Category Archives: Humanitarian

Inspiring Women: Felisa Hilbert

Inspiring Women: Felisa Hilbert

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“I was introduced to the community of Tetzilquila, a little village in the mountains of Mixtla de Altamirano near Orizaba, Veracruz.  To get there we drove several hours until there was no road, and then we hiked a couple more to get there.  When we got to the top after all that walking, there was nothing there!  I asked where the community was… it was down, another 800 meters, with no clear path marked through giant rocks, vegetation and slippery soil.  Finally, it was there in the bottom that we encountered a community of 40 families who did not speak Spanish – they still spoke the pure language of the Aztecs, called Nahuatl.  Only a few adults spoke Spanish.  Once there I could see the hard conditions they lived in and the poor status of nutrition in both the children and the adults.  Their leader told me through an interpreter that they had to walk many miles to go to the closest little town to buy their needs, but then they had to walk even farther to get basic medical care.   I had the interpreter (who came with us) ask the mothers about their priorities and current problems.   Little by little their shyness disappeared and they started talking one by one.  It was an incredible experience to hear them talk about children getting sick, some diseases the suffered and their needs.  As they spoke more I found that I could understand a lot of what they were saying.  The interpreter was surprised and I was surprised; but I learned from the experience that motherhood is universal and did not need a language to communicate.  I fell in love with this community and knew I found a place to start a clinic.” – Felisa Hilbert

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In honor of World Immunization Week I interviewed my friend Felisa Hilbert whom I met through our work with the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign advocating for global vaccines. Through Shot@Life I have met some of the most incredible people, doing the most amazing things. Her name says it all.  Felisa lights up a room with her enthusiasm and treats everyone she meets with warmth. She has also taken it upon herself to build health clinics in the most far-flung, hard to reach rural villages in Mexico. Through her work she has not only saved lives, but transformed communities. Felisa is another great example of how much one woman can achieve when she puts her mind to it! Among other things, these clinics provide the children of these villages access to life saving vaccines that they otherwise would not have had. Nearly 1/3rd of childhood deaths under the age of five around the world are due to vaccine preventable diseases.  Vaccines save lives. 

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Elizabeth: What was your background before becoming a Shot@Life Champion and builder of rural health clinics?

Felisa: From the moment I moved to US I always volunteered in different organizations wherever we lived.  When my husband (Dan) was transferred with the Army to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and my children started elementary school I volunteered in the local schools for 4 years and later became an ELL bilingual Assistant.  As such, I taught, interpreted and translated for students from many countries in ELL Classes (ELL =English Language Learners) in the Broken Arrow Public Schools for a total of 19 years.

 

E:  What inspired you to become a Shot@Life Champion?

F: I was an RN working on a post-grad psychiatry specialty before I married my husband In Mexico.  During my 4 years of nursing and after I graduated as an RN I volunteered all my free time and participated in Preventive Medicine campaigns.  In these campaigns I worked with teams of doctors and nurses in many vaccines campaigns in impoverish communities.  We also provided and taught basic medical care needed in these remote communities located far away from established medical clinics and basic community health services.  It was there that my love for global health causes was born.  I attended and saw many cases where pain and suffering could be alleviated with basic medical care and immunizations. There were also many sad stories where I felt powerless to save the lives of many precious children.  In early 2011 I was selected by Parenting Magazine for the Mom Congress in Washington DC as a delegate representative from the State of Oklahoma.  This gave me a wonderful opportunity to share my passion for the children’s issues, allowing me to advocate for them in my state at a different level with a bigger audience.  It was there in DC that Mom Congress selected 5 of us to attend the first Shot@life Summit on January 30, 2012 to introduce the new United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign.  From the beginning of that summit I knew that this was exactly what I had been looking for, for many years.  Simply put: I believe in the cause!  I saw firsthand what happens to children in poor countries; I already knew that vaccines save lives…  and my nursing background was perfect!

   

E: What made you decide to initiate these clinics in rural Mexico?

F: My experiences as a nurse and 20 months of being a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints in many rural areas in different states of Mexico made me promise myself and want to do more than just humanitarian missions with needed items during summer or spring breaks.  It was not enough to save lives, especially in the many remote and far-away villages.  Children and families were still getting sick and didn’t have access to basic medical care.  I am a woman of faith, so I pray for guidance and a way to do more – and with my nursing background, building a little health clinic was the answer.  While in Washington DC for a conference in the summer 2014, I offered to interpret for some government officials in the delegation from Mexico when I saw their difficulties with the English language.  Later they saw me speak about global health, education and poverty then afterward; we exchanged cards and contact information.  Several months later I received an invitation to go to Mexico and train some of their professionals about global issues, poverty and how to empower the new generation.  I accepted and conducted training seminars in 3 states, one of them in my home state of Veracruz.  As part of the training I asked that we go to the field together where they could show me their nearby communities in need of help.  It was there that I was introduced to the community of Tetzilquila, a little village in the mountains of Mixtla de Altamirano near Orizaba, Veracruz.  To get there we drove several hours until there was no road, and then we hiked a couple more to get there.  When we got to the top after all that walking, there was nothing there!  I asked where the community was… it was down, another 800 meters, with no clear path marked through giant rocks, vegetation and slippery soil.  Finally, it was there in the bottom that we encountered a community of 40 families who did not speak Spanish – they still spoke the pure language of the Aztecs, called Nahuatl.  Only a few adults spoke Spanish.  Once there I could see the hard conditions they lived in and the poor status of nutrition in both the children and the adults.  Their leader told me through an interpreter that they had to walk many miles to go to the closest little town to buy their needs, but then they had to walk even farther to get basic medical care.   I had the interpreter (who came with us) ask the mothers about their priorities and current problems.   Little by little their shyness disappeared and they started talking one by one.  It was an incredible experience to hear them talk about children getting sick, some diseases the suffered and their needs.  As they spoke more I found that I could understand a lot of what they were saying.  The interpreter was surprised and I was surprised; but I learned from the experience that motherhood is universal and did not need a language to communicate.  I fell in love with this community and knew I found a place to start a clinic. 

 

E:  Did you ever think it was not possible?

F: Not ever!  I am an eternal optimist!  I knew that it would require a lot of sacrifices, but if I worked very hard – and with and through these people – it would happen.  In the past I had done other projects, so I was prepared to work very hard to make it happen.  To fund the construction of the clinic I went into an intense fund-raising mode for the following year.  During this time I sold my own jewelry, unneeded possessions of value around the house, did a yard sale and a restaurant night fundraiser, sold 500 Mexican tamales.  Also 3 years ago I started to make Jewelry for sale and put my Facebook page Jewelry with a Purpose with all the profits going to the clinic and Shot@life or African school children.

 

E: Were you ever in fear of your safety?

F: No, I have traveled and served in many communities all of my adult life and I have only found kindness, gratefulness and love from the people I have served and loved.  The Tetzilquila community adopted me in their community and I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve them.

 

E: How have the communities responded to the clinics?

F: The response was incredible from the beginning.  My personal goal is always to empower communities I serve and to involve them as part of the planning and solutions by making them partners in the effort.  Their response has been very enthusiastic through the meetings and planning, especially as they realize their integral role in the decision-making process.  They signed a commitment to provide the actual labor once I raised the funds necessary to purchase the construction materials.  In so doing the have been 100% partners in the effort – and their pride shows!  For example, it was like a community holiday when the material arrived and everyone showed up to hand-carry everything in to the construction site.  Remember my description of the trip there… yes, they enthusiastically and almost joyfully hand-carried everything in! It was even a more joyful community celebration when we finally inaugurated the clinic.  Now other communities had heard about it and are eager to do the same thing for themselves.  Right now I have 2 others in the initial planning stages for their own clinics.  This is so exciting!

 

E:  What changes have you seen as a result?

F: Besides the enthusiasm we’ve witnessed in seeing the community come together, there has been the obvious benefit to their healthcare.  On September the 1st, 2016 we attended 120 patients the first day of operation.  The medical team and I gave vaccines shots for measles & polio, fluids & parasite purges and give consult to adults.  Since that day a doctor and nurse (or student nurses) come to the clinic to attend patients on a weekly basis.  It has been interesting to watch the community become self-actuating and empowered in other areas of need.  They are learning to advocate for themselves with area governments and now we are working to open a road through the mountains; with the help of World Vision Mexico they have constructed 20 tanks to collect rain water; and with the help of the local National Action Party (PAN) has constructed several new tiny one room concrete homes. 

 

E:  How do you see them becoming sustainable?

F: In watching them in the other projects I just described, one can see how they are taking ownership of their situation & its solutions – and are learning that they have rights and can use them.  We are teaching them everything that they need to know to be a healthy community.  They knew from the beginning that this was their clinic and that they will have to take care of it.

 

E: Where do your supplies come from?

F: From all the fundraisers I mentioned above: my “Jewelry with a Purpose” sales, and from individual donations from friends and family.  Donations and ideas are always welcome!

 

E:  Have you partnered with any other organizations?

F: I have partnered with the Veracruz regional leaders of World Vision Mexico.  This project started because of the training seminars I taught for them.  Since then they have been a key part of supervising the work when I have been absent, providing interpreters and a driver to accompany me during my visits.  In my end I have trained all their personnel about how to help communities survive, social promotion, the language of communication with people of different cultures, social empowerment, etc.

 

E:  What’s next for you?

F: I’m still putting the finishing touches on the Tetzilquila clinic.  I still need some items like a scale, 20 chairs and an exam room.  This February (2017), the community of Xometla opened their own clinic based on what we did in Tetzilquila.  They also need all the furniture and basic furnishings.  These communities are amazing!  I will be busy working and finding resources to keep helping and empowering them and other communities – and make sure that their children their will go to school and grow healthy and free of childhood diseases.

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Felisa you are such an inspiration to me! 

Follow Felisa on Twitter  and Instagram to keep up with her projects.

March 22nd is World Water Day

March 22nd is World Water Day
Clean Water / Collecting water in rural Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Atalay

March 22nd is World Water Day, a day to bring attention to the over 600 million people in the world without access to clean water. Access to clean water and sanitation are key to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty, and  women and girls are the most highly impacted when lacking those basic human necessities.

In many areas girls miss out on school because they spend most of their day walking miles to collect water for their families. Girls who do make it to school often drop out once menstruation begins due to lack of facilities. UNICEF reports that approximately 6,000 children die of water related diseases every day, most under the age of five. 

Clean Water / water pump in Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Atalay

WaterAid is the leading international nonprofit in the clean water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and has called on Congress to oppose the proposed 28.7% cut to funding for the US Agency for International Development and Department of State, proposed in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Blueprint. WaterAid states that this action is “out of line with America’s priorities, US moral leadership, national security interests, and the needs of poor and vulnerable people worldwide.” I stand with WaterAid in calling on Congress to fully fund international assistance.

The recently launched WaterAid #GirlStrong campaign takes aim at the inequalities faced disproportionately by women and girls who live without clean water and proper sanitation. Access to clean water opens up access to better health, and more time for education.  It is estimated that somewhere around 260 billion dollars are lost from the global economy due to reduced productivity and health care costs from illnesses linked to lack of clean drinking water, poor sanitation, and hygiene. Watch the video below to see more reasons why access to clean water needs to be a priority for all.

#WorldWaterDay

Celebrating International Women’s Day with Coca-Cola’s 5by20 Initiative

Celebrating International Women’s Day with Coca-Cola’s 5by20 Initiative

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In honor of International Women’s Day I received a box of beautiful handmade products from Coca-Cola’s 5by20 program to introduce me to a few of their artisans. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own. A notecard in the box read:

“Hello, by opening this gift, you’re opening a world of possibility for women across the world.”

 

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These are a few of the gorgeous handmade items from the 5by20 collection

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and I’m happy to celebrate by supporting Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs around the world by 2020.  #5by20 provides access to skills training, financial resources, and mentorship to women worldwide to help them rise out of poverty. Having witnessed first hand the type of impact that programs like 5by20 can have on a community I am excited to share what Coca-Cola is doing to help improve the lives of millions of women around the world. When you invest in women, through education and economic empowerment, the entire community benefits. Studies show that women reinvest 90% of their income back into their home, towards food, education for their children, and healthcare for their families.

We each have purchasing power as consumers, and as a woman, I love to support companies that exhibit corporate social responsibility and to buy from female artisans where I know that my purchase actually makes a positive impact in someone else’s life.  I love that the 5by20 program focuses significantly on female artisans as I have seen the positive impact similar programs in South Africa, Ethiopia, and most recently Haiti have had on the women and their families. The women I met all took great pride in their handcrafted products, and in being given a “hand-up” in the opportunity to develop their business in a sustainable way, rather than a one-time handout of charity. The beautiful handmade product samples that I received from the 5by20 artisans came from the countries of Brazil, Turkey, Kenya, Mexico, and the Philippines. Coca-Cola’s 5by20 program began in 2010 and has already reached 1.2 million women across 60 countries.

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Jocelyn Pacrin, pictured above, is a mother of four, just like me. She is also supporting her children on her own while living in a squatter’s area of Manila in the Philippines. Despite facing challenges after leaving an abusive husband Jocelyn is optimistic for her family’s future. Due to the training that she received from a Coca-Cola 5by20 local partner organization, the Philippine Community Fund, she is able to build a better future for herself and her children. Jocelyn was taught how to make jewelry, handbags, and other accessories using recycled beverage packaging. The women involved in the program work together, providing a built in network and inspiring support group for each other. The income that Jocelyn now earns will help her to provide education for her children and improve their living situation as her business grows.  Mother’s around the world share the common desire to provide for their children and to see them thrive. The 5by20 initiative addresses the most common barriers that women face when entering the marketplace. By giving women like Jocelyn access to training courses, financial services and mentorship Coca-Cola’s 5by20 helps them gain the tools they need to succeed. The ripple effect of their success allows mothers to provide their children with the proper nutrition and education that they need to get ahead in life as well. 

I received a PCF Narrow Ring-Pull bracelet made from recycled aluminum can pull tabs from the Philippines like the ones that Jocelyn now produces.

I received a PCF Narrow Ring-Pull bracelet made from recycled aluminum can pull tabs from the Philippines like the ones that Jocelyn now produces.

 

Coca-Cola is one of the most widely recognized brands in the world with sales in over 200 countries. It is a brand name that people even in the most remote communities of the globe are familiar with, and trust. Coca-Cola is leveraging that global reach and taking corporate social responsibility to make the world a better place by establishing clean water initiatives, aiding with health care supply chain and distribution partnerships, and economic empowerment initiatives for women around the globe. The 5by20 artisans are repurposing and diverting discarded packaging from landfill sites while improving their lives. By 2020 the ripple effect of 5 million women being impacted by Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative will have helped to shape not only their lives, and those of their children, but also the communities in which they live.

Check out the touching video below to meet a few of the artisans as they share their hopes and dreams for the future:

To purchase any of the beautiful handmade items created by 5by20 artisans like the gorgeous Coletivo Piroquet Handbag below made from recycled PET scales in Brazil visit the 5by20 store.

 

Coletivo Piroquet Handbag made in Brazil

Coletivo Piroquet Handbag made in Brazil

Give Love: 5 Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas With Heart

Give Love: 5 Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas With Heart

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and this year more than ever the need to spread the love is real. Here are five Valentine’s Day gift ideas with heart.

1.Heart of Haiti

In Haiti I stocked up on heart shaped art pieces while on my recent trip to visit artisans with the Artisan Business Network who create pieces for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line.  The art of Haiti is beautiful, and the hearts depicted everywhere throughout are part of the reason that it resonated so much with me.  Haitian art is heavily influenced by Vodou veves, or symbols, and the heart represents the goddess of love, Erzulie. These pieces make perfect Valentine’s Day gifts because when you purchase them you are helping to support Haitian artisans and their families. It is like giving twice, and you don’t have to travel to Haiti to find them since Macy’s partners with the Artisans and carries Heart of Haiti products online and in their stores.

Heart of Haiti

2. FashionAble

While in Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow I had the opportunity to visit the FashionAble factory where I met women waving beautiful scarves and better lives. Since then FashionAble has branched out into leather goods and jewelry and I am in love with their new lines. Each piece gives back to those building a brighter future for themselves and their families.

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3. Roost Crate

Give your honey some honey!  My father was a bee keeper so I grew up harvesting and eating honey on everything. Honey and Honey bees have a special place in my heart so when I saw that the February Roost Crate “Farmer’s market in a box” was dedicated to honey I had to order one as a gift to myself!  A Roost Crate “you’re the Bee’s knees” box would also make a super sweet gift to your honey! If your sweetheart is a foodie you might just sign them up for one of the subscription options and keep the love flowing month after month!

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4. (RED)

(RED) always has fantastic partnerships and proceeds from (RED) products go to the fight against HIV/AIDS. My favorite this Valentine’s Day is the (RED) app! How cute are these emojis?!? A cute, simple gift to download on your Valentine’s phone.

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5. Alex & Ani

I love this local Rhode Island company that gives back globally. They have partnered with (RED) for a collection of bracelets that benefit The Global Fund. Perfect for your Valentine!

ALEX AND ANIl contributes 20% of the purchase price of each Heart of Strength Charm sold, with a minimum contribution of $25,000 between January 2017 and December 2017 to Global Fund to fight AIDS with (RED)®.

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Gifts of Hope This Holiday Season

Gifts of Hope This Holiday Season

 

“Everytime that you buy a basket, know that there are about 10 people attached to your purchase.” – Janet Nkubana

My belief that we can create positive change through our purchase choices was further reinforced recently when I saw first hand the impact that “Trade not Aid” programs have on the communities in which they operate.  Many of the gifts that I am giving this holiday season are things that I brought home from my recent trip to Haiti where I could see how much our purchases meant to the artisans supporting their families through their craft.  In interviews with several of the artisans who create pieces for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti program each mentioned the pride in their work, and in being able to provide a sustainable income to support their families. They made it clear that even in tough times, they did not want charity, what they wanted was to continue to earn an income through their art.  Giving gifts that help generate economic empowerment in communities where the need is great is really like giving twice, it becomes a gift that gives back. A gift that gives hope.  In a way my trip to Haiti actually began in Rwanda with Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace program. Read the rest of this entry