Multiple Sclerosis in Palestine

This photo essay was submitted by Rajiv Kapoor.
Profiles of Safyya, Tariq and Shadi courtesy of MSPF.

Health care in Palestine does not meet the needs of its population. In addition to receiving sometimes inadequate health care, multiple sclerosis (MS) patients are often isolated. Multiple Sclerosis Patients’ Friends is an organization that supports MS patients in Palestine. It holds community events where people with MS can find current information, mutual support and advocate for themselves and their families and friends. It is also raising money to buy wheelchairs for patients who cannot afford them and holds other events such as yoga classes. These photos show Safyya, Tareq and Shadi, who have been diagnosed with secondary-progressive MS, and who are involved with Multiple Sclerosis Patients’ Friends.

Safyya Barakat Salem Ahmad

Safyya is a single 31-year-old who lives with her family of six in Al-Sawya. Her health has deteriorated since she became affected by MS ten years ago. Safyya’s legs are paralyzed and she has difficulty moving her hands, as a result of which she cannot eat alone or carry heavy things. She stopped taking medication for MS because of its complications and side effects which affected her kidney function and her speech. An ambitious woman, Safyya strongly hopes to recover and work in business administration.


the virtuous brew that kicks back

CityKid Java is a savvy business with a keen understanding of how to channel the profits from exceptional coffee to benefit an entire community of kids. Its comprehension of how to build and sustain a successful business is only surpassed by its commitment to the community in the Central and Phillips neighborhoods in the south side of Minneapolis.

Buying coffee is a much more complicated endeavor than it used to be due to its exponential growth in popularity in recent years. Grocery stores stock entire aisles with an array of flavors and roasts. The other day I was browsing the coffee section in a grocery store when a bag of CityKid Java caught my attention. I took a closer look at the package and read, "the virtuous brew that kicks back to kids in the Twin Cities."

Curious to learn more, I set up an interview with CityKid Java's general manager Jennifer Siegle and Mark-Peter Lundquist, founder of CityKid Java and vice president of Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation. As I sat down with these two, their compassion for their community and passion for coffee were apparent. Mark-Peter, who brings a background as team leader at Caribou, explained that CityKid Java was started as a for-profit subsidiary of Urban Ventures "to bring about an infusion of operating dollars." 100 percent of profits go back into Urban Ventures.

In 2002 CityKid set out to combat an economic downturn and spur the important programs of Urban Ventures. The programs are extensive and offer mentoring opportunities for at-risk kids at the Urban Hub, where kids can also skateboard at an indoor skate park, or record music at a state-of-the-art recording studio. There is also a family center where parenting classes are offered and a learning lab where kids can come after school. These are just a few programs that CityKid Java helps fund at Urban Ventures, which stretches over a conflicted area like a blanket offering refuge and support.


The Elephant in the Room

This multimedia essay was submitted by Brent Lewin.

The Elephant In The Room from Brent Lewin on Vimeo.

Since 2007 I have been documenting the plight of the Asian elephant in Thailand. Elephants, revered symbols of Thailand's glorified past, have long walked side by side with the monarchy and common farmers alike. The indispensable role of elephants in Thai society has been captured in countless tales and works of art along temple walls. One would be hard pressed to look in any direction in the capital and not find an elephant motif somewhere. But for all the iconic representations of elephants as symbols of strength and prosperity, in reality the only elephants seen in Bangkok are those being led by their mahouts, wandering the congested streets begging.

Groups of mahouts from farming villages in Surin province come to Bangkok to squat in fields and walk the streets, offering tourists the opportunity to feed their pet elephants sugarcane for a couple of dollars. With no income beyond a short farming season, the mahouts claim that traveling to urban centers with their elephants is a matter of survival.

Although it is illegal to bring elephants into Bangkok, the poverty in Thailand's rural areas, the loss of the elephants' natural habitat and the resulting threat of starvation evoke sympathy among Thais. Most police, politicians and citizens continue to turn a blind eye to the urban elephants, failing to address the underlying issues and allowing the situation to remain "the elephant in the room."

Brent Lewin


Taste of Success: Cookie Company Builds Capacity

Ingenuity, determination and a little bit of luck has marked Alicia Polak's trajectory from a business student to founder and CEO of a for-profit, community-enriching enterprise in South Africa, Khaya Cookie Company. Simply put, the company was founded to "create opportunity one bite at a time," teaching the skill of baking gourmet cookies while providing gainful employment to the impoverished residents.

While pursuing a MPH/MBA at New York University, Alicia's dream of holding a leadership position at an international aid organization prompted her to pursue an internship at the UN. There she worked with Gay Rosenblum-Kumar, who specialized in conflict resolution and had helped prepare South Africa for its first democratic election. Her exposure to South Africa intrigued and excited Alicia to create and enroll in an exchange program with University of Cape Town, where she interned at Freeplay Foundation. Working on the issues while traveling within the country exposed and endeared her to the people, and to the dark history of South Africa, a country she began to call her own. After working for an investment bank in New York and a year as an employee of Freeplay Foundation, she was ready to start something new.

In 2004, inspired by the mission of Ben & Jerry's ice cream company to create and redistribute wealth, she founded Khaya Cookie Company in the town of Khayelitsha, with one Xhosa-speaking worker and a single recipe for chocolate chip cookies. In two years, the company grew to employ 10 workers and as a successful supplier of gourmet cookies to high-end establishments throughout South Africa. The cookies are made using unique South African ingredients such as rooibos extract with recipes for a variety of fruit flavors. In keeping with her community-building mission, the company was sold to the locals in 2005 and Alicia stayed on as the CEO. In 2006, working with the Wharton Societal Wealth Program, a University of Pennsylvania business school initiative, she founded the US-based Khaya Cookie Company, and has focused her efforts on setting up the US distribution center and expanding marketing efforts.

Today Khaya Cookie Company employs over 500 South Africans (95 percent of whom are women), is a major supplier within South Africa and is sold worldwide through its website and the gourmet retailer Zingerman's. In 2007, it was recognized by the Food Network as the Edible Entrepreneur of the Year. But the company does not measure its successes through commercial profits alone. One of its more tangible successes' is the positive changes it has brought to the lives of its employees. One way they have enpowered lives has been through the comprehensive life skills training that its production facility offers every employee.

Vanesca, a 25-year-old single mother solely responsible for her daughter and disabled mother, joined the team with little prior experience. In addition to baking cookies, she enrolled in the first-aid course offered by the Life Skills Training Program, where she discovered her love for nursing.

In addition to the first aid course, the program teaches health and safety (including AIDS education), business skills including management training, and personal finances management; and the younger staff members are strongly encouraged to pursue higher education. Andiswa, the youngest employee at the company, is now in her third year at university with Alicia's encouragement.


A tough sentence

This photo essay was submitted by Benno Neeleman

For minor crimes like stealing sweets from stores or pickpocketing mobile phones, there is a risk of being jailed in the Philippines, even when you are only 12 years old. Prisons and police detention centers in Manila are filled with youngsters, who are held along with adults accused of offenses as serious as rape and murder. Most of the minors stay in jail for months without any kind of trial.

The nonprofit Preda (People's Recovery, Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation), based in Olongapo, not far from Manila, is trying to get the youngsters out of prison through negotiation with judges and lawyers. They treat the kids in daycare centers where they get necessary education and food.


Curriculum Teaches Awareness of Hunger

“Trick or treat for UNICEF!” Does that sound familiar to you? I was one of those children who went door to door with my younger sister to collect change from neighbors in our orange boxes. It was probably my first experience being a global citizen in an attempt to help children around the world. I remember that the children we were raising money for didn’t have enough food and that made an impact on me.

TeachUNICEF is a new program designed to make an impact on children. That’s what UNICEF does best: it has helped more children, in over 150 countries, than any other humanitarian organization. TeachUNICEF is a program designed to engage students to become aware of the needs of children and their families worldwide. It was launched in 2005 as a free resource for US educators of students in grades three to 12. The content is derived from the UNICEF annual report “State of the World’s Children” and the curriculum is written with the national standards of social studies, mathematics and other key subjects at the forefront.

Some of the units are arranged into themes such as poverty, safe water, armed conflict, gender equality and child labor and child rights. There are plenty of visual aids such as maps and photos to spark discussion; I even watched an educational YouTube video that was filmed in Niger. Ways to take individual action are also included.

24,000 children still die daily from preventable causes. Through TeachUNICEF, students can get involved in UNICEF’s work to “bring that number to zero.”



School and Hot Meals

After 15 years serving as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and 18 years owning and operating a McDonald’s franchise with his wife in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Bob Davisson decided it was time to retire and help build a better future for an impoverished country and its children.

In November 2005 Davisson accepted an invitation to visit Haiti from some missionaries who were in the process of building a school, but were struggling to get it up and running. Meeting children of this poverty-stricken country filled Davisson with compassion and he felt called to help. “This is something that had been on my heart for many years,” he says. “The trip to Haiti and the connections made at the time confirmed this was where I was to serve God.” Less than two months later, Davisson and his missionary friends completed their first school in Chabin, a small town in the southern part of Haiti.

The children’s joy in response to the school’s opening provided the inspiration for Lifeline Haiti, the nonprofit organization that Davisson started with his wife, Linda. Since that time, Lifeline Haiti has completed 14 elementary schools, three bible schools and two high schools for 4,300 children. In the areas where they have set up schools, students receive instruction along with clean drinking water, one hot meal a day, and whatever medicine they need.

The statistics paint a grim picture of the obstacles children face growing up in the poorest country in the western hemisphere: 54 percent of the population goes without clean drinking water, 49 percent are malnourished and 45 percent are illiterate. Each day 400 children die from starvation in Haiti, where the median age of the nine million citizens is only 18 years old.

Progress in such an uphill battle is measured incrementally, but Davisson feels that Lifeline Haiti has made significant changes in the areas it has touched. “There have been no deaths due to starvation in any of the areas,” he says. “Along with the microloan businesses we have set up so far, all 63 of them are doing well and helping to stimulate the economy.”

Much of the success thus far can be attributed to the organization’s partnership with Reverend Wilbert Placide, Bishop of the Christian Evangelical Church of Haiti. “When I first met him it was like we had known each other all our lives,” Davisson says of Rev. Placide. “Without someone like this, we would still be at our first school.” As part of their partnership, Lifeline Haiti opens schools at Placide’s churches.


Student earns scholarship, celebrates success of summer camp in Nepal

This is a cross-post from St. Olaf College News by Kari VanDerVeen

A ceremony put on by local villagers to welcome Ghimire's staff and students included songs and dances performed by local children.

St. Olaf student Subhash Ghimire ’10 set out this summer to establish a camp in rural Nepal for children impacted by the country’s decade-long civil war, but he didn’t stop there. In addition to managing a 16-member team and 42 children during a successful six-week camp, he created a scholarship fund, established a library, and launched a foundation to support youth movements.

It was the experience of a lifetime, he says, that was topped off by a letter he received shortly after returning to the United States informing him that he had received a scholarship from the Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation for Peace and Justice. He’ll use part of the $3,000 award to attend law school, but is putting a portion of it toward the scholarship fund he established for Nepalese schoolchildren.

“To be able to help the people who needed it the most was the best part of the camp,” Ghimire says. “I could see in people’s eyes how thankful they were.”

Ghimire will deliver two presentations on campus about his efforts to foster peace and social change in Nepal. The first will be held Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 4 p.m. in Holland Hall 317. The second will be part of the World Issues Dialogue held Thursday, Oct. 15, at 5:30 p.m. in Buntrock Commons, Trollhaugen Room. He will also be presenting at the European Summit for Global Transformation in Rotterdam, Netherlands at the end of November.

A summer success
Ghimire established a summer camp in Arupokhari — the remote village in western Nepal where he was born — using a $10,000 grant he received from Davis Projects for Peace, an initiative that funds student plans for grassroots projects that promote peace. Half of the camp’s 42 children were under age 10, all were under age 14, and most had lost one or both parents during the war.

Using traditional song, dance, theatre, and other teaching aids, the Fulbari Summer Camp worked to help children overcome the scars of war and the country’s caste system. The children, many of whom had witnessed their parents’ murders or lost siblings as well during the war, began to open up throughout the camp and play with new friends, Ghimire says. “The children no longer sketch guns, and instead draw books and birds. To me, that was the biggest achievement of the summer camp,” he says.


Media that Matters hits Minnesota – A Success!

On behalf of NEED, I would like to thank everyone who was involved with the Minnesota screening of Media that Matters. The night was a complete success!

As local organization staff and moviegoers filled the lobby of the Oak Street Cinema, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Since this was the first Media That Matters screening NEED has ever held, we had no idea what to expect. The night exceeded anything we could have hoped for. Poetic Assassins opened up the event with a moving spoken-word performance, and all the presenters made inspiring connections to work being done in Minnesota.

The best part of the night came after the films were over and people thanked us for bringing important issues to the big screen. This was exactly what we were hoping to achieve. With your help we were able to bring people together and show the great work of Media that Matters.

Thanks again for all your support!

>> view list of films and organizations involved.


Strength From Within

This photo essay was submitted by Ken Driese

Joel Katamba is visionary. Compelled to help his struggling family as a young man, he cut short his schooling, vowing to help others in his community get the education he missed. As an adult, Joel built the Kyamulinga School using funds generated by selling pineapples.

I stayed with Joel while visiting Kyamulinga to photograph a successful partnership between his school and a small but energetic non-profit from Boulder, Colorado, called One School at a Time. One School worked with Joel and the local community to add a classroom building and a water system at Kyamulinga, facilities that were needed but unaffordable, since many students can’t pay full fees.

One School at a Time helped by providing funding and technical oversight for the addition of a classroom and an on-site water system including a cistern, treadle pump, filtration and solar heater. The community provided labor, local materials and enthusiasm. For girls, at-school water is especially important because it saves hours spent out of class, walking to remote ponds where they are vulnerable to assault.


Their Own Kind of “Extreme Home Makeover”

A group from Austin, Texas called Austin2Africa will travel this November to Nyanga, South Africa, one of the poorest townships in Cape Town. The group will be restoring, painting, decorating, and celebrating the completion of an orphanage building there.

Called Emasithandane, or Emasi, the orphanage is home to 32 children from ages zero to 17 years old. Amazingly, all of the kids are taken care of by one woman, Mama Zelphina Maposela, who founded the orphanage. A nurse, Mama Zelphina was taking care of patients with AIDS when she decided to open Emasi for the children of the patients. It is a warm, loving place, yet it is very small — two rooms, a small kitchen, and a little bathroom — and in disrepair.

This is what the Austin2Africa project would like to change. The project took seed in 2008, when Vanessa Noel volunteered for two months at the Emasi orphanage in South Africa. She visited the preschool in the village and was shocked at its condition. Vanessa asked how much it would take to repair the preschool and was amazed how little amount it would take — so she decided to raise the money herself and manage the renovation.

So Vanessa got her friends and co-workers involved, and Austin2Africa was born. The group’s goal is both to restore and expand the orphanage and to help it become more established and official. The group believes that the renovations will create opportunities for further funding for the orphanage, including governmental social service support. Institutions must meet certain requirements to receive funding, and the upgrades would make the orphanage more eligible.

More than anything, Mama Zelphina and the children just need more space for their home. According to the website, “This will allow the children to live and grow in a comfortable space, and to potentially welcome new orphans in need of a safe home and happy place to live.”


Film Festival with a Conscience

On October 8 at 7 pm the Media That Matters film festival will make its Minnesota debut at the Oak Street Cinema. Poetic Assassins will open the night with a spoken-word performance, and festivities will wrap-up with an afterparty at Stub & Herb’s.

Throughout the evening, leaders from nonprofit and community organizations will present 11 award-winning short films that represent different social issues. Each organization’s work will relate to a certain film’s message. At the afterparty the organization leaders will be available to answer questions and explain how to get involved.

Part of ticket proceeds will go to Media That Matters, and Finnegan’s Irish Amber will donate all of their beer proceeds to charity. Help us make an impact by joining us for a night of entertainment, inspiration and conversation. Get your tickets today!

>> more details

The Media That Matters film festival is co-presented by Arts Engine and Cinereach.



This film by Simon Sticker introduces three projects that the Baobab Family, a Germany-based nonprofit, carries out in Mombasa, Kenya. The Baobab Family cares for 31 kids at its orphanage, teaches tailoring skills that enable community members to earn an income, and supports people affected by HIV/AIDS while raising awareness of HIV/AIDS. Sticker says, “Even when a film could not give you the experience — the smell in the slums, the sounds and the feeling of being in these little huts — … maybe it could give a glimpse of a feeling for it. And of what could actually be done.”

BAOBAB from Flow Media on Vimeo.

Simon Sticker
Baobab Family


Party With A Purpose

“Masala” is a mixture of spices, a staple of Indian cuisine. Masala Jam is a spicy blend of musical talent that will take the stage at Gluek’s Bar in downtown Minneapolis on October 13 to benefit street children in India.

The hot list of performers includes the smooth jazz and R&B of Wain McFarlane and Friends, reggae from Ryan Liestman and Ipso Facto, and gospel and soul from JD Steel. Internationally-renowned guitarist and composer Billy McLaughlin will toss in some acoustic zest. The sultry vocals of George Scott McKelvey, of Rhythm Jones fame, will sweeten the lineup. Shawn Douglas, Brian David Band, Michael Wright and many others lend a hand in the cooking of this spicy blend of entertainment.

Masala Jam will benefit Care & Share, a foundation dedicated to giving “children their childhood back” by helping to alleviate the devastating effects of poverty on orphaned and street children in Vijayawada, India. Care & Share supports three children’s villages, where nearly 2,000 orphans are schooled, clothed, fed, sheltered and nurtured in a loving community. The kids can stay active with skating, biking and soccer that are also on offer at the facilities.

Care & Share receives funding mostly through child sponsorship. Sponsors donate a dollar a day to an individual child, and develop a familial relationship through correspondence with the sponsored child and organization. “Every penny, except for some flyers and mailings, goes directly to the kids,” says Julie Roberts, US director for Care & Share. Two hundred children are sponsored by Americans and 5,000 by citizens of Italy, with the need growing every day as more children are losing their parents to AIDS.

Why Congo Matters (Part II of II): Top 5 Reasons

This article was submitted by Emily Troutman.

1. An enormous tragedy requires an enormous response. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died from war-related causes in the DRC, making it the world’s deadliest documented conflict since WWII.

The above statistic comes from the International Rescue Committee and is often cited in coverage of Congo. But for full effect, it ought to be amended to this: “Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died — one at a time — from war-related causes.” Because 5.4 million is such an astonishing number, it has the power to make progress seem impossible.

We are asked in a situation like this to think smaller, not bigger. Just as death is experienced one person at a time, hope and progress can also happen through each of us. The enormity of our response is not measured in size, but in depth and of commitment over time.

2. A little safety goes a long way. Ninety percent of early deaths are due to non-violent, preventable causes including malnutrition, infectious disease and complications from childbirth.

Congo's staggering mortality rate results from its ongoing battle with the FDLR, Hutu forces that invaded the country following the genocide in Rwanda. Most people will be affected by the ways in which this violence limits their freedom of movement. When people don't feel safe to travel, they also don't have access to medicine, health care, education or clean water.

3. Women need other women to stand beside them. In March of 2009, there were 1,154 confirmed rapes just in North Kivu province. Of these rapes, 65 percent were committed by the armed forces.

The national army, the FARDC, recently underwent an integration of forces, in which a Tutsi rebel group, the CNDP, was folded into the regular army. Some people blame these numbers on that change, saying a new, more criminal element is at work. Ultimately, however, the epidemic of rape in Congo is an old problem that only got worse.

At the heart of the problem is the Congolese government's unwillingness to hold criminals accountable. Rapists are either not tried, or are tried and then set free. In addition, there are no safeguards to keep people with known criminal records out of the military. UN peacekeeping forces continue to work side-by-side with the FARDC despite its incompetence.


Why Congo Matters (Part I of II)

Why Congo Matters from Emily Troutman on Vimeo.

After spending a month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I find myself speaking most often about the numbers: 5.4 million dead, 2,000 rapes per month, 17,000 UN soldiers, a war that started 15 years ago (or more?).

And suddenly, the conflict seems impossibly huge, unsolvable, tragic and remote. It is easy to forget that numbers are symbols, representing real people who take up an actual, physical space; who walk the down the dirt roads at sunset and carry water from the river, just as they did when I was there.

Numbers are a simple way to measure what has been lost. But we also lose something in the counting. We begin to think we know the exact dimensions of a problem, and then we file it away to be solved later, somewhere between running out of milk and global warming.

For a number to be useful, it should have a beating heart and a face. It should collect names and remind us of something in ourselves. A number should challenge us to unravel it, to give it a smell (the earthy jungle undergrowth), a color (the black volcanic dust), a taste (papaya), and a sound (the “snap” of a green bean).

Each death, each rape in Congo, happens in a moment when the sun is either up or down, when the rain has started or stopped, when a small phrase was uttered, or a glance exchanged. The numbers can tell us something about how often it has happened, but almost nothing about how. Or who.

With a story this big, and so little public awareness of it, I started to ask myself, “Does Congo matter?” I don't know. I guess that's hard to measure. It matters to the people who live there. It matters to me.

The statistics used in this video can be found in the following reports:

UNICEF – Country Statistics
International Rescue Committee – Mortality in the DRC, An Ongoing Crisis
International Committee of the Red Cross – Survey on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Civilians

Emily’s Photography
Emily’s blog, Who We Are / How We Live