Tag Archives: grantee

Making Changes: Block by Block

New Grantee: The BLK ProjeK

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Although the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the South Bronx is one of the largest food distribution centers in the world, many of its neighbors are without access to quality, healthy food. The median annual income in the South Bronx is $19,113, and good groceries are sparse.

The BLK ProjeK was born out of the frustrations of one such inhabitant: Tanya Fields. Tanya was a poor, single mother who moved to the South Bronx and found her asthmatic child struggling with the pollution generated by the hundreds of thousands of semis that deliver food to Hunts Point every year.

The struggles of her son led Tanya to think increasingly more about environmental justice. She began drawing connections between the unhealthy urban environments in which poor people lived, and the unhealthy food available to them. She also, naturally, began drawing connections between the unhealthy food available to poor urban communities, and the women who serve that food to their families. Tanya realized that poverty has a feminine face.

In order to tackle the insufficient access to healthy food in the South Bronx, Tanya consequently turned to mothers. She starting small, facilitating “Mommy & Me” classes in order to educate mothers about nutrition. In 2009, her efforts expanded beyond the classroom to the garden, and the BLK ProjeK was born.

The women of BLK ProjeK were guerilla gardeners from the outset. They broke into abandoned lots in the South Bronx and planted vegetables. They created a groundswell, compelling more than 200 residents to petition and telephone the Housing Preservation and Development of NYC, demanding that the city allow the BLK ProjeK to turn one of those lots into an urban farm. Eventually their demands were heard, and that lot became the Libertad Urban Farm. In order to deliver produce from the Libertad Urban Farm to their community, the women of the BLK ProjeK then renovated an old school bus, turning it into a beautiful mobile market running exclusively on used vegetable oil.

But Tanya and the BLK ProjeK have their sights set higher still. They want the South Bronx to be able to feed itself. They want to change the economic and political landscape of the community by creating local jobs and promoting municipal participation. And women remain the catalyst in all this. The BLK ProjeK is driven by its firm belief in the “girl effect” – the notion that investing in women and women-led efforts is the most effective way to promote social change. Women plant the seeds of physical and fiscal health in every community.

In order to support the BLK ProjeK, the Spark grant will:

  • Provide funds for the growth and sale of produce from the Libertad Urban Farm
  • Provide stipends for volunteer farmers
  • Promote community outreach in order to encourage participation in the Libertad Urban Farm, as well as the farm’s CSA

And source the following Pro Bono needs:

  • Web Design

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for The BLK ProjeK, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. If you are interested in providing pro bono services for them, please email programs@sparksf.org.

We are thrilled to support this wonderful organization. Visit BLK ProjeK’s website to learn more.

A Kit That Saves Lives: Bringing Safe Delivery to Nigerian Mothers

New Grantee: Advocates for Sustainable Health (A4SH)

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Nigeria is the most populous country and arguably the richest in Africa. Yet, the health of the people remains poor, especially for women and children. The Nigerian Ministry of Health spends about 70% of its budget in urban areas, where only 30% of the population resides. Most public healthcare facilities are consequently under-funded and lacking supplies leaving expectant mothers to buy their own basic medical supplies or go without, exposing themselves to serious health risks. The 2013 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) reports that Nigeria has a maternal mortality ratio of 576 deaths/100,000 live births (the 13th highest in the world), and the neonatal mortality is 37/1,000 live births (with the highest at 47). The World Health Organization (WHO), reports that 1 in every 13 mothers die during childbirth in Nigeria every year, and the deaths of newborn babies represent a quarter of deaths under 5, most of which occur within the first week of life. These deaths are primarily attributable to complications during pregnancy and delivery, many of which could be detected and prevented before delivery during antenatal care visits.

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Spark’s latest grantee, Advocates for Sustainable Health (A4SH), seeks to improve the quality and availability of health services provided to pregnant women and mothers in rural Nigeria. A4SH was founded in 2013 by a small group of dynamic young individuals driven by a passion to ensure that women in their communities could gain access to basic and necessary health care.

A4SH’s signature program is the Safe Delivery Program, which encourages pregnant women to attend antenatal care visits in exchange for safe delivery kits. The kits are sterilized and packaged locally and include: a delivery mat, infant receiver, gloves, cord clamps, a scalpel, methylated spirit, antiseptic soap, a mucus extractor, olive oil, cotton wool, gauze, and maternity pads.

Expectant mothers receive a delivery kit at their fourth antenatal care visit in a participating primary healthcare center. Since its founding in 2013, A4SH has reached about 400-500 women in three communities within the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • 4 interventions in hard-to-reach communities,
  • 100 safe delivery kits to facilities in these communities,
  • and further outreach through providing “pikin kits,” (post-natal kits) for women after delivery in a health facility. Kits include items to care for their newborn babies including powder, baby oil, Vaseline, a sponge, lotion, cloth diapers, one outfit with hat and socks, a blanket, and information on post-delivery care.

Pro Bono needs:

  • Website Development: The organization’s staff did their best to create a website, but are in need of professional consultation and aid in completing website development.
  • Video Development: Create a demonstration video for their Sensitization Program in which they provide essential care instructions on breast feeding, immunization, and hygiene in the local women’s language of Hausa. Create a video around their Advocacy Program in which they advocate for the provision of midwives for communities in need.
  • Management Consultancy – Help the organization develop a sustainable business plan to help A4SH successfully move forward with its mission and vision.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for A4SH, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. If you are interested in providing pro bono services for them, please email programs@sparksf.org.

We are thrilled to support this wonderful organization, and thank you for all of your support! Visit A4SH’s Website to learn more.

Seeing Through Our Project Window

New Grantee: Project Window

By Chrissy Schwen

Far Rockaway, the easternmost part of Long Island’s Rockaway Peninsula, can be a tough place to grow up. That is something Angela Hines knows all too well. Born and raised in the Far Rockaway NYCHA housing projects, Hines dropped out of high school in 1987 and struggled for years to support herself and her family. Vowing to create a better life for her children, Hines got her GED and decided to further her education.

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Dubbed “Hero mom” by the New York Daily News, Hines’ determination is awe-inspiring. In order to attend CUNY law school, she would bus from her apartment in Far Rockaway two hours with two children in tow, and then return from class in time to make dinner for all five of her children. All that hard work paid off; in 2009 Hines achieved her dream by becoming a practicing lawyer at the Queens County Court Legal Aid Society.

After succeeding in building a better life for her own family, Hines set her sights on improving the lives of girls still struggling in her community. She created Project Window to help girls in the Far Rockaway housing projects reach their full potential. “I don’t want to turn my back on the community,” she said. “If I could help just one person, then my work is done.”

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She’s done much more than that. Project Window has supported girls in Far Rockaway in many ways – from mentoring and tutoring programs to providing girls in the Sandy-raged community with free prom dresses and community service opportunities. All of the programs are designed to instill a sense of responsibility, community, and possibility. To achieve this level of comprehensive support, the organization is divided into components:

  • Project Connection is Project Window’s mentoring program. Each child is paired with a mentor for a school year for weekly activities and monthly check-ins that record the child’s progress.
  • Project Steppers promotes physical fitness and camaraderie through athletic and recreation activities, including volleyball and dance, on the weekends and through summer camps. The program aims to reach girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in organized activities.
  • Team Recovery aims to provide tutoring and other academic support to girls to keep them focused on their schooling.
  • Project Bulls-eye is a series of workshops for girls that address self-esteem, peer pressure, sex education, drug and alcohol abuse, and healthy relationships. The workshops aim to improve the girls’ ability to address these issues in a positive way.
  • Project Give back teaches girls to value their community and themselves by organizing clothing and toy drives, visits to nursing homes, and time at local soup kitchens.

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It is Project Window’s hope that this broad spectrum of assistance will expose its participants to opportunities they might not otherwise have had, and teach them self-awareness, the importance of education, and strong interpersonal skills.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to support Project Window! A Spark grant will cover:

  • The cost of 15 girls to participate in their summer camps
  • Pro bono support including:

o   Prom Dresses: Project Window is sponsoring “Queens of Far Rockaways” event, providing prom dresses and accessories to girls in the Far Rockaways who wouldn’t otherwise have them. If you have a dress to donate please email programs@sparksf.org.

o   Website Expertise: Project Window is looking for help revamping their website, and needs your help. Please contact programs@sparksf.org for more details.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for Project Window, please make a donation on our website. And if you are interested in donating dresses, revamping the website, or providing other pro bono services for Project Window, email programs@sparksf.org. Learn more about Project Window on their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

Fostering Social Entrepreneurship in Rwanda

It’s not every day that you get to see the foundations of graduate school flourish into a burgeoning non-profit organization halfway across the globe. So, when one of my close friends from graduate school told me in 2008 that she was starting an organization in Rwanda where she had been living, I was of course eager to support her. And the more I learned about Rwanda and the work her organization was undertaking, I became invested in seeing its success grow.

Named The Komera Project (in Rwanda the word “Komera” means “be strong, have courage”), Margaret Butler developed the idea to start the group over the course of her many runs through the Rwandan countryside. She noticed that sometimes girls from the local villages would jump in and join her on these runs until she realized that her behavior wasn’t going to be considered socially acceptable. Combined with the fact that Margaret was seeing first hand how most girls did not make it to secondary school, she decided to host a girls-only ‘fun run’ one day to promote the education and rights of these girls. As they started off, supporters shouted “Komera!” to the girls, and the group was born.

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Working with the local government, schools, and some on the ground staff from Partners in Health based in Rwanda, Margaret steered the first of Komera’s 10 girls onto their fully funded secondary education path. Komera has since grown to over 60 scholars, and has expanded their reach beyond just funding the girls’ schooling. They now also provide mentorship, a leadership program, and now a social entrepreneurship program.

Some context and understanding of Rwanda is essential to underscore how significant this is. Only 17% of girls in Rwanda go to upper secondary school (high school). 87% of the country lives in rural areas. All Komera scholars are from these rural areas and live on about $1 a day from families working as subsistence farmers or tin miners – so these girls would be farming, mining, and/or working in their households if not in school. Komera focuses on supporting the girls in grades 10-12, since the majority of girls begin dropping from school in grade 10. Komera never takes on a scholar unless they have the cash to fully fund them for those three years – this cost is $500 a year for tuition, uniforms, boarding, all school supplies, and personal supplies like hygiene products.

By 2010, the focus at the Komera Project had shifted from primarily scholarship to figuring out how to keep the girls in school and create a real Komera community, and that’s when the themes of mentorship and leadership came into play.

The transition into boarding at school can be really difficult for the girls, especially since they are spread between 13 different schools. In Rwanda, once you have the funds to pay, the local government decides what school you will go to, so while Komera would prefer all the girls to be in the same 4-5 schools, that isn’t possible. However, they are all in the same district (there are 30 districts in the country total).

To help combat some of the difficulties around these transitions, Komera provides school-based volunteer mentors for all the girls – female staff or teachers who meet one-on-one with the scholars every week. They actually use curriculum to cover topics like health education, financial literacy, what their rights are as women in Rwanda, to any personal concerns they may be having. The girls also meet with the Komera social worker (one of only two paid Komera staff members!) regularly when she visits each school throughout the year. Their next goal is to launch a university mentoring program, and they have started to do some outreach to universities in Kigali (the Rwandan capital) to see if there is interest among Rwandan university women to mentor these girls.

Leadership is another key component of the Komera Project. The Komera scholars attend Leadership Empowerment camp during their month-long summer break, where they take part in the now-annual Girls Fun Run and participate in workshops focused on topics like English-speaking skills, how to use computers, and sex education. These have been essential for the girls, because these month-long breaks can be vulnerable times for the girls who go back home. Most stay with extended family, get pulled back into working with the family and can potentially be convinced that they need to leave school – especially true for the nearly 20% of girls who come from families who don’t fully support their education efforts.

In regards to the new Social Entrepreneurship Program that Spark is helping to support, most recently the idea of sustainability has come up – how does Spark keep the momentum of being a Komera Scholar going once the girls graduate from secondary school? This was particularly pressing since 15 girls will be graduating in 2013.

The girls had been requesting a social entrepreneurship type training for some time – wanting to learn the skills necessary to starting and maintaining a business, a non-profit or grassroots venture. When asked about social entrepreneurship training, all the girls said that they had never even considered how they might be able to give back to their community or considered themselves leaders, and they were really excited about the idea of learning how to create something to benefit and incorporate their community.

The winter break, in November-December hasn’t been able to be filled by Komera because they haven’t been able to fund camps both in May-June when they have the leadership and empowerment camps as well as during the winter months. Finding funding for this new social entrepreneurship training became essential, as well as a way to get a tested and evaluated curriculum in their hands.Komera Scholars

A local Rwandan group, Global Grassroots, has been offering entrepreneurship, business training, and skills-based workshops for women in Rwanda since immediately after the genocide – and they’ve been doing so pretty successfully. They have agreed to modify their program for a weeklong intensive program for teen girls, as well as moderate the weekly follow-ups. This will be called the “Girls Academy for Global Conscious Change.”

The girls will work in groups of ten, separated by interests – they’ll select a topic they want to focus on, like health, education, water, and they will learn how to craft a mission statement, develop a program goal and implementation plan, and how to write and follow a budget. They will be given small grants of $50, which will be managed by the social worker and through each phase can retrieve part of the money for supplies, then implementation or advertising. The goal is to have them create these mini-organizations and incubate them throughout the school year, with the hope of maintaining it beyond that year, turning it into a profitable business, and growing it beyond their immediate school community.

When I heard that this was their well thought out plan, I thought Spark would be the perfect place for Komera to seek funding help to cover the costs of the girls supplies, food, transportation, and personal supplies throughout the training. The perfect way to blend two of the organizations that are most dear to me.

The Komera Project embodies the exact kind of values and practices that Spark looks for in grantees, and I look forward to what these budding entrepreneurs are up to in just a few years.

Check out their Facebook and Twitter pages, and visit their site to learn more about Komera and meet some of their scholars.