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Saturday, December 18, 2010

UNION Volunteers: Recollections from the Dominican Republic

The memories of past HOPE International Development Agency volunteers do the best job of conveying the experience of volunteering. From time to time over the coming months, we’ll share a few of these experiences.

Below, Dominican Republic 2009’s Keith Esch recounts two of his favourite experiences in Ocoa, the mountainous district where our volunteers have worked alongside poor farming families for over 25 years.

“Everyday, after a long, hard, hot, days work, we’d file back to the two-room school house in which we lived. One by one we’d shower the dirt, cement or paint off our bodies and proceed to devour that night’s dinner. Hard work in that hot heat will put a fierce hunger in you, so when I used the verb devour in the last sentence, I meant it. Seriously, I almost used the verb inhale instead.

At that point in the evening, it would be about 7:00 pm. Our stomachs were satisfied and our minds were satisfied in knowing we did something meaningful and helpful that day. Like clockwork every night, the kids from the neighboring area would come over to the school. We had tennis balls, a soccer ball, a basketball, a guitar, construction paper and markers and we’d all play until dusk. Arroyo Blanco normally only got a couple hours of electricity in a normal day, so when the light bulbs suddenly came on each night, there was always a little excitement in the air. We’d listen to Bachata music, and relaxed by reading or journaling. We’d turn in early each night, content to wake up and do it again the next day. Time went slower there."

Keith shares more of his experience...

"I love riding in the flatbeds of trucks. I absolutely love it. Even in North America, if there is a truck and a low risk of passing a police officer, you don't even need to ask where I'm going to sit. So you can imagine the sheer joy I felt upon arriving in the Dominican Republic, a country where riding in the back of trucks is an openly accepted part of life. A few of us were fortunate enough to ride in the back of the truck on the very first day. Over many hours, we drove from the airport, through the capital of Santo Domingo, into the breathtakingly beautiful interior. The panoramic view’s intensity was magnified by the wind and the sun and I remember feeling pure joy as we raced down the paved -then unpaved- roads. We road in the flatbeds of trucks numerous times throughout our six week stint, but the magical feeling of watching some of the world’s most gorgeous landscapes rush past never got old. It felt like we were flying, only if flying could be done from the comfort of a flatbed of a truck.”

If volunteering overseas is something you or someone you know have ever considered doing, check out the options for 2011.

Friday, December 10, 2010

South Sudan: A Closer Look at Clean Water Training

In South Sudan, we are hard at work with families of refugees who have returned to their former homes after the end of civil war. In the long list of services that must be restored if families are going to live in stable communities, clean water is at the top.

Like with all our work, infrastructure must be accompanied by education. Our colleagues in Sudan are learning to put together wonderful training sessions that ensure that families enjoy every potential benefit that a clean water system can bring to their community.

For a closer look at what these sessions are like, see this list of questions that villagers in a small community called Wiro had for the instructor who asked them what they wanted to learn about:
  • How to increase water access and avoid conflict over water sources.
  • Discussion on sanitation around water sources
  • Hygiene promotion and water source management
  • Learn to mobilize community to create awareness on environmental hygiene
  • Learn and implement water protection strategies
  • Protecting water sources
  • How people and livestock can share water sources and keep water source hygienic
  • Water containers hygiene
  • Maintain water source sanitation
  • River and bore hole water and how to manage the two
  • Discuss value of clean water and how to use river water source
  • How to manage use of water by diverse groups of people and how to reduce conflict over water
  • Create awareness on use of clean water
  • Repair of broken borehole
  • Management of water source and community mobilization
  • Acquire knowledge and tools for repairs
  • How best to use new borehole.
The list is interesting in several ways...

First, it indicates the level of passion and sophisticated interest that people in Wiro feel towards their water system. It reveals how multidimensional clean water is; the questions posed touch on technical, social, environmental, and interpersonal issues.

The questions are good ones—and if they don’t get the answers, you can just begin to imagine what problems might arise. For example, if they aren’t taught to fence the ‘water point’ (where collection occurs) from livestock and the water is contaminated and then abandoned because it still makes them sick, what good would all the concrete, engineering, and labour that went into creating the system be?

When we take knowledge for granted, we do the families we work with a great disservice. HOPE International Development Agency founders like to tell an anecdote about their early efforts to bring clean water to the poorest of the poor that illustrates this point well.

In an Ethiopian village where a new system had just been installed, a HOPE International Development Agency worker offered a man a drink of clean water - the first he would have ever tasted. The man, who by all accounts was a wise and respected member of the community, categorically refused the water. When asked why, the man explained that he didn’t trust what was on offer - it had no colour at all, and he knew that’s not what water should look like.

Any ‘benefit’ has to be understood in order to be truly beneficial. That’s why we commend the hard work our friends in Southern Sudan are doing to increase knowledge among the families working with us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Cancun to Ethiopia: Without the will, there Is no change

Details from the ongoing world climate talks in Cancun paint a picture of a tentative, quite torturous process, in which ‘the negotiations are going to be complex if there is no flexibility by the parties and no political will.’

By mid-December, we will know whether the participants have managed to work a deal out that will have enough parties making enough changes to curb emissions for the conference to have been worthwhile. Climate change is nothing if not a complex problem - difficult to understand, difficult to muster the will to respond to.

Helping the poor to transform their villages into viable communities is also nothing if not complex. As with climate change strategies, there must be sufficient ‘social will’, and everybody needs to participate if it’s going to work. If the results are not clearly understood or clearly valued, then the process is a non-starter.

These are the kind of social complexities that we take into account before we start working with a village or a group of people. It’s not enough to just plunk down a load of money, or a load of concrete, or a load of tools.

There has to be a will among community members to do what it takes, including make sacrifices. For example, in Ethiopia, people who work with us to build water systems for their villages will spend many days of very hard labour for no pay in order to clear the way for pipes.

Everybody must participate equally. When the water system is installed, people have to be willing to work on committees that will maintain the system, people have to pay their fees for repairs, et cetera, and people have to put into practice the health and sanitation training they were given, or else their health gains are nullified.

In every instance, a village will remain poor if the people living there are not truly leading the process. Money alone is no cure, just like a conference alone will not address the problems associated with climate change.

If poverty reduction were simple, it would happen quickly. But as with most wonderful, truly worthy goals, it’s more complicated than that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cambodia: Water Festival Disaster Illustrates

Cambodia’s most important yearly celebration, the Water Festival, has been marred by an unthinkably random disaster. Celebrants crossing the bridge to Diamond Island became trapped in a crush of bodies so severe that it injured and killed hundreds.

The Calmette Hospital is the country’s best-equipped hospital and most of the 700 injured have been brought there. The situation is very grim, since the hospital does not possess facilities large or sophisticated enough to deal with such an onslaught.

Calmette’s inadequacy casts the basic struggle of the poor in stark relief. Poverty may be just barely livable - until disaster strikes. Of all the things distinguishing the ‘western’ quality of life from the ‘southern’, the ability to absorb shocks just may be the most fundamental. In bad times, there is no margin of recovery.

We believe that poor communities should be supported so that they can absorb the shocks that inevitably visit human beings.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Canada and Philippines: The Costs We Carry

Staff and volunteers for HOPE International Development Agency have recently returned home from their annual cross-Canadian tour of film premieres. One of the more important and least pleasant tasks for our audio-visual volunteer is carting a heavy video projector from airport to hotel to airport to hotel, again and again and again. After the about a week of minding this particular piece of luggage, the dreariness of travel can really set in—although our volunteer appreciates the upper body conditioning that the task demands.

However, it is often these types of chores that should connect us more deeply to the families that will be directly impacted by our failure or success in securing the funds for their clean water systems.

For example, let’s consider Befesa Ligmon’s family. They live in the community of Sito Fatima, San Vicente, in a rural community of the southern Philippines. In the Philippines, children are responsible for water collection. So Befesa’s youngest children make 2 one-hour trips a day carrying a 20 litre water jug over a hilly path to an unprotected spring.

This will be an imprecise calculation, but let’s assume that the jug, when filled, weighs 20.2 kilograms, or 45 pounds. According to standard calorie counters, the act of carrying this weight for an hour would cost a one hundred pound child between 350 and 600 calories. So in one day, water collection might conservatively cost that child between 1,000 and 2,000 calories (assuming he shares the load with his sibling).

That’s a big problem. The fact is, their lives are full of laborious tasks and it is extremely unlikely that Befesa’s children are consuming even 2,000 calories a day, the average for Western children. It’s no wonder that malnutrition is so rampant among families like theirs. Their daily lives are energy-costly and food-poor.

When our volunteer finishes a day of highly unglamorous schlepping, he can and should and will have a delicious meal. When Befesa’s children return home, they’re going to be eating just to stay on the right side of starvation.

Let’s carry the luggage, raise the money needed for the water system that will save these children two hours and 2,000 calories, and then everyone can enjoy that fine balance between hard work and replenishment.

Learn about bringing clean water to the people of the Philippines

Friday, November 5, 2010

Field Update - Tomas brings more suffering to Haiti

Torrential rain and high winds announced the arrival of Tomas in Port-au-Prince earlier today.

“Tomas, a violent and potentially deadly storm, is the last thing the survivors of this year’s deadly earthquake need right now given the fragile nature of their recovery,” according to Clifferd Dick, a HOPE International Development Agency’s colleague who called from the rain drenched streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti this morning.

The bad news, according to Clifferd, is that Haitians – already near the edge of survival and living in makeshift tent and tarp cities strewn throughout Port-au-Prince – are going to be pushed even closer to the edge with the arrival of this storm.

The good news, however, is that our latest large shipment of medical supplies and medicines has arrived earlier this week and is being prepared for quick distribution. The medical supplies include items that will help in the fight against the cholera outbreak that has claimed nearly 500 lives so far.

“The medical supplies and equipment are absolutely crucial because they strengthen the capacity of local hospitals and field clinics to deal with the unprecedented and continuing demand for services,” says Clifferd. In areas surrounding some of the hospitals and clinics, the population increased by nearly 40 percent as people fled the capital in the days following the earthquake.

Building materials, distributed over the past months, have enabled survivors to construct sturdier shelters than the tarps and tents they’ve lived in since the earthquake. These people, according to Clifferd, will weather the storm much better than those who have not yet received help.

Previous container loads and airlifts of medical supplies and equipment, sent immediately after the earthquake and more recently, have played a key role in saving lives and rebuilding the health of Haitians as they continue their long journey of recovery.

HOPE International Development Agency was helping the people of Haiti well before the earthquake in January and will continue to do so long after Tomas passes this weekend.

Read an update of our efforts to help Haitians recover.

Haiti - Replacing uncertainty with the certainty of hope!

One of the most devastating aspects of poverty, beyond the physical suffering and anguish, is uncertainty.

For Haitians like Janese, her husband, and their four children, the only certainty in their lives has been uncertainty.

Twice they have lost everything. In 2008, after hurricanes ravaged Haiti, Janese and her family moved to the mountainside village of Brelis and settled in on a small patch of land owned by her parents. They were starting over again and their new life in Brelis began with the building of a small hut made of mud and thatch.

Janese’s husband joined the local agricultural cooperative and gained access to training, improved varieties of crop seeds, and a network of community support. Their garden flourished, and their family grew with the arrival of two more children.

Life was better, but uncertainty was still lurking - a fact that came into sharp focus in January of this year when a killer earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince. The shock waves rumbled through Janese’s tiny mountainside community and her family’s mud and thatch hut was destroyed. Though no one was injured, they were devastated - all was lost and there would be no way to recover without some form of assistance.

HOPE International Development Agency, in addition to providing emergency supplies in the hours, weeks, and months after the January earthquake, has also been helping families like Janese’s recover from the devastation by providing the cement, wood, tin roofing, and nails survivors need in order to build shelters that protect them from the intense sun and cold rain.

In Janese’s case, her family was able to contribute additional wood, limestone, water, and labor toward their shelter project. Though it will be a while before they can build their next home, they have been able to build a frame for the house and replace the leaky thatch roof with a tin one; with a drier home, they have been less sick.

HOPE International Development Agency is also supporting the local agricultural cooperative, of which Janese’s husband is a member. This support enables the cooperative to provide families like Janese’s with extra crop seeds as well as the minimal interest agricultural credit so desperately needed by farmers who sold or ate their seed stocks in an effort to survive in the aftermath of the earthquake.

As Janese and her family continue to recover and rebuild, it’s clear that uncertainty is beginning to yield to the certain possibility that life can be much better than it has been.

Read a brief update on our efforts in Haiti.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Give yourself and others a very meaningful gift this Christmas!

This year’s HOPE International Development Agency Gifts of Hope Christmas Catalog is full of gifts that will bring joy to you and the people you help!

What store-bought gift can compare with rescuing an orphan in Swaziland or Ethiopia from a life of suffering and sadness? In these two countries, even children with parents have a tough time surviving to their fifth birthday.

When you sit down for your Christmas meal this season and raise a glass of clean water, imagine the joy you’ll feel knowing a family in Sudan, Ethiopia, or Cambodia will be drinking their first glass of clean water because of your giving.

This Christmas, you can choose from a selection of gifts that will…
  • Rescue and care for orphaned children in Swaziland and Ethiopia.
  • Provide a year’s worth of wheat and melon seeds to families in northern Afghanistan, giving them the ability to grow food throughout the year. Your gift will multiply as the families set aside a portion of the harvest as seed crop for the following year’s growing season.
  • Give text books, schools supplies, blackboards, desks, or a sanitary latrine to a school and students in Cambodia, ensuring that children have what they need in order to learn their way out of poverty and transform their lives.
  • Rescue a young girl forced into prostitution on the streets of a Philippine city and give her the skills training that will enable her to start a brand new life.
  • Give a Cambodian family a flock of chickens or cow that will enable a them to till the soil, make fertilizer, and transport their produce to market in order to generate much needed income.
  • Provide urgently needed medical supplies to rural clinics serving impoverished families in Pakistan and South Sudan.
  • Help build a new school in Cambodia and in doing so, transform an entire community for generations to come.
  • Provide abundant and lasting supplies of clean water to families in Cambodia, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, and reduce the incidence rate of water-borne disease by as much as 80%!
You can give as many gifts as you wish and make this Christmas even more special and memorable for you and for a family in need.

You can also give gifts in honor of family members, friends, and colleagues. Celebrate those you care about by giving a truly meaningful gift in their honor. You’ll feel wonderful and they’ll be thrilled when they receive a special note from us letting them know about the gifts you’ve given.

These gifts will last well beyond the Christmas season, as will the joy and fulfillment you feel in having brought the spirit of Christmas giving to families who, without your gifts, would continue to suffer and perish.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ethiopia and across Canada: A seat at HOPE International Development Agency’s dinner, if not the Security Council

Canada’s surprise failure to win a seat on the United Nation’s Security Council has caused a storm of speculation.

Blame is being shared liberally, and commentators have not been shy with their theories, which range from Canada’s unpopular foreign policy decisions, to disarray in the United Nations.

Canada is like the head cheerleader who lost the homecoming queen crown, and everybody in the hallway seems to be whispering behind their hands.

Many have said that this move by the UN is, in part, a backlash against Canada’s decision to substantially decrease its aid for African nations. It was and is a highly controversial development, and it seems to have not won Canada much acclaim on the world stage.

Debate over the efficacy of big government aid programs aside, it must be said that just because its government is officially distancing itself from Africa, it does not mean that Canadians themselves have lost interested in supporting change for African people.

HOPE International Development Agency will soon be on the road, sharing with our supporters our past success and future plans in Ethiopia. Guests at our fundraising galas will constitute a growing movement of people who know what intelligent aid investment into Africa looks like. They won’t need their government to tell them what to do about it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cambodia: Child labour is no choice

Our field staff in Cambodia (and elsewhere) regularly document the circumstances of individual families before HOPE International Development Agency is able to begin working with them. This is important to do for many - probably obvious - reasons.

In reviewing these cases, we are struck by the similarity of the problems faced by families in the most severe echelon of poverty. Possibly the most universal one is this: the futures of their children are shortchanged for present-day survival.

Take these stories as examples...

Sompha and his wife Moeng Euth have 5 children - 3 girls, and 2 boys. They only have enough rice to eat for 5 months out of every year. They have half a hectare of land for farming. All the children stay at home and do labor for other farmers or go to the market to try to sell rice. Moeng is sick very often. Her health problems have made the family even poorer.

Peim Moer and Ouch Seng have 8 children - 4 girls and 4 boys. They have half a hectare of land for farming, and only produce enough rice for six months of the year. All the children work in the rice fields, working for other farmers. Mostly they do hard labour like clearing land. Once, when Peim and Ouch both became very ill at the same time, they had to send one of their children to go stay in the local temple with monks, because they simply could not afford to feed all of the children.”

Perhaps this comes as no great revelation to most people, but it seems that child labour exists for no other reason but that families across the world are dreadfully poor - and a child in school means a lost source of labour or revenue. Child labour is no manifestation of parental abuse, callousness, or greed. It’s a last resort for the family as a whole.

The International Labour Organization has published an article about the issue.

Their conclusion? Eliminate poverty, eliminate child labour. Work with the parents on securing sustainable sources of income, and you will free the children to become educated.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mindanao, the Philippines – the journey out of poverty begins with clean water

In the Philippine province of Mindanao, one sip of water can mark the beginning or end of a your journey.

If you are among the poorest of the poor in Mindanao, you drink whatever water you can find, even if it comes from a dirty ditch or muddy pond teeming with bacteria. Your journey is likely to end far too soon as you fall victim to the bacteria and parasites that invade your body as a result of drinking contaminated water.

If you are among the families in Mindanao that HOPE International Development Agency has been able to help thus far, every sip of clean water takes you one step closer to being free from poverty.

The tragedy for families who do not yet have access to clean water - beyond the suffering and death caused by drinking contaminated water from ditches and ponds - is that abundant supplies of clean water flow in underground springs just meters below the surface. The families, however, are unable to access the clean water - they lack the knowledge or funds required to build a water system for their village.

HOPE International Development Agency is helping the people of Mindano construct small-scale, easy to maintain spring-fed water systems for their villages. To date, 60,000 people in 150 villages have gained access to clean water.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for families living in villages we have not yet been able to help.

You can help these families gain access to clean water and much more. Visit today and learn more about how you can help.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Philippines: ‘Voices of Peace’

Two days ago, students at the HOPE International Development Agency-sponsored Pamaulaan Center for Indigenous Education marked World Peace Day the way they best like to celebrate any and all special occasions: by holding a concert. It was dubbed ‘Voices of Peace’, and attended by several Philippine luminaries.

These students come the Indigenous tribes that have arguably suffered the most from the Philippines’ long-standing conflicts, conflicts that have killed just under 200,000 people and driven 3 million more from their homes.

The Philippines’ poorest people live in a cauldron of ethnic-and class-based violence, even while they contend with severe poverty and struggle to protect their ancestral domains from the encroachment of commercial interests like mining companies. Pressed in from all sides, the Pamaulaan students’ commitment to education, service, and peace is all the more stirring.

For a sample of the students’ singing, check out this wonderful and very collaborative rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Volunteering in Cambodia: When status updates about your lunch finally get old

HOPE International Development Agency’s Coordinator of Volunteers has previously shared her thoughts on being overseas with poor families in this blog.

While in Cambodia, this past summer’s team did not have constant Internet access, but when they did, volunteers kept their families and friends up to date through the micro-dispatch of the Facebook status update.

With his permission, we have re-published one volunteer’s updates here:
  • Heading to Pursat to start our volunteer tour and live in their shoes for a few weeks!
  • My heart wants to explode and my face hurts ... I can't stop smiling cause I'm in LOVE with these days!
  • It's amazing how one water well transforms lives ... And we get to be apart of it tomorrow.
  • Cambodians are filling my heart with love ... One smile at a time!
  • Today is the greatest day I've ever known!
Rainbow comments that, ‘"Today" refers to the day we went back to visit a family we had met that was waiting for a HOPE International Development Agency water well, and the team took the initiative to buy a water filter from the market, along with 50 kg of rice, some dried fish, some pork, and salt, sugar, and soap, to bring back to the family in need.’

More than one volunteer wrote status updates about the way Cambodians smile.

Are smiles in different nations and cultures appreciably different? It’s one of the details that makes traveling—and even better, volunteering in this country so intriguing and enriching.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poverty is so much more than the indicators we use to measure its deadly impact

Rainbow Choi and the Understanding Needs In Other Nations (UNION) volunteer team has returned home safely from Cambodia. By every account, the trip was enlightening, enriching, and unforgettable.

Here are Rainbow’s thoughts on one of the most memorable families the team met - a family still waiting for a water well that will provide clean water.

“Just after meeting the family with the well from 2006 and the garden full of vegetables... and before getting to get our hands on some well-building the next day… we had a much more sobering experience of poverty and needs in Cambodia.

We met this family - Ran, and her mother. Ran has three kids. She had four kids, but one of her sons died of typhoid from drinking unclean water last year. Ran was very ill herself, which is why her mother had come back to live with her. Her husband is away most of the time, collecting firewood in the jungle to sell. She and her remaining three sons work the little land that they have to grow, and spend the rest of the day in other people’s fields to earn what little income they can to buy rice for the day and survive.

What is life like for Ran and her family?

Well, Ran herself is sick with some kind of typhoid. She suffers from anemia, from lack of iron. Her son has swelling in his legs, arms and shoulders from some kind of muscle infection that has gone untreated. They have no money for medicines much less vitamins.

She and her family eat twice a day - simple meals…just rice porridge. We met her around 11am that day. She had just come back from working in the rice fields since daybreak, about 5:30 or 6 o'clock in the morning. But she hadn't eaten yet - and her kids were still out in the field. She was about to prepare her family's meal: the rice porridge - i.e., rice boiled down with water – more water when there’s less rice. She didn't talk about eating - just about 'filling stomachs'. She showed us her drinking water – an almost-empty jar of collected rainwater. She lives too far from any river or open water source to even be able to get water from there. When she runs out, her family drinks the muddy water from the rice. At least that’s when they are lucky enough to be in the wet season. In the dry season, even the rice field water has long dried up.

There are some people, some distance away, Ran and her mother said, that have access to some water. So, when they need it, they ask if they can have some little bit. Ask might be too nice though. Beg might be more fitting. Where water is scarce, even neighbors are reluctant to share.

They had no smiles for us - not for themselves. They didn’t even look us in the eye when we were there – they were squatted down as we stood around them, eyes down at the ground as Ly talked with them about if HOPE International Development Agency was able to support them. Ly translated for us, but we caught most of it in their voices. Their voices were lifeless. They had nothing to say when we asked what they dreamed of for the future.

It was hard to stay and hard to walk away. We gave Ran’s family some loaves of bread that we had brought, and then left, very much sad, and had a quiet motorbike ride home. It was a hard day for the team. We had a team chat that night, and talked about poverty and development, as we’d seen over the last few days.

‘Poverty’ doesn’t just ‘exist’. ‘Poverty’ can be so vague it hardly has any tangible meaning anymore when we use the word. It isn’t captured by indicators of daily income, child mortality rates, poverty 'lines' and who's over or under it.

Poverty is captured in the life of a young mother whose every day existence is a struggle to survive, whose health is failing, who has lost a child, who works and toils to no end, only to fill her family’s stomachs with food that will not nourish them. It is captured in eyes that can't smile, and voices without life, two beautiful lives so desperately surviving today, that there is simply no hope, no dreams of what if? for a different tomorrow.

It is captured in real lives and real people… and it is very much real.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Being close to medical care isn't enough for Cambodia's poorest families

The live-saving hospital care your dying child urgently needs is just 30 minutes down the dirt road, but it won’t matter today. Even though a doctor can see your child, it won’t matter today. The medicines required to save your child are available, but again, it won’t matter today.

Sadly, the only thing that seems to matter today is that you are poor.

The $25 you need for the trip to the hospital, the doctor’s appointment, and the medicine, is more money than you earn in an entire month! Besides, every penny you earn is spent on surviving day-to-day.

If you were a Cambodian parent living in one of the impoverished villages we work in throughout Cambodia’s Pursat area, the tragic situation just described to you would be your heartache. Your child is dying for no other reason than the fact you are poor.

Families living in rural villages like Toul Kros, Kdei Kvao, and Roleap, need your help today.

Just like here, children get sick. But unlike here, they often don’t recover.

HOPE International Development Agency continues to respond to the needs of families and children by helping them establish Self Help Groups among the poorest families living in a village where we are working.

These groups help families learn how to protect their health, grow more food, access clean water, and start small businesses that will generate enough income to allow each family to build up a savings fund.

Families who belong to a Self Help Group are often able to pay for medical care and expenses using a portion of their savings. If their savings are not enough, they can take a low-interest loan, tailored to their needs and financial circumstances, to pay for medical expenses when they arise - it’s like having medical insurance.

We are also helping families establish Village Health Funds to assist families who are not yet members of Self Help Groups or who need emergency funds greater than the groups can offer.

Village Health Funds are like insurance policies for people who would never be able to qualify for medical insurance - they are simply too poor. When families are in need of medical care, the funds help them cover the costs by providing no-interest loans that can be paid back on a time schedule tailored to the families’ income.

Friend, these families are poor and the need is great. Every day of their lives is a struggle to survive. When parents get sick they cannot afford to leave their fields for even a few days. If they do, there will be no food on the table, perhaps even for a week.

Fathers, unable to earn income locally because they lack the training and financial support required to start and run small businesses, are forced to leave their families in order to seek day labor work along the border with Thailand – a very dangerous endeavor from which many do not return.

Widows fair even worse. Unable to earn a livable income, they struggle to care for themselves and their children - their suffering is immense and relentless.

Please visit today a learn more about how you can save lives in Cambodia.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pakistan: ‘Worried’ Words from the Frontline

Our colleagues in Pakistan are completely occupied with providing emergency aid to flood survivors. As we do our best to gather support for their efforts, to say that they are focused on the task at hand would be a great understatement. It is a stressful, chaotic situation and they enter into it with great resolve and compassion, but they do need to know that the world community is behind them.

We received this email from a good friend and colleague who is attending to the disaster victims:

Sadly, the level of disaster and destruction is so high that it is impossible to even state in words. Just to share with you that out of 40 districts…20 districts are under water. Some of these have been washed away completely and some partially but the loss is enormous.

The displacement of more than 2.2 million people [in these districts alone]; loss of property, livestock and lives still needs to [be] estimated. People are still being evacuated and there is no shelter, food and water for them. The water level is still rising in Sindh, and on top of it, it's going to be winter in the next two months. Water born diseases, skin allergies and diarrhea are on the rise and they say that 6.6 million children are feared to die. I am a very worried person at the moment. Compared to the enormity of destruction the support is very inadequate for various reasons. The international community has realized the high level of the disaster
and one sees some support or commitments coming on the way but still a lot more is required.

He and others ‘on the ground’ need to focus on saving lives. If you can support them, please do.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The impact of clean water in Cambodia

Last year, volunteer photographer Mackenzie Sheppard documented the experience of one family in rural Cambodia who received a clean water well from HOPE International Development Agency.

His series on the Toek family (shown above) is particularly interesting because it graphically illustrates the impact that clean water can have on household food supply.

In thinking about clean water (and its absence) we often consider freedom from disease to be the greatest benefit - but the health impacts of water are much more significant than even that.

Take a look at the Toek family's harvest in both rainy and dry seasons prior to receiving a well (shown below - rainy season and dry season respectively).

Then compare that to their post-well harvest (shown below).

Five years ago, without a nearby source of protected water, they raised four baskets of vegetables a month.

Now, with a well, they have forty baskets left after feeding themselves. This is produce that they can sell. With the proceeds from their garden, they are able to afford clothing, schooling, medicine, and a whole host of other services that were unavailable to them as chronically poor people.

It's an interesting depiction of the impact that clean water can have on a family-many thanks to Mackenzie for the use of these images.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pakistan Update - Preventing a second wave of deaths in the wake of severe flooding

The flooding that devastated northwestern Pakistan this month has been called the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. It is also the world’s second worst flooding in the past decade. Over 1,600 people have been killed and more than 14 million people are affected. Now, Pakistani authorities are warning that there could be renewed flooding in the province of Sindh in the coming days.

Even as the floodwaters in Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) finally start to recede, the nightmare is not over. As they continue to wade through the pools of muddy water surrounding their emergency camps, survivors are facing a new and more deadly threat: lack of clean water to drink.

Wells, streams, and springs have been contaminated; water pipes and taps have been damaged and shut off. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Pakistan reported today that a second wave of deaths due to water-borne diseases and dehydration is imminent without an immediate response. Respiratory infections and malnutrition will also become bigger problems in the coming weeks. Deaths caused by these illnesses will greatly outnumber the deaths caused by the flood itself.

HOPE International Development Agency is responding to the imminent threat by funding the installation of water pumps in and around emergency camps in Nowshera, which has been among the districts hardest hit by the flooding. The pumps will provide safe water to thousands of people. Medicines and medical supplies to treat water-borne diseases, infections, and dehydration have already arrived in Pakistan and will continue to be replenished over the coming months.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pakistan Update - HOPE International Development Agency emergency relief efforts expand

With 14 million people now affected by massive flooding in Pakistan, the sheer scale of the disaster has eclipsed that of the three recent mega disasters combined - the 2004 tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake, and the Haiti earthquake.

Of the 14 million people affected by the deadly flooding, nearly half are in need of emergency relief assistance for their survival.

HOPE International Development Agency has been working among the poorest families of Pakistan for the past 20 years. Our experience and presence in the country enabled our emergency relief efforts to be mobilized within hours of the unprecedented flooding and destruction.

The deadly swath of raging water, mud, and debris that tore its way through villages and towns is now more than 1,000 kilometers in length. In addition to killing people, engulfing entire villages, and destroying vital infrastructure, the flooding has also left 1.5 million acres of precious agricultural land completely smothered.

HOPE International Development Agency has provided 3 large containers of medical supplies and equipment that are currently being distributed to key areas of emergency operations in five districts throughout the northwest region. Emergency health kits containing surgery equipment, antibiotics, and pain relief medications capable of supporting 10,000 people are also being distributed right now.

We are rapidly expanding our life-saving efforts to include providing flood victims with clean drinking water, personal hygiene kits, emergency food rations, tent shelters, and medical care. We are also deploying mobile health clinics that will provide medical care to survivors in more isolated areas.

Visit and help us save lives in the aftermath of this ongoing and unprecedented disaster in Pakistan.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cambodia: On the Road with Rainbow

Rainbow Choi, HOPE International Development Agency’s UNION Coordinator (and much more) recently arrived in Pursat, Cambodia, where she will welcome 2010’s summer team of volunteers. They are set to build a school that the poorest children in Cambodia’s countryside will be able to attend.

Her observations after traveling to meet some of the families that HOPE International Development Agency works with address the heart of the volunteer experience. There is nothing like being ‘overseas’ to realize one’s relative insignificance and yet total importance to the ‘bigger picture’ of poverty alleviation.

According to Rainbow:

“What I thought was amazing was that this long 2 or 3 km road for travel / dike for creating reservoirs of water for rice farming was first built by HOPE International Development Agency in the 1990s! It naturally eroded a bit, and then got significantly destroyed by some serious flooding in 1996, and had the Cambodian government along with some UN funding for repairs... but to be driving along that road for awhile that seemed to stretch on forever, seeing the water-filled farms on each side (needed for the rice paddies), and be able to get to the farmers far into the countryside... on a road made by HOPE International Development Agency... was pretty darn neat. :)

What I've been thinking most as I've been meandering through HOPE International Development Agency projects - big scale like this road, or big, to an individual family, is that, wow, I'm somehow connected to all this grand, amazing work. I don't take any credit for it... I mean, I was barely alive in the early 90s when the road was built, lol... even now, working with HOPE International Development Agency, it's not like I had anything to do with these Cambodian families' lives changing due to their new clean water filter that I just first read about in the project report 2 days ago. But somehow I'm connected to it now. It would keep rolling on without me, I also realize - I'm not an essential part at all of this picture. But, the neat thing is, that kind of I am. Or, I can be, with what I do with HOPE International Development Agency. Right now, I've just got an official "HOPE" hat on (should I be so privileged?), writing a report which really doesn't change much for the families I met today.

This simple water filter I saw today that cost $50 to build and is actually, really, saving a whole family from typhoid and other waterborne diseases? It's amazing! I had nothing to do with it! BUT- the one that doesn't yet exist that can change the lives of another whole family? I can be a part of that one. And actually so can you - anyone who cares to. You don't need to work for HOPE International Development Agency. You don't even need to come on a UNION trip (though really, you should! ;) ). Development (good development) is so much more than money... but it takes money keeps the wheels spinning. We make a lot of it. We do. A heckuvalot. What makes a life of a difference for a family here is so very small.”

Friday, July 30, 2010

Clean water brings more than health to the people of Wiro, South Sudan, it brings hope!

Jessalyn Jacob and other women from her village of Wiro in South Sudan used to spend their nights far from the village, sleeping on the cold ground beside a shallow, hand-dug watering hole.

Some mornings, the women would go home empty-handed because not enough water had percolated up through the earth into the small hole. When there was enough water, it was murky and teeming with unseen but deadly parasites and disease. But Jessalyn had no choice but to bring back what ever water she could gather – the small hole in the ground was the only source of water for her family and her village of 3,000 people.

In spring of this year, HOPE International Development Agency completed a bore-hole water well in Wiro. For Jessalyn and the other women of Wiro, having access to clean water right in the village has transformed their lives. Gathering water is quicker and much safer.

“The water is clean like the water that comes in bottles”, says Jessalyn. These benefits are not surprising; this is what we expect will come from providing villages with a stable, convenient source of clean water. Thanks to the borehole, the people of Wiro will be healthier, suffering from fewer waterborne diseases like typhoid, parasites, and skin infections.

In addition to the health benefits of having clean water, there is another very important benefit of having clean water available right in the village. Families like Jessalyn’s will not have to abandon their ancestral lands where they have lived for decades. Throughout even the worst years of the war, when nearby SPLM soldiers relied on the village for labour and food, Jessalyn was committed to staying on her land, in her house, cultivating cassava, maize, and sorghum to feed her four children and eleven grandchildren. Because her father’s grave is nearby, she did not want to leave her home. But at the height of the dry season earlier in the year, Wiro’s villagers met and decided that it was time to move closer to a more reliable and abundant source of water. They did not feel that they had any other options. They made plans to relocate.

Thanks to the borehole, the people of Wiro will not have to move. Indeed, they have begun to imagine what else might be possible for their village: more water points, a school, micro-credit to build income generating businesses. Jessalyn would like to open a small shop.

Learn more about how you can help other villages in South Sudan who are in desperate need of clean water.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sudan: Lazaro Sumbeiywo and The Power of Peace

In June, HOPE International Development Agency’s International President David S. McKenzie took a small group to visit our colleagues and friends in southern Sudan.

En route to Sudan, while they waited for their visas to be processed in Nairobi, Kenya, they had the great fortune to spend an afternoon with Lazaro Sumbeiywo.

General Lazaro Sumbeiywo served as Kenya’s Special Envoy to the Sudanese peace process (1997-98) and then as mediator (2001-05). His role was instrumental to the cessation of one of Africa’s worst conflicts, a multiple-decade civil war that claimed upwards of two million lives.

Helmut Fandrich, one of HOPE International Development Agency’s delegates, recounted this meeting, among other events, in his memoir of the trip, The Power of Peace.

The former chief of the Kenyan army told us how Kenya’s then-President Daniel arap Moi had asked him to negotiate a peace in Sudan.

I was surprised to learn that Kenya’s top general started a three-day fast to get close to God before he accepted the challenge to end Africa’s longest-running civil war, an 18-year conflict between Muslim Arab northerners and mostly Christian black southerners. I was amazed how modest the General was about his accomplishments and how casually he talked about God.

In his calm, soothing voice the General talked about starting his “ventilation sessions” in 2002 with a basic question: Why are you at war? The representatives from the Khartoum government in the north, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA) led by rebel leader John Garang in the south, were told to stay put until they came to an agreement on the basic issues that divided them.

From what I learned I concluded that the root cause of conflict in Africa’s largest country was division between Arabs and non Arabs, between Muslims and Christians. Among the big issues was how to split up Sudan’s oil wealth, as the south has huge oil reserves and the north has refineries. Also, the Christian south did not want to have Islamic law (sharia) imposed on them, and they wanted to have economic and political power. The Muslims in the north had taken the oil but had not put money back into the south, and the Christians felt powerless to do anything about it. Apparently similar feelings of marginalization also sparked the separate 2003 rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region, which led to US charges of genocide against the Sudanese government.

The ventilation sessions helped Sumbeiywo see that the conflict was about who was in control. “War,” he said, “is about power.” When Sudan’s military leader, President Omar al-Bashir, read the early draft peace proposal his raging response was for Sumbeiywo to take the draft and “go to hell.” Instead, the General went to his hotel room, sank to his knees and sought God’s will.’

I looked the General in the eye. “How was it possible that you were able to broker a peace,” I asked, “when previous peacemaking efforts had failed?”

“Both sides were tired of the conflict,” he said. Both north and south were losing sons and daughters and relatives in the conflict. “Some two million people had already died,” he added.

“What would be required for peace to come about?” I asked. “Education is the only solution to peace,” the former chief of Kenyan Intelligence said. “Unschooled people have to be educated.”

As is obvious from Helmut’s reflections, the trip was an excellent opportunity to connect on a personal level with the fine people that HOPE International Development Agency is fortunate to work with in Sudan and elsewhere. Though the material conditions there are as challenging as anywhere in the world, the people working for peace and prosperity for all of Sudan’s people are truly easy to support.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Afghanistan: A Rationale For Giving in War-Times

This past week, with a few exceptions, HOPE International Development Agency’s global staff congregated in Canada for a biannual summit. During this occasion, people who are not often in the same country—let alone office building—get to connect, share stories, and most importantly, plan for the future.

Esmat Nazaryar, Director of HOPE Afghanistan, is typically an anticipated presenter despite the fact that he claims he is ‘no good’ at speaking. He works in the most isolated setting and under extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Starvation, which is arguably the hallmark of the worst kind of poverty, is a seasonal reality for his people. He works with families too poor to get through droughts—they will eat their seed stock to survive and have nothing for the next planting season.

At one point in the discussion, Esmat was asked how we should respond to people who are unsure of investing into Afghanistan’s poor. Couldn’t the war, if it continues or worsens, simply sweep away any gains for the people? Will their donations be ultimately wasted?

After expressing his very defensible opinion that the situation in Afghanistan—especially where he lives in the remote north—will not deteriorate, Esmat reminded all present why his perspective at our gatherings is so valued. He said that the reason to continue to give despite war or instability is this: when you do, you help his people, who hate war. You do not help the warlords or the politicians, or any party that makes war in his nation. By taking away your investment, you weaken those who hate war, and those who make war grow stronger by comparison.

It reminds us: peace is yet another reason to give. Even war is no excuse for neglect of the world’s poorest people.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Local Solutions to Poverty Offer the Best Hope

William Easterly, speaking at the London School of Economics, argued that we do not know how to solve global poverty – but that this is a good thing.

This is an uncomfortable statement. It seems unconscionable to stare into the face of a problem that kills 35,000 children every 24 hours and say “I don’t know.”

But, as Easterly argues, scepticism and uncertainty do not have to paralyze us. Rather, they can be creative forces in their own right by forcing us to consider anew our foundational values and by moving us to consider, with optimism, creative solutions to complex problems.

The key, perhaps, is in recognizing that saying “I don’t know,” and even “we don’t know,” is not the same thing as saying “nobody knows”. We, in the developed world, may not have the answers, but people across the developing world have creative, thoughtful ideas about how best to help their own communities.

Our role then, as compassionate people with a desire to help, becomes supporting these people as they implement local solutions to local problems. This is why we at HOPE International Development Agency are grateful for our colleagues and friends in the developing world, who live with and learn with the poor in their countries every day.

Thanks to their tireless work, we do know what solutions work in Derashe, Ethiopia; in Pursat, Cambodia; in Rokon, South Sudan; and in dozens of other communities where HOPE International Development Agency works. We know that access to clean water is a crucial first step towards healthier, more productive, more self-sufficient communities. We know that education, sustainable agriculture, literacy, skills training, and micro-credit all have a role to play in providing the poor with the tools they need.

We know this because we see change happening in communities across the world.

But we also know that the constellation of needed programs is different in every country, in every community, and in every family. It is vital that each community participate in setting their own development priorities. It is vital that we listen to and learn from them. And this is, indeed, a good thing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rescuing Orphans in Swaziland's Malkern's Valley

Nearly an entire generation of parents in Africa has fallen victim to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that continues to wreak havoc throughout the continent.

Swaziland, one of Africa’s more impoverished countries, has not escaped the devastation.

Today, it’s estimated that there are as many as 70,000 orphaned children in Swaziland, a chilling testament to the human destruction caused by the pandemic.

The most fortunate among Swaziland’s orphans find themselves in the care of their elders, most of whom can barely afford to sustain themselves given the extreme poverty within which they exist.

The least fortunate find themselves living on the streets, begging and scavenging in an effort to survive.

Either way, the suffering continues and threatens to worsen for all involved as elderly households use up the limited resources they possess and children living on the streets weaken day by day.

The people of Swaziland’s impoverished Malkern’s Valley have not been spared the suffering and heartache brought upon them by the HIV/AIDS crisis. They have done what they can for the orphaned children among them, but the enormity of the situation has overwhelmed their meager resources and the suffering, despite their best efforts, continues unabated.

HOPE International Development Agency is helping the people of Malkern’s Valley do more for orphaned children in their communities. HOPE donors are helping build Neighborhood Care Point facilities throughout Malkern's Valley that will provide shelter, care, food, and education for orphaned children.

We need your help in order to enable the people of Malkern's Valley to rescue more orphaned children and provide them with the care they so urgently need.

Learn more about how you can help. Please visit today.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Dog Ate the United Nations’ Homework

This Wednesday, the United Nations published its 2010 Millennium Development Goals Report. On the whole, their assessment is written in a positive tone, and they are calculated when they broach the issue of whether or not their goal of halving global poverty by 2015 is actually - you know - achievable.

Apparently, while there is ‘progress’, every adverse development on the planet (e.g. wars, food crises, recession) makes the Millennium Development goals ‘more difficult to achieve’. Which is sort of like saying, ‘I would have had my homework done but my dog ate it’ - except in this case, the dog is a global economic meltdown.

Their best news hinges on the fact that the number of people in the world living on less than the $1.25 per day global poverty line has decreased from 46 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2005.

The question is whether or not the United Nations can really claim responsibility for this development.

If they can excuse their (and by extension, our) failure through complex global developments, can they not also explain their ‘success’ in a similar fashion? For example, doesn’t the rise of Asian economies make a slightly more convincing case for the downward trend of poverty?

HOPE International Development Agency measures its success and failure on a more modest scale than the United Nations. Where we work, there are no other organizations. There are only families, villages, and passionate individuals. They let us know whether things are getting better. They also know to whom they should attribute any progress in their lives. It’s just us, them, and - it goes without saying - you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

'Burnaby to Istanbul’: Doug’s Ride

Doug Ibbott, a long time friend of HOPE International Development Agency, set out on May 8th on the journey of lifetime. He is doing what many people dream about but never execute: embarking on a modern-day adventure. While he’s at it, he’s going to help thousands of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

His objective? To ride his bicycle around the world and to raise $50,000 to help bring clean water to the district of Bonke, Ethiopia, where only 14% of people have access to protected sources.

Leg one has Doug riding across Canada, then flying to Europe where he will ride from Amsterdam to Germany. From there he will cover some 2,000 km along the Danube River to Istanbul.

The ‘Burnaby to Istanbul’ segment of the ride will take Doug until December 2010. He has been on the road for over 50 days and has already cycled to Winnipeg.

For updates please visit Doug’s blog. And of course, if you want to support Doug’s adventure for a cause, visit our website,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ethiopia: A Closer Look at Value-Added Microcredit

In recent years, microcredit has been touted as a revolutionary means for helping poor people - even as a solution for global poverty, period. Indeed, the practice of lending the poor (those unable to join commercial banks) low - or no - interest loans to start their own businesses has transformed untold lives, freeing huge numbers of people from poverty. As the effectiveness of microcredit becomes more publicized, the number of agencies offering the poor lending services increases. This is good - and it would be great if all agencies operated with the highest possible standards.

What is the best form of microcredit for the poor? We believe that loans can do much, much more if they are paired with social support. For example, this is how our Ethiopian colleagues describe the support that they offer to women who join their credit groups:
  • Basic Business Skill Training: Covering income generating activities, money management, marketing assessment and other skills relating to small scale business.
  • Literacy program: Arranged for those women who can not read and write in order to make them literate and help them to calculate basic mathematics and work effectively their business calculations.
  • Self esteem training: This is a training to direct the thinking of the women so that they can develop positive attitude about themselves and value them selves accordingly.
  • Nutrition training: This training basically focuses on the use of different food items and how to cook a healthy and nutritious food. Moreover personal hygiene/reproductive health training was also given for the ladies.
We know that these women will feel equipped to become great successes. We know that the outcomes for these women will be overwhelmingly positive. The extra support that they receive is well worth our investment. It ensures that the loan money itself will be given the best possible conditions for transforming lives.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Answering the Challenge

When the challenge of poverty goes unanswered, people perish.

The enormity of poverty – 35,000 children dying every 24 hours and 1.4 billion people living on less than one dollar per day – is beyond comprehension for those of us who have never been directly confronted with carnage caused by abject poverty.

We in the developed world may struggle to comprehend, but families confronted by poverty on a daily basis certainly understand, all too well, the consequences of poverty’s challenge going unanswered.

For the people of Bonke, southern Ethiopia, the challenge has gone unanswered for generations.

Nearly 200,000 people live in Bonke, and the vast majority does not have access to clean drinking water. They know that the water they gather from filthy ponds, and hand-dug water holes frequented by animals, is dangerous. The evidence is right in front of them as they mourn the loss of yet another child killed by drinking the water.

At best, the water these families drink makes them terribly sick. At worst, it kills them. Sadly, they simply have no choice but to drink whatever water they can find – at least until now.

Today, HOPE International Development Agency is answering poverty’s challenge by helping the people of Bonke gain access, through their own efforts and the generous support of donors, to clean water. A long-term effort is underway to bring clean water to the nearly 200,000 people who live in Bonke.

With every village that gains access to clean water, the promise of a life free from poverty comes closer to being fulfilled. In Bonke, clean water is the beginning of a new era full of promise rather than suffering.

Learn more about our effort to bring clean water to the people of Bonke by visiting today.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It Is Not OK

Thoughtfully considered, the plight of the world’s poorest people should be enough to make even the optimistic among us realize that our lifestyle is far from a world-wide norm.

Could we, by some act of will or necessity, screw up the courage to acknowledge that we and our lifestyle are not the norm in today’s world?

What further evidence do we require other than knowing that more than one third of the population of our world lives in abject poverty?

Could we face the stark reality described by Mother Teresa when she said, “It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”?

Is it even possible, given the attachment to our lifestyle, for us to recognize, yet alone address, our poverty?

Have we become the truly impoverished, living on a scale never before seen in history, while so many others are forced to live on scraps?

Are we saying that this is OK?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Poor and Clean Water: When One Dollar Becomes Seven

Soon, many HOPE supporters will be joining us at our cross-Canadian premieres of ‘A Thirst For Africa’, a short film that focuses on our long-term effort to provide clean water access to Ethiopia’s poorest of the poor. Clean water and sanitation is at the heart of our work with the poor. Upon investigation, it’s easy to see why.

What drives us to ensure that every child in a district drinks disease-free water is not soft-hearted sentimentality—it’s a rather hard-headed understanding of just how cost-effective and transformative this kind of initiative really is.

Consider UNICEF’s findings. Their Executive Director Carol Bellamy urges governments to invest in clean water, saying, "The money it takes to provide water and sanitation services is so small when compared to the payoffs[.]"

In fact, UNICEF said that studies show that for every $1 invested in children - including money to improve access to clean water and sanitation - $7 will be saved in the cost of long-term public services.

So when HOPE International Development Agency considers the long-term health, happiness, and prosperity of a community, we are generally on the same page as the community-members who ultimately direct our work. They say they need clean water to drink before any other anti-poverty initiative can be considered. And we agree with them. It makes excellent strategic sense.

We know that clean water means health—up to 80% reductions in deadly diseases. We know it means progress for the women in a community—as hours of their time in searching for water are spared, and girls are enabled to attend school for the first time. We know that the clear and dramatic dividends of a clean water system that a village has laboured on inspire them to go further. Clean water provides the encouragement poor villagers desperately need, if they are to continue working to elevate the prospects of their children.

There is no debate as to the value of clean water. It is a work that we feel every confidence in and it is worth every dollar that we invest in it. If you feel you want to know more, please do get in touch with us and join us at a film premiere in your city.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Freedom from hungers lies beneath their feet

In rural Cambodia, you need look no further than the soil beneath your feet to be reminded of poverty’s absolute dominion over the poorest families in the country.

The soil, while capable of growing a rich variety of vegetables, remains unproductive under the footprints left by family members on their daily journey to scavenge scraps of food from the local market or forest.

The families are so poor that they cannot afford even the most basic garden tools, much less the seeds and fertilizer required to transform the soil beneath their feet into a way out of hunger and poverty.

Rather than starve, families eat concoctions void of any significant nutritional value, including boiled leaves and a watery paste of rice. The long-term effects of chronic malnutrition are especially evident among the youngest members of the families.

HOPE International Development Agency is providing a solution to hunger among Cambodia’s poorest families by helping them transform the soil beneath their feet into gardens of hope that produce a bountiful harvest of nutritious vegetables throughout the year.

In addition to receiving an armful of sturdy gardening tools, families are also given a large quantity and variety of vegetable seeds, training in how to prepare organic fertilizers from locally available materials, and health education, ensuring that the benefits of proper nutrition and sanitation are well understood and received.

Learn more about how gardens of hope are helping Cambodia’s poorest families free themselves from hunger and how you can help.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Building Family Ties in Ethiopia and Elsewhere: “There are billions of eyes in this world…”

Tewabech Tano is 38 years old. She lives in Derashe district, Ethiopia, where HOPE International Development Agency recently finished delivering clean water access to nearly all of the 200,000 families living there. She is married with seven children.

She says, "We are one of the outcast and neglected community one gives us attention and helps us to enhance our life in a good way. As a result of this our annual income is very little…it isn’t enough to help our survival. Though we have potential…no one trusts us to borrow to run a business. Since HOPE provided us with seed money I received a loan. With this loan I have purchased more metals to produce farming, hunting, and domestic use hand tools and buy farming land. …I gain more profit than ever before and also am able to send four of our children to school with confidence, having saved some money through our cooperatives we organized. We now have enough food, clothing, medication and education materials. I am very happy to see my life in this position through Building Family Ties (BFT) project. There are billions of eyes in this world but few are looking at the neglected…this will be a good strategy for poor people (a person like me) to come out of absolute poverty."

Building Family Ties is a program HOPE International Development Agency established so that compassionate people could invest directly in a child or entire family's future. Tewabech's account is typical of the 'good news stories' BFT supporters receive all of the time. If you ever wanted to connect more personally with a family in need, then BFT might be the right option for you.

Learn more about Building Family Ties.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sudan: Politics and the Possibility of Change

Last week, for the first time in 24 years, the people of Sudan went to the polls to democratically choose their government.

Despite pre-election fears, the polling was largely peaceful and voter turnout was high. Still, the electoral process was and will continue to be heavily criticized by Sudanese opposition parties, local observers, and the international community. Few seem to expect that anything will change for the millions of Sudanese who live their lives in a constant state of uncertainty and stress. A democratically elected Omar al-Bashir government will be no more accountable to the citizens of Sudan.

Hala Al-Karib, a Sudanese human and women’s rights activist, writing in the Sudan Tribune on the last day of the elections lamented that: “Various factors have transferred the elections into a meaningless process and stolen the possibilities of change.”

For the people of South Sudan, the recent election was most significant as a dress rehearsal for the in many ways more important independence referendum scheduled for January 2011. That referendum would allow the people of South Sudan to vote to become an independent nation. Yet, as the dust of the recent election settles and attention turns to 2011, some observers are already calling South Sudan a “pre-failed state”.

But to believe that change is impossible and that Sudan has failed before it even began would be a mistake. It would mean abandoning millions of people who need us to act in compassion and solidarity now more than ever.

Sudan’s nation-builders do indeed have a monumental task ahead of them. Peace has remained elusive. Basic infrastructure is virtually non-existent. The World Food Programme has warned that, due to conflict and drought, the number of people who will need food aid in 2010 has more than quadrupled: 4.3 million Sudanese will go hungry throughout the year.

These are complex and pressing problems. Until they are addressed, it is hard to see how Sudanese citizens will truly be able to write a new beginning for themselves.

Thankfully, people are tackling the problems. HOPE International Development Agency’s colleagues in South Sudan have worked against incredible pressures to keep the possibility of change alive for thousands of South Sudanese families who have survived the past decades of conflict and who persist despite unspeakable acts of brutality. They will continue to stand with the poor and displaced in the face of violence, hunger, and insecurity. And we will continue to stand with them.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Haiti: Hunger is the Unrelieved Disaster

Before the earthquake, Haitians were contending with disaster. And this was a disaster in the true sense of the word: a sudden and calamitous break from the norm, an event that brings great suffering. Anybody with a cursory understanding of history or current events knows that Haiti is a poor country—poorer than poor. But while the many learned, in graphic detail, about the extent of hardship caused by this winter’s earthquake, comparatively few people knew exactly what the Food Crisis (which became acute in 2008) had done and was doing to the people of Haiti.

The Food Crisis is a phenomenon that is still playing out. It is little understood, although its effects are having a profound effect on the poorest of the poor, those who squeak just barely above or below the margin of survival, depending on how much money or labour they can trade for sustenance. We know that it is related to broad and deep factors, such as the dietary trends towards more meat-eating (which is more agriculturally expensive) in rapidly developing economies, or weather patterns that are growing more erratic. The world body has so far come up with only one solution to the problem of many millions more people for whom grain has become too expensive: more donations to the World Food Program, please. And quick.

But it seems the donations don’t come easily or quickly enough. In Steven Stoll’s excellent Harper’s article ‘Towards a Second Haitian Revolution’ (April 2010), he reports that after 2008, ‘Haitians lined up for rations and filled their bellies with fine silt, mixed with water, shortening, and salt, shaped into discs and set out to harden in the morning sun. Dirt eating in Haiti stems from a craving not for any trace minerals the eaters might ingest but for the sheer mass in the gut. As one woman said to a journalist, “Once you eat [the biscuits] you don’t feel hungry anymore. That and a glass of water and you feel satisfied.” To supplement the clay cakes, children compete with pigs for the gleanings along open sewers.’

Once every penny has been spent for earthquake relief in Haiti, we must tackle another disaster, a precedent calamity. What is the solution for hunger as profound as this? Not mere food donations, but investments into the ability of Haitians to feed themselves, mend their own health, and sustain their own communities. Unbeknownst to most, Haitians used to easily feed themselves on their own famously productive small farms. Is it time, as Stoll suggests, to ‘give Haiti a chance to recover the best part of its history and to stun the world again with the genius of its freedom’?

See an update on HOPE International Development Agency's work in Haiti.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The unseen but lethal threat to the lives of the world’s poorest families.

Trade places with the world’s poorest families and you’ll find yourself living the terrifying uncertainty and suffering that are hallmarks of life in the developing world.

When thinking about poverty and the plight of people toiling to survive under poverty’s yoke, we can quickly invoke some of the most obvious and ubiquitous images associated with the hallmarks of poverty: starvation, natural or man-made disaster, refugee camps, and the carnage caused by conflict.

For us, these images carry the threat of disturbing, if only for a brief moment, the relatively placid nature of our existence. For the poor, these images are an all too accurate depiction of threats they endure on a daily basis.

Yet of all the threats facing the world’s poorest families, there is one threat that is insidious by nature and deadly in outcome for the poor – a lack of basic medical care, caused by a lack of access to basic medicines and medical supplies.

In places like southern Sudan, northern Afghanistan, and Pakistan, common ailments easily diagnosed, treated and cured if basic medical supplies are available, have the very real potential of becoming deadly.

There is nothing common about common ailments in these parts of the world. Ailments easily remedied among populations in the developed world devastate populations in the developing world – sometimes en masse, but most often in the solitude of a small shack or hut as a family watches yet another child quietly slip from their embrace.

HOPE International Development Agency continues to address shortages in medical supplies and equipment in the world’s poorest communities by providing medical supplies and equipment to field clinics, community-based hospitals, and mobile clinics.

Generous and compassionate donors are enabling us to put life-saving medicines and medical supplies in the hands of doctors and nurses serving families in the poorest communities on earth. In their hands, even the most common of medicines or supplies becoming powerful tools in the fight to prevent disease, cure the sick, and health the injured.

Learn more about our life-saving efforts among the poorest families of southern Sudan, northern Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Afghanistan: Taking action to save lives

Basic medical clinic in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, one in four children will not see their sixth birthday. In a country that has 16 times fewer doctors per person than Canada this should not surprise us – but it should spur us to action.

Most deaths in Afghanistan can be avoided. Respiratory infections, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malaria, malnutrition, and measles are all preventable and easily cured with medicines and basic health services that cost only pennies per day per person. There is no good reason why these diseases, which have largely been controlled in other countries, should continue to cause so many senseless deaths in Afghanistan.

It is true that the challenge of providing comprehensive healthcare to all Afghanis is immense. Even before the war, the country’s healthcare infrastructure was among the worst in the world. Government and NGOs have made progress in recent years: more clinics and hospitals have been opened, more doctors and nurses have been trained, and healthcare is provided freely to the poorest.

But the gaps in the system are still great and people continue to fall through them.

One of the biggest gaps is the shortage of available medical supplies. Where antibiotics, bandages, and scalpels are not available, lives are lost.

HOPE International Development Agency has taken action to fill this gap in eastern Afghanistan. Earlier this month a shipment of life-saving medicines, disposable medical supplies, and basic clinic equipment was delivered to Jalalabad. The shipment will help supply several rural clinics for the next year.

More importantly, the arrival of the shipment has been a source of encouragement and hope for the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to prevent the preventable. Writing to express gratitude for the supplies, HOPE International Development Agency's local director said that the donation was a sign of compassion that is pasted in the hearts of Afghanis.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Philippines: Imagine 30% of One Third

Howard Dee, founder of the Assisi Development Foundation, recently hosted David S. McKenzie on a visit to the Philippines. HOPE International Development Agency and Assisi have collaborated for decades on strategies to combat poverty and establish peace in the Philippines. Behind this institutional partnership are many long-standing friendships, prominent among them being the one between Howard and David.

Howard Dee is a quiet dynamo. A former ambassador to the Vatican, former advisor to the government on Indigenous Affairs, and recipient of many of the international peacebuilding community’s highest honours, he remains an elegantly humble presence. For example, when receiving the 2006 Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award, an event that saw his country’s luminaries gather to fete him, Dee said:

"My heart is filled with gratitude yet I feel no sense of triumph. I feel no pride of achievement in the face of so much injustice and widespread poverty that condemns so many of our people to a life of subhuman existence."

During their time together in February, Howard explained to David, in a typically transparent moment, how much it grieved him that one third of the Philippine population is under 12 years old, and a full 30% of these children are malnourished.

It is, naturally, a stunning statistic, and a surprising one at that—especially when the Philippines’ reputation as a ‘better-off’ developing nation is taken into account. The fact remains that many nations totter between security and dreadful instability, if they are not already failed states, and that this fearful margin is populated by young children—those who will succeed and those who will starve. The Philippines is no exception.

It takes intelligent policies to tackle systemic problems like war and poverty, and the people of Assisi certainly do not lack these. But it takes something else to get to the point of seeing the problem and demanding a solution. This is a quality that men like Howard Dee possess in abundance. It might be called an imaginative heart. When Howard talks about one third of the Philippines’ children, he is truly grieved because he is not engaging with a statistic, but rather his real knowledge of children, of their faces and hands and voices. Howard Dee is a man who can feel the presence of people, and this presence remains with him, informing his ethics, his interests, his sense of the way forward.

In order to address a problem as tremendous as malnourishment among children, we need to invest in the solutions that we know work. But perhaps to get to the point of being ready to make this investment, we need to exercise that quality that comes so naturally to men like Howard Dee. We need to simply see people, even when it pains us.

Learn more about the work of HOPE International Development Agency by visiting

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The suffering of Ethiopian mothers can be deadly for the children

When a mother is trapped in poverty so are her children. In fact, the longer a mother remains impoverished the greater the likelihood that her children will never be free from poverty.

When poverty denies a mother an education, vocational training, employment, disease prevention knowledge, and access to clean water, the outcome is devastating for her and often deadly for her children.

In Ethiopia, for example, one in eight children die before reaching the age of five - a direct result of the poverty that punctuates life in the poorest villages, towns and cities of Africa.

Each of these children has a mother who, despite her best efforts and tremendous sacrifice, feels absolutely helpless against the poverty that holds her captive.

To save the children, we need to save the mothers.

HOPE International Development Agency continues to work among the poorest mothers in Ethiopia, helping them gain access to clean water, education, vocational training, and small start-up loans that will transform their lives.

Learn more about our efforts to help the mothers and young women of Ethiopia free themselves and their children from poverty by visiting

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Medical camps bring healthcare to the doorsteps of isolated communities in Pakistan

For the people of Rajputan, a small Pakistani village near the Indian border, twenty kilometers of muddy road is all that stands between them and a doctor. But, without transportation, twenty kilometers might as well be a thousand. Most have never visited the nearest hospital. For the very sick, the travel itself could be a death sentence.

Basic primary healthcare is a right similarly denied to over 35 million other rural villagers. Healthcare systems do not always extend to remote areas. Doctors, medical equipment, supplies, and medicines are not always available. Even where functioning facilities exist – as they do close to Rajputan – lack of transportation, money, and awareness prevent villagers from taking advantage of them.

In this context, organizations all over Pakistan have learned that it is vital to bring healthcare to the doorsteps of the people.

Free medical camps held in remote rural areas are an effective way to treat vulnerable populations. More importantly, the camps provide an opportunity to teach villagers how to avoid common illnesses through simple preventative measures and diagnose health problems before they become fatal. Prevention is more important than the cure.

HOPE International Development Agency’s local partners in Pakistan organize hundreds of free medical camps in remote rural areas every year. At a recent medical camp this month in Rajputan, over 650 men, women, and children came to wait in long, hot lines for a chance to see a doctor without having to first walk for hours.

Each medical camp requires substantial commitment and hard work not only from our partners but from a variety of local volunteers including doctors, nurses, and administrators. HOPE International Development Agency supports their efforts by sending medicines and medical supplies for use in the camps. Several shipping containers have been sent, but many more are needed. In Pakistan, bringing healthcare to the people will require our ongoing commitment and compassion as well.

Learn more about the work of HOPE International Development Agency.