Jessenia, who is attending her second year of college

Jessenia, who is attending her second year of college

Five years ago, Jessenia and her family needed some assistance in affording high school for her.

With a Friends Project scholarship — at $35 a year — Jessenia was able to more easily afford a book bag, books, notebooks and other supplies for her goal.

Now, she’s entering her second year of COLLEGE in Leon, Nicarugua.

She and fellow Las Minitas teen Alonso Martinez are on their way to succeeding in their dreams to become the first from their mountain community to graduate from university.

The Friends Project helps them achieve this with a $300 annual scholarship each, which goes toward transportation and school supplies. We just paid the first $300 and will fundraise to pay the last $300 in June.

You know what’s awesome? Since we have a relationship with the communities we assist, we can follow Jessenia… can’t wait to see what she does after graduation.

Every weekend, they walk down 3 hours to El Sauce, where they catch a bus in the morning (sometimes they stay overnight with relatives so they can get the bus) to Leon. They attend classes all day, then take the 1.5-hour bus ride back.

They then walk 3 hours back up the mountain.

On Sunday, Alonso is up and at English class, supported by The Friends Project. He goes Monday too.

Our $300 annual college scholarships are clearly money well spent.

So little makes a huge difference.

Thank you for your support of this idea, and Alonso and Jessenia.

This is Jessenia during high school, with her supplies!

jessenia copy


Great news!

I apologize to all our supporters. I’ve been on the road since April and in June we opened the preschool in Las Minitas, Nicaragua after a lot of hard work and raising more then $5,000.

I’ve had trouble logging in and also spartan access to Internet at times on this world journey and have not updated this as I wish. We are going strong on Facebook and my blog ..

This will be updated regularly now. So please visit. Often.

Our first good news: English class in Las Minitas is so successful and thought to be worthwhile to the farmers’ families, Enlace Project is hiring the teacher as part of their program and so his weekly pay will be part of his duties. We supported that class for more than a year!

Javier walked and rode a horse three hours each Sunday to teach, then stayed with a family.

585 Magazine

I am proud to announce that “585 Magazine” out of Rochester included a first-person essay about building the experience of building the preschool in Nicaragua in their current issue, out now.
Online soon,but here’s a snapshot of the page!
Coda is the concluding passage of a movement, like in a musical piece, and it’s their closing essay.
This magazine is fresh and great. So glad!



I’m fresh back from Nicaragua, where the farmers and their families are enjoying the preschool that we helped them open!


I’m in town for a week before going to volunteer in Africa, so let’s celebrate the power of everyday people to make a difference and have a look at what’s been happening in Las Minitas.

I am hosting a pop-up gallery exhibition of images of the construction of The Friends Project preschool, the opening party that drew 60 people from the settlement, and photos of the community we partnered with on top of the mountain.

I will also share a few images of the Amazon adventure and beyond …

I will have coffee (20 bags) freshly toasted by the farmers in Las Minitas for sale, to help fund the English class we host in Las Minitas.

I’ll give a talk with photos at 7 PM … a pinata broken Nicaraguan-house party style will follow, with good conversation and celebration.

Light refreshments. Bring a chair if you’ve got one. This is popup!

Tell you friends. Spread the word!

When: Wednesday, July 23
Where: The Loft at The Falls, 5 West Main Street, Honeoye Falls
Time: 630 to 9PM
Why: We can make a difference. And did. see how!
Contact: or



Sitting in the Plaza de Armas and people watching is my favorite pastime in Arequipa. Soon after I arrived, a guy walked by selling something, passed me, paused, walked a few steps back and said hello.

Luis Fernando Aspajo Pozo is a poet — part of a dying breed of soulful artist.
He had made chapbooks of his poetry, each with elaborate, cool drawings by his friend.

I can’t read Spanish well enough, but I wanted to support him. I bought one for me and one for Yacarely, who can read a Ruben Dario poem like no one’s business.

Luis says there’s not a lot of support in Peru on the national level for art; he’s self-promoting. He has participated in readings in Cusco. When he travels around Peru, Chile and other areas he sells his poetry, old-schools street style.

“No one wants to collaborate with me tonight,” he told me.

Why do you write?

“Born. Born in me to write,” he told me. “I must write what I feel.”

There’s a lot of things going on in the world, and Luis wants to share his perspective and make us think. Social norms, living your life, the things that give you profound inspiration. Family. How you relate to people. How you don’t. Our fear of death. Death.

“I write these views, these ideas. Maybe people read them. See them too.”


On this journey around the world promoting the idea of do-it-yourself change, and highlighting others who are making a difference, I come across some interesting characters.

People who are on their own pilgrimages … to celebrate anniversaries, to finally see a dream, to escape, to do things I never even considered … for a week, a month, a year.

So on this blog we’re adopting a feature in which we meet some of them, and try to get to the guts of something, to give us food for thought.

People of the World. POW!


I round the corner at Machu Picchu by the sacred stone and there’s Kevin and DG. He was here 45 years ago, and he’s showing her now.

He had just finished college and left to go walk around South America for nine months.

He lived in the ruins of Machu Picchu for 2 weeks with hippie types. Back then, there weren’t a lot of tourists, and “no one cared.”

“That really expensive hotel at the entrance? It uses water from the Sun Gate. It cost $20 a night then and $950 now. We would sneak in through the windows of the hotel and steal towels. We’d always return them and put them in the ‘soiled’ bin.”

He met a lot of people who had just dropped out. He got a career that he enjoyed, he retired and now he’s traveling again. He wanted to see Machu Picchu again, with DG, and visited where he lived in the ruins.

What is the most important lesson you learn on your trip?

“That it was a trip. It wasn’t a life.”



I shared a travel photo from winter solstice, June 21, at Machu Picchu on CNN’s Travel Photo of the Day on the website.
Click here to see it on CNN and hey, register it a view. You can favorite it and share from there too !


When I bought my one-way ticket to Limerick, the train cashier in Dublin was baffled that I would go live in “Stab City.”

It’s not the most exciting city in Ireland but I liked it quite much and it still has a bad rep. Warring families stabbing each other in neighborhoods and all.

The guy and girl at the end of the breakfast table in the hostel had a good time reminsicing … they are from Dublin.

Anton, on the left, is living in León, it turns out, an hour and a half away from El Sauce. Can’t believe I haven’t bumped into him in the street all the times I was in León (anyone recognize him?)

And Kelly, on the right, turns out is from Penfield, NY … like 15 miles from my house in Rochester.

I know this because she also is studying in the same city as the people you cant’ see, to my right.

Small-world table right here. Love it when that happens.

LIFe at night


Went to the 35th anniversary show of the ballet folklorico in Arequipa, a nice showcase of traditional dance that depicted history and relationships with Mexico and various regions across Peru.

Two days going to concerts/performances in Arequipa at the muncipal theater, I have learned something: the start time means you can filter in and it will start anytime a half hour later or more.

After the show, I wandered Mercedes street – a pedestrian-only street with clothing shops, a Starbucks and chains and a casino, as well as someone who has my number with a ton of cake and ice-cream shops, and people selling little plastic inflatable frogs on sticks and other animals.

I like how walking around at night is an event in Latin and South America. Families and couples and friends stroll the Plaza de Armas, or Mercedes and because it’s an outing, there’s guys selling inflatable frogs on sticks – and people buy them. Like a fair.

Stores started closing around 9:30 and I saw a group of people huddled around a corner. A guy was doing the NYC trick of spray painting an incredibly vibrant (and day-glo, faces in a champagne glass cheese) piece of art in a hot minute … playing the most rocking song Michael Jackson ever did.

While I was watching, a police guard came up to remind him he was only supposed to do street vending after 10. They had some words; what sticks out to me is that the guard was in a wheelchair.

I’ve seen several civil guards and police in wheelchairs in Arequipa. I dig that. I have never seen that in another city – right on Peru.

I wandered more and there were young guys selling alumnimum bent into spiders and dinos and other creatures; Andean alpaca cheapie gloves, all kinds of stuff.

{<2>}![guy spray paiting in Mercedes Street](/content/images/2014/Jun/plaza2-1.jpg)

In the plaza de armas, I sat down with a giant piece of Salva Negra cake and got my sugar/chocolate fix with chocolate and whipped cream and fresh strawberries, watching three teenagers break out some old-school breakdance moves, sans tunes, by the fountain.

I am getting good at predicting what hanger-outers will do; I saw the kid’s sleeveless vest and said, this guy will break! Voila.

I parked myself there and enjoyed the night LIFE: the break dancers teaching each other moves. I looked at who was around me at that instant. A couple on a date, the guy nuzzling behind her as she walked delicately in her heels. The guy smoking a cigarette after getting off his $1,000 racing bicycle. The woman selling candy and cigarettes too close to people, desperate to make a sale.

Yesterday after work, the Plaza was filled with families and kids feeding the pigeons and running between their flying wings smiling.


We are missing that in the states: a central area for people to just GO and BE. People just show up and that’s the night. Looking at something beautiful and prideful for the city. In this case, the cathedral and the Spanish colonial buildings surrounding the square and the fountain. The center of the city for hundreds of years.

Guys in safari vests and cheap cameras take photos of families for some pesos and print them out instantly; keepsakes for this unique moment of an activity that probably plays out every week or several times a month.

I’m on an austerity budget here at Arequipa, working on my writing in the day and finding free things to do at night.

I never tire of winding up in the plaza and watching life… it’s so different on the outside in foreign places, and yet the same for all of us, everywhere we go.

I wish we woud not have created a culture in the states in which we seal ourselves off and need to go “do” something: What town or city would not be suited to a square, where strolls and sitting on a bench watching the world go by, and living in it – breakdancing maybe – are everyday?

See you tomorrow Plaza de Armas. What will you bring me?

PS I wonder if someone from Arequipa looks out across the fountain and thinks, hey, there’s a tourist, enjoying our plaza. I wonder where she is from)

— in Arequipa, Peru

Everyday People - Making our own good news

Nicholas Martinez Pitchardo

A 20-year coffee farmer, Nicholas is the founder of the Manuel Lopez Cafe Cooperativa more than 8 years ago.
“I knew we would be better to sell in an organized way. you can get a better price by working together,” he says.
For cooperative members, this means sharing knowledge, experience, profits and resources to strengthen crops and product and the community of Ocotal.
At the beginning, Nicholas completed an exchange in another region, Matagalpa, with members of a coffee cooperative to gain insight into how to best run their own new cooperative.
He is proud of the programs the cooperative have implemented, their progress and the recent customer base in the United States who choose their high-quality, organic beans.
Last year, Nicholas grew 3000 pounds of coffee. Getting it ready for export is a long process – 12 hours of work alone from picking a ripe bean to ready it for roasting. His family and helpers from the community work some days 4 a.m. to 6p.m. in harvest season, as everything is hand-tended.
He sees the difference the coffee, tourism and basket-making cooperatives makes for families, including spurring completion of an elementary and a preschool and road improvements.
“It makes me proud of the community,” says Nicholas. “I am old now but my chilrdren and my grand children will enjoy the benefits of living here. What we’re doing here will help future generations.”

Everday people make a difference, out here and way off the beaten path. We Just don’t hear about them. So we are finding them on this round-the-world journey and making our own good news.