2 years in the Peace Corps taught her the importance of hands-on volunteer work.
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Peace Corps

Kara Horowitz had always wanted to travel the world and do her part to make a difference. So she applied to be a Peace Corps health volunteer.

She ended up serving in The Gambia, a small country in West Africa. “I didn’t even know the name,” Kara says. “I had never heard of it.”

Image via Peace Corps, used with permission.


When she arrived at her site, Kara was full of ideas and eager to get to work. But she soon realized that the way she could help most — at least at first — was by listening, not doing.

She had a lot to learn about The Gambia and what issues were important to the people there.

“You can try to start working on [projects] right away, but nothing is going to happen because you are placed in a community that has lived there their whole lives, so it’s really about getting to know them at first,” she explains.

During her service, Kara paired with a local nurse, Lamin Jammeh, who worked in the village and surrounding areas. Her job that first year was straightforward: Get to know the locals and help Lamin do his work promoting health education, increasing child nutrition, and running monthly clinics.

Image by Beth Eanelli via Kara Horowitz, used with permission.

“The most difficult thing is adjusting to the pacing of life, adjusting your expectations to what you could get accomplished. You actually accomplish a lot more, but not in the way you thought you would,” Kara says. “So it’s difficult at the beginning to be like, why are people not at the meeting, why are they not talking to me about anything, why don’t things move as fast?”

It was through this slow process of getting to know the community that the ideas for Kara's first few projects actually emerged.

Image by Kara Horowitz/Peace Corps, used with permission.

She started by forming a health group of 30 villagers to use Peace Corps’ materials and train others on healthy living.

It was successful, but teaching in the village’s compounds was difficult without something to keep people engaged. So Kara started creating a book full of illustrations that could be used in their health trainings.

Image by Kara Horowitz/Peace Corps, used with permission.

She originally had the idea for the book during her first few weeks of Peace Corps training, but at the time, she thought of it more as a helpful manual for new volunteers. It took working within the community every day for her to see that a health book would be useful to both volunteers and locals.

An illustrated health book could be a simple learning tool for members of the community — especially those who couldn't read — and they could also use it to teach others.

This was no small task. Peace Corps volunteers train on many different health topics, and the book needed to include all of it. Kara turned to her fellow volunteers to help gather material and draw images.

Kara and Lamin were able to fund the creation of the book through a Peace Corps grant they had been writing, but the project was long and slow. It took about four months to gather all the materials and images Kara needed to put the 60-page book together and then print 100 copies at the local printer. It was finally completed about five months before the end of her two-year service.

Image by Kara Horowitz/Peace Corps, used with permission.

The book was a success and helped with a number of health education efforts.

It was a useful teaching tool and covered all 30 health topics that Peace Corps volunteers teach in The Gambia, from sanitation and hygiene training to maternal health and water safety. Each topic included eight to 10 important facts or messages, the relevant vocabulary in the local languages, and an illustration.

All of the Peace Corps volunteers working on a variety of projects in the area got a copy, as did everyone in Kara's village health group. Lamin also took a number of copies to the surrounding villages and communities.

“[The villagers] don’t have a lot of books, so just having that visual aid ... just having that small picture engaged them,” Kara explains. “People were more interested because they could look at a picture.”

Image by Kara Horowitz/Peace Corps, used with permission.

Hands-on volunteer work like Peace Corps service is an incredibly powerful way to make a difference. It allows volunteers to work out solutions from the ground up, just like Kara did. Volunteers live and work directly with their community, learning what’s needed so they can help develop the most useful projects. If you're interested, learn more about applying to the Peace Corps.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."