From Traveler to Change Maker

In July 2015, my husband and I headed to Rwanda, a country that suffered one of the worst genocides the world has ever seen – more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days. We met a small group of women there that were living in terrible conditions and had faced the most unimaginable circumstances. Many are victims of rape, are widowed, orphaned and lost children of their own. These women inspired us to do something drastic.

M&A Rwanda

To give a clear picture of the whole story of how we ended up in Rwanda, let me first rewind to November 2014, during our first trip there, a journey we were inspired to embark on after spending the last 14 years traveling around the world. A writer and a photographer duo, we took the time to deeply connect with many fascinating people we met along the way and to learn more about incredible cultures we came to love. We saw the juxtaposition between wealthy and poor and it gave us that unsettled feeling of enjoying something that was only available to those who could afford it.

As travelers, it is important to us to leave the planet a better place. Our journeys abroad brought a richness to our life that no material object ever could. So we thought – why not return this good to the world and pay it forward?

So back to that drastic life-changing thing we did.

Last year, we launched Humanity Unified International, a nonprofit organization that empowers communities to rise above poverty through education, food security programs and economic opportunities. We started by investing in women.

Humanity Unified International

I gave up all my opportunities to earn an income through my online magazine to focus solely on building the organization and our current project in Rwanda. For the past year, my life has been completely dedicated to serving and empowering the women involved in our project.

Humanity Unified International

Now when my husband and I travel, we spend our time doing something meaningful and impactful in Rwanda. We’ve chosen to work with a local NGO that is leading a women’s farming cooperative project with us. Our approach to sustainable development lies within investing in local organizations and stepping away from our own ideas and beliefs of how things should be or what development should look like from a Western perspective. We trust our partners and we know that they put the needs of the community first.

As a travel writer, I knew I could write stories to help spread awareness about the work we are doing with Humanity Unified Int’l. I’ve been sharing our story with people all over the world in hopes that it will inspire those drawn to our mission to get involved and to come together in making this planet a kinder, gentler, fairer place for the good of humanity.

Become part of our story of empowerment. Learn more at humanityunified.org

 

~ By Maria Russo, writer, editor and co-founder of Humanity Unified Int’l, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to lifting vulnerable populations out of poverty through education, food security programs and economic opportunities. Follow Maria on Twitter @MariaCultureist

Unwind with Pumeli sustainable rituals from around the world

You may not be able to afford a trip abroad every month of the year. But what if the world was delivered to your door? Pumeli is a monthly subscription box filled with teas and
textures designed to help busy women slow down, unplug and give themselves
permission to relax.

Each month, Pumeli delivers a care package of time-slowing rituals that enable women to experience more calm, peace and joy in as little as 5-10 minutes. Every shipment includes artisanal tea to soothe your soul, beautiful paper for your thoughts, and handcrafted goods that evoke mindfulness while empowering artisans around the world.

Pumeli Founder, Traci Pichette
Pumeli Founder, Traci Pichette

Pumeli works with small businesses and craft producers on different levels to bring well-designed and high quality products. They purchase products at a fair market price in order to deliver the highest value to the artisan and support global community initiatives. Each product comes with a story too. A monthly subscription runs at $49.95 or $249.95 for 6 months (with 1 month free). It is a great gift to send to a special lady in your life and remind her each month that you care – moms, sisters, girlfriends, or even your office secretary. See current package with stories behind the box and the products at Pumeli’s website.

The theme for November is “Be Like a Tree.” A tree is a great natural teacher of mindful living. Trees inspire us to stay grounded, adapt gracefully to the present moment, and continuously renew ourselves, and take time to rest. This month’s Pumeli box takes you on a journey through Africa to celebrate the life of trees with the following items.

Pumeli November BoxAduna Baobab Powder – Revitalizing facemark with baobab fruit sustainability harvested in Senegal and Ghana in partnership with several women’s co-ops. The African baobab tree, known as ‘The Tree of Life’, provides 100% organic fruit that dries naturally on its branches. Packed with vitamin C and antioxidants so you can feel good inside and out.

Mud Cloth Notebook – Hand woven in Mali, the mud cloth is treated in baths of leaves and branches, and hand dyed using mud mixture. Traditionally used to share village stories and African proverbs.

Tea Accessories – Hand carved Kenyan teaspoon from olive wood, adorned with colorful beads. JusTea has a direct-trade relationship with Central province village carvers in Kenya.

Jacaranda Wood Ornament – Hand painted giraffe by artisans in Kenya, this exquisite ornament reminds you to be gentle on yourself, just as the giraffe gently chews on the topmost under leaves of trees. Acacia Creations donates 10% of each purchase to animal conservation.

JusTea African Chai – Inside an East African fabric bag, is a 100% natural Masala Chai tea blend with Camellia saneness, cinnamon, allspice, rose petals and more. Each sip directly supports small-scale tea farming families.

Learn more about the artisans at Pumeli.

Nigeria’s place on the world scene: Interesting facts about the “Giant of Africa”

Nigeria, also referred to as the “Giant of Africa,” is located in West Africa between the Republics of Benin, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. With over 174 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and the seventh most populous in the world. It is made up of over 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 521 languages, the fourth largest grouping of languages in the world, yet it is only about twice the size of California. Nigeria gets its name from the Niger river that flows through its landscape, and is home to one of the oldest known locations of human existence. Thanks to its size and abundance of natural resources, Nigeria is the most important player in Africa and one of the biggest in the world scene, and is slated to become even bigger in the next half a century.

As of 2014, Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa, worth more than $500 billion, and is the 32nd largest economy in the world. It is expected to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050. Much of this economic power is due to its crude oil production industry. Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum and the 8th largest exporter, brining in billions of dollars annually. This level of wealth is evident in many aspects of its culture. Nigeria is home to 5 of the 10 wealthiest pastors in the world according to Forbes, worth between $10 and $150 million. It is also home to the world’s third largest film industry, Nollywood.

But with the good also comes the bad. Due to its economic wealth and various military dictatorships that have ruled the country since its independence in 1960, Nigeria is arguably one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Its legislators are among the highest paid worldwide, while its people are among the poorest, with more than 100 million Nigerians living in destitution and for less than one dollar a day. In 2013 Nigeria was rated the worst country in the world to be born in based on welfare and prosperity projection. Based on an income of $81 billion per year and the amount of that squandered annually, Nigeria has been deemed the most corrupt nation in the world, due to its government’s tendency of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the public.

So how is this contradiction possible, and what is there to do about it? To learn this and more about the “Giant of Africa,” come to our next event Destination Nigeria on August 14, and hear Nigerian Ambassador Geoffrey I. Teneilabe and Dr. Omoh T. Ojior of the Onima Institute, speak about current issues plaguing Nigeria, its economy and its people.

Destination Nigeria flyer

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

Kilimanjaro and the Maasai

On June 24th, I will begin a 6 day climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. The purpose of my climb is to raise money for the O’Brien School for the Maasai, and a women’s group that operates out of a room in the school.

The O’Brien School for the Maasai is a non-profit organization that gives the children in the village the chance to receive an education and a hope for a future.  The school was started by Kellie O’Brien a native of Chicago after meeting one of the Maasai men, who told her how much they needed a school for the children in the village. A year later the school was complete. Each year the school expands, and they are hoping to continue the school growth to allow even more children to receive an education.

Not only are the Maasai children benefiting from The O’Brien school for the Maasai but the Maasai women are as well. These women fight on a daily basis for their right to exist as an equal in their communities.  Money raised will help these women start innovative, sustainable projects that will benefit the women in their village.  Supplies  to help them sew, bead and do numerous other crafts will be purchased with the money raised, allowing them to sell their hand made items to support their families and for many, the money will help put their children through school. Some of the money will also go back to The O’Brien School for the Maasai, providing the students with school supplies, books etc. to continue their education.

I’ve been told the Maasai people look at Mount Kilimanjaro every day and think the people who climb it are very brave, when really it’s them who are the brave ones. My struggle will only last the 6 days it will take to summit, while their struggle is a lifetime. If the money raised from my 6 day struggle can help make life a little easier for the Maasai people then I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and can leave that mountain knowing the money is going to truly deserving people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My goal is to raise at least $2500, and my first attempt at fundraising was Sunday when I hiked with friends at Tunica Hills in Louisiana. My friend & co-worker Richard, had the idea of turning a hike into a fundraiser. Tunica Hills has 7 waterfalls, and he suggested I ask for my friends and family to sponsor me for $1 a waterfall!  I sent out letters and emails to friends and family explaining my Mount Kilimanjaro climb and my Tunica Hills hike. By hiking day, I had raised over $200!! I had not hiked much except as a kid, and I thought I was prepared for the hike, but four days later my body is still unhappy. On my hike, I was accompanied by Richard, his friend Cody, my co-workers, Virginia and Aaron, and Aaron’s girlfriend, Monica. It was overcast skies with a chance of rain.

We drove an hour or so to Tunica Hills, and began our climb down to the creek bed. I made it to the creek bed, by slipping and falling down a hill. My day began extremely muddy!  We spent most of the day walking the creek bed, climbing over random rock formations, getting our feet wet jumping from one side to the other. Climbing through the creek was tough, since it had rained so much the days before making the ground extremely slippery.  We were only able to see 5 of the 7 waterfalls due to the weather.

After seeing the final waterfall, we made our journey back to the car, but decided to take a different route through the actual trails. I quickly learned just how out of shape I am climbing up and down all those hills. It was such a great day though, hanging out with friends and being out with nature. I’m so excited to continue my training for Mt. Kilimanjaro!

To make a tax deductible donation to The O’Brien School for the Maasai on my behalf please click here.

~ By guest blogger, Leslie Vice. Leslie volunteered with Sucheta in Morocco in 2010 through Cross Cultural Solutions. She will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and volunteering at The O’Brien School for the Maasai in Tanzania this summer. 

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.  

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.

Lamb and Blueberry Chutney Pastries

This recipe is inspired by Northern Africa where you will often find savory meat pastries. I learned to make Bastilla while volunteering in Morocco last year and fell in love with it. Bastilla is a pastry made with phyllo and layers of spiced ground chicken, omelets, almond paste and powdered sugar. It requires some skill to keep it all together but is not as hard as it looks.

With my bounty of blueberries, I created my own sweet and spicy meat pastry. These make wonderful entrees for that special date night or you can do a smaller appetizer sized version for a party.

Makes:  4 pastries

Total Time: 5 hours (Prep: 1 hour, Inactive: 45 minutes)

For the lamb:

Place chutney in the center of the lamb mixture on phyllo sheets

1 lb lamb, ground

2 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger

1 green chili

1 medium onion

3 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

 

 

 

For the blueberry chutney:

Ground lamb & blueberry chutney stuffed in phyllo pastry

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon cumin powder

½ teaspoon coriander powder

½ teaspoon ground clove

1 teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups blueberries

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup water

 

For the pastry:

1 lb phyllo dough, thawed

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. In a food processor, grind the onion, garlic, ginger and green chili. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the ground lamb and the spices. Mix well and set aside.

To make the blueberry chutney, place a medium saucepan on high heat. Add the oil and let heat. Then fry the cumin seeds for 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients. Once the liquid comes to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Let cool completely before moving on to the next step. The chutney can be prepared ahead of time & stored in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Spread parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. Prepare an egg wash by lightly beating the egg with water. Using 2-3 layers of phyllo sheets at a time, brush the egg wash lightly on each layer. Alternate horizontal & vertical sheets so you have 4 solid layers of 2-3 phyllo sheets each.

Place 2/3 cup of the lamb meat mixture in the center of the prepared dough in a circular shape.  With your fingers, create a small dent in the middle of the meat. Carefully place 2 tablespoons of the chutney into this indent. Close the pastry by wrapping the meat with the sheets, in the shape of a pentagon. Make sure to fold even number of sheets on top and under the meat patty, always brushing with the egg mixture. Repeat the process so you have 4 pastries.

Once you have a nicely wrapped pastry, brush the top with more egg. Place in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until crispy.