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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Answering the challenges of life in South Sudan

In June of 2014 we wrote about how challenging life is in communities throughout South Sudan, Africa's newest nation.

Assisting these communities by helping them access clean water, build schools, and provide for their basic needs, is especially important amidst the conflict and uncertainty that is present South Sudan.

HOPE International Development Agency is continuing to work with families and communities in South Sudan's Ibba Diocese, helping them access education for their children, clean water for all, seeds for growing healthy vegetables, and information about basic hygiene and sanitation practices that prevent disease.

Despite 2014 being a difficult year for people throughout South Sudan, it was an exciting time for the more than 400 families who live in and around the small community of Maroko, 16 kilometers west of the center of Ibba Diocese.

Life got a little bit easier for families in Maroko as they experienced the success that comes from having clean water and access to education for their children.

In April, families in Maroko rejoiced as clean water flowed from a borehole they drilled. One mother described the feeling best when she said, “We have been praying for clean water and we thank God because now we have it”. The community of Maroko, recognizing the importance of managing their new opportunity, formed a committee that is responsible for the management of their new resource. They have also learned how to maintain the well and its surroundings.

Following the completion of the community well, construction of a 4-classroom primary school began in earnest for the children of Maroko, and in September, the first students stepped through the door into their new classrooms.

There are 87 girls and 92 boys registered at the school the community named “Maroko Kpiapai (Model) Primary School”. A Parent-Teacher Association, formed when the school opened, works to support the two teachers, administer the school, and ensure that children receive a quality education.

In addition to being incredibly enthused about their children’s education, families offer whatever they can through “in-kind” support to help with the maintenance of the school and borehole. They may not have much money, but they give whatever they can to ensure their children’s future is one that includes clean water and education.

Though the journey to self-reliance will be a long one for the people of Maroko, the steps they have taken in this last year are evidence that they will make it!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Changing the way we think about poverty

A common misperception about poverty is that bad choices create poverty. But what if the exact opposite is true? What if bad choices are the result of poverty, not the cause?

In recent weeks, we’ve looked at the difficult choices poverty imposes on impoverished families. We’ve seen how hunger and malnutrition can damage both the body and mind. Most recently, we learned about how poverty affects decision-making, motivation, and hope.

In this final post on poverty and choices, we delve a little bit deeper into the relationship between poverty and decision-making.

A recent study, published in the journal Science by Mani et al., found that poverty impedes people’s ability to think.

The study revealed that poverty doesn’t necessarily make people less intelligent. But it does negatively impact their ability to think effectively. In other words, when people are consumed by challenges brought about by poverty, they are left with fewer mental resources to make good choices and this, in turn, leads to bad choices.

So how does this knowledge influence how we view and help the global poor? As author Matthew Yglesias succinctly puts it, “one of the best way to help the poor help themselves… is to simply make them less poor”. This is precisely the approach HOPE International Development Agency takes throughout the world. What we’ve found to be true in our work with families trapped in poverty is supported by sound research.

Gaining access to capital – even just a little – can be truly life changing. A joint-study, done by Columbia University, the German Institute for Economic Research, and the Inter-American Development Bank found that simply increasing the poor’s financial resources led to better decision-making, greater skills acquisition, and increased savings over the long term.

Strikingly, the study also found that once the poor accessed more income they actually worked more hours (nearly 20% more), not less, debunking another common misperception about the causes of poverty – that the poor are poor because they are unmotivated to work.

Indeed, money itself is the gateway to better economic opportunity. This is why HOPE International Development Agency is committed to improving economic opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable people in some of the most remote parts of the world.

As we see it, the poorest of the poor are deserving of the opportunity to improve themselves, and each person trapped in poverty deserves to have hope.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The role of local knowledge in eliminating hunger and malnutrition

In an earlier post, we talked about “hidden hunger” and the devastating impact it has on more than 2 billion people worldwide.

Today we look at the role local knowledge, passed down through many generations, can play in reducing malnutrition and the importance of not being too quick to replace local knowledge with new knowledge in some cases.

In 40 years of working with the world’s poorest people and their communities, we’ve learned that the best approach is to look for opportunities to partner local knowledge with new knowledge in the effort to eliminate hunger.

One example of the power of local knowledge is the Enset plant, or "false banana" as it’s known among communities in Bonke, southern Ethiopia.

The Enset plant been around as long as anyone can remember. In fact, it’s mentioned as far back as 1640, when a Portuguese priest called Enset the “tree against hunger” because of its drought resilience and long shelf life.

This odd looking plant (shown in the photo above) can survive lengthy periods of drought, protect the soil from erosion during heavy rains and floods, and once processed, it can be stored, underground for at least 1-year without decaying. To those without the benefit of local knowledge the Enset plant looks like a banana plant without the bananas. The stalk of the plant is the food and is a staple in the diet of most families in Bonke. The presence of the Enset plant is not by chance either. Families have been cultivating it for generations, and as a result, it’s abundant throughout the Bonke region.

Agricultural specialists recently studied the nutritional value of Enset plant and found that pregnant women with Enset-based diets have higher levels of vitamin B-12 and zinc, both of which protect against certain pregnancy complications, than women who have corn-based diets.

An Enset-based diet is obviously not a total solution to the nutritional deficiencies that families face in Bonke, but it is an important reminder that helping families reduce hunger and malnutrition requires listening to their ideas and building on their knowledge.

Families in Bonke might not know what vitamin B-12 and zinc are and the important role they play in keeping pregnant women and their yet-to-be-born children healthy, but generation after generation have passed down the knowledge of the Enset plant and benefited from its nutritional value.

HOPE International Development Agency approaches families and communities with respect and openness to “new to us” ideas - ideas that have shown their value in reducing poverty.

In this case, it’s about the merits of the Enset plant, or "false banana". A plant that seemingly bears no fruit, but in reality is an important food and nutrient source to families in Bonke.

So, while we provide nutritional education and encourage families to diversify their diet by adding backyard gardens full of fruits and vegetables, we are always sure not to discount the local indigenous knowledge of the families and communities that we partner with in an effort to free people from poverty, and in this case, hunger and malnutrition.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The long hard journey to recovery in Haiti

When a massive earthquake destroyed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince five years ago, it triggered a series of events still causing suffering today.

In the hours, days, and weeks following the earthquake, thousands of survivors fled to the mountains surrounding Port-au-Prince in search of safety, food, and shelter.

Families living in the mountains before the disaster were already struggling to survive. Immediately following the disaster, they were overwhelmed as the population of their area grew by nearly 30 percent. Today, as survivors continue returning to their home communities, the families and communities they leave behind find themselves without adequate supplies of food. In fact, they have fallen into an even deeper level of poverty.

These families have become a living reminder of the terrible consequences of such an enormous disaster and the devastating impact it continues to have even today.

Nearly 90 percent of Haiti’s children continue to suffer from preventable diseases. Close to 80 percent of the country’s families remain forced to survive on less than $2 a day. Chronic hunger is one of the biggest challenges families face today and it is preventing them from moving forward.

Our work alongside the poorest of the poor in Haiti began well before the earthquake of 2010, and continues today. You can help a Haitian family lift themselves out of poverty and finally put the horrific disaster behind them.

It costs $600 to provide a vegetable garden irrigation kit, as well as a variety of vegetable seeds, garden tools, and the training families need in order to grow nutritious food throughout the year.

If you'd like to contribute toward the cost of helping Haitian families you can donate online or call us toll-free at 1-866-525-4673.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Poverty's profound impact on decisions

Recently, the Economist published a piece on the theory of behavioural economics – a field of study designed to explore how socio-economic status shapes basic behaviours and decision-making processes.

According to the 2015 World Development Report, published by the World Bank, research is now showing that poverty influences economic decisions in a way that can be detrimental to a person’s well-being.

It has been found that the poor are more likely to make decisions that could be perceived as irrational or illogical, not because they are foolish or careless, but because of the various challenges that come along with poverty that limit their ability to make choices that might otherwise improve their situation.

In this third post in our series exploring choices and poverty, the World Bank report and the Economist article are among a new and growing body of literature that is helping shed light on the key factors influencing the impossible decisions that people in the developing world make on a daily basis.

Over the years, HOPE International Development Agency has seen, first-hand, how systemic poverty – such as the lack of resources like roads, food, schools, work – alters how people experience their own poverty and this in turn shapes their behaviours and attitudes in managing their situation.

Because everyone experiences poverty differently, HOPE International Development Agency works with individuals and their families to provide them with the resources they need to help them help themselves out of poverty. These resources include things like tools and equipment, training and education, advice and psycho-social support.

In this way, we are working to build communities that are made up of strong and resilient people who, in the face of adversity, are enabled to make sound decisions and take positive steps towards their own well-being. Our goal is always to equip and empower the poor in ways that ultimately change the decision-making paradigm, leading to real and long-lasting transformation.