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Allow me to introduce to you Andrew Abumoussa. As an accessibility engineer, Andrew is wired to notice things a little differently. What drives many of his passions as a software engineer, as an entrepreneur, and as a graduate student is the effect universal design has on entire populations. Having witnessed how many people lack the opportunities, resources or the apparatus to explore or grow their tools, Andrew’s committed to doing everything he can to level the playing fields. “Having a tool that allows me to see exactly what need is being served, and then receive a tangible confirmation, well, that’s beautiful.” Andrew is the Director of Engineering for SimplyHome, where he has been featured on Extreme Makeover:Home Edition, and he’s a member of the University of Rochester’s Human-Computer Interaction group. And now he is part of the new generation of philanthropists donating through Jolkona. Here, in his words, is what he has to say about his Jolkona experience.

Among the projects you support through Jolkona, which are particularly meaningful to you?
For me it was the BRAC USA project. I could not believe that the cost of a prosthetic limb for someone in Bangladesh was so low. Professionally, as an engineer, I work with people and I know how small changes in software or hardware have the potential to enable a person to complete a given task or goal. Personally, having been raised for a part of my life in Egypt, I’ve seen the devastation that not having a limb has on a person’s ability to participate in society. So, providing a person with an entire limb to empower them with something so basic was the reason I gave Jolkona a try in the first place.

What do you like most about donating through Jolkona?
I remember spending a week looking through all the avenues and organizations through which I could donate. I mean, one day after work, I literally spent about 5 hours sifting through all the sites, reading statistics, benefits, etc. But there seemed to be an entire industry around the concept of philanthropy and that really bothered me. Between all the nebulous descriptions and bureaucracy, the whole experience of giving continued to remain less than rewarding, almost habitual and mindless.

Discovering Jolkona changed all of that. The mystery behind the path of your money is removed. I was able to choose exactly what I funded, and when Jolkona sent me my first email, I was floored to see the speed of execution and the results and value of my donation. The honesty, simplicity, and accountability of Jolkona’s concept is why I’m in love with their experience.

What would you like others to know about Jolkona?
Two things. As a developer, I’ve been taught to adapt systems to people’s tastes and habits rather than having users adapt to a system. With that being said, Jolkona is the system most adept to my preferences in giving. The ability to pinpoint which cause you want to support, as well as deciding what level of commitment, really allows for anyone to give to what they feel passionate about.

Second, it’s addicting! Jolkona does an amazing job of curating the data and presenting it to you so that you can follow and watch the impacts that you choose to have. It’s genius, really, and keeps me coming back to give. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about, right?

 

Be like Andrew, and join the new generation philanthropists changing the world – and seeing the change – one donation at time. Start here.

 

Note from editor: Post written by Chi Do, a passionate Jolkona volunteer.

Nested in the foothill of the mountains leading to Machu Picchu is a small town called Ollantaytambo. We visited Awamaki, a non-profit grass roots organization that was revamped in 2009, yet its beginnings are decades old. Their mission is to provide support for highland communities, especially of benefit to the women and children who reside there.

Awamaki’s aesthetically decorated store brings weaving and knitting products to consumers. These materials and pieces come from communities deep in the mountainside, handmade by the local families. It is truly a family business with help from the wife, husband and their children. In this way, Awamaki provides business opportunities that strengthen the whole community. Awamaki has recently implemented a mobile clinic program which provides medical assistance in remote areas. This fulfills a great need, as horses are the only mode of transportation for these locations. Sustainable tourism is another interesting aspect of Awamaki. It makes perfect sense as Ollantaytambo is a town that relies heavily on tourism. It is a great idea for incorporating social enterprise in their strategies, as well as generating a stable source of funding for Awamaki’s programs.

What stuck out to me the most was the high number of volunteers Awamaki gets every year.  We met only 5 volunteers during their quieter season, but they can get up to 25 volunteers at peak time. Most are young adults from the United States; high school or college graduates, young professionals who look for a change in their career directions, or just wanting to learn about a different world than their own. We spoke to Amy, a current volunteer. She gave up a job offer right after college to volunteer with Awamaki for 6 months. She desired to pursue a passion of serving the underprivileged.  There was also Jon and Emily, a couple from Chicago who are spending the next 6 months contributing to the programs at Awamaki in any way they can. As I hear more stories from the volunteers, I feel proud. We are the young generation who think about others, who want to make a difference in this world, and who do something to keep that passion going.

Awamaki became a partner of Jolkona in late 2011. As I see it, this partnership has the potential to provide additional opportunities for volunteer exchange or connection with sustainable tourism.

Check out their work here and provide any support as you see fit.

Participate in our Jolkona campaign for Awamaki.

Join the Twitter conversation with Jolkona, or stay connected with Facebook.

Note from the editor: this post was written by the brilliant Nancy Xu, one of our dedicated Jolkona volunteers.

My hands run through the pasadizo, a rectangular weaving the Andean women wear across their back. The yarn, made of alpaca, feels soft; yet at the same time, the tight weaving lends it strength. The edges curve up slightly. I think about its creator – the hand which dyed each bundle of yarn, the colors of which are all natural, like carcass of beetle (red), or plant fungus (turquoise). I think about each individual weave being made, row by row, as patterns and designs emerge. It felt repetitive but meticulous. It felt overwhelming. It felt precious.

“They can tell who created each piece,” Kaitlyn says. “There is a distinct signature to each weave found in the patterns and in the choice of symbols.”

“Just like a painting,” I interpret; Kaitlyn nods.

Kaitlyn Bohlin is a program director at Awamaki, a group that aims to preserve the art of weaving in a sustainable manner. Based in the small town Ollantaytambo, Peru, a stop off place for trekkers en route to Machu Picchu, “awamaki” means weaving hands in Quechua, the language spoken by the inhabitants of the Andes mountains. While their store is located in Ollantaytambo, they work from the mountain villages of Patacancha and Parobamba. These villages are incredibly remote, located at very high-altitudes. At this time of the year, though, the road up is washed out by landslides. The next visit won’t be possible until the wet season passes.

A single piece of weaving can take a month to finish. This is because most weavers are women, who have to spend a significant amount of their time attending to family duties – cooking, feeding, making fires, or planting potatoes in the field. The Andean weaving is done with a back-strap loom. This is a portable device which the women can carry on their backs, allowing them to gather with other women, where they can work together and socialize. However, most of the weaving is still done at home, and it can be quite the family activity – the child may unwind the yarn, and the father help to stretch it across the loom.

Not until I am on my way back to North America do I learn that the Andean weavings are more than just paintings. Karen Lizarraga, who sits next to me as I’m flying out of Lima, is a professor at the University of Lima, and spent many years undertaking archeology projects in the ancient Andean culture of Ayacucho, not too far from Ollantaytambo.

“They are narratives,” Karen tells me.

So they are knowledge and stories, weaved onto pasadizos, belts and scarves. They narrate the ethics of the Andean people, their belief in mother earth, and medicinal knowledge about plants and healing. One particular piece that Karen studied told a story of feminine ethics; a story of resistance against the seduction of the mountain spirit, Wamani. She also told me about the unkunakuchka, a pervasive symbol found not only in weaving but on numerous Andean relics. It is a depiction of two birds conjoined at the mouth –  a symbol of nurturing, of motherly or fatherly love. For those who recognize it, their reaction is instinctual, and one that is full of meaning.

As the cabin lights on the plane are dimmed by the crew, I lean back into my seat and wonder how many more layers there are to unveil within this rich heritage of weaving. What other messages are hidden in the weaves, lost in translation as their storytellers pass away? For the fate of the art of weaving hangs perilously in the balance, caught between its ancient roots and an uncertain future. I’m encouraged, though, that organizations like Awamaki exist, actively preserving a dying art in a shrinking culture. And that there are archaeologists like Karen, who dedicate their lives in search of the missing layers of meaning, which would otherwise be lost in the passing of generations.

Find out more about Awamaki: awamaki.org & jolkona.org/projects/160

Participate in our Jolkona campaign for Awamaki here.

Read more about the narratives in the weaving by Karen Lizarraga here.

For other posts about Nancy’s trip with Jolkona to South America, see her tumblr profile. You can also keep up to date with us on Facebook.

 

Note from the editor: this post was written by Jolkona volunteer Zanoon Nissar, sent all the way from Manuas, Brazil.

Our second partner visit in Brazil was in Manaus, the largest city in the province of Amazon. After driving through the poorer regions of the city, we came to ADCAM, a multi-faceted school with apprenticeship, college, high school and youth programs. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe how beautiful the campus looked compared with the rest of Manaus. There were well kept gardens, acres of land, and happy students walking through the halls. This was clearly a special place in the city and we were about to find out why.

We first spent some time with students from the vocational program. They were between the ages of 14-17 and were part of an electronics repair program. Since there are a lot of electronics factories in Manaus, the demand for skilled repair workers is high and pays well. These students are very busy, spending 4 hours a week in an placed internship (generally at one of the local factories), attend ADCAM one day a week, and go to  regular school as well. The program opens the children’s eyes to their potential, and many end up using the money they save from their internships to go to college.

What impressed me most about ADCAM was both the passion of its director, as well as the way it has grown and developed around the needs of the Manaus community. Their director was an Iranian woman who had immigrated to Manaus over 25 years ago. She didn’t speak any Portguese at the time, was pregnant and yet had a goal of opening a small daycare. She overcame hurdle after hurdle to grow the daycare into a school, and then an apprenticeship program, and finally a college. Now, over 5,000 students attend the school every year. If you ask their founder how she made this possible, she references her belief in love, faith and God.

It will be fascinating to see where ADCAM will be in 5 years. As the Olympics and World Cup approach, there will be a boom in tourism and hospitality. In the past, ADCAM has grown to fit the needs of its community, and I anticipate that this will be no exception. The biggest potential investment here would be in the teaching of English. Another area that ADCAM will need to explore will be the environment. Finding a fine balance between preserving the nation’s rainforests and expanding will be key.

To help support this amazing school, Jolkona is soon to be partnering with the Mona Foundation, a Seattle based non-profit.  The Mona foundation funds vocational and primary school scholarships for ADCAM. Please support ADCAM here.

 

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