Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sierra Leone at the End* of an Epidemic

Sierra Leone is so BEAUTIFUL. Perched on the edge of the sea. Every restaurant or hotel has an ocean view.  Honestly pretty much wherever you go in Freetown there is a stunning ocean view. Beauty and inequity in large quantities as far as the eye can sea.

What can I tell you? I got to see Sierra Leone at the end of an epidemic. All the aid and solutions got here too late and are staying here too long.

I was driving down a highway from Kenema towards Freetown (near Bo) when it came on the radio that there were no new cases of Ebola (Monday August 17) . Zero for the first time in more than a year. I thought there would be more jubilation about no new cases. The response from the nationals around me was muted. It's as if they were thinking, "It’s one more thing… when will all these organizations and their bossy money and protocols leave? What will be the next scourge? Shrugs. "

(*Since then another case has been found, and contacts are being traced. Hopefully this is near the end.)

I had a great trip and learned a lot. I saw actual contact tracers doing their job in Northern Port Loko. It’s hard. Really hard, Imagine your mom just died of a strange and terrible disease. And imagine some foreigners came and told you not to bury her. And that they were taking the body. And also that you were now quarantined, (whether you have any food at home or not) and you have stay in your house under armed guard. And your crops in the field? They will fail. And others in the village that know you are trapped? They will kill and eat your goats. You are helpless and angry. And grieving.
Ebola Treatment Unit in Port Loko
For a while people were starving in quarantine. Naturally, they would run, and break quarantine, and spread Ebola. Now the CDC supplies live chickens and pineapples and there are reports of people touching the dead to GET INTO QUARANTINE for the food. So god help us, you just cannot win. It makes sense to me why some who were supposed to be quarantined ran away to avoid starving and being trapped with sicker people. And it makes sense to me why someone with nothing might choose to get into quarantine to have enough to eat for a few days. And it makes sense to me why this epidemic is hard to contain. It is all mind numbing and also makes so much sense.

Back to the contact tracer. It’s their job to walk up to this angry, grieving household every day and ask them how they are, and if they have a fever or vomiting and take their temperatures. And they try to not get Ebola themselves. And the people they are asking are maybe not that excited to see this stranger asking all these questions (Do you have diarrhea? How bad?). And maybe they call you a ‘busybody’ and tell you to get lost. And you need to get the data and report it and identify if anyone is symptomatic and have them sent to the ETU if they are. Everyone lies to you and distrusts you. And it’s your job. Good luck!

On the trip I also got to visit some schools. ‘Schools’ really. Don’t get me wrong. They are doing their best, I met wonderful dedicated teachers and head teachers doing their job the best they can in very difficult situations. I spent a few hours at this school:

We were there to help them automate how they take attendance and also report other indicators to the school donors (Plan, Save the Children, and International Rescue Committee). These groups fund the schools and want to know, quickly and accurately, about attendance, and reading and math scores, and number of minutes of the day dedicated to reading and math, and number of teachers trained on their methods. All of this can be reported electronically and help the donor if the programmatic funds are being directed as they expect.

This school has one big open room for two first grades and two second grades. Can you imagine if your first graders were subjected to distraction like that? There are no benches or desks so the students sit on the floor. The school is a primary school for about 400 students in the morning from 7:30 – 12:30, at 1:00 PM the school becomes a secondary school and older kids come until 5 PM. There’s no power in the school and when the rains come it’s quite dark inside.

The teachers carefully take attendance in registers for the donors:

I hope that some of the aid money to fight Ebola will help to strengthen local systems to provide better general health care going forward. This will require an effectively planning government. And coordination among agencies that did not exist prior to the outbreak. It's a tall order.

The way money swirls all around but somehow doesn't seem to wet the parched areas at all feels familiar. While I was there the government was tearing down the slum residences and shops that are around my hotel. The government wants to improve the area for tourists and development. The residents have nowhere else to go and are angry. This was meters from my hotel:

“The U.S. Embassy has received reports that the Government of Sierra Leone has initiated “Operation Take Control” in the Aberdeen area of Freetown as part of continuing efforts to fight crime. This operation entails the demolition of unlicensed shops, businesses and dwellings in Aberdeen and is expected to last for at least one week.

So far it appears that the displaced people in Aberdeen are remaining peaceful but there is a visible police presence in the area. The U.S. Embassy in Freetown advises U.S. citizens to be cautious when going to Aberdeen in the coming days and avoid any public gatherings. Due to the extent of the demolition there is a possibility of spontaneous demonstrations breaking out in Aberdeen and the surrounding environs. ”

“Operation Take Control” is actually operation piss off hundreds of poor, desperate people with nothing to lose. Their slum homes were demolished in the height of the rainy season. They are angry and marching, and throwing things at cars that go in and out of the hotel. They don't have much, but they now find themselves with ample debris. I can sympathize. I can see why the government wants to develop this area for tourists. With Ebola gone maybe the tourist dollars will return. That would be a boon for industry. But for hundreds of squatters, they are homeless in the rainy season and lost their small shops and cobbled together tarp tents. Now they sit among the ruins of their slums and don't have anywhere else to go.

The CDC spent so much money here. Flying in doctors for four or six weeks rotations. That’s a week to learn what is going on, two weeks to do your job and a week to get ready to go home. Those flights are expensive. Everyone stayed in the Radisson Blu for $300 (or more) a night. Everyone has a car and a driver. It is big aid at its ugliest. I keep meeting amazing organizations doing special difficult work, and when I think what they could have done with small crumbs of this budget.

Check out Anna from World Hope International, she’s almost the only service provider of any kind for more than 400 disabled children in Freetown. Her budget is minuscule and she raises her own salary from emailing friends. Imagine what her thrift and skill could do with the kind of funds CDC and UNFPA and UNICEF are dropping on this place.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stay just as far from me, as me from you

I found out that Josh was gone today. For a while he was my partner in crime and there was no one I looked up to more.

He took me to my first Les Savy Fav concert. And my first Interpol show. And we've closed a lot of bars together. He was funny, and smart, and I loved him. He left NY and I said I'd never forgive him. 

But I did, and I tried for a while to stay friends. Calling. Sending emails. Sending fake postcards. But he slipped away. (Years ago.) I thought he had just moved on, and I grieved, but now I wonder if there was something more to the loss of our connection. Maybe connecting was hard. Maybe he was busy fighting his own demons. I'm listing to playlists he made me in 2005 tonight on a loop.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Josh was his love for Mission of Burma. I'll never hear that song Academy Fight Song without thinking of him. I went to see a MoB show with him, and made fun of the age of the band, renaming them SMT (Sweaty Man Titties). He laughed. And then he got mad. I'd insulted his idol. He was right. There's no space in this life to take down our idols. It's hard enough with them intact. 


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Oh Dear?

What matters? 

Oh dear. This feels very college-freshman-philosophy-class here. I guess I'm regressing.

You know I love dogs. I was raised with Rebel, and Penny and Maggie and they were part of the family. Penny was my only sibling after Lynn abandoned me for UNCW, and the family member, by far, that I missed the most when I left home for Georgetown. When I was working part-time for Perfect Sense Digital, I spent 8 hours a week working for Animal Care and Control in Brooklyn walking shelter dogs that would be euthanized in a couple days. I like most dogs more than most people.
This is a stray dog literally inside Humayun's Tomb. They are EVERYWHERE.
In Delhi there were stray dogs everywhere. It was one of the first things I noticed on the taxi ride home from the airport with Sravan at 3 AM. Everywhere on the highway. Plenty in the street in front of the Dimagi flat. I easily passed 50 of them on my 15 minute walk to work in C block Vasant Vihar. 
This is an advert for a fertility clinic posted on an electric transistor in Visant Vihar.

Vasant Vihar is a bougie ambassador neighborhood where some of the ex-pats are walking pets on a leash. There is a pet store selling dog and cat food and toys. And right there out front of the store for your disjuncture-seeking brain there are innumerable stray dogs. Cute fluffy dogs with horrible open sores and flies in the sores like a Steinbeck novel. And the pets on the leash. And the stray dogs hit by the insane traffic but not killed and dragging their wasting paralyzed hind-quarters behind them for a few more days until they starve. And 1 billion people. And fertility clinics.

I can’t really care about those stray dogs suffering. There are so many. Unlimited. I have to separate that out if I'm going to get out of bed. I wish Peter Singer were here.  It's like worrying about the suffering of pigeons. Or ants. Or the bacteria in my mouth when I brush my teeth. It’s vast an immeasurable and what is so much more important about the suffering I see than the suffering I know about but don't see? So I'll just push this suffering into the 'doesn't matter' category of suffering. That category is getting crowded. (See also: Boat Migrants, Guantanamo, Rwandan children 'outside the fence'.)

The danger of shifting the dogs, who I care so much about reflexively, into this category is that to get them over there, you rip a hole wide enough that pretty much everything could go. Seems like getting people over there might just follow naturally.

So I get up in the morning and I guess I can say I didn't create that situation, but then who did? Who exactly has to fix it? And if there's not one simple answer, and if there's not much likelihood that that a responsible governing body will fix it, then this is just the 'normal' we need to accept.

And we can take some comfort in saying we try to do our bit. So I take a pay cut and work for a social enterprise that is trying to improve health outcomes for all kinds of interventions for the underserved populations around the world. And maybe if I help this organization to achieve its mission then the gradual improvement of outcomes reduces suffering some other way… Like a suffering offset. Feels thin and hollow.

Then there's a suffering calculus. To live is to suffer. And how much do these stray dogs suffer. X amount? What does it matter if they suffer 2X or 10X? Or .01X? In the long range view the suffering will be gone. I know it hurt like hell when I tore my rotator cuff, but now that suffering seems not just distant but nonexistent. Pain in the past counts for nothing. Once I'm dead, will it matter how much pain I felt when I was alive? To who exactly? Ok so pain and suffering don't matter? Oh dear…

Friday, May 22, 2015

3 weeks in Delhi

So my first trip for my new job was to the Delhi office to meet the team there and do some onboarding. I built my own custom CommCare app and saw the technology in use in 3 different hospitals in India. I saw nurses that would typically put medical details like heart rate and blood pressure in these huge ledgers that reminded me of Harry Potter into wireless tablets instead, for better medical record keeping, and hopefully for better medical outcomes. (RCTs pending.)

Hindsight 20/20: When telling your mom you are going to a hospital in India, it might be good to provide a little context.

My welcome lunch with much of the Delhi office

Me in front of a hospital in Delhi where they are using CommCare in the maternity ward. 


Me at Humayun's Tomb

Look in the mirror for a tiny me riding in a moto rickshaw 


There was construction everywhere I went. These little guys were at every work site. Caterpillar has nothing on them.

This is me in front of a hospital in Rajasthan where CommCare is being used in the diagnosis of Diabetes, Hypertension, and Depression.

Sunset in the lovely Hauz Khas Village park in Delhi

Sravan and me in the kitchen of the Dimagi flat where he is always whipping up something gourmet.

From the roof of the Dimagi flat in Delhi you can see these amazing trees.

Here's a little something I wrote from there when I was up all night with the heat and my stomach:

Sravan is doing his best to take care of me. He really is. But if you’ve met me (and let’s face it my blog audience is pretty much just my mom, so you have) you know he’s fighting an uphill battle.

Sravan is a Dimagi engineer who lives in the flat in Delhi where I’m staying. He came to fetch me from the airport and has been doing his best to walk with me to work and back and keeps cooking food and offering it to me.

He really is amazing. This morning (Saturday) he was up early reading “Introduction to Special Relativity”. He’s this kid that just graduated from Engineering Physics from IIT Delhi from a rural village. Check out his bio. He seems to know almost everything and is figuring out the rest. He’s taught himself to be a gourmet cook watching youtube videos. He’s always offering me some kind of help or support. (Nick Hamlin, Miki Vizner, you two would both love Srav instantly like the long lost brother he is from your tribe.)

But you know I’m like a three year old who wants to do it BY MYSELF! Everything has to be by myself. (One part loathe of ever seeming dependent on any other person, one part antisocial.) So I’ve been working hard to master the route between the flat and the office and also where to buy anything I need so that I don’t need any help. Srav is always making some amazing dal and offering it to me. He is a bit perplexed by my making a meal out of ramen and biscuits. It is hard to explain. He makes me strong Indian coffee and convinces me to get a delicious chai on the street. (It was 38C/100F and we were walking to work and he said “Do you want a hot chai?” and I said “No I’m okay.” and he said, “We’ll just get some then.” And we did. And it was delicious. And it really didn’t make me any hotter. It was 10 rupees (about 16 cents).

The flat is really nice. There are ceiling fans and three big bedrooms for the full time residents and two washrooms with water heaters for the shower. (Not that you need them this time of year. It’s been over 104F/ 40C every day I’ve been here so far.) There’s a well-stocked kitchen for Sravan to cook in and a housekeeper who straightens up after us and does the laundry. We have wifi. There are some small shops and fruit stands nearby.

Shops in Delhi have pretty much anything you would need. Familiar brands of everything. (Ragu, Oreos, Pantene, Colgate.) One liter of Coke is 55 INR, (about 86 cents). Doritos are easy to find here and 200 INR a big bag (about $3.14). I haven’t seen a Snickers yet, but when I do, I’ll know how to price my own ‘basket of goods’. (Ed note: 38 rupees / 60 cents) It seems like it would be an easy place to live. Delhi is great. I’m enjoying the trip. I have some other thoughts that started while I was walking around the city, maybe darker thoughts, but they’re really not about Delhi. A future post I guess… Stay tuned.

So far my impression of the new job is that it’s filled with these nice geniuses. Everyone here is being warm and kind and is really impressive. They all speak a ton of languages and have a bunch of degrees and I keep hoping they don’t realize I don’t belong… I’ve been onboarding and learning tons of processes: their sales process, the pricing model, application customization and design. Every day they bring in some amazing catered lunch and the whole office eats rice, and roti and dals and yogurt and some other delicious items I’ve been told the name of lots of times but can’t quite retain.

On Friday I got to go on a fascinating project visit. The project is a pilot funded by Grand Challenges Canada to improve outcomes for maternal health by tracking antenatal care and labor and delivery care in a maternity ward on an app on a samsung tablet, rather than these crazy giant (ex-colonial) registers where they record everything now. We went to Jamia hospital, in the maternity ward and saw the nurses recording details in the custom app. Patient name and medical history, risk factors, maternal and fetal heart rate and all the elements of a ‘partograph’. A partograph records data like dilation, contraction frequency and severity and location of the fetus and can provide decision support. It makes a lot of sense to me that a tool like that should be in an app and not on paper. It is faster for the nurses to complete and then of course there can be reporting and data analysis afterwards. There are so many factors that influence maternal health outcomes, so this is only a tiny piece of the puzzle but it does seem like a step forward.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

This Time Tomorrow...

So. It has been a long winter. But DC is gorgeous now. It's sunny and 72. DC has this beautiful crisp season of spring for about two weeks before the sticky, humid summer sets in and this is truly it. The cherry blossoms are blooming:

So that has me in a good mood but I'm also so excited about the NBA playoffs. This year looks set to be one of the best playoffs of my entire life. Every single opening round playoff series in the west has riveting big stars. The Spurs won 17 of their last 18 and are THE 6 SEED. And the 'weak east' has the historically good Spurs East (Hawks) and a juggernaut in Cleveland with the best player in the NBA and also a rejuvenated LBJ.  It's all gonna be amazing. It's the best time of the year. (Predictions: Spurs over Warriors in the west, Cavs over Hawks, finals goes Spurs repeat if they are still healthy and Cavs if not.)

My favorite TV series of the last few years just wrapped up. Justified was a great ride and I was team Boyd all the way. I'm working on a fan fiction alternative ending where Ava shot him just to get away from Raylan and they are reunited and run off Bonnie and Clyde style. I'm just a romantic.

Speaking of romance, the new season of Louie is already incredible and Pamela's description of life a la carte has me optimistic about the state of the human race for the first time in decades.

But tomorrow I'm going to New Delhi. New trip for a new job. I was offered a truly wonderful opportunity at one of the coolest companies I'ver ever heard of and I'll be joining Dimagi, a Cambridge based social enterprise that delivers open and innovative technology to help underserved communities everywhere. They're best known for CommCare a truly revolutionary mHealth platform. So I'll be moving to Cambridge and spending some time traveling to their projects and offices around the world. I'm so excited to see New Dehli and meet some members of my team and dive right in to some exciting work where I can leverage my technology delivery experience from the Accenture days. Check back in this space for photos and experiences from my first trip to India soon.

I'll miss my friends (and still believe in the mission) at GlobalGiving. (Thanks to them for the fun send off!) Dimagi is in the same universe and I expect I'll still cross paths with folks from that organization. It's a busy time and I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

6 Futures Update - The Wonders of a Gap Year!!!

For every generation, there's a gap?

You remember this picture:
Top row L-R: Claude, Maurice and Innocent
Bottom row L-R: Serge, Pacific and Du
and maybe this post about those six young men.

These were my top six students at ASYV. We worked together a ton and I really love these kids. They're being very serious in these official photos, but I remember them more like this:
Serge, Pacific, me, Innocent, Claude & Du.
(Maurice typically not pictured because, as always, he is behind the camera.)
So last year I told you that one of these six students received a full Scholarship to McGill University in Montreal (Innocent in the top right). I also told you that Pacific (bottom center) and Claude (top left) were accepted into a gap year program called Bridge2Rwanda.

Well a gap year does wonders. Five (5!) of these six students now have full scholarships to universities abroad! I am delighted for them all.

Thanks to support from Bridge2Rwanda and mostly their own hard work, Pacific (bottom center) will be attending Texas Christian University in Fort Worth Texas & Claude (top left) will be attending the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY.

Always resourceful, Maurice and Serge both found their own gap year programs. Serge was working with a program at the US embassy and will be joining Innocent at McGill University as a MasterCard Scholar. I am so glad they will be there together. Maurice was in a film internship program supported by the German government (? sure, why not?) and will be joining Immaculee & Jeaninne as a MasterCard Scholar at Arizona State University where he will major in film production. Maurice is going to fit right in and I can get regular reports from Macky & Jeaninne like the overprotective mother hen I have become.

Du, (bottom right) is still in the process of applying to Ashesi University in Ghana and I know he won't let up until he finds a program where he can succeed.

The resilience of these kids never ceases to amaze me. There have been a lot of “No”s on this journey but they kept pushing and fighting and this determination has been rewarded with some pretty huge opportunities.  I can't want to see how they use these chances.

Spring Break in PR and other late winter updates

Waaaay overdue for an update here. Sorry. I've been hella busy.

I spent some time in Rincon, PR with my sister at the end of March. I cannot recommend it enough. Great time. Beautiful beaches & snorkeling. Bioluminescent Bay. Yoga by the sea. Easy peasy.
View in front of our beach house
View in front of our beach house

Lindy and Kate being cute

Selfie at the beach

Lindy gamely struggling under the weight of an island

On February 9th my friend Sarah had a tiny baby, Nathaniel. They are both doing great:

Also in February I went with my friends Heather and Annie to Tucker’s organic farm in New York to see the chickens, goats and Tucker’s daughter Kai. It was a blast to get the band back together again.

Tuckaer and Kai in the cool log cabin on the farm they call home
On the way home we swung by Brooklyn for some brunch and saw some more of the old guard (and Allie's two gorgeous girls).
This is a great starting 7. In 2005.

I also got the chance (at a work outing) to bowl in the Truman Bowling Alley below the old executive building. They have a photo up there of Nixon bowling across the line.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Paid in Full

Back in the darkest days of Application Boot Camp I was exhausted and dejected. We were working 18+ hour days, trying to complete lengthy web forms while the power cut on and off at random. These kids were geniuses, but really struggling with western style questions like First Name, Last Name, Address (no one in Rwanda has an address) let alone calculating family income in Rwandan Francs and completing applications for admission to the university, separate scholarship applications, and applications for aid. Not to mention certified academic results, certified statements of vulnerability and in some cases translations as well as letters of recommendation. Just completing one application for one kid was a marathon.

Then there were the odds. We were competing against all the applicants in sub-saharan africa (untold thousands) for about 100 spots at the few MasterCard Scholarship schools that didn't require us to submit SAT results. And what was I doing anyway, getting these student's hopes up? Working these kids so hard to get all the applications in, and then when no one got one they would be disappointed about their prospects in Rwanda. Just another person letting them down. I was talking a lot about hopelessness and futility.

Avi, a fellow cousin working at the school is an optimist for no good reason. He offered me a wager that at least one of the kids would receive a scholarship. If not, he would make me a full restaurant style dinner. If one of the kids did get a scholarship, then I cook. Now this wasn't really a fair bet. He can cook and as you know, I prefer to eat out, but at the time, it felt like a safe bet. Always up for gambling, I agreed.

Now we know that four of my students were awarded MasterCard scholarships and three more were admitted to a gap year program (Bridge2Rwanda) and they all got scholarships this year. (Congrats to Claude who will be at University of Rochester, Pacific who will be at TCU and Peace Grace who will be headed to Agnes Scott College.) So that's 7 of the 20. (And Maurice, Serge and Julien are still trying.)

So, it's high time for me to pay up.  We set a date for me to go to Brooklyn and make Avi dinner.

I'm not afraid of much. I'm happy speaking in front of large groups, eating spiders and goat brains, and running hill sprints in the snow. But trying to follow a recipe makes me sweat.

I settled on a menu: Ceviche, Chimichurri Beef and Flan.

Ceviche tastes good and you can't over cook it, (because lime juice does that). Chimichurri Beef is delicious and Flan was a dessert I liked that fit with the Argentine-themed courses.

I had tried to make each of the recipes a few times on their own. There were burns (both me and the beef). Smoke alarms rang. The neighbors upstairs stopped by to see what was going on. I had to flush my eyes with water for 20 minutes after a mishap with the Ceviche once and considered a trip to the ER. It was rough. I had never tried to make them all on one day.

I got up early and took the Amtrak to NYC. As soon as I arrived I got Avi's keys and went to his apt to start shopping. 

First I made the flan. This is me caramelizing sugar (which can go terribly wrong in a flash):
You can see me in the reflection of the tea kettle.

The flan cooks in a water bath. This was really tricky and had caused a number of sticky spills in the practice rounds until it was explained to me (thanks Scott & Nicole) to put the pan in the oven and *then* fill it with water.

The Ceviche

The Marinated Beef

Avi & the Wine

Plated Chimichurri Beef over Arugula

The Flan turned out
So in the end it all worked out. Everyone lived. No one got food poisoning. Two bottles of Argentine Malbec probably helped with the positive review. If I ever have to cook again (and let's hope I don't) this is what you're getting.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work

Happy Holidays! It’s hard to believe this is the 11th edition of my annual holiday letter. I hope this one finds you and your loved ones happy, healthy and at peace.

I spent almost all of 2014 in Washington, DC. (Alert: Wanderlust warning is high.) You know, when I moved to Rwanda for a year in 2013 I was ready for culture shock, and there certainly was a lot to learn, but the real culture shock has been coming home and living in DC. It is pretty amazing what we all take for granted every day and I have a lot less patience than I did before for people complaining that their latte order is not quite right or their steak is closer to medium than medium-rare. Deal, people!

I spent the the first four months of 2014 looking for a job and really did not enjoy that, which I’ve documented here with a few tips and suggestions (mainly to avoid the process at all costs if you can help it).
Chilling in my backyard in DC in February
That search ended with my accepting a position at GlobalGiving! GlobalGiving is the first and largest global crowdfunding community for nonprofits and I’m excited to bring my years of working on the internet to the nonprofit field. Working at a nonprofit is very different than I ever could have imagined and feels in some ways like an even bigger culture shock than working at a youth village in Rwanda. What I love most about my job is that my efforts go towards supporting amazing community based organizations around the world like APOPO’s Hero Rats finding landmines and diagnosing TB in Tanzania, XS Project working to improve the lives of the trashpicker community in Jakarta, or the Warrior Canine Connection training adorable puppies to be service dogs for our veterans in need. (I can’t fail to mention my favorite ever project, a certain youth village in Rwanda.) These organizations are doing important work, and if I help them at all, everything I do is worth it.

Not a sponsored endorsement (I promise!) but if you are still thinking about annual giving, please check out our site. With more than 3000 individual projects fundraising, you are bound to find one that aligns with your interests and is doing amazing work. (Added bonus about my job: I get to bike to work most days, which I really enjoy and my route takes me past the Supreme Court, the Capitol and the White House.)

I’m so excited to share the biggest development of the year: last year’s holiday letter had a bit of  a cliffhanger. I told you about our how I was supporting some students from the school where I had worked in their search for university scholarships and our efforts studying for the TOEFL and ‘application boot camp’. In early 2014, while I was looking for a job I was also still editing essays and checking with universities to see if required documents had been received. I am so thrilled to tell you that for four of those students that effort has really paid off! This spring we learned that these students were awarded full MasterCard Scholarships: Innocent to McGill, Libia to UBC in Vancouver and Immaculee & Jeannine to Arizona State University. (Three more students from that same class have received scholarships this November though their efforts at Bridge2Rwanda. Congrats to Claude, Peace Grace and Pacifique!) In November, I went to ASU to check on Immaculee & Jeaninne and they are really adapting well and enjoying school.

Me at ASU visiting Immaculee & Jeaninne
Oh and I had a relatively minor toe surgery in February which had me off ultimate and running for about 6 months which, if you talked to me at all this year, you know I more than made up for by whining and whining and whining about it. It is all fine now and I’m back to running but mostly retired from disc. I did play Sectionals and Regionals this year with a wonderful bunch of ladies from Philly, Breakfast Club, and we won (the party).

Epic Halloween with Sussman. I'm mummified on the right.
In March, I saw my nieces Kate and Lindy both dance at the Rainbow Dance Company annual modern dance concert in Raleigh, NC. They are both doing well in life and in school. Kate has her driver’s license now, so stay off the roads if you are in the Raleigh area.
Lindy and Kate, aren't they cute?
I did make a few quick trips to NYC throughout the year for job interviews, to volunteer at the annual Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village Gala Fundraiser and most recently to represent GlobalGiving and attend a panel at the UN on the psycho-social response to the Ebola epidemic. I really need to get up there more often.

Innocent and me at the ASYV Gala in NYC in May
In November, I spent #ThanksGambling14 with my extended family in Louisville, KY. In what has evolved into something of a tradition, my aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins all bundle up and head out to Churchill Downs and watch the races on Thanksgiving day. It was wonderful to see everyone. For Christmas, as usual, I’ll be in Raleigh to see my Mom, Sister, Brother-in-law and Kate & Lindy.

Looking forward to 2015, I’m planning to make some more college visits and hopefully get back to traveling internationally again. Please let me know if you pass through DC. (I’ve got a partial season ticket plan for the Wizards and I’m pretty excited about watching John Wall ball in the East this season.)

As always, I hope you enjoy my holiday letter and don't find it too obnoxious.  You can 'opt out' by sending an email asking to be removed from this distribution list. For those of you looking for more frequent updates, you can find me online at and @CourtneyMFK on Twitter.

Happy New Year!  May your 2015 be joyous and peaceful.