Category Archives: purpose

Community-building in North Carolina

Please have a look at this photo for a moment…

This is an example of community-building happening in the town of Chapel Hill, in the US state of North Carolina. A local church and a community center organized a block party for neighborhood residents to get to know each other.


Chapel Hill is a rapidly growing college town and that brings with it a lot of benefits but also some disadvantages. Property prices have risen as developers gentrify the neighborhood to offer student housing. But this has caused problems for some longtime locals, whose property taxes have become unaffordable, since their household income has not changed.

The block party provided an opportunity to create ties. Kids are playing games, students are dancing, people are practicing handicrafts, and folks are eating, drinking and laughing. We are connecting with each other.

Hopefully in some small way this will help us to better understand each other’s perspective on what “prosperity” and “progress” really means for our community and how people are affected in different ways by development.

What’s your vision for the community where you live? Does it match what others see too?

A sweet and simple thank you from a girl who survived a brain tumour.

Thank you note from the little girl Grace in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Impoverished Children

Pleased to share with you this thank you note from the little girl Grace in Kenya who was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year. When funds were short to pay for medical care, a small group of people came together via Facebook to raise the money she needed. She subsequently underwent brain surgery and has recovered. Here she is, back at her school in Nairobi, with a message in her own words. That’s her with her mother and the school’s principal Catherine Whiting.Isn’t she cute? This great story reminds me of that quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


A Pakistani schoolgirl clutches her books

A schoolgirl in a small village outside of Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. © Ryan Rowe /

A Pakistani schoolgirl clutches her books as she stands outside of the new primary school that is being opened in the small, mountain-side village of Sokar (Chattian) in the state of Azzad Jammu & Kashmir. Many girls in Pakistan don’t get a chance at an education – perhaps for religious reasons or because their parents need them to support the household in various ways. The folks in this community, however, are very happy to have this new school in place. I felt privileged to join them for the celebration. The school was built in 2010 by the NGO formerly led by my late friend Mubashir Niaz (aka Mishi Khan).

Little Grace recovers from brain surgery in Kenya

Hi everyone,

A quick update on the little girl Grace in Nairobi who had a brain tumour and severe stomach pain and who had no funds to pay for medical care. (Through Facebook, we raised thousands of dollars to sponsor her care.)

As you know they removed the tumour and she responded very positively. The latest news is that her doctors are pleased with her recovery progress and she is finally well enough to go home. Grace no longer has any pain or swelling in her head or stomach. They are going to continue monitoring her condition.

Grace and her mother would like to thank everyone who donated money, sent her messages and prayed for her during her illness.

If you have any questions, please let me know. You can continue to follow Grace’s process and the activities at the school where she goes by subscribing to updates from Impoverished Children on Facebook.

Grace 001 - FB Tag
Grace is recovering well following the removal of a brain tumour. © Catherine Whiting / Impoverished Children

Wise words from my older brother

“As far as your own future goes, think long and hard about university. It’s a great place to learn to think. Forget about exactly what the degree is in – it’s the environment that will give you the tools for the rest of your life. Just three or four years of thinking, playing, and living. You’ll meet people and flex your mind. The fact is that Montreal is a great place to do this. Concordia is an incredible school and is situated in a very stimulating city. It’s full of people from all over the world. This environment will open your mind and you’ll make contacts that will last a lifetime. University’s a great place, Ryan. If you can do it, get yourself a bachelor’s degree. Take courses in a wide variety of things that interest you and you’ll see. You’ll begin to understand what you can do with your mind, and you’ll stretch the limits of who you are and where you want to go. Now is the time to learn.”

~ Max Harrold, my brother, in March 1997

A great Canadian who passed his torch on to millions

One of Canada’s true heroes: Terry Fox. This photo shared by the Terry Fox Foundation on its facebook page and the caption “that hope and courage are passed from generation to generation” is so true! The phrase reminds me of my parents, my brothers and sisters, and friends, colleagues, supervisors who have been mentors and heroes to me over the years. They influenced my life’s direction and inspired me to have the courage to make difficult choices.

What kind of heroes and mentors have you had and who will you pass your torch on to?

The story of Terry Fox’s battle with cancer and his subsequent run across Canada has inspired generations of Canadians
Photo credit: Gail Harvey


A story by a 5-year-old

SAM_0970-resizeFor the last week, I’ve been visiting with “my” kids at the school in Kibera, Kenya. I call them mine because over the last two years I have grown to love them so much. Here is a snap of one of the girls at the school. She is just 5 years old and is already reading and writing at a level that is about 6 to 12 months ahead of the average child in a school in Canada or the USA (that’s the whole idea, actually). Below is a story she wrote for me/about me and a picture she drew of me in the first lesson I ever gave as a “teacher”. How cool is that? This child (and 101 others like her) were selected out of hundreds of applicants as being most in need of help. At this school, these vulnerable children are given the opportunity to grow, and thrive and ultimately reach their full potential as health, happy human beings. This is happiness!

“Teacher Rayn is come agen.
I am veri hppe (happy).
Teacher Rayn is veri big.
Teacher Rayn is have gril (girlfriend).
Teacher Rayn is in school.
Teacher Rayn come with Catherine.
Teacher Rayn is have bug (backpack).
Teacher Rayn is lik waking (walking).”

By a 5-year-old girl supported by Shine Academy, run by Catherine Whiting and Javier Martinez

The joy of solitude

After 15 years of travelling mostly solo, I have really grown to appreciate and love the moments when I have only myself for company. Whether trying new foods, learning a new language or enjoying the sights and sounds (and sometimes smells) of a new place like Baja Mexico in 2002 or Ghana in 2013, there are feelings of both thrill and fear. Over time, my mind has learned to relax, reflect and take in all I am learning. For me this is one of the pure joys of travel and part of why traveling has become a passion with a purpose.

Top: Mulege, Baja California, Mexico – September 2002
Bottom: Accra, Ghana – March 2013

Commercial approach to ceramic water filters in Ethiopia

Getaw Cherinet and the Tulip siphon water filter, in Addis Ababa, January 2013

During my recent visit to Addis Ababa, I met with Tulip Addis Water Filter, a private company selling ceramic water filters in Ethiopia since 2010. Its product, known as the “Tulip” water filter, is a siphon device with a ceramic element. The company reports a brisk business in meeting the programmatic needs of local and international NGOs, with sales across all nine of Ethiopia’s regions and total volume of approximately 60,000 filters a year.

The filter, manufactured by Basic Water Needs of India, is sold by other companies in at least half a dozen countries around the world, including Malawi and Mozambique where it has recently been introduced by local entrepreneurs. Depending on distribution and marketing costs, the retail price tends to range from US$15 to US$25.

Although considered a relatively low-cost product, Tulip Addis General Manager Getaw Cherinet acknowledges that his filter is still unaffordable to many low-income earners. “Most of my customers are actually NGOs who give away the filters or sell them at reduced prices in order to better serve populations in need”, he says. In order to lower the retail cost further, the company has plans to build a factory and produce the ceramic element locally, in partnership with the manufacturer. With the additional production capacity, the company plans to expand into other East African markets and introduce a table-top version of the filter to make it more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. An added benefit of investing in a local production facility is to improve the availability of spare parts. Getaw also mentioned that he recently partnered on a proposal to evaluate the use of targeted vouchers to stimulate purchase by low-income families, an innovation which has been discussed at recent events of the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage.

The Tulip filter has a useful life of about 7000L of drinking water and can produce filtered water at a flow rate of about 5 litres per hour. Although no peer-reviewed studies have been published on the microbiological effectiveness of the device, Tulip Addis Water Filter says their product has been approved by government authorities prior to introduction to the market. Getaw agreed that having independent researchers monitor and evaluate his product’s performance in the field and publish the findings in a journal would be a useful addition to the evidence base and help him better market his product. He welcomed researchers who might be interested in such a study.

Getaw also shared his view on key challenges to doing business in the Ethiopian market. “There is a foreign currency shortage in Ethiopia”, he says, “This makes it difficult for vendors to obtain bank-guaranteed letters of credit with which they could purchase at higher volume from overseas. This is one of the main incentives for me to invest in a local production facility.” In addition, he reports that his clients often face funding constraints or delays making it difficult for him to reliably predict sales volume and forecast inventory requirements.

For those interested to learn more about Tulip Addis Water Filter including researchers interested in an evaluation, please contact Getaw Cherinet (