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Some exciting news, friends – I was published on the Huffington Post! In an effort to inspire readers to invest in women, I wrote this as part of Half the Sky‘s campaign called Raise for Women. It’s sort of a collection of many stories you’ve heard right here, many times before, but written for an audience who hasn’t necessarily been exposed to the state of women in the developing world, and those personal stories that inspire us to get involved.

My favorite thing about this was the email the Half the Sky team forwarded me the next day – it was from someone who had submitted an application to be a community ambassador after reading my story. Nothing feels better than this right here:

” I recently read Amy Schoenberger’s article on the Huffington Post and was inspired.  I’ve been searching for an organization that helps women on a grand scale empower themselves for quite awhile.  Hearing Amy’s story and reading through the website, I instantly knew that Half the Sky was what I had long been searching for.  I would love to create awareness here in the Los Angeles area as I know many women who would be honored to participate in this sort of global activism for women.  With the surge of female awareness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and women’s issues on both a political and social level, I believe Half the Sky could really help lead the new feminist movement.  It would be a privilege to be an ambassador but more so, I want to help women of all social classes both inside and outside the US learn to use their voice.”
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Why Travelers Were Likely To Fare Better in NYC’s Blackout

As most of the world knows, Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast last week, debilitating one of the strongest cities in the world, and in an unprecedented event, lower Manhattan was without power and completely dark for five full days. How did New Yorkers react during this crazy time? Some wandered the streets aimlessly, many camped out with friends who lived in NoPo (North of Power), but many chose to remain in their own homes in the eerily pitch black, post apocalyptic feeling downtown. I was one of those people.


And although I escaped several times to take a hot shower uptown or eat something other than Triscuits, I realized while washing my face with a wetcloth that preparing for a blackout was very similar to preparing for the unknown in travel. And so I bring to you the five reasons travelers were likely to fare better than others when living for almost a week without power:

  1. We have non-perishables: As travelers board a plane to an unkown destination, we don’t know where our next meal is coming from or whether or not it’ll be edible. And sometimes we’re afraid to eat the food served to us in these unknown lands, so we keep a supply of our favorite granola bars on us at all times. Plus we likely have some stocked in a cabinet from the last time we traveled and didn’t plow through our excess supply of larabars.
  2. Our toiletry bag is at the ready: Since we travel often, we have our clear plastic case (full of TSA-approved three ounce bottles!) pretty much at the ready and fully stocked, in case we decide to hop a plan at a moment’s notice (I really wish I did that more often.) So when friends came and rescued us to go have a hot shower at their apartments, we just had to grab our toiletry bag, a clean pair of clothes, and get the hell out of that cold, dark apartment.
  3. We have gear: If you’ve ever gone camping, you likely have a headlamp and/or lanterns. If you’ve ever gone hiking or traveled to a rainforest area, you probably have waterproof shoes and/or boots for walking through puddles and getting through unexpected weather. All of these items came in handy when we were walking around in the dark, sometimes in nothing but our headlamps and all-weather boots.  Just kidding! Sort of.
  4. No cell service, no problem: I’m one of the few people who still does not have an international cell phone, and aside from when I traveled solo to Guatemala, I don’t usually rent one for international trips. Which means the only internet access or communication with loved ones, friends or any part of the outside world comes in the form of a daily trip to a hotel lobby with wifi (or if you’re camping, a trip to the nearby diner.)  Last week was pretty much like that, but instead of being out all day doing interesting things and then coming home to check email, it was sort of reversed: we sat in the cold apartment all day trying to entertain ourselves until we ventured out to get wifi, cell service and communication with others.
  5. The water thing isn’t SO bad: Last week was not the first time I brushed my teeth with bottled water or had to go to the bathroom without flushing. In many parts of Asia and Africa, there isn’t running water, and toilets are basically holes in the ground. While others complained about the issue of not being able to flush, I was at least happy to be in a comfortable “first-world” bathroom. Although I can’t imagine how tough it was for people who were living for five or more days in their homes without running water, let alone those in third world countries who never have access to running water, ever.  I was lucky enough to be weathering the storm with my apocalypse ready boyfriend, who was able to flush at least once a day by dumping gallons of water into the tank.

 

But in all seriousness, these minor inconveniences we had to deal with for a few days was absolutely nothing compared to the devastation some people in our area are still facing. We’ve resume our normal, everyday lives, and for many, that’s not going to be possible anytime soon or ever. My dear friend Jon has done an amazing job organizing a group called the Sandybaggers, comprised of various organizations and volunteers looking to donate supplies and lend a hand to those in need as the recovery efforts begin. If you want to learn more, or find ways you can help out, check out their Facebook page.

Hopefully now that the lights have come back on, we can appreciate the modern conveniences we use everyday and not take them for granted. Now let’s give back to those who need it, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and to those around the world.

Who Run the World?

It’s a really good time to be a girl. Last week, global leaders gathered at Mashable’s Social Good Summit and while I only attended the last day of the summit, one major takeaway was clear = we can end poverty if we just invest in girls. Last night, Part One of the Half the Sky documentary premiered on CBS, and Sheryl WuDunn so articulately stated, “Educate a girl and she will change the world around her.” Next week, millions of events, fundraisers, talks and celebrations will take place to commemorate The UN’s Day of The Girl. 

Why so much double X love lately? Because of journalists like Nick Kristof, and because of the instantaneous global access social media provides, people are starting to have a much richer understanding of how bad things really are for girls growing up in the developing world. The horrors are unimaginable, how poor village girls are sold to brothels at the age of 8, raped as toddlers, burned with acid, or forced to give birth before their bodies are developed enough to bear that burden. Go look up what a fistula is and where in the world it happens and tell me you’re not compelled to do something to help these poor girls. The issue has always been that these girls are so undervalued so nobody has paid much attention to them. So as a result they have no means or knowledge about how to get out of their situation, with no access to education or no knowledge of anything but their one remote village, it has been almost impossible for them to make a different life for themselves and their future generations.

Two years ago when the Girl Effect video came out, I wrote about how lucky I felt to have been born in America. The amazing thing that’s happened in bringing all these horrible issues to light, is that people are paying attention. People have started to do something about this problem, and change is happening. Organizations are popping up everywhere, from fistula hospitals in Ethiopia to foundations that invest in female business owners in the developing world, to organizations that invest solely in girls’ education so they can try to prevent the problem before it starts. Girls who are educated are more likely to marry later, have fewer children, and to provide for their families, lifting them (and their communities) out of the cycle of poverty.  

I hope you’ll watch the second part of Half the Sky tonight, participate in The Day of the Girl, start a fundraiser of your own or donate to one of the organizations below, which I personally love so much. If one little girl can trek two hours in a riverboat every day just to be the only one in her small Cambodian village to graduate from high school, we can easily click a button to help inspire more girls to follow that path, right?

Here are some things you can click:

http://halfthesky.org/en/take-action

http://www.shesthefirst.org/donate/

http://www.buildanest.org/

And just so we’re ending on a lighter note, a reminder text from Hillary.

Barns and Castles in Connecticut

In the years I’ve known Rebecca, she’s never really done anything traditional. Starting her own nonprofit after grad school, moving around the country multiple times a year, dropping everything for a last minute trip to Kenya, the list goes on. That’s why it came as no surprise when we attended her very unique wedding in a beautiful barn one August evening up in Litchfield, Connecticut. Aside from the picturesque setting, she had small touches throughout the ceremony and reception that incorporated Nest – a green belt across her white dress, hand-painted napkins and handmade stationary as favors, all designed by Nest artisans in India.

After the ceremony, we spent the evening eating freshly made pizza (the brick oven was driven in on a truck!) with ingredients from local farms, catching up with old friends and dancing barefoot on the grass to a bluegrass trio.

The next day we went to a breakfast at the home where Rebecca and her family were staying – and we were absolutely blown away by this place. Called the “Litchfield Castle,” upon entering the grounds you’re transported to a different country and a different time period. It was hard to believe we were in America, in 2012, only two hours away from NYC. Just take a look at the photos.

 

See what I mean? To top it all off, Rebecca and her new husband took a vacation in one of my favorite places – Portugal! Now the happily married couple is back home and back in action as they try to make the world a better place. Congratulations to them both!

Making An Impact

I just had a random memory. When I was about 10 years old, my friend’s mom gave us permission to walk their German Shepard – this huge dog that was probably bigger than both of us at the time. As we were walking down the block, the friend accidentally let the leash slip out of her hands and the dog started running down the street.  Somehow, my 10-year-old reflexes were much quicker than I realized, and I grabbed the end of the leash just before the dog really took off.  We caught up with him and calmed him down. As my friend took hold of the leash again, gripping it tightly, she thanked me for not letting her dog run away because her family would be devastated if they lost him forever.

As I slipped out of that daydream, I wondered why I just had that random memory. I traced my thoughts back and realized I had just been thinking about Robin and how I got her the job at Domino Magagzine that would eventually fuel her passion for Interior Design and her subsequent but short lived career as a designer.  Then my thoughts went to a sort of dark place, but I regained clarity and decided I can only hope that the impact I had on Robin’s life was a positive one.  I hope.

I never really realized why I eventually got so involved in philanthropy or where this passion came from – but I think I just figured it out.  That memory of my neighbor’s dog sticks out so vividly because it was the first time in my life I can remember thinking, wow, I just had a really strong impact on this person’s life – good thing I was there!  And it felt wonderful. Having an impact on someone’s life, big or small, can be very powerful.  About two weeks ago, a conversation with a friend led to a series of events that I can only hope will turn into something amazing.  It’s only partially philanthropic, but it’s sort of big, and while I sit back and realize how the smallest acts really can have such an incredible impact, I can’t help but be amazed.

I hope if you’re reading this, that you’re doing what you can to make a positive impact in some way – however you define it.

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The Urge for Going

So much of what I write here is about where I want to go instead of where I have gone. While I can’t travel all the time due to a number of circumstances (money, vacation time, people willing to join me, etc.), I try to travel as often as possible. Something I’ve learned is that one of the best parts of travel is the anticipation leading up to it.

As I sit here over what I still call “winter break,” I’m scrolling through Facebook updates and Twitter statuses of what seems to be everyone I know announcing their winter travel plans. Costa Rica, Florida, Europe, Hawaii. I haven’t even boarded a plane since August. This may be the longest stretch I’ve gone without heading anywhere new or exciting, and it’s sort of eating away at me.

Last month, two of my travel stories were published on Fathomaway.com – one about Morocco and one about Portugal. Reliving those stories just makes me want to get away even more. So while no travel plans have been finalized for 2012, let’s get excited about one trip that MIGHT happen. Because even if I never end up going to any of these places, it never hurts to dream a little.

Before I go into the details of my next trip, let me share some stats I learned from a supermodel. A woman dies every 90 seconds from pregnancy complications. 90% of these deaths are preventable. So many women around the world simply don’t have the access to healthcare, education and contraceptives. And one more shocking stat – pregnancy complications is the number one cause of death for all women worldwide between the ages of 15-19.

My sister Lisa, a medical student hoping to specialize in women’s health, is on the board of IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Foundation), an organization that helps with maternal and women’s health in developing countries. They’re planning a trip to a maternal health clinic in Mexico this March, and Lisa and I hope to join them. We’ll be teaching them about prenatal care and women’s health, delivering medical supplies – and most likely learning a lot from them.

Yes, this trip is not all about helping the women – it’s about my need to travel and see what’s going on in the world – even if what’s going on over there might be a little tough to see. But why not try to make a little bit of a difference in the world while fulfilling your own dreams? After all, one of the best parts of charity is the reward of how good you feel after doing a little bit to help others.

So for my last post of 2011, let’s remember that while trying so hard to live out our own dreams, with a little bit of extra effort, we can help others who are less fortunate. Here are some links in case you’ve been inspired to help with maternal mortality – by donating to IPPF, Every Mother Counts, or CARE.

Happy New Year!

Dancing for Peace

Sometimes I love my job. Today is one of those days. I recently had the opportunity to take on a pro-bono client, a New York based organization called Dancing Classrooms, which teaches middle school aged children how to ballroom dance. (Was also the inspiration for the movie “Take the Lead” with Antonio Banderas)

It wasn’t until our third or fourth call that I learned about this amazing project that Dancing Classrooms founder and renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine had created. Dulaine was born in Jaffa, Israel, to an Irish father and Palestinian mother. He took his Dancing Classrooms program over to his birthplace in the middle east, fulfilling his lifelong dream of teaching dance to Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli children – together. His program forces the young people to meet each other face to face and work together to coordinate the steps involved in partner dancing. Dulaine had a documentary crew follow four children as they embarked on this program in Israel – you’ll be able to see it soon…but I can’t give away too many details yet.

These children, despite their cultural, religious and political differences, are now being introduced to each other in a way that enables them to work together at a young age. They actually make friends with one another through dance, movement, and cooperation.

Think dancing can save the world?

Me too.