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Today, I thought I would focus on life in Marsabit, Kenya, and try to give you a glimpse into the commitment it takes just to communicate and get medical help. Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of the progress we are making even today along with our plans for the future. And I hope, you will be as excited as I am and want to partner with us. We are also working on some partnerships and new ways to garner support to end poverty and bring education to Marsabit.

As the first video cues, think about the craziest thing you have done just to get a signal on your cell phone. Or your greatest frustration in finding the right spot to make that call. But have you ever climbed a mountain?

The video above reminds me of when I was in Ngaamba on a hike with some of the community leaders to survey the village from the highest point. We were about half way up a mountain when all of a sudden their phones started to ring.

This next video gives you a view on public transportation inside Marsabit. The ARVs that are mentioned are the HIV meds that have revolutionized HIV treatment in Africa.

When was the last time you and everyone in your subdivision piled into a car to get a signal? Or you hopped a ride on top of a vehicle just to get to the doctor?

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The Faces Of Starvation

The last time I was in Kenya, I spent some time working in the preschools. The little ones stole my heart and absolutely amazed me. They walked to school every day without adult supervision and in many cases without shoes. Every day at lunch time the teacher would ask all of them to line up single file, then they would sing a little song and the teacher would make some brief announcements. It’s probably not unlike scenes played out in preschools around the world. It’s what happened next that moved me deeply and I think differs. After the song, the kids joyfully ran in opposite directions. About one-third of them ran to get their lunch, the other two-thirds ran to the playground. That’s right only about a third of the children had something to eat. This scene repeated every day and was increasingly difficult to watch.

It was hard to watch because some of the children never had a lunch. I asked the teacher and she explained that some of these children only eat one meal a week. I have three nephews, who at the time I was in Kenya, were about the same ages as the kids in preschool, 3,4, and 5. I cannot even fathom us letting them walk by themselves to 2-3 miles to school on on unmarked roads (and I use the term roads very loosely here), or them going days without so much as a piece of bread. But that is the reality for these beautiful  Kenyan children. I spoke to my entire team about what was happening and how these children, so many of them were not eating. So we approached our leaders on the ground and with their guidance about what to buy and we provided lunch for children on our last day.

On the last day, the teacher started the line up, they sang, and right before dismissing the children to play and eat, the teacher announced: “Today, every one will eat!” The kids were so excited it was a great moment, many of them only ate half of their small lunch, as they wanted to take the other half home to share with their family. Our team was excited to be able to feed the children on this day. But that is all it was sadly…one day, one meal. Where and when will these children eat again? I worried about that as the days and weeks passed and candidly I still do.

Fast forward, recently, I was eating out with some friends and I hear a mother talking to her 4 year old son say:

“You will eat your dinner, there are children in Africa who are starving!”

And for a moment, her comments set me back, because I immediately replayed the scene of Ruth, David, John, Faith, Hannah and the rest of the children in Kenya who did not have food. You see for me starvation has a name, and it’s real. I have held a child who is starving to death in my very own arms and rocked him to sleep. That’s not something you easily forget, not do I want to forget.

One of the reasons, I am so excited about the work we will be doing in Marsabit is, yes we will be taking food to feed the people. More importantly, we are also working on projects to help them grow their own food, so that eventually they do not need us to feed them, they can feed themselves. Sustainable projects are critical and the ones we will choose to get involved in going forward. We bought land last week in Marsabit and the process of determining what and how to make this land a resource has already begun. I was excited when the opportunity to purchase the land presented itself, because I remembered the story of how a $2.00 micro-loan changed an entire village in Ethiopia. Today, that village is helping the surrounding villages become sustainable.

Next time you hear someone say “there are children starving in Africa” remember the faces here. Remember that poverty and starvation have a name. And remember, it’s possible to end starvation, we don’t need any fancy technology, just a few seeds.

What if we joined together to create a sustainable food source for one tiny village in Kenya? Can you partner with us so we can begin the process of ending starvation in Marsabit?

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No Roads But We Are Going Anyway

As many of you know,we have chosen Marsabit as the site for our first big projects in Kenya. Marsabit lies at the heart of the ancestral lands of the Boorana people. it is the last bit of civilization in the vast desert of northern Kenya. The Northern Kenyan population lives below the poverty line. The inability to provide for basic needs: clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. There are no roads that lead to Marsabit, and the trip will not be easy, but the work is important.

In August, Jaime and I will be going to Marsabit on a vision trip to scout for a site for the school, meet the community, and seek out micro-business opportunities. We are looking for sustainable projects, ways for the women and orphans to create sustainable income. As part of this trip we will be delivering much needed supplies that are basic to the survival of people in this area.

Yesterday we learned there are 18 double orphans in the area, meaning they have lost both of their parents, who are in dire need of assistance. They have HIV, are starving, and infected with jiggers. While our trip is a vision trip we have decided to deliver:
Food for 1000 people: there’s no easy way to say this, the people are starving, HIV and jiggers has devastated this area and there are too many orphans and widows who are starving.
1000 Bed nets: malaria is rampant in these areas and the bed nets are critical,
Medical supplies: 1000 people for medical camps, test 200 people for HIV/Aids, reach 2000 people with the message of HIV/Aids prevention through the what if? campaign
Food, medicine, supplies for the 18 double orphans until we can return
Transportation of all the supplies
Farming supplies (more to come on this) we are looking to create a sustainable food source for the people

All of the supplies we want to deliver are basics, the need for food is so great that we have decided to fore go any other activities and focus on feeding. I have ideas about how the school can help provide food and we are starting a farming project that will provide not only food but employment as well.

We need you to partner with us on this trip, we are looking to raise enough money to cover the food and medicines necessary for this village. Every penny we raise will go towards the needs in Marsabit. As we prepare for the trip we will be sharing stories and keep you posted on the needs and progress.

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Education is the Road to Change

Friday evening I attended a fundraiser for Africa. During that fundraiser, a video was shown about the pervasive violence against women. In that video, two boys spoke about how they were trained to perform extreme violent acts against women and girls. These boys were ripped from their families, before they were 10 years old, and forced into an army of sorts. Each of those boys, independent of each other, risking their own lives had chosen to flee. Both are now living in an orphanage far from their place of birth and separated from their families.

While each story was very personal, there  were similarities. Both boys were born into poverty, uneducated (largely due to the fact that there were no schools in their village), and unsure why women were not valued. The bottom line, no amount of force could convince these children that these violent acts were okay. As each one told of their story, they had tears in their eyes, and candidly, so did I. It was hard to hear their stories. However it was good to know deep in their soul they were unable to reconcile their acts.

This is why education is so important in these developing countries. I’m sure most of the men warriors at some point felt much like these boys did. However, they lacked the courage, or however you want to define it to get away. And over time they just perpetuate the violence, because that’s part of the culture. Education is the key to breaking the cycle.

Education is the way out, the road to change. This is why we are so focused on education at Project Authenticity, not because the statistics and data prove it out…don’t get me wrong they are important. But it’s the stories of the people and how their lives have changed. It’s seeing the look in their eye as the hope comes back and they develop their voice. And it all starts in a tiny school room, a place to learn more than just facts and figures, but respect and a different way of doing things.

“School is the first step to change the world. It is always the first step that causes the most trouble, but it is the start of progress.” Mukhtar Mai, Oslo Freedom Forum April 2010


ATL Chicks And Project Authenticity

Last night we partnered with Stephanie Frost and ATL Chicks for our first event. It was quite an evening, full of some of the best women from the ATL and lots of fun! We appreciate Stephanie and her willingness to let us share our mission and goals. In preparing for this evening we really wanted to leave each attendee with something to remember Project Authenticity and the women in these developing countries. So we came up with this:
Each bag contained our card with the info to connect with us here, facebook or twitter, a small pot, and a pellet that will blossom into a beautiful wildflower. We dropped each of the pellets into a small nutrient rich pot. In our mind these pellets are a great representation of the women living in violence in developing countries. They are ready and waiting to bloom into something beautiful, all they need is a little assistance  And with that assistance, they can blossom into something incredibly beautiful, something that every one can enjoy.

So….as promised here’s all it takes to turn those pellets into something beautiful:

Remove the pellet and cup from the bag
Water throughly
Cover (we suggest a little saran wrap)
Wait patiently….and enjoy the beauty.

If you would like to join us in our effort to plant seeds of change send us a note: rc@projectauthenticity.com.

photo credit: Andy Kershaw

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The super good guys over at High Velocity Radio, Todd Schnick and Stone Payton invited me to guest post on their blog. I was excited and appreciative of the opportunity. I wrote about the importance of infusing your marketing with passion….you can read the post here: Got Marketing Passion? Fire Up Your Brand Mojo!

While you are over at the High Velocity Blog check out the link to High Velocity Radio, their interviews are always informative and entertaining. And, if you are an avid reader like me check out their Video Dust Jacket tour a series of interviews with thoughtful engaging business authors.

Here’s a preview of my post:

Most everyone is familiar with the 4p’s of marketing – product, promotion, price and placement. Recently, accomplished market researcher, and most importantly, my friend, Sally Markham wrote a post suggesting a 5th p…personality. After reading that post, I found myself not only agreeing with her, but wanting to add a 6th p…passion. And, after several experiences over the last couple of weeks, I’ve moved from wanting to add the 6th “p”, to believing it’s critical.

Read the rest here and as they say over at High Velocity Radio….see you in the fast lane!

Please also join us on Facebook, and follow Project Authenticity and me on Twitter.

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The Currency of Human Contact

Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee

Earlier this week, Chris Brogan challenged his readers to write a post about the importance of story in their life. When I first saw the post, I knew I wanted to respond, because I believe story is a critical part of the narrative of our life. My experience is that we connect relationally through a story and sharing our experiences. I have asked the question here on my blog  several times…what story are you writing? It is up to us to write/craft the story that will be our legacy.

Chris asked the simple question: what is the importance of story in your life? Such a simple question…yet, I’m finding my response is so complex and very personal. It’s a series of stories that moved me to make Project Authenticity an organization. The story that started it all is Mukhtar’s story, it was hearing her tell the story in her own words, and seeing her resolve to change her life, not end it. Most recently, it was attending the Half The Sky event and hearing the stories of Woineshet and Sekena. It’s the stories that moved me to take action. Someone’s life story can be very powerful and a catalyst for change.

At Project Authenticity, we are working to help write a new story, a story of hope, happiness and community. Our goal is to help end the story of violence in developing countries, and to be a catalyst in helping the women in these countries write a new story…one about community. We will be sharing stories here, of women who have written new stories, who desire to write a new story, and our own story about the journey. We will also share the facts and figures, however, I believe that without a story they are just numbers on a page.

You tell me…what’s more powerful?

The statistics:
– As many as one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member.

The story:
-Over the weekend, I learned of the story of a 13-year-old Yemeni child bride, who bled to death shortly after marriage. She was tied down by her new husband and forced to have sex. According to interviews with the child’s mother, police and medical reports she looked like she had been butchered.

For me…it’s the story. How about you? Are you willing to take Chris’ challenge? Would you like to share your story here?  Or a story that’s moved you to take action?

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Why not me?

Over the last several days, I’ve received lots of support and encouragement and I am so grateful for every one of you! But there are two questions that keep popping up:

Why you?
My response to the first question is really…why not me? I’m trained in micro-financing and business, the majority of my career I’ve worked on the international side of business, I am skilled in marketing and multi-lingual, and advocacy has always been important to me. If you look back on my experiences and career it’s as if I’ve unknowingly been preparing for this. But….most importantly the answer is so much simpler, it’s my passion. I know this won’t be easy but it’s a calling deep within. I’ve seen with my own eyes the difference a little education, coaching and community can make on an entire village.  Margaret Mead said it best “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” I believe!

Why this?
So before I answer the why this let me ask you a couple of questions:
– What If the solution to ending poverty, aids, hunger, war, famine, violence against women was in our control?
– What if
there was an unexpected solution and you could be a part of it? And without leaving your comfort zone?
Statistics prove that investing in a girl can change the course of history. Now before you go thinking Robyn you are crazy, just indulge me for a minute.
– Earlier this week I mentioned the woman in Ethiopia who brought change to her village with a $2.00 loan for fertilizer. Her village culture changed and word has spread to other villages. Those villages are starting to experience change as well.
– How about Rebecca Lolosoli and the women in Samburu, she’s educating and empowering these women who otherwise might be crippled by the violence they have experienced. And slowly the tide starts to turn and the men start to value there.
– And of course there’s Mukhtar Mai who changed more than just her course by taking the money Pakistan granted her to build schools for the girls in her village to get an education, get micro-loans, start or get involved in business changing the economics of her village. Sure, she’s in the early stages but the change is happening and will continue.

Another key point, that statistics bear out, is that when you educate a girl or woman, she learns, and she can get a micro-loan. Then let’s say she takes that loan and buys a cow. That cow can provide nourishment for her family and products to sell. Eventually, she has a herd; she’s employing men and women. The economics of her village change, she is now viewed as valuable and the culture starts to change. Word spreads to other villages, change happens over time and the country as a whole experiences the economic boost and history is changed. But Robyn, it’s not that simple….my friend it is.  It has to start somewhere, why not now?

Our plan: Our plan at Project Authenticity is to educate and empower women to become engaged in their community and bring the change that is so critical. We believe every life has value….no qualifiers necessary.  Right now we have three  projects we are trying to fund and would love for you to consider partnering with us.

– Our first project is to begin a vocational training and micro-lending in the slums of Mathare near Nairobi, Kenya. The Mathare area is one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa and home for around half a million adults and children. Over 70% are hardworking mothers and their children whose fathers died or abandoned their family. We are partnering with another organization Partners for Care, who has contacts on the ground and can help us get this project started very soon.

– Our second project is in Karima, Kenya, we have been asked to provide basic training to a group of 30 widows who are currently making jewelry. In Karima, we will be partnering with a Community Leader I know well, Phylis Kimeli.

– And finally our biggest project, and this comes from our partnership with Partners for Care, we want to build a school in Marsabit.  A school where both women and children and be educated, a structure that can also serve as a community center and health center for HIV education and screenings. Marsabit is a place where literally no roads lead. I’m super excited about this project because a school is so needed in this region.

Jaime and I are hoping to take our first trip in June to meet with the women in Methare and Karima and provide initial training to our partners on the ground. We also will travel to Marabit to meet the people and sort out the details necessary to build the school. We need your support and are working on securing our 501 (c) 3 but until then Partners for Care has graciously agreed to accept donations on our behalf so that you are assured your donations are tax deductible. Currently we can only receive donations by mail but we are working to provide an online method as well. If you would like to partner with us please mail your donations to:
Project Authenticity
P.O. Box 5606
Alpharetta, GA 30023
Make sure on the memo line you write Project Authenticity

And one last thing…thank you!

Please also join us on Facebook, and follow Project Authenticity and me on Twitter.

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Defining Moments…A Mission Is Born

I’m not sure I can tell you the exact date and time when I became keenly aware of the global problem of violence against women (far too often honor killings, bride abductions, rape as a weapon in war…the list goes on), poverty and lack of education. Over the last ten years, there have been stories that have moved me and broken my heart…for each woman, defining moments. I’ve written about some of the women here: Mukhtaran Mai, Rebecca Lolosoli but there have been so many more…many that I’ve met personally and had the opportunity to  sit and hear their powerful stories.

Several years ago, I spent time in Indonesia working on a micro-finance mission. During that trip, I experienced firsthand the dangers of being a women in a third world country….many of those experiences I’ve yet to share with family and friends. That trip culminated in a horrific act of violence, as our team was on Jimbaran Beach when the bombers struck.  During that trip, I worked on the business plans and financing for two brave magnificent women whom I will never forget, Murni and Rosa. And in fact, in spite of all the danger, I would go back in a minute to work with them again, they made an impression on me and in my heart that remains today. I also experienced the difference a small amount of money, marketing, mentoring and fellowship can make not only in the lives of individuals but their communities as well.

Then there’s Kenya….a  place I’d never visited but still felt like home.  Two women on that trip that made such an impression on me were, Phoebe and Lucy, their stories moving, their character and determination inspiring. Phoebe I remain close to and in touch with through social media. In Kenya, I was exposed to poverty that set me back and changed me forever. I met and held children who had been days without food, who played quietly while their classmates had their lunch, a tiny thermos of some kind mush. When was the last time you skipped lunch, not because it didn’t fit into your schedule, but because there were no resources?

A few weeks ago, I started reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, I’ve followed their writings for years. Additionally, I attended the Care event by the same name. It was during that event that my heart was broken for the mission, not just the people. For some time, I’ve had this strong pull inside to be a part of the solution to end violence against women globally, but after Half the Sky I needed to act thoughtfully and intentionally. For me writing letters and donating my money and time is no longer enough. I have the skills, training and the passion to join with other people around the world to end these horrors. I also learned during the  event that just a $2.00 micro loan for fertilizer could be the catalyst for change in a culture of violence. Who among us can’t give up $2.00? Certainly not me….

I passionately believe that EVERY life has value and that there are NO qualifiers. Statistics prove that when you educate the women and teach them a trade, violence in the village dissipates, poverty goes down, and the community as a whole reaps the benefits. So…as of  today Project Authenticity is no longer just a blog…but a mission. A mission to end violence and poverty, our desire is to work alongside country leaders to provide education and empower women to see their worth and get engaged in community. Joining me in this mission is Jaime Earl, you may know her incredible organic skincare line, but Jaime also has a passion to end violence and poverty as well. We are still finalizing the details, but things are coming together so quickly we are amazed and excited. Later this week we will launch our What If campaign and we will have some very exciting news. Out of violence and poverty a passion was born and now a mission begins So…bookmark our blog or check back later in the week to see what we have planned.

Please also join us on Facebook, and follow Project Authenticity and me on Twitter.

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Are You Building A Legacy Of Goodness?

For months I’ve been contemplating a post on social and relationship capital and how it’s built and then how it’s spent. And after a trip to Memphis earlier this week, to see my mom’s aunt (my great aunt) honored at a ceremony where she donated her honors and awards to the University of Memphis it all became so clear to me.

Elma Neal Roane has dedicated her entire life to education and her students, I’m planning to profile her here soon so I won’t go through all of her accomplishments. She is recognized as a pioneer and leader in physical education and sports in the state of Tennessee.  She was head of the Women’s Division for sports at the University of Memphis from 1946-1976. The fieldhouse at the University known as “the house that she built” is named for her and I’m told it’s the only fieldhouse in the country named for a woman.

On Tuesday, there was a reception at Brister Hall, and it was  the formal unveiling of her awards, honors and papers both academic and athletic. There were over 100 people who came to see my 91 year old aunt, not the honors and awards. Everyone who came had a very personal story of how she had touched their lives.  I was in awe to hear the stories from young and old, all of them spoke of the impact she has made on their life.  A life of building relationships, participating in the community, giving back, not just with her money but her time as well. I have to tell you, in my mind, she is the embodiment of what Chris Brogan calls a Trust Agent, person after person stood up and talked about her integrity, the goodness that she worked so tirelessly bring to all of those who knew her and many who never knew her but experienced the fruits of her labor.  At one point during the day, she turned to me and said “Everyone keeps talking about all I’ve done for women, but I worked for the men and human rights as well. I stood up for anyone who needed to be stood up for as long as I believed it was the right thing to do.”

As things were winding down, I had the privilege of sitting alone with my aunt and just chatting. At 91 years old, she’s still a leader and still wanting to mentor and educate the best she can. And while she was thankful for the honor on Tuesday, I’m confident that what she enjoyed the most was talking to the people. She was genuinely moved that so many people gave up part of their day to come and see her. While we were sitting there I said to her, “I’m in awe of all the goodness you have created how did you do it?”  She responded:

“Everything I did, I did because I had a passion for it, not just the education but the students as well. I’ve dedicated my life to promoting fellowship, honor and integrity, and we need more teachers who are pushing that as well. That’s my passion, keep on keeping on!” (her personal mantra)

What I’ve learned from a lifetime of knowing my aunt, is that social and relationship capital is acquired through service, fellowship, and a deep passion for people. And it’s how we build and spend that capital that defines you, I watched on Tuesday as many accomplished people, some celebrities, got up and thanked my aunt for her service, and more than one said she was their hero. They were powerful moments, but she accomplished all she did because she loved her work and wanted to make the world a better place. She never gave any thought to what was in it for her, she fought hard for what was right in her mind, and with honor and integrity, she made sacrifices, had discouraging times but she always stayed the course. She used her capital to build leaders, pave the way for the future and for improving human rights.

My question to you is: what are you doing with the social and relationship capital you are building? Are you leaving a legacy of goodness? Are you working for what really matters most?

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