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”.

 

Inspiring young philanthropists

Believe it or not, Bernie Marcus and I have a lot in common. You would think more so in a few years once I make it big too! But so far, here is why I believe we have a similar path.

We both were instilled with a spirit of philanthropy from a young age. I started volunteering with my social worker grandmother in India as a kid, accompanying her to blind schools, orphanages, etc. My entire life, I have been involved with some non profit or the other, showing my continuous support to the community. Marcus’ personal connecting with giving and hard work started early in his life as well.

Like Marcus, I was also unable to afford college when I started. He worked as a waiter at a restaurant and supported himself through college. Determined to make it through college, my jobs included an Italian restaurant, Dunkin Donuts and a private tutor, while taking a full load of classes. We both were hard working straight A students. After being a successful employee and getting laid off, he decided to start his own company. Again, sounds a lot like my story!

I had the opportunity to hear the legendary Bernie Marcus speak at the Atlanta Press Club today. His business and philanthropic ventures have been an inspiration to me since I moved to Atlanta in 1997. He founded the Marcus Institute after noticing that one of his employee’s at The Home Depot was having difficulty dealing with her autistic child. Marcus and his wife spend hours and money at the Shepherd Center, helping war veterans who have suffered from traumatic brain damage. He also made a $250 million donations that helped open the Georgia Aquarium and changed the face of that section of downtown Atlanta.

Marcus’ parents were Russian immigrants and he grew up poor. His mother instilled in him that “you can be anything you want to be” living in the USA, a land of opportunities. They believed that the American dream was to be successful, provide for your family, live well and help others. He was told never to be envious of people who have more than him. Instead, to listen and learn from how they did it.

Even during hardships, he never took unemployment. Instead, he indiscriminately did whatever work was available. When Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus founded The Home Depot as a small business, they experienced a lot of difficulties. He said they bought empty boxes to show their customers that they had inventory and sometimes bribed them with $1 bills. Since he has experienced being an entrepreneur himself, he sympathizes with the small business owners across the US and is rallying against the politicians on laws and regulations that adversely affect them.

When Marcus was asked why he gives away his money, he answered that there is only so much he can eat or consume! Also, he gets a better feeling about his own life when he does something for someone else. That is perhaps what is most common amongst us philanthropists. We recognize the importance of giving back no matter if we are rich or poor. Clearly, there is only so much you need to take from the world in order to have a good life. Everything else that is bestowed upon you should be given back with gratefulness.

So what’s next for someone who has done it all? The Marcus center is moving towards education, they are opening schools for autistic children that would be able to provide care and education that public schools are not able to. The goal is to make these kids independent so they can provide for themselves.

I did get to exchange a few words with Marcus after the session. I told him about my background and the Go Eat Give movement. He said “Good for you!” and we got a picture taken together. I don’t know if he will go back and look up the website, but I am already honored to have stood next to this inspiring hero. We may have had a few things in common until this point in time, but I hope we have a lot more in the future.

ATL to the Arctic for a cause

Last night I attended a fundraiser at Twisted Taco in Buckhead which my good friend Curt invited me. I knew he likes to ride motorcycles (as I had seen pictures on Facebook), but when he told me he will be riding from Atlanta to Alaska this summer, it caught my attention!

He said he is doing it with a bunch of people, at least to start. Towards the last leg, it would probably be just him and his dad on the road.

The idea of riding 13,000 miles cross country was started by Daniel Palazzolo in 2010 when his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.  He wanted to do something for her to show her support, so he started writing a blog “ATL to the Arctic” and raising money for the Susan G. Komen foundation.”I’m riding a motorcycle from Atlanta, GA to the Arctic Circle, AK, because it’s hard and long and something I will do alone in honor of my sister, Kris, who has breast cancer”, says Daniel. Palazzolo’s sister Kris is a 42-year-old mother of five who lives in north Georgia and has just completed chemotherapy. At 30-years old, Daniel will be leaving behind his garage business, his friends and family, and going for his second cross country bike trip.

Last year he raised $20,000 and the Susan G. Komen foundation recognized him (one of the few men) as a Passionately Pink for the Cure ambassador. He was flown to Dallas to appear in a commercial for Komen.

It’s true that very few young mean would ever think about doing something so big in honor of a family member. Most breast cancer ambassadors tend to be women who themselves have undergone the disease of were closely associated with it. Daniel is an inspiration to other men out there. He portrays the macho bike-rider image, yet maintaining a kind and giving heart. I am very impressed with Daniel’s idea, his mission and dedication.

On Friday, July 15, 2011 Daniel and two of his friends will leave for the Arctic on their pink BMW’s. It will take them four to six weeks to complete the journey. “The journey itself is fun, it’s the other stuff (writing, fundraising, marketing, etc.) that is hard” Daniel exclaims.

The riders have several fundraisers coming up over the next few weeks. If you would like to learn more, bike with them or donate, follow the ATL to the Arctic blog page.

Touched by a Mongolian smile

On a trip to Ulan Bator, Mongolia, where I lived for three months, I spent my last day visiting Verbist Orphanage, in the countryside.  Mongolia is a one-city nation, with the vast surrounding land composed of the Gobi desert or barren land.  The extreme temperatures from their minus 40 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius, harbors a harsh environment for the few scraggly plants to try and persist despite the desert clime. It’s not an inviting place, yet I boarded the plane with my ticket in hand for a country few people have ever heard of or want to visit willingly.

volunteering in Mongolia

My travels have been my biggest learning experiences in my life.  They have taught me to be stronger, to adapt to unusual and uncomfortable circumstance, and to survive in some of the hardest situations I’ve dealt with physically and emotionally.  As an orphan given a second life with my parents’ gracious love from America, I was taken out of the scenario I was walking straight into.

volunteering in MongoliaThe children’s faces were confused at first, when my group arrived to the orphanage.  I had gone with a group of Mongolian students learning English.  One of the students had befriended me with her kind heart and shared interest in journalism.  She invited me on this excursion, and I jumped at the chance to visit an orphanage.

We boarded a bus that navigated the country terrain bravely to our destination.  Outside of the city, there are no paved roads in Mongolia.  There is nothing but open fields of nomadic families living off the land and their horses’ back. This is no terrain to take a public transportation bus through.

Upon arriving to the compound, we found the orphanage surrounded by a six foot wall decorated with colorful murals painted by previous visitors.  It was strange to see this compound in the middle of the dessert.  We had not encountered another living person or any sign of civilization for hours.  Our last gas stop to fuel up was more than two hours ago.  There were no buildings out this far from Ulan Bator.

It appeared like a mirage in the desert, but was firm to the touch when I reached for the gate handle.  Children, as young as five-years-old, were chopping wood with an axe by the entrance.  I winced in default as I stopped myself from taking the axe away from them.  This was their life; the way they had to live to survive.   They seemed unsure and scared of us – people from the city with our clean clothes and washed hands.  Many gesticulations later, the children were swarming us with warmth and laughter once the barrier was broken.  I had the toughest time since I couldn’t speak but a handful of words in Mongolian, most of which were nonsensical and useless in my current situation.

“San ban o.”  I said hello and smiled a lot to befriend the children, but they played with me with no inhibitions.  Two Belgium graduate students were spending a couple months living in a Ger in the orphanage compound.  They were teaching them English and writing their thesis on the orphanage; therefore, I gave the children a great outlet to use the handful of words they knew.  Most could say hello, but few were brave enough to venture more conversation.

We played basketball and random games they created on the spot.  We had brought toys and some books to give to them, which brought the biggest smile and a touch of civilization to their orphanage.  There was no electricity or running water.  Non-governmental organizations fund Verbist, just enough for the bare essentials.  I may never see their faces again or hear how their futures turn out, but I know they have touched my life.  Volunteering has a way of helping the volunteers out more than those they seek to help.  It is a gift to lend your hand and time to others, and it is always rewarded with gratitude and a memory you’ll always deeply cherish.

Read more of my trip to Verbist Orphanage.

~ By guest blogger Kate Greer

Bringing every woman back into the workforce

Yesterday, our Community Consulting Team presented it’s final deliverable to local non profit client, Every Woman Works. We had started the project earlier this year. Three volunteers, five months and a lot of hard work later, we were able to give Ms. Tillie, her board and her staff some concrete recommendations to take Every Woman Works to it’s next level.

Running a small organization in the suburbs of Roswell, GA with limited resources is not easy. The staff here has a strong passion for what they are doing i.e. helping other women (who have been in prison, drugs, or adversities) get back on their own feet. They provide an intensive curriculum that focuses on self empowerment, responsibility, dressing for success, interviewing and basic job skills. Most of the women are placed in a job even before they graduate. Needless to say, they are helping change people’s lives, so our consultation is very valuable to them.

The marketing project that our team focused on advised Every Woman Works to improve three broad areas – their web site, database and corporate sponsorships. We created a step-by-step plan that analyzed their current state, needs and an optimal future state as well as how to get there. In the next few months, you will see them re-haul their web site that is more donor-friendly and informative. It will have videos and testimonials. Their database is already under construction and it would be easier for them to stay in touch with their donors, volunteers and graduates. You can even start getting email newsletters from them soon.

Founder, Ms. Tillie and board chair, Michael Sinclair were very impressed with our work. They asked us to continue providing consultation to them throughout the year. We are very excited for the future of Every Woman Works and would be happy to provide ongoing support as needed.

If you are reading this and thinking “I want to help,” here are some ideas for you.

Every Woman Works is looking for a larger location so that they can offer their classes to more women. They have the demand but are constraint due to their physical limited capacity. If you know someone (such as a church, community center, real estate builder, etc.) who has empty space to offer, please contact Every Woman Works.

Make a monetary donation. It’s tax deductible. Also, if your employer has a partnership with United Way, you can chose Every Woman Works as your charity.

Have your company become a corporate sponsor. They are in dire need of large sponsorships from corporations. Donations ranging from cash, supplys to equipment can be very useful to them.

Get involved with their activities and events. If you are in the Atlanta area, make sure you attend their fundrasiers such as the Bee Ball, the Bee Extravaganza and other fun programs. For more information, contact them directly.

Helping victims of domestic violence

This past weekend, I was invited to speak to a group of women at Raksha about transitioning into the workforce. Raksha (meaning protection) is a nonprofit based in Atlanta that focuses on helping men and women who have been victims of domestic abuse. The South Asian community tends to be very silent about such issues; therefore assistance from family and friends is hard to come by.  Partners continue to be in abusive relationships fearing the societal taboos.

Typically, there are no distinct characteristic that describe a typical victim. They can be of any age, education, career or family. Domestic violence does not see a person’s background before attacking. Perhaps what can prevent it from continuing is a strong, determined, self sufficient individual. Even educated, working women can sometimes continue to be abused due to self esteem issues. If not addressed on time, it can lead to detrimental consequences.

I had mentioned this organization in my latest article in Khabar and attended some of their fundraising events, but didn’t get the opportunity to talk to their staff and victims in detail until now. The support group meets regularly at the Raksha office, which is a safe haven for them. They are given clothes, toys and food, whatever they need.  The staff organizes craft and play activities for the kids. Even lunch is provided during their meetings. The case workers at Raksha get involved with each of their clients personally by assisting them with everything ranging from self empowerment, educational programs, career advice, legal referrals and counseling.  They work with up to 30 clients at any given time.

As a result, the victims are able to overcome obstacles and empower themselves.  They go back to school, enter the job force, provide for their families and are able to take care of themselves. A lot of these individuals don’t have another place to turn to during their hardships, and Raksha is their only chance.

Due to confidentiality issues, I can’t disclose the women’s stories. But I can tell you this much – they all have a strong willingness to live and to strive. They want to put the past behind and dream of a better future. They wish to enjoy their families and friends, and be all they can be in this world. Even if they are broken once they first come in, they eventually find that living force within themselves with the help of the staff, volunteers and support group members.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence, I urge you to help this organization in reaching out to more people. You can volunteer your time at events, support groups, mentoring, etc. or donate money, clothes or food. Please contact (404) 876-0670 for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions about volunteering abroad

Recently, I have given a few presentations on volunteer vacations abroad, shares my stories and inspired others to travel. The question I get from my audiences after each presentation is “What do I do next?” So here is the answer to that and other frequently asked questions you may have about volunteering abroad.

 

How long do I need?

Typically a volunteer vacation program lasts a minimum of 1 week but you can go for as long as you can afford to. Students and retirees take 2-3 months off whereas professionals may only go for 1-2 weeks.

How much does it cost?

Each program is very different. Depending on the country, organization and activities involved, you can pay anywhere from $200-1500/ week. The costs include lodging, meals, airport pickups and some sightseeing activities. You will be responsible for your airfare and weekend trips.

How far in advance do I need to plan?

The further the better, especially if you need to save up or do a fundraiser to sponsor your trip. You need to plan at least a month in advance to arrange for visa, reserve your space, book your tickets, etc. Sometimes last minute spots open up at a discounted price but it’s rare.

What skills do I need?

You don’t necessarily need any particular skills. Most programs are designed so that the common Joe can be helpful and involved. An open mind, patience and respect for other human beings are probably the most important assets you can bring with you. If you have some experience in teaching, working with children or healthcare, it would help too.

What kind of work will I be doing?

Most places I have found have partners with local organization, such as orphanages, hospital, old homes, universities and schools. They send a constant flow of volunteers to do one of the following activities – play with children, do arts and crafts, engage elderly people, teach (English, Computer Science, etc.), or take care of babies.

Do I need to know the language?

All the places I volunteers at did not require me to know the language. There are interpreters if needed and basic English is understood in most countries. In Russia, language was a huge challenge as not many spoke English, but we managed just fine by speaking the language of games, arts and crafts.

Can I make an impact in a short time?

Yes, of course! You will be surprised to learn how much impact you can make on a life of another and on your own. When you bring a smile to a little child face’s who has not received much affection growing up in an orphanages, you would feel like you made an impact. When people see that you have taken the time and effort to travel all the way to their country and are spending your precious time with them, expecting nothing in return, it will stir a different kind of emotion. Undoubtedly, people feel more connected and grateful to each other, which is the entire drive behind the Go Eat Give movement.

What would a typical day be like?

A typical day would start early. Breakfast will be served at 8am, after which you will go to your volunteer workplace. Depending on the assignment, you may be scheduled to work for a couple of hours or half a day. If you are in a school, you can expect to work normal school hours. You would return to your home base for lunch. The afternoons are usually set for organized activities such as lectures, field trips, lessons, etc. (if the organization offers them). Evenings are free to explore the city, interact with other volunteers or catch up with your reading. Dinner is generally served early but you are free to stay up till late.

Is it good to go alone or with someone I know?

I have tried it both ways and see the value in each of them. I had more fun on the weekends since I had a friend to explore other cities with. We could plan our trip ahead of time because we planned sightseeing before and after our program as well. Going alone means you will get to meet people and make new friends. I have seen people pair up or go as a group over the weekend. I think if you are going for a longer period of time, going alone has more benefits. But be assured, you will never find yourself all alone.

If you have any other questions, please feel to reach out to me by leaving a comment below or email me at sucheta@goeatgive.com. I personally reply to every message.

Inspiring global humanitarians to travel

As mentioned in my earlier post about the Global Health & Humanitarin Summit, I presented a session on “Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective” at the summit. My 20 minutes session focused on trends in volunteer vacationing, my personal experiences from my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia and a perspective on some things I learned.

Watch the video What I’ve learned from volunteering abroad

I also tried to include some resources and Q&A that people can take back.

The presentation was very well accepted and the audience was very engaged with my stories and pictures. They asked questions and wanted to know how to sign up for their next trip. I had several people come up to me after the event and tell me that I inpsired them to volunteer abroad.

Here are some comments I received by email…

“Thanks you for your EXCELLENT presentation.  It was inspirational and filled with practical tips as well.  Hope to see you next year or on one of our vacations!” – Susanne

“Thanks for your presentation, Sucheta. Your talk was very inspiring.” – Tom

“The Summit was amazing – and so glad that you were a part of it.  Your presentation was very insightful, thought-provoking and left me inspired to check out this opportunity for myself.  LOVE the Go Eat Give Movement!!” – Mitzi

 

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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