Gabriel St. John

It’s been a while since the last Featured Volunteer Post, but that doesn’t mean that our volunteers aren’t superstars! I would introduce you to Gabriel St. John, but if you’re reading this blog, you know him already. Gabriel is our Online Content Manager, in charge of keeping the Jolkona blog fresh, informative and engaging. He first got involved with Jolkona as the Editing and Writing Intern in the fall of 2011, working with Laura Kimball on the blog. Since then, he became the lead on the blog team, establishing his personable and understandable style in a series of increasingly successful posts.

I met Gabriel by working with him as the 2012 summer Editing and Writing Intern. In addition to being a quick-witted, likeable individual, he effortlessly orchestrated our blog schedule for the entire summer, and taught me so much about effective communication. Gabriel has a great passion for creative writing, and uses these skills to tell the more personal stories from Jolkona. Yes, we can see the projects, the statistics, the need. But without Gabriel’s work on bringing the stories behind many of our issues to light, it isn’t necessarily easy to see why we do it.

My experiences with Gabriel are echoed by the rest of Jolkona:

Gabriel is such a critical part of the Jolkona team. He’s an amazing writer and helps tell the Jolkona story and that of all the partners we work with through our blog. He has done an amazing job curating, editing, and writing content for our blog ever since he’s led the team. What I especially like about Gabriel is how he makes the social issues we talk about personal, bringing in stories from his own childhood or experiences to make it real. I really love reading our blog posts and learning more about the issues I didn’t know as much about or simply getting even more inspired to do something about them. Thanks Gabriel for bringing your dedication, passion, and fantastic writing skills to the Jolkona team! -Nadia Khawaja

Working with Gabriel is always incredible; he has a unique ability for developing (and editing) compelling stories that resonate with Jolkona donors and readers and he is also aware of how to work within the limited resources of a nonprofit. Gabriel is a huge asset to the Jolkona team, not only for his online content management skills but excitement about the organization and how he’s always willing to jump in and help out whenever needed. He brings a plethora of information and writing experience to his volunteer work at Jolkona and we are lucky to have him as part of our team. –Daljit Singh

Storytelling is critical to Jolkona. Whether it is telling the impact of our partners or the work of our volunteers, Gabriel has helped us to tell our stories and connect with our communities. He and I don’t agree on football, but, I respect all that he has done to support Jolkona over the past year! The way he really took ownership over the blog and works with interns really embodies the sort of volunteers Jolkona and any non-profit strives to have on their team. –Adnan Mahmud

Gabriel At S4SC

Gabriel’s ability to seamlessly spin together the tales of Jolkona, the stories that make our work real, is invaluable. The fact that he can find time for us in addition to working his day job shows his dedication and resourcefulness. Jolkona is incredibly fortunate to have each and every one of our volunteers, and Gabriel is a stellar member of that group. Thank you, Gabriel, for being a fantastic volunteer, and for sharing Jolkona’s story around the world.

Follow Gabriel on Twitter! Has his volunteering story inspired you? Do you want to join us in changing the world? Find out more information by emailing us a We’ve got a Twitter too! You can find us on Facebook and Pinterest as well.

We’ve posted a lot before about family planning, and why women are the key to the future, but I think this infographic presents the issue (and a solution!) along a slightly different tack. Girls who become pregnant before 18 years of age are at much higher risk of complications during birth, not to mention that they are often forced to drop out of school to care for their baby. This infographic shows how these potentially life-ruining births can be nearly completely eliminated.

Take a look at some of our projects that work to empower girls, often to avoid child marriage:

Empower the Girls of Nepal: Mentor a girl from the lowest caste to become a leader in her community, and in turn empower other girls.

Ignite Girls’ Leadership in Pakistan: Run by the same group as the first project, Mentor a girl in Pakistan to become an agent for change, and a future mentor to other girls in her community.

Promote Education of Needy Girls in Tanzania: One of the best ways to combat adolescent pregnancy is to keep girls in school. Help these girls do just that.

If these aren’t enough, Jolkona has many more projects that empower girls in order to avoid early pregnancy.

Check out what Jolkona is up to on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Exciting News! We at Jolkona are happy to announce two new partner projects in Ghana! Lumana is an organization providing microfinance programs in rural areas, as well as connecting young entrepreneurs with great opportunities. Empower Playgrounds Inc. (EPI) builds electricity-generating playground equipment, which can light up entire communities, as well as lamps and science kits for schools.

Why Ghana?

In 1957, when Ghana gained its independence, its potential was roughly equivalent to that of South Korea. However, South Korea today is much further ahead than Ghana by any growth metrics. This is because Ghana saw a series of debilitating military coups between 1966-1979, each one devastating for Ghana’s development, leading to a steep decline in GDP and standard of living. In 1981, flight lieutenant Jerry Rawlings had wrested control a second time, and began a decade long struggle to reform Ghana’s economy. In 1992, Ghana held free elections and set up a constitution. While now seen as an example of political reform and economic recovery, Ghana’s development was stunted by its turbulent history.

Ghana also has a large wealth gap, inflating its statistics without addressing the problem. While Ghana is an ambitious nation with a space program, and seemingly with money to spare as it spent $20 million on a lavish 50th anniversary celebration in 2007, there are stark problems that Ghana is not focusing on. Fully one half of Ghanaians do not have access to electricity, and many also have no running water, especially in rural areas. Ghana is also ranked 69th in the Corruption Perception Index, meaning that a fair amount of foreign aid doesn’t reach the people its meant to serve.

How can we fix this?

  • The aim of Empower Playgrounds Inc (EPI) is to provide opportunities for bright children in dark situations to succeed and break through the poverty cycle. Executive Director Chris Owen told me. Our new project with them allows you to donate $50 to provide a child with an electric lantern, which can be charged during the day and used to do homework at night. Children are often expected to help out with chores or on family farms after school, and can’t do their homework in the dark. Many families resort to using gas lamps, which are detrimental to health when burned in-doors. This project addresses these basic needs of rural Ghaneans, and can decrease the wealth gap by providing an equal chance at education.
  • Lumana found that 80% of microfinance programs in Ghana are in urban centers, and the vast majority of Ghana’s poor have no access to them. Our new project with them means that your gift of $50 will fund a 3-day training session for 1st time borrowers, people who will then have the skills to set up their own business. This project further reduces the wealth gap by providing small-business owners the skills they need to expand and thrive.

And our new partners are just as excited about us as we are about them! “After meeting with Jolkona staff and hearing about the innovative force it is in the non-profit world we knew we had to get involved” says Mr. Owen.

Wait! There’s more Jolkona on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

On Thursday of last week, a group of passionate individuals got together in a trendy building on Lenora and 1st to celebrate Jolkona and make their impact. That’s right, Socializing for Social Change‘s (S4SC) event benefitting Jolkona was a great success! Here’s the story of how the night went, and in true Jolkona fashion, a report of the impact the event had.

Volunteers from Jolkona and S4SC assembled at Maker’s Space at 4:00 to get ready for the event. They prepared food, put out the raffle station, hooked up the sound system, and set up two projectors; one highlighting different Global Health facts and Jolkona projects, the other broadcasting any tweets featuring #S4SC live. At 6:00, guests started arriving.

They were greeted at the door, and given a nametag featuring their twitter handle and the project they donated to with their ticket. They then got food, drinks, and raffle tickets; a chance to win one out of four fabulous prizes. At 7:30, S4SC founder Antonio Smith officially welcomed everyone who attended, and introduced our very own Nadia Khawaja, who gave guests the rundown on Jolkona. At 8:30, the raffle tickets were drawn, and everyone received swag bags filled with great prizes. By 9:30, the event was over, and volunteers helped return the space to the neat order it was in before.

I felt that the evening was very successful; S4SC created a lively atmosphere and a great forum to talk about Jolkona and giving. This kind of event is a great way to attract the vibrant and young community that Jolkona loves. Seeing the twitter wall live, and hearing about the potential amount of publicity for Jolkona, showed me yet again that each and every one of us, each drop of water counts towards making a difference.

The Impact:

-The hashtag #S4SC potentially garnered 30,000 impressions the night of the event!

80 Event tickets were sold, meaning:

10 youth will be sponsored to attend the Kick It with Kenya soccer/leadership conference.

23 children will receive diarrhea treatment in Kolkata, India.

8 Women will receive training to be community health promoters in rural Peru.

56 Raffle tickets were bought; and Jolkona received a total of $1,100 for Global Health, finishing our Give Health matching campaign!

A huge thank you from all of us at Jolkona to Socializing for Social Change! Their work and partnership is what made this amazing and fun event possible.

See the total impact our Give Health Campaign had. If this event sounded fun, get ready for Corks N’ Forks on October 4th! Read more Jolkona on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Before you read on, go check this website out. No, actually, click that link and take a look.

No Controversy is a site designed to facilitate awareness and dialogue about women who lack access to modern contraceptives. It was implemented with the fundamental goal of separating the use of contraceptives from abortion, and focusing on the benefits of family planning. It was also designed to generate hype for the London Family Planning Summit.

On July 11th, hundreds of delegates from 69 countries, NGOs and the UN gathered in London for the Family Planning Summit, an event aiming to revitalize support for family planning initiatives. In recent years, family planning has been pushed out of the global spotlight by issues such as HIV/AIDS, or by ideological arguments making it a sticky subject. The summit, hosted by Melinda Gates and Britain’s Department for International Development (DID), was put on to galvanize discussion about and support for family planning. The summit brought donor countries and groups in contact with governments of developing countries, who have created plans to increase education and access to contraception.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Melinda Gates speak with youth at the Summit

Why is this Important?


As stated in a recent Guardian article, Millennium development goal (MDG) 5 universal access to reproductive health, which is measured principally by access to family planning is the MDG least likely to be met by the 2015 deadline. But increasing access to contraceptives can drop maternal deaths by up to a third, because it means less high risk births such as births before the age of 18 and births spaced too closely. More than 220 million sexually active women say they do not want children but have no access to contraceptives. The need is there.

Increasing contraceptive use is a two-fold battle.

  • On one end, ideological arguments lock up aid by claiming that contraceptives will increase sexual promiscuity, or by linking it with abortion or population control.
  • On the other end, there is often misinformation about contraceptive use, so even if they are available, they might go unused. It is not enough just to provide access; women also need to be educated about the many options available to them, their side effects, and so on.

Sisters Brenda and Atupele (aged 16 and 18) both dropped out of school when they became pregnant, severely limiting their potential and putting their lives at risk

What are the Benefits?


The goal reached by the London Summit is to provide access to roughly half of the 220 million women lacking it by 2020, and organizers estimate this will cost 4 billion U.S. dollars in addition to what is already provided for. However, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

  • The statistics: “By 2020, the collective efforts announced at the summit will result in 200,000 fewer women dying in pregnancy and childbirth, more than 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, over 50 million fewer abortions, and nearly three million fewer babies dying in their first year of life.” (London Family Planning Summit)
  • Beyond statistics: Planning when to have children empowers women to become more educated, and to earn more money. It also allows families to decide how many children they will have, meaning they can provide them with a better quality of life. Countries which are trending towards smaller family sizes have seen increases in education, prosperity, and GDP. Melinda Gates sums this up well in her TED talk.
  • Multi-faceted impact: Much like improved sanitation, family planning helps nearly all the MDGs, especially those relating to maternal and child mortality, which are notoriously difficult to change.

What Can I Do?

You can have meaningful impact in three simple ways.

  1. Perhaps you already have, but take the pledge on Show your support for this cause.
  2. Donate to our projects aimed at improving access to contraception! Project 92 funds contraceptives directly, and Project 200 gives women the ability to educate their communities about health issues.
  3. Share this blog post. Start a discussion about contraceptives. Raise awareness and dispel misinformation.

Stay in touch with Jolkona on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. If you are passionate about this subject, attend the #S4SC event and donate to Supporting Women Health Workers!

Imagine a woman working at a marketplace in the US . She needs to use the restroom, so she walks three minutes around the corner, grumbles about the line that has formed, but then uses the toilet and gets back to work.

Now imagine that woman living in the Shivaji Nagar slum in Mumbai. She has held it all day to avoid this moment, but she desperately needs to go. She walks 20 minutes just to reach the nearest women’s restroom to find it filthy, stained, and disgustingly odorous. After she finishes, the male attendant asks her to pay. “But I only urinated,” she protests. “How should I know?” he replies, still barring her exit. She hands over four rupees, about 1/6th of her daily earnings, and then is allowed to leave.

The above scenario happens daily for thousands of women in India as highlighted by these two New York Times articles. The lack of access to improved sanitation is a huge problem in India. In New Delhi alone, the national capital, there are 1,534 men’s toilets to just 132 for women. The situation is so dire that often women purposefully don’t drink water just so that they will not have to use the restroom, leading to further health problems than poor sanitation. Worldwide, around 2.6 billion people (36% of the world’s population) do not have access to improved sanitation facilities, and access is not increasing at the rate it needs to in order to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline of 23% in 2015.

While this data seems grim, in reality this lack of progress can be attributed to aid not going to the right places.

  • Drinking water and Sanitation often get lumped together into one aid category, but aid is often allotted to the first and not the second. By 2015, access to drinkable water will have far surpassed the MDG target.
  • Furthermore, as reported by the 2012 GLAAS Report, “only half of development aid for sanitation and drinking-water is targeted to the MDG regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and South-eastern Asia where 70% of the global unserved live.”
  • Lastly, most of this aid is directed to urban areas, but urban residents represent less than 1/3 of people lacking improved sanitation.

While building toilets might be less attractive than building wells, improved sanitation has an enormous benefit to the people who have access to it. It reduces disease, child mortality, and helps practically all the MDGs. It increases dignity within a community, can help raise education, end the poverty cycle, and even increase GDP.

For example: Improved Sanitation addresses the Gender Equality MDG in many ways. More toilets increases women’s mobility, dignity, and ability to work, and lessens incidences of assault or rape. In addition, the 2012 GLAAS Report that showed that improved sanitation in schools lead to better attendance. For example, if schools worked to improve menstrual hygiene they could encourage girls who often miss class when menstruating to attend. This in turn helps close the education gap.

What is Jolkona doing about it?

We’re running the Give Health matching campaign, and Jolkona has three projects (Project 67, Project 76, and Project 95) that address the sanitation situation. Two of them build sustainable latrines in rural Southern Asia, and the other builds either temporary or permanent latrines in Haiti. If you support one of these projects, you will receive a photo of the latrine you provided, and information about the family you are supporting. Donate this month and make double the impact!

Keep up with us and the Give Health Campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Also check out the #S4SC Event!

Charts from: WHO and UNICEF (2010) Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water; 2010 update. Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. []


As we’re now getting into Global Health Month (a.k.a. July) I thought I would get everyone excited about our matching campaign starting on Monday! But you may be thinking ‘Global Health is such a huge topic, how can I make a difference?’ Well, we at Jolkona will tell you ‘One drop of water at a time.’

Speaking of drops of water, increasing access to sanitation and drinking water is a major solution that addresses 7 out of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. While we’ve made great progress in this area, much more still needs to be done. Jolkona has multiple projects that further this solution, such as this one.

This infographic provides a snapshot of how far we’ve come, and how the situation stands right now.

If you’re interested in supporting solutions such as this one, get excited for our upcoming matching campaign and Global Health Month!

You can learn more about the campaign and keep up with us and all that’s going on at Jolkona on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.