Good People Doing Good Things — Maria Conceição

Today I have a wonderful young woman and her foundation to tell you about, but first, I must make an apology for my faux pas in last week’s Good People post.  My Ghanaian friend Senam, who I call ‘little brother’, gently pointed out the error of my ways, and I must admit he is quite right.

“I loved your recent article about the Nigerian woman, Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo on Good People Doing Good Things…..

Like you wrote, the US doesn’t have a monopoly on good people so it was cool of you to shine the light on the works of this lady….

I have a little concern tho, and forgive me if this is a bit presumptuous…..

You started with “Can’t pronounce it?  Neither can I”, and while I’m sure you really can’t pronounce it correctly, saying that feeds into the stereotype that African names generally are difficult to pronounce. When people say that, it usually means, to us, that they can’t be bothered to learn our names, which is actually funny when you consider how diverse the United States. I mean, nobody has any problem pronouncing schwarzenegger for example

Names are important to us here. Our names have meanings. Olajumoke for example means Cherished Wealth, and making the effort to pronounce is a sign of respect and appreciation….

Again though, it was really great of you to tell her story….. “

Senam is correct, and I was thoughtless, so for that I apologize, and promise to be more careful in the future.  Names ARE important and we need to respect them. And now, please allow me to shine a light on yet another good person …


“These children are my family, I love them, will fight for them and will do all I can to help them succeed.” – Maria Conceição

Twelve years ago, Maria Conceição, then 27 years of age, was a flight attendant for Emirates Airlines when she flew her first flight into Bangladesh. Born in Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, Maria became a flight attendant in 2003, and had flown mostly to luxury spots.  But then in 2005, she was scheduled to work a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, which included a 24-hour layover.  It was that layover that would change her life, and the lives of over a thousand children.

With 24 hours to explore, Maria set out to do some sightseeing, and she kept noticing the large number of homeless and starving in every street, many of them children.  Rather than touring museums and visiting upscale shops, Maria spent her free time touring slums, an orphanage and a hospital in Dhaka.  What she saw there horrified her.

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Dhaka – often called the worlds most overcrowded city

In the hospital, conditions were deplorable and Maria met a young girl who had just given birth to twins, was very sick and basically left to die.  Near her hotel she met up with another young woman, this one living on the streets, and Maria was so moved that she took her food and other essentials, hoping that she could make some small difference in the homeless woman’s life.  But when she returned home, she could not erase the images, and she realized she could not simply turn her back on those people.

Back home, she asked for every flight to Bangladesh, and returned multiple times, each time taking food and other items.  Still, Maria was not satisfied and the following month, May 2005, Maria sold all her possessions save for a few clothes, cashed out her savings, and made her plans to head back to Bangladesh.  Many of her friends helped by selling some of their own possessions and donating the proceeds to Maria’s cause.

Maria returned to Dhaka and set about raising both awareness and cash to help the people living in abject poverty in the slums.  At first it was slow going, both because she was an unknown, and also because people’s pride kept them from accepting charity.  But Maria persisted, and in 2006, along with three other people, established the Maria Cristina Foundation (MCF), named after her adoptive mother.

She received help from colleagues, friends and family, as well as her employer, Emirates Airlines.  And she established a school that began with 39 students from the Korail slum.  Although at first it was slow going, Maria managed to accomplish a lot in that first year.  She opened a home sewing school so women could learn to work, a daycare center, a driving school for rickshaw drivers.  And small things, like providing containers to families to capture rainwater, a first aid and dental center were established, trash cans distributed.

mc-2By the end of 2006, the school had expanded to some 150 students and, though still struggling for donations, the foundation was on the road to success.  In 2007, Bangladesh saw floods and a major cyclone that caused inflation, thus the donations did not go as far, but nonetheless, the foundation began a vaccination program for the children.  The foundation was now taking care of about 600 children, thanks to generous contributions from Maria’s employer, Emirates Airlines, as well as others.

2008 brought about many difficulties:  natural disasters, the worldwide financial crisis, and naturally donations fell off.  So, Maria did something extraordinary to draw attention to the needs of the foundation and its community — she set out to become a sportswoman of note, and in that she clearly succeeded, becoming the first Portuguese woman to climb Mount Everest; holding three records as a marathon runner; and establishing six Guinness World Records. Most recently, she attempted to swim the English Channel but was forced to abandon her bid due to overpowering tidal currents.

Her accomplishments did put the foundation in the limelight, and they now receive donations, job assistance and other forms of help from a number of large corporations.

mc-4Ultimately, the school that Maria started in 2005 was overwhelmed, and the foundation made arrangements for 450 of the 600 students to attend an excellent school in Bangladesh and the foundation pays their tuition.  A handful have been offered scholarships to an excellent GEMS school in Dubai, UAE.  By 2013, there were only 150 students remaining at the Gawair when the school was forced to close due to lack of funding.

Maria and MCF have done so much to help the poor of Dhaka, Bangladesh, that I cannot even begin to cover them all.  They have adult programs, family programs, and of course the highest priority is always the education of the children, for it is that that will provide them with opportunities to rise well above their beginnings.  There are numerous articles and interviews online with Maria, but the best I found was in Arabian Business.  And there is a must-see Ted Talk.  It is rather long … 19:18 minutes, but worth every minute, if you can spare the time, to listen to Maria tell her story in her own words.

We have come across a lot of wonderful people since I began this feature back in February, haven’t we?  Today’s good person is no exception, for she is quite literally living her life to do good for others, and I give her a big thumbs-up!

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Links:

Maria Cristina Foundation website

MCF Facebook page

Good People Doing Good Things – Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo

Can’t pronounce it?  Neither can I, but that doesn’t stop me from shining a light on this good lady.  I was thinking 🤔 last night, when I was searching for a subject for today’s good people post, that nearly all the good people I have highlighted thus far have been in the U.S., though in some cases, most notably Bill and Melinda Gates, their philanthropy extends well beyond U.S. borders.  But I was thinking, and I knew there had to be a lot of good people doing good things for humanity in other countries, nations far more in need of good deeds, and I wanted to break out of my mold a bit.  Well, of course I was right … we in the U.S. do not have a monopoly on good people or good deeds.  So, today I would like to introduce you to Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo, from Nigeria.

adenowo“They say charity begins at home. They don’t say it ends at home. So we need to find out quickly, what our assignment is. Why am I here on earth? I looked hard at it and I taught [sic] that what would make my life worthwhile at the end of the day is the investment I make in somebody else’s. When I’m gone, all that will be left of me is memories people have of me. And they’ll ask “what did she do for me”. So my goal is to affect the greatest number of people maximally.”

In putting her money where her mouth is, she runs two NGOs that focus on national reformation. Awesome Treasures Foundation is an interactive youth programme geared towards changing the mindset of young Nigerians, while Hidden Treasures is a women’s empowerment outreach. “I believe that Nigeria can work. And I believe that Nigerians will make Nigeria work.”

adenowo-2.jpgMs. Adenowo is a successful architect, owner of a four-office architectural firm, AD Consulting in Lekki, Lagos Nigeria.  She has designed buildings for both Nigerian federal and state governments, multinational corporate organizations and private corporations such as Coca Cola International, L’Oreal and others.  But despite her success, she remains a humble woman.

“The things that move me, that I consider an honour may not seem important to others. I was sent a photo from a university in Ghana. In their lecture hall, they had placed my photo among the world’s greatest architects, right after Frank Lloyd Wright and two others. I was stunned.”

But let us look more closely at her two philanthropic works.

Ms. Adenowo founded Awesome Treasures Foundation in 1999 to empower women like Elizabeth Paul.  A few short years ago, Ms. Paul was an illiterate 51-year-old who sold peanuts by the side of the road in Lagos, Nigeria and who had little or no hope for a better life.  Now she runs her own interior design firm, employs 10 others and is putting her two daughters through college. “African women, we are capable of anything,” she says. “We just need someone to believe in us.”

Awesome Treasures has helped over 11,000 such women rise above what they once saw as the limitations of simply being female in a male-dominated society.

In addition to empowering women, the foundation provides resources for youth.  They run Camp Dawn, an educational camp, to address the education gap for inner-city kids. Another program is Awesome Princesses, a group for young girls in the tenements and slums of Lagos who are at risk of sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS. Medical screenings and educational intervention is frequently needed.

A visit to the Awesome Treasures Foundation website states their mission:

  • To Promote Social Justice, Social Welfare and equity, create awareness of and a demand for the restoration of the citizenry’s common wealth rights.
  • To Rebuild social, moral and physical values.
  • To Utilize our gifts, position, influence and power to expand and consolidate positive change
  • To Reproduce ourselves.

“I believe that Nigeria can work. And I believe that Nigerians will make Nigeria work. I’ve found out that a lot of women and youth are asking what the nation can do for them. And I think they should ask what they can do for the nation. Because they were not born by accident. The youth are particularly disillusioned. And you don’t blame them because when you look around it seems like there’s not much opportunity being given to them.

What happens is that first we give the youth an opportunity to speak. We teach patriotism, diligence and entrepreneurship. We teach them to love their country and to believe in themselves. Instead of being bitter about the way the country has failed them; to see themselves as the solution to the nation’s problems. We want them to see themselves as change agents.

We all come to a consensus that the country might have challenges but we can do something about it. And they listen and become assertive, saying “yes” they can do something about it. Sometimes they even take a pledge. The last time we held the programme Ife, we had about 5,000 youths saying they’re going to do something about it.”

In terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), Nigeria is ranked 120th of 175 by the World Bank, and 126th of 186 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). By comparison, the U.S. ranks 9th and 11th  respectively.

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Nigeria has an adult literacy rate (age 15 and over who can read and write) or 75.6% for males and 58% for females.

“We are done teaching women how to fish,” says Adenowo. “We want to give them the whole damn lake.”

Ms. Adenowo may not be saving lives in the floodwaters of Houston, or adopting special needs children, but every nation has its own specific needs, and Ms. Adenowo is meeting the needs of women and youth in Nigeria. What she is doing is making a contribution to humanity, but also in the long run, helping make Nigeria a stronger nation.

In addition to a thriving architectural practice, two philanthropic organizations, a husband and two active boys, Adenowo runs a property management firm, sits on the boards of a number of businesses, and has somehow found time to write and publish five books!  I might like to borrow some of both her spirit and her energy!

Good People Doing Good Things — Hidden Heroes Part II

Since last week’s good people post focused primarily on the ‘hidden heroes’ who had quietly gone about the business helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, I intended to write this week about a philanthropist who has given away billions.  But more and more stories of ‘hidden heroes’ working tirelessly and selflessly to help those affected by the storms and subsequent floods kept popping up everywhere I looked, and I decided to stick with that theme for this week … these people deserve a bit of recognition and a big THANKS!  So let me introduce you to more heroes down in the Lone Star State!


Brothers Brad and Adam Morris of San Antonio, Texas, wanted to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, but they weren’t sure how. It just so happens that their cousin is a Houston police officer and he  gave them an idea when he said, “We’ve got boats, but what we need is high water trucks.” Light bulb moment!  Brad and Adam perused Craigslist and finally found just the ticket … er, truck.  A steal at only $13,000!

truckPapers signed, check written, and they were off to Houston where, with their new-used truck named ‘The Punisher’, they successfully helped rescue dozens from the flood waters.

Great job guys!  I wonder what they will do with the truck after this, though?


Dr. Stephen Kimmel is one dedicated surgeon.  Even though flood waters were just beginning to enter his own home, when he received a call from Clear Lake Regional Medical Center informing him that a young patient, Jacob Terrazas (16) was in serious trouble and would require immediate surgery, Dr. Kimmel immediately headed to the hospital.  Problem was, due to the flooding, he didn’t get very far in his car.  (Too bad he didn’t have the Morris’ truck!) 

Fortunately, two volunteer firemen were able to reach him in a canoe, and the trio paddled to within a mile or so of the hospital.  Dr. Kimmel walked … or slogged, more aptly, the last mile of the way,

“Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes,” Kimmel said in a press release. “This young man’s life would have been changed for the worse forever if we hadn’t been able to perform surgery when we did. In the end, it all turned out very well.”  Hats off to Dr. Kimmel for putting his patient before all else.

Clear Lake Regional Medical Center Dr Stephen Kimmel Jacob Terrazas


Who says corporations don’t have a heart?  Well, mostly they don’t, but the manager of a Pizza Hut in Sugarland, Texas, has a very big one!

“When I heard there were families in need, I knew we needed to act fast,” said manager Shayda Habib. “I called my husband and asked him to gather up kayaks and meet me at the restaurant.” With a limited crew, Habib got to work and prepared as many pizzas as possible. They loaded the pizzas into delivery pouches, then stacked them on kayaks and delivered them, free of charge,  to as many flood zone homes as they could.

pizza-1pizza-2So far, Habib and her employees were able to get 120 pizzas to stranded residents, and they plan to keep making and delivering until they run out of ingredients. “We are so proud of our team for seeing a need, stepping up and helping the community in a time of devastation,” Pizza Hut franchisee James Bodenstedt said.


Not being a sports fan, of course I had never heard of J.J. Watt.  Turns out he is a football player for the Houston Texans (never heard of that team, either). Mr. Watt started by making a personal donation of $100,000 to a Hurricane Harvey relief fund, but his good deed did not stop there.  Mr. Watt made a video urging people to donate to help the people of Houston rebuild their lives.

This is a case of somebody using their fame, their name-recognition (though not by me  😉  ) to do good deeds for people in need.  As of Tuesday afternoon, his video had led to more than $20 million in donations! Thumbs up, Mr. Watt! Now go knock one out of the park!


A group of Mexican bakers who were trapped in their Houston bakery for two days during Hurricane Harvey.  So what did they do?  Well, they could have tried to make their own beer from the yeast in the bakery.  Or they could have played poker for chocolate chips, or had a flour fight.  But they did none of the above.  They did what they do all day, every day … they baked.

bakersThe workers used up 4,400 pounds of flour to bake bread and pan dulce, Mexican sweet bread, throughout the night and day. Finally the owner of the bakery managed to get to them, and all the bread was taken to emergency shelters where it was given away to help feed the displaced people.  Wonderful use of time, guys!  High fives!


And here’s yet another company with a heart.  A Houston furniture chain, Gallery Furniture, opened its doors to the temporarily displaced, offering both of its stores to serve as temporary shelters.  They are providing food, beds, and clean restrooms for anyone in need.  Even pets are welcome!

gallery-furn.jpgThe company even sent out its largest moving truck to pick up stranded residents and bring them back to the store.

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I have seen Sandra Bullock in a few movies, but other than that I know little about her.  In addition to not being a sports fan, I do not have an interest in Hollywood ‘goings-on’, and know little about most actors.  But to today’s point, Bullock, who has a home in Texas and who is a longtime supporter of the Red Cross, said it was crucial to look above the heated political rhetoric around the devastating storm and urged fellow Americans to give. “There are no politics in eight feet of water. There are human beings in eight feet of water.”  Bullock made a $1 million contribution of her own.

Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Our Brand Is Crisis"


And yet one more company putting people over profit.  Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser, Busch and Michelob, to name a few, paused the production of beer at its Cartersville, Georgia brewery long enough to can a half-million bottles of pure water to send to Texas for those who did not have safe drinking water. That was last week.  THIS week, employees volunteered to work on Labour Day to fill another one million cans to help with the relief effort in Texas!

beerWhat a great group, eh?  Secretary of Labour Alexander Acosta said of the workers, “they’re working for their fellow Americans. They’re helping the people of Texas. So what better way to celebrate Labor Day than helping others.” Agreed — thumbs up to both the company and its employees!


And finally this … not exactly a good people story, but still …

otis-1Meet Otis* … he was seen walking through the streets of Sinton, Texas, near Corpus Christi, carrying a full bag of … dog food!  I believe that Otis knew his fellow canines would need help and was on his way to provide such help.  See … humans are not the only ones that are … well … human!


Many, many kudos to all those who have pitched in to help their fellow humans caught up in the devastation left behind by Hurricane Harvey.  Sadly, as I write this piece on Tuesday afternoon, out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a category 5 storm and is expected to hit Puerto Rico today and then make landfall in Florida on Saturday.  And still another storm is forming behind Irma. I have a nephew and several friends in Florida, including our blogger-friend Gronda.  My nephew tells me that the shelves in the local markets are already bare. My heart and thoughts are with all those in Puerto Rico and Florida … anywhere in the path of Irma, for she is anticipated to be just as fierce as was Harvey, perhaps even more so.  And many, many thanks to all the good ‘hidden heroes’ from the last two weeks.

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* Note:  Otis actually belongs to Salvador Segovia’s grandson.  Salvador had left him alone in his screened-in back porch, along with food and water. But the storm must have scared Otis, so he busted open the screen door and ran away, grabbing his bag o’ kibble on the way out.  Luckily, a stranger found Otis, thought he was so adorable that she posted his picture on Facebook, and he was quickly reunited with his family.  I just couldn’t resist painting him as a ‘good samaritan’ though.  And who knows?  Perhaps that was his mission!

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Good People Doing Good Things — Hidden Heroes

What makes a hero? A hero “is a person who performs extraordinary deeds for the benefit of others.”

“When something bad happens we have three choices – we let it define us, we let it destroy us or we let it strengthen us.” – Actor Frank Langella in the aftermath of the 2016 Orlando Pulse shootings

Tragedies and disasters bring out either the best or the worst in people.  I prefer to focus on those ‘hidden heroes’ who find their courage in the aftermath of a tragedy, courage that they may not have even realized they possessed, and use their inner resources to help others.  This week seemed an appropriate time, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, to focus on such people.


The Medicine Baba

Omkar Nath Sharma is a retired blood bank technician from Kailash Hospital in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India. On 19 October 2008, an under-construction Delhi Metro bridge collapsed in Laxmi Nagar, claiming two lives and injuring several construction workers and passers-by.

bridge-collapseMr. Sharma, 71 years old at the time, visited the site and was appalled to see people in pain, some dying, needing medicine but having no money. And the local hospital could not help, for they were understaffed and their resources, such as medicine, pitifully inadequate.  “I was moved by the plight of the people who were running here and there searching desperately for medicine,” said Mr. Sharma in a 2012 interview. Though crippled since an accident when he was 12 years old, Mr. Sharma reminded himself that he could walk and he could talk, and he was moved to do something to help those in need.  Then it struck him: maybe people had medicine in their homes that they no longer needed.

medicine-babaMr. Sharma started walking through the streets like a street vendor, calling out to people in their homes from the street, “Do you have any medicines that are not of use to you?” And he collected castoffs to give to those who needed the medicine.  Now, before you state the obvious, let me say that no, Mr. Sharma did not play medicine man and start doling out drugs willy-nilly, but rather he donated them to charitable clinics.

The 2008 tragedy is long past, but Mr. Sharma was hooked on helping, and even today continues to help people in need, convincing those who ‘have’ to help those who ‘have not’.  He has become known as the Medicine Baba, and walks about three miles a day collecting unneeded vitamins, anti-biotics and painkillers to distribute to more than a dozen nongovernmental organizations, and a large portion of what he collects goes to the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, a government-run charitable hospital in Central Delhi.

According to the World Health Organization’s World Medicine Report in 2004, 649 million Indians did not have access to essential medicine. The Medicine Baba is performing a valuable service, say doctors who work at charitable clinics, and his contributions have become a formal part of their clinics’ operations. “He is a man of mission,” said Dr. Jaswant Singh


In the wake of such recent tragedies as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the London Bridge and Westminster terror attacks, heroes have emerged, some doing small things to help, others making huge differences.  Today, Texas is in all the headlines after the assault by Hurricane Harvey last weekend and related flooding, and as with the other devastating tragedies, many are stepping up to the plate.  Let us look at just a few …


Two Muslim youth groups are already out in force helping their neighbors. More than 100 members of Muslim Youth USA, and 40 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, can be seen passing out food, water, and other supplies in Houston.

Muslim-youth.jpgBoth youth groups were assisted by Humanity First, an Ahmadiyya Muslim charity dedicated to disaster relief. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spokesman Qasim Rashid said the groups had mobilised both their local and national chapters before hurricane Harvey even began, and started sending volunteers into Houston neighbourhoods as early as Sunday. According to Mr Rashid, the groups follow the teachings of Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who preaches empathy for their fellow Americans. Mr Rashid said the Caliph told them …

“Your faith as Muslims and your identity as Americans needs to hold you accountable. Whenever your fellow Americans are in need, you need to be the first ones on the ground to help them.”

*Since this post is about good people, I will omit my usual snarky editorial comments, but leave you to draw what conclusions you will here.


And everyday, ordinary citizens came out to help:

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This man is a local pastor in the Houston area checking every car to make sure no one was trapped inside. The water came up to his chest in some parts.

A news crew was about to leave a neighborhood when a woman flagged them down to rescue her elderly parents and their dogs.

Everyday Texans with working boats are risking everything to go out and help rescue others.

calif fire fightersThese Bay Area firefighters are driving down from Northern California to help in any way they can.

cajun navy.jpgAnd from Louisiana, they came, the ‘Cajun Navy’,  by the truckload, bringing boats, supplies, and able bodies.

paddle boatAlexandra Jourde rescued four-year-old Ethan Colman from the floods on his paddleboat.

Mize holds babyDean Mize, an out-of-town businessman, drove to Houston from his home in Chandler, almost 200 miles away, to lend a hand with his boat and truck. With the help of a local propeller boat owner, Jason Legnon, he was able to rescue a mother and her 3-week-old baby from her flooded home.  Mize went on to rescue several other people after that, including a man in a wheelchair.

shelter volunteersAnd hundreds of volunteers turned up at shelters, giving of themselves and their time to help distribute clothing, food, water and supplies.


I have no doubt that we will see and hear more stories of humanity and compassion from ordinary people like you and me in the coming days.  It doesn’t take a ton of money, you don’t have to be a certain religion, colour, or gender to make a difference, it only takes a kind heart.  These people are my ‘hidden heroes’, for they are silent, unseen, until they are needed, but when the chips are down, they are the ones we can count on to not ask what’s in it for them, but to simply roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of doing good things.

 

Good People Doing Good Things — Maggie MacDonnell

This is actually the second ‘Good People’ post I have written for today.  The first will appear sometime soon, but likely not as a ‘good people’ post, though the subject is indeed a good person. I debated and soul-searched about its appropriateness for the Good People post, and decided rather than perhaps stir some conflict and controversy, I would shelve it and write a different post.  Today’s good person is a teacher … the winner of this year’s Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize of $1 million.  I did not know there was such a prize, did you?  Well, allow me to introduce this year’s most-deserving winner, Ms. Maggie MacDonnell!

Imagine, if you will, that you have just earned your college degree and are now a certified teacher.  The world is your oyster; you can teach anywhere in the world.  Where would you go?  I am betting not too many would choose a town of only 1,347 people, accessible only by air, in the Canadian Arctic, but that is exactly where Maggie MacDonnell has been making a difference in young people’s lives for the past six years.

SalluitMaggie MacDonnell grew up in rural Nova Scotia and after completing her Bachelor’s degree, spent five years volunteering and teaching in Sub-Saharan Africa, largely in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. After completing her Master’s degree, she found her country was beginning to wake up to the decades of abuse that Canadian Indigenous people have lived through, including assaults on the environment and enormous economic and social inequality. As such, she sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada and for the last six years has been a teacher in a fly-in Inuit village called Salluit, nestled in the Canadian Arctic. This is home to the second northernmost Inuit community in Quebec, with a population of just over 1,300 – it cannot be reached by road, only by air. In winter, temperatures are minus 25° C (-13° F).

Salluit-2Most teachers who go to teach in the Arctic don’t stay long … many do not even make it halfway through their first year.  Conditions are harsh, added to by the sense of isolation and limited resources.  But Maggie has stayed for six years now, determined to make a difference in the lives of the young people in the village.  There are many challenges for Maggie to confront. Teenagers, in the face of deprivation and isolation, frequently turn to drink, drugs and self-harm. In Salluit alone there were six suicides in 2015, all among men aged 18 to 25. Teenage pregnancy is common, levels of sexual abuse are high, and gender expectations see young girls burdened with domestic duties.

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It takes a remarkable teacher just to work in such an environment. But, to do what Maggie has done requires something quite extraordinary, something very special. She has worked assiduously to raise funds for the community, particularly her students, focusing on nutrition and fitness, and created a life-skills program specifically for young women that has seen a 500 percent growth in girls’ enrollment because previous programs were designed to help mainly boys. With the help of her students, the community and contributions from individuals, companies and government agencies, Salluit now has a thriving fitness centre and the villagers have helped other communities create their own.

Maggie-1.jpgOutside the classroom, she spent time as a coach for the Salluit Running Club. Seven Inuit youth travelled with her to Hawaii in 2016 to run a half marathon. Her projects include taking students hiking in national parks, having them run a community kitchen, a second-hand store,  and fundraising for diabetes prevention programs. She has also temporarily fostered some Salluit youth. Maggie does not simply see herself as the teacher and the kids as students, but sees their lives as being intertwined with hers.  One of the biggest myths about teaching is that the school day ends at 3pm, says Maggie: “I think as a teacher in a small Arctic community, your day never ends. The school doors may close – but the relationship with your students is continuous as you share the community with them.”

The Life Skills program Maggie implemented is three-pronged:

  1. It has motivated young people to return to school, by engaging them in projects that interest them – from cookery to mechanics.
  2. These talents and interests are used to tackle and address issues in the community.
  3. Her students then receive praise and acknowledgment. They have low confidence, and are viewed negatively by the community. But “giving them a new positive platform to stand upon while contributing to the community is transformative for both my students and the community,” writes Maggie.

A bit about the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize

The Varkey Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for underprivileged children around the world. The Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession. The prize serves to underline the importance of educators and the fact that, throughout the world, their efforts deserve to be recognised and celebrated. It seeks to acknowledge the impacts of the very best teachers – not only on their students but on the communities around them.  Why teachers?  Lack of education is a major factor behind many of the social, political, economic and health issues faced by the world today. We believe education has the power to reduce poverty, prejudice and conflict. The status of teachers in cultures across the world is critically important to our global future.

MacDonnell was selected from among 20,000 nominees representing 179 countries. The Nobel-style award was set up three years ago by the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation. The prize is paid in instalments and requires the winner to remain a teacher for at least five years.

award ceremony.jpgThe award ceremony, held in Dubai, is a glitzy affair. The winner was announced by astronaut Thomas Pesquet, speaking from the International Space Station, who said: “I’d like to be the first person in history to thank all the world’s teachers from space.” The award was handed out by adventurer Bear Grylls, who jumped from a helicopter to deliver it to the ceremony. Italian singer Andrea Bocelli took part in the prize giving. A video message from Prince Harry was screened and the ceremony was attended by the vice president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Maggie was even congratulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

“You chose to teach at the Ikusik school in Salluit, a remote village in the Canadian Arctic. There are no roads to Salluit – it is only accessible by air and it gets cold, really cold, -20c this time of year. I’d like to say thank you to every teacher out there.”

My hat is off to this amazing young woman who is helping to make a big difference in the lives of the youth in Salluit.  Her approach, rooted in respect for her students, their culture and the particular challenges of their community, is a model for teachers everywhere. Her conviction that kindness breeds hope holds a lesson for us all. This, my friends, is how we make the world a better place … one person at a time.

Note to Readers:  If any of you know of a person or organization that you believe qualifies for a “good people” post, please feel free to send me a suggestion via email at dennisonjill@aol.com.  

Good People Doing Good Things — Seniors

golfBack in May, my ‘good people’ post featured kids doing good things.  This week, I decided it might be fun to go to the other end of the spectrum and look at seniors doing good things!   Some people retire and just enjoy life, travel, visit the grandkids, play that silly game with the tiny white ball.  But others almost start their lives over again when they retire, returning to school, starting an encore career, volunteering …

Today I am sharing just short pieces about several seniors who are making a difference, some small, others big, but they are giving of themselves.  They are indeed, good people doing good things …


I Like Being 98 …

old ladyEvelyn (no last name given) was 97 when her driver’s license was taken away from her for no other reason than her age. So, at age 98, she decided to get it back in order to fulfill a promise to a neighbor to get her to the grocery store once a week after their retirement community’s bus service was discontinued. “When you make a promise, it’s important for me to keep that promise if it’s possible. I’m on the earth, I’m here. If I can contribute, I should. Shouldn’t we all? And not just think of ourselves? I don’t have money to give, but I can give myself.”


The Sandwich Man …

Allan LawFormer middle school teacher Allan Law decided to turn his attention in retirement to helping the homeless population. He first came across hunger and homelessness as a middle school teacher in the inner city schools of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In his retirement, Law has spent every day of the last 12 years on the streets of Minneapolis. His small condominium is filled with freezers, and every night he leaves home at 8pm and returns around noon the next day after distributing some 600 – 700 sandwiches to homeless people, along with other essentials. He sleeps for 2 hours in his delivery vehicle while fielding emergency calls from people who need his help. Last year, he delivered 520,000 sandwiches. When asked why he does this, Law answers: “It just spreads; it’s like a good virus. If I was homeless and hungry and someone brought me a sandwich, I’d say ‘Thank you.’”


Sharing the nest egg …

Jeane Goforth poured her entire retirement savings into Scrollworks, an organization giving kids from all different socioeconomic levels and neighborhoods free music lessons and an opportunity to play together in an orchestra. She says, “I wanted to have a positive impact on the world. I don’t care about being famous. When I go, I don’t even care if people remember me, but I want to know that I did something to lift humanity up somehow.”


Estella’s Brilliant Bus …

Estella Pyfrom.jpgRetired teacher Estella Pyfrom knew she wasn’t ready to go on the back porch and rock in her retirement. She realized that some families were choosing between putting food on the table and computers/access to the internet. She knew that the computer access was key to the children’s ability to move up in life, so she and her husband sunk their life savings into Estella’s Brilliant Bus, a fully-equipped mobile tech center that brings computers to the kids eager to learn. Asked if she will ever stop, Estella laughs and says, “Heck to the no.”

Watch the first minute or so of this video … I promise you will fall in love with Estella!


And Then Came Shai …

Shai Rashef.jpgWith decades of employment under their belts, the senior population is uniquely qualified to start businesses in their areas of expertise. For educational entrepreneur Shai Reshef, that meant taking on the daunting task of educating the world– creating the world’s first tuition-free online, accredited university. Today, his online university enrolls students from 160 countries, bringing learning to some of the most remote and impoverished areas of the globe. Says Reshef, “People are willing to take from themselves and give to the world, give to students, give to us. I knew that there were good people out there–I just didn’t know how many.”

You can read more about Reshef and his University of the People (UoPeople) here.  There is also a Ted Talk given by Mr. Reshef 


Africa Bridge …

Barry ChildsBarry Childs left Tanzania, his childhood home, as a college-bound teenager, eager to prepare for a comfortable corporate career. When he returned 35 years later, the African country was vastly different. It was 1998. AIDS had orphaned an overwhelming number of children. Villagers were desperately poor. And for many, prospects for a better life were virtually nonexistent. During that visit, Childs decided he would leave his corporate career to help. In 2000, he created Africa Bridge. “The poverty in Tanzania is of an entirely different scale from what we know here. Someone in the U.S. earning the minimum wage makes roughly $70 a day, but the average income in rural Tanzania is 70 cents a day. There are well over 2 million orphaned children in a country of just 40 million people.”

Childs’ nonprofit has set up 28 income-generating farming cooperatives for caregivers in 16 villages and built classrooms and clinics for thousands of children. In 2009 alone, Africa Bridge implemented comprehensive care plans—covering housing, clothing and food, social and legal support and schooling—for 3,557 children.


Stop Blowing Up Your Backyard …

Bo WebbBo Webb retired to his ancestral home in the West Virginia mountains for the area’s stunning beauty. But he found that the majestic landscape was being blown to bits. Using government and industry statistics, Webb estimates that 3.5 million pounds of explosives are detonated daily in West Virginia for coal. Across Appalachia, he says, mountaintop removal—blasting mountaintops to expose coal—has destroyed at least 500 mountains and buried nearly 2,000 miles of streams.

The state’s economic dependency on coal is not lost on Webb, 61, but he says the people are paying dearly for it, sacrificing their air and water quality. So in 2004, Webb co-founded Mountain Justice, which uses grassroots organizing, public education, and nonviolent civil disobedience to abolish surface mining. As Webb puts it: “People need to realize there are other ways to make a living than blowing up your backyard.” Webb has drawn such notables as actress Daryl Hannah and environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to protests. He has brokered meetings between West Virginia’s governor and coalfield residents. He was instrumental in a successful effort to move an elementary school away from a coal processing plant. Without a background in community organizing, he has helped build a movement.


Aren’t all these people simply amazing?  Quite frankly, this is only about a fourth of the ones I found just in a few hours of searching and reading.  No rocking chairs and knitting needles for these folks!  A round of applause for all those good people over a certain age who are giving of themselves, and giving us hope and inspiration.

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Good People Doing Good Things — Small Acts of Kindness And The Homeless Mayor!

This week I am shining the light, once again, on ordinary people who are giving of themselves and their time to help others.  Sometimes the smallest act of kindness, just something as simple as picking up a dropped object for an elderly person, or helping someone across the street, can make someone’s day a little brighter.

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Never Too Old For A Bike Ride …

Elderly people sometimes don’t get out and about as much as they might like.  Visual and mobility limitations may keep them from enjoying a walk in the park, or even just a trip to the grocery store.  Imagine the feelings of loneliness, or isolation that these people experience. And young people are often busy with their own lives, wrapped up in the drama of school, relationships, sports, etc.  But in Scotland, there is one young man who is helping bridge the gap between young and old, and helping seniors have the opportunity to get out just a bit more.

Meet Fraser Johnston, a med student at Falkirk University who has started a movement to help get elderly people out on … bike rides!

Wed-Fraser“A lot of people who are stuck in care homes or stuck in their own homes, the only time they ever get taken out is with their family or through activities at the home. But it’s normally from the home to a car to a bus to the next location. For some of them it’s such a strange thing when you say, come out on the bike because they think they’re going to do the pedaling. But when they find out it’s a young or old volunteer taking them out, they jump at the chance to get on the bike. Everyone has some time in their lives that they could give back to the older generation, and offer them opportunities like this they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

What started as one young man doing a kindness soon became more than one young man could handle last month after BBC Three made a video for their Amazing Humans series.  The video went viral and … well, long story short, what started as a one-man show has now expanded.  Fraser learned of a volunteer project, Cycling Without Age, that was started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2012, and decided to start a branch of the organization in Scotland.  To date, he has about 30 volunteers and has two of the bicycles – actually more of a cross between a large tricycle and a rickshaw — called Trishaws.

“It’s like a victorian carriage, minus the horse, which you don’t need when you’ve got a  strong pair of legs behind you. I have noticed a difference in Mary, her eyes look completely different, they’re back to what they were years ago”. – Chris Ogilvie

It may seem like a small act of kindness to us, but to the people who he is taking for rides, it must seem like a very large thing. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that back in 2015, Fraser was awarded the sportscotland Volunteer of the Year award.

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A Teacher’s Dying Wish …

Kay Wistrand is a language arts teacher at Tomball Junior High School in Tomball, Texas. Earlier this year, Ms. Wistrand was diagnosed with a lethal form of spinal cancer and was given a maximum of 2-3 years to live.  When she announced her diagnosis to her class, they were heartbroken, for every body loved Ms. Wistrand.  Four of her students got together and were trying to think of something to do for Ms. Wistrand, when suddenly one remembered hearing her say that her dream was to someday see the California Redwoods and dip her toes in the Pacific Ocean.

Wed-Wistrand.jpgThe students got the idea of setting up a GoFundMe account to help Ms. Wistrand realize her dream. Here is what Mickey Nolen, one of the four students wrote on the page:

“Kay Wistrand is one of the best people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. She is an AMAZING English Language Arts teacher. She teaches at Tomball Junior High School. And is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. But, she has an uncommon tumor in her back that doctors cannot remove. They have given her 2-5 years give or take. The tumor has spread and she now has a small tumor in her lungs. We don’t know if the lung tumor can be removed, if not her time left on this beautiful earth will drop dramatically. The doctors also said that she can no longer go through chemotherapy. And she told us she feels absolutely awesome without it. In class, she told us about her Bucket List, she mentioned a trip to California, specifically the Redwood Forest. She also wishes to step foot in the Pacific Ocean, because she never has before. Out of everything on the list, some friends and I thought that we could make this happen. Mrs. Wistrand has loved all of her students so much for many years. We just want to return the favor for all of the hard work she has put in to teach the youth of our community. Please find it in your heart to help out our amazing teacher, she deserves it more than anyone I know. Together we can Wistrand everything.”

The students, hoping to raise $7,500, have now raised $10,811!  Isn’t it inspiring, after all the negative stories we hear about young people and drugs, alcohol, and selfishness to see young people like this whose hearts are in the right place, who care about others enough to make an effort to help?


The Homeless Mayor …

Wed McAdamsMayor Ben McAdams, of Salt Lake City, Utah, lived on the streets and in a homeless shelter.  For three days and two nights.  His goal?  To be better able to provide better services for the homeless of Salt Lake City.  Now, you might say he isn’t qualified for the Good People post, but I think he is.  When we look at the politicians we see every day in the news, can you name one single other who would actually spend time living on the street in order to better understand the needs of the homeless?

On the first night, he slept on the street. He wanted to know why someone might choose the sidewalk over the shelter. “I didn’t feel safe. I absolutely did not feel safe.” McAdams described it as a “very chaotic environment” and got about four hours of sleep through it all. Still, some of the people he talked to said it’s better to be outside and get some space from the drug abuse and gang violence that takes place in the shelter.

wed-homeless.jpgOn the second night, he stayed in The Road Home. McAdams got in line for a bed in the afternoon, but was turned away. He came back again in the evening and was able to snag a mattress. He was drenched from the rain by the time he got indoors but was too late to get a blanket. “At least it was warmer inside,” McAdams said. Once inside the shelter McAdams witnessed the blatant use of drugs, including his bunkmate injecting drugs into his arm, and the smell of what he assumed was smoke from drugs “all night long”. He also witnessed a fight between two men in which a man was dragged off of his bunk and hit his head on the concrete floor.

During his three days experiencing life as a homeless man, McAdams said his time was consumed by solving two pressing needs: Where am I going to sleep? And where am I going to get food? “You have to plan your day around that,” he said, realizing that leaves little energy left to search for jobs or housing.

I give two thumbs up to Mayor McAdams for caring enough to make the sacrifice, for truly wanting to understand the problems faced by the homeless, rather than sitting in his ivory tower making decisions without understanding the issues and the people involved.


These stories should serve as a reminder that, no matter who we are, how little we may think we have to offer, there is always something we can do for others, and the smallest acts of kindness can mean the world to someone in need.

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Good People Doing Good Things – Bunches Of ‘Em

The last few weeks I have reported on some extraordinary people doing good things for others – Mohamed Bzeek who fostered children with terminal illnesses, Michael and Camille Geraldi who adopted 88 special needs children, the Habitat for Humanity building homes for low income families, and last week, the Pollination Project providing small seed grants to others to do good works.  Those, my friends, are tough acts to follow.  So today, I decided to pick a few of the many, many people who are out there doing small acts of kindness.

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A Boy and His Best Friend …

This first story is about an 8-year-old kid whose heart is in the right place.  His name is Paul Burnett, and his best friend since kindergarten is Kamden Houshan.  Kamden was born with a tumour on his T2 and T3 vertebras and he is a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair.  The problem is that Kamden’s wheelchair is very heavy and has tipped over a number of times, spilling poor Kamden onto the ground.  The state medical services will not pay for a light-weight wheelchair, and Kamden’s parents are struggling to make ends meet as it is, so they cannot afford one.

At the end of second grade, Paul told his mom he wanted to help Kamden get a new wheelchair. Well now how does an eight-year-old kid propose to pay for a wheelchair that would cost nearly $4,000?  One word: GoFundMe.  Paul had recently seen a video about fundraising websites and he thought if he started a campaign for Kamden he could raise enough money to get him a customized wheelchair.

Wed-Paul-Kamden-1.jpgWith just a little help, he set up the GoFundMe  page with a goal of $3,900 and wrote the following:

“Hi my name is Paul.  Here is a picture of me and my best friend Kamden.  We have been friends since kindergarten and we love to play superheroes during recess.  We love to go to McDonald’s to eat Happy Meals and play at the park.  My friend Kamden was born with something on his spine and he can’t walk.  He has been in a wheelchair since before I met him.  I asked my mom if I can go on Go Fund Me to help Kamden get a  new wheelchair. His wheelchair has fallen forward many times and that sucks. Also, he has a really hard time pushing it because its so heavy. But do you even know what’s worse than that?  His wheelchair is too big for him to fit in his bathroom.  He can’t even fit through the door and use the toilet without asking for help. If he gets a new wheelchair he’s going to be more comfortable and he’ll do more things on his own.  I think he would go super fast if he got this new chair and we can play more. Please help Kamden.”

Almost brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? It must have touched some hearts, because within two weeks, the goal had been met, and when I checked earlier, there were over $6,000 in donations!  You may remember that back in May 2016 I wrote a fairly negative article about GoFundMe titled GoFundMe … At Your Own Risk, and there certainly are many less-than-noble causes out there.  But I must admit that recently I have seen some good causes, like Paul’s, and may have to step back on my opinion of the crowdfunding platform.

Wed-Paul-Kamden-2.jpgAnyway, the story has a happy ending!  Kamden’s new wheelchair is being custom-made as we speak and he will receive it later this month!  I love stories about young children doing special things for other people, for if their heart is that good at such a young age, I can just imagine what great people they will grow up to be!  Two thumbs-up to young Paul!


Neema Village: A Place of Hope

In Tanzania, East Africa, a baby rescue center called Neema Village has saved over 100 abandoned, orphaned, and at-risk infants in just 5 years. The list is long of places the infants have been found — by the roadside, in a yard, a gravel pit, a hotel, a latrine.​..​ Mostly they are the babies of mothers who have died or were unable to care for them. Dorris Fortson, co-founder of Neema Village says, “My husband and I were moved to do something about it for many reasons, including that we were retired and that I had been raised in an orphanage from age four to 18. You’re never too old to make a difference.”

Michael and Dorris spent 50 years doing missionary work and thus had lived in Tanzania during the 1960s and early 1970s.  In 2008, Michael and Dorris Fortson took a trip to Tanzania with two of their children, Rob and Bekah, who were born there. Driving through the large cities they were appalled at the large number of children living and begging on the streets, and it was then that they decided to do something to help.

It took time and hard work, but finally on July 15, 2012 their efforts paid off, and Neema House, as it was called then, became a reality.

The goal of Neema Village is not to become an orphanage, but to rescue abandoned babies, then find them homes.  Sometimes they find a home through adoption, other times with extended family if the mother has died.  Such was the case with Deborah, one of a set of triplets, each weighing less than 3 pounds and not expected to survive.

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Tiny Deborah

After weeks in the hospital, then two years at Neema, the triplets were on their way home to extended family, healthy and happy, as you can see in this picture.

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Deborah (in the middle) with her two siblings

There are so many heartwarming stories, but I cannot share them all, so take a peek at their website  and read more about all the good they are doing.  Neema Village is a 501(c)3 registered non profit in the USA and a registered NGO in Tanzania.  The Fortson’s live on their retirement incomes and do not accept any salary.  Much of the work at Neema is done by volunteers like Casey McMullan who showed up in May with another student, Lexi Koon, to spend eight weeks at Neema.  Apparently many are eager to volunteer to work with these adorable babies, for when I went to the ‘volunteer’ section of their website, I was greeted with this message:

We are full to the brim and overflowing for June and July 2017!!  Please do not apply!  Thanks

The mission of Neema expanded as the Fortson’s came to realize that the problem went far beyond abandoned babies.  They now offer a wide range of progams designed to help women better care for their babies, survive childbirth, find ways to supplement the family income, have better nutrition, lift widows from lives of neglect and abuse and impact the surrounding Maasai villages through water wells and medical care.

My hat is off to Michael and Dorris Fortson for choosing to spend their retirement years doing such a wonderful service for humanity!


The Cloud With A Silver Lining

On Sunday, 09 July, Cassie Bennet, her son, Kenneth, 15, and daughter Keirstan, 10 lost their Mobile, Alabama home to fire.  Everything … gone up in smoke.  Cassie had fallen asleep and left a scented-wax warmer plugged in, which somehow caught fire. Volunteer firefighters valiantly fought the blaze, but the house could not be saved.

Now, this story actually has a couple of good people doing good things.  The first is young Kenneth who, having lost everything he owned … clothing, his flag collection, and all the other things that young boys treasure … was standing outside watching his home burn to the ground, when he glanced over and noticed that the firemen’s cooler was empty.  Wanting to thank them for their heroic efforts, Kenneth took all the money he had — $40 that he had been saving to take his girlfriend out the next week – and went and bought cases of water for the firemen!

Wed-kenneth-waterBut the story doesn’t end there.  The following week, stuck in interstate traffic, tired, stressed and frustrated, Cassie called in to a local traffic service to find out how long the delay might be.  She connected with the nameless, faceless Mobile Traffic Guy, as he’s locally known.  After getting an update on the traffic situation, Cassie needed to share her story with someone, so she reached out to the traffic guy, telling him about the fire, but mostly about how proud she was of her son Kenneth for doing what he did.

Now the Mobile guy has some 43,000 followers on his Facebook page so he reaches a wide audience.  And he has something else, something even more important … a big heart.  With the help of an anonymous donor, the Mobile guy secretly arranged for a limo, formal wear donated from a local wedding store, and dinner at a nice restaurant for Kenneth and his girlfriend!

Wed-kenneth-dinnerSmall things … $40 of water, a night on the town for two teens … but important things nonetheless.  Plus … a GoFundMe page was set up which has already amassed $6,300 to help the family, as their insurance does not cover a place to stay nor the contents of their home.

These are the small acts of kindness that prove a person’s humanity.  These are the things that separate the givers from the takers.  Kudos to both Kenneth and the Mobile Traffic Guy!


I actually had two other stories, but I am far beyond what I consider a readable post in word count, so I shall save them for another Wednesday.  Take heart folks, there are an awful lot of good people out there doing good things in the world!

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Good People Doing Good Things – Ariel Nessel and the Pollination Project

Today’s good person, believe it or not, is a real estate developer. I never thought … well, never mind … suffice it to say that there are good and bad people in every walk of life.

The first time the Pollination Project came onto my radar a few months ago, I rejected it after a quick glance, seeing the words “seed grants”, and thinking that what they did was give away money to buy seeds.  That in itself is a noble thing, of course, but I did not feel it provided enough material for an entire post.  The Pollination Project and its founder, Ariel Nessel, however, are persistent and they once more became a blip on the radar this week, when I decided to give them a bit more than a cursory glance.  I am so glad I did!  This organization actually has very little to do with plant seeds, and a whole lot to do with humanity and compassion!  So without further ado, allow me to introduce to you Mr. Ariel Nessel, co-founder of the Pollination Project.

Wed-nessel-1Mr. Nessel is a successful real estate developer in Dallas, Texas, where he purchases older, dilapidated buildings and brings them back to their original condition, or better.  “Through efforts to increase the energy efficiency of our properties and extend their useful lives, we help create housing which is much more environmentally sustainable. By offering yoga classes, after school programs for children, and installing bird feeders, hammocks, water fountains, sculptures, fire pits, and bark parks, Nessel Development endeavors to create a sanctuary of peace for our Residents in an often high-stress world. We endeavor to be generous with the fruits of our labor by making significant donations to charities that promote living that is compassionate, peaceful and environmentally sustainable.” He donates more than 30% of his operating income to charity.  However, it is not his business that I want to talk about today.

In 2013, Ariel and his sister-in-law,  Stephanie Klempner, came up with the idea for the Pollination Project, an organization that makes daily seed grants to “inspiring social change-makers who are committed to a world that works for all. Our daily grant making began on January 1, 2013 and since then, we have funded a different project every single day. We also make larger impact grants of up to $5000 to projects that have demonstrated impact and success.”

The daily $1,000 grants are available for anyone who sincerely wants to use their resources to improve the world.  There are some qualifications: “One is that everything we support is volunteer based, it’s service based. None of the money we provide can be used to pay yourself for your work. It’s an orientation towards service. Some other qualifications are that we look at … This is early seed. We’re trying to water seeds and not to water oak trees. If you’re part of a larger organization, or any organization that has full-time paid staff, any paid staff, then that would not qualify for the Pollination Project.”

Pollination Project does not merely issue a check for $1,000 based on a good idea and then walk away.  They have a 3-program process that includes:

  • The seed grants – “We make $1000 seed grants to individual changemakers all over the world, helping them launch and expand grassroots social change projects.”
  • Philanthropic education – “We provide educational events, writing and presentations on the topic of innovations in philanthropy.”
  • Grantee Capacity Building – “We provide an assortment of tools, resources, coaching, training, p/r and more to support our grantees in growing their leadership and building their project, far beyond what our seed grant of $1,000 provides.”

In 2015, the Pollination Project teamed up with Levi Strauss & Co. to make seed grants that give a leg up to young people working on environmental solutions all over the globe. The goal is to develop the next generation of global environmental leaders who will conserve, protect, restore and advocate for the ecosystems upon which our civilization depends.

Let’s take a look at some of the young people who have been given a leg up by this joint effort …

Wed-KirstenNine-year-old Kirsten Chavis has been an activist since age five. She explains, “I have been involved in all sorts of outreach and have attended a lot of council meetings, events, fundraisers, and workshops alongside my mother. My experiences range from taking notes in Board Meetings to collecting food for families and running green lessons.” Kirsten runs the Youth Earth Club at her inner city Los Angeles middle school. Her project brings environmental and health education and events to the school’s population of primarily low-income Latino and African American families, including kids with special needs, and kids in foster care. Kirsten’s club teaches kids much more than recycling. “Now kids can tell you about indoor and outdoor composting, e-waste, and different ways of saving water like by turning off the running water while brushing your teeth.”


Wed-JulienBuilding on his experiences with the 4-H Million Trees project, 16-year-old California student Julien Levy founded Seeding Malawi to create an immediate win-win solution to rampant malnourishment among students in Malawi. Julien explained that while he was working in Malawi to establish tree nurseries in schools, the children were so malnourished that “tree planting events had to be in the morning, because they were too hungry and had no energy by the afternoon.” Seeding Malawi is establishing permaculture gardens at schools throughout the country. Participating villages will set aside a football field-sized plot of land on school grounds and students and residents will be given instruction in permaculture techniques. Each garden will provide food for up to 3,000 children, and will also serve as a means of teaching best-practice permaculture and agriculture techniques to youth and the communities they live in.


Wed-donieceA number of the Pollination Project’s grantees have received awards or public recognition, for example Doniece Sandoval who was featured on CNN this June. Doniece Sandoval noted a jump in San Francisco homelessness with an economic downturn. The homeless, many of them elderly, lacked basic amenities like bathing facilities. Determined to help, Sandoval bought old buses and turned them into mobile showers. Her nonprofit, Lava Mae, has since provided more than 20,000 showers to more than 4,000 homeless individuals.


Wed-Ponce-3I was especially thrilled to find that one of my previous “Good People” from May, young Thomas Ponce  received a grant from the Pollination Project!  Life is full of little coincidences.


There are so many great, humanitarian projects that have been helped by the Pollination Project that I wish I could share them all.  In fact, to date, the project has awarded 2,236 grants in 107 nations around the globe.  There is a special East African hub that is led by a team of local change-makers who are also Pollination Project grantees themselves. Their goal is to reach geographically and technologically marginalized grant applicants (with no internet access, no computer skills and limited English).

wed-east-africaThe types of programs the Pollination Project supports are widely varied:

  • Animal Rights & Welfare
  • Arts & Culture
  • Economic Empowerment
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Health & Wellness
  • Human Rights & Dignity
  • Kindness & Generosity
  • Leadership Development
  • Schools & Education
  • Youth

Unfortunately, I cannot begin to cover all the great projects that have begun with just a $1,000 grant from the Pollination Project, but their website  is a veritable treasure trove of information, including a brief summary of all the projects they have funded and the impact they have had all over the world.  $1,000 is not a lot of money, but it is amazing to see what it can do in the right hands.  Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of help, and knowing there is somebody who believes in you.

Hats off to Mr. Nessel, the Pollination Project, and all those beneficiaries who are going the extra mile to help make the world just a little bit better place for us all!

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Good People Doing Good Things – Mohamed Bzeek

“I am not an angel. I am not a hero. It’s just what we are supposed to do as a human being.”

Three weeks ago I wrote about the couple, Michael and Camille Geraldi, who had adopted, over the course of 40 years, some 88 children with special needs.  They are an amazing couple and their story was one of my most popular ever.  Imagine my amazement when a similar story literally dropped into my lap on Monday night when I was not even looking for a subject for this post, but was doing research for another piece. Please allow me to introduce you to a gentleman with a heart of gold, Mr. Mohamed Bzeek.

bzeek-headerMr. Bzeek lives in Los Angeles, where he has made it his life’s mission to take in foster children.  Not just any foster children, but Mr. Bzeek takes in the foster children that nobody else will … those who are dying of terminal illnesses.  Mohamed Bzeek started caring for foster children when he met his late wife, who was then already a foster mom. At first, they took in children who had medical issues. In 1995, they started taking in only children who were terminally ill. Over the years, Bzeek says, he’s taken in about 40 children with medical problems, ten of whom died while in his care, some while in his very arms.

Why does he do it?  His faith, for one thing. He feels that it’s his duty as a Muslim to help those in need. “It’s the big factor, my faith, because I believe as a Muslim we need to extend our hand to help people who need us. Doesn’t matter what nationality, what religion, what country. To me it doesn’t matter, I do it as a human being for another human being,” he says. “You have to do it from your heart, really. If you do it for money, you’re not going to stay for long.”

bzeek-5Speaking of one of his former children, he says, “And this is my kid who died with the cancer. He has a cancer. He died. They operate on him, and they find the cancer separate all of his organs. So, the doctor said, let’s stitch him back, and said, there’s nothing we can do for him.”

Mr. Bzeek came to the U.S. from Libya in 1978, then an engineering student.  Years later, through a mutual friend, he met a woman named Dawn, who would become his wife. She had become a foster parent in the early 1980s, before she met Bzeek. Her grandparents had been foster parents, and she was inspired by them, Bzeek said. Before she met Bzeek, she opened her home as an emergency shelter for foster children who needed immediate placement or who were placed in protective custody. Bzeek became a U.S. citizen in 1997. And then, in 2015, Bzeek’s wife died, and in 2016, Bzeek himself was diagnosed with cancer.

“I had to face everything by myself. If I am 62-years-old and I’m scared and afraid to be by myself – I felt what the kids felt. The young kids, how they feel when they are alone, have no family, nobody comforts them, nobody tells them ‘It’s ok, I’m here for you, we go through this together and it will be fine.’ This operation in December has humbled me, and makes me work more and help more kids.”

The video below is short (3:33 min) but please watch it … I fell in love with Mr. Bzeek when I saw this:

 

Today, he is foster parent to a 6-year-old girl* born with microcephaly, a rare disorder in which a baby’s brain doesn’t fully develop. She cannot see or hear. She responds only to touch. At seven weeks old, the county took her from her biological parents. They called Bzeek, and he agreed to take her in.

bzeek-6The girl’s head is too small for her 34-pound body, which is too small for her age. She was born with an encephalocele, a rare malformation in which part of her brain protruded through an opening in her skull, according to Dr. Suzanne Roberts, the girl’s pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Neurosurgeons removed the protruding brain tissue shortly after her birth, but much of her brain remains undeveloped. She has been in Bzeek’s care since she was a month old. Before her, he cared for three other children with the same condition.

“These kids, it’s a life sentence for them.”  A snippet of an interview between Mr. Bzeek and NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

Bzeek: And, also, she has, like, seizures. She’s blind and deaf. She has clubfoot and dislocated hips.

Navarro: How do you communicate with her? She is blind. She can’t hear.

Bzeek: Touch – communication, touching her, you know? She smiled when I play with her and make a little bit, like, noise, you know? It doesn’t mean anything. But that shows you that, you know, she understands that somebody tried to communicate with her, you know?

Navarro: How many of them have died in your care?

Bzeek: Ten. They need somebody who will be with them and take care of them, you know? It doesn’t matter how hard, you know, because somebody has to do it.

Navarro: How do you deal with the loss when they pass away? How do you cope?

Bzeek: I mean, at church. You know, you have a kid since it was a baby, since it was one week or two weeks or a few days. And, like, some of them stayed, like, six years and four months. It’s really hard. I mean, I consider them as, like, my biological, you know? And it hurts. But I believe that is part of life, you know?

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Melissa Testerman, an intake coordinator for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has nothing but the highest praise for Mr. Bzeek.  “If anyone ever calls us and says, ‘This kid needs to go home on hospice,’ there’s only one name we think of. He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.”

Neil Zanville of the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services says that without Bzeek these children would be forced to live in medical facilities rather than the comfort of a loving home. “Mr. Bzeek is dealing with children who only have a limited amount of time. I think he’s even taken children in that died days later. So it’s the rare individual, or he might be the only individual in LA county, that will provide a home environment and provide love and care when a child in fact has very limited time left.”

On reading his story in the Los Angeles Times (an excellent read, if you have time) in February, a woman named Margaret Cotts was so moved that she decided to set up a GoFundMe account to help Mr. Bzeek. The donations will be used to get him central air conditioning and heating (right now he only has a swamp cooler in his living room), additional help, a new car and roof repairs.  As of this writing, the account has received $496,253!!!

Bzeek’s own biological son, Adam, himself was born in 1997 with brittle bones, dwarfism and other physical challenges and requires much care. At 19 years of age, and a computer science student at a local college, he weighs a scant 65 pounds. A nurse’s aide helps with care on weekdays from 8:00 to 4:00. But, still, it’s a full-time job, one Mr. Bzeek handles by himself every night and every weekend. Sleep is a precious commodity, and other than his time in the hospital last December, Mr. Bzeek has not had a “day off” since 2010. With his foster daughter’s seizures happening more and more often, he usually sleeps near her on the couch, just in case.

So the next time you hear somebody say we should ban all Muslims, think of Mr. Bzeek and think about all the children who would have spent their last days on earth all alone if not for him.  I know that if I ever get to L.A., I will make time to stop by and shake his hand. In the words of Rod Dreher writing for the American Conservative, “The whole story is so beautiful it hurts.”

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*No names of the children can be used because of privacy laws

Additional Resources:

Mr. Bzeet’s Facebook page

PBS News Hour interview with 7:00 min podcast