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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.