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Yesterday, we introduced you to Kiran Beg, a woman who donated to Jolkona as part of the Good Deeds campaign. Today, I would like to introduce you to Sheri Khan, a Jolkona donor who, in the art of full disclosure, happens to be my aunt. She donates for a very powerful reason, which I’ll let her share herself.

Meet Sheri Khan of Chicago, IL

Sheri Khan is a wife and “beta” mom who is raising three kids in the great city of Chicago, Illinois and blogs at One Beta Mom. She generally donates to support global projects because she believes that the small amounts she’s able to give can have a greater and lasting impact than giving the same amount locally.

Sheri Khan and family

Sheri with her husband Omer, and their chlidren Noah, Sofia, and Zane.

1. Why did you give to Jolkona?

I gave both in honor of my good friend Elizabeth and her daughter, Nora. Nora’s birthday is nearing, and, sadly, she passed away a few years ago. As someone who has also lost a child, I know there is no gift or card or any magic words that one can say to diminish the grief. For me there is no better way to tell someone that you are thinking of them than with a donation in their honor. The small amount that I am able to give both has lasting impact and honors the life of someone I love.

For those of us who are blessed enough to be able to give, we have an obligation to do so whether with money and time or both. Most of us do not need anything more than we already have when many of humanity is suffering.  Although my past two donations have been in honor of people I love dearly and have lost, I have made a pledge to no longer give material birthday or holiday gifts. Instead, my gift will be a dedication to a worthwhile and deserving project.

2. Did knowing that your donation would be matched motivate you to give during this campaign?

It is extra incentive that my donation goes even further, however, if the match was not offered, I still would have given.

3. Which project did you give to?

For this dedication, I carefully selected the Ignite Girls’ Leadership in Pakistan project for several reasons. Because Elizabeth and I have lost daughters, giving to a project that is aimed toward empowering girls and women is important. Knowing the current harsh conditions which the majority of Pakistani girls’ experience helped me select this project. In the past and in honor of my own daughter, Sofia, I’ve chosen the Adopt a Mother in India project. Through my small donations to both of these projects and with my future donations, the spirits of our daughters carry forth.

When words aren’t enough

Loss is hard. Sympathy and condolences never seem to come out right. Let someone know that you’re thinking of them by dedicating a gift in their name. Whether it’s to honor the memory of someone you have lost or to let someone in your life today know that they have made a difference in your life. Every time you make a donation, you have the option to dedicate that gift to someone else by entering in his or her name and email address.

When you dedicate a gift, the recipient will be notified and the proof of impact will go to that person – showing them how the gift you made in their honor is improving someone else’s life.

Waggener Edstrom Good Deeds Campaign on JolkonaPlus, when you make a gift to any project on Jolkona through Monday, October 24th and our partner, Waggener Edstrom, will match your donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000. And for every gift made during Good Deeds, you will receive two proofs of impact – one for the donation you make and the second proof for the donation Waggener Edstrom matches.

Interested in sharing your story as a featured donor on our blog? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or send a good ol’ fashioned email to contact@jolkona.org.

Leaving Kenya

International travel always has unexpected twists and turns as our last night in Dago, Kenya proved. As we watched the TV with our host family, the headlines flashed the news of a bomb explosion on a bus that was part of the Kampala Coach line. This was the same bus which we were all supposed to board in just a few short days. This incident sparked off a discussion among us and we were contemplating if we should even make the journey to the Uganda.

On the road to Uganda

After much deliberation, we decided to take a private shuttle instead of the Kampala Coach and continue our journey to Uganda. At the border, we were presented with an unexpected three hour delay, providing an opportunity to collect our thoughts and connect with others. During those three hours, I was engaged in a discussion with a nine year old boy who was selling bananas. In the process of our conversation, the young boy told me that he was working to save money to buy a football. The little boy was a curious young fellow who asked me different questions about what I do and where I was from. Our conversation drifted from politics to sports and to physics. I must admit that these varied subjects of conversation did surprise me. I was amazed the knowledge he had and our little chat was definitely one of my best on the trip.

Arriving at Children of Uganda

On Christmas Eve, we arrived at Kampala, Uganda to spend time with one of the Jolkona partners – Children of Uganda. The kids welcomed us with drums, dance and various other local instruments. This was the best welcome ever!

We were all excited about celebrating Christmas with these kids. We spent most of the day with them doing various activities – drawing, photo frame designing and crafts followed by lunch, cake and, who can forget, some basketball! It was such a pleasure to experience the kids interacting with us all, displaying who they were and expressing themselves in such a creative and innovative way.

The day ended with a grand performance from the kids with various instruments and an amazing dance. Later they tried teaching us some dance moves and how to play some of the musical instruments. This will surely remain as one of the best Christmas I’ve ever experienced and hopefully the same was felt by the many others who were with me.

Deciding to take the risk and proceed with our plan to go to Uganda was probably one of the best decisions the team made. We all got to see the impact Jolkona has made with this project, and spending Christmas with these kids was truly an amazing experience.

How you can help

For as little as $25 you can provide meals for 5 children for a week. Every donation goes a long way in supporting the kids at Children of Uganda.

Pavan Kumar Potaraju spends his days at Microsoft and volunteers with Jolkona on the Events team and with the Microsoft Giving Campaign. In April, he was our featured volunteer, you can read more about Pavan, here. This story is part of a series of blog posts from the Jolkona team’s trip to East Africa in late-December 2010.

Post written by by Jordan Belmonte

Every day I wake up inspired by the fact that I have two valuable things: choice and opportunity. Like most Americans, I decide what to eat, where to work and the shape of my future.

In December 2010, I traveled to Africa with six other Jolkona volunteers to visit our partners and see the impact of their work. As part of this trip, we visited Dago, a rural village in Kenya, where the opportunities most Americans take for granted are harder to come by.

In Kenya, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 1.2 million children are orphans due to AIDS. Dago has an especially high rate of HIV/AIDS, and many of the affected families struggle to meet basic needs for water, sufficient protein and access to medical care.

When I talked to my friends and family about what I saw in Dago, they looked at me with sympathy and said, “That must have been awful to see” or “What a tragedy.” But after leaving Dago, it was not the tragedy of poverty that stuck with me — it was the perseverance of the human spirit and the community’s efforts to help young people envision a future full of opportunity.

blackboard at Dago Dala Hera orphanage

In Dago, we visited two current Jolkona projects that help young people create a brighter future. We got to cheer on the home team during the Kick it With Kenya youth soccer tournament, which also provides HIV-screening and much-needed medical care. And we saw how the Environmental Youth Action Corps is teaching young people to be environmental advocates in their communities.

One of my favorite initiatives in Kenya was the Dago Dala Hera orphanage, soon to become a Jolkona partner. At Dago Dala Hera, 36 at-risk and orphaned girls have found asylum from childhood marriages, abusive households and family deaths. The orphanage’s meal program also allows 95 local primary school children to concentrate on their education rather than on their empty stomachs. While the community’s attention to meeting basic needs for food, education and health care was impressive, Dago’s true triumph was its initiative to feed the soul and reinforce the idea that “if you can think it, you can get it.”

help orphans in Kenya

Near the end of our time in Dago, while we were visiting the orphanage, I sat on the edge of one of the cheerful bunk beds and thought of the girl who slept there every night. I hoped that the girl would rest well, excited for a new day, believing as much as I do in the phrase painted on the dormitory wall: “life is like an ocean, an endless sea of opportunities.”

dormitory in orphanage

Jordan Belmonte is a product marketing manager at Microsoft during the day and the Director of Events here at Jolkona. This story is part of a series of blog posts from the Jolkona team’s trip to East Africa in late-December 2010.

Women’s Co-operative Program in Kenya

The first time Team Africa learned about the Women’s Co-operative Program was when we visited a small grocery store while out on a stroll with Joshua Machinga, the founder of the Common Ground Project (CPG), in the Kiminini marketplace in Kenya. The store had a few rows of wooden shelves, mostly empty except the first two, which carried bags of cassava flour and dried maize along with some fresh offerings such as bananas and tomatoes. Joshua introduced us to the women working in the store and noted that this was a co-op ran by the Women’s Co-operative Program.

Joshua’s goal for establishing a women’s co-op was to increase the marketing power of local women in hopes of increasing their income. The Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund was established to provide local women the small loans they needed to start their businesses. The program resembles other microfinancing programs except for one important distinction: no Microfinancing Institutions (MFI) are involved.

Instead, the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund receives money from donations, the co-op store, and most importantly, the women in the Women’s Co-operative Program. Women who want loans must first contribute some savings to the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund. They are then allowed to borrow up to three times the amount of their deposit. Additionally, similar to other micro-financing programs, a woman must have 5 guarantors before a loan is received to ensure that the amount can be repaid. The Women’s Co-operative Program also provides continuing support by setting up the co-op store as a community buyer to enhance the viability of the businesses. Women can choose to sell their products (usually food) to the co-op store and any revenue the store generates from selling in the market goes right back into the Nasimiyu-Nekesa Fund. Women in the co-op program can also invest in shares of the store and receive annual dividends based on the store’s profit.

This model of microfinancing can offer some significant advantages over the conventional route involving MFIs. With the middleman out of the equation, more revenue is recycled back into the program and the community. The penalties for defaulting are less severe than those imposed by a lot of MFIs, yet the incentive to succeed remains strong, enforced by both the guarantors and the community of women who have invested in the fund. Furthermore, this program affords an opportunity for the women to learn about investment and saving techniques. Every month, participants congregate to settle debts, borrow money, and make new investments. The monthly meeting serves as a platform for the women to socialize, bond, learn, and share their ideas.

Joshua was nice enough to invite us to such a meeting and it gave us a chance to interact with the women of the program. Although the women were at first shy and curious of our presence, they warmed up quickly as we mingled and socialized with the crowd. Some were excited to share their experiences and their opinions of the program.

I personally spoke with a woman who had borrowed money to start a chicken farm. Even though she only attended school until she was 13, she spoke eloquently and analytically of her situation. She was widowed a few years ago and has two children of her own. The amazing part is that she has also been caring for eight other children who have either lost their parents, or have guardians who are unable to take care of them. She borrowed money from the Nasimiyu-Nekesa fund a year ago to start a chicken farm which she says is low maintenance and fairly profitable. The business is growing, and she is now in the process of taking out her third loan for a farm expansion. Having repaid her first two loans in full, she is able to borrow an even larger amount to invest in her business. When asked what improvements she would like to see in the program, her reply was simply that she wished more women would trust this program, invest their savings so they can take advantage of the loans, and be able to do what she did.

I asked her what enabled her to take a leap of faith and she told me it was because she trusted Joshua and felt safe to give money to this fund. “You have to trust someone right? Otherwise you are on your own,” she said.

Helen Li is a program manager at Microsoft during the day and volunteers with Jolkona doing business outreach. She also traveled with the Jolkona team who visited our partners in East Africa this past December.

Maheen with the children at Distressed Children International clinics

About three weeks ago, I walked into a room with a bench on one side and a desk on the other. There was another room in the back with a curtain partition for privacy. There was a doctor on the other side consulting with a patient I walked back into the waiting room, there was a mother there that had come in with her baby. The baby was strangely silent, and the mother was mentioning that her child had a constant fever and she didn’t know what was wrong. This “room” that I had walked into was one of DCI’s (Distressed Children & Infants International) clinics in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The clinic cares for and provides medical supplies and prescriptions to those cannot afford it and have nowhere else to go.

What led me to this clinic in Bangladesh was the Jolkona campaign I was a part of called the 12 Days of Giving. I decided to promote a health related project in Bangladesh and chose to support the DCI sponsored clinic, as public health is an interest of mine. I had never raised funds for anything prior to this experience nor had I promoted any type of project before! To be perfectly honest, I was attempting to pick whichever project I thought would be easily marketable so I would have a remote chance of fulfilling the looming $1,000 target goal. Not until I had a chance to visit the clinic and an orphanage also sponsored by DCI, and actually see those that were positively affected by the money raised, did I realize what $1,000 in Bangladesh really means.

Think about the anxiety that you feel when you’re sick for a couple of days and don’t know what is wrong. Not fun, huh? Now multiply this feeling times 100 to emphasize what toll that it takes on those “living” on the streets of Dhaka. The grave impact is felt not only because they do they not know what’s wrong with them when they’re sick, they know that they absolutely cannot walk into a hospital and get help, and whatever they have will probably only get worse.

Maheen with the children at Distressed Children International clinics

There are 450,000 children who live on the streets of Bangladesh and 30,000 die everyday due to circumstances of poverty. Through the DCI orphanage and with very little money, about 20 of these children are taken off the streets and are provided with healthcare, a good education, food, and shelter. With $10, a baby is provided with doctor care and relief. As demonstrated by the patients and kids at the DCI projects, a couple of dollars does not mean much to us here, but can most likely save a life and provide a child with a chance of having chance to enjoy a view of what life without poverty could really be…a reality.

I will never think about this project, these children, or $1,000 the same way again.

Maheen Aman is the Campus Outreach Lead for Jolkona and is extremely passionate about global health and development. She recently went on a global adventure that took her to Bangladesh and Turkey. This is a snapshot of one of her adventures.

Biointensive farming and double dug beds
Double dug beds

One of the things that really sparked my interest during our trip to East Africa was seeing the innovation happening in the agriculture sector. In America, most of us are so far removed from our food and the food source whereas in rural Africa, everyone is a farmer. While visiting our partner Village Volunteers in Kitale, Kenya, many of us realized how much we take the produce we purchase from the grocery store for granted—no matter what season it really is, it’s so easy to purchase our favorite fruit and vegetables year-round which is defiantly not the case in rural Africa. There, everything has a season and if a particular crop is out of season, it just does not exist in your diet at that time.  Living in rural Africa for a few weeks also made me realize how time consuming farming really is.  From the time you plant your crops to the time you harvest and have food to feed your family, several weeks or months have gone by so I found myself really appreciating and savoring the fresh ingredients prepared while I was in the villages.  However, what really excited me during this trip was learning about the techniques for sustainable agriculture, which given the current global food crisis is becoming more and more important in development work.

During this trip, I was introduced to an agricultural technique known as Biointensive Agriculture. Basically, it’s an organic agricultural system which focuses on maximum yield from the minimum area of land while simultaneously improving the soil. Sack farming is also a popular technique, where virtually anyone can grow crops out of potato sacks.

What is Biointensive Agriculture?

Biointensive farming sack garden
Joshua shows us a sack garden.

Biointensive Farming, also called Biointensive Agriculture, is a technique that was launched by one of Village Volunteers’ partner NGO called Common Ground. Here is the definition of Biointensive Farming from the training manual, which you can download by clicking this link:

Biointensive farming is a self-help food raising method based on building and maintaining soil fertility and using NO chemicals. It is simple to learn and use, based on sophisticated principles dating back 4000 years in China, 2000 years in Greece, and 300 years in Europe. It was synthesized and brought to the U.S. by the English master horticulturist, Alan Chadwick, then further developed and documented by Ecology Action.
Important aspects of the method include:

  • Double-dug, raised beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive planting
  • Carbon farming
  • Calorie farming
  • The use of open–pollinated seeds
  • The whole gardening method

Chemicals are generally promoted when the soil is degraded, or the plants, trees, or animals are unhealthy. The biointensive farming model aims at restoring soil health and designing an environment that creates healthy plants, trees and animals. Biointensive training provides specific ideas on reducing and eventually eliminating the use of chemicals fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and the like. It addresses the healing process of the soil’s fertility and structure to put nutrients back into the soil and the give the soil the ability manage different levels of water.

Right now, we work with Village Volunteers specifically to fund their water filter project. Part of our visit to Kitale was to learn how else Jolkona could partner with Village Volunteers in addition to the water filtration project, and Biointensive Farming may be a perfect fit. (Stay tuned!)

How can innovations in farming power a village?

We found innovation everywhere in this village. Joshua Machinga, the director of the program and founder of Common Ground, runs one of the best primary schools in the area that is almost fully self-sustaining. How does he do this? The school owns land that utilizes the techniques of Biointensive Farming. Crops feed all the children healthy meals, they also teach nearby villages and farmers about Biointensive Farming methods. Essentially, the technique taught teaches farmers to dig their crops deeper in order to maximize land use and to be able to plant twice as many crops compared to traditional farming techniques. Joshua also teaches Agroecology techniques where natural enemies are used instead of pesticides to ensure a sustainable ecosystem.  I was fascinated by this technique that I had never heard of until I returned and learned that many agricultural experts would argue this is one of the best solutions for fighting both the food crisis and climate change.

However, back to the program in Kitale, season after season, this program allows the school not only to increase their yields to feed all the students, but it even sustains a business model where the ability to profit from the surplus crop and invest funds back into the school. The land is also rich in brick soil they use the soil to make and sell bricks. Again, putting any profits made back into supporting the future of the school.  We need more social entrepreneurs in the world like Joshua’s who are looking for innovative solutions to create transformative and lasting change in their communities.

Stay tuned for more Jolkona projects to help support this program to spread biointensive and agroecology farming techniques throughout Kenya!

Joshua Machinga explains biointensive farming
Joshua Machinga, the director of the program and founder of Common Ground.

Editor’s note: International World Water Day is held annually on the 22nd of March to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. What first began as an initiative by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) has turned into a movement and a celebration of what it means to have access to clean, freshwater. To commemorate this day, we are sharing a first-hand experience our team had when they visited one of our freshwater partners in east Africa during the holidays.

Did you know that over 884 million people around the world still use unsafe drinking water and as a result, 3.575 million people die each year from water-related diseases? The health and economic impacts of this problem are immense. This is why creating innovative ways for improving access to clean water is so imperative in alleviated poverty globally. While in East Africa visiting some of our projects, we had the opportunity to visit one of our partners in Kenya who have created an innovative way to provide clean, safe drinking water.

Common Ground, located in the village of Kitale, Kenya have developed an innovative cost-effective product to filter water for families, schools, and small clinics to use. Using local materials and labor, the NGO manufactures the water filters and certifies local women as water-health specialists, training each woman about water borne illnesses. They learn and then teach others about the importance of treating water and about the care and maintenance of the filters. Upon certification these specialists meet with women’s groups, churches, and schools to educate their community on the health risks associated with water drawn from lakes, streams, cisterns, and shallow bore holes.

I always love learning about new innovations related to providing access to clean water since it addresses so many pressing issues facing the developing world. I hope to see this simple “technology” and model spread throughout Kenya and other parts of the developing world.

The brilliance about all of this is these filters are made everyday materials—sawdust and clay. The filters are a very simple design but because of the innovation of using sawdust with the ceramic holder, it is able to filter out 99% of harmful water-borne diseases. The sawdust is magical ingredient trapping the harmful particles during the filtration process. The container itself provides an easy to pour dispenser for families and children to share water from safely. As volunteers, we were all proud of our accomplishment that day making 10 filters, however we learned that the regular workers could produce about 28 filters in the same time! We’ve got to work on our production time for next year, for sure!

What I love about this impactful approach:

  • Simple materials (clay & sawdust!) used to make water filters which last around 5 years
  • Reduces potential lethal outcomes from water-borne diseases
  • Offers an economic opportunity for the local women and benefits entire community
  • Creates an effective model for disseminating public health education in a culturally relevant manner.

Through the support of Jolkona and other development organizations, you can fund the transport, packaging, and cost of the filter to vulnerable schools, orphanages, or clinics up to 8 hours away from the manufacturing plant. Each filter serves roughly 8-10 people so for just $100, you can provide 5 water filters serving an entire school, orphanage, or clinic and then find out which school or facility receives those filters. Each filter provides adequate filtration for about 5 years! You can give the gift of clean water by supporting this project: Provide Ceramic Clean Water Filters in Kenya.

Sources:

  1. UNICEF/WHO. 2008. Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation.
  2. World Health Organization. 2008. Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health.

As the CEO of Jolkona, I am proud of what the team has accomplished in 2010. It has been a great foundation building year for the organization.

I want to start by thanking our partners and donors for believing in Jolkona through our early stages and providing us with invaluable feedback. You are at the center of our work and you are our inspiration for putting in long volunteer hours after a full day at the office or school.

Famed tennis player Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” Jolkona’s journey these past three years is a testament to that adage. In 2010, Jolkona made great strides in ”doing” and proving proof to becoming a highly successful giving platform.

Jolkona’s success is directly measured by on how much impact is delivered to those lives that need the help the most. The global impact we made in 2010 has reached thousands, but some of our highlights include:

  • Providing meals to 600 children in Uganda
  • 43 prosthetics provided in Bangladesh
  • Responding to the floods in Pakistan before the news hit mainstream media in the U.S.
  • 30 farmers trained in Sudan
  • 13 women’s stories sponsored in China
  • 2,800 trees planted in Ethiopia
  • 43 children tutored in Guatemala
  • 50 classes received books in USA
  • 100 days of medical supplies provided in Bangladesh

Coming into 2010, we were a fledgling startup without any major financial backing. We had few projects on the site and a handful of early adopters. Quickly, Jolkona learned how to build a successful startup organization with little to no resources and building a dynamic volunteer team that is beyond passionate about our mission. What is the cornerstone of our mission? It’s championing transparency within Jolkona and its partner community – something we care about deeply.

By the end of the year, our team grew from two to 20+ highly-skilled volunteers. Our donor base more than doubled, donations grew by almost 300%.

Jolkona landed our first corporate sponsor, partnering with communications agency Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE), on the matching grant campaign called MatchED, which funded up to $5,000 (U.S.) of individual donors’ contributions to educational projects showcased on the Jolkona website.

A second campaign – Give Health made possible by a group of anonymous donors – alone raised close to $14,000 for our projects.

Measuring impact continues to be a major focus for Jolkona and in 2010, we were able to work together and completed the following: align our measurements against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Jolkona team was also able to visit some of our partner projects in Africa for the first time in 2010 and see the real difference that we are making in the lives of those on the ground and we rounded out the year with our 12 Days of Giving Campaign generating over $5,500 in funds.

2011 is off to a feverish pace – we are thrilled to have hired our first two employees to start off the year. It had become obvious Jolkona needs a full-time team in order to reach its maximum potential: co-founder Nadia Khawaja Mahmud will be taking over as the CEO and Laura Kimball will be leading our marketing and outreach efforts. Their depth of knowledge and operational execution has been critical in building Jolkona into what it is today and we look forward as they continue lead efforts and breathe passion into our organization. We secured our first ever grant from Seattle International Foundation which is vital to developing outreach in areas such as Asia and South Africa. Over $4,000 was raised at the Social Media Club of Seattle anniversary party (SMC). This was our second year celebrating SMC’s birthday, and we are very humbled to be selected as the sole beneficiary!

Saving the best for last, I can’t pass along enough praise and thanks to all of the Jolkona team for the great work they have done in 2010. I am honored to have worked with such a passionate, dedicated team. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in 2011 and beyond.

Stay tuned, as Jolkona will launch our first matching campaign for 2011, to be unveiled in mid-February and will focus on education projects.

Best wishes for the New Year and our new chapter!

Adnan

Photo Credit: becca.peterson26

During our recent trip to Africa I found myself drawn to farming. I took a lot of interest in projects that were dealing with farming – everything from how to increase yield to helping farmers find markets for their crops. I took pages and pages of notes. I could not figure out why I was so fascinated with farming. I couldn’t figure out why farming would be so compelling to someone like me, a city-dweller from America who is an engineer by profession.

Then on our second day at the Serengeti, after we finished our hot air balloon ride and were on our way back to the visitor center, we came across a leopard. There were 20 to 30 other tour vehicles around the leopard all juggling for a good position to get a good picture of the leopard. We waited around for over 30 minutes trying to get the best angle to catch the spotted animal. That’s when I realized that I was drawn to farming because it was similar to photography.

Photography is all about getting the perfect shot. It is about tweaking all the various factors like lighting, exposure, film speed, etc., and combining them in a particular way to get the perfect picture. It takes many years of practice to understand how these various factors work with each other. The ultimate goal is not to only get one perfect picture, but to be able to replicate that quality over and over again for every picture you take.

Farming is not that different. Farmers spend years trying to understand how the various factors like rainfall, season, sunlight, amount of fertilizer, harvest time, etc., can be tweaked to give them the maximum yield. Their ultimate goal is also not just one great harvest, but to be able to take the learnings from one great harvest and replicate it for every season.

The trial and error aspect of farming along with the ultimate goal of perfection makes farming very appealing to me. If we can figure out how some of these lessons can be better shared across communities, then we can help accelerate this learning process. There is some great work being done already, especially in the mobile space (e.g. receiving weather updates on phones). And I imagine we will see a lot more innovations around sharing farming knowledge in the next 3 to 5 years.

This series of four photos is my attempt at trying to capture a perfect shot of the leopard.

All photos are by Adnan Mahmud.

Throughout my trip thus far, I have seen over 10 projects and many innovations around the pivotal role community plays in development. Everywhere I have seen examples of individuals who depend on their community for support in order to advance themselves and in turn enrich the well being their neighbors. In turn I have seen communities come together to help those who need it the most. Because of this model, this inherent need to build up each other and those around them, these groups of individuals create change by organizing their efforts together.

I call this “Powered by Community” and here is the impact community can have in affecting change:

  1. Foster closer community through honesty and openness. Members of the community of Dago, Kenya come to together once a year for the Kick It with Kenya Soccer Tournament.  Time is made to connect and openly share ideas with other communities who come over as visitors to  the tournament. Making time to honestly share helps with community growth and building long-term relationships.
  2. Break taboos and stigmas. Talking about HIV and AIDS used to be a big taboo in African villages like Dago. Now every community has a voluntary counseling and testing center (VCT) where the conversation about the prevention of HIV and AIDS is commonplace. It is far easier to change long held beliefs if change is being done as a collective whole.
  3. Continue traditions. Families have started to see their members spread out geographically. In a family with 5 children, most might move out to the city or even another country. Yet, during Christmas, everyone attempts to come back home to reconnect with their roots and share stories – continuing a tradition that has been in place for generations.
  4. Improve health. In Dago, Community Health Workers organize their own communities to educate themselves about current health conditions, provide preventive measures, and distribute medications to those in need. Providing this much-needed service at a reduced cost increases the prevention of illnesses to all within the village.
  5. Educate the youth. Every community has a primary school with the goal to send every child to school. In addition, communities are finding ways to support continuing education of the brightest students so that every family can continue to prosper. For example, Dago’s orphanage has solar power – giving the children ability to study after dark, while 99% of the homes in Dago don’t have power at all.
  6. Share risks. In the village of Kiminini, Kenya, women pool their savings to make loans to their peers. The borrower needs to get signatures from other women in her group before applying for the loan. This way, the women in the community take the risk of having to pay back the loan in case the borrower defaults. Distributing risk empowers the community to insure the borrower is successful.
  7. Share responsibility. Just like distributing risks, the women in Kiminini understand the share responsibility amongst the group members to make sure that the borrower pays back the loan on time by distributing ownership for loan amongst members of the group.
  8. Build skills. Outside of Kampala, Uganda, an orphanage houses close to 100 kids during the holidays. They kids don’t have a family to go to. Yet, they are spending the holidays learning various dance techniques like their own regional dances as well as salsa and other contemporary styles. Encouraging learning during what would typically be a difficult time for these children raises their self-esteem and further develops their sense of cultural belonging.
  9. Achieve self-sustainability. In Dago, Kenya, the villagers are implementing farming initiatives that will ensure that they can meet the local food needs and have all the pieces in place for self sustainability now and for future generations.
  10. Have a family. The community provides a family to everyone, including those who don’t have one of their own. In Dago, the community comes together to support widows with housing, food, and land for farming.

How do you define community?

Kick it with Kenya (KWIK) – a Jolkona project partner – is a community soccer tournament that leverages community gathering for sports to promote public health awareness. What is so innovative about this tournament is that it harnesses the power of the community in a fun way (who isn’t passionate about soccer?) to rally around their villages and also improve access to medical care and prevention. The tournament was hosted in Dago, and the Dago village team took home first place! It was amazing to see the spirit of the community and be a part of the talk of the town. Needless to say, the entire village was partying all night long at the orphanage center and will have another celebration to officially welcome home the trophy on Sunday evening.

The tournament brought together over 500 participants and even more spectators to show their support for each village and to receive medical treatment and counseling.

We had a chance to observe the clinics in action during the tournament and interview the medical team, which we will share with you in future posts. While the soccer games were  going on at the school field, the classrooms were converted to temporary health clinics. There was an optometrist, a nurse who diagnosed conditions and dispensed medications, and an HIV testing counselor. The community had access to free vaccinations and health mentors and advocates. This year, over 500 people were tested for HIV screening and over 250 patients received medical care and medications during the tournament.

It was such a privilege to see this project in action and experience how the donations from Jolkona are leveraged because of the triage of support from the dedicated community volunteers, the government, and generous in-kind donations secured by the tournament’s organizers.

Thank you to past donors who helped make the annual Kick it with Kenya soccer tournament possible! This tournament only happens once a year, and we welcome your support of this project throughout the year so that it can continue to grow and improve the lives and building of community in this rural part of Kenya.

Happy holidays from Dago, Kenya!

As part of Jolkona’s 12 Days of Giving, Team Africa is launching a campaign to sponsor 20 students to participate in the next KWIK soccer tournament. For $27, you can help promote public health awareness through a fun community event. Want to help make an impact for the holidays? Check out Team Africa’s campaign page.

After spending the day seeing Nairobi, this morning we packed our bags and headed to Dago, a small rural village about 4 hours west of Nairobi. Of course we wake up early with the plan to leave at 8am, only to be reminded of “African standard time.” We didn’t leave the house until 8:45am and although we reached the shuttle stand without much delay, once we got there we again were faced with the reality of how slow things move in Africa. Our goal was to get on the 9am shuttle, which ended up being full. So with much convincing from our hosts, we were able to get booked on the 10am shuttle, only it didn’t actually arrive until 11am! Finally we loaded up our stuff with our local guide named Eric and were off.

Outside of Nairobi, the Kenyan countryside is just amazing! We passed through the Great Rift Valley and descended into the land of the Masaai, traditional Kenyan nomadic warriors.

The road through this part of town was quite smooth and very beautiful. After what felt like hours-and-hours of driving through the northern plains of Kenya, we ended up in Kissi. Here we were picked up by a car and then transported to Dago, about 30 minutes away.

The roads were bumpy, made mostly of dirt. We finally arrived in Dago at 5pm, just in time for us to catch the last quarter of the “Kick it With Kenya Soccer Tournament” semi-final round. Dago Dera Hera puts on this tournament with the financial support of one of our partners, Village Volunteers. The tournament brings together over 500 youth from neighboring villages for a 4-day soccer tournament that includes free HIV/AIDS testing, medications, check-ups, and public health education. It’s a great way to bring together so many youth and to promote public health awareness at the same time.

Great energy, great music, and a crowd of kids like I’ve never seen before…what more can you ask for? How about an amazing home cooked meal and great conversations with the organizers of the tournament and our host family for our stay in Dago.

This family is incredible! The mom and dad and all of their children have dedicated their lives to helping their community, one that suffers from a large orphaned population due to an epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the area. Needless to say, it was an amazing night of learning about how they got started in this work and everything that their community center and this tournament achieves.

One of the things that inspired me about this family is the extreme compassion they have to help others. Although they are fairly privileged in their village standards, they are by no means what any one of us would consider “wealthy” or even “well-off” in the U.S. However, without taking any compensation, they volunteer their time, energy, and whatever extra resources they have to help these orphans and their community. I’m just amazed at what they’ve accomplished and at their generosity.

After dinner we headed to our room for the night. It was such a humbling experience to sleep in a hut without running water and plumbing using a community bathroom/latrine. Although it was a huge adjustment from the city life in Nairobi, it’s actually quite peaceful once you get used to it. I mean, who needs electricity and running water when you have a tube, well, buckets, and flashlights anyway?

I’m really excited to be helping out with the health clinics on the last day tomorrow as well as presenting trophies and prizes to the winners of the final round tomorrow.

By coming here I am seeing first hand what an impact this tournament is making and how cost-effective it is. For just $27, you can sponsor one of the participants in the tournament and give them access to free health screenings, education, and screenings. I hope you will join me in our campaign to help raise money to cover the costs of 20 kids to attend this tournament.

Again, each scholarship is only $27, but if you can only give $5 or $10 it all goes a long way here, TRUST ME! Please make a small contribution today. Good night from Dago!

KITO International takes reformed street youths in Nairobi, Kenya and provides them with operational business training so that they can work with KITO’s many businesses (e.g. bag productions) and/or set up their own, profitable business. Nadia and I had a chance to meet with the first group of youths who are about to finish the course. It was amazing to hear their stories, where they are from, and the dreams they want to pursue after they finish at KITO.

One of the youths that spoke to one of my own passions was named Alex. He wants to be a rapper. Here is a short sample of what Alex’s talent:

The mastermind behind KITO, is Wiclif Otieno, who we met at Opportunity Collaboration. He himself was a street child in Nairobi. He is commonly called a “reformed street kid” – street children who are rescued from their current conditions. After going through the government-run program, he realized that a big problem faced by these reformed youths is that there are limited opportunities to apply themselves after completing the program. As a result, they can often end up back out in the street as before. Wiclif wanted to break the cycle and create change. Through KITO, the next step is to help Alex connect with a producer.

I am looking forward to having KITO go through Jolkona’s vetting process and be added as a Jolkona partner so that you can help Alex and others pursue their dreams and leave the street life behind them.

GET INVOLVED!