World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Spread Joy and Opportunity – The Power of A Bicycle

This is a guest post written by Ruth-Anne Renaud who recently joined the team at World Bicycle Relief as director of global marketing. Her bio is located at the end of this post. 

I distinctly remember the Christmas I received my first bike. It was sparkly blue, with a banana seat, training wheels and a basket. I knew it would take me everywhere once the snow melted. This fall, new memories have been imprinted on my heart on what it means to receive a bike.

Destination: Zambia, Africa. I had just started my new role as Director of Global Marketing at World Bicycle Relief (WBR) and I participated in one of our immersion trips called Africa Rides. Together with about a dozen supporters and partners – I spent a week learning how a bicycle can transform the lives of students, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs and their communities.

At the outset of the trip, we spent a day at WBR’s Zambia headquarters to learn about the scale of the bike distribution program, the criteria for selecting field partners and recipients, and the deliberate, yet simple rugged design of the innovative Buffalo Bike. In fact – we had to assemble our own Buffalo Bike.

Here is a Bufollo Bike

Here is a Buffalo Bike (with a holiday bow that can be given to children and health workers in need via World Bicycle Relief).

It was a daunting task since I’m not particularly mechanically inclined. But I am proud to share – after a successful quality control check – I rode that bike over the next several days with our group of Africa Rides travelers visiting villages and schools. I physically experienced the searing mid-day heat, the distance and rugged dirt paths that felt like they were never quite going to end – to get to school, back home or to get water from an isolated well. I felt what it meant to be constantly chasing daylight.

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Here I am helping a young girl ride her new bike.
Photo credit: World Bicycle Relief

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Here I am helping Grace learn about her new bike. 
Photo credit: World Bicycle Relief

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

And she’s off!
Photo credit: World Bicycle Relief

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Riding through the gravel roads of Zambia
Photo Credit: World Bicycle Relief

Gifts that Give Back Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD

Project Mercy’s Community Development Model is Improving Lives in Rural Ethiopia

“In order to fight against poverty, you have to attack it from many different directions and then pluck it out, ” said Marta, co-founder of Project Mercy, as she described their Community Development Model. “We cannot educate children if the only outcome is to make them discontented with the limited job opportunities currently available.”

Project Mercy Yetebon Ethiopia

A beautiful flower within the gardens at Project Mercy

Back in June, when I was in Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project I spent my last full day there visiting Project Mercy. Project Mercy is a special not-for-profit organization as it was created in 1993 by two Ethiopian exiles, husband and wife team Demeke (Deme) Tekle-Wold and Marta Gabre-Tsadick. Deme and Marta left Ethiopia and repatriated to the United States during the heart of Ethiopia’s repressive government. Wanting to help their fellow countrymen at home, they established Project Mercy as a way to help Ethiopians rebuild and lift themselves out of poverty.

Today, Project Mercy is run by Desalegne “Lali” Demeke , Marta and Deme’s son who manages the 52- acre compound that houses a school, a home for orphans, volunteer housing, a hospital, a new Health Science College and agricultural, cattle breeding and handicraft training services, to help empower the local community and improve their lives. Project Mercy is an incredible organization and I was excited to visit it in person.

Getting to Project Mercy was half the fun and required a land cruiser, a driver and a full day of adventure. We left Addis Ababa early in the morning heading for about three hours south into the heart of the Yetebon to arrive at the bumpy, gravel road that brought us to Project Mercy.

Africa Ethiopia Global Health Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls
Patients at the Casa de los Abuelos

Cuba’s Health Care System

Being on a people to people tour in Cuba meant that every day of our week on the island was filled with cultural interactions. We met with Cubans in the arts, explored historical sites and museums, and also learned about some of Cuba’s community projects and government initiatives. Coming from a Communist regime, of course a lot of what we were seeing and hearing was the good side of Castro’s policies. Although overall communism in Cuba clearly does not work, there are a few things that are working exceptionally well such as Cuba’s Universal Health Care System.

During my week in Cuba, I had the opportunity to meet with a Cuban doctor at one of Havana’s clinics, visit a center for elderly Cubans, and hear lectures on the Cuban health care system, giving me fascinating insight into a few of the progressive policies initiated after the Cuban revolution.

Casa de los Abuelos, Havana

The blue sign tells people that it is legal to rent rooms from a private house, a new profession that doctors and other highly educated people in Cuba are taking on in order to earn more money.

Cuba Global Health Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls
National Geographic Kids Cover

Interview with National Geographic Editor Rachel Bucholz

Yesterday I participated in an interview with National Geographic Kids and Little Kids editor Rachel Bucholz to learn about the ins and outs of working for such an amazing organization. I have long been a fan of National Geographic’s magazines ranging from the popular yellow-framed bordered National Geographic to National Geographic Traveler, Kids and Little Kids. I love to learn about our amazing planet and being a National Geographic Kids Insider has given me the opportunity to get an even more in-depth view of all the fabulous things National Geographic is involved in.

Rachel has worked as an editor for over 20 years and has also authored several books. She currently works as editor and Vice President of National Geographic Kids and Little Kids magazine where she thoroughly enjoys inspiring children to become future stewards of our planet. As the nation’s most popular kids’ magazine, it was really fascinating to learn more about what makes National Geographic Kids so wonderful and keeps children wanting to read more. Here is what Rachel had to say.

What is your day to day job like and what do you enjoy most about being an editor for National Geographic Kids and Little Kids?

Conservation/Environment CULTURE Global Issues

Protsahan: Giving hope to India’s children

There are moments in life when you are so deeply moved by what one person can do to make a difference in the world that it takes your breath away. This is how I felt when I met Sonal Kapoor, founder of Protsahan, a school for underprivileged girls in the heart of India. Not even thirty years old, Kapoor is already considered one of the most inspiring young social entrepreneurs in the world and after a visit to her beautiful school in the slums of Delhi, it is no doubt that she and her pupils will go far.

Sonal K-004

Many are aware of the huge inequities and poverty strangling India. Although India has seen rapid economic growth over the last decade, the gap between rich and poor has become even wider and more profound. As migrant families leave their villages in rural India and come to the big cities in search for a better life, the growth of urban slums, many in deplorable conditions, continues to grow at unmanageable rates. In just Delhi alone, there are thousands of them. (The slum population in India is estimated at 62 million people and around 1.7 million residing in Delhi alone. Source: The Hindu). As almost 75,000 migrants come to Delhi alone each year, many of them end up populating the already over-crowded urban slums that can be found all throughout the city, even alongside some of Delhi’s poshest neighborhoods. (Source: The Hindu). 


An all to frequent site within the Delhi slums: Garbage and the sacred cow.

Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises India Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION

Pratham India: Every child, learning well

Education is without doubt one of the key ways to lifting people out of poverty. In India, a country of over one billion people and an estimated 400 million living below the poverty line (World Bank 2010), education has become a matter of survival for the millions of children living in poverty in both rural and urban Indian.

Per the 2012 the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER): Learning levels have dipped to an all-time low. So, almost half the 6-7 year-olds (Class I) in India cannot read even one letter in any language, over 57% cannot read any English while almost 40% cannot recognize numbers between 1 and 9, the report said. Access to education is becoming a key problem and obstacle for many of India’s poor children.

Pratham is the largest NGO working in India to provide quality education to the country’s millions of underprivileged children. Pratham’s multi-pronged approach ensures the following four initiatives:

  1. Enrollment in schools increases.
  2. Learning in schools and communities increases.
  3. The education net reaches children who are unable to attend school.
  4. Models are replicated and scaled up to serve large numbers of children to achieve a large scale impact.

Source: Pratham

What is so great about Pratham is that they work with the government and view their programs as a supplement not a replacement for education to underprivileged kids. As resources become more and more stretched and more migrants are moving from their rural villages to the slums of urban India, there is a dire need for educational services and Pratham has worked hard at filling the gap. It is no surprise that Pratham’s model is “Every child in school and learning well”.

While we were in India, Jennifer James (Founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good) and I had a chance to visit one of Pratham’s many urban learning centers located in an East Delhi slum, where we witnessed firsthand the dire need of education and the techniques of learning that Pratham is applying to some of India’s poorest children.


Inside the classroom children are learning basic English schools.

Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises India SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION

“Power A Bright Future” for kids

Clorox may be mostly know for its fabulous bleach however I bet many people don’t know that this global company is also trying to brighten up the future of America’s children through Clorox’s Power A Bright Future K-12 school grant program.

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 2.28.48 PM

Lovely Bella Thorne, a teen celebrity and star of  Disney’s “Shake it Up” is working with Clorox to help spread the word and encourage votes from parents and teens in the Power A Bright Future program.  Bella is working closely with Clorox to make sure that K-12 schools can receive funds for programs that encourage students to be creative, active and tech and science savvy.

Bella Thorne_1.jpg.jpg

Bella Thorne. Photo Credit: Cloxox Power Bright

That’s why for the program’s fourth year, Clorox will award seven grants totaling $200,000 to help fund new or existing school programs.

Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD

United Way’s campaign to teach children about poverty: Pass the Grade game

This post is part of the Social Good Sunday series in which I highlight different organizations around the world making the world a better place. 

Poverty is a tough topic to comprehend. It is tragic, dark, unfair and cruel.  A way of life that doesn’t make sense in a world that has so much for some and so little for the rest. If poverty is hard to understand as an adult, imagine how confusing it is to understand such a difficult topic for children.

Many children in my community have everything they need and most likely too much. They generally have all the latest toys, more than enough food on their table, a home to live in and a family to love. However, once you step outside of Southwest Minneapolis, the picture is dramatically different. Children live in poverty, don’t always have enough to eat at night and struggle immensely in school. The inequities are surprising and often astounding.

According to numbers released in September by the U.S. Census, the percentage of children living in poverty in Minnesota continues to grow.

“Now 80,000 more children are living in poverty compared to 2000 (114,000), an increase of about 70 percent. Officially, an estimated 194,000 (15.4 percent) children were living in poverty in Minnesota in 2011, a trend that has continued to increase for more than 10 years. Compared to last year, the number increased only slightly by 2,000 children from 192,000 in 2010”.

I often find that our middle class children live in a bubble and grow up rarely being exposed to what the rest of the world lives like and even more so, what a large percentage of kids in their own city live like. In poverty. If it is hard for adults to understand poverty, it is  oftentimes even more challenging for children to understand the full impact of poverty on families and kids themselves.

In honor of the first ever Giving Tuesday, a new day to give back to the community that was launched on November 27th, The Greater Twin Cities United Way* launched a fun, educational online game cleverly called “Pass the Grade“. In “Pass the Grade”, players will experience four challenges that teach about the trials children in poverty have to overcome to succeed in school.  What is so impressive about Pass the Grade is that it accomplishes two important goals: First, it educates children about other kids living in poverty in a fun, engaging way. Second, it also raises money for educational programs with each game played.

Here are some details about the fundraising piece of the campaign (all information below provided by Greater Twin Cities United Way):

  • Campaign was launched on “Giving Tuesday”  – November 27, 2012 and runs through December 31 2012. 
  • Ecolab, Inc. is committing a total of $30,000 to the effort on two fronts: For each person who plays the game, found at, Ecolab Inc. will donate $1 to United Way’s Pass the Grade Campaign up to a maximum $10,000.  For each person who donates after playing the game, Ecolab will also contribute a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $20,000.

The goal of United Way’s Pass the Grade Campaign is to help 7,500 kids pass the grade in 2013. Here are some examples on how playing this game helps children living in poverty:

  • $5 provides a hungry child with snacks for a school week.
  • $22 will help one child receive one-on-one reading help.
  • $33 provides a child with enriching after-school programs.
  • 5,000 kids will get a healthy snack at school.
  • 1,500 kids will receive one-on-one tutoring and reading help.
  • 1,000 kids will take part in enriching after-school programs.

The game, developed by Space 150 and supported by U.S. Bank, takes players through four unique challenges that test if they have what it takes to pass the third grade. (Students who fall behind by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.) After each challenge, statistics on childhood poverty are shared. Upon completion of the game, a grade is given to the player. Players are then asked to share their results via social media to encourage additional donations. 

“Tackling the challenge of poverty and making a difference in a child’s life can’t be done alone, it must be a community effort,” says Greater Twin Cities United Way Senior Vice President of Marketing Kathy Hollenhorst.  She continues, “In playing Pass the Grade, one learns about the impact of poverty on a child’s educational advancement, while at the same time learning about how to make a difference in the community.  With our regions’ philanthropic spirit, we at United Way believe that together we can help all children get the quality early education they need to succeed in school – and in life.”

Ok….now I’m going to ask everyone to play the game! I just played the game and I failed! I failed at passing but I sure learned a lot about kids living in my community in poverty. Here is what I learned.

About Greater Twin Cities United Way:

Greater Twin Cities United Way addresses our community’s most critical issues by focusing on three key areas: Basic Needs, Education and Health. We attack poverty on multiple, interconnected fronts to achieve lasting change – through 10 measurable goals – by collaborating with business, government and nonprofit organizations to create solutions and carry out our call to action to LIVE UNITED by encouraging everyone to Give. Advocate. Volunteer. United Way serves people living in or near poverty in nine counties: Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Scott and western Washington. Join the movement. LIVE UNITED.

For more information, visit

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

Imagine the possibilities if all girls were educated: Today is International Day of the Girl

Today marks the first-ever International Day of the Girl, a day in which organizations and individuals around the world will collaborate to hold events and a global conversation in effort to raise awareness about the importance of educating girls.

Globally, more than 600 million girls live in the developing world and of that number, 77.6 million girls are currently not enrolled in either primary or secondary education. This is a huge problem which has significant repercussions on not only girls but the economy and well-being of society as a whole.

Photo of young girls in Pokhara, Nepal. Do these girls go to school? If so, for how long?

Organizations like 10 x 10 fully understand the power of girls and the way education can be used as a conduit to better not only their lives but society as a whole. 10 x 10 is a global action campaign dedicated to raising the value of a girl – in her home, community, nation and around the world.

Their mission is simple:  Educate Girls. Change the World.

“Around the world, millions of girls face barriers to education that boys do not. And yet, when you educate a girl, you can break cycles of poverty in just one generation.”

So why should we focus on girls and why should we care? Here are some startling facts about girls’ education:

  • Of 163 million illiterate youth in the world, more than half – 63 percent-are female.
  • Around the world, 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty.
  • Sixty-five low and middle income countries are losing approximately $92 billion per year by failing to educate girls to the same standards as boys.
  • One girl in seven in developing countries marries before age 15.

Despite these dire statistics, there is hope. There is an enormous, untapped opportunity because it has been proven that the payoffs of educating girls are considerable.  Just providing one extra year of primary school education can increase a girls’ future wages by 10 to 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school can help boost wages by 15 to 25 percent.  Even when a mere 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases on average by 3 percent. Keeping girls in school not only boosts their livelihoods and the future livelihoods of their families, it is proven to keep them from marrying early, having more children and to help them be more engaged in the day to day lives of their families. An educated girl will be a better providers for her children and will have more knowledge on critical issues such as nutrition, maternal care and deadly diseases like HIV-AIDS.  Furthermore, an educated mother is more likely to earn income for her family and when she does, she will reinvest 90 percent of it into her family, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent by her husband.

The ripple effect of educating one girl in a community is astounding. The math is simple and easy. So why aren’t more girls in school?

There are many cultural, religious and poverty-related barriers that keep girls out of school. For instance, in poor families oftentimes only the boys are sent to school and the girls are kept home to work. Rural girls will generally help out with cooking, cleaning, child-rearing and even manual labor.  If a poor family lives in a country in which you have to pay school fees, it even further deepens the problem. Boys will often be chosen to attend school rather than girls.  Other barriers that are easily solvable yet continue to keep girls out of school include access to adequate lavatories and such simple things as sanitary pads.

These barriers can be overcome as long as the world believes in the power of educating girls.

There are some very inspiring stories about girls and their will to learn. Let’s meet 9-year old Eulalia. To get her education, Eulalia must travel on motorcycle — with her siblings — from her home atop a mountain in a remote Andean village in Peru, to a CARE-supported school for the children of alpaca shepherds in the valley. Come along with Eulalia on her journey.

Educating girls is not just right, it’s smart. Let’s help break the cycle of poverty by giving more girls the opportunity to learn and make the world a better place. Help us spread the word on why it’s vital to educate girls with these simple steps.

  • Join us in a day-long social media event by sharing this post.
  • Use your voice on Twitter using the hashtags #BasicMath and #10x10act.
  • Click here to download “Girls + Education” attachment and make it your own by filling in the blank with what educating girls means to you. Tweet the photo from your handle with the has tag #BasicMath and tag @10x10act.

Photo of Nepalese children headed to school in rural Nepal.

On a personal level, I can’t imagine where I would be today or my daughter Sophia would be tomorrow without an education. Just because we are girls does not mean we do not have a burning desire to learn. A strong longing for knowledge, acceptance and equality. I know that my grandmother was one of the lucky girls in her time. She was one of the few women to ever go to University. I followed in her footsteps at University of Wisconsin where I fell in love with my passion for knowledge. I would never be here today writing and using my voice without the ability to read or write. Nor will my daughter reach her full potential as a productive world citizen if she doesn’t go to school either. Shouldn’t all girls have this opportunity to succeed in life and be the best that they can be? Isn’t it a basic human right?

My little girl….she just started Kindergarten in September. Imagine the possibilities ahead.

Imagine the possibilities if all girls were allowed education. Imagine what a world we’d have for all. 

This post was originally published today on World Mom’s Blog.


The Children of La Pedrera

One of the reasons why I wanted to go to Guatemala was to volunteer.  For the last two years, I have been passionate about volunteering internationally and giving back to the countries in which I have had the pleasure of visiting.  It has inspired me, motivated me and changed me to become the person I am today.  And I must admit, I am proud of that fact.

Two years ago, I went on my first volunteer trip with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) to Costa Rica where I worked at a nursing home for abandoned grandparents (to read posts, click here).  Then last April, I traveled to Morocco again with CCS to volunteer at a women’s school and help tutor English.  I loved both of these volunteer experiences as they truly changed my life.  However after two years of doing volunteer work as a group I wanted to try venturing out on my own.  I had traveled abroad alone before yet never for an extended period of time.  I felt like there was no time like the present to give it a whirl and truly challenge myself.  I just needed to find the right place.

When my son Max started first grade at Burroughs Community School in Minneapolis my opportunity arose.  Max’s first grade teacher, Ms. May, just so happens to be married to a Guatemalan man and together they have run a Spanish School called Casa Xelaju and a nearby community center, La Pedrera, for years.  My opportunity had come!  Guatemala was on my travel list and after falling in love with Costa Rica, I could hardly wait to visit another Central American country, especially one with a vibrant indigenous community, the Mayans.

Photo above of me with my little girls. These three girls are the same age as my daughter Sophia. I adored them and their smiles brightened my soul and warmed my heart.

Guatemala Poverty TRAVEL BY REGION Volunteering Abroad

Spanish crash course 101 (Part 2): Learning like the Guatemalans at Casa Xelaju

Her name was Lili de Leon.  Lili was one of the most experienced Spanish teachers at Casa Xelaju, having taught there since its opening over twenty five years ago.  She was assigned to be my individual teacher for my entire week at Casa Xelaju, all for the meager cost of $190 (which also included room and board at my home stay).

When I first met her, I was a little taken aback.  She did not at all look like what I had envisioned her in my head the night before.  Instead of dark, thick black hair Lili’s hair was almost as blond as mine which was a rarity in Guatemala.  Her shoulder-length hair was neatly combed back in complete perfection despite the windy conditions, and her wonderfully tailored coat and slacks made me feel like a total slob in my $5 Target t-shirt, washed out jeans and sneakers.  She greeted me with a warm, enthusiastic smile and I instantly knew that I’d like her.  Usually I have a good intuition on people and normally I am proved right.

We headed up to the third floor of Casa Xelaju, a beautiful, spacious building that not only hosts several individual teaching rooms but also offers fully furnished, clean apartments for rent at insanely cheap deals (a fully furnished, two bedroom apartment with kitchen and bathroom ran about $150 for two weeks).  It was a quite week at the school as there were only about four students at the moment.  At the height of high season, they can have dozens or more.

We entered Lili’s classroom on the third floor and I was very pleased to see it was beautifully decorated, full of lively colors and pictures, and best of all, had an enormous window looking out over the next door neighbor’s chicken coop one direction and a fantastic view of the city in the other direction.  It was facing east which meant the morning sun would rise and light up the room with brilliant sunshine each day.  I knew it would be the perfect place for me to crack open the books and start learning Spanish.

Photo above of Lili’s classroom which screamed happiness.

View outside the window overlooking the neighbors backyard and chickens. I could hear them cock-a-doo-dle-doo all day long!


Spanish crash course 101: How to speak Spanish like the Guatemalans do (Part 1)

View of Xela from the school roof.

I woke up to the sound of the eternally barking dog outside my window, wondering for a moment where on earth I was.  I checked my cheap plastic travel watch and it read 6:50 am.  The sun had yet to light up my bedroom and I was exhausted after a fitful night’s sleep.  I tossed and turned, continually stuffed in my ear plugs and cranked my white noise up yet nothing seemed to help drown out the symphony of noise from the Guatemalan city life.  Unfortunately I’ve always been a light sleeper which got worse after I became a mother.  I swear I sleep with one eye open, listening throughout the darkness of the night for someone to call my name.

My first day at Spanish school was in a little over an hour and I was so tired I had no idea how I’d function, let alone function in another language which I hardly understood.  When I turned off my white noise the sounds of a bustling kitchen filled the room.  I inhaled the delightful aroma of fresh Guatemalan cooking.  Breakfast would not be long.

I slowly cracked opened the door and shyly peered outside.  My room for the week was right next to the kitchen and the family-shared bathroom.  I was still in my PJs in an unfamiliar house with unfamiliar people.  I wasn’t ready to go tramping out the door in plain view of my Guatemalan hosts!  That I reserve for only close friends!

When the coast was clear I made a run for the bathroom and brushed my teeth in a glass of purified water.  There was no way I was going to risk getting another parasite like I did in Costa Rica!  Thus I took every precaution given to me by the travel clinic seriously.  I avoided fresh fruits and vegetables.  Did not drink the water, and brushed my teeth as well only with the bottled stuff.  I flipped on the strange looking shower and got ready to jump in, thinking how good it will feel to wash my hair after a long day of travel.  Maybe the hot water would even wake me up and make me feel better!  I needed any kind of pick me up to start my day in another tongue.