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:

Like this? Why not PIN for later?

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

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