Book Review: “Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day”

“Every so often, a book comes along that makes you say, ‘Yes!’ Simple Giving does that. At some level, we all want to give. But how to do it effectively is often the challenge. Jennifer tells us that and much, much more. Simple Giving is a must-read (and a definite must act-upon). A huge contribution to a much better world”.  – Paul Dunn, cofounder and chairman of B1G1 (Guy 1 Give 1). 

A Gallup World Poll survey between 2006 and 2008 found that those who donated to charity in the past month had a higher life satisfaction, whether or not they lived in a rich or poor country. We all know we should be more philanthropic – volunteer, give to charity, fundraise for a good cause or someone in need – but oftentimes we think we have to give a lot of time or significant amounts of money in order to make a difference. Jennifer Iacovelli, a writer, speaker, consultant and chief engagement officer of “Another Jennifer Writing Lab” contradicts this belief in her newly released book “Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day” by exploring simple, every day ways to incorporate giving into our personal and professional lives.

When I first heard about the concept of Jennifer’s book Simple Giving I was delighted. Not only do I personally try to find new and fulfilling ways to give back in my life, Jennifer also happens to be a personal friend of mine who I met through philanthropic blogging. Her beautiful book Simple Giving is a must-read for anyone who wants a better understanding got how they can give and increase their philanthropy in simple, easy ways.

Jennifer and journalist Caitlin Kelly taking a break from the hot Nicaraguan sun during a site visit with WaterAid. Photo Credit: Jennifer Iacovelli

Jennifer and journalist Caitlin Kelly taking a break from the hot Nicaraguan sun during a site visit with WaterAid. Photo Credit: Jennifer Iacovelli


SUNDAY SOCIAL GOOD: What is community?

A poor neighbourhood shows the damage after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince Haiti just before 5 pm, January 12, 2010. Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons

Last week I participated in a live Twitter Party on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good for Habitat for Humanity’s work in Haiti. If you have never done a Twitter party or have no idea what I’m even talking about, let me explain. Basically a group of people interested in learning about a topic jump onto Twitter at a designated point in time and use the same hashtag (ours was #HabitatinHaiti).  A good Twitter party is well-managed and moderated by asking the attendees a group of questions which creates dialogue. It is a fantastic way to learn more about a given topic, spread the word and be an armchair advocate.

I learned a lot last week during our Habitat for Haiti chat but what stuck with me most was one question in particular:  “What is community?”.

Haitians set up impromtu tent cities thorough the capital after the 2010 earthquake. Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

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Be the Change

I recently subscribed to the WordPress Daily Prompts to see what kind of inspiration I could find on expanding my writing. I briefly read the prompts but never wrote one until today when I saw one that struck a chord in my heart. I read it and I filled with joy and excitement. I felt like the words were talking exactly to me.

“What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world”. 

I read these words and thought, isn’t this why I am writing my blog in the first place? To use my voice to share my experiences of what I’ve seen in the world, what I’ve learned and most importantly of all, how we can all give back?

I have talked about my voice time and time again in my blog. But today I’d like to share with you what I’m hoping to change in the world with my blog.


The REAL Awards: Honoring Health Workers around the world

Reaching a child’s fifth birthday is the focus of several campaigns out there to raise awareness, support and funding for the Child Survival Call to Action. In 2010, 7.6 million children died from preventable causes. Although this figure has improved over the last few decades, it is still a tragedy and unacceptable.

Esther Madudu, a frontline health care worker. Photo Source: Save the Children.

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The Gift of Giving

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ―  Winston Churchill

I have always had a strong desire to give back. I acknowledge that my life on this earth is a minor blimp in time, a moment passed by the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. A piece of me has always wanted to leave a footprint behind. Make a difference and touch people’s lives.

Why do I feel so compelled to give back and spend endless hours fulfilling this desire and dream?

These beliefs and values grew over time, slowly forming, changing and molding through the years as I traveled more and begin to see the world and scratch my head in disbelief.

The first time I saw extreme poverty was when I was six years old.

I grew up in a leafy suburb, not living extravegantly but having everything a young child needed. Love, affection and a world to explore. We had a nice home with a beautiful acre of forest surrounding it. A loving family of five with a mother who stayed home to raise the kids, volunteer at school, serve a family meal each night and be there to help us, comfort us and guide us when we needed. This was my reality. A wonderful reality and a beautiful, memorable childhood.

Yet, a family trip through inner Mexico in the late 1970s opened my eyes. Opened my eyes to how good we had it back in Minnesota and how hard other people had it around the world. We drove by comfortably in our station wagon while glancing out the windows. Then we saw how people lived. In flimsy, filthy shacks along the steep mountainous road. One hard rain and it was gone. One mistep and you were hit by a car. That image has remained in the back of my mind for over 30 years and it won’t go away.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve been blessed with more than I can possibly imagine. I went to college, studied abroad, pursued a career and followed my dreams of seeing the world. I’ve been to places that I never imagined possible from the southern tip of Patagonia to the mountains of Nepal. Yet in the depths of my heart, I am constantly reminded of the inequities and injustice in life each time I travel.  I can no longer turn blindly away from what I’ve seen. I’ve realized that travel is a gift and when you receive one, you must give something back in return.

Hence, I’ve dedicated my life to the gift of giving back.  

I give my time…

Volunteering with Javiar at a nursing home in Costa Rica.

I give my mind…

Advocating for UN Foundation Shot@Life with my children.

I give my heart…

Volunteering with under-privileged children in Guatemala.

I give my soul…

Before going to Nepal to follow my dreams of hiking the Himalayas, I raised enough money to build a reading center as a gift in return.

I give myself…

Nothing is more important than my family. I give my love, my life and my time to them.

There could be no better thing in this world to give than to get.

This post is in response to Giving Tuesday. To learn more about Giving Tuesday, click here.


Save the Children, Hurricane Sandy and how you can help

Save the Children has been instrumental in helping the countless families hit by Hurricane Sandy.  Ever since this “superstorm” struck the east coast, Save the Children has been there to offer on the ground support to those impacted by the disaster. Even at a time when Save the Children’s own offices in Westport, Connecticut were struck and severely damaged and many of their Connecticut, New Jersey and New York-based staff were—and in some cases continue to be—without power.

However, this has not dampened Save the Children’s spirit to continue to help those who are most vulnerable in any emergency situation—kids. That’s why Save the Children has been deploying emergency response teams to some of the hardest hit areas in New York and New Jersey. To help establish a sense of normalcy in shelters, they are providing kid-friendly activities to create a safe and supportive place for children to play with their peers and caring adults in the midst of the turmoil that surrounds them. Save the Children’s  CEO, Carolyn Miles, recently visited a shelter in Atlantic City where she saw one of these safe play areas first-hand. At the bottom of this post is an account on Carolyn’s experience titled “Do You Think They’re Ok?”— Kids Recover from Superstorm Sandy.

Check out this YouTube Video on how Save the Children is working with families in New York and New Jersey shelters to ensure children are safe and protected.

How can you help?

Please spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and networks. If you would like to help kids affected by Sandy, you can do so by texting HURRICANE to 20222 to donate $10 to Hurricane Sandy Relief from your mobile phones*or to donate through our webpage


“Do You Think They’re Ok?”— Kids Recover from Superstorm Sandy

By Carolyn | Published November 5, 2012

The shelter in the Atlantic City Convention Center shelter is a huge sprawling hall with a constant wave of people arriving and leaving in a regular ebb and flow each day.  Some families have just arrived from other shelters, some go back to devastated houses, and some come back to stay for what might be weeks.

Many of those who come to shelters in New Jersey—like this one run by the Red Cross—are families who can least afford to lose a week’s wages, a refrigerator of food, or a room full of furniture, much less a house or apartment. They are working class or poor families, usually with kids. As is the case here in Atlantic City, kids make up at least 25% of the population in shelters in affected areas.

I met many of these kids on my visit today and they all had stories to share.

Carolyn talks with 17-year-old high school student Alondra and her mom Genoueva.

Alondra is 17. She and her extended family—mom, dad, uncle, aunt, siblings and cousins—have an area with cots pushed together in one corner of the hall.  She told me how she had first gone to a shelter at Rutgers University the weekend before the storm when they heard about the threat to the area where they lived in downtown Atlantic City.  But now Rutgers needs to get students back to class and her family was bused to the Atlantic City shelter yesterday.  While they were grateful for the cots, blankets and food, Alondra, a bright high school senior, was worried about how she would get to school later in the week when classes finally started up again. 

And Alondra wasn’t the only one who hoping to be back to school.  A younger boy I met gave me a tearful look when I mentioned school and told me, “I really want to go back but I just don’t know when I can.  I miss my friends and I don’t even know how they are.  Do you think they are okay?”  I told him I was sure they were and that Save the Children was working on getting kids transportation for when schools got back up and running, so hopefully he can be back with his friends soon.

There were so many stories from kids today about how they’re dealing with the after-effects of Superstorm Sandy, but one that really struck me came from 14 year-old Peter. Peter also lived in Atlantic City and described the scene when he and his family went back to see his house after the storm passed.  “The water rose almost five feet and we only have one floor so everything was ruined.  They condemned my house yesterday,” he told me stoically.  Peter and his family have nowhere else to go at this point, but Peter is spending his time working with the Save the Children team in the shelter, playing with the younger kids and keeping them busy in the Child-Friendly Space we set up on one edge of the family area.  Here, at least, kids can play games and do activities and just be kids at least for a little while.

Save the Children has mobilized to help children and families affected by Sandy. We are setting up Child-Friendly Spaces—safe play areas that allow children to play, socialize, and begin to recover from emotional distress during emergencies—in New Jersey and New York. And we’re working with national partners, including the American Red Cross and FEMA, to assess and address the needs of children in the storm’s aftermath.

We’re also asking our supporters to do what they can to help children. We’re asking them to text HURRICANE to 20222 to donate $10 to Hurricane Sandy Relief from their mobile phones*or to donate through our webpage.

Save the Children responds to emergencies in the U.S. and around the world every year—and this time, it’s in our own backyard. But whether it’s close to home or on the other side of the world, the needs of children are the same and helping them get back to normal is our top priority.

Sandy has devastated areas of the East Coast. It has displaced families, destroyed property and claimed too many lives. There’s a lot of work to do. But I meant what I said to all of the kids and parents I met today: yes, it’s going to be okay. We’re here for you, we’re here for your children and we’ll be with you every step of the way. 




A new way to give back: Giving Tuesday

As an avid world traveler, advocate and global volunteer I’ve often found myself having a difficult time coming to terms with the inequities and injustice in the world. Often times, when I return from a trip abroad I find myself feeling a deep sadness and guilt about how much the “haves” truly have in this world and how much the “have-nots” are left out. Even in the United States, one of the richest, most prosperous countries in the world, we have a huge imbalance between rich and poor that continues to grow.

Volunteering with my little friends in Guatemala who were in an after-school program to help them with school and feed them a much-needed snack.

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SUNDAY SOCIAL GOOD: Inspired by the slums and people of Khon Kaen, Thailand

This post is part of my Social Good Sunday series. It is a guest post from Alicia Rice who is living in Thailand working on a documentary film about the people living in the slum communities of Khon Kaen. This is a post about her work. 

A man from a slum community making baskets from recycled material. Photo credit: Author.

I came to Thailand as a study abroad student in 2008.  For four months, we learned about globalization and development projects in Northeastern Thailand, the poorest region of the area.  We read studies and got the chance to talk with government officials and company representatives. But the most important parts of our education were always getting the chance to talk with villagers.  We got the chance to sleep in the houses and get to know the people who’s houses were being threatened, or who’s farm was being taken away.

There was one moment in particular that really stood out to me.  As American students, we were often left with the question of what we could do, or more importantly, what we should do.

The more you learn about social justice work abroad, the more you learn the importance of people to be empowered and solve their issues themselves.  It left me feeling helpless and puzzled.

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SOCIAL GOOD SUNDAYS: Cows R Us with Heifer International

Today’s Social Good Sunday’s post is written by Betty Londergan, Global Blogging Ambassador of Heifer International. Betty is currently on a one-year trip visiting 12 countries in 12 months to document the impact of Heifer. You can read about her travels and work on her beautiful, inspiring blog Heifer 12 x 12.

Cows R Us

Rwandans love cows. They have songs about cows, they have dances, their whole culture is based on the love of the cow.

The beautiful umushagiriro (cow dance) — I guess those are their horns.

And Rwandans are infinitely patient and gentle with their cows — even when they are being kind of .. pushy.

This Heifer heifer walked right into the ceremony, butted the speaker, went for the drinks & nobody batted an eye.

Kirehe, Eastern Province

So it makes sense that the Rwandan government would partner with Heifer, an organization named after its favorite animal, to help 6,382 families in the poor rural district of Kirehe earn a living, improve their land, and feed themselves. It’s part of the government’s national initiative called A Cow for Every Poor Family — that remarkably (well, not really) is based on Heifer‘s beautiful training/giving/passing on model.

Why a cow? I asked Kirehe veterinarian Dr. Jean de Dieu Niyitanga that question and he had this succinct answer, “Cows mean milk and money.” Then he waxed poetic and scientific about what cows need to thrive. For someone like me who thinks a cat requires far too much attention, raising a cow sounds like an inconceivable amount of work. So I asked him to elaborate.

“First you have to love your cow, because if you love your animal, you’ll treat it well, feed it well, and keep it clean and healthy.” Okay, but what does that exactly mean?

The cows Heifer gives to poor farmers in Rwanda are pure breeds, either Jersey cows (brown) or Friesians (black & white). They produce a lot of milk (up to 30 liters a day) but they also demand a lot of food– about 1/10th of their weight in food a day in grass, cereals and legumes that the farmers must grow and harvest. Cows also need a salt lick to provide calcium, potassium and sodium to replace the minerals lost when they are producing milk.

Like any nursing mother, heifers drink a lot: 50-80 liters of water a day, depending on their weight, and that also has to be carried on somebody’s head back to the home.

Cows are big, gentle animals but they require shelter from the elements. So before getting a cow, every participant has to build a shed with 6 bags of cement (@$16/bag) provided by Heifer for a concrete floor to keep the cow’s feet out of dung, wet mud, and to facilitate manure-collection. They’re also given aluminum sheets for roofing – and required to pass on the same cement & aluminum when they pass on the gift of the cow to another poor farmer.

Veneranda Mukagakwandi & her cow & her cow sheds.

Alfred’s son digging the fields.

Then there’s the issue of keeping the cow clean: the shed needs to be shoveled out at least once a day, and the animal washed with soap and water twice a week (more water to carry). Cows must also be sprayed to protect against flies and ticks that can give them theileriosis, a tickborne disease that can kill them if left untreated. And the heifers are always watched closely for mastitis – or they can permanently lose use of a teat.

My brain was whirling with the possibilities for bovine disaster, but to Rwandans a cow simply means milk, money and manure. One cow will produce 3 tons of manure a year – and that is hugely important to the farmers planting their crops in the over-cultivated, poorly producing soil in Kirehe. Farmers report a 75-100% increase in ag productivity with the addition of cow dung– and that’s no small potatoes.

So, how has a cow specifically changed the life of somebody like Alfred Nsengimana? After Alfred had a home visit and was designated as able to raise a cow, (if you don’t have enough land or strength to take care of a cow, you’ll first be given goats or pigs), he built his shed and received the 182 hours of training that Heifer gives all participants – to make sure they know how to breed, lead, raise and take care of the animal.

After those six months of training, Alfred received a pregnant Friesian heifer, it gave birth to a female that he’s passed on to a neighbor, and now Alfred is earning $50/month from the cow’s milk – in a country where 60% of the population earns under $1/day. With that milk money (I love this entrepreneurial spirit so much!) he bought more goats and rabbits that are easier to raise and quicker to sell than cows, if the family needs money for school fees or health emergencies.

Then, Alfred dug a cistern in his back yard and he is also harvesting rainwater from the roof –so his family can make fewer trips to the town well to carry water back on their heads.

Water harvesting with a plastic-lined tank — how clever!

With milk to drink, meat to eat, and money in the bank, Alfred & his wife put a new cement floor & walls in their house—a real luxury. He would like to keep at least two cows, because then he’ll have enough manure to qualify for a bio-gas unit (half paid for by the government) that will mean they don’t have to collect and burn firewood and can cook in half the time.

Biogas – a giant leap for woman-kind: no collecting wood/cooks in half the time!

Alfred’s neighbor Jean de Dieu Habayarimana is 24 years old and an orphan responsible for raising his two younger brothers. He doesn’t have land to grow forage for a cow, so he received the gift of 2 pigs from Heiferlast December and proved himself so good at raising them, he was given the stud pig for the community – which means that he’ll get 1 piglet from every brood his pig sires.

If you’ve got no land for a cow, take the pig!

This Kirehe Project is a massive undertaking, requiring a daunting amount of work from Heifer (home-visiting every prospective family and giving 182 hours of training to each beneficiary), the government, and all the local organizations across five pilot zones in 12 sectors of the Eastern Province. But 1,000 heifers have been already given in 2011 (and 360 passed along), with 1,145 more to be given this year (plus 2,000 South African Boer goats and 562 purebred pigs). That means that families like Alfred’s will be given the chance to take this opportunity and leverage it to feed their families, earn a living, double their agricultural productivity, and climb out of poverty.

The real beneficiaries of Kirehe’s big project.

Makes me feel like hollering Oyee! Amata Iwau Kuruhimbi, which means something like Let us always have milk in our homes!

Yes indeedy.


About Betty:

Betty had a 30 year career as a creative director in advertising and then changed her focus to writing in philanthropy. She wrote two books, started a blog called “What Gives 365” on January 1, 2010 and gave away $100/day for 365 days to people, causes and organizations that she believed were making the world a better place. Her current adventure is volunteering as the Global Blogging Ambassador for Heifer International. In this role, Betty is dedicating a year of her time, writing and photography to visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 and write about Heifer’s work to end poverty and hunger
around the world. It is an amazing feat!

If you enjoyed reading Betty’s post on Cows R Us, here are a few more that you would love:


DC and the missed opportunity

I’m here safe and sound in Washington DC and just had an amazing 12-hour day of conferences. I am here attending the RESULTS International Conference (a grassroots advocacy group focused on ending global poverty and hunger) on behalf of my advocacy work for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign (an initiative to provide life-saving vaccines in poor countries).

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