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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You Get What You Give

Here’s a bit of advice to help you navigate what promises to be yet another frantic holiday season, fraught with the dichotomies that have become the hallmark of the modern Christmas.

If you want joy, happiness and hope this season - then give joy, happiness and hope.

Simply put, you get what you give.

If you’re looking for joy, then give the kind of joy an orphaned or abandoned child will feel when your gift rescues them from what promises to be a short and brutal life in the filthy back alleys of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

If you’re seeking happiness, then give the kind of happiness a mother will feel as her child receives life-saving medicine and medical attention provided by your gift.

If you’re searching for hope, then find hope in giving a gift that frees an entire family from the soul-crushing poverty that is their inheritance simply because of where they were born.

Joy, happiness and hope are waiting, for you and the world's poorest families, in this year’s HOPE International Development Agency Gifts of Hope Christmas Catalog.

Visit today and chose from a selection of gifts that will last well beyond the season, never fade, never fall out of fashion, and never lose their usefulness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When No Usurps Yes

Having witnessed the carnage wrought upon humanity when no usurps yes, I can only hope and pray that enough of us on this terrestrial ball of more than 6 billion people still believe in yes, especially when it comes to helping the poor.

Yes only lives if we say it and act upon it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the same holds true for the poor. In fact, their life of extreme impoverishment - something they did not bargain for, but rather, received as their birthright - can only be remedied by a yes. In short, they live if yes lives. To put it in less esoteric terms, they live if we give.

When no usurps yes, however, the poor are robbed of their hope and their lives - as is the case for the 25,000 children worldwide who lost their lives to poverty today.

At HOPE International Development Agency, we believe in yes because we’ve seen its transforming power in action in the lives of the world’s poorest families.

For yes to live, and subsequently, for the poor to live, people like you need to keep saying yes and giving.

Put another way, saying yes is the only way to commute the sentence of suffering and death that looms over the heads of the world’s poorest families every hour of every day.

The hope of the poor continues to rest in a heartfelt yes.

Learn more about the power of saying yes by visiting us at today where you can read about what happens when people like you say yes!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Clean water arrives for 200,000 people in Derashe Woreda, Ethiopia

The people of southern Ethiopia’s Derashe Woreda were literally drinking themselves to death when HOPE International Development Agency first arrived a decade ago.

At the time, only 11 percent of the people living in Derashe had access to sources of drinkable water, most of which were not reliable. The rest of the population had no source of clean drinking water. The water they could find came from filthy ponds or the silt-laden remains of dried up riverbeds - both of which were teeming with deadly parasites and bacteria.

The consequences were devastating, as evidenced by the fact that 17 of 100 children in this region were dying before the age of five.

Today, nearly all of the 200,000 people living in Derashe have access to abundant and sustainable supplies of clean water – right in their villages! Their hard work and the support of generous HOPE International Development Agency donors made it possible to construct the 85 water systems now serving the population of Derashe.

Yet as we celebrate with the people of Derashe, we are mindful of people in Bonke Woreda, a neighboring region where clean water is simply not available. Disease is ravaging their villages and their children are dying at a rate equal or greater to that of Derashe before the arrival of clean water. More than 22,000 people in the area are in need of clean water and we have begun work that will result in each one of them gaining access to abundant and reliable sources of clean water!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Examining the soul-wrenching choices faced by the poor

We have all heard or seen statistics that illuminate the devastating impact of poverty worldwide.

For example, in the one-minute or so it takes you to read this post, nearly 20 children worldwide will have died as a direct result of the abject poverty that has dominion over every aspect of their existence.

While poverty statistics are good for illuminating the scale of poverty in our world, they are woefully inadequate when it comes to illuminating the personal nature of abject poverty.

To gain a better understanding of the poverty that plagues the estimated 1.8 billion people on our planet who live on less than $1 per day, we need to examine the soul-wrenching choices faced by the poor as they struggle to survive, hour by hour, day by day.

It is mealtime in a rural village in Cambodia and a family gathers on the floor of their thatched home for the day’s meal - a single bowl of rice accompanied by a bitter concoction of mashed roots and leaves scavenged from the forest floor. The meal has little or no nutritional value, but it does fill empty bellies and quell the hunger pangs, at least for a few hours. The parents, despite their exhaustion and hunger, take only a few spoonfuls of food, having decided that the welfare of their children is more important than their own. This week, they will make this choice more often than not.

Night descends on a slum in Ethiopia and a widowed mother prepares to step out into the dingy alley to sell her body in the hopes of earning a few dollars to buy food for her three children. She has tried every possible means of earning money, but to no avail. Impoverished and marginalized, poverty has sealed her fate as she trades her well being for that of her children.

The sun has barely risen in shantytowns throughout the developing world and orphaned children, some as young as 7 years-old, have already been scouring through the garbage of the more fortunate for 2 hours, looking for scraps of food that will constitute the day’s meal, and discarded items they can sell to earn a few pennies. Abuse, violence, and hustling to survive will punctuate their 18-hour day. Sleep is the only freedom from the nightmare that is their waking life and even it is difficult to come by when your bed is a piece of dirty cardboard on the ground.

Our days are full of choices as well. Few, if any, will resemble the soul-wrenching choices faced by the poor in their moment-by-moment existence.

There is one choice we can make, however, that would alleviate the suffering faced by the poor… the choice to give.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How the impossible became possible for Mahdevamma

Mahdevamma was born into absolute poverty in south India.

Her birthright assured her a place among a club none of us would willingly join - the 1.3 billion people in our world who live in abject poverty.

Her inheritance - the seemingly inevitable worldwide consequence of being poor, female, and marginalized - would be a short life of suffering and servitude.

As the years passed and Mahdevamma passed through childhood to womanhood, she found no comfort in the realization that poverty intended to be her life-long companion.

Women like Mahdevamma would not be surprised to learn that they are among startling statistics that shed light on the scale and scope of the suffering she and other women know all to well…

  • Of the world’s poorest 1.3 billion people, 70 per cent are women

  • Of the world’s poorest 1.3 billion people, 70 per cent are women

  • Of the world’s 33 million refugees, 72 per cent are women and children

  • Two thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women

  • Of the millions of people who go to bed hungry every night, seven of every ten are women and children

Mahdevamma, however, had no intention of remaining poverty’s prisoner and was determined to ensure that her three children would not suffer the same fate she had endured since the first breath she took as a baby.

Mahdevamma found her way out of poverty when she joined a HOPE International Development Agency self-help affinity group (SAG) in her village of Sagare, south India.

Self-help affinity groups provide education, skills training, low interest loans, and other forms of support - all of which enable impoverished women to create sustainable livelihoods and lift themselves up out of poverty.

Initially, the group was comprised of Mahdevamma and five of her friends. Eventually, 15 other women in similar circumstances joined the group, bringing the total to 20 women.

“When I first joined the self-help affinity group my family and I lived in a mud hut and were trying to eke out a living farming one acre of land on which we grew millet and lentils,” says Mahdevamma.

“Initially, there was resistance from the village men. But they soon learned to respect us as we built up our confidence and ability to do things,” states Mahdevamma.

In addition to learning new income generating skills, each of the self-help affinity group members sets aside modest amounts of money per week into a group savings fund. The fund provides low interest loans for sustainable income generating initiatives undertaken by group members.

Once the savings had grown sufficiently, Mahdevamma took out a low interest loan and bought an additional acre of land on which she started growing cotton and coconuts for consumption and sale. With the first harvest, she was well on her way to a sustainable income!

The benefits of being a member of a self-help affinity group and learning new skills speak for themselves according to Mahevamma. “Today, I now have more savings, a sustainable income, farm animals and productive land! My three children - two boys and one girl - are now in school, “she proudly states.

Mahevamma changed her family’s destiny by joining a self-help affinity group that gave her the training, support, and modest financial help she needed to transform her family’s life.

“It would have been impossible for me to think of all this in the past, but now it is possible!”, says Mahevamma.

To date, Mahevamma’s self-help affinity group has helped establish three additional groups in her village – further evidence of what can be accomplished when people gather to tackle challenges they all face.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Haiti – A Container Full of Hope

As a parent raising a family in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti, you can expect to watch one of every eight children in your community die before their fifth birthday.

No parent in your community is immune to the probability that one of the children caught in the grip of the reality portrayed by such a sickening statistic will be yours.

The heartbreaking loss of children in such high numbers is exacerbated by the fact that nearly all of the deaths among children under the age of five are preventable if - and it is a big if - basic medicines and medical care were readily available.

Adults, despite having survived childhood in same impoverished environment that is robbing children of their lives today, are not immune to the deadly affects of poverty.

As an adult, your life expectancy - reduced by two decades because of the poverty that is the hallmark of your existence - will be less than 53 years!

HOPE International Development Agency is helping the doctors and nurses of Hospital Albert Schweitzer, in the Artibonite Valley of central Haiti, change these terrifying statistics.

A huge shipping container, chalked full of basic medical supplies, surgical equipment, antibiotics, and other medicines sent by HOPE International Development Agency, recently arrived at Hospital Albert Schweitzer for immediate use among the 300,000 people that depend on the hospital for their primary health care and community health support. The medicines and supplies will help the hospital meet the health needs of families in the Artibonite Valley for the next 12 months.

With nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s population living in absolute poverty - a point driven home by the fact that Haiti’s people are ranked as having the worst health in the hemisphere - these medicines and supplies are as precious as the lives they will save.

Preventing disease and healing the sick does far more than the obvious - it provides Haiti’s poorest families with proof that it is possible to have hope amidst circumstances that would suggest otherwise.

Hope is present!

Visit HOPE International Development Agency today to learn more about our work among the world's poorest families.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cambodia – Kavey frees herself from the poverty that held her captive for 43 years!

Kavey, a 43-year old widow and mother of 4 children, lives in the small village of Thkol Thom in Cambodia’s Pursat Province.

Until recently, life had been a constant struggle for survival for Kavey and her family – a struggle that they had little hope of winning.

Despite Kavey’s best efforts, which included working herself to near exhaustion in the rice fields and businesses of the more fortunate people in her community, money was always in very short supply. The wages were simply too low. Food was scarce and the hunger had become chronic. Kavey’s dream of sending her children to school was simply out of the question because she was so poor.

Two years ago, however, life began to change for the better after Kavey joined a local HOPE International Development Agency self help group.

Looking back on it now, Kavey realizes that joining the self help group was the first step in her journey toward self-reliance. The group, made up of a number of local women in similar circumstances, welcomed Kavey and immediately began telling her about the methods they had learned and used to transform their lives.

Kavey’s first loan from the self help group was $50, which she used to start a small grocery shop. As the shop became more and more successful, Kavey’s ability to provide for her family and save some of her earnings every month grew as well. After repaying her first loan right on time, Kavey took out a second loan of $100 in order to increase the inventory in her grocery shop and make it even more successful!

Today, because of her own initiative and participation in the self help group, Kavey and her family have a reliable source of income. The income has enabled Kavey to expand her shop, increase her savings, put nutritious food on the table at every meal, and most importantly for Kavey, send two of her school-aged children to school!

Having conquered the poverty that had trapped her for 43 years, Kavey is confident that her family’s life will continue to improve and that her children will not be trapped by poverty as she was.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Philippines: Education for indigenous children

Poverty is often viewed solely within the present tense. The long-term consequences, however, can be equally troubling. This is particularly true when it comes to children who do not have the benefit of an education.

For Leila, a young mother and member of group of neglected and poor indigenous people in the Philippines, the long-term consequences of poverty have and continue to be devastating.

Leila believes the poverty she endures today is a direct result of being denied an education when she was a child. She worries that her children's experience will the same as hers... and for good reason!

About 75 percent of children not in school right now have mothers who did not have the opportunity to attend school.

In addition to helping families with their immediate needs, HOPE International Development Agency donors are addressing the long-term consequences of poverty by providing scholarships to indigenous children whose impoverished parents cannot afford an education for their children.

The one-year scholarships provide everything children need, including tuition fees, school books, and supplies. In addition, the scholarships also provide nutrition training, health education, and nutritional supplements for children. Enhanced skills training for rural teachers and additional resource materials for rural schools are also provided.

By providing these scholarships, HOPE donors are addressing both the immediate and long-term needs of indigenous Filipino families and the communities within which they live.

Leila's children will not inherit the poverty that has marred her life. Her children will be the first generation to attend school and in doing so, they will have the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty that has kept their communities impoverished for generation after generation.

Learn more about how you can help send children to school this September by visiting

Sunday, August 23, 2009

With a Little Help From Friends

Impoverished families often find themselves tossed aside, left to languish on the side of the road like discarded household items that are either broken or deemed less than useful by their owners.

When HOPE International Development Agency first met Marie Fe, she was an impoverished young Filipino mother residing in the Philippine city of Calamansian - discarded by society you might say

When our HOPE Filipino colleagues spoke with Marie Fe, they did not see a broken woman tossed aside by society; they saw a person who had a valuable contribution to make, to both her community and her family!

Today, through her ingenuity and hard work, and a little help from a HOPE micro credit lending program, Marie Fe has created a sustainable livelihood amidst the discarded. Marie Fe’s family-run business recycles, reuses, and resells what others, far more fortunate than her, toss aside.

In addition to creating a sustainable livelihood, Marie Fe is also making a valuable contribution to the local economy and the environment. Collecting discarded, but valuable items from the streets and alleys is just one part of her business. Marie Fe’s business also buys discarded items, by the kilogram, direct from walk-in sellers, and in doing so, creates new value for her and her customers.

HOPE has had the privilege of helping Marie Fe build her business and livelihood since 1995, when a local micro credit program we established provided Marie Fe with her first modest, low interest loan. There have been a number of loans since, and in every case, Marie Fe has paid back her loans quickly – a sign that her business is thriving!

Today, Marie Fe and her family live in a modest but comfortable home, directly connected to her expanded shop and storefront. A pioneer member of our Camarin Micro Credit Branch, Marie Fe is now leads a group of 30 women entrepreneurs in her area. In addition to running her own successful business, Marie Fe tends to the needs of the members, guiding them as they develop sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.

Marie Fe’s success lays in her ability to see value where others cannot. She likes to say she sees the “shine”, and hence the value, just below the surface on a piece of rusty, discarded metal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Suffering – An unintended consequence of a comfortable mind?

The mind, pampered by the seemingly unending parade of comfort that accompanies life in the developed world, can quickly fall prey to rationalization.

As admirable as it may be, the ability to rationalize our way toward that which makes us comfortable, both in body and mind, often has the unintended consequence of abandoning others to their suffering.

Rather than being deeply troubled by the plight of orphaned and abandoned children in places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for example, many of us find a way to rationalize not helping these children – some of whom are a mere 5 years-old.

We should be deeply troubled and frankly, very uncomfortable with the fact that an 11 year-old girl, abandoned to the streets of Addis because she lost her parents, has her childhood stolen from her one night in a dark alley. We should be moved to action by the troubled lives of the more than 3.8 million orphans whose trajectory is not unlike the 11 year-old girl just described.

Yes friend, we should be moved. Perhaps even more importantly, we should be very wary of that which impedes being moved - our ability to rationalize away the hurt and needs of others. This is especially true when you consider that in most cases, it costs us little or nothing to help relative to what we have and enjoy.

The comfortable mind is dangerous to our health and potentially deadly to millions of people worldwide. It is a mind untroubled by the plight and suffering of those who can offer no comfort, to us or themselves.

In the end, however, we soon discover that no amount of comfort can answer for the consequences.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ethiopia: Going to ends of the earth for clean water - on foot, if necessary

In late spring, HOPE International Development Agency completed a memorable health and sanitation education series in six communities in Dereshe, the southern district where for the last decade we have focused our efforts to bring clean water and basic health to Ethiopia’s poorest villages.

As we approached full clean water coverage for Dereshe district this year, the communities we helped were increasingly remote. The poverty in these villages is exacerbated by their geographic isolation; inaccessible by roads, they are forgotten the rest of the population. Whatever political voice the rural poor might have does not carry over these distances, and so villages furthest from urban centers tend to be the most neglected, the most destitute.

HOPE exists for the sake of the poorest of the poor—an overused expression, but in the case of these villages, a very apt one. Because of this, our Ethiopian staff were more than willing to meet the challenges entailed in serving these far-flung villages of the south.

In order to provide the villagers with the health and sanitation training that is such a necessary component of the clean water program, our training officers walked long distances over all manner of terrain. There are no roads to make the trips by car, and the people in these villages live up on hills and farm in the valleys below. So, in the words of one Ethiopian staff member, “climbing up the hills for up to 10 kilometers round trip for a day’s teaching was a regular day at the office for our staff.”

He went on to remark that “It is a testament to their commitment that they were able to complete their work on time. The equally impressive commitment and hard work of the communities was essential to the success of the project. Each community brought out up to 50 volunteers daily to contribute their labour. This community participation and sense of ownership is the cornerstone of our project.”

He is correct: without this spirit of participation, of passion, of commitment, the task of providing the poorest of the poor with a measurably higher standard of life would founder. We see this spirit again and again in our staff members as well as in the families that actually benefit from the work. It is something that never fails to secure our admiration—and gratitude.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sudan: Where Disease and Poverty Collide - and Collaborate

In a country where all pressing needs can really and truly be called ‘basic’, Southern Sudan’s health care system is still exceptional in its inadequacy. It is barely existent.

This stunningly poor nation is repeatedly singled out as having the worst health situation in the world. Here, one of out seven mothers will die giving birth. In some areas, there is one doctor for every 500,000 people.

Though throughout the developing world, scourges like malaria and diarrhea exact a huge toll, nowhere else on the planet do people contend with those threats in addition to a strange concentration of tropical diseases that have been eradicated in other nations.

Considering how profound this level of need is, HOPE International Development Agency’s medical supplies donation programme in Southern Sudan is a no-brainer. The relationship between health and poverty is obvious (how can you till your field if you are sick with dysentery?) but many do not realize how significantly the two are actually linked.

For example, we know that anaemia alone reduces Gross Domestic Product by as much as 7% in some countries (see the UN Millennium Project's Halving Hunger report). Imagine what the cumulative effect its myriad of health problems has on the economy of Sudan!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sudan: “We will not let evil triumph”

An Ethiopian HOPE International Development Agency staff member recently visited our friends and colleagues in Sudan, Africa.

This, below, is his account of a trip to see the refugee families that HOPE has been assisting since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attacked their villages on the Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo border for unknown reasons.

His experience is a plangent reminder of two things: the extraordinary stresses that our Sudanese colleagues endure in order to care for the poor and distressed, and just how profound the need for this care really is.
We had a flat tire and were late getting to the border town. About 9pm, as we approached the town, a guy jumped in front of our vehicle, pointing his AK 47 assault rifle at the head of the driver as he shouted something to us.

I was in the passenger seat next to the driver and was shocked and afraid. I did not want the armed guy to take my new NOKIA cell phone! I had only had it for one week and had used it as my camera, taking many pictures of the journey. I wanted to hide it somewhere before they came up to the car. The problem was it was in my shirt pocket. Moving my hand just then could be fatal. The guy still has his gun aimed right at us.

The gunman shouted something. The Bishop, who was driving, turned his headlights off. Then he turned on the light inside the vehicle. Now I could see nothing outside. Where was the gunman? Would he approach from my side? No, he would most probably approach from the driver's side. Surely he would not hurt a Bishop.

The gunman then appeared on the driver's side and said something loud and harsh. I heard the word “Bishop” in the driver’s answer. Suddenly the gunman says, “Hey Bishop!” He then smiles, taps on the vehicle’s roof and says something in a light voice and laughs, as if this was just a joke.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) sees the Bishop laughing as we resume driving. As if this was nothing but an introduction. I later realised it was just relief that had the Bishop laughing, not the LRA. I was quiet for the rest of the drive.

The next morning, I met and talked with victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Led by a possessed man named Joseph Kony, the LRA is a terrorist organization with no real political agenda. The LRA has been terrorizing people in Uganda, southern Sudan, and The Democratic Republic of Congo.

A Pastor that had been displaced along with his congregation described to me what happened in his village in February of this year.

“At midnight we heard gunfire. The LRA had killed 16 people. They took many children and looted everything we had. All we could do was run for our lives. Today, we have nothing left. We cannot go back. They can come back at any time. It is a chance we cannot take.” I could feel the terror in his voice as he told me the story. I could read the pain on his face.

This is pure evil. It displaces entire villages, enslaves children, and destroys lives. I hate it. That is why I am here. I want to do something good. I want to bring healing. I want to tell these people that there is some good in the world and that there are good people in the world – and that these good people will stand with them in this their darkest hour. They will help them pick up the pieces and stand on their own feet again.

I am here because HOPE International Development Agency is working with The Episcopal Church of Sudan to help these displaced people. I promised them we would not forget about them. We will not let evil triumph.

Then I quietly suggested to Bishop Kamani that we start the drive back early. Now that I have met its victims, I had no desire to meet the LRA.

It goes without saying that all of the people at HOPE International Development Agency feel the same way. Stories like these make us so grateful for our overseas colleagues. Their experiences feed into the heart of our endeavours, giving us the passion we need to sustain the work.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

African Food Security: Obama’s Administration on Right Track

Just as the numbers of hungry people on the planet are reaching a historic high, we are seeing positive signs of change, at least so far as American policy is concerned.

In connection with his recent visit to Africa, Barack Obama released a statement indicating that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is preparing to significantly retool its approach to food aid.

Rather than continue to spend its aid dollars on food that is transported to hungry communities, his administration intends to invest into African agriculture, or more to the point, the ability of African farmers to feed themselves. So instead of receiving a sack of American-grown grain, a villager in Malawi might receive the tools and training to grow a better crop himself.

This reflects a growing sense - one that has always informed HOPE International Development Agency's approach - that self-reliance needs to be the end goal of all so-called ‘charity’. We, in our eagerness to help, must always be evaluating whether our aid leaves people truly better off. It is encouraging to see that the American government is taking up this theme and seemingly running with it.

Learn more about helping families in the developing world become self-reliant by visiting today.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Honduras: Perspective Beyond the Political Circus

Though Honduras was buffeted by natural disasters this past year, this small Central American nation has generated comparatively greater media coverage through its latest man-made debacle.

While HOPE International Development Agency’s Honduran partners were busy helping people to recover from severe flooding and a 7.1 earthquake, President Manuel Zelaya’s June 28th deposition suddenly became a colorful ringside attraction in the urban circus that the poor may not have the time to attend.

While expressions like ‘military coup’ might conjure stereotypes of dysfunctional Third World politics, the reality on the ground has been, according to our Honduran friends, much quieter than one might expect.

It is also worth noting that the ‘crisis’ of a deposed President has somewhat overshadowed the circumstances preceding Zelaya’s fall from grace. In fact, Zelaya had been about to hold a referendum on the constitution that would have potentially allowed him to extend his rule past the legal term limit.

Our friend and colleague in Tegucigalpa shared a few of his thoughts about this very complex situation, and they are worth reproducing here:

For the first time in Latin America, a country has rebelled , and without shedding any blood and without violence, against a constitutional and democratically elected President who has violated the constitution and legal orders from the Supreme Court, the Congress and the Attorney General of the country.

The international press had not understood this nor have they taken the time to study what has been happening in Honduras over the past year. They have simply taken a position saying that this has been a military overthrow of the government of Honduras - as something coming out of the cold war of twenty – thirty years ago.

However, the lesson coming out of this is that a President, who has been democratically elected by the people of this country, does not have the right to disobey the constitution and the laws of this country.

The message of Honduras is simple, if a president has received the popular vote of the country, this does not give him or her the license to break the laws, as all the effort going into governing a country for the common good should be done within the framework of the law.

The general public of democratic countries will be seeing these actions and will see that they no longer need to tolerate the abuses of power by constitutionally elected presidents who many times consider themselves untouchable because they were elected by the people. Big mistake….. ask Mel Zelaya!

While Hondurans living in severe poverty never have an easy row to hoe, we are relieved that, despite the political drama, conditions throughout the country are mostly very peaceful. Certainly, HOPE’s work has not experienced any disruptions whatsoever. It is our hope that this ‘crisis’ is resolved to the satisfaction of the majority of Hondurans. They, like all people, would prefer a government that respects the severity of their struggle as well as the importance of their institutions.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Self-indulgence - The new self-reliance

In the developed world, our aspirations appear to have evolved well beyond the notion of self-reliance.

You could not find fault with a person who observes that the definition of self-reliance has undergone a radical revision and now has more in common with self-indulgence than self-reliance.

This new definition is very alluring, as evidenced by the fact that many of us can no longer define, at least from a moral perspective, at what point we would have enough money, possessions, or status. The fact that it has taken a worldwide financial crisis to remind us that there is in fact something out there called “enough”, should be a warning to us all to revisit our moral compass.

Having enough used to be defined within the confines of an appropriate measure of self-reliance. More recently, however, having enough is defined as never having enough.

The tragedy of confusing self-indulgence with self-reliance is twofold.

Firstly, if you cannot define, from a moral perspective, what enough means for you, you are likely to never have enough.

Secondly, and most importantly for the poor of our world, if your definition of having enough does not include helping those who have nothing, they will continue to suffer and perish as they do now.

Never before has it been so important to so many that each of us define, from a moral perspective, what it means to have enough - this is the only way to ensure that we will all have enough.

To learn more about HOPE International Development Agency’s work among the poor, please visit

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hunger: Over One Billion Under-Served

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Association, we have reached a sad milestone. Over one billion people living on the planet are now hungry, a new record for the scourge of malnutrition. Due to the global economic crisis and persistently high food prices, one in six people are subsisting on less than 1,800 calories per day.

When we enter ‘1,800 calories’ into an internet search engine, we produce just under one million hits. However, it takes more patience than we have on supply to comb through the links in order to find just website referencing this threshold figure for inadequate diet - instead, these links appear to be mainly meal plans for dieting Westerners. As helpfully states: ‘1800 calories per day is about the lowest a man should go when aiming for fat loss.’

Presumably, in most of the developing world, there is not a lot of fat to spare. According to a study by a USDA economist, the average sub-Saharan African is consuming around 2,176 calories per day, compared to an average American’s 3,654. Whereas the typical Western diet showed a distribution of calories from varied food sources (18% of an American’s calories might come from sugar alone), the African derives 70% of his or her energy from grains and starchy root vegetables. More nutritious food is not available or is simply too expensive.

This study was based on 1995-97 statistics. Likely the data would be different today, reflecting an even more pronounced gap between developed and developing worlds. While body-conscious Westerners work on their self-control, over one billion people are already on the 1,800 calorie diet through no choice of their own.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Honduras: An Unprecedented Time of Disaster?

As we prepare to send a second shipment of emergency medications to the Swat Valley, Pakistan, we are asking ourselves whether we have ever received so many calls for help from so many quarters of the world in such a short period of time.

In Pakistan, an extraordinary refugee crisis (3 million displaced) in the troubled Swat Valley has compelled us to respond with emergency medical shipments. In Sri Lanka, the fallout from the Tamil-government conflagration is enormous; refugees there are in great need of supplies and shelters. In Bangladesh, we are helping to assist 4 million people who are injured or homeless in the wake of a cyclone and extensive flooding. In Honduras, an earthquake has destroyed homes, infrastructure, and livelihoods, and we are working with survivors to heal and rebuild.

Each one of these disasters is extreme in its own right, but taken together, they amount to an overwhelming constituency of sufferers. Our own capacity to respond is pushed to the utmost.

For an organization that is geared towards finding long-term solutions to poverty, this congestion of emergency-based, short-term assistance is difficult. However, it is because we have a long-term commitment in each of these countries that we must help when their fortunes take such a nightmarish turn. We, like they, have no choice.

Through us, right now, people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Honduras are depending on people who so often choose to invest in long-term solutions, like clean water and food security. Will they be generous in these exception circumstances? Experience has shown us that they will be. Still, it is a test for our supporters - just as it is a test for us.

We have sent out an emergency appeal for donations to each of these countries. We truly hope that our friends will help them to survive this terrible chapter in their struggle for development.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pakistan, the Swat Valley: 12 Medical Teams Equipped

The UN now reports that the mass exodus of people from Pakistan’s Swat valley is the largest refugee crisis since 1994’s Rwandan genocide. In three week’s time, almost 1.5 million people have fled the area, where government forces are fighting to eradicate Taliban strongholds.

Fortunately, we received word that our staff in Pakistan received our most recent medical shipment. We assembled this shipment specifically to equip the medical teams tending to the families stranded in camps across Mardan district. Twelve teams are treating refugees on a daily basis; they will ultimately administer life-saving medications to thousands. Special attention, as always, is given to expecting mothers and infants, who are very vulnerable to infections, especially in the severely hot weather that has made their displacement all the more terrible.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Abbotsford, BC: The Run for Water

The 2009 ‘Run for Water’, held on May 31st in Abbotsford, B.C., was an unqualified success. Thanks to the dedication of the Run for Water Society, and the 1,600 people who participated in the premiere running event, $81,000 was raised for clean water in southern Ethiopia. An endowment like this has a tremendously positive impact in the villages where HOPE International Development Agency is at work - especially when you consider that it costs only $35 to give a southern Ethiopian clean water for life.

It is wonderful when a good time and a good cause dovetail. But it isn’t lost on us that behind this fun, sunny, celebratory event, is a huge investment of time, energy, thought, planning, and labour on the part of the Society. We are incredibly grateful to this adventurous and kind-hearted group of friends for choosing to partner with HOPE International Development Agency.

Learn more about the Run for Water:

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bangladesh: A Song from Jhenidah’s Survivors

The children HOPE cares for in Jhenidah, Bangladesh, put on an impromptu concert for a visitor from our Canadian office two weeks ago.

This is the type of activity - a safe, playful, creative time together - that the children have found most rehabilitative. Coming, as all they do, from such wretchedly painful experiences, the freedom to play and sing is of great therapeutic value.

There is no poverty like that of parent-less children in developing world conditions - in this, the two axes of social and economic deterioration intersect. Theirs is a vulnerability so profound that they either grow thick skins of criminality or they are enslaved by stronger agents. Abuse or be abused.

As for these children, they are safe enough to sing. Their performance is all the more beautiful if you are one of the many people who have made this safe place possible for them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sustainability and the poor

We frequently hear about ‘the economy’ and ‘the environment’ being pitted against each other in a kind of zero-sum contest, never feeling very sure of what side it is in our best interest to root for. But in our work with the poorest families in the world, we often see this paradigm undone.

Where we work, the economy (or ‘means to eat, be housed, and be clothed’) and the environment (or ‘place from where you get that which you eat, wear, and live in’) are not really different things at all. Families in the Dominican Republic, for example, have an economy because they have the land and water to grow their crops. They can’t have one thing without the other. Because this concept is so elementary to them, ‘sustainable’ practices often come naturally. In fact, all over the world, HOPE International Development Agency families easily choose practices that protect their land as well as bolster their economies.

What is sustainability? It is nothing more than ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The reason a Dominican farmer uses techniques that nurture rather than deplete the land is not because he feels guilty about global warming, or because HOPE won’t help him unless he sacrifices some economic advantage in order to be ‘green’. The reason why the Dominican farmer chooses to be sustainable is because he is well aware that his children and grandchildren will have no future unless he keeps his land healthy and productive for them.

This brings us to the most important lesson the poor have taught us about sustainability. Sustainability comes from having a heightened sense of the welfare of your children. It means doing what you have to do to ensure that the things you have today can be passed down to the generations that follow you. Poor families, who might not say the word ‘sustainability’, understand and practice the concept instinctively.

A friend of ours, Daniel Schellenberg, is a champion of applying lessons learned from the poor about sustainable living. Having spent many years in Kenya, he now resides with his extended family on a beautiful homestead in East Texas. Their ‘Propagelle Project’ is an attempt to find a way of living which is most mindful of the generations to come. Daniel’s blog is well worth reading for its insights from a person who approaches the situation of the poor and the environment with a balanced, informed, and passionate advocacy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Afghanistan: A school truly designed for the ‘poorest of the poor’

Afghanistan continues to be a place of stark need and clear opportunities for investment, especially as its young women are concerned.

The news agency IRIN tells us that ‘about two million state school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about 75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation facilities’. In this same article, UNICEF states this lack of adequate facilities is one prominent reason that girls stay away from school. Classrooms may exist, but they are unsuitable for female students unless there are latrines nearby.

As with their clinic, the high school that HOPE International Development Agency Afghanistan is building this year will serve the poorest of the poor in the country’s northwest. Who better exemplifies real poverty than a young girl from a family without opportunities, in a region the government all but ignores, in a nation struggling so profoundly with issues of gender? Because this school’s raison d’etre is addressing the needs of the very poorest people in Afghanistan, care is being taken to ensure that this is a comfortable, appropriate place for girls. In addition to its 12 classrooms and library, the school will be equipped with a clean water system and proper washroom facilities.

Again, as with the clinic, the standard of quality that this school will reflect all but guarantees that families living all over the region will make use of it. It is an ambitious project, but services for these families should be provided with care, completeness, and attention to detail. Going the extra mile for Afghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens - its young daughters - is a necessary investment.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sri Lanka: ‘This is our responsibility.’

‘I personally feel that this is our responsibility as people who are involved in development to support, at this crucial time, our local communities to make their lives less vulnerable by providing some food and other material assistance in this fragile situation.’

We received this entreaty last week from a colleague in Sri Lanka who is on the front line of what has become a truly atrocious humanitarian situation. Reflective of the dignified persistence that all our international staff have in common, this statement touches upon the severity of the crisis with gentle understatement.

‘Fragile’ it is. Over 100,000 people have been caught in the crossfire of savage fighting between Tamil Tigers and government forces. The former is likely on its last legs, shunted to a narrow strip of territory, while the latter refuses to halt their offensive for a moment, eager to finish off Sri Lanka’s rebel movement while they have the momentum. Meanwhile, refugee camps outside the conflict zone are receiving what has been described as a ‘human avalanche’ of traumatized, starving people.

HOPE International Development Agency is mounting up its response to the crisis. As always, men and women who we Canadian staff can trust and admire will manage the distribution of live-saving supplies to displaced families. Once again, the abstract ‘emergency’ that we grapple with only in our imaginations will for them be a very tangible, very difficult, sweaty, frightening, loud, confusing, and heart-breaking reality. Now, as with always, we must do all that we can to overcome our feeling of separateness from the suffering in order to answer our Sri Lankan colleague’s challenge with nothing less than love and affirmation.

Learn how you can save lives today

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Dominican Republic: resourceful when receiving

HOPE International Development Agency delivered a medical shipment to our partners in the Dominican Republic shortly after New Year’s and these supplies have been put to excellent use in the last four months. Happily, all clinics serving the poor in Ocoa province are completely stocked for the first time our Dominican friends can remember.

A staff member from the Canadian office visited the area last month and was reminded why we treasure working with our Dominican counterparts so much. The thoroughgoing hospitality of Dominicans is world-famous, but they often don’t get enough credit for their creativity and resourcefulness. These are people who will make a kingdom out of a pittance.

For example, when the distribution to the various clinics was complete, there was a supply of small items like gloves and cotton swabs left over. Not wanting to waste a single part of the donation, Dominican staff made small packages that they gave to community businesses like barber shops after performing short demonstrations of good hygienic practice. A few bits of cotton and rubber were transformed into an opportunity for community education.

In Ocoa, few opportunities are wasted and no resource is squandered. Any generosity we show in this place is generally multiplied as Ocoan people practice their particular brand of community solidarity.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Philippines: Jeana and her clean water

Clean water is the first step out of the worst kind of poverty for the world's poorest families.

Jeana Pangcato, a Filipino mother of five children, tells her story of how clean water has transformed her family’s life.

Before we had access to a HOPE International Development Agency water system, we used to get our drinking water from the nearby river, about one kilometer down a steep hill.

We would dig a small shallow pit just beside the river to try and filter the water a bit, but it did not work very well. My children and I always had diarrhea, stomach problems, and even skin problems because of drinking the river water.

Often, there was not enough water for use near the river and we had to look elsewhere. There is another tap available from a system constructed by the government many years ago, but the water is contaminated because sewage has entered the system. Even still, there were lineups for water there every day at the single faucet meant to serve the entire community.

Today, we have a new water source from HOPE International Development Agency. I only have to walk about 100 meters from my house to access a tap that has clean water, with enough water for everyone, everyday.

There are taps throughout our community so that everyone can have water. I come to use the taps almost every hour for washing, cleaning, and cooking - it is so convenient. My family is much healthier and not sick with waterborne diseases anymore.

Throughout the day, I now have extra time now to keep my household clean, and my husband does not need to stay home to work. He can go do income-generating activities.

Visit and learn more about our efforts to bring abundant supplies of clean water to the world’s poorest families.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cambodia: farmers break with tradition - shyly, not unsuccessfully

On a Canadian staff member’s recent visit to the village of Toul Ankrong in Cambodia, the effectiveness of ‘dry-rice’ farming was demonstrated to her in a somewhat amusing way.

Farmers practicing the farming techniques that HOPE International Development Agency promotes are apparently so embarrassed about employing non-traditional methods that they occasionally run and hide behind bushes if they see people approaching. She witnessed this behaviour a few times on a walk through the fields surrounding the village.

Despite this, out of a community of forty-four families, only four are opting out - and only because they don’t yet have draft animals. In previous years, families were hungry for most of the year, with smaller yields that only came during the rainy season. Most husbands and fathers were forced to seek temporary employment on the Thai border to make ends meet. But the food supply in Toul Ankgrong has tremendously improved due to these different methods, a new seed variety, and an emerging spirit of collaboration between villagers. This collaboration is best evidenced by the seed bank they built together. This structure houses a supply of seed, deposited by individual farmers, which can be loaned out to other farmers in times of need. Read more about ‘dry rice farming’ - or year-round rice farming.

Villagers were extremely reluctant to try the new seed and farming style, and the break with tradition is still not totally comfortable for them - as the mad dash for cover demonstrates! However, it’s clear that Cambodian families are willing to work through their shyness and hesitancy if they are given options that produce good results.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ethiopia: update on survivors of 2008 drought

A HOPE International Development Agency Ethiopia staff member sends us this update on the communities in Southern Ethiopia where we provided emergency aid during the 2008 drought.

The year 2008 was a difficult one for the people of the district of Derashe in Southern Ethiopia. The spring rains had failed. That is a major disaster for people who barely grow enough to feed their families at the best of times. Also, such periods of drought exacerbate underlying tribal tensions that are caused by the competition for meager resources.

As a result of all these factors the communities of Lockte, Degamashille, Addis Oltoma, Delbena and Tsemaha where HOPE is working were severely affected by the drought as well as displacement as a result of conflict. As is usually the case in these situations, children are the first to fall sick and die.

HOPE responded quickly to stop that. Highly nutritional children’s food, wheat flour, maize and cooking oil as well as medical supplies and blankets for the displaced were quickly distributed by HOPE staff, reaching thousands of people.

This kept the people alive until it started to rain again. But in order to avoid this happening again a long-term solution is needed: a water system that will be available year round.

The HOPE team went back in February this year and developed several springs in the villages of Addis Oltoma and Tsemaha. The people who, a year ago, were on the verge of dying from drought, were working together with our staff this year to put in the water system that will guarantee their survival in the coming years. That is the long term solution that gives them hope.

As per HOPE’s mandate of long-term development, not only did these families survive, but they are now well poised to withstand difficulties in the future. In a short span of time, they’ve crossed the threshold from mere survival to the beginnings of self-reliance. We thank every donor that made this incredible outcome possible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pushed to the edge

Without a doubt, the worldwide financial downturn and accompanying recession are creating challenges for many of us here in the developed world.

For the poor, billions of souls who live in a state of permanent recession, these times are more than merely challenging, they are profoundly difficult, dreadful and even deadly.

Recent estimates from the World Bank state that upwards of 400,000 more children will die every year for the foreseeable future because of the worldwide financial downturn.

In the developed world, we are able to muster the courage to believe that the recession will eventually pass. The “good life”, a product primarily of where we live, and the opportunities afforded us, will eventually return.

Our brothers and sisters in the developing world share no such hope. Their courage, however, far exceeds ours when you consider what it takes to survive day to day in an environment that has none of the accoutrements we are accustomed to: clean water, universal health care, government stimulus packages, employment insurance and the kind of hope only opportunity can create.

For the poor, life continues along a trajectory that all but guarantees their lives will go from bad to worse in the coming months - if in fact worse is actually possible.

In times like these, we are more likely to speak about what we have lost, not what we have gained or for that matter retained, despite the recession.

By comparison, the conversation in the world’s poorest communities is more likely to focus on what has been gained, however modest by our standards: a meager meal for the day, a child surviving past the age of five, a modest crop harvested from a field tilled with the most rudimentary of tools, a glass of clean water.

Friend, we should, despite the challenges we may be experiencing right now, consider ourselves unbelievably blessed. We are mourning the loss of some of our worldly wealth. Not mourning the loss of family members as will most certainly be the case in the coming months as the poor find themselves pushed even further to the margins of existence as a result of the financial downturn.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hunger and waste

Current economic conditions have made us hyper-aware of waste. The idea that we must be vigilant against carelessness and extravagance is suddenly de rigeur.

The flipside of extravagance is hunger, pure and simple. The truly hungry person is a model of efficiency: all of his efforts are channeled into preventing starvation. We know that approximately 1.2 billion people live this way most of the time.

Consider waste again:

In the United Kingdom, a shocking 30-40% of all food is never eaten;

In the last decade the amount of food British people threw into the bin went up by 15%;

Overall, £20 billion (approximately $38 billion US dollars) worth of food is thrown away, every year.

In the US 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten;

The impacts of this waste is not just financial. Environmentally this leads to:

Wasteful use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides;

More fuel used for transportation;

More rotting food, creating more methane — one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change.

While we can and should all be more sensitive to waste in our lives—from our offices to the dinner table--- there is a way to address the situation that the truly hungry find themselves in. Invest in the ability of the poorest of the poor to feed themselves.

Information sourced from

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Philippines: Students are ‘Last Best Hope’, not Cockroaches

 Photo Courtesy of Kevin Dunn

The Pamula’an Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Education is a school dedicated to the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. Through Pamula’an, HOPE International Development Agency is investing into the young IP college students that are, in the words of a local staff member, the ‘last best hope’ of their impoverished and abused communities.

The plight of IPs in the Philippines is under-reported and very serious. In a country where government is not in the habit of acting with democratic integrity, IPs are at the bottom of the barrel socially, with their land, culture, language, and history rapidly eroded by exploitative interests. In Mindanao, where the majority of IPs live, it is not uncommon to hear about poor, illiterate IP villagers simply thrown into jail when their land is coveted by private companies.

Pamula’an graduates have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to develop their poor villages, advocate for the rights of their people, and fight back against a system that threatens their survival. From time to time, the students share their personal stories.

Krista Sumalisat tell us:

As Indigenous Peoples, we have been taught the importance of our culture, and realised that it is unique, and now is a source of pride. Before, I was ashamed to be an IP. I used to suffer a lot because of discrimination. Here, in the Philippines, there is a nickname for IP’s. It is “Eee Pees”, which in Filipino means ‘cockroach’. Imagine growing up and feeling this is the identity you have inherited. I would hide my IP identity and try to forget it and be like the rest of society. But in the process of so many other IPs doing the same thing, we risk losing our culture completely. When I am done my degree at the Pamula’an college I will return to my community to work with the community on documenting and understanding the importance of their culture. I will teach them to be proud of our tradition of relying on the earth to meet our needs and living in harmony with the environment.

Vanjie Rohas says:
Here, in Davao City, I am very far away from home. Once a year, I can take the bus across Mindanao to see my family – it takes 18 hours on very rough rural roads in this country. But, I know it is important to persevere, even when I miss my parents and my siblings. I want to be able to return to my community and to have the skills and means to serve them, and to help them to come out of poverty. The whole community is waiting for my return, I am their source of hope for a better future, for both them and their children. I will be a teacher for my tribe and community in adult literacy, so that they can have the knowledge of how to hold the government accountable for providing help and basic services. Otherwise, our community will continue to live in total poverty, without even such simple things as a clean source of water.

Many students like Vanjie and Krista are still hoping to receive HOPE scholarships, amounting to a thousand dollars per year. It is an incredibly effective investment to make. Education has far-reaching effects, not only for the students themselves, but for their families, whole communities, and, by extension, an entire people in peril.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Darfur: Bashir Called to Account

The International Criminal Court has just issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton remarked that al-Bashir should ‘have his day in court’ if he wanted to dispute the charges of crimes against humanity that the ICC has levelled against him.

For many - not least of all the people of Darfur - Bashir’s charges of crimes against humanity could not have come soon enough. It is a relief to see that international scrutiny of the Khartoum government has not totally relented. One only fears that the Darfuri people, rather than al-Bashir, will end up paying the penalty for this serious development. Reportedly ten international aid agencies have been expelled from the region by Bashir’s government following the indictment.

Thankfully, HOPE International Development Agency's presence in Southern Sudan (an independent region within greater Sudan) is stable, and able to continue responding to the tremendous needs of Darfuri refugees.

Please support our wonderful staff in Southern Sudan with your thoughts, prayers, financial support, and advocacy. In addition to serving the considerable needs of Southern Sudanese villagers who are settling into new communities, they are helping to shoulder the burdens of their neighbours in Darfur. They have witnessed serious atrocities. Indeed, one staff member confirms every harrowing news report with this clear-eyed observation: ‘Once a civilian is seen by the government militia or Sudanese Liberation Army, he/she is gunned down, raped or seriously beaten.’ Darfuris are not victimized occasionally or even frequently--- but systematically and without exception.

Learn more about HOPE's work in Southern Sudan by watching "Long Road Home", a video filmed by HOPE volunteers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Afghanistan: Aid is a Reflection of Need

This week a HOPE International Development Agency shipment of medical supplies arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after clearing the typical bureaucratic gauntlet. The reception of these supplies is always an extremely happy event. As one might expect in a country where deprivation is felt to achieve a unique standard in dreadfulness, to say that Afghani hospitals and clinics are under-supplied is a great understatement.

Because HOPE works in over twenty countries on three different continents, we encounter many different ‘versions’ of poverty, different gradations of lack or constraint or threat or oppression. The medical supplies programme is only one of the many anti-poverty strategies at HOPE’s disposal, but in its administration we learn about the head-spinning varieties of poverty playing out in villages and cities across an unequal planet. To put it another way, the kind of medicine we supply to any given community is a litmus of the kind of suffering you are going to encounter there.

For example, in the Dominican Republic, demand for medicine to treat diabetes is very high. Now, anybody who has managed to experience the Dominican Republic outside the tourist’s enclave knows that life, especially in the countryside, is a struggle. The high incidence of diabetes probably reflects the fact that the diet of poor Dominicans tends to be comprised of the kind of cheap, starchy food that cause sudden spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.

However, in Afghanistan, the demand isn’t for insulin, it’s for oral rehydration packets. Afghani doctors and nurses aren’t treating diseases that result from poor diet, they’re helping people to cope with the effects of having no food at all. The #1 health problem for Afghanis is malnutrition. Only Angola has worse child and mother mortality rates than Afghanistan. We see from the kind of support our Afghani health workers request that the level of poverty they are contending with is among the worst in the world.

So while it is a pleasure to see a medical donation arrive safely in any of the places where HOPE is at work, it is especially heartening in this place. Knowing the way Afghanis struggle, it is little successes like a well-stocked clinic that encourage our staff to work through any number of administrative or logistical challenges.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Certainty of Uncertainty

For those of us who live in the developed world, the gnawing uncertainty perpetuated by the continuing worldwide financial melt down is simply that, uncertainty.

Ultimately, the crisis may call for a rethinking of our lifestyle, currently defined by our fixation with profiteering and our appetite for consuming far more than we truly need – a condition that brings the moral poverty of our affluence into sharp relief.

For those of us who live in the developing world, the uncertainty created by the melt down is far more sinister because it is, in a very real way and often deadly way, certainty.

If, for example, your family was malnourished and chronically hungry before the melt down, they are now certain of starving. If your opportunities, modest though they may be, were limited before the melt down, they are now all but nonexistent.

For your family, uncertain times guarantee, with absolute certainty, that you can count on life getting significantly worse – if indeed this is actually possible given your current proximity to suffering and loss.

While we in the developed world ponder just how far we’ll have to cut back on our discretionary spending in order to maintain some semblance of the lifestyle to which we’re become accustomed, the choices being made in the developing world are far more difficult and profound.

For example, in a run-down hut in one of the poorest places on earth, a widowed mother, at her wits end, contemplates becoming a prostitute in order to earn the meager amount of money she needs to buy food for her children. Things have gotten so untenable that she is willing to trade her body for the well-being and security of her children. She is, in fact, choosing to die a little bit each night so that her children can live a little bit each day.

So, while we cut back in an attempt to deal with and ameliorate the uncertainty that keeps us up at night, the poorest of the poor slide even further into obscurity and remain, as they so often do, the collateral damage of our lifestyle.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Philippines: ‘Don’t Worry Because I Will Study Well’

In Mindanao, a part of the Philippines where up to 40% of the population is living on $317 dollars a year - yet a kilo of rice still costs about $0.70 - serious poverty is the norm.

Here, as in the rest of the optimistically labelled ‘developing’ world, poor families frequently cite education as their greatest dream, the element that could change everything for the generations to come. Yet, if you’ve got to find out how to keep 5-8 people from starving when a kilo of rice costs 70% of your daily income, school fees are not in the cards.

Finding creative ways for the poorest children in the world to attend school is something HOPE International Development Agency devotes itself to. If our mandate is to see families make a permanent break with poverty, then investment into education is an obvious stratagem.

A number of Canadians are currently helping young Filipino students at the primary, secondary, and university levels to fulfill the dreams of their families. It is an incredible arrangement. The letters we read from these young scholars always reconfirm our basic intentions. These are children who work hard, and will enrich their families and communities with the advantages an education affords them. One theme is constant in the letters: I will make good on your investment into me. One fourteen-year old girl writes:

‘Before anything else I would like to greet you a pleasant day. Thank you for the support that you give, I can now able to proceed my study. Sometimes I can absent in school because sometimes we lack of food in our home. My parents work hard for my study; don’t worry because I will study well for you and for my family.’

Because we know how serious and frequent the reality of ‘lack of food’ is for girls like her, the energy she pours into her studies commands our respect and support all the more.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hunger: World’s #1 Killer Finally Earns Title of ‘Crisis’

Even in a time of economic decline, the threat of simply not having enough to eat is a remote one for the great majority of westerners. So it comes as a surprise to many North Americans that hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

This problem has worsened in poor countries to such an extent that the media is finally using the kind of language that is accorded to ‘real’ issues, those worthy of global attention - namely, the label of ‘crisis’. Google ‘Food Crisis’ and you will get tens of thousands of hits, all referencing the same phenomenon: namely, many more people are starving today than they were before.

The following are statistics on world hunger from the World Food Program and the Office of the U.N. Secretary-General:

- In 2008, the number of undernourished people in the world rose to 963 million (more than the combined populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union), up 40 million from 2007.

- Hunger does not affect just the individual. Economists estimate that every child whose physical and mental development is stunted by hunger and malnutrition stands to lose 5 percent to 10 percent in lifetime earnings.

- The total food surplus of the United States alone could satisfy every empty stomach in Africa; France's leftovers could feed the hungry in Democratic Republic of Congo and Italy's could feed Ethiopia's undernourished.

- Today 25,000 people will die from hunger. A child dies every six seconds of malnutrition or starvation.

- There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life.

HOPE International Development Agency has invested into the ability of the most-poor to feed themselves for over thirty years. If hunger is not something you have experienced, count yourself blessed - and then act to bless somebody who has.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sri Lanka: In Peace or War, People Make Progress

It looks as though the interminable conflict between Sri Lanka’s government forces and the insurgent Tamil Tigers may be coming to a head. In recent weeks, the army has vanquished the Tigers in a series of engagements that have substantially shrunk the territory under the control of the latter.

Political history aside, any development that secures an end to the fighting that has claimed more than 70,000 lives in Sri Lanka is to be welcomed. It is safe to say that both sides have seriously abused the civilian population caught in their decades-long crossfire.

HOPE International Development Agency has worked in Sri Lanka steadily for decades, prior to 2004’s horrific tsunami and throughout these vacillations of war and peace. While at one level, Sri Lanka is a troubling national character, a bastion of bad news and gloomy outcomes, there is another Sri Lanka in which ordinary people live and work, and in this place, there is always reason to hope. No matter how chaotic their national condition seems to be, the poor continue to make the best of difficult situations whenever they are given the opportunity.

For example, stories like Gnanasiri Lokugallappatthi’s are not preempted by civil war. Before the tsumani destroyed the village market, 56 year-old Gnanasiri had the extremely strenuous and low-paying occupation of carrying bags of consumer goods on his head and shoulders to local vendors.

One year ago, HOPE loaned a little less than $100 to Gnanasiri to start his own business. He rented a stall at the rebuilt Devinuwara Public Market Complex and began selling rice. Before long, he earned a good name and reputation as a rice dealer. Nowadays, he makes a little over $100 profit each month, and has just about paid off his loan.

As with most families, the crown of success is education. Gnanasiri’s son is graduating from high school, and his daughter is being trained as a nurse. In very little time, this family has emerged from a situation of drudgery and tenuous survival, to one of prosperity and new choices.

Ordinary Sri Lankans keep striving to make their children’s lives happier and freer. Their efforts are fruitful regardless of what developments happen to be grabbing headlines. Let us just hope that many, many more stories like this can proceed unimpeded in a climate of greater peace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Democratic Republic of Congo: ‘Our Hospital Is Back!’

Last week, a large donation of medical supplies that HOPE International Development Agency procured for people in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived after an arduous journey over land, sea, and (most obstructive of all) national boundaries. This process of delivering critical supplies to deserving communities illustrated two things. First, it demonstrated just how intense the challenges are for Congolese men and women working for the good of their people. Secondly, it evidenced just how severe the need for this work is.

A list of the bureaucratic hurdles that must be overcome in order to get live-saving supplies to villages in dire need does not make for entertaining prose. Suffice it to say, it is long, complex, and occasionally quite discouraging. But the outcome, once these hurdles are cleared, is pure joy.

HOPE’s representative Mossai Sanguma was present when the shipment arrived in the city of Karawa. He said that it was an amazing moment – people lined the streets as the cargo arrived. The whole city was energized. Many were exclaiming, “Our hospital is back!”

Their excitement was a reflection of their lack. For about a year there have been little or no medical resources available to medical staff in the hospitals and clinics of the northwestern Congo. In these conditions, people do not bother taking the time to visit their doctor. The care they might receive is not worth the walk. A medical system that might be serving people is rendered totally ineffectual—hospitals become little more than buildings. This donation is seen and felt as a bit of a revival, a blood transfusion for a weak and depleted system.

Some of the supplies will be used in the hospital at Karawa, where there is adequate storage and a pharmacy. Karawa is also a processing point, as the bulk of the HOPE donation is intended to be distributed to four health zones through out the northwestern district – to Loko, Watsolo, Dumba, and Bukada, and the approximate 100 rural clinics located in these zones.

The donation, in the end, filled two forty foot containers. This is a large gift, but in the grand scheme of things, it is touchingly finite, truly small-scale. The DRC, after all, has a population of 65 million. But even this humble modicum of assistance is linked to serious obstacles—and a spirit of gratitude that is even more sobering.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bangladesh: Nasty, Brutish, and Short - But Still a Child’s Life

Given the way homelessness affects people in North America, it’s difficult to imagine what the experience of street children in developing world countries could be like. In a place like Dhaka, Bangladesh, Hobbes’s vision of life as nasty, brutish, and short is still accurate.

These are pictures of children being sheltered, educated, doctored, and fed in a HOPE International Development Agency-supported center in the city. They are being taught reading, writing, and specific skills that will earn them a stable income and allow them to become self-reliant adults. As evidenced by the photographs, they are shockingly young. Despite this, the biggest challenge that Bengali HOPE workers encountered was in convincing the children to attend the center at all. They had, in their short lives, only encountered exploitation and abuse at the hands of any number of adults. The pimps, politicians, drug dealers have already reached these children before they come to HOPE.

Fortunately, the children have been making measurable gains since the programme was launched in December 2007. In this short time period, 60% of the formerly illiterate children have become capable of reading and 50% have learned basic accounting skills. All of the children are healthier. Many had never used toothpaste before coming to the center, and now all of them are regularly seeing dentists and doctors.

When asked, the children say that the greatest thing about the help they have been given is the opportunity to play games. In the recreation room and in the yard outside, they feel totally at home, safe and happy and at rest. A board game in a clean, warm room is a little bit of heaven on earth, a paradise they never thought would open up to them. Children are still children—even when they’ve seen things we wouldn’t want to imagine.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Myanmar: bridging past and future with HOPE

2008 was a challenging year for Westerners and the global poor alike. The rich have seen their stocks crash, and people in places like Myanmar have seen their homes, families, and entire environments wiped away by disaster. However, each New Year brings a promise of renewal, and we have recently been told many stories that validate that promise.

A HOPE International Development Agency worker in Myanmar shares this photograph and story:

This bridge was jointly built by the Christian and Buddhist communities which live on the respective sides of the stream at Kathabaung Village. The previous bridge was destroyed by the cyclone and they have been using a somewhat narrow single log since the cyclone. The bridge is both a symbolic and very practical way of keeping their community connected, in spite of their identity differences. With HOPE International Development Agency’s help, they decided to build a memorial bridge with substantial concrete posts so that it would be more resilient than the previous bridge. They dedicated it with a community-wide ceremony upon completion.

Let’s do as these Myanmarese villagers are doing and pour our energy and resources into building bridges. From one year to another, from setbacks to progress, from despair to hope.

Happy New Year!