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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pakistan: After Survival, is Thriving Possible?

When Pakistan flooded in late July 2010, the western world didn’t hear too much about it, despite the fact that one fifth of Pakistan was underwater, 2,000 people died, and 20 million were affected. It was a disaster of epic proportions.

With your help, we tended to survivors in the immediate aftermath. But once the clean water, medicine, food, and shelter were distributed, there was still so much to do. As with other post-disaster scenarios, we wanted to know if we could make people more resilient in the face of future disasters, and raise the standard of living to a higher level than it had been before tragedy struck.

We wanted to make sure the poorest families had better livelihoods. For example, we found ultra-poor landless women and gave them goats and cattle and training on how to raise these animals and treat common livestock diseases.

Shahnaz Mai has five boys and three daughters. The floods destroyed her home, drowned her four goats, and wiped out all of the food she had. Her situation was beyond desperate. She says when she heard how HOPE International Development Agency was helping women like herself she had a ‘glimmer of hope for [her] betterment.’ She said she felt she might be able to stand on her feet again. She was right.

Shahnaz now has a goat that she has been fully trained in the care of. She sells the milk for 30 rupees a day. When the goat has a kid, she’ll sell it for a ‘windfall profit’. At this stage of the game, she says that she and her family now depend on nobody for charity.

Two years after losing everything, Shahnaz and her children are doing well. They did not only survive mind-numbing catastrophe, they are strong and self-sufficient in their new post-flood reality. Fortunately, there are many others like them. We have the privilege of working with them.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cambodia: Personal reflections on choices

We are pleased to share some reflections on the work we are doing in Cambodia, as expressed by Jennie Hofeling, a friend of HOPE International Development Agency, who recently visited our friends in that country.

Here's what our friend Jennie has to say about her experience...

My life is a constant stream of choices. Will I take a bath or a shower? Will I eat in or go out? Will I look through my fridge or freezer and find something to cook, or will I go to the market? Choices, so many choices.

I recently returned from my third trip to Cambodia, and was reminded how lucky I have been to be born in North America.

In Pursat province, where the poorest of the poor live, there are not many choices.

When we arrived, at the tail end of the dry season in over 100 degree temperatures, a typical day was simply a matter of survival. Get up at first light when it is still cool enough to work hard, and start walking long distances to try to find water. Hope that it isn’t too dirty, or too late, and that the small amount that has pooled in the night has already been collected. Have your first of two meals, a serving of rice porridge – hopefully enough to keep your belly from aching until you eat again. Go out to collect and forage for food - small gardens are almost nonexistent. Things don’t grow without water, so small critters, forest plants, and fruits are collected in ever growing distances from your home. How many ants does it take to feed a family of five? Hope that you find enough to keep your children quiet throughout the night, sleep, start again.

Somehow, Cambodians still have hope, and they ask for help. They ask and ask until someone listens. In Pursat province, Hope International Development Agency has listened and is helping.

Three years ago, we met families that had just received access to a well, or clean water provided by simple water filters. This trip, we met more families whose lives have changed dramatically. After having access to water for only 4 - 5 months, life is no longer the same. The house and yard have been tidied after training and education is provided by the Hope International Development Agency staff. A composting latrine dug. The father of the house takes us to his back yard and proudly hand cranks a simple pump, and cool water gushes. A large garden is flourishing. Additional land is being cleared. Time has been made available to plan. A son who was ill, who needed to help collect food and water, comes home from his day at school and hangs on to his mother’s leg, staring at us with clear brown eyes. She talks excitedly about what life was like and how it is going to be now.

Three years ago, we went to the opening of a brand new 3-room schoolhouse that was stuffed with beautiful, healthy, shy, curious, playful children. This trip, the same schoolhouse is now flanked by two additional school buildings, brimming with small hopeful faces who have learned to plan and dream, to be a teacher, a builder, a seamstress.

Once confined to a life of poor health, poor nutrition, endless work, children can now be children. The memories of fear, hunger, and pain are replaced by a teacher’s praise, learning to read, and a swing set.

We got to see real and simple solutions, and how they continue to work. A growing “dry season rice” program that creates up to two additional crops a year. Small businesses start or expand with a 100% success rate. Micro loan programs, and women’s self help groups. Farm animal banks, and health care programs.

Needs are addressed and solutions found by a passionate and tireless local staff that understand the restrictions of local customs, government, and tradition. Slowly, but consistently, life in this district is starting to improve. What seemed like overwhelming problems, endless poverty, and immeasurable need has become manageable projects with real enduring solutions.

My life is still full of choices and now after being inspired, changed, educated, humbled, and challenged by Cambodia, I am faced with another choice: what I will do about all that I have seen?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hunger – Caused by People, Solved by People.

Previously, we noted that hunger rarely shows up uninvited.

More often than not, people invite hunger into their lives and the lives of others.

Sometimes the invite is issued unknowingly. A lack of knowledge, for example, can result in hunger appearing on the scene in a home or village.

Other times, hunger appears because of greed, or for the gain of the powerful.

Further discussion of hunger, however, must include some consideration of our perception of nature’s role in the prevalence and persistence of hunger throughout the developing world.

At first glance it would appear easy, if not convenient, to blame nature for much of what ails the developing world.

Upon closer examination, however, it becomes evident that blaming nature may be both unwise and disastrous, especially for the poor.

Without a doubt, nature has the ability destroy lives. A tsunami or earthquake, for example, can end life in a heartbeat. Prolonged drought, on the other hand, ends life slowly and agonizingly.

Yet if we take a moment to look beyond the obvious, the fury of a killer storm or the silent death caused by drought, we find, yet again, people.

Choices made before a natural disaster occurs have as much impact on a post-disaster outcome as the choices made in response to a disaster. In fact, poor choices, made by impoverished families through a lack of knowledge or resources, or by knowledgeable people for their own advancement, are the real disaster, and put multitudes more people at risk than any disaster.

Our daily inaction against the root causes of hunger, for example, is massively amplified in the aftermath of a disaster.

The fact that it often takes an act of nature to force issues of chronic hunger into our consciousness is a sad testament to the human condition these days, especially when you consider that the hunger we are concerned about existed long before the disaster happened.

In essence, hunger has been hiding in plain sight all along.

Yes, we can blame nature. In fact, we can blame whomever or whatever we choose. In the end, however, hunger is most often caused by people, exacerbated by people, and allowed to persist by people.

And therein lies the hope. If people, through the choices they make, invite hunger into their lives, they can, with the right knowledge and resources, send hunger packing.

You can help the poor learn to make choices that make them both self-reliant and resilient.

The question is, will you?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Somalia: The Long Road Home

Somalia’s rapid descent into famine was well underway when the UN declared the East African country to be a state of famine nearly a year ago.

The UN has since rescinded its declaration of famine, but this does not mean Somali families, especially those currently living in displaced person camps, are not at risk.

Currently, around 2.5 million people in Somalia continue to need assistance, and an additional 1.2 million could fall back into crisis very quickly without the type of sustained assistance provided by organizations like HOPE International Development Agency.

Without a doubt, the ascent out of famine is going to be much slower than the descent.

Recent rains have helped in some areas of the country, but other areas remain much like they were before the famine.

In some areas, modest gains are expected in harvests where families were able to plant crops.

Yet for millions of Somalia’s population, talk of rains and harvests borders on the irrelevant as they are still living in displaced persons camps and unable to return home at this point. The conditions that forced them to flee their homes in search of shelter, food, and water persist today, but then again, so does our resolve to help!

From the outset of the crisis, and even before famine was declared, it has been HOPE International Development Agency’s desire to accomplish two key things with and for displaced families in Somalia.

Firstly, we want to do everything we can to ensure that families survive and become healthy enough to make the journey home when the time comes. We had hoped that many would have been able to return home this year, but the conditions simply are not right at this time. Families would be inviting suffering and death into their lives if they left the camps at this time.

Secondly, we want to ensure that when families do return home, they have access to the knowledge, supplies, and tools they will need to become self-reliant again.

The sum of these two initiatives will ensure that returning families and their communities become drought resistant and as such, are able to survive and thrive in the challenging conditions that are characteristic of this region of Africa.

Right now, however, our attention is focused on two major concerns related to our work among families in Taagwey camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, the nation's capital city:

Food supplies are running critically low
The emergency food supplies that are keeping families alive until they can return home are starting to run out. We need to restock these vital supplies as soon as possible.

Water is in short supply
The camp water supply, a borehole well with an insufficient pump and no storage capacity, is failing to keep up with even the minimal needs of Taagwey, whose population has swelled to 12,000 from its original population of 3,200 people before the crisis began.

Visit today to learn how you can help.