I’ve been called diminutive, and I guess I am, at 5’2” and kinda thin. So when I walk anywhere with my son, who’s 6’4”, 330 lbs., no one believes I’m his mom. In fact, when he was little, people thought I was his nanny — he was so big compared to me even then.
His high school football team had a good laugh when I walked onto the field with him during Mom’s Day. His dream was to be an NFL defensive lineman, and although his workout routine still, at 24, equals NFL stats, he changed his direction to pursue another lifelong dream unrelated to sports. Most of his friends are athletes, and most of them stayed with us at one point or another. And they all came to know and really appreciate the food he was brought up on — whole grains, greens, beans, and sugars all as organic as I could find and cooked at home from scratch. Before their next visit, they’d phone in their orders to me or through him. Feeding a football team, if you’ve never done it, even for a few days, can be daunting. But surprise of surprise, they finished it all and wanted more.
DOC APPLAUDS OUR LIFESTYLE
My son ate his first beef burger at age 12 or 13, inadvertently, and never really did develop that much of a taste for it. True story: During a football game in high school, he banged bodies with an offensive lineman, also big. What a hit! What a horrible sound! It was a clash of the titans. And they were both carted off to the hospital. The orthopedic surgeon reported to us that the other kid came away with a broken shin bone, I’m sorry to say. However, he was incredulous at my son’s injury, a slight bone bruise. With taped leg and crutches he went back to the sidelines to cheer his team on.
“Whatever you’re feeding him, keep doing it. I’ve never seen bones that size or that dense in a kid before!” Those were his exact words. That was an extraordinary feeling to have our lifestyle applauded, though not the way I would have chosen.
A LIVING ANSWER TO QUESTIONS
He’s still my trophy and my testament to natural foods for kids, especially when he visits my cooking classes. People just don’t believe it. True, you’re thinking there must be some big genes somewhere in the family, and yes there are, but it’s not the size, it’s the quality. He’s a walking testimonial to a lifetime of natural foods, with a presence that answers their questions: “Will my child get enough calcium?” “Will they grow?” “Won’t they get sick more?” “Can they grow up healthy without all the protein and vitamins from meat and dairy?……… Yes, yes, no, and yes. Absolutely. Here. Look. And in he walks.
I’ve had non natural foods kids raiding my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator forever. One 10-year-old made a B-line for seaweed whenever he came. Didn’t bother him at all what it was. He just wanted it. Loved the taste, and he said it made him feel good. You can’t argue with that.
Like that 10-year-old. They want to be shown, but also to be allowed to experiment. I have another true story here: I was asked to make two dishes for a grand opening for a holistic heath center last year in Coronado, CA. One of the dishes was an Asian style tofu appetizer (go to my website, www.chewbite.com, and click on Asian Style Tofu Wrap-Around — the very same one). A 13-year-old boy (difficult to please at that age regardless, unless…) came by in the line and wouldn’t try it (Tofu, yuk!) until I told him he could spit it out in front of me if he didn’t like it. No pressure. That intrigued him enough to try it. Guaranteed, he liked the idea of spitting it out in front of me.
I was distracted by other people asking questions and didn’t see his reaction or his leaving. About ten minutes later, he returned with a few friends. They didn’t say a word, but they did polish off the entire platter and left. Maybe they had a new regard for tofu after that. I like to think so. Kids want to know you care by giving them options, challenging them, and respecting their opinions. And what better place to start than in your own kitchen, where your daily soul replenishment for the five senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and feeling all come together to create the ultimate sense of well being from food. “Home (and hearth) is where the heart is.”
PRIDE OF CREATIVE OWNERSHIP
Make it a game, interesting, fun. Dress it up. Make it all natural and as organic as you can. Make it look like what they’re used to, but the ingredients can either mimic or be completely different. Season it and spice it up with a familiar aroma, appearance, and mouth feel. But whatever it is, it’s got to taste great! Another thing about them, which you probably already know, they don’t spare your feelings. They tell you the truth. So ask them what the dish needs, and get them involved in the kitchen and the preparation by letting them fix it the way they want.
Let them make it their own. For you, it’s hands off unless asked. Whatever the mess, whatever their tastes, whatever their additions or deletions, it’s theirs and not only deserves, but requires, your respect. My son is getting to be one incredible chef, choosing food and spice combinations I would never think of in a million years. He astounds not only me, but his friends, with his choices and complexities of taste, while still sticking to organic whole grains, veggies, even meat, chicken, and wild fish. Allow them the gratification of astounding you. Their tastes are often so different from ours. There’s no age limit or requirement, by the way. So much more fun than going to formerly frozen formula Chili’s or McDonald’s or wherever, and their memories are priceless. Oh yeah! And invest in a bread machine. Let them invent variations on their staple. So easy.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE REQUIRED
Prenatal to post natal to pre-school to post college, they need and want guidance from mom and dad. Their culinary creativity being rewarded early with applause and respect will give them the confidence to continue natural foods in their lives and to teach their friends and their own children. Give them their jump start by changing to whole grains and veggies during pregnancy. When nursing, they’re already used to the foods. And when you start introducing solid foods, they intuitively know them already. Even seaweeds. Really. Yup, even seaweeds can be luscious. It all depends on your creativity and that intangible ingredient that makes it all a hit, your LOVE.
My son once observed to us from a boarding school he attended for one year for football before going to college, that he thought he was the only person there who loved his parents. Wow! Now that blew us away. He realized that we always inspired him to achieve and create, to have his own opinions, and respected his choices. Experiment. That was the year he started cooking for himself and starting teaching me. Very gratifying. He’s still teaching me.
SOME ANSWERS REALLY ARE THAT SIMPLE
With the meteoric rise of childhood and young adult health diseases: diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, high cholesterol, asthma, high blood pressure, depression, ADD, ADHD, and the lists goes on and on… Diseases once thought to be brought on by age deterioration in adults are now epidemic, even plagues, among our children. Drugs are not the answer. One definite answer is natural foods. Too simplistic? Things in life don’t have to be that complicated. You really are what you eat.
WE SOLD OUR SOULS AND OUR HEALTH
It’s the insidious invasion of the soul snatchers in the guise of the big pharmaceutical companies and the big brand name food manufacturers all in collusion with the advertising companies and the food/chemical lobbyists in Washington, D.C. I refer to Dr. David Kessler’s (former FDA commissioner, 1990-1997) new book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. He writes about just this, not that we didn’t know it already, but a former FDA boss telling us from the “inside” about how our souls and health have been hijacked for profit is pretty frightening, along with our disastrous eating habits being engineered by those companies’ food scientists. Very scary, but not irreversible.
CREATE YOUR OWN GOOD HEALTH
Get your whole family into the kitchen. Have fun creating a lifestyle change that makes you happy and gives you the power of choice. Food becomes an exploration into a culinary world of individual tastes designed by you that changes with your whims by adding a little bit of this or a whole lot of that. And your children? They’ll love it!
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Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s a mantra for green living that we’ve all heard for years. And while recycling has become more and more mainstream, with even Grandma lugging the blue box out for curbside recycling, and sorting and filtering for her weekly trip to City Carton [recycling plant], Reduce and Reuse have been nearly forgotten in the recycling frenzy.
It’s not yet trendy to make noticeable cutbacks and people will definitely look at you funny if you tell them you are making a vase out of a burned out light bulb. But the times they are a’ changin’ and one thing is for sure: Reducing and reusing are equally important components of this three-part commitment to living more sustainably.
We must start thinking harder about reducing and reusing. I feel like I’ve been mouthing the words for years without considering their meaning, comfortable in the fact that I’m doing my part. The truth is we cannot begin to affect climate change by recycling alone; we must incorporate all three of these ideas into our daily routine. Read on for some of our favorite ways to make new stuff from your old stuff.
Crayons, Reborn: This is a fun project to make with the kids. Take your old nubs and remove the paper. Pre-heat your oven to 275°. Place crayons in a mold or lined muffin cups (we used silicon tart cups). Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and unmold. You can also reuse old candle wax in the same manner, just add a piece of wick before the wax sets.
Tin Cans: Covering tin cans is fun and easy and there’s about a million things you can store in them. Use old magazines, tissue paper, typewriter ribbon, or photos to make your desired collage. Then just use plain old school glue and an old paintbrush to paste your collection to a clean tin can. Add buttons, beads, shells, old broken jewelry bits, or anything you can imagine. You can store cooking utensils, pens and pencils, flowers, coins, and all kinds of good stuff in these decorative cans.
Jars & Bottles: My new favorite use for old jars is to shake up oil-based salad dressings. The shaking effectively emulsifies the oil and vinegar and you can store your dressings in the fridge in these jars. Jars can also be used for bath salts, storing nails and screws (old baby food jars fastened to the wall of your garage is a great place to keep all kinds of useful small parts), a jar for your morning coffee, vases, storing beads, keeping leftovers, carrying water to the dog park, packaging gifts, shaking up gravy, and storing bulk nuts.
Dry-Cleaning Hangers: A quick survey of area cleaners reveals: YES! Dry cleaners will take back and reuse hangers. They request that hangers be in good repair.
Coffee Cans: Use to collect spare change, or as a scoop for the sandbox or litter box.
Egg Cartons: Use to pack Christmas ornaments, sprout seedlings, store golf balls, or as a palette for paints.
Newspapers: Roll Christmas lights around old newspapers. Shred and use for packaging fragile items. Use as gift wrap. Wash windows — newspapers are the best way [to] get streak-free windows. Stuff into hats or purses while storing to retain their shape. If you have a farm, they can be shredded and used for animal bedding or to create garden mulch.
Plastic Bags: Reuse as a trash can liner or for shopping, as a trash can for your car, for dirty clothes storage when you go on a trip, or for picking up pet poo. Old zip-top plastic bags can be re-purposed for storing pens, pencils, markers, or crayons.
Plastic Bottles and Containers: I love storing cheese (especially hard cheese) in “clam shells” from New Pi’s deli. Refill tiny “travel size” bottles with more lotion, soap, and shampoos for your next trip. Send leftovers home with friends in old sour cream, salsa, and cottage cheese containers; they won’t have to worry about returning your “Tupperware.” Punch holes in the bottoms of plastic containers and use them as planters with the lid placed underneath to catch the drainage. Refill old plastic soap dispensers with bulk soap and reuse old spray bottles for spritzing your plants with water.
Wine Bottles: We made a cute soap dispenser out of an old wine bottle. Mara designed the fun label and printed it on label paper. The topper is a 1 oz. wine pourer. These are sweet gifts. You can also invert this design and hang it by a decorative wire to make a hummingbird feeder. For a pretty table decoration, fill the bottle with a short strand of Christmas lights and decorate with shimmery ribbons, glitter, or beads.
Fabric Softener Sheets: Put them in drawers after using to keep clothes smelling fresh. Get rid of static by rubbing them over staticky clothing.
CD’s: Make coasters by decorating old cd’s and covering the bottom with cork. Use as a paint palette, or bust them into pieces to use as bike reflectors. Visit Jim Watters’ PhotoCreations to see how to make a funky lamp from old cd’s.
Old Mouse Pads: Cut into squares and affix to the bottom of your furniture to protect the legs from scratching up your floor. Cover with fabric to make coasters.
Boxes and Cardboard: Reuse tissue boxes to hold plastic grocery bags.
T-shirt Bag: Take your old favorite t-shirt and turn it inside-out. Cut off the sleeves inside the seam. Get a bowl (I used a 10″ diameter bowl) and trace a half-circle around the neck of the t-shirt. Cut out the half-circle. Sew the bottom shut. Turn it right-side out. I recommend a sturdy small or medium sized shirt for a handy shopping bag size.
Here are some great resources to find free stuff in your community:
Choose to Reuse, by Nikki & David Goldbeck
Reprinted by permission from The Catalyst, New Pioneer Co-op‘s Newsletter, c. 2009
Whatever questions you may have about the environment and its health effects on children, Healthy Child Healthy World is a place where you’ll find well-researched, thoughtful, and practical answers. We are impressed by the work that the folks at Healthy Child Healthy World are doing, and are pleased to share with you our interview with Christopher Gavigan, CEO. He and his team are continuing the work Nancy and Jim Chuda began when they co-founded the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, following the death of their only child, Colette, to environmentally caused cancer.
GAVIGAN: It doesn’t take much in a conversation with any parent, no matter how old the child, to see that their top priority is their children’s health and, certainly, their happiness. If you ask any pregnant mom, she says, “I just want it to be a healthy baby.” That sentiment is so powerful, and every new set of parents can rally around this thought.
And yet, a lot of information in the media, a lot of information from peers and family and friends, and historical research and data, clouds the message landscape. For any parent, and anyone who’s looking out for the best interest of children, there is information that can be conflicting and fear-based. And there’s information that can be overwhelming at times. Essentially, our organization exists to clarify that message landscape, in particular, to show how one creates a healthy, or healthier, or healthiest environment for a child.
BPGL: Healthy Child Healthy World provides up-to-date information on scientific studies about the environment and children’s health. Why is it important to share the science with parents?
GAVIGAN: Children are so uniquely vulnerable to any type of potential threat from the outside world into their little bodies. It happens in utero. The Environmental Working Group did a study of mothers’ cord blood. People in the past thought the cord blood and the womb created an area of safety, and mom was the barrier for any type of potential danger to harm that child. But cord blood actually has over 200 industrial chemicals. Every mom has over 200 industrial chemicals coursing through her blood, and that can directly affect the child’s development and health.
It’s no wonder, with the clear, scientific reality that we’re faced with: We have a regulatory system and a chemical approval system and policy in place that allow industry to bring chemicals to the market without doing sufficient testing. The burden of proof actually lies on the consumer and the marketplace to showcase whether the chemical is safe or unsafe, as opposed to the burden of proof going back to the companies and manufacturers themselves.
So, we have this unique space, where children are vulnerable. They’re so vulnerable just through their behaviors, especially through their hand-to-mouth behavior. They’re eating twice as much, drinking twice as much, for their size, as adults do. Their skin is five times thinner than ours. They are these little vessels and sponges absorbing things. They’re growing quickly. Their metabolism and body cannot excrete harmful agent and chemicals, as quickly as adults can. So they are being affected.
There’s no longer a question in science and the scientific community whether the environment affects health. The concept of “environmental health” is the understanding that the environment, the places we live, the places we sleep, the food we put in our bodies, the chemicals, and the beauty care products we put onto our skin, will affect our health. And it will do so in very dynamic and very significant ways.
The American Cancer Society suspects that 75 percent of all cancer is linked to environmental triggers and things we encounter in our environment. It’s no longer a genetic problem, as Nancy and Jim Chuda unfortunately found out with Colette’s death from a non-genetic form of cancer. Many people are experiencing that type of reality. Besides pediatric cancers, we’re also experiencing the realities of obesity, childhood asthma, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, behavioral disorders, and autism. Credible science links these diseases in a very significant way to environmental triggers. When children are exposed to the environment, it actually triggers an unfortunate development in the body. It changes the course of the future of that child and human being.
Healthy Child Healthy World exists because we want to prevent disease and illness. And we want to help parents understand that they can take action. There are solutions. There are easy things that they can do in their daily lives. We’re really talking about this next phase of parenting, this next generation of new parents, and understanding what their priorities are. We’re helping them understand that the environment is affecting their children’s health, and they can do something about it.
BPGL: What is Healthy Child Healthy World’s unique contribution to the discussion of children’s environmental health issues?
GAVIGAN: There are like-minded organizations and groups in the NGO space and the government space and the public health space that do similar messaging. But I would argue that no one does the messaging as well as us. Our constant passion — and our fascination — is with how we frame messages and how we are crafting a message to create the biggest impact and the biggest motivational influence on a parent, or on anyone who’s receiving the message.
We’re doing a lot of internal branding and discussions around this, and we’re always talking about “our voice” as being that trusted advisor and best friend. We want people to hear the message and be inspired. The word “inspires” is in our mission.
I’ve actually been in a couple of conferences with some very like-minded and influential CEOs of other organizations, sitting there as they’re delivering the message. I don’t know if they’re numb to it, or if they don’t know what to look for as far as how people receive messages. I have a master’s degree in training psychology, and I’m constantly interested in how people are listening and understanding the information and behaviorally changing. You can sit up there and watch this entire audience be excited, and within four minutes of getting some of these scientific facts and realities, you can actually watch their bodies change. You can watch their faces change. You can watch their energy levels change. You can hear them and listen to them speak — they are no longer excited, they are petrified. They’re soon to put on their blinders and soon to put on their mask of ignorance, and say, “Oh, I just don’t know.” Or, “I can’t do anything about that.” Or, “It’s above and beyond me.”
Healthy Child is all about inspiring people. We are capturing their interest and empowering them with information that they can take direct action against. We are asking people to change their behavior. We’re asking them to buy one product different than the other. I’m asking them to take their shoes off at the door. I’m asking them to turn their products around and look at the labels and look for certain things. So, if you’re asking people to do something, you’d better frame the message correctly.
BPGL: How do you inspire legislators to take action on behalf of children’s health?
GAVIGAN: There are many, many different groups that do good policy work. We’re not positioned, and our resources aren’t best utilized, in that area. We certainly have relationships in the legislative community and policy and advocacy community. We try to best infuse our voice and our influence in certain key moments.
Just last year, there was a very key moment where California‘s Governor Schwarzenegger had a decision on his desk. It was either to sign or not sign AB 1108. The bill was particularly to prohibit phthalates in children’s products, any product that touches the hands of a child between age 0 and 3. He was not sure if he was going to sign it. Through some influential relationships we had in specific circles, we were able to get him to listen, and understand the importance of this moment. He actually signed that initiative into law — it was a great moment in his leadership and demonstrated the power of specific and targeted influence.
BPGL: In what ways are you supporting the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act?
GAVIGAN: The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act would reform the Toxic Controlled Substances Act (TCSA) of 1976. It would put the burden of proof back on the manufacturers, much like REACH does in Europe. We’re hugely supportive of that.
There are many, many different approaches to attack this thing. We’re going from the approach that the parents are the ones who have control over their domains, and a lot of the unfortunate environmental triggers and factors happen in our homes happen while sleeping in our own beds. We want to make sure that parents are capably preventing that. We hope to support those folks who are doing the legislative work, in any way possible.
But we don’t have folks on Capitol Hill. We don’t have folks in Sacramento. We’re a nonprofit, and we have limited resources. We don’t want to do a hundred things well, we want to do five things really well. We’re very attuned to understanding what our capacities are, what our skills are, what our strengths are, and maximizing that effort and being efficient with that effort.
One of our Board members uses the term, “Death by a thousand initiatives.” I don’t want that to be how we come to pass. I want us to focus and understand what we do and our impact, to know what we’re good at and what we’re not good at, to be very self critical — relentlessly self critical — to nurture the things that we do well, and to do them really well.
BPGL: One thing Healthy Child Healthy World is known for doing well is the Health eHome site. Nancy Chuda told us about the original Health eHome. What exciting features have you built into the new Health eHome?
GAVIGAN: The first Health eHome was an award-winning piece when it was crafted in circa 2001. And still, up into early 2009, people referenced it and talked about it and used it as a resource. It was the first of its kind, virtually traveling through a home and space and understanding some of the environmental factors that are a risk in our own homes. But it was very much in need of a refreshment, if you will, and some invigoration of new life and technology.
And so, internally, within the staff and within the Board, we scoped out a brand new creative brief for it. We did some donor cultivations with private foundations and families, and also some of our corporate partners. But my big challenge and concern with it was, just because I built it, that doesn’t mean people will find it. We’re constantly building our audience and really doing great in that area, but I needed a partner and a collaborator that was going to magnify this to the next level and beyond. That’s where WebMD came in.
BPGL: The new Health eHome is co-branded with WebMD. Why did you choose WebMD as your partner?
GAVIGAN: The universe very serendipitously brought WebMD into the fold. I’ve cultivated that relationship for well over a year now. After some time, it was very much apparent that they were excited about the opportunity. They vetted the organization and were excited about the fact that they could start having a national conversation around prevention.
WebMD is an organization that is highly passionate about health and about very credible information. That is their sole goal, to be the most trusted and the most viewed health site on line. And that’s what they are, bar none. No one touches their numbers. They have 52 million unique visitors a month. They just have incredible traction and respect in the space. Together, with us as an editorial partner and educational collaborator, we built the new iteration of the Health eHome and brought Seventh Generation on as sponsor.
We actually just launched it March 17. We are extremely, extremely excited about it. It takes much of the old content and refreshes it. We bring some new video content into it. We have over 50 documentary-style videos in there. We have small, bite-sized information and very comprehensive, longer articles. We’re going to be filling up our content as the years progress.
WebMD sees this as a core feature and core function of their site and are eager to get into the space of prevention and environmental health. It’s a huge, huge boon for the organization in the sense that we get to present our message. Besides, Healthy Child is a winner, and WebMD is a winner, and Seventh Generation is a winner. I’m just excited that environmental health gets to be broadcast into so many homes around the nation.
BPGL: It’s a wonderfully effective medium. Health eHome is a boon to parents and grandparents.
GAVIGAN: People just want to know how to do it, and video’s a powerful way. Presenting small, bite-sized pieces of information is a powerful way, and we’re going to be filling out some more content around some of those action steps and checklists. Healthy Child has three pages in there, where we get to talk about what we do outside the Health eHome too.
And Seventh Generation talks about their positioning and what’s important to them. They’re a thought leader in the landscape as well. One would argue they’re the first nontoxic cleaning company in the United States to bring this to a level of mass market. I really admire folks like Patagonia. If you look at their mission statement, it has nothing to do with making clothing. It’s about affecting change, and a positive change for the environment. That is very much in line with the thinking that Jeffery Hollander and his team at Seventh Generation bring to the table.
BPGL: Your book, Healthy Child Health World: Creating a Greener, Cleaner, Safer Home, is in its third printing. Tell us what parents can find in there and why they will want to buy it.
GAVIGAN: The goal of the book is to continue the tone of freshness and approachability and being upbeat. I wanted that indispensable reference guide for parents, one they could pack away in their diaper bag, take on the go, or sit in their bed — for that precious reading time when the kids are asleep — to digest a bit more.
What I also wanted to do is to showcase the fact that this is a movement that’s happening. There are experts, and there are parents, and there are public health advocates, and there are moms and dads around the country who have a voice in this landscape — everyone from Erin Brockovich to Meryl Streep to First Lady Michelle Obama.
What we did is to prioritize the top ten areas in the home or topics that we each thought were most important for parents to address. It has tips and advice and recipes and a whole 27-page resource section on shopping and products. One of the greatest quotes about it that I love, this one reviewer said, “It’s relentlessly optimistic.” I love that.
Parents need to grip reality and understand the facts and the science, and that needs to be motivational and credible. But if you’re not positive, and you don’t tell them, “You can do it,” they’re not going to do anything. So that was a key goal of mine, to make parents feel like we were their advocate and friend in the process, and we had their best interest in mind. And we were going to be their guide along the way.
BPGL: Is the book in your own diaper bag for your baby?
GAVIGAN: It is in my diaper bag for my baby. Absolutely.
BPGL: What do you see as next for Healthy Child Healthy World?
GAVIGAN: We’re trying to create a movement here. Besides being a reference space, and besides having information, we really need to get people to feel emotional about these topics. So we’re doing a lot of thought and brand scoping around what it means to tell a good story, and how to tell a story that’s going to make people listen and become emotive and want to do something about it.
Definitely in this next year, most likely in late summer, early fall, you will see campaign collateral from Healthy Child — and who knows who else — in and around telling a good story and motivating and capturing in a very passionate way. Most likely — because it’s just the power of the audience and the power of the medium — it will be some type of social media play in and around some type of video presentation or storytelling campaign. You can’t underestimate the power of a story.
Embedded in that new thinking is that we want parents to understand, as I said earlier, there is a new generation of parenting and parenting-type of philosophies. We want to help package that type of thought and give people the right to say that they are that type of parent. I don’t think the terms “green mom” and “green parent” and “green world” really capture what we do, because we’re really about health. And yes, we care about the future health of the planet, because that’s what our children will inherit, and their world is wherever they are, from their playroom to their school to their backyard. We really want healthy children and a healthy world.
Health as a concern never goes away, but we are seeing some green fatigue. I think businesses are embracing green because it makes sense for their bottom line. But as consumers, you’re seeing some confusion and some apprehension, and there are some stories of greenwashing that have led people to question the authenticity of the movement. We certainly embrace the word green, but we never have positioned ourselves as a green organization.
We’re a health organization, and we want people to understand that health will always be that evergreen topic. That’s really what motivates people. You think of the circles of influence: your kids, your family, your planet. That’s how you think. Everyone loves the polar bears, but you don’t see them every day. You don’t see the redwoods in your backyard. You don’t see the oceans, and everyone doesn’t have that connection point. If you have a family, you have family members you love and adore and want to keep safe, and help them have the longest and healthiest life possible.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
My 5: Christopher Gavigan, CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” — John F. Kennedy
Today’s adults will not solve every environmental challenge we face in the world. We will make progress, certainly, but the solutions to most of the major problems that plague us will not come in our lifetimes. The future of our species — and with it, the future of all life on Earth — hinges on the actions of our children and their children.
We cannot sit back idly and expect generations yet to come to take up the banner of environmentalism and sustainability. We must begin by educating — and inspiring — our youth to learn about the problems and to take action to fix them. One program that has been successfully motivating youth to learn about the environment is the Fairchild Challenge.
The seven year-old program, which began at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, provides junior high and high school students with competitive projects, contests, and performance opportunities that engage them in a study of the natural world. More than 40,000 students participated in this free, educational experience in Florida alone this academic year.
Caroline Lewis, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s director of education, who oversees the Fairchild Challenge, says, “The Fairchild Challenge promotes, provokes and celebrates young people’s engagement in environmental issues. The program is a vital tool to give young people a voice in the national and international conversation about the critical issues affecting our planet – and to foster lifelong environmental stewardship in the students, in their families and in their communities. We are gratified to see our youths becoming more passionate about protecting our planet.”
Current Challenge options include:
- Write opinion and research papers
- Perform songs and skits
- Create gardens, artwork and newsletters
- Design solar-powered devices
- Formulate “green” cuisine menus
Participating students can earn points for their sponsoring organization. By earning a specified number of points, students qualify their school or organization for the Fairchild Challenge Award, which is presented in May. Qualifying schools win a monetary prize to be used for a green project of their choice.
According to Lewis, the template for the Fairchild Challenge initiative is expanding across the US and other nations, to foster “environmental awareness, scholarship, and stewardship in teenagers and pre-teens.” Satellite Training workshops provide educators from schools, museums, and other public and private facilities with the opportunity to learn about and implement the Fairchild Challenge in their own communities. The program is active in Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Utah, USA; South Africa, Venezuela, and Costa Rica.
In February 2008, the Conservation Fund’s National Forum on Children and Nature (NFCN) endorsed the Fairchild Challenge as one of 30 models that provide novel means for connecting youth to the environment. Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund, said, “We celebrate these projects for demonstrating how to get kids back outdoors. This is critical for children’s health — and for the future of our environment. Saving a generation is not a spectator sport. These ideas invite corporate leaders, educators, community planners, government officials and others into the game.”
To find out how an educational organization in your community can become a part of the Fairchild Challenge, visit the Fairchild Challenge website or call (305) 667-1651.
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Conscientious donors around the world give money to NGOs with the full expectation that their contributions will work toward the benefit of the intended recipients. But, as Earle Canfield, explains in today’s post, the reality is often quite different, with too many NGOs working ultimately for their own sustainability and not delivering “real help.”
Canfield’s NGO, American-Nepali Student & Women’s Educational Relief (ANSWER), is different. “Instead of fostering dependency,” Canfield says, “we empower students.” ANSWER gives “just enough help” to impoverished low-caste families by paying for one child’s private school education. The families, in turn, pay for a small part of their children’s school needs. By requiring a personal investment, ANSWER motivates families to continue the child’s participation through college, whereupon the graduate secures a good-paying job. Education not only breaks the cycle of poverty for the families, it also empowers low-caste students to become part of the new middle class that will overturn Nepal‘s caste system in their lifetime.
This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with ANSWER’s founder, Earle Canfield. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What got you interested in helping children in Nepal?
CANFIELD: I went to Nepal first as a medical volunteer. I worked in a children’s hospital. All I saw was a revolving door of poor people coming in, getting fixed up and being sent out, and no [lasting] good coming of it.
During my first three months there, I went on a medical mission with the crew from a hospital. We went to a remote village where there was a community clinic. It had power; the village did not. The people would have to wait for hours to be seen by a doctor; there were four practitioners and hundreds of children to be seen. So we did some health education.
We put the families in a room, and they didn’t know what was happening. There was all this talk and buzz. We were going to show them some slides. None of them had seen a TV or been to a movie. So we quieted them down, and I ran the projector while a Nepali doctor gave explanations of the slides. We went on with our talk about malaria, until I flashed a slide of a mosquito. At that point, all the excitement died, and there was dead silence in the room. It was like a big weight of gloom and doom had come down on the people.
I asked the doctor who was translating, “What’s going on?”
She said, “They are afraid of that mosquito.”
“Well, they need to be afraid of that mosquito, it’s malarial!”
“You don’t understand, they’re afraid of this mosquito, right here. It’s got a four-foot wingspan.” She smiled, and I got it. She explained everything, and we finished the slide show.
That moment haunted me. As funny as it is, it made me realize that, if I take a microscope, a slide, and some pond water, and show them a germ and say, “That’s what’s making you sick,” they don’t understand. They think it’s that water right there, the water they’re looking at, that’s making them sick. They can’t understand scaling, so they don’t know how small a germ is. They don’t understand large numbers of germs.
There’s no way that you can teach health education to illiterate people. It’s just too demanding. And so the best way, the simple way, to do this is to educate the children. With a liberal education, they would have the math, the science, the literacy, the concepts to really grasp the idea. Then they can teach the fundamentals to the parents: “No, Mother, don’t drink that!”
BPGL: So you send children to school. Why not send them to public schools?
CANFIELD: The educational system is built with caste in mind. It reinforces the caste system. Only by paying enough money to go to a private school that teaches in English can you go to college. In the public schools, they teach English in the 3rd or 4th grade, but it’s really directed at being able to read Nepali words in Roman letters, not to learn English. At the end of the 10th grade, everyone who wants to do so will take an exam, and that will determine if their scores are high enough to go to college. But they have to score high in English. About 40% of the students nationwide fail that exam. Most of those who fail are out of the public schools.
Almost all nonprofits will help children in basic education, maybe even up to the 10th grade, but then they drop them. We have taken some of these children, who were sustained but dropped by other organizations, even though they did very well on 10th grade exam, and found spots for them in private colleges. After the 12th grade, the students take another exam, and that will determine whether they are awarded a diploma and/or go on to the university.
BPGL: Is your goal to send students to university?
CANFIELD: The university level is kind of a dead end. The kids want to become engineers, but they’ll never get a job in engineering in this country. The engineering jobs go to foreign contractors. So, even before the 10th grade, we’re discouraging them from going into engineering. Even so, some of the kids want to do it. So, “Okay, you can take the science that leads up to engineering. If you do well enough on the exam and get a scholarship, you’re in. But if you don’t get a job, you can’t come crying back to us. Your decision is made now.” That’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. We try to coddle these students enough so that they can do what we say and understand what we say.
BPGL: When you spoke in Iowa City, you mentioned a club for the high school students. What is the purpose of the club?
CANFIELD: What we do is not only put the kids in good schools — the private, high-caste schools — but we also have what’s called a Social Welfare Club. They meet on Saturdays for three or four hours. We work to educate poor people to the point where they can not only take care of themselves, but they also reach a level of understanding that they’ve been taken care of through the graces of help from outside.
About every other week, we show a movie. For the most part, they are Western-produced movies that have a morality theme. What we’re doing with these films is raising the students’ social consciousness. These are movies like March of the Penguins. One of the things that comes out of that particular movie is that animals have societies too. They have a struggle against the elements to survive, and they handle it by division of labor. The father’s job is to stay home and hatch the egg. The mother’s job is to go out fishing, and she brings home the dinner. Then the children begin to understand that there’s more than one way to look at society. Fathers can do child rearing, and mothers can have careers. We discuss things like that.
These meetings are structured to have discussions. Very few schools in Nepal have discussions; 99.9 percent use rote teaching. You spoon feed the answers, so that when it comes up on the test, you get back the answer. Nothing more than that, just the answer.
All of the kids are extremely shy, and it’s very hard for them to raise their hands. But after a couple of weeks like this, they catch on. They start participating, and they raise their hand. We don’t have an attendance problem on Saturday.
BPGL: Do you see your efforts working?
CANFIELD: I think we will be very successful in producing socially conscious and aware and active students. And that, in a Third World setting, is unheard of. They come out of a subsistence background, and in a subsistence background, you don’t share; not-sharing is a survival skill.
At the Social Welfare Clubs, we instill a sense of the power of sharing. We say, “There are sponsors on the other side of the world that believe so strongly in you and want to help you. You must be committed to helping others, too, because you got help. You couldn’t have done it by yourself.”
I remember asking one class, “Why do you think that people on the other side of the world care enough to help you?” There were interesting responses. I said, “No, it’s not because you are helpless.”
And one little girl said, “Because we’re just like them.”
I responded, “If you’re just like them, what about other poor people? Aren’t they just like you?” The lights went on all over the room. These kids do understand what the purpose is in all of this.
BPGL: Doesn’t it cost more to support a college student? How do you manage to continue supporting them?
CANFIELD: College is more expensive, but it’s only for a couple of years, so we put part of the commitment onto the families. We say, “You have to pay a certain percentage. We usually try to get a third of the cost of college from the family. If they still can’t do it, those children borrow from the college fund. And if they borrow from the college fund, they pay it back, so that other children can borrow from the college fund.
Everything we do is thought out pretty carefully in terms of sustainability, empowerment, and political/personal will.
BPGL: What else do the kids do in the Social Welfare Clubs to get involved in the community?
CANFIELD: We might go up to the children’s hospital and visit with patients there, or go to the old folks’ home and talk with the people. There’s only one government nursing home for the elderly in Kathmandu. We take our kids there, so they can socialize with the older people and find out their stories. These are people who don’t have relatives, who have been left alone to support themselves and were living and sleeping on the streets.
One time, we had a mother who was having a very difficult time at home. It was in Kathmandu in one of these little, 8 x 8-foot, one-room bunkers. It was a ground-floor apartment, and the floor was damp. There was mildew growing up on the walls. When you walked into it, it smelled like your worst science experiment. So I got the children together. The girls went to the well and fetched the water. We took the bedding off the bed. The girls helped the mother do the laundry.
When we took the bed up, the bottom of the mattress was all moldy and wet. And that’s where all of this was coming from. We put that out in the sun and sun-bleached the mold. The boys and I bleached the floor, the walls, the ceiling.
Afterward, we went to a momo [a Tibetan ravioli dumpling] shop, and talked about it. I asked, “Did we do good?”
The kids said, “We should feel good about what we did.”
“Was it sustainable?”
They said, “Oh, yes. The place is very nice.”
“Well, do you think we’ll have to come back and do it all over again?”
“No, not for a long time,” they said.
I asked, “Have we solved the problem?” Then I told them about the mattress, because they didn’t really understand the biology of mold. And I said, “What we did is, we put it out in the air. The air and the sun will dry it out, and the mold won’t grow. But if you put it back on the damp floor (with the seepage through the thin layer of concrete), the mold will just come back.
Then the kids were a little bit downcast. I said, “There are solutions to problems. What are the solutions to this problem?”
They know about beds being elevated off the floor, so we discussed that. I said, “Well, what are we going to do?”
“Oh, let’s buy them a bed.”
“Do you think buying things for people is going to solve their problems? When we send you to school, do we pay for everything?”
“No. Father pays for our sandals or tennis shoes.”
What I could have had them do is go out and make the money to pay for it. But it’s very hard for children to make money. So I said, “Why don’t we put up half the money, and have the father, who is a painter, put up the other half?”
The husband wasn’t going to buy a bed. We went back and talked to the mother, and the mother explained to the father that they could sleep on a bed again for the first time, and they’d only have to pay half of it. So when she presented it that way, they agreed, and that solved the problem. It was a very good mini lesson on development, on how to help. You don’t just provide aid. You have to give instruction and get them invested.
BPGL: Do you serve an equal number of boys and girls?
CANFIELD: We have two-thirds as many girls as boys, because the literacy rate — or the school occupancy rate, if you will — is two-thirds boys. The literacy rate is twice as high for boys as it is for girls. We in the West are savvy enough to know that we want to help girls more than boys, and the girls play a leading role in educating the family and providing health care to the family. So, no question, that money is well spent on girls. But we feel the necessity of educating boys, as well — even if it’s a third instead of two-thirds, which is to say it’s two to one in favor of the girls — because if you educate just girls and leave out the boys, then the boys will have no role models to follow.
It’s very important to provide the stimulus for the boys to improve, as well. Too often, it is the case that the women take care of the home, the families, the babies and so forth, and the men provide the work. But when there’s no work to be had, what happens to the men? There’s very little alcoholism with women in Nepal, but something like 30 or 40 percent of the men are alcoholics in Nepal. It’s very important that boys are not left behind. That’s why we don’t exclusively support girls. I think that is a shortcoming of many nonprofits that are strictly about girls’ education. Granted that girls have been left behind, but you’re going to have angry men, if you don’t do something for them; they’re going to rise up and keep the women under burkas and not let them out of the house. I’m speaking of Afghanistan, of course, but the sentiments are universal, I’m sure.
BPGL: Do you have more groups planned for children of other ages?
CANFIELD: By doing this for several years now, almost all the schools in the Kathmandu Valley feed into the schools where we do the Social Welfare Clubs. Now it’s time, as we get older students in college and high school, to take the next step, to have an Alumni Club. They will take control of what kind of social welfare they want to commit to.
We’re going to start that this year, because we have 40 or 50 college students now and a dozen graduates. The nucleus will be our nursing and health science students. We have a lot of those, and they’re graduating. They have greater social consciousness. They are respected by the others, because they have landed good-paying jobs. When we form this club, the other college kids will be coming in and getting a peek at what they’re doing. They know that when they graduate, they can participate, too.
Ultimately there will be enough graduates so that some of them can start sponsoring children as well. They can participate in other community activities — whatever they opt for. These things are designed to address empowerment and will and sustainability.
Slowly and surely, the board and the organization will be taken over by our own children. That’s probably about 10 years away. Ten years, for a nonprofit organization, is not a long time at all.
We now have approximately 500 kids enrolled in about 120 schools. At our present rate of growth, in ten years, we will have produced probably about 700 graduates. We’ll be sending out over 100 graduates a year. We’re talking about hundreds of a new kind of populace. These are low-caste children who have grown up with good educations, running their own businesses and having good jobs. These children will form a new social middle class. Education has always played a big role in overturning the caste society. Once the low castes become richer and more powerful, you replace the caste society with a socio-economic class society. This has occurred in feudal societies in the West and in Japan.
BPGL: I understand that Nepal has thousands of relief agencies. Are they making progress?
CANFIELD: Here are the statistics: There are approximately 40,000 nonprofit organizations in Nepal. Yet there are only 4,000 villages and towns and cities. Why is it, with 10 nonprofit organizations for every village, that there is an overall diminishing return, that the country gets poorer and poorer every year?
If we were all working together, we could save Nepal. It’s a country a little bit larger than Iowa. It’s 100 x 500 miles. Nepalis know, and people in the Third World know, that many NGOs are just self profiteering organizations, that the people who benefit are the ones who work for the organization. They may install a hydroelectric facility somewhere, a local village-run thing, but who’s going to maintain it? The country has dams, and the inspector comes in and signs off. They don’t do the inspection, they just sign off. So eventually, the turbine breaks down, and Kathmandu is without lights.
People in the Third World know that many nonprofits are self-serving. In Nepal and, I wouldn’t be surprised, in other parts of the world, nonprofits are called the “NGO Mafia.” I even see that printed in the newspapers over there. So, when we founded ANSWER, I told my country director, Som, that there was no way we were going to be part of the mafia, that we needed to make sure that everything was volunteer. And that was when it was just him and me.
As we have evolved, we’ve added a very few salaried staff. We probably pay 1/3 of what other NGOs pay and maybe even less than that, so we needed to find people who did it for the love of what they were doing, rather than for the salary.
Som started as a volunteer, because I wasn’t going to pay him. He wanted to go to school, so I paid for his education, and he got a master’s degree in hospital administration. When you start up an organization, it’s very important how you lay out the framework, because that carries on and on. So our staff is way underpaid, and they willingly work.
Ball, our other person in the office, is also in school. He gets minimal salary with a minimal stipend for education, but it all helps. That’s to keep the costs down so that our fundraisers can make enough money to support the organization, the administration. And in doing that, the sponsors can be reassured that all the money is going just for the education of that child, be it uniforms or books and tuition and so forth.
I am not salaried, I’m a volunteer. I do this from my own savings. I pay for my own transportation, everything. I’m self supporting. The administration is self supporting, and the children are supported entirely by the funds of the sponsors. We’re a 501c3, so that makes it deductible, too.
BPGL: This will sound like an insensitive question, but do you have a succession plan for when you pass on someday far in the future, to make sure your work will carry on in the US?
CANFIELD: The whole idea is to have the Nepalis to support their own children, isn’t it? As more of the children come on and take over the office, and the Alumni Club starts supporting their own students, then there’s no need for an office in Grand Rapids. They can fly on their own.
I used to think our mission would be done as soon as there was universal education in Nepal. But it won’t be done. You can just proclaim universal education, but unless schools are accessible, it won’t happen. Unless people have enough money and time — and motivation — to send their children to school, it’s not going to happen. It comes down to a problem of the caste system. I see our end goal not as trying to establish universal education so much as toppling the caste system.
We need to establish a level playing field — through education — to get out of that feudal society way of doing things and thinking, and create a society based on socio-economic class. ANSWER has a role to play. Let’s get to where the students’ own initiative can reap rewards, and they are not limited by birth. I feel that in a decade or two, at the most, we will be near the “tipping point.” Our growth and the impact of these socially aware children, both in quantity and quality, will be phenomenal.
Publisher’s Note: To find out more about sponsoring an ANSWER student for only $5 a week, contact Earle Canfield at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Part 2: ANSWER – Ending Caste in Nepal with Education and Jobs (Top of Page)
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A group of kids gathers around a bucket at the invitation of volunteer Bob Packard. “Yuck!” says one 10-year-old, looking at the squirming mass Packard has scooped up in his hand.
“No way!” says another kid. “Worms are cool!”
Inside Packard’s bucket are dozens of red wigglers, earthworms that make gardening easier by processing vegetable matter into compost. Packard, a retired salesman and amateur vermiculturist, was recruited to teach these inner-city San Antonians about the benefits of using worm compost to grow vegetables. The kids are participants in the Bexar County Children’s Vegetable Garden Program. Each has a personal garden plot to sow, tend, and harvest.
“At first, the kids’ attitude was either ‘Yuck!’ or ‘Wow!’” Packard says. “Most went from ‘Yuck’ to ‘Wow’ by the end of the session.”
In addition to finding out that worms are pretty amazing creatures, the kids in the program learn about organic farming and get some firsthand experience with the benefits of hard work. We talked with program director, Hector J. Hernández, Youth Gardens Coordinator for Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County, to find out more.
HERNÁNDEZ: This is one of the oldest children’s gardens in the nation. It was started in 1983 by Brigadier General Dave Thomas, who was a member of the San Antonio Men’s Garden Club. The men were all ex-military. They brought kids in and showed them how to garden.
Students who want to participate have to apply. There are only about 55 beds, so space is limited, and it gets filled every season. We have two planting seasons every year, and it takes about 17 weeks for one whole season. We meet every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m.
BPGL: Where is the garden located?
HERNÁNDEZ: We have approximately half an acre at the back of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, which is part of the City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department. The beds are about 3 1/2 feet wide by 12 feet long. One bed is assigned to each gardener; if two kids from the same family participate, they each get their own bed to plant.
BPGL: Are parents involved?
HERNÁNDEZ: Parents are welcome to attend, but the children do the work. Spending quality time together is a big draw.
BPGL: How do the kids decide what plants to put into their plots? Do they get help from adults?
HERNÁNDEZ: We have two growing seasons, with two separate groups of kids. We have a list of plants that we help the kids with in the fall and another in the spring. For example, in the fall, we plant cole crops, like cabbages and broccoli. In the spring, we plant squash and beans. We plant tomatoes in both the fall and spring. We also have a section that is a bonus plot, where they can plant whatever they want with our guidance.
David Rodriguez, our county extension agent for horticulture, gives the children a schematic of what’s going to be planted where. Then we work with them to plant each item. One Saturday, we could be planting broccoli and cauliflower transplants and sowing carrot seeds. Another Saturday, we might transplant tomato plants. Other than the bonus plot, all the plots look the same.
Gina Rodriguez directs the Bexar County Master Gardeners and other volunteers in the agenda for the day; she’s a great help. The educational activities and curriculum are drawn from the Junior Master Gardener program.
BPGL: Are you teaching the kids about organic farming?
HERNÁNDEZ: At this point, the garden plots are not certified organic, but we are organic. And we teach sustainable farming methods. We use organic products to control pests and to fertilize the plants. We also teach students how to do companion planting. They plant marigolds to learn about using natural plants as pest control.
When Bob Packard gave a presentation on vermiculture, the kids were very excited about the worms, and made their own community worm bin. Those worms would die if we put them into the soil here in San Antonio, so we keep them in the bin. They feed on the vegetable waste we give them. Then we spread the compost every three or four weeks, depending on how finely ground the food matter is when we put them in. It’s a quick turnover.
BPGL: It sounds like there’s a bit of expense, buying seedlings for the students to plant. How do you fund the program?
HERNÁNDEZ: There’s a small participation fee, but much of the program is funded by the Bexar County Master Gardeners through fundraisers. They finance the program when it comes to seeds and fertilizer. They do a lot of educational outreach, such as water conservation and educating the public on gardening. They also do fundraisers like poinsettia sales and other plant sales. We get a lot of donations and support from San Antonio’s green industry. They also help train volunteers.
BPGL: What happens to the produce the kids raise?
HERNÁNDEZ: They get to harvest whatever they grow and eat whatever they want. What isn’t eaten gets donated.
BPGL: What else do the students learn through the program?
HERNÁNDEZ: They learn how to be good citizens and leaders by giving back to the community. And when the kids cultivate, they see the fruits of their labors. Sometimes their “fruits” aren’t as big as in another student’s plot. That gives them incentive to try harder next year. It also teaches them firsthand about the relationship between work and reward: You really do reap what you sow.
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