GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
We are thrilled to announce the recent launch of the life skills and leadership class for high school students at Bright Horizon Children's Home (BHCH). With the healing skills learned through the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) training program in January 2015, local teachers are now equipped with skills to address symptoms of trauma, empower students to develop self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and promote healing, leadership, and personal transformation.
We are incredibly grateful for BHCH teachers' efforts in spreading grassroots healing skills to communities in Nepal.
Check out our latest video, a celebration of the Bright Horizon Children's Home (BHCH) in Nepal, which has its 15th Anniversary this year.
The song was written by musician, Bam Vox, together with BHCH alumni, Navraj and Sangam. Bam joined our healing convoy in Nepal last January, sharing his love for music as a form of healing, play, and joy.
Thank you to Bam and to all the BHCH students, teachers, and staff. We are deeply moved by the shared experience of co-creating a space of healing and joy!
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:
Putting a camera in the hands of children is one of the most interesting things that a photographer can do, through their eyes we can liberate ourselves from the usual conventions of photography and discover new ways of looking.
The eyes of young people are not obstructed by the rules, or suggestions on how to take the perfect picture.
When I thought of this project, the selfish part of me could not wait to learn and be inspired. In reality I would be the one who would have to teach. But teach what? Can you really teach photography?
The project ‘Photography as Healing’ was born in my head and developed thanks to a collaboration with Global Alliance Gratitude and Amy, co-founder of the NGO, who demonstrated enthusiasm, had a relevant project available and accepted my proposal.
The idea is to "teach" the art of photography to children living in villages or marginalized communities in the world. A simple way for these children to express themselves, to tell their life stories, to gain hope and self-esteem. To explain to them that there is a world in which photography is not just 'Selfie' photos and memories, but also stories from our own point of view.
I was playing with a number of things, written explanations, technical applications of photography. Worse still, I had with me some examples of photos to show them.
Thank God I did not do any of it.
Nothing could be worse worse than rules to an unfettered mind .
I asked myself, who am I to tell them that an overexposed photo is not good? Who am I to say that a crooked horizon is not aesthetic? If photography is really the story, they must tell it how they want to, even with dirty, burnt or blurry photos.
Who am I to hold these guys glued to a chair to hear speeches about light?
Success, then, that when I put cameras into their hands, their focus shifted from me to the lens.
I asked them to tell of their lives in school and nothing more. The result? Not a single 'Selfie'.
We did editing, I taught the basic rules of photoshop and I let them change their pictures as they wanted better. The outcome was pink clouds and skies, broken light. Tones of blue and green.
I was surprised how uninteresting black and white was for them, when usually black and white opens people's eyes. They created only a few black and white photos. When I tried to tempt them, telling them that black and white is the simplest solution to the problem of creating an "effect", Their faces lit up, not because they agreed, but rather were laughing like crazy at the fiction of life in monotone.
The world in black and white is fake. And they are right, life is in color, exaggerated, saturated, illusory. But always colorful.
Translated with permission from Chiara's original post at Love the Shoot
By Amy Paulson
Last Tuesday, I returned from Nepal where I spent almost three weeks helping to oversee our trauma healing training, photography, music, and LEGO projects at Bright Horizon Children's Home. My experience was transformational, heart-opening, and deeply meaningful (project update coming soon).
And yet, sitting in my comfortable, heated home in San Francisco for the past week, I've felt a sense of melancholy. I get this way every time I return from field work abroad. I've written about this phenomenon before. I've warned volunteers about it. I commiserated with co-founder Elayne about it on the phone last week. Still, it always surprises me when it happens. Like when I returned from field work in Cambodia a few years ago and drove straight to the French Alps the next day, only to sit in the snow at the top of a ski lift, tears streaming down my face, wondering what in the world all these people were doing gliding on sticks down the mountain.
This time, the feeling hit me like a freight train.
It's hard to describe it. It starts with overwhelming gratitude as I arrive at home, take a long hot shower, then sleep soundly in my warm, fluffy bed - in contrast to the freezing cold bed where I slept at the children's home, snoozing every night under three layers of heavy blankets, fully clothed in thermals, slippers, scarf, gloves, and beanie (those conditions were quite posh compared to the way most in Nepal live). I couldn't muster the energy to shower every day (or even every other day). The icy water was unbearable when the power was out; the hot water supply was limited.
Then, it shifts to sadness. As I look around me at all the people innocently going about their daily routine, I feel confused. I want to shout: Do you understand that half the world lives in poverty? Do you know that many of our fellow humans, including little children, are often abandoned, persecuted, left for dead, or even killed because of their gender, faith, or caste? Do you know that you hit the jackpot being born in ________ [insert: any developed country in the world]?
I wonder, how can the rest of the world continue about their day unknowingly while this terrible injustice of humanity rages on? And, what does it mean that I am also guilty of living mindlessly, coveting material things, not giving thought to others in the world?
At the same time, I feel sorrow that so many people will never see or experience the heart-opening love that I was honored to witness in Nepal. I listened to a student talk about how the oxygen of his breath in deep meditation is like a medicine he gives to his mother. I saw a teacher apologize if he ever unknowingly hurt another person after learning about the definition of abuse. I observed the teachers making human statue examples of what an empowered person looks like, from one teacher standing with palms facing up, saying "thank you, thank you, thank you" to two male teachers courageously demonstrating a loving embrace. And, I danced, sang, and celebrated our aliveness with teachers, staff workers, and children throughout our stay.
By Amy Paulson
It’s almost 11pm in Matatirtha, Nepal. The power was out for 11 hours today. My laptop battery is about to die. My headlamp is secured to my fuzzy earflap hat, blanket wrapped cozily around my lap, scarf wound tightly around my neck. With no central heating, and portable electric heaters that don’t work when the power is out, the little propane heater in our guest apartment at Bright Horizon Children’s Home roars away, warming up the freezing space enough to be live-able… at least for us non-Nepalis. The bottle of whiskey helps, too.
Electricity in Nepal is a rare gift. Blackouts (“load-shedding”) are a reality for people here, especially at this time of year when water otherwise used for hydropower is frozen. Blackouts can last up to 16 hours a day. Generators are only available for those who can afford it.
For us visitors, it means that the few hours a day when the electricity is on, we furiously scramble to our laptops, send our important emails and post updates on Facebook, letting friends and loved ones know how we are doing. Connectivity is painfully slow. Sometimes it takes one hour to post one photo on Facebook…that is, if you have the patience to wait that long.
For Nepali locals, it means that working via computer is a constant uphill battle. Mobile phones may allow many Nepalis to connect on Facebook or text loved ones - but oftentimes even doing a basic Google search becomes a whole day-long ordeal. Never mind YouTube. Netflix? Uh, no. WebMD, Khan Academy, Wordpress, Wikipedia, or any other educational or practical web-based resource? Forget about it.
And yet, the kids here learn HTML for their national exams. Their teacher, Ajay, explained how difficult it is teach computer class when the electricity and internet are always out. If the power goes back on after the school day ends, Ajay often stays late helping the students learn whatever the day’s lesson should have been.
At night, sometimes the lights go off, like they did while we were eating dinner last week. When the lights flicker back on, our Nepali friends make a small gesture, moving their hand from their forehead to their heart and back again: a beautiful blessing of thanks for light, for electricity… for a basic necessity that we all take for granted.
Yet, in the absence of that connection to electrical power, the people here have a connection with each other. They laugh, cry, and share with each other - not through an electronic device, but in real, face-to-face conversations with each other.
Even tonight, we sat together in the dark, a battery-powered LED light in the corner of the dark kitchen, and we talked about the incredible hospitality, love, and connection among the people of Nepal... the connections we have made with the staff and teachers in the SETH training, the little children who hold our hands, desperate for a feeling of love and safety, the cook who smiles at us with a twinkle of kindness in his eyes, the Tibetan monk who shares stories with us about the hardships not just of Tibetan refugees in Nepal but of the Nepali locals themselves.
That connection reminds me to be grateful. So, as I sit here in the dark, I move my hand from my forehead to my heart, saying a little blessing for the ease and abundance of electrical power that fuels my connection at home, and for the lessons about love, life, and deeply meaningful connection here in Nepal.
It is with joy and enthusiasm that our team travel to Nepal this week. One facet of the trip is to train the staff and caregivers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home to use the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) program. This will empower them to help the orphans and vulnerable children in their care who may be experiencing grief, guilt and other unexpressed trauma. ‘Trauma can negatively impact a child's ability to concentrate, learn, develop healthy social relationships and thrive as an independent adult' . Creative arts is one of the three central tenets of the SETH program and self-expression and story-telling will be further developed and encouraged through a music workshop and via a ‘Photography As Healing’ project, during which kids will learn how to take photos, document their lives and create memory books.
Memories, thoughts and feelings are often held in, contained, confined. Instead negative emotion and trauma may be evident in challenging or withdrawn behaviour. The chance to voice the unexpressed, through dance, drama, music, art and photography will give these children an opportunity to tell their stories, show what they feel inside without necessarily having to resort to the complexities of words that don’t flow easily or naturally, or just don’t exist to describe their particular turmoil and trouble.
As the artist Georgia O’Keeffe describes it ‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.’
In fact, we all have stories to tell. I would argue it’s an essential part of being human to need to find ways to articulate our personal narratives and who we are, to help us come to terms with our past, enjoy our present and plan for our future. Creativity also helps us move through life with more comfort and peace. For me, happiness, enjoyment and self-expression come from writing (for and as a part of this amazing foundation by blogging and helping Amy put her story into book form), visual imagery and creating jewellery with recycled objects and vintage ‘finds’. Rather than internalizing what’s going on in the incessant monologue in my head, I have an outlet for my emotions and it’s really helpful.
As a foundation, we look forward to using creativity and other parts of the SETH program to help address trauma. The children’s creativity, in the form of their photos and recordings of their music will be shared once the trip is complete. They will tell their stories.
The drumbeat gets louder. The kids toss and turn. Their bodies contour in different shapes. They use their strength to build human pyramids. The crowd applauds. The performers bow down. The smiles are priceless. It seems like a good show for a circus, but it’s a breakthrough in a children’s home.
Maisha, our children’s home partner in Kenya, cares for twenty-two children who were orphaned mainly by HIV/AIDS, conflict and extreme poverty. They are provided with shelter, food, and education in a semi-rural farm environment outside of Nairobi. These kids have gone through immense grief and trauma. Aside from basic necessities, they have unique psychosocial needs.
In 2013, Maisha introduced weekly drumming and acrobatic classes taught by local Kenyan professionals. One of the teachers they partnered with was Peter Waithaka, more commonly known as "Doc". Doc was a former member of the Kenya national acrobatic team called African Sakata Acrobats. He is currently a social entrepreneur, working on other projects that address educational and life skill needs among Kenya's underserved youth.
With the help of Doc and local drumming teacher, Robinson Owino, or "Robbie", the project has been a success. The classes not only help the kids learn how to do somersaults and synchronize the beat of the drums, it also helps develop their self-esteem. The kids learn about teamwork and the value of support in a community. These classes are also good for the community because they provide employment to the locals as well as inspiration. "The smiles they give us after learning a new acrobatic stunt or pyramid give us strength to persevere and be there for next class," said Doc. The teachers have become role models for the kids to look up to. And the experience brings joy to the children’s lives by providing a fun and healthy environment for them to heal.
One of the Maisha girls was homeless, orphaned and exploited by the age of nine. Five years later, despite making overwhelming progress in adapting to home life at Maisha, she still suffers from deep emotional trauma. She has a difficult time focusing in school and at home. Yet for the first time, her teachers are seeing her blossom in the acrobatic class.
They observe that some of the other youth, who are academically challenged and started school at a later age, are also doing well in these classes. Acquiring new skills and thriving in a new environment has helped them believe in their own potential. Our hope is that these experiences will guide them to make positive choices in the future.
In other parts of the world, Circus therapy is proving to be an effective tool for psychotherapeutic healing. Clowning about has helped boost confidence and encourage camaraderie among Finland’s disaffected youth as well as the elderly. Women in London who are suffering from depression are learning to fly trapeze while building their confidence and strength, and moving them towards employment. Young people at risk have discovered a safe haven to find their balance at Halifax’s Circus Circle.
Life can be a great balancing act and at some point, people find themselves walking on a tightrope. But it’s inspiring to know that there are many ways to help people make it all the way across such as teaching acrobatics to a little girl in Kenya to help her believe in herself.
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!
As an eBay Inc. employee, co-founder and treasurer, Andy, recommended Global Gratitude Alliance for a Bay Area GIVE Team grant from the eBay Foundation. This essay helped us win the grant for our vocational training project with HIV+ orphans in Ethiopia.
By Andrew Hughes
In 2011, I was traveling in San Jose for meetings at eBay, getting ready for my sabbatical in Africa. However instead of driving to the airport to fly home, I drove myself to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Half a year and several infections later, I rescheduled my sabbatical, uneasy about traveling with a constant pain in my abdomen.
The first weeks of sabbatical were tough. I couldn’t enjoy myself, convinced that I had a life threatening gastroenterological disease, despite the doctors confirming that I was fine. And, then I arrived in Ethiopia. I was there to research projects to support through The Gracias Foundation, the nonprofit that I was about to launch (now called Global Gratitude Alliance). The kids we spent time with there are all HIV positive. Most are also orphans who have watched their mothers and fathers wither away in front of them. For the younger ones, you wouldn’t know about their stories just by looking at them. Like all kids, their laughter is music – they just want someone to share it with. For the older ones, the sadness in their eyes is deep. And, the uncertainty they have about the future is real.
HIV+ youth in Ethiopia during their vocational training courses
including hairdressing, clothes making, and food preparation.
Faces masked to protect identities.
We love eBay. Not just because many of our co-founders first met each other as eBay employees. Not just because eBay provides a way to reuse and recycle while empowering social opportunity for small entrepreneurs to compete in the global marketplace. And, not just because its motto "People are generally good" is also a shared belief at the core of our work in the world.
We also love eBay because of its philanthropic values.
We are so proud to be selected by the eBay Bay Area GIVE Team as a recipient of an eBay Foundation grant for our project in Ethiopia which provides vocational training to young adults who are HIV positive. The youth have been taking classes this summer from hairdressing to computer maintenance, food preparation, and more, learning valuable skills about hard work, commitment, time management, and what it means to be a good employee.
More importantly, however, the program, gives them a chance to build self-esteem, gain the tools needed to make positive life choices, and eventually pave the road to self-dependence.
A big Ethiopian Ameseginalehu (Thank You in Amharic, the local language)!
Check out the press release below (or click here to download).
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...
The Gracias Foundation recently partnered with the International School of Berne, Switzerland to offer selected students the experience of a lifetime: a week-long learning and volunteering program at the Maisha children's home in Kenya. Michael Forzato, a 17-year old junior wrote this blog on what he learned from his experience in Kenya. Check out his other moving essay on why he wanted to volunteer.
By Michael Forzato (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
What will I take from my experience at Maisha? Well I don’t think that question can easily be answered with words because words can never fully embody how someone feels or describe the connection that one has with the people of Maisha. This connection is felt right when you walk through the doors of the home, seeing the smiling faces of twenty-two children and the wonderful aunts and uncle as they welcome you as if they had known you for years. This connection only grows as time passes because the close corridors of the Maisha home leave little room for privacy and separation. You sleep together, you eat together, you laugh together, and you play together. This interconnectedness, and the people’s natural amicable character is what make Maisha such an ardent place.
The Gracias Foundation recently partnered with the International School of Berne, Switzerland to offer selected students the experience of a lifetime: a week-long learning and volunteering program at the Maisha children's home in Kenya. Michael Forzato, a 17-year old junior wrote this beautiful essay on why he wanted to volunteer in Kenya. We were moved by his words and selected Michael as one of two student participants.Stay tuned for our next blog: Michael's reflections upon returning home from Maisha...
By Michael Forzato (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
During my winter break in 2010 I was lucky enough to visit Mombasa, Kenya. I was excited to explore a different continent that I had never set foot on. We got on the plane in Zürich, Switzerland and set off on our seven-day trip to Africa.
I was never nervous, to be honest, but also very eager, a similar feeling I get when I join a new basketball or soccer team or about to move to a different country and experience different cultures.
We got off the plane in Africa and I was shocked. There was not much thought put into what I should expect when I got off the plane, but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. Perhaps I was relying on the African stereotypes of the country, where it is made up of vast savanna with wildlife roaming the great plains. In some cases this is true, however what I witness driving in a taxi to our hotel was very much different to my expectations. It was actually quite sad the living conditions that these people were forced to live in. Shacks after shacks lined the unpaved dirt street that bare feet walked upon.