A Summer at the EPA by Cindy Asano

This past summer, I was blessed with the opportunity of interning at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (E.P.A.) headquarters. Going into the internship, I had no idea what to expect. I remember the nervous excitement I felt as I carefully picked out the suit I would wear the night before my internship (which I had borrowed from my mom), and repeatedly checked my alarm clock three dozen times before bed to ensure I wouldn’t be late.

The first day was a blur full of awkward initial introductions and jittery excitement—there was so much for me to absorb. From the security guards and the metal detector at the entrance to the huge glass meeting doors etched with the E.P.A. logo, I was surrounded in an entirely new environment. My coworkers gave me brief explanations of the projects they had been working on using complex jargon which had no doubt become second nature to them. I was excited to devote my summer towards working with like-minded professionals who were as passionate about environmental sustainability as myself.

My project this summer was to organize the National Stakeholder Forum promoting Sustainable Materials Management in the Built Environment (B.E.) which would be held the upcoming fall. The built environment encompasses everything from buildings, infrastructure, parks, and public transportation systems, and is a crucial component of our daily lives. At the forum, the E.P.A. would work to promote a relatively new concept called Life Cycle Thinking amongst stakeholders, which focuses on reusing and recycling at all stages of a product’s lifecycle rather than just the end.

Within the first few days, I learned of the dire environmental impacts of the built environment—something I as well as most have probably never considered. In the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. received a D+, which has negative implications for the reliability and safety of our nation’s infrastructure. Approximately $4.59 trillion in investments will be needed in the near future to refurbish the built environment, and demand for these materials are expected sky-rocket. Because these materials are becoming scarcer to find in their natural form, it is all the more critical that we begin to reuse and recycle them to preserve them for the future.

To further our work on the National Stakeholder Forum, I sat in on key stakeholder phone calls and worked with groups such as the U.S. Green Building Council, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the World Economic Forum. My weeks were always packed with meetings, ranging from intra-agency briefings to those with the U.N. Environmental Program (U.N.E.P.) that covered briefings from the G-7.

During my seven weeks at the E.P.A., I was shocked to realize just how much of the skills I had obtained from UniversalGiving had translated. Even the simplest tasks such as drafting professional emails to co-workers were something I had first learned to do during my time at UniversalGiving. At the E.P.A., I was able to manage time-sensitive tasks efficiently and thoroughly, to independently solve problems I encountered, and to easily adapt to changes in the workforce, all of which I attribute to my experience in UniversalGiving’s fast-paced environment.

Another reason I was excited to work at the E.P.A., a larger governmental agency, is because it would allow me to compare the work I did there with the work I did at UniversalGiving, a smaller-scale nonprofit. Both were driven by a similar mission of helping others, and I wanted to determine first hand, how the different organizational structures would play out in their work. Though I believe both sectors had their pros and cons, what struck me was the passion and kindness that were commonplace in both work environments. There was not a time when I smiled more, or felt as passionate about my work than when I was working with like-minded individuals at the E.P.A. or at UniversalGiving. Oftentimes, it is easy to become discouraged and to feel alone when facing a battle as large as tackling poverty in developing nations, or combating climate change. However, through my time in both organizations, I have come to understand the value of community. Community is what keeps us grounded in our goals despite hardships, it is what keeps us passionate, and it is what gives positive change a place in the world.

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3 Bold Ways to Respond to the Challenges of Urbanization in The Developing World

In August 2017, the Western Peninsula of Freetown, Sierra Leone experienced torrential rain, a series of flooding events and a large landslide. Over 500 people passed away, over 800 people have been reported missing and many more families were rendered homeless. Entire houses were swept away by the flood waters.

Many individuals and organization sprang into action, helping to provide emergency food and water. As one of the organizations active in Sierra Leone, Develop Africa is helping to provide psychosocial counseling, emergency supplies and activities for the kids. This is helping to meet the immediate needs of the victims.

Changing Future Outcomes
Beyond the initial response, in Freetown and globally, there is active discussion on how we can possibly prevent a reoccurrence or at the minimum reduce the impact of future disasters. The same is being done with regard to hurricane Harvey and its impact on Houston, Texas. Changing outcomes demands understanding, strategic analysis, and action.

Worldwide, cities, including Freetown, are under the threat of urbanization. 54 % of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This proportion is expected to increase to 66 % by 2050 (UN, 2014). In the developing world, rapid and unplanned urbanization has resulted in dire and fatal consequences.

Due to inadequate city planning and housing, youths and migrants from the provinces are squatting in shanty towns in Freetown. They have built fragile shacks on the hillsides and in undesirable locations – often directly in river beds. Sadly, many locations have poor sanitation, no running water, limited or no hospital facilities, schooling etc.  With thousands of people living in close proximity and squalor, diseases such as typhoid, Ebola, and cholera spread rapidly. These low-lying areas were the hardest hit by August flooding.

In Sierra Leone, deforestation has compounded the urbanization crisis. In the hills surrounding Freetown, trees and the vegetation have been indiscriminately cut down for firewood and unplanned housing. Deforestation is not only threatening biodiversity and ecosystem balance in the country but is also contributing to global climate change. In Freetown, the run-off water from the surrounding hills accentuates flooding and results in loss of property each year.

Fortunately, these challenges are not insurmountable. Here are a few thoughts on what we can do as global citizens that are committed to and looking for ways to make the world a better place.  

1. Social Media For Good

Social media is a powerful and growing force that can help us tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. The Arab Spring is an excellent example of how social media can help change the world. 

“Social media has become an important tool for providing a space and means for the public to participate in influencing or disallowing environmental decisions historically made by governments and corporations that affect us all. It has created a way for people to connect local environmental challenges and solutions to larger-scale narratives that will affect us as a global community,” says Shannon Dosemagen.

In late August 2017, social media played an important communication role during Hurricane Harvey in Texas. FaceBook and Twitter posts alerted authorities and volunteers on where help was desperately needed, acting as an alternative to 911 calls.  

Rightly applied, social media can be a powerful force in highlighting the problems associated with urbanization. WhatsApp messages, Facebook videos/posts, billboards etc. can help to inform and educate the public on the dangers of dwelling in perilous and risk-prone areas. Online petitions, videos, and environmental studies can help to raise awareness of the perils and apply pressure on the government to take corrective action. An empowered public needs to realize that united, with the right tools, it can compel the government to take the necessary action.

As global citizens, we can promote awareness of the dangers of living in protected and risk-prone areas. We could help create educational content that will be shared on social media. We could also help organize online/offline accountability groups or set up agencies that will apply pressure on governments to provide alternative housing opportunities.

2. Reverse Urbanization:

One of the driving forces behind urbanization is the attraction of opportunities in urban areas. With that in mind, a key response would be the development of opportunities in new and strategic rural areas. Governments, NGO’s and individuals can help redirect migration by creating attractive mini-cities outside of the urban areas. When jobs, housing, hospitals, and schools are available outside the large cities, youths will be attracted to these locations.

As global citizens, we can help for instance by teaming together to launch or support new businesses, offering employment in rural areas. This could be for example helping to support a farm or setting up a processing plant that will preserve perishable harvests. One of the most sustainable methods of aid is investing in microfinance or micro credit opportunities. This cash injection helps small businesses to start or expand. It creates jobs and enables people to become self-sufficient. \

We could also volunteer our time helping to build new houses through organizations offering a Habitat for Humanity type of service. Volunteer service in rural schools, hospitals etc. will help to strengthen rural communities and make them more attractive to youths. In this regard, the Peace Corps should be highly commended for their efforts in supporting rural institutions. Furthermore, we could consider working full-time for a nonprofit organization/charity that addresses the challenges of urbanization.

3. Every One, Plant One Tree a Year

Throughout the planet, there is a growing need for reforestation and more green-friendly neighborhoods. Degradation and deforestation of the world’s tropical forests are cumulatively responsible for about 10% of net global carbon emissions (REDD+). According to the watchdog group Global Forest Watch, Sierra Leone has lost nearly 800,000 hectares of forest cover in the past decade, with loss accelerating in 2015.

Imagine what would happen if we could mobilize everyone over the age of 15 (for example) to plant one tree every year! As a global citizen, we can help to keep forefront in everyone’s minds the need for us all to take better care of the earth.  We can promote online and offline the need to plant trees, to recycle and to make decisions that protect the earth.

In Freetown, there is the dire need to restore vegetation by planting trees in the surrounding hills. As a volunteer group, we could raise funds for a trip to plant 200 trees over 2 weeks. Alternatively, we could donate funds to cover the cost of purchasing seedlings and other tree-planting expenses.

In Freetown, by restoring vegetation and the forest, we will be helping to combat global warming. These efforts will help to reduce runoff water from the hills. The trees will help to reduce landslides and rock slides that have resulted in the loss of life. Reforestation is essential for the overall health and quality of life of the community.

In summary, the challenges of urbanization are real. With creative solutions, strategic planning and bold action, we can all do our part to mitigate the consequences of urbanization … and make the world a greener, safer and better place – for us all.

We invite you to join Develop Africa in providing hope to flood-affected victims by making an individual or business donation today.

Sylvester Renner
President
Develop Africa
Twitter: @SylRenner
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sylrenner
www.DevelopAfrica.org

 

Promoting & Protecting Indigenous Land Rights with EcoLogic

Since 2010, hundreds of environmental activists in Latin America have been killed by hitmen who are hired by large corporations, powerful elites, and the state’s police and military forces. In the first two months of 2017 alone, 14 environmental defenders were killed in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. These brutal murders have left those individuals brave enough to fight for their region’s remaining natural resources strangled, left in ditches, and even shot in their homes during the middle of the night. Honduras is the hardest hit. Since 2010, more than 120 environmental leaders have been murdered and today, the country helplessly boasts the largest number of killings of environmental defenders per capita of any other country in the world.

Many Latin American countries are rich with promising natural resources, rendering them pots of gold for international corporations, companies, and individuals. However, this inevitably leads to exploitation of the already impoverished native and rural communities who depend on the land in order to sustain their families and their livelihoods. Rather than being empowered and encouraged to utilize their ecological knowledge and wisdom to safeguard their lands, these native communities experience systemic oppression, abuse, and human rights violations on a daily basis. When all is said and done, these perpetrators, such as the hitmen and the corporations and individuals who hire them, walk free, left unaccountable for their unethical decisions.

As natural resources diminish and capitalist pressures increase, these conflicts regarding land rights, specifically where “oil exploration, hydroelectric, mining agribusiness, and logging” thrive, will undoubtedly escalate as well. Indigenous communities have since realized that they are not simply fighting to save trees in their rainforests and the prospering biodiversity in their homes, but also their humanity and way of life for future generations to come. Bianca Jagger of the Huffington Post aptly states, “We cannot protect the forests which produce 20% of the world’s oxygen unless we ensure safety for those who defend it.”

How can we help, make tangible change and empower these native communities and families? One way to do so is to support organizations like Ecologic Development Fund. Their mission is to “empower rural and indigenous people to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico.” Ecologic places a large emphasis on their community-powered conservation projects, showcasing their commitment to working with locals in order to make environmental change long-lasting and meaningful. Their ultimate goal is to provide the resources for these indigenous municipalities to cultivate and direct their own organizations that will ultimately allow them to protect their land within recognized legal frameworks. Some of the organizations that Ecologic has helped create today include water committees that manage watersheds in Guatemala and anti-deforestation groups in Honduras. Organizations like EcoLogic not only spread awareness of the ongoing environmental crises occurring in Latin America that affect millions of individuals, but also exhibit the positive and hopeful spirit that allows us all to continue doing good in our daily lives. Consider getting involved and taking action with Ecologic today.

NGO Spotlight: Mayan Families

This is a guest blog by Livvy Runyon, a videographer at Mayan Families. The original blog post can be found on Mayan Families’ blog.

Rosa’s Legacy: Marisela Advocates for Mayan Women through Education

_MG_8728.JPG(Photo by Livvy Runyon)

“Ever since I graduated high school, I had this longing to keep going, but with the resources I had, I couldn’t do it. I always had that in mind, though, to continue. That one day, I have to go. I have to go.”

Marisela speaks of higher education with fervor in her voice. Sitting outside of her home in El Barranco, Guatemala, her words strike a contrast with the dusty corn fields of the surrounding rural community. Marisela, the oldest child in her family of six, studies social sciences in the nearby town of Sololá. She dreams of becoming a teacher.

“To be able to talk about stories, to talk about productivity within the community, teaching children about politics and the history of our country – I love this. Nowadays there are teachers that have this opportunity to work but many of them don’t take it seriously, and so I want to be the difference.”

_MG_8794.JPG(Photo by Livvy Runyon)

Like most indigenous Guatemalans, Marisela has struggled to find the resources to continue studying. Only 53% of indigenous Mayans in Guatemala complete primary school, and by the age of 16, only 25% of indigenous girls are enrolled. With a lack of schools in rural communities like El Barranco, students must find a way to travel to larger towns, adding the cost of transportation to other expenses like tuition, shoes, and school supplies. With the average household income well below the poverty line, the majority of indigenous families cannot cover the cost of sending their child to school. If the resources are available, families with multiple children often must choose which one will receive an education. In the end it is almost always the son.

_MG_8746.JPGMarisela has found support from her family and now, from many others. She was recently chosen as one of the 2017 recipients of the Rosa Scholarship, an award specifically to cover the school costs for high-achieving, young indigenous women who are pursuing higher education. Now in her last year of university, Marisela describes this scholarship as a great fortune, “because now I am fulfilling my dreams.”

As a young, indigenous woman, Marisela’s opportunity to receive a degree is one that her mother’s generation never saw. For decades, Mayan women have faced discrimination by society and government alike; lacking even the most basic rights to work and participate in their communities. Even today, these obstacles persist in the daily lives of indigenous women across the country, and it is something Marisela aims to change.

“Many times they see us as Mayan women who aren’t capable of doing productive things. We have few opportunities and we hope that in the coming years this changes, that the opportunities change for us as women. Thankfully, the peace accords were signed* and this opened up the field, but we are hit once again with this situation of a lack of opportunities. Discrimination against indigenous women still exists.”

At 27, Marisela is on the brink of completing a university degree and beginning her career, traversing the difficult landscape of a poor economy, unsteady work opportunities, and a lack of educational and health resources that plague Guatemala. Where most might shy away from the progress still needed, Marisela’s eyes shine bright when she speaks of the future of her country.

“We have to make the changes. We have to think of what we can do. To have a different vision so that those who come after me have that access. We should see that the government is looking forward to the future of indigenous communities and guarantee the same rights not only for us, but also for the Garífunas, Xinca, ladinas, and mestizos. That we all have the same rights without discrimination against anyone.”

_MG_8772.JPGPhoto by Livvy Runyon

For Marisela, the chance to attend university unlocks the door to her future and the future of many others. It is overwhelmingly evident that she holds a strong spirit and a burning fire to begin the work to change things, starting with her own education.

“If there isn’t education, there are no opportunities. But I believe, for me, it is the foundation and the best inheritance we have been given,” she says softly and powerfully.

To read the full interview with Marisela, click here.

The Rosa Scholarship was established in 2015 in partnership with Living on One. Inspired by Rosa Coj, a young indigenous woman featured in the Living on One Dollar documentary who was able to return to school to become a nurse, the scholarship helps other indigenous young women who are pursuing their dreams through higher education. To learn more about the scholarship, and support this year’s Rosa Scholarship recipients, visit their page.

To learn about more ways you can give, volunteer and help women like Marisela, check out the UniversalGiving website.

NGO Spotlight: In Defense of Animals – Africa

In Cameroon, habitat destruction and the illegal commercial ape meat trade are pushing chimpanzees towards extinction.

image-1.doHaving spent her whole life committed to working with animals, veterinarian Dr. Sheri Speede founded In Defense of Animals – Africa (IDA-Africa) to make sure endangered chimpanzees are able to thrive in their natural habitat. IDA-Africa partners with Dr. Speede’s Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center and the government of Cameroon to rehabilitate orphaned chimpanzees and enact policy changes to protect these magnificent animals.

Within the Mbargue Forest of Cameroon, IDA-Africa houses chimpanzees that are victims of illegal trafficking and rehabilitates them to return to the wild and is working to bring eco-guards to protect chimpanzees from future abuse.

IDA-Africa also strives to create meaningful and lasting change through the promotion

image.doand support of law enforcement, habitat protection and education. They work closely with the locals of Cameroon to foster a healthy and connected community that benefits both the residents and the chimpanzees. IDA-Africa employs local residents, purchases local fruits and vegetables to support a village market economy and funds a sustainable agriculture project that improves the diet of both local children and chimpanzees. Additionally, they sponsor education programs for village farmers to learn about sustainable agriculture and agro-forestry and others for children to learn about chimpanzees and why they need protection.

To learn more about opportunities to partner with In Defense of Animals – Africa and adopt an orphaned chimpanzee, volunteer in a chimpanzee sanctuary or fund a youth education project, look for them on UniversalGiving.

 

NGO Spotlight: Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children

Project Peru

The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) is a global non-profit with a mission to provide access to medical care for underserved and underprivileged familiesaround the world. FIMRC implements innovative and self-sustainable health programs and partners with a network of outpatient clinics fora multidimensional strategy that reaches across clinical services, extensive community outreach efforts and health education programs. FIMRC’s mission is accomplished through:

Project Limón, Nicaragua

  • ACCESS: Providing access to primary care for families to improve their health
  • EDUCATION: Creating a foundation of knowledge for communities to make choices that will benefit their families’ health
  • PARTICIPATION: Incorporating the local community in decisions on key health issues to address, while also incorporating the global community in volunteering to increase our outreach capability

As a non-profit working in international development, FIMRC considered its first priority to be the communities with whom they work. FIMRC is involved in nine countries from Central America to Africa to Southeast Asia, and each communities’ needs are taken into consideration in site development. This is why each site is different in the particular programs that are implemented: each community has different needs and responds differently to programs.

Project Cavite, Philippines

What makes FIMRC different from other development non-profits is that they incorporate volunteers directly into their model of intentional giving through participation. Their volunteers help on site staff in providing the incredible education programs and medical service provided to the communities. Volunteers see the direct impact FIMRC has while on site, and understand first-hand how they accomplish their mission.

FIMRC also understands that not everyone has time to travel and therefore has many other opportunities for people to get involved. They have an Adopt-a-Project program that gives 100% of the funds raised directly to the project site for a direct impact or make a general donation to FIMRC. Additionally, anyone can start an FIMRC Chapter at high schools, colleges or within any community!

Project La Merced, Peru

To learn more about opportunities to volunteer with FIMRC in Peru, India or a host of other countries, search for them on the UniversalGiving website!

NGO Spotlight: Global Partners for Development

Global Partners: Community-Driven Development for Education

Global Partners for Development has relentlessly pursued long-term solutions to the needs facing East African communities for over 35 years. Although they have always practiced community-driven development, Global Partners has recently incorporated a more school-centric model. When they decided to try something new by adjusting their model of work, they knew they had to be committed to getting it right. Global Partners identifies schools with exceptionally low education indicators and partners with local communities to increase civic engagement, bolster local capacity for project management, and invest in community-driven projects at their schools.

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Why the change? In short, while Global Partners was proud of their long history and the work they’ve done throughout the years, they face the challenge of impacting even more disenfranchised communities in the future. More than 4.5 million children in East Africa remain out of school. Children from poor households are less likely to have access to education than those from rich households, and females from rural areas are often the worst off of all. Waterborne diseases remain rampant in East Africa and cause chronic illness and death, especially among young children. Global Partners believes their new school-centric model will better enable them to implement scalable projects and achieve sustainable results in a larger number of communities.

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Why schools? Quality education impacts every development outcome for generations. Research has proven that an educated child, and especially an educated girl, will have a smaller, healthier family with an improved livelihood. The hope is that by partnering directly with schools and communities and engaging and training them to work together, Global Partners will improve the greater communities’ perception of the importance of education and further associate education with village and family development.

Why engage the community? Engaged citizens are more confident in their ability to participate in community development, and community engagement fosters local ownership. Local ownership helps ensure the long-term sustainability of development projects.

Advising-Consulting

What’s next? Based on indicators relatedto poverty and education, Global Partners has concluded that the Singida Region of Tanzania is in critical need of support for its public schools. Learn more about the specific plans Global Partners for Development has for Singida as well as other opportunities, such as donating to secondary school scholarships for girls in Uganda, on the UniversalGiving website.