From the Field: Africa Yoga Project

Empowering through the power of yoga.

Educate. Empower. Elevate. 

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Yoga entered my life a little over a year ago. Prior to opening my mind and heart to the possibility of creating inner balance and peace within myself, I thought yoga was only about stretching, chanting and wearing stretchy pants. Those stereo-typical views have completely evolved into views that understand that yoga is a way of life that encourages community, health and pure joy. Yoga is a mental escape, a tap into your inner pharmacy and a chance to use your athletic ability in ways you never imagined. The day I found out my paths would be crossing with the Africa Yoga Project in Nairobi, Kenya my yoga world changed forever.

Paige Elenson, co-founder of AYP, moved to Africa in 2007 to put her passion project into action. She saw an opportunity to pair her love for Kenya with her passion for yoga, and create a movement that has now affected thousands of lives across the globe. She started AYP with the goal of empowering the youth and women of Kenya to learn, contribute, and change their lives through the transformative power of yoga. Paige took a risk, took advantage of an opportunity and turned an ordinary dream into an extraordinary reality. AYP is housed in the Shine Center, which is a buzzing hub for yoga, dance, creative exploring, community and pure excitement for life. There is never a dull moment in the Shine Center, especially on Saturday mornings when 300+ yogis come together for a free community class followed by lunch and inspiring conversation.

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During my week-long visit, I could not stop thinking, why is this model of empowerment not being replicated in every athletic realm or community?  The Africa Yoga Project empowers impoverished people from the slums of Nairobi by extensively training them to be Baptiste Yoga teachers. These teachers then go out into their own communities six to seven times a week to lead free outreach classes. So, not only are the teachers being empowered, but the communities are also benefiting from the top of the line yoga instruction (trust me – some of the best teachers I have ever had) and mentoring, and the communities are then encouraged to possibly go through teacher training. Do the math, this model of empowerment is reaching thousands and thousands of people on a weekly basis and is only getting larger! Some of the people in the slums have never been encouraged, never been told they are important and have never looked at physical activity or wellness in a positive light. Witnessing AYP’s magic was incredibly inspiring because they are one of the few NGO’s putting their works into fast action – they definitely walk the walk!

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The most impactful experience I had while visiting AYP was when I went to two community outreach classes.

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My first outreach was with David. He is 24, lives in the slums of Nairobi, teaches yoga to his community six times a week and he practices yoga every day. I had the pleasure of meeting David’s family and sharing evening tea with them, I walked through his vibrant community and saw his amazing home, and I took the best yoga class of my life alongside fifteen other men in a rundown community center with no mats. I met David at the AYP Shine Center in a yoga class and I had no clue that he lives in poverty. He told me as we were walking back from his outreach class that he thinks being poor teaches people how to be happy and that his steady income from teaching yoga is enough because it brings him so much happiness to teach. I think everyone could let that sink in for a moment. When I asked David about his future and goals, he said he wants to go to EMT school but he cannot afford it…it is $966 for the whole entire 9 month program. My wish is that the world will stop worrying about having every single luxury and worry more about empowering others and getting people like David into EMT school. If that dream falls through, David said he is more than confident that yoga will take him to places he could never imagine…and I do not doubt that because he is one of the best yogis I have ever met.

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“Wake up to what’s possible.”

My second outreach was with Issac and Joyce. Issac is 27 years old and taught English in a primary school prior to teaching yoga. He basically volunteered as a school teacher and never made a paycheck prior to AYP. Joyce has been with AYP for a few years, only after being convinced to try yoga by her friend. She said she hated the idea of stretching and blew it off for awhile but once she started, there was no stopping. I visited Issac’s apartment where he has all the basic necessities and enough room to practice yoga at home. He was very proud to show off his home. Issac’s class was in a run down school room that smelt like urine, yet he was very grateful to have a space to share his practice with the seven women that came to class, and he was thrilled Joyce and I were there. One of his students is on the verge of joining the teacher training and Issac could not be more proud of her. During class, children from the school kept peeking in the window and were shocked to see a mazungu attending class. I felt very happy knowing that those kids were being surrounded by the positive energies of yoga and had great role models like Issac to look up to. Issac said he enjoys teaching children the most because it shows them that anything is possible. Issac’s joy was contagious and I look forward to watching him grow as a teacher, a mentor and a yogi!

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In closing, I want to say thank you Africa Yoga Project. Thank you to everyone who welcomed me with open arms. Thank you for the incredible yoga classes. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for your approach to empowerment. Thank you for connecting amazing like-minded people. Most of all, thank you for being you. The possibilities ahead are endless! Namaste.

From the field,

Lucas

* If you would like to help sponsor David’s EMT school costs, send me an email at turner.lucasj@gmail.com

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From the Field: Abide Family Center Visit

“Institutions are never a healthy environment for a child to grow up in. Every child deserves a family and every effort should be made to give them one.” – Abide Family Center

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Working internationally in the NGO sector has many wonderful benefits; one of those major benefits is being able to connect with many of the inspiring NGO’s in the field and the selfless people that run them. In the last two weeks I have been able to witness pure magic and action be incorporated into so many lives across East Africa. I consider myself lucky and called to share the stories I absorb through these fantastic organizations.

Through a common interest in Uganda, Kelsey Nielson, co-founder of Abide Family Center, and I connected over Instagram photos. “Great pic! Uganda is amazing.” “Let us know when you are in Uganda, we would love for you to visit!” “Hey! I am heading your way this week, can I visit Abide?” These are three examples of the comments we would leave on each others photos and by the amazing power of social media, we were able to connect and I was welcomed with open arms and a French Toast breakfast by the Abide family.

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The Abide Family Center is a buzzing place located just outside of Jinja, Uganda on a beautiful compound. When I entered the gates my eyes were greeted by a business class in session under a gazebo, mentoring meetings for young mothers under a shade tree, kids playing in a sand box and women learning how to sew yoga bags in a program called “Stitched Together”. The co-founders of Abide Family Center, Kelsey Nielson and Megan Parker, met while volunteering at various orphanages throughout Jinja, Uganda and saw a huge gap in the system. They explained that there is a big problem in the orphanages in Uganda because children are growing up in institutions while they still have family members living close by. Various reasons for kids going into orphanages include poverty, job loss, young motherhood, lack of resources or a basic no desire to care by the parents. Orphanage life is never an optimal situation for anyone. They knew that there had to be a way to lower the number of children in orphanages and re-connect them with their families. And with that gap in the system and opportunity for innovation, Abide Family Center was born.

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Abide Family Center exists to empower mothers and fathers, enrich children’s lives and provide tools to educate families to be self-sustaining. They receive referrals from the local government of families or abandoned children that need a helping hand. To those families or children, they offer top of the line mentorship, business courses on entrepreneurship to spark potential jobs for families, and professional case workers to assess needs. Abide is also full of amazing caretakers who make sure the children are surrounded by positivity in a safe learning environment. Throughout my time at Abide, I witnessed Ellen, a young teenage mother of triplets learn how to sew yoga bags while being provided emergency 3-month housing on the compound. In the standard orphanage system, she would have had to resort to putting her triplets in orphanage care because she cannot afford simple necessities like formula, proper housing, or basic care, all because she lacks support. Since joining Abide, she is making large strides towards being able to be a great mother for her triplets and to provide a bright future for herself and her children.

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I was very impressed by Kelsey, Megan and the rest of the Abide Family Center team. It is a small, yet mighty crew working towards phenomenal goals and they have been making a large impact on the families of Uganda in the short 7 months they have been in operation. The most inspiring thing about Kelsey and Megan is that they are still in their early twenties. They finished their degrees in the USA and knew that if they did not put their dream into action now, they never would. They are living examples of people who are not scared to raise the bar, step out of their comfort zones and trust in God as they devote themselves to creating better lives for the marginalized people of the world. They both live on-site in a very primitive set-up, take cold showers and gamble on if they will have power or not each day. It is people like this who remind me that anything is possible, luxuries are not always determined by the amount of things you have, and that sharing your skills with people that most need them is essential to living a fulfilled, happy life.

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Thank you Abide Family Center for teaching me a little bit about love, empowerment, action and most of all, family. Feel free to check them out at abidefamilycenter.org and if you feel compelled to donate towards their cause, go to abidefamilycenter.org/donate0.aspx. Also, make sure to check out their newest video!

#familiesNOTorphanages

From the field,

Lucas

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From the Field: When Water Doesn’t Flow

Close your eyes for a second. Picture in your mind where your closest water faucet is. Chances are that you are less than 15 feet from a sink, shower, or a garden hose. And, the chances are even higher that you have multiple places in your home where you can retrieve clean drinking water and have the option for it to be hot or cold. Now, imagine all of those water sources have vanished and map out in your mind where the closest stream, pond, puddle, lake or natural water source is. This is your only water source, your life source, and you have to visit this source multiple times a day to have enough water to cook, clean and bathe with. Also, when you are thirsty, there are no water bottles in the refrigerator to grab and you have to walk back to this far away source to quench that thirst. Sadly, this source does not produce crystal clear water, instead it is dirty and gives you diarrhea, typhoid or cholera; but you drink it anyway because there is not a better alternative. Open your eyes.

The water crisis is real. 

800 million people lack access to clean water in our world.

Water related illnesses kill more people than all forms of violence, including war

I have witnessed the water crisis first hand. As a Field Volunteer for charity: water, I am responsible for visiting villages in rural Northern Uganda and report on previous water boreholes charity: water has implemented. With an assignment of 70 villages, I was bound to encounter villages whose clean water sources have been broken, been stolen or have slight malfunctions. And I did. The whole purpose of my assignment was to get a pair of eyes to the villages and to gather information so we can get mechanics out in the field to fix these issues.

As I was searching for one of the charity: water sites one day, I came upon a group of people collecting water from the ground. I was 2km away from the site on my list, however I was very compelled to speak to this group of people who seemed very curious why a mazungu was in their neck of the woods. I ended up spending a good hour with the amazing people of the Adwil Village. In that hour they explained that there is a water pump 800m away from their village, however they are not allowed to use it because it is over crowded and has large wait times at all parts of the day. So, the 100+ families of their village drink from this contaminated water source.

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This hole in the ground produces water that is not suitable for anyone to drink.

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Gathering water is given the highest importance in many villages over things like education, family time or social development. Children like Patricia Okoi spend the time they should be in school fetching water 7-8 times a day. She is 12 years old and has stopped attending school because she is so accustomed to collecting water that she does not prefer school. My driver also explained that schools are very strict about their 7:30 AM start-time in the morning and if students are late, they risk being punished or beat. Many mornings the lines at a water source are outrageously long so children cannot guarantee making it to school on time.

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This scene right here is exactly why charity: water exists. No human being should be forced to resort to drinking contaminated water like this.

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This grandmother says she wishes every day that her grandchildren could have clean water and could have more time to focus on the more important things in life like education and family.

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The path to a water source is a frequently traveled path. When was the last time you had to take your bicycle to get a glass of water? This is one of the most common ways to carry water in Uganda. Little kids slowly take on more responsibility and graduate from their 10L jerry cans to 20L jerry cans that weigh over 40lbs.

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Luckily, Patricia’s brother was there to help her lift this jerry can on top of her head. Usually, this is a feat people conquer on their own.

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Carrying water on your head is the most effective and easiest way to transport water according to the people I encountered in Uganda. Women and children can balance almost anything on their heads from crates of bananas, to water, to stacks of tree limbs.

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This 11 year old girl is Akullu Sabella. She has so much potential ahead of her and having clean water would help her immensely reach that potential.

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The most beautiful thing I have learned from working with the people of Northern Uganda is that even though things are tough and resources are slim, life is still something to enjoy and appreciate. These three children from the Adwil Village may lack some of life’s most essential necessities, but they are still some of the happiest people I have ever met. Remember, life is a beautiful thing. I am confident that some day all people will have access to life’s most basic need, clean and safe water. My confidence comes from knowing that organizations like charity: water are devoting everything they have to making that a possibility for everyone.

If you want to help end the water crisis, consider starting a charity: water birthday campaign at https://www.charitywater.org/birthdays/

From the field,

Lucas

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FAQ From the Field

Set the scene. Where are you right now? 

I am residing in the busy little town of Lira, Uganda and commuting each day into the bush to visit villages. Lira is a town that knows no stoplight or bike lane, littering cannot be a fined offense, and people “go on foot” for any journey no matter how far. It is also a town of proud shop and food stand owners, ladies carrying bananas (matoke) on their heads, and jerry cans being used for just about anything (cooking oil, water, garbage bins, flower pots, etc.). When the sun sets this busy town retreats to their villages and turns into an eerie ghost town, but before the sun has time to come up again it is already bustling and alive. The smiles here are contagious.

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What’s the weather like?

Hot, hotter and hottest. Most of my days start off with a nice warm morning watching the sunrise. When the sun comes out to play it heats up fast. However, it is not a humid hot, which is nice. Around 4pm it is the hottest and then a nice rain storm rolls in and cools everything off followed by a picture book sunset. Sunscreen and water have been my best friend.

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What’s the landscape like? What scenes do you see along your travel route?

The landscape goes as far as the eyes can see. Being known for farming, Northern Uganda has scattered fields of sunflowers, pineapples, banana trees, cassava plants, corn stalks, mango trees and the occasional patch of pine trees. Goats run around like dogs and chickens take full ownership of the villages. Along the travel route you are bound to see people bathing and splashing around in small ponds, people gathered under a mango tree for shade playing mancala, and hundreds of vendors selling anything from vegetables, cell phone charging or clothing. Everyone is eager to smile and wave to the foreigner.

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What are the roads like?

The roads are the central hub for activity. Since everyone walks here, the one lane roads have cars, cotton trucks, cattle, bodas, bikes and people all competing for a spot. The red dirt gets thrown about and creates a very dusty scene. Along the roads you see women and children carrying jerry cans on their heads while carrying babies on their backs. Little boys are herding cattle with their little sticks. Everyone has one goal on the roads; avoid the potholes, don’t get stuck in the mud and try not to lose a tire due to bumpiness.

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What makes traveling here particularly challenging?

The lack of road infrastructure and the small paths in the bush that have a million forks vying for you to go their way is challenging. You can get lost easily because all the paths and villages look very similar. When looking for a water site you tend to need village’s guidance on where to go. It is very challenging because everyone knows of a water site and wants to direct you there whether or not it is the right one you are looking for. Also, riding in the truck you get quite the core workout from all the bumps and jostling around that happens. Another challenge is the lack of familiarity. Even though everyone is so friendly and hospitable, it can get lonely not having any familiar comforts from home, but that is how international travel goes! But more seriously, the living situation is so different for the people of Uganda and you get frustrated that you cannot help everyone or provide them basic necessities.

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What makes traveling here awesome and exhilarating?

No place that I have ever traveled has been so remote. You may think you have a route planned out on how to reach a water project and end up going completely the opposite way. The awesome thing about this is the unpredictability. Being in the truck is so fun because many of the paths you think are not passable become a new road due to the truck plowing on through full steam ahead. Here you are liable to meet some of the most inspiring and friendly people just around any bend. People in the villages are so eager to jump in the truck and show you exactly where you need to go so you meet so many characters. Also, wherever you are, you have a panoramic view of some of the most gorgeous views.

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What about your experience has been different than expected?

I am seeing more water sites a day than I had anticipated. Once you plan a day, you realize how close some of the projects are in distance and how easily it is to visit multiple villages. I did not expect Lira to be as big as it is. It is still a small town, however the amount of people in town and on the roads blows my mind. I also expected the villages to be less welcoming of a foreigner but they are always so happy to see me.

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Describe the process of locating a project.

The night before I go out, I plot all of my coordinates on my GPS. I then wake up and during breakfast get on Google Maps and drop pins where I think the turns will be and plug those coordinates in the GPS. I am old school and enjoy doing it this way because it makes it more challenging than having a meter by meter direction guide. (Okay, once and only once I entered the coordinate wrong and didn’t realize it until we had walked 2km out of the way. We laughed it off.) Then, my driver and I hash out where we think it is and take off into the unknown. Once we get close, we ask village people where their closest water source is, if they know the organization and if they can point us in the right direction. Then we turn to the GPS and walk to the point. Once there we look for donor signage, ask the people around the name and gather information.

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What do you notice about the people?

Bottom line, they are the hardest working group of people I have ever met. Everyone is on a mission whether it is to hand plow a field, gather water, crush corn into corn meal or sell their produce. Their energy is high and their personalities are strong. When I enter a village, it takes a minute for people to warm up to the mazungu but after some awkward giggles on my part and smiling, they form an instant connection and make you feel very welcome. Also, many people would label the people as impoverished because they live in huts, but I can tell that they love and are proud of their huts and villages. They worked hard to build what they have and they are very satisfied with living in the middle of nowhere.

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What sorts of activities do you see people doing? What do they do on their off time?

People fill their time with all types of things. The most common is congregating under the mango trees. The children run around and cause mischief when they are not carrying water, in school or helping out in the village. I have noticed many wedding ceremonies, gatherings and meetings. People also love to sit and enjoy the fresh air. It is a very simple life full of simple joys.

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So far, what’s your favorite local food?

The “rolex” or rolled eggs. Two eggs mixed with onion, tomato and other special ingredients all wrapped up in a huge chapati. Chapati is the Ugandan answer to the tortilla and is delicious. I have also enjoyed the cooked matoke, which tastes like potatoes. Samosas are similar to empanadas but have a thinner crust and are deep fried. I also indulge in the banana muffins, pasted peanut flavored chicken, pork and cassava fries, and of course rice and beans.

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Describe mornings in Uganda.

Lira Town comes alive in the mornings. Think NYC minus the skyscrapers, subways and dog walkers. Everyone has a plan and is headed to their little nook of the city. The roads coming into the city are full of walkers from the villages and bicyclists. Early early in the morning there are many runners on the red dirt roads. And as always, bananas are everywhere in the morning.

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Describe evenings in Uganda.

Sleepy and quiet. Many people do not venture out after dark for safety reasons so at around 7pm everyone has made their way home. Before sunset there are always people playing soccer or reminiscing on the day. It is very busy at quitting time with everyone going to the markets but that dies down quickly.

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Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met so far? What’s their story?

Her name is Jenty Samuel Ogoli from the Omanabunga A Village. She moved to the village 40 years ago after she got married. She is a farmer and grows corn and cassava. Her family lives in the village and she has taught her children and grandchildren how to farm. She said her proudest moments are when she can provide the babies in her village with clean water. Her water project currently produces rusty water and they drink from a ground well close by. When I asked her if they boil the water she laughed saying that there is no time. I was sad when she said that but then she said, “We are grateful for this water, even though it is dirty. We love clean water though and our village thrives off of clean water.” Her story was not grand or very unique but her attitude was inspiring. She was grateful to be able to even drink any water because other villages lacked the luxury of having water so close. She hopes for clean water soon to restore her health. Where she lacked in health or clean water she definitely made up for in smiles, laughing and being welcoming.

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Tell us your best story so far!

Literally 10 minutes before this happened I was thinking “I have no great stories”…Today I was being stubborn with my GPS coordinates and insisted that we walk 2km into the bush even though people were insisting there was not a water project out there. My hard headed self led the pack out there only to realize I entered the coordinates wrong. Thinking my crew would be irate with me and want to throw me in the well, I was surprised when they started laughing and saying that we needed the exercise and bonding time. Then when we reached the point, a large group of people were at the site that would not have been had we arrived earlier. The Omanabunga A Village greeted me like I was part of the village and we had a very fun photo shoot. I stayed for an hour and we laughed a lot, they showed me their ground water well and explained how their pump was producing rusty water. Instead of saying why they needed maintenance, the oldest lady there starting acting out how they look when they have clean water and how they look when they drink contaminated water. It was a back and forth charades of standing up tall and proud, and slouching over walking like a granny. As serious as the matter was, we could not stop laughing. To round out the visit, my interpreter was wearing a Kansas Jayhawks Basketball t-shirt randomly, my hometown basketball team, and he told the village that this represented my home. They wanted to take a picture pointing at the shirt to show my family that they support me. This story might not blow your socks off but it was a mix of events that led to a very fun and comical site visit that I will never forget.

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Also, I recently went to Gulu, Uganda to visit my Krochet Kids family. I took a matatu (large van) 2.5 hours up to Gulu and the whole time I sat by a live chicken. I was in the very back row with four people across, inhaling dust and being jostled around by all of the potholes. There were probably 20 people in the van that could hold 10 max. It was quite the experience; I was so happy to get off and stretch my legs because I thought my left butt muscle was going to be cramped indefinitely.

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Show us your local language skills! What have you learned to say so far?

Apwoyo! – hello, thank you, bye, what you say when you don’t know what else to say.

A tya ber – I’m good. How are you?

Ber – good

Mazungu – foreigner (white guy)

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What’s the best part of being a Field Volunteer?

There is no possible way to pin point one exact thing, but the people are what make this worth while. Seeing their culture, hearing their stories, watching them interact, being infected with their smiles and engaging in their lives has been the most rewarding. I love seeing how simple life could (and should) be and I love being reminded everyday that it is not what we have but who we have. Watching their family dynamics is inspiring. Also, I absolutely think it is the best thing to be traveling and adventuring in a new country and rural landscape, all while being the eyes and ears for a fantastic organization and seeing the work that has been done and continues to be done. I also really enjoy learning about the water crisis, seeing what other organizations are doing and hearing the villages input on how to improve water sites. Basically this job rocks and I do not want it to end.

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From the field,

Lucas

PS – Most of these photos were shot with my iPhone…I think iPhone photos can be more candid and raw therefore that is why they are up!

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Faces From the Field

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” – Mother Teresa

As I reflect on week two in the field, all I can think about is the constant smiles that fill my day. Every smile has a story, so I have been trying to dig deep into the stories of the people in the villages I visit. I am almost certain that Ugandans have a “smiling class” in school because they have definitely mastered the art. They give me chills, give me hope and give me a warm feeling as they welcome me into their nooks of the world. If I walk away with anything from this experience it is to smile a little more and mean it.

Meet some of the wonderful people I have shared this world with for the past two weeks. Photos cannot do their personalities justice but hopefully you can catch a glimpse of their stories and what makes them happy.

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Alele Ronald is a 12 year old boy from the Acanata Village whose favorite subject in his grade 7 classroom is social studies. One day he wants to be a driver for tourists and show them his country. He loves school, playing soccer and taking care of his animals. I met Alele Ronald when he jumped into our truck eager to show us to the water well. His personality was magnetic and I have every hope in the world that he reaches his goals!

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Jenty Samuel Ogoli is a mother, grandmother and leader in the Omanabunga Village. She moved to her village 40 years ago after getting married. He proudest moments are when she can provide clean water for the babies of the village. Her water point was down for maintenance and her community was collecting from a nearby ground well. I asked her if they boiled the water before drinking and she said no. I was very sad and she replied to my sadness by saying that they were very grateful to have any water to drink because many people across the world do not even have access to any water. She definitely knows how to look at the silver lining and I am very happy to be sending information back to charity: water that will essentially help their village get clean water again.

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Adongo Massy is a 15 year old girl with big dreams from the Apipit Village. She is currently thriving at the local primary school and hopes to continue schooling to become a nurse. She wants to help the elderly overcome sickness. She wants to work in Lira Town or another village because her village has clean water meaning that people are not falling sick. She is very thankful for the clean water her village receives because it allows her time to go to school and reach her goals.

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Bosco Owino is a proud member of the Teobwolo Village. Because of the clean water in his village he spends less time retrieving water and more time with his kids and community. He now has time to go to general consul meetings and has recently taken a position on his village’s committee. He loves being able to set a positive example for his children and community.

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This grandmother of the Aweo Vilage was very excited to show me to her village’s water well because of how greatly maintained it was. She explained how they take very good care of the pump, making sure not too pump to fast or overuse the pump. She could not tell me enough time how happy and healthy everyone in her village was. The Aweo Village is proactively planning for the future by collecting 500 Ugandan Shillings from each household a month to cover any possible repairs the pump may need.

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Anna Peter Opio is the proud mother of her son Okello Fredrick. She is able to give her baby clean water to drink and she can properly bathe him. She explained how hard it is to try to raise a healthy baby without clean water. Anna also explained how their village loves hosting community gatherings because they are able to cook a lot for everyone due to access to clean water.

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Ongora Moses is a 19 year old stone and brick mason from the Apipit Village. He explained that access to clean water was not only about drinking; he uses the nearby water to mix his mortar to make bricks. He said his production is so much higher because he does not have to walk far distances to get his water for mixing. This has helped him sell more bricks and be able to build more infrastructure in his village.

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This shepard boy was very proud of his cattle and was very curious why I was in his village. I explained that I was there to report on their water source and he just smiled. Very subtly but very powerful. I like this kid.

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Laughter is the universal language.

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These three spend less time fetching water and more time studying in school. And more time playing and being kids of course. I cannot get over how infectious their smiles are.

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Mothers in the villages take pride in being the care takers of their children. I think this goes without saying but she is very proud to be giving her daughters clean and safe drinking water.

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She is unbelievably strong and balanced. This is the standard way women and children carry water or anything for that matter. It looks as if it would be grueling to carry a 40 pound jerry can full of water on your head, but they insist that you get used to it. The balance and discipline this skill takes is unbelievable. Before I leave I want to master this but I have a long way to go.

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She has a bright future with many great things in store. She has a radiant smile with an even brighter personality. I am very proud of her.

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This little guy is a stud.

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These two sisters will spend less time carrying water and more time doing their girly stuff due to the fact they have clean water accessible close to their village. Before this water pump, this village would walk over 1km to fetch clean water.

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I hope you caught a glimpse of why clean water is so important to so many people around the world. It is a basic necessity that many people take for granted every day but millions of others gain so much excitement and hope from receiving this simple need. Check out charity: water to learn more about their work and how they are helping solve the water crisis. Until next time, I challenge you to smile more, appreciate the next glass of cool water you drink, and try to find a cause you are passionate about and start taking action to help it. Cheers to clean water!

From the field,

Lucas

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Hello From the Field!

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I started my wild journey this past September. That is when I accepted a field volunteer position with charity: water to come to rural Northern Uganda for six weeks, on my own, with limited support and collect vital field information regarding their water projects. Meanwhile, I was currently serving my first volunteer position with Krochet Kids International in Lima, Peru. Let’s just say people thought I was absolutely nuts, and maybe there was some truth to that.

Now, fast forward four months.

I have closed my incredible chapter in Peru and said goodbye to so many of my new lifelong friends. I have successfully led a fundraising campaign and raised $5,000 for my #lucastouganda journey, thanks to hundreds of supporters. I have spent the holidays with my always supportive and loving family. I have taken a leap into the unknown as I boarded my flight to Uganda. And now, I have been on the ground going non-stop in this breathtaking new landscape for a little over a week.

My job as a field volunteer is to go out into the Ugandan terrain and visit remote villages that have received clean water sources from charity: water’s funding. When I visit, I am taking information from the community on the functionality of their borehole pump and the impact clean water has made on their village, and I am lucky to get to take many photos of these beautiful and charismatic people. This information then goes back to charity: water and they begin the process of sending out mechanics to the field, improving their processes or creating new ways to bring clean water to the people who need it most.  In the past four days I have made it to 29 different villages in a 4×4 truck with my two Ugandan sidekicks Fred and Dennis from JOY Drilling, and a GPS in hand. We have been lost many times but have seemed to find our way from getting simple directions to “go down this red dirt path and turn right at the banana tree that leans a little to the right and you will see it next to the field of cotton plants” from the human GPS’s (Ugandans) scattered throughout the bush. Then we find it; the holy grail of clean water, the community hang out and life source… the water collection site.

It seems we have seen it all, but I predict this is far from the truth. Smiling faces, water pumps gushing out clean and safe water, women with jerry cans on their heads, naked babies, flourishing communities, fields of growing pineapples and bananas, and more villages in need of clean water are just some of the things we have encountered. I have felt an overwhelming mix of emotions; I have felt inspired from the tenacity and pride of these people, frustrated as I see children missing school because they are fetching water, challenged by learning to accept that people prefer to live with so little access to anything, isolated as the color of my skin has scared away children or made many people stare, but most of all, I have felt humbled and joyful as I realize we, as humans, are all on this life journey together and nothing is that important that we cannot take a second to appreciate the little things in life.

I can only imagine what the next five weeks has coming my way and I could not be more excited to experience all they have to offer. Stay tuned as I will making sporadic updates from the field on this blog. Also, follow me on Instagram at @lucas_turner to receive photo and story updates. If you want more, check out the other Field Volunteers in Uganda, Ethiopia and Liberia by searching our hashtag #cwfield on Instagram and Twitter, or go to charitywater.org/blog/the-fantastic-five.

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From the field,

Lucas

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Peru in Photos

I spent 6 months volunteering with Krochet Kids International and traveling in Peru.

Here are some of my favorite shots and memories…

IMG_1958Lake Titicaca || Puno, Peru

IMG_1900My sister Emily came to visit. IMG_2841Pacifico, Lima, Peru || Home to many KKp beneficiaries.

IMG_9917My new friend and self-acclaimed tour guide, George || Belen, Peru

IMG_1813 Krochet Kids atop Machu Picchu Mountain. #hatsonthings

969691_10200895105913532_692983969_n The #sewperu crew.

IMG_1338 KKp 1st annual volleyball tournament.

IMG_9931 Iquitos, Peru

IMG_2253 So grateful for this little street. || Nicolaza, Lima, Peru

IMG_3646 Dunebuggying and sandboarding || Huacachina, Peru

IMG_1826 Our typical Machu Picchu jumping tourist picture.

IMG_6822 Celebrating with my great friends Lucy and Jacque.

IMG_0141 Dancing with the Bora Indians in the Amazon. || Iquitos, Peru

IMG_7004 Bus riding with Angalo, Emmerson, Estrella and Marisol.

IMG_1047 Arequipa, Peru

IMG_7110 Nike We Run Lima 10K with my dad.

IMG_1371 Champions of 1st annual KKp Volleyball Tournament.

IMG_0688 Colca Canyon, Peru

IMG_9905 Belen, Peru

IMG_6309 Dana and Annie enjoying the ride home in Hank, the VW Van.

IMG_3798 Sunrise || Huaraz, Peru

IMG_0921 Sunrise || Chivay, Peru

IMG_0403 Sunrise || Amazon River

IMG_4137 Last day with my buddies.

IMG_2968 Carmen’s son, Marco, performing folkloric dancing at school.

IMG_4743 Celebrating my 23rd birthday.

IMG_1378 Tyler being Tyler.

IMG_3963 Made it to the top of Huayna Picchu.

IMG_9578 Leonor and Ericka were two of my best friends at KKp.

IMG_2846 A typical housing situation.

IMG_3637 Letting go || Huacachina, Peru

IMG_2485 This little nugget, Estrella, brought me so much joy.

IMG_1571 Emily is the best travel companion.

IMG_2508 Pauly Paul

IMG_3302 One of the main modes of transportation, combis. IMG_2464

Carmen is a knitting expert.

IMG_0261 I hate snakes…when in Rome? || Iquitos, Peru

IMG_7324 Dana, the quirkiest of roommates.

IMG_1420 My nightly run view. || Lima, Peru

IMG_4836 My Peruvian mom and best friend, Chabella.

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A day on the Amazon River. 

IMG_2806 I love this community.

IMG_3872 Lake Charup and KKp + Vans || Huaraz, Peru IMG_2321

Buy a hat, change a life.

IMG_6859 Learning how to knit with Chabella.

IMG_2500 Lunch time chats. IMG_4075

A great friend and mentor, Blake Goodfellow.

IMG_9844 View from Iquitos to Belen.

IMG_2772 A sibling bond unlike any I have ever seen.

IMG_9936 Visiting with George’s family.

IMG_0441 Iquitos, Peru

IMG_1118 Some of the best people I know.

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My First Month in Peru

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do”

– Leonardo da Vinci

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Prior to leaving for my six month trip, some of the labels I used explaining my new journey to Peru included… Community service. Post-graduate volunteering. Mission trip. Charity work. Production assistant intern.

As I sit here on day 27 of my 180 day stay in Peru I realize that none of those explanations 100% accurately depict what this experience is and will be. I realize that this is not about labeling, it is about doing. I am doing something out of my comfort zone. I am doing work that will help me develop my passion. I am doing something to make a difference and expand my worldview. I am doing what others say they wish they would have done at my age. Most of all I am doing this adventure to bring action to my constant “talk” about living my life with purpose and fun. So yes, all of those labels fall into the realm of what I am here for, but they do not give justice to what I am doing here and why I am doing it.

¿QUE TAL?

This first month in Peru has definitely challenged and excited me in many ways. My trip to Lima started in the most predictable way, the word CANCELLED flashed next to my 6 am flight to Newark, and a plane change caused a four hour delay on my outgoing flight from Houston to Lima. My flight finally landed on Peruvian soil at 3:08 am, but thankfully my KKp country director and new friend, Blake Goodfellow, started his Father’s Day morning off by greeting me with a big smile right outside of customs. Moving in to my new home at 5 am went swimmingly and so began my life in Peru.

I live within Lima’s District of Barranco in a great apartment on the first floor of a bed and breakfast with four of the other interns. Ryan, Annie, Dana, Jackie. Very quickly we have fallen into different roles: Dana and Ryan are mom and dad, Jackie and I are the children and we have Aunt Annie. Needless to say we are one big happy family and we are becoming great friends. You can read more about us on the Krochet Kids Intern Blog. Our accommodations are a lot nicer than I expected as a volunteer but I am not complaining. Barranco is a very nice district of Lima and it is situated right along the malecón, the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I have already enjoyed several nice runs along the malecón’s picturesque trail. We are walking distance from the grocery store, restaurants, the bus stop, beautiful churches, the beach and any other entertainment we may think we need. The food is delicious and very cheap; a meal of ceviche, seafood pasta and a coke at a nice restaurant costs 13 Soles or $4.81. I can definitely get used to that! However, I am not used to the gloomy weather yet. Cloudy and chilly. All day, everyday, and it’s not heating up anytime soon. I have pretty much entered into a year of winter because right when I head back to the states it will just be getting hot here. Who needs sun anyways? All in all, I would say I am adjusting well to Lima and can navigate through my neighborhood for the most part.

Krochet Kids Peru

Two and a half years ago Krochet Kids Peru was born. Krochet Kids has been operating in Gulu, Uganda for just over six years and has empowered over 150 women by giving them hope and and a purpose through crocheting and education. When the KKi team was looking to expand beyond Uganda, Lima seemed like a very practical location. They wanted to locate in a place that had great textile and shipping options, and they wanted to empower a diverse group of poverty stricken people. Uganda has been recovering from a span of wars resulting in many impoverished citizens, however Lima’s poverty is more generational. Lima is a city with a large income gap. The middle class barely exists resulting in a huge inequality in wealth. So, to address this issue, Krochet Kids hired my boss Blake Goodfellow and he moved, along with his wife and four awesome kids, to Lima to bring action to a dream and vision. The Goodfellow’s drive and faith has been beyond refreshing to be around. Check out the Goodfellow’s story on their blog. They truly are a prime example of a family doing life for and with others.

KKp has come a long way since its beginnings in one lady’s tiny one bedroom house. KKp operates as an official NGO in Peru and has three different buildings; a two story office and mentoring space, a three story production facility and a childcare center. KKp is located in the Chorillos district of Lima in a town called Nicolasa, which is about a thirty minute bus ride from Barranco. Right now there are twenty ladies, called beneficiaries, in the program and starting next week there will be ten more! The ladies come from different backgrounds and rough pasts but they are all proactively wanting to make their lives better by being a part of Krochet Kids. I am overfilled with joy being around the ladies and seeing the positive gains they are making towards their goals. In addition to the ladies there are full time Peruvian social workers, seamstresses and management all on staff. With the force of about forty-five people, KKp is a busy place. From financial and health classes for the ladies, to making our latest shipment, to cutting fabric for our new “cut and sew” program, to remodeling the mentoring center, there is never a dull moment. Unlike Uganda where all products are made by hand, our ladies have all been trained to use knitting machines which allows for more variety in product and design. My mind was blown when I realized how much work and how many steps each product requires. Also, if you purchase a KKp shirt or sweater rest assured knowing that it was completely made at KKp. The new “cut and sew” program has given more jobs and more opportunity for growth. From cutting the fabric from large rolls, to sewing the shirts together, to adding pockets, to adding labels, to tagging and bagging and finally shipping, it is all done by our team. I could go on for days about the new and exciting things happening at Krochet Kids. Most importantly, the energy is contagious and even though we are all either learning Spanish or English, the spirit and unity is phenomenal.

The Gringo’s #sewperu Top Ten

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1. Waking up to sunshine finally!

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2. Steaming shirts to dewrinkle.

Photo Credit: Ryan Merkwan Dwyer

3. Cuatro de Julio celebrations at KKp.

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4. Buy a Hat. Change a Life.

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5. Checking surfing off the bucket list!

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6. Cooking fresh food in our kitchen.

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7. Hanging out with these awesome people 24/7.

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8. Touring Pacifico, home of most of the KKp ladies.

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9. New KKp signage. “We are the future of change.”

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10. Looking out the window of KKp and feeling at home.

This experience thus far has exceeded any expectations I had coming in and continues to challenge me every day. I am more than excited to see what the next five months have to offer! Oh, I almost forgot! My Spanish is coming along “poco a poco”. Each day I have been learning new words and phrases but it is still an uphill battle. Cheers to becoming fluent in six months.

To keep tabs on me you can follow this blog, read the Krochet Kids Intern blog, the photojournalist Ryan’s blog or check out our hashtag #sewperu on Twitter and Instagram!

Credits: Photos from Ryan Merkwan Dwyer and my Instagram

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A New Perspective: Entrepreneurial Media

New perspectives. They are refreshing. They are inspiring. They are educational. Most of all they are necessary to grow.

Throughout the past five months I have been involved in a new experimental night class called Entrepreneurial Media. Every Monday night my traditional business views on entrepreneurship have been expanded into a journalistic and media realm of thinking. My professor, Dr. Carol Zuegner, saw an opportunity a couple of years ago after attending Big Omaha to incorporate a innovative and creative business planning class into the journalism curriculum. Being a business student, I jumped at the opportunity to take the class and surround myself with students who encompass the other piece of the puzzle to entrepreneurship. The students were mostly writers, reporters, designers and developers, and then there was me, one of three business students. The collaboration and thought provoking ideas in the class was outstanding I am very glad to have been a part of it.

Throughout the semester we listened to several speakers who are putting their ideas and plans into action and are achieving high success. My two favorite speakers were Jen Edney and Dusty Davidson.

  • Jen Edney, Edney Adventure Photojournalism
    • Jen Edney is a graduate of the Creighton University Department of Journalism, Media and Computing who perfectly exemplifies living on the edge. She took her passion of photography and sailing and has made an international business of it. Traveling all months of the year, she photographs sailing regatas all over the world and is one of the most respected professionals in the field. Jen has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, YACHT Magazine, CBS Sports and ABC Prime Time. Throughout her career she has shot in locations many people would label as paradise and spends a majority of her time in the water. One thing that sets her apart from other professional sailing photographers is her drive and hunger for adventure; she is known as a daredevil because of her willingness to shoot photos in the water while large vessels and sailboats move right in her direction. Along with her photography, she has created a new camera strap product made of military durability rope. Jen had a lot of great advice for us aspiring entrepreneurs and the thing that resonated with me the most was when she told us to never believe that you cannot turn your passion into a career. Follow her photos and expect big things out of Jen; she is just getting started.

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  • Dusty Davidson, Silicon Prairie News
    • Dusty Davidson is a University of Nebraska-Omaha graduate who co-founded Silicon Prairie News. After graduation he he spent some time working in corporate software development and found that he was not fond of the standard 9-5. So, alongside fellow Omaha innovator, Jeff Slobotski, Dusty took control of his drive to start something that excited him and could keep him in his favorite city, Omaha. They saw an opportunity to highlight the flourishing entrepreneurial scene within the Midwest. He explained that for many years there was this belief that tech startups could only be successful on the coasts, especially in Silicon Valley. With the advancement of technology and the excitement for entrepreneurship, the trends were shifting and creatives and innovators were finding large success with putting their ideas into action in cities like Omaha, Des Moines and Kansas City. In 2008 the idea for SPN became a reality and now four years later they have solidified a large presence within the entrepreneurial community. SPN is a content based news site that covers all things entrepreneurship. Their entrepreneurship conference Big Omaha is now one of the most prestigious and sought after conferences to attend in the country. Big Omaha’s success led into creating Big Des Moines and Big Kansas City. These three conferences make up the Big Series and are well worth attending. Dusty is a mover and a shaker and just co-founded a web hosting startup called FlyWheel. To say he is a go getter is an understatement. His best advice for our class was, “Try to get a job or start a career where your soul is not sucked through your nose.” SPN is growing at a rapid pace and Dusty is one of the leading entrepreneurs in the country.31348_0110

Credits: Photos from Jen and Dusty’s Twitter Account

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My New Journey of Adventure and Empowerment

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As many know, I have danced around with several possibilities as to what I should do after graduation. And, as some of you may or may not know, I am receiving my degree in Social Entrepreneurship in ten days and I am sort of an unconventional business student; I have no desire to wear a tie to work, I do not want to sit in a cubicle and I do not want to work for a giant corporation. So, to make these unconventional desires a reality I spent this past year connecting with as many like-minded people as I could to expand my knowledge of the social enterprise world. From road tripping to California with my best friend visiting socially driven companies in the fall, to becoming involved with Silicon Prairie News and the Big Series in Omaha, to living and working in NYC for a month, I have tried to put myself out in the world to take advantage of the endless opportunities and to initiate as many conversations as possible.

After many months spent procrastinating school work by looking at job opportunities, tweaking my resume over and over, and making tough decisions that could potentially affect my career, I have finally accepted a job offer! I am incredibly humbled, grateful and excited to announce that as of June 15, 2013, I will be embarking on a six-month volunteer journey with…

Krochet Kids International to Lima, Peru! 

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Krochet Kids International is a non-profit organization that I became a huge advocate for after visiting their HQ in the fall. I fully believe that they best fit and align with my life values, goals and desires. Krochet Kids mission is to empower people to rise above poverty. To make this mission a reality, KKi believes that all people can grow holistically and enrich their lives if given an opportunity. They employ women in Northern Uganda and Lima, Peru who have backgrounds filled with poverty, low wages, little hope, but have the potential to do great things in the world. They make handmade crocheted hats, scarves, shirts, headbands and other fashion items that are then sold all over the world. Krochet Kids pays a living wage, provides job training and growth opportunities, facilitates mentoring and education classes, and most of all provides hope within impoverished communities.

Kohl Crecelius, co-founder of Krochet Kids, explains more about KKi and talks about using your passion to make a difference.

Krochet Kids added their Peru location about a year and a half ago so I am very excited to use my entrepreneurial skills in my Production Assistant Intern position. I will have a hand in all things business related in the operation. I will deal with quality control, shipping, inventory, product development and get a little taste of everything Krochet Kids Peru has to offer. Alongside me will be three other Production Assistant Interns and a Photojournalism Assistant intern. We will all live together in an apartment in the Chorrillos District of Lima. I will be entering Peru right as their winter is beginning, so I will experience mild temperatures and a heavy fog called garúa. Aside from working, I am excited to learn Spanish and to learn more about Peruvian culture. Lima is a fairly large city so I will experience new foods, music, styles and people. Also, I may have the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu and the Amazon Rainforest. Even though Lima is a large metropolitan city, there are a large portion of citizens who live in poverty every day. I am eager to learn and see how the different demographics interact and how Lima is addressing the needs of the impoverished. To say that I am completely stoked to live in Peru is an understatement!

This is Jacque’s story, one of the women working with KKp. This video exemplifies the positive impact Krochet Kids is having in Peru.

As I mentioned above, this is a volunteer position. Am I nervous or concerned about not getting paid? No. I trust that everything will work out the way it is supposed to. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to go to Creighton University for the past four years, where we were encouraged everyday to live out the Jesuit teachings to be men and women for and with others. Service was a large influential portion of my college career, from going on service trips to West Virginia to volunteering as a mentor at a local high school. I feel called to use my skills and attributes in a positive way to make a lasting impact on people. There is no better time to answer this calling than when I am 22 years old without any attachments. I hope to grow more than I ever thought I could and I hope to challenge myself everyday.

This was part of my acceptance letter to Krochet Kids Peru…

Our hope and vision for these coming 6 months is that they will stretch you in a unique way.  From being immersed in a new culture, to learning the behind-the-scenes of what we do, to using- and growing- your skills and gifts for a cause you believe in, we want this experience to shape you for the future.  

You will be challenged.  You will challenge others.  Your worldview will be expanded.  And our goal is that by the end of your time with us, you’ll feel more prepared to take next steps toward your career and life dreams. 

Now that’s what I am talking about! Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way of finding my passion. I am excited to share this adventure with you! Follow this blog for all updates.

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Check out their products at www.krochetkids.org

* If you would like to donate to help me fund this journey, you can directly donate to me, or at www.krochetkids.org/donate. Write For Lucas Turner in the “write a note” section, and email nic@krochetkids.org to notify him of the donation on my behalf. All donations are tax-deductible. Do not feel obligated at all to do this. Thank you very much for your support!

Credits: Photos and Videos from krochetkids.org

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