Civilian demining organizations are training staff to start clearance in Colombia, one of the most mine-scarred countries in the world.
Two years ago, Colombia passed a law allowing local and international nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to carry out demining operations employing civilians.
Before then, insecurity and violence stemming from nearly five decades of armed conflict meant only the Colombian military was allowed to carry out mine clearance.
The British-based Halo Trust, a demining group, expects to be one of the first international NGOs to start mine clearance within the next several months, employing civilians using mine detectors.
“We are only going to work in areas that are considered safe by the government,” Grant Salisbury, Colombia program manager for HALO, told AlertNet.
“The first group of 14 Colombian civilians has been trained. We hope to increase that figure by 200 by the end of year.”
Colombia has one of the highest rates of landmine victims in the world.
Since 1990, more than 10,000 Colombians have been either wounded or killed by landmines, of which 982 have been children, according to the latest government figures.
The government says Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is responsible for planting the majority of landmines and unexploded ordnance littered across the country, mostly in rural areas.
Using a tin of tuna and costing just $5 each, the rebels often use homemade mines as a cheap weapon of war to repel government troops. The drug-running FARC rebels also plant mines in and around coca fields – the raw ingredient of cocaine – to protect their valuable crop.
Colombia's challenging terrain makes mine clearance slow going.
“The terrain is going to be difficult. It’s mountainous and jungle. The daily clearance rate will be slow because of the terrain. It’s slow, but it’s essential work, and it’s possible,” said Salisbury.
Another big challenge facing demining operations in Colombia is a lack of information about where and how many mines are planted, meaning it is impossible to gauge the size of Colombia's mine problem.
As a signatory of the Mine Ban Treaty, Colombia has agreed to clear the country of mines by 2021.
“It’s way too early to say whether that obligation can be met and how much terrain remains to be cleared,” said Salisbury.
In recent years, demining in Colombia has focused on clearing all mines placed by the state military around 35 of their bases to hold off rebel groups.
Humanitarian demining in Colombia is still in its early stages and is largely confined to areas where government troops have secure territorial control.
Despite these challenges, the Colombian government is looking to step up demining operations across the country.
Under historic laws passed in 2011, the government hopes to return millions of hectares of land stolen by armed groups to their rightful owners and to encourage the return of up to 4 million Colombians forced off their land because of the conflict.
However, a key obstacle in giving back stolen land and encouraging uprooted families to return is that some of it remains mined and therefore unsafe for people to return to.
“Both danger and perception of mines is a major obstacle in Colombia’s development. A government plan that envisions the return of IDPs [internally displaced persons] will have to take into account demining,” Salisbury said.
In addition, with peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels under way in the Cuban capital, Havana, the issue of demining is becoming ever more urgent.
If the two sides reach an agreement, demand for humanitarian demining operations run by the Colombian military and foreign and local NGOs will grow significantly.
In Northeast Philadelphia, along busy Kensington Avenue, sits a small park. What used to be flat ground is now sloping terrain that contains a low-lying area intended to gather and funnel storm water. At the park’s southern end is a depression lined with well-arranged plants — a new landscape carefully engineered to change how water flows through the area.
This is Womrath Park, one of a handful of “green infrastructure” projects Philadelphia has begun — with many more to come — aimed at tackling a widespread urban environment problem. Ten trillion gallons of rainwater per year flow over rooftops and roads around the U.S., picking up contaminants that include bacteria, oil and grease, metals, pesticides, and many others. When a rainstorm is big enough, the runoff causes overflows from outdated sewer systems that combine both raw sewage and stormwater in a single pipe. This tide of pollutants ends up in surrounding waterways that serve as drinking water sources and recreational areas.
“Stormwater runoff is one of the largest water pollution issues facing the U.S. today,” says Larry Levine, a senior attorney in the Natural Resource Defense Council’s water program.
Now, however, numerous cities around the country — including Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Portland, and Seattle — have embarked on innovative stormwater runoff fixes that rely not so much on the old “gray infrastructure” of huge, piped systems and sewage treatment plants, but rather on new green infrastructure techniques to collect and treat stormwater at the street level.
Green infrastructure mimics how nature handles rainwater through the use of porous surfaces, rather than impervious surfaces like roadways. These techniques are decentralized. Instead of one facility or large underground tank to store water when a big storm hits, the idea is to eliminate the need for such storage through the use of green rooftops, roadside plantings, carefully landscaped parks, rain gardens, rain barrels, and other swatches of nature dropped down inside the landscape of modern cities.
The plants and soils collect water during a storm, preventing it from either running into sewer systems at all, or at least slowing it down to prevent overflows. Green infrastructure can also help clean some pollution from the water and can even be used to gather water for re-use.
“The green infrastructure approach says, ‘Let’s get the water out of those sewer systems in the first place before it has a chance to convey all that pollution into our waterways,’” says Levine. “And the way to do that is to put back into our built environment features that mimic the way nature handles rainwater in the natural water cycle. It doesn’t necessarily mean replacing a paved street with a park, but it means putting enough green space into the design of your roadway that you can capture runoff from that paved space.”
These types of green projects carry numerous ancillary benefits, Levine notes, from improving surrounding property values, to reducing in the urban heat island effect, to lowering asthma rates.
Green stormwater infrastructure means thousands of individual projects in big cities like New York or Philadelphia. The price tag — Philadelphia is spending around $3 billion, and the country as a whole needs something like $63 billion just in fixes to stormwater-related sewage overflows — is high. But advocates say going green is eventually a far more cost-effective method than constructing large wastewater treatment plants. Philadelphia and other cities are using city and federal funding to finance these green infrastructure projects.
Valessa Souter-Kline, a representative of the Philadelphia Water Department, says the decentralized concept of green infrastructure development represents a major challenge. “No one is saying ‘no’ to the idea,” says Souter-Kline, standing at the bottom of the rain garden in Womrath Park. “The issue is the scale. You just need so much of this.” On any given project, she says, the Philadelphia Water Department will likely have to work with the streets department, parks and recreation, utility companies, and other stakeholders.
Levine and others say the new methods of stormwater runoff control deal with a key flaw in the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act — “nonpoint source” pollution.
“It is a very different way of approaching water infrastructure than we have typically had in this country,” Levine says. “We’re talking about thousands of rain gardens and green roofs, and pavement installations, and street trees, and that’s a different sort of a public works project to manage, administer, and maintain. That brings all sorts of challenges along with it that cities are really rapidly having to adapt to and learn the best ways to deal with.”
Despite the difficulties, these projects are gaining momentum. “To a greater or lesser degree, cities everywhere are starting to look at this,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington D.C., and the co-author of a 2006 book on green infrastructure. “One of the things that they’ve started to recognize is that using natural systems oftentimes can be less costly than the structural approach to stormwater management.”
While Eastern cities have recently launched large projects to address stormwater, some cities on the West Coast have been making incremental progress for far longer. Seattle and Portland have strong programs, including incentives in Seattle to install rain barrels on private property within watersheds served by combined sewer systems. Portland is planning to build 2,200 green infrastructure installations around the city and has a runoff retention standard that applies to building projects with even small amounts of impervious surfaces.
But on the East Coast, Philadelphia is the clear frontrunner. In June 2011, the city approved the Green City, Clean Waters program, a 25-year, $3 billion plan to reduce combined sewer overflows. In April 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed off on the project, and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said she hoped the city would serve as a model for the rest of the country. Philadelphia was the only city to meet all the requirements for “Emerald” status in the NRDC’s latest “Rooftop to Rivers” report on stormwater management.
So far, Philadelphia’s program has yielded stormwater tree trenches, planters and water basins, 40 rain gardens, rain barrel pilot projects, 10 swales (low-lying areas that collect runoff), and a few dozen other projects. In Womrath Park, completed in 2012, stormwater flows through a swale and into a depression at the end, a rain garden. Some water infiltrates directly into the soil and groundwater, while the rest is held up and released slowly into the sewers to avoid overflows into Frankford Creek, only a few blocks away. Citywide, the idea is to be able to capture an inch of rainfall during storms and reduce combined sewage overflows by 7.9 billion gallons per year, or about 85 percent.
Elsewhere, the EPA signed an agreement with Washington, D.C. in December 2012 that closely resembles the Philadelphia program. Washington will start with a series of green infrastructure projects in the Potomac and Rock Creek watersheds. On a federal scale, the EPA is partnering with many other municipalities and watersheds to provide funding and assistance with stormwater infrastructure improvements.
New York City represents perhaps the biggest challenge. Levine says New York has 30 billion gallons of combined sewage overflow every year, and impervious surfaces cover 72 percent of the city. The city has committed to providing green infrastructure for 10 percent of the impervious surface area over the next 20 years, capable of capturing one inch of rain during storms. Roughly $730 million in public funding will be spent on green infrastructure over the next 10 years. “So any one-inch rainstorm or less, there is going to be a place for that water to go without making it into the sewer system,” Levine says.
Other ideas are in the works as well. Ate Atema, an architect, is working on an initiative called Street Creeks intended to reduce pollution flowing from the notorious Gowanus Canal area in Brooklyn, N.Y. Built in 1869, the Gowanus was lined by chemical plants and other industrial sites that spent a century dumping toxic waste products into the water. As a result, it is among the most polluted urban waterways in the country, and was named a Superfund site in 2010. The canal also receives stormwater runoff from the hilly neighborhoods of Park Slope and Cobble Hill on either side.
Atema’s Street Creeks is a simple, modular way of capturing the “first flush” of stormwater that flows down the hill from Prospect Park toward the Gowanus.
To minimize costs, Atema says the plan would aim to install the “street creeks” on blocks undergoing other types of maintenance. In the Gowanus area, the project could eventually cover 250 blocks that flow toward the canal. The cost of the project has not yet been calculated. Atema says the idea is still in the design phase, but talks with the city have begun.
These projects demonstrate a realization that nature is often very good at things we humans find hard to accomplish through classic, straight-line engineering.
“When people start really thinking about how a natural approach to the management of water, the cleaning of air, and so forth, can actually reduce costs and increase value at the same time,” says McMahon of the Urban Land Institute, “I just think that it’s inevitable that we’re going to see this as a much more preferred approach going forward.”
• Dave Levitan is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia who writes about energy, the environment, and health. His articles have been published by Reuters, SolveClimate, IEEE Spectrum, and Psychology Today. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has written about the potential of self-driving cars and about vehicle-to-grid technology involving electric cars.
In the documentary film, “The Man Who Stopped the Desert,” a farmer named Yacouba Sawadogo struggles to maintain his livelihood in the increasingly harsh land of northern Burkina Faso. Part of Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, Burkina Faso has suffered from desertification as over-farming, overgrazing, and overpopulation resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying. Desertification has affected many countries in the Sahel, including Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Chad.
In 1980, Yacouba decided to fight the desert’s spread by reviving an ancient farming technique called zai, which led to forest growth and increased soil quality.
Zai is a very simple and low-cost method, involving using a shovel or axe to break up the ground and dig small holes, which are then filled with compost and planted with seeds of trees, millet, or sorghum. The holes or pits catch water during the rainy season and, when filled with compost, retain moisture and nutrients through the dry season.
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Yacouba’s story attracted international attention when Mark Dodd of 1080 Films created the documentary in 2010, and the African farmer has since told his story around the world, including at an October 2012 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) meeting in South Korea. 1080 Films recently released a short follow-up film about Yacouba’s life since the original film, called “What Yacouba Did Next…,” describing what Yacouba has done since the film’s release and giving an idea of the respect he has received from the international community.
In the follow-up film, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja discusses the powerful impact of Yacouba’s simple methods. According to Gnacadja, “Almost out of nothing he has generated the change we need…. If we could disseminate and scale up his example, then certainly we can do a lot in advancing the fight against desertification.”
One direct benefit of the documentary has been the donations Yacouba has received in support of his reforestation efforts. As a result, he has been able to fund a new training program, where he travels to other villages teaching the zai technique. Yacouba hopes to spread this knowledge across the region, and has already visited 13 villages.
He also hosts workshops at his own farm, teaching visitors and “bringing people together in a spirit of friendship.” “I want the training program to be the starting point for many fruitful exchanges across the region,” says Yacouba.
Yacouba’s reforestation work not only helps farmers restore the local biodiversity by improving the soil, but it helps them prepare for an uncertain future. Chris Reij of the World Resources Institute and an author of the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet believes in Yacouba’s work and frequently visits the farm.
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Reij understands the long-term importance of Yacouba’s work, stating, “what Yacouba has done can also be done by many other farmers across the Sahel. The big challenge is that in the next 5 to 10 years, we will have to try to motivate millions of farmers to invest in trees because it will help them to improve their food security, and at the same time it will also help them adapt to climate change.”
Since the film, however, life has not been easy for Yacouba. A recent urban expansion project annexed the forest he spent years growing, and homes are already being built on his land without any compensation except small parcels of land for Yacouba’s family. He is currently attempting to raise $20,000 to purchase the forest back.
Despite these setbacks, Yacouba knows the importance of his work and has doubled his cultivation efforts, expanding into the degraded lands next to the forest. Restoring soil and improving the future of the Sahel will not be easy, but Yacouba’s work provides one model for communities across Africa to adopt in fighting desertification and preparing for future climate uncertainties.
• To read the original Nourishing the Planet post on Yacouba Sawadogo, click here.
• Devon Ericksen is a former media and communications intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food & Agriculture Program.
Crowdsourcing comes in many forms. All of them represent an opportunity to get work done in a new and often better way. Nonprofits are getting wise to this fast. Why? Because they’re challenged to do more with less on a daily basis.
Here are four ways modern nonprofits are using crowdsourcing to get their good deeds done:
1. Volunteers don’t have to be in the room anymore to physically volunteer:
As far as fun volunteering opportunities go, playing with kittens at an animal shelter is probably unequaled. It’s no wonder that the option to do this over the internet is a popular one. The Oregon Humane Society gives volunteers the chance to control robotic arms wielding toys for bored cats waiting to be adopted. This opportunity is not only good for the cats and volunteers, but it’s a great way to encourage donations and adoptions.
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And, if you look beyond the surface, this is more than just a stunt. It proves a concept: Volunteering can be done from anywhere by anyone if you accommodate it with the right technology. From there, you can crowdsource all the help you need. Plus, doesn’t cyber-volunteer sound kind of cool? Check out Reach-In.com if you’re interested in setting up your own robot volunteer opportunity.
2. It’s not just fundraising; it’s crowdfunding.
Not to say anything bad about fundraising or that nonprofits aren’t already creative fundraisers, but crowdfunding can help nonprofits pull off a fundraiser with a bang!
What’s better? Pitching in $5 to help a local community garden after reading a brochure about being closer to the earth, or watching a video from someone passionate about gardening telling you they will give you the first batch of tomatoes from that garden in exchange for a $5 pledge?
The video, the timeline, the prizes, the goal, the sense of community ... all these ingredients of a crowdfunding campaign are helping nonprofits succeed. See, for example, this quilt fundraiser to stop gun violence and this successful project encouraging the creation of a ton of memes to shift the debate on climate change.
Check out Shareable’s tips on how to run a crowdfunding campaign here.
3. Micro-actions add up to mega-good
People are learning you can use tiny actions done by the crowd online and turn them into meaningful change. Here are a few examples:
Sparked has an open call for volunteers to help nonprofits on small tasks to be completed online. From advice, to logos, to video editing, this is where wall between people and their causes is broken down.
Help from Home is home to a database of tons of microvolunteering actions you can do to make the world a better place. Register and keep track of your impact.
Fold-It: Help cure diseases and understand biological processes by playing a video game that simulates protein folding, a process that dictates almost everything about you as a living thing.
Duolingo: Learn a new language while translating the web. Make the world’s information available to everyone.
4. Gigantic staff? Nope ... just great content.
Every nonprofit needs great content. That can include grant applications, donor appeals, blog posts, and more. Nonprofits need to tell their story almost all the time or risk being forgotten. These sites help get it done:
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Blogmutt: Get your blog posts from an expert crowd for a monthly fee.
Mturk: Get content, test headlines, and do web research quickly and inexpensively.
Pluralis: Test your landing pages, improve their conversion rate, and make sure that your audience is engaged.
The truth is that crowdsourcing is not magic, but it brings automation to everybody. It can be used in innumerable ways. It’s just that nonprofits, who must do world-changing stuff with limited resources, are flocking to it for all the advantages it offers.
• Casey Armstrong is the founder of VineStove, a crowdsourcing site that is currently crowdsourcing its startup. You can support VineStove here.
“Train a grandmother, change the world” – so says Barefoot College’s motto. This school says nobody's better suited to bring solar power to the rural poor.
Last year, the New York Times reported on the unlikeliest of heroes: African women who travel to the Barefoot College in India to learn to become solar engineers. This year, a BBC documentary Solar Mamas recounted the story of one Bedouin woman who makes the trek from Jordan and eventually electrifies her village and her life.
The video, which aired on PBS Nov. 5, depicts the hurdles one rural woman faces in pursuit of educating herself and bettering her community. Extrapolate this story to the 700 stories from women across the globe and the map of impact is impressive.
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Founded in 1972 on Ghandian principles of grass-roots change, Barefoot College is the brainchild of Bunker Roy. The NGO is built around a crucial insight that rural women are less likely than men to leave their families and communities, and more likely to implement the knowledge and skills they learn at school. Solar electrification is only one area of training; others include clean water, education and livelihood development, health care, rural handicrafts, and communication.
Although Roy never envisioned the college to expand beyond India, the Sierra Club reports that “since 2004, the Barefoot College, in Tilonia, India, has trained ... illiterate and semi-literate women from rural, unelectrified villages in 41 [now 48] countries to be solar engineers.”
An April 2011 article from Wired tells the story of one woman from Namibia:
"Susanna Huis arrived back in Namibia in September and waited for her solar-engineering equipment to arrive by ship from India.... The next year looked to be busy but financially stable: Local people will each pay her $5 per month for the power, which is roughly what they would spend on kerosene or firewood. If she needs spare parts they will be sent from India. While her husband continues to farm their smallholding, she is now the family breadwinner.... She has signed a contract that commits her to electrifying 100 homes and maintaining them for the next five years. And she will teach others how to do it. This means that she can't move away from her village, which is fine with her: she doesn't want to go anywhere else."
As of Dec. 1, there were 700 more women graduates turning the lights on in 1,015 formerly unelectrified villages around the world, claims Barefoot’s webpage.
The program is partially funded by the government of India, and it’s provided under the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific.
The Times reports, "Grants from the United Nations Development Program and active partnerships with nongovernmental sustainable development organizations, including the Skoll Foundation in the United States, the Fondation Ensemble in France, and the Het Groene Woudt in the Netherlands, have also increased the program’s reach."
Currently, Barefoot works in 48 countries with 64 partners, including NGOs, community trusts, and government programs, to implement the college’s program, “Nongovernmental organizations are playing a central role in spreading word of the program and implementing it outside India,” the Times explains.
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According to Wired, Roy's experience has made him extremely critical of the approach of certain development organizations:
"Roy firmly believes that the approach adopted by the government of Sierra Leone – low-cost, decentralized, community-driven – is the most productive and efficient way of eradicating extreme poverty in the developing world and that top-down solutions are wasteful and not scalable. Roy's prime target is the Millennium Village Project (MVP), a collaboration between Jeffrey Sachs' Earth Institute at Columbia University and the UN. 'Jeff Sachs has the Millennium Villages,' Roy says. 'He spends $2.5 million in one village. It's an absolutely ridiculous model, because I've said that if you gave me $2.5 million I can train 100 grandmothers, solar electrify 100 villages – 10,000 houses – and save you 100,000 liters of kerosene. Look at the amount of money being wasted on one Millennium Village just because Angelina Jolie goes with him for one day.' "
Strong words. There’s no doubt that the Barefoot model is making an impact in the communities it touches, and it's seductive to other government officials trying to help off-grid communities because “it is about developing know-how, not giving handouts,” reports the New York Times.
However, so far the model's fundamentally based on government and charitable support, rather than a purely market-driven approach, which would seem a logical next step for the college if it could uncover financially sustainable mechanisms to continue and scale its success.
What can you do when donors don’t give because your charity works on painful, unpleasant, or controversial issues?
One solution is to change people’s perception of the work you do. Samaritans, a Boston charity that helps prevent suicide, took that approach and is already attracting more corporate aid as a result.
Instead of talking about death and the depression associated with suicide, Samaritans is focusing on the opposite—life and happiness—in a publicity campaign called Happier Boston.
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The idea came from Hill Holliday, an advertising company that donated its services to come up with the campaign. The goal: changing people’s view of the charity and thus improving its ability to recruit corporate donors.
Instead of print ads or radio spots, the campaign features people who reach out to strangers in subway stations, city streets, and other public spaces with gestures designed to bring a smile to their face and encourage acts of kindness. For example, some volunteers have handed out oranges bearing stickers that say, “Peel stress away” or “Orange you happy,” while others hold up signs with messages like “Have a great day!”
The campaign also features HappierBoston.org, a site where visitors can post photos and thoughts about places and things in Boston that make them happy.
At first, says Roberta Hurtig, the charity’s executive director, Samaritans was concerned about the campaign appearing to make light of a serious and painful issue. But, she says, she and her colleagues ultimately realized “this is really a better way of saying what we do. We make our community better and happier and touch people in a profound way.”
The campaign, Ms. Hurtig says, also “underscores how important it is to be present for someone when they are troubled.” The goal, she says, is for people to “react with enthusiasm to an issue normally characterized by isolation and shame.”
Judging from its response so far, the campaign is a big hit after getting under way in earnest last month. The Boston Globe and other news outlets have written about the campaign, and it has also drawn three new corporate donors, each one giving $1,000 or more.
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That may not seem like a lot of money, but Ms. Hurtig says it’s significant for her small, local organization, which has an annual budget of $1.4-million.
And she’s cautiously optimistic of a bigger increase in corporate support just around the corner. As part of the campaign, the president of Hill Holliday, who also chairs the local Chamber of Commerce, is sending a letter next week to more than 900 corporations in the area to encourage them give to Samaritans.
Jollywood is a merry-sounding name for the home of Haiti’s only film school: the Ciné Institute. That sense of promise will be showcased Jan. 24 in New York City during Haiti Optimiste, the school’s first ever fundraiser.
Following the lead of "Bollywood" (the center of the Indian film industry in Bombay, now called Mumbai) the school crossed the first letter of its town (Jacmel) and the center of the world film industry (Hollywood) with the hope of making "Jollywood" a name recognized around the world.
The institute has come to one of the world's media capitals, New York, to solicit funds and publicize its work. “We felt this was a cause coherent with the cultural mission we are promoting here in New York. We felt we should really support the school,” says Marie-Monique Steckel, president of French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).
Three years after a strong earthquake devastated Haiti, the school has made great strides. But many challenges persist. The country has few local industries, scant natural resources, and much of its infrastructure remains in disrepair. Yet, through a combination of perseverance and generosity, Ciné Institute stands ready to celebrate.
The New York event, Haiti Optimiste, will feature a collection of new films from Ciné Institute’s students. Actor Ben Stiller, director Jonathan Demme, and Ciné Institute founder David Belle will participate in a panel discussion about recent films. Bravo’s Top Chef contestant chef Ron Duprat will be on hand, as well as Haitian songstress Emeline Michel and celebrity fashion photographer Marc Baptiste.
The fundraiser is as much about building awareness as it is financial support, says Mr. Belle, CEO of Artists for Peace and Justice and founder of Ciné Institute. Funds raised will be applied toward free tuition at Ciné Institute.
Haiti Optimiste represents a relatively new but dynamic partnership between FIAF and Ciné Institute, Ms. Steckel says.
Six months after the earthquake she traveled to Jacmel and met Belle.
“What touched me the most about Jacmel was that six months later it was [as if the earthquake] had happened the day before. I had the impression that aid had been suspended,” Steckel says. “The one institution making strides in rebuilding was Ciné Institute. Students were coming on foot and by bike. What really impressed me was the contrast of total destruction and the idea that this small institution was really determined to make a future.”
The visit convinced Steckel to help Belle rebuild Ciné Institute.
The two-year school introduces young people to educational and technological opportunities and, most importantly, jobs, Steckel says. Haiti has a 40.6 percent unemployment rate, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s 2013 World Fact Book. Institute programs include training in fiction, documentary making, and television advertising.
The 2010 earthquake destroyed all three of the school’s original buildings. Almost immediately the staff and students started working out of tents. By May 2010 the school had stabilized enough to begin anew.
Today Ciné Institute occupies an empty hotel situated on a 5.5-acre campus overlooking the Caribbean Sea. About 70 students attend the school.
Students hope Jollywood can become the next Nollywood, which is named for Nigeria’s film industry, the third-largest in the world, Belle says.
“The obvious perception of Haiti is extremely negative. The news portrays it as full of violence, destruction, corruption, and disease,” Belle says. “I’ve been living there for 20 years, and I’m not a glutton for punishment. I remain there because I see so much potential and creativity in Haiti, and that will be very much on display on the stage” Jan. 24.
And this year will bring more changes.
Construction will soon begin on a studio for audio and music production. Donations from Lionel Richie’s and Quincy Jones’ “We are the World Foundation” made the project possible. The school will also change its name to The Artists Institute of Haiti. Ciné Institute will remain as the film school within the institute.
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and the Haitian Roundtable, an organization of Haitian-American professionals committed to philanthropic endeavors on behalf of Haiti, recently presented an Honorary Haitian Award to Belle for his work.
For her part Steckel hopes the Jan. 24 fundraiser will be the first of many. In New York City, where there is a large and well-established Haitian community, Steckel says, “It’s important to celebrate the proud [Haitian] cultural tradition.”
But this Saturday (Jan. 19) in Washington, as well as around the country, is also a National Day of Service, calling on Americans to volunteer to serve others. In just one event some 10,000 people are expected to gather at the D.C. Armory for the biggest single service project of the weekend – putting together 100,000 thank-you "care kits" for US military personnel, disabled veterans, and civilian first responders.
A major force in organizing the effort is the Points of Light Foundation, created in 1990 after then-President George H.W. Bush invoked the vision of volunteers as a "thousand points of light" in his inaugural address the previous year. Points of Light describes itself as "an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that encourages and empowers the spirit of service."
From President Kennedy onward presidents "all have this shared belief in a call to the American people" to engage in civic-minded activity, says Michelle Nunn, the CEO of Points of Light. The fact that presidents of both political parties, right up to Mr. Obama, have been strong supporters of volunteerism "shows the common ground around service," she says.
Volunteering can be a great antidote to the discouragement of sharply partisan politics. "People are disheartened about the polarization they see reflected in the political landscape [today]," Ms. Nunn says. "So one of the themes of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend is 'unite in America's service.'
"And I do believe that if you look at the history of this country, and you think about one of the defining characteristics of this country, it has been … that we have a great civic spirit and a great sense of citizenship and service."
Volunteering is a reminder, Nunn says, "that there's a lot more that we can act upon and create change around than what seems to be the paralysis in Washington."
The economic hard times of recent years have upped the need for volunteers – and Americans have been responding, she says.
"Everyone knows someone who's been struggling," Nunn says, "so I think it makes people more empathetic."
While financial philanthropy is "critical and important," she says, it's been shown that "people who volunteer their time are more likely to give more [financial donations], and more often, than people who don't."
Volunteers also gain a sense of satisfaction that can't be underestimated. And volunteering means making new connections and new friendships – it's "being about something that's larger than yourself," she says. "And most important is the feeling of having made a difference. All the great faith traditions point you to [the idea] that people find meaning in life by being of service to others."
Today people from nine to 90 are finding new and creative ways to give back to their communities and the world, she says. A dentist might offer free care to the poor, a graphic designer might help a nonprofit group tell its story better, or a plumbing executive might start a tutoring program for youths. The ways to serve are endless.
Social media has allowed volunteers to organize more quickly. She's seen 14-year-olds start volunteer projects that in a matter of weeks or months go national or even international.
"I think that's one of the really exciting things, and that's all been made possible through technology," Nunn says. "I just think people are more powerful now than they ever have been to be change agents and that we're seeing that happen all the time…. It's an exciting time for volunteer service."
Everyone has something that they can give, she says. "There are always ways for people to create change and make a difference."
Tomorrow's Washington D.C. event, creating care packages for American military personnel and American veterans, is an example of an activity that anyone can participate in and support.
"I think the country is totally united in the belief that we really must and need to support our military men and women who are returning to civilian life [or] … returning to combat," Nunn says. "It was an easy thing to think about rallying around these real heroes."
• People who would like to volunteer this weekend in Washington DC or elsewhere, or in the future, should visit PointsofLight.org.
Mike Rea, founder of Give2Asia, calls the 2004 Asian tsunamis the “first global disaster of our time.”
Now an employee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Rea wanted to use the disaster’s 10th anniversary to investigate what had become of the millions of dollars his group contributed, and the many people it aspired to help.
Then he learned that Hollywood was producing its own retrospective (of sorts) on the tsunamis. Even better, he thought, for educating people about a once-devastated land and ways to respond effectively in the wake of natural emergencies.
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Mr. Rea traveled to Sri Lanka in August where he filmed a “mini-documentary” called “To Sandy From Sri Lanka: Lessons in Diversified Disaster Giving.” He reached out to the producers of The Impossible, who invited him to the premiere of the film and enabled him to interview its director, Juan Antonio Bayona. Mr. Rea also released a “viewer’s guide” to the movie; so far, it’s received at least 12,000 views. (The project is a personal one, not part of Mr. Rea’s work with Gates).
One of his hopes is to give people a richer understanding of the tsunamis than they can get through The Impossible. The film focuses on a white family of tourists whose visit to Thailand is disrupted by the disaster.
“Every single Thai character is at the service of foreign tourists,” says Mr. Rea. “You have no sense that their own lives have been turned upside down. It’s a missed opportunity.”
His other goal is to help inform disaster philanthropy. Mr. Rea’s takeaways, in broad strokes, are relatively simple:
• Make gifts not only to the Oxfams of the world but also to community groups. (Or, in the case of New York’s Superstorm Sandy, “Give to Occupy Sandy and community foundations as well as the Red Cross,” he says.)
• Give “when emotions are high,” he suggests, but also later — six months or a year after the disaster, when it becomes clearer which nonprofits are doing an effective job and still need cash.
• Write checks; don’t send used clothes.
Mr. Rea’s trip to Sri Lanka was mostly encouraging. A vocational-training center to which Give2Asia sent $500,000 had expanded its programs and served as a “safe haven” during the country’s civil war, says Mr. Rea. A $50,000 grant paid for 100 people to be trained in culinary skills. He learned that many of the program’s graduates were thriving in businesses overseas.
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With hindsight, Mr. Rea says he wished he’d done more to help women who participated in the program but chose not to leave their homes and families for work.
Still, he says, the experience taught him that giving to local groups often pays off over the long term. ”It’s a big investment that’s been sustained after the crash of post-tsunami philanthropic aid died,” he said.
Mr. Rea is plotting next steps for “Tsunami Plus 10″— he has two more years, after all, until the storm’s anniversary — and he plans additional trips to the region.
“This is not the first rape case, and this is obviously not the last, but the kind of fire it has ignited in the hearts of millions is what differentiates this case from the rest,” says Sakshi Kumar, founder of Justice for Women, a grass-roots initiative offering free self-defense and martial arts classes to women across India.
Kumar is referring to the fatal Dec. 16 gang-rape attack of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, which continues to make international headlines and spur a national outcry of protests, demonstrations, and political unrest in this country of 1.2 billion.
As the trial of the five suspects, including a sixth person who will be tried in juvenile court, is under way, a number of social enterprises, nonprofits, and international movements are reacting to the larger discussion of women’s rights.
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Justice for Women, entirely volunteer-led, began as a Twitter hashtag in response to the Guwahati molestation case. Kumar decided to take action through social media and set-up a blog, Facebook Page and YouTube channel, forming an online platform to marshal resources and stand up for women who have been wronged. Seven months later, Justice for Women now organizes classes that teach women everything from Krav Maga to karate in academies and institutes willing to volunteer their services.
In addition to the free workshops, Kumar adds, “We’ve written letters to various authorities suggesting ways to cure the crisis of gender inequality in our country; by means of our blog, we’ve been educating women about laws and rights on various issues from cyber stalking to domestic violence; we guide women in need to appropriate organizations where they could get immediate help.”
Conversations addressing sexual assault continue online at Gotstared.at, winner of the 2012 U.N. World Summit Youth Award in the category “Power 2 Women”. Dhruv Arora founded the site to create a virtual platform inviting women around the world to upload pictures of what they wore when being harassed.
Arora said he started Gotstared.at in January 2012, during a time when many claimed that women who dress provocatively invite rape. With over 14,000 “likes” on his Facebook Page, Mr. Arora also posts posters with bold statements about the issues of rape and sexual violence to “get a conversation started around these much-ignored issues.”
The Equal Community Foundation (ECF) takes a unique approach to women’s rights — mobilizing men to uplift women. The nonprofit organization, based in Pune, India, runs “behavior-change programs” such as its Action for Equality program, engaging men aged 14 to 17 in low-income urban communities to be positive agents of change.
Founder and CEO of ECF, Will Muir, says its focus is on violence and gender-based discrimination. Through his work he aims to inspire a new generation of social programming and professionals who dedicate their lives to the cause of women and child rights.
In response to the Delhi gang-rape, Mr. Muir notes that “there are men in every community who care, and there are organizations, albeit only a handful, working to develop methods that will tackle this problem at its root. This is an issue that can only be solved with men, and we want you to know that ECF’s staff and volunteers care and want to help.”
According to a 2005 UNFPA report, India’s national sex ratio is 933 females per 1,000 males, largely due to female foeticide, infanticide, and discrimination against girls. ECF states only 5 percent of organizations in India engage men as part of the solution, and it wishes to change this statistic.
Activist and famed playwright of the Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, had this to say: “If the good men who are not doing the raping, if the good fathers who are teaching different things do not rise up and speak to the other men and train, educate, and work with the other men, we will never end violence against women and girls.” Ms. Ensler is currently touring India and Bangladesh promoting her One Billion Rising campaign, an international movement calling 1 billion women and girls to action on the 15th year anniversary of V-Day on February 14, 2013.
For Gauri Singh, CEO and founder of The Maids’ Company, the recent uproar over the gang-rape attack meant creating a shuttle system to safely transport her female employees to and from work. Based in the outskirts of Delhi, Singh’s social enterprise, which she started 18 months ago, manages 90 maids who are also co-owners of the company and share equity.
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Ms. Gauri states that her work is focused on “the economic independence of women – both low-income and middle-high income women. Through [The Maids’ Company] we provide secure jobs with good wages to low-income migrant urban women.” With increased income, women are able to resist domestic violence and improve their bargaining position in their families, Gauri believes.
“For me personally, the situation at home has changed a little,” Kumar says. Calling Delhi home, she adds that everyone has become more vigilant and proactive.
“Women have started carrying weapons like pepper spray and knives along. They’re realizing that it’s as much their responsibility as anyone else’s to ensure safety.”
For more information about the social enterprises, nonprofits, and movements mentioned:
Justice For Women (comprised of a team of four volunteers — Sakshi Kumar, Dr. Anita Hada Sangwan, Ankita Garg, Zena Costa)
Gotstared.at (founded by Dhruv Arora)
Equal Community Foundation (founded by Will Muir)
One Billion Rising campaign (founded by Eve Ensler )
The Maids’ Company (founded by Gauri Singh)