I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet


Throughout the world courageous individuals, international aid workers, social entrepreneurs, humanitarian agencies and non-profit organizations are creating heroic change as well as drawing greater awareness about the plight of innocent people living in war zones or refugee camps, coping with famine and grinding poverty and struggling with the impact of climate change. The articles included in "Be the Change" are devoted to individuals and groups whose projects and programs are making a difference. Please take the time to read these inspiring stories then learn more by visiting the web sites included, make a donation if possible, or volunteer in some capacity to help further these worthy causes.

Off to Costa Rica In Support of Vanilla Farmers


1-LaFaza HITA Zibu cart w libraryIn 2013 I was contacted by the National University of Costa Rica to speak at a round-table conference on vanilla in 2016. I was both honored and excited by the prospects of returning to Costa Rica after 52 years (which sounds impossible, but it’s true).

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Rising International: A New Model for Selling Fair Trade Goods

How does a woman entrepreneur who launched an award-winning advertising and marketing business at the age of 19, change the direction of her life by launching a highly successful international non-profit focused on ending poverty in the developing world? For Carmel Jud, it was an epiphany that shifted her focus to create a new model for helping women here at home, as well as worldwide.

In 1999 Carmel picked up Depak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. He posed two questions at the beginning of the book:If you had all the money and all the time in the world, what would you do?” and “How are you best suited to serve humanity?” Thought-provoking questions that triggered a spiritual quest within her.

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Isha Daramy: Saving the Lives of Women and Children in Sierra Leone

Is it fate or serendipity when chance encounters become transformational? Whatever the answer, a 15 minute encounter in the Heathrow Airport in June of 2011 changed my life and that of Isha Daramy. I’ll explain.

I was returning from a three-week trip to Italy and Greece, with a brief visit to London. I was early for my flight back to California. When I arrived at the area where my plane was to board, I was drawn to a woman in traditional African dress. There was an empty seat next to her so I sat down and introduced myself. She introduced herself and said her plane was late. We then launched into a to-the-point power conversation about who she is, what she’s doing and why I felt she must come to the Women Leaders for the World program in December to expand her network of support. Her plane was called and we parted ways.

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Environment Links

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Color Me In

Since its launch in 1963, the Peace Corps has provided a unique opportunity for a deep connection between peoples of many cultures.  this is certainly true of sarah Grant who was so deeply moved by her connections in Zambia, that she launched a micro-finance program with a very different focus from that of the aid projects she observed during her time in Zambia.  I think you will find her project very inspirationa.

In July of 2007, Sarah Grant, a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, asked a group of orphaned school children to draw what trees are used for as part of a lesson she was teaching.  Ten minutes later, shock rocked Sarah’s body as the kids handed in crayon pictures of coffins!

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Mercado Global: Helping Artisans One Piece of Jewelry at a Time

artesanas-mayas-701x393-customWhile attending Yale University in 2002, Ruth de Golia began working with women artisans in rural Guatemala on local development issues, including community health education and income generating projects.  She also did research for her thesis on the effects of globalization on local development while there.

Ruth’s experiences while doing research inspired her to create Mercado Global to provide tools, training and the logistical support needed to connect these rural women to mainstream US markets.  Using this model, she realized she could lift hundreds and eventually thousands of families out of poverty.

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Mangrove Fund – Helping Haiti

Family first visitCourtesy of  Mary Costantino Co-Founder and Director of  Mangrove Fund

Starting a non-profit, while trying to juggle a demanding medical career and a growing family was never part of my master plan. But then, how many things in our lives go as we envision them?  This is a brief story of how my husband  Bill and I went from life as two busy professionals to falling in love with a Haitian orphan and a desperately poor country, adopting both, and launching a non-profit program.  As it turns out, it has been a rewarding journey.

I grew up in a big, blended family with adopted, foster and biological children –and a lot of love. My family is culturally diverse, and I always knew that I would adopt when it came time to start a family.    

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Lending Promise

Meg and Vic beautifulIn 2004, Meg North Taylor’s three-year-old daughter, Victoria announced that when she grew up she wanted to be a ballet dancer, a doctor, and the queen of Asia. After considering her daughter’s very ambitious dream, Meg was struck by the difference between Victoria’s wishes and those of millions of impoverished children worldwide who simply wanted a full belly before going to bed at night.

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Worldwide Farmers Exchange

In the summer of 2007 I  met Chris Barden of Worldwide Farmers Exchange (WFE), a program operating out of Berkeley California.  We were attending an event at Santa Clara University.  Over lunch together, I learned that Chris was interested in finding women farmers to participate in their exchange program.  I was interested in WFE as many of the farmers I have met via my site want very much to gain new skills sets to assist them in their countries of origin.  I’m sharing information about the Worldwide Farmers Exchange as one possible option for those of you interested in learning new agricultural work that could benefit you and your country as well as to encourage those readers who have farms to

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Global Women’s Leadership Network

2009 Class All comp

It is December and the hills surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area are tinged with snow.  Inside the classroom, women from sub-Saharan Africa and India are wrapped in shawls and sweaters.  The atmosphere, in contrast, is warm and electric.  These women are designing new futures for thousands of people all over the world.

These 19 women from Ghana, India, Kenya, S. Africa, Turkey, Uganda, and the United States are here to achieve a quantum leap in their leadership. These women are dedicated to developing their capacity to transform the future of their organizations, communities and the world.  They are attending a week-long leadership intensive called Women Leaders for the World (WLW) – one of the offerings of the Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN).

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Sending Prayers to Haiti

Since I first read about the earthquake two weeks ago tomorrow, each day I look to see if anything hopeful has been posted about Haiti.  A country that before the earthquake has been overlooked and ignored by the world’s governments.  Now the devastation and desperation is so great it is impossible to wrap my mind around what it must be like to be in Port Au Prince as a survivor or aid provider.

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Half the Sky: Why You Must Join the Global Movement to Emancipate Women

by Katharine Daniels
Executive Editor, The WIP

For me and my colleagues, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s new book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is exhilarating. Already in its 17th printing, Half the Sky pulls no punches in detailing the major abuses women suffer worldwide. Through personal stories, told by the women living them, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, honor killings, mass rape, and maternal mortality become shockingly real. Critics believe Half the Sky will ignite the global women’s movement as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring did the environmental movement in the 1960s. So do I. This remarkable book moves the conversation from women’s issues to human rights; shows change is possible one woman at a time; and, most importantly, inspires hope.

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Unraveling Women’s Fair Trade

By Whitney Joiner, Photo by Lindsey Stark:  Courtesy of The Pulse

Selling beautiful crafts to support the artisans who create them makes everyone feel good. But are these businesses truly sustainable?

One day, halfway into a trip to Uganda, Colorado psychologist Torkin Wakefield took an afternoon walk with her daughter and a family friend. They stopped to talk with a local woman who was sitting by the road crafting necklaces. The woman told them that to support herself she crushed rocks by hand in a quarry nearby for a dollar a day; in her spare time, she and her friends made necklaces by rolling brightly colored paper—trash that they’d recovered—into beads and stringing the beads into necklaces. “Why aren’t you selling these?” Wakefield asked, after convincing the woman to let her buy a handful. “There’s no market for them,” the woman answered.

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Vanilla Guerilla

When Lulu Sturdy inherited her uncle’s run-down Ugandan estate, she found herself alone on a failing farm in a war zone. Seven years on, she has built it into a Fairtrade phenomenon.

Vanilla Guerilla
Courtesy of Lulu Sturdy

Two violent incidents brought me to where I am today. The first was the unexpected death of my uncle, the day after I arrived in Uganda to see him; the second, the attempted murder of my Ugandan farm manager, three years later. The first I came to see as serendipity, the second as rocket fuel. 

Serendipity landed me, aged 30, on unruly Ndali farm, with its tourist lodge, in Western Uganda while its manager and visionary – my uncle, Mark Price – was being buried in Yorkshire. It was originally an emergency measure. I was expecting to be back within a couple of months making furniture near Chipping Norton – doughnuts, strong coffee, ear-defenders and biscuit jointer (my favourite “bodge-it” tool for avoiding a mortice and tenon) by day, a pint of Hook Norton and steak and kidney pie by night. Instead, these faded into the distance along with eight nephews and nieces, a five-year-long relationship, a red Ford Escort (an inheritance from my grandmother and which passed away during my first year away during a joyride around an Oxfordshire industrial estate), and heaps of books on Tibetan Buddhism.

Seven years on, I am still in Uganda, smitten with a rare gift: the liberating feeling from top to toe that I am in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, no matter what the complications.

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Kasimu School, Kenyesa, Malawi

You would think that after raising seven children Mary and Bob Burns would be ready to retire.  In fact, after their children were grown, they moved to their mountain home in the California Sierra and lived a contemplative life filled with meditation, reading and hiking.  It was a beautiful period in the lives of two people who committed to a spiritual journey together nearly 60 years ago.  But it wasn’t enough.  They wanted to do something that addressed their desire to give back.

As their grandchildren were born, they moved to Mountain View in the Santa Clara Valley to be more actively involved in their lives.  It was during this time that they met Father Peter Mulomole, a Catholic priest from Malawi who was working on his PhD in Berkeley.  Through Father Mulomole, they learned about the desperate poverty in Malawi, the fourth poorest nation in the world.

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How Micro-Finance Is Changing the World

Consider the value of $100.00. In a developed country you could buy a few bags of groceries, a simple outfit, a dinner for two. However, could you imagine starting a business with just $100.00? In the developing world this is not only possible, it is happening all the time, and often with less than $100.00! Global Fellow Ana Iglesias has assembled some brief stories about people all over the world whose lives have been dramatically changed through micro-funding.

Recently there has been some criticism of micro-financing. Critics point out that while the funds help people to get on their feet, they often need to continually pour money into their businesses, never getting reasonable nest egg established. Unfortunately, this is true with most small businesses anywhere in the developing and the industrialized world. Being a small business owner is a lot like farming. It can sustain us but it won’t make us wealthy. With micro-finance, my personal observation is that it can make the difference between abject poverty and having a more comfortable life.

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Pocketful of Joy

There are many paths that lead to becoming a dedicated social entrepreneur.  While the work itself may not manifest for decades, the seeds of dedication are often sown in childhood.  One constant for social entrepreneurs is their passion to effect change.  Through determination and an unwillingness to give up, even during periods of challenge or adversity, women and men worldwide are making significant changes, creating hope and opportunity for individuals and communities that previously were barely surviving.

Charlotte Hunter is an inspiring example of a woman who has dedicated herself fully to children in rural Tanzania. Charlotte’s inspiration grew out of her experience of personal loneliness as a sickly child growing up in Harlem, a poor borough in New York City. Her childhood experiences and her observations of the children around her, led to a commitment to improve children’s lives, to bring joy and hopefulness to children in need.  Charlotte says, “The greatest gift to humanity is to not live in despair.”

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The Value of the Tropics

Welcome to our newly renovated and expanded Vanilla Company site!  It has required a lot of dedicated effort on the part of my designer, Kat Long from Kat & Mouse Co., a web design/SEO/internet marketing company, my loyal assistant, Gina Tassone (aka The Contessa), and, of course, me.  One of the challenges of dreaming large is that there are only 24 hours in a day.  The gift is that our new site is the continuation of an ongoing conversation that began in 2001 with our initial Internet launch.

Many of you know me as the Vanilla Queen because of my tireless promotion of pure vanilla, my presence on the Internet as a purveyor of vanilla products, and for authoring three books on vanilla.  The assumption is that vanilla as a flavor and fragrance is my overwhelming passion and obsession. While this is partly true, my real passion is, and has always been, the people who cultivate vanilla and other tropical commodities.  In fact, vanilla has acted as a catalyst for the bigger picture, which includes the awareness of the communities, commodities, economies and environment of the tropical regions of the world.

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Why do our customers love Rain's Choice vanilla?

  • 99% of all vanilla products are imitation. Ours are 100% PURE!
  • We carefully choose all products to assure best QUALITY & FLAVOR!
  • Our farmers are paid a FAIR PRICE.
  • Our vanilla beans are SUSTAINABLY grown.
  • Everything we sell is grown WITHOUT CHEMICAL pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Your purchase here supports our HUMANITARIAN efforts.

Thank you for supporting The Vanilla Company and our farmers! BUY HERE now.

For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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