Sagaponack resident and recent college graduate Laura De Giorgis, 22, is raising money this summer so that when she travels to Ethiopia in September, she can help fund and run a small-business training program for women in the growing town of Aleta Wondo.She is partnering with Common River, a nonprofit organization that hosts a female literacy program for 150 local women in Aleta Wondo, to bring her training program to fruition.
The idea for the women’s entrepreneurship program began when graduates of the Common River literacy program wanted to use their new skills to better their community, Ms. De Giorgis explained. The program will include professional entrepreneurship training, micro-loans and ultimately a permanent marketplace in Aleta Wondo.
She is working on this project as a Mama Hope Global Advocate, a nonprofit nine-month professional training program for social entrepreneurs. And this is not her first trip to Africa for the purpose of helping others: She decided to make a career out of advocacy and charity work after participating in a volunteer program to improve education in Tanzania.
“The idea of giving back is something that really resonated with me,” the recent Georgetown University graduate said. “I never thought it would be a career, but Tanzania really molded my perspective and ultimately my career choices.”
Living with a Tanzanian host family after her first year of college, Ms. De Giorgis said she had to put aside her Western perspective filled with deadlines and cost efficiency. She learned to instead offer herself as a tool to help Tanzanians thrive on their own. She plans to do this in Aleta Wondo, facilitating the community to become balanced, productive and self-sustaining, while building on cultural heritage and environmental biodiversity.
Ms. De Giorgis said she hopes this experience will allow her to build a career in international development, empowering more communities like Aleta Wondo to enter the formal economy.
So far, Ms. De Giorgis has raised $6,270 out of her $20,000 goal for the program. She needs to raise at least $10,000 to travel to Ethiopia, and all proceeds will be going to the program, according to her website classy.org/LauraCommonRiver.
She said she plans to reach out to local businesses, churches, libraries and coffee shops on the East End, since Aleta Wondo is located in the coffee-growing Sidma region of Ethiopia, to host events to raise funds for the program.
“I have such great memories of growing up here,” she said of the East End. “It’s a matter of connecting the two communities. Our similarities are much greater than our differences.”
She emphasized that she wants the narrative of donations to shift away from “poverty porn,” the idea that images conjure up pity, and out of pity people donate.
“We look at the community’s potential, individual capacity, and facilitate them on their path to success,” she said. “We want to stop the pity campaign. We’re trying to have this community driven, not donor driven.”
For more information on the project, visit Ms. De Giorgis’s Facebook page at facebook.com/commonriver.
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