“the future they can create”

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hal Aronson, who co-founded We Care Solar with his wife, Laura Stachel, calls himself a solar evangelist. He loves the technology that turns light directly into electricity with no pollution.   He says it’s an elegant, optimistic technology.  It sparks the imagination.

After We Care Solar, Hal had another idea on how to use the solar suitcases he had designed.  The schools and orphanages in the developing countries were also in need of a consistent source of electricity.  Students could not study at night; some would go to gas stations to use their light to prepare for exams.  Kerosene lamps posed dangerous risks, particularly at orphanages. Wild animals roamed free in many remote areas, adding the need for light as safety.  At a School for the Deaf in Kenya where sign language is their mode of communication, all communication would stop at sunset.  The need was great. 

As a Professor of Solar Energy Technology at San Francisco State University, Hal was dedicated to teaching and working with young people.  With the growing demand for solar suitcases at We Care Solar in the maternal healthcare field, they had begun to build its suitcases in factories.  Hal wanted to reignite his desire to teach solar technology to students.  

We Share Solar was an opportunity to bring teachers and students back into the work… and to help other students.  Hal says, it was an opportunity to give them hands on experience and “to give them a sense of the future they can create.” Hal partnered with local schools and teachers in the process.  The teachers told him that their students were excited about making a difference in people’s lives.  

We Share Solar fits in with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) initiative to promote and engage students in these disciplines.  Teachers could use the systems to improve their educational offerings in subjects like geography, sociology, technology and science.  Hal said it works particularly well with girls, since girls are empathetic by nature and one of the ways to turn girls on to science is to associate technology with helping people.  

Hal is clearly excited to engage young people in technology and empower youth to have agency in the world.  He is empowered to save lives and he understands that students feel the same way.  The most powerful lesson Hal learned was that in the inner city neighborhoods like Richmond, Detroit and Oakland — where kids experienced violence, drugs and gangs — these students were the most transformed when engaged in this work.  The students gained a sense of purpose and self worth by helping others less fortunate than them.  

The students building the solar suitcases also write letters to the students who are receiving the solar suitcases, connecting them.  Hal’s current project is to engage college students at Cal State to mentor the middle and high school students.  Students helping students helping students.

We Share Solar is in approximately 100 schools throughout the US and they distribute these suitcases to 10 countries: Philippines, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, Haiti, Ecuador and Peru.  

To learn more and support We Share Solar, go to their web site, We Share Solar.

 

‘You planted a seed, and from this seed a great tree will grow.’

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Laura Stachel is a OB/GYN who had a bustling 14 year old medical practice in Berkeley, California serving thousands of patients and delivering healthy babies where there were few complications.

In 2002, Laura suffered from persistent back and arm pain that resulted in a diagnosis of severe degenerating disc disease in her cervical spine.  She was told she would have to stop doing surgeries and eventually had to leave her practice.  Her life of being a physician and bringing babies into the world came to an end.

After a year of rehabilitation, Laura considered a new vocation.  Having a disability gave her, “an opportunity to imagine new possibilities” and she turned her attention towards public health.  Laura enrolled in a Maternal Child Health program at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley.  Sitting for hours in a classroom wasn’t easy but Laura said, having a purpose helped her to heal.  She loved being a student again.

Laura’s physical endurance improved and in 2008 she had an opportunity to consult on a global maternal health research project.  At that time, half a million women died each year in childbirth, 99% in developing countries.  11% of global maternal deaths were in Northern Nigeria. As part of a research project on maternal mortality, Laura was invited to observe Nigerian obstetric care through a joint research program through UC Berkeley and Ahmadu Bello University.  Laura went to Kofan Gayan Hospital, a busy state hospital, serving 1.5 million people and conducting 150 deliveries a month.

Although Laura observed many differences between Kofan Gayan and a typical American hospital, what was most striking were the frequent power outages that left the hospital in the dark.  Without electricity for up to 12 hours a day, midwives were forced to work by candlelight or kerosene lanterns, surgeons worked without overhead lighting or electricity and many women were turned away at night when the power was down.  When the power was out, so was the hospital.  This contributed to many preventable maternal and newborn deaths.

Laura vowed to do something about it.  She sent e-mails to her husband, Hal Aronson, describing the inadequate lighting conditions at the hospital.  Hal taught solar energy technology in California and immediately focused on solar power as a way to provide electricity to the hospital. When Laura returned home to Berkeley, Hal sketched a design for a solar power system to meet the needs of the maternity ward, labor room, operating room and laboratory.

The project was beginning to take shape but they were in need of funding.  Just eleven days after she returned from Nigeria, Laura and Hal entered a campus wide contest at UC Berkeley for a technology offering a social good.  They received honorable mention and a $1,000 award.  When she called Dr. Muazu, the head of the hospital in Nigeria to say she did not win the contest and have the needed funds, he was unfazed. He said, “You planted a seed, and from this seed, a great tree will grow.”

The funds came soon after.

Hal built a miniature solar system in a suitcase so Laura could demonstrate solar electricity to her colleagues on her first of many return trips to Nigeria. This demonstration kit was met with enthusiasm giving the green light to a larger solar installation. With solar electricity for the operating room, laboratory and maternity ward, the hospital was instantly transformed.  They could deliver babies day and night, perform critical surgeries around the clock and provide transfusions using refrigerated blood.  Over the next year, maternal deaths dropped by 70%.  Lives were being saved.

After the success at the hospital, surrounding health clinics asked Laura for solar power.  Laura needed something that could scale.  Hal and Laura realized the suitcase-sized demonstration kit could be the perfect solution. They began crafting “Solar Suitcase” by hand, engaging volunteers, and building these in their back yard.

When NY Times writer, Nicholas Kristof wrote about We Care Solar, requests for suitcases came from around the globe.  We Care Solar received a significant grant from the MacArthur Foundation to create a Solar Suitcase that could be manufactured at scale. And soon, Solar Suitcases were being supplied to countries around the world.

Despite its success, Laura told me she had no idea where this was going when she went to Nigeria the first time.  She had no master plan.  She made decisions, one step at a time to address whatever challenge was before her.  Laura even said, that if she knew where her new journey was taking her, it would have been intimidating.  She certainly never thought when she was lying on her back unable to sit or stand, she would be running a international non profit,  speak at the UN and global conferences and receive countless awards for her life-saving work.

With dozens of partners around the world, We Care Solar has equipped 2,500 health centers, has trained over 5,000 health workers, serving more than 1,000,000 mothers and their newborns. We Care Solar has introduced the solar suitcase to 27 countries, with active large programs in 10 countries.

On March 9th 2017, We Care Solar announced that Liberia has become the first country to pledge to “Light Every Birth” at the launch of its global campaign to support healthy childbirth with affordable, accessible and clean solar lighting and electricity. Please sign the Pictition, Light Every Birth , to show your support. For more information about We Care Solar, go to their web site, http://www.wecaresolar.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Energy Pioneers

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lighted Bulb during Night Time

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) recognized 10 companies from all over the world who demonstrated innovation in the field of clean energy and technology.  The winners were chosen by a panel of industry experts from, academia, corporations, utilities, finance and technology. These pioneers illustrated momentum in their field with the potential to make an even greater impact worldwide.

These innovators inspire us with new applications for clean energy technology, reducing toxic emissions effecting climate change and provide solutions to developing countries suffering from extreme climate conditions and poverty.  They impact homeowners, the auto industry, agriculture, finance and healthcare.

The winners are:

  • Envirofit of the U.S., which developed smart, clean cook stoves to reduce fuel use, smoke and toxic emissions
  • EV-Box of the Netherlands, which provides electric vehicle equipment and has installed more than 50,000 charging points
  • Fluidic Energy of the U.S., which provides zinc-air energy storage systems that last for several days
  • Romo Wind of Switzerland, which measures wind speeds with its ultrasonic iSpin technology
  • Skeleton Technologies of Estonia, which manufactures ultracapacitors using curved graphene
  • SunCulture of Kenya, which designs, manufactures, finances and distributes solar-powered irrigation solutions
  • SunFunder of the U.S., which aggregates diversified portfolios of off-grid solar to help arrange debt capital
  • Sunna Design of France, which has installed off-grid solar public lighting systems in 40 countries, mainly in Africa
  • Thermondo of Germany, which installs managed-energy systems for homeowners
  • We Care Solar of the U.S., which provides “Solar Suitcases” to power remote health centers

Congratulations to all the winners.  These technologies will improve people’s lives and some lives will be saved.  Our planet will be the beneficiaries of these pioneers.   Notes From An Optimist will feature We Care Solar and We Share Solar.

 

 

You First, Work Second

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

For my last post about AFYA, I thought it was fitting to go to the warehouse in Yonkers. There, I met Danielle Butin, the Founder of AFYA and the volunteers who sort, pack, store and label the myriad of medical equipment and supplies that will be sent to developing countries.  In her wisdom, Danielle finds people from different walks of life to take part in AFYA’s mission. Many live in the margins where working at AFYA means giving them a skill, experience and an opportunity to perform community service.

I met Billy, a young adult man who comes from a program called Young Adult Institute which offers programs in work readiness.  Volunteering at AFYA twice a week helps Billy acquire the skills needed to stock supplies at his job at CVS.  Billy learns how to focus, take direction and talk with co-workers.  He feels happy knowing that the work he does at AFYA is helping people who are sick far away, get better.

I next met Manny.  Manny was convicted for stealing a half million dollars from his last employer.  While waiting to be sentenced, he became quite depressed and attempted suicide.  A friend from his job reached out and talked to him about G-d. The next day, his friend brought him to his church.  Soon his faith increased and he began going to church each week.  Instead of going to jail, the judge gave him probation and 1500 hours of community service over 5 years. He spends this at AFYA.

Manny’s probation officer introduced him to Danielle and AFYA.  The coincidences in Manny’s story has enabled him to transform from a person who had no hope to a person who feels grateful and blessed.  Manny is from the Dominican Republic and understands that AFYA is helping those who are like the people from his country.  Now in his third year of his community service, Manny thinks he will be at AFYA for a long time.  He knows there is a reason why he is at AFYA and believes this is G-d’s purpose.

AFYA’s volunteers also includes students from high schools and colleges who are interested in community service.  They have AFYA clubs to organize volunteer events and promote the “Luggage For Life”program, where families can bring medical supplies when they go on vacation to developing countries.

Lastly, I met a group of Occupational Therapy Students.  Danielle, whose background is in OT, supervises them. These students pointed to the sign on the wall, “You First, Work Second.”  This is their mantra to teach the volunteers who are under their charge. This may include healthy work habits, stress management, social skills and listening skills.  The students explained that they have a holistic focus to help the volunteers achieve a balance of mind, body and soul.

Danielle Butin built AFYA on this OT model and holistic approach where the medical supplies that are rescued are re-purposed and used. The volunteers gain experience and help save lives.  Everyone involved, from those receiving aid to those giving, is rewarded.  Danielle is inspiring and is inspired.

To learn more about AFYA and how to get involved, go to their web site: www.afyafoundation.org.  To show your support for refugees, sign the pictition, #ACT4REFUGEES and share it with your network.

 

 

 

” We Ask People What They Need”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

AFYA sends its rescued medical supplies and equipment to 70 different countries around the globe.  Danielle Butin, the Founder of AFYA, says, “we ask people what they need.”  Some supplies are shipped to disaster areas after a breakout of a disease like Ebola or a natural climate disaster like an Earthquake; or for refugees who are fleeing war and living in camps in places like Lesvos and Syria.  Many supplies are sent to ongoing missions and health centers offering access to care for people who are living in poverty in Africa and the Caribbean.  Assessing needs and delivering supplies for these two groups is very different. Meet some of the people on the ground who are receiving and delivering the needed aide…
Tilly Amissah Arthur, the wife of a former Vice President of Ghana met Danielle Butin at a health conference in 2013.  In the rural areas of Ghana, the clinics and hospitals were very far apart and it was difficult to get medical supplies and equipment to them.  Tilly would send wishlists she received to AFYA.  The requests included hospital beds and stretchers as well as disposable supplies like needles and syringes, bandages, etc. One hospital can serve as many as 20,000 people.  In 2015, Tilly asked AFYA for 10,000 birth kits to encourage the women in rural areas to deliver in the hospital rather than in their remote villages without medical care.  From one container a year to two containers a year, the wishlist has grown and each year the wishlist changes. This year the containers are filled with dental equipment, incubators and x-ray machines.
Novlet Davus is a nurse practitioner at St. Francis Hospital in New York.  She started a foundation, LJDR Davus Foundation, to honor her 4 siblings who died in Jamaica due to a poor medical system.  Every July, Novlet organizes an annual medical mission with a team of 84 recruited doctors and nurses, dentists and support staff to treat people who have limited or no access to medical care in Jamaica.  Since 2013, the annual mission has treated 4,000 patients of all ages using the lab equipment and medical supplies from the AFYA warehouse.  As a nurse practitioner, Novlet wants to encourage the young people in Jamaica to have wellness visits so they are not waiting until they get sick to seek out medical care.
Pete Johnston is an MD training at a global surgery fellowship at Rutgers University.  He volunteers at an NGO, International Surgical Health Initiative (ISHI).  ISHI runs medical missions in 6 developing countries: Peru, Ghana, Sierre Leone, Philippines, Guatemala and Haiti.  The doctors’ mission is to work in district hospitals in the rural areas that are poorly supplied and under staffed.  Pete goes to AFYA’s warehouse with his wishlist and finds the supplies that he needs to perform routine surgeries.  Typically, there is a backlog where people have waited a year or two for a general surgery.  These one week medical missions serve over 50 patients.
AFYA needs funding support and sponsors for these shipments.  Corporations, family foundations and schools have been helpful.  AFYA’s ‘Luggage for Life’ program is for families who want to deliver a bag of supplies and have a meaningful moment when they go on vacation. Don’t forget to sign the Pictition, #ACT4REFUGEES to show your support and for more information and to donate, go to the AFYA’s web site, http://www.afyafoundation.org.

Donors come from a multitude of ages and a breadth of experiences

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

AFYA medical supplies.jpg

AFYA’s mission to rescue and recover surplus medical supplies and equipment is a greening solution in the US that saves lives abroad.  AFYA finds donors from a multitude of places: a grieving family who wants to donate the unused medical supplies that were needed for a loved one, a doctor’s office that is downsizing or merging, a Nursing Home that is updating their equipment, a major Hospital that has tunnels full of supplies turning into waste, a school collecting first aid or school supplies for refugees, a B’nai Mitzvah or Girl Scouts project.

Every product has a positive impact. The products that are sent abroad range from chairs for doctors to sit on, pens for medical charts, balls for children who are waiting for their parents in a African rural health center, birth kits for midwives in rural villages, 3500 bars of soap from a girl scout’s gold award and student desks and chairs.

Danielle Butin, Founder and Executive Director of AFYA has many stories about receiving packages from donors from unusual places.  She told me one story of a family who had monogram sheets from their parents who fled Nazi Germany.  When they read in the news about people in Haiti who were being buried in mass graves after the earthquake, they donated the sheets so the families could wrap their loved ones and bury them with dignity.

Wendy Isaac’s family was grieving the loss of her father who had suffered from Parkinson’s. They had an apartment filled with medical supplies and did not know what they were going to do with it all.  A friend sent a condolence message and said if you need a place to donate any medical supplies, I have just the place.  Her mother was relieved at how simple AFYA made the experience.  They found comfort in the knowledge that the left over supplies will make a difference for someone else.  Wendy said “it felt like a gift to us.” Her father, a philanthropic man, would have been honored that they had done something meaningful amidst the grief.

I spoke with Cindy McCollum,  Sr. VP, Hospital Operations and Shane Dunne, Project Manager for Sustainability, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  Their relationship with AFYA began when their diverse staff were interested in supporting the Haitian community who were recovering from the Earthquake in 2008.  After an introduction to the AFYA Foundation and their work, they organized an internal process to collect and donate excess consumable items such as gauze, bandages and catheters to the foundation. As the relationship with AFYA expanded, they formalized the process to work on diverting other excess materials from the waste stream, such as office furniture. In one instance, when MSK Nursing refurbished their conference room, they donated their conference table and chairs and received images of its use in a conference room in a Malawi health center. They have worked to donate various materials, even hospital beds along with supplies to AFYA, helping to provide relief for the Syrian refugees in Lesvos, Greece, in response to the Ebola epidemic in Sierre Leone and for relief of the severe earthquake in Nepal.  MSK’s relationship with AFYA has grown to include events for their staff to volunteer their time at AFYA’s warehouse to sort and pack the supplies.  They have an ongoing and structured Donations and Equipment Recovery process under the Sustainability Program with contributions from across the Center to manage their day to day efforts.  Memorial Sloan Kettering’s commitment can be seen by their dedicated Donations page on their internal web site for staff to list needed supplies.

For AFYA’s newest initiative to help Syrian refugees, they are in need of children’s rain boots, first aide supplies, soap and school supplies.  Check out the website, for more information at http://www.afyafoundation.org.  Sign the Pictition, #ACT4REFUGEES (pictition.com/Act4Refugees) and show your support.  Who knows where the next donor will come from?

 

 

 

 

Awake and Aware: Saving Medical Supplies To Save People

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

AFYA means health in Kiswahili, the language spoken in East Africa.  Danielle Butin, Founder and Executive Director of AFYA, is a dynamic visionary who heard the stories of people who were in need and answered with saving and delivering medical supplies around the globe.

She is awake and aware, and couples her leadership skills with the art of listening.

Danielle is drawn to chaos.  Where others feel paralysis or a desire to escape disaster areas, Danielle focuses on her mission — responding to the ongoing need for healthcare supplies in developing countries — and finds solutions to the chaos when disaster occurs.  AFYA responded to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, provided medical equipment for the search and rescue boats picking up refugees pouring into Lesvos, Greece and continues to respond to the need for medical supplies by supporting ongoing health care missions in 70 countries spanning Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.

Danielle is a former Occupational Therapist and Aging Specialist whose personal journey shifted when she traveled to Tanzania and found herself sharing a tent with a physician from London who was there to do medical mission work.  This physician was crying because although she had the ‘know how’, she did not have the medical supplies she needed to save lives in Africa.  Danielle’s response was a powerful Call to Action.  After she returned to the States, Danielle contacted the ED of “Partners in Health” and figured out how to save the unused medical supplies being discarded by hospitals and medical care facilities in the NY area.  Danielle collected the surplus medical supplies and equipment and found matches abroad.

Today, with over 2500 volunteers, AFYA stores and sorts the supplies and sends them to medical facilities and health care providers to save the lives of people in developing countries, disaster areas and to refugees living in tent camps.

AFYA’s newest initiative is sending medical supplies to Syrian refugees.  AFYA is in need of raising funds to send supplies to Haifa, Israel and partnering with the IDF to bring those needed supplies to NGO’s in Syria to be used in medical tents for refugees.  Please sign the Pictition, ACT4REFUGEES, and show your support by sharing it on Facebook and social media to spread the word.

Visit the website: http://www.afyafoundation.org to to learn more and to support their amazing humanitarian work around the globe.

Continue reading

Optimism For Diplomacy

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The release of five American prisoners held in Iran was the culmination of a sustained diplomacy between the US and Iran.  By directly engaging with Iran, the US was able to secure a landmark nuclear deal, lift the economic sanctions in Iran and secure a prisoner exchange program.

There is hope that in this environment of creating new partnerships, further progress can be made on Syria peace talks, economic and social reforms.  One can only hope that the government leadership will continue to build trust and create more stability and improvement of human rights.

The diplomatic success achieved in Iran and Cuba illustrate the possibilities of dialogue, incentives and perseverance.  Where there was once isolation and a cycle of mistrust, there is cause for optimism for diplomacy within the global community.

 

 

“Being Strong and Smart, Resilient and Relentless”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Sunday night, President Obama addressed the nation as an American leader we can depend on and who we can trust with a plan that is consistent with our cultural values.  He reassured us that we can defeat the terrorists “by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”

Fear is in the air, where terrorists have created a sense that danger can exist anywhere.   The President asked people not to give into the fear and not to turn on each other as fear can spread to those who identify as Muslim.  We can not let this war with terrorists become staged as a war between Islam and the West.

The President shared the counterterrorism work that is being done by the United States to fight the Islamic State.  He called for tougher screening of travelers who come to the US without visas and he called for gun control.

“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.”  The President’s message was one of hope, to win over fear.  Some of the Presidential candidates, on the other hand, are flaming the fear, using this moment in our history to sound like a leader who is tougher and more capable of defeating the terrorists no matter what they would have to do to succeed.  Instead of hope, they offer us war, prejudice and isolation.

The president reminded us that success “won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for.”

What would help you feel safe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Win the Information War

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

A woman in Madrid holds a flier as part of January 2015 solidarity rallies after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Others carried signs denouncing the attack and saying "Not in my name." (GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty)

One important way to defeat ISIS is by winning the war on information.

ISIS declares itself the rightful heir of the founders of Islam.  It considers itself at war with all people and nations who do not meet their standards as true Muslims.  It calls itself a caliphate, claiming to represent the entire Muslim community worldwide.  The idea of the caliphate evokes for many Muslims the idea of a glorious and unified Islamic civilization.

ISIS now has the most sophisticated propaganda machine of any terrorist organization, said Matthew Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.  “It turns out timely, high-quality media, and it uses social media to secure a widespread following.”  With high-quality videos posted to YouTube, smartphone apps , online chat rooms, and Twitter/Facebook accounts sending messages in multiple languages, ISIS has become very good at using new tools in waging their information war.

To counter ISIS, one has to counter ISIS recruitment efforts and at the same time counter their ideology as the rightful heirs of Islam.  This calls for a  global public relations battle.

Muslim leaders have already started organizing or expanding prevention programs and discussions on countering violent extremism, often with assistance from law enforcement officials and trained counter-recruiters who emphasize the Internet’s dangers for young Muslims.

In addition, Muslim leaders need to educate and reclaim their understanding and interpretation of Islam.  “When asked ‘what is Islam?’ many of the ISIS fighters answered ‘my life.’ They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, but had learned of Islam from Al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda, teaching that Muslims like them were targeted for elimination unless they first eliminated the impure.

This illustrates the gap between real and imagined Islam.  It seems prudent to fill that gap with a global public relations campaign to provide positive, pluralistic and peaceful messages of Islam in mainstream media, in schools, mosques, public arenas and on social media platforms.

Muflehun, a think tank based in Washington focuses on countering violent extremism.  Visit their web site to get more information and give your support, muflehun.org.