Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why I've Partnered With This Non-Profit

When I decided to start my own company, designing innovative, creative and sometimes quirky products, I knew I wanted a percentage of my profits to go to a non-profit. I have long believed in giving back, whether it’s volunteering during a tragic event (like Hurricane Sandy) or teaching English as a second language. (In fact, I volunteered as an hospital aide all through high school.) Whatever organization I chose, it would have to be in keeping with my sensibilities. And then I stumbled upon She’s The First and immediately knew that this was the non-profit I wanted to partner up with. I’m a former educator, having taught biology on all grade levels, from fifth grade to graduate school. And I’m also all about working with women, including mentoring seniors at Barnard College, where I graduated. All of this made She’s the First perfect because tey sponsor girls’ education (on the primary and secondary school level) in 11 low-income countries all around the world, including Nepal, Guatemala and Sierra Leone. But the girls are not simply given a stipend and sent on their way. Instead, they are supported and mentored the entire way so that they can become leaders within their communities. After all, it’s well known that having girls and women that are well educated not only positively impacts the economy of the country but it slows the spread of disease, reduces maternal mortality rates, results in women delaying marriage and childbirth, allows women to better resist domestic violence, and overall breaks the cycle of poverty. Yes, an educated female populace means a world transformed for the better. Are these enough reasons to understand why I partnered with She’s The First? Yes!

Ten percent of yearly net profits from the sale of my innovative micro travel bag, multi-pocket vest, quirky plush Angry JCreature dolly, and all my other products goes to She’s The First. It’s hard to find a more worthy cause. And check out some of the enthusiastic scholars below. 

She's the First Scholars Mariama Y. K. and Afisatu pose near their homes in Sierra Leone.
(photo by Kate Lord)

She's the First Scholar Ramatulai poses at her mother's home in Sierra Leone.
(photo by Kate Lord)

She's the First Scholars Haja B., Theressa, Hawanatu, and Mafereh play on the beach in Sierra Leone. (photo by Kate Lord)

She's the First Scholar Jelikatu C. poses in her classroom in Sierra Leone.
(photo by Kate Lord)

She's the First Scholar Haja C. participates in a girls' group meeting.
(photo by Kate Lord)

Yeanoh, a She's the First Scholar in Sierra Leone, walks home from school
. (photo by Kate Lord)

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Charm + Authenticity in Saint Lucia

A trip to Saint Lucia in the Caribbean seems almost synonymous with a stay at an all-inclusive (one of the all-too-many Sandals, for example) or one of several luxe resorts (such as Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet) that get over written about. I instead chose to take a budget-minded, authentic trip to the island looking for, what else, but hidden treasures.

Just beyond downtown Castries in the north, past the regional airport (George F.L. Charles), and up a steep hill, the Heritage House is a bed and breakfast radiating charm aplenty. A few of the rooms provide stellar harbor views from its hilltop perch. (These are the ones I highly recommend.) Befitting the property’s name, myriad traditional items pepper the interior of the reception area: a coal pot (stove) made of clay, a calabash bowl, a cup made from coconut shells, a clay smoking pipe.

The six rooms (though one is a double guest room suite) are named for local districts: I stayed in the petite Micoud room, a village on the east coast where Mamiku Gardens and Latille Falls are both located. Sure, it was small but it had two windows overlooking a bit of greenery, and I found it perfectly comfortable. It was decorated with more local cultural ephemera: framed photos of a fisherman repairing nets, and a woman dressed in traditional garb; a shelf holding a tiny replica of a handmade chair and the ubiquitous clay coal pot.

Yes, the inn is literally adjacent to the runway. And the airport is noisy during daylight hours, with helicopters and jets taxing, taking off and landing all day long. But I wasn’t disturbed by this, finding it just part of the island’s idiosyncrasies. Plus, the rooms are a bargain on an island where bargains are few. And the owner and staff were helpful and kind in every way, offering me plenty of restaurant tips, finding reliable taxi drivers, and providing other island suggestions which were invaluable.

Looking out to the runway (and the calm waters beyond) is a small pool looks with the two best rooms positioned beside it, each with a rocking chair set on a private patio. My favorite was the sunny Vieux-Fort with a soaring ceiling in the lounge/kitchen/dining space and a spacious bedroom.

A central public patio that’s partly covered is perfect for reading a book during the day and enjoying breakfast in the morning. Bamboo wind chimes painted with palms, and decorative wind sculptures (parrots and other birds carved from wood or coconut shells) dangle overhead. Other whimsical elements include brightly painted metal lizards and butterflies hung on the wall. In keeping with the cultural heritage theme, postcards depicting scenes of vintage Saint Lucia (the village of Soufriere in the south, downtown Castries, and Soufriere town) are on display on the patio.

Early in the morning, before 7am, the tranquility is palpable. Sailboats ply the turquoise waters as do a few motor boats. An immense cruise ship pulls into the dock in Castries, the buzzing capital.  Late in the day, across from the water, dark clouds sweep above La Morne, bringing lightning and thunder most nights.

Breakfast is a tasty affair with everything freshly made, including the most scrumptious homemade jams (ginger, pepper, tamarind and more). In fact, the ginger and pepper might very well be the most flavorful jams I’ve ever tasted. (And, after all, ginger jam isn’t all that common. I could do with some right now.) The staff couldn’t have been more accommodating across the board, including at breakfast where they easily adapted to dietary needs, for example, skipping anything fried and serving me egg white omelettes with fresh-squeeze passion fruit juice.

Another favorite morning hangout on the wee property is the swinging sofa surrounded by brightly bougainvillea and other colorful blooming flowers frequented by hummingbirds, and a view out to the harbor.

At the base of the property’s hill are the old military barracks converted to embassies and a lovely art gallery, Savory Made Art, selling local contemporary paintings. A five-minute walk down the road brought me to Vigie Beach where the turbulent surf tumbled and myriad local families were picnicking on a leisurely Sunday.

Every day I ran into a couple that loved jogging the length of the runway -- it’s a little over a mile -- continuing on to parallel Vigie Beach, stopping for a cold drink at the snack bar. Another route makes a big loop to the Vigie lighthouse and back.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Less-Visited Treasures on the Island of Saint Lucia

Most who visit Saint Lucia end up in the southern part of this Caribbean island, visiting all the usual signature sights: mud baths, drive-in volcano, and the Pitons. Instead, I chose to stay in the north and the less visited eastern side of the island where there were a host of more under-the-radar treasures: quaint fishing villages with brightly painted facades and fishing nets draped beside the pier; low-key hiking trails that snaked through the rain forest; and stretches of beaches where mostly locals hung out with their families on weekends. This short YouTube video offers a window into my week on this sprawling, mountainous island.

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