GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
On 25th April 2015, a huge earthquake devastated Nepal. At 7.8 magnitude, followed by aftershocks, over 8,800 people lost their lives, villages were flattened and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.
We were deeply shocked and saddened by the news. Just two months earlier, we had participated in a number of programs designed to empower healing, dignity, joy, and transformation for the students and teachers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home (BHCH), a school and safe haven for nearly 300 orphans and vulnerable children from the poorest, most remote areas of Nepal. We were relieved to hear that all the children, teachers, and staff at our partner organization were alive and safe, with minor structural damage to the school. And we were also moved and heartened by the many messages of support received from our community of everyday activists asking how they could help, where best to donate, wanting to do something to alleviate the suffering seen in the media in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
So the Nepal Solidarity Fund was started, our approach: 'to be patient and thoughtful about how to distribute the funds in an ethical, equitable, and sustainable way'. To support locally led groups providing relief and rebuilding at a grassroots level, because we believe that local change-makers know best. Our decision to partner with the Tibetan Buddhist monks at the Porong Gompa monastery in Kathmandu to help remote communities recover and rebuild was inspired by Porong Gompa's commitment to a quick response, deep, local connections, desire to serve those remote villages who may have been forgotten, and compassionate approach, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or caste.
We are pleased to report that, together with funds from other global supporters, your generous donations are bringing shelter to residents of Sisneri, a remote village 4 hours from Kathmandu, Nepal, whose mud and thatched rooftops crumbled during the earthquakes. After surveying the need, Porong Gompa returned to distribute strong metal sheets to rebuild rooftops and give clothing to the 85 families in the village.
Our heartfelt gratitude to Porong Gompa for helping to support and sustain the villagers of Sisneri. And to our community who gave so generously to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Nepal. Thank you!
It’s time to shift the paradigm.
We are being called to evolve together. To make way for something that brings us to a deeper level of awareness, connection, and purpose - for ourselves and for the world.
It starts from within - with the simple act of noticing.
Some call this mindfulness - being aware, in the moment, with intention, and without judgment.
There’s mounting evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness to our health and well-being - at work, in school, and in our relationships. So, we asked ourselves, can the practice of “being present” help us shift how we give?
Pioneers like International Development Exchange (IDEX) have been taking a mindful approach to philanthropy for decades. One that is rooted in presence, mutuality, and collaboration. One that remembers that all the great movements for social change start at the grassroots level. And, one that values authentic connection - which starts from a process of profound self-examination - of noticing what’s going on inside us and how that informs what goes on around us.
Learning from IDEX and other mindful changemakers at the IDEX Academy this year, we were inspired to join the movement. To push beyond our comfort zones and embody something that is innovative, yet rooted in indigenous wisdom. Something that seeks to transform others, yet is grounded in transforming ourselves first.
In truth, we are outgrowing our forefathers - those centuries-old founders of charitable giving - and the paradigms that informed them. We bow to them and the groundwork they laid, such that we can now see what is needed to meet the injustices of our modern world.
We are aware that traditional top-down, outsider-led aid has been ineffective at radically transforming the lives of those it intended to serve. We see this in the abysmal health, education, and social service infrastructures in the poorest recipient countries of aid. We see this in the continued spread of preventable diseases, in the unjust differences in maternal mortality rates per country, and in the unnecessary increase in the number of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS.
And, we see this in the eyes of the 2 billion people in the world still living on less than $2 a day.
Yet there are also negative effects that we cannot see. Cloaked in images of starving children with distended bellies, paternalistic, outsider-led models have little to do with human dignity and community self-determination. Rather, they are based on the misconception that outside experts can ‘fix the problem’ - a problem that traditional aid, colonization, and globalization may have created in the first place.
What’s more, such models perpetuate the age-old victim paradigm and harmful stereotypes of helpless, destitute communities saved by ‘whites in shining armor’ - a dangerous hero narrative that further absolves the everyday person from taking action.
Many of the more recent impact and grant-making models still leave room for improvement. They ignore complex interdependencies, value short-term outcomes over long-term impact, and use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches that maintain imbalanced power dynamics between those who give and those who receive.
We are ready for something different. And, most of us who are called to help shift the paradigm want a new way to be engaged - one that asks us to come into a deeper, more relational world together, to forge the kind of sacred connections that our ancestors held as the key to a thriving planet.
In the spirit of a movement that values not just the impact to the communities we serve, but the impact to human dignity that occurs when we transform heart, purpose, and action into meaningful connections with others, we’ve established a new set of guiding principles and a theory of change which lay the foundation for an approach that we call mindful philanthropy.
What does this really mean? Here are some of the highlights:
Presence. It all starts here. We must examine the shadows formed by our experience, culture, ego, trauma, and relationship to power and privilege - all of which can get in the way of a truly authentic practice of giving. By releasing attachment to these shadows, we can serve with curiosity, compassion, humility, and gratitude - and more fully engage with the world.
This presence changes the dynamic profoundly, for it creates the space for us to be with each other wherever we are in our lives and in the world. And from there, we can contemplate how to co-create a better world.
Justice. We are aware that in many places where we work, we represent ‘the other’ - those who may have exploited and oppressed communities of color through colonialism, globalization, and traditional aid. We strive to repair and create new connections to ‘the other’ by advocating for the rights of the communities we serve, including the right to identify their own needs and serve as their own agents of change.
Transformation. We seek transformative change to break intergenerational cycles of trauma, poverty, abuse, and vulnerability. A 9-year old girl whose parents died of HIV/AIDS cannot be given education as the only means to breaking the cycle if she carries trauma in her mind, body, and spirit. We take a holistic yet trauma-informed approach that considers the emotional needs of each person as a means to transforming self and community.
Collaboration. We dismiss the notion that we’re competing with other organizations for resources which leads to scarcity-mindset, silo-building, and duplicated efforts. We strive to replace the old transactional model with an open-hearted relational model that builds meaningful connections with a spirit of solidarity, respect, and partnership.
Learning and Innovation. In the for-profit sector, taking risks and being willing to fail is called “innovation.” Yet nonprofits are given little leeway to take even calculated risks and are afforded zero tolerance for failure. We embrace leaders who have the curiosity, grit, and gumption to try something new, viewing failures as lessons that become wisdom shared with others.
These are just some of the ways in which we are joining a movement that honors what philanthropy is really all about - a word which literally means love for humanity. Our approach is three-fold: encouraging donors to experience the power of mindful giving, training activists and volunteers about mindful service, and collaborating with other changemakers to explore how to collectively shift towards a practice of mindful social change.
Cultivating a movement sounds scary. But, it’s not about us. It’s about the collective. Many other mindful trailblazers have paved the way for us to humbly embrace our shared responsibility not just for a better world, but for a better way of getting there.
Will you join us?
Our grassroots partners know firsthand that computer literacy can unlock unlimited possibilities - for learning, creating, sharing, exploring, and connecting individuals, communities, and economies to the digital world.
And when computer literacy classes are paired with a psychosocial activity like creative arts therapy, the result is a well-rounded psycho-educational program that develops a broad range of skills while also invoking emotional healing and creative expression.
It's a holistic approach that we often refer to as head, hands, and heart - or, education, skills-building, and healing. An approach that understands that complex problems are not solved via single-issue interventions but rather by comprehensive solutions... and that psychosocial support is foundational to sustainable transformation.
Our partner organization, Lola Children's Home, provides comprehensive support for nearly 30 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. With your support, kids now have access to weekly computer literacy and music classes.
Lola's executive director, Abebe, recently updated us on the progress of this new curriculum which, so far, has been successful in teaching kids tangible skills. Under the tutelage of a mentor who teaches both computer skills and music, they kids now know how to:
A big thank you to our generous community for supporting this program! Your contributions are building confidence, technical and social skills, and healing opportunities that will have a lasting impact on these children and their community!
I was born in Nepal fighting for breath, for my life and my mother’s life. I learned how to fight to protect before I learned to walk. Thankfully, my mom stopped using heroin when she was four months pregnant, though seven and a half months in, the placenta severed, after she fell down the stairs during an earthquake. When I was born, I was four pounds, and told it took months for my arms and fists to relax and unfurl away from my body. At the hospital, they placed me in a proxy incubator, a cardboard box, in a room away from my mom. The first people to take care of me were Nepali nurses.
Mom left Nepal when I was still a baby, and took me back to the states. Four years later, she left her boyfriend, after he hit me and then her. She was like Wonder Woman. She was tough. She was from Jersey. But later she stayed when her next live-in boyfriend, George, hit her. He was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive to both of us. I vowed I’d never be in a relationship that was abusive.
After Mom broke up with George, her free spirit again had air to breathe, and when I was 16 we went back to Nepal.
I met Marilyn. She was a family friend who took over our restaurant in Nepal when my mom left. Marilyn gave up her American citizenship and become a Nepali citizen. She was an 80lb wisp of a woman. From the minute Marilyn got off her motorbike wearing red high-water corduroy pants, and purple tennis shoe, she delighted me.
Marilyn led jungle tours and worked at a shelter for battered women and children. With fierce brilliance, she edited books about women’s rights. When she spoke about the mistreatment of women, her voice grew louder, full of sharply annunciated consonants that I imagined built safe houses. She was strength and comfort personified.
When it was time to return to California, I begged my mom to leave me in Nepal. I wanted to stay and work with Marilyn. I wanted more of what she had, whatever it was. Marilyn saw me and appreciated my gift: the part of me that knew how to fight for, protect and nurture others.
“What if I refuse to get on the plane? You can’t force me.” But, things were finally good between us. I boarded the plane to go back, but left a part of myself there, with a promise I’d go back.
On January 15th this year, I fulfilled my dream.
I am finally in Nepal, at the Bright Horizon’s Children’s Home. There is a view of the Himalayas from the guesthouse we are staying in. I look out at the white-capped mountains surrounded by clouds of pink. Water pours from my eyes. This is my heart opening.
The teachers give me an incredible gift. They bring me back to basics. I speak in broken English and overly expressive gestures. We hold them in a field of agape, unconditional love, and introduce a hugging culture.
I am deeply touched by how enthusiastically the Nepali teachers receive us. The intimacy we create with the teachers progressively breaks down gender taboos. Male teachers test the waters first by hugging us, then each other and the female teachers. Then this spreads to the children.
One of the experiences that moves me the most, is witnessing how collective healing in community is embodied in their culture. By day three of our training, during a tea break, spontaneous singing and dancing breaks out. Instead of going back to class we recognize this as a way they inherently know how to resource after the hard conversations about the symptoms and the causes of trauma. We keep dancing.
I am overwhelmed by the expansive feeling in my heart, and cry from gratitude every day. Layers of old stories that belonged to my family, about being alone, having to fight and work hard to be loved, are shed. Here I am, stepping into a new story of extended family and unconditional love. One that says “being” is more than enough. I leave with my heart full of family, (nane and me) godsons and goddaughters, brothers and sisters.
I healed my own trauma over the past 25 years, so I could be of service in a sustainable way. I am here now. To stand for the end to the abuse of children and violence towards women everywhere, because no woman and child should stand alone. To stand for the reclaiming of our bodies as our own so that all women and children can access safety, comfort and joy. To stand for love and safe physical contact, because it’s what is twisted, misused and withheld in abusive cycles.
This January, with the support of the SETH program, I came full circle, back to my sixteen-year-old intention. I began the work Marilyn inspired me to do. I stayed with her in Swayambhu and took care of her during part of my visit. When I reported how well our training at the school was going, she looked up at me. That familiar toothy grin rose like the moon above the table and shone on me,“That’s great”.
As an incredible epilogue to this journey, Marilyn died shortly after my visit with her, and passed the torch to me. I will carry on the legacy that she left behind, but will include myself in the circle of care. Her joyful presence will always be remembered.
What legacy are you inspired to create?
Remember the feeling of excitement after passing your driving test? Many of us have photos of ourselves clutching that hard-earned driver's license, with big goofy grins on our faces.
So it is for this youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who recently passed his test as part of our local partner's commitment to skills training. Driver training classes are only one component of this youth's journey to becoming a tour guide in Ethiopia. Now that he has his license, he is one step closer to self-sufficiency, and we send him our heartfelt congratulations.
This driving course was one of many classes funded by eBay Foundation and our community of everyday activists to provide vocational, job, and life skills training to 30+ young adults, giving them tools to build self-esteem, make positive life choices, and pave a path towards self-sufficiency.
Recently, two other youth successfully found part-time employment as a result of this training program. We are excited to support our partner in launching the skills program again this summer.
What comes to mind when you think of Ethiopia?
Starving children too weak to swat away flies sticking to their tear-stained and snot-smeared faces as portrayed by Live Aid in the 1980's? People dying in squalor, leaving behind orphaned and HIV positive children due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1990's? Though a product of their time, such startling images have done much damage to our perceptions, leaving the impression of a country where locals have neither dignity or the power to influence their lives and communities.
Instead, we think of Ethiopia as a vast and varied landscape, having both a vibrant history and a growing, developing economy. A country able to assist its citizens by addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis via health education and ARV's and with a dynamic generation of young people who are developing responses, solutions and creating local technologies to help their fellow citizens.
It is this view of Ethiopia which informs our work with our partner organization in Addis Ababa. We are convinced that local, grassroots projects best serve local communities - our role is to simply empower them, rather than paternalistically exporting and enforcing western ideas of what works best. UNICEF advises the international support of community-based responses to the AIDS crisis, including "strengthening young people's life and survival skills" (2003). And as our partner and we are aware, children affected by HIV who were once coming for hospice care are now reaching young adulthood, and require the self-confidence and skills to become successfully self-sufficient .
The vocational program we fund has not been without its challenges, including attendance issues and a lack of full commitment from some of the youth (revealing perhaps deeper issues to be addressed). But its success stories include two of the eldest young adults who are making strides towards successfully leading independent lives:
Further, our partner is convinced that these courses are beneficial: 'We have 10 youth who will complete their high school education this school year. I hope all of them will make it to college /vocational training institutions. I think engaging these youth in additional vocational skill trainings will make a difference in their careers.'
Thank you to the eBay Foundation and to our generous donors who support this project, knowing that real transformation requires patience, time, and locally-led solutions.
Read why faces have been obscured and names changed in this post: Protecting Identities: why it's critical to our work
By Amy Paulson
There is a small pond in Matatirtha, a rural village resting high above Kathmandu valley, whose name in Nepali means Mother Earth. On Mother’s Day, orphans come to the pond to look at their reflections in the mirror of the water and see the face of their mothers.
It is this serene and spiritual place of Mother Earth that we journeyed to earlier this January to empower healing, dignity, joy, and transformation for the students and teachers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home (BHCH), a school and safe haven for nearly 300 orphans and vulnerable children from the poorest, most remote areas of Nepal.
Each morning, 25 teachers, caregivers, and staff arrived to a freezing classroom, greeted warmly with smiles and hugs by our co-founder and creator of the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) program, Elayne Kalila Doughty, MA, MFT. Originally developed as a grassroots healing model for caregivers who work with female survivors of sexual and gender based violence, the SETH curriculum has since been adapted to work with anyone whose trauma originates from the challenges faced by communities in fragile settings: conflict, abuse, human trafficking, disease, abandonment, extreme poverty, and more.
Co-facilitating the training was Charna Cassell, MA, MFT. Last December, Charna joined our SETH L2 global activism program where therapists, social workers, and other healing professionals learn the SETH curriculum and how to teach it in a global setting, fundraise among their communities as healing activists, and volunteer their skills at projects around the world.
After one week of training, a second week of observation and coaching, and the launching of a leadership and life skills course for early high school students taught by the teachers most interested in facilitating healing trainings with other organizations and communities in Nepal, we achieved the following outcomes:
Thanks to a connection with the School of Architecture in Barcelona (ESARQ) we advertised for a volunteer architect to help supervise and advise on this project. And we got lucky with two Italian architects, Francesca and Veronica, who are on site daily and send us weekly reports on the progress of the construction work. We are happy and grateful for their collaboration, advice and help, and to see the building grow and change week by week.
Check out their latest report on the house progress!
We are so excited to announce a new partnership with RetailMeNot to support the sustainable housing project for the Maisha children's home.
"We at RetailMeNot are incredibly proud to support The Gracias Foundation and the Maisha Home for Children in Nairobi," said Giulio Montemagno, SVP of International at RetailMeNot, Inc, and a regular volunteer at Maisha. "We have witnessed first-hand the caring and safe environment the Foundation has provided for the children and the incredibly positive impact this had on their lives, empowering them to overcome past traumas, restoring hope and enabling them to pursue their dreams."
The housing project is already underway. We expect the project to complete by early 2015. Checkout our Facebook page for regular photo updates.
A warm-hearted Asante Sana from The Gracias Foundation and all the kids and staff at Maisha! We are forever grateful for your support! Read on for the official press release below...
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
We are deeply honored to announce a partnership with MoneyGram Foundation to empower the Maisha children in Kenya with secondary tuition, academic tutoring, a computer lab, and support for a new boarding house for the existing kids and the next generation of Maisha scholars.
"MoneyGram believes education transforms lives, and the foundation is privileged to work with worthy organizations that are providing life-changing education programs to those who need them the most," said Pamela H. Patsley, chairman and chief executive officer, MoneyGram.
School tuition and tutoring support will span the next 5 years, while the computer lab and boarding house projects will commence this year.
A huge thank you to MoneyGram Foundation for their commitment to empowering quality education for children around the world. Asante sana! Please read on for the press release below...
By Rachel Crowther (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
I imagine the wide-eyed stares and excitement of the kids at Jelly Tots Educare (Cape Town, South Africa) as the red-netted toy bin is placed in the courtyard and the lid opened. Tiny hands gripping brightly colored blocks, plastic people and animals that are exactly the right size to slot into cars and planes, parts of which are soon spread all over the floor.
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
This January, we're turning two! We are thrilled by how much we've achieved together, and YOU are at the center of it all. So, a huge Thank You (Gracias) to everyone! We hope you'll enjoy our birthday video!
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
It started with 18 teenagers in Ethiopia, orphaned by AIDS and living with the virus themselves. Before antiretroviral therapy (ART) became accessible in 2005, our partner was more of a hospice than a children’s home. Now, kids live well into their teens and beyond. These particular teens were the first from our local partner NGO to move from institutional life at a larger compound to smaller, family-like transition homes last year. The purpose? For them to learn how to do just that - transition to the next phase of life: adulthood and independence.
By Amy Paulson (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
At 6.30am on September 5th, I landed at Zurich airport after an ultra intense three weeks of field work, monitoring and evaluations, diligence, project research, and more – not to mention manual farm and house work, and more importantly, spending precious time with the local kids.
It’s now one week later and I’m just now starting to clear my head.
Traveling in Africa can be an overload of the senses and the emotions.
By Amy Paulson (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
Arriving at Maisha Children’s Home is always a fun adventure. Sheets of rain poured down over Ruai, so by the time I arrived kids, dogs, cats, and aunties were scattered everywhere, trying to avoid getting wet while getting yelled at to take their muddy shoes off before entering the house. (Tomorrow morning will be spent mopping the mud-tracked floors).
After hugs and high fives from all the kids and staff, I got straight to unpacking and distributing all the donations for the kids (generously provided by super ambassador, Giulio, the Lego Foundation, and a handful of other Gracias activists):