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Archive for the ‘Nonprofit Interest’ Category

Saving Babies “One Foot at a Time”

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

SaveBabiesBy Ashley Poling

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Every child begins the world again.”  While certainly a concise quote, it got me thinking about the meaning behind Thoreau’s words.  Perhaps, one of the most amazing things about children is their propensity for optimism—their enthusiasm and wonder over the small things in life, as well as their ability to capture the kindness of the human spirit through simple words or gestures.  But what if a child never had the opportunity to experience any of this?  Or what if the quality of this experience was diminished? Newborn screening is an issue that I knew little about a few weeks ago, and it is one that greatly affects a child’s quality of life.  After having the privilege of speaking with Jill Levy-Fisch, President of Save Babies Through Screening Foundation, I realized how important this issue is to the health of the more than four million babies born in the United States each year.  Save Babies is the only national nonprofit organization that focuses solely on advocacy for newborn screening.  Because Friends Unite is dedicated to the improvement of education and health around the world, we are incredibly interested in the work that Save Babies champions.

By a simple prick of a baby’s heel within two days after his or her birth, a wealth of information can be discovered which can, quite literally, alter the course of that baby’s life.  After the blood from the newborn screen is analyzed, it is determined whether or not that baby has the potential to develop a number of different harmful conditions, such as metabolic disorders, hormonal issues, blood disorders, etc.  If one of these conditions is detected through the newborn screen, it should be followed by additional tests, which will determine affirmatively whether or not a baby has a particular condition.  If this is the case, parents have the opportunity to work with health professionals to treat the condition.  With some of the disorders detected, it is even possible to regulate a child’s diet carefully as he or she develops in order to treat the condition preventatively.

After watching a very compelling Save Babies video through the nonprofit’s website, one story about a little girl named Cassidy truly tugged at my heartstrings.  Cassidy was diagnosed with glutaric acidemia, type 1, or GA-1, at the age of 17-months.  At the time of Cassidy’s birth, the test for this condition was not yet a part of newborn screening in Cassidy’s state, which ultimately hid her illness from her parents until she was over a year old.  Because Cassidy’s parents did not know that their daughter had this condition at birth, they did not realize that Cassidy needed to be on a low protein diet.  It took toxins building up in Cassidy’s body from a protein overload, and an ultimate complete collapse of her bodily system, in order for her to finally be diagnosed with GA-1.  Unfortunately, the brain damage caused by Cassidy’s system collapse was irreparable, leaving her unable to walk or talk at the mere age of 17-months.  What a difference it would have made to Cassidy’s life had this test for GA-1 been available in her state when she was born—her whole life could have turned out differently had there only been the capacity in her state to find out at an earlier time whether or not she was carrying this rare disease.

While all fifty states now require at least some form of newborn screening, there are degrees of variation in terms of the number of conditions that are screened in each individual state.  While some states screen for 50+ conditions, others screen for 40-49, while still others only screen for 39 and under.  In those states that do not test for 50+ conditions, it is still possible for parents to pay for any additional tests that they would like performed. One of Save Babies’ missions is to promote consistency among all of the states in newborn screening so that newborns are not only screened comprehensively, but so all residents of the fifty states have equal access to newborn screening tests.  Education is another key component of Save Babies’ mission, and in addition to increasing awareness of disorders that can be discovered through newborn screening and encouraging communication between newborn screening advocacy groups, this organization also promotes the education of parents and healthcare professionals about these conditions.

I was fascinated when Jill told me that Save Babies is also reaching out to people in other countries who do not have access to newborn screening.  Save Babies sends out kits to perform these blood tests–free of charge–when contacted by parents who need their help to effectively screen their newborn.  Jill relayed that Save Babies also helps to assure that these parents have a place to send these completed newborn tests so that they can be analyzed properly for any potential conditions that may appear.  Save Babies is also working to translate the compelling video I mentioned earlier into a host of other languages—it is currently available in English, Spanish, and traditional and simplified Mandarin.  Save Babies has started a project called “1 Billion Happy Baby Stories Mosaic,” where people can share any positive experiences they have had involving newborn screening, or with babies in general.  These stories will be posted on through Save Babies at a cost of $1 per story.  These donations will help support the foundation’s continuation of their admirable and essential work towards helping babies lead healthier lives worldwide by helping to start screening programs in other countries.

Every child does begin the world again, and each child has the potential to make some remarkable differences in humankind.  Doesn’t every child deserve a healthy start?  I know that Save Babies is truly making a difference in giving children the chance they need to lead happy, healthy lives, and I know they are doing so “one foot at a time.”

If you would like to find out more about newborn screening in your state, please visit Save Babies Through Screening Foundation’s website.

The Impact of Introductions

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

By Ashley Poling

PT_Introductions Picture_Group of Professionals.jpg

My name is Ashley Poling, and I am a third-year law student at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina.  After studying public international, humanitarian, and human rights law in Geneva, Switzerland and Strasbourg, France during the summer of 2011, I realized how much I wanted to pursue international law as a career.  I am very interested in working with nonprofit organizations that focus on advocacy issues that directly help people in need around the world.

When Murali Bashyam, President of Friends Unite, reached out to me this past spring to work on this new human rights and advocacy section, I was excited to get involved with such a wonderful organization.  How did Murali know I would be interested in this kind of work, you might ask?  When I tell you the connections that brought us to this point, you will be able to see just how truly amazing a simple introduction can be.

My mother, Lindy Poling, a retired teacher of 35-years, taught Murali as a high school student in the 1980s; but this re-connection was only made after Murali met my father, Barclay Poling, nearly 20 years later. Murali and my Dad met through their volunteer work for Southern Sudan Fellowship, a nonprofit organization in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Knowing that I had some interest in international law, my Dad suggested that Murali might be a good person for me to meet.  After meeting for coffee and expressing my growing interest in human rights law, I was intrigued by Murali’s career as both an Immigration lawyer and as the founder of a nonprofit organization.  When Murali contacted me this past spring in regards to getting involved with Friends Unite, we both concluded that I might be able to help with developing this new section for the organization.

After beginning work on this new human rights and advocacy blogging section for Friends Unite, the connections only continued to grow.  I had the privilege of brainstorming with Murali and Pam Prather, Vice-President of Friends Unite, in early June regarding this blogging section.  My first blog, which explores the issue of newborn screening, ultimately resulted from a connection through Maria Corena-McLeod of the nonprofit WSAID (World Solutions Against Infectious Diseases), a nonprofit partner of Friends Unite.  After Murali put me in touch with Maria, she was kind enough to connect me with Jill Levy-Fisch, President of Save Babies Through Screening Foundation, which inspired my first blog for Friends Unite.

It is truly amazing when you think how these little connections ultimately culminated in a project that I believe will truly make a difference in the world of advocacy.  If we can expose people to issues that they might never have known about before visiting the Friends Unite website through this blog, we are that much closer to inspiring action that will ultimately result in positive change.  I am thrilled to be working on such a project, and I strongly believe that everyone comes into your life for a reason.  I will look forward to increasing the wonderful connections of Friends Unite through this incredible opportunity, and I thank you for taking the time to read.

New Leaders, New Connections and New Friends

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

By Pam Prather

What’s more exciting than accomplishing an important project?

Sharing the story with friends!

Pam and Murali Girl Scout Presentation Murali and I joined the Girl Scouts ‘Around the World in 5 Days’ Camp a few weeks ago, to talk about our solar energy project for the Anjana School in India.  These bright, energetic young women were attending a day camp with an international service theme.  Their leaders invited us to share our experience of helping this school purchase and install solar panels to help address their electricity issues.  This project enabled the school to start a computer lab and have classroom lighting, which would not have been possible otherwise.

The Girl Scouts not only wanted to hear about our work, they wanted to get involved, too! They collected books, and donated educational software programs.  Most importantly, with our help, they’ve started a Pen Pal program with the school children in India.  This is what Friends Unite is all about – bringing about lasting change in people’s lives through the power of ‘intentional unity.’

Girl Scouts Books Collected

We are into the last phase (Phase 3) of the project, and have only $1800 to go in order to fulfill the project cost to SELCO Solar India, the company we’ve partnered with to handle the solar installation.  If you are interested in donating, getting involved or learning more about Friends Unite, checkout our website!

The Anjana School Project: Part 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 7 of 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

When Dr. Channa Raju asked the school children to raise their hands if they would rather work on the computers versus taking a break, every single child immediately raised their hands…enthusiastically.

Anjana School Child Raising Hand Our trip was a very memorable one.  Two of the many memories I will never forget revolve around two words – 1) enthusiasm and 2) connection.  I saw the enthusiasm in the children when Channa asked them to raise their hands if they would rather continue working on the computers or take a recess.  Every single child in the room immediately raised their hands.  It was an enthusiastic and instinctive response by them.  One immediately followed by their smiles when Channa told them ‘okay.’

The other was the connection a group of four girls made with my wife.  These girls, sitting by the computer in the far corner of the room, showed Cheryl what they created and learned on the computer.  She stood behind them.  After a few minutes, I heard laughter coming from that corner.  I turned around and saw Cheryl sitting with them.  She tells me that the girls asked her to sit with them.  They were all working on the computer together, laughing, connecting and learning.

As I stood there watching these excited children using their computers to learn new things, and the adults helping them and teaching them the valuable message that they are the change-makers who can improve the lives of others, I thought about how nonprofits and their partners strive to measure the effectiveness of the work that they do.  Or, in business jargon, how do you measure the rate of return?

If a picture really speaks louder than a thousand words, I think these pictures clearly provide the answer.

Anjana School Children Using Computers to Learn

Anjana School Girls Really Interested in Learning

Cheryl told me recently that it’s more important for nonprofits to measure accountability than effectiveness.   She might be right.  Sometimes it is difficult to measure ‘effectiveness’ – there are so many variables involved with an infinite amount of time within which to measure them.

This is the complexity of nonprofit work, especially when you think of it in business terms, as I tend to do.

By focusing on accountability, self-sustainability, and fostering long-term relationships, perhaps effectiveness will automatically fall into place.  And sometimes, it might be well after our lifetimes.

Whether an organization is directly involved in creating global change, and regardless of the methods it uses, the world is also changing on its own.   And that change is primarily driven by business, connections and technology.

I remember Channa and I explaining the message of Friends Unite to the children, that “no man is a failure who has friends.”  What they see and what they have is through the hard work and collaboration of many old friends and new friends, and many for-profit and non-profit enterprises.

We told the children that they should work together to solve India’s problems.  After watching those children that afternoon, I have no doubt that they will.

The Anjana School Project: Part 6 – The New Leaders

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 6 of 7 – The New Leaders

Channa told the children that if there is a problem that needed to be solved, don’t wait for the Government to do it, to collaborate, work hard and solve the problem themselves!

My wife and I are at the school in India.  We are with Channa, his wife Uma, Ananth from SELCO, and Naveen from MAINTEC.  Also present is the individual who originally donated the land upon which the school is built, as well as one of Channa’s former mentors.  We had seen the school, met with some students, did the Hokey Pokey with them, and just finished climbing to the roof of the school to see the solar panels, all bearing the red SELCO emblem.

Even though we had yet to complete our fundraising for this effort, Harish told me to let the money take its time.  He said it was the least important thing anyway, and SELCO went ahead with the solar installation.  The computer lab now had consistent power, the children were using it to learn, and that’s where we were all headed next, to a dedication ceremony at the lab.

Computer Lab Dedication

As we walked into the lab, I thought about how many people and organizations it took to make this happen. In fact, when Channa showed me the dedication poster that only listed Friends Unite’s name, I told him that all parties should have been acknowledged.  From the land to the building to the donated computers to the computer desks to the supplies to the software to the electricity, it took the collaboration and dedication of many individuals, donors, for-profit and non-profit businesses to make this work.  And the result of these efforts is a very impressive–looking computer lab for a group of excited children at a small school in rural India.

The dedication ceremony began with a song by the children, followed by an excellent speech by Channa.  He told the children that through collaboration, they can achieve anything. For countries like India, where one of the biggest problems is Government corruption that results in various inefficiencies, this powerful message to children will hopefully lead to real change.

After Channa’s speech, it was time to hit the ‘power’ button on the computers in the lab.  The children went to the computers, turned them on and showed us what they had already done.  Many had put together Powerpoint presentations on various topics ranging from biology to aerospace to animals to the environment.   Not only did the children create the presentations, they used it as a learning tool to memorize facts about these subjects.  I could tell there was a thirst for knowledge, one that will only increase over time.

Click HERE to read Part 7 – What is Your Rate of Return?

The Anjana School Project: Part 5 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 5 of 7 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India

I asked him a simple question, “Should we do it?”  And he provided a simple response, “Yes, we should.”

After speaking with the first company, we decided to get a second bid on the project.  That led us to Harish Hande, Managing Director of SELCO Solar India.  Harish is an internationally recognized expert in this field. In speaking with Harish, he clearly knew the nuances of solar technologies.  However, what set Harish apart from the rest was his in-depth knowledge of how to efficiently use solar technology in poor and rural communities.  To Harish, using solar technology or selling us a product was secondary to creating the best holistic approach to helping this community, with solar energy being a part of it.

Harish’s team at SELCO Solar visited the school to determine whether solar energy would be viable option.  After analyzing the site, SELCO provided a solution, as well as the cost for making it happen.  It is important to point out that SELCO Solar is a for-profit, social enterprise.  I liked the idea of involving an Indian for-profit company in the partnership.  It added an additional measure of accountability.  SELCO has a vested interest to make sure everything works.  And, as a social enterprise, they look at more than simply the bottom line.

SELCO Batteries Before a penny had changed hands, and before Friends Unite decided to join this budding partnership, SELCO donated 60 small solar-powered lamps for the children at the school.  The technology behind these solar lamps is very interesting and quite simple.  The children leave a battery pack outside during the day, the sunlight charges it, and the children plug the battery into a small lamp at home and can read at night. I had the opportunity during our visit to the school to look at the lamps and hear stories from the school children on how these little donated lamps already impacted their lives.  The children said the lamps didn’t just impact their lives, but the lives of their families as well.

Around this time, close to a year had passed since our first communication with Sonny and Channa.  We continued to communicate with each other, but Friends Unite had yet to make a decision to officially be a part of this project.  One of our board members, Ketan Soni, was traveling to India to visit family, so he said he would stop by the school and meet Channa.  After close to a year, a few more months was not going to make a difference. Besides, building lasting relationships takes time.

It was after Ketan returned from his trip that things really started moving.  I asked him a simple question, “Should we do it?”  And he provided a simple response, “Yes, we should.” Channa and his vision for the school impressed Ketan.  These kids were being taught how best to make use of the limited natural resources at their disposal.  They were being taught more than English and Math, they were being taught self-sustainability and responsibility.  That impressed Ketan, among many other things, so we took a Board vote and decided to be a part of it.

Click HERE to read Part 6 – The New Leaders

The Anjana School Project: Part 4 – The Solar Solution

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By Murali Bashyam

Part 4 of 7 – The Solar Solution

What solution did Channa and Sonny propose to solve this electricity problem?  The Sun.

Approximately two years ago, I was introduced to Channa through a mutual friend, Sonny Gupta.  I had known Sonny for many years and told him that I was going to start a non-profit based on the idea of friendship and long-term relationships.  He immediately recommended that I speak with Channa.  Sonny is the founder of Maintec Inc., and his company supported Channa and Brahmi for years.  Sonny gave me some background on Channa and his school, and we scheduled a time for the three of us to speak.

I remember that phone call well.  Channa first gave me some background on himself. I was quite impressed.  Here is a person from that same small community who worked hard to get an education and ultimately received his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), India’s finest educational institution.  However, Channa’s enthusiasm in talking about founding the school, educating children who didn’t have access to it, and giving back to his own community impressed me even more.

He spoke with real passion, and I listened intently.

Channa had spent considerable time founding and running the school.  He described their achievements so far, as well as the challenges they faced.  His focus was electricity, or more accurately, the lack of it.  Having lights would help the children read and learn better.  In addition, Channa believed having a computer lab in the school would improve the children’s education.  Consistent electricity would help them power it, thereby providing the children with access to modern technology and educational tools that others around the world enjoy. Channa believed this was the next step to help these children achieve their academic goals.

What solution did Channa and Sonny propose to solve this electricity problem?

The Sun.

Sonny took the lead to identify companies in India that provide solar solutions to energy problems.  He scheduled the first conference call with a company a few weeks later.  Personally, I was ‘green’ to all of this.  At the time, close to two-years ago, I lacked enough knowledge about this technology to determine whether it would work in a rural setting.   Furthermore, I wondered about the costs involved, and more importantly, its sustainability.

During that first call, I listened more than I talked.  Sonny and his colleague at Maintec, Naveen, were both more knowledgeable about the subject than I was.  They asked the company representative the right questions about the delivery of the power from the panels to various parts of the school, as well as how the solar energy would work in combination with grid-electricity.   After all, why use the solar batteries when grid-electricity is working? Our goal was to make the most efficient use of all resources.

While Sonny and Naveen focused on the more technical aspects of power delivery, I again focused on cost and sustainability. By sustainability, I mean the cost of repairs, who would pay for them, how long these systems last, what pitfalls to expect over what period of time, and whether Brahmi and that community could handle these issues on their own.  That was the most important aspect for me – that this need Channa identified for his community should ultimately be their responsibility.   Channa assured me that this would be no problem, and agreed that his community was responsible for themselves and this new technology.

Click HERE to read Part 5 – Partnering with SELCO Solar India

Using Solar Energy to Help Children in Rural India

Friday, February 25th, 2011

By Ketan Soni, Director of Friends Unite

I recently traveled to India with my father primarily, to reconnect with distant family.  During my trip, I had the opportunity to visit a partner of Friends Unite, Mr. Channa Raju and his non-governmental organization, Brahmi.

Grounds of Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village, India

Grounds of Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village, India

Channa and Brahmi founded the Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali village near Bangalore, India.  This school is located in rural India and provides education to children who would otherwise lack access to it.  Unfortunately, the school suffers from severe electricity shortages and is often only on the power grid for 3-4 hours total per day.

Channa described to me his goal of creating a computer lab and having lighting in the facility to allow the children to properly study.   Accomplishing this goal with the current lack of consistent access to electricity would be a challenge.  To that end, we, along with Brahmi and SELCO, a socially responsible solar power provider in India, discussed a plan to install solar panels at the school.  The solar energy generated by the panels would provide the school with enough electricity to consistently power 20 computers, as well as provide facility lighting that would help further the children’s education.

Although we discussed the solar plan in detail prior to my trip, none of us had yet decided to move forward with it.  I wanted to visit the school, meet Channa and the children, and be certain that the project clearly fit within the Friends Unite mission and vision to partner long-term with people and organizations to help people help themselves.

School Children at Anjana Vidyakendra School near Bangladore, India

Indian School Children at Morning Assembly

When I arrived at the school, the children were already there for their morning assembly.   Channa met me near the front of the school and began explaining a day in the life of the kids.  Channa is actually a model for the students.  He grew up not far away from this village, and had the right opportunities to further his education and complete his Ph.D. as a scientist.   He felt compelled to return to his community and provide the same opportunity to others.  Nearly everything he showed me demonstrated the idea of giving back to the community that he was raised in.

As we walked through the school, I realized that my expectations regarding the resources available to the school were far overestimated, and my expectations about the thought put into maximizing those resources was far underestimated.  Let me provide some examples to illustrate my point.

I come home every day without a doubt in my mind that I can do what I need to at night by just flipping on a light switch.  Until recently, these kids went home from school and could not finish their homework because they had no light.  Brahmi’s solution involved maximizing the use of available resources and relationships.  Thanks to a generous donation from SELCO, there are now 50 tiny LED lights that each child can take home.  These LED lights are recharged daily by a small solar panel donated by SELCO.  This means each child can now continue their education at home in a socially responsible, sustainable manner.  Channa told me that these lights are so versatile and functional, that after the children go to bed, their parents sometimes use these lights to find their way around home at night!

Friends Unite Director, Ketan Soni, tours Anjana Vidyakendra School in India

Building at Anjana Vidyakendra School in India

When discussing this new solar panel project with Channa, the careful thought put into using resources was again made clear.  No energy is wasted, as the working model does not require each student to have their own individual computer.  Instead, through work with SELCO, the school managed to find a way for one computer to be used with 4 separate monitors.  In addition, Channa took me to the kitchens, where part of the education involves how to plant, tend, and eventually utilize the grains growing right next door to the school.  In this way, Channa showed me Anjana school’s mix between a practical and idealistic education.

Nothing given is taken for granted at this school.

The clearest example of how this school is sustainable and future thinking became evident when I met one of the teachers who had been a member of the first class that originated 10 years ago.  Just like Channa, she came back to her village to give back to them.  Ultimately, they were helping themselves.  There could be no greater confirmation in my mind about how many of these students would continue to sustain this school and community down the road without the need for an extraordinary level of outside assistance.

I think of this project not merely as helping to provide education for underprivileged children by powering computers.  Rather, it will give these children an opportunity to take the ideals of the environment in which they grew up and place them on an even playing field with those who had more advantages.  If even one of these students achieves something greater because of this opportunity and gives back to the community, I personally consider that a success.

Each “nudge” that these children absorb will ultimately result in long term changes that I hope to, but may never, experience directly.  The atmosphere of accountability and being conscious of the impact on the environment will stay with these children and influence the attitudes they bring to the outside world and the multitudes of people that they end up influencing in the bright futures they have ahead of them.

The donation of 50 LED lamps by SELCO is a small first step.

The next step is the broader plan of using solar energy to power the entire school facility and computer lab, and to show how solar power can change the lives of children in rural India.   And by doing so, play a small role in helping empower them to change the lives of others.

Inspirational Artwork at Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village

"Together We Can" reads the artwork at Anjana Vidyakendra School in Guttahali Village, India

Join the D.I.Y Revolution – Make a new friend

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Guest Post By: Jessica Coscia

“Are these young idealists unsophisticated about what it takes to change the world? Yes, often. At first, they don’t always appreciate the importance of listening to local people and bringing them into the management of projects, and they usually overestimate the odds of success. They also sometimes think it will be romantic to tackle social problems, a view that may fade when they’ve caught malaria.”

The quote, above, is taken from a great New York Times article about the latest “Revolution.” What some are calling the Do-It-Yourself Foreign-Aid Revolution. It’s entertaining, but it also makes a great point.

Friends Unite is an organization, founded by ”regular” people, with a common desire to contribute their own little grain of salt in an effort to make other people’s lives just a little better, I can appreciate the noble efforts of those who work together with modest means to make the world a better place.

When shared with Friends Unite President and Founder, Murali Bashyam, this article reminded him of a  similar point I made at a recent Friends Unite event – that “so many nonprofits focus on how to ‘measure success’ when sometimes it’s impossible to measure because the benefits can extend beyond generations.”

Sure, motivating postitive change in this world of ours is tough work and all of the good intentions in the world will not move mountains, but if we want to have any impact on our world we have to work together.

There is no need to be a lone crusader on your own D.I.Y. revolution when there are plenty of small organizations out there “doing it themselves” who could use a helping hand.

Don’t know which philanthropic effort to tackle first?

How about starting with an easy one. Friendship.

Friends Unite welcomes you to their effort to make a difference in people’s lives, one meaningful friendship at a time.