22 December 2010

january project preview | animal aware | near sumpango sacatepéquez, guatemala

What: AWARE (Animal Welfare Association - Rescue/Education) is a non-profit, non-governmental charitable organization, founded in Guatemala in 1998 by Xenii Nielsen (USA), Gina Illescas (Guatemala), and Pamela Hirst- Prins (England). The principal activity of AWARE is rescue and rehabilitation of domestic animals. AWARE has a permanent on-site spay/neuter clinic, and plans to build an education center to provide free environmental education to local children, eventually including basic literacy and numeracy, and perhaps English language teaching. At the moment AWARE’s educational provision includes visits in schools and colleges - and even, on occasion, private homes - in and around Antigua and Guatemala City. AWARE is financed solely through membership subscriptions and private donations - either financial or in-kind.

AWARE operates a No-Kill animal shelter. This means that they do not euthanize any animal brought to them, as long as they feel that the animal is still able to live a reasonably normal and enjoyable life. All animals that are not adopted are kept and provided for. They sometimes participate in AWARE’s school visits, and all of them give Hound Heights its special character.

Where:  Hound Heights is located just off the Pan-American Highway - at Km 40, between San Lucas and Chimaltenango - close to the village of Sumpango SacatepĂ©quez - very handy for the spectacular kite flying on All Souls Day (1st November). This is Guatemala’s Central Highlands, and the farm is about 2300 meters (7500 feet) above sea-level. Although AWARE is only 14° north of the Equator, it gets cold enough for a touch of pre-dawn frost during the winter at this altitude.

The Shelter sits astride a ridge, nestling amongst woods and the tiny fields of maize and beans of the local Kakchiquel Indians. It’s a very peaceful spot, and listening to the whippoorwill at night it’s hard to imagine that these apparently gentle hills and valleys owe their steep inclines and jumbled configuration to terrible seismic convulsions resulting from Guatemala’s situation on the junction of no less than three tectonic plates.

Volunteer work: With over 200 dogs and nearly 100 cats, AWARE always need help with anything from building dog-runs or putting up fences to bathing, brushing, or walking dogs, providing some human company for both the dogs and the cats, or helping out with their educational programs. From time to time, AWARE needs help with their spay/neuter and rabies vaccination clinics, garage sales, and other fund-raising events.

Possible duties include:

• Dogs: bathing, brushing, obedience training, medicating, cleaning cages, walking, and socializing.

• Cats: brushing, medicating, cleaning the cages, and socializing.

• Educational programs in local schools.

• Helping with spay/neuter and rabies vaccination clinics in local villages.

• Thinking up and organizing fund-raising events.

• Photography.

• Sunday: Hound Heights is open to the public from 10 am to 3 pm. Volunteers can help show people around, assist parking, discourage littering, show animals to potential adopters, etc.

Significance:  I adopted Gus, my four-legged sidekick in the throes of a messy break-up. Some women buy shoes or binge on Ben & Jerry’s – I rescued a three-month old puppy on SPCA doggy death row. Adopting an untrained, abused puppy presented all sorts of challenges I wasn’t prepared for, but this beast dressed in brown fur taught me to let go and believe in my ability to love without all the bullshit riders and clauses and exceptions I’ve managed to build like a fortress around my heart for decades. Animal rescue and spay and neuter programs are causes I strongly believe in and I look forward to working with animals in a country where animals are generally not treated well or considered a status symbol (versus a well cared for pet). If I can help connect one animal with an owner who will give 'em a lifetime of love like I've given Gus, I'll be happy.

As an added bonus, I get to volunteer with my food and travel writer friend, Lisa Rogak of Where In the World is Peckerhead? fame.  This gal has been incredibly kind to me on so many levels and such a source of creative and travel inspiration, that I am pretty damn happy that I finally get to meet her live and in the flesh in Latin America. Volunteering pretty much kicks butt, but getting to share the experience with people you respect and admire takes it to a whole other level of awesome (as I learned this month at Food Lifeline). So, thank you Lisa for putting AWARE on my radar!

21 December 2010

help support a center for sustainability and healing in portugal

The Korashan Project would like to restore and revive this amazing 16th Century Manor House in Vale das Lobas, Portugal to use as a center for sustainability and healing to be known as The Semanario. It will provide a focus to the eco-village, and a means for the members to derive an income from within the community.

About The Semanario:  The Seminario and it's beautiful terraced farm will be a multi-faith centre for peace, offering courses and workshops to encourage and inspire people who seek creative change and healing. The themes will range from natural medicine, through permaculture and traditional agriculture, to ecological construction and rural crafts. Residents at Vale das Lobas will be able to develop their income in association with the cycles and rhythms of the centre. Whether it is working in hospitality, to offering courses within the programme, to being part of the ecological building team, or having your own craft or artisan workshop, and selling your products directly to visitors. If you want to live a rural life, but take an active part in changing the world, join us at Vale Das Lobas.

About Vale das Lobas: Situated in the breathtaking Beira Alta region of central Portugal, in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela Mountains, Vale das Lobas is one hour’s drive from both the Spanish border and the wild Atlantic coast. Surrounded by granite boulders and ancient Neolithic sites, it occupies over seventy hectares of unpolluted, fertile land. The heart of the project is the village of Sobral Pichorro, with its terraced farmlands and 16th century manor house, known locally as The Seminario.

Learn more about the project on the Korashan Project's Facebook page here or donate here.

17 December 2010

maybe third time will be the charm: why i put haiti on hold

After a lot of debate, I decided for the second time (grr...) during The Global Citizen Project (TGCP) to postpone my volunteer trip to Haiti in January. It was not an easy decision, but I didn’t really have a choice. Haiti was put on hold in June when I launched TGCP because post-earthquake safety conditions had not improved to a point I was comfortable with.

Plans were locked and loaded and tickets were booked for me to go next month to volunteer with Ecoworks International. I was supposed to work with a terrific volunteer, Pete Medalia, a farmer and tree specialist who has taken over the creation of Ecoworks International’s tree nursery. Medalia lives most of the time in Ganthier at Mayor Ralph Lapointe’s house. Ecoworks International also has a small youth center in Ganthier where I was planning on helping teens create a community newsletter/journal. Here is an article about the happenings in Ganthier.

Everything looked like it was going to finally happen until Haiti’s recent November 28th election, which resulted in Michel Martelly (the third place candidate and popular Haitian carnival singer, a.k.a. “Sweet Mickey”), as well as the 12 other candidates contesting the elections.

The basic gist is that everyone is pissed that Martelly got screwed in the election, no one likes Jude Celestin (the candidate who beat Martelly by 6,845 votes for second place) and the response has been gunfire, barricades, riots, police confrontations and a run off election slated to take place during my volunteer stay. Election results can take up to two weeks to receive. The powers-that-be at my host volunteer organization expressed extreme worry for my safety in coming to Haiti at this time, as incoming flights had been cancelled due to the political unrest and as a result, my contact was considering postponing her involvement in a charette project that was planned to coincide timing-wise with my visit.

Over the past seven months of TGCP, I’ve managed to survive dengue fever, bubonic plague, gang violence, tropical storms, mudslides, contaminated water sources, more crime-ridden situations than I care to think about, sub par living conditions and the list goes on. I’m okay with facing crime, weather and health uncertainties (I was all ready to deal with Haiti’s current cholera outbreak – my malaria meds are apparently the first course of pharmaceutical action for infection), but situations of political unrest are the “oh shit” line I’m not willing to cross in the name of giving back. Such scenarios are a wildcard and although I want to help as many people as possible during these 12 months, I’m not exactly prepared to die in the name of this project.

Fingers crossed, I can make this project in Haiti happen in April or May. I love this organization and I’m so inspired by the work they want me to do for youth of Ganthier. And like Ecoworks International, I too am optimistic that the future of Haiti will improve. Big thank yous to Delta and its super efficient Twitter customer service at @deltaassist for being so understanding and helpful in canceling my airline ticket. May the stars align this spring.

Photo courtesy of EcoWorks International

11 December 2010

jason fried: why work doesn't happen at work | video on TED.com

Jason Fried: Why work doesn't happen at work video on TED.com

first week of volunteering at food lifeline: a smashing success

It’s been a rockin’ first week volunteering at Food Lifeline. I love the people I’m working with and the rotating cast of kind-hearted volunteers and court mandated community service characters that roll through the Shoreline warehouse.  I started the week inspecting and repacking grocery rescue produce.  In real people speak, that’s nearly expired donations from several local grocery retailers, including Fred Meyer, Whole Foods and Amazon.com.  Foodstuffs have ranged from chanterelle mushrooms and vegetable and dip combo platters to very ripe avocados and heirloom tomatoes.  Potatoes, apples, bagged lettuces and pre-cut fruit reign supreme, with the latter in past expiration abundance.  It’s humbling to play a part in feeding so many needy Western Washington families and inspiring to see the volume of food that is processed at Food Lifeline with such meticulous care.

Parker Staffing Services and Tiffany of Carbzilla joined the food-packing festivities on Tuesday; Tiffany even returned again on Thursday.  Later in the week, I was “promoted” to processing dairy and have even been entrusted to train a handful of new volunteers.  Physically, it’s been an exhausting week, moving and packing boxes ranging from 25-40 lbs., hauling, weighing and disposing of heavy compost bins, and working on my feet for several consecutive hours in a fast paced warehouse setting, but I absolutely love it. 

In other news, my beloved 1992 Nissan Maxima went to car heaven last weekend after one final road trip to Vancouver, B.C., so I was forced to learn how to navigate King County Metro.  Riding the bus is no big deal for most urbanites, but I am not well-versed in Seattle’s public transportation system and the prospect of taking the bus (including a - gasp! - transfer) instilled panic that I’ve never experienced in all my third world ground transportation travels. Go figure.  So as a freelancer who’s worked from home for the past 12 years, never had structure or a schedule to abide by and has limited public transportation experience, I am proud of myself for getting myself to Food Lifeline every day this week via bus and on time. Maybe I wore repeat outfits this week and showed up with wet hair, but volunteering really isn’t about looking pretty. It’s about productivity and all of the volunteers at Food Lifeline kick ass.  I am so happy that for December, I get to play some small part in Food Lifeline’s annual goal of delivering 24 million meals to hungry families in Western Washington. 

09 December 2010

"no" is my new mantra

Really, I don’t mean to be a bitch, but, I need to get this rant off my chest. I’ve been freelancing fulltime for 12+ years. I did not attend journalism school and I learned everything I’ve needed to know to support myself solely off a writing career by making every mistake in the book. Yes, I had a few big serendipitous breaks, but I did not have a mentor or a whole lot of guidance to show me the way.  I just jumped in, did it, worked my ass off and made it work, because I fell hard and fast in love with writing and knew nothing else in the world would fill my soul quite the same way.

So, when I get nearly three dozen emails a week asking me how to become food writer, a travel writer, an author, a ghostwriter, a blogger or a social media expert, I cringe, and now, more times than not (there are a few exceptions), politely decline help and say “no.”  For one, I simply don’t have time to dole out career advice, especially while engaged in this year long volunteering tour de force. Secondly, a “small” favor inevitably turns into a never-ending string of questions and pseudo-mentoring that I didn’t sign up for and then I find myself in an awkward cyber break-up situation.  Lastly, the percentage of people seeking help who actually thank me is ridiculously small.  (I’m a stickler for giving thanks.) 

Don’t get me wrong. I want to encourage people to write and follow their dreams – I just don’t want to hold their hands or be a go-to source for career advice and information. At least not for the 100 or so people who hit my inbox each month seeking a “short” phone conversation or a “small” favor.  No thanks.  If I’m going to spend time inspiring budding writers, I’m more inclined to guest speak at a high school or university class or share insights in a blog comment or engage in back-and-forth banter on Twitter. This friend-of-a-friend email referral situation, though, is driving me batshit crazy.  It’s like asking my dentist, lawyer, veterinarian how I can do their job and expecting a quick, all insightful answer.  It’s impossible to sum up a decade plus of experience into a short and sweet email.  Creating a successful freelance writing career is not easy, but if I can do it, I’m guessing there are other passionate people out there who can do it too – without my help. The influx of outreach is flattering (thank you), but I'm afraid “no” is my new mantra. All of my charitible resources are maxxed out for the time being. Well, at least through June 2011.