Amazing Organizations We Experienced

Text by Dick Simon

We visited with and learned about NGO and social enterprise organizations doing amazing work. Explore their websites and see the differences they are making in the world.

Akilah Institute for Women – Kigali Rwanda – Akilah is the first women’s college in Rwanda and offers a 3-year Business Diploma with majors in Entrepreneurship, Hospitality Management and Information Systems. 97% of Akilah students are the first in their family to attend higher education. Akilah seeks to “build future generations of women leaders and professionals in East Africa” by connecting its graduates directly to the workforce.” Founded and led by Elizabeth Dearborn-Hughes (Elizabeth@akilahinstitute.org).

ASYV (Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village) – Rwanda – ASYV is a magical village less than two hours from Kigali for orphans of the genocide in a boarding school environment with top teachers, world-class facilities and emotional support. ASYV’s mission is to “enable orphaned and vulnerable youth to realize their maximum potential by providing them with a safe and secure living environment, health care, education and necessary life skills.” Founded by Anne Heyman (anne@asyv.org)

Dakshana – Dakshana – Kottayam, Kerala, India and 5 other locations throughout the country – provides an intensive, final two years of secondary school for economically disadvantaged, extremely bright youth with high potential from rural villages to prepare them for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance exams, completely changing their potential life course. Dakshana’s mission “is to focus on investing in the delivery of world-class education opportunities for exceptionally gifted children from impoverished rural backgrounds in India.” We spent time with CEO, Colonel Ram Sharma (rsharma@dakshana.org), and founder and major funder Mohnish Pabrai (mpabrai@pabraifunds.com) is an amazing individual and friend.

Free the Children (FTC) – Udiapur, India with development programs in China, Ecuador, Haiti, Kenya, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, as well as empowering youth in North America and the UK.  FTC is the largest network in the world of children helping children through education, health, clean water & sanitation, agriculture & food security, and alternative income generation. Their Adopt-a-Village model has been cited as one of the best in the world for lifting people out of poverty and addressing the Millennium Development goals. It was an inspiration and pleasure spending time with Scott Lloyd Hanoman (lloyd@freethechildren.org) who runs India for FTC or contact Executive Director Scott Baker (scott@freethechildren.org).  I am honored to be on FTC’s Board for the last 5 years, and to know and have the opportunity to work with the amazing Founders, Marc and Craig Kielburger.

Gardens for Health International (GHI) – Kigali, Rwanda – “Provides lasting agricultural solutions to the problem of chronic childhood malnutrition.” GHI partners “with rural health clinics to equip families facing malnutrition with seeds, livestock, and know-how for greater self-sufficiency.” Their investment has enabled over one thousand farmers to “have the resources to feed themselves and their families in dignity.” GHI’s founder is Julie Carney (Julie@gardensforhealth.org).

Ikirezi Natural Products – Kigali, Rwanda – This fantastic social enterprise creates jobs and economic vitality through sustainable and organic essential oil production utilizing Fair Trade principles. Ikirezi “partners with small farmers in Rwanda to harvest plant leaves for essential oil production. Ikirezi primarily works with widows and orphans in a holistic effort to resort their dignity, improve their livelihoods, and rebuild their communities.” Nicholas Hitimana (nicholas@ikirezi.com) runs the company and we were introduced through his partner and fellow YPOer Dennis Overton (dennis.overton@aquascot.com).

Project Healthy Children (PHC) – Kigali, Rwanda, as well as Burundi, Honduras, Malawi, Mali and Nepal. PHC works with the governments to develop micronutrient fortification requirements, strategies, standards and programs to address, on a very cost effective national scale, the effects of devastating micronutrient malnutrition. As a small nonprofit, PHC “assists government and industry in designing and implementing countrywide, market-based, mandatory food fortification programs.” Contact David Dodson (ddodson@projecthealthychildren.org). I am honored to have served on PHC’s Board.

Reality Tours (Global Exchange) – Mumbai, India – Global Exchange “is an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world.” As an “education and action resource center, Global Exchange seeks to “empower locally and connect globally to create a just and sustainable world.” Reality Tours offers “experiential educational tours, connecting people to issues, issues to movements, and movements to social change.” Reality Tours gave us fascinating and inspirational insights into Dharavi, featured in Slum Dog Millionaire, presenting to us a real behind the scenes look at the incredible people and economic enterprises active there. Every visitor to Mumbai should experience Reality Tours.  Contact Alessandro Isola in the Reality Tours Department.  Alessandro@globalexchange.org

Rwanda Genocide Memorial and Museum – Kigali, Rwanda –Stands as a living memorial to the million Rwandan Tutu genocide victims slaughtered over a 100 day period, honoring their memory and providing current awareness and education to ensure that horrific events like this never occur again. “The Centre in Kigali was created by a joint partnership of the Kigali City Council and the UK-based Aegis Trust. It contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide and an exhibition of other genocides around the world.” Built on a site containing the graves of over 250,000 Rwandan victims, it serves as “a clear reminder of the cost of ignorance.” Honore Gatera is the amazing Manager for Kigali Genocide Memorial. (honore.gatera@gmail.com).

Uthando – Cape Town, South Africa – Uthando creates a bridge between visitors to Cape Town who seek to learn more about the Townships and make a difference, and inspiring community based organizations. Director James Fernie (jamesfernie@uthandosa.org) leads Uthando South Africa, “a unique and innovative nonprofit and fair trade in tourism accredited company, with the aim of raising funds and other forms of assistance for community development projects in South Africa.” Every visitor to Cape Town should experience Uthando and the incredible organizations it is allied with.

Video Volunteers (VV) – India – VV “envisions a world in which all disadvantaged communities have their own locally relevant and locally produced media that celebrates their culture, voices grassroots concerns, and stimulates dialogue to find solutions to endemic problems.” VV acts to empower the poorest citizens of the world to become “players in the global media revolution” by providing “disadvantaged communities with the journalistic, critical thinking and creative skills they need.” Jessica Mayberry’s (info@videovolunteers.org) Video Volunteers “train marginalized communities to produce news, watch it, take action and devise solutions.”

WasteLess – India– This non-profit social enterprise has developed Garbology 101, an “interactive, interdisciplinary, multi-age educational kit for children from 6 to 12 years of age, providing a unique perspective on waste and its responsible management.” Garbology 101 provides the children of today the information on waste management they need to make informed decisions for tomorrow, using a “participatory approach with a high level of involvement from teachers and students.” Founder Ribhu Vohra continues his work on effective waste management, working to make this waste education a worldwide habit.

Women For Women International (WfWI)– Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Sudan – Women for Women International “provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.” This work helps “women go from victim to survivor to active citizen and provides financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education.” Antonina Kayitesi (akayitesi@womenforwomen.org) operations in Rwanda, an office we had an opportunity to visit and learn about their work in the socio-economic transformation of Rwandan Women, truly changing the world one life at a time.

YPO/WPO Social Enterprise Network (SEN) – The SEN Summit in Chennai, India was an initiative of SEN Ambassadors, business leaders around the world, celebrating the spirit of ten outstanding Indian social entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas and commitment to solve specific social issues close to their hearts.  This amazing conference was the brainchild and very hard work of JK Jhaver.

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Top Experiences List

Text and Images by Dick Simon

Most of the writings about our experiences have been from Patty, who has been GREAT at being prolific and sharing.  I have been busily photographing, and those images are used in conjunction with her writings throughout the blog.

I love to reflect back on a trip or experience by thinking about the Top Experiences.

For me the overall best was spending the special times with Alex, Ben and Patty in Africa, and Patty throughout this journey (and sharing all of this with her, including helping with her collecting discarded bottle cap project).


In terms of specifics, my highlights would include:

JP sharing his deeply personal genocide experiences, and helping us imagine the unimaginable.  In Kibuye, Rwanda we walked through the market in his village, realizing that many of the ‘nice’ merchants has been directly involved in slaughtering their friends and family; and seeing his home and the houses of the neighbors still living there, who had murdered his family. This surrealistic scene also hit me at a soccer game the first night in Kigali – ‘normal’ people cheering their teams – how did they become mass murderers?


Gorillas – Being face to face with these massive ‘cousins’ in the wild in Rwanda is definitely a top life experience.


Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India– Being in the midst of millions of Pilgrims coming from all over India, and thousands of Sadhus, or wise men, the first night photographing everybody walking around in a cloud of DDT, the 2am bathing day wanderings with the Sagers and being swarmed by hundreds of naked, ash covered Nagas racing in a stoned frenzy to the river.


Ulagalla Resort – The ultimate Peace Dividend in Sri Lanka –developed immediately after the war, the only Sri Lankan hotel included in a TripAdvisor Top Ten list, and for us coming at the perfect time when we needed a break. We took walks, did bicycle explorations, watched fisherman at sunset and took a morning kayak to see and photograph birds, and spent 3 days of eating our Anniversary cake, which we first got at a magical anniversary dinner on their Observation Deck.


Spending time with the Maharana of Udaipur, India in his amazing palace to brainstorm ways of working together to improve lives in that region of Rajasthan, which his family has been Custodian of the region through over 70 generations and 1400 years.

Really joining celebrations – There is something about being a foreigner with a camera which I experience as license to be in the middle of everything going on, rather than a well behaved bystander – being the only white face in the Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) parade and celebration in Cape Town, and being invited to climb onto the parade floats with the most esteemed Hindu Sadhus at the Kumbh Mela procession (our guide said people did good deeds for a lifetime to achieve that honor – ignorance is bliss!)

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In greater Kruger National Park, South Africa – coming upon a pride of resting lions at night, who gave blood curdling roars.  (I know that for some inexplicable reason we were ‘safe’ from these apex predators in our open sided jeep, but really…)


The slow pace of traveling by houseboat in the Backwaters of Kerala.

Mumbai-with its overall intensity and contrasts, from arriving to Suki’s Protocol Officer and a sumptuous dinner in his amazing home and another with YPOers leading many of India’s major companies, to touring the slums and largest open laundry in the world, and the magnificent Hotel Oberoi as our oasis from the frenzy.

In Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, heart of Tamil Tigers during the war, befriending the officer sent to check out and potentially punish us for taking photos.  Once he became convinced we were not with an NGO there to embarrass the government, we became buddies and I took our picture together!

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Watching groups of monkeys diving from the trees into the lake at Cinnamon Lodge – I never knew they could swim!


YPO SEN Summit in Chennai and the synchronicity of the timing working out perfectly to participate with this fantastic group of business leaders and social entrepreneurs.

In a more general sense,

I love the serendipitous encounters made possible by creating space and time in travels – fisherman, watching crocodile in the ocean, happening upon the Tsunami photographic museum in Sri Lanka.

I love how photography gives me purpose and connection to what is going on around me, and really helps me ‘see’.  While I am not fond of long days in the car getting from point A to Point B, Patty has helped me see that as a movie unfolding outside our vehicle, and I have been working on a Through the Windshield photo project.

I love the fascinating people we randomly met, including Japanese photographer Dan Honda who taught me the good thing about Leica’s ‘unusefulness’ and reminded me to take long walks and shoot closer.

I love the continual learning about the world and about complexities – Does post-conflict really exist? Is the conflict over with ongoing random killings of Tutsis (Rwanda), racial strife (South Africa) and soldiers (Sri Lanka)? What was and is India’s involvement in the Sri Lanka conflict?

I love the flow of travel – multiple experiences constantly juxtaposed on each other, with a pace, intensity and stimulation on all dimensions which I rarely experience in other environments.


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The Little Acrobat

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon


I don’t know whether to cry or be in awe of what I am seeing. While traveling, I remind myself that these sights have context and the reasons become emotionally charged.

We are 100 meters from our hotel in Kanyakumari. We have walked this path over 10 times and once again, I am blown away by yet another spectacular sight.

A little girl, about 7 years old, dressed “up” in purple and balancing three silver pots on her head. She is 7 feet off the ground on a makeshift tightrope set up on the street. The young father looks indifferent while tapping a drum and the mother holding a crying baby in the sweltering sun is adding to the drama beating a tin pan.  I only hope they are ‘spotting’ her tiny body as she kneels on a silver pan balancing on her knees, swishing back and forth and forward and backwards.

We stop and get out of the car to watch and video. I notice not a few but many visiting Indians give large donations – paper money not coins and we, of course, do the same.

I notice I am almost in tears seeing this sweet, innocent child being used as the sole provider for her entire family. Though, in a different setting, she could be training for the Olympics as a young gymnast.

I wish I could see her in a clean, crisp school uniform going to school or dressed in a new party dress on vacation eating an ice cream. But, even as she is, the good news in a country of millions of poor – this family is not starving – but at what cost?


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No One Will Be Jealous

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


4 AM on Sunday – Kanyakumari

Note the time and date. Add being bolted out of bed by shrieking, blaring music coming out of bad speakers (the kind of music that is intolerable and brings on an instant headache) and you have no idea why or for how long. We stumble out of bed in the dark thinking it must be the call for sunrise and flip all the switches thinking it is some kind of malfunctioning alarm on a radio. Nope! It’s outside. We next check the hotel hallway making sure this is “normal” and not the tsunami alarm warning us we have only 15 minutes to run for our lives before a 30-foot wave comes crashing down on us. No one else is screaming which is actually bad news… this means this is all part of the culture. Ugh! I’m going crazy, because I stayed up til midnight watching “War Horse” (I needed a hit of American culture and our TV had been broken for 3 days). So, with only 4 hours of sleep, we lay in bed miserable concocting ways of blocking out hell (funny… on a Sunday)!

After a feeling of forever, it stops! Ah, the sounds of silence are truly sweet. But never fear, minutes later, more from the speaker! This time, competing with some earlier Hindu ritual, a chanted Catholic mass much softer but long drones on and on and on.

Oh, yes, it is Sunday! What was I thinking with all the countless temples and cathedrals?

We finally drift off and like the last 2 mornings, our brains are timed for 6:51 AM – sunrise. We trudge to the window and watch yet another beginning of the day (all too soon!).

* Our experiences on this trip are connected in strange ways. One hour later I hear an argument on the street. Or I should say a “cat fight” over some domestic issue. All too public and louder and louder until a male voice intervenes.  I only laugh. The whole town has only gotten 4 hours of sleep. What do you expect?



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The Invisible Truth

Text by Patty Simon | Image by Dick Simon


This is more of a thought than an essay.

Here is the thought.

We have now traveled to four countries: Rwanda, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. They had an invisible thread of similar histories all related to independence and change of governments, policy and conflict. Dick and I like to dig into the history. One of Dick’s missions is understanding post conflict. I Iike reading guidebooks and historical writing and talking to guides and locals to try to put this complicated puzzle together.

This is what I have found and it came to me when we were actually talking to a documentary filmmaker and I found myself strongly disagreeing with some of the content. It brought about a discussion about bias, the power of a filmmaker, and ultimately the question – “How the heck does one get to the actual truth of a situation?”

It seems impossible to get to the pure facts. Therefore, I back off, humble myself to the not-knowing, trying to accept the complexity and am left to an openness to every moment I am in a culture or read about one. I always come to this acknowledgment – “there is always more to the story”.


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Make My Day

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


I had grown tired in the bazaar. Day after day looking at plastic Chinese “junk” cheap enough for locals on holiday to have fun choosing a piece of jewelry or toy to take home. I had sadly reminisced in years back before plastic took over, how beautiful things were. Even the Indian bangles, now plastic, were made of pottery embedded with rhinestones.

The sun had just set and we were headed back to dinner, when I saw white stencil designs on the street. Coming closer they were made of white sand and the accouterment that made them were being sold. As an artist, I flip when I see another art form, so I was so excited and knew this would be my purchase.

On closer inspection, the designs were made by PVC plumbing tubing cleverly hole-punched by hand so when you filled it up with sand and roll it, a wallpaper design magically appears. They also had round screen designs of lotus and flowers and one that looked like a Jewish star.

The best part was not finding this cool product but paying the vendor and his wife $12. for one of each design. A crowd had gathered. We were walking away when Dick turned around and saw a great big smile. We knew we had made his day.


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Fortune Teller

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


A favorite pastime is just setting out on the streets to see where it leads you.

Coming out of a temple, Dick and I see a row of fortunetellers. Four of them to be exact and I start thinking about ” location, location, location” turning this scene into an HBS case study. Who gets the most business? The first man or the only woman or the last two because it gives the passerby a second or two to change their mind and stop?

Why did we stop? Deja Vu. I was suddenly back in Guatemala where another fortune teller had a parrot who would walk out of its tiny bamboo cage and using its beak, flip thru cards and pull out the magical card – just for me!

But this time, I’m in India and the fortune is cleverly translated from Tamil to English including a little reminder of the hopeful price – a whopping 300 Rps each = $6. = a “fortune” in this country! Dick hands over what he thinks the real market value for this service is… 200 Rps for 2 readings. He pauses and gets a tad superstitious and hands over another 100. After all, we were both told we would have great futures!


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“Sun” Day

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


We all know the sun rises and sets. This is why thousands of locals and foreigners come to Kanyakumari to see this natural occurrence at the southern tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea all converge.

But it’s what happens in the middle that is so interesting.


– Meeting an Indian couple on the roof at sunrise and the next thing you know she is reading my palm and proselytizing. She has a sister in Dallas, which peaked my interest. She asked for payment to make this prophecy come true so I give her a Love Card in Hindi. She reads it but looks puzzled. She can only read Tamil so I switch to English which she is well versed in but not Hindi. Go figure!

-We head to the beach where Dick is consumed by colorful fishing boats in great morning light. I take my own pilgrimage out on a jetty I saw from our hotel room. I am drawn to water like a bee to honey so I set off. From far away the jetty looked like rock and dirt but it turns out it is a landfill with pieces of ragged plastic fabric, tile, glass, mortar and “things” that are not biodegradable. Typical India… more garbage, though this trash is put to a very good use as it helps make a bay and provides the fisherman a place to cast nets. I walk and walk and finally give into picking up colorful shards to add to my bottle cap collection. I end up at the very end where it is just the tumultuous sea and me. Heaven!

-Dick finding a “Pay and Use” Public Toilet for 5 cents

-The shocking pink cotton candy vendor. The fresh limejuice seller. The roasted peanut and deep fried chili “chefs” in their open air stalls. The Silk Sari merchants. The ice cream carts with bells. The cooks frying dough in all shapes and sizes who have to tolerate two kinds of sweltering heat from the frying pan and the sun.

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The People of the Kumbh

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


Arriving back exhausted to our tent camp 12 hours from 1 in the morning til 1pm, I just witnessed the largest gathering of humanity celebrating spiritualism with a capital “S”!

After a rest of 15 hours, I wake up contemplating how I would describe something so enormous, so overwhelming to all the senses even down into your soul.

You see, I am an artist and wonder what medium I would use… Dirt, representing the riverbank where the Kumbh is located? Water, representing the sacred river for bathing in the Ganges? The Gates of the Gurus complexes… all unique in design… A collection of Prayer Beads and Shrines… representing all the gods revered or would it be a moving Procession of Gurus atop silver palanquins and embroidered umbrellas.

My mind says “No!” to all these ideas. It should be about the millions of People… Individual Portraits of each visitor, follower, foreigner and holy man. Each one framed beautifully and lined up row after row in a nice, neat grid – just like the Kumbh Mela. If I could work magic, I would give the viewer an opportunity to gaze at each person’s soul and spiritual journey… the yearning to be better, to live together in peace, love and harmony.

That is the Kumbh Mela to me!


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The Kumbh and Love

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


The Kumbh Mela would teach me a lot about what it means to be a traveler. Simply, a traveler goes from place to place. Sometimes it is researched and planned but for me it is all about the mystery – the “not” knowing.

The Kumbh is so BIG, so overwhelming to the senses, so mystical that even my photographs and my humble attempt with words and drawings seem inadequate. Little did I know that my path would ultimately be about LOVE.

I am an artist. For several years my goal has been to spread love all over the world through a project, “You are Loved /Pass It On”. I wondered if everyone truly felt ‘loved’ in a deep soulful way, how could that change the world.

I printed my cards in Hindi, packed my bags and set off on what would be a spiritual journey.

Arriving in Mumbai, I am overwhelmed – the population, the intense busyness, even the traffic.

I don’t know what to do with my Love Cards. It just does not feel right. The card does not make sense. It puzzles me. Everyone needs Love. Right?

But, I am on my own journey and I have learned to accept whatever happens.

I arrive at the Kumbh and finally, it a makes sense. I realize that who would better understand my project than all the holy men, the gurus and sadhus. So I begin to give a card to every revered leader riding on a palanquin, sitting by a fire or performing an Aarti ceremony. Despite a language barrier, I see each time, their eyes brighten, their facial expression turn into a smile, the sweetness of love permeates their soul and, one time – a very quiet answer back, “I Love You”.