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During our recent trip to Africa I found myself drawn to farming. I took a lot of interest in projects that were dealing with farming – everything from how to increase yield to helping farmers find markets for their crops. I took pages and pages of notes. I could not figure out why I was so fascinated with farming. I couldn’t figure out why farming would be so compelling to someone like me, a city-dweller from America who is an engineer by profession.

Then on our second day at the Serengeti, after we finished our hot air balloon ride and were on our way back to the visitor center, we came across a leopard. There were 20 to 30 other tour vehicles around the leopard all juggling for a good position to get a good picture of the leopard. We waited around for over 30 minutes trying to get the best angle to catch the spotted animal. That’s when I realized that I was drawn to farming because it was similar to photography.

Photography is all about getting the perfect shot. It is about tweaking all the various factors like lighting, exposure, film speed, etc., and combining them in a particular way to get the perfect picture. It takes many years of practice to understand how these various factors work with each other. The ultimate goal is not to only get one perfect picture, but to be able to replicate that quality over and over again for every picture you take.

Farming is not that different. Farmers spend years trying to understand how the various factors like rainfall, season, sunlight, amount of fertilizer, harvest time, etc., can be tweaked to give them the maximum yield. Their ultimate goal is also not just one great harvest, but to be able to take the learnings from one great harvest and replicate it for every season.

The trial and error aspect of farming along with the ultimate goal of perfection makes farming very appealing to me. If we can figure out how some of these lessons can be better shared across communities, then we can help accelerate this learning process. There is some great work being done already, especially in the mobile space (e.g. receiving weather updates on phones). And I imagine we will see a lot more innovations around sharing farming knowledge in the next 3 to 5 years.

This series of four photos is my attempt at trying to capture a perfect shot of the leopard.

All photos are by Adnan Mahmud.

Jolkona volunteers on recent trip to Africa - posing like a gorilla...kind of

Jolkona volunteers on recent trip to Africa - posing like a gorilla...kind of

Jolkona is made possible by a group of dedicated volunteers who feel passionate about the giving model we’ve created. They are a young, diverse team made up of full-time professionals and university students looking to get more involved in their community and the world. They dedicate their time and their skills in making a difference in the paradigm of giving.

I’m excited to announce that we are looking to fill two openings on the leadership team:

Click the links above to download the job description for each.

Ready to join our team?

To apply, please email your resume and a cover letter that answers the following to volunteer@jolkona.org by Wednesday, January 19th:

  1. Why are you interested in leading the campus outreach or events strategy for Jolkona?
  2. What skills or experience do you bring that will help you be successful in this position?
  3. What are you passionate about?

Please reference the title of the position you’re applying for in the subject of the email.

Dates and details about hiring process:

  • Accepting applications through Wednesday, January 19th
  • Begin interviewing candidates the week of January 24th
  • Must be available to attend the full-day orientation on Saturday, January 29th

We look forward to meeting you!

It has been 1 year since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. It is a good time for us to take a look at the conditions that have changed since then. The purpose of this post is to present some statistics that highlight the challenges that still exist in Haiti.

  • The earthquake struck at 4:53 PM on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010. By January 24th, there were over 50 aftershocks in Haiti.
  • The immediate effect of the earthquake included 230,000 dead, over 300,000 injured, more than 1 million people homeless, and close to 300,000 buildings destroyed including 250,000 homes, 30,000 commercial buildings, and presidential palace and many ministry buildings.
  • On the 22nd of January, the United Nations noted that the emergency phase of the relief operation was drawing to a close, and on the following day, the Haitian government officially called off the search for survivors.
  • 1.3 million people are still displaced today.
  • According to the Guardian: “Although the international community promised almost $10bn in aid earlier in 2010, very little has actually arrived. What is more, support appears to be dwindling. In 2010, more than 35 countries and multilateral agencies pledged roughly $3.8bn to reconstruction. Going into 2011, pledges have diminished to 20 countries amounting to $1.5bn.”
  • While the whole world watched over Haiti and with thousands of aid organizations present in the country, over 3,500 people have died since October from a Cholera outbreak.
  • Only 5% of the rubbles have been cleared thus far. At this rate it will take 20 years to clear up all the rubbles from the earthquake.
  • There has been a high number rapes reported at the various campsites.
  • Amidst all this, the country has also been crippled by serious political instability without anyone showing great leadership and vision.

Petionville Golf Club in Port-au-Prince was the only golf course in Haiti. This before and after photo from Oxfam shows how the golf course (in the left) has turned into a tent city now (right):

For everyday people, there has been no change. At Jolkona, we are committed to working with some of the most effective organizations on the ground to get help to those who need it the most. We provide 5 diverse projects – from planting trees to helping rape victims to permanently bringing a family out of poverty – that allows you to have an impact that you wish to make. Check out our projects in Haiti.

We ask you to pledge a gift to Haiti and we will report back to you about the impact of your donation.

Photo Credit: Oxfam International

On December 30th, 2010, while many of us on the Jolkona team were visiting some of our partners in Africa, the Seattle International Foundation announced their Round 2 Grant recipients under its Global Program here.

We are excited, humbled, and honored to announce that Jolkona was selected as 1 of 15 organizations to receive one of these grants. What is more exciting is that this first grant Jolkona has received and we hope this is a sign of more funding to come! We plan to focus the $15,000 grant towards vetting and adding new projects to Jolkona’s platform this year, particularly in South America, enhancing partner engagement, and improving the user experience of giving through Jolkona.

The Seattle International Foundation is a supporting organization of the Seattle Foundation and exists to promote global giving in Seattle and to invest in initiatives for global development. Jolkona is thrilled to be a part of this network, thanks to their generous help and support.

If you’re interested in supporting our work related to partner expansion and engagement, you can do so by making a donation to our Kona Fund here. True to the Jolkona model of providing feedback, we look forward to tracking our progress on increasing the number of projects and the impacts of increased partner engagement this year!

Throughout my trip thus far, I have seen over 10 projects and many innovations around the pivotal role community plays in development. Everywhere I have seen examples of individuals who depend on their community for support in order to advance themselves and in turn enrich the well being their neighbors. In turn I have seen communities come together to help those who need it the most. Because of this model, this inherent need to build up each other and those around them, these groups of individuals create change by organizing their efforts together.

I call this “Powered by Community” and here is the impact community can have in affecting change:

  1. Foster closer community through honesty and openness. Members of the community of Dago, Kenya come to together once a year for the Kick It with Kenya Soccer Tournament.  Time is made to connect and openly share ideas with other communities who come over as visitors to  the tournament. Making time to honestly share helps with community growth and building long-term relationships.
  2. Break taboos and stigmas. Talking about HIV and AIDS used to be a big taboo in African villages like Dago. Now every community has a voluntary counseling and testing center (VCT) where the conversation about the prevention of HIV and AIDS is commonplace. It is far easier to change long held beliefs if change is being done as a collective whole.
  3. Continue traditions. Families have started to see their members spread out geographically. In a family with 5 children, most might move out to the city or even another country. Yet, during Christmas, everyone attempts to come back home to reconnect with their roots and share stories – continuing a tradition that has been in place for generations.
  4. Improve health. In Dago, Community Health Workers organize their own communities to educate themselves about current health conditions, provide preventive measures, and distribute medications to those in need. Providing this much-needed service at a reduced cost increases the prevention of illnesses to all within the village.
  5. Educate the youth. Every community has a primary school with the goal to send every child to school. In addition, communities are finding ways to support continuing education of the brightest students so that every family can continue to prosper. For example, Dago’s orphanage has solar power – giving the children ability to study after dark, while 99% of the homes in Dago don’t have power at all.
  6. Share risks. In the village of Kiminini, Kenya, women pool their savings to make loans to their peers. The borrower needs to get signatures from other women in her group before applying for the loan. This way, the women in the community take the risk of having to pay back the loan in case the borrower defaults. Distributing risk empowers the community to insure the borrower is successful.
  7. Share responsibility. Just like distributing risks, the women in Kiminini understand the share responsibility amongst the group members to make sure that the borrower pays back the loan on time by distributing ownership for loan amongst members of the group.
  8. Build skills. Outside of Kampala, Uganda, an orphanage houses close to 100 kids during the holidays. They kids don’t have a family to go to. Yet, they are spending the holidays learning various dance techniques like their own regional dances as well as salsa and other contemporary styles. Encouraging learning during what would typically be a difficult time for these children raises their self-esteem and further develops their sense of cultural belonging.
  9. Achieve self-sustainability. In Dago, Kenya, the villagers are implementing farming initiatives that will ensure that they can meet the local food needs and have all the pieces in place for self sustainability now and for future generations.
  10. Have a family. The community provides a family to everyone, including those who don’t have one of their own. In Dago, the community comes together to support widows with housing, food, and land for farming.

How do you define community?

GET INVOLVED!