Category Archives: Nonprofit Spotlight

Have 5 Minutes? Be Inspired by Life Changing Work


Last May, I traveled with friends to Ethiopia to do a project for Healing Hands of Joy, a maternal healthcare/microfinance organization.

Weeks later, two incredible high school students (oh yes, this was made by two amazing 16 year olds!) visited HHOJ in Ethiopia and made this incredible 5 minutes film, raising thousands of dollars for HHOJ in the process.

Have 5 minutes?  Be inspired:!media-gallery/vstc5=videos 

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Nonprofit Spotlight: Healing Hands of Joy


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5 months ago, thanks to the Pangea Advisors initiative through Columbia Business School, I travelled with 2 friends throughout Ethiopia to conduct impact assessment on Healing Hands of Joy (HHOJ) and organization which addresses one of the most urgent, critical issues of women in developing countries:  obstetric fistula.

What is Obstetric Fistula?  I’ll let journalist Nick Kristof tell you:

“obstetric fistulas [is] a condition almost unknown in the West but indescribably hideous for millions of sufferers in the poorest countries in the world.

It typically occurs when a teenage girl cannot deliver a baby because it is too big for her pelvis. After several days of labor without access to a doctor, the baby dies and the girl is left with a hole between her bladder, vagina and sometimes rectum. The result is that urine and sometimes feces drip constantly down her legs. In some cases, she is also left lame from nerve damage….

They are often abandoned by their husbands and driven out by other villagers.

Take Mahabouba Mohammed, whom I met here in Addis Ababa…After a long labor, she delivered the dead baby herself but suffered crippling internal injuries, including a fistula.

Ms. Mohammed crawled back to the village, but the baby’s father was horrified by her smell. He confined her in a faraway hut and removed the door — so that hyenas, attracted by the odor, would tear her apart at night.

This girl fought off the hyenas and crawled for a day to reach an American missionary, who eventually brought her to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital that Dr. Hamlin heads. Dr. Hamlin was able to repair her fistula, and now Ms. Mohammed is a confident young nurse’s aide at the hospital here.”

HHOJ works with the Hamlin Fistula Hospital and “gives former fistula patients a second chance by giving them a purpose, training, counseling and the opportunity to improve their villages and save lives by training them as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors. We also empower these women economically with income-generating skills training and start-up small business funds.”

Alongside HHOJ’s incredible founder Allison Shigo and her dedicated staff, we met with many of the Safe Motherhood Ambassadors who have gone through the HHOJ program including:

  • Ametetsion (pictured above): her husband left her and before she went through the HHOJ program, she had no money to pay for day-to-day life – now she is running a successful home brewery and pub

In addition to meeting many of the women who graduated from the HHOJ program, we also met the current group of women who were living at the HHOJ center in Mekelle and going through the program.

We absolutely fell in love with the women at the center and with HHOJ and encourage anyone interested to:

  • Visit HHOJ’s website to learn more about the organization:
  • Watch Founder Allison Shigo’s Emmy Award winning documentary on these women: A Walk to Beautiful

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Filed under Ethiopia, Nonprofit Spotlight

Nonprofit Spotlight: Shanta Foundation


There are certain precautions that one takes as a solo female traveler.  For example, when strangers first approach me, I’m usually a little skeptical.  So when a Woody Allen doppelgänger, standing across the baggage carousel at the Yangon airport, looked at my passport and said “Hey, I’m American too,” I smiled, nodded, and wordlessly collected my backpack and went on my merry way.

The following morning, at the Bogyoke Aung San Market, I was seeking out money changers and heard a voice call out in English,“Hey, didn’t I see you at the airport yesterday?”  Partially because he looked like Woody Allen and partially because he was one of only a handful of tourists I saw the entire time I was in Myanmar, I put some of my skepticism aside.

As it turns out, he volunteers for a sustainable development organization that works in the remote villages of Myanmar called the Shanta Foundation.  Specifically, he has started several pig farms as a means of economic development for the villagers.  And, he helped me find the elusive money changers.

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Filed under Asia, Burma/Myanmar, Nonprofit Spotlight

Nonprofit Spotlight: Cambodian Landmine Museum – Siem Reap, Cambodia


At age 10, Aki Ra was initiated as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge and tasked with laying mine fields.  At age 14, he defected and began working with the Vietnamese to undo the damage of the Khmer Rouge regime.  With an estimated 6 million landmines actively remaining in Cambodia, Aki Ra’s life’s work has been demining the Cambodian countryside and establishing the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Fund to show the world the consequences of war.  Behind the Museum, off-limits to tourists, are several dormatories, where Aki and his wife house, educate, and take care of dozens of children who have been maimed by the remaining landmines.

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Nonprofit Spotlight: City Cycling Tours – Phnom Penh, Cambodia


City Cyclos provides a great way to see Phnom Penh while supporting a great cause.  I took a one hour tour of the city via cyclo — a bicycle with an attached carriage.  The cyclo drivers were formerly homeless; this organization provides them with not only employment, but also shelter and  health care education.

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8 Ideas for Responsible Tourism


In honor of the blog surpassing 1,000 hits this weekend, a little something I wanted to share from Kevin Salwen’s NYTimes piece “Is There a Right Way to Spend Money When Traveling?”

1. Fix a daily or weekly budget. You may not be able to avoid feeling like a patsy or a skinflint, but a budget of how much to spend, tip or give will create a structure for your own sanity. The goal is to walk that tricky line between helping and having every encounter turn into a negotiation. You’ll never make everyone happy, but at least you’ll have a framework.

2. Overbuy gifts for yourself and others. This is our favorite method of economic development. It helps fuel employment (the most dignified form of money transfer) and it has the residual benefit of having something to bring back home. On a trip to India, we bought a gorgeous hand-woven rug in Jaipur, a piece that we were told took more than four months to make. As our guide, Ashok Verma, later told me in Varanasi, India: “Crafts are the best thing to buy; they have people’s dreams woven into them.”

3. Don’t bargain down price, bargain up quantity. Joan wanted to buy a set of colored stamps with bindi (Indian forehead dots) for her students (she teaches seventh grade). One hundred rupees, the vendor said. No, too expensive, she replied, following cultural norms of bargaining. The negotiation was on. Finally, Joan bought three sets for that same 100 rupees (about $2). The man got his price, she got more stamps. Ms. Honey urges travelers to stop bargaining before they are the only winner. “Let people earn a real wage,” she cautions.

4. Try to be more than a consumer. Local citizens “may be economically poor but they are often culturally rich,” says Harold Goodwin, professor of Responsible Tourism Management at Leeds Metropolitan University in England. So, engage in their culture by getting off the large bus and taking an interest in how they make their living. It’s O.K. to take photos of individuals who capture your interest — but only if you ask first and pay if requested, he adds. The rule is simple, Mr. Goodwin says: “Treat them as you would like to be treated.”

5. Let others earn a living by helping. In American airports and hotels I never get help with my luggage; wheeled bags roll, don’t they? But overseas, I’ve learned to relax and let someone else carry my suitcase. It’s a rational way for local residents to feed their families, and certain people have turned luggage-carrying into an art: when we were leaving the Varanasi train station, a man offered to carry our bags, then stacked both my and Joan’s roller suitcases on his head for our 200-yard walk.

6. Don’t give to panhandlers. Handouts send a multitude of wrong messages about dependency and the value of work. Plus, handouts encourage more begging, often by children (an awful alternative to school). Long-term change never starts with a quarter or even $10 stuck into someone else’s palm. Still, even Ms. Honey concedes she breaks down sometimes. “I tend to give to women and children because they are the most vulnerable.”

7. Instead, buy stuff on the street. The hawker’s life is a tough one, always a fight against weather, traffic and crime. So if you want to help, buy more than you usually might. Granted, I acted counter to this by not buying that T-shirt from the boy in Palmyra, but, as I think about it now, what would it have harmed if I had? Since then, I’ve purchased boiled eggs, bagged water, toys, even a novel. (I politely said no on the kitchen strainer.) Why not bolster that small-business spirit?

8. Sample local food. Tourists in the developing world often eat at a limited number of hotels or restaurants deemed safe by guidebooks. There’s logic to that, especially where food-borne illness is concerned. But you’d be missing out on part of the reason you travel in the first place.

“Buy food and beverages from local producers, taste the locally produced foods and enjoy this as part of your holiday experience,” Mr. Goodwin says. For instance, you haven’t really tasted a banana if you’ve never had one grown for immediate consumption (compared with ones modified for export and sold blemish-free in United States supermarkets). Peels help keep the fruit safe, as does boiling in the case of a cup of local tea. The winners are the farmers, who often are at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

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Filed under Nonprofit Spotlight, Travel (General)

Nonprofit Spotlight: Craft Link – Hanoi, Vietnam


With locations adjacent to both the Temple of Literature and the Museum of Ethnicity, this boutique is a fair-trade nonprofit organization that  sells the handicrafts of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.  Silks, lacquers, batiks, wood work – clearly I couldn’t resist shopping for a good cause!

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Filed under Asia, Nonprofit Spotlight, Vietnam

Nonprofit Spotlight: Baguette & Chocolat – Sapa, Vietnam


With a nod to the French influence on the area, this charming B&B and cafe is a culinary/hospitality school for local disadvantaged teens.  The culinary students have won distinction in international competitions and the program itself is world renowned for its work in the community.  When in Sapa, stop in for pain chocolat and Vietnamese coffee – a highlight of my trip.


Filed under Asia, Nonprofit Spotlight, Vietnam