Melissa “MUSE” Colon is a certified life coach and artist who is also the creator of the popular Pep Talks Workshop. She is a newly minted mother of a month old daughter and in today’s interview she speaks with us about purpose, tribe, entrepreneurship, and the importance of community for women.
There are so many gems in this conversation–you won’t want to miss it. I definitely consider myself both a follower and friend of this very magical women.
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#ICYMI June 20, 2022, marked the 71st anniversary of World Refugee Day, which is the United Nations’ international day of observance for refugees worldwide. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the world is witnessing the highest recorded levels of displacement in history. Over 70 million people have been driven from their home countries due to war, conflict, and persecution, and 30 million are under the age of 18. If given a choice, refugees would almost always choose the familiarity of their culture, the security of their family, and the safety of their homeland.
However, when fleeing is a matter of life and death, they must choose life.
This year’s Refugee Week theme surrounds healing and safety with its motto being: Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety.
“People escaping violence or persecution must be able to cross borders safely. They must not face discrimination at borders or be unfairly denied refugee status or asylum due to their race, religion, gender, or country of origin.”
America essentially is a nation of immigrants and asylum seekers. All of whom, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, faith, family, and the intense desire for a life of democracy and freedom — wound up here. All of which was done with the help of strangers, the kindness of neighbors, and a supportive community. Even those of us whose ancestors were stolen from their native lands and stripped of their free will, all while being subjected to violence, had a strong desire for America’s promise of a better life. That desire is something that not only I benefit from, but culturally we all benefit from as a nation.
My interview with Warda is not a simple refugee story but of a woman finding her voice and place in the world. Both of those things resonate with me, which is why speaking with Warda was so inspirational. She lost her mother early in life and had to live apart from her father and find refuge in the United States while facing discrimination and overcoming the intense feeling of isolation. Something that refugees often experience when they arrive here.
However, no matter what life threw her, she stood boldly determined in the face of rejection and setbacks by keeping her faith, never compromising her identity, and maintaining a positive mindset. For Warda, it was the dreams of her father and the burning desire for education — and the hope of one day becoming a doctor and helping her community that was her mainstay. While this mom of two is still on her journey, the rewards she gained after her many sacrifices in pursuit of her American dream, will bring tears of joy to your eyes.
Before we dive into everything else, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
My name is Warda Abdullahi, and I was born in Saudi Arabia. I have lived in many different places throughout Africa, where I faced many obstacles, such as loss of education, living through a drought, and losing my mother. But after everything, I still succeeded. I live in Minnesota now. I graduated from Saint Catherine University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health while I wrote the book, “Warda.”
Why was it so important to you to be the first member of your family to go to college? What did that represent to you?
It represented change, a look into a better life and ditching our former nomadic pastoral lives. The Somalis have this saying which directly translates to “the last camel’s following the first,” so I wanted to be the first to create a chain reaction of success.
What was your first impression of school in America?
On my first day of high school in America, the school was big, and there were so many students, unlike in South Africa. Schools there are smaller, and there are not many students. I was confused. I had never seen students talk back to their teachers. It was certainly a first for me. Back home, we were taught that teachers are our second parents and should always respect them. Treat them as our parents. I could not stop thinking about how this student was not taking advantage of their opportunities around the world; kids their age pray to have an education every day. However, it has alway have been a dream of mine to have access to the best education in the world and despite everything I have been through, it was a fresh start for me where I could pursue my goals and dreams.
Has your relationship with academia been what you thought it would be? We see you have plans to pursue another degree…
Since I was 6, I have always wanted to become a family medicine doctor or a pediatrician. I will continue to pursue that dream, and any additional skills I may acquire will help toward that.
Your mentor, Mackenzie Wellman, wrote a beautiful afterword for your book. How did you two meet, and how did your relationship with her shape your life?
We met through a mentorship program during my junior year of high school at Ottawa Hills High School. Through the years of mentoring me, Mackenzie Wellmen became a family to me. She often comes down to Minnesota and hangs out with my family. She is the kindest and most caring human I have ever met. I am honored to have Mackenzie as my mentor as a first-generation student; she was a godsend as she guided me through applying to scholarships and different universities.
Obviously your story is one of resilience, but it is also one of hardships and self doubt — what kept you moving forward?
My father was my biggest supporter and motivator. He encouraged me to never give up on my education. He always reminds me of how he didn’t get the chance to go college and how all his hopes and dreams had been taken away.
I grew up in a place where every child’s dream was to have an education but was not available or affordable. Because of this, I made it a point to take advantage of the opportunities around me.
You identify as Somali-American, but you’ve lived all over (rural Ethiopia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Michigan and now Minnesota ). Do you feel connections to all of these cultures? How so?
Yes, I do feel connected to all these countries I have been to. Even though I was born in Saudi Arabia, I was raised in Ethiopia and this is the country that I am most connected to because I grew up and where most of my family is from. South Africa is the country where my journey to education started and I met my father after 10 years.
Can you discuss some of the unique struggles faced by refugees? You’ve mentioned the importance of highlighting the inequities and injustices that determine who moves freely and where they can live.
Some of the inequities and injustices refugees face are no access to food and water, also education. Throughout my life, refugees have been facing inequalities and no opportunities of education and I believe unless we do something about it, it will not change.
What’s next for you?
My future goal is to go to medical school to become a family medicine doctor and to raise my kids.
Even when you feel that you are all alone, you are never truly alone. There are always guides, strangers, teachers, friends, and those you have yet to meet, waiting to help you along your path. If we can give aslyum seekers one thing, let’s give them hope.
Every 20 minutes As for aslyum seekers around the world, the journey to America’s gates remain a lighted path to hope and opportunity. To learn more about how you can help welcome refugees visit Welcome.US or the United Nations Refugee Agency to learn more.
This Earth Month was a great one for me. I finally was able to extend my network and work with people in my community to help implement tools and create processes for change. Typically, I focus on education. But this year, I plan to empower others in their decision-making. This year’s Earth Day theme was “Invest in Our Planet” which called for businesses to implement more sustainable practices. While things like switching to LED light bulbs, adding recyclable paper products to the workspace, and offering remote work are excellent starting points, here are some additional ways companies can still thrive while investing in our planet.
This is a personal mission of mine. Anytime I see piles of paper and large file cabinets anywhere — I itch. Looking at rows of paper is not only unpleasant, but it gives me IRS vibes, and it’s also lifeless. I mean, it’s a bunch of dead trees. You can’t hug them. They give no life. If you don’t believe me, hug your parking ticket. On a serious note, my biggest goal is to go paperless. To assist me in my quest, I’ve begun to rely heavily on digital note-taking apps like Notability and Goodnotes to organize my thoughts and share information. Coupled with a cloud storage system or an external hard drive, it’s much better than paper. Although we do incur a level of e-waste when you use electronics, I’m still for going paperless when you consider space and the labor involved with managing paper.
Make Hybrid Work More Than An Option
More than 35 North American companies and about 20 global companies are testing out a four-day workweek in a pilot program spearheaded by 4 Day Week Global. 4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit community established by New Zealanders Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart to create a better quality of life by urging companies to allow for a shortened week. In doing so, companies can offer their employees a greater work-life balance and address some of the causes leading to the Great Resignation. To me, this is a no-brainer. Fewer employees on-site means there is less need for large office spaces, which means lower costs overall. We live in a digitally advanced society, and the pandemic proved that we can work from our computers.
Some people want to come into their office to work, which should be an option. Owl Labs conducted a study of remote work in September of 2021. They surveyed over 2,000 workers and reported 84% of them reported they would be happier working remotely. The internet allows for extended reach — why be limited to a traditional desk if you don’t have to. Employees burn a lot of time grabbing coffee, chatting by the water cooler, and surfing the internet. It’s doubtful these things will change but will shift while employees work at home. But, companies won’t have to pay the lease on buildings, and commuters don’t have to clog up the roads and pollute the air. It makes fiscal sense to keep overhead low and make remote work and hybrid work permanent options, leaving employees to stay focused on work and manage life’s responsibilities without burnout.
Plant Some Trees In An Underserved Community
Companies can really make a difference by funding tree planting. There seems to be a bit of bureaucracy and over complication when it comes to planting trees, but it doesn’t have to be. Yesterday, I bought a grape tree from Ace Hardware and planted it in my yard. It took all of twenty minutes. In a month or so, hopefully I can pick the grapes and make some jam. As you see, no big deal.
Trees produce negative emissions and help mitigate climate risk. Yes, there is a cost associated and decisions to be made regarding the quality of the trees and the how many to plant. But, if you consider the fact that many low-income neighborhoods lack trees, adequate green spaces, or heavily forested areas that provide residents greater opportunities to interact with the natural world, planting a few trees seems like the right thing to do. At 5 dollars a tree plus site preparation this is a good way for companies to walk their talk. The next major step after planting the trees is caring for them. Companies should focus energy there — thinking for the long haul — and watch their green investments grow.
Here are a few organizations already dedicated to this effort:
Anyone that has written anything for someone else has found themselves circling the intersections of the dreaded deadline meets the complex subject on numerous occasions. I know I have. I like to go deep into topics and have long conversations with my subjects. These introspective pow wow sessions are good for my soul, making new acquaintances, but not necessarily good for managing time. Especially if reporting and researching are big parts of your writing model. I have discovered what works for me when inspiration is not knocking at my door, and I also use it with my kids.
For example, I was trying to help my son, who has challenges with his executive functioning, write an essay for class. He’s an 11-year-old boy, and he’s fidgety. Truthfully, he’d rather watch Sonic the Hedgehog or play video games than write a narrative essay. He is a phenomenal storyteller, but inspiration never really hits him at the keyboard, and that’s ok. I know he will get there. We all do. I’ve found that relaying clear steps and asking him to write descriptive sentences within a time limit work best.
The key here is to set a time limit and stick to it.
If you fail at first, that’s fine. You can add and subtract time here and there. However, for the most part, time needs to work with you. Not against you.
If you agree or have your own tips, drop them in the comments and let me know.
If you logged onto this site a few years back, you will notice that it has gone through several iterations. Initially this website began as a way to bring awareness to pediatric brain tumors and to share how I used art as therapy for my grief journey. I still do. In 2015, my 3-year old daughter named Calais, was diagnosed with a rare tumor called ATRT. At the time she was a perfectly healthy and an extremely active child–cancer was something we never saw coming.
How we got off our path
When I took my highly active 3-year-old to a pediatrician’s visit, they wanted her weight to be slightly higher, and to have more protein because she was only drinking soy milk. I was told to add a protein drink like Pediasure if she isn’t drinking milk to make sure she was getting her protein and nutrients. Big mistake, it’s all sugar, and it’s the beast that fueled my fire for years after.
My upbringing did not prepare me to deal with medicine as a parent. My husband often looked to me, and I didn’t always trust my gut–until it was too late. I can’t say sugar causes cancer, but cancer cells feed off sugar. According to Cancer.gov, roughly 1.9 million people will be diagnosed with Cancer in the United States. Education is something we all can benefit from. When you have a belief in something you need a community to keep you on the straight and narrow and to see you through. It’s important to educate yourself on your bloodline as well as your nutrition. One size doesn’t fit all in this area.
Although Calais was technically my second child and 17 months younger than her older brother, I often felt like I was still new and inexperienced as a mom. Especially living in Washington, DC, with a California mindset. As progressive as the city was supposed to be, I often felt talked down to as a Black mother. I shouldn’t have to defend myself or my parenting or be interrogated about things that have nothing to do with the situation. These factors made it hard to parent in general, coupled with the crippling and irrational sense of guilt I felt at being limited in my capacity to help my kids. Surprisingly enough, I lost all of those insecurities during our daughter’s cancer fight. I was empowered and present during her life and death situation. The doctors learned to respect me and often sought after my opinion, which must have been coming from the other side. To give you insight to the situation, I was using medical terminology that was correct. All that is gone now, however, in hindsight I realize I was helping my children more than I understood. My daughter said I was a good mother as her final words.
Going through approximately a decade of challenges made me question alot of things. I always thought to myself, God wouldn’t double down on us, would he? Yes, He would, and it showed me that people deal with even more while having little to no resources.
My biggest regret has been having a level of knowledge that was ahead of its time and not always using it for myself. I was good for imparting it to others and not always able to apply it to myself when challenged by institutionalized mindsets. When you grow up around family members trained in the traditional medical system, you may receive a lot of pushback on ideas, treatments, and remedies that have no “scientific basis.” Today, many unproven folk practices are being recognized and investigated as treatments needed to cure illnesses. This is excellent news. Still, they all need funding in order to bring them to the masses and to allow for proper testing.
Get In Community
For me, a helpful group was Mocha Moms Inc. As a mother of color, you won’t find a better group of nationally organized, locally informed, and compassionate women who value family and children more.
During my daughter’s battle with ATRT, I went into overdrive making remedies and sending research papers to the oncologists to help her. Miracles were happening, and it was amazing. Our cancer journey took us from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, and finally to San Francisco on a quest to discover a life-saving treatment. It was a constant emotional roller-coaster filled with countless heartbreaks and many triumphs. Eventually, she did leave us, but not without showing us a better way to live.
Brighter Days Ahead
When a parent loses a child, it can be hard to recover. I am grateful to God that I did, even though it took a minute. Thankfully, we have been given a second chance with our daughter Monarch. She is the only child I carried full term. I did pregnancy my way and remained primarily stress free. She is my veggie, yoga baby, whom I spent lots of time forest bathing and grounding with while pregnant. I even had her at advanced maternal age–so never stop believing.
Before my daughter’s death, I lived a high-stress life full of people pleasing. That is not the case today. We raise our children differently than we used to. Even as Black children, I want them to be free-thinking, have a close relationship with the environment, and radiate with love. Never underestimate the effects of stress on you, and how it transfers to your children. These things matter. They used to call me a hippie and a flower child. Now, Black hippies are everywhere, and I am committed to a life of sustainability to the best of my ability while educating others as well. Just maybe, you can will be inspired to become more concsious and live a better life, starting today.
Activists in Washington D.C.’s Ward 7 are raising the bar, and awareness, on the city’s ongoing food insecurity issue.
By Chiara Atoyebi
When I was a small child living in Detroit, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house before heading out to her night shift at Henry Ford Hospital. At the time, my grandmother still worked with her hands. She was skilled at decorating, growing vegetables, and cooking up savory meals overflowing with flavor and aromatic spices.
Grandma would have a nightly ritual of frying fish, served on a slice of white bread with a dash of Louisiana hot sauce to all the family. Stevie Wonder or Luther Vandross would blare from the radio speakers as she passed out the silverware. She would smile, content with the look on our happy faces, as she backed her way into the kitchen through wooden beads humming to herself.
I remember gathering around the kitchen table with my aunts and cousins, smiling and eating. My grandmother would give the table a once over before sending someone next door to “borrow” some sugar.
“Tell Peaches’ momma I’ll pay her back.”
She never did, but it was never a problem with the neighbors. There was always sugar and whatever else was needed. When somebody’s food went low, someone in the neighborhood always stepped in. We were all family. The community was our village. It made me feel safe and secure when I was away from my mother.
Yet when the food really ran out, it was gone. All the way gone. During that time the smiles, and the laughter, left with it. Only to be replaced with frustration and agitation.
External factors such as emotional stress, low living wages, poor living conditions, and a lack of access to quality and nutritious food present a persistent barrier to wellness.
According to a 2008 NIH study, emotional stress is a significant factor that contributes to the six leading illnesses that can cause death. Heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide make up most medical complaints.
These issues often go unmitigated, leaving African Americans more than any other group, in various stages of declining health. As a country, we are reckoning with long-standing systemic practices rooted in our foundation that are inherently racist. One of the greatest disparities we face in our nation is within our food system.
Food apartheid, Food Swamps, and Food Deserts are implications of those practices.
In February of 2021, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released a food policy report charting the number of food insecure populations in the District of Columbia before and after the pandemic’s height. Food insecurity is up by 16% from 10.6% pre-COVID. The report outlined funds that will aid in the stabilization of food workers, and support food security, in the coming year.
Hopefully, this much-needed initiative will find a way into the District’s ward 8, which currently has one grocery store per 85,160 residents, vs. DC’s Ward 3, which boasts an egregious 1 grocery store for every 9, 336 residents. Ward 3 is home to the wealthiest and the whitest residents of the district, while Ward 7 is comprised mainly of Black and Brown families.
Mary Blackford is the founder of Market7, a premier marketplace of Black-Owned businesses, and a longtime Ward 7 resident. While visiting Ghana, Blackford witnessed autonomy within its communities and marketplaces. During her visit, she became deeply inspired by those spaces and set out to recreate what she saw upon returning stateside.
“We have a serious food apartheid issue,” says Blackford in an interview with Washingtonian Magazine.
“Food desert kind of sounds like it’s a natural occurrence. Food apartheid speaks to this really intentional act of discriminatory practices and even laws against communities of color, specifically Black communities.”
Regaining autonomy through community-based practices is deeply rooted in African American and African Diasporic traditions. Not only is the installation of Black-owned businesses in the community an integral part of restoring the village, but a return to the soil is as well.
The District’s nonprofit “Dreaming Out Loud” is the organization behind The Farm at Kelly Miller in ward 7. According to their website, “Dreaming Out Loud” aims to use the food system as a powerful tool of resistance, resilience, and advocacy for structural change.
In their 2021 Food Policy report, DC Food Policy outlined three strategies toward a path for creating a more secure food system. A large part of this initiative is to invest in community markets like Market 7. They promote grants for farmers of color and educate people on the link between nutrition and wellness.
Back in Detroit, my family worked with the land. Even though it was small, and in our backyard, it was ours. The women of my family were peaceful as they pulled tomatoes off the vine in the backyard. They cut cucumbers and snapped peas too. Whatever was leftover they would often share. Admittedly, I took those small aspects of community for granted, thinking they would always be there. Yet over time, they faded away.
I’m still hopeful, and I always have been. I still believe in the village mentality and extended family communing together through food. When we were like this, we had fewer hungry people. In the mid-eighties, I’d already left my family behind in Detroit. My mother joined the military, and we were off to Kansas, then Berlin, and–we never looked back. By that time, I was watching the rise of hip-hop from overseas and the fall of the Berlin Wall on our home front.
Never would I forget the times around the table with my family. The laughter as well as the heartache. Nor did I forget the losses that occurred when we stopped working with our hands, when we lost the men of our village, and the dignity in our food choices.
Thankfully today’s activists are focused–they will not be moved in the pursuit of equality. Through raised awareness and community effort, the residents of Ward 7 are putting down roots and establishing traditions. A much-needed guiding light on the road to food justice.
For a comprehensive look at food insecurity in the Washington, D.C. are visit: www.anacostia.si.edu and their “Food for the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington”–to learn more.
Today is Wednesday, and as a mom who also works from home with her kids and a toddler learning to potty train—the days often roll into the night. The busyness of life alone is enough to swallow a person up whole. But, I’ve mastered a technique to share so that it doesn’t. Can you relate? This month, I felt it was essential to check in with myself and revisit the informal resolutions I made at the start of the year to see how I’m measuring up. If I’m being honest, I am doing well. Especially after identifying my vices and replacing them with my virtues in order to stay committed to my resolutions. Here is how you can too, even if you have a lot going on.
We’re all familiar with the annual ritual of starting the new year with a fresh set of resolutions. For as long as I can remember, exercise has always been my number one. In January, it’s like a grand opening on the workout front. Swarms of people cramming the elliptical machines, boxing each other out in the weight room, and for positions in the mirror. After about 90 days, folks typically see some results, stop going, the excitement wears down, and we forget the work we put in to get us where we want to be. This year was different. I wanted to create better habits, manage my self-care, and see if an overall improved quality of life would make a difference. I believe it has.
As long as we are intentional with our self-discovery and endeavor to understand our unique pitfalls, we can set our minds in a high place and easily crush every goal we set.
Making resolutions, and vowing to see them through, is a great way to reset and is an opportunity to do so with like-minded people. However, according to a poll conducted by CBS News only 29% of Americans made resolutions going into 2022. This statistic isn’t too much of a shock. Life is unpredictable, and it seems the best way to work it is one day at a time.
The pandemic showed us that what we need is more personal happiness, a greater sense of community, a better work-life balance, and work that is meaningful. When we can aptly identify what those things are for us, like negotiating a higher salary, losing twenty pounds, and spending more time with family. In doing so we develop patience and become more attuned to what comes naturally. (See thegreat resignation).
In order to see progress, it’s time to get focused on what makes you happy and ground yourself in that mission—and the opportunities will follow. Let’s examine a few strategies for success so that you don’t fall off the wagon for the remainder of the year. For me, this is achieved by knowing my vices and replacing them with some virtues.
But first, what exactly is a resolution? I like to be pragmatic with my intentions so it’s best to know exactly what the word means. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resolution as an act of determining. You must ask yourself what have you resolved to do and what are some deterrents? Below are some common ways we keep ourselves from achieving our goals.
What is your why?
A visualization coach may advise you to figure out your WHY?
When I hear that, I quickly jot down things like, “I want to be healthy. I want to run around with my kids. I want to look like a whole snack when I show up at my husband’s office.” I’m also here to tell you that if you repeatedly falter, perhaps your isn’t as strong as you think, and you may need to keep digging. World heavyweight champion Mike Tyson says that “Discipline is doing what you hate to do, but nonetheless doing it like you love it.” Who better to speak to discipline that a prize fighter.
Finding your “why” is a tricky thing, and that is where discipline kicks in. Discipline goes hand in hand with commitment. If you can lay hold to these two things, you will begin to slowly separate yourself from the pack.
By examining your own psychology, you can end some of your self-sabotaging ways. You must be an expert in you.com. By understanding how our seemingly harmless vices can disrupt our commitments, we can slowly incorporate more virtuous behaviors and bring your life into balance.
Here is a list of virtues and vices:
If your April isn’t going quite as planned; no worries, it’s never too late to hop
back into the saddle. Now that you understand the vices vs. virtues model for commitment, I hope you feel encouraged in your discipline. I would love to hear what you have going on in the comments.
Things are looking up for mothers and babies in the fight to reduce chronic discrimination in healthcare, specifically in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Today the March of Dimes released its enhanced implicit bias training to address disparities in healthcare. The newly configured “Awareness to Action: Dismantling Bias in Maternal and Infant Healthcare™” available virtually as a 1.5-hour e-learning module or as a 3-4 hour in-person class. This module is released just in time for Black Maternal Health Week, which is recognized every year from April 11-17.
According to the March of Dimes, “the U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for women to give birth.” The latest 2021 March of Dimes Report Card shows Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women and their babies, consistently have worse health outcomes than their white peers. Additionally, there are a few intersecting factors that contribute to these outcomes, such aas a variation in quality healthcare, structural racism, and implicit bias, to name a few. The good news is that these issues are being mitigated by raising more awareness and implementing equitable systems. The key to making substantive long lasting changes are rooted in policy, institutions, and by working in tandem with the communities they serve.
What exactly is implicit bias? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines implicit bias as a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized. We all have them, and they are typically created by our culture, rooted in our upbringing, and informed by the larger society. The danger is when healthcare professionals, knowingly or unknowingly,are affected by them and treat patients from a place of prejudice. Studies show that the outcomes of implicit bias can prove deadly. Ironically, these biases traverse across all races, gender, and socioeconomic status, while administering the harshest blow to women of color, which signifies a necessary and much-needed change at the structural level.
The “Awareness to Action: Dismantling Bias in Maternal and Infant Healthcare™ aims to define implicit bias, describe structural racism, apply strategies, and commit to a culture of equity.
I am among many African American women who have felt unheard, dismissed, and not taken seriously when relaying concerns to my physician during my pregnancy, and I had outstanding health insurance. Yet, I believe that not being heard attributed to my symptoms of depression during my first pregnancy and extended my postpartum symptoms long after.
Thankfully, advocates like Black Mamas Matter Alliance are working hard to deepen the conservation around Black maternal health and work towards parity in treatment for women of color. Pregnancy is a time of excitement, and Black women can be made to feel as if motherhood is a burden. Disparities in healthcare stops now, and it will take all of us becoming more informed and knowing how to take action.
For information on how you can get involved, get help, or raise awareness, you can visit: