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

Mama Lucy Is Helping Tanzania Fight Poverty


The Girl Effect is happening everywhere and especially in developing countries. Everyday I find new stories about women stepping up to the plate with courage and persistence to offer a better future to the next generation.

In Arusha, Tanzania, Lucy Kamptoni, aka Mama Lucy, was selling chickens, her main income. Knowing that the key to eradicate poverty in her country was education, in 2003 she took her savings and started a primary school, Sheperds Junior Academy. She rented land next to her home and with iron determination, grew the classes from 6 children to include by 2007 more than 300 students at 8 grade levels.

But in July 2007, a hotel developer bought the land Mama Lucy was renting, planning to start construction in 2008. That meant the school would have to be shut down. Luckily for the students, around the same time, two Americans, Stacey Monk and Sanjay Patel in the midst of a trip, were volunteering at the school. When they learned about the situation, they were moved to help. They knew that their background in project management and corporate consulting could benefit the children.

Back in the US, they founded Epic Change (facebook page), a non-profit that loans money to organizations seeking to improve their communities. After raising tenth of thousands of dollars, they loaned the money to Mama Lucy and Sheperds Junior Academy was able to buy land and build new classrooms.

The added benefit of this loan is empowerment. Lead by Mama Lucy, the parents and the children are working hard to reimbourse the loan, giving them a sense of pride and ownership. Through the sales of gifts like postcards drawn by the students, everyday Shepherds is becoming more and more independent. Their motivation is backed by their academic scores. In November, the school participated in national exams for the first time.  Shepherds ranked #1 out of 117 participating schools in the Arusha district. Yeah! :)

From The Bottom to The Top


If you live in a poor region rich in minerals you will end up for sure scraping at the bottom of pits. And if you are a child doesn’t matter.

Manan Ansari is a 14-year old boy from Dhaurkola, a village from the mineral-rich state of Jharkhand in Eastern India. Born in a poor family with six siblings, Manan instead of going to school went to work along with his family in one of the illegal and unorganised mines of mica dug by the villagers. It was hard. ”My work required me to collect mica pieces from ten in the morning to six in the evening. Sometimes, I couldn’t get any for earning,” remembers Manan. ”We had to dig up pits and sometimes, those pieces used to pierce into open wounds which would later result in infections.”

Fortunately for Manan and his siblings, the BBA (Save Childhood Campaign), came to the rescue. The BBA is an Indian NGO founded by Kailash Satyarthi, a famous human rights activist, which frees child slaves and put them back in the educational system. When Manan was finally able to attend school, he excelled so much that he topped his high school class exams.

Now Manan himself helps fight child labor by giving speeches. This week, for example, he will head to Geneva where he will be able to tell firsthand about the situation of millions of children. He has been invited by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to talk about child labor to leaders from across the world. From the mica pits of Dhaurkola to the stage of Geneva it’s a long road that has been traveled by Manan Ansari. I bet he is far from finished. Via

To learn more:


Kailash Satyarthi’s website

An Unstoppable College Student


Kristin Eliott is a 19-year old college student from Houston, TX. Since an early age her parents taught her the value of giving and helping. They took the family several times on trips to help the less fortunate in Mexico.

When she was 16, Kristin was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in her thigh. It was advanced enough for doctors not to be very optimistic. She went through several rounds of chemotherapy but the treatment was not successful. The last possibility was for Kristin to have an 8-hour surgery on her thigh. This was followed by radiations treatment which badly burned her skin. Doctors did not expect her to have much function of her leg afterward.

Amazingly, she recovered and was quickly back in her volleyball team. The family took another humanitarian trip, this time to Zambia where Kristin was touched by the needs of the children. She decided that she wanted to do something for them, especially the orphans who had no place to stay. Returning to the US, she was handed another news: the cancer had spread to her lungs and she needed one more surgery to remove the tumors.

Around that time the Make-A-Wish foundation contacted her. They usually grant wishes of children and teens with life-threatening illness. At that moment, Kristin saw an opportunity, not for her, but for all the kids she had met in Zambia. She asked the non-profit to help fund her idea to build an orphanage there. She needed to raise $60,000 and through numerous donations, sparked by her resilience, ended up with $300,000. Next month, she will travel to Zambia again and will officially open the orphanage. The extra money raised will go to build an AIDS clinic in the same area.

This is a pretty amazing story for a 19-year old college student who credits her Christian faith with helping her to cope with cancer. You might think that your own actions are small in comparison to Kristin’s achievements. You couldn’t be more wrong. I believe that every single action counts to make our world a better place. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to do good. I am sure Kristin would agree with me. Wherever you are and whatever is your situation, you can do something. And you don’t need anyone to tell you what to do. Intuitively you will know. Agreed?  :)

Kristin’s website: Kristin’s Heart

The Power of the Charitable Crowd


A real yearbook? A so 20th century idea?

When looking for innovation, teenagers can teach us a thing or two. Take the example of Catherine Cook. Have you ever challenged the idea of the ubiquitous yearbook? With her brother Dave, she did. When she was a sophomore at Montgomery High School in New Jersey, Catherine thought she could save some trees and revolutionize the concept of the yearbook to make it timeless, online.

In 2005, she launched with older brother Geoff as first investor and CEO. Fast forward 4 years later and the social network has become one of the most visited place online. But what makes myYearbook stand out against giants like Facebook or Myspace is its uses of virtual money to fund charitable causes.

The virtual currency called “Lunch Money” is earned by completing activities on the social network or by purchasing it with real money. Then the “Lunch money” can be donated to one’s favorite charity. Six months after being launched, the results are already staggering. Members have saved 3 million square feet of rainforest, sent 22,000 books to Africa, and bought 40,000 pounds of rice for the hungry.

A 20-million members group can be very powerful and Catherine has found a wonderful way to harness that power. At the same time “Lunch Money” provides a great lesson. It shows teens that very small donations can add up to have a significant impact on the planet.

Bullied but not Beaten


Bullies can destroy a child’s personality. Or not.

Singaporian Li Chao Feng had been bullied so much that he started to skip school to avoid being beaten. Finally, not being able to cope anymore with this situation, he decided to quit. His parents tried to dissuade him to no avail. Li Chao Feng didn’t care anymore about anything. He just didn’t want to face again his bigger-sized schoolmates.

So at 15, he dropped from High School. His self-esteem was in tatters and he had no goals in life. He started drifting, taking up a small job and hanging out with the wrong crowd late at night. It lasted eight months. But then several things happened. Li Chao Feng realized that he might get stuck forever with his small job with no possibilities of getting a better life. Also, at home he had two younger brothers who were looking up to him as a role model.

Li Chao Feng decided to take action. In order to put his life back on track he needed an education. He enrolled in a private school and took night classes. Because didn’t want to burden his parents with the tuition he took a second job as a pizza deliveryman. Late at night he hit the books. Li Chao Feng had found his goal.

Now, 11 years after dropping out of High School, he is set to enter college with a promising future as an engineer. “It has been a difficult journey working and studying at the same time. But along the way, I have been helped by people [...] I am thankful for them,” says Li Chao Feng who has set his eyes on higher goals and has become a true role model for his brothers.

By our actions, our decisions, we influence others especially younger people. I am often wondering what kind of role model I am. It is true that the sky is the limit but even in small ways, I can positively influence younger lifes. You too? Via

When School is a Wish


Khurram is only 11 years old but is already roaming the streets of Lahore in eastern Pakistan. He must find a job, any job, everyday.

A little over two years ago, Khurram was going to school and his family was living inside the beautiful Swat valley in the north. Since then, the school has been blown up by Taliban fighters coming from neighboring Afghanistan and the valley is now just a battlefield where government troops are fighting back the rebels.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, including Khurram’s family. His father cannot find a job in Lahore and the family savings just paid enough to move away from their ancestral home. They were supposed to live with family relatives but because the place was already full of refugees, Khurram’s family had to rent a home, adding to the financial pressure.

What will be Khurram’s future? Will he be able to go back to school? For now, with resilience, he looks everyday for a new job, to help the family’s finances.

Has he heard that in some countries, attending school is as easy as waking up in the morning? If he has, I bet he would love to experience that. Via

I Survived the Worst in Life


Nicole Mangaza, 18,  has seen more horror in her short life  than you or I will ever witness in our entire life. She has also suffered much more than us. Because, unfortunately for her, she was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been at war for the last 10 years. It is the deadliest conflict since World War II.

When she was 12, she was abducted by rebels and became their slave. She endured the life of a child soldier and an abused teen for about four years. She reached a point where she decided that it was better to try escaping and die than stay alive with her tormentors. She ran away and luckily could escape her slavery.

Now, strong willed, she is learning a trade, metalwork and woodwork, at a special center for former child soldiers in Goma, giving her a chance to earn a living in peace and raise her little boy, David. Even though she is happy, she knows that she will never forget the abominations she witnessed and endured. (Via

Words cannot describe what I felt when I read her story. Words cannot describe what you will feel when you read her story, through the link. But Nicole is a survivor. She survived the worst, has a little life to care for and maybe for the first time in her life, is optimistic for her future. A future she can imagine.

I Will Help Hungry Kids


If you follow the NFL you know Amobi Okoye. He is a defensive tackle for the Houston Texans. He is not yet 22 and became the youngest player ever to be drafted in 2007 at age 19.  Not bad for someone of such a young age. Even more interesting is that Amobi, immigrated for Nigeria with his parents when he was 12 having never played football before. He also achieved academic success by majoring in psychology and graduating one semester earlier.

Is he the ultra-gifted-talented-boy, the Michael-Jordan-style that appears once in a while? Amobi would tell you no and would credit his parents and tight-knit family for his achievements. He says that his two biggest influences have been his father and his mother who encouraged and believed in him.

That could be the end of the story: a young NFL star player enjoying the good life. But Amobi feels he has been lucky. He feels like many kids don’t have this chance to have supportive parents and he feels like if your belly is empty it is difficult to be a good student.

So he created his own non-profit, the Amobi Okoye Foundation. He rallied other young superstars players and took them to Nigeria to raise awareness, distribute scholarships and improve education and living condition. His foundation has done much more than that in and outside the US and he just came back from another trip to Africa. And he is not yet 22.

What Amobi Okoye is doing we can also do. Look around you. I am sure there is a kid, someone who is looking for some support, some encouragement, he or she is not getting at home. Don’t blame the parents, just give some of your time to that kid. You never know, a 5-minute talk or playing time could have a tremendous impact down the road and change his or her future.

A Teen With a Big Heart


Where do kids find the impulse to start and achieve things that adults think impossible or are afraid to tackle?

Take Carly Zalenski from Canton, OH. At age 12 she decided she wanted to build a school in Vietnam. Nothing less. She put together a powerpoint presentation and started to pitch her vision at Rotary meetings around Canton. Her idea was not welcomed. Can you imagine? Building a school in Vietnam, the former communist country where so many Americans died? And pitched by a 12-year-old.

As unbelievable as it might seems, despite a lot of frustrations, Carly managed to raise half of the money for that school in 18 months, the other half being matched by the Vietnam Children’s Fund. She didn’t stop there and raised additional funds to buy and donate 500 backpacks full of school supplies.

Think about that school again. Whatever is your age and situation right now, would you take up the challenge? How come Carly could start such a thrilling (and scary)  project and not you? No excuses please. There are none. Plenty others could do it.

You may say, “oh, I am not into schools.” Nobody cares. It’s just about you. Research, pick a place and start, that’s all it takes. Along the way people will give a hand, like they did for  Carly. But it all starts from you. If you are sincere, people will join and help your cause, even if it is not for a school. ;)


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