Title: Cofounder of Lil’ MDGs & Chief Strategist at Under the Acacia
Hometown: Derry, NH
I cofounded Lil' MDGs, a unique international development organization that strives to educate, engage, inspire, and empower children in all corners of the world to forward the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To date, we have mobilized over 4 million children worldwide to work on a variety of issues and now have more than 24,000 regular volunteers hailing from 41 countries.
I am the Chief Strategist and Project Ambassador for Under the Acacia, a non-profit organization working on projects in Africa. I was part of an international team that helped build a school for a remote Maasai community in Loita, Kenya. The school opened in January of 2010 and now has an enrollment of 209 students.
Special training or skills needed:
I did not enroll in any specific course or training. I did need to hone my skills in public speaking, networking, time-management, operating a non-profit, and decision-making, to name a few. I equipped myself with these skills purely by capitalizing on the resources that were available to me. I discussed the issues with my parents, sister, mentors, and my teachers. Although I have improved these skills, I cannot say that I have mastered any of them. I am learning a better way to do something almost every day.
Tip: Learn from the
people around you.
How to overcome skepticism:
The biggest obstacle I faced was overcoming skepticism from numerous sources when I first began. It was both a challenge and a frustration when we could not get some adults and businesses to take us seriously. I relied on my sister for support and advice. She helped me evaluate each situation as thoroughly as possible, while simultaneously encouraging me to be persistent. As a result of this, I developed the mentality of not allowing a closed door to discourage me; instead, I look for new avenues to bring my ideas to fruition.
Tip: Collaborate to
Helpful companies or agencies:
There were, and still are, numerous organizations, businesses, foundations, schools, and individuals who have been, and continue to be, helpful to me and to my organization in many ways.
The Oracle Education Foundation: They were our first supporters. They hosted a website that we, youth from various elementary schools, developed on their server, which gave us a lot of visibility. As a result of this, we were able to have children in various countries work together to raise and report $780,000 for tsunami relief in southeast Asia. Since then, we have been able to leverage the recognition by the Oracle Education Foundation to obtain the support of:
The United Nations
We are Family Foundation
The UPS Store
and local, national, and international media
How to reach out to other orgs:
I reached out through my sister’s connections and network. My sister has contacts with organizations and individuals in various countries and I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with them through her introductions.
My family: They were, and still are, my main resource.
I needed a computer with Internet access, a printer, a scanner, various software items, CDs, DVDs, a camera, a camcorder, a phone, and a fax machine.
Word to the wise:
In my limited experience, I have observed that it is important for us to be sure that the project that we are working on is something we are truly passionate about. It is hard to stay committed to a project that does not interest you, so I would suggest that anyone interested in starting a new project or their own charity to first dabble. By dabbling, I mean that they work on the project for a few weeks or a few months to see if they are excited enough to sacrifice their leisure time for it or get up early in the morning to support the project. If not, they should find another interest and try the same until they identify a cause that truly excites them. Before starting their own charity, I would also suggest that they join an existing charity to test the waters and learn the skills they need to be successful with their work.
I guest blogged for The White House's "For the Win"
How to jump on the movement:
We are currently focused on expanding the capacity and offerings at one of our schools, Loita Hills Academy (http://www.loitahillsacademy.com), which is in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. We are raising funds and resources to make this community completely sustainable.
One of our campaigns, 15,000 bottle caps for Africa, involves collecting bottle caps to build a learning center at the school.
The idea for this campaign was dreamed up by Charles Newman (http://www.charlesnewmandesigner.com/), a designer from New York City, who has come up with a plan to build the Loita Learning Center using recycled bottle caps. The project will engage the local women in Loita during the construction and implementation phase. We are looking for individuals to collect bottle caps for this project throughout the USA as well as in other countries. This is a simple project that anyone can participate in, regardless of age, or geographic location.
Interested individuals can send an e-mail to email@example.com for further details.
We are also in the process of implementing a solar-powered Internet kiosk at Loita Hills Academy, primarily funded by the Internet Society, under the expertise of our partners, Voices of Africa for Sustainable Development and Intersat Africa. The learning center will also boast a library that will be implemented in partnership with Adele’s Literacy Library.
These are just a few of the many projects that we have currently in progress in the Maasai community, but there is something for everyone to work on, regardless of age, and I would urge everyone to explore our websites and contact us with their interests and passions and what they would like to be working on. We can help them get started, share with them stories about our successes as well as lessons learned from our failures, and discuss with them details about our ongoing projects. We also have resources, such as brochures, press releases, and more on a variety of topics that we can make available to interested individuals. In October, we will be launching our new website, and this will include several interactive games for users to stay online, play, and learn about global issues.
Youth gathered at one of Lil' MDGs Thousand Paper Cranes Workshop. Origami paper cranes made at the workshop are mailed yearly to be dedicated at the Hiroshima Peace Monument
Comfort dolls knit by families throughout the USA are distributed to disadvantaged youth worldwide; Lil' MDGs has so far distributed over 23,000 comfort dolls, through their Stitched with Love program, to children in 14 countries. In this picture, Lil' MDGs founder Dylan Mahalingam, is distributing comfort dolls to refugee children.
Families gather with little children (5 and over) at one of Lil' MDGs Time to Clay Workshop. Families volunteer together to make and paint pottery to distribute to soup kitchen and facilities providing nutrition education and assistance to children from low-income neighborhoods.
Dylan and youth gathered at one of Lil' MDGs Thousand Paper Cranes Workshop. Origami paper cranes made at the workshop are mailed yearly to be dedicated at the Hiroshima Peace Monument.
Lil' MDGs co-founder Pooja Dharan with the stuffed animals made and donated by families to be distributed to underprivileged children. Through their Stuffed with Hugs program Lil' MDGs has distributed over 9,000 stuffed animals to children in four countries.