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Empowering Nations: Group seeks to help the world

PROVO — Never mind that the task is huge.

A group of young Provo residents who call themselves Empowering Nations is determined to do what they can to make positive changes in the world.

They've already made a difference in a number of Third World areas.

They built a fishing boat in Thailand and started a women's jewelry-making co-op.

In Ghana, they've taught English to the natives.

In each of a dozen countries they've visited, they've provided American dollars to the economy. The pro-active, volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is committed to empowering the poor through education and relief and to promoting and facilitating involvement in the fight against poverty throughout the world.

Started in 2002 with Brigham Young University professor Warner Woodworth's guidance and five college students, Empowering Nations involves people who volunteer not only their time but their own financial resources to help others.

In 2005, the group helped victims of the tsunami. Before that, they started a number of projects in Somalia and Brazil.

Empowering Nations' volunteers have built schools and homes, provided micro-credit training, taught disease-prevention methods, bolstered literacy and provided disaster relief.

Today they are working in Africa, South America and Asia.

Adam Vandermyde and his wife just returned from helping villagers in Kenya run a micro-bank and loan operation. Adam Vandermyde taught the bank managers to keep track of their loans and project their earnings. Michelle Vandermyde helped teach at the school.

"It's certainly made a huge impact on me (to be part of Empowering Nations). Going over there absolutely opened our eyes." said Adam Vandermyde. "I dealt in the money side and she in the education side, two of the biggest needs in Africa."

Vandermyde said the villagers were in awe of his abilities, which included tracking profits on a spread sheet.

"They'd come up to me and say, 'This is magic!"'he said.

Empowering Nations can use more volunteers and donations, said Sarah CarMichael Parson, executive director of the group. Currently, more than one billion people live in extreme poverty, unable to meet their basic needs for survival.

The problem is large, but so is the potential for change, said Parson. "The more money we have, the more we can do."

The group runs strictly on volunteer help, so there's no overhead. All donations go directly to the need. In the countries volunteers go to, they either stay with host families or in whatever housing they can find, such as a hotel in Thailand damaged by the tsunami.

Parson said volunteers need medical insurance and a sincere interest in helping others.

Since volunteers pay their own way, it helps to have an adventurous and optimistic spirit.

"We've found, if you really have the desire to go, you can find the money," said Parson. "I have a lot. I can help."

Upcoming missions include working on small-business education in Peru, setting up an agricultural school in Paraguay and teaching business/survival skills in remote areas of Africa.

Parson is hoping when students hear about the group they'll contact them and sign up for summer missions.

"We need volunteers with skills. We need money. We want to change lives. That's a big thing for us. Your entire life will be changed through this experience. We're trying to get people involved in the fight against poverty," she said.

A core belief permeating Empowering Nations is that handouts to the poor cannot solve the underlying problem. Teaching and empowering people to help themselves is key. Empowering Nations firmly believes that one person can, in fact, make a difference.

"There is a cure for poverty. There is hope," said Vandermyde.

If you want to get involved