Help Grow the Conflict-Free Movement

The situation in eastern Congo is dire. Government and rebel militias fight to control Congo’s mines, which are rich with natural resources. Profits from conflict minerals fund horrific violence. Congo’s disorganized military and police do little to stop it. Armed groups, operating without accountability, use rape and murder to intimidate civilians. Since 1996, over 5.5 million have died from war-related causes. Over 2.5 million have been displaced. Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the deadliest conflict since World War II.

To learn more visit

How to Help

RAISE Hope for Congo seeks to fundamentally change the equation for Congo by using The Enough Project’s robust field research, advocacy, and communications to bolster a broad grassroots movement that promotes lasting solutions. Our initiatives work to educate and empower individuals to be a part of these solutions to the conflict.

It’s important to keep a focus on two of the most powerful players in the conflict minerals equation – the U.S. government and electronics companies. They are responsive to consumer and voter concerns, and it’s up to us to keep up the pressure. The blood diamonds campaign didn’t take off until a considerable number of consumers demanded that diamonds be conflict-free. We believe the same model that led to the Kimberley Process can be replicated and strengthened, and that we can end the illicit minerals trade that helps fuel violence in Congo.

One of the most important things we can do is raise awareness and grow the movement by engaging our friends, family, and social networks. Here are some links to help:

Speak Up for Conflict Minerals Regulations

Help Us Grow the Conflict-Free Movement

Commit to Purchase Conflict-Free Cell Phones, Laptops and Other Electronics

Urge Your School to Go Conflict-Free

Is Your Favorite Tech Company Conflict-Free?


Stress: What It Can Do to You & What You Can Do About It

I recently read a study on the effects of stress and the link between stress, cortisol and many health ailments. We’ve all heard that stress affects us negatively, but what are some of the specifics? I’ve gathered some of the information I found to share with you in the hopes that you may learn to de-stress your lives (as I need to do) and live longer, healthier and happier days.

Understanding Stress and its Effects

Chronic over-secretion of stress hormones adversely affects brain function, especially memory. Too much cortisol can prevent the brain from laying down a new memory, or from accessing already existing memories. The renowned brain researcher, Robert M. Sapolsky, has shown that sustained stress can damage the hippocampus, the part of the limbic brain which is central to learning and memory. The culprits are “glucocorticoids,” a class of steroid hormones secreted from the adrenal glands during stress. They are more commonly known as corticosteroids or cortisol.

During a perceived threat, the adrenal glands immediately release adrenalin. If the threat is severe or still persists after a couple of minutes, the adrenals then release cortisol. Once in the brain cortisol remains much longer than adrenalin, where it continues to affect brain cells. When levels of cortisol rise to a certain level, several areas of the brain – especially the hippocampus – tell the hypothalamus to turn off the cortisol-producing mechanism. The hippocampus, however, is the area most damaged by cortisol. In his book Brain Longevity, Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., describes how older people often have lost 20-25% of the cells in their hippocampus, so it cannot provide proper feedback to the hypothalamus, so cortisol continues to be secreted. This, in turn, causes more damage to the hippocampus, and even more cortisol production. Thus, a Catch-22 “degenerative cascade” begins, which can be very difficult to stop.

Shrinking Hippocampus, Memory Loss, and Alzheimer’s-Study

Using magnetic resonance imaging, Mayo Clinic researchers found that specific changes in the hippocampus were linked to changes in behavior associated with aging and Alzheimer’s disease. “When certain parts of the hippocampus shrink or deteriorate, specific, related memory abilities are affected,” says neurologist Ronald C. Petersen, the principal author of the study. Furthermore, individuals with a shrunken hippocampus tend to progress more rapidly towards Alzheimer’s.

“In earlier studies we were able to show that the volume of the hippocampus could help diagnose early Alzheimer’s disease or help predict which patients may develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future. Now we can look specifically at which part or parts of the hippocampus are affected and match that with particular memory functions which are impaired in that particular patient,” says Dr. Petersen. Elizabeth Gould, Researcher at Princeton University, notes that “levels of stress hormones rise with aging, and are very likely to be responsible for the decline in neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons). The good news, though, is that the aging brain doesn’t appear to lose the ability to generate new neurons,” when you relieve the stress.

High Levels of Cortisol also Effect:

Collagen: In laboratory rats, cortisol-induced collagen loss in the skin is ten times greater than in any other tissue.

Gastric and Renal Secretion: Cortisol stimulates gastric-acid secretion.

Immune System: Cortisol suppresses the immune response. It is known in the medical world as the “mute button.”

Bone Metabolism: Cortisol reduces bone formation, favoring long-term development of osteoporosis.

Additional Effects:

  • Increases blood pressureby increasing the sensitivity of the vasculature to epinephrine and norepinephrine.
  • Shuts down the reproductive system, resulting in an increased chance of miscarriage and (in some cases) temporary infertility. Fertility returns after cortisol levels return to normal.

What You Can Do

Learn to conquer your stress. You fight a cold. You bandage a cut. You get rid of a headache. The point is if something impacts you negatively, you do something about it. Stressing brings about a negative impact, so do something about it. Don’t allow stress to build.  Don’t allow stress to steal your joy. When you feel stress coming on, push it away. Resist it. Fight back. Use whatever tools or stress relief tips that work for you, but do not let stress take control of you.

Studies show that 10 to 20 minutes of quiet reflection or meditation a day can bring relief from stress and increase your tolerance of the dynamic situations around you. There are many more tips and techniques that can help you overcome your stress. Thousands of websites are dedicated to the topic as well as community support resources. Here are some additional tips:

Self-Help Stress Relief Tips:

  • Eat right and exercise
  • Set realistic goals
  • Handle important tasks first and eliminate unessential tasks
  • Take a break and meditate to slow down “mind-racing”
  • Reduce the urge to be “perfect”
  • Reduce criticism of yourself and others
  • Don’t stress when expectations are not met
  • Manage your anger
  • Push away negativity of any kind
  • Give yourself “me” time
  • Choose to keep quiet when you feel a negative reaction
  • Silence your phone at night
  • Utilize relaxation techniques; Yoga, Meditation, Breathing, etc.
  • Laugh and smile more often
  • Remember you can only change yourself

The human brain is a mysterious and wonderful thing. We learn more about it every day. New discoveries allow us to gain the knowledge we need to make conscious decisions and changes to better our lives. “Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.” -Marilu Henner


Galapagos Researchers Find ‘Extinct’ Tortoises Alive

A giant tortoise named "Lonesome George" is seen in the Galapagos islands, an archipelago off Ecuador's Pacific coast. The remote islands draw an estimated 100,000 visitors a year eager for a glimpse of the unique creatures and flora that Darwin called "a little world within itself." (AP Photo/Galapagos National Park, File)

A giant tortoise named "Lonesome George" is seen in the Galapagos islands, an archipelago off Ecuador's Pacific coast. The remote islands draw an estimated 100,000 visitors a year eager for a glimpse of the unique creatures and flora that Darwin called "a little world within itself." (AP Photo/Galapagos National Park, File)

Scientists have located members of a giant Galapagos tortoise species thought to have gone extinct in the 1840s. Researchers who tested the DNA of 1,600 tortoises on the Galapagos island of Isabela found that at least 84 were offspring of a species that originally lived on Floreana Island. It was previously believed that poachers had wiped out the tortoises. “To have a species that was thought to be extinct in the middle of the 1800s come back is amazing,” one researcher told the paper.

Whalers decimated the Floreana population of tortoises in the years after naturalist Charles Darwin made his famous voyage in 1835. Researchers speculate that some escaped from the ships and made their way to Isabela, where their descendants now survive. Researchers eventually hope to resettle them back on their native island.


Homeless Teen Science Whiz Invited to State of Union

Intel Semifinalist Samantha Garvey, 17, right, gets a hug from her science research teacher, Rebecca Grella.

Intel Semifinalist Samantha Garvey, 17, right, gets a hug from her science research teacher, Rebecca Grella.

A homeless Long Island teen, who is in the running for a $100,000 national science prize, has been invited to Washington, D.C., to watch President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Samantha Garvey, an aspiring marine biologist currently living in a homeless shelter, will sit in the Capitol gallery for the Jan. 24 speech as a guest of her representative, Democrat Steve Israel.

“The State of the Union attracts the most powerful people on Earth, but I really think Samantha can teach them all a lesson in perseverance,” Israel, who is head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Newsday. “She is the epitome of the American dream. She worked hard and she is a story that I want to share with my colleagues and even with the president of the United States.”

The Brentwood High School student, who just turned 18 on Monday, “can’t wait” for the big day, her father told Newsday. “She deserves it. She needs to meet people like that,” Leo Garvey, a taxi driver, told the paper. The teen’s inspiring story made headlines this month after she was named one of the 300 semifinalists in Intel’s prestigious national science competition. Both of her parents were seriously injured in a car accident, which put them temporarily out of work, and the Garveys became homeless on New Year’s Day when they fell behind on their rent. As part of the outpouring of support in response to the girl’s story, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that the teen and her family will be able to secure a three-bedroom, rent-subsidized home in Bay Shore.


Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Girls Graduate

In 2007, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy opened its doors to academically gifted, underprivileged girls in South Africa. On Saturday, the first class graduated, with a 100 percent pass rate.  “A proud mother” is how Oprah Winfrey describes herself, as she watches the Class of 2011 leave the nest. The girls are the first batch to graduate from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, in Johannesburg’s south. And the American media mogul has reason to be proud. The school boasts a perfect pass rate, and all of the girls have secured spots at universities, either in South Africa or the United States. “The thing that I’m most proud of is not the academics, the academics I expected,” said Oprah Winfrey. “The thing I’m most proud of is that everyone’s been accepted to college, and everyone’s going and we’ve created a support system to make that happen. But even more important than that, everyone walks out of here with the grace and dignity from which they were raised. Their integrity, their character, their grace and their kindness is what every parent would wish, that’s what you want, as a parent.”

The school’s concept arose from a conversation Winfrey had with former South African president Nelson Mandela years ago. “When I had the conversation with Madiba in his living room, our conversation revolved around how do we end poverty. This is how we do it. This is the beginning of the ending of poverty,” she said. “These girls have now broken the cycle of poverty in their families, being the first to go on to college and to do whatever they choose to do – key word, what they choose to do – with their lives, they no longer have to accept the standard that their mothers and their forefathers had to bear, because there were not the opportunities.”

Education is currently in the spotlight in South Africa, where a number of students who leave school are not able to gain admission to universities, either because their grades are not good enough, or tertiary institutions are full for the year. Winfrey says there is a lesson to be learned from her academy’s success. “This model was created specifically to say to South Africa, if you invest in leadership, not just in schools, not just in passing tests, not just in trying to get the exams, but you invest in leadership, the leadership will pay off to your communities and to your nation,” she added.

Now, it is with great excitement – and a bit of fear – that these talented young women leave their academic home. But Mashadi Kekana says she is prepared for the road ahead. “I do feel pressure, pressure from myself, pressure from family, from the school – even though I’m not here anymore after this, pressure from my community,” said Kekana. “But one thing I’ve noticed about OWLA girls, is that pressure makes us thrive. And as human beings, everybody reaches a point where they ask, am I good enough? And thanks to Mum Oprah and the support team we have here at school, the answer to that question now after five years is yes, I am good enough.” The future appears decidedly brighter, since Oprah Winfrey stepped into their lives.


Meryl Streep and Others Push for a National Women’s History Museum

It took women 72 years to win the right to vote, but advocates are hoping it doesn’t take that long to open a National Women’s History Museum in Washington. The campaign to build the museum began in 1996 and has recently gotten the backing of some Hollywood heavyweights, but the project faces challenges, both financial and political.

“Much of women’s history is still not in our history textbooks, not in our national parks,” said Joan Wages, an advocate for the museum. “If you go to the nation’s Capitol, only 13 of 217 statues are of women leaders.” Wages is on a crusade to bring the museum to the National Mall and has gathered some star-studded support, featured in this month’s Vogue magazine. One of the biggest names is actress Meryl Streep, known for playing strong female characters like the “Iron Lady.” Streep alone has committed $1 million to the effort.

There are logistical and financial challenges along with legislative challenges. Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn have stopped Congressional approval of the museum. Wages argues that women’s history deserves a national platform in Washington, D.C. and she’s working to gain support from the two senators. “It’s very bi-partisan and we’ve worked at that over the years,” Wages said. “Women from both sides of the aisle have done some phenomenal things.”

Watch Meryl Streep explain why she donated her entire salary! (Remarkable story of Deborah Sampson included.)


Source: Reaches 1 Million Users!, once a small seedling, has sprouted into something huge. The online game that allows players to donate grains of rice for correctly answered trivia questions announced Thursday it had reached 1 million registered users since its founding in 2007. “When one million people each do their small part, the collective effect is beyond impressive — it’s extraordinary,” Nancy Roman, World Food Programme Director of Communications, Public Policy and Private Partnerships, said in the release. “Beyond the remarkable benefits for those most in need, this is a significant milestone for WFP in our mission to engage millions of people online in the fight against hunger.”

Its appeal is simple: Answer a vocabulary question correctly, and 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Programme. And that simplicity is likely part of its popularity and success. Since its beginning, an estimated 100 billion grains of rice have been donated from players in 179 countries by answering 2.5 million trivia questions. According to the release, that’s enough to feed nearly 5 million people for a day.

The money uses to purchase the rice comes from advertisers on the site. Since June 2011, the game has also supported the World Food Programme’s efforts in Cambodia, purchasing all the rice locally to be used in school meal programs. That’s one small grain making a global difference. Visit to play the game and support the fight against hunger.


Little Dresses Bring Hope and Friendship to Malawi

Rachel O’Neill is at home in Malawi. Her real home is in Trenton, MI, not far from Detroit. But when she arrives in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, she is welcomed like a native. On her most recent trip to the country last month, O’Neill was greeted at the airport by a handful of locals, people she has known and worked with for almost five years. Her visits are never routine, but this trip was special.

O’Neill was returning to Malawi on the five-year anniversary of her first trip to the country. It was Thanksgiving week in 2006 when she first made a commitment to sew and hand out dresses to a few thousand girls – five years ago, almost to the day, when she promised to do something small to bring smiles to the faces of girls who she knew held so much promise. O’Neill didn’t know it at the time, but her simple idea to help a few thousand girls would end up touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of women around the world. Since the first coverage of her story was aired on NBC Nightly News in December 2010, O’Neill has received more than 400,000 dresses from all 50 states. The dresses arrive on her home doorstep and she, along with a dedicated army of volunteers, makes sure they get to needy girls throughout Africa.

There’s no easy way to get to Lilongwe. Eighteen hours in flight and three connections to the capital city, then a two-and-a-half hour drive south to the countryside, picking up fuel when you can, because Malawi suffers from a fuel shortage. But when you get to the end of the dirt road that leads to the village, you know instantly why O’Neill makes the trip. Thobola is a simple town perched on a hill overlooking a green valley. Most people live in small, thatched-roof huts, pump their water from a well and only have basic nourishment. Still, despite their lack of traditional western resources, the kids’ smiles are radiant and their singing is contagious. They incorporate all the names of those who have come to visit into a song; the names of O’Neill’s family and friends.

It is a long, hot day in the unrelenting sunshine, but the girls are patient. It’s striking when O’Neill states that the dresses may be the only new things these girls have ever been given. The larger message only sinks in later. In a place like Thobola, a brand-new, handmade dress is not just a piece of clothing, it’s a symbol of hope and a gesture of friendship from women 8,000 miles away.

To watch the inspiring video visit:


Swedish Woman Finds Lost Wedding Ring on a Carrot

A Swedish woman got the surprise of a lifetime when she pulled a small carrot out of her garden at home. Fit snugly around the carrot was the wedding ring she had lost 16 years ago. Lena Paahlsson told the Swedish newspaper that she “had given up hope” that she would ever  find the ring she had lost in 1995. The ring, a white gold band with seven small diamonds, had been designed by Paahlsson herself. She had been doing some Christmas baking with her daughters when the ring disappeared so many years ago. The family looked everywhere and eventually even had the kitchen floor pulled up during renovations in the hope of finding the ring.

It wasn’t until recently, while Paahlsson was gardening at her farm in central Sweden, that she found the long-lost ring around a carrot. “The carrot was sprouting in the middle of the ring. It was quite incredible,” Paahlsson’s husband, Ola Paahlsson, told the local paper. The couple believes the ring could have been lost in vegetable peelings that were turned into compost, according to the BBC. The ring no longer fits Paahlsson, but she is planning to have it resized. “Now that I have found the ring again, I want to be able to use it,” Lena Paahlsson told the paper.

That’s a one *carrot diamond ring!


Animal Videos That Will Make You Smile