Jolkona is back from Seattle GiveCamp 2013 with new friends and skills!

GiveCamp is a weekend-long event in which software developers, designers and database administrators donate their time to create custom software for nonprofit organizations. Jolkona was among 21 nonprofits chosen for the Seattle program this year, benefiting from the expertise of 156 tech and 20 support volunteers.

We started Friday night at the Microsoft Commons Building with a rapid-fire pitch session. I talked about Jolkona’s philanthropy crowdfunding work and asked for help with our SEO (search engine optimization). It was interesting to hear from other Seattle-based nonprofits that I have not met before, including Seavuria and Fabric of Life. Future partnership opportunities! Also, I was surprised to hear that almost everyone needed WordPress help for their site.

Give Camp fast pitch

GiveCamp Teams: Assemble!

When we finished the pitch round, each nonprofit got a table to set up shop. Since the volunteers have to pick you, we were definitely nervous to see if anyone would be willing to join us…

Luckily, within a few minutes, many folks stopped by! They loved the meaning of Jolkona — that small donations are like drops of water, which together can make an ocean of change. There were also SEO experts who were intrigued by some of the bad results we have been getting on Google and Bing. We had so much help, in fact, we were able to expand our scope for the weekend to include WordPress features and cleanups, too!

Jolkona’s GiveCamp Team

Paul Borza, data mining software developer at Bing
Eric Amundson, owner of, a WordPress development + hosting shop
David Witus, entrepreneur and former Microsoftie
Osmond Gunarso, CS student at UW and work at startup Azuqua
Grant Landram, WordPress workshop host and organizer for WordCamp

Carl Larson and Richard Geasey also gave an awesome workshop on SEO and Google Grants. I will be attending their SEO Network meetups in the future!

Give Camp team

What Can A GiveCamp Team Accomplish In 48 hours?

Apparently, quite a lot!


  • Bing: Bug reported — incorrect links are getting picked up and HTML tags are showing in description snippet
  • Google Analytics: Now tracking how visitors are navigating, as well as main actions such as people signing up for our Give Together program
  • SEO indexing: Robots.txt updated so old archives and sandbox sites are hidden
  • Google Grant: Need to wait up to 3 months for approval
  • SEO on WordPress: Plugin installed and properly configured to our custom site
  • Webmaster: Google and Bing have the sites verified

WordPress Housecleaning

  • Plugins are updated, old plugins removed
  • Clean architecture: dupe files eliminated; bad redirects cleaned up
  • Permalinks: Set up clean architecture to allow permalinks, which will allow us to preview our custom pages before we publish them
  • Security: Permissions are correctly set now between nontechnical staff and technical (this way a simple text update will not break our entire site!)
  • Custom post type cleanup (10 down to 5) and other code cleanup from legacy of inconsistent coding expertise

About Page

Custom post created for Jolkona’s About Us page, so non-technical staff can update our leadership team, volunteers and interns as we move our organization towards our vision for the next 5 years! This feature is quite complex, so the Ivycat volunteers will finish that up this week.

Facebook Integration to Blog

We get lots of likes, shares and comments on Facebook about our Jolkona Blog posts… but very little engagement on the blog itself. So we got that integration build up so that Facebook engagement will show up on the blog posts, too. Also, Facebook will now be picking up the correct images when sharing!

Give Camp Jolkona

Overall, this was a fantastic and productive weekend! In just 48 hours, we’ve moved so far ahead on so many projects for our site, and we are humbled and grateful to have had such an experienced team to help us! Thank you to the GiveCamp volunteers for helping us out all weekend, and thank you to our own James Bertram and Jessica Wicksnin for making the trip to the Eastside and supporting the team throughout the weekend.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

It’s been a few months since we trekked through West Africa, so it is time for our favorite tradition: the reunion. We have been doing this ever since our first expedition in 2010. An evening of re-creating local dishes we had on our journey, accompanied by stories of our favorite local heroes we’ve met along the way.

Suejin and Timothee cooking up briques and oeuf cocotte:

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Adnan made an epic fufu — only a full day of cooking time! It was the dish that we featured in all of our brochures when we were forming the team, yet we only had one chance to eat it during the trip… but the power was out and the fufu could not be made.


Punit and I made one of our favorite dishes: jollof rice. The first time we ate it was made by our home cook, Pearl, and we were blown away. We ordered it frequently after, but it was never as good as Pearl’s.

Maggi cubes (the magic ingredient to give jollof that kick of flavor):

maggi cubes

Tomato, onion, hot pepper goodness all blended up. Then add rice.

red sauceIMG_0011

Team effort:

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Jollof Rice Recipe

adapted from Africanbite

4 generous portions

  • 2 cups long grain rice (eg Basmati)
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 fresh habanero chilli pepper (it’s gonna be spicy!)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 70 grams of tomato paste
  • 1/2 yellow sweet pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red sweet pepper, diced
  • A handful of fresh green beans
  • 2 small Maggi cubes
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Peel the onion and cut in half, and put in a pot together with the tomatoes, garlic cloves and fresh chilli pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until the skin of the tomatoes starts peeling.

Put the boiled tomatoes and other vegetables in a mixer with a little of the hot water from the pot and mix until you have a smooth sauce.

Pour the mixture into a large pot, add the tomato paste, chilli flakes, Maggi cubes and some more of the hot water from the first pot and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat.

Add rice. Cook until the rice is done. You might have to add some more water, depending on what kind of rice you use.

You can steam the diced red/yellow peppers and the green beans. I always pan fry them quickly to get more flavor. Add to the pot once the rice is done cooking.

It’s ready to serve, enjoy!

Join the next expedition

Very soon Team Jolkona will prepare for our next expedition: Bangladesh and Burma this December. If you’re interested in learning more about the expedition and to see if you are a good match for our travel team, please email

You can read all the posts from the Jolkona Team expedition in West Africa here.  

You can keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

After two mind-opening weeks in West Africa, four of us from Team Jolkona headed north for some reflection and relaxation time in the Sahara desert.

We arrived hours too late to meet with our camels. Instead of sunset, it was moonlight as we rode into the sand dunes. The temperature plummeted dune after dune. The wind picked up and blew sand into our faces. Discomfort aside, we enjoyed our bumpy ride, the silence of the desert with just the sure steps of our camels, and the cloudless night sky filled with stars from one horizon to the other.

At night we stayed in a Berber tent with the “desert people,” as they call themselves. They poured us mint tea and taught us how to play their Moroccan drums.

One of the “features” of our trips to edges of the world is being off the grid. Be it a tent in the Sahara or a rural village like Ouesse, Benin, we were forced to be disconnected from Facebook, emails and other sources of digital distraction. Staying off the grid in a modern metropolis nowadays is nearly impossible. Short of going to a digital detox camp, there is always a commute or a Starbucks line prompting us to glance down to our glass slabs. So, despite the inconvenience and, let’s admit, the foreign sensation, the digital detox during our trip was good for us. It forced us to be present, to absorb and interact with our environment instead of tuning it out. It has filled me with a great sense of wonder, what I’ve learned from the people I met, and what I’ve seen in every stop we made. Did I miss out on all this back home, in my kaleidoscopic neighborhood, while tuned out behind my glass slab?

As we left our sand dunes behind, I asked our guide Hassan, a desert nomad converted to travel guide, if he missed his prior life.

“You would not believe it. You all think wi-fi, Facebook and YouTube is the life. It is not the life.”

You can follow all the latest blog posts from our Jolkona Team in West Africa here

You can also help spread the word by liking us on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter,  Pinterest, and Instagram.

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: &

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.


This post was written by Nancy Xu, a member of the Jolkona team. A few months ago, she traveled to Costa Rica and with Astha Gupta, another Jolkona volunteer. They visited a school that benefits from the water conservation program and this is what they learned.

It’s middle of the winter back home, but it sure is hot and humid here in San Jose, Costa Rica. Astha, Maryam and I are on our walk back from the market, and we see Aitor Llodio from Aliarse, already waiting promptly with a cab. We give each other a warm greeting and are on our way. Today, Aitor is taking us to visit a school that has benefited from the water conservation program. Since the school is located in a low-income community, Aitor asked us to pack minimally to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. We chat along as storefronts become less and less dense, as we pass by mountains that are ex-volcano craters, and through coffee farms where groups of young men are catching a break on the sidewalk.

Aitor has been intensely involved in the water conservation initiatives for the last couple of years. The concept of water conservation is not quite on the radar of its citizens, as reflected by the nation’s increasing consumption for water. Since the government is not steering the ship to make any improvements in this area, a number of grassroots efforts like Aliarse’s began in hope of making positive change. They have multiple approaches to address this issue. Today, Aitor is going to show us the education and the infrastructure improvement programs.

The School

We arrive at the school and it seems to be lunch break. The children walk past in their school uniforms, and stare with curious eyes. A few schoolboys are playing a game of foosball by the principal’s office. Some parents are sitting on the curb outside of the school, waiting. Since this school supports a lot of low income families, most of the parents are unemployed. The ones that are registered as employed tend to be street vendors selling scarves and bootlegged movies to tourists.

The principle gives us a tour around the school, and we are all amazed to learn that the school contains many age groups of children. To fit such a variety (and volume) of students into the school, each age group gets 3 hours of the day. This essentially turns the school into a “shift” system.

The Water Conservation Education Program

Now, onto the water conservation education program. This program is architected quite brilliantly. Each school year, Aliarse selects a few schools in the San Jose area to target. From each school, they choose 25 kids between the ages of 10 and 12. Since it is not possible to give an informative course to the entire school, they developed a system where children with the most influence were chosen, and it is up to them to spread the idea to the rest of the school. The 25 children will consist mostly of the smartest kids in school, but a few will be the trouble-makers. It is important to throw the trouble-makers into the mix because if the program can turn their attitude around, the sphere of influence grows further. And the selection of only 25 children gives the program prestige, and helps create excitement.

Classes are over at noon for the elementary school section

Classes are over at noon for the elementary school section

The program consists of 4 modules and runs once a week for 3 months. The first part is an interactive classroom session. The children are taught the value of water, and how our delicate ecosystem and its life forms are dependent upon it. The second part is a class field trip (and kids love this one!) where they visit a local water purifying plant. The plant manager takes them around the facility and explains each of the steps needed to treat the water before it comes out of the tap. The 3rd part of the module is very hands on. The children are taught plumbing basics, and are empowered to help the school report or solve problems such as leaky and rusty pipes. The last module is about ways to reduce unnecessary water usage. The reduction of black water is also one of importance, only 4% of the nation’s black water is treated today.

Overall, this education program has proven to be extremely effective and reduces 20% (and sometimes up to 50%!) of the target school’s water usage after program completion.

Fundamental Infrastructure Improvement

Self-timed tap installed in school to optimize consumption of water

Self-timed tap installed in school to optimize consumption of water

Aitor is also working on another initiative that has even greater impact to water conservation, but comes with a higher investment. This involves a complete upgrade of the school’s water distribution system to make it inherently non-wasteful. For example, the boys’ urinal is an entire wall where a curtain of water pours down constantly from top to drain. This is inherently wasteful. The upgrade consists of tearing down this setup, and to add standard urinals in its place. In their vision of future upgrades, they would like to install waterless urinals instead. Another installation is a self-timed tap. This is common in our public bathroom in North America, but not yet widespread in schoolyards of Costa Rica. Old leaky pipes are also torn out and replaced with the new. These infrastructure improvements achieve 70% reduction of water usage immediately after installation. This is huge.

The government does not have the ability to fund these activities today, which is why Aitor’s organization steps in again. This is a much larger under taking. For this particular school, it has taken 3 months, a crew of 5, and approx. $8K USD to complete, and every school is different.

Luckily, they have one big sponsor backing them up – Coca Cola. Coca Cola consumes 2L of water for each can of Coca Cola. As resources become scarce, trend setting companies are operating in a more socially conscious way. Coca Cola for example, strives to be water neutral. They invest in water conservation efforts across Costa Rica to balance their consumption of water. This is all great, but the funding is still limited and Aitorâ’s organization can only hit 3 to 4 schools each year.

As we drive off after our enlightening visit, Aitor points to the fields behind us.

“That’s where the drug lords from Columbia reside. We do not go there. We lose a lot of kids to that zone. They do not come back.”

Hmm, foreshadowing for the next problem to tackle in Costa Rica perhaps?

“The Red Cross went in there once after a stress call, and the gangsters shot at the rescue van. They do not go there anymore.”

…so we may not be ready to tackle this one just yet. For now, we are loving the water conservation program here in Costa Rica, the Aliarse group and the Amigos of Costa Rica, and really glad that Jolkona gets to be a part of these amazing initiatives.

About the author: Nancy Xu is a multimedia storyteller for Jolkona. She works on video games and gaming gadgets by day, and aspires to make postive social change by night. Nancy is also actively involved with the independent film community in Seattle. She screens and introduces films for local film festivals, and makes documentaries and feature films in the summer. Feel free to check out her personal website, here.