Language as a Bridge


In the Republic of Georgia, Lela Avidzba holds a special status. Of course she is a spokeswoman for the Georgian government but what sets her apart is her background. Born from an Abkhaz father and a Georgian mother, Lela is fluent in Abkhaz, a language with a bewildering, 64-letter alphabet and complex phonetics. A lot of Abkhazians themselves cannot speak the language and use Russian.

Until 1992, Abkhazia was part of the Republic of Georgia when civil war broke, Abkhazians claiming afterwards independence. The conflict, one of the bloodiest in the post-Soviet area, remains unresolved as Russia and a handful of other countries have recognized Abkhazia as an independent country while for the rest of the world it still belongs to Georgia.

Lela was a happy teenager living in Sukhumi, the Abkhazian capital, when the war broke. Her parents sent her to Tbilissi for her safety while they stayed behind. Since then, Lela is torn between the two places but has been an ardent promoter of peace between the two belligerents. For example, she hosts a TV show in Abkhaz on Georgian television.

In 2004, with her mother, she helped organize a visit to Georgia for Abkhaz children who lost parents in the 1992 war. The kids were thrilled by the trip although such gestures of reconciliation cannot overcome easily the deep animosity between Abkhazians and Georgians. Lela knows that but she is nevertheless determined to persevere using her unique language skills. Via

The Power of Two


Tsegaye Bekele was born in Ethiopia and emigrated to the US in 1976 where he built himself a comfortable life in Mill Valley, California. Father of two and grandfather also of two, he had never returned to Aleta Wondo, the Ethiopian village where he was born, until recently for a brief trip where he reconnected with family members. After that visit, a thought kept nagging, telling him that he had to do something to help his people who were in tremendous need.

One morning he stopped by Mill Valley Peet’s Coffee shop to have his morning cup and a friend introduced him to Donna Sillan, who happened to stop by too. She was just coming back from Ethiopia where she had helped a couple adopt two Ethiopian orphans. Tsegaye ‘s interest grew as he understood that the two kids where from Aleta Wondo. After some exchanges he discovered that they even had attended the same primary school he had graduated from. Fate was helping.


Donna Sillan herself, was a perfect match to help Tsegaye. She had a long experience working around the world in health development for different NGOs. They decided to collaborate to bring in Aleta Wondo a sustainable development program. First they would need to decide what type of activity would empower the men, women and children from the town. Actually the choice was easy. Aleta Wondo has a long history as a coffee plantation where even Tsegaye ‘s earliest memories were nursed by the aroma of coffee.

In 2007, after writing down the different steps of their development program, they both flew to Ethiopia. In Aleta Wondo they met with community leaders, religious leaders and women and children in the village, all of whom gave their blessings and commitment to work together. They visited officials of the government, all of whom fully endorsed the program. They completed the permit requirements, received letters of support and obtained all necessary documents to start. Soon a new school with a boarding facility was constructed as 1200 coffee trees were planted. Later a community center was built and farmers were trained in sustainable coffee growing techniques. Women received micro-financing for their business projects.

Today the Aleta Wondo coffee is relished by coffee lovers all around the world while profits from the sales are going back directly to fund education, health, water, sanitation and livelihood development in Tsegaye’s hometown.

A Passion That Doesn’t Fizzle


She is not yet 12 but Casey Sokolovic from Noth Carolina has an incredible vision of what she wants to do. It all started four years ago when she visited the the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Island, NC, on a family trip. There, she discovered the world of injured turtles being brought back to health by a team of dedicated volunteers. The visit had such an impact on Casey that she decided to take action. She chose to raise money for the rehabilitation center.

First she had to create an organization and “Help Them LAST” (which stands for Love A Sea Turtle) was born. Second she had to find a way to raise money. She decided to bake and sell turtle-shaped cookies. She participated in school fundraisers. She ignited the interest of everyone she could possibly find. And a few months ago, Casey was proud to hand to the center a check of $3,000 as a result for her efforts.

Although the money is good to finance the rehabilitation center, Casey’s impact on people is also surprising. Her family who had no interest in oceans is now devoted to sea turtle conservation. Her parents and her brother joined the cause and are fully helping Casey. The family even booked a trip to Barbados because she wanted to clean the beaches and talk to marine biologists working there. At school, Casey is sharing her successes and involves friends in her activities. They, in turn are very supportive and come up with new ideas.

Make no mistake, her dedication is serious because she knows sea turtles are disappearing fast and need our help. Casey who would like to become a veterinarian or a marine biologist, has other plans. She is creating a logo and setting up a website for “Help Them LAST”. The family has collaborated with coffee creator Joe Van Gogh to introduce a special Fair Trade Organic coffee blend called Sea Turtle Blend. You can buy it online and 10% of the net profits will go to the rehabilitation center. Via

What about you? Are you passionate about something? or are you hesitating among several interests?

You Can Fail a Lot Before Winning


Many students aim to be an engineer. Joining a prestigious university and becoming an inventor is the perfect dream path for many of them. But it is tough. Really tough. Now meet Mundhir Hamdan Al-Qassas, a 28-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza. When he was in  high school he had this very dream. Unfortunately he failed his final exams that would have opened the door to join the best Faculty of Science and Engineering.

But Mundhir was tenacious. He took again the same final exam one year later to fail again and, to his dismay, with grades so bad that he could only join a low level community college. Really tough for someone who aspired to become a mechanical engineer. Although his dream was much more difficult to reach, Mundhir didn’t get discouraged and went on to study at the community college. Only to fail again at his first semester exams.

That would have quashed the dreams of many. Mundhir knew what he wanted to do and since he couldn’t study anymore he would be his own teacher. He took a job as a taxi driver to bring an income to his parents and to save money for his marriage, in the traditional Palestinian way. At first, that’s what his mother thought. Instead of saving for his future wedding, Mundir used his savings to finance his experiments, something that got him a lot of reproaches from her.

The Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip didn’t make it easier for him to get the parts he needed. Nonetheless, he persisted and one of his first inventions, a reading device,  came to him after he saw a quadriplegic young man who was unable to flip through the pages of a book. This gadget is able to automatically turn book pages for individuals with special needs. From there, he dedicated his inventions to them, helping people with disabilities better integrate in the society.

Finally, after 10 years of innovations, his latest invention, an electric smart wheelchair got him the coveted ”International Palestinian Award of Innovation and Distinction.” The funny thing is that Mundhir, the taxi driver, outshone the very most elite of researchers, specialists, innovators, and those with high degrees from across Palestine to win the prize. Mundhir is quick to credit his faith in Allah for his success while the prize money, $15,000, should be enough to quell his mother’s worries.

Mundhir has received several offers to work in a foreign country. He has rejected all of them as he thinks his country needs his inventions the most. Via

Understanding the Power of Leverage


Dylan Mahalingam from New Hampshire is a teen with a mission: to spread the word about the United Nations eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and mobilise his peers into working on these goals.

It was after the 2004 tsunami  that Dylan decided to help. He fundraised $900 and the money was sent to Chennai, India, to help replace fishing boats and nets for a poor community. Collaborating with different kids on several more projects on the net, he noticed that they were not aware about the MDGs but as soon as they understood the eight goals, they wanted to do something about it.

So Dylan created a non profit, Lil’ MDGs, a collaborative effort to benefit various causes around the world. With his friends they raised funds and resources to build a dormitory for a school in Tibet and a computer center, library, and a mobile hospital in India. They provided school supplies for students in many countries and a playground for a school serving AIDS orphans in Uganda. Working with American soldiers, Lil’ MDGs mobilized children in America to send school supplies for students in various schools in Iraq. The non profit also collected and donated over 9000 books to a library serving disadvantaged youth in Washington, D.C.

You might wonder how Dylan, now 14, is handling studies, playing time and his non profit? His secret, something he learned right at the beginning of his fundraising efforts, is collaboration. 20 children from five countries volunteer approximately 15 hours a week to Lil’ MDGs. These 20 children, including Dylan, meet online weekly. Besides this, approximately 1300 children from 15 countries volunteer around 15 hours a month. Add to that thousands of kids participating to a specific project and you get an idea of the powerful leverage behind Dylan.

Knowing that one can achieve more through collaboration, what is your leverage power?

Lil’ MDG’s

Dylan’s facebook page

(Dylan was nominated by Angela Hughes. Thank you Angela! You too can nominate anyone you think is remarkable and inspiring. Send your mail to jp [at]

How Do You Stop Child Labor?

How do you get poor children out of the streets? How do you get them to attend school? The answer is difficult because even if you have a sound school system it doesn’t mean that all kids will come. The poorest families cannot afford to send their children, even if the school is free. Why? Because they need to eat and a child can work and bring an income to the parents. On the other hand only an educated child can break out of poverty. How do you break the vicious cycle?


Cristovam Buarque is a Brazilian politician and university professor who has been relentlessly fighting for education in his country. With a group of friends, in the late 80′s he came up with an idea to break this cycle. In 1995 he ran and was elected governor of the Federal District which includes the capital, Brasilia. That was the perfect opportunity to implement this program called Bolsa Escola (School Fund.)

The conditions to apply were simple. The family income had to be equal or inferior to half the minimum wage, all the children of the family had to attend a minimum of 90% of the classes and the father had to be enrolled in the national system for job seekers. In exchange, Bolsa Escola complemented their income depending on the size of the family. The money was given to the mother who culturally  shows more commitment and responsibility.

The results? During the four years of Cristovam Buarque’s mandate, the Federal District government managed to reach about  25.000 families, or 50.000 children, at a cost of less than 1% of the annual budget. Children became more confident about their future. Truancy fell from 10 to 0,4%. Employment and income through small businesses (food and clothing) rose by 30% in the communities involved in the program. NGOs noticed a reduction in domestic violence and an improvement of the parents’ level of schooling. The women’ s self-esteem rose and their power within the family too.

The program was so successful that other municipalities and Brazilian states adopted similar programs. Other countries like Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, Guatemala, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and El Salvador followed the same idea. Even New York started in 2008 a pilot program modeled on Bolsa Escola.

In Brazil this simple idea, which requires little funds, was implemented nationwide by Cristovam Buarque when he became Education minister in 2003  under the name Bolsa Familia.  It is now credited as one of the main contributing factors for the reduction in poverty in Brazil.

Cristovam Buarque twitter page

Can You Go a Little Greener?

by on June 19, 2009
in Awareness, Malaysia


Lu Chen Pin, 37, runs his own software development business but what makes him stand out is his emphasis on protecting the environment and the fact that he decided to go eco-friendly as much as he could. Quietly he is following this motto, “first reduce, then reuse and recycle.”

Reducing can be a very simple gesture like turning off the tap water when brushing his teeth or not using the air-conditioning while driving in the morning. It also means for him doing less fancy shopping. A more stricter step has been for Lu to decide not to drive his car every second Sunday of the month. He has even stopped drinking iced coffees from Starbucks because the Seattle company uses plastic cups.

True to his motto, before he quit drinking iced beverages, he used to keep those plastic cups to “reuse” them as pen holders. In Lu’s office, files are kept in plastic wrappers that came through his junk mail. Cardboard boxes are now storage containers. Hence he lengthen the lifespan of things. But Lu goes a step further. he calls himself an eco-warrior. While driving if he sees someone dumping trash out of the car window, he takes pictures, especially of their plate number and post them on his facebook page.

Lu is a real green crusader. He has planted trees in a nearby forest and has a special strategy to convince his community into changing its habits. He tells five friends to do an environmental act and ask them to each get five friends to do the same act, such as plant trees or stop using plastic bags. The snowball effect is possible but Lu remains cautiously optimistic.

I think Lu Chen Pin’s efforts are fantastic. They look like a small drop in the ocean but, to quote Mother Theresa, the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. Via

Can you turn off  the tap when brushing your teeth? Can you do more?

Give and You Will Receive. Really?

You have heard about it. It’s in the Bible, “The Secret” talks about it as a key law of the Universe. Here is one more inspiring example to show you that selflessly giving comes back tenfold… or more.


Anna James is a senior high school student from Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton, Ontario. She just graduated and her last two years have been busy. Distressed by world poverty, Anna decided to take action and founded her school’s Humanitarian Club. She couldn’t accept that people in countries far away were starving or couldn’t study. So she spearheaded Project Love. The goal was to help schools in Tanzania while involving her classmates in Grey Highlands. She devised an inter-class competition which gathered and sent 800 school supply kits to Tanzania.

How can you increase awareness about hunger among your peers? Anna’s idea was to organize an overnight “30 Hour Famine” group and help plan African lunches, to expose her community to global cuisine and gather funds for charitable causes. She also wanted first hand experience. In 2008, for six weeks, Anna volunteered in Peru helping abandoned and disabled children while also assisting impoverished seniors in the Peruvian desert.

She was also active in other areas, so much so, that she became, to her surprise, one of the recipient of a scholarship, which recognizes 20 students across Canada who are making a difference in their communities. This windfall will cover her post-secondary tuition and living expenses. Says Anna, “All along there have been personal rewards. I would have done these things regardless of the chances of a scholarship. The reward is the people you meet and it’s nice to have this material reward too.” Via Bayshore Broadcasting

Do you still not believe in giving and receiving? Or have you had a surprising experience?

Finding a Meaningful Life in Refugee Camps


Born in Sri Lanka, V. Thenmozhi saw her world being shattered when she had, with her family, to flee the civil war on her island. They lost everything and on rickety boat they crossed the Palk Strait to reach Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There, she became a refugee in one of the numerous camps set up for fleeing Tamils by NGOs, one of them being the OfERR.

Then 18, she first thought about going back to school but soon the family having no income she decided to work for the OfERR where she felt at home among other Tamil refugee activists. Thenmozhi was young and people were doubtful she could do the job. How was she going to counsel men 4 times her age? How was she supposed to provide advice to a mother who had lost her children while fleeing?

Thenmozhi was persistent. She first finished her training as a counselor, learning precious lessons, and then started visiting the 117 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. It was, and still is, a tough job because depressed or angry refugees would not easily tell their story, a crucial part of the healing process. Thenmozhi took the time to know them, get their trust and slowly they opened up, releasing memories trapped in their mind.

After that, she helped them get more confident, taught them to think positively so they could pick themselves up, start an activity and earn some much needed money. She particularly empowered women, pushing them to start small businesses which was against the traditional view. Thenmozhi, now 38, is teaching the next generation of counselors who step-by-step will take over. She feels a great sense of accomplishment even though it hasn’t been easy to take her fellow refugees from being nobodies to reclaiming their life.

Empowerment is everywhere. From the refugee camps to your own home, anyone can make a difference in someone else’s life. If you do it you will find meaning. Via

This week is World Refugee Week and you can donate to the UNHCR. Even a small token will be helpful! Added to thousands of other donations it will show how a group can be powerful. Thank you.

Anyone Can Make a Difference


Ebony Shante Edwards is a third grader at Henry Heights in Lake Charles, LA. She is a good student and participate to a special program to get better grades. At the end of the year, prizes are awarded and when her name was called, Ebony Shante received a brand new bicycle. Since she already had a bicycle, she knew what to do. She went to the officials and asked them to draw another name to give the bicycle she had just won to another student.

The officials present at the ceremony were so surprised and inspired by Ebony Shante’s behavior that they decided to pass around a hat and everybody pitched in. They didn’t want her to be left empty handed and were able to give her a gift certificate. Ebony Shante already said she knew to whom she was going to buy something with her new prize. Via


Jeff Ziolkowski is a 18-year-old senior high school student from Flagler County, Florida. He just graduated and in September, he will be heading to the University of Notre Dame to study medicine. Is Jeff ready to start his college studies? Of course he is and maybe even more than is future classmates.

Since he wants to be a MD, what could have been more normal for him than volunteering at a clinic in order to learn, to feel what is it to be on the other side. So far he has dedicated more than 300 hours of his time to welcome patients or help them fill out forms. In my opinion, the most important of his deeds was to sit with them and just listen. We live in a world where we think we have no time to listen to others. And if we do ‘listen’, we are nodding while thinking about our answer. True? Next time you have a conversation with someone, pay attention at how much you are listening. Shift your mind and really listen. I guarantee, the person you are talking to will feel it. Via Flagler County News

How to Be a Good Listener (

Jeff Ziolkowski on facebook

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