What Is Motivation?


What makes some people take a specific road in their life? What makes them decide to take left or right? When you ask this question to teenagers, most of the time they mention their parents as having the biggest influence on them. Jillian Froelick credits her parents too. She said they always emphasized the importance of giving back to the less fortunate. Jillian is now going to apply this concept.

A junior high school student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Jillian quickly found her call. After years talking about going to Africa to help and after further research, she settled on a very detailed plan that will take her to Tanzania after her senior year. When her parents learned about the project, they had mixed feelings. Of course they were proud of Jillian’s spirit and selflessness but they still worry about their child spending 7 months in Africa.

Jillian has knocked down every objection to her project by laying down a very carefully prepared plan. She knows exactly what she is going to do. Back in May she started with a book drive “Give a Supply to Help Them Reach the Sky” on her campus where she could collect 373 books and three boxes of school supplies. She also had a book drive in her hometown high school of Weddington where she collected 400 books.

Jillian has other events planned to get more school supplies. She also will raise money and work part time to pay for her trip. She has already chosen a non profit, Projects Abroad, to help her with the logistics. Jillian knows she will teach English and care for AIDS patients while in Tanzania. Interestingly, her future is also already planned. After returning from Africa Jillian wants to attend college to become a surgeon. Her motivation? To later open a clinic in Tanzania. :)

Via charlotteobserver.com

A Secret Addiction Among Afghan Women


Torda wants to be a mother. She is living in the Shortapa District of northern Balkh Province. Last year, her pregnancy ended up in a stillborn birth. She almost died during the delivery before her family rushed her to a district hospital. The doctors gave her a stern warning. Next time, if she didn’t make some changes in her life she might die.

Why? Because Torda who has poor nutrition habits, works hard and long hours in the traditional Afghan carpet-weaving industry. To stave off fatigue and pain she uses opium, an addiction that has weakened even more her body. It was her sixth stillborn birth and Torda was desperate to finally deliver a healthy baby.

It is a little known fact that in Afghanistan opium addiction is rampant among rural women and even children. Make no mistake, the drug is taken not as a luxury but out of necessity. A lack of access to health services either due to cultural restrictions or dearth of health centers makes opium the only available painkiller in many areas. Sadly, mothers also use it with their children. They blow back some smoke in their mouth or give them a small piece of opium. Restless children calm down, dazed, allowing their mother to work more. Doctors are worried because giving opium to infants is extremely harmful.

What about Torda? She knew that after six stillborn births her seventh pregnancy was the most dangerous of all and maybe her last chance to have a baby. It triggered something in her mind and she took action. She decided to kick her opium addiction and finally delivered, at 45 years old, a healthy baby girl, setting an example for other Afghan women.

Via irinnews.org – Picture by Parwin Faiz/Irin (not Torda)

How Much Can You Help?


Meredith Buck from Chalfont, PA, was busy with her own law practice which focuses on medical malpractice when 9/11 happened. As she watched advertisements from the American Red Cross looking for volunteers something clicked in her mind. The next day she signed up as a disaster responder. She stayed in New-York for about six weeks. As she was just coming back home she was dispatched right away to West Philadelphia to work with victims of an apartment fire.

This has been the life of Meredith, now 49, since 2001. She has worked in 55 local and 12 national disasters, not to mention her involvement with other volunteer and advocacy works. She has run shelters and trained nurses. Meredith has also helped in the massive recovery efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.  She has served as a disaster health services supervisor at a shelter, assisting people displaced by Hurricane Rita.  While on the job, she led a team of nursing specialists who were surrounded by the fear and wreckage the hurricanes had wrought.

Meredith’s daily life is rarely predictable, since as a volunteer she can be called at anytime for an emergency. This happened as she was on a way to a Christmas party. She fielded a call about a house fire nearby, immediately quitting her party plans  and rerouting to the scene. She can even be called while everyone else is sleeping.  Buck did just this one frigid night in January, when more than 100 people were left homeless in an apartment fire.  She worked around the clock, out of the basement of a church, prioritizing dozens of requests while, at the same time training new Red Cross nurses.

Such selflessness hasn’t gone unnoticed. Even though Meredith is not volunteering to get recognition, in her law practice she already has received several awards related to her pro bono services for clients in protection-from-abuse cases. Now she has just been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest honor a nurse can get from the Red Cross. Think about it, she is one of only 60 Americans to have earned the medal since the award ‘s inception in 1920. This recognition shows how much she has done to help her fellow human beings. Via philly.com

Life After the Tsunami


As many of you remember, the tsunami of 2004 hit first the coast of Aceh, the northern part of the island of Sumatra which belongs to Indonesia. At that very moment Cut Resmi, a 40-year-old mother of two was planting flowers in her garden. When the waves came, destroying her home, one of her children was swept away, leaving Cut, her husband and their surviving son homeless.

Desperate and hopeless, Cut and her family found refuge in temporary barracks where the Red Cross had set a  psychosocial support program to provide support to survivors in the area. Cut’s situation was especially difficult because her family had lost nearly everything and was completely disconnected from the usual network of friends and extended family which traditionally helps its members overcome a tragedy.

After receiving emotional support for about six months from the American and the Indonesian Red Cross, Cut decided to help fellow survivors in the camp who were still struggling to recover. She trained as a community psychosocial facilitator, helping to organize supportive activities in the shelters. Cut, through her volunteer work found the self-confidence necessary to face an unclear future while putting the past aside.

Slowly, thinking about her surviving young son who still needed he help, she rebuilt her life and went back to her village. A new house was raised on the same lands where the family used to live and Cut, getting stronger, started a small business selling clothes. She didn’t know it yet but she could do more for her community. The tsunami disaster had destroyed more than 400 health facilities and displaced or killed nearly a third of all health workers, leaving the healthcare system in Aceh pretty much non existent.

So when the two Red Crosses came to her village looking for volunteers for a new community-based first aid program, Cut didn’t hesitate. Now, as a health volunteer, she feels empowered by make a huge difference in her community. Before, preventable diseases like dengue or malaria ended up being fatal in Aceh. Cut is proud because she can answer the questions of worried mothers about their children, nutrition or symptoms. Before she might have panicked not knowing what to say or do. But now, Cut has first aid knowledge and knowledge is power. :)

Via redcross.org

It’s Never too Late to Make Peace with Yourself


Last May, Xenia Giolli from Pacifica, CA, was reading the newspaper when an article caught her attention. The story was about a veteran of the Korean war, Ed Gallagher, 77, who was living alone in a nearby State Beach Park. Ed, a retired fisherman, had lost his wife about 5 years ago and since then had hopped from park to park, even living on the side of roads in his travel-worn minivan.

Xenia Giolli, from this article, also learned that Ed had terminal prostate cancer but refused to be confined in a hospital or senior home. He didn’t care too much about receiving proper care, he was determined to live his life the way he wanted and his choice was to be left alone. Xenia, a 35-year-old college student, majoring in psychology and economics, thought about the whole story and decided to do something. She was not sure exactly what but she thought paying a visit to Ed would be the obvious thing to do.

The Korean war veteran who had refused help from the many social workers who had visited him, opened up a little bit when Xenia stopped by, bringing a few magazines and food. She felt Ed was lonely and later asked the campsite staff to call her if he needed help. The next day they called because Ed couldn’t legally stay anymore, he had to leave. The psychology college student picked him up and brought him to her home. That was a temporary solution though because Ed wasn’t getting the care he needed.

The odd pair became friends and Xenia found a place for him in a Pacifica hospice. Even though Ed was against the idea, she convinced him to go and settled there. Xenia visited Ed everyday, spending time with him, becoming his closest family and giving him much needed love. The old man died at peace shortly after one of her visits on June 18th.

Xenia says that she is no saint. She also walks past homeless people all the time, but there was something special to Ed.  By her actions she made the old fisherman’s last days worth living. She helped him die with dignity. Via hmbreview.com

The Unexpected Value of a Painting


This post was written by Nilima Achwal, pictured above, a Kiva Fellow working in Bolivia. You can find her original story on Kiva’s blog.

On my second day in La Paz, I braved the high altitude and made my way to Calle Sagarnaga, the main tourist shopping street. As I trudged up the slippery cobbled street, a skinny middle-aged man carrying a folder easily kept pace beside me and urged me to take a look at his paintings. Since I only needed an excuse to stop climbing, I stopped, and the man started sifting through painting after painting of indigenous women wearing a myriad of hats and shawls and pointing out the corresponding figures on the street. I soon learned that his name was Jorge and he wanted to give me an introductory course on indigenous Bolivian dress. “See that woman there?” He asked excitedly, “She’s single. You can tell by the color of her shawl. She’s also originally from Cochabamba, not La Paz. ” In a span of five minutes, the vendor had given me a proud summary of the dress and customs of some indigenous groups of three different Bolivian cities.

Then came the question that  I dreaded: “Where are you from?” Ever since I arrived in La Paz, I have been inundated by anti-American rhetoric, like the highway barriers that read “Yankees Go Home; El Alto Se Respeta [expletive]” (El Alto respects itself) repeatedly over the several kilometer stretch of road that passes right in front of the AgroCapital office, in the suburb of El Alto. The American ambassador in Bolivia was kicked out just last fall. In addition, I fully expected the price of his paintings to miraculously increase three-fold as soon as I answered that question. But taken in by this man’s sincere interest, I answered quietly, “Los Estados Unidos.”

Then came: “Are you just travelling or are you here for social work?”

“Social work,” I answered.

Jorge flashed me a toothless grin and looked me in the eye. “Gracias.”

It touched me that a stranger to whom I had nothing to offer was grateful for my work. In turn, I asked him about his work. He has painted his entire life. “Lo hago por cariño,” he explained—I do it out of love. Love for his people, his culture, and his country. His intense appreciation of the beauty of his heritage carries him through day after day of hard work and absolute economic uncertainty.

I decide to buy a small, colorful painting, and he charges me 15 bolivianos, or slightly more than two dollars. After assuring me that he has change, I hand him a 100 boliviano bill (14 dollars), or more than even the average-income Bolivian makes in an entire day of work. Before I realize what is happening, he tells me to wait one moment with his folder, and he has disappeared down the steep, crowded street to go get change.

I mentally kick myself. I only blame myself for letting him run away with my bill. My logical mind tells me not to waste my time and to give those fourteen dollars up for lost. But something keeps me rooted to my spot. He told me to watch his paintings. I have a responsibility to wait for him and make sure nothing happens to his work.

I wait. Three minutes, five minutes. I feel like an idiot; a lost-looking foreigner just standing on the side of a crowded street. By the time ten minutes pass, I am ready to shed my idealism and leave.

Jorge, in his bright red shirt, comes striding up the hill, pushing through tourists and vendors, eighty-five bolivianos in hand. He happily scurries up and hands me enough money to pay for eighty-five bus rides within the city of La Paz.

It’s the pride he takes in his work that inspires and energizes me. It’s the respect for other human beings (and their money) that this pride demands of him. This is not an isolated incident; I’ve seen this deep pride in many vendors and Kiva entrepreneurs in Bolivia. It’s rare for anyone to change her prices much in La Paz—the product is worth what it’s worth. Similarly, the value of her work is non-negotiable.

I feel safer and more comfortable here than I have in any other developing country, and it’s because, as a loan officer explained to me once, “Bolivians think you’re the same as them.”

Kiva is a wonderful non profit specializing in microlending. If you haven’t done so please consider becoming a lender. Need more motivation? Check out the Kiva song!

Nothing Can Stop a Motivated Refugee


Ka Du Lar is a 52-year-old Karen. The Karen people are an ethnic minority in Myanmar oppressed by the ruling junta. Twenty years ago, Ka escaped persecution and landed in a refugee camp in northern Thailand. Ka is also blind and has lost most of his left arm, the result of shrapnel from a landmine.

But Ka doesn’t let these unfortunate setbacks stop him. At first, he attempted to support his family by splitting bamboo for seasonal housing construction, earning the equivalent of a few US cents per kilo for his output. This was not effective. Fortunately for Ka, ZOA, a Netherlands-based refugee care organization, came to the rescue and taught him new farming skills under a UNHCR-funded program.

This project is vital for the refugees because as soon as they settle in the camp, they are provided with food and lose their farming skills. In the cramped camp, there is also no place to grow anything. ZOA and the UNHCR negotiated with the Thai government to lease 31 hectares of land and set volunteers to learn again farming skills. Every year, they rotate, working in different areas of the program with pigs, fish or on a vegetable garden, keeping their knowledge sharp for a future return to their village.

Ka is proud of his work. He feels his dignity is back as his produce is sold at local markets. He earns around $35 a month, a respectable income in this remote area. The extra money is more than welcomed by his wife, who takes care of the finances, and his two teenagers sons, both born in the camp. Even though he cannot see them he knows that his family is enjoying the variety in their diet.

Ka never gave up. He kept going, trying to find better ways to make a living. But he is not done yet. After all this time spent in a camp he still wants to go back to his village and he will keep pushing for it. Via reliefweb

Pay it Forward as a Fee


With the economy in shambles and unemployment soaring many communities across the United States have seen their share of layoffs and bankruptcies. For parents of young kids the task of finding a new job is even more difficult as they have to go out to look for opportunities, show up for interviews but at the same time have to care for their young children. Many cannot afford childcare costs as they can usually receive federal aid for only 30 days after their job loss.

Enter Jennifer Chiger, the dynamic owner of the Little Achievers Preschool in New Port Richey, FL. She thought about what she could do to help those parents stuck in that catch-22 and came up with an idea inspired by another preschool in Wisconsin. Parents looking for a job can drop their kids at the Little Achievers Preschool for free and then do whatever they need to get back to work. But there is catch. They have to sign a promissory note that they will do a good deed for somebody else within the next year.

The “good deed” can be anything, as long as something gets done. Jennifer is hoping that it will be helpful for some parents who are in a very tight situation while giving back to her community. She is planning to do it for two days in July and will assess how successful it was. Other dates will be added later.

What a wonderful idea! We can all do a little something more to help our families or communities. It takes a little bit of thinking and the courage to step up to the plate. Like Jennifer. Via tbo.com

Selfless Action is Always Rewarded


Jorge Orozco-Sanchez from Colorado is a gentle man. He lives a quiet life with his wife and enjoys spending quality time with his two children. He is a truck driver, a job he loves because of the independent life it provides him. Last October, as usually, he was driving his truck on a narrow stretch of the highway when he noticed too late a SUV crossing into his lane. The vehicles collided head on.

Jorge jumped out of his truck and rushed into the burning SUV not once but twice, to pull two little girls from the fiery wreckage. Their mother died in the crash. The fire spread to his truck and there was nothing he could do but watch his livelihood reduced to ashes.

Over the next few months, life got much harder for Jorge and his family. He took a job at a restaurant but that was not enough to cover the bills. He was hounded by creditors while he was waiting for his insurance payments. At the same time he was getting a lot of praise and accolades for his heroic action.  In March he got one of the most prestigious award for a truck driver, the Goodyear North American Highway Hero Award. And generosity kicked in. Life went on for months, the heroic truck driver wondering if one day he could decently feed again his two children.

Finally, good news came for Jorge would couldn’t believe it when he heard them. Touched by his story, the US National Association of Independent Truck Drivers had found him a 2005 truck with a no-money-down loan. Goodyear provided 18 brand new tires to replace the bald ones. On June 3rd, Jorge was back in business still amazed at his good luck and saying he didn’t deserve all of this. By the way he is still waiting for his insurance payments. ;) Via denverpost.com

Teachers in the Desert


Aziza Souleyman Mahamet is a 40-year-old mother of three who is a refugee living in Djabal camp, Chad. Having been attacked by the Janjaweed fighters in West Darfur, her family walked for seven days to reach the Chadian border. They lived there for several months until the UNHCR found them and brought them to Djabal camp.

Luckily for Aziza, the UNHCR was looking for people to teach the numerous children living in the camp. She knew how to read and write, and after a training, became a teacher. Now she is one of the few refugees making a small living. Aziza is passionate about her job, pushing her students to study. Most of them have not forgotten their escape from Darfur, many having seen their parents being murdered. Under those circumstances it is difficult to explain to them to stay in school and learn.

Thankfully, various psycho-social programs in the camp have provided counselling to many children, helping them focus better in class. But Aziza knows that she is teaching under very difficult conditions. Usually the kids are studying while sitting in the sand, one book being shared by three students. Also the harsh weather in eastern Chad is not helping. Sandstorms and the rainy season can discourage the most dedicated pupils.

Nonetheless Aziza keeps going. She thinks about the future, she thinks about the time when her students will be able to go back to Darfur. They will have these skills, reading and writing, that will help them rebuild the region. That’s why Aziza is adamant and keeps telling parents to send their kids to school. She knows how a difference in someone’ s life reading and writing can make. Via ninemillions.org

Update: I found a great post about Darfur refugees by Ola at I Run For Life!

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