Archive for April, 2009

April 26, 2009

African Women Starve for their Families

Read this heartbreaking article about how women in Africa are most affected by the hunger epidemic.

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April 15, 2009

Facts on Education in Africa

In research for AIA, I’ve been finding some really powerful statistics about Africa, and it seems to mean that it all leads back to primary education. That’s why I believe in our cause so much- because I think education is the key to helping poverty and the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Read on…

• Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where poverty has increased in the past 25 years.
• 32 of the world’s 38 heavily indebted poor countries are in Africa.
• Half the population of Africa lives on less than US $1 a day.
Slums are home to 72% of urban Africa’s citizens.
• Primary school enrollment in African countries is among the lowest in the world.
33 million primary school-aged children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not go to school. 18 million of these children are girls.
• In Sub-Saharan Africa, only two-thirds of children who start primary school reach the final grade.
• Although literacy rates have greatly improved in Africa over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25 are illiterate.
• There is an average of 40 pupils per teacher in sub-Saharan Africa, but the situation varies considerably from country to country. In many countries, it is more than 60 to one.
• Africa loses an estimated 20,000 skilled personnel a year to developed countries.
• Average life expectancy in Africa is only 46 years.
• There are an estimated 5,500 AIDS deaths a day in Africa.
• AIDS decreases in villages where there are primary schools.
• In Uganda, a child who quits attending school is three times more likely to be HIV positive later on in life than a child who completes basic education.
• HIV/AIDS is likely to claim the lives of 10% of teachers within the coming five years, and 20% of school-age children will be AIDS orphans.

facts of education in Africa AIDS orphans in Africa

Children in Africa line up for buses to go back to their orphanages after school.

What do you think after hearing this? Is education the solution? I want to hear your reactions/thoughts!

Peace,
Alyssa

April 14, 2009

My Experience with the Peace Corps

As you may know, I a public affairs intern with the Peace Corps at their regional Boston office. And today, I finalized that my last day is going to be May 1st, which means I only have 4 more days in the office (I only work Mondays and Fridays, but next Monday is Patriot’s Day here in the fine state of Massachusetts.) And I’m kind of upset about that. Everyone I’ve met in the Peace Corps, whether Peace Corps employees, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, or current PC Volunteers, are unfailingly caring and supportive. PC employees and volunteers, especially those who work in my regional office, instill hope that I can make a difference because they have changed the world during their service abroad, and continue to do so everyday with their work in the Peace Corps. I’m not sure I could ever make it as a Peace Corps volunteer. (I’m a wimp when it comes to extreme climate, strange food, and being far away from my mom.) But I certainly hope that I have helped at least one person decide to join during my time at the Peace Corps since October.

The Peace Corps also gave me a mentor. She’s Joanna, and she used to be my boss before she had the world’s cutest baby girl and decided to stay home with her full time. Her courage to put her family before her career is only one aspect of her that I hope to mirror. She gets to the office early and stays late. She’s detail-oriented, enthusiastic about her work, a terrific writer, very organized, and an engaging conversationalist. Her kindness and love for others comes through in every word she speaks, writes, and often texts. It was working with Joanna that solidified my idea that, “Yeah, communications is what I want to do with my life.” I have a few personal heroes that share some of these characteristics with Joanna (my mom in particular), but it was seeing how all these qualities came together to make a great communicator that gave me that extra push to feel that I could do this. Working in PR suits me, my personality, my skills. And I don’t have to sacrifice my creativity and desire to help others to be successful in this field- it’ll only help me.

Though my last day at PC is approaching and I know I’ll miss it, I feel like I’m leaving with skills, confidence, and enthusiasm for whatever lies ahead. I just hope that I helped others during my time as a Public Affairs Intern with the Peace Corps as much as the Peace Corps helped me. But I guess that’s what the Peace Corps is all about, isn’t it?

Peace Corps

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April 10, 2009

Non-Profit Promotion 101

So, as you know, I’m a college student AND a co-founder and VP of a non-profit. How does everything get done? Well, I’m lucky enough to be in a program that does a lot of client-based work, often for a client you provide. What do I do these projects on? Ding ding ding! It’s a no-brainer: Achieve in Africa! It’s a win-win-win- I’m passionate and knowledgeable about the client, I can use whatever I make for the cause, and I get feedback through my graded assignments on how I can make the promotional materials better!

Things I’ve done just this semester for AIA through school:

– Created this blog
– Recorded and edited a viral 30-second video (while learning video editing software- Adobe Premiere Pro)
– Recorded and edited a 30-second radio PSA (while learning audio editing software- Audacity)
– Wrote a 5-minute promotional video treatment and script (to be made this summer after Brendan gets footage from his trip to Tanzania)
– Created a few advertisements (while learning Adobe PhotoShop)
– Currently creating a new web site layout to launch May 1st (using Photoshop and FrontPage)
– Created and currently revamping the brochure

I’ll add my audio and video spots that I made and I would love some feedback from ya’ll!!


Music Credit: “Caring is Creepy” by The Shins (I’m a fan of irony)

And click here for the AIA PSA!!

April 7, 2009

Achieve in Africa Progress

As of today, we have almost $5,000 (and counting) to help the Olasiti Primary School and over 1,100 members of the Facebook group!!

I am beyond proud to call this my non-profit :D!!!

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April 7, 2009

Cause of the Moment: Grace Foundation International

Since launching the web site for Achieve in Africa, we’ve received a lot of emails from other non-profits to let us know about their causes or perhaps develop a partnership. Since our organization is so small (Brendan, myself, and a bunch of hard-working coordinators and board members), we can’t fundraise for all these awesome causes that we find out about through emails or just from browsing web sites of other NPOs. So, I’m going to try to introduce new causes I find out about and share them here to help spread the word.

Cause of the Moment: Grace Foundation International
Location: Kenya, Africa
Purpose: Education improvement (schools, scholarships, etc.)
How I Found Out About It: Email
Website: http://www.gfiaid.net/

Soon after AIA began, I got this email and was supremely touched by the sentiment. The founder of this organization is as heartfelt as it comes, congratulating us on our efforts and inviting us into the movement for social change in Africa. The email read:

“I am pleased to inform you that on visiting your website and having a glimpse of what you’re doing in our neighboring country, Tanzania, I am indeed encouraged. I say so because our organization, Grace Foundation
International (GFI) is involved in assisting the marginalized rural communities in their effort to improve their living standards.

As GFI we believe that without education, a community is on the road to destruction. Education is power!!! I realize that AIA and GFI can learn quite a lot from each other, and it is for this purpose that I am contacting you. We are a local non-profit organization but we’re reaching out to overseas partners to learn from them and also for their hand in what we’re doing.

Welcome to visit us when you come to check on the progress of your projects in TZ.

Blessings,

Rev. Joseph K. Ronoh
Founder/President, GFI.”

So check out and help this awesome cause initiated by a truly amazing individual 🙂

Peace,

Alyssa

April 7, 2009

Prayers for Italy

My heart is with the victims of the earthquakes in Italy as the fatalities rise to more than 150 and the homeless toll is over 100,000.

April 6, 2009

A goal for this blog!

My mission, if I choose to accept it is to make it on this list: 100 Best Blogs for Those Who Want to Change the World!

Time to do some research on these awesome sources of inspiration!!

April 5, 2009

The Million Dollar Question is…

Why and how did you start a non-profit organization?

I’ve been asked a variation of this question countless times in the last few months- both in casual conversation and media interviews.  And in neither setting is “Well, it’s kind of a long story” acceptable as an answer.  So I usually default to my co-founder to field this one.  But in the interests of my blog, I’ll give my side of the story.

In high school, I was a classic over-achiever.  I wanted to get the best grades, highest test scores, and most extra-curriculars in order to get to my dream: college.  That magical place where I’d start new again and have the freedom to study whatever I wanted.  Pretty much everything I did was for this goal.  To the point that during my freshman year of college, a friend of mine said, “Why are we working so hard to get straight-A’s?” And my immediate thought was “Duh, to get into college.” Until I realized, oh yeah, we’re already there. It was quite unnerving.

But anyway, while I was in the have-to-do-anything-and-everything-to-get-into-college mindset, I did a lot of volunteer work: walks for cancer, organizing a blood drive, being a junior counselor at a Christian camp, etc.  And I found that I really liked it. My parents (Mom- runs a Blood Bank in a hospital, Dad- attorney in his own practice) always instilled in me the importance of helping others. So, when I finally got to college, I knew I wanted to use whatever skills and talents I have to help others.

At BU, I got involved in some causes, most notably helping restart the GAIA club at BU, which is for AIDS awareness.  But I was kind of all over the place- I was on the women’s crew team for a while, started working to help my parents out with money, and so on.

Then, at the beginning of sophomore year (Fall 07), I met Brendan.  He’d just gone to Tanzania in June and had fire in his heart to help the people he saw there.  Truthfully, Brendan is my best friend and he makes me want to be the best person I can be. So, we spent a lot of time talking about finding a way to help these and other people.

We knew that helping schools was the way to go, because education is where it all begins. It’s where we learn the skills needed to follow our dreams.  In Africa, he saw children who wanted to learn, but their schools had no supplies and were so overcrowded that there was hardly a place for them to stand during class, not to mention even sit.  I’m thinking, how can they learn like that?  If they can’t sit, or take notes, or have books to read from?

So, in Summer of 08, Brendan and I were out running.  It was raining and we were quiet.  Finally, he said, “I want to start the organization now.”  To which, I said, “Alright, I’m in.”  We’d talked about it, maybe starting something after we actually had jobs and money.  But, no better time than the present.  So we began.

The next part of the saga lasted for about 4 months.  This venture involved hours upon hours of paperwork for the government and trying to create a web site.  I like to block this part out of memory, because it was boring and frustrating.  We learned how to make a non-profit by trial and error and with lots of outside help. Thanks to a friend named Colin (a web site guru who thankfully helped us for no pay), a thick book about starting a non-profit (crucial in filling out our form 1023 and creating bylaws), and the legal support of my father when we had some incorporation issues, we got it together.

Then, by February, we were cleared by the US government, had a functioning web site, chose a school to help (in Olasiti, Tanzania), and could start fundraising.  It’s pretty much been a whirlwind since then of email inquiries, letters asking for donations, press releases, and trying to set up events.

Is is stressful?  Time-consuming? Tiring? Frustrating at times? Of course.

But what in life that is worth it isn’t?  Nothing’s easy, free, or simple. But starting a non-profit is beyond rewarding and continues to show me the goodness of humanity, which is something I’ve doubted in my life in the past.

So why and how did I start a non-profit?

a. To help people.

b. To change the world, or at least make a difference in it.

c. Because I have the skills to do so, and not using them would be a waste.

d. All of the above, which led me to believe in myself and in the kindness of others.

April 1, 2009

Hujambo el mundo!

As Dr. McDreamy might say, “It’s a beautiful day to start blogging, let’s get started.”

OK, so I like Grey’s Anatomy (Alyssa Fact #1).  But I also started a non-profit. (Alyssa Fact #2)  So, yes, I’m a bit of a girlie girl in that I swoon at Patrick Dempsey, but I’m also a bit of an idealist/activist.  So this blog will mostly be my attempt at finding a intersection with my love of pop culture and my desire to change the world.

So, my motto for this blog will be my favorite quote from Walt Whitman”s ‘Song of Myself’,  “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).”

I had to take a poetry class two semesters ago and though it was very difficult, I take this quote to be the most useful thing I learned all semester. (Alyssa Fact #3: I’m a college student at Boston University.*)

So, finding the right balance between these different aspects of myself will be interesting, I think.  One place I’ve found that I feel like the rule rather than the exception, is at my internship at the Peace Corps (Alyssa Fact #4).  I’m a public affairs intern at the Boston office, so I basically do a lot of event support, answering inquiries, and contacting the media.  But it’s all to get people to join the Peace Corps, which I think is pretty freaking awesome.  I love being at an internship where I can think that while I’m printing postcards and answering emails, people are changing the world (or going to be in the near future) because of what we (at the Peace Corps) are doing.

Anyway, back to the blog, I decided to make this a blog for the non-profit I co-founded because I want donors or volunteers or other idealists an idea of who’s behind it.  Well, then, hi!! *waves*  (Alyssa Fact #5: I’m a dork.)  I think I’m going to post later today on how AIA began.  But pretty much, my co-founder (Brendan Callahan) and I always talked about how we wanted to start a non-profit (specifically to help schools in Africa) and then one day he said, “Why don’t we just start now?” And me, being the idealist that I am, said “Okay.”  Fast forward through 8 months, mounds of IRS paperwork, and the beginning of a marketing campaign, and Achieve in Africa is REAL and has almost $4,000 for schools in Africa. My reaction: “Weeeee!!”  It’s been sometimes stressful, overwhelming and frustrating, but always, always rewarding.  And I have no doubt we will change the world, one school at a time.

OK, I’m off to get some lunch and buy more pens at CVS!

Talk to you soon,

Alyssa

Clarification: I love going to BU and most of the classes are beyond helpful.  I would like to say that about 90% of classes I’ve taken here have been enjoyable and I’ve learned alot. Unfortunately, this particular class was not one of them.  But we’re all bound to end up with those.  I just want to clarify, not only because one of my professors will be reading this blog (Hi Professor Quigley!) but also because I honestly would not rather be at any college but BU and I don’t want to set a precedent that this will be a ranting-about-my-school blog.