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There is a cautionary tale that frequently surfaces in discussions about international aid. Women from a particular village walk miles to the river to do laundry despite the donation of a laundry trough circling the village’s water tank. The organization that donated the washing station failed to realize that laundry time serves another function: women-only social time. The laundry trough in the village didn’t offer the women the same respite from men, and the women couldn’t chat with each other around the tank as easily as they could at the river.


I believe that a Humanist Service Corps volunteer could have helped the international aid organization tell a success story instead of a cautionary tale. By observing the women, doing laundry with them, learning from them about their needs, and including them as essential, leading members of the problem-solving team, the HSC volunteer could have helped the locals and the international aid organization co-design a sustainable solution. In a nutshell, this is the kind of work that the HSC does, and this is the kind of engagement HSC asks of its volunteers.

What makes this kind of volunteering rare, and why is it so important?

Sustainable, effective, culturally-responsible volunteering is rare because it’s difficult and time-consuming to build the necessary relationships. Many international volunteering programs don’t see the cross-cultural relationships as an essential part of the mission. The relationships may benefit the volunteers, sure, but the volunteers are already guaranteed to benefit from the experience and cross-cultural relationships aren’t part of the benefit promised to the locals.

It is understandable that volunteers would be concerned about maximizing their impact and might even feel a little guilty hanging out with the locals. After all, international volunteering opportunities often exist only because of global inequalities created by the very countries volunteers are from. When volunteers spend time building relationships, aren’t they selfishly wasting time that they should be spending on improving lives?

No. Emphatically no. Volunteers only perpetuate oppression when they focus on their personal impact to the exclusion of all else. One of the tragically ironic consequences of imperialism is that the exploited are seen as having nothing to offer, even as they are still being plundered. It is a revolutionary act for a volunteer to acknowledge and embrace the benefits they receive when they adapt to another culture. Moreover, when volunteers are focused primarily on changing the environment, they often miss the opportunity to be changed by it. That missed growth is a profound loss, because learning and adapting to the local environment by building real, reciprocal relationships is the key to implementing sustainable solutions as well as the most rewarding aspect of the volunteering experience.

There is a strong positive correlation, not a zero-sum relationship, between the benefits that a volunteer receives and gives. The kind of volunteer work that is most rewarding for volunteers - cross-cultural learning and relationship-building - is also the kind of volunteer work that leads to sustainable solutions. Thus, the only way to serve responsibly and effectively is to embrace the selfishness inherent in service. When we see every interaction not as an opportunity to teach or to give but rather as a chance to learn and receive, only then do we come to understand what strategies are appropriate for the cultural context. If you can see the beauty in that paradox, then I invite you to apply for the 2019 Humanist Service Corps.


To apply fill out the application form and attach a cover letter and your resume. Your cover letter should include why you are interested in volunteering with HSC, a summary of your service, and a summary of your international experience. Your cover letter should be no more than one (1) page, single-space, 11 point font. 

Applications must be submitted by January 15th, 2019. All applicants must be 18 or older and available from July 2019 to July 2020.

Learn more here.


By Conor Robinson

Welcome to 2019 and welcome to our new slate of Humanist Grant beneficiaries!

We are thrilled to announce the four organizations that we will be supporting in Q1. We are excited by the work they are doing and our ongoing partnerships with these organizations.


Poverty and Health: The Tandana Foundation, our 2018 Compassionate Impact Grant recipient, works in Ecuador and Mali to support local community initiatives related to education, health, food security, water resources, environmental conservation, and income generation.

Tandana has a “first-person orientation,” which means their approach is based on respect and responsibility. The members of their community partners define their own priorities, which builds confidence and creates an environment of collaboration. Tandana is committed to following through on their own promises and nurturing friendships and expects the same from their community partners, which creates successful, sustainable projects.

Tandana’s strategies align with FBB’s in many ways: the emphasis on planning initiatives based on community-identified needs rather than implementing projects based on preconceived assumptions; teaching literacy classes in the native Tommo So language rather than a western language such as French or English; and the emphasis on building long-term independence for the women.

Education: SMASH is committed to eliminating the barriers faced by young underrepresented people of color in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and fostering their untapped talent. While STEM occupation opportunities overall are increasing, Black and Latinx people remain underrepresented in STEM fields. SMASH is not only an education organization, SMASH’s four programs weave mentorship, social justice, career opportunities, and life skills into their STEM curricula.

SMASH Academy, the flagship program, is a three-year college prep program that empowers students to deepen their talents and pursue STEM careers. In the summer the students attend tuition-free classes at leading universities like Berkeley, Stanford, and Morehouse and during the school year there is monthly programming. The students are coached by instructors of color, which both helps them to connect more deeply with the content and gives them role models representing their potential future.

The efficacy and impact of SMASH’s programs is underscored by their evidence-based program design and pre/post impact survey results. Their 2017 alumni outcomes are above national average for graduation rates, Bachelor degree completion rates, and majoring in STEM. SMASH also measured social-emotional indicators and found significant growth. SMASH’s model opens doors for low-income students of color and demonstrates an impact on the availability of STEM interest, education, and careers for those students, which is why FBB has chosen SMASH as the Education beneficiary for Q1 2019.

Human Rights: The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project provides free legal services to people, including unaccompanied children, in immigration custody in Arizona. 86% of detained people go through immigration removal proceedings without legal representation because of poverty. The Florence Project strives for all immigrants facing removal to have access to counsel, to understand their rights, and to be treated fairly and humanely.

The Florence Project was founded in the 1980s in response to Central American immigrants, who have no rights to public defense, trying to navigate the US legal process on their own after crossing the Arizona-Mexico border attempting to flee persecution. Through the years they have expanded their programming to include focused asylum case support, empowerment models to help people represent themselves more effectively, and legal services for unaccompanied minors. They also expanded to address social service needs for clients and training for public defenders.

The Florence Project is a leader on this issue with 20 years of experience supporting detained children in deportation proceedings.

Natural World: EcoViva, our 2017 Compassionate Impact Grant awardee, has worked for decades with grassroots organizations in El Salvador to promote environmental sustainability, economic security, and social justice. By working with local fishermen and leaders to develop and implement sustainable use plans, EcoViva has helped communities ensure both the preservation of local livelihoods and protect the ecosystems they rely upon.

EcoViva’s successes have included the implementation of mangrove restoration plans that return mangroves to full health. These restoration plans have been recognized by the Salvadoran government as a model for national coastal policy and rural development.  

The backbone of EcoViva’s approach to implement effective Mangrove Ecosystem resource management within local communities is called PLAS (Local Sustainable Use Plan). PLAS recognizes that the residents of each community are important stakeholders in the conservation of the mangrove ecosystem.

EcoViva continues to empower the residents of villages in Bajo Lempa in the Bay of Jiquilisco to conserve resources, improve their livelihoods, and educate their peers regarding their critically important Mangrove Habitats.

At FBB we recognize the impact ongoing support can make. For that reason, this quarter we are featuring some organizations again. Tandana and EcoViva are both previous CIG recipients who are working on sustainable solutions to complex problems. The Florence Project was a beneficiary of FBB’s Call to Action: Family Separation at the Border. They are featured again as the Human Rights beneficiary this year because the family separation crisis is complex, ongoing, and a blatant human rights violation. SMASH is a new FBB beneficiary whose programming is designed to support students of color with STEM interests for years.

We are looking forward to seeing what progress these Q1 beneficiaries makes in 2019 and beyond. 

If you aren't currently a Humanist Grants donor, you can become one here.


November’s Beyond Belief Network Team of the Month, Secular Humanists of Roanoke in Virginia, had a very successful river cleanup, which had a particularly large amount of trash following recent flooding. They cleaned up over 100 pounds of trash! In addition to their cleanup success, they may have recruited some new members as a result of other people at the cleanup noticing their AHA buttons and asking about secular humanism. Great event, Secular Humanists of Roanoke!



December is International Human Rights month, celebrating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948. The document states fundamental freedoms all humans are entitled to including freedom from discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Other rights include freedom from torture, from arbitrary arrest and detention, and arbitrary interference of privacy. Equally the document declares everyone's right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, to seek asylum in other countries, to enter into marriage only will free and full consent, and freedom of thought. 

FBB envisions a world where these human rights are realized across the earth. For our Human Rights category of giving in our Humanist Grants program, we seek organizations that have compassionate, effective programs working to actualize these rights for people for whom they are or have been denied. Our Human Rights beneficiaries from the last year are work to end gun violence, support the poorest women in Puerto Rico recover from last year's hurricanes, support girls going to school rather than being forced into marriage, and work for a fair and equitable criminal justice system in the US. 

Take a look at FBB's Human Rights beneficiaries over the past year.

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 800 civil society organizations all around the world committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their potential. They are an umbrella organization that does the research and effectiveness studies that are used to provide roadmaps for local partners to work together. 

Their research is bringing local, community organizations together to be stronger and more effective. Girls Not Brides works with experts to create theories of change and roadmaps for local organizations, but their strategies are member tailored to address specific issues that members identify in their communities.

Proyecto Matria is local organization working to help the women of Puerto Rico become self-sufficient in order to overcome situations of violence and gender discrimination. Founded in 2004, they empower women with services as far reaching as housing services, which is vital in the wake of the destruction, but also with education, psychological support, and job assistance in the form of small business incubators and microcredit services. 

The Sentencing Project has over 30 years of experience in the field of fair and equitable sentencing practices.  They work under a series of important and often overlapping key ideas: fair sentencing, incarceration, felony disenfranchisement, racial disparity, drug policy, juvenile justice, women, and collateral consequences.

The Sentencing Project explains its work as “include[ing] the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns, and strategic advocacy for policy reform.”

They bring awareness regarding the disenfranchisement of Americans with felony convictions. Priorities include families struggling without food aid because of drug offenses, the effects of sentencing practices on children, and racial inequities that are pervasive through our criminal justice system.

A nonprofit online news outlet focused exclusively on researching and reporting gun violence, The Trace incorporates possible solutions to the gun violence epidemic into their reporting. They believe that the gun violence problem is exacerbated by lack of knowledge.

They divide this lack of knowledge into four elements: 1. US residents lack awareness of how many lives are lost by firearms, 2. the national conversation is missing the big picture--headlines are focused on mass shootings, but they only comprise 2% of gun deaths, 3. gun violence data and records do not exist or are not public, and 4. the NRA operates in secrecy, distributes misinformation, and has increasing political influence.

The Trace is remedying this lack of knowledge and understanding by clarifying the problem. For example, they have created an interactive map with every incidence of gun violence in the US. They also direct attention to the communities most affected by gun violence, which are largely communities that are marginalized in other ways as well. Far more people are killed with handguns than assault-style rifles, while everyday gun violence hits marginalized populations the hardest. Nearly half of gun homicide victims are young black men. American women make up nearly 90 percent of the female gun violence victims recorded by all wealthy nations.


In October we welcome three new Beyond Belief Network teams: Project Shoehorn in Austin, TX, New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA), and Jefferson Humanists in Golden, CO. Welcome! We can’t wait to hear about what you are doing to make a difference in your communities! 


Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation Community Service Committee, in Evanston, IL, collected books in October for Bernie's Book Bank, a resource that provides free new and lightly used books for children who need them in their (suburban Chicago) area. Then the team met at a Bernie’s Book Bank sorting facility in Lake Bluff, IL to sticker books and pack take-home bags for distribution at area schools. Bernie's Book Bank is a previous Humanist Grants beneficiary! Great combo collection and donated time event! (featured photo above)

We’ve already heard from NOSHA who had two collections in October! Every month at their monthly meeting NOSHA community members bring food for the Second Harvest Food Bank at the monthly meetings. In October 61 lbs was collected! In addition to their regular monthly collection, NOSHA collected for UNITY of Greater New Orleans, an organization that houses hundreds of people living with disability and chronic homelessness people. When UNITY spoke at NOSHA’s August monthly meeting they mentioned that they could use cleaning supplies, linens, and toiletries. In October, they collected a car load of supplies for UNITY. Great job NOSHA! 

Secular Humanists of Roanoke partnered up with Habitat for Humanity to help out at one of their construction sites where they are building a new house from the foundation up. This was a great first outing with Habitat for them and they are hoping it will be the first of many. In just 5 hours, they were able to complete their task for the day. Looking forward to hearing how your relationship grows! 

Since its beginning, Camden County Humanists, from Blackwood, NJ, has participated in the Light The Night Walk, a fundraising effort of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Over the years they have raised several thousand dollars in this effort and they continued that effort this year. This year Camden County Humanists raised over $670 and participated in their walk. Also, their current President, Fred Picknally, volunteered his time to Light the Night on the day of the event to help them set up and register people. It was a great team effort all around. Your commitment to the cause is really making a difference!

Central Ohio United Non-Theists (COUNT) and Humanist Community of Central Ohio (HCCO)  in Columbus, OH joined forces again for their monthly Community Shelter Board (CSB) event. This was COUNT and HCCO’s 34th joint shelter event. 

The joined forces with COUNT for the joint Bleed-n-Feed event they hold every other month. After the event, donors have a meal together at a nearby restaurant. COUNT’s second CSB event of the month was a joint event with HCCO. This was their 33rd joint event at the shelter! 

COUNT had two more events in October! They returned to CSB for their 3rd joint shelter event with the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio (IACO). COUNT member volunteered as housewarmers at Columbus Ohio Ronald McDonald House (RMH), which provides housing and meals to families with children being treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and other area hospitals. We’re sure CSB and RMH appreciate your regular and consistent help!

Great work, BBN teams!



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