The amazing Mimi Torres, and Okavango Community Aid


One of my biggest motivations, in my travels and human connections, has always been to meet amazing people doing wonderful work in the world.

As I had hoped, my year of travels around the US and Canada introduced me to a wealth of these folks, and I’m so grateful for that. I have always intended to profile certain people here on the blog, and highlight some of their great work. An important part of my own life’s mission is to amplify others’ good work, and to help to connect people with each other, building a sort of network around the globe.

One of the most amazing people I met during that year of travel was Mimi Torres. I had been looking for people to stay with in the East Bay, and I was introduced to Mimi, in Berkeley, by our mutual friend Dave Wheitner (an amazing person in his own right). Mimi not only hosted me for a couple of nights, but then continued to introduce me to many more wonderful people—in Berkeley and around the US—whom I also met up with and/or stayed with as I traveled.

Mimi—a fellow vegan and avid cyclist—loves to travel, and recently she traveled to Botswana for a vegan safari, during which she saw many amazing and beautiful animals and plant life. While on the safari, she got to know the tour guide, Eddie Monnaaphuthego, and now the two of them are collaborating on a wonderful nonprofit to help rural people in Botswana to gain access to solar electricity and clean drinking water.

I sent Mimi some interview questions to learn more about their venture and share it with you. Please enjoy reading about Okavango Community Aid:

Q: In a few words, can you describe the nonprofit?

Mimi: Okavango Communtiy Aid (OCA) works to connect very rural Batswana (the people to Botswana) to light and clean water through solar.

What is your background in solar energy and nonprofit work?

I’ve worked with nonprofits for pretty much all my adult life. For four and a half years I worked at GRID Alternatives Bay Area in fundraising and communications. GRID Alternatives is the nation’s largest solar installation nonprofit, working exclusively with economic and environmental justice communities. In the US, GRID operates across California, Colorado, the Maryland/Virginia/DC area, and on Tribal lands. GRID also has an international program that works in Nicaragua, Nepal, and Mexico.

How did Okavango Community Aid begin?

I met Eddie Monnaaphuthego while on vacation in Botswana.

Eddie shared with me that he was installing solar for very remote villagers on his own time and money when he had leave from his job in the safari industry. Over the course of a few days I went from “let me connect you to someone” (thinking of GRID International) to “let me crowdfund for you” to “let me help you be legit.” An expert CPA on my trip (shout out to World Vegan Travel—I can’t recommend them highly enough and the amazing experiences they curate) insisted that Eddie’s work needed to be official in both the US and Botswana before fundraising began. As I went to text Eddie to encourage him to register his work as a nonprofit, he shared with me that he had just submitted his paperwork for the same.

It was after this that Eddie asked me to be his co-founder. I feel so lucky that my combination of skills and experiences positioned me to really bring Eddie’s dream of doing only his charity work to life. To that end, Eddie is currently in the same village in the Okavango Delta that he grew up in, handing out solar powered lights to the extremely needy and working with a team of contractors to install a solar powered water well that will serve about half of the community. More funds are needed to dig a second well for the community and to pay Eddie’s salary. Once we raise another $25,000 Eddie can quit his day job and continue his work with Okavango Community Aid full time.

Who else is involved in OCA?

Right now the Batswana players are Eddie, contractors from Natural Bid Pty Ltd, the elders and chiefs in the village we are serving, and a government social worker. For the water well installation there is also a team of volunteers. After we have the funds to hire Eddie full time, we’d like to hire additional staff in Botswana such as an office manager, accountant, and right-hand person or persons to work with Eddie in the villages.

In the US, a number of people are or have been involved helping with logo and branding, marketing/language, website (under development) and more. I feel incredibly lucky that a former co-worker from GRID decided to join me in this venture. We are now OCA co-workers and will apply for grants and corporate funding together.

Do you have specific numeric goals in mind? For example, a target number of people you would like to help, or a target number of solar systems to install?

Our intentional focus area is Botswana’s Okavango Delta where Eddie estimates about 10,000 very remote individuals can use our help and services. He describes the villagers in the Delta as poor to the point that if you gave them a dollar they would think they were rich. There is no economy or economic opportunity in the villages. 

Eddie was lucky and was taken out of the village to the city by an aunt when he was 14. This is what allowed him to receive more education and eventually to begin work in the safari industry. 

The initial focus of our efforts in the Delta are the very needy. There are many elderly individuals that have been left behind by their families who went to the towns and cities for work. Some of these elderly people are also living with disabilities, such as the inability to walk or blindness. For some of these people there is a feeling of waiting to die. 

The homes in the villages are traditional and made out of reeds and grasses. They often lack doors. Without light their homes are transparent at night. With light they are safe from lions and other animals entering their homes while they sleep. Across many villages there is a need for water wells. Without wells, villagers end up drinking from the same watering holes as the elephants, which is unsanitary and can lead to disease.

Eddie’s vision is that once we have served all of the villagers scattered across the Okavango Delta region, we can move on to other areas of Botswana and eventually to neighboring country Namibia.

Botswana is one of the richest countries in Africa, but unfortunately the wealth and government assistance is concentrated in the towns and cities. We are working to change that.

How can people help your efforts?

Folks can help by making a donation to Okavango Community Aid, and/or by spreading the word to folks who may be interested in donating. This can be done by sharing our donation link or by setting up a peer-to-peer fundraiser. (For the latter, on our fundraising page, scroll down to the “I Want To Fundraise For This” button, set up an account, and create your fundraising page. I love chatting peer-to-peer fundraising strategy, and welcome interested folks to email me at Beyond creating a page, there are so many ways to draw eyes and dollars to your campaign. I’m here to help whether you want someone to review your personalized copy [share with your donors why it’s important to YOU that they give] or to bounce ideas off of.)

In addition, we may also soon be a Climate Ride beneficiary! 100% of funds raised for their Green Fondo rides go to beneficiary organizations this year and there is also a 100% match this year. If you are a cyclist who wants to ride for Okavango Community Aid you could make a big difference this year. And of course, there are also corporate matching gifts. These have to be made via our fiscal sponsor Fiscal Sponsorship Allies with “Okavango Community Aid” in the memo.

Thanks, Mimi, for your wonderful work! I wish all the best to you and Eddie and OCA and all the villagers who will be helped by your efforts.

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a free, no-strings one-hour phone or video call with me!

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