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A single moment can inspire great works of art, literature, engineering and even philanthropy.

Over the last two days, we have blogged about Peace Corps volunteers who strive to make a measurable impact, including how Jolkona partner Steve Schwartz mined his experience as a small enterprise volunteer in Benin to create his nonprofit organization, Upaya Social Ventures. His friend and fellow Jolkona partner, Sebastián Seromik, was also inspired during their service in West Africa — in his case, to found Dagbé, an organization that works to provide opportunity to children in crisis situations in rural Benin.

After studying business at the University of Michigan, Sebastián felt driven to volunteer and give back to the global community. Several unforgettable moments during his Peace Corps experience cemented his path to becoming a lifelong philanthropist. In his own words:

When we were in Abomey [Benin] doing our training, I stayed with a host family… they had a little girl that was a domestic servant. I was obviously a little thrown back by it. But, Peace Corps explained to me that this was something that happened in the country and that I had to be ready for it. Obviously it was a delicate situation where you couldn’t just speak up and say to your host family, “oh, you shouldn’t be doing this.” And, you know, sometimes you had to understand the situation. Sometimes the girls would come from, you know, you never knew where. Maybe it was part of the distant family or some relatives that were taking care of her.

But, in this case the girl was a domestic servant maybe eight or nine years old,  and she was sent to bring water to my room. Water was a quarter mile away, and people had to pay for it. It cost about the equivalent of five cents to get a bucket of water from the tap that was a number of houses down. She went out and five cents is actually a decent amount there, especially for water which you’re using every day to cook, to clean clothes, to shower, just about anything you can think of and then you drink water — you need water to stay hydrated.

She was bringing it back and when she got closer to my room, she was maybe about 10 paces away — she had been carrying the bucket by the metal handle. The handle ended up ripping through the plastic from the weight of the water and three quarters of bucket spilled all over the ground before she quickly picked it up and saved the last quarter of the bucket. And the father of my host family came out, took one look at her, and he just hit her over the head several times.

I was just frozen. I didn’t know what to do. And to this day, there is still something in me that feels awful for not having said or done anything in that moment…

These kids are put in these situations, either because of poverty or because of their parents passing away and they don’t know what to do. They don’t get a chance to play, to go to school, to do the things that other kids do — the things that we take for granted here in the States…

When I got to Ouesse [near the Nigerian border], these practices were prevalent. You saw girls serving as domestic servants, boys out in the fields all the time used as extra labor…

I learned that there wasn’t a single facility dedicated to caring for children in crisis situations: orphans, vulnerable children, victims of trafficking, victims of abuse, victims of extreme poverty. I was approached by a couple of people in town — a couple of community leaders working in social services. They wanted to build a center that would care for these children.

That is where it all began. I walked into the Peace Corps director’s office in Benin and said, ‘Look, I have this project. I know most projects are around $3,000; this one is at least ten times that. I’m prepared to stay in country, extend my Peace Corps service for as long as it takes to get funded, and then complete it. She told me a couple years later, ‘I wasn’t sure what to think then, but you had this look of determination in your eyes. I thought, ‘I’m going to trust him, and go with it.’

Today, Sebastián continues to make an impact in Benin with Dagbé in four key areas: Care for Children and Families; Human Rights and Anti-Child Trafficking; Education and Youth Development; and Social Enterprise and Business Training. We can thank Upaya’s Steve Schwartz for facilitating Dagbé’s partnership with Jolkona.

To help Sebastian and Dagbé continue making a difference, you can provide care to keep Beninese children from being further victimized by trafficking, or help cover tuition fees for public secondary school in Benin.

We hope you have found these stories inspirational. At Jolkona, and the rest of the nonprofit sector, volunteers and donors make our work possible. Whether you decide to join the Peace Corps, make a gift through Jolkona’s programs, or find another way to donate your time, skills or money — you can make an incredible, measurable impact.

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

Everyone likes a superhero origin story. How about a philanthropist origin story? At Jolkona, our superheroes are the donors and volunteers who save lives by fighting poverty, especially far from home.

In this effort, we are privileged to partner with Upaya Social Ventures and Dagbé, two nonprofit organizations founded by volunteers who served together in the Peace Corps six years ago, in the West African nation of Benin. In a recent conversation, Upaya’s Steve Schwartz and Dagbé’s Sebastian Seromik discussed how this shared experience inspired and empowered them to create their respective organizations.

According to Sebastian, who primarily worked with social workers during his service, it’s crucial for volunteers in developing countries to find the balance between idealism and realism, and establish personal connections. In his words:

We leave the U.S. with some idea, grandiose or not, of the kind of impact that we are going to make. And when we get there, we realize that we can’t make the change and impact that we had in mind. Because we didn’t know the culture, we didn’t know the people, we didn’t know the communities we’d be serving, we didn’t know the challenges we would be facing, we didn’t know the personal stuff that we would be dealing with…

At a certain point, you feel useless as a volunteer. Especially in the first few months, when you’re getting up to speed. Maybe you had a couple projects that have failed, and you’re not quite sure what’s going on. I got to this point… And I realized, you know, I’m not here to move needles. I’m not here to make the poverty rate drop by a certain amount in Benin. If I think of it that way, then I’m never going to have an impact. If I look it as ‘I’m here to serve the person, the human person, that’s in front of me at this very moment,’ then I can have an impact.

If you think about it, that’s often the way we go about our daily lives. Whether at home with our families, or with our coworkers, oftentime it’s responding to the needs of the people we know. It’s often these personal relationships that we have a familiarity with, and that’s why we can be effective.

But when you go thousands of miles away and think that you’re going to be effective without knowing anybody, then it’s really hard to do that. I realized that you need to take advantage of relationships. Once you get to know people, and really determine their needs, then you can really start having an impact.

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Villagers in Tchaourou, Benin

Check back over the next few days to read more about how Sebastian and Steve used their Peace Corps experiences to start their own nonprofits, fighting poverty in Benin and India.

If, like Steve and Sebastian, you’re looking to make a major commitment of your time and skills, the Peace Corps is an excellent opportunity. In Seattle’s nonprofit and global development sectors, from Jolkona’s grassroots partners to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Peace Corps alumni seem to be everywhere. And we keep exporting volunteers, too: last year, our state’s University of Washington, Western Washington University, and Gonzaga University led their respective categories for most Peace Corps participants.

If you aren’t ready or able to take a step as big as a two-year commitment, however, you can still get a taste for this kind of work by visiting our partners in developing countries through a Jolkona Expedition. (We still have some spots available for the next one: March 16-30, in Kenya and Tanzania.) And of course, you can always make a high-impact contribution by supporting organizations like Dagbé and Upaya through Jolkona’s donation programs.

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

Like many of you, I really look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving. Between spending time with my family and pets, and finding the balance between tradition and innovation on the dinner table, it’s always an enjoyable holiday. Most of all it is a good day for reflection (perhaps while recovering from all the food) on what we each have to be grateful for this year.

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At Jolkona, we also have lots of reasons to give thanks. Our donors support our partners and our mission of demonstrating that anyone can be a philanthropist. Our partners work with us to provide high-impact aid locally and globally, showing that great things can be accomplished with creativity, love, and social innovation. Our Give Together members, by joining this new donation platform, are helping us revolutionize charitable giving. And of course, we are thankful for all the volunteers and staff who have helped make Jolkona bigger and better this year by giving their time, energy and talent. Personally, I am thankful for everything that I have learned since joining the Jolkona team.

Give Together: Fighting Poverty & Helping the Philippines

Along with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah is also starting this week, and the pine-scented, carol-filled escalation to Christmas has already begun. In the meantime, we still have a couple of days left in our November Give Together campaign to Alleviate Poverty. Our partners for this month — Upaya, Dagbe, and Washington C.A.S.H. — could still use your contributions. With your help, we can reach the funding goal by Dec. 1!

Next month, in lieu of a new theme, Give Together members will be included in our major holiday campaign: Standing With the Philippines. Donations to this campaign will help Peace Winds America provide shelter, food, water, medicine, bedding, and hygiene kits to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda)Contributions can also be made in honor of family and friends — a meaningful holiday gift, especially for the people on your “nice” list who already have everything. Win-win-win!

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can carry the grateful and giving spirit of Thanksgiving over into December — and cleanse your palate from the chaotic consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday — by celebrating #GivingTuesday with us on Dec. 3. Head over to Facebook for event details and to RSVP. The festivities are free; anyone who donates to the Standing WIth the Philippines campaign during the party will be entered to win fabulous raffle prizes.

Celebrate Thanksgiving by Giving Together & Standing With the Philippines, and we look forward to giving through the holidays with you!

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

Today is National Philanthropy Day, and what better way to celebrate than to Give Together? Take today to recognize and appreciate the positive impact the philanthropic community — you included! — has had on our world.

Our third and final Give Together partner for November, Dagbé, works to alleviate extreme poverty by providing healthcare and education to youths victimized by child labor and human trafficking. With your help, Dagbé can give some of the most vulnerable children in West Africa a chance at a better life. In the organization’s own words:

What’s your mission, and why? What inspires your organization?

We work with local care providers to provide basic housing, food, and restore social stability, access to education, and healthcare to orphans, victims of child trafficking, physical and sexual abuse, and destitute poverty, as identified by local authorities. Our vision is to provide support for the wellbeing of children in crisis situations, and foster an environment to allow them to develop into healthy, educated, and productive members of society.

So many Beninese children need someone to provide them with life-changing opportunities. Instead of living day-by-day working long hours just to get their next meal, we want these children to be able to go to school, enjoy their childhoods, and be set up for long-term success, and this is what drives us.

What’s your project for this month’s Give Together campaign?

Provide Critical Care to Keep Children from Being Further Victimized by Human Trafficking

What’s the impact of every $150 that Give Together members raise for your organization?

  • $150 will help reunite a trafficked child with their family (costs of staying at our center, investigation, transport, etc.)
  • $250 will help reunite a trafficked child with their family and provide them with school or vocational training for one year to encourage stability and progress.
  • $500 will provide for school fees and expenses for five trafficked children per year.
  • $1500 funds an anti-trafficking training seminar for 50 people. Raising awareness is critical to putting an end to child trafficking in Benin. These change agents are trained to prevent, identify, and report cases of trafficking and the training seminars have proved very effective.

In a nutshell, why should Give Together members support your project this month?

Dagbé is currently the only organization offering direct care services to children in crisis situations in this region in central Benin. Our efforts are critical to the children’s wellbeing. Our time spent living and working in the community ensures that the effectiveness of every dollar is maximized. We are committed to serving these children and this community.

We love impact reports at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite story you can share about how your organization changed someone’s life?

Our anti-trafficking training seminars have proved very fruitful. They are very well organized and attended by approximately 50 members of the community. They are also broadcast over the local radio to an estimated 15,000 listeners. Each training seminar has produced immediate results. A year ago, community members alerted us to a trafficking case only three days after the seminar. We were able to rescue a little girl who had been trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation. We cared for her and were able to reunite her with some of her relatives and send her to school. We also worked with authorities to bring the traffickers to justice.

This past August, after another anti-trafficking training, we were alerted to the case of a ten-year old boy who had been taken from southern Benin to the north to work in masonry. Due to the long hours and harsh conditions, he had fled and walked nearly 100 kilometers until he was found by one of the recent training seminar attendees – hungry, with swollen feet, and in poor health. He stayed with us for several weeks while he recovered and we worked to find the best possible solution for him. His father passed away when he was young, but we reunited him with mother in southern Benin. She has very few resources to care for him, much less send him to school, and we are thrilled to be paying for all of his school expenses as well as most of his basic care needs.

These children would normally go unnoticed. Child labor and child trafficking is an issue in Benin, and many people are unaware of just how far some of these children get pushed and exploited. By raising awareness of the issue we are making a difference, with the added impact of caring for the children in the aftermath of an instance of trafficking and providing opportunities for them to have better futures.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dagbé is thrilled to continue partnering with Jolkona. In April 2013, we were honored to receive some Jolkona team members as guests in Benin and together we witnessed the positive impact that we achieved by working together.

Remember to Give Together, and check back on the Jolkona Blog for more installments of the Partner Spotlight series.

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

With November, we welcome not only the holiday season, but also a new Give Together theme: Poverty Alleviation.

This month’s Give Together partners help vulnerable people lift themselves out of extreme poverty in Benin, India and Seattle. Through Give Together, providing education and training to empower people to gain financial independence and live and work in dignity may be the most important gift you can give this year.

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Upaya

Upaya Social Ventures works to improve the lives of silk weavers in India, who live on less than $1.25 a day. The nonprofit works with a local startup based in Bhagalpur, Bihar, to teach the silk weavers new techniques, equipment, and designs so the weavers can earn a stable and dignified living. In addition, your donation also provides capital for their partner start-up to expand their business and create new jobs in their region. Every $250 our community raises through Give Together will help Upaya create a new job for one of these talented weavers.

Dagbé

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Dagbé works in  the West African country of Benin, supporting orphans and children who have been victims of human trafficking. This grassroots nonprofit organization provides food, safety, healthcare, schooling and social stability so that children in crisis situations can grow up to be healthy, educated and productive. In addition to aiding children, Dagbé also educates communities about human trafficking and child labor, and what they can do to prevent it. Every $250 raised by our Give Together community will help Dagbé reunite a trafficked child with his family, and fund his education or vocational training for the next year.

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Washington C.A.S.H.

Community Alliance for Self-Help, also know as C.A.S.H, is a Washington-based organization that helps low income entrepreneurs develop their own business. Through their Business Development Training program, they help ambitious individuals who face obstacles such as low income, language barriers, and limited education and literacy develop the skills and training necessary to launch their own business, and become financially self reliant. For every $100 raised by our Give Together community, Washington C.A.S.H. can send one entrepreneur to an 8-week business training program.

The Giving Season

To learn more about these amazing projects, keep visiting this blog to read November’s Partner Spotlight series.

As we look forward to spending time with family and eating holiday meals (and stocking up on Trader Joe’s seasonal snacks), it’s also a great time to get into the holiday spirit by giving back, locally and globally. Check out Jolkona’s events through our website, Facebook and Twitter feeds for upcoming campaigns related to the holiday season — including our #GivingTuesday Seattle party on Dec. 3.

Start out your holiday season right, and Give Together for Poverty Alleviation today!

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

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