Thursday, May 13, 2010

sharing skills, changing lives

a guest blog by courtney hempton

[reading The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty]
and a thought.
always lurking... a thought...
became a decision.
months of planning and days of travel later, i am here.
volunteering in the Republic of Cameroon with the support of a partnership program between Australian Volunteers International and Voluntary Service Overseas.
and i am privileged.
by the completely kaleidoscopic experience of living in a developing country, and by the daily opportunity to contribute to minimising the disparity between how the world is and how i wish it could be.
all from a mere thought...

disclaimer: the above opinions are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of Australian Volunteers International or Voluntary Service Overseas.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Around Australia on a Push Scooter

Vratka Pokorna has written to tell us of her plans to make an epic journey down the entire east coast of Australia - on a push scooter - that's right, no engine - to raise money to help the world's impoverished children. What an amazing commitment she is showing.

Here is what she writes. If you want to help her achieve her goal, her contact details are at the end.

Vratka writes:

I want to live in a world where children are valued and respected. Don’t you?


Scootering the nation for next generation is my fundraising journey on a push scooter across Australia. The expedition begins in the town of Laura in northern Queensland and finishes 4300 kilometers later in Melbourne, Victoria.


July 2010 to November 2010.


Around the world nearly nine million children die every year before their fifth birthday.

The aim of this trip is to show others that we can each make difference to the lives of those living in ‘third world’ conditions overseas and for the many Australians living under extreme hardship.
My message is simple, “If we can donate just one dollar a day, we can eliminate suffering.” My main focus is on saving the lives of children who are living in poverty so I’ve teamed up with the ‘Save the Children’ organization who will be responsible for distributing the funds raised from my expedition to those who are most in need.


My name is Vratka Pokorna. I am a 45 year old female who has come to a point in my life where I no longer wish to ‘talk’ about helping those in need. I have decided to do something – to take action and to encourage others to do the same.

I came to Australia 15 years ago from the Czech Republic. I married a fellow Czech immigrant, Peter Krhut, a former university teacher of psychology and education. Peter and I discussed the world poverty and the plight of disadvantaged children on many occasions which led Peter to embark on his own journey to raise awareness and money many years ago.

Peter and I separated 3 years ago as his heart was in Europe and mine is here in Australia, but it did not stop us from being good friends and to collaborate on our future plans to help those less fortunate. Not only do I have his emotional support and practical advice for my journey across Australia, he will provide a unique opportunity to publicize my journey across the globe. He will undertake a scootering journey across the Czech and Slovak republics to support my trip, and will cover about 1000 km over a one month period.

I’m currently working in Corporate Finance Division and also studying Psychology at Monash University.
My employer is highly supportive of my journey, allowing me 5 months off work to complete the trip. To achieve this, I will be using all my accrued annual and long service leave. Part of the 5 months will also be unpaid leave. Whilst I acknowledge this sacrifice of time and money will not be easy, the desire to show others that we can make a difference is driving me to achieve this goal.


I am a 45 year old female; though fit and healthy I am not an athlete. I am here to show others that if I can travel by push scooter across Australia, they too can embark on their own journey. It may not be on a scooter, it may not be a physical journey at all. It could be as simple as forsaking your daily, store-bought, coffee and putting aside that money for donation.

The choice of the push scooter as a mode of transportation is to capture the attention and imagination of audiences across Australia - and the world. Almost anyone – adult or child can use a push scooter but no female has traveled across a continent on one!
Many people find the sight of a grown woman riding a scooter unusual and somewhat amusing. Most people would be surprised to see someone use a scooter to travel such vast distances. It is this sense of curiosity that I am sure will draw people to my message.


I will be covering a distance of 4300 kms over 5 months, averaging 35-40 kms a day. The starting place of Laura is not accidental. Laura is a small town of approximately 120 people – predominantly Aboriginal.

Laura is about 300kms north of Cairns and boasts the largest collection of prehistoric rock art in the world – giant figures known as Quinkans, after whom the region was named. According to legend, they were the spirit figures that usually lived in cracks in the rock and came out to frighten people and keep them ‘in line’.
There is evidence of Aborigines living in this region for more than 13,000 years.

By beginning my journey in Laura I will tap into the spiritual root of Australia, to feel a part of a spiritual community. The people of this region are living in extreme/harsh conditions and they are no stranger to poverty. As a community they rely on and help each other. In my opinion, this is the true meaning of ‘community’.

I will have a support vehicle travelling with me throughout the journey.
My sister, Martina McPeace, a veterinary surgeon; Peter Peithner, the son of the famous Czech artist/painter; and also Dr Ivan Wierer, a top Czech surgeon who is the private doctor of Vaclav Havel ( former president of the Czech republic) will comprise my support team . Their varying roles on the trip will include: support vehicle driver, masseur and cook.


I want to live in a world where children are valued and respected. Don’t you?

Your assistance in advertising/promoting this trip can help to provide hope and opportunity to children in Australia and across the world.

Our target is to raise 3 million dollars!!!


Save the Children is the world’s largest independent child rights development organisation, making a difference to children’s lives in more than 100 countries. From emergency relief to long-term development, Save the Children secures a child’s right to basic food and shelter as well as health, education and protection.

Save the Children Australia manages and implements programs in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. It also supports development programs through our global network in selected countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.


I love traveling and I have been lucky enough to see many parts of the world; including India, Tonga and Vietnam, where I saw poverty with my own eyes. I felt a deep sense of compassion and empathy with the people I met. I experienced a feeling of hopelessness that I could never forget. The desire to give money, clothing, and food - whatever I could spare - was overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel bad for the way Western society buys and wastes so much when there are others with so little. How many of us buy things we really don’t need? How many of us throw half-eaten and un-eaten food in the bin? How many of us have new clothes in our wardrobes we have never worn or have just bought another knick-knack or pair of shoes that we ‘just had to have’?

I discovered a book called “The Life You Can Save” (Picador, 2009) by Peter Singer, internationally renowned author, speaker and Professor in Bioethics. Peter challenges us to think through and act on our moral responsibilities – to create a better world. A passage from this book truly emphasises how important it is not to ignore the plight of those in desperate need of our help:

“Most of us are absolutely certain that we wouldn’t hesitate to save a drowning child, and that we would do it at considerable cost to ourselves. Yet while thousands of children die each day, we spend money on things we take for granted, and would hardly miss if they were not there. Is that wrong? If so, how far does our obligation to the poor go?”

Peter Singer shows us not only that a solution is possible, but also that we have a moral obligation to be part of it.

Peter’s words aim to motivate others to go ahead with their own fundraising events, to demonstrate how one dollar a day can eliminate world poverty. My own experiences and the writings of Peter Singer led me to the decision to embark on a journey of self discovery; to challenge myself physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Together we can help to provide the tools, skills and resources necessary for this next generation to break the poverty chain. A future we can all look forward to…

to donate:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Guest Blog: Saving money by cooking at home

by Sarah Willson

Reading The Life You Can Save last summer made me realize how simple and necessary it was for me to dedicate a percentage of my income to life-saving charities. But with just one average salary at my disposal, that didn't seem like enough — I wanted to do more.

Inspired by the chapter about creating a culture of giving, I decided to help get the word out (at least to my friends and family) by starting a blog. Some Good ( combines weekly cooking experiments with charitable giving: I pick a recipe I can make cheaply at home, then donate the money I saved by not buying takeout. It may be a small sum every week, but I've saved about $80 per month so far, and if I'm influencing others to give as well, then I've achieved my goal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Guest Blog: "Birthday for Charity"

by Boris Yakubchik

For the second year in a row I chose to have a "Birthday for Charity" where I urge my friends to refrain from giving me presents other than donations which I would match (up to a point) and donate to a specified charity. In 2009 I made a website to encourage others to do the same - pledge publicly some amount of money. Here is the result: ($415 donated)
This year the website is fully interactive - anyone is able to register and host their own Birthday for Charity. While charitable contributions from my friends this year are lower than last year - I hope others will be inspired to have their own Birthday for Charity ($230 donated)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Write us about what you are doing to save a life

Perhaps, like Adam Lerner (see the previous blog) you have done something unusual to raise money for those in extreme poverty. Or to spread the word about and encourage people to pledge.

Share your ideas. Send us your story, in anything from 100 to 1000 words, and if we think it suitable, we'll publish it here as a guest blog. You may inspire others and save even more lives.

Send it to Thanks!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Guest Blog: The Alternative Alternative Spring Break

By Adam Lerner

In the United States, most universities give their students one week in March to do what they need – or want – without having to worry about going to class. They call this week off “spring break”, and the standard way to spend it is by hopping on a plane to some place with warm beaches and a lower legal drinking age – one such popular destination is CancĂșn, Mexico.
Recently, though, an increasing number of students have deviated from this standard and decided to take what are often advertised as “alternative spring breaks”. Alternative spring breaks also consist in hopping on a plane to a sunny locale, but instead of laying on the beach sipping drinks, students are put to work aiding impoverished communities, often by building houses, running medical clinics, or teaching English. These international service trips, as they’re also called, travel to countries like Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Ghana – places that really need help.
Like many of my service-minded peers, I also thought I would do something morally good this spring break. But instead of going on an international service trip, I am sitting at home enjoying the company of my family and a few good books. How in the world is this morally good?
Taking the money I earned working over winter break, and the money I received for working as a teaching fellow this semester, I am donating $1414 – the average cost for one student at my university to go on an international service trip during spring break – and giving it directly to VillageReach, a highly efficient charity which works to improve infrastructure that would otherwise keep lifesaving vaccines from those in rural Africa who need them. By staying home, I am actually doing good abroad.
How much good? According to GiveWell, a non-profit committed to evaluating charities not just on their financials but on their human impact, my donation could be used by an immunization-focused organization like VillageReach to save at least one and up to seven lives.
VillageReach is GiveWell’s top-rated international charity, meaning that it strongly satisfies all four of their evaluative criteria: demonstrated impact, cost-effectiveness, scalability, and transparency. If GiveWell is right, then I am doing the most good I possibly can with the monetary resources I have. Does this mean those participating in international service trips are doing less good?
I’m not in a position to say for sure just how efficient service trips are or are not. But I don’t think anyone is, for that matter.
Service trips are difficult to evaluate, and it’s not just because they tend to be coordinated by small organizations that lack the means to analyze their own impact, but because much of the good service trips claim to engender can’t be counted simply in terms of lives saved. The good they contribute, it is often claimed, is something less tangible. Service trips have the power to shape attitudes towards poverty and suffering, to make their participants into caring citizens of the world in whom the seeds of future service are planted.
This might be true. Without a doubt, most service trip participants return home having acquired both a profound emotional tie to those in extreme poverty and a strong desire to perform more service. But to what end? I think it’s fair to say that most participants channel their newfound motivation into raising money to repeat their trips for a second, third, or even a fourth year. I’ve even heard of graduates going on to create their own annual service trips.
But if a significant reason why service trips exist is to motivate students to perform more service in the future, and the service they end up performing later (say, in the form of more service trips) is itself largely justified by how it will motivate them to perform more service in the future, then it seems we’ve gotten ourselves into a closed circle of justification in terms of motivation that never intersects with the reality of meeting the needs of the world’s extremely poor. Participants just keep getting more and more motivated… to get more and more motivated.
Fortunately, I think the above picture is incomplete. First of all, some service trip participants do go on to devote their entire lives to service working for efficient charitable organizations. Assuming they would not have gone this route without having first gone on a service trip, service trips can be said to be worth the money for these people and those they will help in the future. Nevertheless, I suspect people like this make up only a small minority of those who go on service trips.
Secondly, even if a significant portion of service trips’ justification does amount to mere self-perpetuation, this doesn’t mean they do no good at all. In fact, I think they do quite a bit of it. Talk to anyone who has gone on a service trip. They would be glad to recount to you the joy they saw in the faces of those they helped – those for whom they built a bedroom, pulled a tooth, or taught an English sentence. Many are with little doubt doing real, tangible good – certainly more than the student who blows $1000 on airfare to CancĂșn and drinks on the beach.
But if it’s true that giving to a highly efficient charity does more good (and perhaps significantly more good) than going on an international service trip, wouldn’t one expect those who have been so motivated by their experiences to eventually come to the point where they just want to do as much good as they can with the resources they have? If so, one would expect them to give the money they would spend on a service trip directly to charity.
Is this psychologically realistic? After all, it’s not like all service trip participants have $1400 sitting around ready to go – they work really hard all year long trying to raise money through concerts, bake sales, and other events to reduce their costs. And they do a remarkable job – many end up paying just a few hundred dollars to cover the airplane tickets that take them outside the country.
But couldn’t these fundraising efforts themselves be reoriented directly towards charity? I think they could, but let’s be charitable to service trips and say that as a matter of psychological fact, they couldn’t. Let’s say that students are only motivated to raise so much money because in the end they know they will see the fruits of their labor firsthand. In this case, we arrive at a dilemma. We could encourage students to give $300 (the price many service trip participants end up paying out of pocket) directly to charity, or we could continue to encourage them to raise $1400 each to go on a service trip. The question becomes: is more good achieved when $1400 is spent inefficiently or $300 efficiently?
$300 could easily save one life if given to the correct charity. I simply don’t know how many lives per participant service trips save, if any. I am sure it depends on the service trip. If for every $1400 spent sending one college student on a service trip, at least one life were saved, then going on that trip could in fact be one way to maximize moral good. But accepting this last part requires assuming once again that it is psychologically implausible to expect a college student to be able to raise $1400 and just give it straight to an efficient charity.
I hope that in making my donation I have shown this last assumption to be false. I think many college students like myself are already motivated to help the world’s desperately poor and that this comprises a non-negligible part of what motivates them in raising all of the money they do for their service trips. For this reason, if what we care about above all is doing good, then we should give to charities that are proven to successfully help those they aim to help, do so in a cost-effective manner, have potential for productive growth, and make their records available for those who ask to see them. Some service trips may satisfy these criteria, but no one knows. Until they do, I feel better placing my bets elsewhere. After all, this is a matter of life and death.