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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.