We Give Back


“Help others without any reason and give without the expectation of receiving anything in return.” ~Roy. T. Bennett

I’ve been in a funk this season of giving. Maybe it is because of the political situation in the U.S. Possibly it is because of the crowdsourcing scams I’ve seen in Nicaragua and my island home of Ometepe. And then again, it could be because lately I’ve been disappointed in people in general.

Whatever the reason for my funk, the only way I know how to get out of it is by stressing the goodness of people, the selfless acts of giving, and promoting people who give without any reason and without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

For this reason, I would like to introduce you to two expats on Ometepe Island who give back selflessly to their communities.

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Let’s Get Real about Crowdfunding


“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston S. Churchill

I have used a crowdfunding website to ask for donations two times. Once when Los Ramos needed help recovering from a devastating landslide. Help Los Ramos Rebuild
The other time was to help Los Ramos get uniforms and supplies for the Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Both times I was thrilled by the success of the fundraisers. But, like Winston Churchill says, “We make a living by what we get and a life by what we give.” Sometimes both are intertwined in a scam from a crowdfunding website.

For example, a crowdfunding website in which a guy named Nigel asked for donations to help Los Ramos during the landslide. He posted his GoFundMe webpage on a Facebook forum of expats in Nicaragua. I’ve been actively involved with the community of  Los Ramos for over 12 years, so I contacted Nigel on Facebook. We became Facebook friends, and I asked what he was planning to do for the people in Los Ramos with the funds.

He gave me a song and a dance and my gut told me something was fishy about his GoFundMe website. I went to Los Ramos and asked if they knew a guy named Nigel who delivered medicine and paid for the bulldozer to grade a new road into their community. No one had ever heard of him, no medicines were delivered, and they said that the mayor in Altagracia had paid for the bulldozer.

Further investigation led me to a police website in Florida where he was wanted for fraud. I contacted the GoFundMe website administrator, gave them all the information I had, and his webpage was shut down the next day. A week later, I saw him on the island and personally confronted him. He disappeared from Nicaragua and deleted his Facebook account.

My point in writing this article is that we have to be very careful when we give to a crowdfunding webpage, especially if we are not familiar with the person.

So, Let’s Get Real about Crowdfunding Websites with a list of pros and cons.

 

Pros
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Responsibilities of U.S. Embassy Wardens


“Lets have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Five years ago, the U.S. Embassy warden for Ometepe Island moved back to the states. She asked me if I would be willing to take on the duties of the warden for the island and of course, I said I would.

My primary responsibility as a warden for the U.S. Embassy is to aid in communicating with my fellow U.S. citizens living and visiting Ometepe Island in the event of an emergency. So, I’d like to describe my volunteer position to you.

  1. My main responsibility as a volunteer is to assist consular sections in disaster preparedness, welfare & whereabouts, and alerting fellow Americans to emergency situations. Mainly, I am a messenger. We have a Google group and a Facebook page where I can send messages I receive to the community of expats on Ometepe Island.
  2.  I facilitate distribution of routine administrative information (changes in section work  hours, procedures, embassy closures, voting information) of interest to the U.S. private community. I also provide important, timely safety and security information, which might include the times and locations of upcoming local demonstrations, areas of potential unrest due to local celebrations or elections, or information about a specific medical issue.
  3. The U.S. Embassy sends me email messages and provides me with a contact list of all the U.S. Embassy wardens in Nicaragua. I am invited to July 4th celebrations at the Embassy. Although, I have yet to attend because it is a long trip to Managua, and I have to spend the night because I can’t get a ferry back to Ometepe Island after 5:30 pm.

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First Aid on Ometepe Island


Safety is as simple as ABC – Always Be Careful.

Several years ago, there was a horrible accident on Ometepe Island. A drunk driver on a motorcycle crashed into another motorcycle head-on. Then, two more motorcycles tried to swerve to miss the accident and they both laid their bikes down.

One motorcyclist died on the panga that transported the injured to the mainland. Two suffered traumatic head injuries. The scene was horrific. The first-responders were ill-equipped police. They had no equipment, no understanding of assessing the injured before moving them, no latex gloves, no ambulance, and no training in first aid or CPR.

Nicaragua has come a long way since then, but there is still a long way to go in training first-responders at the scene of an accident. This past December, every community in Nicaragua held an emergency simulation.

Since Ron is a CPR and first aid trainer, he volunteered to head the simulation.
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Let’s Get Real About Transparency and Donations


“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

There has been a lot of talk about transparency in the political arena lately. However, my post is focused on transparency in giving. How can you be certain that your donation will serve others and not be used for administrative purposes? Can you earmark specific donations to an organization that has a tax-deductible status? What are the best crowdfunding and fundraising websites? And, how can you be certain that your donation to one of the crowdfunding websites will be used appropriately?

I’ve researched the best way for me to solicit donations for my little La Paloma Library in Nicaragua. I’ve debated on whether to apply for a 501(c)3 tax-exempt status or continue as I have been, seeking small donations through fundraisers and crowdfunding websites.

I am preparing for the future because what will happen to my little library if I move off the island, travel more often, or return to the states? Can it survive without me? I’ve invested my money and time in developing a comprehensive program to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. It is my legacy. So, in preparing for the future, I want to leave a program that will last beyond me with solid plans and financial support.

So, Let’s Get Real about Transparency and Your Donations…

I. Everything you need to know about your donations to a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization

This section gives me a headache! First, you have to determine if an organization is a charitable organization with a 501(c)3 tax-deductible status. According to the IRS tax-deductible donation rules:

The 501(c)3 groups receive the major part of their support from the public rather than from a small group of individuals. They also use the bulk of donated money to further their stated exempt-organization goals. The 501(c)3 groups include churches, hospitals, schools and groups that provide disaster aid, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and similar organizations.

If you would like to earmark your donation to be used for a specific purpose, it is important to know that charitable organizations welcome recommended designations, but that all gifts go to the organization and are subject to its control and final discretion. 

When a 501(c)3 organization receives a charitable gift the organization is required to submit a written receipt to the donor stating (1) the donee organization has ultimate discretion over the destination of the contributions; (2) a confirmation that the donor intends for the organization, not the individual, to be the gift recipient; and (3) an acknowledgment of the donor’s preference to support a particular individual.

The last point is ambiguous in this area of giving because qualified organizations must remind donors that improperly earmarking gifts may compromise the deductibility of the donation.

For example, if an individual wanted to make a monetary donation to my library, I could partner with a 501(c)3 charitable organization so the gift could be tax-deductible. However, there is no guarantee, according to the IRS laws, that an earmarked donation will be used for my library.

This is where transparency is needed. All donors to a 501(c)3 organization must receive a written receipt of their donation as well as be informed that the charity has the final say about where the money will be used.

It is too complicated for me, a one-woman operator. I can’t see the advantage of partnering with a 501(c)3 organization because of the excessive requirements by the IRS with no guarantee that my library would receive earmarked donations. And because of the tangle of bureaucracy involved in becoming a 501(c)3 organization, I would rather keep it simple. In addition, many of my donors are foreign donors whose donations are not tax-deductible because it only applies to U.S. citizens.

Tax Deductible Donation Rules

Fuego y Agua donations for my library and the La Paloma Elementary School.

La Paloma Elementary students check out the new book donations.


II. Crowdfunding and fundraising websites

Crowdfunding websites allow individuals and businesses to solicit donations for any kind of project by accessing a large number of potential donors. There are advantages and disadvantages to using crowdfunding websites and the potential for abuse is always a concern.

Best Crowdfunding Sites for 2016

I have used YouCaring to Help Los Ramos Rebuild after a devastating landslide that destroyed their community and for donations to support The Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Transparency in seeking donations on a crowdfunding website is important. I believe it is imperative to respond to each donor, to be specific in how their donations will be used, and to be open, honest, and accountable for  the money spent.

For these reasons, I always write a blog post with photos about how the donations have been spent and help the recipients of the donations write a letter or make a video thanking the donors. Goodie Bags for Los Ramos    Los Ramos Says Many Thanks

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Humans of Nicaragua: Romeo’s Juliets


“Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Once there was a homeless dog on the Calzada in Granada, Nicaragua. He loved hanging around the outside café tables, begging for food, playing with the tourists, and sleeping peacefully under tourists’ feet. He was nicknamed Romeo for his charming personality. What a lover he was!

Romeo charmed many people with his sweet personality, but it wasn’t until two very special people came into his life, that he found his forever home.

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Romeo’s first Juliet

The first “Juliet” in his life was Jennifer who works with Granada Animal Outreach-Nicaragua. Jennifer said that Romeo came to her attention because he was always on the Calzada looking for food from tourists.

He was sweet as can be and we became buddies. I noticed he had the mouth issue, constantly moving his jaw. I tried to look in his mouth to see if something was caught in his throat, but saw nothing. He needed to be neutered so that was a great opportunity to have him sterilized and have his health checked out. The vet, Dr. Steve from Canada, the director of World Vets in Granada, described this condition as the symptoms of a previous case of distemper, probably when he was a puppy. This was now his ´´new normal.¨

13617398_10153778440693660_517514316_nAfter his surgery, the area became infected and he was in a lot of pain so I took him to my house to recover. He was pretty much perfect… wanting to please, looking for love and attention. I knew more than ever that I wanted to find him a permanent home. Also, some of the kid street vendors had started to abuse him and hit him with palm fronds… I knew it would not be a happy ending.

So, she posted this on the Granada Animal Outreach Facebook page:
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I had received numerous messages about him from people that had met him on the Calzada…. like maybe 5-6 people but no one ever followed through. I was feeling really down. And then Laura came along…..
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Somali Refugees: A Burden No One Wants to Share


While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives. ~ Antonio Guterres

I’m back! Back from a long journey in which I learned the art of letting go. But, before I write about what I learned from those experiences, I will start at the beginning of our journey.  We used to fly out of Managua because the tickets were cheaper to the states, but now Liberia, Costa Rica beats the airline price from Managua by at least $400 for each round-trip ticket for our route.

We packed light knowing that we would return with many supplies and books for my children’s library. Leaving Nicaragua at the border was easy. We simply showed our residency cards, paid 200 cords apiece to leave and walked to the Costa Rica side of the border.

The closer we got to the Costa Rica immigration office, the more armed and shielded police we saw. What was going on? We knew the Cuban refugees who had been detained at the border were gone. Overturned garbage barrels, trash littering the streets, and stray dogs running with bits of garbage treats they scavenged reminded me of a scene out of Mad Max Thunderdome.

IMG_1795At the Costa Immigration office, we were the last ones to have our passports stamped. I thought it was strange because there are usually long lines at the border. The officers appeared to be distracted and they never asked us for proof of leaving the country, so we gathered our luggage and started to walk out the door to catch the bus to Liberia.

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Part Two: Service Learning and the La Paloma Library


“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~Sir James M. Berry

Sunshine they indeed brought…in the form of painting our library, the smiles and laughter of the children, and their service to others. In August, a group from Go for Hope completed a service learning project at our La Paloma Library.

I am sorry this post is so old, but I wanted to spread the word about our new donations.
Fuego y Agua Ultra Marathons will be held on Ometepe Island the first week in February. We volunteer to run the aid stations every year and it is so exciting.

IMG_0157This year, the Fuego y Agua is going to give all the proceeds from their annual Beer Run held on Friday, February 5th to our La Paloma Elementary School.
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Behind the Tourist Scenes on Ometepe Island


IMG_1121Surreal looking, isn’t it? We have lived on Ometepe Island for many years, and this morning was our first trip to the garbage dump. I have no words for our experience. It is an open air dump where horses and dogs scavenge for food, children work picking through the garbage, and putrid smells and flies infiltrate every part of our bodies.

Tourists NEVER see this. Yet, I feel that they need to see our dump. Awareness is the first step to changing the world. Yet, in creating an awareness of this atrocity, where do we go from here?

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Service Learning and the La Paloma Library


“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ~ Milton Berle

In my case, change the word “door” to “a library.” I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how we first encountered Nicaragua. In 2003, my husband, son, and I delivered over 500 pounds of school supplies to an impoverished school in Granada. I found the need on the Lonely Planet forum when I was searching for an international service learning project to do with my high school classes.

Service Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enhance the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Learn and Serve America Fact Sheet

I am trained as a service learning instructor and have completed many service learning projects with a variety of age groups. We built playgrounds, water fountains, picnic tables, painted school cafeterias, and then, I branched out internationally to help a school in Nicaragua.

So, when I received an email from Go For Hope/Supporting Community Libraries in Nicaragua, and they were bringing a service learning group to Ometepe Island, it was another serendipitous moment. I had asked for some help, and they arrived with paint brushes in hand and a willingness to spread the love of reading to my little elementary school library.

Joe Hafner organized the service learning group. When they arrived, we were ready for them to begin two days of fun in our little library.

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