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Friday, December 30, 2011

Michael Paull: 12,000 Kilometres, Beginning in January

As the holidays wind down and we do our best to metabolize the excess food that this season foists upon us — without too much complaining on our part, we have to admit — we are thinking about our wonderful friend Michael, who is about to work off his eggnog in a big way.

In January, Edmonton entrepreneur Michael Paull, is going to begin an epic bicycle trip from Cairo to Cape Town in order to raise money for clean water in Ethiopia through HOPE International Development Agency. Michael has already raised a lot of money, and is set to raise much more through this 12,000 kilometer trip which he has dubbed H20pia.

Michael has a lively and fascinating website that is worth checking out: The blog he keeps is particularly funny and well informed, just like Michael himself. His entry from July 22, 2011 details the practical concerns that such a journey raises, and gives a sense of how epic the experience will actually be:

“These four elements are the biggest areas of concern for me on this ride. If even one fails, it could be very uncomfortable four months.

I need to digest 2,500 of calories a day to maintain my weight. I burn 750 calories per hour while riding. My average ride will be between four and eight hours per day, which means I have to take in between 5,500 to 8,500 of calories a day.

I go to spin class four or five times a week, I swim once in awhile, I run around the block once or twice, and I ride outside on my bike for about 500 km a week. Does that prepare me enough? Let's hope so; when I am in Namibia I have a five-day ride that is 825 km.

When you ride outside, you don't realize how much water you lose since it dries up from the sun and the wind. In the Sudan, temperatures will be in the 40s. In Alberta, 28 degrees works up quite a sweat, so this could be very interesting. Getting enough liquids and cooling my body down will be the most important factors for me if I want to complete the ride.

After four to eight hours of pedaling a bike, I'll finally get to relax. But first, I'll have to set up a tent and unpack my gear. There are the sand storms, the rainy season, and just the everyday exhaustion to contend with as well. Stretching is important if I want to get back on the bike tomorrow and do it all over again.”

Please keep Michael in your thoughts and do check out his website or Twitter feed:

Maybe he’ll inspire you to do something on the incredible side in 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Children turn online play into real world change!

Club Penguin / Disney Online Coins For Change and HOPE International Development Agency are working together to help families in the Philippines.

Club Penguin's Coins For Change is designed to inspire, encourage, and enable kids to make a positive difference in the lives of families around the world. Players can direct their virtual donations to provide medical help, build safe places and protect the earth.

By encouraging children to play in Club Penguin's snow-covered virtual world, you are making a difference for families in the Philippines.

Visit Club Penguin today and play Coins For Change.

Pakistan: A delicate rebalancing between men and women

Helping poor women to gain some control in their lives is an experience that never fails to encourage us. We’ve found that a kind of delicate rebalancing often happens in families that start working their way out of poverty. This is because all members are needed to make the kind of profound changes that will lift a family into a permanently higher standard of living.

While inequality is the rule in many communities where we work, and traditions that keep women powerless lay heavily on the family, change is possible. It happens without our ‘forcing’ it to happen. Take Muhammed Riaz as an example.

Muhammed belongs to a Syed (high caste) family in the small village of Basti Bhoi Sayyal, Pakistan, and lives with his wife, Musarat Bibi and their young son.

The majority of people in Basti Bhoi Sayyal are poor farmers with small landholdings. Many villagers work for others in the village and in surrounding villages and own no land. The village – and the larger area it is a part of – has no school and no health facilities. The people of the village were badly affected by the floods that ravaged Pakistan in the summer of 2010.

We recently started a project to help villagers in Basti Bhoi Sayyal and other nearby villages to regain what they lost in the flooding, providing livestock, training, and trauma counseling to the most vulnerable families. At the same time, we are mobilizing villagers to take an active role in finding solutions to the problems of their communities which include cultural and social norms that leave women and girls discriminated against and in positions of vulnerability.

When the project started, Muhammed joined in the planning and discussion sessions that were done to assess the needs of his village. However, he did not want to join the Village Flood Response Committee that was formed in the village, and also initially refused to allow Musarat to join this committee, despite the fact that she wanted to, because culturally and historically the women in his caste are not supposed to leave the house without their husbands or fathers. However, following additional discussions with local project staff, Muhammed agreed to attend several training sessions with Musarat. During these training sessions, Muhammed, Musarat, and others from their village talked about the need for a school in their community. With help from local project staff, they formed a plan to start a home school that would be headed by Musarat – the only person in the village with an undergraduate degree. With support and encouragement from his fellow villagers, Muhammed was convinced that this was an important and positive initiative, and agreed to help it happen.

Helping the poorest of the poor to help themselves sets many things into motion - new ideas, new habits, new values. Muhammed and Musarat are only one example. Oftentimes, defeating poverty means defeating oppression, discrimination, and inequality. A woman given honour, being asked to contribute the tremendous gifts within her - this is one of the many faces of victory in the war against poverty.

Monday, December 12, 2011

South Sudan: The end of starvation is the beginning of peace

Check out the latest Time Magazine for an excellent editorial on famine in the Sudan and the urgent, strategic need for continued famine aid.

It makes the argument that we frequently make. Because South Sudanese communities suffer continued instability due to the abuse of militias dispatched from North Sudan and not in spite of it, we must continue to aid the victims of violence and man-made starvation.

Many people broach the notion of people caught in complex and violent scenarios with a sad, perhaps even teary-eyed unwillingness to engage. The reasoning: helping people who 'can't' be peaceful is a waste of your money. You may as well pour your aid down the drain.

We experience this line of thinking not infrequently. Consider the (justly huge) outpouring of aid to Haiti after the earthquake of 2008, compared to the relatively more tepid response to famine victims of war-torn Somalia. The spectre of war casts a cold shadow on our capacity to be generous.

As the Time Magazine article expresses so well, starving people is a weapon of war. If we allow people in these situations to go hungry, we play right into the strategy of the aggressors and oppressors. In fact, giving well-administered aid can go a long way to fighting for the cause of peace.

Even if you set aside the argument that all human suffering is equal and should be addressed with equal fervour, you can still feel justified in aiding those caught up in war. Where there is clean water, sufficient food, education, and opportunity to work, there is peace. By giving, you aren't casting pearls to any proverbial swines -- you are actually becoming a peace-maker.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sub-Saharan Africa: The Insane Cost of Dirty Water and Poor Sanitation

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) oftentimes feel like nothing more than an exercise in measuring just how far short the United Nation’s member states can fall from their intentions.

The organization Water Aid recently released a report stating that it will take two centuries for sub-Saharan Africa to meet the MDG to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Apparently, water and sanitation are a lot less sexy than sectors like education, and many governments are more inclined to spend money on erecting schools than toilets. We get that — but it’s disappointing.

We, as a organization devoted to helping the world’s most neglected people as efficiently and effectively as possible, know that clean water and sanitation is the ground zero of overcoming poverty. There is no other initiative that can immediately and dramatically improve the standard of living for people — it truly opens the door to every other kind of positive change.

It’s not rocket science. A lack of clean water and sanitation costs sub-Saharan Africa 5% of its Gross Domestic Product every year. Nearly 90% of cases of diarrhea are related to dirty water and a lack of sanitation facilities, and diarrhea is the number-one killer of children.

A refusal to invest in water and sanitation is a profound failure indeed. In fact, “inadequate [water and sanitation] services cost sub-Saharan Africa more than the whole continent receives in development aid - US$47.6 billion in 2009 - according to WaterAid [report] ”

We want to give the kind of aid that decreases the need for aid! Easily accessible, abundant clean water, toilets, and washing facilities will allow people to move forward with their lives. This is the kind of investment that makes people richer, healthier, and stronger. And even if the politicians don’t feel the same way, we feel extremely proud to stand with villagers who are running their clean water taps for the first time. They and we know just how monumental that moment is.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

South Sudan: The Families of Abiyeh Persevere with ‘Commitment and Seriousness’

The South Sudanese families that fled the village of Abiyeh this past summer approached our staff without anything but the clothes they were wearing. The violence between Northern and Southern forces that forced them from their homes had traumatized them, and they were hungry and extremely afraid. We appealed to our friends for help and we’re happy to be able to report that the families are doing much better.

Shortly after taking stock of the situation — 2,800 people in an utterly terrible situation—we received the means to help them. We gave out food, farming tools, and seeds to plant so that they could immediately reestablish a semblance of self-reliance. They gratitude they communicated is very hard to relay. What would you say if you believed you would die and then strangers from across the world paid for you to eat and farm again, keeping your children alive?

We will leave you with the words of the chief. His response reminds us of why it is all too easy to want to help the Sudanese people. They are not victims; they are survivors:

“Please pass our sincere greetings and thanks to the people who thought of us, who pray for us and support us like they did today in this camp. We are extremely happy for those generous hands. I am going to encourage our people here in the camp to come together and work hard so that we can have enough food at home for consumption this year and have a surplus of food to sell. Our children didn’t have access to school this year because we were unable to raise the money to pay for their school fees. Thanks be to God because we have the seeds and tools now — but we still need commitment and seriousness!”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

HIV/AIDS: New Strategies — for the government and you too

Considering how monumental and devastating the impact of HIV/AIDS — particularly in the developing world — has been allowed to be, we feel cautiously optimistic about the US government’s recent announcement of a new strategy to “creating an AIDS-free generation.”

Normally, we would receive such statements the same way we would those of an overly confident ten year old announcing her intention to run for president — polite smiles all around — but it seems that this time, the Americans intend to put some well-researched policies into play.

The new approach is three-pronged: ‘eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV, scaling up male circumcision procedures and expanding early treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS – offered a combination prevention strategy that would help reach the goal of having virtually no child born with HIV within three years.’ If these initiatives can be properly funded, they stand a chance of making a real impact.

For our part, we continue to focus on the devastation left behind by generations who weren’t helped very effectively. There is still an epidemic of orphans in Africa, and they need to be given a chance to succeed, despite facing the worst odds handed out to a human at this stage of history.

For people living in the greater Vancouver area and the Lower Mainland, we are hosting a film night devoted to the 2 million orphans now living in Ethiopia at the Heritage Grill at 447 Columbia St. in New Westminster on Saturday, November 27th. It will be a good opportunity to become part of the solution. As always, regardless of what governments deign to do for the poorest and most vulnerable people, we are quite clear in what we are able to do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gifts of hope that will last well beyond Christmas

This year’s HOPE International Development Agency Gifts Of Hope catalogue is full of extraordinary gifts that have the power to lift people up out of the poverty and suffering that has held them captive for generations.

When you think of the gifts on your list this year, what store-bought gift can compare with rescuing orphaned children, who through no fault of their own are forced to fend for themselves on the streets and back alleys of Addis Ababa?

What gift here at home can compare with nurturing and educating young children in rural Cambodia or the Philippines? Especially when you consider that none of these children would ever be able to attend school, but for your gift.

Think of the joy you will feel when you sit down for Christmas dinner this year knowing that you have provided clean water or nutritious food for families who currently gather their drinking water from stagnant ponds frequented by animals, and scavenge the forests or garbage of others in search of a meager meal.

Imagine the relief a young vulnerable girl in the Philippines, abandoned and forced into prostitution, will feel when she receives news that your gift has arrived and she will be rescued from a life on the streets.

Each gift in this year’s Gifts of Hope catalogue has been carefully considered and represent areas where your help is most needed this season.

Whichever gifts you choose, you can rest assured that you have transformed lives, not just for today, but for generations to come! These gifts do not stop giving.

Give as many gifts as you wish. You can even give gifts on behalf of friends or loved ones and we’ll send them a note telling them about the gift and the giver.

View our Gifts of Hope Christmas Catalogue

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fighting Hunger Right: IFPRI Findings and Your Donation

If you are in the businesses of caring about the world’s poorest people, you know that they have entered into a new and very scary phase of allocating more and more of their wages towards buying food.

We’ve talk about the food crisis often. High food prices are something the wealthy grumble about; for the poor they translate into actual hunger pangs and undernourished bodies.

A report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reiterates a lot of what we already know. The food crisis is caused by “growing demand for biofuels, extreme weather and climate change, and increased financial activity through commodity futures markets…These challenges are exacerbated by historically low levels of grain reserves, export markets for staple commodities that are highly concentrated in a few countries, and lack of timely, accurate information on food production, stock levels, and price forecasting, which can lead to overreaction by policymakers and soaring prices.”

While Asian countries have taken great strides in lowering the incidences of malnourished people since 1990, Africa remains a place where people struggle to get enough to eat. However, one nation, Ghana, has lowered its ‘Hunger Index score’ (meaning it has become a place where more people get enough to eat and fewer children are malnourished die before the age of five).

How did Ghanaians do it? The IFPRI attributes it to “a combination of investments in agriculture, rural development, education, and health, including strong increases in the rate of immunization against common childhood diseases.”

This particular finding is encouraging to us, and should be to you. Think about it. Your donations constitute precisely these kinds of investments. Your donations mean that agriculture, rural development, education, and health are being bolstered in small villages across the world where hunger is a serious problem. Where governments might be failing to make these kinds of investments, you, as a compassionate and active friend of the poor, are stepping in. You are getting the job done. Even if you do it more slowly than a national government with the political will to make good policy decisions could, you are doing it. You are on the right track.

Our feeling has always been that we shouldn’t wait for any government to take care of what we are ready and able to accomplish. When we read reports like the IFPRI’s, we can be encouraged - and hopefully even more motivated - to stay the course of solving the problem of hunger by making the right kind of investments.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Honduras: The Underreported ‘Poor Volunteer’

In the remote village of Jamalteca, Honduras, 20-year old Honduran Annly Couvas volunteers her time to run a village pharmacy. For the past year, every day, people have been coming to see her, complaining of various problems: headaches, fevers, diarrhea, coughs, and fatigue. She treats them when she can, and refers them to the closest clinic when she can't. Though she's not a doctor or a nurse, Annly has learned to diagnose basic health issues thanks to training she has received from us and can now recognize the symptoms of all common illnesses in her community.

Now ask yourself, do you know many 20 year olds who would do this?

Annly is part of the reason why we are driven to help the poor. The fact is, the poor are driven to help each other—to a humbling extent. Any work we do to fight poverty is multiplied by the work the poor do themselves to change their situations and those of their neighbours. The amount of work they are willing to do—not just for themselves or their own children, but for their whole communities—makes our investment of money and effort seem quaint, and that’s the truth.

Without Annly’s pharmacy, the 700 people who live in Jamalteca would have no access to basic medicines. They would have to travel several kilometers by foot, and pay exorbitant prices to buy medicines from the closest main town. Annly's pharmacy is open 24 hours a day, and she charges only what it costs her to get the medicines and transport them back to her village; this money is then used to buy more medicines. Her neighbours are so grateful for the service Annly provides that, when she started, they pooled their resources to give her about $100 of seed money to buy the first medicines. In addition to running the pharmacy, Annly works with other health volunteers in her community to monitor pregnancies and track the weight of children under two; child malnutrition has, as a result, decreased significantly in Jamalteca.

Annly likes the work and likes helping the community. She's deservedly proud of the difference she is making in people's lives. Annly is only one of over 100 volunteers that run similar community pharmacies in central Honduras, and is one of over 400 health volunteers currently working with us to improve the health of children, women, and men in extremely poor villages. We support them by sending needed medicines (antibiotics, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, cough syrups, vitamins) that would otherwise be unavailable in remote rural communities.

Volunteerism by the poor is a big reason why your donated dollar goes as far as it does. What happens in Honduras happens in every country in which we work, in some way or another, whether it’s brigades of Ethiopian volunteers building roads by hand or Swazi women donating their time to mother HIV/AIDS orphans in their villages. It’s a big reason why we feel absolutely comfortable asking for money in the name of the poor. People like Annly prove to us constantly that this work is not a case of giving hand-outs to passive victims. The fact is that Annly works much harder with the dollar I give to her than I did to earn it in the first place. If that’s the case—and it is—then why on earth would it be difficult for me to part with this dollar?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Dominican Republic : The Women of Los Martinez Fight for Food and the Future

The Dominican Republic is known for its resort towns and beaches, but the standard of living for its poorest people is not exactly postcard-ready.

The hardworking farming families living in the mountainous province of San Jose De Ocoa are fighting a hard battle against chronic poverty and the environmental degradation that threatens to take the little they have. Deforestation and soil loss is a tremendous problem here. If the land is too damaged, food will not be easily grown in the future.

In addition to our ambitious efforts to reforest the land, we’re also helping farmers to grow more food than ever before and in a manner that preserves and protects their environment.

HOPE International Development Agency’s front-line workers in the fight to preserve San Jose de Ocoa’s tradition of sustainable agriculture are the women living in its poorest villages. Taking the village of Los Martinez as an example, we see how helping women to supply their communities with high-quality, abundant, organic produce is making a critical difference in the fight for long-term food security.

There are three greenhouses in Los Martinez. Excellent, large-fruited tomatoes are grown in the greenhouse pictured above.

The field pictured is located next to the greenhouse. A man works in this field while his wife works in the greenhouse. The primary goal of greenhouses such as this one is to support women to grow and sell their own produce so they can support themselves. The women work together in the greenhouses close to their homes so they are not too far from their children. Sometimes, they bring their children with them to the greenhouses while they work. In other communities, women take turns watching the children and working in the greenhouses. When women have jobs and start making their own income, they have more control over their own lives and those of their children. After they sell all the produce, they put some of their profits in the bank and distribute the rest of the money amongst themselves. Some of the money is used to buy seeds and supplies for the next planting season.

Francis, a mother of six from Los Martinez, has been working in the greenhouses with HOPE International Development Agency for the past 11 years. Through her work she has received training on how to be more organized and how to work effectively in a group. When asked how her life has changed since she started working in the greenhouse, she said that her life is dramatically better. Her activities are organized and within her control and she feels that she is a contributing member of society who can help her community. After the women started earning an income and HOPE International Development Agency continued supporting more community projects in Los Martinez, they were able to install benches in the schoolhouse, their houses were in better condition, they had irrigation systems and because of an aqueduct and a hydroelectric system, they now have 24-hour electricity and internet access – which is more reliable than in the province’s capital city!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Poor and Food: The Future is Certainly Not Friendly

The Huffington Post, while not being everybody’s cup of tea ideologically speaking, did publish an extremely interesting post with a very clear graphic about the effect of bank speculation on food prices. It is worth taking a look at the post.

It highlights the little known role that banks have had in causing the dramatic rises in food prices that have hurt the global poor so deeply in the past few years. It’s really astonishing to consider the facts.

44 million people have been driven into poverty since the food crisis began in 2010.

People in poor households typically spend about 70% of their income on food. In five years, speculation on food prices has doubled.

In a nutshell, banks are speculating on ‘food futures’, thereby distorting the markets and causing food prices to rise dramatically.

Farmers enter into ‘futures contracts’ that allow them to sell their future crops at a guaranteed price; banks buy and sell these contracts in the hopes of making huge profits (which they do); and speculators bet on rising prices, which cause prices to actually rise, since food buyers and sellers take their pricing cues from the futures market. It’s a little confusing, as the business of making money in the highly abstract world of high finance usually is. However, the effects are clear and they are devastating.

Is there anything we can do? Aside from express our opinion about these practices in our political forums, we at HOPE International Development Agency feel that investing into the ability of the poor to grow their own food sustainably is always a smart measure. In this climate of oppressively expensive basic commodities, it seems local food security has never been more important.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Afghanistan and 100 Mile House: Good Neighbours

In our work with the poor, one of the most gratifying things we are ever a part of is helping communities across the planet to strike up friendships. There’s no better example of this phenomenon than the relationship enjoyed between the families of Jeloucha, Afghanistan, and our friends in 100 Mile House, in the Cariboo region of BC.

Esmat Nazaryar, our Director of HOPE Afghanistan, was visiting Canada a few years ago and had occasion to meet the folks at 100 Mile House’s United Church. They promptly fell in love with Esmat, an individual who, despite successfully immigrating to Canada, was driven to return to his hometown and help the people there to make a break with poverty.

When Esmat approached us for help back in the 90s, he was working at Ikea and had nothing but a huge vision. Over the years, the people of 100 Mile House have banded together to fund major developments in Jeloucha and Esmat has proven himself to be a rock-solid, shrewd, and effective leader.

The email below was written by Jack Witty, one of the individuals responsible for spearheading much of 100 Mile House’s mobilization for the poor of Afghanistan. Reading his account of a recent visit by Esmat and his family to 100 Mile House, you get the sense of the history between these far-flung communities, and the inspiring changes that their friendship has fostered.

“Esmat Nazaryar, his wife Nadera, four children, sister Atiffa and husband Yusuf and their child, along with Esmat’s brother Hyack, visited 100 Mile House in September to convey the thanks of the community of Jeloucha to all the people of the South Cariboo who have supported the rebuilding of Jeloucha over the past 8 years.

New work in area will consist of developing storage facilities and grain banks in four communities; developing a forest nursery in Jeloucha to begin the reforestation of the area, and the extension of the road we helped build three years ago for better access to some of the more remote fields.

In the meantime, the school has progressed to the point where only the painting and finishing touches are left to do. The Afghan government will be supporting the school as of the new school year in March 2012. The community has set aside space for farmers from the district to meet and assist each other in how and what they do to expand their crops and earning possibilities.

Esmat is now trying to convince the leadership to set aside space for women of the community to have their meeting place.

Esmat explained that the area is dealing with some of the more extremes of climate change. In the time of his Grandfather, this area of Afghanistan was covered by lush forest with abundant wildlife, including tigers and other Asian animals. Now that climate zone has moved northward, Jeloucha is a semi-arid, almost treeless part of the foothills of the Hindu-Kush Mountains.

Reforestation with local tree species, particularly pistachio trees for a cash crop and fruit trees for both food and sale will, they hope, bring back some of the lost moisture and moderate the overall climate. This past summer, people finishing the roof of the school were working in 42 degree heat! As I am one of those contributors to excess carbon, I will be a lot more thoughtful and careful with my own emissions from now on. […]

Esmat returns to Afghanistan September 15. When I next hear from him I will get out another up-date.”

Thank you, 100 Mile House people for all of your compassion, activism, and neighborliness - it’s amazing to find a community whose concept of ‘neighbour’ can extend so far geographically and culturally!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nourishing Hungry Minds

Poverty can just as readily starve the mind as the body. And when children’s minds are undernourished – due to a severe lack of educational opportunities – the long-term consequences can be devastating, even deadly.

In poor communities throughout Cambodia, northern Afghanistan, and the Philippines, it is entirely possible that children’s bodies can be reasonably well nourished, while their minds remain severely undernourished.

Education helps children see themselves and their surroundings in a different light and encourages them to create solutions, rather than simply accept poverty as their lot in life.

HOPE International Development Agency is working with families and communities to provide educational opportunities that will ensure children and their families do not remain trapped in poverty.

Learn more about efforts to provide educational opportunities for children in Cambodia, northern Afghanistan, and the Philippines by visiting today.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Africa: The PlayPump Rolls Out, Then Runs Out

PBS’s Frontline recently broadcasted a story about Africa, clean water, and the troubling nature of high-octane, advertising-driven ‘entrepreneurial’ charity that we think is worth sharing.

In this story, Amy Costello chronicles the rise and fall of the ‘PlayPump’, a water system that doubles as a merry-go-round, a device that would harness the energy of children at play and replace the old hand-pumps that predominate in Africa.

A seemingly well-meaning entrepreneur named Trevor Field championed the device, and for a while, it captured public attention with gloriously lucrative results. PlayPump raised millions of dollars and commenced an ambitious rollout across Africa. PlayPump had particular targets it pledged to meet, and soon the devices were being installed across Africa at a breathtaking pace.

However, when Costello investigated several PlayPump sites, she found that children mostly avoided them, finding the PlayPump to be hard work, rather than fun. Many of the pumps were broken and local people could not reach anyone who could help them to replace parts. Many reported to Costello that they had never been consulted about the change and simply wanted their old pumps back.

This story is sad and frustrating on a number of levels. One thinks about all the donations that funded PlayPumps breakneck rollout. Perhaps most grievously, when people feel that their generosity is returned with inefficacy, it hurts the longterm cause of raising funds to make a real dent in poverty. People do not want to be taken for fools.

There are many lessons to be learned from the PlayPump, and we are grateful to have learned them relatively early on in our work with the poor.
  1. Any changes to a community must be spearheaded by the community. We do not ‘do’ charity to a community. When we help a community to install clean water systems, we are doing exactly that: helping a community to do it themselves. They approach us, and we assist them to make the changes that they have identified as being important
  2. ‘Make haste slowly’. This is an old African expression, and it applies perfectly to our work with the poor. The PlayPump fiasco was a model of too much, too fast. The ‘rollout’ became more important than the effectiveness of the pumps. There was seemingly no thought given to what would happen after they were installed. In our work, educating the people to maintain their own systems is a very important priority. It takes longer to educate, but it means the work will have been worthwhile.
  3. The ‘sexy’ solution isn’t always the best one. The PlayPump was a great story. PlayPumps are cute. Entrepreneurial campaigns that promise rapid change are very appealing. People love the idea that a new product will suddenly and substantially change the quality of life for the poor. They will believe this to the tune of millions of dollars. Sometimes technological innovations do help out the poor. But by and large, what really seems to help the poor is a harder sell: conscientious, people-driven, simple solutions paired with plenty of education.
In short, no ‘product’ can take the place of what our friends in the Philippines call ‘people power’. When we seek to help people rather than help them help themselves, we will always run into trouble. The PlayPump is only one of many frustrating examples.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ethiopia: ‘Staying’ Power

We talk a lot about what it means to stay somewhere for the long haul. ‘Staying’ is probably one of our cardinal values as an organization of people devoted to helping the poorest of the poor.

Crisis is usually what attracts the attention of westerners to the poorest places in the world. When suddenly life, for whatever reason, becomes unbearable or utterly tenuous for significant numbers of people in one place. With attention comes donations, and so many organizations are most visible when they are taking part in aiding people in crisis.

Over the long term, the crisis is resolved or it simply becomes an embedded part of life for the poor (like a war that results in various tribes mistrusting one another for decades, leading to occasional violence and a general inability to cooperate). Over the long term, people no longer pay attention. This is when we do our best work with the poor.

Ethiopia is probably the best example of this. We started our work there in a time of famine, but we’ve stayed for decades. Over time, we’ve learned how to help the poor in the most efficient and effective way, through zeroing in on the lack of clean, abundant drinking water. The longer we stay, the better able we are to serve the poor well, to maximize on the finances that caring supporters entrust us with.

We marvel at the growing expertise of our Ethiopian staff. They took a decade to bring clean water to the entire district of Dereshe, which began with only 11% of families having disease-free water—and this was a tremendous accomplishment. But consider the fact that since Dereshe’s completion, they have been working Bonke district for only two years and by this year’s end, we project that 40% of the district will be finished. Ten years ago, we were approached to bring water to an area called Gewada. The project necessitates laying 17 kilometres of pipe, which is a mammoth engineering feat. We said we couldn’t do it then. Now, we are on track to ensure that the people of Gewada are all drinking safe, nearby water.

This is the power of ‘staying’—you get better at what you do. You stand a chance to really get somewhere in the fight against poverty.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Horn of Africa: Therapeutic Food Makes the Difference for Starving Children

At latest count, over 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are in deadly serious need of help. Over a third of these people are in Ethiopia, where we have long worked with families to bring clean water and prosperity to their villages.

It’s an overwhelming crisis. As nearly impossible as it is for us to imagine, this huge number is made up of real mothers, fathers, little boys, little girls, and babies. To get a sense of this, picture the Ethiopian district of Alle Woreda.

Alle Woreda saw so little rain this year that their summertime harvests simply didn’t come. Life here before the drought was not easy to begin with. It’s a place where fighting between different tribes (typically over scarce resources like water, which we are working with the people to make accessible for all), has put people out of their homes. Many in Alle Woreda have been living under plastic sheets that we provided as temporary shelters during the fighting, and they have no back-up supply of food.

Now over 20,000 people in this district—and 15,000 of them children—are badly malnourished and very afraid. Their livestock are dying in droves. Malaria and typhoid are claiming many lives—normally they might be strong enough to weather an infection, but in their weakened state, they succumb easily to these diseases.

Right now we are tending to children who are living in an emergency center. These children are currently unable to eat regular food to get needed nutrients and instead need ready-to-use therapeutic food that allows the rapid weight gain that can mean the difference between life and death. They’ll need to have this special food for several months.

Believe us—and bear with us, as you may find this to be such a statement of the obvious as to be insulting—the parents of these children intensely want their children to survive. Many, many others want the same thing and they will not have their wish granted. We need to make sure there are as few parents in the second category as is humanly possible. That’s all we know.

We know that our supporters agree, but bluntly speaking, our call for help needs a bigger response. We need to do more and we can’t without help.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ethiopia and Dawson’s Creek: McLeod Students are ‘Thinking Globally’

A little earlier in the summer, a school in Dawson’s Creek, British Columbia called McLeod Elementary approached our representatives David and Teresa Plante with a desire to raise a thousand dollars for clean water projects in Ethiopia. The fact that they outdid themselves by raising $1,307.95 is pretty incredible — considering that the school has an enrollment of 39 students. They did this by selling tote bags and water bottles.

The kids were moved by what they had learned about Ethiopia through their own research as well as through a presentation conducted by Teresa and David. Teresa told them:

“The first time we went there [to Ethiopia], the children would have a lot of sores on their face and legs and distended bellies and parasites are fairly common, and when we went back that was quite a bit better. If you can see such a difference in just three months, you can just imagine what a year will bring.”

We’re excited to be working with children not even out of elementary school to save lives. It’s a huge encouragement to the people of Ethiopia who are working very hard to bring clean water, health, and prosperity into their villages. Read the whole story about McLeod students.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Crisis in Africa: Three things that we know

Our call to help people in the Horn of Africa who are dealing with the worst drought in 60 years continues. Many of you have already helped. We anticipate that many more of you will.

As always, when there is a crisis, we are painfully aware of two things. First, we know what the suffering is. We know about whole villages on the move, very hungry and afraid. We know there a more than 10 million people in this situation. Second, we know just how often people like you are asked to help and we know just how often we ask you to help people in crisis.

Sometimes it seems as though these record-breaking crises are becoming the norm. Will the frequency with which poor people face calamity affect your desire to help them? Will disaster become more and more acceptable to us - so long as it does not involve us directly?

The reality is, we’ve been blessed to keep helping the poor because you continue to care. We trust that you will remain open to the plight of the poor.

There is a third thing that we are very aware of: we are able to do something. Because we are able, we will do something. All we can do is invite you to join us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Declaration of famine just the beginning as the situation in the Horn of Africa goes from bad to worse

Hunger is rapidly becoming starvation in the Horn of Africa as death continues to tighten its grip on more than 10 million people trying to survive amidst the worst region-wide drought in 60 years!

The United Nations has declared that famine has arrived in the region. Setting aside the technical definition used by the UN when declaring a region to be in famine, in real terms it means that an already terrible situation is getting much worse and rapidly deteriorating.

Our life-saving efforts in the region are concentrated on identifying and helping families who have not yet received help or are unable to access aid as the crisis continues to deepen.

HOPE International Development Agency is focused on providing emergency food aid, materials, and medical aid, as well as continuing to ensure that a food crisis can be averted through agricultural support.

See how you can help today.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Philippines: A Milestone for Indigenous Children

This past spring, two of the schools that we support in the Philippines celebrated their first ever Elementary Graduation. These schools are incredibly special: they are attended by children from Indigenous Peoples’ tribes.

Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of the Philippines are so neglected and dirt-poor that they are unlikely to meet minimum caloric intake standards for six months out of every year, much less attend school.

This milestone is an exciting one. Many students received special awards for classes that demonstrate the firm footing these schools have in traditional IP culture: agriculture, dance, archery, poetry. These schools also create in-roads of vital learning in the greater community, ensuring that their rich traditions are bolstered by the skills that give the people power in wider Philippine society. Witness Ernesto Manalay, a fourth grade student who has given special honours for teaching his parents to read and write.

We were presented with a Kuglong, the Matigsalog tribe’s most well known instrument, as a token of gratitude for helping these children to realize their dreams. Friends of HOPE International Development Agency should know about the gift—without them, of course, nothing would have been possible in the first place.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

South Sudan: Peace Comes from the Underground

For those who have been following the story, the establishment of a peaceful post-war Sudan has been a long, uphill struggle. When we chose, a few years ago, to make South Sudan a special focus of our efforts to bring clean water and self-reliance to the poorest people in the world, we knew that complication, struggle, and adversity would be the order of the day.

While the secession of South from North Sudan certainly injects an element of instability into a context that has long been dysfunctional, none of what the Sudanese people are contending with is a surprise to us.

We know now what we have always known: the Sudanese people are trying to sort out a mountain of historical problems, and they need help if they are going to do it with peaceful outcomes.

So there continues to be areas in South Sudan where people are fighting over resources, fighting over what they believe is the destiny of their nation. There continues to be a greater community who are working hard to make peaceful, healthy villages, who simply wants to live without fear - and some of these people get hurt.

In particular, the areas of South Sudan that border the North have been experiencing attacks, and when there are victims, our standard response is not to throw up our hands at the persistence of violence, but to help the people who are hurt. These people, once assisted, can keep up the good work of making peace, of making a South Sudan a good place to live.

After all, that’s our job—to simply help. We always try to be clear about that.

Many of you are aware of our latest appeal to help victims of recent violence in the borderlands and perhaps you have chosen to help us care for the people affected. If so, you should know just how beautifully and well our friends in South Sudan are going to use your gift to help people. It is our job to help, purely and simply, but it certainly encourages us to do all we can when we see how hard the Sudanese people work to respond compassionately and intelligently to these incidents.

Earlier this year, when people had to flee from a village called Bahamani that was attacked by Northern Sudanese militias, we were very moved by the way in which local people from surrounding communities volunteered to help with our emergency response. In so many places, the distribution of aid can become an ugly thing, with disorganized aid workers unsuccessfully managing crowds of desperate and violent victims. We have none of this in South Sudan. Our friends here form volunteer committees that count the families correctly, distribute the food, shelter materials, and medicines properly and peacefully, and even go the extra mile to ensure that households that are headed by widows or who have disabled family members get priority status on the distribution lists. These local volunteers make it beyond easy to help those who need it badly.

The South Sudan we know is committed to peace. There is a whole nation within this troubled nation that is more devoted than ever to health, safety, and self-reliance. We will always help this South Sudan.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge on Trial, Sort Of

Perhaps it should come as a surprise to no one, but the complications seem endless as Cambodia continues the painful process of putting the perpetrators of one of the 20th century’s most criminal and violent regimes on trial.

No one — not even Cambodia’s famously corrupt government — can say with a straight face that no legal reckoning of the Khmer Rouge should take place. But it seems that while publicly endorsing these complex, internationally prominent trials, the powers that be still feel comfortable undermining them in every way possible.

So far one prison commandant named Comerade Duch has been sentenced to thirty years in prison and four more former high-ranking leaders of the Khmer Rouge are on trial. A rather small tranche of a movement that was responsible for the deaths of 17 million Cambodians in the late 70s.

But when further trials have been proposed, Prime Minister Hun Sen himself said that ‘he would rather have the tribunal fail than see more than two trials'. He told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in October that additional cases were "not allowed."

Sadly, most of the current Cambodian government is strongly tied to the globally vilified Khmer Rouge. They have a vested interest in keeping justice at bay. As with so many places in the world, a despotic and deplorable past is never too far from the present — especially when you’re looking at the people in power.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sudan - Escaping the violence is no guarantee of survival

When violence erupted in Abyei, Sudan, as armed forces from the north clashed with forces from the south, families had only moments to escape. Most fled with just the clothes on their backs and whatever meager possessions they could carry.

Right now, 2,500 families are living in makeshift encampments near the neighboring towns of Turalei, Mayen Abun, and Wunrok – that’s 28,000 people!

Escaping the violence is no guarantee of survival in the weeks to come. In fact, the well-being and survival of these families is very much in question.

Reports from the encampments are heartbreaking. One individual, having just witnessed the conditions families are living in, sent us an urgent email stating that the “humanitarian crisis is profound”, and that with each passing day the situation becomes even more critical for the families of Abyei who have lost everything.

While some emergency aid, such as water and emergency food rations, has been provided, we still need to do more in order to ensure the survival of these families.

Learn how you can help by visiting today.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cambodia: Luis Vuitton and the Question of Core Values

Readers of high-gloss magazines will soon be treated to the sight of the comely Ms. Angelina Jolie, sans makeup, dressed in olive-drab, ‘in a swamp with a £7,000 bag,’ as the Guardian puts it. The photograph, featured in Luis Vuitton’s so-called ‘Core Values’ Campaign, was taken in — for us — familiar environs. The lush landscape setting off Jolie’s moody blue eyes belongs, in fact, to Cambodia, specifically to Siem Reap, the well-touristed area north of Pursat, where we work with some of the poorest families in the world.

Vuitton’s ‘Core Values’ campaign is, as far as one can gather, somehow about promoting extremely expensive handbags while assuring consumers that said bags are naturally associated with the brand of ethos evoked by celebrities like Jolie and Bono. Which are — philanthropy? Advocacy? A not entirely cursory read of the ‘Core Values’ website leads us to believe that the advertising campaign is basically just…an advertising campaign, presumably so that people will buy more bags. There were allusions to Al Gore’s Climate project, so perhaps Gore’s environmental advocacy organization will see a few bucks come its way?

As groundbreaking as Angelina Jolie without mascara may seem, we’d like to gently suggest that a demonstration of your ‘core values’ might not cost as much as a Louis Vuitton bag. Or perhaps it might.

In Cambodia, where the ad was shot, we can provide a clean water well that would serve a few families for around $1,000. So for the cost of this $11,000 bag, you could basically provide a small village with water for life.

In a corporate milieu where brands are constantly trying to humanize themselves by associating with ideas, cultures, and personalities that fit only very marginally and awkwardly with the actual, raw products they are hawking, it’s not a bad idea to keep your wits about you. Any sane person will tell you that a village without dysentery, cholera, and the preventable death of children is more valuable—to its core—than a monogram spangled piece of leather.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Across Canada: Running for Water, Saving Lives Here and Abroad

This past month was a busy one for athletes intent on saving lives - across the world, in the rural villages of Ethiopia, and in one instance, right in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

We have to give our thanks and kudos to the volunteer organizers of Abbotsford’s Run for Water and Halton, Ontario’s Run for Wells.

Both events were smashing successes, with the former raising over $200,000 and the latter over $45,000.

All proceeds will go to helping families in Ethiopia to construct and manage clean water systems, learn basic health and sanitation practices, and begin a steady ascent out of the worst poverty imaginable. It is no exaggeration to say that the runners and walkers who participated saved and transformed thousands of lives. By all accounts, they had fun doing it too.

Fortunately, thanks to the “the quick actions of local schoolteacher and Run for Water board member Claire Apostolopolous”, who performed immediate CPR on a volunteer who collapsed before the races, the Abbotsford event was not marred by what could have been a major tragedy. You can read the whole story at the Abbotsford Times.

We should mention that runners in Calgary are training for their own Run for Water, scheduled for September 10th. Again, proceeds will go to clean water in Ethiopia. For more information, go to

So there is a lot to be thankful for, to put it mildly. Families in Ethiopia are celebrating along with all the organizers, volunteers, and runners who made these events such successful ones for the cause of universal clean water.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Clean water - the beginning of the end of poverty for families in rural Ethiopia and southern Sudan

Water, something we often take for granted here at home, is claiming lives in Ethiopia and southern Sudan.

It would be a relatively rare event for someone here to worry about the quality of the water that flows from their taps. But in rural Ethiopia and southern Sudan there are few taps, and water – especially clean water – is even scarcer.

Right now, families in Ethiopia and southern Sudan are drinking water teeming with parasites and disease. The seriousness of the situation is illustrated by the heartbreaking fact that one in five children in Ethiopia and southern Sudan dies before the age of five because of unsafe drinking water.

Imagine gathering your drinking water from stagnant ponds and muddy stream beds, both of which are used by animals for drinking and bathing. This troubling situation is reality for thousands of families throughout rural Ethiopia and southern Sudan.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With your help, lives can be saved and the suffering can be stopped.

Learn about how you can help bring clean water to families today by visiting

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Philippines: No Lost Causes

It’s a very hard read, but the Interpress Services website has a short but incisive article about child prostitution in the Philippines that we recommend reading.

This industry is truly nauseating. Trying to imagine what could possibly be done for victims like 13-year old Sharon is an exercise in being overwhelmed. This article itself does not draw conclusions on this score. In fact the experts the author consults are divided in their opinions. Some believe that only pre-emptive measures offer hope — that is, eradicating the sex trade before children are ensnared, because children who work in the trade long enough are, effectively, lost causes.

We can’t subscribe to the view these children are lost causes. Our mandate — ‘extending compassion to the neglected poor’, the neediest of the needy — compels us to aid victims of the sex trade.

Since August 2010, we’ve worked with our wonderful colleagues in the Philippines to provide affected children with better ways of earning income if they can’t live with their families. Most of them fled bad situations, and it’s no solution for them to go back. Depending on their interest, the girls can learn how to cook, make accessories, or practice cosmetology. This is just the start. These are children who need therapy, education, a solid sense that people are looking out for them.

You can help us to do all of this. If you believe that these children shouldn’t be considered lost causes, let them know by helping them today.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guatemala: One Village Celebrates, One Anticipates

Recently, the rural Mayan community of Rijuyup in Guatemala held a two-day celebration of the completion of a HOPE International Development Agency-supported community water supply project. Prior to this happy occasion, the 500 households that constitute this village were without clean water. Now it is piped directly to their homes.

Women prepare traditional Mayan tortillas for the celebration.

Jorge Luis Castro León (left) warmly greets a friend in Rijuyup on the celebration day.

Nearby Rijuyup is the village of Chinanton. Here, there is no cause for celebration as of yet. Chinanton’s water source, an unprotected spring, dries up for several months a year. Before this water disappears each year, women begin queuing at 5 am and must wait many hours in the heat. Once there is no more water at this source women are forced to walk a couple hours one way to a stream where they collect dirty water. Juana San Amparas (pictured in blue and pink below) – a widow with several children – spoke to us passionately about this hardship. The burden of collecting water has been compounded for many women in Chinanton who are making do without a spouse as a result of systematic violence that devastated the community in the 1980s.

The people of Chinanton are both extremely eager and organized in their effort to develop a clean water system. There is clean spring water in the adjacent hills that can be capped and brought to the community, but this costs much more than the community has so they are requesting help. HOPE International Development Agency, of course, is there for the families of Chinanton. Wherever there are motivated poor communities, our work finds very promising conditions for transformation. Hopefully their celebration is not long in coming.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ethiopia: ‘I cannot be quiet about it.’

We have a lot of reasons to celebrate the clean water systems that we’ve been able to help Ethiopian villages to create. But one of the changes that clean water brings is particularly close to our hearts: the tremendous and undeniably positive impact that it has for women.

This impact was clear to behold on a recent visit with Ethiopian families who have had their water systems for a while. As is the norm, families in the village of Deshkille totally operate and maintain their system in accordance with community standards that they create and enforce through committees that include both male and female members. One of these committee members, a Mrs. Abebech, shared with us that ‘When I was chosen to serve as one of the health and sanitation committee members, I was unsure because I never spoke in public before about anything. But with the training and information received, I am now able to speak in my house, in the village and to anyone that I meet. It is not about being shy anymore; I have information that is saving and changing lives. I cannot be quiet about it.’

We also spoke with Mr. Abebech about his wife’s community involvement. We were, we must admit, surprised — pleasantly — but his unambiguously positive take on what must have been a dramatic change in his wife’s demeanor. ‘I am surprised,’ he said, ‘and impressed at how she is now thinking about everything that we do in this house. It is not only about herself changing, my whole family is changing because of her, and that is a good thing.’

Indeed, Mrs. Abebech told us that she visits about 80 homes a month to share the knowledge she has gained about health and sanitation. She especially relishes helping other women to understand and take charge of their own reproductive health. A man could never do what she does. She is able to broach delicate topics and create an environment of safety and trust with the women through whom the health and function of the whole family flows. The impact that Mrs. Abebech is having should not be underestimated — Mr. Abebech certainly doesn’t.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Solving the problem of chronic hunger in rural Cambodia

Food and hope are in short supply in rural Cambodia these days. Impoverished families, held captive by a particularly oppressive form of poverty, are unable to grow enough food to sustain themselves.

Forced to scavenge for food scraps and eat roots, leaves, and a nutrient depleted mixture of rice and water, families are chronically malnourished.

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.

You can help us bring health and happiness to families in rural Cambodia. Learn more by visiting today.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

India: Clean Water and the Benefits of Flexibility

It’s probably fair to say that our work with Ethiopian families has distinguished HOPE International Development Agency as an organization devoted to the issue of clean water. But while we deal mainly in protecting springs in Ethiopia, that doesn’t mean our methods look the same elsewhere. Where a lack of potable water might be a (frankly astonishingly) common problem in developing world communities, we don’t claim there is one single solution, one single model for delivering clean water to families in need. Among the other hard lessons we have learned over the years: it never pays to be inflexible.

In India, we’re proud to report that we have had great success providing ‘biosand filters’ to both urban and farming families in Madurai. Biosand filters are a relatively simple technology; in fact, versions of it have been used for centuries. Skipping over a great deal of technical detail, the filters basically work by straining water slowly through layers of sand and gravel, removing 90-95% of contaminants like bacteria, viruses, and worms.

Even simple technologies, ones that work with local conditions and cultures, need to be fully accepted by the poor in order to be useful. Just ask Mr. Nagrendran.

Mr. Nagendran lives in a township where the system supplied by the government is not maintained properly and people are regularly sickened by the water. He took it upon himself to organize a community group to research the problem and brainstorm solutions. We connected with them, and supplied biosand filters after they confirmed that the technology would work best.

Mr. Nagendran, of course, received a filter for his own home. But it took his wife some time to warm up to the new addition. She thought it took up too much space and wasn’t totally sold on its benefits, despite her husband’s activism. (Imagine how charmed by her stance he must have been!) After a while, although she wouldn’t drink the water, she succumbed to using some of it to cook rice. To her surprise, the rice turned out whiter and tastier than it had ever been. When she saw that it lasted for many more hours without spoiling than was normal, she finally came around. Now the entire family uses the filter and everyone is quick to sing its praises. So perhaps at this point Mrs. Nagendran shares our view on the virtue of flexibility.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Meaning of “Hope”

On the week of our flagship gala celebrating our work with Haitian families, we’re working hard to ensure that people come away from the experience Saturday night with insight into the lives of the poor. It’s a good time to reflect on the essence of our mission.

These words, from HOPE Myamnar colleague David Tegenfeldt, are a rich reflection on the meaning of ‘hope’—both the word and the organization we are a part of:

“Commonly today, people use the term “hope” to express a wish, desire, or something they dream of. However, if we look at the Indo-European root of the word “hope” and at the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of the word “hope”, we get a somewhat different understanding of the word than how it is used in common parlance.

The Indo-European root of the word “hope” is the same root from which the word “curve” (to bend) comes from. Therefore, the root of the word “hope” gives us the connotation of a change in direction; going in a different way.

The Hebrew and Greek equivalent of our English word “hope” has the meaning of a strong and confident expectation. This meaning stands in contrast to “wishful thinking.”

Putting the Indo-European root and the Hebrew and Greek equivalent together, yields a meaning of the word “hope” as a confident expectation that a desirable change is likely to happen.

Percy Shelley, the 19th century romantic poet, in talking about “the moral imagination” said, “a man to be greatly good must imagine clearly, he must see himself and the world through the eyes of another and of many others.”

At HOPE International Development Agency, we engage in action which sparks and grows “hope” in the hearts and minds of vulnerable communities so that they can bring positive change to their lives and their futures. This positive change is both physical (i.e. reducing material poverty) and relational (i.e. transforming how individuals and communities see and relate to one another). Of equal importance is to spark the “moral imagination” in each of us – to arise out of and to go beyond our ordinary selves. Together, we can live out our hope for a better world.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ethiopia and Abbotsford: To Dream is a Privilege

With the annual Run for Water coming up in less than two months, and an Abbotsford-based UNION team having just traveled to Ethiopia’s Bonke region, consciousness of Ethiopian families at the crossroads remains high in Abbotsford, BC.

A rather remarkable relationship has formed between this first world community and the developing world districts that are notable for having the most dreadful clean water access rates around (only around 11% in Bonke when we first started our work there). Ethiopian families working with HOPE International Development Agency have the opportunity to changes things for good in their villages. The changes are so profound they amaze even our staff in Ethiopia, who are long accustomed to seeing the poor go a long way with only a little assistance - 80% drops in disease rates, children attending school rather than spending all day searching for water, women becoming leaders in their water system maintenance committees. All developments which were unimaginable before the clean water came.

The potential for transformation in Ethiopia is inspiring the people of Abbotsford. Since the Run for Water started up three years ago, a groundswell of support for clean water in Ethiopia has been growing in British Columbia’s fifth largest city. The Run for Water is a powerfully uniting event, and more than a one-day event, it’s a movement for advocacy and education. Their work in spreading knowledge of the situation of Ethiopian families is particularly prominent in Abbotsford’s school system.

An entire volunteer team was assembled from Yale Secondary School. They traveled to Bonke last month and brought back incredible stories and insights. Local media outlets have also chronicled their trip extensively - an indicator of just how much interest there is in this issue. The stories are worth reading.

Before their trip, they were featured on CTV News, and in the Abbotsford Times. Since their return, they were in the newspaper again.

In the words of one student, “I have hundreds and thousands of hopes and dreams. It is a part of life in Canada. I didn't know it was a privilege and a gift to have hopes and dreams.” These are words that cut to the quick. She is right. It is encouraging to see so many people use their capacity to dream to raise the standard of living for chronically poor families. This is exactly what Abbotsford’s relationship with Bonke district represents.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Writing a new chapter in the life story of the world's most marginalized children

If the early years of an orphaned child’s life were set before you in a book, without a doubt it would be a difficult read.

As each chapter unfolded, your descent into the oppressive world of poverty would leave you more and more desperate for relief. And as the book draws to a close, you might even have to put it down as you approach the inevitable moment when poverty claims yet another child.

There can be a completely different ending however. One that is full of hope, happiness, and health for orphaned children in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Swaziland.

If compassionate people whose gift at birth is something just shy of limitless opportunity, share with children whose birthright is anything but, a new chapter can be written in the life story of some of the world’s poorest, most marginalized children.

The new chapter includes a safe place to live, education, nutritious food, medical care, dental care, and counseling to help heal the emotional trauma of losing parents or being abandoned. For teens, their new chapter also includes vocational training that will ensure they can earn a sustainable living as they enter the workforce.

Learn more about what HOPE International Development Agency is doing to help these children and how you can help.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan and Overseas: Suffering as Common Denominator

Like everybody else, we are riveted by what is happening in Japan. It’s too much to imagine: the shock of losing so many lives—whole communities—to successive disasters and the specter of meltdown at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant heightening the stress of recovery to what must be an unbearable level.

Our office in Japan, always busy with devoted volunteers, has been besieged by calls for advice and assistance. We are doing our best to be a part of a compassionate and coordinative network in and outside of the country. These activities take place on top of full time work on behalf of the poorest families in the world.

Our mandate is to assist the poorest of the poor. You could make the argument that the type of chronic poverty we are tackling with families in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, is an ongoing disaster. It’s one that unfolds so constantly that it fails to draw much, if any, attention to itself. We are charged to keep paying attention to—responding to—a disaster that doesn’t occupy much space in the public consciousness.

It’s totally inappropriate to compare the experience of suffering based on context. The fact that Japan has the third largest economy in the world makes not one iota of difference to the people of Sendai, many of whom lost friends and family members. Whether you lost a child in Ethiopia because you don’t have clean water to drink or because a tsunami swept her away, you are in exquisite pain.

So we don’t say that the Japanese people are somehow less deserving of compassion because their economy is wealthier and their infrastructure stronger to withstand these disastrous events. What we say is that suffering is universal, and where it occurs, we must extend compassion.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Microfinance—Not a Panacea, but still Pro-Poor

Nobel-prize winner Muhammad Yunus’s unceremonious oust (for his allegedly improper conduct or for more political reasons) from the Grameen Bank is the latest disturbance in the world of microfinance. For our part, we’ll definitely withhold judgment on Yunus’s character or the fairness of his dismissal from the institution he founded. There is a more interesting discussion to be had.

Many have commented that this scandal is just the latest reason to be disillusioned about microfinance. Microfinance is simply the practice of lending out small, low-interest loans to people who would be too poor to qualify for loans at a typical commercial bank, people who would otherwise be targeted by the loan sharks who would drive them into miserable debt. This was the simple, but effective, concept behind Yunus’s Grameen Bank, which claims to have helped over 10 million families to cross the poverty threshold (currently defined as living on less than $1.25 a day). In its early days, microfinance was hailed as a brilliant development in poverty eradication, a panacea to the problem of families across the world who simply could not seem to get ahead.

As with every ‘miracle cure’, there was inevitable backlash. The truth is, the practitioners of microfinance aren’t uniformly saintly. As microlending institutions became more common, they also became more commercialized, motivated by the profits they might earn if they became more aggressive in their lending and collection methods. Some families defaulted, and in some cases were driven to suicide by the debts they incurred.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but HOPE International Development Agency follows a non-profit model for lending small loans to the poor. We also maintain that loans are not always enough - access to credit needs to be accompanied by training and social support. $40 might be enough to help a Cambodian woman to start a business. But $40 plus a course in accounting plus a small group of friends to meet with about the challenges she faces would probably be enough to help her maintain a profitable, viable business.

So while the backlash carries on, we’ll be perfecting our approach to financing the ventures of poor women on the verge of changing the quality of their children’s lives for good. What is the lesson we take from the controversies associated with microcredit these days? A good idea could always become a great idea. We feel loans for the poor are good - but loans with support for the poor are far better.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cambodia: Development is in the Details

When we talk about ‘development’, we often slip into well-meaning but very vague language. We hear talk about ‘empowerment’ and ‘aid’ and ‘sustainability’. One pictures a kind of iridescent moral net thrown over the world’s various ills. It doesn’t exactly zero in on what we—you with us—are trying to accomplish.

There’s a simple way of looking at it. We’re trying to help people address the things—big things to them, little things to us perhaps—that keep messing them up, keep them from having any sense of control over their lives, or the ability to improve things for their children. That is about it. That focused sense of mission takes us in a lot of different directions, it’s true; for every 100 people, after all, you probably have about 100 different kinds of problems, 100 required solutions. But the aim is the same—helping the poor to gain control over their lives.

Our health fund in Cambodia is a good example of how this all works. Pech Van is a 57-year old widow who lives in Prey Omal, Cambodia, with her mother, her daughter, her son-in-law, and her four grandchildren. Pech’s mother is disabled, and needs frequent medical care, which has placed a huge burden on Pech and her family. In the past, when Pech’s mother or any of her grandchildren were sick (which was often), Pech often couldn’t buy medicine for them or bring them to the hospital in Pursat town. The problem wasn’t that she couldn’t afford the expense; Pech has a good home garden and a chicken raising business. The problem was that her family often got sick at times when she couldn’t sell crops or chickens, which meant that she had no money with which to pay the doctors or pharmacies. Pech didn’t want to have to borrow money from a moneylender, who would have charged extremely high interest rates, and couldn’t borrow from her neighbours.

In May 2008, Pech joined one of HOPE International Development Agency’s new village health funds. Every month, Pech started paying 25 cents into the fund, along with almost 100 other families in her village; HOPE added money to this fund as well. From these pooled funds, the village health fund gives no-interest loans to fund contributors to pay for healthcare expenses.

In January 2009, Pech borrowed $40 to treat her mother for typhoid. She was able to pay this back in April, as soon as she harvested her vegetable crop. In August 2009, Pech again borrowed money from the fund - this time, she borrowed $50 to bring her young grandson, who had dengue, to the hospital. And again, Pech was able to pay back the loan within a few months with money from her home garden and chicken raising business. Since then, Pech has again borrowed and repaid money, and plans to do so in the future. With the safety net of the village health fund, Pech, her family, and her neighbours feel more secure and happier. They know that if they get sick, they now have options.

Development is in the details. It takes spending time with people to understand the obstacles they face in their lives. Pech needed a fund to draw upon in bad times. Every family has a different story, and every time that story ends well, it’s a lot more gratifying to describe than any lofty plan to ‘develop’ the so-called ‘under-developed world’.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Big orange rig a symbol of hope in southern Ethiopia

Over the past twenty-five years our venerable TH-60 water well drilling rig has produced clean water for more than 60,000 people in southern Ethiopia’s rugged Awassa region.

The fact that the rig is still in operation two and a half decades after we first provided it to the people of southern Ethiopia is a testament to the determination and diligence of the Ethiopian drilling crews who transport and operate the rig.

For the people of Awassa, the bright orange rig is a symbol of hope throughout the region.

In this region of southern Ethiopia, where water-borne diseases kill one in every five children before their fifth birthday, the TH-60 drilling rig is a lifesaver!

When the rig rolls into a remote village, people know that their days of drinking dirty, parasite-infested water are over. Clean water will be theirs to drink, not just for today, but for generations to come.

Ten years have past since the last major refit of the rig and today, our Ethiopian colleagues need to refurbish the rig. When they're done, the rig will be back in the field for another ten years and is expected to drill enough water wells to bring clean water to an additional 30,000 Ethiopians!

Visit today and learn more about what clean water means to the people of southern Ethiopia, and how you can help our Ethiopian colleagues refurbish the venerable TH-60.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Toilets: The Marvelous Tool that Turns One Dollar Into Nine

HOPE International Development Agency is widely recognized as an organization that works with the poorest people in the world to bring clean water to their communities. But we have a lesser-known but equally persistent passion - sanitation for the poor. Or, to put it much more frankly, toilets for everyone.

Once we start working with a community, its members decide on a set of enforced guidelines meant to manage their projects (like water systems or new school buildings) and sustain and protect their benefits (like improved health). These guidelines always include a requirement that every family should have a well-built latrine.

It is truly staggering to examine the benefits that come from toilet usage and good hygienic practice. To not place an emphasis on sanitation is to miss out on an incredibly effective way to ease the burden of poverty for a very small investment.

In fact, for every dollar that you spend on improved sanitation, you earn back about nine dollars worth of benefits.

These benefits range from 1,000 extra productive hours for every household (that would otherwise be spent lining up at a public toilet, or searching for somewhere private), to saving 12% of sub-Saharan Africa’s health budget, where typically half of their hospital beds are filled with people suffering from diarrhoeal diseases. What useless misery.

There is a fantastic fact-sheet here that outlines the incredible benefits of investing in sanitation. Reading it, we are reminded of why this is such a critical emphasis in our ongoing work with the poor. Perhaps we should talk about this topic more often. It would not bother us a bit to be associated with toilets, when you consider how much they do to protect the health and wealth of all people.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sri Lanka - Flood victims remain in great danger

Unprecedented rainfall and massive flooding in Sri Lanka over the past few weeks has left 350,000 people homeless and more than one million at risk.

The torrential rain and widespread flooding also submerged tens of thousands of hectares of rice fields, depositing tons of mud and debris on the valuable farmland. As a result, an entire season’s rice harvest – nearly 25 percent of the country’s total rice harvest – has been destroyed.

HOPE International Development Agency has been helping affected families in Sri Lanka since the flooding began, but we need your help to continue.

Food shortages, and outbreaks of water-borne diseases are among the big concerns at the moment. Homes, damaged or destroyed in the flooding, need to be rebuilt or repaired as quickly as possible otherwise displaced families will remain without shelter.

You can give today to provide urgently needed help such as emergency food, cooking utensils for displaced families, materials to repair or rebuild their homes, medical attention for the injured and sick, and assistance to mothers who are pregnant.

Learn more and give today.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Volunteers: Bridging the Gap, Having A Good Time Too

While we gear up for our spring series of Film Premieres and Dinners, we must acknowledge that HOPE International Development Supporters are active all year long in advocating and raising funds for the poor.

This is always inspiring for those us of us working in the North American offices, and it goes without saying that it’s deeply encouraging to our colleagues overseas. Most of the time, they are indigenous members of the communities that they serve, and they’re invested very personally in the work they do. To know that there are people here who are working on their behalf as volunteers makes them feel that they are not alone.

So we must give kudos to Niko Kozobolidis in Vancouver, BC, who organized an event on January 20th. He and his guests helped provide the funding for a community water system in Rijuyp, Guatemala. By all accounts, the singing, dancing, storytelling, and food were all good reasons to be there.

Secondly, we know of a group of students in Calgary, AB, who are planning an Art Showcase event to raise funds for the families affected by HIV/AIDS that we support in South Africa. The Showcase is scheduled for February 5th and will include a fashion show, donated art, silent auction, live music, and refreshments. The organizers can be seen here in T-shirts that were made for the event.

Thanks to all who are working hard on behalf of the poor. HOPE International Development Agency is always ready to help with these kinds of endeavours. If you’ve ever had an inclination to take on something like this, don’t hesitate to contact us (link) for ideas and support.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

UNION Opportunities: ‘Powerful, Unifying, Spectacular’

We are actively recruiting members for our UNION overseas volunteer teams. There are a lot of placements this year, including a special team for families that is being dispatched to Ethiopia. See if there is an opportunity that suits you. It may be your time to make this important investment in yourself and the overseas families that HOPE International Development Agency partners with.

Why should you? Let’s allow Maya Tong, a Cambodia team veteran, to answer:

“The most significant part of the UNION trip for me was the intense focus on respecting and understanding other cultures. Just because North America is considered a first world country while parts of Cambodia are still considered to be third world, it does not mean that a North American way of thinking or problem solving will best suit the problems that another country faces. I felt that it was very important to understand that we were guests in their country, and that the primary focus was not to change the lives of the people we met, but to understand the lives of the people we met. Understanding of someone else's perspective is probably the most important part in being able to significantly help them in ways that will be sustainable and long-term.

Another part of the trip that I found very significant was the diversity of the UNION team of Canadians. Everyone is so different that we probably would not otherwise have all been friends, except for this single, powerful, unifying trip that we all took together. The unity that can result in diverse peoples with a common cause is really spectacular.”

Learn more about HOPE International Development Agency UNION teams.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Southern Sudan: Carter’s Gaffe a Subtle Reminder

Last week former US President Jimmy Carter provided a sad, but perhaps darkly amusing, wrinkle in the swathe of commentary surrounding the Sudanese referendum.

In a field report for CNN Carter was discussing the issues surrounding the possible split of Africa’s largest nation, one of which is the question of how its debt load will be split between North and South. He stated that President Omar al-Bashir "said the entire debt should be assigned to north Sudan and not to the southern part of Sudan. So, in effect, Southern Sudan is starting with a clean sheet on debt. They'll have to make some arrangements for other sources of income, of course."

All of which would be great news for the South. Except that it is, unfortunately, categorically false. The Sudan News Agency released a refutation of Carter’s statements immediately.

Carter’s contributions to the world notwithstanding, the venerable statesmen looked like the very picture of baffled grandstanding. Perhaps after we and the Sudan foreign affairs folks forgive him for his tenuous interpretations of al-Bashir’s intentions, we can also use his example as a reminder of just how complex the issues are that the Sudanese people must face. They most certainly defy soundbite-making.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti: The Big Story, One Year Later

Major media outlets like CNN are in Haiti today to report to you on what has been accomplished so far on the anniversary of the earthquake that leveled the western hemisphere’s poorest nation and inspired a worldwide outpouring of aid. So are we.

The story you are hearing on radio, television, print media, and the blogosphere is this: an enormous amount of money has been donated to Haiti; an enormous amount of money has been presumably wasted. The ‘recovery process’ is slow, disappointing, almost difficult to discern.

In fact, we knew what the story would be a year ago, when disaster struck. The pitch and volume of giving assured us that there would be disenchantment down the road. We were determined not to be a part of that. We knew that our Haitian colleagues were more than capable of ramping up their work with the poor, and we’d be foolish not to trust them with all of the largesse of our supporters.

Throughout the year, we’ve reported on our work in Haiti, which has involved aiding people in the immediate aftermath, and helping survivors to thrive, building better communities and livelihoods than the ones they lost.

For example, we’re very excited about the work we are doing to help farmers to grow more food for communities that have grown by a stunning 30% because ‘earthquake refugees’ have been taken into almost every household. Food security is one of the priorities that the Haitian government has identified in its own official plan for recovery. We’re excited to be a part of real change on that front.

From on the ground in Haiti right now, we continue to report good news. There is progress. Our involvement in Haiti doesn’t span the nation. CNN won’t be reporting on the people we know.

A team of volunteers with HOPE International Development Agency is right now traveling in Haiti, meeting with the people who you have touched with your outsized compassion. We will share their stories upon their return. There is good news.

If you are one of the many people who have questioned whether or not you were too generous when you sent whatever you could to help Haitians survive, we don’t blame you. It’s understandable, given all you’ve heard. But it’s our mission to make sure you never regret your generosity, and thanks primarily to the good Haitians we have working with us, we are right on track. Giving generously was and continues to be a good choice.

Learn more about what HOPE International Development Agency's work in Haiti.