In a brilliant move, Penn Museum hires refugees as guides to exhibits from their homelands

Imagine walking through a museum exhibit from the Middle East with a personal guide from that region explaining the artifacts. Imagine having the same experience as you move through galleries from different parts of the world, each time with a docent from that region who lends a personal touch by sharing first-hand perspectives.


That's the basis of Penn Museum's Global Guides program, which hires docents (the people who explain exhibits and show people around the galleries) from the regions being showcased. It's a brilliantly simple concept—a museum staff that is culturally representative of the artifacts it houses—but one that has not often been implemented. That may be one reason the program has taken off with great success.

Another reason may be because the docents the museum has hired come from the refugee and immigrant community—a win-win situation for both the people serving and the people being served.

According to NPR, Ellen Owens, director of learning and public engagement at Philadelphia's Penn Museum, noted that most of the museum's docents were aging. They were also mostly white. Owens thought that creating a more diverse group of docent might help the museum connect with more communities.

The museum is known for its collections from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America—regions that make up a large part of the global refugee community. So Owen and her colleague, Kevin Schott, decided to reach out to non-profit organizations serving refugees and immigrants to recruit new docents.

The Global Guides are trained in archaeology and ancient history and are able to share some of their personal stories with the people they guide through the exhibits. That personal touch makes all the difference.

"We really wanted to have the narratives of lots of different people, to bring the authentic voices of people that live in other places into the galleries of the museum," Owens told NPR.

For example, Clay Katongo fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo 33 years ago and now serves as a pastor in a West Philadelphia evangelical church. As a new Global Guide, he enjoys sharing African religious artifacts predating Christianity with museum-goers.

"I love this place," Katongo told NPR. "This is my culture. This is my story."

The Global Guides is truly a mutually beneficial program. "One of the big goals of this project was actually to provide jobs for people that are immigrants and refugees," Owens told NPR. Guides work part-time and are paid about $20 an hour. The Barra Foundation grant that funds them also helps them navigate employment details, such as filling out tax forms and going through HR procedures.

The museum, in turn, not only gets first-hand accounts from the areas of the world it's showcasing, but the new docents have also proved invaluable in helping to translate documents and helping with on-the-ground research.

Attendance at the museum has skyrocketed since the Global Guides program was implemented, with a third of visitors coming specifically because of it. Other museums around the world have begun implementing similar programs as well.

Well done, Penn Museum. Thank you for leading the way.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Here at Upworthy, we cherish our loved ones and although Valentine's is not all about gifts, if you are looking to buy a special gift for a special someone, then you came to the right place! We have curated a list of our personal favorites from our store, Upworthy Market, where you can feel good about your shopping because every dollar you spend directly supports local artisans who craft their own products. In this gift guide, you'll find all products have special thought, hand-made with love and they are all under $30 to help you stay within a budget.

1. Heart-Shaped Sterling Silver Stud Earrings

Crafted of sterling silver with a high-polish finish, two simple hearts adorn the ears with beauty. Wadarat Supasirisuk presents this pair of stud earrings, crafted by local artisans from Thailand.

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2. Romantic Wood Sculpture

Voluptuous curves circle and meld in a fervent kiss that forms a single heart. In this elegant abstract sculpture, the harmony between lovers is manifest as their figures curl together in utter bliss. This exquisite statuette from Made Wirata is a celebration of couples.

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3. Blue-Green Calcite and Brass Double Stand Beaded Bracelet

This double strand bracelet features cylindrical blue-green beads accented with brass. Handcrafted by Tiraphan Hasub of Thailand, this bracelet is a lovely pop of color accessory.

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4. Silver Heart Pendant Necklace

A length of elegant black cord is centered by a pendant of silver by Karen hill tribe silversmiths, crafted in the shape of a heart with a small hole in it. Thai artisan Srimuang designs and crafts this striking necklace.

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5. Green and Black Onyx Hand-braided Shambhala-style Bracelet

Rituu honors Buddhist meditation practices with the design of this Shambhala-style bracelet. Meaning 'bliss' in Sanskrit, the Shambhala-style bracelet symbolizes tranquility, peace and happiness – the oneness of all. Rituu expertly knots the cotton bracelet by hand with macramé techniques and crowns it with black and enhanced onyx, believed to protect against negativity.

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6. Sterling Silver Dreamcatcher Earrings

Two circular dream catchers are crafted of sterling silver, with elegant wire work and feathers with a combination finish hanging just below. Featuring petite blue stones of resin within their webs, these dangle earrings from Thailand are presented by Pichaya.

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7. Sterling Silver and Turquoise Cocktail Ring

A single stone of blue composite turquoise rests atop this cocktail ring, presented by India's Aparna. The stone is surrounded by rope and swirl motifs on a sterling silver band for a look that attunes its wearer with the wisdom of the universe.

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8. Artisan Crafted Sterling Silver Heart Anklet

Crafted by hand, this anklet features a single heart charm with brushed satin textures. Jantana in Thailand works in sterling silver to handcraft a design for the modern romantic.

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9. Handcrafted Sterling Silver Love Stud Earrings

Handcrafted from sterling silver, these delightful stud earrings are designed by artisan Lalana of Thailand. Each earring is fashioned into the word 'love' for a modern and charming design.

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10. Heart Motif Sterling Silver Link Bracelet

Crafted of sterling silver, petite heart-shaped links circle the wrist with lots of love. Working with local artisans, Thailand's Aoy presents this dainty bracelet.

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11. Men's Howlite and Leather Pendant Necklace

Oceanic charm defines this men's pendant necklace from Thai artisan Chaloemphon. The pendant is crafted from rich blue leather and howlite, suspended from an adjustable cord of faux suede. Beads of raintree wood complement the design.

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12. Brushed Silver Heart Earrings

Crafted by hand of sterling silver, these delightful button earrings depict a heart. Jantana depicts the heart as both an individual stud as well as a cutout motif within a circle that evokes the moon.

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13. Artisan Crafted Woven Black Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and gunmetal grey woven through the midnight-black textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

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14. Sterling Silver Heart Elephant Earrings

Elephants are caught within hearts shaped by their own trunks in the modern design of these earrings. Resplendent with a brushed satin finish, these sterling silver earrings are crafted by Jantana in Thailand.

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This article originally appeared on 11.30.16


Chris Porsz was tired of studying sociology.

As a university student in the 1970s, he found the talk of economics and statistics completely mind-numbing. So instead, he says, he roamed the streets of his hometown of Peterborough, England, with a camera in hand, snapping pictures of the people he met and listening to their stories. To him, it was a far better way to understand the world.

All photos by Chris Porsz/REX/Shutterstock.

He always looked for the most eccentric people he could find, anyone who stood out from the crowd. Sometimes he'd snap a single picture of that person and walk away. Other times he'd have lengthy conversations with these strangers.

But eventually, life moved on and so did he. He fell out of love with photography. "Those pictures collected dust for 25 years," he says.

Then, a few years ago, Porsz found those 30- to 40-year-old photos and sent them to be printed in his local newspaper.

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