Blog

IMG_2469

Yesterday, day 3 of Project Catalyst, Jolkona’s Indonesian social entrepreneurs went on a tour of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: its campus and museum.

Our guide, Gillian LaFond, began the tour with a presentation about the Foundation’s beginnings and goals. In 1998, she said, Bill and Melinda were on the road when they heard about rotavirus–a virus neither of them had heard of before–and it was killing 500 million people in Africa. Two years later, the married couple began the Foundation to tackle largely neglected challenges that impact the most people in the world. In 2008, Bill Gates resigned from Microsoft and joined Melinda as full-time co-chairs at the Foundation.

Mirah Mahaswari, one of our Project Catalyst participants, said of the message from Bill and Melinda Gates: “They told us not just to be great businessmen, but to be people who care about others. Whoever and wherever we are, we can work together to help our communities and be impactful to our surroundings.” Mirah’s organization in Indonesia, Pack Your Spirit, collects children’s used-books for villages of east Borneo.

IMG_2482

Gillian then walked us around one of the most sustainable campuses in the Seattle. Built in 2011, the Foundation’s campus boasts an outdoor sitting area, countless species of plants, living roofs, ample natural light, and solar panels. Our Project Catalyst participant, Nadine Zamira, was impressed: “I was AMAZED at the building structure. When she said it was lead platinum certified, I wasn’t surprised. It is the greenest of the green and has an extremely low impact on the environment.”

In Indonesia, Nadine’s communications agency, LeafPlus, has sustainability at the heart of their work. She works with government agencies, businesses, NGO’s, schools and communities to identify their sustainability objectives and translate complex concepts into creative, engaging and easily shared stories. She delivers messages about environment issues. She said, “We don’t have buildings like that in Indonesia. We’re working on it, but we don’t have buildings that’re the best of the best. It’s nice to see that it is possible.”

IMG_2483Afterwards, the Project Catalyst cohort spent an hour in the informational and interactive visitor center, where they tried to carry 16 pounds of water (the amount people in many parts of the world must carry for three miles). They read about the projects happening all over the world, and joined the conversations with the countless do-gooders that have visited the museum.

Dino Fitriza, whose social enterprise Vertesac reduces the number of plastic bags used in Indonesia, said, “It is very inspiring, because you can see a lot of people’s projects in countries all over the world.”

What impressed Nadya Saib, the founder of Wangsa Jelita, was the toilets. On the doors of the stalls were photographs of the various unsanitary “toilets” across the world. Once visitors to the museum open its doors, they are relieved to find a clean latrine. Of the whole visitor center, Nadya said, “I like how they present the stories.”

Finally, Hendriyadi Bahtiar, whose Healthy Shredded Fish not only promotes a healthy national snack but provides job opportunities for fishermen’s wives, said of the entire visit: “It inspired me to take action to change the world and to influence the people all around us.”

 

Project Catalyst is an accelerator for international social ventures. This 2-week intensive workshop brings social entrepreneurs from developing countries to Seattle, where they can hone their business plans, gain valuable insights, and meet prospective investors and funders.

Keep up with everything Jolkona by following us on Facebook and Twitter

Do you crave excitement, adventure, and the open road? Do you want to see Jolkona’s global partners in socially innovative action? If so, the first Jolkona Expedition of 2014 is just right for you!

This March, Jolkona will send a group to East Africa, to explore and see what inspires our nonprofit partners to do their work. By going on a Jolkona expedition, you take part in creating a global community of innovators, supporting high-impact organizations, and building a better world. Whether you’re new to Jolkona or a regular donor, this experience will be inspirational for all.

The expedition will be from March 16 to 30, visiting four organizations in Kenya and Tanzania. Afterwards, you are welcome to continue exploring on your own.  Check here for more information. If you sign up this month, you can take part in planning the trip and finalizing the itinerary. Be sure to do so soon, as spots are limited! If you have any questions you can contact expedition@jolkona.org.

For now, here is our projected itinerary:

We are excited to explore the world of social innovation with you. Sign on while spots are still available, and check out the expedition page for more updates!

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:

IMG_0006 IMG_0009

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.

IMG_0005

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:

IMG_0004 IMG_0008IMG_0007

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 expedition@jolkona.org.

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.

Written and Illustrated by Suejin Kim

Visiting Schools with Empower Playgrounds

After a beautiful canoe ride to an island, we walked into a beautiful school campus. It had only two sounds, children playing and birds, and had an open space with trees and flowers. Along with Isaac, a founder of Empower Playgrounds, we were welcomed with fresh coconut water by a school dean and staff members.

Playing Time

To understand classroom dynamics and to break the ice, Nancy led a spaghetti activity, which is creating a tower with given spaghetti and a marshmallow in 15 minutes. Students got excited and created some interesting shapes! After, we asked the kids draw anything on napkin size piece of fabric. They drew many daily life objects, such as a soccer ball.

 

Empower Playground

In the school’s playground, kids were playing with the Empower Playgrounds supported equipment. They were excited to see us and play with us. Isaac explained that while kids play, the equipment charges lanterns that kid can borrow for after school hours to study. In places like this, where there is no electricity, this is the only source of energy. Isaac mentioned that the performance of students went up after they introduced the equipment.

Empower Playgrouds has currently installed its play equipment in 32 schools and is aiming to install it in up to 40 schools this year. However, the equipment cost about $10,000 dollars to install. The money is donated by variety of NGOs and private donors. Energizer, the battery company, donates customized lanterns. In terms of business, this seems more of an interim solution before electricity infrastructure get fully built in Ghana. For small rural towns, the interim period might last decades.

No matter what, they are doing an amazing work in villages with no electricity, so kids can study longer, saving them from hours long house chores. What a cool idea this is, from a design perspective alone! It’s the Ghanaian way of “Study hard, Play hard.”

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.

When people talk about African safari, 99.99% of the time they are talking about the parks in Kenya and Tanzania or the ones in South Africa and Namibia. The remaining 0.01% of the time, people are talking about the 3rd park – Pendjari National Park which spans across Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger.

Our Expedition’s last stop was Pendjari National Park. We spent about 36 hours at the park, including couple of game drives. It is clear why Pendjari doesn’t get as much love as the parks in eastern and southern Africa:

  1. Lack of diversity. Pendjari doesn’t have very diverse wildlife, unlike the safari in Kenya and Tanzania. That is a big initial hurdle that Pendjari has to overcome.
  2. Park services are not well developed. While the accommodations inside the park were great, the guide was below par, as was the vehicle we were using. We were delayed by more than an hour for our sunrise drive because our vehicle would not start.
  3. Animals are really difficult to spot. We were able to easily see elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and antelopes. However, the cats were to be really hard to find. Our guide didn’t seem very knowledgeable about locating the different animals. We did hear a lion growl, but the guide seemed unsure which direction we should head.
  4. Lack of coordination. One of the cool features in East Africa is that the different safari vehicles would communicate with each other if they spot a rear animal. This kind of communication was missing in Pendjari. While I appreciate the desire to provide an adventure feel in trying to find animals, Pendjari does need to make it easier to find the wildlife.

Pendjari might never become as big as the Serengeti or the Kruger National Park, but it has the potential of being lot more engaging than it is today. If the administrators of the park can address some of the issues I mentioned above, I believe Pendjari will be part of most West Africa tourist itineraries.

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.

Our West Africa trip started with a visit to Elmina Castle in Ghana, the largest and oldest surviving slave castle. In fact, Elmina Castle is older than America. It was really interesting hearing the different periods in the history of the castle.

Unless you are physically walking around the castle, you can’t grasp the extremity of the conditions slaves experienced in the castle for three to four months before being shipped to the New World. A thousand slaves were kept in the castle, four hundred of them women. The slave dungeons were long, dark, and stuffy, while the masters’ chambers had unimpeded views of the Atlantic Ocean. The women slaves were forced to mate with the officers and if they became pregnant, they were allowed to leave the castle. The mixed-race children would be trained to also become slave traders.

This castle represents the darkest chapters in human history. I can’t imagine humans treating other humans so badly for hundreds of years. One would think that we have learned from the experience, but we continue to mistreat others. Surely we no longer have slavery in most of the world, but we still don’t have equality among all. Bias (social, race, caste, gender) still exists in many parts of the world.

So, Elmina castle is not just a relic of the past. It represents injustices that continue around the world, and reminds us that we have a long way to go before we can claim to be equal.

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.

Nadia and I first met Wiclif at a conference in Mexico in 2010. He had arrived a full day late because he didn’t have the right visas – it was his first time flying. Then, in December, Nadia and I had a chance to spend a day with Wiclif getting to know his organization, Kito. Since then, we have developed a great friendship – I have talked about Wiclif in many talks and in 2012, Kito was added as a Jolkona partner. Kito teaches street kids life and entrepreneurial skills through a focused training program. The kids learn about business by running a social enterprise where they produce custom branded shopping bags for local stores. They learn everything from marketing to sales to finance.

I had a chance to visit with Wiclif in Nairobi this week and I was able to meet some of his newest students. They are still working in the Kwangware slum out of the same two rooms as we saw them 2 years ago. Now, they are selling 1,000 bags a month and just last year, for the first time, three of their graduates have started college.

Wiclif’s goal is to get to 4,000 bags. We spent a good portion of my visit brainstorming how they can get to that goal. Armed with a budget of only $25,000, it is amazing how much of an impact such small organizations can have in their local community.

I encourage you to support Kito’s work through Jolkona here.

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

Find out more about Jolkona by liking us on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter and Pinterest.

Last week I had the privilege of representing Jolkona at the White House Summit hosted by the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and where people such as the Founder of Meet-up, Change.org and representatives from Rock the Vote, Echoing Green, Code for America (to name but a few) gathered to help the Administration answer the question: What should the blue print for citizen innovation look like and how can the White House best support it.

In its essence, the goal of this invite-only summit led by the Director of the Administration, Jonathan Greenblatt, was to understand from top innovators working in the sector how their administration can best help social innovation scale. I was honored to be a part of the first of hopefully many more discussions to help our country move forward through social innovation and civic engagement.

Here’s five of my top take-aways from the summit:

  1. It is our moment to drive innovative social change to make our country better. Can’t agree more with this theme. We need people, especially young people to step up and support social change so that we’re all better off.
  2. The importance of non-profits for a healthy economy. The non-profit sector is growing and today makes up about 10% of job force.
  3. The importance of participating in civil society with regards to networking, building job skills, trust, community, and ultimately a greater level of economic growth. Networking and being an engaged citizen leads to more opportunities, jobs, and thriving communities.
  4. There seems to be a lack of civic engagement in our country and the biggest challenge is how the White House can help spread enthusiasm and passion to make action more infectious.
  5. It’s possible to do well and do good at the same time, and social enterprises are for-profit models of making change that exemplify this.  In addition, the idea of citizenship is not purely altruistic, but one of self-interest too.  It leads to stronger communities and economic growth if properly executed and understood.

We ended the day with a great discussion on the ways the White House can solve these issues, and here’s a few of my favorite ideas:

  1. Sharing stories of new citizens.  40% of Fortune 500 companies are started by immigrants or children of immigrants. We need to hear more of these stories so everyone can truly embraces new citizens in this country.
  2. Sharing positive stories of citizenship and social innovation around the country. Every day we hear stories of failure and are disillusioned by the power individuals wield. We need to share more positive impact stories to help inspire and re-engage people to get involved.
  3. Leveraging the power of the White House to convene by hosting summits like this around the country to empower local leaders to spread civic engagement in their communities.
  4. Funding should not only be available for evidence-based programs, but we need to take risks and provide more funding for new innovative approaches that have potential to scale and make larger impacts and create more jobs.

We ended the summit energized with the idea that we must all re-commit to building up our citizenship muscle. After an inspiring day with amazing leaders in the non-profit and social innovation space, I left pondering what I could pledge to do to help spread the idea of civic engagement and this is what I decided:

One of the common themes discussed was the power of storytelling and collective action – two things that are absolutely to Jolkona’s mission and model of giving. Sharing powerful stories inspires and engages people to action they would have otherwise not taken part in. In addition  to our featured donor and volunteer posts that share the stories of how individual donors and volunteers are making a huge impact, I’m committed to showcasing stories of how each partner we work with is changing lives with the support of our community. We’ll start featuring two partners a month to really showcase the power small actions and funding can truly make. Hopefully this will inspire even more people to get involved with Jolkona or any other cause that they feel passionate about.

To follow tweets from the summit, search for #WHsummit and #socialinnovaton and tweets my tweets at @nadiamahmud or @gl_weekend who helped facilitate the summit.

Note from the Editor: This post was written by Jolkona volunteer Chi Do.

In Bangkok, on a very hot and humid June day, the Jolkona team got the opportunity to visit a vocational school run by Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB). Greeting us were many students dressed in white shirts and dark pants. They were there to attend 2-hour classes held every Sunday, studying subjects such as English, Thai, or computer skills. They all seemed to take these weekend classes very seriously. For many of them, this is the only education they are able to find. The majority of them have not graduated from high school and currently hold full time entry-level jobs at factories or in sales. Students can attend more than one class depends upon their financial resources.

TACDB was founded in February of 2003. Its mission aims to support the Burmese refugees and immigrants who come to Thailand from the poorest and most war-ridden areas of Burma.

Today, besides providing education and vocational training for these Burmese young adults, this non-profit organization also supports Burmese immigrants with legal assistance in labor unions. They strive to break down the language barriers for these workers, improve their awareness of their legal rights, and organize democracy campaigns to signify their presence in the Thai community.

We asked Myint Wai, the Director of TACDB, what they currently need the most. He responded without hesitation – financial support. It is easy to see that the school is running way over capacity. Thailand’s law dictates that there should be no more than 500 students in this size of facility, yet they are enrolling close to 850 students on a regular basis. There are 45-60 students in each class. And there are only 10 computers that are functioning and being used for teaching. All of the teachers volunteer their time. They receive nothing besides a minimal travel stipend to get to and from the school.

To further understand the impacts this school provides, we interviewed a couple students.

Ngelay-Bright has been attending English class for the past 5 years. She works full time as a sales clerk. She emphasized to us that she is saving money to continue learning at the school, because she believes advancing her language skills (both English and Thai) and computer skills will significantly improve her earnings. She wishes to one day finish high school and attend university.

Aung Naing is a fairly new student at the school. He has only been learning English for about 5 months, but he had no problem communicating with us. He said that he is thankful to have found out about the school and started studying there. It is impressive how much education, commitment, and determination can work to make a difference in the lives of these young people.

Investing in education is undoubtedly the best way to improve the lives of the Burmese refugees and immigrants in Thailand. Personally, it touched me a great deal to be able to relate their story to my own, when my family first migrated to the United States. Without the educational opportunity available to me, I wouldn’t have been able to finish college, obtain a good job, adapt and establish my life in a foreign land. I am passionate to campaign for the support the “TACDB” school needs most. Let me break it down:

  • With 350 Thai bahts (11 US dollars), we can send one student to one class for 3 months.
  • With 250 Thai bahts (8 US dollars), we can support the travel expenses for one volunteer teacher a week.
  • With 10 donations of 1000 Thai bahts (32 US dollars), we can pay the facility fees for 1 month.

In any amount possible, I hope you consider supporting the TACDB, or at least learn more about their work.

We will keep updating you on the SE Asia Trip during Global Health Month! Keep following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

During our recent trip to Bangladesh we visited Greenovation Technologies – a small social enterprise that was founded by 4 fresh graduates from Dhaka University. An inventor, Dr. Mahbubul Khan, is also involved with the startup. Greenovation Technologies is trying to commercialize one of Dr. Khan’s inventions, called jutin. Jutin is created by combining jute with resin. Alternating layers of jute and resin are placed together. Between each layer or jute and resin a special “glue” (invented and patented by Dr. Khan) is added. The more number of layers there are the stronger the final jutin sheet is. The entire stack is than placed outside in the sun and allowed to bake for 20 minutes. The resulting material is called jutin.

 

Greenovation Technolgies team with one of their model homes made from jutin.

Jutin is more durable than tin, lasting for almost 20 years. The team expects jutin to be cheaper than tin, once economies of scale is achieved. The team also believes jutin can be a great alternative to other building materials, especially those used for cheap construction. There are millions of families in Bangladesh who live in very weak structures made from low-quality tin or hay. Greenovation Technologies believes that jutin will make a far better alternative for such homes, being cheaper and stronger and hopefully, therefore, far more sustainable. They are passionately focused on making that happen.

However, the team faces significant challenges:

  1. Lack of funding. The team has very little capital. They have taken part in business competitions and have done very well. However, the winnings from these competitions are not enough to offset the full cost of setting up a production service. This issues effects all the other issues below as well.
  2. The need to do more research. The team needs to do more research into the long-term effects of jutin. Jutin contains resin (a polymer). The team needs to find out the environmental effects of its long-term presence.
  3. Find the quickest way to scale. The team wants to set up a manufacturing plant to create jutin sheets. However, that is a extremely risky undertaking, especially for a team with little capital and no experience in manufacturing. They will be looking at other options like licensing the technology to other existing manufacturers.

Greenovation Technologies serves as a great example to all of us that the social entrepreneurship journey is filled with challenges and setbacks. Like other social entrepreneurs, this team has to prove that they have the resilience and the creativity to overcome these problems.

Capoten

cheap Tentex Royal 1 pc

Note from the Editor: this post was written by our brilliant Jolkona volunteer, Zanoon Nissar.

I’d travelled through India many times before, and so I felt pretty at ease when I arrived in Bangladesh.  As we roamed the streets amidst the buzzing rickshaws, overflowing gutters and oily food carts, it felt very much like the childhood trips we’d make to Kerala. This time around, though, I was going to experience this part of the world through very a different lens than which my upper-middle class background had provided.

The Kalyanpur Pora Basti slum is one of Dhaka’s largest, housing over 20,000 people of the 30 million people living under the poverty line in Bangladesh. One of Jolkona’s earliest partners is Distressed Children and Infants (DCI) – an organization committed to providing basic necessities such as food, shelter and education to disadvantaged children around the world. Romel Nasher, the Executive Director of DCI and his warm staff greeted us at their headquarters, and took us to two of their projects – their free health clinic and their girls orphanage.

Our first stop was the DCI health clinic, which offers preventative and curative healthcare including basic immunizations, health check ups for pregnant women, and health education. Although Dhaka has many modern clinics, the poor cannot even access their doors. The existing health support for them is minimal. The health clinic serviced over 3100 patients last year, with a staff of just 6 doctors, 3 social workers and a few staff working 5 days per week. The number of patients this small clinic receives in a day is a real indication of the need for these kinds of facilities in the slums of Dhaka.

The clinic was located in a corner of the slum, close to a sea of parked rickshaws (Dhaka is the rickshaw capital of the world, and many slum residents make their living as drivers). As we walked towards the simple concrete building, we were greeted by dozens of children. Some were shy, others were curious about our multi-ethnic group of volunteers, and others were bashfully waiting to take our picture. The smiles and joy emanating from the children – many without shoes and with ribs sticking out of their malnourished bodies – struck me.

The children followed us to the doors of the DCI health clinic, a building that is well known in the area since it’s the only free health clinic accessible to the 20,000 residents. One of the staff members showed us an enormous, worn out book that was crammed with names of their patients and vaccination information. Forget about technology or computer access here – this book with rows of handwritten information was the key to patient management.

We then had a chance to meet one of the 6 doctors. Dr. Majid, like the other staff doctors, splits his time between a government hospital and the DCI health clinic. When we asked him why he decided to spend time at a slum clinic, he replied “the people at the hospital say thank you when I help them, but at this clinic in the slums I feel like they are giving me blessings. That’s how grateful the people are here for this free clinic.” Dr. Majid explained that over 80% of the slum children are malnourished and that the most common types of medicines he administers are for fever, anti-diarrheal and pre-natal shots. In an attempt to help prevent such problem,  the clinic provides 5 pre-natal care and educational check-ups for mothers prior to birth.

Outside the window, we began to hear children’s voices and soon a dozen or so were at the window, mischievously peering in at us. We went outside and were immediately surrounded by children, excited to tour their neighborhood with us. We walked through the narrow dirt streets amongst the noise of rickshaws and motorcycles. Men played caroms, a local game similar to billiards. We got to examine the creative ways in which slum residents made their living –  through small food stalls of poori and fried goods, and others worked on sewing machines, mending and making clothes for a living.

Where were the women residents of the slums, I wondered? It wasn’t until we entered the “units” that we peered down an extremely narrow pathway filled with rows of homes that we saw them in action. The women were busy cooking fish in clay pots outside their homes, tending to children, drying their clothes or watching TV on a small refurbished model. They smiled as we walked through their unit, and one kind young women in a green salvar kameez invited us to see her home. The woman smiled at us and asked us to sit on the bed, which also served as her couch, in this dark, hot room with a small fan blowing in the corner. She lived in this room with her husband, 2 children and also her sister and mom. It was at this moment, as I sat on the bed  –  in this home that was smaller than bedroom back in California  – that I was truly hit by the magnitude of poverty here. I held back tears as the woman kept thanking us for visiting her in her house — didn’t she know that it was our honor?

At the very end of each “unit” is a space of 3 toilet rooms that are shared by the residents. Slum residents don’t have access to water in their homes, so water pumping stations throughout the complex are extremely important. We watched as young, muscular boys clambered over each other, laughing and pumping fresh water into buckets. It’s essential for the residents to get their water from these pumps rather than the polluted waters that surround the slum. We were happy to learn that DCI’s health clinic also spends time raising awareness about hygiene and sanitation in order to reduce common waterborne diseases in the slum area.

My favorite part of the afternoon with DCI and the slum residents was when we got back to the health clinic after our tour. The children had followed us back to the clinic, and right before we re-entered the building, we felt the beginnings of rain. While the group of us volunteers were quick to get inside the building, shrieking and laughter ensued from the kids. As one of the DCI staff explained, it hadn’t rained in the area for over 3 weeks. Our trip had corresponded with some good fortune for the community. Though I resisted at first, I soon joined a group of kids in the rain, slipping, sliding, jumping, even shampooing their hair! They played with us without a care in the world. I felt deep moved and inspired by their resilience and courage.

What DCI is providing for the children and residents of the slums is basic access to the healthcare, both preventative and curative. As a result of the work of this small, dedicated staff, over 3100 residents have received treatment, 48 pregnant mothers have received prenatal care, and 110 patients were referred to specialized hospitals for support. I’m so impressed by their work and proud to call them a Jolkona partner.

We’ve launched a campaign to support DCI’s health clinic. Visit our campaign page for the DCI Health Clinic here to donate and learn more about how you can make a difference by providing medical supplies to Bangladeshi kids.

Please keep up with us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter as we share Team Southeast Asia’s experiences!

 

Note from the Editor: This post was written from Cambodia by Jolkona volunteer Krishnaja Gutta.

“Whatever little we have, we share it with love,” said Mrs. Prom Kimchheng as she led us into the little orphanage in the town of Battambang, Cambodia.  And yes there was plenty of love – so much that we were overwhelmed with the affection they showered on us during our visit. I’d say they have figured how to look at the glass half full and celebrate what they have there. The picture of this organization would not be complete without a description of the surrounding story, so let me start from the beginning…

I had been corresponding with Mrs. Kimchheng for a few weeks regarding our visit and have always been greated with excitement and warmth in her notes. When we landed in the Siem Reap airport, I saw a lady holding up the Jolkona sign and I instantly knew that was her. She was truly a picture of affection and warmth, full of life and modesty. The only time in our entire trip when she hesitated was when we asked her about the Cambodian Genocide – her eyes glistened with sadness of the memory before she lightly brushed off the topic . “It’s the past,” she said. No one would know she was a founding director of this organization even after talking to her for a few minutes. But make no mistake, she is deeply passionate about her work with Komar Rikreay (Happy Children). We drove through the picturesque, postcard worthy country side of Cambodia passing by lush, green rice fields, coconut and banana trees, and small villages.

At the orphanage with Mrs Prom Kimchheng

We were welcomed with a delicious Khmer lunch along with the children when we reached the organization. The children around us were bursting with excitement, giggling as they gulped down their meager lunch of rice, vegetables and dried pork in broth. Over lunch we met with the counselor and staff and we talked about the organization and the work they were doing. As we walked around after lunch, we saw the kids running around with make up on, dressed in colorful clothes. We decided to go in and help the children dress-up… or so we thought. Really, we were in for a special treat: the children were dressing up to perform for us. What followed was a true pleasure to watch – beautiful children danced, acted and sang for us and we joined the revelry learning some new dances and doing our own dance routine. We then spent time with the kids taking their pictures and making photo frames for them. It was one happy but hot afternoon!

Komar Rikreay was founded in 1994 for sheltering orphans and trafficked children. The organization was later extended to house various activities for children in the community who could not afford school, allowing them to play and learn vocational skills like tailoring, make-up, and English. The shelters were built with wood and were very minimally furnished. When the staff said that they were excited because they only recently got electricity, it struck me how basic their needs still are.

The children varied from ages of 3-16. Joyous and playful those these children were, almost all came from places of extreme trauma. Some of them were removed from appallingly abusive families, some were rescued from human trafficking , some were orphaned, others abandoned because they were mentally challenged. The counselor told us how the organization tries to help the children recover from their tragic pasts, teaching them their rights, giving them training and life skills so they can venture out in the world and live a life they fully deserve, as well as providing a place of safety for them.

Komar Rikreay also helps some of the children to start their own business through micro-financing. We met one such family. Four siblings had come to the organization a few years ago and when the eldest of them wanted to start a hair salon, the organization helped with a loan to rent a place. Now the family is self-dependent and have moved one step further away from their abusive past. It was an incredibly joyful and moving story to hear first hand.

Many of the children at the orphanage dream of such a second go at life. A few dollars can go such a long way in helping them achieve that, whether by getting them to school, or purchasing a uniform and other school supplies, or helping the them with loans.

We at Jolkona were delighted to witness the fabulous cause the organization is working towards and more importantly how they live life by truly seeing the glass as half full and enjoying everything they have with love – and oh what love! We hope to partner with them soon and help them raise many more children in this safe and protected environment, and we hope you will join with us in doing so.

Please keep up with us here on our blog, Facebook and Twitter as we share Team Southeast Asia’s experiences!

 

Note from the Editor: this post, fresh from Bangladesh, is written by Jolkona volunteer Melinda Moseler.

It’s not every day you get to meet someone who is getting a new lease on life having just received a prosthetic leg just a week ago.

Meet Pratik. His positive energy is contagious and his story is profoundly humbling.

A seemingly simple fall on a bridge turned into an alarming diagnoses of cancer in his leg. After copious of costly visits to India over the course of three years, he was only to be ill informed about treatments and – shockingly – netted out in having to have his leg amputated above the knee.

Fortunately, through referrals and a network of doctors, he was put in touch with Dr. Ehsanul Haque, the Medical Officer from BRAC Brace & Limb Center (BLBC). Dr. Haque handled every detail for Pratik, such as arranging travel, accommodation on site while away from home for several weeks, physical therapy, etc. There there took all the appropriate measurements, prepped the molds and the shape casts, built the limb, and fitted it. It’s one of the only facilities of its kind in Bangladesh.

Pratik was given a second chance.

Pratik’s new leg. Photo credit: Sergio Paolantonio

After all that he had been through his spirit was in a great place. He is looking forward to so much in life now that he has a prosthetic limb and is quickly regaining the ability to walk again. He can’t wait to see his parents and be greeted by his students once returning to his village after his stay at BLBC.

We were all deeply touched with his profoundly positive attitude and his ability to overcome something so drastic. I really walked away feeling like I’d learned a lesson in accepting life and its gifts – good with the bad – in whatever form they come. I am forever thankful for getting the opportunity to meet Pratik , Dr. Ehsanul Haque and the rest of the BRAC Brace & Limb Center staff and for being able view the extraordinary work they are doing for the disabled patients in Dhaka.

10% of all patients in need are funded through Jolkona’s Partnership with BLBC. Because of donors like you, patients like Pratik can receive care from BRAC Brace & Limb Center.

We’ve launched two campaigns that support projects we’re visiting during our trip. Visit our campaign page for the Brace & Limb Center here to donate and learn more about how you can make a difference by funding up to 4 supporting braces.

Please keep up with us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter as we share Team Southeast Asia’s experiences! Also be sure to follow NadiaAdnan, and Melinda on Twitter as they’re posting some great live updates.
 

Note from the Editor: this post was written by the Jolkona

 

This month six Jolkona volunteers, including co-founders Nadia Khawaja Mahmud and Adnan Mahmud, are traveling to Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand to spend time visiting our partner organizations in Southeast Asia. Jolkona’s mission has always been to connect our donors to global philanthropic opportunities and show donors the impact of their donation, whether it’s a photo, video or a card. During this trip, we intend to capture the spirit of our mission. Our goal is to experience face-to-face the impact of Jolkona’s partners, and share our stories back with our donors and friends in the most effective way. Visiting our partners is also an invaluable part of evolving our giving platform. On top of that, we’re planning on experiencing the culture, food and having some fun along the way!

Past trips to Africa and South America have been key in developing closer relationships with our partners and directly experiencing the impact we’re making on the ground, as well as helping tell those stories to our donors.

Southeast Asia (Bangladesh specifically) is where our work first started. Three years later, we’ve scaled to over 110 projects around the globe, and 28 specifically in SE Asia. During our trip, we’ll be visiting:

  • Bangladesh – DCI, BRAC limb center
  • Thailand – Rockefeller Center, Thai Action Committee
  • Camdodia – 1. KMR, Tean Thor, FEDA Cambodia

Two new campaigns

To build excitement and garner support for the partner projects, we’re launching two campaigns. Both support projects that we will be visiting during our trip. Help raise funds for these great projects!

1. Provide a Supporting Brace & Rehabilitation in Bangladesh:

Our first partner visit in Bangladesh will be our partner BRAC at their Limb and Brace Fitting Centre (BLBC). Their primary goal is increasing the independence of physically disabled persons by enhancing their ability to participate in daily life, social and economic activities. BRAC supports the disabled population with rehabilitation aids and services using appropriate technology. Our goal through your donation is to provide a total of 4 braces for those in need. Donate to our campaign here.

2. Provide Medical Supplies to Bangladeshi Kids:

Our second visit will be with another of OUR inspirational partners in Bangladesh — Distressed Children & Infants. Through your donation, you can provide medication to help alleviate preventable illnesses related to lack of proper sanitation and water among impoverished children in Bangladesh. Make a donation here.

When you contribute the full amount to either projects, you will receive a proof of impact for your donation. You can also give different amounts, starting at $5, though you will not receive a proof for a partial gift.

We’re so excited to be doing this! Please keep up with us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter as we share Team Southeast Asia’s experiences! Also be sure to follow Nadia, Adnan and Melinda on Twitter as they’re posting some great live updates.

Gratefully,

Nadia, Adnan, Chi, Krishnaja, Melinda & Zanoon

The Jolkona SE Asia Team

Please Note: This trip is a 100% funded by the volunteers who have graciously given of their own time and money. No funds from Jolkona have been used to sponsor any portion of this trip.

GET INVOLVED!