The Scholarship Program Funded by You!

The ability to change the direction of your life–the opportunity to choose a different path–is what it means to be free.  It means being able to leave a job you don’t like to pursue one you do.  Freedom means we can dream of a better world and make it so. 

To be free we only need a few things.

We need to know we’ll survive.

We need education.

We need credit.

We need accountability.

Here’s how your donations helped bring more freedom to a large group of children in Nicaragua, and how you can help deepen that impact for years to come.


A playground in the relocated community of Villa Guadalupe

20k in my pocket

The first time I went to Nicaragua, you sent me down with $250.  The second time you sent me with $775.  We did some cool things, and we learned a lot about the people. 

This time, you sent me with a whopping $1,440, donated from 27 people, ranging from PayPal transfers to upturned coin jars.  I was astonished and humbled.

Finding somewhere to donate those funds was a challenge, bigger than ever before.

I could give $275 to three people and not have a lot of questions to consider.  I could give $775 to a few people directly and the rest through a nonprofit and feel great about it.  Over the past few years, I’ve studied many nonprofits and fell in love with the idea that a donation can become so much more than that donation, if it’s used well.  $100 can make a small or a big difference, for good or for bad, depending on how its given.

$1,440 would pay rent for a family in the US for one month, and maybe put some groceries in the refrigerator, but in Nicaragua it equates nearly 9-months of income for the average person (according to the World Bank).  Put in terms of the US economy, where the average individual income is $26,695, it would be as if I were walking down the streets of Austin with $20,000, looking for someone to give it to.

(disclaimer: my economics isn’t perfect here.  I’m comparing the amount of time it takes to earn a certain amount of money, not how much goods that money will buy.  Put in terms of PPP, $1 in US is $10.36 in Nicaragua, so $1,440 would be $14,918.   My point is that I went down with 9 months of income). 


Carpenters in the Mercado Oriental, one of the biggest markets in Central America, making doors.


Roots of the program

Three years ago, on that second trip to Nicaragua, I met Rosa.  She was working in La Chureca as a nurse and a social worker, and she requested my help to send a couple of children to private school outside of the landfill.

She said it provided a much better opportunity for the children–smaller classes, more discipline, periodic drug paraphernalia checks, English lessons, a computer lab, and exposure to life outside La Chureca.  We looked into it, and in conjunction with the jewelry cooperative, in which we would sell jewelry made from recycled materials by women of La Chureca, we determined we could make a commitment to support two or three children long term.  I wrote about their stories, and some of you sponsored the children.  Four have been going to private school ever since.


Rosa, buying paint for the classroom in the Mercado Oriental.

New opportunities

Rosa never rests.  On this trip to Nicaragua, she had a new vision for the children in the community.

La Chureca has changed.  The people have been moved t Villa Guadalupe, a large neighborhood of concrete housing built specifically for them and other groups of the extremely poor.  They were given a home, streets, police safety, playgrounds, and an occasional health clinic.  Some of the most bitter parts of the cycle of poverty have been removed, but they still face many challenges, including education.


One road among many in the Villa Guadalupe community

In a highly competitive country where childhood education isn’t mandatory, only 9% of children complete secondary school (the equivalent of Middle School and High School in the USA, grades 7-11).  Many children drop out to help support their family, and often school is seen as a drain on the family’s resources.  Uneducated, they’re less able to respond to their environment, and often follow the same occupational path as their parents.  They have children early, have to find a way to support them immediately, and become stuck economically.

Private school alone doesn’t beat the 9% statistic.  It helps in a massive way, but there are more obstacles than the classroom, and Rosa knew that.

Rosa doesn’t rest

Rosa wanted to rent a room outside of school where the kids could study and receive help with their homework.  She wanted them to have a computer, internet, a printer, some books to read.  She wanted to have a place where she could check on them daily.

I said I’d think about it.  With higher fixed monthly costs, it was going to be more difficult to find sponsors who were able to support the kids; this was a large ongoing commitment; I wasn’t involved enough to give it the oversight it would need; and I wanted to find a way for the families to pay to be a part of the program.

I met each of the kids in person, and talked with some of the parents.  After talking with a mother and father of the youngest girl on scholarship right now, I wrote in my journal:

“These are strong people that want the best for their daughter.  That is the best agent for change, and a place to study is superfluous.  We can give opportunity by providing scholarships, but it is up to these families and individuals to make the most of it.  If having this room provides a 10% increase in opportunity, but having private school provides a 75% increase, it makes more sense to use donations give more kids the opportunity for private school.”

I took a few days away from Managua to think things over, to consider why it didn’t feel right.  I studied, wrote, talked with mentors, and let it settle in, not willing to make a large ongoing commitment without believing in it 100%.  I knew the funding would be available, from the generosity I’ve seen from you all in the past.  The question was in missed opportunities, engagement from parents and children, and effectiveness.

I didn’t want to just help the first people we ran into, and ignore the rest.  I didn’t want to give something away for nothing in return, because I knew that when people pay for something they not only value it more but it’s also more effective.  I didn’t want to start something we wouldn’t finish.  On the other hand, in saying “yes” I would be responding to a strong “voiced need,” both from Rosa and from the students and parents I had talked to, and that’s the way I like to do things.

I had stalled for as long as I could – the trip was almost at an end.  I had a whopping $1,440 available to me and didn’t think I’d be able to find a place for it, but I was OK with that.

I said no.

Rosa had been thinking, too, and together we made some tweaks to the idea that brought everything into place.

We increased the program to 10 students to offset the increase in fixed monthly costs, and still make the scholarships accessible, and Rosa came up with a great way for the students to “pay.”

So now I present to you our work, Rosa’s vision, and one of the nonprofit organizations I hope you’ll choose to support continually.

Unidados en Esperanza (United in Hope)

United in Hope is an educational program that reaches out into an entire community, providing opportunity for those who want it the most.

We will provide Private-School scholarships to ten children in Villa Guadalupe.  There, they will receive more personal attention, more discipline and structure, exposure to life outside their community, and overall a better and more safe education than they would in the community’s public school.  They’ll learn English, they’ll have access to computer labs, they’ll be surrounded by children who value school as much as they do.  They’ll also be known in the community as a recipient of this scholarship.

To be a part of the program, a child can apply with Rosa.  To stay in it, they must keep their grades above 80%.  Best of all, and the reason we’re able to reach much farther than 10 children, each child will spend an hour every school-day tutoring other kids from the community.  If anyone needs help with their math homework, they’ll find Hector waiting there, willing to help.  If anyone needs help with a writing project, Cristina is there.  With them all, Rosa is there to help whoever she can and oversee the program.  Each student will be able to give their unique talents to help other kids in the neighborhood.


Ana Yanci tutors another child from the community
Ana Yanci tutors another child from the community

We rent a small room in Villa Guadalupe, part of one of the concrete houses built in the relocation program.  While I was there, we spent a few days equipping it with what they would need: paint, book shelves, a computer, a printer, a portable wifi signal, a door to close it off, and a lot of supplies.  Later, Rosa and the kids painted it and made it look great.  The building is rented to us by FunjoFudes, who, among many other things, provides pharmaceuticals to adults and children in the community.  It has a good courtyard in front where kids can sit, and a big playground next-door.  We also provide a decent compensation for Rosa ($100-$150/month), who will be traveling to the community each morning to work with the kids.


Three students and some of their parents, the core to the informal scholarship program over the past few years.
Three students and some of their parents–the core to the informal scholarship program over the past few years–posing before working on our little study room.

“United in Hope” was the name chosen by Rosa and the students, and I think it’s perfect.  All of us–students, parents, other kids in the community, Rosa, and us donors–are acting together to help bring children in the community the future they hope for, whatever that future may be.

Scholarship costs are $70 per student per month.  We would love you to join with us by providing a full or a half-scholarship for one of these children on an ongoing basis until they have completed their secondary education.

If you’d like to sponsor a student, write to me here (click).  Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll post the applications of the students and help match you with your student.

Look for an update within a few days for a specific breakdown of what your $1,440 paid for, and thank you so much for joining me in this experience.


Ana and Gretel starting the paint on those gray brick walls!
Ana and Gretel starting the paint on those gray brick walls
Rosa, her taxi-driver friend, and me, driving around to pick up supplies
The courtyard in front of the study room, where kids can pick up the wifi signal, study, and receive tutoring help.
Picking up Wifi!
Loading up the bookshelf









All Four Kids Are Going to School!

Happy news!  All four of the children now have a sponsor and will be attending private school!  Thanks so much to all those who offered to sponsor – we have the great problem of having too many sponsors and too few children ready to receive the scholarships!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

If you’d still like to help the community out, Manna Project International is doing some amazing work with them.  Also, I may have a few things up my sleeve for later this year . . . so stick around.

More on La Chureca:

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Scavengers

The Share the Love Fundraiser is Here!

A few months ago I talked with Liana Mauro about her experience being stalked and what she’s doing about it now.  Her annual fundraiser, Share the Love, is coming up next Wednesday (the 6th of February) and I’d love to see you there with me!  (Click here for tickets! Details of the event are all below)

Since that article in October, Liana wrote one of her own, bravely showing her ongoing emotions about how being stalked has affected her and how she made it through.  The whole article is great–give it a read!–but here’s one of my favorite parts:

“The repetition of being told that I would get through it, that I had someone who believed in me – in what I was fighting for, in who I am, and in who I would be as a result of this experience – that got me through it.  Friends who didn’t care what time it was but would come over in the middle of the night because I was too scared to sleep or just needed someone to be there while I cried.  Having someone sit by my side who didn’t tire of hearing me cry, get angry, ask why, take long walks in silence when I needed to be silent, sprint with me when I needed to sprint, and then do it all over again.  Having someone who allowed me to experience everything I was feeling without judgment but with encouragement, gentleness, and belief in my path.  Being told that when the case was closed that my process wouldn’t really be over and that it was okay.  Being told over and over that it was all okay.  Being reminded to breathe.  Gosh, we need these people!  Please be this kind of friend, mother, sister, lover, and father.  Don’t say ‘let me know what I can do’, GO and BE with these people – with anyone who’s hurting for that matter.  Sometimes the pain is too deep to ask for help and it’s really comforting to know that you aren’t as alone you may feel.  BE with people who are hurting.  Especially the people you love.”

That’s what this fundraiser is about.  Few of us understand domestic abuse and stalking as much as we could, or as much as we might need to if a close friend experiences it.  This is a great chance to become more aware and raise money for a great nonprofit at the same time.

But . . . this fundraiser also happens to sound like it’s going to be a lot of fun!

When, Where, What

Texas Advocacy Project

All the proceeds go directly to Texas Advocacy Projectwhich gives free legal services to victims of stalking, domestic violence, and sexual abuse.  We all know how complicated the law can be, even with normal, daily things.  For someone whose life has been turned upside down by a manipulative abuser or stalker these free services are extremely helpful.  Access to legal services is one of the few things proven to decrease domestic violence rates, and TAP receives a significant amount of its funding from direct donations every year.  You can help by just coming out and having some fun 🙂

Just a few harrowing stats about stalking for ya:

  • 76% of intimate partner femicide victims were stalked by their immediate partner. That means there was a period of time where the woman’s partner was monitoring, controlling, tightening their grip, threatening, and manipulating . . . SEVENTY SIX PERCENT of women who are killed by their immediate partner were stalked before – we need better and quicker protection for them, and more awareness of the resources.
  • 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers. They reported it but didn’t get protection in time (or they didn’t push for protection out of fear, love, or promises from their partner).
  • 46% of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next.
  • 46% of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted 
contact per week.
  • 11% of stalking victims have been stalked for 5 years or more.
  • 29% of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.
  • The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involves being followed or having one’s property destroyed. (“The Toll of Stalking,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, no. 1 (2002):50-63)

(most of these stats come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Stalking Victims Survey from 2009 and 2012)

So come grab a drink with me next Wednesday, enjoy some live music, and help lend a hand (and a dollar) to one of Texas’s great nonprofits!


One last quote from Liana

“In the short-term it’s easier not to do anything about it because you just want to move on with your life. What I recognized was that in not fighting, I was implicitly telling him that he could go do it again and get away with it. I was determined that if I could stop him from doing this to just one more person I would undergo however long it took to do it. I recognized that, as with everything, we have a choice – to live in fear and be quiet, or to stand up and tell the world that it’s WRONG and that there is absolutely no shame in what I went through . . . I refuse to be quiet about this.”


Share the Love fundraiser

Christmas in La Chureca: Be Awesome and Buy Some Jewelry!

When I think about developing countries, one of the first things that comes to my mind is busy, hectic markets, people haggling for lower prices, and some serious pressure to buy every single thing from every person you pass.

Millions of different people search for their own ways to make a living, copying each other when someone finds something that works.  A guy hops on a bus to sell soda, riding with the bus for a few kilometers and shouting “Gaseosa! Gaseosa barrata!” over and over again, then gets off and rides another bus back, making a profit of 4 to 8 cents from each soda he sells.  People copy him and soon there is a vibrant market around buses: people selling nuts, ice water, bandanas, jewelry, candy, packets of fruit, everything you can think of.  (It’s a simplistic way of viewing it, but you get the point).

La Chureca

The tough and highly competitive economy is one of the things that drove people to the trash dumps to find a living – some of them went there and found that they could sell enough trash to survive, and others copied.  After a huge earthquake in the 70’s which left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, some people went to “La Chureca” and many have stayed ever since.

They’re at a crossroads now: the dump has been closed and one person from each family has been given a job at a recycling plant.  It’s very exciting!

But . . . there are still many problems, the largest of which is that they’ll actually be making less money per family than they were before.  They’re working hard to find new sources of income . . . and you can help.

Four months ago, Manna Project International brought some of the women together, paid a Nicaraguan jewelry-maker to teach them to make beautiful jewelry, and gave them supplies to start.  So . . .

This Christmas, buy the gift that keeps on giving!

Ha, I almost died putting that cliche on the computer, but . . . it works.  I’ll show you how.  With every piece of jewelry you buy, you:

  1. Help these women in their goal to find new income.  I really liked the jewelry I saw from them and want them to do well.  The more of these that sell in the States the more income these women have available to them, the more opportunities they have to get better at jewelry crafting.
  2. Are connected more to their story.  With how unique this jewelry is, people are going to ask you questions.  It’s a great chance to let more people know about poverty in Nicaragua and one great way of helping them pull out of it.
  3. Um . . . well, you look awesome, of course.

Every cent of revenue I get from this will go back into the community – either by buying more jewelry from them or by donating to Manna Project International.

So there ya go!  Be the awesome flower child you are, buy some amazing jewelry, and help out some of Nicaragua’s poorest (and great) women at the same time.  What more could we ask for?

Here’s my attempt at an awesome phrase for this whole thing . . . are you ready?

“Buy it because it’s beautiful.  Wear it because you’re . . . beautiful?  A hippie with some amazing taste in jewelry?  Awesome?”   Um, well . . . ya, that’s where my awesome jingle comes to an end.  I’m still ironing out the details, as you can tell.

Click here to go to the store:

Since you’re awesome and you made it this far in the blog post, here’s a coupon!  Use the code “ChurecaBlog” and you’ll get free shipping on anything over $18.  Yes, $18 seems random.

Some pics for your viewing pleasure


Do you want your jewelry shipped straight to someone else for Christmas?  Send me an email when you order and I’ll do that, include whatever personal message you want, and even gift wrap it for you.

Whew, giving just got easy.

Nicaragua, Day 6 – Impressions of La Chureca


Ten years ago, when Esmeralda Diaz walked into “la Chureca” for the first time, she saw something that would stay with her through the years: an eight-year-old boy was fighting against a vulture for a piece of bread, the boy holding onto one end and the vulture to the other. She didn’t have a camera, but that image comes to mind every time she thinks about the place.

Things have improved drastically over the years, and Esmarelda has been there for most of it, working as a social worker and nurse, but La Chureca, Managua’s municipal dump, is still home to 257 families who live off the trash, sorting through it and selling whatever they can find. They live in extreme poverty and suffer from all its implications – malnutrition, disease, drug abuse, low literacy, teen pregnancy, and other problems, sustaining the cycle of poverty that has marked the area for generations.

Today, Britney and I walked through the community with volunteers from the Manna Project and I saw three things that I hope to always remember.

1) Loving volunteers.

The Manna Project, Austin Samaritans, and FUNJOFUDEES have partnered to provide primary medical care to the residents of La Chureca, among other services like counseling, sex ed, and English classes. The Manna Project also has a direct sponsorship program that currently has the budget to support 50 children at a time, providing beans, rice, oatmeal, and access to doctors, nutritionalists, and medications until the children are 5-years-old. Each child costs $20 a month to sponsor.

One key to their success within the community has been “program directors,” some of whom showed us around “la Chureca” – six full-time volunteers who spend 13 months in the area and divide up the 50 children amongst themselves so they can get to know the families well and develop lasting relationships of trust. They spend a lot of time just hanging out with the kids and parents, trying to learn as much from them as they teach.

The result is some of the happiest pictures I’ve ever taken – children beaming with joy to see their volunteer-friends and volunteers full of love and hope for the kids under their care.

2) Kids can be happy anywhere.


The homes of those who live in La Chureca are made from materials scavenged in the dump: wooden frames, if there is a frame at all; walls formed from sheets of plastic, old banners, advertisements, chicken-wire, sheet-metal, or wooden boards; and roofs formed from metal or plastic.

The homes are clumped together in seemingly random neighborhoods, separated and accessed by dirt paths crossed often by dirty streams and strewn with trash. Dogs, all stunted from quick successions of generations that ate very little, can be found curled up under shade at almost every turn.

Within this bleak and destitute setting are beautiful and happy children, smiling, laughing, and playing together. Programs like those I’ve mentioned help them avoid health problems and early pregnancy, become literate, and find healthier lifestyles.

The picture above is of Jeffrey, with Sarah peaking out of her door. I played soccer against Jeffrey and Francisco, with Sarah on my team. Jeffrey’s team won 😉

Later we visited the school, run by a group called Colegio Cristiana la Esperanza. I have some amazing pics of the kids, but they’re all on my camera, not my phone – I can’t post them until I get home.

3) Change is difficult for anyone.

There is a lot of change happening in La Chureca right now. The Spanish government has funded a complete reorganization of the dump. Starting in 2007, they began covering the dump area with dirt, building a recycling plant (with jobs available for qualifying residents of La Chureca), and building new homes as well.

The homes are ready, the plant operational, and the date for moving all families to their new homes has been set for November 15th . . . two days from now. Most likely they will have to push that date back – there are many problems with the changes and residents are worried.

There have been previous programs aimed at job-training to give residents of La Chureca other opportunities instead of working in the dump, but this lifestyle is what they know – it’s their life and they fear not being able to make a living if they left La Chureca or tried something else.

Families won’t be allowed to bring livestock or animals into the new homes with them (an important source of food), only the head of the household will work in the plant (for $100-130 a month) which will mean less income since children won’t be making money as well (those who work on La Chureca, even kids, make an average of $8-10 a week), and residents will have to start paying for water and electricity, currently supplied for free (it’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t know how to read to learn how to pay a bill).

The transition will be difficult, but seems very necessary for good social, physical, and mental health

Spain has funded the big bills for the rehaul of La Chureca, but it seems that the side-effects of those changes may be left to “Los Churequeros” or to the nonprofits who aid them.


Special thanks to Austin Samaritans, the volunteers at The Manna Project, and Esmeralda Diaz, the nurse at the clinic who I had the great opportunity of taking to dinner – they gave me the unique opportunity to not just pass through La Chureca as a tourist, snap a few pics, and check it off my list. Britney and I got to follow them around, meet the families, ask a hundred questions, and really get a feel for the place. I’ll be headed out to see some of their other projects tomorrow, and Thursday we have a donation project in mind . . . 🙂

Also . . . I may have found the first non-profit I want to start – stay tuned!

Liana Mauro – The Advocate – PW #6!

The Weekend Philanthropist

A few years ago, Liana Mauro, owner of Mauro Pilates, was stalked by a man she had met at a gym. He asked her out, she said no, and that was that. Well, normally it would have been. He started showing up in many places—at the gym, in the grocery store, and at work—it seemed like he was everywhere. Liana had no way of knowing these weren’t coincidental meetings and began to think there was a reason they were seeing each other so often. They began dating.

She quickly saw more warning signals—possessiveness, jealousy, and bizarre comments and behavior— and decided to end the relationship, thinking that it would be best to pull away slowly. His behavior quickly escalated. He would come to her and her friends’ houses, call and text her repetitively throughout the day, and reveal that he knew small details like what she was wearing and who she was with. His behavior was scaring her and she couldn’t get him to stop without legal action.

After careful preparation she filed for a protective order, but through clever legal tactics and exploitation of ambiguous parts of the law, Liana’s remedy was not as strong as it should have been – anti-stalking laws, combined with a complex legal process, were unable to give her the full protection and peace-of-mind she wanted. She was denied her protective order, but still felt like it was a success.

Today we tell her story: how she has turned her experience into something positive by speaking about it often, raising money for a local non-profit that helps others who are targeted by stalkers, and encouraging changes in stalking laws to provide better protection.

Stalking 101

What stalking is

Stalking is misunderstood by most people and for good reason: we haven’t been talking about it for very long. In fact, the first anti-stalking law wasn’t passed until 1990 (in California) on the heels of a celebrity stalking-murder that startled the nation from its complacency. Since then all 50 states have passed their own anti-stalking laws, but prosecution to fully protect victims can still be very difficult.

Under US law you are “innocent until proven guilty,” and much of the behaviors involved in stalking are legal—sending flowers, calling hundreds of times a day, walking by your house, or sending troubling texts—but together they combine to give their target a very real fear, and often result in physical assault, rape, or murder. Their threats may be clearly stated, like “I’m going to kill you”, but often they’re more subtle, like “Why’d you wear the green dress today?” The stalker often is just letting their victim know they’re watching, they’re close by, and they’re not going away. They’re trying to control their victim, force them to be in a relationship with them again, or make their life miserable.

Stalking victims often need long-term protection, but since their stalkers haven’t done anything yet that would lock them away for 10 years or merit a permanent restraining order, that sometimes can’t be done.

So, what does “stalking” mean, exactly? Most of us make fun of each other for “Facebook stalking” friends or people we want to ask out . . . but what exactly is the legal definition?

California’s penal code puts it pretty well: “Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, of his or her immediate family.”

A simpler definition for stalking can be found on the Stalking Resource Center’s website: “A course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Mike Proctor, the author of How to Stop a Stalker gives the most colorful definition: “Stalking is pretty straightforward. The person who decides to stalk you is basically a domestic urban terrorist that has established a clear-cut goal in life: to make your life a living hell for as long as he deems necessary.”

For the purpose of this article, let’s drop the playful use of the word “stalking” for a minute. Stalking involves incredibly troubling behavior done with the intent of manipulating another person into doing what the stalker wants and often results in violence.

Yet we talk about it lightly and glorify it as “romantic” in movies. Think about Phantom of the Opera for a second. Erik falls in love with Christine, who doesn’t even know he exists, uses secret tunnels to spy on her, helps her when she does what he wants, hurts her career when she doesn’t, eventually abducts her to his lair beneath the theater, and then . . . and then . . . she starts to fall in love with him. At least until he takes off his mask . . . then she’s creeped out.

This intense, unwanted fixation on another person is not romantic – it’s a crime, and rightfully so.

the phantom of the opera is a stalker
But . . . isn’t he dreamy?


The statistics clear away many of the misconceptions people have about stalking. Most of these stats come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Stalking Victims Survey from 2009 and 2012. Click here if you’re curious as to how they arrived at their numbers and how they defined “stalker” for the purpose of their study.

Here’s what the stats show:

Many people are affected by this crime

  • 3.3 million Americans are stalked each year

Men and women are both victims of stalking, but mostly women

  • Women are three times more likely to be stalked than men
  • However, men and women equally likely to be experience harassment (non-repetitive stalking, basically)

It’s not done by strangers . . .

  • Nearly 7 in 10 stalking victims knew their offender in some capacity.
  • 30% of stalking victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
  • 10% of stalking victims are stalked by a stranger.

It leads to assault and murder . . .

  • 76% of intimate partner femicide victims were stalked by their immediate partner. That means there was a period of time where the woman’s partner was monitoring, controlling, tightening their grip, threatening, and manipulating . . . SEVENTY SIX PERCENT of women who are killed by their immediate partner were stalked before – we need better and quicker protection for them, and more awareness of the resources.
  • 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers. They reported it but didn’t get protection in time (or they didn’t push for protection, out of fear, love, or promises from their partner).
  • Intimate partner stalkers’ behaviors escalate quickly. “Domestic Violence Stalkers” typically escalate to violence very quickly and are the most lethal

Besides physical risk, victims suffer psychologically

  • 46% of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next.
  • 46% of stalking victims experience at least one unwanted 
contact per week.
  • 11% of stalking victims have been stalked for 5 years or more.
  • 29% of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.
  • The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involves being followed or having one’s property destroyed. (“The Toll of Stalking,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, no. 1 (2002):50-63)

What can be done and how

Stalking laws
Picture by Phil Roeder

When Liana was stalked her life became very difficult. She was in the first few months of starting her Pilates studio and felt extremely stressed, anxious, and worried. She explains the effect it had on her,

“I purchased a new computer, a new phone, and moved. For all I knew, he was watching and tracking everything, from my house to my phone and computer. He seemed to know some intensely personal things—where I was and who I was talking to—and I didn’t know what to do. Normal human beings don’t behave that way, and when you try to react to them normally it doesn’t work. My instinct told me to talk to him, but I knew it wasn’t right, despite the hell I was going through.”

Convicting someone of stalking can be difficult because you have to prove a continued behavior of harassment, show that you asked them clearly to leave you alone and then cut off all contact initiated by you, and that there is a perceived threat to your safety or to your property. That “continued behavior” is essentially the only difference between the legal definition of stalking and harassment, so getting a conviction for “harassment” can be a good backup action – though it doesn’t have much teeth in and of itself, if the behavior is then repeated later a conviction for stalking is more likely.

Protective orders, though criticized by many as not doing enough to protect victims, are essential to gaining long-term legal protection. It provides the victim with a strong legal recourse if their stalker doesn’t stop, granting an easier conviction of “felony stalking” to put them in prison. Sometimes, though, this system is far too slow.

Liana’s tips

Liana suggests that any victim of stalking find people they trust and open up to them. She attributes much of her success in getting out of the stalker-victim relationship (a very complex and confusing situation) to her friends and family who were truly there for her, who understood her, and helped her see things clearly. She explains,

“I felt and continue to feel incredibly lucky to have had that and I want to stress to other people going through something similar to make it a part of their mission to create a support system of their own and lean on it. There are times we need to lean on people and something like this is one of them. Times like this cause you to feel like an absolute burden, your world feels like it’s collapsing around you, and you need help getting through it whether it’s from friends, family, or an organization like Texas Advocacy Project.”

It’s important to remember that each stalking case is different. Some stalkers are much higher threat than others. They could be agitated if you change your phone number, for example, and their actions could become violent more quickly. If your computer is being monitored it’s important to use a secure computer when finding resources to help you. Taking legal action for stalking is complex, but there are government and non-profit programs and counselors who can guide you in your particular case.

Anyone who is being stalked can contact the District Attorney in their area and get guidance, or go through non-profit organizations. Also, filing police reports and keeping a log of stalking behavior is important in getting legal protection. It’s also helpful to alert neighbors, friends, and family members so they don’t give out your information and so they can report on the stalker’s behavior as well.

“I refuse to be quiet about this.”

Many people who experience stalking don’t talk about it afterwards. Some feel shame—they feel like they were partly at fault—and it’s easier, they hope, to move on and forget about the whole thing. Sometimes there is a real risk that the stalker will be enraged by what they say.

Liana has chosen to be very open and verbal about what happened, which has enabled others to come forward to ask her for advice and to talk. From the beginning of this experience, Liana recognized that this wasn’t just about her: there were others who would go through this and she wanted to help.

“In the short-term it’s easier not to do anything about it because you just want to move on with your life. What I recognized was that in not fighting, I was implicitly telling him that he could go do it again and get away with it. I was determined that if I could stop him from doing this to just one more person I would undergo however long it took to do it. I recognized that, as with everything, we have a choice – to live in fear and be quiet, or to stand up and tell the world that it’s WRONG and that there is absolutely no shame in what I went through . . . I refuse to be quiet about this.”

Liana’s Fundraiser

Liana, having gone through the experience of being stalked, has the boldness to be open about it with others and has found an organization that embodies her vision – the Texas Advocacy Project – and that’s what makes her this week’s Philanthropist of the Week. She is a great example of turning personal difficulties into something powerful – channeling her passion, her frustration, and her knowledge in a way that will help thousands of others.

So, what has she done? She contacted TAP and said something no non-profit would ever turn down, “Hey, I’d like to give you money.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. She started her own fundraising event, using her own talents as a fitness leader in Austin (Mauro Pilates was named “Best Pilates” in Austin Fit Magazine in 2011) to create a unique fund-raising event called Share the Love.

Share the Love Austin Domestic violence

Share the Love happens every February close to Valentine’s day. She’s trying new things, keeping it new and exciting and trying to involve more people and raise more money. The first year she did a fitness fundraiser (donation-based classes all day) and raised about $1,000. Last year she did a “Happy Hour” with a silent auction and a few other events, and raised around $5,000. Not bad! She’s already brimming with ideas for the coming year, hoping to make it better than ever.

She explains, “Maybe you’re alone, maybe it’s a holiday that brings up hard memories for you, so do something where if people who have gone through something like that want to come out and celebrate Valentine’s day in a nontraditional way they can support an organization that is helping people who have gone through that stuff.” I’m excited to be a part of it, and you can too! “Like” her Facebook page to stay up to date, and remember to check back here. Save the Date! Share the Love 2013 will be held Wednesday, February 6th, 2013.

Don’t Stop Here

If this is your first time to my blog, stay awhile! Check out some of my other articles, subscribe if it interests you, and join the conversation! Also, take this opportunity to learn more about stalking and prepare yourself to react well if you or someone you know becomes targeted. Teen abuse is a huge problem in our society, and teen stalking cases present us with the most violent statistics. The thing about all of this is it can be prevented – with confidence and awareness, individuals are better equipped to recognize possessive, obsessive, controlling, and abusive tendencies early in a new relationship. Click on this link to see some of the best resources I’ve found for understanding stalking, and let me know what realizations and further questions you have!

Take a quick look at my other articles on Stalking:

I’ll be volunteering at TAP’s annual fundraiser this Saturday, the 26th – The Black and White Ball. Check back here for pics, details, and my thoughts on the fundraiser. Also, “like” my Facebook page and share this with your friends!


Tab Barker – The Minimalist – PW#5!

weekly philanthropy features

“Do as little as possible.”

You might expect this as the mantra of a sax player from Austin who bummed it in Europe for three years–staying with random new friends, sleeping on the beach, and riding trains until he felt like getting off–but not from an economics grad turned Fulbright Scholar who started his own non-profit eight years ago and has helped build five schools and two permanent water systems in remote and difficult-to-reach areas of rural Nicaragua, all while working in his own bookstore or in other side jobs to support himself.  This week’s Philanthropist of the Week, Tab Barker, happens to be both of these people.  His program is minimalist to it’s core, designed to achieve small and slow progress and have as little negative side-effects as possible.  Meet Project Schoolhouse.

School building in nicaragua
A little girl I met in Nicaragua. She’s proud of her education – look at the wall above her bed 🙂

“The alternative is to not make big change”

In the ’70’s and ’80’s there was a big push by Western countries to decrease the deaths per thousand of live births in Africa.  Vaccines had been developed and had proven to be incredibly effective at eliminating Polio and other diseases.  The West saw the need, felt the people’s pain, made a plan, and went to work.  The vaccines were incredibly effective, yet in the long-term poverty was only worsened; there was a population explosion the economies couldn’t handle, resulting in famine, recession, and, overall, a deepening of the region’s poverty.  Tab explains the impact this had on him, “It was a lesson in what happens when you go into a development situation trying to fix a statistic as your goal, because you want to have measurable results, which I don’t think are the most important thing.”

Tab has designed his program from day one with negative side-effects in mind, trying to avoid the mistakes he’s seen in other philanthropic organizations.  “Do as little as possible” is his mantra to not pursue big-picture change, but slow, small change that doesn’t upset the whole system.  His program is built to answer “voiced need,” only giving people things they want, ask for, and work for.  He tries to find things others want to do first, then manage and fund them in doing so – like getting kids an education.  By being conscious of the negative side-effects of philanthropy, he has developed a lean, effective, and culturally sensitive program that reaches for long-term change.

Voiced need

“This wasn’t my idea,” Tab says, and he’s glad it wasn’t – he believes in responding to “voiced need” rather than pushing his own plans on others.  After returning from one of his year-long jaunts in Europe, he went to Costa Rica, where he had taught English a few years before.  He offered to help by building them a basketball hoop, but they asked for a school instead.  He realized he was good at it, enjoyed the experience, and decided to continue that work, finally ending up in Río Blanco, Nicaragua, where he has operated ever since.

“I found that I was suited for it, somehow, especially when it comes to building schools in rural communities.  I’m from one, I grew up training horses, I’m from rural Wyoming, I understand ranching, farming, my language skills are good . . . for whatever reason I’m ideally suited for this work, so I keep doing it.”  He also saw how difficult the learning environment was for many children in developing countries, with too many kids in small classrooms that were often wet from rain and under-supplied.  He could do something about it and people asked him to – that’s the only motivation he needed.

School building in Nicragua
The foundation of a new school, with the old school in the background

The program

In the eight years of managing Project Schoolhouse, Tab has learned some valuable lessons.  What follows is an insider’s look into how a minimalist program can be operated, touching on everything from how to select communities to how to raise funds.

1) Water first.  After building two schools, Tab realized clean water took precedence and looked for a permanent solution rather than the temporary systems he had used before.  “[A school without water] is handicapped because you can’t clean it, the kids have to bring their own water . . . you don’t fix all the problems you need to fix to have a good learning environment.”  In a lucky stroke, his in-country coordinator, María Ines, had a brother who happened to be the best clean-water system engineer in the country.  The mountainous region is rich in clean-water sources, perfect for gravity-flow spring-fed water systems.  Each water system costs about $10,000 to $15,000.  Each school costs $35,000.

2) Selection process.  “You can’t give something for nothing.  People have to do work, show engagement, and jump through a bunch of hoops, even if it’s just to make sure that they want to do it.”  One of the big difficulties any non-profit will run into is finding the right people and communities to support.  If not done in the right way, a lot of problems can be created.  Tab cautions that you need to make sure you’re not just rewarding the people you know or the people you see first – you risk upsetting the locals, creating jealousy, and helping people who don’t really want it.  Tab’s projects all require a large amount of continuous work from the communities they help, from selection process to school-building to ongoing maintenance.

  • Application – Project Schoolhouse doesn’t go out and solicit communities to see if they want a school.  They need to apply, give their plan, say why they need it, and Tab responds to the ones who solicit the hardest; they want it the most.
  • BuildingProject Schoolhouse provides three workers—one foreman and two skilled-laborers—and each community is asked to feed and lodge them while providing six to eight workers each day themselves, for a total of about 10,000 community-given hours of work for each school.
  • Maintenance – Each household commits to donate to the maintenance of the water system and school, a few córdobas from each family each month.  Manuel, the Chief Builder, inspects each water system once every three months and María meets with communities on a regular basis.  This ensures that each project is self-sustainable so Project Schoolhouse can move on to build in other communities.
Part of a completed water system

3) Keeping buy-in.  “Every year they quit working, and every year I would get really mad . . . I’ve kind of given in to the fact that it’s human nature and there’s going to be a song and dance every year where we threaten to quit the project, we take a week off, they say ‘OK, OK, we’ll work.’  We’re trying new things to get 100% participation, but it’s hard. . . .  They’re into it, but if you’ll do it they’d rather you do it for them.  I try to make it as hard on them as I can, but finding out where that is and trying to keep them motivated is a big struggle.”

4) Administration.  “I realized I can’t be the authority figure in Nicaragua . . . because then I leave and no one is in charge.  So, I learned to defer every decision to [María] and then we talk about it and I tell her what I want and then she delivers the decision.”  There are three or four employees on the payroll in Nicaragua when schools are being built, otherwise María is the only one being paid.  Without her, Tab doesn’t have a project, he says.  She receives a wage slightly above the average wages for the area – $400 a month.  Tab tries to give each of the employees wages consistent with the changing economics of the area to make sure they’re paid fairly.

5) Fundraising.  This is Tab’s least favorite part of running a non-profit (many of us share the feeling . . .).  For the first seven years Tab provided half of the funding himself, though, and he wants to grow his project to help more communities, hoping to be able to build two schools in 2013.  He needs more donations to make that happen and dreams up different approaches each year, changing it up to keep people interested and make sure it’s fun.   His current approach involves a once-a-year dinner “pre-party” for around 40 main donors with admission starting at $500 a couple, with a big party afterwards that everyone can attend – live music, an open bar, and a good time with friends.  Tab even joins in on the sax sometimes.  “I prefer to throw a party, have people pay 20 bucks to get in, and then we’re done fundraising and we have a show, and I don’t try to get after them anymore.”

6) Responding to petitions for help.  When you enter an area as a philanthropist, every action has consequences, especially deciding how to respond to petitions for help.  Tabs approach?  “I want people to think of me as the stingiest gringo they’ve ever met.  I’ve gotten really good at saying ‘no.’”  When asked for money or help, he points to his projects as the way he’s helping, not wanting to become a person everyone petitions each time he visits.  Tab agrees that there is a lot of need, and a lot of legitimate work to be done in mitigation projects like clothing people and feeding the hungry, but there is only so much money available; he decides to put funds towards long-term development.

Escuela Los Cien Amigos

What’s next?

Project Schoolhouse will stay small, lean, and efficient, but hopes to expand their work to construct more schools and water systems each year.  Tab is also working on a scholarship program to help send kids to High School and College—again responding to voiced need as locals have continually asked him for this—and is currently working on an application process that would make it fair and avoid some of the problems he ran into when he tried it a few years ago.  He’s also looking for an Economics grad to intern in Río Blanco and study the area and Project Schoolhouse’s impact so he can provide much-needed statistics not currently available in the region.

Would you like to learn more?  Ask Tab anything you want in the comments below and he’ll answer.  Check out their Facebook page and toss ’em a like to stay up to date on events, check out their website, and consider a donation or a fundraising project.

A personal aside

I met Tab in Granada on my last trip to Nicaragua while they were on their way out and I was on my way in and had the great opportunity to visit some of the schools.  You can read a little about what it was like to wake up in their community, deep in the mountain jungle.  Stay tuned for more posts about that soon.  María Ines, Manuel, and the whole family are some of my favorite people of all time – hard working, very fun, loving, and happy.  María is the one who helped me find “La Viejita” and Jader, two of the recipients of donations you gave through me.  She has a big heart and is one of the keys to Tab’s success in Río Blanco, a perfect community connecter.  I’m glad to be able to work with Project Schoolhouse and can’t wait to return in November and introduce Britney to the area.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog (top right-hand side) and “like” my facebook page for weekly philanthropist features, in-depth looks into the common problems and great models of philanthropy, and to follow my trips to Central America!

Read about more featured philanthropists here.


Tab Barker