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Posts Tagged ‘charity’

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Photo: Alight (formerly American Refugee Committee)
The nonprofit called Alight, which believes in “doing the doable” amid daunting challenges, knows how to make a huge difference with just a small gift. For this tea lady in Sudan, the gift was a few chairs for customers.

I love this nonprofit and want you to know about it. It used to be called American Refugee Committee. Today it is Alight, an organization that focuses on doing the doable for those in need, including refugees here or in camps around the world. I get Alight’s e-newsletter, and it’s always full of inspiring stories about places many people think of as hopelessly damaged. Here are some words of cheer from Sudan.

Alight’s “Changemakers 365 is all about doing the doable. It’s about opening our eyes to the opportunities to make an impact in a person’s life with relatively few resources – and making change each and every day of the year. …

“Tea ladies are a neighborhood institution in Khartoum. They provide the place – a piece of shade and a place to sit – for the community to meet, connect and share a cup of tea. They don’t earn much at all, but they really are the glue that holds together communities.

“Fatima’s tea stand is right outside [Alight’s] front door. And that’s given us a great opportunity to get to know everyone who lives and works in the neighborhood.

“We wanted to thank Fatima for her service to the community, so we asked if there was anything she needed.

“ ‘Chairs,’ she said, immediately! Fatima’s stools weren’t very comfy and she wanted everyone to feel at ease as they discussed neighborhood happenings and the news of the day.

“It was an easy wish to grant. 30 minutes later we delivered a couple dozen chairs to an astonished Fatima.

“ ‘I’m the most happiest ever!’ ” Click here.

“Mayo is a large section of the city that is home to people who’ve relocated to Khartoum, mostly from western Sudan. And inside Mayo, there’s a neighborhood called Mandela that refugees from South Sudan now call home. Some came fleeing conflict near home, others were seeking the opportunity of the capital and the chance at a different future.

“For most the promise hasn’t lived up to reality. But there is a group of changemakers in Mayo determined to change that. Samira and Kemal lead the Green Hope Association for Peace and Development. They don’t have any regular funding. So, when they decide to do something new, they mostly just bootstrap it by gathering resources and talent from their own community.

“Green Hope offers adult education, skills training for women in carpentry, welding, food service, handicrafts, electrical repair and more. They even offer a food-for-work program for the vulnerable elderly in the neighborhood, providing food staples in exchange for seniors collecting trash in the community. But Green Hope’s primary mission is running a K-8 school for 200+ students.

South Sudanese and Sudanese students attend together in harmony. Teachers are college educated. There are no funds for teacher salaries, so they volunteer. And when the school day ends in the afternoon, they have to find some small jobs to make ends meet.

“Green Hope is abundant with hope, joy, possibility and a can-do spirit. But scarce in almost everything else. When we asked the students how we could help, their response was unanimous. Books! …

“So they gave us a list and we headed to the store to buy all the books that students from 5th to 8th grade would need to prepare for their high school entrance exams – Arabic, English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Science. The budget allowed for a notebook and pen for every single student in the school. And we received a donation of storybooks for the younger children – so everyone in Green Hope received at least one book. For many, their first ever book.

“ ‘We’re so happy, we want to dance,’ Samira told us. And they did.” More.

“Green Hope Founders Samira, Kemal and a group of women had built the center themselves some 15 years ago. At night!

‘We built at night, because construction work wasn’t really acceptable for women. AND we all had to work to make a living during the day,’ Samira told us.

“The school is compact, but there’s space for separate classrooms for all of the grade levels. What there wasn’t was a chair for every student. Some kindergarteners sat on the floor. Other kids shared chairs. We knew we could do something about that.

“We called up a local furniture maker and he got to work building wooden and metal chairs – small ones for the younger kids and big chairs that would work for older students and for the adults who come to Green Hope for adult education and skills training.

“The kids had also asked us for some exercise materials, so we grabbed some soccer balls and jump ropes. And we had enough left over to buy a small stock of crayons and JUMBO coloring books for the two, three and four-year olds who accompany their older siblings to school – and sit so nicely, by the way – because their mothers are at work.

‘You may think that what you have done here is small, but it will make a big difference for our children,’ said Kemal. ‘Thank you for coming back to us down this bad road.’

More.

If you’re feeling down, you can sign up for the doing the doable newsletter or follow Alight on Facebook or Twitter @We_Are_Alight . Alight has earned the top rating at Charity Navigator.

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Photo: Christy Sommers
People who raise goats in India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere, think it’s obvious you’d put sweaters on your goats in cold weather. It takes an outsider to be surprised — and make a calendar.

Got your 2019 calendar yet? We have way too many at our house because my husband donates to so many nature organizations. I wish that nonprofits would forget about free gifts and just spend donations where the money is most needed.

Today I have a story about a charity calendar that is not a giveaway. You have to buy it. But I hereby make an exception to my grumpiness about charity calendars.

Danielle Preiss writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “When we came across pictures of ‘Sweateredgoats‘ on Instagram, we wanted to know more. …

“The caprine fashionistas are featured on a calendar, the sales of which have benefited local organizations in Varanasi, India, where most of the images were taken.

“Christy Sommers, who takes the photos, first noticed the cuteness that is clothed goats in 2010, while living in a village in northwestern Bangladesh as a Fulbright scholar studying rural primary education. …

” ‘It blends my love of cute things with India and this desire that I have for people to understand the rest of the world better,’ Sommers says.

“Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Sommers has spent much of the last five years working in northern India as an instructor and administrator for a high school and college travel abroad program called Where There Be Dragons. She started to notice goats, particularly in lower-income urban areas, decked out in winter gear. Varanasi doesn’t actually get too cold — typically not dropping below a January average of 60 degrees.

Sommers says when she asks families why the goats are clothed, they usually tell her it’s because they’re cold — and look surprised that she’s asking something so obvious.

“And it turns out to be a good idea. Jagdip Singh Sohal, assistant professor of microbiology and microbial genomics at Amity University in Jaipur and organizer of the Asian Regional Conference on Goats, confirmed that goats can get cold. …

“Extra insulation, whether from a sweater, a discarded track suit or a burlap sack, allows the goat to divert more energy to productive purposes, like getting meatier and birthing more kids. …

“[Sommers] gives about half the profits to Asha Deep, a school for underprivileged kids in Varanasi. (The rest of the money she views as compensation for her labor.) The $4,500 donation from 2018 calendar sales provided the funds the school needed to operate for one month. Asha Deep is a vetted charity on Global Giving, a U.S.-based nonprofit that crowd funds donations for local NGOs around the world. …

“Meanwhile, the goat owners aren’t that impressed. To them, dressing a goat in a sweater is no big deal. ‘They generally think I’m crazy,’ she says.”

More at NPR, here.

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Famed physicist Stephen Hawking has ALS and has to talk using an electronic voice substitute. Recently, as part of a skit for the antipoverty charity Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day fundraiser, he pretended to audition a bunch of well-known actors to be his newest voice.

Erin Jensen reports at USA Today, “A new, highly sought after role might not win actors any Oscars or BAFTAs, but that’s not stopping Hollywood’s elite from auditioning.

“In the clip, Hawking, who has ALS and communicates with synthesized speech, reviewed tapes from the self-described ‘intelligent … kind of’ Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, who got a hard no from the physicist. Hawking also wasn’t persuaded by The Theory of Everything stars Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne or the ‘soothing, calming voice’ of Gordon Ramsay.

“Hawking wasn’t Taken with Liam Neeson’s voice either, despite the actor’s opinion that it possessed ‘a tinge of … physics.’ ” More.

For the true story behind Hawking’s voice, read this Wired article. Joao Medeiros details the many iterations of the technology underlying Hawking’s ability to communicate, but he notes Hawking likes his original “voice” and has stuck with it.

“His voice had been created in the early ’80s by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt, a pioneer of text-to-speech algorithms. He invented the DECtalk, one of the first devices to translate text into speech. He initially made three voices, from recordings of his wife, daughter and himself. The female’s voice was called ‘Beautiful Betty’ the child’s ‘Kit the Kid’, and the male voice, based on his own, “’Perfect Paul.’ Perfect Paul is Hawking’s voice.”

Photo: http://www.hawking.org.uk/

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I love stories about young people who have an impulse to help people in need. And I like that they often have creative ideas about how to do so that an older person might never have considered.

At the Boston Globe, Astead W. Herndon recently covered a high school student, now at Tufts University, who got her creative idea in a rather unusual way — while watching reality television.

Herndon reports, “Before Hannah Steinberg had a day named in her honor and was recognized by a US senator, the Tufts junior was just another high school student watching reality television.

“On that day about four years ago, Steinberg’s show of choice was ‘Extreme Couponing,’ the cable program that follows discount-obsessed shopaholics who go to supreme lengths to buy ultra-cheap items regardless of whether they need them.

“But as she watched the show’s stars proudly hoard their deeply discounted prizes, Steinberg said she had a thought: What if she could coupon with a conscience?

“These days, the 20-year-old Steinberg has a registered charity that has donated more than $100,000 worth of household items, canned goods, and electronics to homeless shelters and hospitals by using the couponing tricks she observed on the show. …

“Steinberg uses the example of a chocolate bar priced at $1.19. If she finds a buy one, get one free coupon, and pairs it with a buy two, get one free coupon and a $4 off any $10 purchase discount, Steinberg said she can purchase 30 chocolate bars for only $6.

“To fund her purchases, Steinberg solicits donations to Our Coupons Care, her federally recognized nonprofit charity. By mixing that money with her coupon magic, Steinberg said she can make “every dollar count for four to five dollars.” More here.

Although this seems like a lot of work, to me that’s not the point. Here’s a young woman who is transforming a consumerism that has run amok — until it is almost an illness — into something positive. And she is demonstrating that people with kind hearts and compassion continue to be born.

Photo: John Tlumacki/Globe
Tufts student Hannah Steinberg surrounded by the coupons she collects to buy goods to donate to charity.

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When I think of Russia and the words “big brother” together, I don’t ordinarily picture the charitable organization that partners adults with kids who need role models. Roman Sklotskiy has altered my mental model.

Last month, Diana Kultchitskaya interviewed Sklotskiy for the Christian Science Monitor.

“Roman Sklotskiy, a former businessman and a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, didn’t dream of having a career in charity. In the early 2000s he was a pioneer in the telecommunications industry, testing applications for mobile networks.

“But then he was invited by a friend to be the administrator of a theater for deaf actors – a charity project launched by a group of professional actors and directors. He was so inspired by the experience that he decided to pursue charitable work.

“In 2007 he learned of a nonprofit group trying to bring a United States-based mentoring program to Russia. Big Brothers Big Sisters International is a volunteer program that helps orphans and children from troubled families find mentors who provide them with a role model and help them build a healthy relationship with an adult.

“In Russia this kind of volunteering was a new idea. Mr. Sklotskiy decided to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia team and became its director, spending six years developing it. …

“The selection process for people who would like to participate in Russia’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program is strict. … Those who are selected receive training. Psychologists work with them and explain the unique demands of communicating with an orphan. …

“Alexandr Gezalov, an expert on child adoption and orphanages, says that the project is very successful.

“ ‘I’ve never seen a more effective format for communicating with an orphaned child,’ Mr. Gezalov says. The success of Big Brothers Big Sisters should be shared with other organizations, he says.

“Today Sklotskiy serves as director of charitable programs at the RVVZ Foundation. But he’s stayed involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters as chairman of the board. And he thinks it still has great potential to grow and help even more children. Currently Big Brothers Big Sisters is operating in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

More here.

Photo: Svetlana Balashova for the Christian Science Monitor
Roman Sklotskiy longed to do charitable work, and he found his calling in developing Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia.

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Heifer Project is a charity founded by Dan West, “a farmer from the American Midwest and member of the Church of the Brethren who went to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. His mission was to provide relief, but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk rationed to the weary refugees once a day was not enough. And then he had a thought: What if they had not a cup, but a cow?”

Recipients of Heifer Project’s cows, chickens, pigs, and other assistance commit to giving the offspring of the donated animals to others in need. That way the giving grows and spreads.

Recently, Heifer Project has been helping poor farmers in Guatemala make enough from their cardamon crops to live on.

Editor Jason Woods, has the story in the nonprofit’s magazine, World Ark.

“Miguel Xo Pop farms his own plot of land. Everyone in the Sierra de las Minas depends on two crops, cardamom and coffee, to survive. Xo and his family are no different. Traditionally, the cloud forest’s climate helps the two plants thrive, but in the past few years a pair of plagues cut cardamom prices in half and reduced coffee income to nothing.

“Recently, Xo joined a Heifer International Guatemala project that will help him keep the pests away from his cardamom while adding more crops to his farm, but the project is still in its initial stages, gaining momentum. So for now, Xo spends a quarter of a year away from his wife and five kids to earn money.”

More on the lives of the farm families, here.

The reporter also describes how an altruistic businessman moved to a “double bottom line,” one that includes charity.

“A couple of years ago, McKinley Thomason was searching for a way to use his Nashville-based spice business to make a positive impact. After hearing about Heifer International’s burgeoning work with cardamom, he knew he had found his organization.

“Shortly after contacting Heifer, Thomason’s company, The Doug Jeffords Co., started donating 10 cents to Heifer Guatemala for every seasoning blend sold from their J.M. Thomason line. But Thomason’s passion for Heifer’s work in Guatemala moved him to do even more.

“Thomason has been acting as a project adviser to Guatemalan farmers, sharing his market knowledge and technical expertise in the world of cardamom. He is also making connections and introducing Heifer Guatemala to other like-minded spice companies that could support this or other projects.”

More at Heifer Project, here.

Photo: Dave Anderson

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A husband and wife who run a restaurant in Norfolk, Mass., have opened their hearts to worthy causes, offering to assist through sales of a Brazilian dough boy.

Bella English writes at the Boston Globe, ” ‘We know the stresses of running a restaurant,” says Jennifer [Lima], 37. ‘But we promised each other we would also use it to do some good.’ …

“They donate bread weekly to the Wrentham Food Pantry. Their first Easter brunch, they donated much of the sales to the local fire department. They’re constantly giving gift cards to this or that raffle.

“When a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, struggling to work while raising her son and undergoing treatment, they donated a percentage of their earnings to Project Princess, which a friend organized on the woman’s behalf.

“And when the family of a young Marine just back from Afghanistan wanted to book a welcome home party, the Limas told them no problem. In late December, a peak holiday time, they closed the restaurant and donated the entire party. They hung signs and strung red, white, and blue lights around the bar.

“ ‘Who else closes on a busy Saturday night?’ asks Lauren Eliopoulos, the Marine’s sister. ‘They would not take anything in return. It touched my entire family.’ …

“Rolling in the Dough, [is] the couple’s latest endeavor. Their ‘Doughboy,’ take my word for it, is the best piece of fried dough you’ll ever eat. … The box notes that 100 percent of the proceeds from Doughboy sales will go to a person, family, or cause in need. ‘Do you know a deserving cause? E-mail lima@novatosgrill.com.’ ”

Read more here.

Photo: Bella English

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