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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