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Thursday, March 29, 2012

UNION: Beyond the Consumer’s ‘Voluntourism’

For those interested in traveling for a purpose beyond merely taking in the sights, consider volunteering with HOPE International Development Agency's UNION program. If you have a few minutes, watch this short film about UNION.

In recent years, we’ve become aware of the term ‘voluntourism’, which refers to overseas tourism that incorporates some sort of volunteering. The term is fairly glib and in many respects, it should be. The idea of rich westerners taking excursions to the poorest, most desolate places on earth for their own sense of personal enrichment should make us all a little squeamish. The idea that one can buy the experience of feeling like a good person — because, let’s face it, it is costly to fly, costly to travel to far flung places — should give one pause.

We have been sending volunteers to the communities where we are at work since the early 80s, long before there was a market for this kind of travel experience. Since that time, we have been telling people that, in fact, they are really not that useful to us as school-builders, nurses, teachers, or any of the myriad roles that people take on as overseas volunteers. Even if those are exactly the sort of jobs our volunteers do, the purpose has never been to replace indigenous school-builders, nurses, and teachers with Western travelers — the purpose has been to allow our volunteers to simply experience life in these villages.

The most useful work our volunteers do takes place when they return home — our volunteers have raised untold sums of money for the communities that they grew to love, they have become formidable advocates, they have found ways to support and strengthen the work of HOPE. We could hand out a million pamphlets on poverty and their impact would be inconsequential compared to the experience of a handful of people who had actually traveled to a poor village and befriended the people there. Information breeds opinions, but experience stokes the fire of activism.

So while the term ‘voluntourism’ summons images of the perfect consumer package — a travel experience designed to provide moral satisfaction in a few convenient weeks — please understand that the UNION experience is a little different. We want your time overseas to be the beginning of something a lot less convenient, tidy, and short-term, but ultimately much, much more satisfying

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saving Lives In Comfort and Style: Irony or Opportunity?

On Saturday night, over 1,700 people will congregate at the Vancouver Convention Centre to celebrate the power of their generosity. Our flagship HOPE International Development Agency Film Premiere and Dinner is the occasion, but it’s more to the point to say that Filipino families will be bringing them there.

The Convention Centre is a milestone in Vancouver’s architectural and cultural development as a premiere city. Guests who attend the Premiere will be served a fine meal. They will be surrounded by beauty and grandeur—the pinnacle of what our economically rich society can achieve. The experience of our guests will be a world away — literally and figuratively — from what the beneficiaries of the occasion experience, day after day.

The families in the Philippines upon whom this year’s Premiere and Dinner series focuses on are the poorest of the poor. Of course they are. Why else would we be traveling across the country, exposing people who can help to their plight? They live with unimaginable choices. Leave your family to find dangerous, far-off work or watch them all starve. Give your children diseased water to drink or watch them dehydrate. Pull your children from school so they can help you scrape together the means to survive or watch the weakest members of the family die off.

There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that, in the course of helping these families, we will see the most beautiful hotels, eat the most delicious meals, and experience genuinely diverting entertainment. In a way it doesn’t seem right.

But if you choose to attend one of the Film Premieres and Dinners, perhaps you should treat it as an occasion to fully realize all that you have — and to go the next step and accept the fact that, for you, it is truly possible to help. We don’t see a contradiction in enjoying yourselves while you save lives. In fact, the choice to give is one that we want to celebrate with you and we hope we get the chance to do that this year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ethiopia: Villagers Vote Unanimously For Better Sanitation

People who know us tend to think ‘clean water’. It’s true that clean water is foundational in much of our work with the poorest families in the world. In our experience, clean water is the thing that neglected communities most often identify as the lack that hurts the most. Anybody spending three to five hours a day collecting dirty water, anybody with chronic diarrhea, anybody who is too dehydrated to breast-feed will tell you: help us with clean water, if you want to help us at all.

But wherever we are working to bring clean water, we are also working to establish good health and sanitation practice. These two things — a clean water system right in the village, and villagers with habits like hand washing and latrine-use — together constitute the engine of real transformation. These two things mean radically healthier communities and families who really understand what it takes to remain strong and in control of their own well-being.

Villagers who work with us really do get it. A recent survey of the Ethiopian villages in Bonke district working with us on clean water initiatives encouraged us: every single family has dug a latrine following their health and sanitation training. Our goal for 90% of them to do so was handily exceeded. Once our immensely beloved community nurses teach them how to preserve their health, families are evidently passionate about putting their newfound knowledge into practice.

Clean water and good sanitation — it makes nothing but sense to pair these two things. Fortunately, wherever we are working with villagers to establish radically better health, they are signaling their agreement by the way they live their lives.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

We listened and we hope you will too

Recently, David McKenzie, International President of HOPE International Development Agency, met with Chief Tochi, leader of a small village of people in Koshale in the lowlands of southern Ethiopia.

Chief Tochi has never stopped trying to save his people. The problem is, no one ever stopped long enough to listen. We have and we hoping that you will too...

"We are living in a desert. We are living in the borderlands. Water is not in our country. When our women have babies, they do not have enough milk. Because the babies do not get enough milk, they get sick. Our primary problem is water.

Water is life. Our blood is water.

To preserve that life we walk to great distances, women, children, and animals. We have written letters about this to the government many times. I myself have written letters asking why they ignore pastoralist areas. Those living in the highlands, where water is easier to access, get help. But those who live far from the water are not helped.

So when we see you we are happy because at last you are paying attention. If you get us water, we will be really joyful. If you do this, the babies will grow up to be men and women.

In 1990, there were people who came in helicopters and they told us that they would bring water and irrigation and nothing happened. We were extremely unhappy about that and we thought, are we not human beings?”

Chief Tochi shares more about the need...

David: Chief Tochi, how far do you and your people travel for water?

Chief Tochi: We walk 5 hours to get the water and come back.

David: With all the villages that need clean water, why choose yours?

Chief Tochi: I recognize that others have needs, but our own needs are huge. We would hope to be helped as others are helped.

David: How would our big truck get here (a 10-ton truck is used during the clean water system construction and installation)?

Chief Tochi: If you would promise to come, we would make sure the road is fixed. We made these paths a long time ago but we did not see any benefit from them, so we didn’t keep them up. But we would for clean water. I assure you that we will do whatever it takes.
“Whatever it takes”. That is how far Chief Tochi is willing to go to ensure that his people do not continue to suffer and die from drinking dirty water.

I can assure you that we at HOPE International Development Agency will do whatever it takes to ensure that Chief Tochi and his people gain access to the clean water they so desperately need.

If you can help, visit today.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Michael Paull: Addis Ababa and Beyond

Michael Paull, intrepid friend of HOPE and cyclist, has already made it to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on his epic bike ride from Cairo to Capetown. He is braving exhaustion, saddle sores, and children who seem to think throwing rocks at bicycle wheels is a reasonable sport, all in the name of raising money for clean water.

You have to salute somebody who chooses to ride for 12,000 kilometers through a terrain and a culture that is completely foreign and never fails to demonstrate a great sense of humor throughout the experience.

Michael's blog makes for very entertaining reading. Check it out for a laugh and the opportunity to marvel at just how little you exercise compared to Michael right now.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Somalia: The Face of ‘Displacement’

We have not forgotten the families who fled their homes during last year’s drought in the Horn of Africa. Many of them are now living as refugees in camps outside of Mogadishu, Somalia. Staying home meant starving, so they are congregating in areas where organizations like ours can provide emergency supplies of food.

They are living a kind of bizarre half-life — they are merely about surviving. Home means having people in your life and the means at your disposal to be healthy, make plans, execute them, and feel you have a modicum of control over your fate. It means having a hoe to work your garden with; it also means having a caring neighbour who will tend your garden if you need to nurse your child all day long.

These refugees have none of that — they are utterly dependent on aid. The term ‘internally displaced persons’ is used for these families and although it’s dry and technical, the image of being ‘displaced’ is wholly accurate. These families are floating in a fearful reality; in these circumstances, they can’t get a foothold into a secure and self-sufficient place. Our long-term plan is to equip the refugees we are aiding with the means to reestablish their homes and livelihoods — to give them, again, a sense of place and belonging.

For now, easing their fear and ensuring their physical survival is top of mind. When we talk to people in the camp, their relief and also their stress is palpable.

Faay Salaad Ambuure is a mother of seven who came from Wanlaweyn district of Lower Shabelle. She told us, “My family lost all of our livestock and farming tools. This is the first time we’ve been given good food. It is enough for the whole month.” She thanked us many times.

A woman named Baabilo Dhakalow said, “These rations…make our life brighter.” But then she talked about how difficult it is to get enough water in the camp. “When we want to get water,” she said, “we go two to three miles away as we don’t have wells around.”

Mohamed Shidane from Dondhere, Afgoi district, is a farmer and father of eight. Shidane said that he lost everything that brought in income: faming tools, twenty caws, and a donkey. Fortunately all his children were safely brought to the camp. He told us, “It is the first time I have received…food”, and assured us that “the food provided is greatly needed and is enough to last my family for a month.”

Soon enough, we will be helping these families to find their place again. For now, keep them in your thoughts and prayers.