Volunteer in Balama

Rev. Jessy Togbadoya is from a village in Liberia called Balama. He was the first individual from his village to receive an education. He now lives in Atlanta and runs a non profit organization called Balama Development Alliance (BDA). His mission through BDA is to enable transformational development by investing in the dreams of the poor, so that they might be released from physical and spiritual poverty.

Throughout the year, Rev Jessy takes groups of people from the US to Liberia on volunteer trips. Friends, students, church groups and organizations join forces to make a change in Liberia for two weeks at a time. The group stays in a guest house where they are provided lodging, meals and some extra curricular activities.

Some of the programs that BDA runs include:

Christian Education: BDA built and has continued to operate the first free elementary school in the Balama region of Bong County, Liberia. Enrollment is at 400+ students.

Micro-Enterprise Development: BDA provides seed monies of $100 per family to help disenfranchised and war-affected families start and grow self-sustainable businesses for a livelihood.  They have provided micro-loans for 130 families.

Leadership Development: BDA provides scholarships for high school and college students who are committed to serving in rural communities. There are 16 high school and 8 college students who benefit from the scholarship program.

Rev Jessy claims that the involvement in Balama tends to have a much bigger impact on the community, than say a volunteer working in another part of the world. The reason for this is that the population of Liberia (4 million) is less than that of Georgia (almost 10 million) so the impact per person is far greater. He takes up to 20 people at a time and each one of them is able to involved in the community directly.

If you are interested in joining one of the volunteer programs to Liberia, get more information on their web site or join me on a trip later this year. However, they also need virtual volunteers who can assist with training teachers on the ground, mentoring, creating lesson plans, etc. If you can’t make it all the way to Africa but still want to help, you can do so!

Email me sucheta@goeatgive.com if you would like to join my tour to Liberia.

Open world program opens homes and forms new friendships

I gave Mariya a Christmas ornament of The Fox Theater from Atlanta

Last week a delegation from Russia came to Atlanta to discuss social issues and healthcare through the Open World Leadership Program. The six delegates were hosted with families who have opened up their homes by being members of the Georgia Council of International Visitors (GCIV).

Mariya Yuryevna Solodunova, a young lady from St Petersburg was assigned to live with us for a week. She is a child psychologist who works in an orphanage providing counseling to children, parents and the care takers. Having volunteered in an orphanage in Yaroslavl in Russia couple of years ago, I was eager to learn more about what she did. Mariya (pronounced Marsha) is absolutely passionate about her work. She told me about how cutting edge her orphanage was and how her team has been on a mission to replicate its model to other places. Basically, they hired mothers to work as care taker with the orphan babies between the age of 0-4, a delicate age when they are most in need of emotional and physical care. This has changed their psychological behavior completely leading them to grow up to be healthy kids. More on that in my next post.

Mariya and I had a wonderful time together. This was her first visit to the US. Even though we live across the world from each other, we found we have a lot of similarities and could converse on practically any subject (even though Mariya said her English was limited which I disagreed with). One evening we had a girl’s day in and cooked pirogues (Russian stuffed bread), drank wine and shared stories. Needless to say I got to learn a lot about Russian traditions. Did you know that Christmas in not celebrated on Dec 25th in Russia? Also, they do not put presents under the tree till Christmas Eve and the children actually have to earn them by doing a performance or a recital.

One thing Mariya shared with me brought about a self awakening. She said that in Russia people are generally cautions about their belongings and their privacy, and would not leave their home open to a complete stranger. The fact that I gave her a key to my home after only a few hours of knowing her surprised her that I would trust someone so much so soon. I explained to her that we humans try to protect our materialistic things and forget that we came into the world with nothing and will leave with nothing. It is only our gestures towards each person leave an everlasting impact on one individual or an entire society. Then why do we give so much importance to the materialistic thing? A Buddhist believer, she found me to be. She said after staying with us, it has opened her heart and she will now be more trusting of people as well. Perhaps she will sign up to be a host family in her city.

GCIV Farewell party

The last evening, all the delegates, host families and GCIV staff members got together for a farewell celebration. We ate, drank and sang Russian songs. One of the ladies from Sibera even sang us a song in Hindi called “I am a disco dancer.” She did not speak English but her Hindi singing was awfully good!

It was wonderful to meet other like minded people who open up their homes to complete strangers and want to share their lives with others. Because of such people, visitors to the US have a warm welcoming feeling and great memories to take back home. Mariya was emotional when she was leaving us. She said she had not met such kind and compassionate people as she did during this entire visit and that she would love to come back soon.

I believe getting to know people from different countries actually teaches you a thing or two about life as well. In addition to learning about the culture, you get to learn more about yourself and your own culture.  I had a similar experience in India last month which I encourage you to read about.

Becoming a host is easy. All you need to provide is boarding, some meals, a friendly spirit and an open minded attitude.

Give the gift of endless possibilities

This holiday season consider giving the gift of learning. Books For Africa is a non profit with a mission to end the book famine in Africa. They want to create a culture of literacy and provide the tools of empowerment to the next generation of parents, teachers, and leaders in Africa.  Since 1988, Books For Africa has shipped more than 24 million books to 46 African countries. They are on once-empty library shelves, in classrooms in rural schools, and in the hands of children who have never before held a book. Each book will be read over and over again. The books go to those who need them most: children who are hungry to read, hungry to learn, hungry to explore the world in ways that only books make possible.

You can change the life of a child in Africa through the gift of books.  Books For Africa appreciates all book donations in categories including General Leisure, Reading, Business & Economics, Computer Science, English Language Skills, Science & Engineering, Math, Communications, Science, Educational Theory, Health, Arts & Humanities, Political Science, Sports/Vocational/Hobbies and International law.

Books For Africa accepts:

  • 20 years old or newer popular fiction and nonfiction reading books (soft and hard cover).
  • 1991 or newer publish date primary, secondary, and college textbooks (soft and hard cover, social studies can include world history or geography, but nothing U.S. based).
  • 1991 or newer reference books such as atlases, thesauruses, and dictionaries.
  • 1991 or newer publish date medical, nursing, IT, and law books.
  • School/office supplies—paper, pencils, pens, wall charts, maps, etc.
  • Acceptable books are gently used and relevant to an African reader.

If you are interested in donating a book, please contact Gaurav Bhatia at gbhatia2000@gmail.com or call 404-661-0801.  

Volunteering in Nepal

Volunteers Initiative Nepal or VIN is a Nepal based not-for-profit organization that was founded in 2005 by Bhupendra Ghimire (Bhupi). Bhupi grew up in a remote village in Nepal where he had to walk three hours a day to school. He was one of the few sBhupi, VIN staff & volunteerstudents from his village to complete graduation and later on went on to get his masters degree and become the youngest principal in a school in Kathmandu. After a successful career in education, Bhupi realized he wanted to improve the lives of the Nepali people, especially the poor, women and children. He joined forces with a diverse group of development workers, educationalists, social activists and other professionals to form VIN.

Teaching in secondary schoolVIN’s mission is to empower marginalized communities, with a focus on women and children, through enhanced educational programs and community training to promote equality, economic well-being and basic human rights. Currently, VIN serves the village of Jitpurphedi which is as a rural community 11km from the capital on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. The community is home to a thousand households, with a total population of around 6,000 people. There are 9 schools, 9 early childhood development centers and very limited resources.

Early childhood education centerThe volunteer abroad opportunities at VIN are unique as they involve staying with a host family and getting a real experience of the Nepali culture. Each volunteer is placed with a family where they are given room, board and food. The families adopt the volunteer for the duration of the stay and are given a small stipend to cover the costs. The households are typically farmers with large families and are eager to interact with people from around the world who have come to enrich their lives. The life in village is not easy but offers pristine quiet scenery, friendly people and a strong bond with the community.

VIN offers a number of meaningful, affordable, fun and safe volunteering as well as internships opportunities in and around Kathmandu. Minimum commitment is one week, although most volunteers tend to stay for months and include hiking and sightseeing trips between their programs. A three day induction introduces the newcomers to Nepali language and culture. Volunteers also get to meet each other and the staff, forming long term friendships. Perhaps one of the most attractive features of VIN is that its programs are affordable and most of the money goes back into the community. A four week stay costs around EUR430.

Some of the volunteer projects include:

Help run microcredit cooperative
Train women in new income generation ideas
Organize literacy and life skills training
Work with 3-5yr olds as an ECD teacher’s assistant
Teach English in schools
Run teacher training to encourage use of creative teaching methods
Help out at an orphanage
Work as a qualified doctor or nurse at the Health Post
Organize health and hygiene awareness training for the community
Help with toilet construction and school renovation
Develop a waste management system
Work as a volunteer coordinator
Help with fundraising and grant writing
Work for environment and agroforestry
Teach English in a monastery or nunnery
Intern as a journalist at a Nepali magazine or other publication
Teach at a school for the deaf

To learn more visit www.volunteeringnepal.org

Global youth making an impact in rural Nepal

Host family, volunteer & staff at one of the homes in JitpurI am totally in awe after meeting some volunteers here in Kathmandu. There are boys and girls in their 20’s who have come from Canada, USA, Switzerland, UK and Australia – all with common goals to give back to this world and experience life in a different culture.

They have abandoned their comfortable lifestyles and families, and are living with Nepali farmers’ acting as host families in the rural area of Jitpur. The village houses are spread around the hills so a hike through a dirt path usually leads you into the homes. Sometimes the climb can be quite steep. The volunteers are provided a bed (either single or shared rooms) and two meals a day of daal-bhat (the staple food of Nepal). The kitchen is an open fire pit fueled with stick of wood. The facilities are rather limited. There is one toilet shared by the household which is located outside the main house. Cold shower and self clean toilets are the norm. There is a mandatory power cut for up to 16 hours a day. Room heating is out of question. There is nothing to do after dark besides read, talk and contemplate. Pleasantly, none of the volunteers I met complained about the inconveniences. Instead, they all confirmed their host family was the best part of their experience in Nepal. They felt welcomed and invited. A few of them shed tears when leaving their home away from home.

The volunteers I met are here for 6 weeks-5 months. Some are students between semesters, earning credits for masters programs, others have quit their jobs and are fulfilling their desire to travel. After deeper conversations, I felt some of the youth were running away from personal life situations and looking to find themselves. A minimum commitment of 2 weeks is required in order to volunteer through Volunteer Initiative Nepal (VIN).

The work involved while living in the village differs based on interest. Some of the guys wanted to work in construction, building a public toilet facility for the villagers. Others are involved in teaching at schools and women’s center. The volunteers work for 2-8 hours a day depending on where they are placed and what activities need to be organized. They are expected to be on site 6 days a week and only get Saturdays off. Most of them visit Thamel (tourist area in Kathmandu located 30 minutes away) for hot showers, internet access, shopping for basics and getting a taste of coffee and international food.

Volunteers can take time off to go on excursions whenever they want. Almost everyone I met had been on some hike or the other, climbing Everest base camp or Annapurna trail. They went bungee jumping at The Last Resort, took a 7 hour bus ride to Chaitwan national forest and explored the peaceful lakes of Pokhra. It seemed easy to make friends with like minded individuals sharing close quarters and end up travelling together.

I believe it takes a different kind of individual to get out of his/her comfort zone, travel half way around the world, volunteer in a totally different community, stay in less than optimal living conditions, learn a new language and cover the expenses-that too for months at a time! It takes a lot of courage to climb the world’s highest mountains and jump off the highest cliff. I’m sure these people would have a life altering experience and would never be the same after their volunteer trip in Nepal.

Horn for Africa dinner fundraiser

Cooking instructor and a good friend, Durrain and I hosted a fundraising dinner for the Horn of Africa this past weekend. We cooked an African inspired dinner for about 50 people and invited neighbors, family and friends. The event was held at Durrain and Navaz’s clubhouse in Kennesaw, GA.

According to the news media 29,000 children under the age of 5 have perished in Somalia due to famine. We tried to make a small difference by getting-together in our communities, bringing people together through food and raising awareness of what mankind is facing in other parts of the world. We were able to raise over $800, all of which will go to OXFAM international for Somalia famine relief.

We took a moment of silence to honor the victims of September 11, 2011. Then a local Acapella group sang a few American patriotic songs, followed by cheerful notes. Between the singers and African music, we had entertainment throughout the evening!

The dinner was a delicious feast from all over Africa! A lot of people had never tried some of these dishes, so they were in for a real treat. We prepared Nigerian style okra, cabbage and potatoes; chichen kukupaka, Kenyan chicken curry in coconut sauce; Moroccan couscous with roasted vegetables. Durrain bought a whole baby goat with which she made an Ethopian stew called Doro Wett. She also made some Indian style biryani remembering those Indian settlers in Africa.

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Local African businesses also donated items for the event. Ledet Ethiopian restaurant in Atlanta made special stuffed Injera sandwiches and chicken Doro Wett. It was gone in no time! The Yeshi Food Mart in Clarkston contributed traditional bread and rolls of Injera, a spongy Ethiopian flat bread made with Teff flour. For dessert, we prepared a hearty Burundi peanut cake as well as sweet potato casserole. The kids enjoyed it with vanilla ice cream.

A big Thank You to everyone who attended the event and made a contribution, also to our sponsors Ledet Ethiopian restaurant and Yeshi Food Mart! If you missed it but would still like to make a contribution to the Somalia famine relief, please make a donation online.

Expedition Give 2011 Atlanta

Expedition Give is like The Amazing Race with a unique charity twist. Giving101 organized the race third year in Atlanta. In this five-hour scavenger hunt, teams of two race all over the city collecting items, taking pictures, and completing community service projects to earn points. Teams with the most points take home some prizes. It is a fun way to compete, be challenged and give back to the community-all at the same time!

The Go.Eat.Give Team participated in the race on September 10, 2011. We were given 20 clues and roughly 5 hours. You can only work in pairs as a team although we had our friends join as part of the larger group. The race started and ended at the GA Tech School of Management and the locations of the tasks were spread around Midtown Atlanta.

Clues included some easy tasks like going to LA Fitness and making a CUREchief for cancer patients, recording a story (The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein) for The Center for Visually Impaired to some harder ones, solving puzzles, identifying statues and much more. The first thing we did was strategize on which locations we wanted to cover first, what tasks gave us the most points, etc. The idea was the collect as many points in as little time as possible. We ended up completing 18/20 tasks in a record time of 4 hours.

At the end of the race, there were celebrations and winners. Local restaurants and companies donated some fabulous prizes that were distributed to 20 of the 125 teams. Some of those included 50k miles from Delta Airlines, tickets to Braves, a year long subscription to The High Museum, certificates for skydiving, comedy clubs, restaurants and local area attractions. There were prizes for the best dressed team (Chicken and the Egg), best working team and the teams with the most points. We won the 13th prize and our friends were 3rd!

Together, the volunteers collected more than 1,000 items for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, prepared well over 500 toiletry kits for Lazarus Ministries, made nearly 100 scarves for cancer patients undergoing treatment, donated 100 pairs of socks for Georgia soldiers, created more than 200 birthday cards for terminally ill children, provide boxes of supplies for the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, baked and purchased enough treats for 12 local fire stations, collected and sent 200 pairs of shoes to Africa with Soles4Souls, created many recordings of The Giving Tree for The Center for the Visually Impaired, made hundreds of flashcards for English for Successful Living, delivered over 500 snack items to Kate’s Club, and much more – all while having a great time! Quite the impressive feat in under 5 hours!

I have to say my legs were killing me by the end of the day but the adrenaline was high. It was wonderful to see how people of Atlanta came together and devoted their time, money and a lot of energy towards a greater cause. The most fascinating aspect was how Giving101 created such a neat concept that served a dual purpose – a fun competitive race incorporated with giving back. It would be wonderful to see other cities adopt the same model and help the charities in their areas.

Blueberries for Belarus

Sidney Roland blubbery farm in GeorgiaIts berry picking season in Georgia and I happened to come across a farm which allows you to pick your own blueberries for a good cause. Located only 70 miles from Atlanta, the Roland Farm grows varieties of blueberries that are available for picking from June to September for only $5 a gallon!

Sidney Roland, who has a street named after him, is retired and lives on his farm home where he grows the blueberries. Sidney donates all of the money raised from selling blueberries to The American Belarussian Relief Organization. ABRO has a host program where it brings children from Belarus to US every summer so they can get away from the effects of radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident. For the last 9 years, Sidney and his wife have hosted up to 14 Belarusian children each summer, at their home for six weeks. The children are given medical attention, tours of local attractions, beach trips and much more.

Picking Blueberries in GeorgiaSidney told me that after coming across the local chapter of ABRO, he just wanted to make a difference. He enjoys hosting the children and loves to see the impact on them year after year. He has a warm heart and frequently opens up his riverside property to baptisms, fundraisers, weddings and private events. He even helped his nephew’s band, Collective Soul launch right in his backyard.

If you would like to support Sidney’s good cause, gather a group and go to the Roland Farm for a fun day of blueberry picking. Bring bathing suits, food and drinks and enjoy a picnic by the river afterwards (located right on the farm). I bet Sidney would join the party in a heartbeat!

Contact: Roland Farm, 860 Sidney Roland Road, Demorest, GA 30535; Phone: 706-754-6700

One guy’s quest to flush away the world’s sanitation problems

It all started a couple years ago when I went on Wikipedia to search for international holidays, as I was very interested in learn about more than just the well-known ones like Halloween and Valentine’s Day.  As I came across a holiday called World Toilet Day, I researched it and read about an agency called World Toilet Organization. 

I was inspired by WTO’s cause, as it builds toilets in other countries, including Cambodia and Indonesia.  The organization is located in Singapore and I made the decision that I wanted to establish a similar charity in America, as here in the United States, we aren’t used to the fact that a toilet is considered a luxury in many developing nations.  So I thought about what kind of title I’d want to use and I decided that Flush Campaign would be very catchy.  Then I chose to research the process of starting a nonprofit.

I found that starting a nonprofit takes a lot of money and paper work, and I wanted to find a solution that would allow me to bypass the bureaucracy of establishing one.  So I learned about fiscal sponsorships, which involves sharing nonprofit status with groups that already have tax exempt status.  My goal was to look for a compatible agency that would be willing to be a fiscal sponsor.  But one of the things I realized was that it would be very difficult to get local support for such an initiative, as it would be very expensive to not only build all the toilets in various countries, but also do all the traveling to find locations in which these toilets would be built.  For a cause like this, financial contributions would be one of the only ways to get involved, as it would be challenging to get volunteers and in-kind donations. 

After reading about charities such as the Global Soap Project, which collects soap for refugee camps worldwide, as well as remembering about my past involvement in homeless shelters and acknowledging the need for personal hygiene items in such settings, I chose to broaden the scope.  I came to the conclusion that I wanted the Flush Campaign to promote sanitation as whole and not just toilets.  In addition, I felt that it would be better to partner with already existing groups than to create a new one, inspired by Bill Gates focus on creating software for computers instead of developing the computers themselves).  In other words, instead of starting a new organization that collects hygiene supplies for people in need, I decided to start an initiative that helps established nonprofits gain these items.  Thus, the Flush Campaign was born. The Flush Campaign is a grassroots effort to advocate for organizations that locally and globally address the issue of sanitation and build healthier communities in the process. 

The reason why I want to focus on hygiene items is because many illnesses and even deaths around the world, as well as locally, are due to poor hygiene.  The goal would be to “flush way” the problems of poor sanitation in homeless shelters, refugee centers, and other types of nonprofits.  Currently I have collected soap from Homewood Suites to give to the Global Soap Project, benefiting refugees in Uganda, Kenya, and Swaziland.  Additionally, I have gathered shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and other similar products for the Task Force for the Homeless

My plan is to emphasize on in-kind donations for similar charities, as in-kind giving has gone up during the recession.  I don’t intend on collecting any products unless a specific charity request them and I base my work on the wish lists of these organizations.  While my main focus will be global charities, I will also be emphasizing on local organizations.      

~ By guest blogger Gaurav Bhatia, founder of the Flush Campaign

Heroine from India

The second Emory conference on Religion, conflict, and Peacebuilding 2011 took place this past weekend. Yesterday, Dr. Kiran Bedi gave a public talk on “Contemporary Issues and Practical Solutions” that included her movement against anti-corruption in India. Her fame started when she issued a parking ticket to the Prime Minister of India (Mrs Indira Gandhi) and now Dr. Bedi has been responsible for apprehending chief ministers, banking fraudulent and organizers of the Commonwealth Games. Even today, of the allocations, only $16 of every $100 is actually spent on building infrastructure in India. The rest fuels corruption and bribery. Clearly, the astronomical growth of the Indian economy needs to be counterbalanced with a strong infrastructure, and sound political and judiciary systems. You can join her movement abroad by visiting NRIAC.

I first met Dr. Bedi when I was a teenager growing up in Chandigarh, India. She had come to speak of her recent achievements at our local Rotary club. Even then, she left a deep impression on me. As a powerful woman in a male dominant career, she inspired young girls like me to demand respect and transform society. She did not stop there. Over the past few decades, she has been a humanitarian, peace keeper and activist. Dr. Bedi spoke about the need for our youth to be giving, to serve the communities and participate in the political affairs. Watch the video where Dr. Bedi gives her message.

                                    Video Kiran Bedi on youth

If you are not familiar, here is a brief background on Dr. Bedi (from the web)….

Dr. Kiran Bedi is an Indian social activist and retired Indian Police Service Officer (IPS) and became the first woman to join in 1972. She worked as Police Advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Since retirement, she founded two non-profit organizations: Navjyoti and India Vision Foundation, which seek to improve the lives of Indians through education, addiction treatment, and programs for women and children living in India’s slums, rural areas, and prison. She has won numerous international awards for her courageous work in Indian prison and justice reform, including the equivalent of the Asian Nobel Prize. She has been the host of popular Indian court television, as well as the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary of her life, “Yes, Madam Sir”.