Tag Archives: Humanitarian

The REAL Reason Ben Affleck Received An Honorary Doctorate Degree From Brown University; The Eastern Congo Initiative

The REAL Reason Ben Affleck Received An Honorary Doctorate Degree From Brown University; The Eastern Congo Initiative

Photos by Elizabeth Atalay

Not long after I returned home the afternoon of the Brown University Graduation, where I proudly watched  my husband  receive an honorary Masters Degree, I went to check my e-mail. One of the first headlines on Yahoo to grab my attention was that Ben Affleck had received an honorary Doctorate Degree from Brown University that same day. Of course I had been sitting only a few rows away from where Ben and my husband sat up on the stage, so I knew that.  What caught my attention in that brief blurb was that the reason they gave for him receiving the honor was simply that he had won an Oscar for Argo, and his work in film. I looked for other articles online about his Doctorate and there were plenty, but NONE of them mentioned one of the real reasons that ben Affleck was honored that day.  This made me mad.  Not only has he achieved a level of great success in the film industry, but even more admirable to me, and the reason he truly deserves his honorary Doctorate Degree, is that he has taken his celebrity, and used it for a higher global purpose.  Ben Affleck is a passionate  humanitarian who traveled to Tanzania with ONE in 2007,  has written for the ONE.org blog, participated in the Live Below The Line campaign, most significantly he founded  The Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010. That is a huge part of why he was honored by such a prestigious University, and I feel needs to be highlighted. This excerpt is from the Brown university Commencement program:

“In addition to his successful film career, Afleck is a passionate advocate and philanthropist.  In March 2010, he founded the Eastern Congo initiative, the first U.S.-based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on the mission of helping people of eastern Congo support local community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in the long-troubled region.  Affleck is also a long time political activist, as well as a strong supporter of many charitable organizations, including Feeding America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, A-T Children’s Project and the Jimmy Fund.” – The Two Hundred and Forty-Fifth Brown University Commencement Program 2013

I had no intention of writing about Ben Affleck receiving his honorary doctorate Degree from Brown University on my blog. It’s not that I am not a fan of his work, I am a huge fan. I am also a proud Bostonian, but I’m not exactly a celebrity gossip blogger.  However; I am a humanitarian and global awareness blogger, so was angered that the media missed out on this valuable opportunity to highlight an important cause, and the positive impact on humanity that this celebrity supports.   Back when I travelled through that area of the world, what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo was then called Zaire.  When people ask me where my favorite place that I have ever travelled of the over 50 countries I’ve been to, I will often choose the DRC.  It took us a month to travel through on the main “highway’ that often turned to mud by heavy rains, but I loved the strength of nature, and the great attitude of the people we met along the way.  I was devastated several years after my amazing experience falling in love with that region, when the violence began to rip the area apart.

Photos by Elizabeth Atalay

The Eastern Congo Initiative aims to increase investments to support community-based and sustainable programs in the eastern Congo, increase public awareness, and involvement in advocacy, and to drive policy changes, and U.S engagement in Congo.  That is an additionally important reason why Ben Affleck received an honorary Doctorate Degree from Brown University.  To find out more about The Eastern Congo Initiative visit the website, Like the Facebook page, follow ECI on twitter , donate funds to the programs supported by the initiative or you can even buy TOM’s shoes in partnership with the ECI. To find out why Ben Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative you can watch the below video.

Congratulations Ben, you deserve to be recognized for the great work you are doing both in film and for humanity.

Love & Water

Love & Water

Love & Water

“Water Is The Driving Force In Nature”- Leonardo da Vinci

Love is another driving force in human nature, like water it has the ability to be pure and powerful, and we need to help each other like we need Love & Water.  Water is the lifeblood of the world, and it is hard to appreciate how valuable it is unless you don’t have it.

Worldwide 800 million people do not have access to it and 2.5 billion have nowhere safe and clean to go to the toilet.  As a result, 2,000 children die every day from easily prevented diarrheal diseases with countless more unable to attend school. Millions of women are unable to work because they spend so much time collecting water and caring for sick children.- Water Aid

Clean water and sanitation are two issues that I am passionate about. Read the rest of this entry

Today Is #Giving Tuesday!

Today Is #Giving Tuesday!

“On Tuesday, November 27, 2012, the collective power of charities, families, businesses and individuals will transform how people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season. #GivingTuesday will create a national movement around the holidays dedicated to giving, similar to how Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become days that are, today, synonymous with holiday shopping.”-www.givingtuesday.org

The day is finally here to let the movement begin! Although many of us give back throughout the year in different ways, today we can harness the joy of giving, and as a nation awaken our collective consciousness toward those in need. Giving comes in many forms, all are precious. Time, Knowledge, Money, Goods, or Your Voice.  If you are looking for a place to start check, these are a few of my favorites:  www.one.org,  The World Food programme, Water.org, Shot@Life, Every Mother Counts or download the Charity Miles app if you are going for a run. Happy Giving!

Half The Sky – The Movement; Guest Post by Nicole Melancon

Half The Sky – The Movement; Guest Post by Nicole Melancon

This is a guest post from my friend Nicole Melancon’s amazing blog Third Eye Mom. She did such a beautiful job introducing The Half The Sky book, movie, and movement that I asked if I could share her post here. I completely relate to her transformation from mom to activist, and that  pull to do more once our eyes are opened by information.



“This post is part of my Social Good Sunday series. “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” is a highly aclaimed book written by Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. A compelling four-hour documentary on the book is being shown for the first time on PBS on Monday, October 1 and Tuesday, October 2nd. See below for details.”-Nicole Melancon, www.Thirdeyemom.com 

Women hold up half the sky. – Chinese Proverb

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Although this is a bold statement to be made, I can truthfully say that I have. “Half the Sky” is a book that changed my purpose in life forever.  It is the book that motivated me to transform from a modern stay-at-home mom to a life as an advocate, activist and a voice for social good and giving back. A path that started three years ago, and has evolved into unimaginable ways. A road I’m utterly excited to be following; a dream I’ve had for years. It is time to give back and there is no time more important than now.

So why did Half the Sky have such a powerful impact me? What is the book about?

The book is about women and girls and the extraordinary things they are doing around the globe to bring about change in the face of severe gender oppression and inequality. The book is not a light read. It is destined to leave anyone with a heart in tears. It is a tragic look into the hidden atrocities that are happening every minute to women and girls around the world. Modern day slavery, sex trafficking, genital mutilation, rape, honor killing, lack of education, maternal mortality, and the impact of fistula (a devastating treatable condition that occurs after childbirth and leaves a woman with incontinence, ridicule and isolation).

Yet despite all the devastation and oppression discussed in each page of this book, there is is hope. For the book is rightly named “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”. Amazing things are happening right now in regards to women’s and girl’s rights. At the Social Good Summit and Clinton Global Initiative 2012 Annual meetings in New York City just this past week, women and girl’s rights were at the forefront of the conversation.

Per Sheryl WuDunn, “In the same way that slavery was a moral challenge for the 19th century and totalitarianism was a challenge for the 20th century, the challenge that women and girls face around the world is the moral challenge of our time”.

This message was reiterated over and over again by several high-level officials this past week in New York City. A message that sparked a global movement to address what WuDunn and Kristof dubbed “the central moral challenge of our time” – ending the oppression of women and girls world-wide.

Although women and girls around the globe face threats every day of their lives, hope and optimism remain that these courageous women are working to turn things around. Non-governmental organizations and powerful individuals are finding ways to increase awareness and provide ways for women and girls to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and abuse they face through initiatives to increase education, reproductive and maternal health care, and economic empowerment.

A four-hour documentary film inspired by the book will be run on PBS this Monday, October 1, 9/8 pm Central (Part 1 of 2) and Tuesday, October 2, 9/8 PM Central  (Part 2 of 2).  Filmed in 10 countries, the film follows Nicholas Kristof and celebrity activists on an inspiring journey to tell the stories of the courageous women working to bring about change to women and girls rights.

The documentary takes an inside look into what is really happening around the globe. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Yet also illustrates some of the inspiring changes that are happening as well, changes that empower women and girls to make a better life for themselves.

“In Cambodia, where 30 percent of prostitutes are children, Half the SKy examines the issue of sex trafficking. Meg Ryan and Nickolas Kristof meet Somaly Mam, herself sold into slavery as a young girl, but who is now a world-renowned leader in the anti-trafficking struggle”.


Besides the documentary, Kristof and WuDunn are taking the book one step further into perhaps unprecedented territory. They have partnered with leading NGO, Games for Change, to use technology as never before. Together they are creating games that change Half the Sky from simply a book to a movement focusing on ways to promote change. Change in attitude and beliefs that will help empower women and drive them out of poverty.

It is an ambitious program like never seen before. Kristof and WuDunn believe that with such a high percentage of the population having access to mobile phones, that now is the time to reach out to a new audience and impact change from the ground up. For example, in one Kenyan slum they visited, 75% of the one million people had cell phones but most did not have a TV. Half the Sky launched a mobile app for youth to learn about critical issues impacting their community such as teenage pregnancy, intestinal worms and female discrimination.  Half the Sky is hoping that gaming will act as a catalyst to impact behavioral changes and empower youth to make change.

To read more about Half the Sky’s upcoming games, click here. It is truly impressive!

To learn more, please visit Half the Sky Movement and see how you can help.

To read more from Nicole Melancon check out www.Thirdeyemom.com

Inspiring Women: Navyn Salem

Inspiring Women: Navyn Salem


Excerpt from A life Changing Visit To Niger on The Plumpy’Blog


Navyn in the Plumpy’nut training room where the moms are educated about how and why this product is used.

As I stood in the malnutrition ward of a regional hospital, my chest tightened, and I had to work hard to keep my composure. There were no welcoming smiles, only blank, empty stares. My camera, normally always at the ready, dropped down to my side. I couldn’t bring myself to snap images of so many children and mothers in despair. To my left, a little girl lay on a bed, emaciated, listless, and very alone. I didn’t know her story. “Where is her mother?” I asked myself. All I could do was watch her chest rise and fall – as I did with my own newborn girls – and I clung to the possibility that, in this place, because of the nutritional peanut-paste we make, her life would continue.”   -Navyn Salem, Executive Director, Edesia Global Nutriton Solutions

Navyn Salem was shocked when she first heard the drastic statistics on global child malnutrition, and she was amazed that she had not heard about it sooner.  As a mother herself she could not imagine a parent having to lose a child to something as easy to resolve as malnutrition, so the former stay-at-home mother of four, took it upon herself to do something about it.  With over 23 million children suffering from malnutrition in some form, and the cause of about one third of all child deaths globally, she realized there was not enough attention on the issue, and yet it seemed the simplest to tackle.  Her father was born in Tanzania,  and as an area that she had a connection to, she knew that she wanted to give back to that part of the world.    Five years ago the seeds for Edesia were planted. She began by speaking with experts, with a goal to increase access to products already out there, by expanding research and studying best practices until she developed a plan.

Photo By Navyn Salem: A first taste of Plumpy’nut is required before leaving the clinic.

Navyn worked with Nutriset, a French company already producing ready to use therapuetic and supplementary food products.  These products were revolutionary because unlike previous supplements available to treat malnutrition, they did not need clean water or refrigeration, two things scarce in much of the developing world.   Edesia began by opening it’s first plants in Africa, where it created jobs for production workers, helped local farmers and by producing the products locally, cutting shipment costs and lead time to access to the life saving nutritional aid when needed in the area. These plants are part of the Plumpyfield Network which is comprised of fourteen partners, twelve of which are located in developing countries.  The network strives to create nutritional autonomy in countries where malnutrition is prevalent. Plants in the Plumpyfield Network have continued to be opened  in the areas of the world that need them most such as Niger, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Haiti, and The Democratic Republic of Congo, putting to use local human resources and raw materials. Most of these production facilities are being run by women, which is striking in areas of the world where women would not traditionally have the opportunity for such a leadership role.

Photo By Navyn Salem: Using the muac tape. This child is severely malnourished as you can see the red.


The products are peanut based and filled with nutrients, unlike here in North America, peanut allergies are not an issue in these populations. Plumpy Nut, the Edesia product used to treat the most severe cases of malnutrition can bring a child from the brink of starvation back to health in just four to six weeks of use. Three years ago Edesia opened a production plant in Navyn’s home state of Rhode Island, it was the height of the recession and provided much needed jobs to the area.    West and East Africa have the greatest need for the products produced by Edesia, and with drought becoming more frequent, and weather patterns becoming more severe, the need to put early warning systems in place and invest in agricultural development in these areas is critical to success. Despite what may seem an a bleak issue to some, Navyn remains optimistic.

Photo By Navyn Salem: Women sorting Peanuts by hand for use in the Plumpy’nut products.

She told me that she sees the potential within a couple of decades of investment in African agriculture and infrastructure as beneficial to the rest of the world. Africa is a large continent with untapped agricultural resources poised to become a net exporter of food that will benefit populations globally.  Meanwhile better planning and strategies such as early warning systems and pre-positioning of supplies  in advance are critical in getting help in time to those who need it most.  She says that although sometimes it seems insurmountable, when she sees what a better solution Plumpy Nut has provided than previously available it gives her hope.  The solution exists, she believes and increasing awareness is just one step in the right direction.  In the meantime until we figure out better solutions to agricultural issues Navyn says that when she sees just one child’s life saved by these products, she knows that is one family who has been spared the grief of losing that child and it is all worth it.