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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 www.hope-international.com 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.