Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I can't believe it!!!

I am so humbled by everyone's generosity.

I just finished adding up donations from the last week and a half and realized that through gifts from friends and family, my FSD program fees are almost entirely covered. All I have to worry about now are the costs FSD doesn't take care of: my airline tickets, vaccines and malaria meds, evacuation insurance and living costs outside of room and board. All of that adds up to another $3,400, but that amount is much less intimating than the FSD fees of $6,500.

One month ago, I was soooo worried about if I was going to be able to make this trip work financially and if I would be able to volunteer for six months or would have to do a shorter trip, and if it was even the right decision given the economy. But folks have come out of the woodwork to help make it happen. Old friends and new friends and friends of friends and even families of friends. So many unexpected donors who I could never have predicted would contribute.

I feel so lucky and am grateful that the burden has been lifted off my shoulders. All I have to worry about now is getting ready to go, and studying up on micro-finance and Swahili to actually be useful there.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Peace Corps letter

I recently got an e-mail from Peace Corps with the following message. As you know, I applied to volunteer last January...

Peace Corps sent you an important letter regarding the status of your application on December 13, 2008. Please review the contents of the letter and contact the Peace Corps if you have questions.

I was dying to see what it was, since they've been sending me additional requests for medical information since I started the medical review process last April. Since Peace Corps takes care of your medical insurance while you volunteer, they're notoriously thorough in evaluating the health of applicants. Their examiners' favorite issue of mine to inquire about--though I've got many-- is my lower back. It goes out about once a year, which causes me to limp for a few days and maybe stay home from work for a day to rest it. Annoying? Yes. Painful? Yes. Would it hinder me from serving as a Peace Corps volunteer Africa? Well, not unless the computer instructor assignment I was nominated for required lifting CPUs onto rickshaws.

Since Peace Corps has already requested and received from me: a 3-page Plan for Pain Management, my physical therapist's notes, a detailed orthopedist assessment, and, most recently, a lower lumbar MRI (which, to my amazement, my insurance actually covered),
I couldn't think of what else they could possibly want. A wax model of the two trouble-making vertebrae in question?

You may be thinking "Why is Katy still getting info from the Peace Corps if she's going to volunteer with FSD?" I dunno. I suppose it's curiosity. And pride. Since the whole bureaucratic application/medical review process has taken sooo long to play out, I've been curious to see what their final offer would be -- which country, when the departure date would be, etc. After being strung along for what seems like forever, I want the the satisfaction of rejecting them and taking my sweet time to respond to their Invitation to serve.

The actual letter came yesterday. I could tell from the thin envelope that there was only one piece of paper and a CD inside, which I assumed was my MRI being returned to me. College rejection letters came to mind.

Well, that was that. Rejected.

Even though being accepted was a moot point, my eyes watered up after I read the letter. I don't know why. Because they were saying there was something wrong with me? Because it took away my feeling of being in control and that whether I went to Africa with FSD or PC was my decision to make?

Shawnté, who has seen me open scores of anti-climactic correspondence from PC, saw what was going on and gave me a big hug. Which I needed. And truth be told, it was pretty validating to have an official name ascribed to my issue: "Discogenic Low Back Pain with Disk Protrusion and Sciatica." Super.

So, I guess it just goes to show that things happen for a reason. If I hadn't met Will, and found FSD, I'd be pretty crestfallen right about now. Instead, I'm excited, hopeful and grateful. So, thank you, Universe. And no, FSD will not require me to do any heavy lifting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Save the date — January 10th

Though I swore I wouldn't throw any more parties after the All Things British 30th Birthday, I'm going to make an exception and have one last hurrah for a fundraising/going away party on January 10th. MaryEllen is going to let me use the BEAUtiful photography studio she manages as a venue. I'm kind of excited; this is much more swanky than my usual house/backyard/carport shin-digs.

Maybe we'll do some African trivia... If you get a question right, you get a raffle ticket. If you get it wrong, you'll have to take something from a table of household stuff I'm trying to get rid of. Or donate five bucks! Hah!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Today I made a list of all my worldly possessions, so I could get a good idea of what I need to store and what I can loan to Shawnte or Will while I'm gone. I'm looking forward to getting rid of a lot of it, but Will reminded me to be careful not to sell and donate so much that I don't have enough left for an apt when I get back. It's a fine line, I tell you!

If anyone is in need of say, a toaster oven or some nice lamps for 6 months, let me know!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Public Knowledge!

Well, the cat's out of the bag — a colleague announced at a meeting today that I was leaving for a higher cause. Which sounds like I'm going to become a woman of the cloth or something. I don't think they realized that it was not yet common knowledge, but I don't mind. I only have 5 weeks left at work, which is downright startling.

Spent an annoying half hour at the post office at lunch to getting a new passport today. Though U.S.P.S. stipulates that you must come between 10-12 to do anything passport-related, of course the only employee who handles passports wasn't around. She's "in the bathroom" her coworker said. So, I waited. She later walked in with a soda and shopping bag.

In other news, I low-balled everyone else on half.com and sold my 5th edition of "World Religions" for $45. I feel bad underpricing all the starving students, but it's sold!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

E-bay & The Goodness of Roomies

Listed some stuff on eBay today to try to make money/get rid of things. Sometimes I wonder if the effort of photographing, posting and shipping the stuff is really worth it. But so many things are too nice or I paid too much originally to just donate!

I have listed: A "World Religions" text book (hopefully will get 50 bucks!), some pretty Indian curtains I got for the British party last summer, and a set of silver seafood forks Mom gave me from Phair's when it was going out of business. I've had them for 5 years now and have yet to buy a crab. Purge, purge, purge!

Shawnté's sitting across from me at the kitchen table doing bills and just gave me a check (also my x-mas and next b-day pres) with the mandate to "Go do good, Norris." Awwwwww... My little heart overfloweth with gratitude. As hard as it is to ask folks for money, I'm realizing that it's actually making this experience a lot more meaningful. I feel like I'm not just going for myself anymore, as I would have done with the Peace Corps, I'm representing all my family & friends who are giving something up to make it possible, and need to work extra hard to make sure their money is put to good use. So as nice as it would be to drop all this and join the Peace Corps and not be completely broke when I come home (save my retirement plan) it feels good to know that a little bit of everyone else is, in a sense, coming with me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

First Dontation!

Grace just gave me my very first donation check, along with a "Here you go. Go get your Swahili on." Hehehe. I hadn't heard back from anyone on my first fundraising e-mail to close friends and family, (except for mom saying, "This is really good, Honey") so it was a welcome boost.

Several people have mentioned I should throw a fundraising party, too. :-) They just want a party! But it's a good idea. Maybe I'll have a going away party and charge admission. No freebies here!

I continue to have pangs of anxiety for several hours at a time, thinking about whether I'm making the right choice to leave such a good job in the middle of this recession. I know I'm not going to find anything as solid when I come back. But as Ruth said, "It's now or never!" And I can make due with a lot less, anyway. I already am: No more manicure/pedicures, new clothes or stuff for the apartment, etc. However, the biggest savings is coming from skipping all of the (wonderful) invitations to go away for weekends... It's amazing how much $$ all those flights ate up. So, I'm getting cozy with just being in L.A. It's really not so bad.

That's all for now.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm finally going to Africa!


Here it is -- the ASK! Hee hee hee. After raising money for so many causes, I never thought I'd be doing it for my own project. But here goes.

Warning: In my usual Katy-style, the letter's a little long. Sorry.


Two weeks ago, the Foundation for Sustainable Development accepted me into their "Pro Corps" international volunteer program. On January 23, I'll be getting on a plane to Kakamega, Kenya to partner with a local community organization which facilitates sustainable community development through micro-credit.

Also known as micro-lending or village banking, micro-credit refers to making small loans to those who are too poor to meet traditional banks' borrowing standards. Borrowers use the capital to start micro-enterprises, like buying a goat and selling its milk or buying supplies to start a laundry business. Micro-finance was pioneered by the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Reducing poverty and increasing self-sufficiency in Africa is extremely important to me. However, getting to Kenya to volunteer won't be easy: my FSD program fee for six months is $6,575 and airfare, malaria medicine, visas, etc. are another $3,430. (Yes, my jaw dropped, too!) I hope to meet the fee primarily through my own savings, but I also need your help. If you can find it in your heart (oh yes, I'm begging now! ;-) to help support my working in micro-finance, I would be very grateful. I'm hoping that the Obama fundraising approach—small donations from a lot people—will also work for my campaign.

Some examples of where funds will go:

  • $30 will get me 100 miles closer to Kenya
  • $50 will cover Swahili language lessons
  • $75 will cover room and board with a local host family for one week
  • $100 will cover my orientation, or several weeks of on-going FSD training
  • $125 will partially cover my emergency medical evacuation insurance (fun)
  • $200 will provide seed grant money for my micro-finance project

If you can help out, please make any checks payable to "FSD" with my name in the memo, and give to me. All donations are 100% tax deductible. I will submit checks to FSD in one batch in January, before leaving. You can also donate through PayPal (link on left), though they charge you a 5% transaction fee—boo!

I am very grateful for you support and encouragement, whether financial or otherwise. Drop me a line if you have any questions or suggestions, or if you know of anyone else who might be interested in supporting this project.

I've added some FAQs below with more details if you're interested.

Many, many thanks,




Sooooo, why volunteer?
Why not? Over one sixth of the world's population lives on less than $1 US a day, and another sixth lives on less than $2. And though you may say, "everything's cheaper in developing countries," a buck still doesn't get you very far, especially if you have a family to take care of. Living on the margins means making hard decisions—like whether to buy medicine for a sick child or food for the rest of the family. I feel driven to do anything I can to help reduce poverty and after volunteering with CARE for two years, I want to help on the "front-lines." I also have a deep love of experiencing different cultures; volunteering aboard gives me a chance to live in a foreign country AND help those who need it most.

Why do you have to pay?
In developing countries like Kenya, unemployment rates can reach as high as 80 percent and wages as low as one dollar a day. The local NGOs that FSD partners with have very limited budgets and no way to pay for the expenses entailed to recruit, train, house, feed and generally support a volunteer. Therefore, FSD charges volunteers a fee to cover those costs.

Who will you be loaning to?
The org I'll be working with grants their loans primarily to groups of women. The groups take joint repayment pledges and communally decide whom loans should go to. The incentive to repay is based on peer pressure—if one person in the group defaults, the other members are on the hook for it. These types of groups have extremely high repayment rates, typically around 98%.

Why women?
Loaning to women is more effective in reducing poverty than loaning to men, because women devote a higher percentage of their earnings to food and health care for their families. Women also have higher loan-repayment success rates.

What happened to the Peace Corps?
Well, as they say, [wo]man makes plans and God laughs. In this case, I met Will. We've been dating for nine months now and we'd rather not be separated for 27. (Peace Corps service is 2 years + 3 months training.) So, I decided to look for a shorter program.

Of the alternate volunteer-abroad organizations I looked into, Foundation for Sustainable Development seems to be the most thoughtful, culturally sensitive and committed to sustainable change—it is part of their name! I want to make sure that the time I devote to volunteering will make an impact that will last beyond my stay.

And though Peace Corps has the obvious benefit of being free (sigh), a lot of research suggests that volunteers often have more fulfilling experiences and make a greater impact when working though non-governmental organizations, since they are less constrained by U.S. and foreign government bureaucracy.

Is Kenya dangerous?
FSD and the Peace Corps did have to evacuate some volunteers in early 2008, due to the political situation, but they're back now, and so far so good. In Kakamega, I'll need to be in by 8 PM every night and if I must go out, to take a friend. Read: Rockin' nightlife! So it doesn't sound like the safest place in the world, but on the other hand, hundreds of volunteers have gone before me and come back just fine, so I'll be careful and stay alert, but am not overly concerned.

Are you going to have Internet access? Hot water?
God I hope so—at least regarding the hot water! But I'll survive if not. I am told that there are several Internet cafés in Kakamega Town, where I'll be working, so I should have e-mail access.

What's Kakamega like?
Kakmega is in Kenya's Western Province in the fertile highlands close to Uganda. It's near a rain forest and from February to May is the "High Rainy Season" when it rains most of the day, every day. I've heard you can get cheap galoshes.

Being so rural, it's fairly conservative: Women wear skirts below the knees and are seldom seen in pants (so long, jeans!) Almost everyone in Kakamega District belongs to Kenya's second-largest tribe, the Luhya. Also, most of the population are devout Christians, but there is also a significant Muslim presence. A favorite Kenyan pastime is to share a cup of chai tea (my favorite!) and chat with neighbors or passers-by. And they can sing - check it out this video!

Trusty Lonely Planet says of Kakamega, "There is no real reason to stay in this small but busy town, but if you arrive late in the day, it can be convenient to sleep over…before heading to the Kakamega Forest Reserve." So come stay with me on the way to the rain forest.

Will you get to travel?
FSD encourages volunteers to stay in their villages as much as possible to become real members of their host communities. However, Kakamega is close to Lake Victoria and the Kakamega National Reserve, so hopefully there will be some opportunities for weekend trips. After the program, if I have any money left, I would love to travel a little and see some of Kenya's famed wildlife.

What are you going to do when you get back?
I don't know! I'm certainly not anticipating it being easy to find work, given the current job market. I'll most likely stay in the Internet-industry, but won't rule out a career change. Maybe Marketing. Or studying Internet information architecture. Or I'll fall in love with social services and join a non-profit. My career coach/friend, Danielle, is not too keen on my ambivalence… :-)

So, what's Will think about all of this?
Will has been 100% supportive the whole way, helping me edit essays and look into different programs, but is definitely happy that I'll be going for six months, as opposed to 2-plus years. My hope is that he'll land a good TV-writing gig and will be so busy that he'll hardly have time to miss me.

That's it! Thank you, again!!