PCGS Alumna Founds Non-Profit for Africa
As we she made her way to to Malawi, Aja Estro was unable to contain her excitement. It was her final year as a USF Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS) graduate student and she was completing her capstone research internship abroad. Aja just could not wait to implement all the sustainability concepts she'd been learning.
But when she arrived to the city, Aja could not hold back the slight sting of disappoint that hit her. Instead of open space, small farms, cattle and rural villages, she saw building after building stacked on top of one another, crowded in a very busy city.
"I didn't want to isolate myself in the city where my hands couldn't get dirty," Aja said when asked about her experience. "So I asked our guide to take me to the remote villages where I can make a real difference."
After an hour long drive, their truck pulled up to the remote village of Salima, Malawi. What she saw next would change Aja's life forever.
"I got out of the car and a flood of beautiful little kids came running our way," said Aja. "I hadn't done much but there was already a difference and that's when I knew I would be back."
Aja and fellow PCGS student interns were welcomed by over 200 thrilled children of the village.
After an about an hour of giving out well appreciated high-fives to them all, Aja headed to the fields where she would face her best challenges in the next three months.
While completing her internship, she noticed a pattern with how the country's people received and maintained help from major nonprofit organizations (NGOs).
"Major NGOs do a great job providing resources for major solutions, but maintaining and insuring that what is taught is kept takes a little more tender love and care," Estro explained.
What started as a simple observation blossomed into Just One Humanity, a small non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the basic needs for all people in rural remote areas of the world.
"There were so many issues that stemmed from the basic needs not being met and I felt like I could do something about it on more of a holistic level," said the PCGS graduate. "So, I started Just One Humanity and I haven't looked back since."
This organization takes an underestimated approach of looking at the bigger picture from a smaller view. Aja explains that sustainability goals will not be met if the way of life is a struggle for some.
"When we go into these villages and try to implement what we think will work best, someone whose main concern is finding clean water or their next healthy meal will not be receptive to anything being taught."
How They Work:
- Identify communities in need
- Perform needs assessment through community liaisons.
- Engage local contractors and partners to execute the work.
- Provide training for villages to maintain and perpetuate aid provided.
- Coordinate quarterly progress reports to support village resiliency and continued donor support.
We approach each every situation with an open mind, we work to build respect and trust within the communities we work in. With their acceptance, we build a plan to meet the most pressing issues. We listen, learn and solve the needs together. We look for solutions that are integrated, scalable, and sustainable. – Just One Humanity
Its current projects include building 10 new boreholes and a community center that includes a clinic, orphanage, supply office and training center in Salima, Malawi.
Building new boreholes will reduce the demand to 500 people per hole. The community center will foster growth and impact amongst the village by providing education/training, healthcare and orphan care for the people. It will also reduce the number of deaths associated with malnutrition and illness.
Just One Humanity serves as a foundation for self-sustainability and environmental stewardship by working to meet the essential basic needs for all.
"Often times, conservation and poverty are treated as two separate initiatives. But in fact, they are closely related. Human-wildlife conflicts, deforestation, over fishing, poaching, climate change effects are felt more closely by those who live in these remote rural areas," said Aja. "Conservation priorities need to be addressed on a local level."
The organizations main focus areas include health, education, water, food and the environment. Each focus are is addressed according its specific needs.
In regards to health issues, the nonprofit addresses preventable disease and death by building clinics to serve rural villages, providing basics medications and healthcare and providing soap and other hygiene supplies.
Education needs are met by improving adult literacy, supplying children with school supplies, building classrooms, offering teacher housing and offering community education classes.
Issues with water are confronted by securing safe drinking water for families. With this process, new boreholes are created as well as rain catchment devices. Water filters and drip irrigation methods are also practiced and installed.
A lack of food is addressed by teaching organic farming techniques, implementing animal husbandry training, and planting community gardens. Micro-loans are even available to local villagers.
"We are bridging the gap between accessing basic needs and conserving the environment," said Aja.
Aja credits her global internship experience with PCGS for the inspiration to start her own non-profit organization. When she completed her undergraduate degree in marketing, Aja was looking for a way to work with the environment.
"Working with animals and being outside was always my thing as a kid but I did not want to go back and get a science degree to work in the field," said Aja. "So, when I heard about the M.A. program in sustainability at USF, I thought it was the perfect way to starting doing what I've always wanted to do in conservation work."
Completing the program helped Aja zero in on exactly what she wanted to do with her career and it pushed her to confront her professional calling.
"Being in the program and doing the internship was really a way for me see that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life," said Aja.
Just One Humanity is in the early stages of development and hopes to expand into other countries as projects are completed. As a personal goal, Aja hopes to one day extend to PCGS students the same internship opportunities that lead her to Just One Humanity.
Visit JustOneHumanity.org to find out how you can get involved.