Community Cafe Feature: SAME Cafe

I recently started volunteering for a non-profit cafe in Fort Collins called FoCo Cafe, which stands for Feeding Our Community Ourselves. FoCo Cafe follows the community cafe model which integrates pay as you are able model and often times locally … Continue reading

Empowerment for Sustainability

If you are not already following “Humans of New York,” my recommendation is to start today. The blog was started by a guy named Brandon in the summer of 2010. Brandon left his job in finance in New York City and started creating a unique and comprehensive “catalogue”of the inhabitants of New York City. His original mission was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and document their stories on a map. Along the way he began to ask his subjects questions about their lives along with documenting their stories through photography. He would include short quotes from them with their pictures. The result is an incredible social media site that gives glimpses into the trials and triumphs of everyday people like you and me. It is incredible the result that comes from asking your neighbor a few questions about themselves. The blog now has over nine million followers and in the words of Brandon, gives “worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City.” Check out Humans of New York on the blog website and Facebook.

The blog has now teamed up with the United Nations to launch the Humans of New York World Tour. From August-September 2014 the website will be documenting experiences of people around the world. Check out the Website to learn about unique stories from places like Kampala, Uganda.

I recently came across one HONY entry that struck me, and I think hits home for the development world.

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“We don’t like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don’t want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”

(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) View original post here.

There are different and often conflicting models in the development world, but the majority of successful models seem to cross at the all-important idea of empowerment. I was deconstructing this notion to bring it to the most bare-boned structure possible, and here is what I have come up with.

A service-oriented life is fulfilling, that is saying that one who donate their time to others receives a “feel good” sensation. Volunteerism, and particularly international volunteerism is often criticized for this fact– that is gives the volunteer (often a person from a Western society) a good feeling for a few days/weeks/months, then they can return to their 50-gallons-of-fresh-water-a-day lifestyle. At its core, I do not think this piece of volunteerism deserves criticism. In my opinion (and the opinion of numerous psychological studies), the Western mind has some room for happiness and inner peace. As Simon Anholt speaks about in his TED talk, “Which Country Does the Most Good for the World?” many industrialized nations are very internally-focused and thus lack (as he calls it), the “good factor.” The countries that have the highest rank of “good” on the “The Good Country Index” are those that think externally before they think internally, meaning they put the well-being of other countries on par with that of their own. Countries such as Ireland, Sweden, and Kenya, are among the top ranked, if you are interested. Simon discusses that the countries who have higher “good” also have higher psychological well-being.

So if thinking externally, and volunteering, or living a service-oriented life is not bad, then where does the criticism of this lifestyle or philanthropic/ non-profit organizations come from? This is what I love about this HONY entry. Service goes awry when the recipient of the service does not have the opportunity to receive the same level of self-fulfillment as the volunteer/ non-profit employee/ donator/ giver receives. This man from the Democratic Republic of Congo is expressing that the people of his country need to feel empowered, they need to feel dignified, and respected.

In the development world we often talk about programmatic sustainability and empowerment– two things that coincide closely. Particularly in programs that focus on the well-being of humans, the program must have a model that will make the partners feel empowered, thus the program will be sustainable. As the person who is featured in this photo says, “Yes, [Congo has] a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”

Back from a Big Blogging Break!

Hello Bloggers! For those of you who remember me, I am finally back after a 13 month blogging pause. I apologize for my leave of absence from the blogging world. The reason why I have not written in awhile will unfold with this post, so hang with me and see what is on my mind.

For curiosity’s sake, here is an update about where I have been for the past year. I am still a student at Colorado State University and I have now changed my major a total of SEVEN times. I couldn’t pick one so I found something that would let me study everything- Liberal Arts! Along with the switch to Liberal Arts I also added minors in International Development and Anthropology. I had a bit of an impulsive travel decision at the end of last semester so I took off to the south of Spain to study at the University of Granada and travel around Europe. On this trip I have been to Italy, Greece, France, Morocco, and all over Spain. At this moment I am back in Granada, sitting in a little café surrounded by books, drinking my cafe con leche.

I want to take you back to a post I wrote a few months ago. If you have not already read my post, <a href=”https://twohandscreatechange.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/its-random-act-of-kindness-day-participate/”&gt;“It’s Random Act of Kindness Day, Participate?”“>”It’s Random Act of Kindness Day, Participate?” I encourage you to do so. For those of you who do not have time to read the whole post, here is an excerpt that recaps the highlight of the story.

“Yesterday I was driving across a busy bridge that crosses a highway and river in my hometown. My car was nearly to the end of the bridge and I was about to enter a large and busy intersection. Something to my left caught my eye and I looked over to see a blind man feeling his way slowly onto the bridge and into oncoming traffic. I looked around to assess the potential harm in the situation. Without any more thought, I stopped my car in the middle [lane] of the bridge, turned on my warning lights, got out of the car, ran into the oncoming traffic and approached the man.” -It’s Random Act of Kindness Day, Participate? Annie Freyschlag

In the rest of the post I continue to describe how I walked the man off the bridge and helped him find where he was going. This experience was very emotionally eye-opening for me after the adrenaline from running into oncoming traffic wore off. Ultimately, this is a happy memory for me because I know that in the moment I acted the right way, it was what I did in the moments following the incident that I look back on with regret. After I watched the man walk away in my rear-view mirror, I immediately reached for my phone and dialed all of my friends and family to vividly paint the picture of this experience for them. It was as if I needed everyone to know how proud I was that I had helped. I know in those moments I was not looking for recognition, but is that how I could have come across to the people on the other end of the phone? I think a lot of us who work in the development and humanitarian fields struggle with this idea. This seemingly morally superior aspect is something that I never hoped to embody, but it seems that aspects have pulled their way into my existence.

Then I got to thinking, isn’t that what this entire blog is about- acting with kindness, then telling others about it (bear with me as I deconstruct and hopefully reconstruct my entire existence…). My current theory, developed after months of internal anguish is that this life is about finding balance, in many things but particularly related to volunteer and aid work; finding balance between working for ourselves and working completely for others. I have made a lot of changes in my life in the last 13 months because I had a revelation that before I can advocate for changing the world, I need to make sure I am the best person I can be. After doing a bit of research, it turns out that other people have also come to the same conclusion, which eased my mind a little bit. A monk in 1100AD wrote about his conception of this realization.

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

It took me a long time to put this transformation into concrete thoughts, you guys should see my draft box on WordPress, I must have six or seven attempts at starting a new blog post. For the past year I could not bring myself to write to my blogging friends explaining the ways I was changing the world when I needed to first change many things about myself. But I came full circle in this thought process when I realized that I love blogging and reading what my friends are doing to help other people in the world. This community, especially those of you who write about inspiration and volunteer work, you are little candles in the souls of all of your readers, you are rays of sunshine keeping our flames alive. So here I am, sitting in a Café in Andalusia, the south of Spain, asking you to continue sharing with me your acts of love and kindness.

Here are a list of things that I am currently working to learn about on a daily basis;
Sustainable development
Ethnobotany
Spiritual Development
Biodanza
Yoga
Learning multiple languages
Sharing and learning about culture
Communication methods
Environmental ethics
Art History
Painting
(And more!)

I hope to continue writing as I learn more about how I am changing my life. More updates to come! If anyone has had a similar struggle or similar thoughts please feel to share them with me, help normalize my crazy a little bit =).

Pictures: Paris, Córdoba Mezquita, Spain, Paseo de los Tristes, Granada, Spain.

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I walk without shoes so children don’t have to

Today is TOMS One Day Without Shoes. According to the official Facebook page for the event, 57,271 people are walking around the world without shoes today. I have been a fan of TOMS Shoes since the day I heard of them back in 2008. This company was started by a man named Blake Mycoskie after he traveled to Argentina. While he was there, he met a woman who was running a program that provided shoes to the children of her country who could not afford their own shoes. Blake discovered that the woman was frustrated by the lack of resources for her program, because a lot of the time she would not have enough shoes for all the children or she would not have the correct sizes (Do Something That Matters, Blake Mycoskie). I have encountered this problem in my work in the Dominican Republic, and you can read about this in my post, Smuggling Guanabana and Complete Imperfection. From my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I found that I can completely relate to what this woman described; it is infinitely frustrating not being able to help the people who are in severe need of assistance.

Blake created TOMS, a for-profit company, to provide shoes for the children that he worked with. Within one year of the development of the idea, Blake returned to Argentina with 10,000 pairs of shoes. With every pair of shoes that is purchased through TOMS, the company provides one pair for a child in need. One for One. I love this philosophy and the model for their company, because they are meeting the needs of the children without encountering limitations. They are able to measure the feet of each child and fit them with their perfect shoe. There are no color or style issues with the shoes (a problem I have encountered with Coloring Countries) because each pair of shoes that are donated are black,  canvas shoes, which are the standard requirement for schools.

April 10th, One Day Without Shoes, is a day to create awareness for the TOMS movement- and a glorious job it does! I was stopped 17 times today by people who are curious about my bare feet.  When I got stopped, I was able to describe this wonderful company and the work they do. My fellow bare-footers all smile at me as I pass, and some even give me a high five. We bond over our passion for helping others. This is part of the reason why TOMS is so successful, they make it very easy for Average Janes and Joes to change the world. I have found that the majority of the world (particularly youth) are frustrated with our global situation, and want to help others; hence, the success story of TOMS.

Even though I have glass in my heels and my toes are worn through, my heart is warm and fuzzy. I think that the challenge of today made the reward all the more fulfilling, especially being thrown out of the grocery store. =)

So your Two Hands Tuesday mission this week is to go purchase a pair of these life-changing shoes.Your purchase will allow a child to attend school, when their lack of shoes was previously holding them back. It will also prevent the child from contracting a disease through the cuts that they receive from walking barefoot everyday. Here is the link to the website, check out their selection and pick out a wonderful pair for yourself! TOMS Website.

My Two Barefeet

Annie's Bare Feet, April 10, 2012

Happy Art 4 U

I recently attended a dance for a local company that assists people with mental disabilities. The local company, which is called MOSIAC, is a wonderful program which enables people with intellectual disabilities to live as independently as possible. “We believe that every individual is a person of worth. Together Mosaic staff members, volunteers and the people we support work as partners.” -The MOSAIC web site

This dance was the most fun I have had on a Friday night in a long time. Everyone who was on the dance floor was so carefree, just wiggling around in their own bubbles, strewn across the dance floor. When Backstreet Boys came on the stereo everyone went WILD! It was nice to be around a group of people that still appreciated Howie as much as I used to.

While I was taking a “wall sitting” break and getting some lemonade, an intellectually disabled man approached me and began telling me about his life. As we both drank our glasses of lemonade, he told me about his girlfriend, his family and his job as an online artist. When he was finished telling me about his life, he began asking my about my life. He was the most sincere man that I have ever met; I could tell that he genuinely cared about my life.

When it was time for me to leave the dance, the man made sure to spell out the web site where his art work is displayed (I can still vividly picture him spelling the word “Zazzle” over and over again). He told me all about the types of products I could purchase that display his art work- from mugs, to mouse pads. I checked out his web site the moment I got home from the dance, and I think his site is the most wonderful thing. This is just one example of how MOSAIC and similar programs work to establish the individuality and independence of their clients. My friend was so happy and proud to tell someone about his work, it really brought a warm-fuzzy to my heart.

So your Two Hands Tuesday mission is threefold-

1. Check out my friend’s art work at, http://www.zazzle.com/happyart4u.

2. Capture the happiness of his art and smile more today.

3. Find a company in your community that is similar to MOSAIC, check out their calendar of events, and volunteer at something simple. You will bring a WORLD of happiness to the people who you meet.

Words of Encouragement from a 10-year-old

A letter from a 10-year-old

A different kind of love letter

I received this letter from one of the students I visited at the school in El Mango, Dominican Republic. Volunteering is difficult my friends, but it is little acts of love like this that make a life of service totally worth the trials.

Have you ever received a gift so beautiful? Please share any similar experience in the comment section below, I would love to hear about the beauty that exists in this world.

 

 

 

As Promised, Photos From my Trip

The school in El Mango, DR

The school in El Mango is as happy as before!

 

The inside of an El Mango classroom

The inside of an El Mango classroom

The Dominican Republic students smile

A group of happy students

A large group of DR students swarm the two Americans

Our first moments in El Mango. We were immediately swarmed with children giving us gifts and asking us about our lives.

A group of students holding the new shoes they recieved

A group of students holding and wearing the new shoes the Coloring Countries provided.

Holding a one year old baby

Holding the principal's son during the school day.

The students reading their letters from their students in the U.S

The students diligently reading the letters they received from their friends in the U.S.

A female students reading her letter

A student extremely captivated by her letter

A few El Mango boys reading their letters

The boys reading their letters

Female students smiling as they write their new friend

Excited to write to our new friends!

Me standing with a few of the students in the school

With my babies at the school in El Mango.

A picture of the sun behind clouds with rays streaking through

Even on the cloudiest days I am always finding sunlight.

 

If you would like to learn more about my trip, feel free to leave me a comment or email me at afreysch@rams.colostate.edu

Thanks for reading, you wonderful people!

 

People First

Have you ever felt a label forced upon you either directly or indirectly? Possibly someone called you “Blond” and without thinking, the speaker may have attributed a certain characteristic to you. Each person in this world has qualities that make them who they are. Each of these characteristics are fantastic simply because they define us… and yes, that is a good thing! I see a child who was born with a cleft lip who had numerous surgeries throughout his or her childhood to repair this, and is left with scars from these experiences. This child is the definition of beauty. Individuality is what defines us, what makes us human. We are all unique, we are all beautiful, we are all people.

Here is a little concept that we use in the Social Work field to help people feel that they are equal and deserving; it is called the “People First” concept. When speaking about a person and describing them, put the work, “Person” before any descriptive word. This is what happens:

“That disabled man” becomes “That man with a disability.”

“That black woman” becomes “That woman who is African-American.”

“That mentally handicapped man” becomes “That person who is mentally handicapped.”

“That blond girl” becomes “That girl with blond hair.”

The latter sound much more pleasant, wouldn’t you agree?

By forcing ourselves to put people first, we are A.) making people feel equal and B.) Forcing ourselves to use a euphemism, or a politically correct term. We also begin thinking about the words we use to describe people.

As this week’s Two Hands Tuesday mission, try the “People First” concept when you are describing someone, see how it makes you feel.

A photo of 5 arms next to eachother, all of different ethnicities.

It’s Love That Surrounds Us!

It’s love that surrounds us every day.

It’s love that lives so simply without care.

It’s love that educates the young minds of this world.

Proud to Graduate

It’s love that fights for our freedom. 

A Heartbreaking Goodbye

It’s love that saves our lives and cures our illness.

NBA Food Advocate

It’s love that unites a world so filled with conflict.

UN Peacekeeper

It’s love that emphasizes equality.

It’s love that warms our toes and snuggles our noses.

It’s love that takes our breath away, and sends it right back with the warm wind.

NSW, Australia

It’s love that surrounds us on days like today.

It’s love, that is all around us.

Happy Valentines Day, you wonderful people!!!

I hope your day is filled with much love.