“The Story of US”: How Humanity Unified is Supporting Women Farmers in Rwanda

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”. – Desmond Tutu

Do you ever feel like the connections we make in life sometimes seems like fate? The more I work in this tiny niche of social good travel bloggers, the more amazed I am by the incredible friendships and network I’ve made online. I’ve met countless inspiring bloggers and humanitarians online through blogging and social media. One such person is Maria Russo, founder of the award-wining online media platform for travel and social good, The Culture-ist and the non-profit Humanity UnifiedIt all happened because I follow her on Instagram where I noticed the amazing photographs her organization was posting on women and girls during a trip to Rwanda.

I commented on the photos and began a relationship online that resulted in an interview  and a post on her and her husband Anthony’s work as the founders of Humanity Unified. I was instantly drawn to Maria and Anthony’s passion for making the world a better place by starting at the grassroots level by improving the lives of women and girls in Rwanda. I have been working with Maria ever since.

This past International Women’s Day (on March 8th), I held a fundraising dinner to support Humanity Unified and I was elated by the results. In one night, we raised over $400! Although that may seem like a small amount to you and me, in Rwanda that money goes a long way. Roughly 70 % of Rwandans are substance farmers who rely on their harvests for income and with unpredictable weather, environmental disasters and climate change, a good or bad harvest can make a tremendous difference. Humanity Unified is trying to change this reality by empowering rural communities to rise out of poverty through education, food security projects and economic opportunities. They start by investing in women.

Humanity Unifed

Photo credit: Anthony Russo

Since 2015, Humanity Unified has been working in Rwanda with their partner Aspire Rwanda, a local NGO that empowers poor women to rise above poverty. The two organizations share similar missions dedicated to poverty alleviation through education, food security projects and economic opportunities.

Humanity Unifed

Photo credit: Anthony Russo

Humanity Unifed

Photo credit: Anthony Russo

Currently, the organization is empowering 110 women through a farming cooperative project that will ensure each woman earns a self-sustaining, livable income after completing a one-year intensive educational program.

The program provides the women with the skills and knowledge necessary to triple the cooperative’s yields over the course of one year. The 100 women enrolled in the cooperative, most of whom earn less than a dollar per day, are also attending workshops on gender-based violence, women and children’s rights, nutrition, positive masculinity (which includes male partners) and workshops designed specifically for single and widowed women. The program also provides training in cooperative management, financial planning and effective agriculture methods.

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Then the boards are loaded up and we head out to one of several beaches located around San Juan del Sur

Surf, Sun and Fun at Chicabrava

A week at Chicabrava, the first all women’s learn to surf camp in Nicaragua, is bound to be on any female adventurers bucket list. Created by American Ashley Blaylock in 2008, an all time Nicaraguan surf champion, Chicabrava’s mission is all about empowering women, one wave at a time, and I can attest it is true.

At the end of February, when the weather was cold and gray in Minnesota I packed my bags and headed south to San Juan del Sur, a tiny fishing and surfing town located near some of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in all of Nicaragua. Fifteen years ago when Ashley first came to San Juan del Sur, there wasn’t even a hotel there but over time the town has grown to become one of the hottest destinations for surfing in the country due to their fabulous year round surf. Today San Juan del Sur hosts an array of good restaurants, nightlife, hotels and shops to keep you entertained after a day in the surf and sun.

After a three hour drive from Managua, I arrived at our casa for the week just in time for sunset.  As the sun dipped below the horizon, the clouds danced in rays of pink, orange and red light. I sipped my wine and pinched myself that I was in such a beautiful place. Our casa  was located about a ten minute drive from town up in the foothills overlooking the bay. The house accommodates six guests, and has a living room, kitchen and dining area where each day we were pampered with home cooked delightful meals of fried plantains, fresh ceviche, and pan-fried fish topped with lime by our lovely cook Katerina. The meals were to die for and the infinity pool at sunset with a drink in hand was heavenly.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

First sunset with wine at our casa in the hills above San Juan del Sur

If you’d rather stay close to the action, you can stay in town at Chicabrava’s Surf House which is located in the heart of San Juan del Sur or if you really want to experience country living and get away from it all you can stay up at one of the luxurious casas in the Cloud Forest.  At the Surf House, lodging is casual with communal living in rooms with bunk beds. Also, the meals are not included. At the Cloud Farm, you stay in a beautiful house with anywhere from 3-5 bedrooms with double occupancy. All meals are home cooked by the hired chef, and the accommodations are high-end. Either choice, you can’t go wrong. It all depends on the kind of trip you want to experience. 

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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Chicabrava: Empowering women one wave at a time

You are built not to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more. To be more splendid. To be more extraordinary. To use every moment to fill yourself up.”

– Oprah Winfrey

A few months ago, I got an email that set in course an experience that would teach me a powerful lesson on overcoming my fears. It was an invitation to attend a press trip to experience and review Chicabrava, an all women’s learn to surf camp in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I read the email with both the usual excitement I feel when learning about a new opportunity to travel as well as slight apprehension about what I would actually be doing on the trip: Learning to surf.

I consider myself a very adventurous person who has traveled to over 40 countries, many of these trips solo, and has pushed my body and soul to the limit by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking the Himalayas, tandem hang-gliding in New Zealand and diving in the Great Barrier Reef. But surfing? Now that is something I had never tried and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

What I would come to learn about this entire experience was that traveling alone to Nicaragua and actually getting up on my surfboard to catch a wave was no problem at all. The real challenge I had to overcome was my immense fear and anxiety over the ocean. It terrified me.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

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100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women

book-cover-100-Under-100- copyAs part of Mom Blogger’s for Social Good (a global coalition of over 3,000 mom bloggers), I have received an advance copy of the inspiring new book by Betsy Teutsch called “100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women”, for review. All opinions below are my own take on the book. 

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu

In the field of international development, it is a well-known fact that women are powerful agents of change and development, and it is only by empowering women and girls that the world will be lifted out of extreme poverty. Yet despite this easy assertion women and girls continue to be the most impoverished, most vulnerable and most neglected human beings in the world.

There are many reasons why women and girls continue to suffer the most. Cultural beliefs and norms, war and violence, poverty, lack of infrastructure and education continue to play a significant role in women’s empowerment and rights. However, despite some of these challenging, long-held beliefs, traditions and obstacles, there are proven, cost-effective ways to change the lives of billions of women and girls living in extreme poverty.

Two young girls pose for me during a visit to one of Delhi's many unauthorized slums.

Two young girls pose for me during a visit to one of Delhi’s many unauthorized slums. Despite their poverty, they were enrolled in a program sponsored by Save the Children to improve their lives.

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