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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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.

An Exploration of Contrasts: My Internship at UniversalGiving

This summer, I joined UniveralGiving as a member of the Marketing Team. I applied for an internship at UniversalGiving after hearing CEO, and Duke alumna, Pamela Hawley speak at an event for women in entrepreneurship at Duke. I was looking for an opportunity to learn and make a genuine impact at a values-based company. At UniversalGiving I experienced how seemingly diverse skills and ideas harmoniously come together to create a successful business. Here are three things I learned:

 

  • Branding:
    Over the course of our weekly marketing meetings, our team developed our company brand. We curated content to promote our values of giving, volunteerism and international interconnectedness. We also branded ourselves as thought leaders on topics of interest to our community, creating dialogue on world issues. By publishing posts designed to spark conversation, showcasing our NGO partners doing meaningful work around the world and contributing to posts on others’ pages, our social media presence was about much more than increasing our business and traffic to our website. 

    Through my work, I learned that the value of a company’s social media extends well beyond self-promotion and provides an opportunity to create a values-aligned brand and authentic engagement and conversation.

 

  • Full Circle Work:
    Because of my quantitative background, my main responsibility on the marketing team was to produce weekly analytics reports for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Analytics. I monitored and tracked changes in likes, comments, shares, followers and user acquisition week after week.I, however, was able to better analyze trends and put them into perspective because I also helped curate the content. I evaluated the numbers within the context of our weekly social media campaign themes and nuances of our specific posts. Because UniversalGiving is a small company, I had a full circle view of our social media strategy; I created the posts, studied how they were received and recommended new strategies. Contributing to both the content and the analysis was immensely helpful allowing me to take on a prominent role in restructuring our social media tactical plan and creating a more effective strategy.

    Through my work on the Marketing Team, I learned the value of having both a quantitative and creative skill set. By blending together these two seemingly disparate areas, I was able to be more effective in both.

 

  • Precision Finance:
    My quantitative background also took me out of the marketing world and into the Office of the CEO preparing financial reports for the CEO and CFO. Not only did I learn how to create professional products, but I got a close-up view into how the finances of a company are managed and the level of detail required for this line of work. My work on the financials involved preparing invoice spreadsheets for analysis, creating expense reports, and working on the three-year budget projection for an upcoming board meeting. 

    By gaining insight into the financial branch of a company, I learned how broad this area can be; it requires both extreme attention to detail and an ability to abstract into the future. Precision and prediction must blend together to create a dependable financial base for a company.

My experience at UniversalGiving demonstrated how diverse skills and ideas align and integrate to create stronger outcomes. This was a fitting lesson to learn as UniversalGiving is a social entrepreneurship venture; with a goal of both promoting values and maintaining financial stability, contrasts are built in its foundation.

 

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.

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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. 

NGO Spotlight: Empower and Care Organization

Empower and Care Organization (EACO) is a Community Based Organization run by Ugandans to address the limited educational and economic opportunities that exist for vulnerable groups of women and children in Mukono County, Uganda.  EACO’s vision to implement activities that provide opportunities to the reduce poverty and HIV/AIDS in the Mukono community.

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EACO interventions focus on poverty reduction and address the effects of HIV/AIDS for a majority of vulnerable women, particularly widows and those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as vulnerable children, youth, and the elderly.

The Need: EACO seeks to help children attend school in Uganda. Education and poverty go hand in hand, and many of young people don’t have the opportunity or fees to go to school, let alone afford other basic necessities of life. Under this project, ACO provides school fees and materials, medication, and food for needy families.

EACO also leads WASH Projects to deliver trainings on hygiene promotion, construction of latrines for the schools, and repairing the 69 damaged boreholes in the Mukono communities. Additionally, they provide education on the links between water, sanitation and health, and the nature of and threats posed by environmental diseases,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe importance and main elements of hygiene-promotion and the complexities of delivering safe water and sanitation in an emergency.

EACO wants to make clean water accessible within 1 kilometer for 100% of the people in rural Mukono. By constructing and repairing fresh water wells throughout rural areas, EACO will bring relief to thousands of residents, including those in surrounding communities, significantly improving the health and wellbeing of the residents.

The vision and philosophy of EACO is based on the belief that every human being is a unique individual and that we all have a right to good health and basic needs and should access means to a comfortable life in one way or another.

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EACO believes that the first priority is that people should have a sustainable life.

However, almost equally important is that an individual’s life should have meaning and that they should develop independence. This is being achieved through care, then empowerment and support. This begins with infrastructure to give the Mukono communities clean water and latrines and stop the spread of disease. It is only then that communities can benefit from education. With improved health comes the ability to be employable, to generate income and escape from poverty.

To learn more about opportunities to donate to or volunteer with with EACO, which is a vetted NGO partner of UniversalGiving, check out their website!

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NGO Spotlight: Nepal Orphans Home

Nepal Orphans Home (NOH) is many things to many people, but it is one thing to all: a lifeline extended by a warm smile, without politics, without judgment, simply with compassion.

With help from a widespread and deeply committed donor base comprised of everyday people working hard for a living and giving what they can, and sometimes really cannot, afford, NOH attends to the welfare of children in Nepal who are orphaned, abandoned, or not supported by their parents.

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NOH is the face an abandoned baby sees smiling down at them, the person that baby feels holding and feeding them. They are a child’s extended family during a medical crisis they would otherwise have to face without cash in a country operating on a pay-for-cure basis without insurance. They are the extension of a remote village where droughthas claimed the last of the food, where runners enter the village saying there is a truckload of rice and other staples where the road ends, waiting for them to come and get it.

NOH is the provider of education for 260 women in their community, free of cost but paid handsomely in return by the smiles, confidence, laughter, and the overall wellbeing of the community.

NOH is the buyer of chemotherapy and pain medication for terminally ill children whose families cannot afford it; they are the smiling presence in the ward, celebrating birthdays and granting last wishes.

NOH is the daily hot and nutritious lunch given to children in an “untouchables” village, who are attending the school built by NOH, taught by teachers whose salaries NOH supports.

NOH was the first face that many remote Nepalese children saw coming to their rescue days after the earthquake in 2015.

NOH provided shelter to hundreds of Kamlari (indentured servants) following their rescue and brought back those who wished to return to their Kathmandu homes to regain their childhood in a loving and secure environment.unnamed

NOH is a family welcoming in children, that for one reason or another have found themselves without anyone, with a loving embrace, good cheer, and daily reminders that they are supported to achieve their dreams. It is a family where every member supports each others’ goals and where everyone comes together to achieve them.

NOH is this and so much more, administered by a Board of professionals, dedicated to helping those in need with their expertise, compassion, and resources.

To learn more about opportunities to become involved with Nepal Orphans Home by supporting a child’s education or volunteering in Nepal, search for them on the UniversalGiving website.