Most With the Least
In the United States, solar energy may be a luxury for the type of folks featured in Dwell, but for the 1.6 billion people in the world with no electricity, it can mean the difference between life and death. Case in point: solar panels in 38 rural health clinics and hospitals in the conflict zone along Burma’s border with Thailand have made it possible for more than 175,000 patients with land-mine injuries and other medical needs to get treatment. Solar is just one of the technologies that Green Empowerment uses to establish clean energy and potable water in scores of impoverished communities spanning eight countries—and they do it all with only five full-time employees. How? “Well, we’re mindful of overhead,” says executive director Anna Garwood. Translation: the nonprofit partners with in-country NGOs and community leaders before any project begins, exponentially expanding its scope. They scale projects to a suitable size for the community—such as the development of compact, single-home wind turbines in the town of Alumbre, high in the Peruvian Andes. Thanks in part to fundraising efforts by Portland’s own Andina restaurant, these turbines now provide 35 homes with electricity, making it possible for residents of the tiny village to charge cellular phones and connect with the rest of the world.
Purely for the Love
MY LITTLE WAITING ROOM
If ikea can provide free drop-in child care, why can’t a hospital? That was the question that emerged from conversations between Amy Paterson and Melissa Moore during the afternoon walks they took together on days when Paterson received chemotherapy for breast cancer. Not surprisingly, Paterson found it challenging to arrange child care for her son while she attended what would eventually total 144 medical appointments. “Having an on-site center would have relieved some of the stress while I was trying to take care of myself,” Paterson says. Three years later, she and Moore opened the child-size doors of My Little Waiting Room on the main floor of Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. The soothing space is filled with natural light, toys, kid-friendly furniture, and coloring books designed by students at Beaverton’s Bonny Slope Elementary. The facility and its founders have already garnered accolades (like Bright Starts’ Pink Power Mom award, which honors moms for both their charitable work and their inspirational fight against breast cancer) and national press coverage—and all of this was achieved with only three core volunteers and a four-figure budget. But, more important, in the first six months of operation, My Little Waiting Room served 2,000 children. “I overheard one little girl ask her mother, ‘When do we get to come back to the hospital?’” Paterson says. “That’s when you know you’re doing something right.”
NORTHWEST EARTH INSTITUTE
Seventeen years ago, Dick Roy quit his job at a law firm to form the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) with his wife, Jeanne. Their goal? To inspire mainstream workplaces to initiate eco-friendly programs in the office. With the help of an NWEI volunteer, groups of about 10 people gather once or twice a week for an hour to discuss ways to take responsibility for both their own well-being and the planet’s. In the first year, 97 workplace groups signed up for the inaugural course, “Exploring Deep Ecology.” “Nature isn’t just a place to go on vacation—it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat,” says NWEI’s executive director, Mike Mercer. Clearly, the message spoke to the masses: this year, 10,000 people participated in eight of NWEI’s programs, and courses are popping up all over the country in private homes, faith centers, nonprofits, and universities. NWEI also recently celebrated its second successful EcoChallenge, in which teams take active steps toward a healthy future by tackling two-week eco-goals like saving water, finding sustainable food solutions, and generating less waste. “Sustainable choices don’t just benefit polar bears and glaciers,” Mercer says. “What’s good for the planet is also good for your family.” And for your soul.
Arts & Culture
FILM ACTION OREGON
Not to diminish opera or the theater, but there’s really nothing quite like movies. “Cinema is something almost everyone can easily access and relate to, whether one prefers art films or the latest Will Ferrell flick,” says Richard Beer, artistic director for Film Action Oregon (FAO). Established by the Governor’s Office in 1992 as the Oregon Film & Video Foundation, FAO connects our state’s masses even more intimately with the movies—with the support of more than 120 volunteers, the group serves nearly 100,000 people annually, whether for standard screenings at the Hollywood Theatre, film premieres, festivals, or FAO’s dazzling annual screening of the Academy Awards. But of the organization’s many offerings, the Oscar truly belongs to Project Youth Doc (PYD), an intensive four-week-long documentary filmmaking program for teens, more than half of whom are low-income and attend free of charge. At the end of PYD’s three summer sessions, students show their films at the Hollywood Theatre. Last year’s premiere featured a documentary by Malia Cumming, a 16-year-old who had been adopted from China—Cumming interviewed her adoptive mother, who revealed that when she first held her new child in her arms in China, the baby was not the one in the photos she’d been sent. “But she instantly knew she couldn’t let this baby go,” Beer recalls. “When the film screened, everyone in the theater was weeping.”