I’m so happy I have cool friends!…

Well, I just want to share the amazing blog my best friend Jen is writing about her experiences in Kenya! She’s just starting a four-month long (at least!) trip there doing some really inspiring work. I asked her to explain exactly what she’s doing, so I’m just going to post her own description of the work because who better to explain it all than the woman herself! Here’s what she has to say about the projects:

What I’m doing here is working for two non-profits in the US: Creative Women of the World, and St Joseph United Methodist Church. Creative Women of the World is trying to establish a business relationship with some women here in Kenya. The goal is to buy/sell/market their products to a greater market, so they can eventually sustain themselves with the business they’ve created for themselves… so we’re not giving them charity, we’re teaching them how to empower themselves.

St Joseph UMC has a scholarship program called Kenya Simba Scholars, which is a program dedicated to gathering scholarships for needy children here in Kenya who can’t afford to go to school. We’re meeting with all the kids who are currently a part of the program, getting their stories, taking photos/videos… and taking those back to the US in hopes of using that testimony to grow the program from 100 students to 1000 students over the next 10 years.

Jen is one of those people who has inspired me to do amazing things and go on great adventures ever since our first conversation many years ago before we became college roommates! I’m so excited about what she’s doing now and so happy for her to have this opportunity! If you’re interested in following along as she shares her journey, as I will be, here’s the link:

Adventures of an International Advocate

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Women for Women International…

‘One woman can change anything, but many women can change EVERYTHING.’

~ Women for Women International

So, it being Women’s History Month, I wanted to think of something special to do to celebrate women in the world and to support important causes related to women’s issues. The other day I came across an organisation I am extremely excited about and I am super eager to support.

The organisation is called Women for Women International, and they currently work in eight countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, in communities where violent conflict and war have left women devastated and vulnerable. Through a year-long course, these marginalized women learn valuable work and business skills as well as developing a better understanding of their rights and how they can be active and participating members of their communities and larger societies.

Reading some of the personal stories of the women who have participated in this program, left me touched and inspired. They have had loved ones murdered, homes destroyed, been displaced by conflict and struggled to provide for their families. Through this program they have taken the steps to rebuild their lives and it is amazing to see their successes and how happy they are, despite all they’ve been through.

If you’re interested in supporting these inspiring women around the world, you can give a donation or become a sponsor, helping one individual woman by subsidising her throughout her year-long course. You get to exchange letters with your sister throughout the year, learning about her experiences, and encouraging her during her journey to reclaim her life.

So, I’ve decided that Women for Women International is far too inspiring NOT to support. I’m making a deal with myself that I will give up a few luxuries every week and use the money saved to become a sponsor for one year. I figure if I give up eating take-away lunches at work, I can save the monthly pledge money quite easily, and then some. I’m excited to have such a great chance to celebrate the courage and strength of some amazing women for Women’s History (and future!) Month.

Share your holiday joy with the world!…

So, it is once again that festive time of year, when we all feel warm and fuzzy inside and look forward to feasting, visiting and celebrating with family and friends. It’s a great time to celebrate our good fortune during the past year, and to feel grateful for the emotional, spiritual, and material wealth in our lives. But don’t keep all the love and happiness to yourself! There’s a whole world out there to share it with!

Anyway, here is a small list of charitable organizations I recommend supporting if you’re thinking about making a donation this holiday season to share your good fortune and compassion with the world! If you have any other favourite charities, I’d love to hear about them!

European Roma Rights Centre  (ERRC) – ‘Challenging Discrimination Promoting Equality’

ERRC logo

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international organization that works to combat anti-Roma racism and discrimination through legal action, policy development, and human rights advocacy and education. They have been helping Roma overcome discrimination and gain equal access to justice, housing, education, health care and public services.

Roma face discrimination and racism in many European countries, and from what I understand, their plight is often overlooked. While, in a post-Holocaust world, most sane people in the western world would take a stand against anti-Jewish racism or discrimination, Roma are still facing discrimination and racism every day, and their rights are being systematically abused and ignored in many countries. It seems that many people forget that the racism that led to the Holocaust not only involved the mass murder of millions of Jews, but also to the mass murder of European Roma. Much more needs to be done to secure justice and equal rights for the Roma people.

By making a donation to the ERRC, you’ll be supporting their efforts to challenge discrimination against Roma in Europe and their work to promote equality in education, access to health care and other public services.

Surmang Foundation: Promoting Healthcare and Health Education in Tibet and Rural China

Surmang Foundation

The Surmang Foundation is doing great work in the Qinghai Province, an area primarily populated by ethnic Tibetans; providing free primary health care to ultra-poor people in rural areas, teaching school children about hygiene and health, training local doctors, and training and empowering local women who teach about good health in rural villages and provide midwife services to poor mothers and babies in isolated areas with little or no other access to health care services. I really love that they promote women’s health and equality, and work to empower local people to improve their own communities.

If you’re thinking of giving a charitable gift in honour of a mother or any special woman in your life, this is a great one. What better way to celebrate women than by supporting women’s health and potentially saving lives in a part of the world where giving birth is still dangerous and potentially fatal. Your donation can help women give birth safely and give babies access to vital health care.

Doctors Without Borders / Medicins Sans Frontieres

MSF

Doctors Without Borders/ Medicins Sans Frontieres is definitely one worth supporting. MSF is an international medical humanitarian organization whose work is based on the principles of medical ethics and impartiality. They provide independent assistance around the world to those who need it most, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. They take a stand against injustice and do amazing work in some of the most difficult of situations.

Currently, MSF provides aid in about 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, natural disasters, epidemics and malnutrition.

If you know of other great charities for me to add to my list, I’d love to hear about them. It’s always exciting and uplifting to learn about people and organizations doing good work in the world promoting peace, health, justice and happiness. I look forward to your thoughts and comments!

‘My Big Fat Straight Wedding’…

Here’s an excellent article on gay marriage and American’s shifting concept of gay and lesbian relationships and the right of all individuals to marry. It’s a great read and I found it quite moving.

I think one of the interesting things the author mentions is that a younger generation of gay and lesbian people (say, people in their 20s) see themselves as individuals first and foremost, and second, they see themselves as gay. They are completely normal people who simply want to participate in the same family life that everyone else is entitled to, the same family life that they were brought up in, and believe is important.

For me, this has become obvious. I must admit, that I thought differently when I was in high school, due to religious and cultural influences I’d received up until that point. But I think a key thing is that when you meet gay people out in the world, it becomes very difficult to think a) they are fundamentally different than a straight person and b) that there is something ‘disordered’ or wrong about them. I am lucky to have met many gay and lesbian people when I was in college, who made me a much more open-minded individual and changed my thoughts on things completely. Since then, I’ve made some truly amazing friendships with people who are gay or lesbian, and I can’t imagine thinking they are anything but normal and entitled to the same rights as heterosexual people.

I would love to say something more coherent about why I’m so happy that the ban on same-sex marriage in California (the infamous Proposition 8 ) has been overturned and gay and lesbian couples can now marry in the state of California. Unfortunately, it’s only 8.30 am and I haven’t even had my morning tea yet, so my braincells are still sleeping. But I can say that it makes me proud of my country to see such an important step towards equality being taken.

So, that’s all for now. I’ll share more later.

Disease and intelligence…

Having started watching the series on malnutrition in the world and its devastating effects on children and their families, I thought this article from the Economist was somewhat related and certainly interesting.

Obviously hunger and malnutrition are serious threats to the healthy development of children, but as this article discusses, so are infectious diseases and parasites.

The main premise of the article is that in parts of the world where parasites and diseases are most prevalent, many people, on average, have a lower IQ than people who grow up without contracting serious diseases and parasites, such as intestinal worms or malaria. For example, if a child’s body, which is meant to use most of its energy on building up the brain, is forced to use valuable body resources fighting illness, the child’s cognitive development is negatively, and often seriously, effected. Similarly, if a child suffers from intestinal worms, this parasite prevents the child’s body from absorbing valuable nutrients from food, and therefore, brain development suffers.

Basically, the point is that there is a vicious circle in some developing countries which lack such things as clean drinking water, adequate heath care, etc, which leads to more childhood disease effecting the development and intelligence of its population, which again, makes the country less able to improve its situation. Eliminating serious diseases in the developing world must be a priority.

The US standard and a double standard…

So, because YouTube is blocked in Turkey, I can’t actually watch the video I posted on my blog yesterday. I’m not certain, but I think I’ve posted a different video than I intended, although that one is just as good.

Anyway, here’s the link to the one I thought I was posting, on a government sponsored program in the US works to prevent childhood malnutrition in America, and on the fact that America sends food aid to developing countries in the form of nutritionally-poor grains that would never be given to American children. Important for highlighting the importance of such government ‘welfare’ programs in the US and for showing a major problem in food aid America gives to other countries.

Will someone please tell me if I’ve posted the same video twice! I just can’t tell.

You can also click here to go to the Starved for Attention website and view all the documentaries. I’m working my way through them now. I also recommend supporting Doctors Without Borders, because I think they are definitely in the responsible-and-effective category in terms of charity organizations.

Starved for Attention: rewrite the story of malnutrition…

Today I’ve spent some time watching parts of an amazing documentary series about childhood malnutrition around the world. These short multi-media documentaries are part of a joint Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and VII Photo Agency campaign to spread awareness and ultimately bring an end to childhood malnutrition, which causes millions and millions of deaths every year, and, most tragically, is preventable.

I watched a couple parts of the series today and it broke my heart. The stories, the powerful photos and videos and the important information are truly moving and I admit it brought tears to my eyes. It is seriously heart-breaking how brutal life on this earth is for so many people, and I can’t help but feeling I need to do so much more to share what I have with others. I don’t think we can ever have a peaceful world until everyone can have the basic necessities of life. Peace and justice are something we can all work to create in our lives, by practising generosity, in small and great ways, every day.

I think most people I know are amazingly generous people and really do their part to make the world a better, more just and loving place to live in. Over and over I have been inspired by the compassionate hearts of people I’ve been lucky enough to know.  All the same, I really recommend watching these videos. You’ll be inspired to keep being generous in all areas of your life, and maybe even push yourself to the next level of generosity! I once read a quote that went something along these lines: the human heart is infinite in size, it just needs to be pulled and stretched regularly to help it reach its potential. Our human capacity to love and practice compassion is as vast as the universe, and we can practice opening our hearts wider and wider every day for the rest of our lives. Not a bad way to spend this life!

Anyway, here’s part one. I think the video speaks for itself and doesn’t really need me blabbing about it!
PS. Its from YouTube so if you’re in Turkey you can’t see it!

Update: Actually, I’d like to add something to what I wrote yesterday. I think another important aspect of generosity is being a well-informed giver. When choosing organizations to support or when considering that some of our hard-earned money in the form of taxes are going to aid in developing countries, we must be informed and make sure these resources are being used in the most responsible and efficient way possible. I think this video certainly highlights the importance of that. The focus must be what’s best for those we want to help, rather than what is the most convenient for us or what makes us feel good. If it’s not effective, we waste our generosity, and no one wins in that situation. Lets do our research and make sure that doesn’t happen!