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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.