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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?