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 toledoblade.com

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)

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

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!

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 rferl.org

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.

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