NGO Spotlight: What If? Foundation

The What If? Foundation allows your compassion to cross borders, so you can make a direct and immediate impact on the lives of Haitian children and families.

uoubPoverty is nothing short of an epidemic in Haiti – it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world. Two out of three Haitians live on less than US $2 per day. 100,000 children under five years of age suffer from acute malnutrition. And at least 50% of Haitians age 15 and over are illiterate.

The situation is extreme. But it is not hopeless. Together with their Haitian partner, Na Rive, the What If? Foundation strives to assist Haitians with the resources they need to build change for themselves: food, education, and hope.

The What If? Foundation was created in 2000 by an American woman and a celebrated Haitian civil rights activist, Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Father Jeri, as he is known in the community, had a vision for creating a better future for Haiti: “First we feed the children, we keep them alive. Then we educate them.” They have been working with the Ti Plas Kazo community to fulfill Father Jeri’s vision ever since.

Thanks to the generosity of What If donors, Na Rive’s longstanding community food program addresses the persistent issue of food scarcity in Port-au-Prince. Every Monday through Friday, the local cooking team nourishes the community’s minds and bodies, providing as many as 3,000 hot, nutritious meal for children, parents, students, and teachers.

lkjpoiAfter many years of dreaming, planning, and persisting, construction on the Father Jeri School was completed in 2016. The school is designed to foster the next generation of Haitian leaders: children who are empowered, thoughtful, resilient, resourceful, proud of their heritage, and ready to work together for positive change. Every school day, children aged 3-19, who might otherwise have no path to an education, are engaged in a rigorous academic curriculum with teachings of respect, empathy, and civic duty. The school also houses a popular after-school program and six-week summer camp, providing children with a safe, supportive learning environment all day and all year long.

The programs What If supports have always been Haitian-led and Haitian-run: this is why they are so effective. They have witnessed the incredible resourcefulness and 

asdenduring spirit of the Ti Plas Kazo community as they create their own change, becoming a source of hope and pride for the entire country. They see a future where all Haitians can grow out of the cycle of poverty and hold the tools to create their own path. And they believe people from all backgrounds and places can come together in solidarity with Haiti, to create change one small step at a time.

To learn more about the What If? Foundation and discover opportunities to give back and volunteer to help children in Haiti, visit their website or explore UniversalGiving.

NGO Spotlight: Nepal Youth Foundation

In Nepal, massive flooding and landslides have devastated the country and displaced thousands of families. The number of deaths and casualties are mounting, as rescue efforts continue. Southwestern Nepal, the hardest hit region, is home to thousands of freed Kamlari women and girls.

a;lkdgj.jpgThese women have had the life-transforming opportunity to build businesses, homes, and freedom with the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF). NYF was founded by Olga Murray, a lawyer at the California Supreme Court, in 1990 after she visited Nepal and was profoundly affected by the natural beauty and extreme poverty of children.

NYF strives to bring healthcare, education and a safe environment to Nepal’s most impoverished children. The interventions they provide are personalized, work to develop personal and social responsibility and are adherent to Nepalese customs and traditions. 

Now, the Kamlari women and children that NYF has worked so hard to help are at risk of ;lkj.jpglosing everything. At least 150 girls have lost their homes and 250 are badly affected. They were running thriving businesses (food carts, cafes, grocery shops, seamstress, goat and pig farming) with training from NYF. With their communities devastated and their businesses wiped out, their futures look bleak without our help.

Despite severe disruptions to the local electricity, transportation, and communication systems, the NYF team in Nepal is assessing the extent of damage and planning their response. Eleven of NYF’s Nutritional Rehabilitation Homes are located in the region and are ready to help the thousands that have gone days without food and fallen sick due to polluted water. 

To learn more about ways to get involved with NYF and help victims of flooding and landslides, visit their website or search for opportunities on UniversalGiving.

 

 

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.

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.