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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cambodia: Chan’s ‘Look-You-In-The-Eye Confidence’

A North American-based member of our staff recently traveled to Cambodia. The last time he’d been in the country, he was assisting the film crew that annually donates their professional services to create the films showcasing our work with the poor.

One of the families depicted in that year’s film, ‘The Journey of a Promise’, was headed by a woman named Chan (shown above). In the film, her extremely harsh existence is on display as she and her children eat the thin rice gruel that constitutes their main daily meal.

Chan was one of the first people that our staff member wanted to visit. Inspired by what he saw, he wrote this email to the film crew:

“I am just back from Cambodia. I am always interested to see how the individuals we show in our films are doing.  My first field visit was to Chan's family and her home and community (from the 2009 film). Her life and that of her family have really improved!

A well and now a safe and plentiful and close-by water supply (shared with other nearby families).  Garden and nutrition from vegetable crops, and new income from produce sales.  Participation in a Self Help Group and all the social capital that comes from that. Raising livestock (her own cow from the Cow Bank, and tending other people's goats).  She has now has an income from all of these activities.  Her husband is a more active contributor/participant in the family.  All her children are in school, including the 16 year old who gets to start in grade 2 or 3 (now that is one brave woman!), except the youngest who will start when she is old enough (but she wants to go NOW!).

The confirmation of all this good is the clear sparkle in Chan's eyes and the look-you-in-the-eye confidence that comes with the knowledge she is on a good path (and from all the interaction with the HOPE International Development Agency staff that has completely affirmed her).  That was a great moment for me to see that in her!

A few of my pictures attached. A big THANK YOU from me for all you do in support of what we together try to do with and for the poor.”

Seeing as you (dear Reader) might be one of those people who were moved by Chan’s story to give towards families like hers back in 2009, we figure the ‘thank you’ applies equally to you! We hope the update is as encouraging to you as it is to us.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Another Look at Kony12: ‘Post-Humanitarian Advertising’

Think Africa Press has published an incredibly insightful article by James Wan about how charities communicate their message through advertising. It is well worth the read.

The article focuses on the famous Kony12 campaign, which saw a short video produced by the Kony12 organization go viral on a scale never before seen.

Wan’s analysis — namely that the Kony12 campaign distinguished itself from the type of advertising charities have used in the past by mirroring the consumerist, narcissistic qualities that prevail in today’s Western culture — cuts deeply.

It’s all of especially interest to us because, of course, one of HOPE International Development Agency’s mandates — and, indeed, the only way we can go forward with any other mandate to serve the poor — is to communicate the problem of poverty to people who can do something about it.

When we do this, we have to do it right. It’s not an easy task. Do you best serve the cause by shocking people with the depth of poverty suffered by people a whole world away? Or do you encourage positive feelings by emphasizing the good that you, as a donor, can do? Or do you appeal to the Western desire to be heroic, a kind of humanitarian super-star like George Clooney or the notorious makers of the Kony12 video?

All of these ‘trends’ in humanitarian advertising can do a lot of damage, and miss the mark entirely: letting people know that that others—just as human as they are—are suffering and could be helped. It’s incredible to think that such a simple message can be so difficult to convey without demonstrating the worst tendencies in our culture

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ethiopia: A ‘Simple Repair’ is Success Beyond Measure

A professor from McGill who recently traveled to Ethiopia to evaluate our work helping the poor to develop clean water systems in their villages observed something that he found very encouraging.

When a tap on a system broke, the villagers organized someone to leave the village, purchase a replacement in the correct model, and install it upon his or her return. Of course that’s what they did, you might be saying. But this simple act of repairing a tap demonstrated something profound, a milestone that the community had reached in the non-linear and often-bewildering journey out of chronic poverty. They might have gotten their water system installed but never reached this milestone and then in five to ten years time they would be a community with a broken-down system and a sense of poverty more firmly entrenched than ever.

Jeffery Matuella writes an illuminating article for the publication D+C about the kind of ‘development’ that can lead to an even deeper kind of poverty. He describes a community called Bluefield in Nicaragua who resists tackling the problem of contaminated water by investing into an enterprise that would produce ceramic filters and teach poor people how to use them. 

As it turns out, the community was turned off of the idea because UNICEF at one point chose to import filters from the United States and distribute them to everybody in Bluefield. UNICEF did not teach people how to use the filters and, as Matuella writes “[they] gave the people very little incentive to actually use the filters. People value things in proportion to the sacrifice they invested to obtain them. The filters were likely perceived to be worth exactly what the recipients paid in effort and money: nothing.” Like manna from heaven, the filters came raining down on the people of Bluefield. And UNICEF did little to dispel the notion of aid organizations as God-like, vast in their power, arbitrary and mysterious in their doings. The filters eventually broke or were discarded and the reaction, by and large, was shrugging. So when a clean-water plan that required greater ownership and local initiative was presented to the people, they rejected it. Why? They had been made to believe that a ‘clean water’ initiative was something that big, powerful, aid organizations did—not they themselves—and because these initiatives were shown to ‘not work’ and not be worth the effort.

In the Ethiopian districts where we help villages to access clean water, the actual clean water technology is distributed more slowly than it would be if we poured 100% of our manpower and energy and focus into ‘building systems’. The water system in Ethiopia — just like the ceramic filter in Nicaragua — is only the tip of the iceberg. In order for this technology to be of any use at all, it must be accompanied by social investment. The people themselves construct the systems—it is clear to them that the systems are valuable because they have paid for them in sweat and sacrifice. They are carefully taught how to use and maintain them. And HOPE International Development Agency only enters a community to help install a system if the people have invited us—we only help out with what the people specifically ask us to help out with. They want clean water—we don’t tell them to want it.

So when we hear about systems being faithfully maintained and repaired, we know that our efforts to help have not been in vain. We know that these Ethiopian villagers are tackling the real root of poverty — the mentality that insists they are not capable of saving themselves. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Afghanistan: Jalalabad Clinic a Bastion Against Poverty’s Worst Ravages

Looking at the pictures of people who have received treatment at the clinic HOPE International Development Agency supports in Jalalahad, Afghanistan, is inspiring but sobering too. It makes us ask that perennial question: what if the help was not there?

How does a person, like the young woman shown above, burn their entire arm and not have any place to go to have it treated? How is it that a boy’s foot can be injured while chopping wood with an axe and nobody is there to clean and bandage it? Billions of people scrape by without much or any money, but if something goes terribly wrong with their bodies, that’s when poverty becomes a real horror show.

Thankfully, the Jalalabad clinic is running well and caring for poor people who would not be able to afford the fees at other clinics. This is a place of mercy, where our staff treat their patients with a high degree of sensitivity and devotion. When staff tell us about what they spend the lion’s share of their time treating, we know that they are dealing with a very deprived population indeed: parasites, waterborne diseases, malaria, TB, the ailments that most of the Western world has long left behind. They are meeting critical needs — from presiding over complicated deliveries that, without assistance, would have killed both mother and child, to counseling women from traditional communities regarding their options for birth control.

Because the help is there, real people are being saved from the worst kind of poverty—the loss of health, of life itself. We are grateful for the work our clinic staff are doing and honoured to support them in it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bahamani, South Sudan: The raiders are long gone but the suffering remains

When a heavily armed militia group attacked the village of Bahamani in South Sudan, families ran for their lives. Everything was left behind.

In a matter of moments, the families of Bahamani became refugees and remain as such even today.

Our work among the refugee families began in the aftermath of the attack and continues today. We've been assisting with the provision of food, basic household items, hand-tools, seeds, and agricultural training - all in an effort to help them return to self-sufficiency, even amidst this very difficult situation.

In the aftermath of the attack, 28,000 needed immediate help. And while we are thankful that we've been able to help the survivors begin returning to self-sufficiency, we also have become aware that there are families who need more help or have not yet received the help they need.

Today, we need your support in order to increase the amount of help we are providing to these refugees. Please visit and learn more about how you can help the families of Bahamani today.