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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.