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Lentil as AnythingRecently, The Borgen Project spoke with Emilie Elzvik. She is a 21-year-old student at Northeastern University and former volunteer at Lentil as Anything. Elzvik never imagined herself serving gourmet vegan meals to a table filled with backpackers, refugees and homeless people in Newtown, Australia. But Lentil as Anything changed everything for her.

The Company

Lentil as Anything embodies a rare business model. The menu does not have any set prices. Everyone is welcome to “pay as they feel,” either through a financial donation or volunteering their skills. The founder, Shanaka Fernando, was born in Sri Lanka before becoming a restauranteur and world traveler. In 2000, Fernando began the first Lentil as Anything in St. Kilda to provide a space for local communities to come together and share a meal “disregarding any existing economic and social barriers.”

At the time, Fernando’s concept was a wild idea. Twenty years later, and it has become a booming success. The restaurant chain now claims four restaurants around Australia. Additionally, Lentil as Anything provides over 1000 free meals a week to those people most in need.

Elzvik’s Story

Elzvik began working for Lentil as Anything when she was studying abroad for a semester. “It’s like every hippie’s dream cafe, except customers are not just wealthy teenagers. They are from various socio-economic backgrounds. Some live on the street outside. Some are just traveling through.”

Elzvik points out that many of the volunteers were once customers themselves. “When they can’t pay, they offer their time,” said Elzvik. Lentil as Anything provides just as many employment opportunities as they do meals. Elzvik comments, “I think many people come to volunteer because it gives them a sense of purpose.”

According to Elzvik, there is no such thing as a boring day at Lentil as Anything. “It is no gloomy soup kitchen,” she states. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon waft through the kitchen. Volunteers twist lemons and grate ginger. Servers dance around the floor, jotting orders down on their notepad. It is always noisy inside; laughter bounces across the walls. On some late nights, there is yoga or an open-mic night in the upstairs space.

So how exactly does this seemingly utopian cafe operate?

Sustainable Food Sourcing

Elvzik recalls that the kitchen being full of “bruised apples” and “funky looking eggplants” that would get thrown out by most restaurants or stores. “Lentil as Anything takes them and turns them into something beautiful,” says Elzvik.

The Department of Agriculture in Australia reports that food waste costs the economy around $20 billion each year. That amounts to about 300kg per person or one in five bags of groceries.

To stock their kitchen, Lentil as Anything takes in the unwanted leftovers from nearby stores. The chain stands by it’s all-vegan menu. The diet is both inclusive and nutrient rich. Elzvik mentions that many visitors would not be able to afford something as “dense and hearty” as a Lentil as Anything meal. Fast food is typically the most affordable option and Lentil as Anything aims to change that.

Volunteership

The restaurant relies heavily on volunteer servers and cooks, like Elzvik.  CNBC reports that around 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year. By a restaurant’s fifth year, that rate jumps
to 80%.

Lentil as Anything is not an exception. The restaurant can’t stay afloat on its own. The Daily Telegraph reports that “it costs Lentil as Anything up to $23,000 a week to keep their doors open – and customer contributions do not come close to covering costs.”

Before coming to Lentil as Anything, Elzvik had no prior customer service experience. She says that volunteering at the restaurant requires no experience at all. Volunteers attend an orientation and receive the necessary training. “What you learn at Lentil can be applied to any future job, especially working with people in a busy environment,” states Elzvik.

Location Matters

Restaurants like Lentil as Anything might not work anywhere. “You need the perfect equilibrium,” claims Elzvik. She explains that in order for this business model to work there has to be enough people donating above the requirement to cover those who cannot afford it.

One of Lentil as Anything’s strategic locations is Newton in Sydney. Newtown is a diverse neighborhood, socially and economically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 67% of the Newtown population works full time, 24% part-time and only about 10% identify as unemployed for away from work.

Looking forward

Like many businesses, the pandemic hit Lentil as Anything deeply. On September 25, the restaurant reached out to their social media followers and asked for help to keep Lentil alive.

Lentil as Anything is facing its most significant financial challenge to date. The restaurant is working to raise $300,000 by the end of October. If they don’t reach their goal, they may face closing their doors forever. Donations can be made through their GoFundMe campaign.

The restaurant’s motto is that everyone deserves a seat at the table. Hopefully, Lentil as Anything can serve as a successful business model for many restaurants around the world to address food insecurities.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash

Operation Christmas ChildFor most of the world, Christmas comes once a year. A day full of red bows and snow glistening in the December sun. Not so for Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit headquartered in North Carolina. For them, Christmas is not merely a holiday, but a lifestyle. Operation Christmas Child began as a mom and pop project in the United Kingdom. It quickly grew into a worldwide phenomenon under the umbrella of Samaritan’s Purse. Over 150 countries annually take part in the program. Every year volunteers fill shoeboxes with toys, basic care items and a message of hope for the eager hands of boys and girls living in underdeveloped countries.

Volunteers from around the world spend the months leading up to Christmas filling boxes to the brim. Schools, churches, community organizations and individuals all work to bring a glimmer of light to poverty-stricken countries. Last year, Samaritan’s Purse was able to collect 10.5 million shoeboxes to give to the world’s poor.

Operation Christmas Child in Madagascar

One country in particular that reaps from Operation Christmas Child’s generosity is Madagascar. Madagascar is an African island nearly 800 miles from the shoreline of Mozambique. It is home to exotic species, the deciduous baobab trees and unfortunately, overwhelming statistical poverty. According to The World Bank, 70.7% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2012. Three factors that play a role in the rise of poverty in Madagascar are political crises, climate shocks and a sharp increase in global food prices.

With all the compounding factors that exacerbate poverty, Madagascar is a perfect destination for Operation Christmas Child to focus its energy.

Students in Madagascar

It was the summer of 2017. Mary Patton Murphy, a rising high school junior, packed her bags for her first trip across the world. Murphy is one of around thirty students that was able to be a part of the competitive week-long student vision trip with Samaritan’s Purse in 2017.

For years, Murphy had packed shoeboxes in the months leading to Christmas and dropped them off during National Collection Week. One year, a child that received one of her boxes sent Murphy a letter thanking her. This personal experience made her fall deeply in love with the organization. Murphy’s trip to Madagascar allowed her to see the ins and outs of the organization.

“It is such a well-run process,” says Murphy, “[the organization] truly maximize[s] their resources.” Murphy witnessed this first-hand during her time spent in Madagascar. Volunteers visited two distribution centers a day where each shoebox is diligently cared for and searched to ensure the safety of the delivery.

Murphy illustrated the process, noting that it “is a long one.” She expounded adding that “the shoeboxes travel to a local collection center. Then they are consolidated into carton boxes and sent to a processing center to make sure there isn’t anything harmful in any of the shoeboxes like toothpaste because the kids will try to eat it. They might add to a box if it is low on supplies or toys. Then the shoeboxes are shipped across the world. Some of these kids have never received a present before.”

Wrapping Up

Volunteers of all ages are the driving forcing behind this operation from beginning to end. They all advocate to make a difference in the lives of impoverished children across the globe. For individuals who would like to advocate on behalf of these children, they should visit this website.

The leaves fade from various shades of red and yellow and the morning air turns crisp and cool. The collection of shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child will soon be underway. Make an early start to the season of giving with a mere shoebox, a few toys and a heart for the world’s poor.

Chatham Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

Volunteering
A common reason for conflict, whether cultural, racial or economic is lack of empathy. The solution to this problem may be simpler than previously believed. An article on psychology website Spring suggests that empathy can increase with as little as two positive experiences with a group.

To collect their research, scientists paired Swiss people with people of Balkan descent. The Swiss-Balkan relationship has historically been tense due to anxiety about immigrants in Switzerland. In the experiment, Swiss participants expected to receive a painful electric shock but were rescued by people with traditional Balkan names.

The Swiss participants then received brain scans while observing other people being shocked. If earlier in the experiment a Balkan person had helped the Swiss person in question, the Swiss participant’s brain would demonstrate a similar empathetic response toward both Balkan and Swiss victims. If, however, the Swiss person had not had that positive encounter with a Balkan participant, he or she exhibited lower levels of empathy toward Balkan victims than towards Swiss victims.

According to this study’s researchers, “Our findings show that empathy with an out-group member can be learned and generalizes to other out-group individuals.”

How can these findings be applied globally? Simply put, they may indicate that volunteering can increase empathy. Not only can volunteering help reduce some of the immediate symptoms of global poverty; it can also decrease inter-group tension.

Bridging the gap preventing different groups from interacting with each other is an important step in reducing conflict. Volunteerism does just that by putting human relationships first. It places members of different communities that may never have had positive inter-community encounters in close proximity to each other. Positive volunteering experiences can lead to increased empathy and decreased conflict between them.

In an article by the New Zealand Red Cross, Warwick Armstrong, a volunteer driver for the Cross Town Shuttle wrote about the benefits of volunteering. The Cross Town Shuttle provides transportation for people in Christchurch who have no transportation means of their own. Armstrong said he enjoys the companionship his position provides.

“It’s good for your health!” he wrote. “It gives your empathy batteries a recharge”.

Volunteerism puts human relationships first and encourages personal interaction. It is a powerful tool for increasing empathy, and thus reducing tension, between groups.

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Teaching Abroad
Teaching abroad is an incredible opportunity to give back, and the experience can provide an individual with a multitude of unanticipated advantages. In addition to experiencing a different culture, teaching abroad can vastly improve one’s chances of finding a career in a variety of fields.

The majority of teaching abroad programs aim to teach English in impoverished regions around the world, so as to improve children’s education. Such skills/lessons are desperately needed because according to a reputable teaching abroad program, Sudan Volunteer Programme (SVP), numerous local teachers in these countries do not have the proper skill-sets to teach English, or the school does not have enough money to pay their teachers.

In such cases, volunteers are needed to help educate children and give them the proper skills and opportunities to attain a successful profession. This type of education proves tremendously impactful, as speaking English can significantly increase a child’s chance of professional success down the road.

According to the University of Toronto, teaching abroad can be equally advantageous for the teacher volunteer’s career opportunities. To teach abroad, the volunteer generally does not have to be a certified teacher or have any particular foreign language skills to serve for an organization. Many volunteers can be ‘hired’ with a bachelor’s degree in just about anything, an interest to learn about foreign cultures, a good attitude, a passion for education and seriousness about the job.

Having taught underprivileged children in a foreign country provides one with distinct cultural and teaching experience that can galvanize one’s career. Recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees who teach abroad are often hired full time into high standing positions that they may not have otherwise qualified for.

According to WorldTeach, an accredited teaching abroad program, numerous individuals go into academic careers, international development, educational or volunteer organizations, teachers, school administrators and in business and multi-national companies. Some have become leaders in the U.S. Congress, and one has even served as a U.S. Ambassador.

Though living in a foreign country for a summer or a year may seem daunting, the benefits that can come from the experience prove to be well worth any initial hesitation. From giving children a shot at a better future to becoming more culturally aware, teaching abroad is an incredible opportunity that will boost one’s personal growth and a chance at professional success.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

Social Entrepreneur CorpsFounded by Greg Van Kirk, the Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) diagnoses needs and implements innovations that help marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable families build a better life for themselves.

The volunteers and employees of the SEC play an important role in creating impactful social innovation. They can “gain the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become the high impact leaders and social entrepreneurs of the future.” In addition, the SEC has been “leading innovative and dynamic impact immersion programs for 10 years and over 1,000 participants have joined [their] diverse programs.”

The organization utilizes well-structured programs where participants are mentored by field leaders, who are experienced development professionals.

One of the SEC’s initiatives includes a needs and feasibility analysis, in which participants perform research through observations, surveys and informal conversations in order to analyze needs of impoverished communities.

Another is an innovative-design initiative, in which participants use their research to develop and give consultations to local community members on ways to improve their state of poverty.

As one SEC participant states, “from giving presentations in Spanish to local organizations to going on campaigns in rural regions, every activity gave me the chance and the courage to step out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries as far as I could.”

Communities in Latin America, for example, are reaping the benefits. The Jutiapa region in Guatemala had a successful village campaign which benefited women entrepreneurs in the region. In one day, participants “served over 150 people and helped the women to sell 69 pairs of glasses, 35 eye drops, 30 packets of vegetable seeds, 8 solar lamps/cell phone chargers and one water purification bucket.”

The female entrepreneurs earned nearly $240 in net profits, which is the equivalent of over two months’ wages for the average rural Guatemalan.

The Social Entrepreneur Corps has played an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty in Latin American countries. The organization’s efforts continue to inspire families and communities.

Vanessa Awanyo

Ghalib Khalil
The actions of individual people like Ghalib Khalil have been cited as the spark for many great advocacy and social movements. As Nelson Mandela once said, “It is time for the next generations to continue to struggle against social injustice and for the rights of humanity. It is in your hands.”

 

Ghalib Khalil: A Movement

 

This is exactly what took place in 2010 in Pakistan after the country was devastated by flooding. Ghalib Khalil, inspired to help his country recover from the natural disaster, realized that his own solitary efforts would not be enough to make a big difference. Guided by the advice of a teacher, the 15-year-old created the Rescue Pakistan Youth Foundation. Networking for the organization on Facebook, Khalil used his connections to mobilize support and a volunteer force of several hundred Pakistanis.

This volunteer force engaged in door-to-door collections to help make a difference, but Khalil knew that he still wanted to make a bigger impact. By reaching out to large international corporations and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Khalil was able to dramatically expand his impact on advocacy. Due to the creation of Rescue Pakistan Youth Foundation, he successfully raised more than $100,000 to aid in relief efforts.

Since then, Khalil’s impact on advocacy has only continued and increased. After Pakistan recovered from the flood, Rescue Pakistan Youth Foundation continued to take donations for local community projects, but Khalil has set his sights on the struggle for peace. Peacetide, originally named Friends Without Borders, is an international advocacy campaign that focuses on promoting mutual respect and peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, Greece and Turkey, Kosovo and Serbia.

The campaign is aimed at 14 to 25-year-olds, using visual storytelling through videos, pictures, art, inspirational quotes and personal testimonials for peace from its members. To date, the campaign’s main promotional platform on Facebook has more than 40,000 followers.

Both Rescue Pakistan Youth Foundation and Peacetide have achieved a positive impact on advocacy on a grassroots level while helping to educate, promote international peace and make a tangible difference in local communities in Pakistan. The secret to the popularity of Khalil’s organizations is connection, which is perfectly summed-up in Peacetide’s motto, “Goodness is growing one friend at a time.”

Claire Colby

Sources: Peacetide Facebook Page, The Xrtaordinary, International Political Forum
Photo: Flickr

Clicktivism
In the digital age, it is easier than ever to voice one’s support for a cause or raise awareness about a particular issue, all it takes is the click of a button.

In the wake of the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal, Facebook gave users the option to donate to the International Medical Corps’ relief efforts. According to a Facebook post by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, over $10 million was raised by the Facebook community — in just two days.

Social media provides a platform to quickly support a cause without exerting much — if any — personal effort. This phenomenon has been labeled as “clicktivism,” or “slacktivism,” and has been widely criticized for creating an impression of support, rather than actually accomplishing anything for the cause.

Many critics point out that clicktivism satisfies the urge to respond to an issue, thus reducing eagerness to take further action.

However, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, the truth is quite the contrary. Researchers found that Americans who promote causes using social media by creating posts, joining a group on Facebook or taking other similar actions, actually participate more in offline activist efforts than non-social media promoters.

“The presumption was that these individuals were replacing more ‘meaningful’ actions with simple clicks and shares. But what we found is that they’re actually supplementing—not replacing— actions like donating, volunteering and planning events,” Senior Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Center for Social Impact Communication Denise Keyes was quoted in the research report.

The study showed that so-called clicktivists are over four times as likely than non-social media promoters to encourage others to contact political representatives about an issue, twice as likely to volunteer time to a cause, more than twice as likely to participate in an event or a walk and just as likely to donate money.

It is unlikely that every user who donated to relief efforts in Nepal dedicated himself or herself to volunteering and staying informed about progress in the nation. But whether or not clicktivists take action offline, sharing a post inherently increases visibility and raises awareness, regardless of the amount of effort (or lack thereof) exerted by the “sharer” or “retweeter.” It is possible that a certain user does not accomplish anything further after pressing “share,” but that user’s friend might be scrolling through their newsfeed and be inspired to do more. Although using a hashtag and retweeting a human rights organization does not necessarily equate to action, the importance of such actions in rallying support for global issues cannot be diminished.

It is not a new concept to use whatever tools necessary to mobilize supporters of a cause. Activism is a spectrum comprised of many levels of involvement and dedication. Whether it be signing a petition or putting money in a donation box while purchasing groceries, lower levels of commitment exist and have existed, regardless of their portrayal on the Internet.

Clicktivists should remember that while their online actions are definitely helpful, it should not suffice or constitute full-fledged activism. Therefore, clicktivists should push themselves to stay committed to issues that pique their interest. That is not to say that they should stop sharing, liking and retweeting. The benefits of those actions are immeasurable.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: Daily O, Facebook, Daily O, Georgetown University, Daily O
Photo: Invisible Children

MAG America
People know that war leaves scars, on bodies, minds, families and homes. Those affected live with the destruction, adapting to the best of their ability, and attempt to go on with their lives. While international support in the wake of conflict is great, little thought is given to the scars left behind in war zones.

When peace is brokered, troops leave behind bullets, elaborately packaged, carefully hidden explosives and yet-to-be-detonated fireworks of the military grade variety. Farmers fear working their fields. The building of roads, schools and water lines is halted indefinitely. Economic recovery is nearly impossible, at least until the threats are eliminated.

The Mines Advisory Group, or the MAG, has tasked itself with removing such lingering threats. Since 1989, MAG America employees have provided extensive training to volunteers living in post-war zones. Teams clear landmines and explosive weapons that did not go off when fired, and remove abandoned weapons, strategizing to prevent their proliferation.

To protect communities where mine contamination and weapons surpluses remain, the MAG offers programs that teach people how to recognize threats, what areas to avoid and emergency procedures. The MAG employs 2,400 people in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The 2,400 individuals make up about 90 percent of the MAG staff. Most are from severely underprivileged communities. Not only do these individuals benefit from the steady salary, they additionally receive professional training as mine destruction specialists, educators, community liaison specialists and medics.

The MAG is currently working to secure military storage in El Salvador, where access to small arms has fueled the second highest homicide rate in the world. Land clearing operations in Lebanon are ongoing, as they are in Iraq. The organization is aiding seven nations in Africa and four nations in Southeast Asia.

Manchester is home to the MAG’s international operations, while MAG America is based in Washington, D.C. More volunteers and staffers are needed, but the MAG recommends three ways to join its cause: become a “team driver” by building your own awareness, a “medic” by raising awareness in your community or a “virtual deminer” by fundraising or donating.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: MAG 1, MAG 2, MAG 3, MAG 4, Idealist
Sources: MAG

donate time
There are many ways to give to your charity of choice, but one of the most effective ways to give back is to donate time – that is to say, volunteer. Being generous with your time is beneficial to both you and to your cause of choice.

The effort to eliminate poverty worldwide would not have advanced as far as it has without the hard work of thousands of volunteers – and continued initiatives to reduce poverty will require more volunteers as well. Here are three reasons why you should donate your time.

1. Volunteering Benefits Charities

When volunteers give their time to an organization, it allows that organization to use the money it would have otherwise paid someone to do the same task to make improvements elsewhere. According to the University of California San Diego, an average volunteer hour is worth $15.39. Volunteering permits organizations to make intelligent decisions about where that money is better spent.

Giving your time also saves you money, allowing you to invest it in other causes as you see fit – it truly spreads the wealth in more ways than one.

2. You Reap the Rewards

As opposed to donating money, donating your time allows you to see first-hand the difference you’re making. Volunteering also allows you to meet new people, explore new causes and develop skills that may be useful to you later in life. Not only that, volunteers often end up learning lessons that stick with them throughout their entire lives and lead to other opportunities.

3. Your Community is Enhanced

No matter what cause you support, donating your time enhances your community in that it brings people together. Even if your efforts aren’t aimed locally (for instance, in nearby schools, youth programs or elderly facilities), working to better the world makes your community a better place to live. Engaging in service strengthens individuals’ sense of “civic responsibility” and encourages further investment into communities everywhere.

Donating time is one of the best ways to give back to not only your charity of choice but also your community. In 2013, over a quarter of Americans volunteered in some fashion. Increasing the number of volunteers — and the hours they spend volunteering — across the world is sure to make a difference for a number of causes, poverty-elimination included.

– Elise L. Riley 

Sources: University of California San Diego, Huffington Post
Photo: Flickr

International Day of Charity
September 5 will mark the second annual United Nations International Day of Charity, a day on which the U.N. encourages the world’s citizens to raise awareness and donate time to charitable acts. The U.N. General Assembly created the Day under Resolution 67/105 in 2012 “to promote charitable activities around the world.” The GA selected the date to honor Mother Teresa, who dedicated much of her life to charity and who passed on September 5, 1997. “Donations of time or money; volunteer engagement in one’s own community or on the other side of the world; acts of caring and kindness with no thought of recompense; these and other expressions of global solidarity help us in our shared quest to live together in harmony and build a peaceful future for all,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Here are a couple of ways to celebrate the Day:

Volunteer Close to Home

Explore websites like Volunteer Match that allow its users to browse volunteer opportunities based on location and interests. A 2001 U.N. report claims volunteering grows social networks, increases self-esteem, develops skills important to future employment opportunities, gives volunteers a sense of purpose, and equates to a U.S. economic benefit of $225 billion per year. To volunteer with the spirit of International Day of Charity to the fullest extent, volunteer without any intention of including the experience on a resume. Choosing to volunteer for an issue or organization for which you are passionate, could lead you to continue the effort even after the Day of Charity.

Log On to Social Media

With Social Media connecting millions of people around the world, it is now easier than ever to advocate at the grassroots level. The Blackbaud Index estimates the nonprofit sector raised $22 billion online in 2011. Starting an online fundraising campaign to share with your friends and followers can raise funds for a noble cause and inform others about the issue. However, if those of you with social media accounts do nothing else to celebrate International Day of Charity, like their Facebook page and follow @IntDayOfCharity. Supporters can tweet using #CharityDayUN, share the website of their favorite charity or volunteer organization, or share articles relating to the Day of Charity.

Donate

Americans gave $335.17 billion to charity last year alone, and the U.N. would like to see a spike in that giving in September. But beyond giving directly to your organization of choice, try involving more people in donating for the Day of Charity. A door-to-door food drive for a local soup kitchen is another chance to remind others about the upcoming Day and encourage them to participate. Those who may not be able to give monetarily could consider sorting through old clothes and household items to donate to organizations like the Salvation Army.

However you choose to celebrate the International Day of Charity, remember to, as Ki-Moon says, “recognize charity for what it is at heart: a noble enterprise aimed at bettering the human condition.”

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Facebook, United Nations, United Nations 2, Twitter, Volunteer Match, Market Watch, Olympic Information Center, Deseret News
Photo: Calls Free Calls