Friday, 17 December 2010

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Coffee Talk II: Emily Saunders, Comfort the Children International

Funny how things work sometimes, don't you think?
You know, when you think about someone you haven't seen in ages, suddenly the phone rings and it's them?
Or when you think that it would be time to have another interview up on the blog and bam! you receive an email completely out of the blue from someone who has no idea what you do in the blogging world, an email about someone who is doing a great job for a non-profit, and it perfectly clicks?

Yes, exactly.

Emily Saunders is that someone doing a great job. She has been working with an incredible non-profit called Comfort the Children International (CTC).
CTC has been doing an amazing job in Maai Mahiu, Kenya, trying to create sustainable change there acting in 5 different yet connected areas: environment, education, health, economy, community.
Indeed it is near impossible to act on only one without impacting the others, which is why CTCs approach is, to put in in their own word, "holistic".


Emily has been collaborating with them to design a wallet. Not just any wallet. It's the Change wallet, with a Kenyan shilling sewn on the front as a lucky charm, perpetuating a Kenyan tradition, and the word CHANGE branded on the back, as a symbol of the change that the purchase of the wallet will bring to the kids of Maai Mahiu. Because yes, all the profits from the sales of the wallet will be injected directly into CTC's programmes. That would make a great gift right?

Want to know more? So let me introduce you to the wonderful Emily!

Hi Emily, tell us a bit more about you: who are you? Why and how did you start working with CTC?
I’m a native New Yorker, in May I graduated from the Associates Program at Parsons School for Design. During my last semester at Parsons I took an entrepreneurship class where I conceived of the idea of the Change wallet. My entrepreneurship teacher, Yrmis, had such belief in the idea that a few months after graduations she introduced me to Zane (the founder of CTC) with the idea that we might want to collaborate and make the wallet a reality.

One of the first words you read about CT is "holistic", can you explain what this means and what CTC's goals are?
The emphasis on the word “holistic” comes from CTC’s firm belief that in order to effect social change you can’t just rely on the effectiveness of handouts. You have to focus on the structure of a community and work with the complete structure, not just a part of it.
CTC’s fundamental goal is to break the cycle of poverty in Maai Mahiu, Kenya in a sustainable and long lasting way. 

What has CTC achieved so far? And what's coming next?
CTC has been working in Maai Mahiu for almost ten years now and in that time one of the most important things that they have accomplished is return a sense of hope to the community. They have built a school for special needs children (who had been marginalized by their community), and created a way for the mothers of these children to support themselves - providing them with the resources to make bags and sell them for profit.

They have initiated agricultural programs to improve nutrition and educational programs to increase HIV/AIDS awareness. They have also started a youth empowerment program, which provides boys and girls from the community with a place where they can have equal opportunity to access information, education and health.
The profits from the Change wallet will go toward expanding the youth initiative program.  

Tell us more about the wallet you designed for CTC: why did you choose to design a wallet, and what is its meaning?
The design of the wallet is simple, as is the wallet’s purpose: to propagate change and promote fundamental human rights. The wallet is unisex and handmade in grey leather with a Kenyan shilling sewn onto the front, and the word “Change” branded onto the back. I wanted to incorporate the shilling because I wanted to play off of the tradition that when a wallet is gifted to someone, the gift-giver puts a coin into the wallet for good luck and to ensure the wallet will never be empty. But I also wanted the coin to symbolize the change that the purchase of each wallet will bring to the lives of the youth of Maai Mahiu.  
I wanted to use a wallet as a fundraising initiative because a wallet is something that we all use multiple times a day and for the owner of the wallet it will not only serve as a daily reminder of the change their purchase has made to a community thousands of miles away but also, hopefully, encourage them to continue to think about what else they can do to promote positive change. 

What do CTC people need now?
Any community caught in a vicious cycle of poverty needs for there to be holistic change within the community. Which means that change must be effected on a number of levels; education, environment, economy, health and community issues must all be addressed. 

What inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by the incredibly world we live in – travel is one of the most inspiring things to me, which is why I jump at the chance to go anywhere!

What are you thankful for in your life?
I am thankful for many things – just to be in a position where I can do something that I love (design) and have that benefit others as well is incredible.
Most of all, though, I am thankful for the people in my life – the friends and family that are both near and far away who provide me with unconditional support and love. I owe them each a million kisses!

Thank you Emily!

Now I'm sure you all want to see what the wallet looks like, here it is!

You can find it on CTC's webshop, as well as many other great products. If you want to purchase them all, hey, why not? It's for a good cause after all! :)

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Wrap Up Africa take 2

It's that time of the year again, the end of year celebrations are in everyone's mind, Christmas is in the air, can you feel it too?

It's that time of the year when we want to share, when we open our hearts, when we want to spend time with our loved ones, share a good meal, and just enjoy.

It's also that time of the year when we become even more aware that some people don't have the same chance, that some people near us and not so near, actually a great number of people, don't have access to food, to water, to health care and services. Some people, children, that could be easily cured in our overprivileged region, suffer or die of diseases they should not die of.

To be even more so specific, I am thinking of children in Uganda suffering from Burkitt's Lymphoma. Now that rings a bell, doesn't it?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Wrap Up Africa and their goal to help children suffering from Burkitt's Lymphoma getting access to hospitals and proper care, while at the same time empowering their community.


Now, Letha Sandison, Founder of Wrap Up Africa, has taken it a step further: since December 7th, the Wrap Up Africa team have launched "Chemo for Christmas", a fundraising event aiming at bringing chemotherapy to 365 children. 365, can you imagine? For this, they need to raise USD 400 000.
Yes, this is a big amount, but chemotherapy is not the cheapest treatment unfortunately, and we are talking about 365 children, this is big too!

So if you're looking this year to give a meaningful gift to someone who needs it, maybe you can consider giving a kid access to proper care. And if you can't give, feel free to spread the word and have people you know read this!


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

TEDxBRussels, 6 December 2010

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend TEDxBrussels, which is supposedly the largest TEDx event, so yay Brussels! Ok we had the chance to experience the usual, er, level of service from Belgacom regarding the wifi network - and the location, albeit beautiful, had poor network, but overall it was an interesting day, to say the least.

I won't bore you with the details - and I'm running on short deadlines! I guess most of the talks will be available on line soon, so here is just a glimpse of what struck me most:

"Innovation doesn't come top down, it comes bottom up - William Kennard, US Ambassador to the EU - loved that he recognized that governments and institutions must facilitate innovation, not be the centre and motor of it.

"People do not take seriously predictions of catastrophes until it's too late" - Jeffrey Satinover - I could have transcribed his entire talk as everything he said was basically worth hearing, but let's stick to that one for now :)

"Innovation : listen - decide - do" - Sebastian Thrum - pretty straightforward isn't it?

"Creativity demands a solid basis of knowledge from which to diverge" - David Anderegg - his talk about Nerds and Why we need them was one of the best, in my opinion.

David Orban: here again I should have had a dictaphone to record the whole talk, but it definitely opens a new perspective on the future technology, where all devices will be networked in what will be called "the internet of things". I encourage you to read the TEDxBrussels blog for an introduction to his work, and check out his website.

"If you have to measure (a result), it's not big enough"
"The child becomes the agent of change, as opposed to the object of change" - Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop Per Child

"We need to raise a generation of problem solvers"
"Double click is a conspiracy against elderly people to keep them away from using computers"
"It's never too late to pick up a new profession" - Walter Bender, SugarLabs

"You know you're doing things right when they're a little bit out of control" - Dries Buytaert, Drupal

Unfortunately I missed Marc Luyck's talk, which I heard through the grapevine was great.

Now onto something I didn't quite enjoy as much, and I love ranting, so here we go. But first let's get things straight: I am a yoga student and teacher trainee, therefore I am familiar with meditation, connection even, and setting an intention, a "sankalpa" for my practice and daily life.
However, Lynne McTaggart's talk left me somewhat uncomfortable. Honestly I cringed.
Using "intention" as in "positive thinking" is not a bad thing per se. Using it in the name of science, claiming to have almost singlehandedly halted war in SriLanka thanks to intention, and claiming to cure people is not science, it's dangerous.
On top of that, she used some kind of guided meditation to get the audience take part in her experiment, something we as a whole did not respond to quite well. Overheard: "I did not pay for that". Ouch. This was not the right place and time. That didn't make sense to anyone. And I'm a bit concerned about my own "niche": how will the people attending this talk react when someone mentions meditation in a conversation, how will that be viewed?
I am not a guardian of the yoga temple, I would not dare calling me one, and is there such thing as a yoga temple anyway? But on a very personal level, I felt sad.
The good thing about it? I can work to prove we yoga teachers slash practitioners slash students are not just a bunch of lunatics. I guess we can help save the world :)
End of rant, thanks for reading!

Anyway, apart from this glitch, I enjoyed the day, opening new (to me anyway) perspectives, and really giving me food for thought. If I'm still in Brussels next year, count me in!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Coffee Talk I: Ninette Murk, Designers Against AIDS

Today is World AIDS Day. Today is the occasion to put AIDS back on the map of causes, because despite much less press than 15, even 10 years ago, AIDS is still present, still lethal, still killing people.

Today is the occasion to feature my first interview on The Change You Wish, and who else could I feature but the amazing Ninette Murk, founder of Designers Against AIDS, a Belgian-based non profit aimed at raising AIDS awareness in the media and the public, using pop culture tools to touch young people?

About 10 years ago, Ninette, then a freelance fashion editor, lost her best friend to AIDS. She decide to make something positive out of this awful experience, and launched Designers Against AIDS (DAA). Since then, various projects have been developed over the years, the latest one being the publication of the book "Designers Against AIDS : the First Decade", celebrating beauty and life with a collection of amazing photos, including an unpublished picture of Marilyn Monroe.

But let's read from Ninette what DAA is all about:

What has DAA achieved so far? And what’s coming next?

I think that we have put the issue of HIV/AIDS back on the map in the minds of young people, for instance with our global annual Fashion against AIDS campaigns/collections with H&M. We will do our 4th collection with them in 2011. As for what’s coming next, my dream is to have condoms in cool looking wrappers for sale worldwide (in collaboration with major brands and celebrities for the campaigns) in every spot where young people visit such as school/university, festivals, clothing and music stores, hairdressers… make suing condoms cool and we can stop the HIV virus from spreading more.

    Why the book “The First Decade”? 

    Because my publisher at Ludion asked me and also because it’s a good thing to have all our past projects in one place, combined with over 100 artist visions on pure beauty from my art collective Beauty without Irony.

    Olaf Breuning - Clouds - 2008

    Playing the Devil’s advocate : It looks like the HIV / AIDS issue is much less present in the media than it used to be. Does that mean that the disease is somehow contained and decreasing? 

    No. It means that the media is bored with reporting about the disease- so it’s up to us to make it interesting and worthwhile for the again. This is why we draw the card of beauty and pop culture and not of fear.

    What do you need now? 

    We need subsidies and other funding to enable us to run our education center and continue with our work and campaigns. Strangely enough, we still don’t receive any subsidies although our work is very valuable and we even get compliments about it from Dr Peter Piot, who was director of UNAIDS for over 10 years.

    What inspires you? 

    People, love, light, life, sunshine, nature!

    What are you thankful for? 

    I'm thankful for my brain and idealism and stubbornness- and for my husband, children and everybody who loves me and who I love.

    Thank you Ninette!

    I have had the chance to have a look at "The First Decade", it is really a beautiful book, celebrating life in all its glory and beauty. You can order it from DAA's website, it would make a great holiday gift for a good cause. You can also visit DAA's webshop for great clothes shopping, supporting this way the International HIV/AIDS Awareness Education Center in Antwerp.

    The most important thing is not to forget about HIV/AIDS, as Prof. Peter Piot rightfully wrote in the introduction of "The First Decade": "AIDS is not over by any means and the world can't afford to ignore this threat".