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.

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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.

 

In Pursuit of 214 Million by Katie Nelson

In 2012, Melinda Gates embarked on a journey dedicated to what may be one of the world’s most controversial and vital parts of women’s rights activism — family planning. Her pledge was simple, a commitment to help 120 million women and girls around the globe access birth control in eight years.

Now approaching five years since its inception, Family Planning 2020, as the initiative is called, has reached 24 million women worldwide and helped them access safe, effective, and affordable birth control. Addressing that staggering number of 120 million, however, does not begin to scratch the surface of the worldwide crisis of unplanned pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of July 2017, 214 million women of reproductive age living in developing communities, and wanting to avoid pregnancy, are not using effective contraception. 214 million women — this is the true number reflecting the global unmet need for contraceptive resources.

The scale is massive. Yet for the sizeable impact, the better part of the discussion surrounding the push for global contraceptive access is kept out of the public sphere. Women worldwide are faced with limited choices in methods, as well as both cultural and religious opposition; the ability to acquire effective methods is rare in poverty-stricken areas, and those that are available often lack quality. Even beyond those restrictions, the discussion is an issue that many women consider a personal, private journey, something Gates empathizes with in her article “Keeping Our Promise to 120 Million Women and Girls” published this week for Family Planning 2020’s five-year milestone.  

For such a taboo subject, however, the inaccessibility of contraceptives has drastically negative consequences for communities. First and foremost, it is a global health issue. Though a natural process, pregnancy has an unambiguous and taxing impact on the health and well-being of a woman and her body. Lack of family planning can increase the risks of health problems surrounding pregnancy, and even the risk of death especially in older women who encounter augmenting complications during childbirth.

Unplanned pregnancies are more likely to lead desperate women to dangerous and unhygienic abortion attempts; poorly timed births from unplanned pregnancies currently contribute to some of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. According to the United Nations Population Fund, if all women in developing areas without access to contraceptives used modern methods, approximately 35 million abortions and 76,000 maternal mortalities would be prevented every year. But it is not just an issue concerning women. Since the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, the disease has run devastatingly rampant, especially in places like sub-Saharan Africa with less access to contraceptives.

The mortality and orphaned children rates have skyrocketed, and nearly 40 years later, the epidemic still persists. Among women living with HIV, access to family planning methods mitigates the risk of inadvertent pregnancies and reduces the number of affected babies. Among the greater population, however, contraceptive methods such as male and female condoms (when used properly) safeguard against the spread of the disease between parties. The conclusion? It is a global, rather than a women’s, health issue.

What many around the globe have yet to realize, moreover, is that the debate surrounding contraceptives goes beyond the world of social and moral concerns, and touches the realm of cold, hard figures. For developing countries, and developed countries seeking to leave a positive footprint on this planet, this should be seen as an economic discussion. At the macroeconomic level, studies have shown that reducing exponential population growth helps spur socio-economic development in some countries, the best known example being that of the Asian Economic Miracle.

As the study goes, between 1960 and 1990, the five economies experiencing most rapid growth were all found in East Asia — South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Yet simultaneously, there was a decline in the average number of childbirths — an average of six at the beginning of this period to an average of approximately two at the end. When further investigated, analysts agreed that the experience of East Asian countries suggested the downward childbearing trend lessened dependency burdens and supported high savings rates. On the smaller scale, a woman who has access to contraceptives has fewer children; she can devote more resources to each child and improve their respective futures; she has the capability, time, and energy to re-enter the workforce.

Align that hypothetical trajectory with the scale of the problem — 214 million more individuals with the ability to contribute to the local, national, and even global economy — and it is evident why countries, especially developing ones, should have a vested interest in contraceptives. Access to family planning is paramount to lifting both individual families, and in turn nations, out of poverty.

In “Keeping Our Promise to 120 Million Women and Girls,” Gates writes about how she came to grasp the necessity of contraceptives in the global community after growing up in a family where their importance was not emphasized:  

“Everything changed when Bill and I launched our foundation, and I started spending time with women in the world’s poorest places. Everywhere I went, the conversation turned to contraceptives. I met women who were getting pregnant too young, too old, and too often for their bodies to handle. I met women who were desperate not to get pregnant again because they couldn’t afford to feed or care for the children they already had. In Malawi, everyone I met knew someone who had died in pregnancy. In India, I asked a group of women if anyone had lost a child, and every single woman raised her hand.”

Since the 1990s, contraceptive use has increased, albeit marginally — between 1990 and 2015, WHO calculates global usage has risen from 54% to 57.4%. It is a statistic that does not reflect a plateaued need, but an alarming lack of access for a world who claims it exists a hyper-modern age. Gates’ experiences, however, are not statistics.

The stories she has heard and the ones she has shared — they are personal and human. They are the eyes, the words, and the heartbreak of women across the globe; they are the eyes, the words, and the heartbreak of their families. They are 214 million women we should be pursuing with an unfettered tenacity and equipping with brighter futures to create a better, more productive world that is in all of our best interests.

To read Gates’ article, click Family Planning 2020 to find out more or learn about other positives developments associated with family planning like “Keeping Our Promise to 120 Million Women and Girls” and Global Impact of Family Planning.

 

 

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.

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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.