Global aid workers need aid, too

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

Coincidentally… Welcome to Ideal-to-Real Updates, a series where we check in with idealists taking action on their good ideas to see what they’ve been up to and what gems of wisdom they’ve been learning.

Last July, we wrote about Shannon Mouillesseaux, a New York state native with a passion for international development.

At that time, she shared with us her idea for a penpal and travel exchange project that would match at-risk students in the U.S. with kids in developing or war-affected countries.

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Shannon with a family in rural Oman.

We recently caught up with Shannon again to ask about the status of that project, and what else she’s been up to in the past year and a half. She wrote to us from her current post as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protection officer overseas, assisting refugees and helping advocate for those who are unlawfully detained.

Through the Idealist blog, I learned of a great project already underway, which has a strikingly similar objective and approach to what my project aspired to do. It’s called Project PeacePal. The executive director Sarah Wilkinson and I connected and have remained in touch to support one another. For one, I was able to refer another Idealist member who had connected with me, following the blog post, to PeacePal to assist Sarah with social media efforts.

Shannon would love to collaborate with PeacePal in the future, but she’s currently involved with all sorts of other projects: setting up iSurvived, an advocacy and support group for UNHCR staff who have survived trauma; creating a website to connect and support global aid workers around the world; and writing a children’s book series to encourage cultural and humanitarian awareness.

I am *always* working on what I call “my personal projects” on the side of my work. Most of them have a similar theme: to educate people about realities in the global South, advocate for aid workers, and help improve our development models and systems, which I think are largely outdated and in need of retooling.

I feel propelled to act on behalf of other humanitarian staff in order to better protect and support them. After all, how can we expect to be effective in our roles as development workers if we don’t first ensure that we are healthy and adequately supported? As the environments in which we work become decreasingly secure, our organizations need to take action to better prepare us, protect us, and support us. We each have a role in advocating for this, too.
Go Shannon! We’re rooting for you. Looking forward already to checking in next year.
If you’d like to help inspire young people around the world to become peace builders, connect with Project PeacePal. To learn about and support the international aid worker community, visit global aid worker.

 

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

 

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Do we miscast rural communities as places to leave behind?

Rural communities are often portrayed in the media as unfortunate starting places—restrictive, provincial hometowns that promising individuals must escape in order to reach their full potential.

But possibility and wealth of different kinds can be found outside big, prosperous cities. Read how one Guyanese woman saw great potential in a tiny community in eastern Ethiopia.

This post written by Grace Aneiza Ali originally appeared on OF NOTE, an online magazine focused on global artists who use the arts as catalysts for social change. 

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School girl from Harrare, Ethiopia.
(photo courtesy Grace Aneiza Ali)

There are no paved roads directly to Chaffe Jenetta—a small Muslim coffee farming community nestled in the remote terrains of Harrar in eastern Ethiopia. Telephone lines and electric wires are rare in these parts. Women are immersed in their day—fetching water, gathering wood and sticks to stoke fires, and cooking for their families.

Among their company, lush mountains and endless blue sky, I felt at home.

It was 2010 and my first time in Ethiopia, in fact my first trip to Africa. I had learned from growing up in Guyana and from a year traveling throughout India that there was no preparing for the rural countryside. You simply show up and let the land lead. So, I embraced Ethiopia with the same deference.

The journey to Harrar had started in New York City where I live. I was invited to travel with the staff and board members of The Abyssinian Fund, an NGO with a home-base in Harlem, New York, that works with coffee planters in Ethiopia’s rural villages like Chaffe Jenetta, helping them to grow better coffee, earn higher incomes, and improve social services with clinics, schools, and access to clean water.

While members of our group toured the village, I spent most of my time with the school children. One little girl in particular, about nine or ten years old, caught my attention—simply because of the way she clutched her notebooks. I asked for her name, but either she was too shy to tell me or didn’t understand my question. I pointed to her books and asked if I could look at them.

Her notes, written in Oromo, the local language of Chaffe Jenetta, filled up every usable blank space. Her handwriting was in the margins, on the inside and outside of the covers, written horizontally and vertically.

I recalled my own primary school days in Guyana when notebooks and paper were a luxury. Instead, we had hand-held chalkboards and little bits of chalk. It was cheaper, but it meant everything that was written had to be erased. So I would gather sheets of paper wherever I could find them and glue or sew them together to make books.

It was within those pages that I could invent the life I wanted. I wanted to be a writer.

Like that little girl at my side in Chaffe Jenetta, I left no free space unmarked in my hand-made books. I too wrote in the margins, within the covers, and sideways. As I turned the pages of her book, I wondered if this was where the stories of Chaffe Jenetta were being kept. Were they scribbled within the margins? Were they tucked in between the covers?

One of the Ethiopian guides that accompanied our group had remarked, “These are the forgotten people.” He had never been this deep into the mountains of Harrar and was visibly moved by the agrarian way of life in Chaffe Jenetta.

Perhaps what he was witnessing made him feel as a foreigner in his own land.

But as I stood there looking through this little girl’s notebooks, nothing about her seemed forgotten to me. There was a boldness about her. There was a joyfulness about her. What I saw was a young girl thriving amidst her circumstances.

I’ve found this to be universal from Harrar to Harlem—people thriving amidst contradictions, thriving in the messiness of life, thriving in the tragedies, thriving in the challenges, the hurts and the disappointments.

Notebooks may seem trivial when compared to the serious needs in Chaffe Jenetta like clean water, clinics, and paved roads. But they represent the freedom to dream, to create, and to imagine a future for oneself.

For that little girl, her future begins within the pages of her notebook—just like my dreams began for me. It was clear by the way she clung to her books, their pale blue covers tattered and torn, that what was written in them was of value. They were sacred to her.

Far too often the narratives about women and girls in rural communities whether they be in Asia, or Africa, or South America, are centered on an urgent call for them to look past the proverbial courtyard, to aim for a life beyond the confines of the village, to shed the veil. And we tell them that not doing so would render them invisible, marginalized, or trapped.

We’re wrong.

Chaffe Jenetta is not another nameless village in another ubiquitous story of poverty in Africa. It is a challenging but wealthy place—albeit not material wealth. It is not a place to flee from, but one to be nurtured and supported.

The little girl I met could one day turn out to be a powerful voice for Ethiopia. She might become a writer herself, sharing with the world its multiple stories. And to do so, perhaps she will find herself returning to those very notebooks.

GRACEGrace Aneiza Ali is the founder and editorial director of OF NOTE. She’s also an Adjunct Professor of Literature for the City University of New York, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and a Fulbright Scholar. She currently hosts the Visually Speaking series at the Schomburg Center, which examines the state of photojournalism through the lens of contemporary photographers and image-makers. Grace was born in Guyana and immigrated to the United States when she was fourteen years old. Guyana continues to inform and influence her worldview.

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Help Bethany start an art bus for homeless youth

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Bethany

In between sludging through snow banks to bring supplies to homeless camps in Utah and working at a homeless women’s shelter in Portland, Oregon, Bethany Haug took some time off to get her MFA in creative writing.

She spent two years writing poems about love, transportation, and motor homes. She also started teaching developmental writing and creative writing to young people. Put all of that together, and you can see where she might have gotten the idea for the art bus.

“Kids who are homeless and aren’t in school or have large obstacles in their lives could definitely use a creative outlet. They need to be encouraged to read and write and create. And even if you take self-expression out of it, being creative is just something positive to do with your time while you’re trying to survive,” she says.

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Bethany in Portland’s International Rose Test Garden

The intention

Bethany wants to build a traveling arts education center and zine-making bus to give homeless youth the chance to express themselves.

She understands that drop-in centers don’t always work for homeless teens and runaways, but hopes a mobile center could bring arts programming and non-traditional educational resources directly to them.

“The advantage of mobile outreach is that even though you might be affiliated with a drop-in center that has rules and obvious hours, you’re outside of that. You are stepping into their space as opposed to asking them to step into yours,” she says. “Because of that, mobile outreach has been particularly effective in reaching people who live in camps or who might be for whatever reason uncomfortable in social service buildings—especially with homeless youth who might be runaways or have come from foster care and don’t want to share their identity with authorities.”

And while the opportunity to be creative is important, the secondary purpose of the art bus would be to team up with existing homeless service organizations to connect the kids who come to her bus with other essential services and survival resources.

“Only after those needs are taken care of can someone start to think about self-expression,” she says.

She envisions the bus working in one of two ways—either as a center that moves across the country teaming up with many organizations that might not have the resources to offer arts programming, or as the mobile branch of one drop-in center in a city where there’s a lot of need.

“I live in Portland right now, and we’re lucky to have some of the best homeless youth services in the country,” she says. “But I wonder what other communities could really benefit from this.”

Obstacles

Bethany has researched some existing creative mentoring services but hasn’t reached out to any organizations just yet. While she feels confident that this is a great idea, she’s never done anything like it before and feels pretty overwhelmed.

“I don’t even know if existing agencies would take me seriously. Like, do they even care?” she says.

Some of her biggest obstacles so far include:

1. Funding. Bethany currently works full-time as a caretaker for disabled adults, but she would rather be working on the art bus. She wants to know if there’s enough money out there that she could make this her primary job, or if any existing social service or community arts organizations would hire her to run this kind of program for them.

“I’m preoccupied with having to survive right now. I have student debt and I don’t have any savings—it’s just not financially feasible for me to think about doing this full-time right now,” she says.

2. Lack of business development and budget management experience. “I don’t have any knowledge or training in this. I have nothing to compare to and no experience, so where do I start?”

3. Building partnerships. Bethany wants to run this program in tandem with other organizations but isn’t sure how to start the conversation.

“I want to approach organizations that work with homeless youth but don’t have any creative writing programming, or with literary arts or community service organizations that don’t reach out to homeless youth but would like to,” she says. “But what do I say to them? And why would they work with me if I’m basically on my own and have no experience or money?”

How you can help

  • Does this project already exist somewhere else?
  • Can you think of an organization that might benefit from a partnership with the art bus?
  • Can you connect Bethany to other organizations or programs that work in creative mentoring for homeless youth?
  • Can you offer any advice about organizational structure or funding options for a program like this?
  • Do you know of any other mobile programs Bethany could look at as a model, whether for social good or otherwise?
  • Do you have any tips for how to approach a homeless youth organization?

If you have any bright ideas for Bethany, leave them in the comments below or send her a message through Idealist. If the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email celeste@idealist.org.

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Conflict averse? Expert tips to help you (tactfully) speak up

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It’s perfectly normal to come up blank when faced with an uncomfortable situation. (Photo via tanatat on Shutterstock.)

We recently received this question from an Idealist member:

I volunteer with children through a youth organization. I occasionally see kids teasing each other, sometimes even to a point I would call bullying. We don’t have a clear anti-bullying policy, so I feel I should address this with the parents of the children directly. My problem is that I tend to avoid conflict—arguing has always made me very uncomfortable. Also, when I have tried to talk to parents, I’ve found that they don’t take these issues as seriously as I do. So, I end up not confronting them. What can I do to get over my fear of conflict?

To help, we consulted with three experts in relevant fields. Read on to see what they had to say about overcoming fears of conflict.

The Child Expert
Tom Brunzell, Senior Advisor, Teaching and Learning for Berry Street Victoria, Australia

Tom argues that it’s sometimes hard to differentiate the roles within bullying (the “bully” often has their own complaints, for example) and that bystanders are just as guilty. From his own experience, he’s learned that to engage everyone involved, having a public conversation is the way to go:

Often, when we take it to the class (in a supportive protocol like a classroom resolution meeting) solutions were brainstormed: NOT by the “bully” or “victim” but by the rest of the class or the third party students—however you set it up. A solution is given to BOTH “bully” and “victim” sometimes it’s as simple as “stay away from each other and use peers to help you do that.”

The actual solution doesn’t become the critical element here—rather the fact that all parties know there’s a greater accountability than they previously thought—the entire community. And in the process, hopefully, you can raise the expectations and consciousness of the community at the same time.

The Coach
Cathy Wasserman, LMSW, Self-Leadership Strategies

Cathy is of the opinion the fear of conflict is very common, and that the first step is to commit to confronting your fear. It’s not a bad thing to be afraid, she says, as it’s a sign that there’s something important at stake. This makes it all the more urgent for you to say something:

Before speaking up, role-play and get support from friends and mentors. Clarify your goal: I’d focus on sharing your perspective, NOT convincing the parents of anything. Whether they’re open to your view or not, your job is to be specific about what you’ve observed, convey your concern for all of the kids, and contribute and elicit solutions.

You may also want to let them know that many kids dip into aggressive tactics when building social skills and the situation presents a fertile and very manageable teachable moment. If you’re not trained in anti-bullying work, I’d consult resources to build your confidence. Whatever you decide to do, try to see your fear as a catalyst for your own teachable moment!

The Conflict Resolution Expert
Cliff Jones, Senior Consultant, Nonprofit Association of Oregon

Cliff believes reflecting on our own behavioral styles of conflict is fundamental, as is acknowledging that conflict often arises from miscommunication. Changing how we perceive the conflict can also help:

One of the keys to engaging in and resolving conflict is moving the focus from positions – what we want others to do; to our interest – what is important to us and others. For example – instead of “I want kids who tease other kids to be given an immediate time out” – a position. We might focus on “it is important to me for my child at all times to be in a safe environment at school” – an interest.

When we focus on positions, we often end up arguing. When we focus on interest we can often see that our interest are not in conflict with others (while our positions may be) and then we can look for solutions that meet our common interest. It takes time and skill to have conversations in which this communication and mutual problem solving can happen.

Often there are not quick ways to change behaviors that we have learned over time. To deal with immediate challenges it can be helpful to seek assistance from mediators, counselors and organizations that can help to facilitate the resolution of conflict.

We can become more comfortable in dealing with conflict by taking time to learn about our conflict styles and constructive ways of dealing with conflict. Bookstores and the world wide web are full of many resources and approaches for dealing with conflict.

If this an important issue – take some time to get an overview of the resources and pick one that resonates for study. Incorporate new ideas and behaviors into your relationships, practice and gain experience over time. It can be a great joy to learn that conflict can be an interesting exploration of different needs, expectations and priorities and not necessarily a scary, challenging encounter.

Do you have your own tips for handling conflict? Let us know in the comments below!

In the Portland, OR area? Cliff is leading an all-day workshop on Leadership Skills for Effectively Engaging Workplace & Organizational Conflict on December 4th.

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On God’s Campus: Bridging the gap between faith and the LGBT community

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today we’re featuring a project that is helping to make peace between two communities often at odds.



In December 2011 at the house of a George Fox University faculty member, Paul Southwick sat with a student in a secret meeting. The student was gay, suicidal, and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality on the religious campus.

“He cried and told me what he was going through, and it was what I had went through and heard other alums go through,” Paul says. “I thought, enough is enough. We need to be able to share our stories and let people know that this is the impact these policies and cultures are having. If we can personify the consequences, maybe there will be a little sympathy, and a little change.”

That moment was a catalyst for creating On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground, a video campaign and book project started in the summer of 2012 that shares the stories of LGBT youth and alumni from conservative Christian campuses across the U.S. The goal is multi-faceted: connect youth with each other so they don’t feel alone, empower both gay and straight allies to take action and create support systems on campus, and educate school counselors and staff about this community.

“The whole purpose of this project isn’t to destroy these Christian colleges. It’s actually to preserve them. Because if they don’t make some changes they’re only going keep hurting people and become less relevant,” Paul says.

The issue is personal for Paul, who was a devout Christian growing up. As a student at Oregon’s George Fox in the early 2000’s, Paul was frequently harassed and told being gay was evil. As a result he battled depression, was hospitalized for panic attacks, and sent to conversion therapy in the hopes that he would become straight.

He was embittered. It was only when he went away to law school in Michigan, where he attended churches that accepted him for who he was, that his anger calmed and he started questioning how his faith and sexuality could intersect.

Now, a full-time attorney at law firm back in Oregon, Paul dedicates his free time to On God’s Campus so that others don’t have to suffer what he did.

“I’m more of an ally to faith communities. A lot of the gay community hates the church, and for a very good reason. I’m trying in some ways to bridge that gap and also figure out where I stand myself, personally and theologically,” he says.

What he’s learned so far

The project is ongoing and a work in progress, but Paul’s realized some lessons along the way:

1. Dream big, but stay grounded.
Paul and his co-producer Tiffany Stubbert originally wanted to do 100 interviews with youth and alumni, but quickly realized that traveling to the campuses, many of which are rural and isolated, would be impractical. They’ve since scaled the number back to 50, and are close to finishing that number.

2. When the time is right, just go for it.
Right before he launched On God’s Campus, Paul suddenly started hearing about LGBT students groups popping up on campuses “like popcorn.” Wanting to take advantage of the national momentum  that he knew wasn’t going to stop, he and Tiffany hit the ground running, despite a small budget and a lack of a long-term plan.

3. Heart first, ego second.
Their website doesn’t focus on blabbering all about their project, or related news. It’s all about the stories: original content that travels far on social media because it’s real and people can relate.

“People love being able to share their story. There’s a huge sense of empowerment that comes with it,” Paul says. “It’s just that nobody has asked them before.”

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If you or anyone you know is a student or alumni of a conservative Christian college and would like to share your story, please send Paul a message at ongodscampus@gmail.com.

Keep up to date and get involved with On God’s Campus via Facebook and Twitter.

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In their own words: Portraits of LGBT youth from around the U.S.

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved.  Today we’re  featuring stories from We Are the Youth, a project from childhood friends Diana Scholl, a journalist and current Communications Strategist at the ACLU, and photographer Laurel Golio.

We Are the Youth is a photojournalism project that shares the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in the United States. Through photographic portraits and “as told to” interviews in participants’ own voices, We Are the Youth captures the incredible diversity and uniqueness of the LGBT youth population.

We created We Are the Youth in June 2010. We wanted to combine our strengths to create a project that would serve as a living archive of experiences and stories that chronicle a rapidly changing period of American LGBT rights.

Since the project was founded three years ago, we have the the fall of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the legalization of same-sex marriage in several states, a rising awareness of bullying and suicide among LGBT youth, and the changing face of queer identity, particularly among transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.

In addition to being a dynamic time in American history, We Are the Youth records a transformative period of time in the lives of the participants who are between the ages of 15 and 21 years old.

To date, we’ve profiled more than 75 young people across the U.S.  Our project is entirely a labor of love.

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To enable more stories of LGBT youth to be shared, please consider making a contribution to We Are the Youth.

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Want to be more inclusive? Try creating unisex bathrooms

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today’s story is about how something as simple as a sign has helped transgender students in an Oregon high school.

In high school—a melting pot of teenage angst, drama and growth—any added stress to an already strained schedule can be the breaking point. For 17-year-old Scott Morrison, a transgender senior at Portland, Oregon’s Grant High School, this stressor came in the form of something seemingly harmless: Using the school bathroom.

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Photo via Shutterstock.

Born female, Scott identifies as male, but feels uncomfortable using either a men’s or women’s restroom due to other student’s reactions. And he’s not alone in his discomfort.  In February, Grant counselors spoke with the school’s administration about the stories they’ve heard from multiple transgender or gay students of discomfort and anxiety triggered by using gendered bathrooms.

Their solution? Unisex bathrooms.

“When I heard that students were uncomfortable, and realized that what we had was not working, I knew we had to do it,” says Kristyn Westphal, Grant Vice Principal and main instigator of the bathroom change. “It was simple, really.”

So simple that the only change, once the cooperative building manager changed the building code, the entire project cost under $300—the price of changing locks and signs on the doors of once-gendered bathrooms.

Now, three months since the idea was raised, Grant is now home to six bathrooms—four for students, two for staff—that welcome all genders, in addition to its remaining gendered facilities. And the public response couldn’t have been more receptive.

“It really is a non-issue,” Kristyn says. “Students that need them use them. We haven’t had any conflict or negative responses.”

Emily Volpert, reporter for Grant’s school paper (and who broke the original story on the bathroom switch), echoes Kristyn’s outlook.

“Most students at Grant were very accepting and understanding of this request,” Emily says. “While there will always be people who choose not to accept others for their differences, high schoolers at Grant tend to be very progressive.”

This factor likely played a role in the program’s success. Already a campus with out and supported transgender students (and an established Gay-Straight Alliance club) in a city known for its liberal ways, Grant may have a step up on other schools facing the same issues. But, Emily says, the environment of a high school campus remains universally alike—no matter where you’re trying to fit in.

“In high school, there is enough pressure that students face from grades, peers, and figuring out who you want to be,” Emily says. “For the transgender students, it’s another big problem on their plate. The installation of unisex bathrooms is really an equity issue.”

And other schools are taking note. Kristyn says that since news of the bathrooms spread, school administrators and students across the country have contacted her for advice. One California high school student even hopes to make the switch his senior project.

“It’s great how interested communities are in bringing this to their schools,” she says. “It really seems like something people need.”

Want to bring unisex bathrooms to your school, workplace, or general community? Connect with Krisytn at kwestphal@pps.net for tips and support.

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Staff Spotlight: Claire Hansen, graphic design, and Guyana

In this series, we’re highlighting Idealist staff members who’ve made their ideas happen. Today’s spotlight is on Claire Hansen, our New York-based graphic designer who knows a thing or two about sisterly collaboration, working long distance, and navigating a culture outside your own. 

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Tessa and Claire in Guyana in 2007.

In 2007, Claire took a two-week trip to Guyana to visit her sister Tessa, who at the time was a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Red Cross in the capital city of Georgetown.

Tessa wanted to revamp an educational children’s coloring book about inappropriate touching titled “Your Body is Yours!” which was being used in the Red Cross’s “Be Safe! Guyana” program. The content was basically good, but the images looked outdated and didn’t reflect Guyanese people or landscapes. For kids to get the most out of the book, Tessa reasoned that the design and illustrations needed to be redone.

“The original coloring books were actual books,” Claire further explains. “We wanted to redesign them to be easily photocopied so each kid could have their own. And since a lot of the child abuse issues the country was struggling with were family-related, we wanted kids to be able to take the books home, so their parents and siblings might also see.”

Claire set to work researching the fashions, pastimes, and terrain of Guyana and re-illustrating and designing the book, also tweaking some of the language along the way.

“It was an interesting road to walk—between being representative and stereotypical,” says Claire. “As an illustrator, I wanted readers to feel familiar with the images but not appear to be reducing their culture to its symbols, or seem racist.”

When she finished all 24 pages, she made about 40 copies of the book back home in New York and sent them to Guyana to be distributed. The Guyana Red Cross then solicited donations and had more than a thousand copies of the book produced and distributed through their branches in coastal towns and more remote, indigenous areas. From beginning to end, the process took about six months.

Advice

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Claire’s redesigned cover.

1. Know your expectations.
“I don’t know if it bothers me that I wasn’t around to see the books in use, or that I’ll never really know the impact they’re having—though of course I hope it’s good,” says Claire. “Mostly, I was just happy to attempt the project. But if the outcome of your work is a bigger concern to you, you need to consider how you’ll be able to track the results: is the org you’re working with organized enough to really give your project legs, for example? Will you be able to track the results of your efforts over time?”

2. Seek professional help.
“If I did it over again,” she says, “I’d try to get advice from a publisher, or someone else who’d done this same thing. If you don’t have all the skills or knowledge you need for your project, find someone who does, rather than trying to learn everything on your own. If you do that, you’ll only wind up with ten percent of what you need to know.”

3. See what technology can do for you.
“Now there are all sorts of great online print-on-demand options for books, and ways to track how many you publish and distribute,” says Claire. “If I were doing it again, I’d look into using tools like that.”

4. Keep calm and carry on.
“I got so caught up in being excited to do it that I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the negatives,” says Claire. “If you know it’s going to be a long, slow road, just reconcile yourself to that fact and try not to get upset about it.”

Have you been involved with a project like Claire and Tessa’s? Have insights for others? Share your experience with our readers below. Or feel free to reach out to Claire through Idealist if you’d like to ask her advice.

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6 ways to raise a caring kid

Guest blogger Lisa Novick offers simple strategies to encourage giving from a young age. This post was adapted from the original version on the YesKidzCan! blog

Kids always want stuff. More, more, more! As parents, what do we need to do to raise kids to make them leaders of the “Giving Generation” instead of the “Gimme Generation?”

I haven’t met a parent yet who doesn’t want to raise a caring kid. But, who among us hasn’t heard ourselves or our friends scream, “I am so busy!?” How do we fit one more thing into our hectic lives?

So here is a new way to think about community service: make “giving experiences” part of your every day routine. What is a giving experience? To me, it is any teachable, memorable, or enjoyable moment – big or small – that reinforces the value of giving back for kids and parents. There’s no reason why a giving experience can’t be easy.

Here are a few ideas for building giving experiences into your life:

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Kids have fun baking dog biscuits to donate to local animal shelter. Photo via Lisa Novick.

1. Start young.
Involve your kids in a giving experience when they are as young as three or four. Even toddlers can help put outgrown shoes in a donation bag, pass along unwanted stuffed animals or toys, or gather canned goods.

2. Talk.
During mealtime, drive-time, or bedtime, ask your kids if they know what it means to be charitable. Explain that giving back can include donating money, time, or talent. Give or ask for examples of kind acts and build on these discussions over time.

For even younger kids, frame the discussion around what it means to be a “giver,” a “receiver,” or a “helper.” Also, ask questions such as “Did you help anyone today?” “Were you nice to someone today?”

It’s okay if your child does not have an affirmative answer. Just starting and continuing the discussion will help your kids notice their own kind acts.

3. Think small.
Reinforce your kids’ little acts of kindness. When your children show signs of compassion (such as saying hello to classmate who is shy, giving a friend a hug, or paying someone a compliment) acknowledge their actions by telling them how proud you feel. Encourage simple actions such as tying a younger child’s shoes, feeding the dog, or dropping off a neighbor’s newspaper. Simple actions can have extraordinary outcomes.

4. Find the right fit.
Take the time to select a service activity that works well with your kid’s personality and interests. If your child is shy, for example, avoid volunteering in an environment that is over-crowded, loud, or overwhelming. Tap into what your kid loves. If your child adores animals, support an animal shelter.

5. Take a different route.
Different kids are engaged by different things. Read a book with messages about giving back or kindness. Watch a movie or television program about social action, going green or animal welfare. Characters or storylines that illustrate good deeds can help reinforce the values you want to teach.

6. Piggyback.
Make a giving experience part of an existing outing, activity, or event. When you go back-to-school or grocery shopping, bring your kids with you to help purchase extra supplies or food to donate to a local charity. Consider building in a charitable component to a birthday or slumber party. When it is time to buy teacher gifts, give a donation or gift certificate in the teacher’s name and involve your kids in the charity selection.

Wouldn’t it be something if we all heard from our kids a little less of the “What can I get” refrain and a little more of the “What can I give?”  How are YOU helping to raise a caring kid?

Know a youth in your life who has an idea to change the world? Encourage them to apply for YesKidzCan!’s Social KidPreneurz Awards Program and win $100 to fund their idea. 

ColorHeadShot-1 Lisa Novick has worked in the field of philanthropy for more than 25 years as a consultant, fundraiser, and volunteer. She was a partner at a socially responsible consulting firm that helped corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies effectively support their communities and causes. While taking time off to raise her family, she and co-founder, Julie Chapman, discovered a need for more resources that help parents, educators, and community leaders teach kids about charitable giving. Combining their personal and professional commitment to doing good works, they launched YesKidzCan! – an online resource that helps bring “giving experiences” into young kids’ lives.

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Action Alert: Olivia’s Art for Animals

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Olivia Pedrick’s kitchen table is splattered with paint of every hue.

Every weekend, the 12-year-old sits down at her table in Ashland, New York and paints pictures of animals for family, friends, and random strangers.

“I really do like turtles and dogs. Turtles are a lot of fun to paint because you can add so many different kind of greens,” she says. “I like painting dogs because of the shading.”

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Olivia with some recent paintings. Her favorite one of all time is one of her and her dog Miller, which was a Christmas gift for her parents. (Photo via Anabel Lago-Pedrick.)

Customers pay her $10 per painting, or more if they’d like, and the money goes to an animal charity of her choice. Right now, Olivia’s waiting list is three months long.

Olivia, who’s been painting since she was four years old, thought of the idea after seeing a woman from a local wildlife rehab center speak as part of the Kindness and Caring club at school. She loves art as much as she loves animals, especially dogs, and brainstormed with her mom Anabel ways she could help out.

She started by selling paintings at a local town event. In one afternoon she sold them all, and her mom set up a Facebook page shortly after.

Anabel takes care of the logistics – managing everything from her web presence to choice of charities – to give Olivia freedom to paint.

Still, finding the time can be a challenge for Olivia, who is also involved in Girl Scouts, karate, skiing and more in addition to having heaps of homework to do. School vacations and summers are when she gets the most amount of painting done.

“It’s a lot of work. But it’s totally worth it,” Olivia says.

Since she started two years ago, Olivia has made 70 paintings and donated over $6,000 to charities. She’s also inspired a girl in the Netherlands to undertake a similar project, and a few friends from school have said they’ve wanted to do it, too.

As to how long Olivia will continue to paint to help animals, she doesn’t even need to think twice about the answer.

“My whole life,” she says. “Definitely.”

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Want to use your creative skills for good or know a youth in your life who does? Feel free to contact Anabel Lago-Pedrick, Olivia’s mom, for tips and advice on how to get a project like Olivia’s Art for Animals going.

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.

 

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