Empowering Women Who Have No Voice in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the United States, women are finally being encouraged to speak out and bear witness to their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Many with access to a media platform have seized the opportunity to tell their stories. But what about those in remote, cut-off parts of the developing world who suffer in silence?

There are millions of women and girls without the means to report that they have been assaulted and raped, especially in arid, Sub-Saharan countries where they often need to walk, unprotected, for miles every day to fetch water in remote areas. Fearing retribution for speaking out against their attackers, most remain silent. In addition to suffering physical, mental, and emotional damage, many end up pregnant and infected with sexually transmitted diseases. For most of the young girls, their lives have been irrevocably changed, offering little hope for their future.

One of the most practical ways to reduce the vulnerability of such women and girls is to eliminate the need for them to leave their villages to search for water. With support from the Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust over several years, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) was able to provide water for drinking as well as irrigation through its Whole Village Solar Electrification project in the communities of Bessassi and Dunkassa in Benin in West Africa. This project changed forever the lives of the women and girls there. No longer do they have to fear the threat of brutal attacks when collecting water. So successful was the Launders-supported project in Benin that SELF is about to launch a similar one in Uganda.

Of course, solar-powered pumps alone cannot prevent every sexual assault. Our intent is that the technology will be coupled with education, public outreach, and strictly enforced laws to protect the women from inappropriate and often brutal assaults.

Whether in a remote village in Uganda or in a modern urban setting in the industrialized world, women deserve to live with dignity and the confidence that they are safe from predation. While the revolution has begun in the U.S., let us not forget the women in Sub-Saharan Africa—and elsewhere in the developing world—who can start to affect change with something as basic as a solar-powered water pump.


Contributed by Guest Author: Robert Freling. Robert is Executive Director of the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that has been on the cutting edge of delivering solar solutions to rural villages since 1990. Under his leadership, SELF has pioneered the use of solar power for a wide range of applications including household lighting, water pumping, school electrification, drip irrigation and wireless Internet access. SELF has completed projects in 20 countries, making it a leader among non-governmental organizations in providing practical and cost-effective renewable energy alternatives for the developing world.

Fluent in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Indonesian, Mr. Freling holds a B.A. in Russian Studies from Yale University, and an M.A. in Communications Management from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. Mr. Freling is the recipient of the 2008 King Hussein Leadership Prize.

How Legal Help Can Support a Sustainable, Resilient Food System

Sumana Tabling

Sumana Chintapalli, Farm & Food Legal Fellow, tabling for the Hub at the Rhode Island state house.

Food is one of the few things that unites us all – no matter where we live, what we do, whom we know, at least one thing is true and the same for everyone: we all have to eat.

While food plays a vital role in our lives and cultures, we often don’t think about how it arrives on our plates. Too many of us are disconnected from the people who grow, package, and sell our food, and they are often forgotten when we talk about needs and gaps in our food system. Our farmers and small food enterprises are integral to our economy, yet these businesses subsist on increasingly narrow margins. One way to help support this important part of our food system is to help these businesses access legal help that can allow them to build, grow, and continue to play a critical role in supporting a sustainable, resilient food system.

By connecting these small farmers and food entrepreneurs with free legal services, Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) Rhode Island Legal Food Hub helps keep our farmers and food businesses afloat.

The Rhode Island Legal Food Hub has made great progress since its launch in November 2016. We now have 27 law firms in our Rhode Island network and 20 cases have been placed. The Hub also allows us to identify and address issues facing farmers and food entrepreneurs so we can cater our work to their needs through resources such as workshops and webinars. As we get a deeper sense of the legal needs facing the farm and food space here in Rhode Island, we are also looking to change state and local policy as necessary to better support the state’s robust local food economy.

We are fortunate in Rhode Island to have a strong network of collaborators all working toward the common goal of strengthening our local and regional food systems. To advance this goal, we frequently partner with kitchen and small business incubator programs, other nonprofits including local land trusts, and Rhode Island government entities. On matters from food waste to farmland access, CLF has had the opportunity to work with partners on solutions to problems that affect not only the food system, but also the environment and public health – areas that all interconnect to impact our collective quality of life.

CLF is incredibly grateful for the support from The Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust. It is gratifying to see the results of serving real people in real time. The Hub has helped a farmer avoid getting dragged into costly litigation between two other parties, assisted new farmers with the formation of their business, and assisted with the formation of farm and food nonprofits. The Hub has connected new food entrepreneurs with invaluable trademark advice and provided farmers with important liability guidance. And the Hub has engaged a valuable network of dedicated volunteer attorneys who are devoting time, energy, and excitement toward this work.

Healthy communities and healthy economies go hand-in-hand, and without a healthy food system, neither is possible. We look forward to continuing to work together with our food system partners toward an affordable, just, sustainable, resilient, and healthy Rhode Island, and New England, food system.

Contributed by Guest Author: Amy Moses. Amy is Vice President and Director of CLF Rhode Island. Before joining CLF, she was Deputy Counsel to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. She has served as a law clerk in Rhode Island’s state and federal courts and spent several years as a litigation associate at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP. Before attending law school, she was a program development coordinator for the R.I. Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a conservation organizer for the R.I. Chapter of the Sierra Club. Amy earned a B.S. in Environmental Economics and Policy from the University of California, Berkeley and a J.D. from The George Washington University School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Amy was recognized as the 2017 Newsmaker by R.I. Lawyers Weekly, the R.I. Women’s Bar Association, and the R.I. Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

Focusing on Deep and Sustainable Impact


Young women in Rwanda benefit from Komera.

Be Strong, Have Courage. This is the meaning of the word “Komera”, the name of a non-profit grant recipient of the Ruth and Hal Launders charitable trust. The founder of Komera, Margaret Butler, embodies these words through her tireless work with young women in Rwanda, but also in her bold and unique approach to impact. While most impact measurement is based on numbers, Komera focuses on the whole person, meaning that each girl accepted as a scholar receives support that is not traditionally offered in community organizations. The girls accepted as scholars receive full tuition to the school that is deemed best for them, health insurance, intensive leadership and social entrepreneurship training, weekly meetings with a Komera mentor to address emotional issues, organized sports to support personal health and increase confidence, access to conferences and speakers, and ongoing coaching and support for their family. Family members of Komera scholars are organized into cooperatives and receive training on business, personal finance, and how to be a mentor to their children – all imperative to each scholars success. With this comprehensive approach, the girls do indeed succeed, with the majority going on to university, a specialized job, or beginning their own business. Komera scholars become changemakers in their community through volunteer work and engagement and their families become leaders in their villages, having learned how to successfully run businesses and mentor their daughter and other children for independence and success.

Komera works with about 50 girls each year, and that number may be seen as low compared to organizations reaching hundreds or thousands each year. They measure their impact and success, however, on the long-term outcomes that their work has on each Komera scholar, their families, and their community. Increased grant money may not necessarily translate into higher numbers of girls served, instead, it may mean new approaches to continue building the successful and happy lives of current scholars. Numbers can be an important indicator while vetting potential grantees, but the Ruth and Hal Launders trust also recognize the value of looking for deep impact, not just wide.

Another grantee of the trust is Youth Interactive, an after-school program for at-risk youth in Santa Barbara, California. This innovative nonprofit focuses on entrepreneurship and the arts as a way to teach teenagers real-life skills, expose them to new opportunities and possibilities, and build the confidence needed for a successful and independent future. Like Komera, Youth Interactive takes a comprehensive approach to the impact they have on these teens lives. In addition to mentoring groups of teens to start sustainable and profitable small businesses, they offer the Get It Done program which brings in mentors from the community to guide teens through milestones and setbacks, including drivers education, one on one tutoring, help applying for financial aid, internships and job shadowing, access and subsidies to summer conferences and educational programs, and most importantly – the knowledge that these teens have several people on their side. Youth Interactive serves only 90 teens per year, but the success can be seen not only in grades, conduct, and graduation rates but also in the long-term goals that the teens are able to set and reach with the help of this village of mentors.

The teens and adults that benefit from most non-profits have incredibly complex, isolating, unique, and challenging lives. The Ruth and Hal Launders charitable trust support organizations like Komera and Youth Interactive to acknowledge these realities, and provide grants for their comprehensive programs that focus on deep and sustainable impact in each human being they serve.

Contributed by Guest Author – Whitney Webb: Whitney is the great niece of Ruth and Hal Launders and the daughter of Jack Webb, a Trustee of the foundation. She is the founder of Launch Education which educates and mentors the next generation of wealth holders on financial and philanthropic matters and the co-founder of Launch Generation which runs summer programs for teenagers focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Whitney is proud to support the hard work of the RHLCT trustees and the impact of their grants program.

Acting as a Catalyst to Break the Cycle of Poverty

Boca Helping Hands - In the kitchen serving

Volunteers in the Kitchen at Boca Helping Hands, Boca Raton, FL

Every day at 10:30, a line forms up outside the Food Center at Boca Helping Hands. They wait for 11:00 A.M. when “lunch is served”. And day after day, 175 to 200 people stand in that line, waiting their turn to receive a delicious, hot lunch, lovingly served by the BHH Volunteers. Sadly, this scene is played out in soup kitchens, community centers, churches and synagogues all across America. Hungry people need to be fed. And someone needs to do something about it. We need more programs, more food stamps, more, more, more. But is the “more” working? Are we, in fact, actually solving the hunger and poverty problem in America? Might there not be a better way?

In 2013, Boca Helping Hands launched the first of its job training programs. Following the initial success of our Hospitality Job Training Program, we have added programs to train our clients as Home Health Aides, Commercial Truck Drivers, or IT Support Staff. Today, over 150 people a year are preparing for new careers…careers that will elevate them out of poverty and more importantly out of the daily food line.

At a basic level, we know that getting a client a job is a long term solution to their personal struggle with hunger and poverty. But a “job” means so much more  than a paycheck. Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow for economic studies and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institute has written: “Work is more than just a means of income generation. Work also provides adults and their families with a time structure, a source of status and identity, a means of participating in a collective purpose, and opportunity for social engagement outside family life. “

At Boca Helping Hands, we have long agreed with the above sentiment. We agree because we see the results of joblessness every day. Again I quote Mr. Haskins: “A host of studies have connected joblessness to increased risk of family destabilization, suicide, alcohol abuse and disease incidence as well as reduced life span.” We don’t necessarily agree with this last quote because of any academic research. We agree because we see those standing in line day after day…waiting for 11:00… We agree because we see what happens to a family, a neighborhood, and indeed an entire community when unemployment rates increase.

And so we at Boca Helping Hands have found that the best way to fight hunger and poverty while simultaneously building stronger communities is to get people working again. Thanks to the vision and generosity of the Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust, Boca Helping Hands is fulfilling both of these missions. The recently dedicated Justin D. Webb Center will house all of our education programs. In the two classrooms of the Justin D. Webb Center, clients will take their first steps to a life free of any charitable or governmental assistance. They will develop their professional skills, and learn healthy life-style habits. They will learn about proper nutrition to combat the diseases that are near epidemic levels in the low income neighborhoods (Type II Diabetes, Cancer, Coronary Disease, and Hypertension). And they will gain needed computer skills, language skills, reading skills, interview skills that will help them secure a job leading to self-sufficiency.

In cities across America, neighborhoods are in decay. Lines form up every day at the local soup kitchen. There are only three options: (1) We can ignore the problem and hope it goes away; (2) We continue to throw enormous sums of money into simply meeting the immediate need for food; or (3) We can take the long term approach…and take each client by the hand and lead them across the bridge from basic human need to self-sufficiency. Option #3 is very much part of the mission of The Ruth and Hal Launder’s Charitable Trust. The RHLCT acts as a catalyst for vulnerable people and their support systems…a catalyst that moves people from basic human need to independence. At Boca Helping Hands, we are in full accord with the mission of the Ruth and Hal Launder’s Charitable Trust and choose Option #3. Education, wellness programs and job training are the only long term solutions. A working population will solve its hunger and poverty problem. A working population will build stronger communities. And a working population will never again have to line up every day at 10:30, just to get a hot meal…


Contributed by Guest Author: James S. Gavrilos – Executive Director of Boca Helping Hands Born in Hammond, Indiana, James Gavrilos graduated as valedictorian from Hellenic College in 1986, and received his Master of Divinity, again graduating Valedictorian, from Holy Cross School of Theology in 1989. After a brief stint as the Assistant Director of Youth Ministry for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, he entered parish ministry, where he would serve for the next 16 years. In 2006, James became Director of Development for The Haven. In 2007, he accepted the position of President/ CEO of Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches. In 2010, James Gavrilos became Executive Director of Boca Helping Hands. During his tenure, Boca Helping Hands has experienced a period of unprecedented growth.