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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.