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Waste management is an increasingly daunting problem for the country of Bangladesh, where as much as 50 percent of waste goes uncollected. Uncollected waste goes untreated, resulting in more water contamination, disease and greenhouse gas emissions. Untreated waste generates methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Between 2005 and 2020, emissions as a result of untreated waste in Bangladesh are expected to rise 22 percent.

The capital city of Dhaka is not only the most densely populated area; it is also home to the worst waste management in the country. In 2010, Dhaka generated 4,700 metric tons of waste daily. Fortunately, 80 percent of the waste Bangladesh produces is organic material. Maqsood Sinha and Iftekhar Enayetullah saw this as an opportunity and decided to turn the organic waste in Bangladesh into something both profitable and beneficial to the community: compost.

The two enterprising men started an organization called Waste Concern and set up community-based composting. Several families (three to seven) share chest-high metal barrels into which they deposit their food scraps. The composting barrels hold up to 400 pounds of waste, sit on concrete bases and, through specially drilled holes, encourage aerobic decomposition.

Sinha and Enayetullah started Waste Concern in 1995, taking their barrels door-to-door. Since then, the organization has served 30,000 people in Dhaka city and 100,000 people in 14 other cities and towns in Bangladesh, including slums and low and middle-income communities. Composting the organic waste reduces methane emissions by half a ton and eliminates a significant amount of municipal waste. Community-based composting helps control waste in Bangladesh and also opens up job opportunities for low-income sectors, helping to lift people out of poverty.

The project has saved over $1 million in waste management due to the revenue created from the compost itself and the simple, cost-effective system needed to create it. As a result of its success as a small-scale operation in Dhaka, Waste Concern plans to expand into a bigger operation, consume more waste and dump out more compost.

The project’s growth reflects Bangladesh’s push to reduce the country’s waste output and strengthen its economic status. Getting the community involved not only decreases the waste in Bangladesh, but it also establishes an environment of accountability and family.

Taylor Elgarten

Photo: Flickr

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National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, celebrates ordinary people doing extraordinary things to improve communities around the world. National Volunteer Week was established as a program of Points of Light in 1974 and has grown exponentially since then. This week marks the 40th anniversary of National Volunteer Week. Here are 40 things you can do this week to help your community.

1. Say “thank you” to a volunteer
2. Play with animals: volunteer at the Humane Society
3. Spend time at a nursing or assisted living home
4. Care for the environment by recycling, composting and planting trees
5. Volunteer with Autism Speaks by participating in a walk
6. Give blood
7. Host a bake sale for No Kid Hungry
8. Collect and donate DVDs, stuffed animals or books to hospitals and shelters
9. Write cards to soldiers, kids in hospitals and volunteer firefighters
10. Host an appreciation dinner for volunteers
11. Join Big Brothers Big Sisters in your community
12. Set up a web-page for a local non-profit agency
13. Make birthday cards for the elderly
14. Volunteer to clean up trash at a community event
15. Plant a community garden
16. Conduct an Easter egg hunt for needy children
17. Volunteer at a Special Olympics event
18. Read to a visually impaired person
19. Volunteer with the International Humanity Foundation
20. Organize a neighborhood drive for furniture, clothes and food to give to shelters
21. Offer to babysit a sibling, relative or friend
22. Collect unused makeup and cosmetics for women’s shelters
23. Make bird feeders for public places
24. Sponsor a child at Save the Children
25. Assist at an after-school little league or sports program
26. Be a friend to a senior citizen
27. Plant a tree for Arbor Day, the last Friday in April
28. Help cook and serve a meal at a homeless shelter
29. Have a Read-A-Thon for needy children
30. Use your cooking skills to volunteer with Culinary Corps
31. Volunteer at your local hospital
32. Volunteer at a food bank
33. Advocate for the arts
34. Teach yoga or gardening to young adults
35. Build a house with Habitat for Humanity
36. Volunteer at a local museum
37. Offer to mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor
38. Volunteer virtually with Zidisha
39. Make a gift basket for a volunteer
40. Visit Volunteer Match to find more ideas in your area

Volunteering is just as important as recognizing today’s volunteers. This year’s National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage their communities. It is about taking action and making a difference.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Points of Light, Global Youth Service Day, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Photo: Walkin

Helping_During_the_Holidays
Here are 5 simple ways to help the poor this holiday season.

1. Give Presents that Make a Difference

Instead of giving your mom a gift that will ultimately end up in the back of her closet, why not give her something that will help put a dent in global poverty? Non-profit organizations like Heifer International and Oxfam America have programs that let people donate money to worthwhile causes in the name of a family member or friend.

Simply visit the organization’s online catalog and browse through the “gifts” they offer. Gift options vary widely, but may include buying a cow for a poor family in Guatemala, buying books for a school in South Africa, or sponsoring a child in India to attend school for a year.  Prices for gifts range from about $10 to well over $500. Choose a cause your intended recipient is passionate about and purchase a gift supporting that cause. Whether your family member is passionate about women’s rights, education, or sustainable farming, you can find a gift that supports it.

The organization will usually let you send a customized message to your recipient by mail or e-mail to make it more personal.

2. Think Locally

Do your part to combat hunger in your local community. There are many people here in the United States that struggle to keep food on the table and this struggle doesn’t end just because it’s the holiday season. You can help alleviate this hunger by volunteering to sort donations or prepare hot meals at your local soup kitchen, food bank, or community center.  If you’re feeling extra inspired, organize a food drive in your own neighborhood and donate the proceeds to your local food bank.

3. Participate in Sub for Santa

Almost every community has their own Sub for Santa program during the holidays. It’s a popular program and for good reason. Sub for Santa provides clothes and toys for thousands of needy children every year, many of whom would receive nothing if not for the program.

You can sign up to sponsor a child by visiting your local elementary school or community center. They will provide you with the name, gender, and age of a needy child in your local area. Buy a few presents and feel good knowing you helped brighten a child’s holiday season.

4. Donate Old Clothes

Instead of throwing away your old clothes, donate them! Raid your closet and round up the sweaters, coats, and jeans that you no longer wear. If they’re in relatively good condition, donate them to your local homeless shelter or Salvation Army.

You have no idea how much your contribution could mean to a person who would otherwise have no warm clothes to wear this winter.

5. Raise Awareness

Teach your children, friends, neighbors (and anybody else who will listen) about the importance of being engaged in the local community. Encourage your kids to donate part of their allowance to a local charity. Organize a fundraiser with your neighbors and have a competition to see who can raise the most money. Attend your local city council meeting and make a speech about local charities that need volunteers and donations.

Helping the poor this holiday season doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. Simply donating your old clothes or volunteering at the local food bank is all it takes to make a difference in someone’s life.

– Allison Johnson
Sources: Oxfam, Heifer International
Photo: Bethlehem Wales

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What makes people give? University of Minnesota psychologist Mark Snyder, PhD, asked himself that very question when he first began researching volunteerism. Snyder had a hard time thinking of reasons to volunteer, while reasons not to volunteer seemed to come easily. Could it be a question of nature vs. nurture?

Snyder has been trying to discover what exactly motivates people to volunteer for over 20 years. Through their research, he and his colleagues have identified 5 primary motivators:

Values. Volunteering satisfies personal values or humanitarian concerns, and for some, religious beliefs.

Community concern. Volunteers often feel compelled to help groups they feel a personal connection to.

Esteem enhancement. Volunteering can make you feel better about yourself as a person.

Understanding. Some people volunteer to gain understanding about cultures beyond their own.

Personal development. Some volunteers are looking to build new relationships or further their career.

The identification of these primary motivations provides insight into why some people are more philanthropic. But what steers them toward a specific motivator? Have they been taught to place value on community involvement? Have they witnessed others excel in their careers as a result of volunteer work? Or is it more basic than that? Are some people born with a desire to help others engraved in their genes?

Consider identical twins; are they alike because of genetic similarity, or because they have been raised in the same conditions? Studies show that twins exhibit striking similarities, even when they have been raised apart (genetics). But these studies also showed identical twins are never exactly alike in all respects (nurture).

So is it nature or nurture? The answer is, we just don’t know. The age old argument has never been settled, but it is commonly believed that both genetics and environment play a role in shaping who a person becomes; nature provides us with abilities and traits, but nurture shapes those traits as we learn and mature.

– Dana Johnson

Sources: American Psychological Association, About.com
Photo: High Cotton Style

Illinois Wesleyan University Addresses Human Rights
Each year Illinois Wesleyan University students have the option to participate in a May Term course, which is a one-month course intended to give students an opportunity to explore areas they normally couldn’t in traditional fall and spring semesters. Along with the classes, there are several other opportunities for students to get involved and learn more about a specific theme.

This year, the May Term theme is making human rights real. Through a series of activities, students can learn more about the topic. One such activity is a poverty simulation workshop, which gives students a genuine view of how those in poverty and extreme poverty live each day and also encourages action by discussing solutions to community problems.

Another activity promoted during this term is a “Mini Course on Community Action,” which is led by community leaders to teach students the basics of founding a successful community action campaign, including how to overcome obstacles and encourage others to participate and give back to society.

May Term also offers many volunteer opportunities to give students a better sense of giving back, including the Adopt A Meal program to prepare meals for a local homeless shelter, and Titan2Titan, a program designed to allow current IWU students to work with retired university alums for a day of service.

While May Term is often considered the “play term” by students at the university, it has potential to change lives and encourage a lifetime of service by allowing students to experience new activities related to human rights and giving back.

Katie Brockman
Source: IWU

johnlegend
As a nine-time Grammy award winner, John Legend is well known as a singer, songwriter, and humanitarian. His vocals have earned him a multitude of worldwide fans and a string of Top 10 platinum-selling albums. His most recent release, Wake Up! (2010) is a compilation of music from the 1960s and ’70s including songs with underlying themes of awareness, engagement, and social consciousness. Legend, while a talented musician, seeks to be an agent of change in society. He is a member of several boards including Teach for America, Stand for Children, and the Harlem Village Academies.

As he spoke to a crowd of interested attendees in Southern Indiana, Legend focused on education equality and social awareness. Legend was inspiring, motivating, and very real in his comments. Early in his career, Legend had the opportunity to travel to Africa and it forever changed his life. He realized that his position in life granted him a platform to spread awareness and raise the standard for education and community involvement. Legend tirelessly works to promote education equality, which he believes is key to raising people out of poverty. By providing access to quality education for all individuals, we can ensure that being poor is not a life sentence but that there are opportunities to escape poverty and improve one’s life.

Legend gave the audience several tips on how to get involved in fighting for education equality from right where they sit.
His ideas included:

1. Join local boards and organizations working to improve education

2. Tutor students in local schools.

3. Encourage others to invest in schools.

4. Choose political leaders who take meaningful action within education.

The evening ended with the challenge from Legend to go and do something. The time for sitting still has passed and now the call to the work for education equality and diminished global poverty has arrived.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Evansville Courier and Press

farmer
Women in Kenya are going back to a traditional practice to help hold communities together. The practice is that of communal agriculture and through a woman-led initiative, neighbors helping neighbors in farming will hopefully save the lives of over 700,000 Kenyans over a period of 20 years who would have died from inadequate nutrition.

The traditional practice used to be the norm, yet, climate change has made the outcomes of crops unpredictable and scarce resources threatened economic prosperity, forcing many to seek jobs in more urban areas. This weakened bonds between village members, which made maintaining peace within a village difficult and brought up other issues, such as problems between ethnic groups that had been living in harmony before. Weakened bonds between community members predisposed many Kenyan communities to violence in the elections of 2007 and into 2008. According to Nyokabi Wamuyu, a member of the women-led farm initiative, “Some people say they [we]re fighting for land while others do it to take political sides.”

Over the next three years, the women-led farm initiative is aimed at 3,400 women farmers in the eastern areas of Kenya and in the Rift Valley. The mission of the initiative “is to equip the women with skills to make income-generating farming more attractive than subsistence agriculture.” This will be done by teaching women to bond with other women over shared activities, providing activities that will give women the tools and techniques to negotiate prices and access agricultural activities via mobile devices.

This initiative succeeding will hopefully help bridge the gap between genders in Kenya. Even though the new Kenyan Constitution gives women rights to land and property, gender inequality still exists in many rural farm areas.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: Calista Jones