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June 29, 2010

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June 29, 2010

I've taught a weekly yoga class to the young women from Niger for 2 years and in that time I have been amazed at how a simple gift of time and energy can have profound & far-reaching effects. At I really wasn't sure how much could be accomplished in 5 classes, and I don't speak French so I didn't know how much they would understand of the teaching. I was surprised at how much they absorbed, not only for themselves, but in terms of the big picture - how the tools could benefit their communities when they went home. They studied yoga with me and read books about it when not with me. They asked to try specific yoga poses when they came to class. Of course some wanted to try the exciting looking stuff, but they also appreciated the stress relieving effects of the breathing and relaxation practices. In the last of our 5 sessions each girl had the opportunity to teach a part of the class - in English. They took this very seriously and even the most shy of the group demonstrated courage and was supported by the others to succeed. The girls make the connection that what they learn in class can have benefits for their community and are creative in using the tools they learn. I found out that one of the girls, upon her return home, uses yoga as a draw to attract other young women to come to meetings where she also discusses healthcare and other issues relevant to their lives. Expanding Lives offers an experience that is life-changing for both the volunteers and the young women who are the focus of the program. These young women are becoming leaders in their communities. As such, they will have to take on the heavy responsibility that comes with that role. They will need tools not only to support their communities, but to support their own physical and emotional wellbeing. I am humbled to be able to help them to gain these tools, and I deeply respect Expanding Lives for having the insight to recognize these needs.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

seeing the young women become more comfortable with the tools of yoga and understanding the benefits to themselves and their communities. Also hearing about how they are planning to use and actually using what they have learned to benefit others at home.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

expand it to more countries and make it an exchange program so that young women from the US travel to their countries after working with the girls here.

More feedback...

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

working with the girls! We had so much fun in class and they were so interested in learning & willing to explore something new.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

wonderful people. The organizers have first-hand experience of the culture and a deep respect for the girls and the possibilities that can exist for them. This respect and understanding filters through to the local volunteers as well.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

expand! Global understanding & mutual respect is essential to a peaceful planet. This type of personal contact and sharing of knowledge and culture is what facilitates global understanding & mutual respect.

Ways to make it better...

I spoke French - but that would just be for my comfort level, not for the benefit of the girls. Overall both years have been a great experience.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

probably financial - the challenge of most not-for-profits. I think it is also a challenge each year to find host families. More years in existence will mean more exposure and greater interest of host families.

One thing I'd also say is that...

with this organization I have never had the sense of the girls as "Other." They are from a different country, culture and language, but our shared humanity is always a given. I hope to work with Expanding Lives for many years to come!

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About once a year

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

May 29, 2010

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May 29, 2010

Expanding lives is a very hands on, on the ground sort of organization. This is what is really great about it--the girls become part of the volunteers' lives, and both groups are better for it. My family has gained so much from our interactions with the girls--we have learned about Niger, about Islam, about education and opportunities for young women in that part of the world. But mostly our experiences have confirmed our faith in oneness of global humanity. Even though I have done very little--I drive the girls from their homes to school, and I help teach them to ride bicycles--I am so priviliged to be part of Expanding Lives.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Seeing how much the girls from Niger learn and grow in self-knowledge and confidence in just one summer in Chicago.

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How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every month

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

May 21, 2010

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May 21, 2010

As a family we were able to see first hand how structured and beneficial the daily programs and classes were to the girls. These girls return to Niger empowered by leadership skills and self empowerment. When they return home they continue their education and the support is still there for them to achieve goals that were once unheard of. It doesn't get more self empowering than Expanding Lives!

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Expanding Lives is an extremely well run, efficient, life changing organization.

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How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every month

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

May 20, 2010

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May 20, 2010

The name of this nonprofit says it all: expanding lives is what happens not only to the girls who come over from Niger as part of the educational program, but also to the people who volunteer. We hear from families that they see the world through new eyes after hosting girls, and high school students who work with us sometimes change their majors as a result. It's fun work with great, immediate outcomes.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

I've learned a lot about people, organization, fundraising, and the larger world through working with this charity.

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How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every month

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

May 20, 2010

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May 20, 2010

My first year with Expanding Lives was truly one of the most profound experiences of my nineteen short years on this planet. I hadn't planned to become so involved with the organization: I knew the teachers who founded it, and I was a high school graduate with a car. I offered to help drive around the three Nigerien women, excited to interact with people my age from a culture that was so foreign to me. What I did not expect was the way my involvement with EL would change my view of the world simply by reteaching me everything I thought I already knew: that we are all created equal; that one person CAN choose to make a difference; and that despite our differences in ideas, beliefs, values, clothes, languages, customs, etc., our humanity unfailingly links us all together. EL is such a special organization because it is so personalized. Everyone involved in the program gets to be inspired by the Nigerien women and by each other. Throughout my two summers with EL I have bonded with the girls over both American and West African music, laughed through multiple card games, listened to and participated in discussions about leadership and conflict resolution, admired their courage as they stretched into daunting yoga poses, enjoyed their cooking and learned their eating practices, admired their physical strength while losing at arm wrestling, and been humbled by their personal strength in the face of the hardships they have endured. The young women were more engaged in their studies here than me or any of my classmates have ever been. They learned how to use computers, speak English, take care of their bodies, and so much more. And what's even more exciting is the fact that they are now at home actively sharing that knowledge with their communities. This is how change happens. I have watched as more teenagers like me have gotten involved with EL and had the same life-altering experience that I had. Each year, EL continues to grow and touch new lives, creating a beautiful community of people that stretches across the continents. Two years ago, I knew nothing about Niger. Now I can say I have friends there.

Photos

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the impact it has had on my life and the lives of everyone it touches.

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The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

the most inspirational people I have ever had the privilege to meet.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

change the world.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About once a year

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

May 17, 2010
1 person found this review helpful

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May 17, 2010
1 person found this review helpful

A volunteer working with Expanding Lives, I am involved with both the young women from West Africa every summer, as well as those families who host our guests here in Chicago. As a Peace Corps volunteer once posted in West Africa, I saw first hand how a family and a village could benefit as a whole when women were empowered. After returning to the US, I found Expanding Lives, and was excited to continue helping those with the ability to change the way of life for not only themselves, but their whole family as well. This extends not only to those young women who visit Chicago, but also everyone with which they come into contact while they are here. Host families are given the opportunity to meet and share cultures with someone in their own home- allowing them to become ambassadors of goodwill. Those connections have a lasting effect on everyone involved, and the life-changing experiences which the women and host families share remain in their hearts for the rest of their lives.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

...my work with the young women from West Africa, and working with all parties on their stay.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

...give them a million dollars! They are currently all-volunteer based, and do an azmazing job. I'm proud to be involved with them and the amazing things they do.

More feedback...

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the spirit, enthusiasm, and real-life results they achieve.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

honest, hard-working, dependable and experienced.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

change the world- without a doubt.

Ways to make it better...

they had a parter organization or foundatin which fully funded everything.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

getting more exposure and help from the community.

One thing I'd also say is that...

...working with this organization is one of those ways where you can have your faith in humanity restored. Seriously.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

May 15, 2010

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May 15, 2010

This summer I had the fantastic opportunity to work with Expanding Lives as a cultural liaison to four young women from Niger. I worked with the girls from the very first day they landed in America and was with them up to the day they boarded the plane back home. It was my job to help the girls assimilate to American culture, their host families, and interact with other youth of similar age. This transition took place while the girls participated in six weeks of classes with topics ranging from English, computers, public health, leadership and democracy to peer mediation and African dance. Through this experience the girls gained invaluable skills, abilities, but more importantly independence. Coming from a country where only a nationwide 6% of women go to secondary school, the opportunities that a trip to America offers is priceless. It is life-changing both for the women and for anyone else who has worked with them. Personally, seeing the internal motivation and strive for education that each and every one of these young women presented was inspirational. They have the drive and the ambition, they just need the opportunity. The opportunity to get a better education to better themselves, the lives of their families and communities, and eventually become models of change within their country. The amazing strength that these girls showed in coming to a foreign country, all alone, to pursue education is phenomenal and truly says a lot about just how powerful young women are. They have inspired me to pursue a career in women’s empowerment, especially in developing countries in Africa.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

seeing the changes that previous years girls have made in their own communities. Girls have gone back to continue their education by enrolling in a university, starting village-wide efforts for a cleaner commmunity, starting groups to teach proper health.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

create a video to show the kind of environment that these young women are coming from, to highlight the statistics concerning education and women in countries in West Africa. Possibly interview past participants on how their experiences have helped them.

More feedback...

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the direct relationship it lets volunteers develop both with the girls as well as other volunteers that have experiences with Peace Corps and other such organizations.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

amazing. It was eye-opening to work with and talk to women who have spent years in Niger, as volunteers, working to better the lives of these women. They're very open and very enthusiastic.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

change the world! If more women are given the power and the chance to take charge, especially in Africa, they could change everything, from poverty levels and mortality rates to higher education and increased female participation in the government.

Ways to make it better...

it could not have been better. My time spent working with this organization was some of the best time of my life. It really helped me to see the world and identify my life path as one that includes helping empower young women from Africa.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

lack of funding and unstable governments in Niger and West Africa as a whole.

One thing I'd also say is that...

Expanding Lives works to change the lives of anyone it comes into contact with. Not just the four women who come over every year, but literally EVERYONE who works with them, even if it's just a soccer game one afternoon.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

May 15, 2010

more

May 15, 2010

Expanding Lives (EL) was founded by two teachers at my high school. As a French student, I was asked to help translate classes from English to French. I translated weekly classes on conflict resolution, and I did some one-on-one tutoring in computers. But I also helped by planning social activities, like picnics, soccer games, and tie-dying; I found these events to be the most rewarding part of Expanding Lives’s program. These activities, attended by students from our school district, provided some downtime from the academic curriculum, and demonstrated the organizational capabilities of young people. But most importantly, they served as a cultural exchange between American and Nigerien teenagers. Chasing a soccer ball, rubber-banding a t-shirt, in these moments I got to know the four visitors. They were not just participants in a non-profit I worked with the summer before my senior year; they were my peers, and by the end, my friends. Perhaps “Expanding Lives” strikes many as an ambiguous name. Canning to raise money for EL, I’ve had people ask me if it was a pro-life organization or if it provided health services, like weight loss. The name does not mention West Africa or women’s education or cultural exchange. But anyone whose life has been touched by the program knows that it is the only appropriate name. Ultimately, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Midwest, from the desks of a classroom to the grassy slopes of a park, this organization honors a commitment to change…a commitment to expanding lives.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

my time as a fund-raiser and a volunteer.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

strive to recruit more volunteers so that the founders would be able to distribute the work amongst more people, lightening their load. I would also love to see an increase in awareness and recognition from community memembers not associated with EL.

More feedback...

Ways to make it better...

could not have been better. Really. Getting involved in Expanding Lives was the privilege of a lifetime.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

funding, staffing, community/media attention. Political instability and funding cuts from the U.S. government

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

May 15, 2010

more

May 15, 2010

I went on retreat with Expanding Lives, and it literally changed my life, and opened my eyes to the world. During this retreat, I acted as a cultural leison to help the four pre-selected girls from West Africa transition from country to country. During this retreat, we opened up to each other and talked about what our lives are like, and what we liked to do. This retreat helped me to realize how easy my life is in America, and how in other countries, women are still so oppressed! This charity empowers young woemn to stand up for themselves, persue Univeristy level education, and to become a leader in their own community to empower other young women. Also, I have personally worked with these girls in learning English. It's a hard concept to learn a foreign language, but it's even harder when you have to speak a language you are semi-knowledgable in in the same foreign coutnry. I loved this charity simply becuase it was hands on, and you had the experience of meeting the women from Africa. You were able to share cultural differences and make lasting friendships.

Photos

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

theory. The girls from West Africa return to their home country, and that is where change is ultimately done. I have told that some of the girls have graduated from University, and some have created community clean up projects.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Try to organize a retreat/trip for volunteers interested in vistiting the places the girls come from.

More feedback...

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

making the interaction with the girls from Niger, Africa. It's a humbling experience to see girls come from a different country to educate themselves further.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

amazing. They were all so open to adjusting to my own schedule. If I couldn't attend one day, they would ask me the next time I was free, and tell me when and where to meet them. You could tell that they were very dedicated to this charity.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

change the world. They could educate so many women and those women would be able to create the "pay-it forward" effect. It would be AMAZING.

Ways to make it better...

I volunteered to help out even more!

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

connecting with the girls--but that wall is broken within the first 10 minutes of meeting them.

One thing I'd also say is that...

make a video that records the change that is being made.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every month

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

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