Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Asante Sana from Kaka

Over two years ago, you may remember, I met Kaka, a beautiful soul who guards the volunteer house in Arusha, Tanzania. At the time, Kaka had a family of six who lived in one small room in the slums of the town. Though his home did not provide enough space and was, I can imagine, a struggle for all six of them to live there, Kaka was always warm and inviting, and still grateful for all he had.  He never begged, but kindly asked after seeing his home and his circumstances, whether I'd be able to do something. 
Though I wished I could snap my fingers on the spot and give him all he needed, I knew it would take some time and effort to raise the funds.  My best friend, Gino, eagerly jumped up for the challenge.  Like Kaka, he is excellent at reminding me of the beautiful basics in life.  Working together to make things happen.  Gino, inspiring, humble, giving, ambitious, and so smart, helped us create a wonderful team of contributors.  Our non-profit had not yet been created and these contributors worked with real trust and faith in the mission.  I will never forget them and what they've done for this family.  We reached our goal and helped them move to a larger home that they have continued to build themselves over time.  Talk about self-sufficiency!  They appreciated our help and worked hard with what we gave them. 

Kaka writes often to say thank you.  Thank you to each of you who have helped better his life and that of his family. 

I was fortunate to revisit Kaka since he moved and the family has continued to build their new home.  They are happy, healthy, and so grateful for you!  Take a look!

The bricks Kaka has used to continue building his new home. 

While in progress.
In this photo above, he is holding the blueprint he created for building onto the home.  
Through Kaka's actions, I have learned the importance of loving unconditionally and never giving up on someone.  He never fails to offer his most genuine care to others - always asking about my family and friends - that means you guys.  His relationships are formed in the deepest kind of love, sacred and precious, and so I am forever grateful to you contributors for opening your hearts to better this man's life.  We have successfully reciprocated the love.

Thank you to Kaka's contributors. We will NEVER forget you.  You are a blessing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis the Season!

While many of us will be enjoying extra treats this season, delicious chocolates, candy canes, sugar cookies, things that warm our heart and souls... the reality is, there will be many who will go without a meal each day. Do I say this to encourage guilt? No! We should enjoy this special season! BUT we should also understand the facts of the world we live in and ask ourselves how we can give back? What small things can we give up this holiday season to help make a large difference in someone else's life? When we fully understand how much we are capable of, we can excel and encourage others to do the same. Once you understand, you can't pretend you don't ;) That's a good thing!
If you're new to this blog, we've been grateful to feed 145 students at the CHETI school, located in Arusha, Tanzania (East Africa) for two years now.  These students are courageous, bright, and eager to learn!  They have such desire to be educated, to be happy and, most important, to be healthy.
It's been estimated that 38% of the children in this region under 5 years old are chronically malnourished. When we help provide food at school each day, it encourages the children to attend school, to focus and this helps them retain their lessons.  Our goal this year is to raise the funds to feed these students for all of 2012 before it even hits!  What can we sacrifice this season to make that happen?
In the spirit of the holidays and the importance of giving back, I promise to personally match every dollar that's donated toward their food up to $2,000.  You and I will do this together!

Keep in mind, all donations go directly toward the children's food as our non-profit, Global Empathy Now, is run by volunteers driven by a passion for change. 

All donations can be made safely and securely on our website
Below, you can see video footage to learn more about the school and our project. 

Take a look at the Global Empathy Now site for more information. We appreciate you to no end. These children have been successfully fed for 2 years because of compassionate people like yourself! Let's you and I make year 3 another success!!   Thank you SO much and God bless!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Imani means Faith | It's Not For Sissies

Experiencing personal loss of my own this past month, I have ached feeling that I have been somewhat hopeless, abandoned, truly lost.  And sometimes, keeping faith and trust is hard

I have come to realize... I've been acting absurd. Hear me out.
In Kiswahili, faith is called, "Imani."  An appropriate name for the orphanage I worked at in Nairobi, Kenya.  Home to hundreds of abandoned children left in dumpsters, paper bags, rolled up carpets, dropped in alleys, all throughout the slums of Nairobi. Now hold on, actually think about that (not to be so morbid), but a baby wrapped in a paper bag, rolled up in a carpet... It makes my heart ache.  Disposed of in a dumpster before having any chance at protecting their own lives.  They are babies. Okay...

While an orphan is by definition one abandoned or lost,  deprived of protection, here are children who are found, loved, and renewed.  Found.  Loved.  Renewed.
If these children can be found, loved, and restored before any chance at saving themselves, then what on earth is my excuse in times of trouble?  I don't have one and I can't.  We all have the opportunity to be restored.  No matter what our circumstances.  We are strong and have remarkable gifts to offer. Time to regroup. Time to choose happiness. Time to empathize with others and be grateful.

Challenges, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, illness, addiction... those things can be overwhelming, it is so true. But we can't forget to see how blessed we are to have family and friends who will never fail to love us, and help us be re-strengthened.  Don't be afraid to reach out for help, nor afraid to give back.  Life is just too short not to.  We can't take a single person or a single moment for granted.

These children have struggles. Out of a soiled paper bag, a tattered, insect-ridden cloth, but they have endless smiles, WIDE EYED eager loving views of the world.  Someone cared enough to bring them in. They are brothers and sisters through renewal and faith. So are you and I.

You would not believe how they look after one another. 
A view of the slums from Imani's rooftop.

Consolata is a beautiful young Kenyan girl who works at Imani.  She comes in almost every day to wipe the children's bottoms, change their clothes, feed them, hold them... most importantly, "just to show them love," she says.  And she loves them.  "Wipe them this way," she guides me.  "Let's change his clothes."  "Let's hold this one." "Let's let this one cry it out, but know that we're still here."  Again, she says... "Let's let this one cry it out, but know that we're still here."   Going through a difficult time?  Cry it out if you need to.  But know that God's still here.  I am not alone.  You are not alone.  We are not alone.

Remember these children and understand that. 

Beyond grateful to see these children so well taken care of at Imani.  They are handled with great care.  Want to contribute to them or just learn more, contact me: or visit their website:

Most importantly, take care of one another.  Take care of yourself.  Forgive yourself for mistakes.  Forgive others for their mistakes.  Give someone a chance.  Be renewed in the love of those around you and the love of God.  Keeping faith in times of struggle is tough, but I am telling you, do NOT give up. It's hard for a reason.  Remember these children.  And when you can't find the strength to do any of that, just breathe...
God gave you air in your lungs that moves freely on its own, to help your heart keep beating, to help your brain keep working, to help your hands keep reaching... so -- keep reaching...keep giving...keep loving... Keep faith.
To my family and friends... thank you for looking after me. :)

God is good.  Life is good.  And even when it's not.... it will be.... trust.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unwavering Faith | The Rugged Altruists

With new opportunities brought toward me, new challenges, and decisions to be made, I spoke to a dear old friend about the road ahead; of course, gathering as much information as I could so as to make the "smartest and best decision" possible. "Unwavering faith," he said. "Unwavering faith."
.... How could I forget?

Sometimes, no matter how much we work, no matter how many facts we gather, no matter how much we pride our intelligence, we forget the great power of unwavering faith and trust. Whether it be in God, in life, or in us as human beings -- if unwavering faith is at the core of what we do and, most importantly, what we do for others, we can't go wrong. After all, we can't control everything.

We've worked with exhaustion researching projects to better our missions abroad, the price of food goes up, the price of food goes down, the soil could be fertile, the soil could be ruined... and on, and on, and on, and on... have FAITH. You can't control the world around you, but you can do your best to stay committed and grateful.

Today I read The Rugged Altruists, an article written by David Brooks of the New York Times. It highlights the unfortunate truth that not all large non-profits or volunteers can end up being helpful when serving abroad. But, it also highlights the percentage who become and remain useful through their virtues and their faith in what they do. It highlights truly brave and selfless individuals and I encourage you to read the full article. The rugged altruists, those who do not seek the spotlight, but rather experience much struggle, pain and difficulty, AND remain hopeful and faithful, committed to their work. The Rugged Altruists:

"Many Americans go to the developing world to serve others. A smaller percentage actually end up being useful. Those that do have often climbed a moral ladder."

"The first virtue they possess is courage, the willingness to go off to a strange place."
"The second virtue they develop is deference, the willingness to listen and learn from the moral and intellectual storehouses of the people you are trying to help."
"The greatest and most essential virtue is thanklessness, the ability to keep serving even when there are no evident rewards — no fame, no admiration, no gratitude."
"This final virtue is what makes service in the developing world not just an adventure, a spiritual experience or a cinematic moment. It represents a noncontingent commitment to a specific place and purpose."
A commitment to this work is not easy and I commend and thank every volunteer out there who has made such committed sacrifices for others. There are endless obstacles, I see them every day, but it is those small groups with unwavering faith in their mission who, in my opinion, can, and often do, make the biggest difference.

During my time in Nairobi, Kenya, I had the opportunity to speak in depth with an incredible Kenyan woman who has such COMMITMENT to helping her people. She goes on to tell me her great concerns in the large organizations who come in, making equally large decisions without involving the locals in some fashion. Grateful to live among them for some time, I could see and understand her point. But she also shared with me beautiful stories and photos of past volunteers who've worked with her, returning home to their native country with a personal and intimate COMMITMENT to bettering the lives of the Kenyan people. They work in small organizations, and they do it with care. These are the rugged altruists that Mr. Brooks speaks of, and I cannot thank them enough for all they do.

Committed volunteer work is not easy, but it is not meant to be. Global Empathy Now is up and running, and I'm thankful to have a partner (you're amazing, Randy) and a team who serve when there are no evident rewards. I'm thankful for the faith that keeps us going, even when obstacles knock us down. And, I am thankful we have created a non-profit valuing the importance of being hands on, personal, and intimate. How can the truth of this work not be, after all? I am proud of all who've been involved and I respect you greatly. To all you rugged altruists all over the world, those who risk their lives to help another, those who make major sacrifices, those with deep and genuine love for people, I thank you and love you to no end for your unwavering faith in all you do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making the Choice to Give | And Give Thanks

No one in life can really force you to make good decisions, to give, to give thanks. Those are choices you must make for yourself. And really, they're only more meaningful when you do so on your own. You may be coerced into cleaning up after yourself, doing a friend a favor, exercising, or making a contribution to something you don't necessarily care about. But, it's about digging deeper and helping because you, well, want to help. Because, hopefully, in some fashion, you care. You can make the CHOICE to care. No one is going to force you to make good decisions in life. Well, they may, but how good are they if the intention is empty? You choose how you want to live and what you want to give. People may lead you, inspire you, show you the way. But, ultimately, it is up to you to live with gratitude and compassion. Making the choice to give, and give thanks.
This is Keith. An incredibly infectious smile, eh?
Keith is a Peer Educator for KENWA (Kenya Network of Women with AIDS). KENWA helps treat and empower both men and women who are HIV+, encouraging them that life goes on after the discovery of illness; that there is reason to move forward with strength, courage, hope, and power. Keith spends his time with KENWA talking to people in the slums, educating them about HIV; not the easiest task, I can promise you that. But, Keith persists. He gives comfort, reassurance, heads through the slum three times a week talking to people, holding a session every month to give information on treatment and prevention. "People come back," he explained to me with a smile. They see hope in him, and they listen. And people begin to better accept and understand the reality of HIV/AIDS, and they seek counseling because of his efforts. He teaches teens and families not to feel embarrassed, but rather empowered by their strengths and skills. And he encourages marital and family values, the importance of healthy respect and commitment. Door to door he goes, because he knows some men are too scared to come out to KENWA. But he does not judge them. Rather, he helps people get jobs, get off drugs, encouraging them to utilize their skills and talents toward developing a business, making a revenue for their family, and staying busy with healthy hobbies.
Three times a week, he works in the Kiambiu slum. The reality is, it can be very dangerous, dirty, and it is estimated that one in every household of the Kiambiu slum is HIV+, but Keith sees people - not the disease.  He instills strength - and he does it with a smile.
"Sometimes, we just spend time together," he explained to me. Building trust and hope through friendship. So. Why does Keith do all this? He doesn't have to. No one forces him. No one tells him to take on the daunting task of opening people's minds to a better, healthier, and happier way of living. But, he does it. He makes the choice to. Because he sees a community, a world worth helping, and so, he's been at it with KENWA since 2008. It's difficult to see death, illness, and destruction, and well, just want to give up!  I can say truthfully, I have now seen and understood in some fashion that true frustration they experience -- It can crush your soul and make you careless. But Keith sees hope, potential, skill, courage, and a better tomorrow -- he makes that happen with a beautiful commitment to his people.
Make the choice to give. It's not always easy, but that's the point. Challenge yourself. You will never regret it. What you give will come back ten fold. And no, it's not always easy to sacrifice. But, it's worth it. And, I don't mean just get out there and start throwing money at every organization you see - I'm saying live with an open attitude to making a better life for others in your every day life! And challenge yourself to do so in various ways.

How do you want to live your life and what do you want to give? How can you give it? How do you want to empower others? What do you have to offer and what makes you happy about that? What are you grateful for?

A month ago, I wrote a post sharing that I would match every dollar up to $1,000 donated to Global Empathy Now with a personal donation toward relief for Japan. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't completely choked up by the immediate outpour of people pitching in - with enthusiasmThis is what I'm talking about -- you didn't have to pitch in - it's easy to assume someone else will or to assume you can't do much -- but, you chose to give and so many of you even advanced the mission to others with such great affection for the goal and those in need.

Within just two days, you donated over $1,000. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. We did this together and you helped me take on a fantastic challenge. You Are Outstanding.  I don't even have the words. 

THANK YOU for doing your part. Here is mine, as promised:

God bless.  Thank you for being here.  Love yourself, what you are, and what you have to give. Let's strive to give with intelligence and meaning.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To Practice What I Preach:

I'd like to extend my deepest appreciation to all who've come back to visit and have been interested in following this mission! I've been back from Africa for some time now and promise with everything in me; I've not been neglecting these updates, but rather working harder than ever on setting a strong foundation to our non-profit and its upcoming projects. I have plenty to share, but first things first, I'm here to make what I pray will be a fruitful proposal for you and me, and most importantly, for those we are empathizing with:
If you're new to this journal, we've gratefully been feeding up to 145 underprivileged Tanzanian children at school every day for over an entire year now. I AM IN AWE of all those who've chosen to change their lives. Thank you and congratulations - this would not be happening without you!! As we are working hard to research a project to help develop and encourage a means of self-sufficiency, we must continue to feed these children, who, I am DEEPLY humbled to share, are progressing! I can't wait to share stories and photos. However, this does not mean their needs have evaporated into thin air. We must continue on. It is crucial at this time that we continue to allow for furtherance in their nutrition and, just as important, their education. They still need you and we must keep moving.
But....... there is SO MUCH going on right now in Japan. While we cannot forget the needs of our children, we also cannot close our eyes to the greatly difficult time which Japan is currently facing.

I'd like to make the following proposal: Every single dollar that is donated to Global Empathy Now between now and April 17, benefiting the children's food program in Tanzania, I promise to PERSONALLY match by making a donation toward relief for Japan.

What does this mean?
This means you are not only taking part in supporting the lives of over 100 children in Africa, but you are also encouraging me to donate more toward the critically urgent relief for Japan. I am doubling your donation; I am doubling the causes you reach; the people you touch; and the amount. I am humbled and honored to do this for you and them. So, can we work together? Donate $10 to GEN? I donate $10 to Japan. Donate $100 to GEN? I'll donate $100 to Japan.

Were you thinking of donating to Japan, just haven't done it yet?
Now, your donation can have DOUBLE the impact.

How much can I match?
No, I'm not monetarily busting from the seams in any fashion, but also do not fear the risk and sacrifice of making an adjustment for those who need it most. I will match a total of $1,000. If reached, I'd be honored to re-evaluate what I can and will realistically do from that point forward. Are you with me?

***Please note: I am BLOWN AWAY - Just TWO days after this post, we successfully reached $1,000 - CONGRATULATIONS!!! That means $1,000 for Africa and $1,000 for Japan!! TOGETHER, we did it and CAN do anything!! I encourage you to KEEP on giving no matter what - to GEN OR Japan - there is, of course, still a GREAT need! Do some good! Thank you and God bless!
Give. Live. Be Brave. Empathize. Empower. And be grateful. Every single day is a blessing.

Donations can be made safely and securely through PayPal, by our "Donation" button on the right. Please contact me with questions.

Let's make a difference together. And never, ever give up faith in what you can do in life - for yourselves, your families, and most importantly, the world around you! Get out there and do some good! God bless!

A very special thank you to:
Bob and Paula Chess
David and Judy Lam
Randolph Lam
Hitesh Patel
Marci Rathburn
Bryan and Christina Schindler
Mark Tozzi
Tara, Ashley, and Michael Tozzi

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Maasai Morning

Sometimes we forget that something as simple as the sunrise is a miracle; another chance to see the world anew. In Maasai land, the traditional sheets worn around their bodies (called shúkà) are even more beautiful by day. A kaleidoscope of rich vibrant color folded throughout the land. It is truly breathtaking and makes you even more thankful that this culture has chosen to maintain its traditional customs in so many ways. In a world where we're seeking the fastest and newest, they're choosing the oldest. There's something to be said for getting back to basics. Much beauty to be found there. I'm thankful to have seen a great sense of contentment and liberty in simplicity.The Maasai community is often patriarchal and sometimes, but not always, polygamous. Many have a chief, or Laibon, which is a spiritual leader. Below is the chief of this village whom we had the great pleasure of greeting. As a gift for welcoming us into the community, we brought sugar and flour. I'd like to "borrow a cup of sugar" from these guys everyday. ;) In the middle of the night, it had begun to rain and a man came to take us from our tents to a school building where we could stay dry. "Who is this?" I had asked my friend. "He is the chief's son." he explained. I thought I had met about 6 or 7 of them already. It is not unusual for them to have several wives and therefore many children. Although, a good Maasai friend of mine has wishes to marry only one woman. Another great point that labels on any society or community cannot always be followed.And I awoke in the morning to the sound of a young boy shouting in the distance. Herding cattle. Cattle are incredibly important to the Maasai lifestyle. Traditionally, they would attempt to live off the cattle alone - meat, milk, sometimes the blood, but today it is not unlikely for them to also grow crops and exchange food and goods with other people, etc. Over time, with colonial progression and developments in government, the Maasai have been restricted from certain parts of the land due to governmental projects, the acquisition of private property and farming, and wildlife parks. This has caused a great stress on the Maasai, but many are still pursuing, maintaining and appreciating their traditional customs. They are, indeed, quite peaceful after all. In my time there, it was my impression that the Maasai live quite graciously off the land and have a deep respect for the world around them. It is an inspiration to me, to value what God has already put on the earth, and to use it purposefully and respectfully.
On that note, their homes, called enkaji, are made beautifully from sticks, grass, cow droppings, soil and sometimes ash.
And the women... shy, yet playful and curious. I'm eager to learn more about them. The women are often responsible for all domestic tasks; milking cows, collecting water, cooking and looking after the children. They are adorned in beautiful beaded jewelry consistently made with interesting patterns, bright colors, and shining circular pieces which jingle with each motion. A true sight to see. Long, dangling earrings. Stretched ear lobes. Beautiful customs.
Included in those customs are the circular burns the Maasai have on their bodies. Sometimes on their cheeks, sometimes on their arms. They are a ritualistic marking as one of the Maasai community. When I received mine, it was a symbol of acceptance and being welcome into their community. Some have commented that the burns are given to show strength in that one should not make a noise while receiving one. However, I must admit, mine did not hurt. But, this idea may come from that of the men (and sometimes women) who are not to make a noise while being circumcised. I'm unclear as to whether that tradition still remains.

Truly beautiful children. The flies in the morning are outrageous, crawling near your nose, your ears, your mouth. We took turns whisking them off each other's faces. True friendship right there. But, in all sincerity, sometimes it is as simple as that. The African people, those in the village, the town, the slums, are all so eager to take care of one another and value the aspect of community. I appreciate that more than I can convey and it has inspired me to work deeper as part of a community here. Providing small kindnesses for one another every day can never be underestimated. We can offer the world so much more by starting with simple gestures of love and kindness. We can be stronger and better in that way. Thank you for being here.

Next up: My thank you letter to you all - the recent contributors toward the next Nairobi mission; the children's food program; all the amazing supporters - followed by a year in review. You can change a life forever by slightly altering your own, and you are. I cannot express my immense gratitude toward all who've reached out and made a difference. Thank you for being here; God bless and Happy Holidays!

Thank you, Seth Arkin, for this gracious article: Role of a Lifetime: Heading Back to Africa