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Thursday, December 25, 2008

A very special Christmas wish from Afghanistan

Christmas Day became even more meaningful today with the arrival of special Christmas wishes from the people of Jeloucha, a remote village in Northern Afghanistan.

The real spirit of the season shines through in their words of greeting and appreciation. Quite amazing actually, especially when you consider that the people of Jeloucha are in the midst of a severe food shortage just as winter arrives. Multiple crop failures have left families without food for the winter.

Greetings from Esmat, Qasim, and Asmat, Afghanis working with HOPE International Development Agency, and Habibullah, the Chief of Jeloucha, are a reminder of the real meaning behind giving, especially during the Christmas season.

Esmat, our Afghanistan Coordinator, sends along a very special “thank you” to HOPE donors who responded to our recent call for emergency assistance for people in Jeloucha who had run out of food. Esmat says that many more Afghani families are in urgent need of help as winter sets in. In fact, people are coming to his home and our small office almost every day in search of food. Hunger has already set in as evidenced by stories of entire families sharing a single piece of bread for their supper meal.

Prolonged drought has caused massive crop failures and without help, families will be separated this winter as fathers and sons leave their villages in search of whatever work they can find, wherever they can find it – a difficult and potentially dangerous choice in this region.

As Esmat has told us, many more families need our help this winter or they will surely starve as their meager food supply runs out. A special “end of year gift” of $50 will provide food supplies that will ensure that families stay together and survive until they can plant new crops in the spring.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas: when giving is celebrated

Merry Christmas to all those who seek to learn about, advocate for, and invest into the lives of the poor!

At this time of year, it’s typical to lament our level of consumer spending. But rather than attack the instinct to be generous, why not just redirect the impulse somewhat?

Our giving at Christmas is inspired by love, but oftentimes our purchases just do not do that love justice. Check out this amazing comparison of consumer spending versus the cost to end specific facets of global poverty.

Recently, the local New Westminster paper, The Royal City Record, spoke to HOPE International Development Agency's Executive Director, David S. McKenzie, about the gifts people can give to the poor at Christmas as an alternative or a supplement to the material gifts we lavish on family and friends.

Generosity should be celebrated, not critiqued. The fact that we have enough to give presents that bring pleasure to our loved ones and people around the world who are suffering is nothing to complain about!

Thank you, once again, to all who have chosen to give to the poor this Christmas and throughout this year. This is the time of year when your generosity truly shines.

Learn more about gifts that transform lives.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Swaziland: AIDS creates 70,000 orphans and countless heroines

Of all Sub-saharan African nations, Swaziland is being gutted by HIV/AIDS, with one in four Swazi adults currently infected. With this epidemic of AIDS has come an epidemic of orphans. 70,000 children have seen their parents die.

It is mind-boggling. Where do 70,000 children go to sleep, eat, be cared for? We don’t contemplate the logistics of such a tragedy clearly, much less the emotional fall-out, but there are nevertheless extraordinarily difficult basic, everyday matters to attend to in the wake of this death toll. But Swazi survivors, in particular the women, are coping with these issues with a dignity, courage, and practicality that is rarely reported in our discussions of the epidemic.

A few years ago, HOPE International Development Agency discovered a phenomenon in Swaziland that needed to be championed. Female care-givers were starting up their own centers for orphans in several villages in the Malkerns Valley. Called ‘Neighbourhood Care Points’, and cobbled together out of whatever materials were available in the village, these centers became a place for orphans to be fed, educated, and loved. The care-givers donated their time, working in shifts. Each woman contributed what she felt she best could, whether that was cooking a meal for fifty children, teaching a class, or giving affection and attention to traumatized boys and girls.

As with every initiative HOPE takes on, all of the human resources were there before any financing arrived on the scene. But critical material support was needed. We began to construct good, solid, appropriate buildings in place of the rickety shelters passing as Neighbourhood Care Points. The caregivers received the wherewithal to expand, grow vegetable gardens, teach organized classes with the proper equipment, and provide regular, wholesome meals for children under proper shelter.

The pictures (shown above) are of a group of caregivers and a classroom in Esibuyeni village, just one example of several HOPE Neighbourhood Care Points established in partnership with Swazi women. HOPE has plans to do construct more of these as donations come in from our donors. It is extremely important to support the real heroines in this crisis, which is not just a crisis for Swazi people, or Africans in general, but all people. Where there is real courage, we must not let it become discouragement.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

South Sudan: the work is underway

Those who've seen the film Long Road Home, made by HOPE International Development Agency’s volunteer film crew in late 2007, know that HOPE is helping Sudan’s refugee families to put back the broken pieces of the communities they’d once abandoned in wartime.

There are three expressions of basic need in Southern Sudan: enough to eat and drink, a way to be educated, and the means to become, and stay, physically healthy. To this end, HOPE is providing clean water, the means for sustainable agriculture, and well-equipped schools and clinics.

As with every other country where HOPE is at work, the people are there, the people are ready, the people will do their very best, but the ‘stuff’ is missing. Building materials, technology to find and access clean water sources, medicines for qualified and compassionate doctors: just ‘stuff’, really, but what can they do without it?

In the photo, Reverend Simon Peter Modi prepares to coordinate the distribution of essential medical supplies donated to HOPE. He received the shipment this past week. It is part of a dream coming true for Sudanese families who are returning home after years of the severest deprivation and displacement.

The picture might be unimpressive: it’s just a bunch of boxes, only a rusted container. But it’s this ‘stuff’ that will allow Sudanese people to slowly rebuild their nation. To people like Simon, this stuff means a lot more happiness for a lot more mothers, fathers, and children.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Myanmar Update: rebuilding and healing

Half a year later, Cyclone Nargis survivors in Myanmar are working hard to recover home, health, and occupation. The face of recovery has many different expressions. HOPE International Development Agency is at work with the people on initiatives ranging from road reconstruction to memorial services to honour the dead. The photo shown above was taken at one such service.

Two themes, physical work and communal healing, continue to permeate this rebuilding effort. A HOPE worker describing the clean-up process has said:

An organizing process takes place so that volunteers are matched up with community members from a set of villages near one another. These joint teams select leadership from among the community members and then they work together to clean up not only their own village, but those of their nearby neighbors, as well. In this way, we are trying to use the cyclone as an opportunity to help people reach across former boundaries to create a new sense of community and sharing where the old community and community relationships may no longer exist. HOPE has provided basic cleanup equipment and supplies to each of these teams, along with feeding all the team members during the cleanup process. HOPE has also helped to define the organizing and operating principles that the teams use and has provided counsel to local partners regarding the inevitable trauma experiences that this cleanup process will evoke. Our local partners have managed to gain the support of 1,431 volunteers and community members in these cleanup teams! As one foreign aid worker recently said, work on the Nargis aftermath reminds us of an anthill – thousands of local people are swarming to repair damage in many small and some not-so-small places and ways. The story of this disaster response and of its successes thus far includes actors from both inside and outside the country. But the heroes continue to be the local people who, time and time again, rally to overcome the insurmountable.

Survivors are working hard to put together the broken pieces of their material world, but the task of healing Myanmarese society is always pressing. Many are taking up this task with real heroism.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Emergency in Northern Afghanistan

Efforts to help Afghanistan’s poorest families survive the winter are underway. As previously reported in Perspective, the coming winter is promising to be a brutal one for people living in the Northeast, where droughts during the growing season have already compromised the food supply of these farming communities.

As always, HOPE International Development Agency seeks to bridge the gap from emergency to survival and from chronic neediness to sustainable self-sufficiency. So even as short-term aid in the form of food rations is distributed to Afghani families, we are working with the people to create reliable supplies of food and income.

A Seed Bank in a village establishes a system for increasing the amount of available seed in a community. Members contribute seed, draw upon the fund when they need to, and pay it back with modest ‘interest’. An Animal Bank grants people the incredible food and labour resource that is a cow or an ox.

Both systems are being established alongside HOPE’s distribution of emergency aid. This help, both short and long-term in nature, could not come at a better time.

Grandmother Qahar, shown in the photo above, is smiling - despite the fact that she has just demonstrated that her family of six has only 4 kilograms of flour left to eat. She has just been told that not only will they be helped through the winter, but they will also receive an ox and enough seed from the Seed Bank for next year’s harvest. She knows that her family’s odds have been phenomenally improved.

We know many, many families like the Qahars who are sick, despondent, and frankly, terrified. We are asking our readers to help us reach as many families as possible. Remember, it is not just about the crisis today – it is about their chances tomorrow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ethiopia: The miraculous is simple

Often, a short conversation with a person who has benefited from gaining access to clean water is enough to bring the purpose of HOPE International Development Agency’s clean water programme into sharp relief.

On a recent visit to Dereshe district, in Ethiopia’s hardscrabble south, a woman named Kitodeh told a HOPE staff member her story...

I am 43 years old. I have 8 children, four boys, four girls.

During the rainy season, I used to get water from the river, but in the dry season, I had to dig in the stream to find any. It took me two hours to walk there, and two hours back. The water was too dirty, but I had no other choice. Animals and people bathe there.

Now, I only have to walk a few meters to collect water from our water point. It’s like a miracle to have water next door. It is also very good quality—I can shower, drink, wash and give my cattle water and none of us get sick.

I used to have one 20 litre jug to fill and we had to use it very sparingly or we would run out. Now we can use five 20 litre jugs.

HOPE staff taught us how to use the system and if we have problems, people in the village know how to repair them.

Asayno, in a neighbouring village, had this to share...

I am 44. I had 14 children, but 6 of them died.

The water we used to collect was so dirty. We tried to put rocks around it to protect it from the mud but it didn’t work. There would always be a long line-up, and never enough to go around. We were always sick and we never knew why.

Now the water is 1 minute away. And Praise the Lord: it is of good quality and we are all healthy again.

Clean water is so simple that it seems almost negligible when you consider all of the glamorously complex solutions to suffering that are proposed. Yet few investments so modest (HOPE’s average cost to provide a person with clean water for life is $60) yield dividends like this:

  • Four to six hours per day of extra time not spent walking or waiting in line.
  • Enough water to bathe as well as escape dehydration.
  • A productive, well-watered vegetable garden.
  • An 80% drop in sicknesses among your family members.
  • Most importantly: children who live to become adults.

Kitodeh is right. It’s a miracle.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Democratic Republic of Congo: going backward or moving forward?

In north-western Democratic Republic of Congo, where HOPE International Development Agency is at work with severely poor families, the effects of the eastern region’s latest dip into armed conflict have not been felt too acutely. This is no reason to celebrate. While our work is undisturbed, the DRC’s latest humanitarian crisis is a serious discouragement for those us of who have been keeping our fingers crossed since the country’s historic (and undisputed) democratic elections in 2006.

Why the instability? Why the violence? For those of us living in peace and plenty, the situation is absolutely mystifying. Without attempting to deliver a hackneyed history lesson, the DRC is a classic example of a chronic problem: a track-record of poor governance and ethnic violence coupled with an abundance of natural resources. The horrid poverty of the majority exacerbates any kind of tendency towards conflict. People in great need (who see that others fare much better) often resort to violence.

What can be done? HOPE’s answer is simple: more, not less. More opportunities for the poor to become self-reliant, not less. More anti-poverty work, not less. More help for Congolese families, not less. The only way to secure peace for the future is to relieve the present realities of the poor.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Inviting the poor to join our exclusive club

An astonishing 3 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, live on a mere $2.50 a day. With relatively few exceptions, most citizens of countries within the developed world do not find themselves among the segment of humanity trying to survive on the financial equivalent of a daily cup of coffee and a muffin.

The other half of the world - the one we’re accustomed to - live like members of an exclusive club and enjoy a lifestyle and array of opportunities far beyond the reach of non members – namely, the poor.

One could argue that there are two fundamental reasons that form the foundation upon which our exclusive club exists. Firstly and simply put, we live where we live. Secondly, and largely because of where we live, we have access to an unprecedented array of opportunities. In fact, the currency of our enormous wealth is opportunity. With few exceptions, even a member of our club with modest means can put few excuses forward in support of not doing relatively well within the context of all that our club offers.

These two fundamental reasons also form the basis by which more than 3 billion of our brothers and sisters, one billion of whom entered the 21st Century unable to read a book or sign their own name, find themselves excluded from our exclusive club. The currency of their lives is a profound lack of opportunity.

The poor of our world are willing and able to join our club. In fact, they would make exemplary members. The question we must answer is simple… are we willing to extend a compassionate hand and invite them to join us. Not out of a response to some form of guilt that if relieved, assuages our conscience, but rather, out of a sense that everyone has a right to be a member of our club.

The troubling news in all this is that our club is exclusive because we choose to make it so. The incredibly good news is that we have the ability to change it if we want.

Let’s change!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Someone needs to keep counting

By the end of today, poverty will claim the lives of 30,000 children. What is so troubling to me - beyond the fact that the vast majority of these deaths are completely preventable - is that few of us seem to notice or even know that so much humanity finds itself on the receiving end of poverty's final outcome – death.

Some would argue that comparisons of how many people die here versus there, wherever here and there may be, are neither relevant nor productive.

I would argue, however, that decisions are made every day, in every way, and everywhere, that determine the value of the most fragile among us – the children of our world. In fact, the evidence of these decisions is clear and present given that one child in the developing world will die every three seconds.

Recently, a HOPE International Development Agency volunteer and friend recalled a personal experience that illustrates the harsh reality of a child's life in the developing world.

Our volunteer was working alongside a Cambodian girl in Toul Krous, Cambodia, where villagers and volunteers were building an addition to the small school that serves the community.

As they were working, the young Cambodian girl suddenly stopped what she was doing and began shouting at a young boy carrying a small basket of earth toward the school's new foundation. At the time, our volunteer did not know what was happening but never the less, she was concerned. Later that day, she found out that the young boy was the brother of the young girl she had befriended and he was terribly sick, racked with fever and covered in open sores and blisters. Despite his suffering, he simply wanted to help.

It turns out though that the young girl had good reason to be concerned about her brother – she had lost so many siblings to disease and malnutrition she had actually lost count of how many had died.

Imagine being a young child and living in circumstances so desperate that you simply lose count of how many of your siblings, let alone friends, have died.

Imagine wanting to help, like the young boy, despite the terrible pain, suffering and very real possibility that you would lose your life as a result.

Are we, despite our health and wealth, desperate to help people who, without our help, are most certainly destined for endless suffering and, as is the case of far too many children in the developing world, death? If not, what reason would support such inaction?

Could it be that our material wealth is rivaled only by our moral impoverishment? Yes, someone needs to keep count and it needs to be you and I because if we forget, we are destined to lose what matters most – our humanity.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Freedom of speech is meaningless for those without the freedom to hear

Freedom of speech is among the most venerated freedoms we enjoy in the West. Rarely, however, do we speak about the importance of the freedom to hear.

For example, 30,000 of the world’s poorest children will die today. Their parents, through no fault of their own, most likely did not have the opportunity to hear that the diseases claiming their children were, in nearly every case, completely preventable. Few among the 80% of the world’s population that live on less than $10 a day will be able to avail themselves of the benefits directly derived from the freedom to hear that their life could be dramatically different.

Poverty, conflict, intolerance and oppression create a deafening silence among the world’s poorest peoples.

How, for example, does a family returning home after decades of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo hear that life can be different for them? How do orphan children, roaming the back alleys of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hear that there is tangible hope for them, despite their terrible loss?

You and I know that we are speaking words and dispensing knowledge that can literally save lives, but what if the people who need to hear our words are unable to hear them? Are we willing to work at removing the barriers – inequity, poverty, conflict, intolerance, and oppression, to name just a few – that make it impossible for people to hear the life-saving words we are saying?

The next time you think about our freedom of speech, take a moment to think about the freedom to hear. The next time you place a value on the freedom of speech, why not use the degree to which people are free to hear as the real measure of the value and effectiveness of our freedom to speak.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Surviving the peace proves as difficult as surviving war for families in southern Sudan

Peace persists in southern Sudan and so do we in our efforts to help families rebuild their lives after two decades of conflict that claimed the lives of 1.5 million Sudanese people and left nearly 4 million homeless.

People like Joseph Kubya and his family are one of the 4 million reasons we are doing everything we can to help families that are returning to their home villages in southern Sudan.

Joseph and his family spent the last 10 years hiding deep in the jungle in a desperate bid to survive. Contact with soldiers or militia groups had to be avoided at all cost as it always had deadly consequences.

Surviving the peace is proving very difficult for families like Joseph’s. The journey from the jungle to their former villages is arduous and marked with great uncertainty as families fear what they will find when they return home. Sadly, their worst fears are realized as they arrive in their home village and find it in a state of utter ruin.

HOPE International Development Agency is taking a comprehensive approach to helping these desperate families restore their lives and return home.

We are drilling wells that provide abundant supplies of clean water, significantly reducing the rates of diseases like cholera and dysentery.

Our health care and disease prevention efforts are dramatically improving the health of returning families and schooling for the children is rescuing the minds of an entire generation that have never had the opportunity to get an education.

Peace has replaced war and now, through the support of HOPE International Development Agency donors, hope will replace despair as families are able to rebuild their lives.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Drought and reduced harvests put families in Northern Afghanistan at risk this winter

Preparations are being made to send emergency relief supplies to families we're working with in Northern Afghanistan.

It’s not been an easy year for the Afghani communities we’re partnering with. The recent drought reduced crop harvests and the coming winter is looking to be rough.

HOPE International Development Agency is helping Afghani families by providing food and other necessities in order to bridge the gap between the poor harvest and the end of a long winter. Meanwhile, work continues to make these communities self-sufficient year-round, so that future winters can be weathered better.

If these families are not helped, then many of the men will need to leave their families in search of temporary work in Pakistan. We don’t want families to be broken up in this manner. So the need for relief is immediate, but the vision for self-sufficiency is ongoing and uncompromising. Please keep these families in your minds & hearts.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How do you define risk?

Risk, uncertainty, fear - these words are popping up everywhere right now. In the media, in our political debates, in our public and private spheres, people are expressing serious fears about the future.

While the economic meltdown in the United States is nothing to celebrate, it could provide an opportunity for Westerners to grow in compassion.

We might, for example, wake up in the morning and say, ‘What will happen if my investments don’t recover?’ We could dwell on this fear, choose to forget everybody, ignore everything and just hunker down until times are better. Or, we could follow this thought with, ‘If losing this money makes me this afraid, then what is it like to lose the ability to feed myself and my kids?’

At best, a typical family in Bangladesh might have $5 a day to spend, $3 of which would go towards food. But if food prices rise just 50%, they would lose $1.50 out of their total budget and have just $0.50 left for everything else.

That is risk, uncertainty and fear. That is profound and terrifying loss.

As bad as it gets for the middle-class of the world, we can’t forget that there are opportunities to provide security, hope, and courage to the world’s ‘bottom billion’. If we are demanding the kind of changes that will make our economic system more sustainable and reliable, then shouldn’t we also seek the changes that will do the same for families in countries like Bangladesh?

Such changes exist. Investigate the simple ones you can personally manage to support, and don’t let fear trump compassion.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Women play a key role in eradicating poverty

Recently, British actress Emma Thompson wrote an article for the BBC about the role that women play in making progress in the global fight against poverty. It’s an interesting read, with some salient points.

For example, did you know that women produce 80% of the food in poor countries? So shouldn't agricultural training and tools be targeted towards the female farmers that are growing the food for literally billions of family tables?

It has long been HOPE International Development Agency's experience that going out of our way to recruit women for anti-poverty work produces positive changes in families and communities at an accelerated rate. Indeed, leaving women out of the process makes no sense at all.

Read more about HOPE International Development Agency's efforts to help and equip women living in some of the poorest communities on earth.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Afghanistan: A Cost-Benefit Analysis with a Human Face

While the Canadian government continues to grapple with the financial and human cost of our military (and nominally reconstructive) commitment in Afghanistan, we are happy to note that HOPE International Development Agency’s investment into northern Afghani communities is making clear returns.

Regardless of whether one supports the NATO mission, bemoans it, or supports it while bemoaning it, few will suggest that the Afghani people are not worthy of assistance. But the question for the demonstrably compassionate Canadian public is always going to be: does our assistance work?

Humble though it may be when compared to the $100 million the Canadian government is spending on ‘development and reconstruction’ (and that number itself is humble compared to the yearly average of $1.3 billion expended on the military effort), HOPE International Development Agency's assistance is working for Aghanis.

We have clear goals that are connected the expressed desires of local people. The money is donated by discerning supporters who understand the projects. Our Afghani staff members are trusted friends. It’s easier to pull this sort of thing off when you’re working at the ‘grassroots’ level, as opposed to the incredibly ambitious scale of Canada’s current mission. But it’s still satisfying to see modest investments pay off rather richly. And we, unlike our beleaguered government, have a much easier time linking our efforts to the hope and happiness of our Afghani partners.

Here is a message from Gul Buhar, a young woman in a village where we are about to construct a secondary school when the funds become available through donations.

“During the war in Afghanistan my family moved to Pakistan and after the Taliban . We returned to our village which was completely destroyed and we had to rebuild our shelter again. I had chance to attend a school to 6 grades. I completed 6th grade last year and there is no school for higher grades. The school which has grades up to 12 is located 16 kilometers from our village and it is impossible for me to walk so long distance rough roads. Beside it girls are facing many limitations by community and families. So my best dream is having a school in my village.”

When the school is built, we’ll know what it means for Gul and other young men and women in the village. And we will have no trouble saying that money was well spent.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike hits the Dominican Republic

Our friends in the Dominican Republic have let us know that Hurricane Ike has hit their communities particularly badly.

While there has been no loss of life, many of the mountain villages in which HOPE International Development Agency-partnered families live have been cut off from the rest of the world. Roads that have been built painstakingly on minimal funds have been washed out. Many families who had still been waiting to receive the materials to build sturdier, hurricane-resistant homes are now out in the open. Crops for food and income were damaged extensively.

Fortunately, damage to our rehabilitation work undertaken following last years’ Hurricane Noel has been minimal.

As with any disaster, the challenge is to build back better. It may seem like Central Americans are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to their climate. But to forget the role we can play in helping them to adapt to this challenge as well as to stand a better chance of coming through future storms in better condition (for example, by investing into higher-quality infrastructure or terraced hillsides that resist erosion) we fall prey to the classic temptation of the first-world onlooker. That is, to throw up our hands in despair and say, “A tragedy! I guess there’s nothing that can be done. You can’t control the weather.”

Well...when it rains, you can take an umbrella outside. And when Dominicans experience frequent hurricane conditions, they can work on building back their communities better — to be more weather-resistant and better able to spring back from their losses. And they will, if we continue to invest into them.

To see a few pictures of the damage wreaked in Ocoa province, where we are working, check out this blog that a friend in San Jose de Ocoa passed along to us.

We’ll be in touch with our Dominican people to find out how we can help. As we know more, we’ll share more.

Monday, September 8, 2008

What have we done to hope?

Of all the sound bites emanating from candidates in the 2008 US presidential election race, one in particular, "the audacity of hope", warrants further consideration.

Set aside the eloquence of the phrase and you're left with a very troubling question. How is it that we've arrived at a place where it's considered audacious to have hope?

Hope is humanity's birthright. In essence, hope is the inalienable right. Yet somehow it's become acceptable to say, for example, that the poor are audacious simply because they choose to be hopeful amidst their circumstances.

The fact that the phrase, "the audacity of hope", resonates deeply with so many of us is a reflection of a growing intellectual, emotional and spiritual poverty. No person, especially the poor, should have to be audacious in thought or action just to reclaim something that was theirs all along – hope.

Despite their circumstances, the poor are able to find hope in ways you or I can't even imagine, in a setting where we could never survive. The poor should not be characterized as audacious simply for having hope. To do so, is evidence of our poverty, not theirs.

What has become of us when the eloquence of a phrase serves to further obfuscate the truth of something so fundamental to our existence? What have we done to hope?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cow Banks: credit at work for the poorest of the poor

Ever since Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 the concept of ‘microfinance’ has become increasingly familiar, if not entirely understood.

It’s not complicated: microfinance means lending the people shunned by banks for being too poor enough money to become self-reliant (by starting a business, for example). The poor can then pay back the loan with a small amount of interest (say, 3%, rather than the extortionist rates that a private money-lender will charge) and the cycle continues with other borrowers. It has become a powerful tool against poverty in HOPE International Development Agency communities. It’s a simple, smart, and sustainable way to help the poorest of the poor to stand on their own.

However, there are families that can’t benefit from this kind of credit because they’re just not comfortable dealing with cash. One day they might become confident enough in their own management skills to take a cash loan, but in the meantime, there is still a very effective way for extremely impoverished people to benefit from credit. In countries like Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, HOPE International Development Agency ‘Cow Banks’ are bridging the gap for these families.

The concept of animal banks is quite straightforward. HOPE International Development Agency provides a poor rural family with a pregnant female cow or buffalo, and the family is responsible for taking care of it until it gives birth. Once the baby is born and fully weaned, it remains with the family, while its mother is passed on to a different family with whom the process is repeated.

In the long-term, animal banks significantly raise incomes for rural families. Specifically, cows provide labour, manure, milk, and tremendously improved farm productivity. In an age when the poor are finding it more difficult to afford basic food staples, thriving family garden plots can mean the difference between good health and serious malnutrition.

Like in our traditional microfinance schemes, Cow Banks grow exponentially, without additional cost. It’s a truly sustainable means for fighting poverty— and it’s being embraced by families that would otherwise be left behind.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bringing clean water to 48 villages in the Philippines

HOPE International Development Agency is collaborating with local village people in Mindanao, southern Philippines, to provide permanent supplies of disease-free drinking water.

Within just a few years, 48 villages will have community-managed water systems providing a permanent supply of clean drinking water. To date, 10 villages have completed their systems and 10,000 of the nation’s poorest of the poor now have clean water for life.

Many people have the vague sense that the Philippines is one of those ‘better-off’ poor countries, which is not an entirely false perception. Filipinos are industrious and creative, and they have gained some ground against poverty. But the modest wealth of the Philippines is shared profoundly unequally.

Mindanao is a place where Indigenous Peoples’ groups try to eke out a life despite great neglect, little to no services, social instability, and massive intergenerational poverty.

Despite its phenomenal beauty, Mindanao’s environment is degraded, and the natural resources that Indigenous Peoples depend upon are unprotected or underdeveloped. These people cannot live where their forests are being hacked away. They cannot live where the only water that can be found is polluted or only accessible by hiking treacherous mountain paths for hours each day.

Clean water is the beginning of a movement to reclaim health. The health of human bodies, the health of dried-up agricultural lands, the health of nature, and the social health of a people that can begin to pour their energy into building self-reliant villages.

That’s why the completion of a water system is an emotional event in HOPE’s partner villages. The arrival of clean water is welcomed with tears, dancing, and thanksgiving celebrations. It’s not just a nice accessory, a simple convenience—it’s the beginning of a transformation.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

ETHIOPIA: ‘World citizen’ shares HOPE’s concern

We recently received a letter from a very thoughtful person who signed off simply as ‘a concerned world citizen.’

After reflecting upon the truly frustrating situation of extreme hunger in Ethiopia, the author urged us to ‘help the country stand on its own feet once and for all by building dams, roads, schools, and hospitals…otherwise you will be doing the same business forever with no end in sight. It is evident to all that dependency is a chronic illness with no cure.’

Although the author was taking us to task for what he or she presumed was our short-term ‘band-aid’ style of assistance in Ethiopia, this last statement (written as an admonishment) comes very close to distilling HOPE International Development Agency’s philosophy.

We might say it like this: if dependency is a chronic illness, then its cure is interdependency.

HOPE is aiding Ethiopians who are starving because HOPE people live in Ethiopia, and so those who are suffering are, quite literally, our neighbours. Our Ethiopian staff are busy with the work of helping the country to stand on its own feet each and every day.

They have been and will be partnering with their countrymen to build the kind of physical and social infrastructure that healthy and prosperous nations require: clean water, health care, sanitation, and education for all people. When a community builds a clean water system and their disease rates fall by 80%, then they are in a profoundly better position to ‘stand on their own feet.’ And this system is not built over and over again: when it is done, it is done, and the benefits last for generations.

When there is hunger, HOPE will help families to survive the bad times, because they are our friends, neighbours, and partners, and because there can and will be good times. Those good times are worth it. We will help to bridge that gap between utter vulnerability and true resiliency.

We will not leave Ethiopia more crippled, less capable, and increasingly dependent on the mercy of other nations. It’s impossible. HOPE lives in Ethiopia and is itself, Ethiopian. Ethiopians are finding a cure to that chronic illness of dependency, and they are finding it in one another and with you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Langley fundraising event helps ensure HOPE's "90%" remains strong

This past weekend, a wonderful group of people gathered in Langley, British Columbia, to raise tens of thousands of dollars for schools and clean water for families in Pursat, Cambodia. This event was attended by not only hundreds of generous people, but a few former Cirque du Soleil acrobats, as well as a HOPE International Development Agency volunteer team that had just flown back from a work assignment in Pursat.

Significantly, this was a fundraiser organized solely by an unpaid volunteer. Such magnanimous gestures are not unheard-of among HOPE supporters, but they are always incredibly inspiring and encouraging.

As people may or may not know, though HOPE receives a high level of government assistance in recognition of quality programming, the lion’s share of its funding comes from the public. In fact, over 90% of the support for HOPE’s work in the developing world comes from private donations. HOPE’s mission is fuelled by both individual gifts and volunteer-organized fundraising events such as these. This level of support from so-called ‘ordinary’ people is actually quite extraordinary.

It should be seen as a vote of confidence by the North American public in the ability of poor families to substantially improve their lives when given smart and appropriate aid. It certainly is viewed that way by families in Pursat. They are well aware of the hard work and great generosity that people in Langley have demonstrated on their behalf, and it inspires them as much as it does us.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

ETHIOPIA: Severe Acute Malnutrition and a troubling reflection

Ethiopia’s current crisis is a perfect storm of drought, sharply increased market prices for food, and failed crops. Obviously, all of this manifests as a lack of food. But the starkest outcome of all these factors is undoubtedly the child with Severe Acute Malnutrition or SAM.

How is SAM measured? Any child that weighs less than 70% of the median fits into this category. More graphically: a mid-upper-arm circumference of less than 110 millimetres in children between one and five years of age indicates SAM. For comparison’s sake, the inside of a roll of toilet paper measures approximately 145 millimetres.

Reducing a human being to nothing more than an object of pity does not sit well with HOPE people. For this reason, great care is exercised in the way people and communities overseas are depicted in print, picture, and film. We are sharing stories about our partners, not passive vessels of aid. We feel compassion (defined as ‘suffering-with’) for those who are like us, not those for whom we feel no kinship and no recognition. The closer we draw to a person, the more likely we are to see our own reflection.

We don’t want to publicize pictures of people who have become literally less human-looking. But there is a struggle, because we have staff members who are seeing, touching, caring for children who have been robbed of their resemblance to other human beings. If they must see this, why shouldn’t everybody else? Why shouldn’t you?

We are trying to draw people from radically different worlds closer, so that they recognize themselves in one another. When this occurs, compassion takes root. Can you recognize yourself in a child with withered arms, a kwashiorkor stomach, a head made enormous by comparison to her body? It’s difficult. That’s what we ask people to do.

We know that no one in Canada will starve if they give so that children like these will live. Because the idea of starvation is so fantastically remote, we tend to shy away from thinking about the truly hungry.

However, we need people who care to know that our staff are grappling with the severe malnutrition children are experiencing. Whether or not you see a single picture of a single child who is suffering to an unimaginable extent, we know for a fact that they are out there in large numbers. We are caring for them to the best of our ability, but this can only happen if supporters are compassionate and give generously. And the greatest compassion isn’t inspired by pity and fear, but through drawing closer and seeing a clear reflection.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

ETHIOPIA: Surviving today, stronger tomorrow

Our field staff in Ethiopia continue to update us on conditions in drought-afflicted villages where we are planning to provide clean water systems. It’s difficult to hear stories about severe malnutrition of infants, tuberculosis epidemics, and families who are picking up and walking away because they have nothing left to eat. It’s also very difficult to hear the sadness in the voice of somebody seeing the suffering first-hand.

The Ethiopians who work with HOPE International Development Agency are dedicated to providing clean water systems to every person who would otherwise scavenge unclean water, losing hours of every day to the task of finding and carrying it, and losing family members to horrific diseases like cholera. Because of their hard work, a district in Ethiopia that formerly had only 11% clean water access is now approaching full coverage, and rates of many waterborne diseases have dropped by 80%. Our staff bring hope to families by living in tents, on-site, for weeks and months. They do this by consulting with communities, building friendships and trust. They do this by being constantly available to provide high-quality training and support to villagers who must manage and maintain their precious new resource.

These same people are now keeping children alive through emergency food rations, re-hydration kits, and medical care. They are hoping that, by keeping people alive in their villages, they can save them from being refugees, wandering with nowhere to go and no help in sight. Then, when things are a little better, they’ll start the work that will help spare future generations from these horrors. Clean water, community development, and good health are still on the horizon.

Like with every emergency situation, HOPE International Development Agency is helping people make it through this terrible time because we know that the survivors are capable of building back communities that are more resilient. The next time drought comes, we pray that we will have put these villages in a better position to hold on and endure - it’s the hope that justifies all of this hard work and every donation that supporters see fit to give during this time of emergency.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Food crisis deepens in Ethiopia

The food crisis in Ethiopia continues to pose a threat for millions of men, women and children.

HOPE International Development Agency is already sending that are being used to supply therapeutic formulas for babies and children and emergency food rations for adults.

Right now, more than 4.6 million people are facing starvation and recent estimates indicate a growing number of children, more than 126,000, are at risk of dying from starvation.

HOPE International Development Agency is responding to a call for help from the Derashe region of Ethiopia and our field staff promised that we would expand our emergency work right away.

We’ve been working with families in Derashe for more than a decade, developing sources of clean drinking water, providing health education, and vocational training. Today, we need to expand our work and provide emergency supplies.

Failed rains, failed harvests, and dramatic increases in food prices over the past 6 months due to world-wide shortages of staple foods - as much as 150% in some areas - are putting lives at risk.

Your gift to HOPE International Development Agency will provide life-saving therapeutic formula for babies and children, medical attention and emergency food rations for families who will not survive without your help.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The evidence is in...

We continue to receive stories from our Cambodian staff members about the people who inspire them. In fact, these stories should further inspire us all to do more to help the poor.

Making smart investments in the lives of motivated, intelligent, and terribly under-privileged people is a wonderful and meaningful use of our time, energy, and money.

This becomes acutely clear when we look at the evidence that life in HOPE International Development Agency - supported communities presents to us.

Our Cambodian staff member Sophorn, shares this story with us. She did the translation herself as part of her English studies.

"Nhem Sophal is a 55 year old man who lost his hand while he was in the army.

Sophal’s family is poor. Only one of his sons has gone to school, and he had to live in a pagoda near the school because his family’s house was so far away.

Before Sophal's family received a water buffalo from HOPE International Development Agency, they found it very difficult to take care of their rice field and grow vegetables. The family always had to hire someone else’s buffalo or ox and as such, they could only farm 0.5 hectares of land.

Of the 30-40 thung rice crop they would harvest, 20 thungs of rice paddy had to be paid to the owner of the buffalo or ox. Sometimes they could not hire a buffalo because not many people had draft animals and those that did were busy with their own fields. When this happened, the family’s crop was even smaller. They would not have enough rice to eat and had to borrow at 150% interest. They often ate sweet potato or other kinds of potato instead of rice. With an income of only $25 to $50 a month, the family often had to work for other people.

With the water buffalo provided by HOPE International Development Agency, Sophal’s family is now much better off. They can farm a bigger piece of land than before (1 hectare) and can grow more vegetables. They now get 40-80 thungs of rice from their fields, rather than just 30, and grow vegetables throughout the year.

The family also shares their buffalo with their married son. Growing vegetables and farming rice allows Sophal and his family to make more money and have enough food to eat. Today they are happy. Their buffalo is pregnant and she will give birth soon. Their son is almost ready to graduate as a primary school teacher.

In the future, Sophal hopes to have three or four buffalo, wants to buy a water pump to irrigate his fields, and wants to dig a pond so he’ll always have access to water."

It makes us think… if a person like Sophal can do all of this with one draft animal, what are we capable of doing with everything we have available to us?

Have we challenged ourselves enough? Especially when we know for a fact that what we do and what we give can bring this much prosperity. How much more, then, do we want to do and give? How many more people like Sophal and his family are waiting for our answer to that question?

Friday, July 11, 2008

New high school will bring new hope to families in Pursat, Cambodia

Above is a picture of a high school currently being constructed in Pursat Province, Cambodia, by HOPE International Development Agency.

The new school is an incredible addition to the region and it will provide young Cambodians from surrounding villages with the opportunity to further their education.

In the rural areas of Pursat Province, investment in education falls terribly short. A place of learning, built specially for communities and their families, is a marvelous, unexpected gift.

When families begin to rise above the most severe levels of poverty, they send their children to school. But when families are constantly ill, constantly foraging for water to drink and food to eat, their children’s time cannot be spared.

The poorest children are rarely healthy enough to attend school because sickness and malnutrition make them far too weak to make the trek to the school.

When people are too poor, too sick, and too hopeless, a school building is just a lifeless husk. In fact, it would be pointless to build one. But thankfully, in Pursat Province, the families that have clean water, better food crops, and income-generating opportunities – provided through the support of HOPE International Development Agency donors - have progressed to a point where they can make education a priority. This is the “tipping point” for these families, all of whom were once stuck in an intergenerational rut of mere survival. These families now have choices, investments, plans, and dreams. Pursat’s next generation is being born into a different kind of world – a world full of opportunities and hope.

So this photograph, in fact, depicts more than just a building. This new school is about Cambodians who have worked incredibly hard to be in a position to attend it.

But there is something else noteworthy about the new school - its construction is the result of one single individual’s generous gift. A gift inspired by the real progress made by the families of Pursat Province.

Ultimately, this school represents realized dreams: those of Cambodians who are doing more than just surviving, and that of a giver who is doing more than just sympathizing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Field Report: Helping survivors plant the next rice harvest in Myanmar

It is rice planting season here in Myanmar and, two months after cyclone Nargis, many of the more able-bodied survivors are experiencing a sense of urgency to get their rice crops started. If they can plant now, they have much better likelihood of re-establishing their homes and lives, hopefully harvesting rice in 6 months rather than having to wait until December 2009.

One major barrier standing in the way of timely planting is the condition of the fields and villages that survivors are returning to in order to plant. Some survivors have not been back to their villages since the cyclone hit. When villagers do return, they do not have the equipment, the help or the energy to do anything but build crude, temporary shelters.

Fields and waterways are still full of large amounts of debris. In many cases, the carcasses of animals and the bodies of community members are still trapped under fallen buildings or tangled tree roots. Survivors returning to their villages struggle to find the physical and emotional energy required to tackle the clean up process and burials that must take place before the villages are habitable and the fields can be plowed and planted.

In addition to the ongoing work of providing emergency relief supplies, HOPE International Development Agency is helping survivors clean up their villages and rice fields by matching local volunteers with community members from a set of villages near one another. Currently, 1,431 volunteers and community members are involved in the clean up effort.

HOPE International Development Agency is providing basic clean up equipment and supplies to each of these teams and feeds team members during the clean up process. We are also helping people define the organizing and operating principles the teams use and we continue to provide much need counseling regarding the inevitable trauma that the clean up process evokes.

The clean up teams select leadership from among community members and then work together to clean up not only their own village, but those of their nearby neighbors as well. The cyclone clean up is creating a unique opportunity to help people reach across former boundaries to create a new sense of community and sharing where the old community and community relationships may no longer exist.

The continuing story of this disaster response and its successes thus far includes people from both inside and outside the country. But the heroes continue to be the local people who, time and time again, rally to overcome the insurmountable. I’m reminded constantly what a privilege it is to be present here at this time.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Heroes Required in Jeloucha, Afghanistan

Esmat, our director in Afghanistan, is currently visiting with us and we wanted to share one of his most recent achievements with you – the establishment of a medical clinic in Jeloucha, Northern Afghanistan, made possible with the help of HOPE International Development Agency supporters.

Until recently, the ill, injured, and pregnant had to make torturous journeys by foot or donkey over mountain trails to get medical attention. The medicines and advice received at the end of the journey was often inconsistent and expensive. Many people died from a lack of medical attention or as a result of the difficult journey. Many more fell into crippling debt.

Today, Jeloucha’s medical clinic receives over 100 patients every day, many of whom travel great distances (although significantly less than before). This change is an incredible improvement to the health of local families - the clinic is considered the best in the region.

The fact that people here at home and elsewhere cared enough to fund the clinic is wonderful. But money alone cannot bring about such an effective clinic in a remote place like Jeloucha. Heroic human beings need to be present as well. Esmat and his staff are such people. They deal with tremendous obstacles: geographic isolation, a lack of infrastructure, and unwieldy bureaucratic processes. Often, in his quest to make good things happen for his people, Esmat is navigating a system that would cause most of us to give up in despair. Instead, he persists until he prevails.

Recently, Esmat told us about an encounter with a local official who had the power to prevent the clinic’s construction. When good reason and appeals to compassion seemed insufficient, he employed a more powerful form of persuasion. Remembering that people had come to trust him and HOPE International Development Agency over the past few years, Esmat simply told this man: ‘You can say no to me, and that’s fine. But tomorrow, I will bring two hundred others, and you will need to say no to each of them.’

As you already know by now, this official did not say ‘no’ two hundred times.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cyclone Nargis fades from the news but our hope for the people of Myanmar does not

It’s been 7 weeks since cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar, leaving more than 130,000 people dead or missing and as many as 2.4 million people struggling to survive in the aftermath.

HOPE International Development Agency’s field staff were providing emergency assistance within hours of the storm retreating and continue with these efforts today.

With every week that passed, we extended our work beyond the 24 villages we were able to reach in the early days following the disaster.

Our initial efforts focused on providing emergency care packages to survivors, ensuring that they received the medical care, medicine, clean water, food and shelter they so desperately needed. These efforts, made possible by the generosity of our donors, have saved thousands of lives.

Our Myanmar field staff was in a unique position to provide immediate assistance and went into action right away, using emergency supplies purchased locally with funds given by HOPE International Development Agency donors world-wide.

Today, we continue to provide emergency care packages to people in need and have already begun initial recovery efforts focused on helping survivors rebuild their lives and restore their livelihoods. Homes need to be rebuilt and basic necessities need to be provided, including household items such as cooking utensils and tools. Crops need to be replanted and livelihoods need to be restored. If we don’t this, surviving families will slip even deeper into poverty.

Equally importantly, our staff continues to provide emotional support to grieving children, parents and grandparents as they struggle, even these many weeks later, with the terrible loss they have experienced.

Our work in the coming weeks and months is as crucial as our work in the days immediately following the disaster, and we intend to increase our efforts even as the aftermath of cyclone Nargis fades from the public eye.

The people of Myanmar have shown their resilience and we need to show them our resolve by continuing to help them as they work to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Women Inspiring Women in Cambodia

Pursat, where HOPE International Development Agency has worked for nearly twenty years, is consistently ranked as one of Cambodia’s “worst off” provinces. Basic services such as clean water, schools, and sanitation facilities are often absent.

In many of the Pursat villages where we work, rates of poverty approach 70%, and 30% of all families are headed by widows.

Recognizing the key role that women play in sustaining and improving family life in Cambodia, our work is focused on addressing the serious challenges women face every day. Our staff in Cambodia are women, and they all have first-hand experience with poverty and the challenges women face in the country.

Recently, we asked our Cambodian staff to tell us stories about the people who inspire them and make them happy to do the jobs they do. They did the translation themselves as part of their English classes, and here is what Chantorn, one of our staff members, shared with us:

“Horng Nan is a woman who lives in Prey Omal village. She is 39 years old. Her husband’s name is Horng; he is 41 years old. They have five children. Horng Nan is a self-help group member. Before she joined the group, Horng lived in a very small house. Her family grew a few vegetables for eating and did not have enough money to send their children to school. After she joined the self-help group, her life improved.

Her group was formed in January 2006 and has borrowed from a HOPE International Development Agency loan fund two times. Horng first borrowed $50 and bought seeds, then she borrowed $100 to buy more seeds and a bike.

Now she grows more vegetables and she has enough to eat and sell. With her extra income, she has saved to build a better home for her family and her children now go to school. She is happy and in the future she hopes that she will be able to buy a water pump to water her vegetable garden.”

Horng Nan continues to inspire Chantorn, and we are inspired by both!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

‘Nothing’ becomes ‘something’ in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Many people who attended HOPE International Development Agency events last year will remember Mawa, a father featured in ‘Heart of Hope’, our film about families who are rebuilding their lives in post-war Democratic Republic of Congo.

When our volunteer film crew met Mawa in the small Congolese village of Bodigia-Moke, his family and extended family were in a frightening situation. Mawa, in his early twenties, provides for a wife, a mother, an older sister, four children under the age of five, and half a dozen village children and disabled people. (As is the case across Africa and much of the developing world, ‘family’ is a different kind of affair than here in the West).

Sadly, his family’s situation was typical of what so many families were experiencing. The war had forced them to flee their homes and hide in the jungle, lest they be tortured or killed. In 2007, following a peace agreement, they were starting over in a new village and had absolutely nothing. Not enough food to eat. Not enough money to even purchase modest farming tools needed for growing food.

Recently, one of our field workers visited Mawa’s village and told us that in the year since the filming, Mawa’s life has already changed in important ways. His family and hundreds of other families now have clean water to drink as a result of a HOPE International Development Agency spring capping project. Last October, Mawa also received a wheelbarrow, machete, shovels, and money to buy seeds. He immediately cleared a small patch of land and planted peanuts, which he harvested in January. His plan was to sell a portion of this 110kg harvest, use some to replant fields next season, and keep some as food.

Our colleague described the way Mawa stood next to two large bags of peanuts, leaning on the machete and smiling, as he told her about the “big change” in his life. Before, he had nothing, he said, and now he has something; granted, it is not much yet, but it is something.

Mawa also told her about his plans for the future: to start a fish pond in the next few months, to extend his peanut fields, to plant other crops, to buy a few goats, and to build a better house that he can leave as an inheritance for his children. This is the substance of self-reliance—the beginning of an end to chronic, intergenerational poverty. It’s as simple as a step up from nothing into something.

Just as Mawa’s former desperation was typical of families in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so too is his present-day industry and security. Opportunities for a self-sustaining lifestyle are starting to be the norm for the families we work with.

Many of you, through HOPE International Development Agency, have invested in these families, and you should know that they are making good upon your investment.

See Mawa’s story in our film, ‘Heart of Hope’.

Help Congolese families today by giving to HOPE International Development Agency.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Myanmar - the ‘big story’ is not the whole story

The big story in the news, up until recently, has been the extreme difficulty of getting Western aid into Myanmar.

As with many ‘big stories’, this one tended to obscure another story, equally true, and equally as important for people to know about - especially for people who follow the news and crave to know how to really help.

So the other story is this: there were many people who were serving vulnerable people in Myanmar before the cyclone hit. There are westerners, but many are Myanmar-born.

When this horrifying event happened, they were at work right away, doing what needed to be done, before the news reports began to build up in volume and pitch.

HOPE International Development Agency staff members are honored to be among this network of caring, intelligent, effective aid-givers drawn from all sectors of Myanmarese society. For us, there was no period of waiting: the delivery of aid was immediate, and is ongoing.

In the words of a HOPE International Development Agency field worker:

"What you are hearing on the news would have you believe that until the United Nations (UN) agencies get here, there is nothing and can be nothing happening. This is inaccurate. There has been a lot going on, and it isn’t just because of the UN agencies. In any disaster, the UN actually relies on the smaller, non-UN agencies to do a lot of the distribution of supplies.

Whether through orderly distribution of UN supplies or the orderly distribution of supplies like the bags of rice that HOPE purchased on the local markets and then coordinated to be delivered to several areas right away, most aid delivery is done in a responsible fashion, with good coordination and cooperation between international and local agencies and community people. The delivery of rice was greeted with joy, but there was no frenzy."

Emergency rations of rice were being delivered to survivors right away.

We are living in a skeptical age, and for good reason. HOPE International Development Agency asks for your help because it is able to assist people in very great need.

To a certain extent, we fight against the pessimism that the ‘big story’ tends to inspire in people who would otherwise be glad to help.

Remember to be skeptical of what you learn in the news: not because the story it tells is untrue, but simply because it’s not the whole story.

We’re telling you our story, in the hope that you become a part of it by giving confidently.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sri Lanka: after recovery comes rebuilding

As we grapple with the humanitarian crisis in Mynanmar, it is important to reflect upon what HOPE International Development Agency supporters were able to do for survivors of another historic crisis.

On Boxing Day 2004, countries bordering the Indian Ocean experienced the worst natural disaster in history at the time. Upwards of 220,500 people were killed by a series of powerful tsunamis. Sri Lanka, where we have worked for many years, was especially hard-hit: many thousands of families were affected by loss of life, loss of home, and loss of livelihood. After the rush of providing emergency relief, our staff helped communities to rebuild their lives, and in fact, to ‘build back better’ whenever possible. Relief was needed in the moment, but a strategy for climbing out of poverty was just as essential.

Our goal was to help 3,000 of the very poorest families affected by the tsunami to rebuild their homes and restart income-earning ventures through low-interest loans. These families are the poorest of the poor, and most commercial banks will not lend to them. To get ahead, they are at the mercy of loan sharks and other unscrupulous lenders. But through HOPE International Development Agency, they receive very low-interest loans, financial counsel, social support, and everything they need to create sustainable livelihoods.

We were especially concerned with widows like Wasanthi, who was left with three children, Niroshini, Kumara and Damayanthi. She was given a small two room house to replace the one that was washed away in the tsunami. She had worked previously as a vendor in the village market but all of her inventory and all her other resources were washed away. She had nothing to start over with. We provided Wasanthi with household utensils and some basic food items, as well as a loan so that she could purchase supplies to restart her small vending business. Wasanthi, who has since repaid her loan, repackages these condiments, spices and snacks in small quantities and sells them in the local village market. Now, every day Wasanthi goes to the market and manages her small business. With her earnings she is able to restock supplies, keep her small enterprise going, and save a small amount. Her great joy is to now, again, be able to send her children to school.

It is our great joy to know that this year, because of the financial resources that HOPE International Development Agency supporters provided, our goal has been met: 3,000 of the families most devastated by 2004’s tsunami are well on their way to building back better. Our work in Sri Lanka must continue, and the work in Mynamar to heal and rebuild is just beginning, but it is encouraging to know that Sri Lankan families have thrived when your help reached them. Let their success encourage you to make the same recovery possible for Mynamar’s families now.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Myanmar photos tell a story no words can describe

This family tethered themselves together in an effort to survive. In the end, the cyclone proved too strong and they perished just like they had lived - together. Sadly, this tragic scene is repeating itself thousands upon thousands of times across Myanmar.

This is the most common non life-threatening injury among survivors young and old. Painful and scaring, the injury is caused by skin being rubbed raw from hours of clinging to trees and branches in an effort to avoid being swept away by raging floods.

Help families today by sending an emergency care package through HOPE International Development Agency.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hope among the survivors in Myanmar

When we think about the death and destruction, it's enough to overwhelm the senses and the soul.

The magnitude of the continuing crisis is astonishing. Thankfully, our staff and volunteers in Myanmar were spared during the cyclone. But having said that, we feel somewhat uncomfortable with our thankfulness within the context of the enormous and ongoing suffering the survivors continue to experience.

We're always cautious about using numbers to describe a crisis like this but in this case, they are worth repeating simply because they bear witness to the magnitude of the crisis.

Right now, some three weeks after the disaster, there are 2.4 million people in urgent need of help. Estimates put the death toll at a staggering 78,000 people, one-third of whom are children.

Sadly, the death toll will most likely rise - possibly to more than 100,000 - given that there are still 58,000 people missing.

As the weeks pass, we become even more concerned about the surviving children, many of whom lost their parents in the cyclone.

Children are especially vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters like the cyclone, and our people in the field are telling us that an additional 30,000 children could die of soon unless more can be done right away.

Think of it... what could be more heartbreaking than surviving such a catstrophe only to become a victim a few short weeks later.

No better place for hope than in times of crisis!

When people lose hope, we have to help them find a way to hope again. We have to make sure that people can embrace the hope that comes through our actions to help them survive and eventually, rebuild what is left of their lives.

We began helping within 24 hours of the cyclone departing and we'll continue as long as it takes!

With each day that passes, we are able to extend our emergency assistance further into the countryside, moving beyond the 24 villages we are currently working in so that thousands more can get the medical care, medicines, clean water, food and shelter they so desperately need.

Help families today by giving to HOPE International Development Agency.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Devastation is widespread in Myanmar

This is where a family lived and died when they couldn't escape the cyclone.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Field Report: Drinking water a key concern in Myanmar right now

Today my 32-year-old Sears Kenmore sewing machine and I embarked on a rainwater-collector prototype sewing project. We’re trying out different designs that are simple to set up once they get to the field. Yesterday, we had a group of church people, a senior monk, several HOPE International Development Agency staff and some miscellaneous friends of the staff, all crammed into our office area, gathered around a pile of tarp, brainstorming how to design water collection equipment for the situations they are currently aware of in the Delta.

With a prototype in hand, we will quickly get someone else with more appropriate equipment to produce more of these rain collectors.

We had contact with the medical and relief teams this morning. They have been kept in place by a storm for the past 24 hours, but plan to leave today for a group of villages that is directly south, near the coast.

People straggling through the teams’ current location have reported that the situation remains dire for people in those areas to the south, and no help is reaching them yet.

In order to get there, the teams have to go by boat. It has taken awhile for them to find a boat willing to take them down there with their equipment and supplies. They have managed to borrow some lifejackets for team members, so eight people will go out this morning and be down there for a few days, out of contact.

The conditions on the roads and bridges to the Delta are terrible now, with so many heavy vehicles trying to cross and with all the rain. The wait to cross the damaged bridges is many hours and people are getting stuck waiting overnight to cross.

We had vehicles of partners going out yesterday and today, but yesterday’s vehicles have not arrived in Bogalay as yet. In additional to the rainwater collection kits, medicine, and clothing, we are also getting food out to these areas.

A huge Thank You goes to each and every one of you who has sent or is sending donations to help. Please don’t stop giving.

Emergency relief is getting to people in need and local volunteers are continuing to work tirelessly to support people most affected by Nargis.

I know you are hearing stories of how the relief supplies are ending up being sold in the markets of Yangon. None of us at HOPE has seen any of those supplies in the markets here, and we’re actively keeping our eyes open.

Further, no one we know who is repeating that story has actually seen any such supplies, either. We realize it is a real danger and a real possibility, but thus far we haven’t seen any evidence of it.

Hope is emerging a bit more everyday!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Field Report: Hope is begining to emerge amidst the crisis in Myanmar

You are probably hearing a lot on the news about what is not going well here in terms of delivery of assistance to cyclone survivors. But let me counter with a dose of the good stuff – the cooperation, compassion and resourcefulness we see all around us from the people of Myanmar and from local and international agencies and their staff.

Yesterday, we were re-supplying the medical and relief teams that went out earlier. We were also trying to gather supplies to send out into a relatively inaccessible area of the Delta. Based on the experience of the medical teams last week, we have learned more about the physical forms that relief assistance has to take in order to reach people in need and be most useful to them.

People in many areas of the Delta rely for much of the year on rain water for their drinking water supply, but they have lost their rainwater collection materials. Water baskets and water purification supplies are essential to provide, but so are supplies to collect rain water. So part of our job yesterday was to try to quickly figure out a way to provide rainwater harvesting materials. In fact, based now on two consecutive days of rain, and forecasts of rain every day for the next week, it appears that the monsoon rains are starting in earnest. So, we’re starting to place more focus on rainwater harvesting.

Another member of HOPE International Development Agency’s staff has now gone out with the medical teams this week, and his responsibility will be to test out and then teach others how to establish water baskets and rain harvesting systems in local communities. He will report back to us his experience with the rainwater harvesting tarps so that we can get feedback so that changes can be made to the design and more harvesting tarps can be rushed into the field.

Cooperation, compassion, resourcefulness – we are fortunate to be surrounded and inspired by these on a daily basis, in spite of all the discouraging news we are also receiving. I hope you are inspired by these positive stories too.

Help families today by giving to HOPE International Development Agency.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Field Report: Hope is on the horizon!

There’s a lot to write and I don’t know where to begin. Whatever I write, it is not enough to express this situation.

Perhaps I should start by letting you know that the government may be easing its grip on supplies coming into the country. Several countries and agencies have received clearance for their cargo planes of supplies to come into the country in the next few days.

The only restriction being placed on distribution of some of those supplies is that someone from the government must accompany those doing the distribution. Depending on the availability of government staff to accompany distribution teams, there may be more supplies flowing to more people soon.

We are also hearing that the most successful way to distribute supplies to the neediest areas is to go by boat. One of the HOPE International Development Agency staff came back last night from the area where the medical and relief teams have been operating. She is resupplying and, along with two of our other staff, will head back with more medical supplies and water treatment and rainwater harvesting supplies.

We have had really good cooperation with other international agencies and we’re all working hard to get support to the survivors.

Apparently there is a new form of greeting among cyclone survivors in the Delta. When they see someone they recognize, the first question they ask each other is, “How many family members did you lose?”

What a stark statement of the magnitude of this tragedy! But last night we also started hearing some amazing survival stories. We learned of a seven year old child who was found still alive, three or four miles from his village. He had been swept away during the storm and badly injured – he was hit in the head by a board with two nails in it, and the nails went into his skull. He was brought to the medical team, and they were able to do surgery to remove the board and nails and treat infection. The child seemed to be recovering well after the surgery.

One of the most common injuries is a loss of all the skin on certain spots on the arms and across the torso and elsewhere. This occurred because the survivors clung to coconut trees or other rough places for 6-8 hours while the worst of the winds, tide surges and flooding occurred during the storm. Imagine clinging to something so precarious for so many hours, alone in the dark, with the wind and water dragging at you and making it hard to hang on, all the while fearing or knowing that other members of your family have been swept away.

The medical teams also report that they are having to use sedation in a lot of cases where people are completely distraught or are no longer in their right minds after the huge losses of kin and community. Injuries to the psyche are at least as prevalent as physical ones.

We have been buoyed by the news of so many of you who have a part of your heart now living in Myanmar and are working to help provide much-needed aid and other types of support.

Continue to pray for the people!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Field Report - crisis deepens in Myanmar

This post is from our field staff in Myanmar.

We are incredibly grateful to be alive and be in a position to help in the aftermath of such a terrible disaster. We are equally grateful that HOPE International Development Agency donors are rising to the challenge and sending much needed funds so we can continue to move forward with our emergency relief efforts.

The post-cyclone situation here is worse than even our previously pessimistic estimates.

Information coming in from the villages in the area indicates it is normal for a community to have lost 50-60% of its population by now. It appears that the smaller the village, the larger the percentage of deaths.

One member of our team met with the single survivor from a village that used to be home to 100 people.

The death rates appear to be higher among women and children than men. Much of this simply has to do with physical strength. Women and children in the Delta were less able to climb and cling to high places during the surges of waves, while men more often had the strength to hang on and survive.

Our health team has been able to treat more than 2,000 injured men, women and children since Wednesday afternoon and have handed out lots of water purification tablets. We're currently restocking their supplies in preparation for another trip into the countryside.

Relief efforts are beginning and local aid agencies, including us, our doing our best to establish the infrastructure needed to help the most seriously affected. Displaced person camps are being set up by the government and local agencies and more camps spring up every hour. We're really worried about the people who can't make it to one of these camps and are doing our best to help them as well. People are scavenging for their daily food and water and continue to live out in the open because they've lost everything they own.

HOPE International Development Agency team members are heading out into the countryside again to organize more emergency relief efforts.

Pray for the people of Myanmar!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HOPE International Development Agency launches Myanmar emergency aid effort today

Having heard from HOPE staff in Myanmar, David McKenzie, our Executive Director, sent out an urgent call for help today with an emergency appeal sent out to all HOPE International Development Agency supporters.

Here's some of the information we've learned from our staff in Myanmar. The death toll is continuing to rise above the initial 22,000 people. It's estimated that 1 million people are homeless.

Survivors are desperate and are scavenging for food and have resorted to drinking water from wherever they can find it, including ditches and ponds.

Farm fields are littered with the bodies of men, women and children who didn't survive the storm.

David is asking our donors and the public to help us send as many emergency care packages to survivors as we can. It costs just $45 to prepare and provide one emergency care package. The contents, including essentials like food rations, water purification tables, blankets, clothing and temporary shelter materials, will ensure suvivivors do not become victims in the aftermath of the storm.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cyclone destruction in Myanmar extensive and death toll climbs to 22,000

We haven't been able to contact our staff and volunteers in Myanmar because the cyclone has damaged communication networks but we have heard that the state radio in Myanmar has raised the death toll from Saturday's killer cyclone to more than 22,000 people.

As many as 41,000 have been reported missing and the death toll is expected to rise significantly in the coming days.

In some villages, only 5 per cent of the inhabitants remain alive in the wake of the terrifying storm.

We hope to connect with HOPE International Development Agency staff and volunteers in the next 24 hours and we are already making preparations to provide emergency care packages that will help the survivors stay alive in the coming days.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cyclone Nargis slams into Myanmar

It's been less than 48 hours since the killer cyclone Nagris ripped through Myanmar.

Early estimates coming out of Myanmar suggest that the damage is extensive and that the death toll, initially set at less than 1,000, will most certainly rise by the hour.

We're attempting to contact HOPE International Development Agency staff and volunteers in Myanmar to get a more in-depth report on the situation so we can mount an emergency appeal for help right away.

While we're thankful that our staff and volunteers in Myanmar survived the storm, our thankfulness is tempered by a great deal of sadness because we know that so may men, women and children have been injured or killed by the storm.