www.nominetwork.org

Nomi Network’s vision is a world without slavery where every woman can know her full potential. Their mission is to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking by equipping them with the leadership, entrepreneurship, and production skills to become financially independent. Their programs are currently based in India and Cambodia, with hopes of expansion in the South East. Profits from the sales of these items are reinvested into job creation and market access programs for our women.

Nomi Network

Logo Bracelet

This Mother’s Day, Nomi Network is featuring the Logo Bracelet. Purchase a statement charm for your mother or loved one. “She is Free” and “Empower” showcase Nomi Network’s vision to see a world without slavery where every woman can know her full potential! Only $20 and with limited time coupon, “thirdeye30” – get 30% off your entire order from today until May 1st 11:59 PM EST. (Click on image to enlarge).

 

Purpose Jewelry

www.purposejewelry.org

PURPOSE Jewelry is handcrafted by young women escaping human trafficking in India, Uganda and Mexico. The art of jewelry making paired with holistic care ensures every artisan gains dignity and hope for the future. 100% of the proceeds go to our nonprofit, International Sanctuary.  Through iSanctuary’s wide range of services young women can begin to heal and grow in mind, body, and soul. It is iSanctuary’s mission to not just sustain victims of modern-day slavery, but to provide the tools and life skills they need to embrace their true identity and worth, and transform into survivors with true freedom.

Some top picks for Mother’s Day include:

Thistle Farms

www.thistlefarms.org

Thistle Farms is dedicated to helping women survivors of addiction, trafficking, and prostitution find healing, hope, and freedom. Thistle Farms lives into this mission through three integrated paths: In residential communities where women experience healing, restoration, and love without judgement; Through social enterprises where women gain skins, financial independence, and the opportunity to connect with customers and partners globally; and across a coordinated movement  of survivors, customers, advocates, and communities collaborating, on innovative ways to deliver justice and challenge the systems that commodify women. Thistle Farms’ signature body and home collections are handmade in Nashville, TN with high quality ingredients, including: the finest essential oils available on the market and healing ingredients like Moringa oil, organic rose geranium, shea butter, and aloe vera.

Here are some goodies for that special mom:

TO THE MARKET

www.tothemarket.com

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.

Check out these new ideas for the mom in your life:

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Check out this list of curated gifts that all give back for the Mother's Day.

Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD

How Ecotourism is Helping Protect Endangered Howler Monkeys in Belize

The Yucatan Black Howler Monkey is the largest monkey in the Americas, and found only in a small section of Central America. Originally called baboons by the locals, the Yucatan Black Howler Monkey has been listed as an endangered species since 2003 and its population has declined over 60% due to loss of land, hunting and disease. Yet an innovative, community-led grassroots project called the Community Baboon Sanctuary located in the Belize River Valley outside of Belize City is doing wonders to conserve and protect both the monkeys and the local community who support them. It was the first place I visited on my trip to Belize with G Adventures and was the perfect way to start off a week of adventure and sustainable travel.

I arrived in Belize City on a non-stop morning flight from cold, wintry Minnesota. The moment I walked off the plane, I was greeted with the sticky, thick humidity of the tropics. A smile instantly came across my weather-worn face. I was ready for some sun and adventure, both which would be coming over the next eight days in Belize exploring the jungle, ancient Mayan ruins, and marine life in the world’s second largest barrier reef.

After gathering my luggage, I was greeted by a representative from the Black Orchid Resort where I’d be spending the first two days of my trip. Located next to the mangrove banks of the Belize River near the tiny village of Burrell Boom, it was the perfect alternative to staying in Belize City. The Black Orchid offered peace, beauty and nature yet was not too far away from the major tourist attractions and very close to the Community Baboon Sanctuary where we would be spending our first full morning.

After an evening of settling in at the hotel and meeting my fellow group of travelers with G Adventures, we were ready to depart for a morning tour of the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS). I was extremely excited to visit the CBS because I love monkeys and I am passionate about seeing sustainably run conservation projects on the ground. We arrived around nine and were met by our guide Robert who would first give us an overview of the project and then take us on a wonderful nature walk within the sanctuary where we would learn about the flora and fauna of the rainforest and be able to observe the monkeys in the wild.

The CBS is an exemplary community-led grassroots conservation project that works to protect the natural habitat of the endangered Yucatan black howler monkeys while also working hand in hand with the local community through education, community development and sustainable ecotourism practices. The CBS was founded by American primatologist Dr. Robert Horwich in 1981 after he identified the region of the lower Belize River Valley as one of the largest habitats of black howler monkeys in North Central America. Working with the local community of private landowners, the pioneering idea of creating a voluntary sanctuary for the monkeys was formed. Property maps were drawn up for each landholder and they were asked to sign a voluntary pledge that outlined the management plans for conservation.

Belize Central America Conservation/Environment Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
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

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