Archive for the ‘NGO’s’ Category

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As many of you know, we try to be frugal: food from Grocery Outlet (discount store), clothes from Thrift Town, baby clothes from friends, (one) car from eleven years ago. But even after our year overseas, and the re-evaluation of our lifestyle, there are still a few things we’ll spend top dollar on: chocolate, coffee, and Christmas cards.

Why those? Because they can all be bought fair trade, meaning that unlike cheapo Hallmark cards or Hershey’s chocolates,* the people making them are guaranteed a fair wage and livable working conditions.** They don’t grow cacao or coffee at Samaritana, but they do make greeting cards. These are a great way to broaden awareness of the human beings on the other side of every purchase, while also investing in relationships with your family and friends. At Samaritana, each woman signs the card after she makes it, and it also includes a few sentences about how the purchase helps that woman build a new life.

We saw the difference fair trade makes firsthand during our time in Manila. Although the Samaritana women are also trained in catering, house cleaning, jewelry making, and sewing, the card business is their best income source. Two of the women we knew not only fed their children this way, but also paid for electricity to be connected to their parents’ rural home. For a few dollars more than the generic brand, these products helped an entire family—and that, in short, is the power of fair trade.

Granted, five dollars a card might seem like a lot–but it’s comparable to other handmade cards you’ll find at specialty stationery stores, and not that much more than customized photo cards you get online. But best of all, every card you buy is a step toward the kind of world we want to raise our children in.

Cards (Christmas, holiday, and general greeting) made by Samaritana women are available at Samaritana’s US partner, Sanctuary Spring.


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*Historically, Hershey’s has been a notable violator of fair-trade practices. They recently committed to certifying 100% of their cocoa in the future, but have been vague on which certifications they will adopt. The upshot is, whether it’s Hershey’s, Nestle, Dove, or any other brand, unless you see the black-and-white Fair Trade logo on the wrapper, it was likely produced using slave labor.

**We’re happy to report that most of the major coffee chains now sell a fair-trade variety, including Caribou, Dunn Bros, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peets, Starbucks–and even Costco and Wal-Mart! For a longer list of shops selling fair-trade coffee, plus other fair-trade foods, you can scan this guy’s blog post. (Just remember that you have to ask for the Fair Trade coffee, since in most cases these places won’t automatically serve it.)

In the hills of northern Thailand live minority tribal communities that are also spread across neighboring Laos, Myanmar and China. The Thai government recognizes nine (Akha, Hmong, Karen, Khamu, Lahu, Lisu, Lua, Malabree and Mien), but there are more as well. They are some of the poorest people in Thailand, but beyond that, they live without something most Americans couldn’t imagine living without any more than they could imagine living without a car, fast food, or cell phones: basic citizenship rights.

These tribespeople have been living in Thailand for generations (so they’re not refugees; they are entitled by birth to be Thai citizens), but being at the geographic and economic periphery of the country, they’ve largely been left to fend for themselves. Chiefly farmers in former times, they scrape out a living by guiding treks, selling crafts and the like, but what happens when the tourists don’t come?

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The problem is, when you’re only given short bootstraps, you can only pull yourself up so far—and when the bootstrap breaks, what then? The tribespeople generally don’t have their citizenship documents, so they only have access to elementary education and limited health care. They’re also prohibited from traveling beyond their small district, so finding work can be difficult to impossible out on the margins of Thai society. Thus out of desperation they fall prey to traffickers, who use men for construction work, and women for prostitution.

This is where IJM Chiang Mai stepped in. Previously IJM had been focusing efforts on rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking victims (as they do in the Manila office, where I help), but they concluded that they could have a much greater impact addressing the supply side of the problem: all these people without proper documents (and hence opportunities). Each year since shifting focus to documentation, the Chiang Mai office has helped over 800 tribespeople take this crucial step into full-fledged citizenship and away from the dangers of trafficking. For an encouraging summary of one family’s story, see this article on IJM UK’s web site.

What I found pleasantly surprising and encouraging (and I hope those of you who might consider volunteering with IJM will too) is that unlike with most of IJM’s other offices, the work in Chiang Mai doesn’t necessarily require a legal or social work background–and also, as this post from a current intern observes, simply having a college degree and English proficiency can serve an important function in this office’s work. So if you have a sense of adventure, enjoy beautiful tropical places, and get pumped about eating real Thai food, IJM Chiang Mai might be able to use your help! Check out IJM’s fellowships and internships here.

— Nate

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The week before Easter, we participated in the Global Hunger Fast, an experiment in poverty where we attempted to live on $2 per day, as much of the world’s population does. It was eye-opening, challenging and unexpectedly rewarding (see this recent series starting here). As with the rest of our time here, we were honored by responses from friends and family back home about how great this was, how much people respect what we’re doing, how people can’t imagine doing it themselves, and so forth.

It’s true that life in Manila isn’t easy. But last week, we had the mental ibuprofen of an imminent return to our relatively comfy missionary lives, where we can buy vegetables, exercise, check Facebook at home, and even occasionally go out to eat or watch a movie. In the same way, our Manila grind has always had the soothing “just for a year” refrain in the background. But what if it didn’t?

Dave and Maria Cross are part of Servants, an international NGO whose mission is living with, befriending, and helping poor urban people around the world. It’s a fascinating approach to volunteerism and service that inverts the typical Western missionary souls-and-tasks-first, culture-second paradigm, and for us, and anyone considering such work, prompts serious reflection.

Hailing from oft-idyllic New Zealand, Dave and Maria were living and working with tenement dwellers in a city there, but then felt called to something even less comfortable. So they moved to the Philippines, and now live in a squatter community down the road from us in Quezon City. Since the Servants model is cultural immersion and relationship-building first, projects second, Dave and Maria are spending their first year here studying intensive Tagalog in language school, and getting to know their thousands of neighbors.

In addition to knowing the language, Dave and Maria are also living just like those around them. Their home is about 250 square feet, consisting of a kitchen/dining area and bathroom downstairs, and prayer nook and bedroom upstairs. They do all their cooking over a 2-burner propane range; there is no microwave, toaster,  blender, oven, dishwasher, or even refrigerator. There is no glass on the windows, and no air conditioning; to battle the heat they splurged on two fans, one per floor. They don’t have a TV, and to use the computer they take public transportation to the Servants office 15 minutes away.

When we first met Dave and Maria at language school, we were immediately curious about the life they’d chosen. When we visited Samaritana women in their squatter communities, we thought of Dave and Maria, and were impressed. But when they invited us over for lunch, and told us that the minimum commitment with Servants is three years, we were inspired, humbled, and challenged.

Dave met us at the entrance to the squatter area, and walked us through narrow alleyways, around goats and chickens, past men lounging with potbellies out and women cooking lunch in communal woks.  Everyone seemed to know Dave, and he introduced us to a dozen curious onlookers on the short walk.  When we sat down to lunch, little kids peered in their window to check out the newcomers, and didn’t go away even after Dave and Maria had chatted with them and had turned back to us.  We asked them about all of the things that we knew would be tough for us in their situation.  How did they deal with the lack of privacy?  Were they worried about their health?  Did they constantly feel compelled to give away their own modest dinner? What do they do for fun?

We left with more questions: Could we do it ourselves? Is it the right thing for us? We’re not sure yet. It would’ve been tough, if not impossible, to offer our skills in writing and communications to IJM and Samaritana (and for Laura to write her novel) if we’d lived in a squatter community without a computer. We also have a millstone of a mortgage tying us down, necessitating a return to paid work. And yet Dave and Maria’s commendable lifestyle brings a number of worthwhile points to mind:

  • Wherever we live, we could make do with less.
  • While people with specific backgrounds have their valued place in volunteer work (lawyers and social workers, for example, at IJM), an organization like Servants challenges us to remember how important relationships are in any kind of ministry.
  • Dave and Maria didn’t just up and move to a squatter community the day after their wedding; it was a gradual process that started in their home town. So for the rest of us, maybe it’s time to just donate an hour or two around the corner, and keep an open mind.

— Nate

Some of you have wondered, “Nate had all this talk about working with IJM. They’re a pretty great organization. So why haven’t we heard more about it?” A few reasons. First of all, IJM’s Manila office is a bit . . .cozy. Cozy to the point that there isn’t space for the communications intern and me. So I’ve been working remotely, and also because of that, less with IJM and more with Samaritana.

It wasn’t what I expected, but to volunteer for both has been an enriching and meaningful learning opportunity, because while IJM and Samaritana both aid victims of prostitution and trafficking, their approaches and structures are almost polar opposites: Though IJM’s staff in Manila is all Filipino, the feel is very Western, with mostly English spoken around the office, headquarters in DC, an international presence, ace legal team, high-drama, time-sensitive operations, and great organizational muscle (they do also have a number of Western interns and fellows). Samaritana, on the other hand, is very Filipino: mostly Tagalog spoken, founded here and with one location, patient, relationship-based work, small, family feel, and humble, yet amazing staff. It’s been a unique privilege to learn from both.

However, in addition to visiting the Samar office (see post here) and the Chiang Mai office in Thailand (post upcoming), one of my regular duties has been writing, editing, and collaborating on the layout for the Kalayaan, the quarterly newsletter from IJM in the Philippines (Kalayaan is “freedom” in Filipino). So to catch up and give you a sense of their work, I’ve included screencaps of the cover of the September 2010 newsletter, as well as of several articles I wrote. In the future I’ll also post excerpts from the two succeeding newsletters we’ve done; let us know in the comments if you’re interested in me emailing you the pdf of the entire 8-page newsletter.

— Nate

Because Justice Matters is a San Francisco-based NGO (whom some of you might’ve met at Taste for Freedom last May), and they work to combat modern-day slavery, domestic violence, discrimination against immigrants and economic inequality. They are having a fun Valentine’s Day outreach event, and could use a few volunteers. We hope you might be able to spare a few hours, dollars, or words to help!

— Nate

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Valentine’s Women’s Outreach!

February 12th, BJM is hosting our next women’s outreach event to coincide with trafficking awareness month here in San Francisco. (This is one of many events happening to address the issue of trafficking; for a full list of events click here.)

Saturday February 12th, 10am-noon we will be opening our doors to women and offering free manicures, an individually written Valentines card and a safe place to sit with other women and enjoy coffee and candy!! What better way to gear up for Valentine’s?! The purpose of our outreach day is to create a safe place for women to connect with us for friendship and resources; many who attend these events end up returning for our free weekly nail painting and pursuing referrals and support.  But we need your help to make this day a success! To sign up please e-mail

Volunteer Nail Painters: don’t worry, no experience needed. We do a simple massage, file and paint. You will receive a 101 training from our cosmetologist on staff,

Prayer Team, Coffee Servers, and Friends (people to sit with the women after their manicure and simply talk). All volunteers must arrive at 8:45am for orientation. The doors will close at noon and we ask that volunteers stay for a short 30 min clean-up and debrief.

Personalized Valentine’s Cards: We would like each woman to receive a card for valentines. We’re looking for people to purchase a card (or make one), write an encouraging word, prayer, scripture etc inside and give to us. These cards will be handed to the ladies as they leave. Please DO NO SEAL your cards or give personal contact info. This is an easy way to touch a life. Perhaps your place of worship or small group could get on board. We need 80 cards. (Please refrain from ‘preaching’ or offering ‘challenging’ words in your cards. Notes should be uplifting and hopeful) Cards should be sent or delivered to BJM before Feb 7th. 357 Ellis Street, SF CA 94102.

Candy: If you would like to make a donation of Valentine’s themed candy, it would be appreciated. Women will be invited to stay in a coffee house lounge atmosphere. Candy will be in bowls on tables and women will be allowed to help themselves. Please drop or send donations by Feb 7th to address above.
If you cannot be with us on the day, please consider donating or joining us in prayer. We look forward to partnering and blessing many women this February! With thanks,

Ruthie Kim
Director, Because Justice Matters

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Quezon City, like most of metro Manila, is a cloud of exhaust, a cacophony of roosters, stray dogs and permanent traffic, a wet blanket of heat. But step through the doors of Samaritana Transformation Ministries, and you find yourself in an open-air courtyard with a stone labyrinth set in the grass, a soothingly trickling fountain, and the airy feel of freedom in every room. Women sing as they cook or clean, and others laugh as they make earrings or greeting cards to sell in the Philippines and the U.S.  You may also see women working on their English language skills, sharing past hurts in Tagalog Bible studies, quietly talking in individual or group counseling, or more recently, gathering together for yoga or strength training in our newly-formed Freedom Fitness group (more about that later).

Samaritana has been sending volunteers and staff out to the bars to build relationships with prostituted women since 1992, when then-seminary student Thelma Nambu and other friends met to pray for, visit, and befriend these poorest of the poor, lowest of the low who make the worst kind of living by selling themselves each night for the equivalent of $2 or $3. The ministry was inspired by the story of Jesus meeting an outcast woman at a well, and showing her the way to a new life that didn’t involve men using and then discarding her. Bringing that story to life today, Samaritana is a haven for women who have left, or want to leave, their lives on the streets.

During an orientation meeting for new volunteers, we learned about Samaritana’s extensive programs: in addition to the daily schedule for “women friends,” there are scholarship programs for children, medical missions, police training (to educate them about sex trafficking and to view prostituted women as victims, not criminals), partnerships with faith-based and secular feminist NGOs alike, and visits to squatter communities to spend time with new women friends who have not yet left life on the street—just to name a few.  To hear the women’s stories of abuse, poverty, and shame, it’s astounding that anyone can recover, and yet we see daily proof that healing is, in fact, possible. The same young women who have been pushed to the edges of society (both culturally and geographically) are now giggling as they watch Nate wash dishes (kitchens are generally women’s turf here) or teach us how to eat fish and rice with our hands.

Healing from lives of abuse and shame is slow, hard work, but it’s clear that Samaritana has spent every bit of the last eighteen years figuring out how to best serve these women, and that God has blessed that work.  We’re honored to be a part of it, and grateful to all of you who have supported us (and Samaritana) in our work here!