Category Archives: Doing Global Good

These posts feature organizations and do-gooders around the globe.

The Language of the World

The sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.

~ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Sitting at the top of the slide, his five-year old body was slumped and his face was marked with a scowl that was almost impenetrable. I called his name several times but he didn’t budge. I asked what was wrong, but there was no answer. He pulled his knees up to support his chin, which supported his protruding, pouting lower lip.

Finally, not knowing if he understood my words, I substituted them with funny faces. It is my honest belief that almost any child can be redirected if I try hard enough. I did moose ears, the pucker-faced fish, but it was the blown-up monkey cheeks that did him in. His lower lip slightly retreated and he lifted his flip-flopped foot up to show me a small scrape on his ankle.

“Ouch,” I said. “Let me blow your boo boo a kiss.” I put my hand to my mouth and made a kissing noise as I pulled it away. He then followed suit and kissed his hand and put it on his ankle. Miraculously healed, he came down the slide and raced me to the merry-go-round, laughing as he ran. In that moment, I understood Paulo Coelho’s idea of the language of the world. This little boy from Malaysia could not understand my words, but in the end he understood my message.

All Girls are Princesses

Did you ever see the movie the Little Princess? If not, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. The movie centers on an English girl who is being brought up in India when her single father is called to war. He brings her back to the UK and puts her in a boarding school with no expenses spared. But when the British army believes him dead, everything is taken away from the girl and she is forced to become a maid in the school. Despite all that happens, she believes in her dreams and her father’s words that she is princess.

Every Thursday afternoon I’ve been volunteering with Spero Project and helping with the children in our local refugee community. Thursdays seem to be the day where they don’t have much homework so in general, we just play. Yesterday I put out a stack of paper, crayons, tape, and ribbon and just let the kids create what they wanted. There was everything from t-shirts, to paper finger claws, to purses. But what struck me the most were the crowns. With little girls from Malaysia, Turkey, and Myanmar, every single one of them wanted to make a crown to wear. Every one of them wanted to be a princess. As I watched them play, it reminded me of the movie. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak, all girls are princesses.

Lessons Learned from Tutoring

Yesterday was my first day tutoring through Spero Project. Each day varies so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. In the end we had over 25 kids from at least 6 different countries and I definitely learned a lot on the job! Here are my lessons learned so far:

1. Not being able to speak the language is really tough when you just want the grown-up to help you make Power Ranger cuffs.

2. A roll of tape, markers, and a stack of paper can keep kids occupied for a minimum of three hours.

3. Explaining how to do mathematical estimation is not easy, but when you see the spark in the child’s eye because she gets it, it is definitely worth all the effort.

4. Every kid is obsessed with using the computers.

5. To little ones, attention and love and much more important than language barriers and cultural differences.

6. It’s hard to work in an apartment complex at dinner time with all the delicious smells from around the world and not get hungry.

7. All of the hand games I played as a kid are still popular.

8. And finally, I’m pretty lucky to be able to hang out with such a great group of kids through an incredible organization.

Volunteer Prep: Burmese and Iraqi Etiquette

When we moved to OKC, I knew I had to get involved. I’m too social of a person to sit at home all day. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading a good book and writing this blog, but a whole day without talking to someone is a long day for me. Taking the advice of my friend who did a guest post for me on volunteering with the refugee community, I started researching different organizations in Oklahoma City that assist refugees. And that’s when I found Spero Project. The Spero Project is a local non-profit organization that partners with local churches to serve under-resources communities. Their programming extends to single mothers, children in the foster care system, and families who are refugees in OKC.

I will be serving in their Learning Center where children from the refugee community can come and get help with homework, English, and just play. Adults can also come work on English and study for the TOEFL, their GED, or the citizenship exam. I had my first training on Tuesday and will have my first hours in the Learning Center this evening. Most of the children that I’ll be working with come from either Iraq or Myanmar. While I feel ready to help with fractions, I realized that I am not very familiar with the Iraqi or Burmese cultures. I know I will learn a lot while I’m with the kids, but I thought it might be good to know some basic etiquette to get me started.

Burmese Basic Etiquette:

  • As a female, a smile or nod is the most appropriate ways to greet men.
  • Never touch a person’s hair, head or cheek, even if you consider it as a friendly gesture.
  • The upper part is considered sacred while lower part is considered inferior to the upper part, even considered dirty. Never mix the things you use for your upper part with that of the lower part.
  • Do not use your feet to point at anything or anyone.
  • Don’t cough, sneeze or blow your nose in the dining table.
  • Present gifts (even a business card) with both hands.

Iraqi Basic Etiquette:

  • The most common greeting is the handshake coupled with eye contact and a smile.
  • Use your right hand to make contact with others and to eat.
  • Do not point with a finger but rather with the entire hand.
  • Always keep your word. Do not make a promise or guarantee unless you can keep it. If you want to show a commitment to something but do not want to make caste iron assurances then employ terms such as “I will do my best,” or “We will see.”
  • Do not make the thumbs up or “ok” sign. They are considered obscene.
  • Present gifts (even a business card) with both hands.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Partners for Peace

I came upon Partners for Peace about a month ago when I did a tag search for Peace Corps. While I don’t know that the Peace  ever fit into my life, I do love reading about others who have delved into the two-year journey. For Mari and Paul of Partners for Peace, this adventure has taken this married couple from NYC to Palmar, Ecuador. Despite connectivity issues, M&P post regularly and give a ton of detail about being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I first started reading their blog when they were opening a pizza parlor in Palmar (great posts), but since have gone back and read their engagement story and process of applying for and getting placed with the Peace Corps. If you are even contemplating the Peace Corps, Mari and Paul’s blog is definitely one to read.

I caught up with Mari and Paul this week via email to ask them a few questions about their lives in Ecuador with the Peace Corps. See what they had to say!

What are the best/most challenging aspects of your Peace Corps assignments?

MARI: One of the best aspects of my Peace Corps assignment is that I am able to combine several of my skills and passions into individual projects. For example, I am working with a women’s artisan cooperative called Mujeres Cambia (http://mujerescambia.com). Members of the group make incredible hand-made jewelry out of recycled paper. You can’t tell by looking at it that it is made from paper. Most people think the beads are made of glass, ceramic, or wood but they really are made of paper! I am able to share my love for making things with my hands (I used to be the executive director of an arts nonprofit in Brooklyn, New York) at the same time I am able to design promotional materials and a marketing strategy for the group. Further, I am constantly motivated as the women learn new business skills like branding, accounting, promotions, and inventory.

One of the more challenging aspects of service is that while we act as catalysts for change we are also forced to change a lot in our current context, too. For instance, I was used to being a very independent woman in New York City – walking around alone, sharing household chores with my husband, traveling wherever and whenever I wanted, working outside of the home – and many of these activities are less common for women in my particular town. I am in the privileged position of being from somewhere else so I am given a pass on most of these things but I am often the exception acting in this way.

PAUL:  The reason I joined the Peace Corps is that I wanted to do something different with my life. Mari and I were happy in NYC but we were restless and looking for adventure. We wanted to live abroad, learn a language and at the same time do some good. We find ourselves 2 years later in paradise. We are on the beach, working with an incredible team and couldn’t be happier. I agree that our most rewarding project is with the women’s group, Mujeres Cambia. Everyone who sees their pieces does a double-take. It is an
incredible gift to be working with such talented women.

Who has helped you adjust to your life in Ecuador?

MARI: One of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer at this stage in my life is that I get to do it with my best friend and partner, Paul. Serving as a married couple means that we can collaborate on projects (we help each other on all of our projects even if one of us is the lead), take care of one another when we are sick, share household chores, and serve as each other’s support system.  I thought about applying to the Peace Corps after college but now I can’t imagine this experience without Paul!

PAUL: What Mari says is true. While many of our peers are here alone I am here with my best friend. Together we are learning about the culture of Ecuador as well what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. In reality, it is also challenging because Marisa is a superstar so it’s sometimes hard to keep up. I strive to keep up with this powerhouse motivator, facilitator and designer but enjoy having a role model by my side.

You recently helped open a pizza parlor in Palmar. What are your favorite pizza combinations?

MARI: Pineapple is really popular here so we have that as an optional topping at Palmar Pizza. We also have pepperoni, ham, and vegetables. In my old life in Brooklyn, though, Paul and I were fond of a local pizza place that made a corn, goat cheese, and basil pizza. Often, we would buy pizza dough from our local pizzeria and make our own version of that pizza. I don’t know if the local taste buds would go for this one, but you never know!

PAUL: Helping start a pizza restaurant was a rewarding project where we designed and built out the space and of course perfected a recipe. In Palmar, because most people have never had pizza before we wanted to stick to the basics at least at first. In 2013 look out for shrimp pizza at a Palmar Pizza near you!

If received a care package from home, what would you want in it?

MARI: Wow! This is hard. This mythical perfect package would have to include some comfort food like home-baked cookies with dark chocolate chips, pad thai (not sure how well that would do in the mail) as well as some practical stuff like the new Polaroid digital instant camera and a bunch of Sharpie marker variety packs for the ladies of Mujeres Cambia. It would be nice to have other fun stuff to make me smile like pictures of my two nephews and one niece, recipes from my mom and mother-in-law, and actual written letters from all of my closest friends.

PAUL: My parents have been sending incredible care packages these past couple of months. We usually look forward to simple things like suncreen, cookies, or towels and always look forward to any hand written notes. I am also always excited about things that support our projects. Now I am trying to solicit old smart phones from friends that we could use for our business projects where we do accounting and inventory by hand.

What advice do you have for someone applying for the Peace Corps?

MARI: I would say “Go for it!” It is never too late to apply. We thought that since we hadn’t applied right after college that we had missed the boat but that’s definitely not true. The average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer has increased steadily (I think it’s 28 now) and they are encouraging more married couples as well as retirees to serve.

Also, it’s important to talk to current and returned volunteers. We hosted a potluck at our place for returned volunteers as we were filling out the application. We also spoke with people who had volunteered through other organizations. In the end Peace Corps was the best fit for us and they accepted us so we couldn’t feel luckier.

PAUL: I am on the same page as Marisa, “Go for it!” When we were thinking about Peace Corps we had been out of school for years, had stable jobs and a comfortable life in New York. We were content and happy. Doing something radically different like Peace Corps was risky. It meant not just leaving our jobs but being away from our family and friends. We couldn’t pick where we would live or what we would be doing. There was a chance we may not like our site. There was a feeling that we are giving up a great deal of control over our own lives. But thinking about the past couple of years in New York (which seemed to blur together now) it seemed like having a big change like this would be a way to challenge us. It would be a way to have another type of experience and of course an adventure. Adventure bound, as always.

Thanks so much, Mari and Paul!

Shop Good

When we found out we were moving to Oklahoma City, we immediately started liking the Thunder. The team is easy to like because they are good, but also because the entire city is crazy about them.

Originally I went out to our local sports store and purchased a championship shirt for Hubby, but it was too small and then they lost, so I figured I would keep looking. I’m glad I did because it led me to a great little shop called Shop Good.  Shop Good sells ethically made and social justice products which provide funding for local and international charities.  For example, this shirt (which I bought for Hubby) provides funds for Sunbeam Family Services, an organization that helps young mothers in OKC get on their feet. If you’re looking for fun tees, they have some great designs to check out.

Need a gift for a girlfriend? This bracelet available at Shop Good is made by South American artisans and provided through the Andean Collection. Its $26 price tag provides fair wages and benefits to the artists.

Or want a little something to spice up a simple dress for a night out? This clutch from Sseko Designs helps employ young Ugandan women to make sandals and clutches while they learn business models and prepare for college. So far, Sseko has graduated three classes of women from their program and every single one of them is currently in college. Wow!

Of course Shop Good isn’t the only store that sells fair-trade and social justice products. If you are interested in looking at some other shops that have this humanitarian approach, scope out these:

If you know of any other great shops that help the international community, please share!

Guest Blog: Volunteering in the Refugee Community

After learning about World Refugee Day, which was held on June 20th, I realized that volunteering with the refugee community would be a great way to be global from home. However, I am far from an expert on the topic so I asked my good friend, Becky, to do my first ever guest blog. Becky currently works with refugees in San Diego and she offers great ways to get involved and help refugees get resettled as they transition to life in their new home. If you live outside the San Diego area, be sure to visit the agency directory at Refugee Works to find where you can donate your time and talents.

Guest Blog by Becky Morines:

After interning at a refugee resettlement agency here in San Diego during my junior year at Point Loma Nazarene University, I was instantly attracted to the refugee population in San Diego.  Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their own countries due to persecution, people whose own homes have become a place of fear and danger, and people who have seen political upheaval, instability, war, terror, and in some cases have experienced kidnappings, torture, and had loved ones murdered.   After having my eyes opened to this population, I focused the majority of my academic research on the process to come to the United States for a refugee and the challenges faced during the assimilation process in the United States. I now work as the Employment Coordinator in the refugee resettlement department at Jewish Family Service of San Diego.  Most of the refugees that we work with are from Iraq and Burma; however our agency is open to refugees and asylum seekers from all across the globe.

As the Employment Coordinator, my job is to act as the bridge between the refugee and the employer.  I assist our clients prepare a resume, complete job applications, mock interviewing, and go out with them to look and apply for jobs.  The refugees arriving in San Diego have English skills from proficiency to none at all.  Some have never held a job, yet many hold Bachelor’s and Master degrees from their home country and have attained incredible professional experience.  It is very humbling to be able to help with the job application and interview process that seems so normal to Americans, however extremely abnormal for those who have traveled thousands of miles to get here.  I am inspired by every encounter simply based on their experience, courage, and strength.  I am also encouraged by the incredible team that has dedicated their work to the refugee community in San Diego.  There are new arrivals coming every month that need help adjusting to this new country and new people.

There are various satisfying ways to volunteer in the San Diego area.  The refugee resettlement department has several different opportunities to volunteer that include administrative support, employment scouting, furniture delivery, and translation in a variety of languages.  At Jewish Family Service, we have a Friendly-Match program that matches a mentor with a refugee family.  By joining this program you would be able to build a lasting relationship with a family with hands on experience.  These volunteers can assist the family grocery shopping, going to the bank, practicing English, or even just going to the beach!  Lastly we need Employment Mentors who familiarize newly arrived refugees with the job search and application processes in the United States using a hands-on approach. Mentors play an integral role in helping refugees to become self-sufficient by providing them with the education and support necessary to secure employment.

If you enjoy traveling and working with people from different backgrounds, there are incredible opportunities right in your own backyard.  You can also visit our website or contact me at for additional information.

Jewish Family Service of San Diego

www.jfssd.org/refugee

Empowering Youth Through Travel

Right now in Uvita, Costa Rica there is a group of inner-city, Chicago teens exploring, learning, and serving abroad for the very first time. Do you remember your first time abroad? The excitement, the culture shock, the challenges of language, the sensory overload. These students are experiencing all of that through the incredible efforts of a non-profit called Empowering Youth Through Travel. Started in 2010 by Jessica Mann, EYTT just left yesterday for their very first overseas program after 6 months of training in Chicago.

In her blog post on June 11th, Jessica highlighted some of the students who were about to venture to Costa Rica:

For one of our student’s, Dushun, this will be the first time he steps on a plane let alone outside of the country. Can you imagine what this experience will be like for him? Dushun lives in Chicago’s Austin community and will go from our concrete city streets to Uvita’s lush land, surrounded by the rainforest.

What will this experience be like for Yael, a soft spoken young lady from Cicero, IL, who is passionate about nature, yet has never left the country or strayed far from her close knit family? She will be venturing off to an unknown part of the world, stay with a family she’s never met, and see things she has only read about in books.

And for Chris, a quiet, young man of choice words who’s world currently revolves around soccer. He will soon have to step outside of his comfort zone by introducing and immersing himself into a lively, foreign community.

For all of us who have had the privilege of traveling abroad, we are more than aware of all the benefits and challenges in store for these students. But I’m pretty confident to say that the experience will be life changing for them. If you are interested in supporting EYTT and what they are doing to help inner-city youth explore the world, be sure to check out their website.

If you know similar programs in other states or countries, please share!

Unlocking the Greatness of Girls

Yesterday I was poking around TED Talks and ended up listening to a talk by Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Laureate and peace advocate from Liberia, called “Unlock the intelligence, compassion, greatness of girls”. In her 14 minute talk, she shares personal experiences of seeing young girls in Liberia unable to afford education and many entering into prostitution due to their extreme poverty.  But she believes their is hope and speaks of multiple young women who have made a difference in Liberia when they are able to unlock their own greatness.

The talk reminded me of a conversation I had with a faculty member from my university a few months ago. From Ghana, this professor takes a group of students back to his home community every summer for them to learn about development planning by working in the academy he started, the Human Factor Leadership Academy. When speaking to me of his academy he said,

“If you educate a man [in Ghana], you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a whole village.”

Through HFLA, he aims to impact the whole village and to unlock greatness as he teaches both children and adults throughout Africa. His hope is to build leaders who will spark change in his home country and beyond.

As I was pondering all of this yesterday, at first I confined these issues to Africa. However, currently I am in Las Vegas for the first time, and around me I feel that I see so much lost potential.  Escort cards line the streets offering women to your door in under 20 minutes. While my husband and I have had a great time viewing the lights, going to a show, and eating incredible food, I just can’t help but be sad. What if someone had helped unlock greatness in these women and the men they interact with? And, what I am doing to help unlock greatness in others?  It’s a question I feel I need to seriously consider.

Interested in learning more?  Check out these links:

International Do Gooder: The United Noshes

With this post, I add a new category to Global From Home: International Do Gooder.  My mother raised me to believe that to whom much is given much is expected. For those of us who have had the privilege to travel and see the world, we are certainly blessed and I believe we are called to give back in whatever ways we can.

The United Noshes have decided to do just that through one of the most creative fundraisers I’ve come across.  Currently they have endeavored to raise funds for World Food Program USA by cooking an authentic meal from each of the 194 countries (in alphabetical order!) that are members of the United Nations. There last meal represented the dishes of Columbia and included chicharrones (fried pork belly), chorizo, arepas de queso (corn and cheese griddle cakes), baked plantains, and several other dishes.  The meals are fairly elaborate and the Noshes maintain as much authenticity as possible in the ingredients and cooking methods.  For each meal they invite friends and acquaintances to join them and in return, only ask that they make a donation to the World Food Program USA.  As of right now, they have made 37 meals and raised over $6,000. Wow!

Columbian Dinner at the United Noshes

I am so in love with this idea: educate yourself and others on ethnic food, dine with friends, and raise money for an extremely worthy cause all within your own home. Sounds like a global from home winner to me.  While 194 authentic meals is certainly over my head, I do think the Noshes set a great example.  Plus, in addition to their philanthropic work, the Noshes also give back to their readers with links to all their recipes at www.UnitedNoshes.com.

Visit the World Food Program USA website to learn more about their programs or to make a donation.