Alyssa Kohler and the power of a promise

 Alyssa with her South African fans

Alyssa with her South African fans

 Alyssa distributing some snacks in Nomathamsanqa

Alyssa distributing some snacks in Nomathamsanqa

Alyssa Kohler made a promise in June of 2017: one that would ultimately have a profound impact on thousands of South Africans. Promises, though, are easy to make but far more difficult to fulfill, unless you're Alyssa; then, we learned, it is just a matter of time.

While traveling with a UP volunteer group in Nomathamsanqa, South Africa, Alyssa, alongside local medical personnel, traveled door-to-door in an underserved neighborhood to conduct baseline health examinations, do screenings, counsel, and gather data about residents' health challenges. The participants were grateful and open-hearted as UP became familiar with the breadth of the issues: from diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and TB to dehydration and lack of healthy food.

Alyssa, who plans on a future in medicine, understood that a two-week volunteer trip does not make for permanent change, so when the volunteers discussed a way to maintain the momentum inspired by the healthcare initiative, Alyssa was all over it. The vision was to create a pamphlet that contained vital information about health, such as the importance of check-ups and medicine compliance, what constitutes a healthy diet, disease prevention, symptoms, and treatment, the ramifications of drug and alcohol abuse, personal safety, and stress management. The pamphlet would also contain emergency numbers.

Great idea. Easier said than done. Unless you're Alyssa.

In the midst of a demanding senior year in high school, Alyssa pecked away at this massive project. She did research, consulted, designed, and revised. Once a first full draft was born, UP sent it off to South African medical personnel for their invaluable feedback, which was readily incorporated.

UP then secured the services of Siyabulela Rabie, UP's first university graduate. Siya was born and raised in Nomathamsanqa and received his honors degree in Social Work at Nelson Mandela University. He agreed to translate the document from English to Xhosa so that UP, in the spirit of education for all, could make the pamphlet available to every single citizen in Nomathamsanqa via schools and clinics. Overnight, the impact spread from one small neighborhood to an entire community. THAT is sustainability.  

That meant, though, that we had some serious money to raise to fund the printing, but Alyssa knew that. Already, she had brought in $450 via her school's National Honor Society and organized another fundraiser to secure more donations. Alyssa will get it done. We are not worried.

We at Universal Promise believe that a promise has energy and inspires hope, but only if it is fulfilled. We value those who understand that as well as those who do not stop until the promise has been realized. Thank you, Alyssa, for being such as person. No worries about sustainability. You did it...



Yes, we're doing it right! Education. Education. Education.

Thank you for allowing Mayibuye to share in this special project. Words can’t explain the impact that it will have in our communities. I’m humbled to be part of these historic changes that Universal Promise is bringing to our people. Thank you.
— Charlie Josephs

Today is always one of the best days of the year: the day we deliver literally thousands of school supplies to talented and determined students in Nomathamsanqa.

Mr. Charlie Josephs, Executive Director of Mayibuye Ndlovu Development Trust (MNDT), the local South African organization with which Universal Promise partners, oversaw today the distribution of supplies to our 54 Uphuhliso scholars. Uphuhliso, which recognizes South African learners for their academic and behavioral successes and then supports them with all the school supplies they will need throughout the year, remains the only program of its kind in this entire region.

Our home- and school-based approach has been validated in recent TED talks and in documentaries that examine and critique the workings of nonprofit organizations around the world. The UP emphasis on education underscores our belief that school-based giving encourages independence, confidence, and a just, civil, and hopeful society. It is hard to argue with the unparalleled benefits of education. 

Representing Universal Promise and overseeing the distribution this year, Mr. Josephs wrote, "What a pleasant way of starting the new year by “giving” to the needy and to see the joy and appreciation on the children's faces, THANKS TO UP. It was nice seeing the familiar faces and to meet the new learners. The learners were at the school by 10:00, and the Tanda Bantu Stores delivery arrived at 11:15. Principal Vuyani Sampies and School Coordinator Nokuzola Somya welcomed the learners, and MNDT representatives Zitobele Sesman (trustee) and Mariska Toring (administrative clerk) also shared in the exciting occasion of the handover."

UP loved seeing the word "giving" in quotation marks. A handout? No. Empowerment? Yes.

Mr. Josephs continued, "Before the handover Zitobele Sesman addressed them and reminded them that they should show their appreciation and work hard this year. The principal also encouraged them to work from the first day and that they should speak to the teachers or principal if they need any assistance.

"The current learners were very happy and are excited to progress to the next grade. Thank you for allowing Mayibuye to share in this special project. Words can’t explain the impact that it will have in our communities. I’m humbled to be part of this historic changes that Universal Promise is bringing to our people. Thank you."

If you're interested in joining all the UP sponsors in this movement of intellectual and economic freedom, please contact us for more information. Education for all, and no stopping until that is a reality.

UP's school- and home-based models validated in TED Talk


We have made unprecedented progress this year (including the completion of a long-held goal of funding, building, and furnishing an academic centre to serve nearly 1,000 students), all of which was fueled by our donors' record-breaking generosity. We are humbled by their compassion and well aware that we could not accomplish anything without the UP family’s broad, loyal support. 

Our donors know UP enhances each gift's power by taking a strategic approach to reach as many learners as possible. We build programs that respect cultural norms, ensure sustainability, and guarantee that our impact will endure much longer than any individual. Such an emphasis allows our reach to multiply as students attend university, start businesses, and lead communities. Our education-based programs ignite widespread, systemic change through education for all.

UP knows, however, that, to do that, families must be involved. As such, we support only school- and home-based interventions, rather than "orphanages, safe homes, or children's centers." 

Our approach was recently underscored by Tara Winkler, co-founder and managing director of the Cambodian Children's Trust. Winkler "helps vulnerable children escape poverty and be cared for within their families." In a TED Talk entitled, "Why we need to end the era of orphanages," the episode notes read, "Could it be wrong to help children in need by starting an orphanage? In this eye-opening talk about the bad consequences of good intentions, Tara Winkler speaks out against the spread of orphanages in developing countries, caused in part by foreign donors, and details the harm done to children when they are separated from their families and left to grow up in institutions."

Every day, UP sees the ripple effect of investing in students in their own homes. Anelisa, for instance, who is part of our Uphuhliso Program, earned a new school uniform, school shoes, a backpack, writing utensils, notebooks, a protractor, a ruler, a solar calculator, an English dictionary, and a host of other supplies, academic support, and mentoring. With UP’s intervention, she is emboldened to excel in school and draw on the strength of other Uphuhliso scholars at her secondary school.

Because Anelisa remains at home and UP covers her educational expenses, her six siblings are positively affected. Her mother may turn her financial attention to other matters, such as purchasing a dining room table, providing food, buying fuel for heating, and sending the younger ones to creche (aka nursery school) to set the foundation for a strong education. Anelisa's siblings are watching, and they are eager to follow in her Uphuhliso footsteps. Above all, Anelisa is free to do all she does under the watchful eye of her mother, which plays out in much the same way in scores of South African homes: motivated learners moving up the educational ladder while being raised by a mother, a father, a granny, or an auntie, and surrounded by siblings.

And Anelisa is not alone. Anovuyo gathered Uphuhliso neighbors for math lessons during school vacation. Luvuyo took a taxi to get UP tutoring for June exams. Monde inspired numerous family members to apply for our Uphuhliso Program. Sibahle's grades and confidence are improving each quarter. Liyema earned a second chance at entry into Uphuhliso because his mother and sister underscore the importance of education. There is no substitute for family, and South Africans honor that with every breath. UP is proud of its record of respecting South African culture and dreams, and we are grateful to our sponsors for validating our approach through their generosity.

It's All Good, for sure!

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As we look back on 2017 and the realization of our dream of funding and building the brand new Universal Promise Academic Centre in Addo, South Africa, we are grateful to every person who contributed to this effort. We had donations that ranged from $1 to $25,000, and many of the gifts came from those who have given year after year to support our mission of education for all.

It's All Good Resale of Brunswick, Maine, its consignors, and its customers epitomize that loyal, ongoing giving spirit. The It's All Good owners, employees, and patrons gave to Universal Promise repeatedly by contributing to our online fundraising challenges, purchasing handcrafted flowers for our water initiative, donating consignment earnings, participating in a fashion show with IAG styles, and much more. We are grateful to everyone associated with It's All Good for not only embracing the model of recycle, reuse, and repurpose on a local scale, but also for giving on an international scale: smashing through borders to bring opportunity to thousands of children. Thank you on behalf of all those we serve in South Africa. It really is all good.

High school volunteer Hollis Vohr honors term life-changing

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In June 2017, rising senior Hollis Vohr volunteered with Universal Promise in South Africa. As part of the medical team, Hollis worked alongside local medical professionals and engaged in door-to-door health assessment and education. Throughout the experience, Hollis exhibited a profound degree of empathy and a desire to continue to give long after her return. 

Hollis realized that desire by marrying her interest in sustainability with her passion for animals. A budding veterinarian, Hollis started to make dog collars to sell, with a full 100% of the profits to return to Universal Promise. The collar proceeds will be directed toward finishing the construction of the Universal Promise Academic Centre at Vusumzi School in South Africa.

Hollis spent hours and hours of her time and money to handcraft these beautiful collars. Will you please consider purchasing one for your canine pal? Yes, you could probably purchase a dog collar less expensively elsewhere, but you would not be educating nearly 1,000 children at the same time.

The price for these one-of-a-kind collars includes shipping, handling, and a donation to Universal Promise.

Here's to Hollis for extending her volunteerism well beyond the borders of South Africa! That is the definition of life-changing, for sure.

Collars SMALL (13")
Collars MEDIUM (15.5")
Collars LARGE (20")

UP Director named Top 10 groundbreaker



Newport Life Magazine recently recognized Universal Promise founder and director, Martha T. Cummings, a Top 10 Groundbreaker for her community leadership. Cummings and nine other recipients, whose interests include the arts, medicine, and race relations, were recognized in Newport earlier this year. 

About the honor, Cummings said, "I'm grateful this award will bring further attention to Universal Promise and those we serve. If this inspires others to come to the philanthropic table, then the recognition will do as it is meant to do: spread awareness and action, not merely in the United States but anywhere need exists."

Universal Promise is grateful for Charlie Josephs and our South African partnership


The Mayibuye Ndlovu Development Trust (MNDT), the organization with which Universal Promise partnered when we arrived in South Africa, is back in full force! After Roland Carolus, the long-admired director of the MNDT stepped down a few years ago, the trust took some time to select another leader, but, boy, oh, boy, was it worth the wait! New Director Charlie Josephs (left with high school students) is a treasure. He has, with great purpose and calm, led by example, proposed bold and broad ideas for the Sundays River Valley, and reignited our partnership.

What do we value most? His vision, demeanor, willingness to call out and uproot the status quo, and follow-through! When we reached out to Charlie to assist us with fitting our Uphuhliso students (some pictured left and below) with new school blazers, he took care of the details in the blink of an eye. Charlie and MNDT arranged and funded the student transport, accompanied them to the store 45 minutes away, helped the learners get fitted, took photographs, treated them for lunch, and - along the way - underscored the importance of education. What a day!

As always, we are grateful for our relationship with MNDT, Mr. Josephs, and our steadfast friend, Joseph Fletcher, MNDT executive. Alone we go fast, but together we go far. We see that truth in Charlie Josephs and the newly-branded MNDT.

Maine resident offers women the tools to financial freedom


Little did Linda Kristan (left) know when she walked into It's All Good, an upscale resale shop in Brunswick, Maine, that she would soon be leading a sewing workshop to direct South African women to financial freedom.

How did that happen? In the shop that day, Linda was wearing a dress that sparked an idea in shop owner Cindy Neprash, longtime supporter of Universal Promise. Why not have the dress be the next project on UP Ilizwe Empowerment's list of conquerable skills?

Before you knew it, Linda was on the move. She hauled her sewing machine, thread, tools, and expertise to Cindy's home, and UP volunteers gathered to learn. Linda built the pattern from scratch and brought the dress to fruition in front of our eyes.

Days later, the women of UP's Ilizwe Empowerment were following that pattern, cutting fabric, and using their cherished sewing machines. Ilizwe women felt the great joy that comes from creating "something out of nothing" and securing a brighter financial future.

When the complex neck pattern surpassed all our skills, who came to the rescue again? Linda! Back in the USA, Linda carried out the finishing touches, donating more of her time to make the dresses shop-ready!

What does life-changing mean? It means that one's life (one's minutes, one's thoughts, one's sacrifices) changes to effect sustainable change for others. If you need an example of that, think Linda Kristan.

If you need an example of a cool dress, think UP! They are $45 each, and all profits are reinvested in Ilizwe Empowerment and its talented crafters. Contact us today!

MDF Instruments partners with Universal Promise again!

Two hours old! Arrived at the hospital just in time!.

This past March, Universal Promise traveled to South Africa - with medically-trained volunteers - for its second health initiative in the country's Eastern Cape. In a small neighborhood in Addo, we conducted basic physicals and testing, as well as educational seminars in the privacy of residents' homes. The door-to-door approach sheds light on the personal struggles that compound a patient's medical issues and brings a tone of respect and dignity that may be compromised in an overcrowded clinic atmosphere. 

Our medical staff, and the local medical staff with whom they partner, witness the full spectrum of conditions, from one young man lying on a dirt floor in 100-degree weather with a respiratory rate of 60 breaths/minute and a heart rate of 150 beats/minute to a 38-year-old pregnant woman who nearly gave birth (see left) in her home because of a woefully delayed ambulance that took over three hours to arrive. 

The challenges the residents face are extreme: life-threatening medical conditions, malnutrition, a lack of clean water (or any water), long waits in local clinics, no transport to keep them compliant with their treatment, and more. In the midst of these conditions are rays of hope: the proposal of sustainable programs, for instance, on which Universal Promise is working, such as mobile clinics and visiting nurse organizations. 

Another ray of hope is the involvement of MDF Instruments.

For two years running, MDF Instruments has answered our plea by donating stethoscopes, blood pressure devices and cuffs, diagnostic pen lights, reflex hammers, and moral support. They have connected on a genuine level with our efforts and with those we serve. MDF Instruments is an organization that donates and follows up, illustrative of compassion and caring that is as important as the materials they generously provide.

So, we thank you, MDF Instruments, for your philanthropy of the wallet and the heart. We love companies with a soul, and we are grateful to you for entrusting us with your mission.