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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.