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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.