Nothing Can Stop Me


Sherida Alexander is from North Carolina. She is a senior in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system and a couple of days ago she graduated from high school. Sherida’s path is interesting because her road to graduation was not as smooth as others teenagers. She had to fight her way through her four years of high school and, until recently, was not sure she could graduate.

When she started as a freshman at Hawthorne High School, everything looked fine until Sherida had trouble with her vision. Her doctor told her that she had keratoconus. It is a specific disease from the cornea which cause it to change its shape to a cone and blur the vision. Most of the times, keratoconus is diagnosed in young people and can be cured. Sherida’s one was much more dangerous as she could become blind.

The degenerative eye disorder didn’t stop Sherida from attending school. Even though her vision was impaired she kept studying. As her vision became worse and worse, two years ago, doctors decided that it was time to take action. Sherida had a double cornea transplant to help her regain her vision.

After the surgery, she was back to school and because of her poor sight she had to work much more than her classmates. She would arrive at school at 6am and would not leave until after 6pm. Even when her body started rejecting one of her cornea she kept going. Unfortunately, Sherida was not able to graduate in June but Hawthorne is a special place where the focus is on preventing students from dropping out of school. They  can complete course requirements at their own pace rather than a pre-determined pace.

Sherida in July took an extra computer class and was finally able to graduate and get her diploma. She is beaming with pride and ready to tackle her next challenge: becoming a cosmetologist. She will start classes in a community college within a few weeks but she knows that more challenges await her. She has now lost all sight in her right eye and could have to undergo more surgery. But that will not stop her from reaching her goal. Via

Pitching his Cause


When you go to the ballpark to catch a baseball game, one of the most common sight of America’s favorite pastime is the beerguy. He goes up and down selling his drinks helping the fans cool down a little. In Chicago, that’s exactly Adam Carter’s job. He is there at Wrigley stadium and The Cell. White Sox or Cubs doesn’t matter and he has been doing this job for more than 15 years. But what happens when the season is over?

Adam doesn’t stay much in Chicago. He heads to underdeveloped countries and give away his profits. He started doing this in 2003 and has been going to a different place every year since. Don’t think that he is just a disorganised lunatic. Quite the opposite.

Born and raised in Chicago, Adam holds an Anthropology degree from the University of Michigan and a Masters degree in International Development from George Washington University in DC. In between those two degrees, Adam traveled extensively around the world and was profoundly affected by the poverty he found himself face-to-face with. Then he wondered, as a simple beerguy what he could do.

Through his non profit Cause & Affect, Adam raises money during the baseball season. Then he chooses a specific place he wants to support and through his contacts he finds a well run non profit that needs funds. He usually by-passes the big NGO and heads directly to the place he has chosen. There, collaborating with the non profit chosen earlier, he helps them by giving the much needed funds he raised. He also give a hand with his own time, trying to understand the best ways to fight poverty.

Throughout the years, Adam has assisted local projects in countries such as Brazil, Cambodia and Colombia and spent last off-season in West Africa, where he helped under-equipped schools, under-funded health clinics and local children’s organizations in seven countries. That’s what I call stepping up to the plate :)

A Crusader for Local Vegetables


Mary Abukutsa-Onyango has a passion for indigenous African vegetables. Mary is a Kenyan horticultural scientist and she knows what she is talking about. For many years local plants all over Africa have been pushed away and replaced by exotic plants like spinach or cabbage. The great majority of Kenyans think that those plants are native and better for health.

Mary, who is a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, has tried to reverse this trend and reintroduce the original plants in the food chain. Why?  Because they are richer in vital nutrients and micro-nutrients, with medicinal and other agronomic properties superior to exotic vegetables. They are also good for the family table and for generating income.  The species tested include cowpeas, vegetable amaranth, spider plant, African nightshade, jute mallow and the African kale.

So Mary is on a crusade to teach her fellow Africans and especially Kenyans. Over 60% of the rural communities in Western Kenya are poor, resulting in malnutrition and poor health among many rural households. She is fighting a tough battle because those indigenous vegetables are spurned by the well-fed as food only for the poor, and by the poor themselves as alternatives only in times of extreme hunger.

Finally, her efforts were recently met with success when  the spiderplant, African nightshade and vegetable amaranth, among others, started being sold in Nairobi supermarkets and restaurants. Moreover, last June, Mary won an award for her work.

Part of her success results from being one of a growing team of innovative scientists given fellowships by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), a fantastic program aimed at boosting the female talent pool supporting Africa’s women farmers.

But Mary soldiers on. A latest victory? Having the Kenyan Health Ministry advising hospitals to include African indigenous vegetables in the diet of HIV-positive patients.

Via – Picture by Mike Goldwater

A Son with a Big Heart

by on August 7, 2009
in Family, Selflessness, Teens, USA


Zach McGuire is really a son with a big heart. The boy from Toledo, OH, has made himself a reputation as a great fundraiser. It all started in 2005 when hurricane Katrina struck. The principal of his school asked each student to do an extra chore over the weekend to earn $1 for victims. Zach thought he could do better than that. He set up a Kool-Aid stand and, at his father Tom’s suggestion, asked that people simply donate what they could. In two weekends he raised more than $400 for Katrina victims.

Upon hearing that feat, the mayor of city, invited him, lauded his his initiative and named him Citizen of the Month. In 2007, Zach did it again. This time, he set up his Kool-Aid stand to help victims from the flood in Findlay, OH.  Later he would use again his stand but replacing Kool-Aid by hot cocoa to raise money for California wildfire victims. He estimates that his fundraising efforts reached around $1000. Not bad for an 11-year-old.

Now though he is facing a challenge closer to home. His father, who taught him to help others has fallen on difficult times. The licensed contractor has not been able to find a job since last December and is financially liable for a large remodeling job he did last summer for which the customer never paid. His situation is getting extremely difficult with mounting bills and no job in view.

So Zach again took action to help his father. He has decided to put on sale all his childhood toys in order to bring some relief to his dad. The selflessness in his action is wonderful, even though the money raised will be just a drop in a bucket. But I am sure that Zach’s father is proud of his son and as a result, his level of persistence to solve his financial problems will shot up.  Via

The Bank is Still Open

by on August 5, 2009
in Business, Sudan


Deng Agei barely knows what it is to live during peace time. The young Sudanese man has known war for so many years, that now, life under peace seems like heaven to him. And he is enjoying the possibility of building a new life for himself. Actually he had already started after the end of the war in Sudan.

In 2005, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan marked the end of the Second Sudanese Civil War, which had lasted more than 20 years.  An estimated two million people were killed and four million displaced during the second civil war, which began in 1983. Deng thought about opening a microbusiness selling food and goods. Luckily for him, Lietnohm, his village was chosen to get a real bank from where he could microfinance his business.

The sight of your bank local branch in your neighborhood is so common that you don’t even pay attention to it. It’s there, period. But in Southern Sudan, a brick and mortar bank in a village was a first. The idea was supported by Five Talents, a non profit helping the Southern Sudanese people adjust from their ancestral pastoral life with educational programs. Deng took a loan and had his business booming in the central market of Lietnohm until skirmishes broke again.

Southern Sudan is a patchwork of ethnicity, languages and clans making it difficult to unify the population. A conflict started between two clans in Lietnohm ending up in most of the village being burned down, including Deng’s shop and savings. Deng was not demoralized. He decided to start again.

Interestingly, one of the rare buildings not destroyed during the clans fight was the bank with its more than $10,000 in cash, a real fortune in Sudan. Since everyone,  every clan has interests in it, the building was spared by the fight and is bringing the community together again.

Deng took another loan. He rebuilt his business so well that now he is doing much better than before the clans fight erupted. Deng can really see now a better future. :)


Growing the Donation


Eighteen months ago Savannah Head took a big decision. The 11-year-old from Jackson, TN, had approached her parents about Locks of Love, a non profit I have already featured on The Florida-based organization provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.

Savannah wanted to do something to help children with cancer and making a donation of her hair to Locks of Love seemed perfectly fitting. The thing is Savannah loves to sport short hair whereas Locks of Love requires the donation to be at least 10 inches long. There was only one way to participate and Savannah, eighteen months ago let her hair grow. It was also challenge for her because the longer the hair the more she needed to take care of it.

Savannah though, is no stranger to challenges. First, she has celebral palsy which requires her to walk most of the time with crutches and leg braces. Second, she has already made meaningful contributions throughout the years. For example when she was 7, helped by her mother, she started a small business, ”Boneyard Bakery.” She baked bone-shaped doggie treats and donated the proceeds to various charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation or to those helping the 2004 tsunami victims.

But last week was the moment she had been waiting for eighteen months: to finally cut, with the help of a hairdresser, her long ponytailed hair. Savannah hopes that by doing that she can encourage others to do the same. She says that it will make kids who need it feel good and the person who donates her hair too.

Via Picture by Devin Wagner

A Miracle in the Toilets


David Kuria is a 37-year-old architect from Kenya. Already having a comfortable life working for the few wealthy Kenyans who could afford his services, he felt unsatisfied. He wanted to do more to help his community. David found his calling in an unlikely area: the toilets.

According to the Acumen Fund, only 48% of Kenya’s population has access to basic sanitation services. It has been more than 30 years since the government last invested in toilet facilities in Nairobi, one of the most densely populated informal settlements in the world. The few toilet units in low-income areas are beset by overcrowding, inaccessibility, as well as a general lack of privacy, hygiene and security.

Upon learning that women seeking privacy, would often pay a small fee to use a privately operated, unhygienic pit latrine, David saw an opportunity to build a business while helping his community. He founded Ikotoilet, a company which provides clean and secure sanitation services for a small fee. The company uses a Build-Operate-Transfer model of public-private partnership, entering into long-term contracts with municipalities to secure use of public lands.

David’s venture is now a real success. As an architect, he designed himself the facilities, which look like small restaurants, not toilets. An average of 1000 Kenyans use everyday each Ikotoilet because besides providing dignified and decent toilets, it also offers a range of services like showers, baby stations, phone booths, shoe shines and a small food shop. At the same time it creates jobs for urban youth.

David made a point to focus on sustainability especially with water which is now scarce in cities. That’s why each facility uses waterless urinals, low flush systems, rainwater harvesting and water saving taps to ensure optimal conservation. He is also keen on the potential for nutrient and energy recovery, harvesting urine and now exploring how to invest in conversion to ammonia. Also, biogas is generated from human waste and is used to light Ikotoilets.

His vision fulfilled David wanted to make sure expansion would not hurt the quality of service provided to the community. How could he guarantee the managers would keep each Ikotoilet spotless? David came up with very simple but effective idea: the office is located above or next to the toilets. No one would want to work or hold a meeting around stinking toilets. :)

Finding Power Through Words


Tran Tra My is a young woman from Vietnam who was all smiles last month. She finally succeeded in getting her first book published. At the book launch at the Ha Noi University of Culture she could not keep the tears from rolling down her cheeks. Her book title, “Dream of the Angel’s Feet”, symbolizes her struggle and how hard her journey was until this launch day.

When she was a baby, Tra My got a bout of fever which lead to tumors in her feet. The surgery to remove the tumors damaged her feet and and also caused her to have difficulties moving her hands and speaking. That meant that she couldn’t go to school, move around easily or communicate with people. Not a great start in life but that didn’t stop Tra My.

When she was 9, her sister began her first grade school year. At night, while she was doing her homework, Tra My would sit besides her and imitate her sister. She would ask her questions and would keep studying with the school books left on the table. She slowly taught herself how to read, write and do basic math. That was enough to enable her to read books, especially fairy tales.

This reading opened doors in her mind. It lead her to teach herself slowly and painfully how to type on a computer. She then started writing poems to tell her story and reach out. Soon enough she was writing short stories and used emails to connect with others and share her creations. Her persistence finally paid off as she won several prizes in writing contests and caught the eye of the Labour Publishing House with whom she signed a contract.

Her amazing journey is not finish yet. Tra My has many dreams to fulfill. First she wants to study at the Literature Creation, Argument and Critic Department of the Ha Noi University of Culture. She is also thinking about writing scripts for TV and game shows. Finally she dreams of having a happy family. Why not? One of Tra My’s best short stories is “The Doors that Never Closed” which was written as an autobiography. She did open so many of those supposedly closed doors already that we can trust her to get much higher in Vietnamese literature. Via

I Will Fundraise for You


I am always surprised by the capability of children to take action and fight for a cause and that’s the reason I feature a lot of them on They take their responsability very seriously and their persistence deserves our respect. I think I could post only about them if I wished, as I find such cases in high numbers through the net, one of them being Fergus Walker.

Fergus is an 11-year-old from New Zealand. He happens to have several friends diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder known to be an inherited disease of the secretory glands, including the glands that make mucus and sweat.  It is a rare disease although it is more common among nations in the Western world. It is a life-shortening disease and so far there is no cure for it.

All of this made Fergus mull different plans and finally approach his teachers at Point View Primary School in Auckland, to ask for their help with a fundraising campaign. Because what was bothering Fergus is that there is no real government funding towards research for finding a cure to help is friends. Starting a fundraising campaign was a way for him to show how much he cared for them

His selfless attitude quickly spread among his peers and paid off when his efforts turned into a school-wide campaign, with the student school council arranging meetings to plan the best ways to raise money. With the help of the teachers the school community planned a series of fundraisers and Fergus delivered himself a speech to introduce the genetic disease to younger students.

But the 6th grader is not done yet. His has many more ideas to bring awareness about cystic fibrosis in New Zealand. Why? because a close family friend, Tayler, was diagnosed with the disease and Fergus wants to be able to do whatever he can to help find a cure for his friend. Via

Pushing the Limits


This is a guest post by Jaspreet Singh Sahni, a journalist from India. You can enjoy his writing at his blog, Star of the Day.

His movement may be restricted but his determination knows no limitation and that eggs him on to perform like a man on a mission, at times outshining his able-bodied counterparts, on the badminton court.

Tarun Dhillon is just 12 and he is visibly different from others, not because of his disability but his ability to overcome it. He was 8 when he met an unfortunate accident that seriously injured his right knee. His movement got restricted and ultimately the knee had to be operated upon, twice.  Though the first surgery was unsuccessful, the second seemingly went well. “The second surgery was slightly more successful as I regained movement, but my knee was still jammed,” Tarun clarifies.

It was a year later, at 9, when he turned to badminton. “I picked up the racquet because it exercises every part of your body. My coach Rajiv Mehra has helped me a lot. Although my movement is comparatively slower than the rest on court, I just love the game,” Tarun said.  His tenacity echoes in his statement: “I constantly like to challenge myself against those with no disability. It should never stop somebody from doing what they love.”

His resolve is there for everybody to see in his achievements as he began making his mark at the school and junior levels. At 11, Tarun was crowned India’s number one shuttler in the physically challenged category for juniors. Along the way, he became a gold medalist in the national championships in singles, doubles and mixed doubles events.

With success touching his feet, he landed into the hands of Prakash Padukone (former Indian international) at his academy to train for Asia cup for the disabled last December. While he finished third in the doubles event, he lost to a 35-year-old Malaysian veteran in the singles.

“When I first saw Tarun, I realised that he wanted to prove to the world that his disability is only physical. I have been coaching him since he picked up the sport. I have been training him mainly on his movements but his courage, skill and determination are extraordinary to say the least,” says his coach.

Via Star of the Day

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