New Year, New Projects, Same Purpose
The idea of connecting classrooms across the globe first took hold when Josh and I left Vietnam, almost two years ago. As we lapped our way through northern Thailand and back to Nepal, this idea quickly began sprouting new life. And by the summer of 2018, our plans for facilitating a virtual exchange between students in the U.S. and South America was full-on flourishing.
From there, it would be another year’s worth of planning and saving; partnering with two organizations whose values aligned with our own; juggling volunteer responsibilities for both; and of course, hopping on a plane bound for Bolivia.
All of this effort just for one, 45-minute video call… Why?
For Josh and I, making this virtual exchange happen has always been about creating an inclusive opportunity for students from all corners of the world—from all walks of life—to learn from and about one another.
With the acceleration of technology and modernization, we are now living in an increasingly globalized world, with no plans for slowing down in sight. And with this acceleration, we have also witnessed the dramatic rise of populism and nations roiled with the challenges of global migration, deeply divided.
Hence, it has become crucial, now more than ever, that we are equipping our future generations to become open, active, engaged, and empathetic players on the world stage.
It’s about taking advantage of technology to tear down geographic and social barriers, as we return to a place of shared values and understanding, together.
Challenges Along the Way
We always knew that facilitating a video call from rural Bolivia would bear its own set of challenges.
There would be the issue of trying to lock-down a television for the English Club to use after school; relying on our phones and Jupapina’s shaky 4G network to act as routers; making sure we had enough pre-paid phone credit; and last but certainly not least, the subtle art of scheduling.
Fortunately, we had Susanna—one of the most supportive, forward-thinking, open, and determined mothers I’ve ever met—head of the Jupapina parents’ association, in our corner. We also had Mino, the volunteer coordinator at Up Close Bolivia (UCB); Emma, UCB’s founder; Tim, the director of the traveler program at Reach the World (RTW); and Colin, RTW’s senior program manager, all pulling for us.
With their help, we managed to secure a T.V., charged up our phones, and pinned down a day and time that could work for everyone. On Friday, November 8, 2019— the same day that Emma and her dad would be arriving from England—from 1:15 p.m.-2:00 p.m., we would be connecting our English Club students in Jupapina with an eighth grade Spanish Class at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls (BGLIG) in New York.
(Of course, we were accustomed to “Bolivian time” by this point and agreed to gather our English Club students a full 45 minutes before the call was scheduled to start.)
Unrest in Bolivia
We had Bolivia’s political climate on our radar, well before we even left the States, and there it would stay for months to come. We knew that the Presidential elections were being held on October 20, and that they were bound to bring a slew of contention and uncertainties in their wake.
But the truth is, we could have never anticipated what these elections were going to mean for the country. We could have never known that Friday, November 8 would be the last time we would see most, if not all, of our English Club students. We could have also never known that just three days later, we would be packing up shop and leaving Jupapina behind, nor that we would be in an entirely different country before the week’s end.
Josh and I covered the political upheaval and our sudden departure from Bolivia in great detail for Reach the World. If you’re curious to learn more, you can visit some of those entries here:
- Journal: Politics in Bolivia
- Journal: Unrest in Bolivia and Deciding to Leave
- Logbook: Leaving Bolivia for Argentina by Way of Chile
But for now, let’s just say that while it was incredibly difficult for us to leave the country in such a sudden and unexpected way, we will be forever grateful for the opportunity we had to connect our students in Jupapina with the girls in New York City. Much the same, we will be forever indebted to Susanna, Emma, Mino, Colin, and Tim for their unwavering support. Making this exchange happen, in the midst of so much turmoil and uncertainty, was truly a collective and collaborative effort—every step of the way.
The Magic of Exchange
We imagined students on both sides of the call would be nervous (not unlike us). We thought they might have trouble coming up with questions for one another; that maybe they would grow bored and restless half-way through the session.
We thought our English Club students might be scared to speak in English, and that the BGLIG students would be shy to speak in Spanish. We imagined that we would need to do a lot of translating, and that there was no way the Q&A session would last for a full 45 minutes.
We thought, and we thought.
We prepared, and we over-prepared.
The day before the call, we spent an entire lesson with our English Club students talking about New York City, brainstorming questions we could ask the students who lived there, and assigning homework for our English Club’ers to come up with three more questions on their own.
That night, Josh and I prepared additional talking points to fill time and planned to deliver at least one or two minutes worth of closing remarks.
And on the day of the call, we tried our best to harness the nerves and anxiety, as we led the infamous “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” icebreaker.
We had Josh, Emma, and another Jupapina teacher ready to monitor behavior in the back of the class, while Angélica and I stayed up front to coach and translate.
But as it turns out, we were wrong—about a lot of things.
Sure, the nerves came and went for all of us, in different ways and at different times. Yet we found our six, seven, and eight-year-old English Club students speaking with such great confidence and clarity—marching up to the computer screen, introducing themselves in English, and then going on to posit their questions for the BGLIG students in Spanish.
A few minutes later, it became clear how much of an impact our small-but-mighty first and second graders were having on these eighth graders in NYC. Soon, the girls at the BGLIG began modeling their behavior—striding up to the camera with confidence, introducing themselves in Spanish, and then going on to ask their questions in English.
And just like that, the true work of exchange began.
Students on both sides of the call began encouraging one another to be quiet so they could hear the responses from the other side. They even began nudging their peers to go up to the monitor and ask questions.
Soon, we had Bolivian students (and Angélica) demonstrating dance moves, while the girls in New York playfully reciprocated. We had older English Club students explaining responses from the BGLIG to younger students and native Spanish speakers in the Bronx using more Spanish so that students in Jupapina could better understand.
We overheard the BGLIG girls talking about “how cute” our youngest English Club’ers were, while our teenage boys in Jupapina commented on “how beautiful” the girls in NYC were.
Never before have I witnessed two groups of such diverse students so open, so warm, and so fully engaged with one another. And the magic of it all went on for every bit of 45 minutes.
Somos una comunidad.
We went into this exchange hoping our students would discover that we have more similarities as humans, than we do differences as Americans and Bolivians. A quick show of hands after the call, however, revealed that our English Club students were split on the issue: about 50 percent believing we had more differences and the other 50 percent seeing more similarities.
I guess, as it turns out, 45 minutes isn’t exactly long enough to immerse oneself in the depths of humanity. But the truth is, what we got with this exchange was so much more potent than likenesses and discrepancies.
We got to experience the magic of reciprocity at its finest—witnessing our students, our next generation of global change-makers, gently nudging each other forward; encouraging each other to be more confident, more open, and more engaged, on both sides of the call.
After the call was over, Susanna brought in celebratory snacks and juice for all of the English Club students. Then, as was customary, we distributed our goodbye high-fives and stickers.
Once the students had left, we thanked Susanna, Mino, and Angélica for all of their help and support along the way. We truly couldn’t have done it without them, we said.
“Somos una comunidad (We are a community),” Susanna replied. “Los estudiantes recordarán esto por siempre (The students will remember this forever),” she added.
And we will too.
New Year, New Projects, Same Purpose
For the next few weeks, Josh and I will be hanging out in Argentina before we head south to Patagonia, where we will enjoy a nice “holiday break” and do a bit of trekking with some friends from back home.
In early March, we will move on to Peru, in order to volunteer as ESL teachers with Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru (HOOP) and to pick back up with the spring term of Reach the World. Fingers crossed, we will be facilitating a second virtual exchange between HOOPsters in Arequipa and a new RTW classroom in the States.
Then, the grand plan is for us to get back to Vietnam, as relatively quickly as possible. We’re ready to put down some roots and settle in for the long haul, as we move forward with building Learn2Link. And we can think of no better place in the world for us to be than back in Da Nang.
Undeniably so, our travels and experiences over this next year (and beyond) are going to shape the course of our work with Learn2Link. But for now, we’re simply going to follow our students’ lead—heading into all of it with less expectations and more open minds and hearts.
For no matter where this journey takes us, our purpose remains the same: for us, it will always be about coming back to a place of shared values and understanding; it will always be about learning to embrace our pluralities, so that together, we can make the world a better, more open place.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and safe New Year ahead.
Las Semillas (The Seeds) of Our Work Here in Bolivia
We had been blissfully gliding along in our new Bolivian journey for a couple of weeks, when Emma first approached us about leading a workshop for university professors here La Paz—a group of indigenous language (Aymara) professors, to be exact. Naturally, all too eager to please, we dove in head-first with a resounding “yes!”
Two weeks later, Josh and I were headed up the stairs of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés’ (UMSA’s) linguistics department, “Class Rules” poster, “Hello Song,” happy-face stickers, and mini-basketball all in tow. Parts of that climb felt like an eternity, yet it was simultaneously as if out of nowhere that we found ourselves standing just behind Emma, confronting a big, wooden rectangular mass at the end of the hall. And that’s when it hit me, when it hit both of us: we had absolutely no idea what was waiting for us on the other side of that door.
A few swift knocks, and we were in like Flynn, only to find a group of twelve—eight Bolivian men, all looking to be more or less over the age of 50, three slightly younger Bolivian women, and one Cholita—awaiting our arrival.
As we began setting up for “class,” I felt like my heart was either going to pound right out of my chest or perhaps drop right through the pit of my stomach. Hell… I thought, my heart just might split in two and accomplish both of these atrocities at once.
Yet somehow, I managed to get the rules posted, while Josh cued up the “Hello Song.”
“Here we go,” I muttered, as I stole a sideways glance at my partner in crime. And there we went: a couple of young gringos attempting to show life-long teachers how to… teach. Our methodology of choice? To teach them just as we would a group of 4-6 year-old English language learners. (Now, can you see why I stood a good chance of having a coronary right then and there, at the ripe age of 29?)
Digging into Our Humanity
But then something even crazier happened. As I began to recite the “Class Rules,” calling on these Bolivian professors to repeat after me, word-for-word in English, I realized that they were just as nervous as I was. In fact, someone—anyone—could have cut the tension in that room with a knife.
And suddenly, I began to laugh—at myself, at the whole situation. And then, they laughed right along with me. And so did Josh. And Mino. And Emma. And Rolando. And just like that, we had found something so much more powerful than a knife. We had found our humanity. And together, we began anew—slicing and dicing our way on through.
Onward we sailed into the lesson, into the “Hello Song,” and soon enough, the “Pass the Ball” game—laughing at ourselves and having fun each step of the way. Josh and I were succeeding in making English as a Second Language (ESL) education fun, and that was all we had really hoped to do, all we had hoped to teach. And as our lesson came to a close, we could feel it: the entire energy of that classroom had been transformed. Not a single one of us could stop smiling. And with that, we went into one of the most open, transparent roundtable discussions I might ever know.
We talked a lot about ourselves, our travels, and our experiences teaching in other countries. We talked about how the principles of the English caja could be applied to teaching Aymara to university-age students. We spoke about the importance of making learning both fun and purposeful. And we even spoke about our Global Classroom project, in partnership with Reach the World. (More to come on this later!) One of the professors even gave us both a book to begin studying Aymara.
Two-and-a-half hours after its beginning, the workshop finished. And as we all shook hands and kissed cheeks goodbye, Josh and I drifted away on Cloud 9.
The workshop had been a total and complete success, in every possible sense of the word. But our success was entirely dependent on those professors. It was a direct result of their participation, their openness, their willingness. It was born from our mutual efforts to put ourselves out there—to make ourselves vulnerable. Together, we were able to tear down superficial walls and cultural barriers. And from this space, we experienced human connection and understanding. We experienced reciprocity at its finest. And we learned, yet again, that oftentimes in life, you really do get back what you give.
What’s Up Next
Since that workshop, we’ve gone on to host an English Day at UMSA’s secondary campus in Calacoto; we’ve continued working closely with our Bolivian co-volunteers and aspiring English teachers; we’ve continued using the English caja at schools in Jupapina and Mallasa; we’ve continued blogging about our experiences in Bolivia and connecting with two eighth grade classes in New York City; and we even summited our first 6,000-meter peak, with the unwavering help and support of our 24-year-old Bolivian guide. And through every single one of these experiences, we’ve been more or less planting the same seeds—rooting ourselves in vulnerability; attempting to unearth humanity each step of the way.
Next week, we are planning to launch our very first student-to-student virtual exchange with the English Club students in Jupapina and eighth grade students at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls in New York City. If all goes according to plan, we hope this will be the start of something very special—a blaze of human-to-human connection and understanding set-alight between our world’s next generation changemakers.
#socialimpact #communitydevelopment #ngos #nonprofits #philanthropy #humanitarians #sdg4 #education #globaled #globaleducators #globalcitizenship #languagelearning #interculturalunderstanding #alwaysforward #connect #virtualexchange #reciprocity #diversityacceleratesinnovation #humanity
What Makes the Up Close Bolivia Model Truly Sustainable (and Thus, So Special)
Even as I sit here now—writing and reflecting—it’s hard to believe that Josh and I have been busy at work with Up Close Bolivia and the communities of Jupapina and Mallasa for nearly three weeks. When we first began dreaming up plans of volunteering in South America, we knew that we wanted to avoid the pitfalls of “voluntourism” at all costs: we knew that we wanted to find organizations that were deeply committed to their local communities; we wanted to contribute to projects that were truly sustainable; and above all else, we wanted to partner with organizations that we could learn from and grow with.
As has been the case with most of our journeys abroad, our pathway to Up Close, and to Bolivia as a whole, was more or less driven by instinct. Not long after we began honing in on South America, I felt a strong pull towards this quickly developing country, nestled neatly within the Amazon basin and the eastern Andes. It was the type of pull that isn’t easily put into words. What began as pique of curiosity, steadfastly transformed into this overwhelming sense of rightness. In fact, Up Close was only the second NGO that I came across when researching potential Bolivian hosts for us. And within a matter of minutes—seconds, really—of scanning the Up Close homepage, I was awash in that exact same sense of rightness.
Now, here we are—eight months later and three weeks in—living in the highly sought-after Up Close Bolivia “Green House,” right in the heart of the Jupapina valley, teaching English to young learners and aiding in Bolivian teacher training. And neither one of us could be happier, more content, or more grateful to be exactly here, exactly now.
The longer we are here, the easier it becomes for us to see that what makes the Up Close model for community development so sustainable (and thus, so special) is really quite simple: Emma and Rolando, the founders of Up Close, truly let the communities lead. And in this way, they are here; Up Close Bolivia is here; we are here, to act as secondary systems of support—honestly and authentically supporting the will of the local people each step of the way. And because the communities lead—because they are the principle stakeholders in their futures—when we leave, the work continues.
To this day, more than 15 years after its founding, Up Close Bolivia remains faithful to its core value of reciprocidad, or reciprocity in English. The Up Close mission is all about “giving back and contributing in a way that enriches both the person who is giving and the person who is receiving, equally.” The essence of the organization’s work is to ensure that the needs and expectations of its volunteers and the local communities “are mutually met, and that both parties are enriched and strengthened.”
Emma has a long history of development work, from delivering humanitarian aid in Rwanda to her current position as the country director for the British-based NGO, Christian Aid. What this means is that Emma has had a lot of experience working within the confines of outside donor contributions and stipulations. So, when the time came for her and Rolando to build Up Close, Emma had a very different financial model in mind.
Because not a single one of Up Close’s partner projects is reliant on outside funding, Emma and Rolando are not beholden to foreign interests, quality controls, or quarterly benchmarks. Hence, they have the blissful freedom and beautiful ease of fluidity—to change, adapt, and transform their projects right alongside the evolving needs and wants of the communities. Likewise, because the projects are community-led and driven, they are not beholden to Emma and Rolando, nor the investments of Up Close. Alas, the work here has evolved to become truly reciprocal, in every possible sense of the word.
There’s no denying that the Valley of the Moon Children’s Centre is the beating heart of Up Close Bolivia and the organization’s community-driven projects here in Mallasa and Jupapina. Founded more than 15 years ago by the Up Close team, this nursery is now completely managed by local families. The nursery provides childcare services for around 60 children from low-income families, enabling their parents—especially the mothers—to take up employment opportunities outside of the home, knowing that their children are being nurtured and cared for in a safe, loving environment. When and if they arrive, volunteers support the nursery’s daily operations by working alongside the local teachers to take care of the children; helping to prepare and serve meals; bringing creative ideas to help inspire new ways of teaching; painting murals; assisting with landscaping and maintenance needs; and performing and organizing cultural activities and fairs.
In addition to the nursery, Up Close also supports a small residential home here in Mallasa. Many of the children living in this home have suffered from domestic violence and abuse. They live with their mothers, who are undergoing the final stages of a year-long therapy program for drug and alcohol dependency. Meanwhile, the home is run by a small team of dedicated local professionals and receives secondary support from volunteers. When and if they arrive, volunteers enrich the home’s youth programs by organizing fun recreational and therapeutic activities for the children (think: dancing, painting, games, and sports).
Up Close also closely collaborates with the La Paz Zoo, which acts as a refuge here in Mallasa. At the zoo, volunteers work alongside a team of committed local staff members, in order to improve the quality of life for the animals—many of which are survivors of animal trafficking and/or abuse. Volunteers work with the local staff members on a program that seeks to keep the animals entertained, healthy, and happy. Volunteers will often make hide-and-seek food games, construct toys, and help out in the kitchen.
Plus, the Up Close team supports a local football (soccer) school. Football is by far the most popular sport in Bolivia. However, up until recently, it was exclusively reserved for males. The local football school aims to integrate boys and girls, fostering not only technical expertise but also key values around team work, gender equality, and communication. When and if they arrive, volunteers with specific football coaching skills help support the school’s efforts for integration.
And one of Up Close’s newest collaborations is with the University of La Paz’s equine therapy program for children and young people with special needs. Right now, Up Close is actively looking for volunteers with very specific skill sets to help train local staff, work in the therapy room (not necessarily directly with the horses), and to give talks to families. More specifically, Up Close is looking for volunteer physiotherapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, and special needs teachers to support this new project.
Where We Fit In
Last but certainly not least, Up Close partners with the local schools in Jupapina and Mallasa to strengthen and develop English as a Second Language education here. Previously, volunteers developed a curriculum of 24 English lessons for the communities’ young learners. Additionally, they prepared materials and resources to accompany each lesson. Three sets of the 24 lessons were then made—one for the nursery, one for the primary school in Mallasa, and one for the primary school in Jupapina. Each of the lessons and their corresponding materials are now being stored in a caja,or box, at each of the three schools. Now, it is up to current and future volunteers—like Josh and myself—to aid in teacher training, so that the work of the English cajas can continue well into the future.
But that’s not all!—We are quickly learning that the methodologies of teaching English as a foreign language (and utilizing the caja) is not only applicable to English language education here in La Paz. In fact, we are now using these resources to inspire the local teachers and even university professors in the development of indigenous language education, like Aymara and Quechua. More to come on this soon! But for now, suffice it to say, Josh and I are both busy learning, growing, and loving every step of this journey.
#socialimpact #communitydevelopment #ngos #nonprofits #philanthropy #humanitarians #sdg4 #education #globaled #globaleducators #globalcitizenship #languagelearning
This is my story.
For as long as I can remember, my love for writing and dreams of traveling the world have always been a part of me. And I mean this quite literally: at the age of five, I would run upstairs after school, jump on my dad’s computer, and feverishly type the treasure trove of three-letter words that my brain was waiting to unleash (c-a-t…m-a-t…d-o-g…b-i-g). By seven, I was meticulously keeping my first journal—about the same time that I had crafted a shoddy British accent and came up with a plan to attend an exclusive international boarding school in Ireland. (Looking back now, I think the Spice Girls had quite a bit more to do with this than I ever let on.)
Yep, writing and travel—those were the two certainties that never let me down, always holding firm and steady amidst my otherwise erratic and revolving life at home. In the end, they are even what led me to pursue a degree in journalism at the University of Colorado’s pristine Boulder campus, where—starting second-semester, freshman year—my adult life took its first major detour.
Little did I know then that this sidestep would span a period of seven years—two years longer than the average American’s wait-time for a proper autoimmune diagnosis. Put simply, this detour was all about teaching me to value and prioritize my health. My adrenals were shot; I was battling polarizing moods and chronic fatigue; and I had been living on the advanced side of the autoimmune reactivity spectrum for quite some time. Not surprisingly, this seven-year diversion taught me how to slow down, how to be present, and how to listen to and understand my own body (ah the subtle art of awareness). I also came to realize that no one’s value is determined by their productivity, and as Augusten Burroughs once wrote: “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.”
(You can read more on this chapter of my journey by scrolling down to the “About Me” entry, or checking out my eBook: Happy Belly, Happy Life.)
The Nonprofit Sector
En route to health and wellness, I managed to veer off course (the “write and travel” course) a few more times. In 2009, I began volunteering with the I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County (IHAD)—an incredible 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to “empower children from low-income communities to succeed in school, college, and career by providing academic, social, and emotional support from elementary school through college, along with a post-secondary tuition assistance scholarship.” As a recipient of the Americorps education award, I spent two blissful afternoons each week—for nearly two years—reading, helping with homework, chatting, and playing with Dreamers. Despite being a full-time student, struggling with my health, and working 30 hours a week at the local shop, I couldn’t wait for my afternoons at IHAD. And when I chose to leave the organization in 2011, I lost a big piece of my heart right along with it.
Fast-forward to 2013: my health was on the up and up, I had just returned from a three-week pilot study abroad program on land conservation and indigenous groups in Tanzania, and I was about to make one of my greatest childhood dreams come true—embarking upon a three-month study abroad program at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. This time as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I was simultaneously volunteering as a travel correspondent for Reach the World (RTW)—another fantastic 501(c)3 organization that makes the “benefits of travel accessible to classrooms,” and inspires “students to become curious, confident global citizens.” I knew from the moment I met my RTW class, the piece of my heart that had been left behind with IHAD was quickly making its way back to me.
Upon graduation, I continued to teeter between the realms of journalism and education—landing what I envisioned as my “dream-internship” at my “dream-magazine,” only to leave it behind six months later so that I could start a teaching fellowship with a Denver-based nonprofit.
From there, my long-time partner, Josh, and I made the giant leap over to central Vietnam, where I would continue to pursue teaching, as we both nurtured our passion for travel. I spent three years teaching English as a Second Language in Vietnam—to learners of all ages (as young as two, as old as 42), in all types of environments (international schools, after-school centers, privately, and online).
But there was still something fundamentally missing for me. And that’s when I decided to take a self-proclaimed “mini-sabbatical” from teaching, in order to focus on writing again. Soon thereafter, I scored a freelance gig with World Smart Leaders—yet another amazing nonprofit organization, which “provides opportunities for underrepresented high school students to expand their horizons through studying abroad.”
Everything connects: Learn2Link
Today, these varied (and at times, bewildering) chapters of my journey have somehow fallen into near-perfect order. Josh and I came back to the States last June, and I’ve been honing my skills as a grant writer ever since. All the while, Josh and I have been dreaming up and jotting down plans to build our very own nonprofit organization: Learn2Link.
Come September, we will be heading down south to launch our very first micro-educational development projects. Partnering with three inspiring organizations—Reach the World, Up Close Bolivia, Helping Overcome Obstacles Peru (HOOP)—Josh and I will be establishing virtual, cultural exchanges between Bolivian, Peruvian, and American students.
Our ultimate mission and vision for Learn2Link is not only to facilitate sustainable community development projects across the globe, but it is also to foster human-to-human connections amongst our students. In fact, the first part of Learn2Link’s (L2L’s) yearlong exchange programming will be focused solely on promoting cultural awareness, understanding, and connection. The second half of the year, by contrast, will be focused on the discussion of problems within students’ communities and the exchange of ideas to overcome these issues—culminating in a final development project and the physical exchange of L2L students. (To illustrate: we plan to launch the first L2L programs in Denver, Colorado and Da Nang, Vietnam. For the final phase of these yearlong exchanges, we will be taking a group of Vietnamese students to Denver, in order to help the Denver-based students carry out their final project. Subsequently, we will be taking the American students to Vietnam, in order to help the Da Nang-based students carry our their final project.)
As for the blog
I imagine this blog will chronicle some of my musings on life and travel over the coming months (and years?). But more than anything, I suspect it will serve as a major lifeline/study guide for me—recounting the epic adventures and quintessential growing pains that I am bound to endure, as my partner and I scribe out the next chapter of our lives.
Thanks for being a part of our journey.
World Mental Health Day 2018.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, this one goes out to our youth. According to the World Health Organization, half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. But most mental illnesses go undetected and untreated for years. Among 15-29 year-olds, suicide is now the second leading cause of death—making it a pressing global public health issue. I have a lot more to say on this issue, but for now I’ll simply close with this: #prevention begins with #awareness and #understanding.
If you are an American having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you are a student, parent, educator, or mentor wanting to learn more about the causes of suicide, risk factors, and/or critical preventative measures, be sure to check out the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Be The 1 To, or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
And for anyone, worldwide, currently in crisis or or considering suicide, IMAlive offers free, 24/7 instant messaging services with trained counselors.
#speakup #youarenotalone #mentalhealth#mentalhealthawareness #endthestigma#suicideprevention #depression #anxiety#worldmentalhealthday#worldmentalhealthday2018 #womenshealth#womeninwellness #notalone #breakthesilence#rise #empowerment #youthempowerment#bethe1to #bethechange
Hi guys, I’m Abby. I’m not a doctor. And I’m not a very skilled cook either. I am, however, a journalist by trade (a.k.a. a writer/researcher) and a teacher by heart, who spent seven long years working to heal my gut, while battling autoimmune symptoms, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, extreme weight loss, then gain, hormone imbalances, and the list goes on. The holy trifecta that kept me going for the seven-year-stretch?—faith in the process; an amazing partner; and the idea that I would someday regain the strength and energy to live the life I wanted, life on my own terms. And I have.
Deflated and defeated by traditional Western medicine, I lacked the money and resources to continuously seek out naturopathic doctors, alternative forms of healing, expensive supplements, and witchy tinctures. And so, it was a long, hard, confusing, and difficult journey that I had to take on—for the most part—solo. I don’t regret any of it for a second, you see, because it’s gotten me to here. I now travel the world full-time, with a loving partner, writing and teaching with passion and purpose. I’m finally living the life I had envisioned for myself, and I’m grateful for every second of my health, every single day. It’s my goal now, to share some of the holistic hacks that finally clicked for me, so that I can begin to help other people—the “regular folks”—feel better, to live better.
You can read more about my path to healing by checking out an excerpt from my eBook, Happy Belly, Happy Life below. But it’s important for me to note that while overhauling my diet was the first step in learning to manage my autoimmune symptoms, it was not the end-all, be-all solution for me. In fact, perhaps an even bigger and tougher part of my journey has been about learning to slow down; to be mindful; to be present; and to remember that no one’s value is determined by their productivity. It took me three years of being away from home, living and working in central Vietnam, to finally get the hang of this. And it wasn’t until I began to truly live (to work and to travel) more slowly, that I was finally able to see everything around and within me—everything that I needed to be well, to be happy, to be full—had been here all along.
Slow living. Slow travel. Mindfulness. Balance.
These have been the game-changers for me. They are the mainstays of my work and life as a writer now, and they’re the centripetal forces you’ll find me always spinning back to.
An Excerpt: Happy Belly, Happy Life
As Americans, it seems we’ve come to accept feeling bad and have inevitably learned to just “get on” with our lives. We’re tired; stressed; anxious; depressed; inflamed. Our guts are weak, and our immune systems are constantly in overdrive. And somehow we’ve convinced ourselves this is all “normal.” So, we pop a few pills, and we keep riding out our days. Sadly, this utterly misguided way of thinking hasn’t just become commonplace; it’s paved the way for a Westbound autoimmune epidemic. In fact, it’s now estimated that 50 million Americans are now living with autoimmune conditions—which equates to roughly 1 in 6 people. Comparatively, cancer affects up to 9 million Americans—or roughly 1 in 33 people.[i] Seventy-five percent of those affected by autoimmune diseases are women, and these diseases are now one of the top ten leading causes of death among American women, according to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA). [ii] Plus, chronic health conditions among children, with an autoimmune link—such as obesity, asthma, and learning problems—rose 15 percent between 1994 and 2006. [iii] And blood test analyses have proven young people are now five times more likely to have celiac disease symptoms today than their peers in the 1950s.[iv]
But I’m living proof that it doesn’t need to be this way. We have the power to change our lives and take control of our health. In fact, researchers are now proving that if we can stop the spread of inflammation, we can alter the course, possibly even prevent mental health disorders and chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, and Type 1 diabetes.
This is huge! —Science is showing us that we not only have the ability to improve the symptoms of these diseases, but we can actually prevent them from occurring in the first place. And it starts with healing our bellies, and our minds, through food.
(Hence, all of the recipes you’re going to find on this site are aimed at reducing inflammation, while making good use of simple ingredients. They are 100 percent gluten free. They’re mostly grain free and dairy free as well, and they focus on eliminating sugar as much as possible.)
So here’s my bottom line: health and wellness doesn’t have to be weird, witchy, or woo-woo, and most importantly, it shouldn’t be reserved for people of a specific socioeconomic background. It’s a basic human right, and it should be something easily attainable for everyone. And that’s my goal—to share basic ideas and a de-cluttered plan that anyone battling with these health issues can follow. So, don’t worry—you’re not going to find any recipes calling for ashwagandha or collagen supplements here, and I’m not going to preach to you about the power of cryotherapy and importance of HIIT workouts. Instead, I’m here to give you basic, yet powerful tools, ideas, and resources to stop feeling so sick and tired, and to finally start living again. Let’s get started.
[iii] Van Cleave J, Gortmaker SL, Perrin JM, Dynamics of Obesity and Chronic Health Conditions Among Children and Youth, JAMA (United States: 2012)
[iv] Alberto Rubio-Tapia, Robert A. Kyle, Edward L. Kaplan, Dwight R. Johnson, William Page, Frederick Erdtmann, Tricia L. Brantner, W. Ray Kim, Tara K. Phelps, Brian D. Lahr, Alan R. Zinsmeister, L. Joseph Melton III, Joseph A. Murray, Increased Prevalence and Mortality in Undiagnosed Celiac Disease, American Gastroenterology Association Journals (United States: 2009)
The 4 ingredient, DEET-free mosquito repellent that actually works!
Alright guys, I’m long-overdue for sharing this one with you. I’ve been making and using this stuff daily since we left Vietnam to travel full-time. I can’t even begin to tell you how important mosquito repellent is when traveling through the tropical hotbed that is Southeast Asia—especially for someone like me who has grown accustomed to being “eaten alive” by bugs my entire life.
For the longest time, I was convinced that only real repellent out there, the only stuff that really works, has got to have DEET (N, N-Diethyl-m-toluamide)—a chemical specifically engineered for the purposes of “repelling” but not “killing” mosquitoes. And I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the U.S. population is probably of the same mind (nearly 1/3 of all Americans use DEET on a yearly basis).
And while DEET is approved by the EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency), it is also a known eye irritant; can cause rashes; blistering; soreness; and neurological effects—especially in small children. Not to mention, it’s toxic to wildlife, and it’s been found in approximately 75 percent of U.S. water sources.
So we all get the basic idea here: DEET is a noxious chemical, which can’t be good for our bodies, let alone the environment. But it’s got to be better than the alternative—getting bit by a mosquito and possibly contracting some serious, life-threatening mosquito-born illness like Dengue Fever or the Zika virus—right?
Well, that’s what I’d convinced myself of anyhow, until we were three days into traveling, and I started breaking out in hives on the reg. At first, I figured it was something I was eating—either I was getting dosed with gluten or my body was just adjusting to some new strain of MSG they use in Singapore and Thailand. But no matter how carefully I ate, the hives weren’t going anywhere. In fact, they started spreading.
So, I did some more research and figured that because the reaction seemed to be starting and spreading from my hands, it was most likely topical (something I was putting on my body, not in my body). And then it hit me: it was all the damn DEET I was putting on my body, every day!
I hit the books again (and by books, I mean Google), and quickly found a few essential oils that are known insect repellents. As always, I wanted to keep things as cheap and simple as possible, so I limited myself to three essential oils + the cheapest possible carrier oil I could find. (Please note: it’s very important not to apply essential oils directly to the skin. Read more about this and the importance of carrier oils here.) And with a quick trip to one of Bangkok’s many super-malls, alas, my DEET-free bug juice concoction was born.
Here it is friends:
- 10 drops of citronella oil
- 8 drops of lemongrass oil
- 6 drops of tea tree oil
- 60 ml (2 oz.) of cold-pressed, organic coconut oil
A good rule of thumb is to use 12 drops of essential oils per 30 ml (1 oz.) of a carrier oil; 24 drops of essential oils per 60 ml (2 oz.) of a carrier oil; 48 drops per 120 ml (4 oz.), and so on, and so forth. So, if you’re looking to use more or less of a carrier oil, just keep the “12 drops per 30 ml (1 oz.) carrier oil” rule in mind, and adjust your ratios accordingly.
Mix everything together, and apply the oil solution to any exposed areas of the skin. Store in an airtight container and use until it runs out. I suggest definitely keeping it somewhere warm, so that the coconut oil doesn’t solidify. Also, please note that your skin doesn’t absorb coconut oil. So, you will need to reapply the repellent regularly if you’re outside for an extended period of time. (I suggest reapplying every 2-3 hours.)
Now, I must also remind you that by no means am I doctor. But I can attest to the fact that this stuff actually works. As I said, I’ve been using this (and only this) regularly since we’ve been traveling—even on days when we’ve been out hiking in the jungle and playing with elephants for 6 hours+. That said, if I were to be spending an extended period of time in any red-zones—i.e. trekking through the Amazon—I would still probably endure the hives and stick with the DEET to have peace of mind. But for anybody who is just looking for some day-to-day coverage, especially any moms out there, who are worried about summertime bugs and their babies, then I definitely recommend giving this a shot instead. Your bodies, your babies, and the environment will thank you for it. 😉