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Thursday, February 26, 2015

40 years of helping the world's poorest families

“What is past is prologue.”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest

As we reflect on the past 40 years and what has been accomplished through the commitment of so many supporters of HOPE International Development Agency, we also reflect on who we are as an organization.

An obvious focus of our organization revolves around the attribute of hope - it’s in our name, after all.

Dr. Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist who has studied human happiness for more than 30 years, says there are three things that make people happy: meaningful work, meaningful relationships, and a sense of hope for the future.

While the first two points seem relatively straightforward, we reflect the third. How do we find hope for the future?

Dr. Livingston points out that we must reflect on the past objectively, and not romanticize it with too much nostalgia. Nostalgia is the enemy of hope, tricking us to believe that our best days are gone. If we have a realistic perspective of history, recognizing both the triumphs and challenges, we open up possibility for change. We look forward to our best days being ahead, not behind.

What a poignant reminder for us as supporters, volunteers, and staff of HOPE International Development Agency. We do not forget what is behind. We value the lessons we have learned over the past 40 years.

No period in our history is superior to another. Each period of time unfolds with its own merits, as we struggle to help the poor in different unique contexts. We wrestle with the world we live in. And at the same time, we grow in our understanding of what helping the poor means as we continue to strive forward, looking to the possibilities of change for so many disadvantaged communities around the world and to the changes we experience ourselves as history unfolds.

What is past is prologue. Our past forms who we are today as the next story of extending compassion to the neglected poor unfolds.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A little encouragement and help goes a long way!

Farming families in the Ubangi region of Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo have been through a lot lately.

A difficult growing season, and fear caused by Ebola as it spread across West Africa, made life very difficult this past year. Yet despite the difficulties, the families thrived - growing nearly five times more corn than usual because of the training, tools, seeds, and other support they’ve received.

A recent event, however, has shaken their confidence. A catastrophic barge accident, caused by a massive windstorm, sent one-third of their hard-earned corn harvest to the bottom of the Congo River. Had the corn reached its destination it would have earned the families four times more than if sold locally.

You can help these families recover from their loss, increase the amount of corn they plant and harvest, and significantly increase their income this year.

A portion of your gift helps provide low interest loans, immediately after harvest, to cover the cost of transporting some of the corn to the big markets where it fetches four times as much money as it does at local markets. The corn that isn’t transported to the big markets is sold in local markets or kept for personal consumption, ensuring that the community and families benefit locally as well.

Growing and selling more corn, at a fair but higher price, is crucial to the success of families in Ubangi as they work their way out of poverty.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Grannies and Gardens: Taking steps to improve resiliency for victims of HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Today, approximately 35 million people are currently living with HIV worldwide. Since the 1980s, the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa has been at the heart of global development efforts.

Although prevalence rates have remained relatively stable since the early 2000s, at nearly 18%, South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates in the world. What’s more, in the province of KwaZulu Natal, where HOPE International Development Agency has worked since 1981, the prevalence rate is dramatically higher. The most recent available data has assessed KwaZulu Natal’s HIV prevalence rate at 39% – double the national average.

The crisis in KwaZulu Natal is exacerbated by the fact that roughly half of the province’s 10.2 million inhabitants live in poverty. Lack of access to proper nutrition and healthcare increase the likelihood that those who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS will fall victim to complications associated with the disease.

Sadly, many who die leave children behind. These children are usually cared for by relatives, often elderly, who are themselves deeply impoverished and struggle to meet the children’s nutritional needs.

Over the past four years, our work in the province has taken the form of providing direct food aid for 40 vulnerable families headed by elderly women (“grannies”) with no other means to support the 120 orphaned children they care for.

In 2014, we helped these 40 grannies establish gardens in two communities in the township of Pietermaritzburg to significantly increase the fresh and nutritious food available to them and the orphaned children under their care.

Fresh spinach is now readily available and cabbage is a staple
With the support of their communities, grannies like Ma Thembi have begun gardening activities that are not only improving general health and nutrition, they are also increasing individual self-sufficiency and reducing community reliance on direct food aid.

Ma Thembi showing the successful lettuce harvest
Even the children are excited to help Ma Thembi in the garden
Through sustainable gardening activities, entire communities are now working alongside the needy, helping to reduce existing stigmas associated with poverty and HIV/AIDS.

In Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, communities are coming together to address both the physical and social needs of those most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Over the long-term, these important activities will lay a foundation for the empowerment, education, and transformation of these communities by increasing their independence and enhancing their resiliency against future hardships.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

40 years is cause for celebration!

We’re celebrating 40 years and 20 million lives changed and you’re invited!

Join us at one of our spring 2015 HOPE International Development Agency 40th Year Celebration Film Premiere & Dinner events in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

You’ll enjoy a wonderful meal, the company of friends, live music, and an opportunity to transform lives in Cambodia through your giving.

This year’s film, shot on location in Cambodia, will give you an intimate glimpse into the lives of families living in rural Cambodia. You’ll also see the amazing work that's being done by Cambodia’s poorest families as they lift themselves out of poverty.

Look for events in your province this April and May and plan to join us as we celebrate 40 years and 20 million lives changed.

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.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Increase your impact and reduce your cost of giving in the final days of 2014

Increase your impact among the world's poorest families and reduce your cost of giving by as much as 40 - 50%.

As 2014 draws to a close we want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support this year.

We also want to remind you that you have just a few days left this year to reduce your cost of giving by as much as 40 - 50% through the income tax savings your gift creates.

Many donors make their end-of-year gift one of their most generous, increasing their impact among the poor and making full use of the final tax-saving opportunity of the year.

To claim your donation on your 2014 income tax, please ensure you make your online donation on or before December 31, 2014. If you choose to mail-in your donation, make sure to date and mail (post mark) your donation on or before December 31, 2014.

Donate Online
Make your online donation on or before December 31, 2014.


By Mail
Date and mail (post mark) your donation on or before December 31, 2014. Please indicate what your gift is for on your cheque. Our mailing address is:

HOPE International Development Agency
214 Sixth Street
New Westminster, BC  V3L 3A2

By Phone
Call us toll-free on or before December 31, 2014 at 1-866-525-4673.

Learn more about HOPE International Development Agency

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ending hunger in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Last week we discussed the hunger families in Afghanistan face. This week, the story continues as we share the renewed hope that families are finding as they gain the capacity to store grain in their villages.

In Afghanistan, families are forced sell their produce at harvest time because they no way of storing the harvest – the worst time of year to sell because demand for grain is low and the supply is abundant. As a result, families receive little for their hard work and are only able to set aside a small amount of grain for themselves until the harvest the following year.

As autumn gives way to winter, families hand-grind their wheat, making flour, which will be carefully rationed out until spring. Ironically, it’s in the spring, when the next crop is planted and growing, that families experience hunger at its worst. They’ve planted the last of their grain and the flour has run out. Or maybe worse, they ate their grain, driven by hunger, and now had nothing left to plant.

Ending hunger among the families in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Initially, HOPE International Development Agency assisted hungry families by providing emergency grain supplies, both for eating and planting.

After ensuring that families had enough to eat and were able to grow a reasonable harvest, we helped them form a committee responsible for building up and managing a community grain supply. The next step was to help them build simple storage buildings to store the grain after each harvest.

The grain storage buildings made it possible for families to safely store their harvests and avoid having to sell a portion of the harvest when prices were at their lowest.

Families now have food all winter long, and if needed, can borrow grain for planting in the spring. Excess grain is now sold at a good market price in the spring when it is in high demand. But most importantly, families and their communities have a reliable source of grain throughout the year.

All of this means that families are building up their supply of grain and food. They are rebuilding their health and today, always have enough to eat. With their nutritional needs met, families are building healthy lives, strong and resilient livelihoods, and contributing to improving the local economy.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The consequences of hunger - a closer look

In a recent post we highlighted the devastating consequences of hunger and what’s being done to ensure the world’s poorest families have enough to eat.

In this, the first of two posts, we explore how hunger affects families in one of the most rugged places on earth - Afghanistan.

Hunger is a major problem for families living in the rugged region of Afghanistan’s Kunduz province. Families go hungry regularly and suffer from chronic undernourishment. In fact, 59 percent of children under the age of five are well below the norm in terms of height and weight.

The most striking physical feature of Kunduz, particularly, the village of Jeloucha where HOPE International Development Agency has been helping families for nearly a decade, is what you don’t see when you cast your gaze to the river that borders one side of the village and the mountains that rise up behind the village.

There are no trees, no grasslands, and no vegetation, not even at the foot of the steep, barren mountains that tower over the village. Deforested decades ago during times of conflict, nothing has grown back.

The only way in and out of the Jeloucha is via roads best described as goat trails. These trails connect the people of the village to other villages and markets for buying or selling a bit of wheat, a few melons, or perhaps a small cow. Wintertime is especially challenging and bleak.

The most striking thing about the people Jeloucha is what decades of adversity has done to them. There’s been little opportunity to replant forests or rebuild crumbling infrastructure. Put differently, there’s been no incentive to do so when the only life they have known has been chronically unstable.

Living in a place like Canada, surrounded by abundance, especially during the Christmas season, it’s nearly impossible to imagine what it must be like to live in a village like Jeloucha.

Over the years, families in Jeloucha have sold nearly everything they own in an effort to survive and many are simply out of options. Meager harvests have made the situation even worse, especially in the winter, when it’s not uncommon for families to eat only one small meal per day because they’re dangerously low on food.

HOPE International Development Agency is working to overcome chronic hunger by providing food in lean times and helping rebuild grain stocks and establish food grain banks in an effort to help families grow more food throughout the year. As a result, families who were once downtrodden and overwhelmed by the constant struggle to survive are now finding hope.

Next week we will share more about what hope looks like for families who are doing everything they can order to ensure that they have enough food to eat throughout the year.