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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!