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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Restoring hope and dignity for families in Mynamar

It will soon be five years since families in Mynamar’s conflict-ridden North Shan and Kachin states fled their homes in search of safety. The camps families currently inhabit were never meant to be permanent, but rather, a safe respite from the violence that plagues the region.

Life in the camps is tough on children and parents alike. A high proportion of people in the camps are farming families who are used to being self-reliant rather than dependent. And while the families recognize they need aid in order to survive, what they really want is to be self-reliant again and regain the dignity stolen from them by the conflict that surrounds them.

It is hard to maintain a sense of dignity while being dependent on outside support for food, shelter, and other aspects of life. Mothers and fathers do whatever they can to make themselves available for any type of odd job that comes their way, but odd jobs are in short supply and not always available, leaving parents and their families vulnerable.

HOPE International Development Agency is helping ensure that children living in the camps can continue their education are not be lost to poverty because of the conflict (see recent post).

We are also working with parents who are having a very difficult time providing for their families. Skills training and assistance are being provided to help parents enhance their camp-based livelihoods. These initiatives reduce dependency, enhance dignity, and build up the capabilities of families.

In camps where agricultural land is available, communal farming tool sets, including rakes, hoes, watering cans, have been provided in order to give families what they need in order to till the soil and grow their own food. Families also collect local seeds, including dill, mustard, long bean, tomato, parsley, eggplant, and cucumber, and share them amongst themselves so that seeds do not have to be purchased. Aside from saving money, using local seeds enables families to collect and save their own seeds for subsequent crop plantings.

In camps where agriculture is not possible due to space constraints, we are helping families establish savings and loans groups.

Local staff work with group members to develop viable business plans, provide financial management training, and create group rules to manage savings and loans. Each group receives a cash grant to provide low-interest short-term loans to their group members. Small businesses created so far include small vegetable shops and grocery stores, pig raising, noodle shops, and handicraft enterprises.

To date, 100% of the small loans given to group members have been paid back to their groups, enabling the funds provided through this initiative to be used many times over to help even more families attain self-sufficiency.

Income earned through new businesses is helping parents send their children to school, buy nutritious food, and make repairs to their modest dwellings.

Families living in the camps are regaining their dignity and a sense of hope, as well as skills for the future when they return to their home villages.

A savings and loan group member tends her small grocery stall.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Seeing past the statistic to the person

You would think that a United Nations (UN) statistic as troubling as 4,500 children dying every day because of water related diseases would catch everyone’s attention. Certainly it has not, as a worldwide water crisis continues. Perhaps it would, however, if more focus was placed on the stories of the children hidden in the statistic rather than the statistic itself.

While the UN statistic speaks to the scale of the problem, it is the stories of the children, hidden in the statistic, that speak to the humanity of the problem.

Children in La China, a rural community located in the rugged hills of the Dominican Republic, used to be numbered among those hidden in the grim UN statistic. It was their story, not just a statistic, which caught our attention at HOPE International Development Agency and brought them into our work and lives.

To help the children of La China, the entire community needed to be helped. HOPE International Development Agency worked in partnership with the people of La China, helping them gain access to clean water, right in their community. The abundant supply of clean water that will flow into the community at the conclusion of water system’s construction next month will not only provide safe water for drinking, but also a reliable source of water that will be used to irrigate vegetable garden plots and small crop fields.

The clean water, and all the benefits it brings - not the least of which is eliminating the loss of life among children - will enable families to restore and maintain their health.

Much can be accomplished in the lives of the poor when we focus on their story, rather than just a statistic which, by nature, can overshadow and obscure what really matters – the people who need our help.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ensuring that children in Myanmar are not lost to poverty because of conflict

In Myanmar, newly constructed classrooms are helping children lead a normal life, despite everything around them having been turned upside down.

Children and their parents have spent the last four years avoiding the violence of a reignited conflict in North Shan and Kachin States between ethnic minorities and the government-led military of Myanmar. The conflict has forced families to leave their homes and flee to the relative calm of temporary camps.

The camps were never intended to be permanent, but with each passing day their permanence becomes more likely given that the conflict shows no signs of subsiding soon and there is nowhere else families can go. While the camps do offer respite from the conflict and a measure of safety, they are very challenging places to live.

Families, many of whom are young and headed by women, struggle to find ways to earn the modest amount of income required to meet their daily needs. In some of the camps, children have not been able to go to school for years because there are no educational facilities, school supplies, or teachers.

Conflict has stolen homes, communities, education, and stability from children. And while HOPE International Development Agency is addressing, in other ways, the needs of families affected by the armed conflict raging throughout the countryside, we are also working to restore the lives of children by providing educational facilities, materials, teachers, and teacher training right in the camps.

Education cannot wait for more stable times. If children do not receive an education in their early years, then they, among their generation, will be lost to poverty.

HOPE International Development Agency donors have helped construct four more early childhood education centres. In addition, teaching materials and supplies have been provided to 13 existing schools and centres. Teachers have also received training, an especially important aspect of the work considering that many of the people doing the teaching do not have formal training.

Putting pencils in the hands of children, supplies in their school bags, and teachers in their classrooms does not solve the conflict that continues to rage outside the camp. But for children who are growing up in the relative safety inside the camps, education is helping give them a sense of normalcy, stability, structure, and hope for the future.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Standing alongside families in South Sudan

When the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence arrives in a few weeks, it will not be easy to find something to celebrate.

In the years since its founding in July 2011, South Sudan has managed to fall back into old habits that plague much of this region of Africa: ethnic conflict, corruption, and willful brutality against anyone who merely tries to live their life and not pick a side in conflicts driven by the aforementioned.

On its fourth birthday, the fledgling African nation will be home to 3.7 million people without enough to eat on a daily basis, 50,000 chronically malnourished children, and nearly 1 million people living in limbo, having fled their homes for fear of being killed or maimed in the crossfire between warring ethnic groups.

During all of this conflict and chaos, HOPE International Development Agency donors have stood alongside families forced to live in limbo. They have given generously to ensure that families displaced or affected by conflict have clean water to drink. They have supported education programs for children, ensuring that precious childhood learning years are not lost to conflict. And, they have helped families with food support, and more importantly, enabled them to grow their own food, despite being displaced from their homes and lands.

So, when the fourth anniversary of the world’s youngest nation arrives in a few weeks, we will celebrate thousands of lives saved and changed, while at the same time, being very mindful that a lot more needs to be done because thousands of people have yet to be helped.