It is almost unimaginable how vastly different life in the pandemic is here in the United States and thousands of miles away in India and other parts of the world. As Memorial Day Weekend comes to a close and life has bounded back to almost as it was before the pandemic across much of the United States, India is faced with a second wave of Covid-19 that is more aggressive and deadly than ever before. While the US still sightly leads the world in number of reported cases and deaths, a huge difference exists in the overall impact of the fierce second wave that is striking India and other parts of the developing world: The desperate lack of healthcare and infrastructure that was problematic well before the pandemic struck.
Due to the crowded living conditions of disadvantaged communities, lack of adequate sanitation, and proper health care services, India is very vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 especially in its rural communities which represent a vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion people of population. Furthermore, with vaccination rates well below that of the United States (41.2% fully vaccinated) and only 3.2% of India’s 1.3 billion fully vaccinated, India has a long, difficult road ahead.
For over 20 years, the Rural Development Trust’s Bathalapalli Hospital has provided quality healthcare in rural India. Today it is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic and thankfully organizations such as the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and its local partner, the Rural Development Trust (RDT) in India are taking charge and doing whatever they can to save lives. While the challenges ahead are huge, there is hope.
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.
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
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.
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.
Table of Contents
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.
Children in one of the local communities that EOS works with in Central America. Photo credit: EOS International
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
MOTA Makeup Bag Set – Navy Floral. $39 made from recycled Saris
To the Market: Sammana Tote With Leather Straps. $36.50. Recycled saris are re-imagined and hand-stitched in the kantha style by a woman impacted by human trafficking and the commercial sex trade. Every product is “signed” by the artisan, the hero of her own story.
Maroon Kimono: Our handcrafted goods are made by women and girls who have survived or evaded sex trafficking in northern India. These women are now living as artisans, creators and artists with sustainable careers, as well as education and medical care that’s supported by your purchase. Price $40
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.
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 ofEarthbound 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 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.
Danny Chaffin started HANDS in Nepal after volunteering at an orphanage called Buddhist Child Home in Kathmandu, 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.
Danny founded the first school in Dharka, Dhading Besi, in the Ganesh Himalayas, one of the more remote and poorest areas of Nepal.
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.
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.
Kids from the US and kids from the a village school making friendship bracelets together. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Young women in a leadership training session at CCFC’s ecology center. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Beautiful faces, learning, growing. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
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.
Making dinner is fun! Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Peeling cacao beans to be made into chocolate. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Cacao beans. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Picking cloud forest native naranjilla fruit to be made into tasty jam. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Weeding and planting with friends. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
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.
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.
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.
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).
While the world often seems like a rather daunting place, there are some truly amazing, inspiring people out there doing tremendous good and making an enormous impact on such critical issues as fighting poverty, climate change, educational opportunity, and improving the lives of women and girls. Over the years of running my blog, I’ve met some of these changemakers and have been impressed to learn that many of them are women (like Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder of Kurandza) helping other women and girls around the world.
To be a woman or girl in the some parts of the world is a lot more challenging than a man or a boy: Most girls give birth well before 18, are married young, are not able to attend school, live in poverty and have less financial opportunities than men. However, when you invest in a woman or girl, the opportunity to make a difference and impact change is immense and creates a ripple impact throughout the entire community. That is why investing in girls and women is not only the right thing to do but also very smart.
This new series, Inspiring Women, is all about the courageous women who are taking a leap of faith and making a huge impact in the world. These women are not getting enough attention in the mainstream press so my goal is to honor them and shed light on their inspiring work.
Photo of Elisabetta and Percina, our co-founders. Best friends and a strong team. All photos in this post are credited to Elisabetta Colabianchi.
The older I get and the further I travel, the more I realize how fortunate I am to have been born to a family who believes strongly in education and has afforded me with many opportunities to follow my dreams. Growing up, I never had to worry about what to eat each day, whether or not my water was safe to drink, or if my family would be forced to run from war, strife or conflict. I have been blessed and am fully aware of it which is why I have dedicated a big part of my life to giving back by either volunteering, donating money or my time as a writer for social justice causes.
With the tremendous need and upheaval in the world today, it is easy to become overwhelmed and complacent. Trust me, I have had to put the newspaper aside many times and I relish the moments when I can escape from all the bad news. Yet, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing good in the world or nothing you can do to help. There is indeed a lot of good happening every single moment of the day. The news just doesn’t cover it always as unfortunately the bad news is the news that sells. Therefore, I will continue to share some of the amazingly good and beautiful things happening out there in the world today on my blog and how you can personally make a difference.
“Dreams are universal, opportunity is not” – Kiva
Over the past several years, we have all heard many harrowing stories about the refugee crisis. If you are like me, I read the stories with a heavy heart, often feeling completely helpless on what on earth I can do to help change such a massive problem. Despite the fact that more people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than any time since World War II, there is hope that refugees can rebuild and change their lives and there are organizations out there that are making a difference.
Kiva, the world’s largest crowdfunding organization, is doing just that by offering micro loans to refugees, something often perceived too risky due to their undocumented credit history and unstable livelihood. The good news is that Kiva’s newly released World Refugee Fund Impact Report has shown excellent results. Kiva found that loans to refugees have a repayment rate of 96.6%, right on par with 96.8% for all non-refugee loans during that same period. Through the help of Kiva, refugees who are financially excluded now have the opportunity to get a small loan, and these loans can make an enormous difference on their lives.
As a strong supporter and lender to Kiva, I was immediately intrigued by this exciting news and had the opportunity to interview Jessica Hansen, Global Engagement Manager at Kiva to share more about Kiva’s mission and how they are making a difference in the lives of people around the world. Here is what she has to say.
Photos above: Samira came to Lebanon in 2010. Her Lebanese neighbor Soaud encouraged her to take out a small loan from Kiva so that they could start a business reselling wedding dresses, and in turn, Samira could supplement her hairdressing business. Samira doubled her income with this money, and now calls Soaud – her business partner – “more than a sister.” Photo credit: Brandon Smith for Kiva
For the past two years, I’ve been a proud member of Impact Travel Alliance, a global community of change makers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good. Through this amazing network of sustainable travel organizations, writers and travel enthusiasts around the globe, I’ve learned a lot about how we can use travel to make the world a better place.
For the next several months, I am working on putting together a searchable database of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations on the planet. While I’m researching these different organizations, I will be sharing guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by fellow Impact Travel Alliance Media Network member Marissa Sutera (creator of Little Things Travel Blog) who introduces us to Operation Groundswell a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world through travel and backpacking with a purpose.
Operation Groundswell Ecuador trip
Backpacking with a Purpose
When seeking out more purposeful work to do while traveling, it can be challenging to dig deep enough to find the best route to take and the organizations that are truly carrying out positive work. In this interview you’ll hear from Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director at Operation Groundswell, who will be sharing her insight into what questions to ask when volunteering abroad, where to begin, and how to know what sort of impact you will make.
Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that facilitates experiential education programs on a host of social justice issues around the world. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability. Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. Their programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region they go to. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.
Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.
Meeting with our partners at De La Gente, a coffee cooperative in San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala
How can someone seeking a volunteer program abroad determine if they will actually be making a difference?
First and foremost, whatever volunteer project you work on abroad should be done in partnership with the local community. If you want to make even the slightest difference, be sure to find an organization that puts the needs of the local community first. Contributing to a project that your host community actually wants and needs is the first step towards responsible international volunteering.
But it’s also important to set realistic expectations of what exactly “making a difference” means. For many people, this requires a bit of a rethink. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many volunteers going abroad expect to “save Africa”, or Asia, or Latin America. And that’s just not the reality.
The majority of volunteer programs are often short-term projects that range from one week to a few months. So when you’re seeking a volunteer program abroad, consider the time you’ll be spending abroad and align that with your expectations. Because real talk – if you’re only going to be spending one or two-weeks in any given country or community, you may not actually make that much of a difference.
You’ll accomplish some things, of course: you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of development and what it takes to actually achieve social change, you’ll make a strong connection with a handful of people who you will hopefully stay in touch with, and you’ll contribute in some small way to a project.
But honestly, you’ll likely leave with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. This is a process.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks or months. Often, the work that you do when you return home, as a result of what you learned abroad, will be where you make the most difference.”
Just remember to have humility when taking part in work like this!
Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organization for children, has released the second annual End of Childhood Index in honor of International Children’s Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness on children’s rights and wellbeing around the world. Save the Children’s annual End of Childhood Index ranks 175 countries based on eight childhood “ender” events that jeopardize children’s chance of a happy, healthy and safe childhood. While the report shows that the majority of countries have made progress for children since last year (95 out of 175 countries), conditions in about 40 countries appear significantly worse and are not improving fast enough.
No country is on track to meet the 2030 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for children. Over 1 billion children around the world live in countries plagued by poverty and it is not just a developing world problem. In the 2018 report, the United States didn’t rank in the top 10 or top 25. Instead, the U.S. shockingly ranked 36th place smack between Belarus and Russia. The growing urban and rural child poverty rate within the United States continues to widen. The results of the report may surprise you.
This year’s report has two components: “The Many Faces of Exclusion” and “Growing Up in Rural America”, a new U.S. complement that offers first-of-its kind analysis of rural child poverty rates across America as well as state by state ranking of where childhood is most and least threatened. In advance of the report’s release, I listened in on a telebriefing by Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children to get some of the key highlights of the report and a call to action by governments around the world.
Here are some of the key findings worldwide and in America.
Seven years later, civil war continues to loom in Syria destroying the world they once knew and tearing families apart. Millions of Syrians are living amidst unimaginable violence and uncertainty. 12 million people, over half of the pre-war Syrian population, are either internally displaced or have had to flee the country in search of safety. Furthermore, over half of all Syrian refuges are children and 2.8 million of these children are out of school. For children under age 8, war is the only life they know and their childhood has been taken away from them forever.
As a mother of two children, my heart is torn apart knowing about the dire situation for the children and families in Syria. SOS Children’s Villages has been on the ground providing a safe home, care for children and support for vulnerable families for more than 30 years. SOS began emergency relief programs in 2012 and currently operates in Aleppo, Damascus and Tartous. I have personally seen SOS Children’s program in Ethiopia and have been a huge supporter of their work ever since.
In light of the ongoing crisis in Syria, I am sharing a guest post written by Abeer Pamuk, a former SOS Children’s Village team member in Syria as well as more information on what SOS Children’s Villages is doing on the ground right now to help.
The destruction of Aleppo. Photo credit: SOS Children’s Villages
Abeer standing amidst the ruins. Photo credit: SOS Children’s Villages