Archive for the ‘Inspiring Stories’ Category

Fab People: Neediest Cases Donors

January 19, 2009

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Letter written by a Neediest Cases donor:  “Dear Sir or Madam, Instead of giving gifts to each other this year, my family thought it would be a better use to donate the amounts that would’ve been spent on gifts to a charity of our choice. Please accept the enclosed donation of $360 on behalf of the (redacted) Family. Keep up the good work!”

You know how the economy has been, to put it gently, not so great?  People all over the world are tightening their wallets, trying to weather the storm.  So you would think, in this kind of dismal economic climate, that charity organizations would be experiencing huge drops in donations as people are cutting what they perceive to be unnecessary expenses.

But not the Neediest Cases charity from The New York Times.   Neediest Cases is a regular feature in The New York Times, in which one of the reporters writes about a person who is down on his or her luck.  Then readers can send donations to help that specific person or the charity in general.  Not only has Neediest Cases collected more than a half-million dollars MORE than they did the year before, but it has also seen a 53% increase in the number of donors.

The reason?  Many donors felt that if they were having a rough time dealing with the recession, then the people at the bottom must have had it a whole lot worse.  So the donors felt that now, more than ever, was the time to come through and help their neighbors.

I know there’s a lot of sadness in the world, but there’s a lot of goodness too.  🙂

Here’s the article.  And some letters written by the donors.

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A Genius in Our Midst

January 15, 2009

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Stop the presses GBD!  Carolyn asked if there was some way we could show our support for the students at the Mirwais School for Girls.  OMG carolyn…are you a genius??  Because this is a genius idea!  GENIUS!

What do the rest of you think?  Got any ideas?  I emailed the reporter who wrote the article to ask how we could help.  Keep in mind that life is rough in Kandahar, so I’m not sure how feasible it is to send our support.  But there’s nothing wrong with trying, right?

News Day Tuesday: And you thought going to your school was tough.

January 13, 2009

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At left, Shamsia Husseini took an exam with her classmates.  (photo: Danfung Dennis for The New York Times)

I remember when I went to school, all I had to worry about was homework, tests, catching the bus, getting to the cafeteria before the line got too long,…you know, typical stuff.  I never worried about being attacked by people who thought I shouldn’t be going to school because I’m a girl.

But sadly, that is exactly the kind of thing students and teachers of the Mirwais School for Girls have to worry about.  Back in November, a group of men attacked 11 girls and 4 teachers with acid.  Seventeen-year-old Shamsia Husseini (pictured at left above…you can’t really see her face) suffered the worst.  Her injuries were so bad that she had to be treated at a hospital abroad.  They were so bad that today her vision gets blurry, making it hard for her to read.

Not surprisingly, parents refused to let their daughters go outside after that.  So for four days, the Mirwais School for Girls was empty.  But four days was enough for the headmaster of the school, Mahmood Qadari, who proceeded to work tirelessly to fill those classrooms again.  He asked the local government for more police, a footbridge, and a schoolbus.  And he held meetings with hundreds of parents imploring them to let their daughters return to school.

And so today, just TWO months after the attack, the 40 classrooms of the Mirwais School for Girls are so full that additional classes have to be held in tents outside in the courtyard.  Did the government come through with the police?  No.  The bridge?  No.  The schoolbus?  No.

It seems that the only things that came through were the courage and persistence of the parents, the teachers, and most of all, the students.  Almost all of the 1300 or so students have returned to school, including 8 of the 11 girls who were attacked.

And yes, that includes even the girl who was hurt the most – Shamsia Husseini.  Last I heard, she was taking a geography test, trying to remember what the capital of Brazil was.  And if she did remember, she’d know more than a college graduate like me because I am absolutely terrible at geography.  😉

(I Googled it though.  The capital of Brazil is Brasília.  I never would’ve guessed that in a million years.  My two guesses were Rio de Janeiro, because of Carnaval, and São Paulo, because my plane landed there once on the way to Argentina.  Don’t tell Mari that.  She might hit me.)

If you’d like to read the full article, here it is.  There are also pictures showing the students going about their day in school.

Fab Female: Rene Blas

January 11, 2009

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Rene Blas (photo: J. B. Reed for The New York Times)

Sometimes being fabulous is just about picking yourself up and moving forward after life has dealt you a couple of hard knocks.  When young people do this, it’s even more fabulous.  Cue Rene Blas, a 19-year-old who, along with her family, was evicted from their apartment this past fall because her father lost his job and couldn’t keep up with the rent.  While her family went to go live in family shelters, Rene was separated from them because of her age (she was too old), and had to go live in a women’s shelter by herself.  That can’t be easy to deal with…evicted from your home, separated from your family, and forced to fend for yourself.

But instead of falling through the cracks, Rene joined a bridge program for homeless youths, determined to make a future for herself.  She got a job at Starbucks, keeps in touch with her family regularly (including calling her younger brother to wake him up for school), and plans to study nursing at Lehman College.  As if working and studying weren’t enough, she also plans to run track for Lehman.

So yay to Rene!

You can read more of Rene’s story here.

News Day Tuesday: Mumbai Heroes

December 9, 2008


Vishnu Datta Ram Zende working Monday at a Mumbai railroad station where he saved lives. (photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

Here is an article about some ordinary people who did some extraordinary things during the tragedy that struck Mumbai recently, when terrorists held the Indian city under siege for three days. 173 people died, which is already too many, but had it not been for the calm and courage displayed by this group of heroes, that death toll surely would have been much higher.

I always find these types of stories particularly inspiring because they give me hope that maybe I, too, have the capacity to display that kind of courage. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy the adventures of superheroes, and I respect the everyday heroes who, despite the dangers of their jobs, get up and go to work anyway. But personally, I find that both of these are a world apart from me because the reality is, I don’t have superpowers and I don’t have the training to subdue violent situations. I am just a regular gal, like most other folks, who goes to work everyday to pay her bills and maybe make the world a better place along the way.

The people of Mumbai also went to work that day, to pay their bills and maybe try to make the world a better place. I doubt any of them knew that on that day, they would be in middle of an attack on their city, with gunmen on a rampage, shooting their machine guns every which way, and people running away screaming. And yet these unassuming employees of a train station and a hotel kitchen somehow held it together to take care of their fellow citizens. Can you imagine? What does it take, do you think, for a person, with windows crashing and bullets whizzing, to say to him or herself, “I need to get these people to safety” and then go about doing just that? Can that type of courage be taught or developed?

“When we are afraid we ought not to occupy ourselves with endeavoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.” – Mark Rutherford

“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” – Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

What do you think courage and heroism mean?

From Desperation to Inspiration- A Personal Reflection

November 18, 2008

Desperate Brooke (2 years ago): Working at a restaurant in San Francisco finishing up college and living with a boyfriend that drained her that she really wasn’t very fond of in the first place.  She is pictured here after she cut all her hair off in a desperate attempt to change her identity.  Clearly, that didn’t go over so well!

Inspired Brooke (today): Living in Thailand working for 2 incredible organizations that empower people to change the world for the better by giving people opportunities that they never had before. She also has found herself in a happy and supportive relationship that proves to her that there really are great men out there.  She is pictured below with Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Muhammad Yunus… in Bali!

My HERO! Dr. Muhammad Yunus

If you would have asked me 2 years ago where I thought I’d be or what I thought I’d be doing today, I would have NEVER imagined that I would be here.  Through what turned out to be an extremely fortunate series of events, even though it didn’t appear to be that way at the time!

It all began in mid-2006.  I was fast approaching the end of my undergraduate career, and I was feeling overwhelmed with the state of the world.  I was an International Relations major with a focus in Latin American studies and had been learning about how it seemed that everything had gone wrong in Latin America.  In what was the span of my lifetime, there had been corruption, violence, intolerance, genocide and torture and the situation didn’t appear to be getting any better.

Then, one sunny mid-May afternoon, my life would be forever changed. We had a guest speaker in my Latin American Foreign Policy class.  He was a torture survivor from El Salvador and he had come to America to speak to us about his experiences.  At this time, I was also a double major in Spanish, so as he told his story, I could understand directly what he was saying, without the filter of a translator, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life. Not only did this man look and sound similar to my own father, he also was kidnapped on my exact birth date.  Needless to say, I felt a deep connection to this man and his experience.

After he left, I sat frozen in my seat not knowing what to do with myself.  I was so deeply emotionally shaken by his story that I didn’t know how to move forward.   What if this had happened to me? What if this had happened to my father? How can stories like this still be continuing today!? Torture is no joke.

Not long after this, the semester ended and I decided to take a semester off of school. Sure, I was 1 semester away from graduating but I became painfully aware that this particular area of IR just wasn’t for me.  I thought, “If I am this emotional over guest speakers, how could I possibly be effective in this field? How would I be able to live a happy life when I personally felt so attached to these types of experiences?” I needed time to figure out what gave me strength. I knew what seemed to weaken me and make me feel helpless and overwhelmed, and while I knew that I wanted to be part of “the greater good”, I didn’t have the slightest idea about how I was going to contribute to it.

Lucky for me, I had an opportunity of a lifetime to help out with a small start-up non-profit based in San Francisco.  Through my Nana, I learned that my grandfather’s cousin’s grandson (so this makes second cousin twice removed.. maybe?) was helping to build a website that had “something to do with international relations and the internet” my Nana had told me.  She said, “It sounds like it’d be right up your alley. You should contact him.” I wrote an email to this newfound “cousin” of mine and learned that they were just started what would turn out to be Kiva– the world’s first online microlending platform that lets you connect directly with an entrepreneur in the developing world and loan them as little as $25 to start or grow their small businesses. A few days later I met with the handful of people that were starting Kiva.org and I became more involved.

From the moment I stepping into Kiva’s humble looking office I knew it.  I knew that I had found my inspiration.  I was in a room full of young, creative, motivated, energetic and intelligent people that were all working towards making the world better. They wanted to be the change they wanted to see in the world.  And from this mixture, Kiva was born.  I just happened to be in the right place in the right time- both physically and mentally.

Me and Matt from Kiva watching a Cambodian Silk weaver

As I continued to work with Kiva doing whatever they needed me to do, I found myself still struggling.  I was working with Kiva on a volunteer basis and was still earning my money from hostessing at a restaurant.  The incestuousness of the restaurant got the best of me and before I knew it I had been living the chef-turned-boyfriend in our apartment for about 4 months.  Things went bad really quickly and I found myself extremely unhappy with my restaurant job and my relationship.  I knew I needed to make a real change.  I knew that a better life was possible. I needed to make a move.

So I ended the relationship, quit my job and bought a 1-way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand! Talk about a bold move!  Before I knew it, it was bye-bye San Francisco and helloooooo Bangkok!

Not too long after my move I decided to look for a job in the social business sector.  Social business is essentially a business that does something to make the world better. Not just selling a product, but actually doing something with the primary goal being to help 1) a marginalized group of society (often poor or uneducated or physically disadvantaged people), 2) the environment (helping to do things such as restoration, recycling or having little to no “carbon footprint”) and 3) make enough money to stay in business and ideally to expand.  So basically, it’s a business with a triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

Through some research and emails I got a job as a “Regional Coordinator” at amazing organization doing incredible work here in Asia.  The organization is called ChangeFusion, and they believe that any young person with innovative ideas, commitment and vision for social change should have a chance to emerge as a force to create a lasting impact by helping to solve global challenges. ChangeFusion is currently working with 23 ventures in the South and East Asia region, ranging from fair trade crafts venture in India to a social outsourcing venture in the Philippines.

Pretty exciting stuff if you ask me!

Now, I’m trying to think of how I can blend my passion for Kiva with my new found excitement with the profit making social business sector….

Now I\'m trying to figure out my next move...

If you get anything from my story, please let it be confirmation that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE once you take good hard look at yourself, take a chance, make a change and follow your passion!