Blog

Earth Day by AlicePopkorn

Earth Day—April 22 of every year—is a day dedicated to inspiring and mobilizing people all around the world to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, sustainability, and this big green and blue planet we call home.

There are tons of ways to celebrate your commitment to the environment:

There are freebies

If you bring a reusable mug or tumbler into any Starbucks location in the US or Canada today, they’ll give you a free brewed coffee or tea. This promotion isn’t just about free coffee, it’s about keeping “nearly 1.45 million pounds of paper out of landfills,” as per Sue, manager of global responsibility at Starbucks.

There are celebrations

Our friends at the Nature Conservancy are hosting a Picnic for the Planet in a number of cities worldwide. The goal is for people to step outside and head to their favorite outdoor spot to enjoy good food in the company of great people. If you’re in Seattle, be sure to swing by the Nature Conservancy of Washington’s picnic at Pike Place Market!

There are projects that let you make a direct impact on the planet

Jolkona has 15 projects that support the environment. For as little as $5, you can plant 50 trees in countries like Burundi, Ethiopia, and Haiti. To date, the Jolkona community has planted over 18,000 trees worldwide. How many more can we plant by the end of Earth Day?

In addition to planting trees, we have 4 projects for less than $100 that work towards ensuring environmental sustainability:

Teach Water Conservation to Costa Rican Youth – This is one of my personal favorite environmental projects that Jolkona offers as it combines two things: education and the environment. Through the Water Guards Program, students in Costa Rica learn about water conservation and how to teach what they learn to their peers and lead their community at school how to reduce unnecessary and wasteful water consumption. Talk about an amazing project!

Want to see this project in action? Last year, two Jolkona team members visited this project and saw its impact first hand.

Conserve African Rainforests – Protecting the Earth’s rainforests are essential for preserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and supporting local villages who are custodians of the forests.

Build an Energy Efficient Stove for Nepali Family – A lot of people living in the U.S. have Energy Star appliances, so what does “Energy Star” look like in the rest of the world? This stove not only protects old growth forests in Nepal from being harvested but also reduces lung disease through proper venting and frees up the village women from spending an average of 8.5 hours per household per month on collecting firewood.

Train Environmental Youth Advocates in Kenya – To create change in your own community, you need local leaders to be advocates and change makers. This project helps train ten rural village youth to educate and advocate on human-caused sources of pollution and the effects it has on public health in their own community. Much like the Costa Rican Youth project above, this one has amazing potential to make a lasting impact!

This planet is all we have right now, let’s work to make sure we keep it!

How are you celebrating Earth Day?

Photo by: AlicePopkorn

Women’s Co-operative Program in Kenya

The first time Team Africa learned about the Women’s Co-operative Program was when we visited a small grocery store while out on a stroll with Joshua Machinga, the founder of the Common Ground Project (CPG), in the Kiminini marketplace in Kenya. The store had a few rows of wooden shelves, mostly empty except the first two, which carried bags of cassava flour and dried maize along with some fresh offerings such as bananas and tomatoes. Joshua introduced us to the women working in the store and noted that this was a co-op ran by the Women’s Co-operative Program.

Joshua’s goal for establishing a women’s co-op was to increase the marketing power of local women in hopes of increasing their income. The Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund was established to provide local women the small loans they needed to start their businesses. The program resembles other microfinancing programs except for one important distinction: no Microfinancing Institutions (MFI) are involved.

Instead, the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund receives money from donations, the co-op store, and most importantly, the women in the Women’s Co-operative Program. Women who want loans must first contribute some savings to the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund. They are then allowed to borrow up to three times the amount of their deposit. Additionally, similar to other micro-financing programs, a woman must have 5 guarantors before a loan is received to ensure that the amount can be repaid. The Women’s Co-operative Program also provides continuing support by setting up the co-op store as a community buyer to enhance the viability of the businesses. Women can choose to sell their products (usually food) to the co-op store and any revenue the store generates from selling in the market goes right back into the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund. Women in the co-op program can also invest in shares of the store and receive annual dividends based on the store’s profit.

This model of microfinancing can offer some significant advantages over the conventional route involving MFIs. With the middleman out of the equation, more revenue is recycled back into the program and the community. The penalties for defaulting are less severe than those imposed by a lot of MFIs, yet the incentive to succeed remains strong, enforced by both the guarantors and the community of women who have invested in the fund. Furthermore, this program affords an opportunity for the women to learn about investment and saving techniques. Every month, participants congregate to settle debts, borrow money, and make new investments. The monthly meeting serves as a platform for the women to socialize, bond, learn, and share their ideas.

Joshua was nice enough to invite us to such a meeting and it gave us a chance to interact with the women of the program. Although the women were at first shy and curious of our presence, they warmed up quickly as we mingled and socialized with the crowd. Some were excited to share their experiences and their opinions of the program.

I personally spoke with a woman who had borrowed money to start a chicken farm. Even though she only attended school until she was 13, she spoke eloquently and analytically of her situation. She was widowed a few years ago and has two children of her own. The amazing part is that she has also been caring for eight other children who have either lost their parents, or have guardians who are unable to take care of them. She borrowed money from the Nasimiyu-Nekesa fund a year ago to start a chicken farm which she says is low maintenance and fairly profitable. The business is growing, and she is now in the process of taking out her third loan for a farm expansion. Having repaid her first two loans in full, she is able to borrow an even larger amount to invest in her business. When asked what improvements she would like to see in the program, her reply was simply that she wished more women would trust this program, invest their savings so they can take advantage of the loans, and be able to do what she did.

I asked her what enabled her to take a leap of faith and she told me it was because she trusted Joshua and felt safe to give money to this fund. “You have to trust someone right? Otherwise you are on your own,” she said.

Helen Li is a program manager at Microsoft during the day and volunteers with Jolkona doing business outreach. She also traveled with the Jolkona team who visited our partners in East Africa this past December.

Maheen with the children at Distressed Children International clinics

About three weeks ago, I walked into a room with a bench on one side and a desk on the other. There was another room in the back with a curtain partition for privacy. There was a doctor on the other side consulting with a patient I walked back into the waiting room, there was a mother there that had come in with her baby. The baby was strangely silent, and the mother was mentioning that her child had a constant fever and she didn’t know what was wrong. This “room” that I had walked into was one of DCI’s (Distressed Children & Infants International) clinics in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The clinic cares for and provides medical supplies and prescriptions to those cannot afford it and have nowhere else to go.

What led me to this clinic in Bangladesh was the Jolkona campaign I was a part of called the 12 Days of Giving. I decided to promote a health related project in Bangladesh and chose to support the DCI sponsored clinic, as public health is an interest of mine. I had never raised funds for anything prior to this experience nor had I promoted any type of project before! To be perfectly honest, I was attempting to pick whichever project I thought would be easily marketable so I would have a remote chance of fulfilling the looming $1,000 target goal. Not until I had a chance to visit the clinic and an orphanage also sponsored by DCI, and actually see those that were positively affected by the money raised, did I realize what $1,000 in Bangladesh really means.

Think about the anxiety that you feel when you’re sick for a couple of days and don’t know what is wrong. Not fun, huh? Now multiply this feeling times 100 to emphasize what toll that it takes on those “living” on the streets of Dhaka. The grave impact is felt not only because they do they not know what’s wrong with them when they’re sick, they know that they absolutely cannot walk into a hospital and get help, and whatever they have will probably only get worse.

Maheen with the children at Distressed Children International clinics

There are 450,000 children who live on the streets of Bangladesh and 30,000 die everyday due to circumstances of poverty. Through the DCI orphanage and with very little money, about 20 of these children are taken off the streets and are provided with healthcare, a good education, food, and shelter. With $10, a baby is provided with doctor care and relief. As demonstrated by the patients and kids at the DCI projects, a couple of dollars does not mean much to us here, but can most likely save a life and provide a child with a chance of having chance to enjoy a view of what life without poverty could really be…a reality.

I will never think about this project, these children, or $1,000 the same way again.

Maheen Aman is the Campus Outreach Lead for Jolkona and is extremely passionate about global health and development. She recently went on a global adventure that took her to Bangladesh and Turkey. This is a snapshot of one of her adventures.

Biointensive farming and double dug beds
Double dug beds

One of the things that really sparked my interest during our trip to East Africa was seeing the innovation happening in the agriculture sector. In America, most of us are so far removed from our food and the food source whereas in rural Africa, everyone is a farmer. While visiting our partner Village Volunteers in Kitale, Kenya, many of us realized how much we take the produce we purchase from the grocery store for granted—no matter what season it really is, it’s so easy to purchase our favorite fruit and vegetables year-round which is defiantly not the case in rural Africa. There, everything has a season and if a particular crop is out of season, it just does not exist in your diet at that time.  Living in rural Africa for a few weeks also made me realize how time consuming farming really is.  From the time you plant your crops to the time you harvest and have food to feed your family, several weeks or months have gone by so I found myself really appreciating and savoring the fresh ingredients prepared while I was in the villages.  However, what really excited me during this trip was learning about the techniques for sustainable agriculture, which given the current global food crisis is becoming more and more important in development work.

During this trip, I was introduced to an agricultural technique known as Biointensive Agriculture. Basically, it’s an organic agricultural system which focuses on maximum yield from the minimum area of land while simultaneously improving the soil. Sack farming is also a popular technique, where virtually anyone can grow crops out of potato sacks.

What is Biointensive Agriculture?

Biointensive farming sack garden
Joshua shows us a sack garden.

Biointensive Farming, also called Biointensive Agriculture, is a technique that was launched by one of Village Volunteers’ partner NGO called Common Ground. Here is the definition of Biointensive Farming from the training manual, which you can download by clicking this link:

Biointensive farming is a self-help food raising method based on building and maintaining soil fertility and using NO chemicals. It is simple to learn and use, based on sophisticated principles dating back 4000 years in China, 2000 years in Greece, and 300 years in Europe. It was synthesized and brought to the U.S. by the English master horticulturist, Alan Chadwick, then further developed and documented by Ecology Action.
Important aspects of the method include:

  • Double-dug, raised beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive planting
  • Carbon farming
  • Calorie farming
  • The use of open–pollinated seeds
  • The whole gardening method

Chemicals are generally promoted when the soil is degraded, or the plants, trees, or animals are unhealthy. The biointensive farming model aims at restoring soil health and designing an environment that creates healthy plants, trees and animals. Biointensive training provides specific ideas on reducing and eventually eliminating the use of chemicals fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and the like. It addresses the healing process of the soil’s fertility and structure to put nutrients back into the soil and the give the soil the ability manage different levels of water.

Right now, we work with Village Volunteers specifically to fund their water filter project. Part of our visit to Kitale was to learn how else Jolkona could partner with Village Volunteers in addition to the water filtration project, and Biointensive Farming may be a perfect fit. (Stay tuned!)

How can innovations in farming power a village?

We found innovation everywhere in this village. Joshua Machinga, the director of the program and founder of Common Ground, runs one of the best primary schools in the area that is almost fully self-sustaining. How does he do this? The school owns land that utilizes the techniques of Biointensive Farming. Crops feed all the children healthy meals, they also teach nearby villages and farmers about Biointensive Farming methods. Essentially, the technique taught teaches farmers to dig their crops deeper in order to maximize land use and to be able to plant twice as many crops compared to traditional farming techniques. Joshua also teaches Agroecology techniques where natural enemies are used instead of pesticides to ensure a sustainable ecosystem.  I was fascinated by this technique that I had never heard of until I returned and learned that many agricultural experts would argue this is one of the best solutions for fighting both the food crisis and climate change.

However, back to the program in Kitale, season after season, this program allows the school not only to increase their yields to feed all the students, but it even sustains a business model where the ability to profit from the surplus crop and invest funds back into the school. The land is also rich in brick soil they use the soil to make and sell bricks. Again, putting any profits made back into supporting the future of the school.  We need more social entrepreneurs in the world like Joshua’s who are looking for innovative solutions to create transformative and lasting change in their communities.

Stay tuned for more Jolkona projects to help support this program to spread biointensive and agroecology farming techniques throughout Kenya!

Joshua Machinga explains biointensive farming
Joshua Machinga, the director of the program and founder of Common Ground.

Pavan Kumar Potaraju with Jolkona in Africa

Nancy, Jordan, and Pavan in East Africa, December 2010

This month as Jolkona celebrates its one-month anniversary in our new office space, we’d like to recognize a Jolkona volunteer who was instrumental in helping to make this happen. Pavan Kumar Potaraju has been volunteering with Jolkona for the last 2 years and last year he played a key role in planning and organizing the highest-grossing fundraising event for Jolkona that raised almost $20,000 in just one evening. Go Pavan!!!!

Pavan has been a part of the events team and also played a key role in the Microsoft Giving Campaign, where he helped out with everything from hanging up posters to passing out flyers to get the word out about Jolkona. In addition, Pavan was one of 7 volunteers who gave up his winter vacation to accompany us on a volun-toursim trip through East Africa in December. During that trip, we visited some of our partners and learned how we can continue to help them through the Jolkona Giving platform. Now if that wasn’t enough, Pavan also helped Jolkona move furniture into our new office when we needed some manpower :). We just love how Pavan is willing to roll up his sleeves to help Jolkona grow and make an even bigger impact both globally and locally.

We thought this was the perfect time to recognize Pavan for being a rock star Jolkona volunteer that we can always count on because as a die-hard cricket fan, Pavan is also celebrating this month with India’s victory in the World Cup for Cricket! Check out how Pavan celebrated it:

Pavan celebrates India's win in the World Cup for Cricket

The other noteworthy quality about Pavan is that he is super fun. He always makes everyone laugh whether it’s his Bollywood poses or funny jokes, he keeps things fun which is always a good thing when volunteering.

Here’s what Melinda Moseler, Jolkona’s Marketing Communications Content Manager, said about working with Pavan:

Pavan is very passionate about getting word out about Jolkona and going the extra mile when we worked together during the Microsoft Giving Campaign. He is quiet and diligent about getting things done and goes out if his way to devote long hours to making sure some of key fundraising events on campus were attended to, long after others had gone home. I’m always glad to be paired with Pavan on project and know he can be counted on with putting Jolkona’s best foot forward. If you get a chance, check out his blog post* from the team’s Africa trip his photos are top notch and reflect some major personality!

When we asked Pavan why he volunteers with Jolkona, here’s what he had to say:


Thank you, Pavan, for all that you have done for Jolkona and the impact you’ve made in helping to change the world, one drop at a time…

*Pavan’s blog post will be posted this week!

When we announced the Give to Girls (Give2Girls) campaign on March 8th, the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, the plan was to use the initial match of $2,000 to jumpstart the campaign and ignite excitement in investing in the women of tomorrow. But we did more than that — by the end of the day, we had raised almost $6,000, including the match, which will go down in Jolkona’s history as the highest single-day of fundraising we’ve had to date.

I want to stop there and let you re-read that last sentence.

That evening after launching the campaign, we hosted an event with CRAVE at PNK Ultra Lounge in downtown Seattle that was originally designed to launch the Give2Girls campaign, but because of your enormous support, the event turned into a celebration of the day and a call to rally around the campaign through the end of the month.

Well, continue the support is exactly what you did. During the three remaining weeks of March, I am thrilled to announce that the Give to Girls campaign raised just over $10,000 total for women and girls empowerment projects through Jolkona!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who sponsored, donated, helped get the word out, and supported this movement!

Together, in a hair over three weeks, here is the impact we made towards empowering women and girls:

  • 2 girls educated in Nepal for 1 year
  • 2 girl educated in China
  • 2 girls educated for 1 year in India
  • 1 girl attended “self-esteem” training in USA
  • 4 days of doctor’s service provided in Bangladesh
  • 1 woman in Sudan received a farming land
  • 5 women trained in Haiti
  • 3 energy efficient stoves provided in Nepal
  • 3 weeks of food provided to safe houses in Iraq
  • 4 hygiene kits provided in Tanzania
  • 52 months of oral contraceptives supplied in Nepal
  • 2 Afghani refugees in Pakistan received year long scholarships
  • 2 neighborhood safe spaces provided in Haiti
  • 4 mothers and their children got nutritional support in India
  • 2 girls supported to attend day school in China
  • 2 literary texts provided in Niger
  • 2 days of medical supplies provided in Bangladesh
  • 9 hygiene kits provided in camps in Haiti
  • 3 solar lamps provided in Tanzania
  • 3 girls saved from “honor killing” in Iraq
  • 4 women’s stories sponsored in China
  • 9 weeks of health screenings in Bangladesh
  • 11 girls educated for 1 year in Afghanistan
  • 3 days of training and counseling provided in Haiti
  • 3 enslaved girls rescued in Nepal
  • 200 lbs of seeds provided to women farmers in Sudan
  • 6 field trips sponsored for girls in the USA
  • 2 young women mentors trained in Nepal
  • 1 girl trained in Pakistan
  • 1 year of training provided in Niger
  • 1 week of healthcare provided to a mother and her baby in Guatemala

Give 2 Girls Impact Map

Thank you to everyone in the Jolkona community for your tremendous support!

For those made one of the first $2,000 in donations, you will receive a proof of impact for the donation you made and the donation the Give2Girls fund matched on your behalf. Those gifts have already been added to your account, so you will be notified when they are completed.

To our donors: Thank you for contributing to the campaign and showing that individuals can make a huge difference in the world and small donations add up to create a big impact!

To our sponsors – Thank you, Hias Gourmet, Virtually Savvy, and Flaunt, Inc. for coming together to combine your dollars and create the matched fund that ignited this campaign. It worked. And we are thankful for your support.

To our partner – Thank you, CRAVE, including Melody Biringer, Nicole Shema, and the entire CRAVE team for partnering with us to turn an idea into a campaign and helping us show how important it is to support these projects.

Investing in women doesn’t stop here

You can continue to see the support of women and girls empowerment projects on the campaign page. Each of these projects tracks towards a larger goal, that of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically MDG #3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women and MDG #5: Improve Maternal Health. If you’re as passionate about investing in the women of tomorrow as we are, we ask that you continue to support these projects and change the statistics.

Because as we know, women are vital when it comes to changing the world. And can you imagine what that world will look like?

GET INVOLVED!