Can You Trust Your Favorite Charity? (Part I)

by Angela Holzer, Founder of Given Tree


Given Tree certifies smaller, trusted charities and improves accountability so you can trust where your funds are going and see the impact you’re making!

Imagine this: an orphanage in Kenya accepts a donation of clothing, diapers and toys, then promptly locks them in a closet once the donors are gone. These items are sold, used for personal use, or remain locked up in the closet until the donors visit again. How could this be prevented?

What about an orphanage in the Dominican Republic that is transparent with how they use their funds yet they struggle with paying bills? How can donors find out and help this responsible charity?

Most nonprofits are small. There are approximately 1.1 million U.S. registered charities, according to The Nonprofit Almanac 2012. In 2010, 75% of charities had annual expenses of less than $500,000, whereas over 60% of those charities had annual expenses less than $100,000. Only 4% of charitable organizations had annual expenses over $10 million.

Most small charities struggle. Most small charities lack expertise in various aspects of running a business: accounting, management skills, financial reporting, etc. The majority are run by employees and volunteers who have multiple responsibilities in areas they mostly learn on the job. Small charities often have a lack of structure in place to hold them accountable with operations outside of reporting their annual financials to the IRS. Charity Navigator does a great job at providing financial information to the public about large charities and holding them to a high standard. Given Tree aims to provide that service for small charities–not only with financials but also by monitoring project activity.

Combating fraud in nonprofits.  An estimated $40 billion is lost annually through charity fraud, according to a report by nonprofit accounting experts. Most likely, the figures are higher. People worry about fraud or wasteful spending in big organizations, but abuse often occurs much closer to home with small to medium charities. Small organizations often lack the financial controls to prevent theft, experts say. The problem is especially acute at small nonprofit groups run by volunteers, according to experts, “where there is very little oversight and everyone is friends.” (Source: NBCNews, Insider theft a big problem for small charities by Elizabeth Schwinn.)


The Solution: Certification for Nonprofits

Given Tree is improving the accountability standard for nonprofit organizations by certifying smaller, trusted charities based on three areas of accountability:

1- Philosophy & Approach (Organizational Health)

2- Financial Health

3- Performance

Given Tree reviews a charity’s financials, mission statement and programs, and requires the charity to show accountability and demonstrate best practices through periodic reporting on our website. This builds confidence in donors and provides a clear way to show transparency with financial reports and project activities.

Given Tree aims to help small charities become accountable, sustainable and collaborative with other charities. (click image below for larger view)Given Tree Certification Outline

Two major areas of charity accountability:

MISSION STATEMENT: Does your mission statement reflect the activities and programs on the ground? A mission statement can change and it needs to adapt along with your work. Are you being transparent with your changes?

Bad Example: A charity in Africa decides to focus on vision care. Through the years they still get involved with offering surgeries to the poor for vision, but they spend most of their time distributing clothes, food and running other programs from donations given. As mentioned, a mission statement should reflect what a charity is doing. Donors giving to an organization need to feel confident that the charity uses funds in the manner which they have portrayed. In this scenario, clothing and food are still good causes, but it illustrates the lack of accountability and transparency a charity needs to have. A public charity answers to the public both in their activities and their financials (which will be discussed in a separate article).

Good Example: A charity in Mexico deals with many different needs. They run a food kitchen, distribute clothes, teach classes to the community, etc. They chose to have a mission statement that lists all the areas they target so donors and the community would understand what services they offer. Every year they revisit their mission statement and decide if it needs to adapt to what they are currently doing. When they add a service that’s new, they simply add it to the list on their mission statement and values.

100_1112COMMUNITY APPROACH: How do you involve the community you are serving in your efforts and critical decision making? A lot of charities decide the needs and wants of a community when they live in a different country, and then wonder why it’s so hard to get the community involved in programs they offer. “What can we do?” asked Ahmed Mohamed in the book, The Idealist. “We cannot enforce. We try to explain. We want to empower. But no one can come and change them if they do not want to change themselves.” Ahmed attempted to introduce a business plan for small-scale milk processing in Dertu, Northeastern Kenya. The people did not understand the principles and preferred their old ways of doing things. Instead they should have consulted the local community in the decision-making prior to introducing the plan to discover exactly what they were interested in changing and learning.

Good Example: A U.S. charity wants to help a small village in Guatemala. They enter this community and meet with the local village leaders. They set up a time to have a community discussion on the needs and things the community wants to accomplish. This charity insists that both men and women from the community attend this meeting to give their voice and be involved. During the meeting, the charity introduces themselves and gives the community members/leaders a basic overview of what they have to offer. Next, they have a discussion on the needs of the community and how the community leaders would most like this charity to help. The charity outlines their requirements which includes the involvement of community members in building and implementing programs. The charity will provide materials and professionals to teach the needed skills to locals. They will work alongside each other. A timeline is established and responsibilities assigned. All of this happens prior to this charity coming in, setting up shop and starting a program.

Bad Example: A U.S. charity decides they want to make a difference. They pick a location they’d like to impact and then start bringing in supplies to distribute without contacting a local leader, government or doing research on what organizations and charities already work in that area on the ground. The volunteers from this charity stay at a local hotel and as they exit the building they start giving handouts. The community starts seeing these individuals as wealthy and starts asking and begging for money instead of getting involved in programs to help themselves. This causes a problem for the next traveler or charity who wants to get the community involved. They are now having to overcome the attitude that’s been created/developed by simply giving handouts opposed to getting them involved in discussions. This charity makes it harder for other organizations to come in and help the community develop a self-reliant attitude when they have been conditioned to asking a charity for handouts or local traveler for money.

In short, we need to always remember the 3 “S”s: TEACH SKILLS, SELF-REIANCE, and SERVICE TO NEIGHBORS.

We’ll delve into these in Part II. Stay tuned!

GT logo certi

028: Kiva Mormons

JeremyFooteFamilyPic_FotorJeremy Foote, one of the captains of the Kiva Mormons lending team, joins us in a long-awaited look at the best kept secret of Mormons in microfinance. is a nonprofit that alleviates poverty around the world by connecting people who want to give back with entrepreneurs in developing countries. These borrowers later repay the loan, which allows each lender to take their money back or re-lend to another borrower.

Kiva lenders often form into teams of like-minded individuals. The Kiva Mormons team has almost 1,500 members (#3 of all religious teams) and has already loaned over $1.5 million dollars (the third highest amount within the religious category).

Jeremy Foote is studying Media, Technology, and Society at Purdue University in Indiana. His wife Kedra, also a Kiva Mormons captain, works as the mom of their two young kids. Stats (since being founded in 2005):

  • 1,019,117 Kiva lenders
  • $502,288,025 in loans
  • 99.00% Repayment rate

Kiva works with:

  • 230 Field Partners (who administer loans to borrowers)
  • 450 volunteers around the world
  • 73 different countries

Kiva Mormons stats:

Kiva Mormons stats

Angela Holzer on Given Tree

Note: We asked Angela Holzer–one of the founders of Given Tree--to write this post. Given Tree is an organization that teams with small non-profits on many projects. They do great work. Check them out!

Given Tree was started in 2010 by Angela Holzer and a few friends sitting around a table talking about the needs of smaller charities and the large impact they are currently making around the world.  Angela was determined to do something to help improve how small charities are run and help people feel more a part of the donation process.

Angela Holzer used to be the International Development Director at Reach the Children in Africa for Stay Alive, an HIV/AIDS prevention program.  She worked with small charities throughout Africa in implementing the Stay Alive in classrooms.  This experience helped mold Angela’s perspective that small charities can make a large impact in the world if given the proper support.  She is proud to work with many dedicated people who have helped to get Given Tree up and running.

Given Tree has created a certification for nonprofit organizations based on 3 areas of accountability:

  • Philosophy & Approach
  • Financial Health
  • Performance

These charities are required to show accountability by consistent and frequent updates from the field.  Our system makes this easy for charities to do so through our website. Smaller charities are such an important and crucial part of reaching needs around the world, that we wanted to highlight and give them a support system.  Charities are then able to post projects on our website!

Zimbabwe Youth Camp in 2013

This past year we helped run a 3-day youth camp for over 700 youth in Zimbabwe with an organization called Everyone who participated received a school kit, blanket, clothing, reading materials, hygiene kit and three meals a day.  We taught classes on self-defense, sexual abuse, sport skills, music, dance and more.

We recently launched a few new projects

1- Typhoon Disaster Relief Drive for Philippines

Funds go directly to supplies for Stanford Medical Team already on the ground and a water system that supplies locals with purified water taken from moisture in the air.  We’ve been working with local organizations on the ground to facilitate this water system in order to get it directly to the people. This unit was purchased from GreenFocusInc and it will be managed by Smart Public Affairs and Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation.

2- Dental Unit for Mobile Clinic in Zimbabwe.

A Dental/Medical Team will be heading over to Zimbabwe in the spring to launch a new dental mobile clinic.  A dental unit is needed for our team in order for them to visit rural areas. Other supplies are also needed including instrument kits, extraction kits, portable x-ray machine, anesthesia and other disposable items.  Please contact Angela Holzer if you’re able to contribute or donate to these items.

Let us know if you’re interested in being a part of Given Tree!  Given Tree has been run by hard working volunteers since the beginning. Let us know if you’re interested in being a part of the Given Tree Team!

1-650-503-GIVE (4483)




027: African Promise Foundation

Have you heard of Elizabeth Smart, the girl who was kidnapped in Utah and abused for 9 months before being rescued? Our guests today help children in Uganda who have experienced similar abuses. These young men and women now hope to return to school and get the education they missed, in some cases because they were forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves.

Suzy Benson Gillies is the Founder and President of African Promise Foundation. She is the wife and mother of five children, but many children in Uganda also fondly call her mom.


Daina Crowell, an APF board member, is a stay at home mom with four kids. She first got involved with African Promise Foundation when asked to do product photos for the website. When studying about Uganda and its troubled history, she felt a call to action. She has been actively involved with APF ever since and recently traveled to Uganda to experience its beauty and struggles first-hand.


Jennifer Nuckols is also a board member. She has worked as a teacher in the South Bronx and East Harlem, and earned Masters degrees in Education and Social Work. She now works in the Seattle area as an adolescent therapist for a community mental health agency focusing on drug and alcohol abuse.

African Promise Foundation’s short profile video:

14 Ways to Stick it to Commercialized Christmas

It’s that time of year again. You know, the time of year when you are given a bunch of stuff that you don’t need?

Well, here at No Poor Among Them we thought we should give you guys some ways to celebrate the birth of Christ by doing what he did throughout his life: serve and lift others. So take a look, do some unconventional Christmas shopping, and please, feel free to add suggestions to our list in the comments or on Facebook. It is also important to note that I am not exactly a great example of entirely devoting Christmas to worthy gifts, or purchasing ethically-made goods, but I am trying to do better. So without further ado, here is the list.

1. Give a Goat

Through Heifer International, you can purchase goats, chicks, ducks, and yes–even heifers. These animals are given to people in need, but not without receiving adequate training and a promise of passing on the first female offspring of whatever animal they are raising. So give the gift of a goat. It will be sure to shriek for joy!

2. Give a Loan

Perhaps one of the most popular ways to give a microloan is through Kiva. Kiva partners with multiple microlending institutions and provide individuals and groups with small loans to help struggling farmers, entrepreneurs, and others who need the capital. Another great option we’ve highlighted on No Poor Among Them is Vittana. Vittana gives loans to students in various countries seeking post-secondary education. So instead of getting your sibling a sweater they will never wear, why not give someone in need a loan in their behalf?

3. Nourish Some Malnourished LDS Kids

Why not experience Christmas in a completely different culture? From December 21-29, 2013, the Liahona Children’s Foundation will host humanitarian trips called “NutriTours.” This year, the trips will be in Cambodia, northern Peru, and Southern Ecuador. In addition to working with malnourished LDS kids and their friends, you will provide service to church and community members, and see some of the local attractions.

Is a trip a little too much? No worries. A $50 donation in someone’s honor will provide one child with nutritional supplements for a year. This means better physical growth, brain development, and a greater chance to become self-sufficient later on in life. If December is too soon, no worries. The Liahona Children’s Foundation will have plenty of trips in June and July in most of the locations in which they work. Check out this recent video to see why the Foundation exists, and why it could use your support.

4. Sponsor a Child

We have highlighted a few organizations that offer sponsorships of children. Organizations such as Haitian Roots and Yehiwot Raey give kids in need what it takes to give them a chance in life. It doesn’t take much to sponsor a child’s education and other basic necessities. But there is a selfish motivation in there as well. Since these organizations are nimble enough, they put you in touch with the child you sponsor. You can write to them, and they to you. What a great gift to give to someone: a potential friendship that could last for years. Why not sponsor a child the same age as your child? Let’s face it, your kids won’t like the presents you give them anyway.

5. Donate to a Charity of Choice

Did you know that Americans spend nearly $1,000 on Christmas presents? That’s a lot of scratch! Instead of stressing out about what to give that person who has it all, why not learn a bit about how they would like to change the world and pick a charity accordingly? If you’re spending that much on Christmas, you may as well make it count. What else are you going to do with all that money, anyway?

6. Sub for Santa

Most communities have some sort of Sub for Santa program. For example, in good old Utah County, the United Way invites people to particpate in the program because it “fosters self-sufficiency as applicants discuss different ways to manage their time, money and talents.” So give locally to those who need it. Or, if you happen to find yourself on the other side of the line, apply for the program. In Utah County alone last year, 1,700 families and 5,000 children received aid. Nothing says Christmas like a gift to a stranger in need.

7. Spend Time at a Local Homeless Shelter or Food Bank

Most of us tend to separate ourselves from homeless people or people who are struggling to just put food on the table. We excuse ourselves for various reasons, but the fact is that the Savior spent most of his time with the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcasts of society. Perhaps there is something about becoming like Christ that requires us to step outside of our comfortable lives, see what others’ problems look like, and do what we can to rush to their aid. One BYU film student and his friend approached several panhandlers on Salt Lake City streets and surprised each of them with $100. The results are beautiful. Who knows how much it could mean to someone to receive your aiding hand. So check out this site to see where the nearest food bank is and lend a helping hand.

8. Make Family Christmas Parties Meaningful

Please show by a raise of hands how many people enjoy extended family Christmas gatherings. Those large family gatherings can be awkward, right? Think how much better it could be if you unite with that cousin, whose name escapes you, to tie a quilt for a homeless shelter or assemble a humanitarian kit for friends of the show Color My World, to provide to those in need after natural disasters? Think of what a dynamic relationship you could foster with family members when your relationship is built on service.

9. Give the Gift that Keeps on Giving

We recently highlighted Give Daily here at No Poor Among Them. Give Daily is a crowd-funding platform to which you can give just $1 per day to a different cause every day all year long. The great folks over at Give Daily go through a careful vetting process so you can rest assure that your donation is going to only the most effective organizations out there. You will also receive text message updates to see the good your donation is doing. Why not give a dollar a day in honor of someone on your list? How often have you given someone a gift that they will remember every day all year-round?

10. Give the Gift of Good Food

I know what you’re thinking: “This list is all well and good, but the people on my list won’t have any of this. I need a gift.”

Alright, well if you must, then why not make it a thoughtful gift. A gift that can not only satisfy the expectations of those on your list, but do so in a responsible way. CSAs (community supported agriculture) can give the person on your list the gift of locally grown, delicious produce. These food items are often purchased in shares and are picked up on a weekly basis. Did you know the carrots you buy at the grocery store traveled between 1500-2500 miles to get on your plate? Have you ever had a carrot that was picked the day before at a farm five miles away? It’s amazing! So buy that picky person on your list some great food. Not only will it thrill them, it will help his or her local farmer to make a go of producing and selling food the right way!

11. Give/Sell Some Jewelry

I know what you’re thinking. This is not another one of those pyramid schemes we Mormons tend to love. Hosting a Musana Market at your home gives you the opportunity to sell some hand-crafted jewelry by incredibly talented women artisans in Lugazi, Uganda. You can be sure that this jewelry will not only lift those who wear it, but those who make it. All your sales will help empower Ugandan women. you can also purchase a wide variety of jewelry online. And if you do host a Musana Market, Musana may just give you a little something for you to wear.

12. Support Cocoa Growers Who Get Paid a Living Wage

You’re not going to like this, but knowledge is power. It is likely that most, if not all of the chocolate you consume can be traced back to cocoa that is harvested by child labor and even human trafficking. How can something so good have such a dark side to it? Well, it doesn’t have to. There are quite a few options available for chocolate produced by people who earn a living wage. Some even own the farms they work on. Now, it’s not cheap. But doing the right thing seldom is. Here is a list of companies you can take a look at for some quality chocolate that is ethically produced.

13. Give the Gift of Quality Clothing

Many of you may remember several months ago when a Bangladesh garment factory collapsed, killing over 1,100 people. Too many garment workers work in lousy conditions, for long hours, and little pay. It is a byproduct of the inexpensive clothing we buy. But just as there is an answer to chocolate, there is an answer to clothing. And while some of these clothing companies offer quite expensive clothing, remember it is also well-made, which means it should last longer. Think of what it would mean to the receiver of your gift that you not only care about them, but the people who made their gift.

14. Think of the Children! 

For those of you with kids, it is important to teach them the reason for the season. I don’t know of a better way to do this than to provide ways for your kids to get involved in helping those who are truly in need, because that is what Jesus Christ’s entire life was about. It is hard to inform an innocent child of the injustices in the world. But it is remarkable to see them want to help a child who is hungry, or who can’t afford to go to school, or who doesn’t have a home or a family. There are great organizations already discussed in this post, and are also discussed in this blog, in general, which can serve as a guide for you to help your kids be a part of your turning your nose at commercial Christmas.

I hope this list can at least spark your imagination to turn Christmas into a season of caring for others in need, rather than a season of rampant consumerism. Have other ideas of how to make Christmas more meaningful? Please share in the comments or on this thread on Facebook!




026: The Hughes, Color My World

Angela Hughes, along with her family, formed Color My World in 2000.

Angela Hughes, her husband, and kids, are likely just as busy–if not more busy–than the average family. But somewhere in there, they find the time to change the world. In 2000, the family formed Color My World, a non-profit which focuses on humanitarian relief efforts, and involving children in service.




Have a listen as Angela discusses how Color My World began, how it changes their family dynamic, and the smell of their home. Angela also offers some great advice for Latter-day Saints seeking to get involved in service. Have a listen! And in the words of the Color My World motto: Search inward. Look upward. Reach outward.

Brynn Larson displays a baby sea turtle in the process of being rescued. Just one of the many service activities on the Nicaraguan trip run by Color My World.

The Color My World 2013 group.

025: SaraJoy Pond, Give Daily

Sometimes you just need a little perspective…a view of Van in Eastern Turkey from atop a 700-year old wall

SaraJoy Pond it the founder of Give Daily, a crowdfunding organization. In the words of the website,

“GiveDaily lets anyone pledge as little as $1/day to make social progress part of their everyday lives. Daily grants fund the work of the best social problem solvers in the world; training Thai villagers to use their cell phones to monitor industrial pollutants, medical care and counselling for sex trafficking victims intercepted in Romania, rats to detect and disarm landmines in Mozambique, and abandoned baseball fields re-opened in inner-city Detroit.

With every grant come texts, photos and video updates for the funders; where the money went, the difference it made, what more they could do to get involved.”

Kitted out like a “proper Saharawi woman” for some time in the Northern Sahara

The great thing about Give Daily, is that SaraJoy and her team have already vetted these organizations. You can trust the nonprofits you are helping out through Give Daily! Many grant-giving operations require some sort of documentation to track how the money was spent. This takes time, resources, and money away from the cause. So Give Daily only gives funds to organizations they trust, knowing that the money will be spent where it is most needed for the organization to succeed.

SaraJoy is extremely passionate about making the world of philanthropy run smarter and more efficient. She currently lives in Seattle.

Play *is* work at an after-school drug prevention program in Khayelitcha, South Africa

Party Like it’s 1799

This is the second in a series of articles that were originally written for’s website by one of our founders, who worked with Kiva borrowers in Ukraine this summer.

Kiva is a non-profit that provides small “microloans” to help alleviate poverty around the world and was named the hottest non-profit on the planet by Time and Fortune magazines.

A cool two-hour drive downriver from the still-entombed (yet unstable) Chernobyl nuclear disaster site stands Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv (Kiev). As with most cities at this latitude, it’s sweltering during the summer and many residents don’t have air conditioning. Those who live outside the city, however, are able to endure the heat more easily.

For the last two months I’ve been living at a dacha, or cottage, where my parents-in-law live.

My parents-in-law, Vasiliy and Nina, in their younger years.


Vasiliy and Nina are part of a very small group of Ukrainians that did moderately well for themselves during the Soviet period. They now fall into the narrow category of middle class, by Ukrainian standards. Along with the upper crust of Ukrainian society, they use their dachas as an escape from the heat of city apartments in the summer. For most Ukrainians, however, houses like this dacha are a year-round home.

The dacha


Here is a list of the most important things to know if you want to live at a dacha and experience the closest thing possible to traveling back in time.

1. Many dachas, including this one, don’t have indoor plumbing…or heating.

It’s strange living in a building with no sinks or bathrooms. I feel like I’ve been transported back to the days of Downton Abbey, except that there aren’t any servants and everyone speaks Russian or Ukrainian. As for cooking, we use hot plates when there’s electricity, and an outdoor woodstove when there isn’t.

When it’s cold outside, you need to use the old cast-iron stove built into the center of the house:

We use an outhouse during the day and a bucket at night for water-closet needs.

As for hand-washing and dishwashing, we use a hand-pumped well on their land to fill up buckets, which are then used to fill up a small tank they built above an outdoor sink.

The well feeds excess water into an old bathtub they repurposed.
The outdoor sink on a makeshift metal frame with a metal tank above. It’s pretty ingenius. You need to push up on the rod hanging down from the tank to release water.

This well doesn’t run deep enough to be able to consume the water, however, so they have to collect water at another well about half a mile away, once a day, for cooking and drinking.

2. Power outages are common.

During the last outage this week, which lasted for a day, Vasiliy pulled out this old kerosene lamp, with a glass cover, for me to use. The whole room smelled like kerosene all night, but it was an amazing experience to feel like the time travel experience was finally complete.

3. Say goodbye to “breakfast” foods.

A sampling of breakfasts I’ve had at the dacha thus far:

Potato soup with buckwheat, “cutlets” (fried hamburger mixed with bread), and a tomato and cucumber salad.
Grated beets with garlic and sour cream, potatoes with sour cream, and Russian cheese with tomato paste.


4. Forget everything you thought you knew about taking a shower.

Vasiliy and Nina made an outdoor shower last year, for visitors only. You might think that this would make the whole process of bathing much easier than sponge bathing, but you’d be mistaken.

The shower is a metal frame wrapped in a tarp with a 25 gallon drum of water on top that’s semi-warmed by the sun during the day. In order to fill up the drum, I have to use the hand-pumped well to fill up a bucket, walk to the other side of the garden, climb a ladder, and carefully pour it into the top of the drum. It takes about 15 buckets to fill the drum, and it takes about 20 pumps on the well to fill up each bucket, so each shower requires about 300 pumps on the well and 15 trips up the ladder, which takes about half an hour or more. This does not include the time and effort needed to heat up a pot of water on the outdoor woodstove, needed to make the shower warm. Without it, the well water pouring down on you is cold enough to make you shiver in the summer.

Vasiliy collected and cut this massive pile of firewood himself about 20 years ago and it’s still going strong.


Needless to say, after the first shower and tank-refilling ritual, I was even sweatier than before I showered. I was tempted to go out and buy 30 cans of deodorant spray and give up on bathing altogether.

I now understand a bit more why so many people around the world don’t (or can’t) bathe every day. This is just one of many (seemingly) little conveniences that I take for granted back home, and which makes my fast-paced, efficient American lifestyle possible. If you don’t have running water, your bathing, cooking, and cleaning take at least twice as long. This same logic holds true for larger problems, affecting entire regions, as well. For example, the roads are bad, the entire economy suffers.

5. There’s nothing better than a meal made from freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

Freshly-squeezed-through-a-Soviet-era-juicer apricot nectar


The area around this dacha is near the Dnepr river (Ukraine’s main waterway). My parents-in-law, Vasiliy (the Russian version of the name Basil, as in St. Basil’s Cathedral) and Nina have a beautiful little garden here, as well as fruit trees and a small lawn. I’ve already eaten some delicious strawberries, black currant berries, radishes, dill, mint, plums, apricots, and other things, all freshly picked from their garden.

Their agricultural success is even more impressive because they have very little good soil here. Although generally Ukraine has some of the best soil in the world, known universally in geography textbooks by its Ukrainian name, chernozem (black earth), Vasiliy and Nina were afforded only this small patch of former swamp—about 1/5 of an acre total. They had to bring in several truckloads of topsoil in order to grow anything.

Nina makes us a minimum of three courses for every meal and we eat to our heart’s content. She is a true Ukrainian woman: she does the work of 10 people every day, can lift more with one arm than Arnold Schwarzenegger, never shows fatigue, and entertains the whole family with jokes. She also tells fascinating stories about growing up after the Great War (WWII) and being so poor that her family couldn’t even afford underwear. They almost starved to death when she was young. Vasiliy’s childhood wasn’t much easier, and I see everyday how a deeply instilled sense of frugality and industriousness has penetrated her and Vasiliy’s lives from this period.

Nina makes everything by hand, even starch. Before I saw her make it, I had no idea what it even looked like. I only knew that it was in potatoes and used to press shirts. I was absolutely fascinated as she collected potatoes that were too old to eat, ground them up, mixed them with water, collected the stuff at the bottom, put it on a tray and let it dry for a week. She uses it to make jello-like drinks and to mix into other foods.

Starch drying under an old lace cover


6. Set designers for historical films, unite!

Vasiliy and Nina lived their lives under the Soviet regime, and they still have pictures of Lenin on the walls. But Nina is also somewhat religious and has Russian Orthodox paintings of Christ as well. This may seem ironic, as Lenin was fiercely and militantly anti-religion, but this common occurrence is emblematic of Ukraine’s current struggle to create a national identity. Is it part of the West or the East? Is it atheist or Christian?

“Father Lenin.” They also have a tapestry of his head on the opposite wall.
Old Soviet weights that Vasiliy used to use. After a few days working out with these babies, I felt like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.
Everything from the Soviet period seems to have the price permanently imprinted on it. You can see from the handle that this saw was only 2 rubles, or about 12 US cents in today’s currency.

The dacha itself is a symbol of how things worked during communist times. Before the Soviet Union fell, purchasing private property was unheard of. Vasiliy was given this land by his (state-owned) company, which awarded these small “throw away” plots of swampland to its very best workers. They built this dacha, had the topsoil trucked in, and made it their summer home. Even then, (especially then) you had to be entrepreneurial and proactive in order to have success.

7. Morning exercise? Please… I commute from a dacha.

From the office of Kiva’s local field partner based in Kyiv, HOPE Ukraine, it takes me about 1.5 hours with four different types of transportation, none of which have air conditioning, to get here: tram, metro, minibus, and a mile walk. Most of the roads are paved, though often full of potholes. The neighborhood around the dacha, however, is a bit more rustic. It’s a difficult life in many ways, but the beauty of this place is powerful and profound. For those who have to struggle daily to find their next meal, however, the beauty must be hard to see. Kiva and its field partners give people like Vasiliy and Nina a chance to find stability. Many Kiva borrowers rely on the land to produce everything they need for their agricultural business. A sense of stability and growth, I have witnessed, gives them the chance to breathe deeply and, perhaps for the first time, enjoy the beauty that this land has to offer.

12 Secrets to Traveling the Most Beautiful Country

This article was originally written for’s website by one of our founders, who worked with Kiva borrowers in Ukraine this summer.

Kiva is a non-profit that provides small “microloans” to help alleviate poverty around the world and was named the hottest non-profit on the planet by Time and Fortune magazines. This photo essay is the first in a three-part series about Ukraine and how Kiva works there.

 12 Secrets to Traveling the Most Beautiful Country in the World:

1. If you’re traveling with a significant other, bring a padlock. (Don’t worry, it’s only for the Bridge of Love)

This bridge in Kyiv is completely full of (mostly) old locks that couples place here as a sign of their commitment. It’s the original hipster version of the heart-carved-in-a-tree tradition, if you will.


2. You will definitely meet some amazing people.

This is Elena. She used a small loan from to buy goods for her little shop in a the local outdoor market. She told us that she’s “very happy” with the growth her loan has provided.
This is Michail. The shack next to him holds a new heating system for his greenhouse, purchased with a Kiva loan. He had never taken a loan before this, due to a fear of corrupt banking practices, but his experience with Kiva’s local partner, Hope Ukraine, was fantastic and he’s no longer afraid.

Michail is an amazingly hard worker. Michail’s heater uses firewood, as gas and electric pumps are too expensive and unreliable due to frequent power outages. Michail gets up every two hours during the night from January until sometime in the Spring to put wood into the furnace and make sure the pump is free of debris. It pumps hot water through hoses in the ground near the roots of his tomatoes and around the walls of the greenhouse to keep the plants alive and provide a longer growing season. He and his wife have also taken in several foster children.


3. Don’t be surprised if store owners still use an abacus.

Even though she also has a calculator, this shop owner still uses the abacus sometimes. When I asked why, she said that everyone used these before calculators and it’s still faster for her.

4. “Salo” (aka fatback with the skin, aka bacon without any meat) is “The source of all energy and male strength,” according to a local.

Salo is best eaten with garlic or onion, as I did here. Pro tip: eating a whole raw onion is worse than the salo.

5. Multicolored nylon bags are all the rage.

6. Night trains are the best way to travel. (And you still get to see beautiful sights before bed)


7. Third-class train cabins are nice and cheap


8. If you want to travel or live outside the city, you may have to use an outhouse. (But they’re nice.)


9. The towns have really cool names.

Like Zaporizhzhya (say that ten times fast).

Or “Proletariat.”

10. The Kyiv metro is not only spotless, but beautiful. (Fellow New Yorkers will appreciate this.)

Orthodox mosaic in the Kyiv metro

11. Everything has cucumbers or beets in it, so develop a taste for them ASAP.

Lunch options today: pizza with cucumbers… or hamburgers with cucumbers. Ukrainians make everything healthier.
Of course there are always hot dogs with carrots, beets, and mayonnaise.

12. Buy a one-way ticket, because you’ll never want to leave.

Yes, that scene with the field of sunflowers from the movie Everything Is Illuminated was real, even though it seemed like Hollywood special effects. The country really is that amazing.

To be continued…

024: Nick Romano, Mondragon Corporation and the United Order

Latter-day Saints greatly desire to build a society in which there are no poor among us (see Moses 7:18). This site is devoted to this cause. But what would that look like? Nick Romano makes the case that it could look something like the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain. Nick saw firsthand the successes of Mondragon in treating employees as assets. Not only has Mondragon been able to make it the entirety of its’ over sixty years without laying off a single employee, but workers all make a living wage, and none make more than seven times as much as any other employee. Compare that to corporations in the United States,where last year the average Fortune 500 CEO earned more than 200 times the salary of their average worker.

Nick Romano, on his trip to explore the Mondragon Corporation in Spain.

The comparison between the United Order and Mondragon Corporation is extended in Warner Woodworth and James Lucas’ Working Toward Zion: Principles of the United Order for the Modern World, and is worth a read.

The Basque area of Spain.

Nick Romano is a graduate from the MPA program at BYU and a native of Tooele, Utah.