Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Meet Claire Boone and Emily Botts!

Good people attract other good people. Brendan Hieber (check out his profile by clicking the link) is a matchmaker extraordinare, connecting me to a few of the fabulous people he has meet along his volunteer travels. I had the privilege of profiling an amazing initiative yesterday, started by the two ladies below. Learn how they are fighting Hepatitis B among Ghanaian children and read about their personal philanthropy styles.

Emily Botts (left) and Claire Boone (right)

Name: Claire Boone
Age: 22
Live: currently nomadic

I am a recent graduate, so right now I am taking a gap year to travel, volunteer, and figure out the answer to that question! As of now I am very interested in public and global health, and hope to pursue a career in that field.

Are you philanthropic? Why?
The short answer is yes. After a first-hand look at real, gut-wrenching, die-from-totally-preventable-disease poverty, it’s hard not to be.

What does philanthropy mean to you?
Big question! My definition tends to fluctuate. It can mean as much as donating millions of dollars, or as little as reading about ‘good’ work someone somewhere is doing. Most of my friends are still in university or have just entered the workforce, and have minimal disposable income - so when they do so much as click on our GlobalGiving project link, or shoot me a quick message about it, I consider it being philanthropic.

Why do you support this (these) cause(s)?
My motivation for coming to Ghana to volunteer was mostly educational. After a couple short stints volunteer/interning I realized there is no better way to learn than totally
immersing yourself in a project you’re interested in a completely foreign place. So in
reality the organization I’m working with is supporting me as much as I am supporting
their cause.

How did you find these opportunities?
I had my heart set on volunteering in Africa, and after a couple weeks of scouring
idealist.org came across the CHF listing.

Do you enjoy it?
I definitely do. I love travelling and working in new places, and while working here in Ghana has definitely been one of the largest challenges I’ve faced, I’ve enjoyed every second of it.

How would you improve your experience, if possible?
Next time I volunteer/intern/work somewhere it will be for longer. Emily and I were able to accomplish some great things in the past three months, but to have a real impact three months is practically nothing.

Is there a philanthropist you admire?

I greatly admire my aunt and uncle, Amy and Peter Boone.  They are the founders of Effective Intervention, a group that implements health and development projects in a scientific way so that they can measure the actual impact of the interventions. They are promoting evidence-based philanthropy, which is something the world definitely needs more of.

Name: Emily Botts           
Age: 24
Live: Seattle, WA

Career: Most recently worked in Development/Fundraising at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Currently a volunteer public health intern for Cheerful Hearts Foundation in Ghana.

Are you philanthropic?  Why?
I try to be. Growing up, my parents taught my siblings and I to spend money wisely, place minimal value on material possessions, and be aware of those less fortunate than ourselves. Being philanthropic is a reflection of these values. Being a Christian is also a factor. In concurrence with my religious views, I view philanthropy as a form of serving others in both interactive and financial ways.

What does philanthropy mean to you?
Philanthropy means using my resources – money, time, and energy – to assist those who need it. I was dealt such a high hand in life: I have an education and good health. I have a family who supports me, political freedom, and social rights. Being philanthropic is my response to circumstances that prevent others from being able to say the same.

What organizations do you donate your time/ money to?
I support Casa de la Esperanza, an orphanage in Tijuana that I have visited five separate times starting when I was in junior high school. I volunteer with Hamomi, a non-profit children’s centre in Nairobi, Kenya with offices in Seattle. I am currently in Ghana carrying out a Public Health internship with Cheerful Hearts Foundation, a grassroots NGO focused on health, education, and social justice.

What do you do?
For our current internship with Cheerful Hearts Foundation, we work with the dynamic Public Health team researching and educating about tuberculosis.

In late April, we decided to create an additional project to apply our extra time and energy to. We planned a tuberculosis screening in a fishing village where we had found that health knowledge was extremely low. We learned that Hepatitis B is also a huge health threat in this village, and decided to plan a Hep B screening and vaccination session at a government school in the same community. We now had two projects on our hands in addition to our initial load.

The tuberculosis screening was a one-time deal, but the Hepatitis B screening and vaccination project is on-going. (You can read more about it on our Global Giving site at http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/hepatitis-b-vaccination-for-ghanaian-children/ ) Both of us will continue to manage the project remotely when we leave Ghana, and are in the process of training other CHF volunteers to take over on the ground when we have gone.

Why do you support this (these) cause(s)?
Because I can make a difference. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that because of our efforts, two people will receive life-saving tuberculosis treatment that would otherwise have likely gone untreated. As a result of our Hepatitis B project fundraising, as of June 12, 2014 ninety-one children have received the first of three injections to vaccinate against Hepatitis B. Eight children tested positive for the infection and can now receive treatment to prevent further spread. I support this cause because it literally saves lives, and I get to see it first-hand.

How did you find these opportunities?
I found Cheerful Hearts Foundation through an Internet search for non-profit public health opportunities in Africa.

Do you enjoy it?
I do. This is my first experience volunteering long-term with an NGO in a developing country. The experience has been very different from what I expected, and I had to adapt quickly. I’ve learned that flexibility is imperative when working in a foreign culture.

How would you improve your experience if possible?
The biggest challenges have been cultural: General lenient regard to timeliness, lack of resources such as Internet or even consistent electricity, and language barriers. Since these factors cannot be changed, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being flexible and patient!

Is there a philanthropist you admire?
I bet everyone says this one, but for good reason. I want to be Melinda Gates when I grow up.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hepatitis B Screening and Vaccination for Ghanaian Children

After a bit of a hiatus, operation philanthropy is back, kicking off its return with a wonderful cause. 

Last week, I had the pleasure of making virtual aquaintances with Claire Boone and Emily Botts. While volunteering in Ghana with Cheerful Hearts Foundation, assessing the communities' knowledge of select health issues and general health practices, Claire and Emily took their service one step further to strengthen their impact. Their initiative strives to screen and vaccinate 300-400 Ghanaian children against Hepatitis B. It is safe to say that my knowledge of Hepatitis B was very limited before learning about Claire and Emily's work. I am more than happy to contribute to their effort by both donating and getting the word out! See what I mean below....

Hepatitis B basics
Hepatitis B is a highly infectious viral disease that presents few symptoms in early stages, but can lead to fatal liver disease if left untreated. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids including blood, saliva, urine, and semen or vaginal fluid. It can also be passed from mother to child during birth. In developing countries with low focus on sanitation and sterilization, diseases spread by contact are a major threat. Unprotected sex and shared or unsterile needles are leading causes of transmission.

The early stages of Hepatitis B are acute. Many people do not present symptoms early on and might clear the infection without ever being aware of having it. If the acute infection is not detected and treated and does not clear itself though, the virus can progress from acute to chronic form. Chronic Hepatitis B leads to cirrhosis, liver disease, and liver cancer and is often fatal.

In Ghana, about 13 out of every 100 people screened will test positive for Hepatitis B. Many more are carriers who do not get screened because they are not aware of the virus. A carrier can infect many other people without even knowing he or she is spreading the virus. Hepatitis B infection is more prevalent than HIV/AIDS in Ghana.

Though some adults who contract Hepatitis B will recover from the disease naturally, children are much less likely to do so. Only 30% of infected children will recover and develop immunity without treatment. Treatment for chronic Hepatitis B involves antiviral medication that stops reproduction of the virus but cannot clear it completely. There is no cure for Hepatitis B, but treatment is aimed at managing symptoms and minimizing the damage caused to the liver by the virus.

The vaccine for Hepatitis B protects the recipient against infection for life. It is administered as two injections given one month apart followed by a booster given up to 6-months later. Administered properly, the Hepatitis B vaccine is 99.9% effective.

Claire and Emily's efforts help to fight Hepatitis B in Nyanyano. After meeting with community leaders, school administrators, and medical professionals, they devised a game plan for how to create an impact. They created a page on GlobalGiving, a website that hosts fundraising efforts, and immediately shared it with family and friends back home---raising almost $3,500 to date. (Check out their fundraising page to learn more.)

The Issue
About 10-15% of the population of Ghana is infected with the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). This is an alarmingly high incidence in relation to the worldwide figures. A very effective vaccine against HBV exists, but many people in poorer communities have never even visited a clinic or hospital let alone received any immunizations. While the HBV vaccine is standardly given to children during their primary vaccinations (at 6, 10 and 14 weeks old), it is not currently included in the National Health Insurance Scheme. Thus, people who did not receive primary vaccinations as babies cannot be vaccinated for free at a later time. Lack of vaccination availability lends to the high incidence of the virus.

The Plan
Claire and Emily hope to screen and vaccinate between 300 and 400 children in grades 4-6 (ages 10-15) at Nyanyano District Assembly Government School. In addition, they will educate the students and their parents on symptoms, prevention, and treatment of Hepatitis B. By bringing the screening and vaccines to the school, this initiative eliminates the problem of parents having to take time and money to travel to a clinic. It will cover the cost of screening and vaccination, 50 GHC per child (approx. US $18), through its fundraising efforts.

Progress: These ladies are making it happen!
As of June 12, 99 students were screened for Hepatitis B. You can read about the screening results here, which helped to reaffirm Claire and Emily's mission. The next round of screenings will be on June 25. To ensure that Claire and Emily reach their goal and screen as many children as possible, please consider donating at GlobalGiving page.
Please help spread the word! $25 could save a child's life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Founders of Atsika: Julia Nelson & Christi Turner

Learn about what drives the founders of Atsika, Julia Nelson & Christi Turner.

Name: Julia Nelson, Executive Director
Age: 35
Live: Bozeman, MT, USA

Name: Christi Turner, Vice President
Age:  31
Live: Denver, CO

Career: Tell me a bit about your career or the career you hope to have.

Julia Nelson: I work for an international non-profit organization that creates educational materials about water and trains educators on effective teaching methodology. Much of my work focuses on creating water, sanitation and hygiene educational materials for developing countries or urban slums. I work with local educators, governments and NGOs in the respective communities to develop a water education program.

Christi Turner: I spent several years working in sustainable development and conservation in Madagascar and East Africa – Kenya and Tanzania – focusing on using media as a “tool” to foster change and create impact in that field.  I spent over 6 years in Madagascar, first in the Peace Corps, and then working for a number of NGOs using media for development.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer I helped my community to establish its own solar-powered community radio station, and from there I ended up working for a non-profit called the Education Development Center to produce radio programs to provide classroom support and teacher training in Madagascar’s most rural and isolated school districts.  I ended up specializing in radio for development, and worked for a few other NGOs to help them develop community radio feasibility studies and action plans; later I worked for one of these NGOs, Blue Ventures, as their education program manager – teaching kids and teens to use radio and film to promote conservation and sustainable natural resource management in their coastal Malagasy community.  Over the course of that work, I became a freelance photographer, learned video production, and began writing more and more about the work I was doing – until last year, when I decided to pursue an MA in environmental reporting, and step away from development program management to become a journalist focused on environmental issues.  I’ve been reporting in print, photo and film since 2012, while working with Julia to manage Atsika, the non-profit that we created in order to continue to support the projects that we helped to initiate in northwest Madagascar, where she followed me as a PCV.

Are you philanthropic? Why?

JN: Certainly. My career is built around helping others to better their health and environmental situation as it relates to water. I also run a small grassroots non-profit that benefits the community I lived in as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. As a human with the means to help others better their own lives through financial or technical support, I feel I have the responsibility (and empathy) to do so.

CT: Absolutely.  In every consumer decision that I make, I try to support worthy causes – for example, purchasing goods from small cooperatives, supporting companies that donate a percentage of their proceeds to causes that I support, being a contributing member of my local public radio stations (my inspiration for my work in Madagascar!), using a “working assets” credit card that donates a portion of profits to charitable causes, subscribing to reader-supported non-profit journalism like Mother Jones, and making whatever small donation I can to causes that I support – such as the Nature Conservancy and most all of the NGOs that I’ve worked for.  As a photographer, although I don’t focus on selling my work, whenever I do I donate a portion of my profits to a charitable cause.  Atsika included. 

What does philanthropy mean to you? 

JN: Contributing resources to solve specific humanitarian problems.

CT: Philanthropy means recognizing that not all communities, causes, and individuals are on equal footing in this world, and moreover that the global economy is not designed to support the types of causes and organizations that will provide benefits to society but cannot compete in the capitalist system.  It is similar to when our government subsidizes important public programs and social services – libraries, public parks, wastewater treatment, healthcare, etc. – except that it empowers the individual to support causes she or he believes will benefit society, no matter how limited one’s financial ability to contribute.

What organization(s) do you donate time and/or money to? 

JN: Heifer International, JDRF

a.    What do you do? Contribute Money and do walks sometimes
b.    Why do you support this (these) cause(s)? I believe in what they do and trust how they spend their money
c.    How did you find these opportunities? Can’t remember but my brother is juvenile diabetic
d.    Do you enjoy it? Yes
e.    How would you improve your experience, if possible? Make it more personal by raising money through drives or walks (sort of like the break out of campaign that the MS Foundation has)

CT: These days I donate my time to Atsika more than any other organization.  But I also volunteer my time and professional services to Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (an awesome non-profit here in Colorado where I worked previously), and when I’m visiting my hometown in Rhode Island I often volunteer with the local chapter of the Nature Conservancy.  I also still support school children through the Blue Ventures education program, where I previously worked.  In Boulder and Denver, I’ve donated my time and photography to B-Cycle, a local bike-share program; I’ve also photographed WaterWheel - the non-profit arm of the band Phish – free of charge at a number of Phish shows.  I mentioned some of the places I support financially as well – but often times a donation of time as a volunteer or as a professional are just as valuable.  I only wish I could do more – but these days it’s certainly difficult, as I’m back to being a student!

If you had a million dollars to donate, what organization(s) would you give to? International or domestic? Why?

JN: Both international and domestic-- I would find the organizations that are working directly with the target populations and understand the cultural and local context of the beneficiaries. Grass root organizations often can create real change as they are embedded in communities but lack the resources to carry our holistic projects. I would support these organizations that align with my ideals.

CT: That is a hard one to answer.  I think that instead I would create a fund that only small non-profit organizations and local community organizations could apply for, through an application process that recognizes that they wouldn’t have the grant management capacity of large NGOs and IGOs (which I have found too often is a barrier to small organizations accessing seed money for their programs).  I would want the funds to benefit organizations supporting small scale sustainable development, local biodiversity conservation, girls’ education, universal education, and of course media for local development.

Is there a philanthropist you admire?

JN: Bill and Melinda Gates.  They are dedicated to helping people better their lives through innovative approaches. And they are not afraid to think completely outside the box.

CT: Paul Farmer has been an inspiration to me.  I read Mountains Beyond Mountains and learned about his non-profit, Partners In Health, and his quest to bring modern health care to impoverished communities just as I began my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I continue to admire his tireless devotion to his cause and incredible ingenuity in achieving his goals.

What advice would you give to a young adult wanting to embark on a career in public or non-profit services?

JN: Find a balance between idealism and realism. Understanding the realities of development work and it associated challenges is an important asset in creating sustainable projects and lasting change while the enthusiasm of hope allows projects to move forward with passion and drive.

CT: It was hard for me to truly believe this when I was younger, but now that I’m in my 30s I have come to understand how important it is to make sure that in the course of your philanthropic or non-profit work for a given cause, you do not neglect to plan for your own future.  Sometimes in grassroots community development, public service or a similar field, you will be immersed in the lives of people who have had to endure far more hardship than you have, and it is easy to let your own wellbeing become secondary.  Remember that your ability to make a positive contribution in the lives of others depends in large part on your own health, happiness and sense of security – and that the current state of the global economy does not always make it easy to attain and maintain these things!

Just as important, know that if you embark on a career in public or non-profit service, your life will be enriched immensely by the people you meet, the communities you connect with, and the enormous breadth of experiences you will have.  And despite the fact that you may be addressing some of the biggest problems facing the planet and our society, you are sure to be inspired by our human resiliency, our Earth’s natural beauty, and our potential to create positive change in the world.