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

Patch unites global humanitarians in Atlanta

This weekend, I attended the Global Health & Humanitarian Summit at Emory University in Atlanta. It was three days of speakers, networking, exhibits and activities. The organizers want to make it into a movement, similar to the Global Economic Summit and it was a great first event. There were hundreds of people from all over the world in attendance.

Speakers included nonprofit organizations, individual humanitarians from different field’s doctors and Emory University students.  There were simultaneous sessions going on throughout the day, so one could move around to specific areas of interest. Rollin McCraty spoke about Heartmath and the Global Coherence Project, which I am a member of already. Andrew Chung, a cardiologist taught us about fat and heart disease. Student groups talked on human rights conditions in North Korea and the Emory China Care group shared their events and activities. I also heard Celeste Koshida educate us about the Women’s Federation for World Peace. A renowned artist from Athens, Georgia, Stan Mullins has built sculptures in Rwanda and Australia. He is commissioned for the Respect project. I also enjoyed Ed Wolkis photographic display of Tibet when he was touring with doctors.

I presented a session on Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective, where I shared about my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia.

The highlight of the event was the closing speech by the real Patch Adams (who was played by Robin Williams in the movie about his life). Patch has a larger than life personality and is engaged in many humanitarian efforts. Contrary to his clown act, he is actually very intellectual and well read. He has a deep understanding of spirituality, life and love. Patch shared his personal story of being beaten up as a kid, having his father die in the World War and trying to commit suicide three times as a teenager. After his third attempt, he decided that he would never be unhappy again. He started practicing reaching out to people by riding on the elevators, calling wrong numbers and showing up at events dressed as a clown. He said he has stopped thousands of violent acts by just appearing in his funny distracting outfit.

Patch pays his doctors less than $300/ month but they love working for him. He promotes communal living where expenses are much lower, people support each other and you always have friends. He also gave us some tips and pieces of advice to follow as humanitarians, such as take care of ourselves, not to be led down by disappointments, our job would never be over but we must take time out for ourselves, etc. He showed videos of himself engaging children in a Russian orphanage and in Peru, as part of his humanitarian clown trips. It reminded me of my time in Russia when I was trying really hard to play with this little girl who just wanted to be by herself. She was an adorable four-year old but never smiled or interacted with anyone.

As expected Patch was hilarious during the two-hours that he was on stage! He was dressed as a clown and performed his antics to make the audience (young and old) laugh to their heart’s content. Walking out, I felt invigorated, inspired and determined to make a difference in this world.

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