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.

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: Develop Africa Small Business

In many parts of Africa people are living on around a dollar a day. Living at this type of poverty level makes it difficult to survive.  For a small business to stay afloat, they often need some sort of financial aid. However, for people living in Africa it can be extremely difficult to secure a loan because they often lack collateral.

Microfinance can help these individuals who cannot secure a loan. Microfinance is providing loans to impoverished and disadvantaged individuals. A typical microfinance loan is less than 200 dollars. These loans are often used to purchase supplies or ingredients needed to make a finished product to sell to the customer. It turns out that millions of people worldwide are positively affected by microfinance.

Develop Africa is giving out interest-free loans with the help of your donation. They call these loans booster shots because they will help a small business expand. In addition, the NGO will provide business training to these individuals. Develop Africa’s goal is to make individuals self-sufficient. They aim to specifically help talented youth and women entrepreneurs.

Develop Africa is, in turn, helping to not only alleviate poverty but to help stop the poverty cycle. This program empowers entrepreneurs to provide for themselves in the best way they see fit. If you want to give back, visit UniversalGiving!

Driving Change


Our team wouldn’t be half as strong without our staff who work so hard to train interns, manage finances and clients, and keep UniversalGiving running like a well-oiled machine! Below is a testimonial from our Senior Corporate Services Associate, Kristara Bring! We are so grateful for your work, Kristara!

“When I found UniversalGiving, I was intrigued by the idea that our work drives change through partnerships with NGOs, corporations, and individuals. It is amazing to know our team is truly making a difference on a daily basis and I love working with such diverse, inspiring individuals.”

-Kristara Bring, Senior Corporate Services Associate



Taking the Leap: A Teenager’s Experience Volunteering and Traveling Solo in Asia

By: Gaby Alemán


For many reasons, the world seems much larger and more intimidating than it really is. We look at the globe and we’re hesitant to take a step out of our neighborhood for fear of the unknown— but you know what? That fear of the unknown is exactly what pushed me to leave. Maybe fear isn’t the correct word… Curiosity seems more appropriate. It was with a surging curiosity that I set out last September on my gap year, fresh outta high school, to travel to Asia for eight months.


I was, and am, part of a fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called the Global Gap Year Fellowship, which gives incoming freshmen the ability to defer their enrollment and gives them scholarship money in order to pursue a volunteer based gap year. With the encouragement of my university and an oversized backpack clumsily strapped to my back, I headed off to Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Now, you can guess that traveling alone internationally at 18 is nerve wracking; heck, it still is for people twice my age. But what I realized when I found myself crossing from the domestic flights section at the JFK airport to the Etihad airlines gate, where I was so clearly the only young backpacker in a line of colorfully ethnic women in saris and men in traditional robes and turbans, was that I wasn’t actually alone. Everyone I asked, for the most part, helped me in whatever I needed; they answered my questions and calmed my nerves. When you open yourself to the chance of being approached, when you’re cautious, but still willing to smile at people, you’d be amazed at the help you can receive and the people you cross paths with.

Traveling from country to country was a breeze after the first initial dive into the chaos of airports and immigration. My time in Sri Lanka served as a time of reflection; I was thrown into a mix of the Sinhalese and Tamil cultures, along with exposure to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism, in an unfamiliar place with a language I couldn’t decipher. I worked alongside volunteers at an orphanage where I learned that true love and dedication are fickle things; things that needed to be extended fairly to all of the orphans, even the ones that pull your hair and splash around in puddles of pee. My time there challenged me and showed me what I was made of, but also liberated me from myself. I’ve lived my life walking a tightrope, self-conscious of my decisions and actions and cowering in fear at the thought of messing up. Sri Lanka made me look down and realize I was scared of a tightrope a foot above the ground. I saw that if I fell, I could get right back up and keep moving forward with more experience and a lesson learned.

Singapore, in contrast, was a wakeup call: I had been traveling around a third world country, taking cold showers and dreaming under mosquito nets, catching rides on roaring, packed buses and haggling tooth and nail in the markets; now I was thrown into the hustle and bustle I had known so well what seemed like a lifetime ago, aka three months. Chic malls towered over me and mocked my flowing hippie skirt and battered sandals during my exploration of the small city-country for a week while I awaited my Indonesian visa. Sure, I’ll admit I missed hot water and toasted bread, but all of this luxury? It was disorienting; even when I was toured around by some passionate Singaporean friends did I lack the enthusiasm for this clean and orderly society. Don’t get me wrong— Singapore is a proud sight to behold… But it wasn’t for me.

This strange disdain bled into my first month in Bali, Indonesia, which I spent in Ubud. For the month of December I rolled my eyes at tourists paying for overly priced meals and thinking they were spiritual because they attended a yoga course given by a westerner. January could not come quickly enough when I found myself transported to my definition of paradise: a small rural village in the northern region of Karangasem. I lived with a fluctuating number of volunteers in a small school where we taught English, next to the family that founded it, for four months. And I flourished. I found a home where previously I had considered myself nomadic; I learned to love the hard working, wonderful kids who brightened my day, every day, with a simple laugh or hug; I found spirituality surrounded by a people so dedicated to their beautiful religion, bowing my head and praying in my sarong for the first time in months. I marveled at the transparency of a smile, the way it communicates in any and every language and helped me connect with those I couldn’t understand verbally. I shared stories and emotions and laughter with people from all over the world; I cared about the locals and they graciously welcomed me into their community.


Here’s the thing I learned about traveling and volunteering— it’s a selfish thing. It’s the best and healthiest selfishness in the world. Sure, I was there to teach English. And considering the school’s students depended on the tourism industry to live successful futures, I’d say I was contributing. But that wasn’t the point, not completely. Traveling and experiencing another country and culture first hand— it made me aware. It exposed me to human mindfulness and the wonderful feats that humanity is capable of. I was surrounded with so much love and joy that every morning my eyes flew open with a gratitude for being alive; for having been able to experience what I did.

I am no savior and I am not special for what I did. It is not a difficult thing to do, really. At 18 years old, I had no special skill to offer; all I had was my positivity and perspective and enthusiasm. Now, I’m back in the US with a completely new way of looking at and appreciating life, one that I hope will carry me through my ambitions and goals in life. And I’m more than sure it will.


Gaby Alemán is a UniversalGiving Ambassador.