January 27, 2011

Community Fund Update

The Sukhbaatar Social Business Community Fund has been very busy this past year building the community store that will act as a flagship for the Sukhbaatar Trust Foundation and finally opened the doors of the store only a few weeks ago!

Thank you to all of the supporters who have donated your time, energy and resources to this project and helped several families come together in an effort to expand economic opportunity in a remote region of Mongolia.

One special story I would like to share was just told to me last week, as I saw these pictures of the community store's first few weeks and asked how things have been going. The grandmother, named Bayarsaikhan, who runs the store with her husband and family,was showing the new store to her extended family after it had opened it. Her brother, who lives in the countryside almost six hours away and has been a herdsman his entire life, was so impressed with the store that he decided to give her 1,000,000 tugrics which he had been saving up so that her family could buy equipment to make bakery goods and sell them in the store. He was never asked, but decided to share this with his sister (which amounts to about half a year's salary) because he was so impressed with the work that is being done and he wanted to give what he could.

Our vision of this project, from the beginning, has been people giving what they can to others in a sustainable way. Every dollar (and Mongolian tugric) that goes into the  community fund continues to be borrowed and paid back forever, first into a community store and bakery equipment,  then into a mechanics shop and livestock in the countryside, and from there who knows. 

I look forward to keeping you updated on this project through the Advance Humanity blog as it continues to develop, but to learn more please visit AdvanceHumanity.com. Thank you!

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January 24, 2011

A Working Perspective

Coming back to work after a long holiday can be hard. Especially when your vacation is something around six weeks long and on the other side of the world. I've enjoyed coming back to Mongolia, but it was easy to get overwhelmed with work, projects, responsibilities and much more.

Two articles that I read recently, one at ZenHabits and a speech shared with me by a fellow Volunteer Alison, showed me that I'm definitely not facing that challenge alone. All of us have the challenge of work in front of us everyday. We get to decide our attitude and perspective every moment, every week, and it's important to face that consciously. 

In Leo's article on Work-Life Balance, he makes some good suggestions and my favorite two are: build your skills to prepare for leaving work and remember you are not your work. The first one requires daily attention to the fact that we should always be learning, growing and changing as our world and the job market changes. As we expand our abilities and skills, we become more valuable to our current job and future work as well. What are you doing and learning today that helps you be where you want to be in the future? 

The second revolves around the idea that our job is what we do, but not who we are. We are family members, friends, people. Those roles require a lot of attention too, exercise, good nutrition, time alone together with people we love. That's easy to lose sight of. 

In fact, it wasn't until a few days ago after I read the commencement speech that Alison shared with me that I realized I had already drifted too far myself. I had started to look at work, walking in the cold, and many other things as sources of stress rather than incredible opportunities to do things that I love to do. The speech doesn't really have a title, but I like calling it This is Water and you can read it in full here.

It's easy to lose focus, but I'm very grateful to friends and resources that allow me to stay positive and centered every day. Thank you all very much, I hope these reminders might be helpful to you as well.

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January 22, 2011

Peace Corps' Founding Father

Although from the outside it might seem like John F. Kennedy was the one man who made Peace Corps a reality, from the inside many people (including 200,000+ Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) attribute much of Peace Corps' success and longevity as an organization to our founding director, Sargent Shriver. He was a dedicated peacebuilder, activist and in many ways a renaissance man. He slept on airplanes (on the floor under his seat and the seat in front of him), felt at home as he traveled to the most remote corners of the world, and connected with millions of people during the 95 years of his exceptional life. In addition to his work with Peace Corps, he also founded VISTA, Job Corps, Head Start, and helped start the Special Olympics with his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

"Sarge", as he is known by those close to him, is having a lot of wonderful things written about him this week after he passed away this Wednesday. I have read dozens of the articles and these are a few of my favorites:

I'm sure there will continue to be great memories of Sarge written for some time to come. In fact, if you would like to share your own stories and send your thoughts to the Shriver Family, you can visit SargentShriver.org anytime.

Also to learn more about Sargent Shriver visit Shriver.PeaceCorps.gov, SargentShriver.org, Wikipedia.org, and check out the documentary American Idealist. This week, I will share some of my favorite quotes from Sargent Shriver online as people around the world remember him and continue to be inspired by his incredible example. Thank you, Sarge, for your incredible life of inspired service.

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January 21, 2011

Everyday with the WHO

I don’t usually write too much about my everyday work with the Peace Corps, but as I’ve started working more closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) here in Mongolia over the past few months I’ve found myself in some great situations which really deserve some reflection.

For instance, just yesterday I got a chance to sit down with one of my colleagues and look over several of her projects on non-communicable diseases and health promotion. Two years ago, and even one year ago, I would have felt very overwhelmed by the amount and type of projects she was sharing with me. However, now that I’ve worked with Peace Corps for two years in the field, written my fair share of grants and collaborated on many projects, I was able to keep up as we discussed the projects in both Mongolian and English throughout the day.

A lot of what the WHO does revolves around granting funds, monitoring and evaluating other organizations who are working in the health field. Some projects might target improving road safety or educating children on healthy habits, others work with young adults suffering through alcoholism, and others on improving rehabilitation opportunities for recovering patients. The projects span the entire field of health and by this method of funding governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other actors in the community, a WHO Country Team of little over a dozen people can then monitor and evaluate hundreds of projects every year. They do this in partnership with local agencies like Mongolia’s Ministry of Health which my colleague says, “Watches every single penny in a project and wants to know where it went.”

It’s certainly not simple or easy to develop successful projects, two years in Mongolia has taught me that, but it is valuable work that makes a difference in people’s lives. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all the organizations involved in health here in Mongolia (there are the Ministry of Health, Department of Health, Public Health Institute, World Health Organization, EPOS, and Millenium Challenge Account to name a few), but I’m also trying to keep my mind focused on the people that I know – the people that I met, worked with, helped and loved my first two years in Mongolia. They are the reason I’m not overwhelmed by all of this; I remember the doctors and nurses I know, some of the hardest working and kindest people I have ever met, and I think about what these projects would mean in their hands. These funds and resources, in the hands of the right people and for the right purposes, do tremendous good for real communities of people. Part of my work will include meeting these organizations, understanding more about what they do and learning from them as they try to help all people attain the highest possible levels of health in Mongolia. It’s been an honor to learn and continue to serve alongside such great people in the Peace Corps and the World Health Organization and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity.

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January 19, 2011

Jack Tales

Jack Tales take me back to my childhood, to nights when my dad would tell my sister and I stories of a crazy guy named Jack who seemed to be the most clever person I had ever heard of. He was able to get himself into and out of the craziest situations: stumping the devil, outsmarting kings,  marrying princesses, befriending anyone he wanted, bringing down giants, and much more I just now beginning to rediscover. 

My dad just sent me a website with over a dozen free Jack Tales called iBiblio, a public archive and digital library created by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I intend to learn them and tell them myself. After all, as an oral tradition, they are meant to be told from generation to generation. I'm excited to take part in that tradition myself.

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January 16, 2011

2010 Annual Review

Pass through New Years and you hit the season of resolutions, goals, hopes and dreams. In some years I've made goals long into the night and other years made none at all. Some years had days scheduled in 15-minute increments and more recently months without much scheduling much at all. I've read great books about goal-free living and other great books about being highly effective, some on simplifying and others on dream-lining. I suppose you can find just about any opinion on the subject and testimonials for each of them saying that they work great.

Right now, however, I am partial to the simplified route: a short look back at this past year, what went well and what didn't, a couple dreams I can count on one hand and a few steps on how I want to get there. I'll share my answers in case they are helpful as you think about your upcoming year, I really hope it is the best year of your life no matter who or where you are.


This was a very exciting year in my work with Peace Corps. Several incredible projects developed throughout the year including Peace Corps Merit Badges (bringing in thousands of dollars to wonderful elderly women in our local Mongolian village), the Sukhbaatar Social Business Community Fund (helping families throughout our province help each other out of poverty), the Sports Complex for Kids (now serving thousands of children), and several others. It was also a great year with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, we attended summer camp training and later an improved summer camp in our province, a great close of service conference, and a wonderful last summer together. 

In the fall I began my third year in Peace Corps and my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader here in Mongolia. I moved to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, started work with the World Health Organization and after four years finally published my first book. I helped organize several great conferences and trainings within Peace Corps, wrote a few articles,  finished applying to the Fulbright program and even had a chance to visit America with Tunga over the holidays to see family and friends during a wonderful six-week vacation.


Mostly my health, including exercise and eating well. I didn't spend nearly enough time meditating, lifting weights, eating healthy food at home and cooking on a regular basis. Although this improved some when I moved to the capital, Thanksgiving and Christmas undone anything I had going for me! I definitely need to work on that this upcoming year.


I would like to focus on five areas this year: Health, Relationships, Projects, Legacy, and Writing.

Health represents my overall health: sleep, fitness, nutrition, meditation, spirituality. I fell behind on this last year and I want to make it a daily priority - keeping myself physically strong and mentally awake. I want to eat and prepare my meals at home six days a week, do push ups and meditate every day, get plenty of sleep and wake up early everyday.

Relationships include my family, friends, and all the incredible people I feel so lucky to know. I want to schedule my time with people that I love, even though I am far away from them in most cases. It's easier than ever before to talk on the phone, video conference, send thank you notes, emails and much more. It's important that I make a strong effort to do those things on a regular basis. I want to support them, have fun together, share stories with each other spend time with people around me, doing things like telling Jack Tales to Tunga and Jonathan, listening to their dreams and goals, and supporting them however I can.

Projects will include ongoing projects, but I would also like to expand into more joint projects and coordination with the World Health Organization and our incredible Peace Corps Volunteers serving throughout Mongolia. We have lots of great health projects in the works, including a lot of hospital and preventative health activities like meditation, and I'm excited to support those this year.

Legacy is my big idea, the thing I want to do before I die. It's a social movement I call Advance Humanity and it's founded on the idea that we can change ourselves and change the world together. I write about it here on the blog and also at AdvanceHumanity.com. Right now it involves several dozens projects,  a few inspirations, resources and lots of incredible people. I'm excited to continue developing the idea this year and you can join us anytime.

Writing revolves mostly around three things: my blog (I'd like to write 100+ blog entries this year), the Unofficial Handbook (updated second edition released this fall), and the Life is Volunteer book (released this winter). I love writing and I try to do it whenever I can - early morning, late at night, and in the place of other activities like television, games and so on. It's been very rewarding so far and I bet this year will be even better. I also love to read things that support what I like to write, like ZenHabits, the Art of Nonconformity, and great books.

Recommendations - I obviously recommend writing your dreams down (so you are more likely to accomplish them) and I recommend sharing them with others (for support, encouragement and accountability). I also suggest making them self-reliant so you don't wait on others to make your dreams a reality. And don't worry if they change, of course they will. Also, I like to use 43Things.com where I can keep track of how I am doing on things. You might like it too.


I also have a theme and one-paragraph statement for the year. This is the summary of the whole year – what’s it going to look like? Who will I be for the next year?

I started doing this four years ago, after reading Goal-Free Living. Here are the themes I’ve chosen for myself:

Year of Discovery (2007) - When I graduated from college, applied to Peace Corps and prepared for discovering new things about the world and myself. Mark Twain's quote really inspired me.

Year of Endeavor (2008) - When I left for Peace Corps and began living and working in Mongolia as a health volunteer. I wanted to see the whole year and every day as an adventure.

Year of Advance Humanity (2009) - When I began deciding what this idea was all about, how I wanted to share it with others and how they could join in the effort.

Year of Greatness (2010) - When I wanted to define greatness for myself and my life. (I wrote in the theme statement, "This year I want to live my greatest life in the greatest service to others.")

I have decided I want 2011 to be a Year of Reflection. As I finish my time with the Peace Corps here in Mongolia I have a lot to look back on and a lot I want to write about. I also want to make meditation a more regular part of my life, pausing throughout the day to practice and not rush through life too much. I often feel like I take in lots of experiences only half-way, hopefully I can slow down a little and experience them more deeply whether they be a conversation, a visit, a book, or just time being with others.

Thank you for being part of this past year! It's really been wonderful and I feel very grateful to everyone who has been a part of it.

I hope 2011 is one of the best years you've ever had!

What is your theme for 2011? What are you most looking forward to?

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January 10, 2011

Life, Death and Taxi Drivers

Travel, especially when I fly around the world, makes me really think about my life and possible death. Maybe it's shows like LOST where planes fall out of the sky, or how exact times and dates are when I travel, or the occasional erratic taxi driver that reminds me of my temporary stay here on this earth. Yes, my time here is limited. No, it's unlikely I will know when it will end. Yes, this taxi driver is a little crazy.

When we get that chance to remember our own temporary nature, it often calls us to act. We should do today what is truly important, what we really believe in. If we aren't sure how long we'll be here, let's assume not long and act accordingly. That way no matter how long we live, we can be proud of how we spent our time. The people we loved, the projects we worked on, the help we were able to give to those in need, and the things we have learned make life worth living.

Maybe that's one reason I love the Peace Corps so much, everything about it reminds me on a daily basis that I have today to do good work, be the person I know I should be, and do what I can to make a difference. That makes every smile on the street and every conversation I have a little more important, because when it comes down to it those might be the last things I ever do.

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January 7, 2011

From Home to Home

This trip home to America was very different from my first one. A year and a half ago I visited home to be in my wonderful sister’s wedding, back in May of 2009. That was one full year into my Peace Corps service, when I had an amazing woman I loved and a job that I loved awaiting me upon my return to Mongolia. Five weeks in America was wonderful then, I had incredible conversations with people that I love, great memories and long drives, short trips and even shorter visits with people I missed a great deal.

This trip home to America, which just ended yesterday, comes two and a half years into my Peace Corps service. As a third year Volunteer I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch my Peace Corps service end twice and the chance to visit America in between each one.

My first trip was filled with certain answers, how much longer I’d be gone, why I love Mongolia so much, what I do, what I hope to do, my five year plan. I was eager to return to Mongolia and continue building on an incredible adventure that had exceeded all of my expectations. This second trip had much more open-ended answers, I’m not quite sure, why don’t we ask Tunga, I do a lot of different things, I’ve got several plans, but a five year plan isn’t one of them. I’m much more comfortable with uncertainty now than I used to be, but it’s still a funny feeling. I think sometimes we prefer certain answers from ourselves and others, even if we know they aren’t completely true. Uncertainty can be hard, but it can also be very fun.

This second trip back home to America was Tunga’s first trip anywhere outside Mongolia. It was her first time in an airplane, over an ocean, through customs and onto interstates, into crazy restaurants, surrounded by English speakers, thousands of miles away from family, immersed in a new culture and hugged around every corner by my friends and family. Uncertainty surrounded our trip, how she would like it, how it would feel, what she would think, who we would see, what we would do, but throughout everything it was always very fun. A lot of my open-ended answers were finished by Tunga - my smile would give way to her smile, her laugh to my laugh, and her hugs to my hugs. America is a lot to take in all at once, but I think Tunga did wonderfully. She has shared lots of her favorite pictures (america + christmas + campbell + charlotte), talked with her family and friends back in Mongolia almost everyday during the trip, and now has weeks and months to share her experiences with people in-person now that we are back in Mongolia. Maybe that’s kind of like Goal 2½ of the Peace Corps: help the world’s people better understand each other by introducing them and helping them bring the world home themselves.

More than ever I feel like I have two homes - two places I love to be, filled with people that my heart aches for every time I leave them. Some people say the Third Goal of Peace Corps is “bringing the world home” and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do that with Tunga while still serving as a Volunteer. I feel very proud to be with Peace Corps, to be surrounded by incredible people who I love and love me back, and to be doing even the smallest things which help promote friendship and (I hope) world peace one person at a time. Thank you for being on this journey with me, as uncertain as it may be at times, because the very best journeys can always be judged by who you were able to share them with.

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