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.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

ATSIKA: Improving lives together.

Worlds collide in the Ankarana region of Madagascar.  Christi Tuner and Julia Nelson are an unstoppable duo, changing the lives of those living in the region.

Atsika's mission is to improve the lives of the people of the Ankarana region of northwest Madagascar by increasing access to education, developing alternative livelihoods, and building local capacity while promoting environmental conservation and cultural preservation.  

In the language of northern Madagascar, Atsika means we or us.  It is a word often used to invoke a sense of community, unity, and collective experience.  Atsika’s vision is to bring together diverse people on a global scale, and through our partnerships, to improve individual lives and community well-being in the Ankarana region of northwest Madagascar. 

The founders, Julia Nelson and Christi Turner, both served as Peace Corps volunteers on the Antsaravibe area in the Ankarana region. Christi served 2004 to 2008, and Julia continued until 2009 when the political coup forced Peace Corps out of the country and put all development projects on hold. Both stayed in contact with the Antsaravibe community and their needs. During Julia’s visit to the area in 2011, a friend told her how happy she was to receive a donation from a visitor to send her kids to school in Antsaravibe. She hoped they would grow up to be smart enough to work in the local tourism lodge.  The cost to send a child to school for the year is approximate US$25. Other members of the community expressed how they want to rebuild the local community-managed nature park and eco-tourism activities into a source of livelihood for the community, but they did not known how.

Peace Corps can serve as a fantastic incubator for community development projects; however because Peace Corps volunteers only stay for a few years, ensuring project continuity and sustainability is a challenge.  After Julia’s visit back to the Ankarana region in 2011, she and Christi began talking about ways to continue to build capacity in the region by formally starting a non-profit. By 2012 Atsika was born, a non-profit that supports and builds on the projects that the two women started during their Peace Corps service.  Atsika aims to bring long term continuity to the development projects in the region by promoting education and working with local tourism industries to create opportunities for growth.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Snacking. I do too much of it and not enough eating of actual meals. After weeks of seeing ads about Naturebox on social media, I decided to order my first box. What made me finally give in was that Naturebox gives back. My $20/month provides me with nutritious snacks to eat at my desk at work (instead of last minute purchases of junk food.) It also supports Naturebox's mission to help end world hunger. 

NatureBox works with WhyHunger to solve the problems of hunger and poverty, while working to make more nutritious food available to everyone. Aside from making donations to WhyHunger, it also donates healthy snacks directly to WhyHunger partners, including community-based organizations, emergency food providers and summer meal programs for low-income children.

Two boxes in, the snacks are pretty tasty. My favorites so far have been the blueberry bars and the dried pineapple. Eat smart and give back!!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest Post: Jennifer Prod

Today, we have Jennifer Prod of Apartment-Wife guest posting. I hope her Random Acts of Happiness experiments inspire you as much as they do me!

I started doing Random Acts of Happiness in an effort to connect with strangers and make them smile.  The anonymity of the city can make it a lonely place, but I believe that kind gestures break down barriers and help form friendships.

I moved to Minneapolis from Wisconsin in May 2013, and my first Random Act of Happiness experiment (hereafter known as rah rah rah) began shortly after.  For the first experiment, I screen-printed poems onto balloons, and then I hung the balloons on doorposts and bike handles around the city.  The poems read as follows:

“I talk to strangers
hoping to meet
someone like you”

“a day without you
is like a morning
without coffee”

“your smile
made me forget
my parking ticket.”

The funny thing about the experiment was how much it served to brighten my own day. I welcomed a break from my own problems to think about making others smile, and it was fun to imagine how people would react to the gifts.

Since then, I’ve done 25 different random acts of happiness – ranging from bubblegum competitions in the park to making ice cream with strangers at the lake.  The rah rah rah experiments have put me in contact with hundreds of strangers, helped me to learn their unique stories, and provided me with insight into what makes people happy.  I have a list of 50 more projects that I want to complete, and it keeps growing as strangers suggest more projects.

Today, I was inspired by Operation Philanthropy to spread happiness for a cause.  I had been wanting to give a gift to a stranger, and after being inspired by Renee, I decided the gift would be a 3 Strands bracelet.

3 Strands bracelets are made by girls rescued from the sex-trafficking industry, and all the proceeds help survivors begin a new life.  Each bracelet is handmade by the survivor and displays a beautiful stone interwoven between 3 strands of yarn.  The stone is hidden within the 3 strands to symbolize how the girls felt invisible to the people that used them in the past.

Heavy subject matter for a happiness experiment, but I hoped to support the survivors by giving a 3 Strands bracelet as a gift.  The experiment took place at Mall of America, and it only took 2 minutes to find someone that could use a smile.  I approached a girl taking a lunch break from work, and handed over the small yellow box.  She looked surprised as she accepted the gift, and she broke into a big smile when I explained it was for her. Her smile was so wonderful that it made me want to give gifts to strangers every day.  Here are some photos from the experiment:

"The gift"

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Weekend Update: My mini vacation

Happy weekend readers!
I hope you had a chance to read the last few posts on simple ways to incorporate philanthropy into your everyday life and causes such as Human After All and Blogcause.

Friday night and I am hanging in with a movie and sushi. I figure I can use the time to catch up after being away last week in Maine. My best friend took the bar exam in Arizona (where she is currently living) and came back east for a couple of weeks to relax, so I joined her. It was a fun weekend of boating and meteor shower watching---and did I mention eating? EATING.

Peep these photos from heaven.

Brendan Hieber

I hope you enjoyed last week's post about Human After All (and if you did, please donate.) Meet the man behind the mission.

Name: Brendan Hieber

Age: 30

Live: I live in Lima, Peru

Career: Tell me a bit about your career or the career you hope to have. 
    • I have worked a lot of jobs, some good, some not so good.  The shortest stint was at the Chicago Botanic Gardens as a pesticide sprayer.  That didn't work for too long.  Maybe, around 11 days at the most. Some of the more fun jobs I have had were working as a Production Assistant at the Ravinia Festival, interning for 93.1 WXRT, a local rock radio station in Chicago, interning for Aware Records, working for Bitter Jester Creative as a "man-on-the-street" interviewer, and teaching young boys how to thrive in wilderness situations as a mountaineering instructor in North Carolina at Camp Mondamin.  Currently, I am working with a Peruvian NGO called La Casa de Panchita, working to help child domestic workers trapped in a heartbreaking cycle of poverty in the shantytowns of Lima, Peru.  In the future, I would like to work with communities of folks throughout the Global South, changing lives through effective sustainable development.  I could see myself working in education, community development, fundraising, individual empowerment, or if I had my way, a combination of them all.  I like the idea of being involved with projects, as I am learning I like to see that real change has been enacted, little by little.  Like everybody's, my dreams are a work in progress.  

Are you philanthropic? Why?
    • The short answer is yes, I am philanthropic.  The why part is a little longer, and would probably change depending on which day you caught me, and after which book I had just finished reading.  As of today you have caught me in the middle of a book by the Dalai Lama on living and dying in peace, at the end of the first book in a Russian vampire saga, and I have just finished To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm, so we'll see where that takes me.  I believe to be philanthropic, in the sense of giving of yourself, of your time, your money, your knowledge, your resources to another person is simply what it means to be human.  For me the best kind of philanthropy is a reciprocal philanthropy, because I hope it is the rare person that merely wants to sit on the receiving end without contributing something to the philanthropic conversation or exchange.  So, I guess I am philanthropic so I can have more interactions with people, learn more about myself and the world, alleviate suffering in the most extreme situations, end the shame and misery of poverty, use my creativity, feel fulfilled, not acquire "too much" stuff, keep a balanced perspective and remain humble, absolutely slay poverty (did I say that), watch this beautiful species of ours rise to its amazing potential, dream with the best of us, weep with the best of us, have a more firm connection to the real, uplift humanity, try to reverse the damage being done to our planet, and try to find solutions to some of our time's most challenging problems.  Those are some of the reasons why I am philanthropic.   

If you would like to learn more about the project I am currently involved with and help us help these children, please visit our project page on globalgiving.com below:

What does philanthropy mean to you? 
    • Philanthropy means to be human.  Philanthrophy means to give what you got: your energy, your mind, your ideas, your experience, your money, your love, your righteous indignation for the injustices that exist, because you cannot take these things with you.  Philanthropy is another means of making yourself heard.  For me, it is important to do these things in a kind way.  When I was growing up, whenever I would leave the house, my mom would always say to me, "Be kind."  So, I also always have those words in my head on some level.

What organization(s) do you donate time and/or money to? 
    • These days I have been donating money to the Nature Conservancy, donating money to specific projects like the reforestation of the Atlantic forest or purchasing carbon offsets for some of the travel I find myself doing.  I also am a huge fan of supporting smaller NGOs, or even individual projects.  Last Christmas most people in my family received an email stating they had supported a small NGO in Madagascar called Atsika that a friend, Christi Turner, has started. (www.atsika.org)  I firmly believe that while super philanthrocapitalists, think Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, are integral in tackling huge world problems like the eradication of Polio, a ton of world changing work is being done at the grassroots level as well, and that really makes me proud and optimistic for humanity.  Sites like Vittana.org and Kiva.org allow an individual to make a loan to another individual situated throughout the developing world, which will be paid back.  Another site which I love is globalgiving.org.  There are literally thousands of small projects that enact real change in the lives of individuals, started by folks "on the ground" ready to make the changes as soon as funding comes through.  So cool.  

If you had a million dollars to donate, what organization(s) would you give to? International or domestic? Why?
    • If I had a million dollars, I would need a lot of time to think about where I was going to donate it.  I can honestly say I am not prepared to answer this question.  I guess I would need a lot more time to do my homework, and really think about where my priorities truly lie.  I guess I will just use this space to draw attention to various organizations that I think are doing good work, and who I think are worthy of funding:

1.) My project - "Jugando Aprendo": PLEASE GIVE!  WE NEED YOU! SERIOUSLY!

2.) La Casa de Panchita:     http://www.lacasadepanchita.com/

3.) Atsika:     www.atiska.org 

4.) Isla Urbana:      www.islaurbana.org

5.)The Nature Conservancy:     http://www.nature.org/ 

6.) Vittana:     www.vittana.org

7.) Kiva:     www.kiva.org

8.) KIPP Public Charter Schools:     http://www.kipp.org/

Is there a philanthropist you admire?
    • Sure. I admire a woman named Christi Turner, who I went to undergrad with at Lewis and Clark College.  Christi was a year above me, and also my Spanish tutor.  I am not sure whether Christi would call herself a philanthropist, but she certainly cares about others and our world, and works double hard to make a positive contribution.  Christi was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar, and has since founded Atsika, an NGO committed to community-based sustainable development, conservation, and innovative education.  She worked in Madagascar for over five years; founding a locally-managed protected area and building the first solar-powered community radio station on the island.  Building on her experience, she worked for a national project creating a slew of educational radio programs for schools and communities in Madagascar and educating university students studying in Kenya and Tanzania on community managed conservation and development.  She is a brilliant woman, and last I heard was pursuing a masters degree, and living in Colorado.  OP should definitely get in touch with her!  www.atsika.org   

What advice would you give to a young adult wanting to embark on a career in public or non-profit services?
    • I would say to find an area you are passionate about, and learn as much about that area as possible.  Read, volunteer, work, and be around folks who are passionate about that same thing as well.  If, like me at your age, you don't quite know what you want to do, do a lot!  The one thing I would do though is become fluent in AT LEAST one other language besides  English.  Make learning a second language a priority.  Also, travel.  And I am not talking about the traditional go to Europe for the summer thing.  I am talking about learning how to navigate and make your way in the developing world.  Learn how to haggle, bargain, use a map, guide books, etc.  I guess this advice is more applicable for global NGO service.  But that is what I know the most about at this point.  And Europe is cool too, but don't be afraid to get off the beaten path, but always do so safely, carefully measuring and weighing the risks you are taking.   

Do you have any closing comments you would like to leave the readers with today?
    • I would say this: Take yourself and your friend to the movies without actually going.  Instead I am going to suggest you do one thing: do two things. First, for the price of one admission ticket: visit my project page and donate 10 dollars. Project page:  http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/changing-lives-of-child-domestic-workers-in-peru Second, for the price of the second ticket: visit Atsika.org, and donate ten dollars. Give of yourself.  Call a friend, pop some popcorn, hunker down, and watch some netflix, and know that there are child laborers in the shantytowns of Peru and a community in Madagascar that will have better lives because you decided to stay in for one nightYou can also use your phone: Text GIVE 14103 to 80088 to donate $10 to Changing lives of child domestic workers in Peru. Message and data rates may apply. Only works for US mobile phones.