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

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

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

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. :)


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

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

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

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.

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]

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