From Rich to Enriched – Responding to The Tap

Frank McKinney strides toward the camera on opening day for one of the CHPF villages. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

There’s no doubt that Frank McKinney stands out in a crowd. His long, flowing, blond hair sets him apart from most business types he deals with. His daredevil actions put others in awe of his tolerance for risk-taking — and his successes. And his creative ways of approaching both his business and his charity work draw others to his door. Frank McKinney also knows how to market himself, his business interests, his books, and the Caring House Project Foundation (CHPF).

But everything that McKinney does these days is centered around a concept he paraphrases from the Bible: “From those to whom much is given, much will be expected.” In Part 3 of our interview, I talk with McKinney about how he puts that into action through CHPF and the homes he builds in Haiti, and about the messages he shares in his book, The Tap. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Children in one of the CHPF villages share their thanks with Frank McKinney. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

On his Caring House Project Foundation (CHPF) web page, author Frank McKinney writes, “In The Tap, I share the most important spiritual principle of my success in the business we are all in, the business of life. I explain how God has tapped me (and taps everyone) many times in life, answering prayers and presenting life-changing opportunities.

The Tap shows how to sensitize yourself to feel then act on your life’s great ‘Tap Moments,’ embracing the rewards and responsibilities of a blessed life.”

Caring House Project Foundation (CHPF), McKinney’s charitable creation, is the embodiment of his acting on the Tap Moments he writes about. CHPF builds homes for the poorest of the poor. And McKinney himself is responsible for raising most of the funds that sustain it.

Funding Opportunities

One of his fund-raising activities includes running the Badwater Ultramarathon. Badwater is a race that he describes in The Tap as traversing “135 miles nonstop through the Death Valley desert and over three mountain ranges, all on black-top pavement.” It’s beyond grueling, and of the 90 elite athletes invited to participate from 16 countries, only 65% typically complete the two-day (or longer) race. McKinney describes one purpose for his participation (and I’m paraphrasing here) as “suffering a little for those who suffer a lot.”

The CHPF website also offers potential donors several options for supporting parts of a village, including monthly payments. Providing half the cost of a community center, for example, requires a donation of $2,292 per month for 12 months.

A television crew films the rescue of another Haitian earthquake victim. Serious needs still exist in Haiti, long after the earthquake. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

Or, McKinney suggests, “Let’s say you want to build a house for $2,500. A lot of people can’t afford that. So you make 12 donations of $208 per month. That was at the request of a lot of donors who said to our executive director,  ‘We can’t afford a whole house. Can you cut it up into payments for us? We’ll be glad to make it a part of our monthly tithing.’”

Want to purchase an entire village? $125,000 will build 50 homes for 400 residents. Or, break it into payments of $10,417 per month for a year.

While that’s far out of reach for most of us, there are much smaller donation opportunities available. For only $11 per month for a year, you can save a single life by contributing toward a water management project. The full project (“Pumps | Wells | Storage tanks and sanitation units | thousands of lives touched”), for those with greater resources, can be funded for $36,750.

McKinney and Florida firefighters performed search and rescue in Haiti's devastating earthquake. The heavy concrete of multiple-story buildings trapped thousands of residents. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

CHPF is also raising funds for earthquake relief. As the foundation’s executive director, Kimberley Trombly-Burmeister said to me, “You can’t be sustainable if you aren’t alive. The need for food, water, and sanitation is continuing long after the earthquake.”

If you’d like to support CHPF’s earthquake relief efforts, you can do so with as little as a $10 donation per month or a one-time contribution of $250, $500, or $1,000.

You can also provide shelter for an orphan for $35 a month, or build an entire orphanage for $80,000. The choices are limited only by your budget and your imagination, as CHPF offers flexible payment plans and a wide range of funding opportunities.

Survival to Thrival

There’s another, far more unusual, fundraising project that is unique to Frank McKinney. As he says, “Let me put on my other hat for a minute, my for-profit hat, my real estate hat. We came up with a very novel way to raise money for our charity. That is, we don’t do black tie events. We don’t do golf outings. We don’t do cocktail parties.

Donors on one of McKinney's "Survival to Thrival" trips gather in front of a CHPF home. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“I either sell a lot of books, and the proceeds from my book sales go to fund the charity, and it’s a wonderful source of income, or we provide experiences. We’ve had various events with names such as “Frank McKinney’s Palm Beach Experience: From Survival to Thrival.” There’s a photo at the bottom of the CHPF website that shows a group of people who were part of one of those experiences in Haiti.

“At the time, I was training to run the Badwater Ultramarathon. I wanted to show our donors and the media metaphorically that, in training for this very, very grueling race, I choose to suffer a little voluntarily for those who are suffering a lot. What I did was I ran across Haiti from a village we had just started. It was a village that had been washed out by 2008’s hurricane, and so there was the survival element. I ran to a finished village, which was 25 miles away that was representing thrival.

“And our donors got to come. First they started here in South Florida. Many of the people in that picture are business people and real estate people, and they aspire to do what I do for a living. They love coming to see the mansions. But to come to an event like that Frank McKinney Palm Beach Experience, they had to donate to build one house.

“So they’re immersed in what they think is the lifestyle of the rich and famous. They get to come to my own personal house and have dinner. They get to see the beautiful homes I’ve built over the years, even the newest house, the world’s largest and most expensive certified green home on speculation at $22.9 million. They get to see all that, and they’re so intoxicated with the sensory experience that they’re having.

“Then, within 12 hours, they’re on a plane and landing in the poorest suburb of the poorest city of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And that is part of their experience. I wanted to move them from rich — what they think is rich — to enriched.

“There’s nothing like it out there. And I’ll tell you, to a person, when CHPF’s executive director, Kimberly, sends out a questionnaire asking, ‘How was your experience? What could we do better?’ et cetera, when 99 out of 100 come back, there’s no reference to the mansions that they saw. Everything is about what they saw in Haiti. So that picture on the website was that event, ‘From Survival to Thrival.’ All of those people in that picture were donors who helped build this village.”

A Life on Solid Footing

McKinney describes his own journey from “rich to enriched,” in his book, The Tap, the proceeds from which benefits his Caring House Project Foundation. It’s an inspiring read that encourages reflection on what is most important in life. Recognizing — and acting upon — what McKinney calls Tap Moments is a large part of the message of the book. But there are other messages as well.

As the author describes in detail the monumental effort it took to run his first three Badwater 135-mile Ultramarathons, he uses his failures and successes to remind readers that we all have the power to change the course we’re on. Here’s a paragraph I found particularly meaningful in the last chapter of the book:

Remember that any of life’s meaningful endeavors follows a course not unlike the physical trials I’ve described to you in this chapter. Think about your relationships, your professional pursuits, your beliefs or philosophy of living, your engagement now with The Tap — anything that you consider important. You probably started out with a kind of giddy infatuation, and in time, you started to encounter difficulties. If you had the discipline and endurance to stick with it, you learned the invaluable lessons of how to deal with those difficulties. You now realize that more of the challenges that you face are created in your mind than in reality, and that this is where you have the most power to change things. Your fears can grip you, or you can overcome them. You can let their hold on you grow tighter, or you can face them and break free. You can succumb to self-doubt and perish, or you can find a way out and flourish.

The Tap is a book worth reading. Photo: Courtesy Frank McKinney

Frank McKinney’s life looks glamorous — and parts of it surely are. He builds homes for some of the world’s wealthiest people. He has the experience most of us will never know of being surrounded by luxury and incredible beauty as he walks through the homes he’s built.

But his daily life belies the image. He lives in a relatively modest home that he shares with his wife, Nilsa. His 20-year marriage, he says, is sound, his relationship with his daughter, enviable. This man who holds up Evel Knievel, Willy Wonka and Robin Hood as heroes, takes risks, both in business and in life; yet his personal life appears to be on a solid footing. He seems to have figured out how to achieve and maintain a balanced life. And he shares that knowledge in The Tap.

The Tap teaches the reader to try to dovetail the professional and the spiritual highest calling,” McKinney says. “The Tap is my first spiritual, inspirational book. And I think because its message is so simple, it’s doing really well. As it does well, so does our charity benefit.”

The Tap, as well as McKinney’s four other bestselling books are available on his website, at local bookstores, or by ordering from Amazon. I found The Tap to be an interesting and enjoyable read filled with uncommon wisdom. Though I’ve not yet read McKinney’s other books, if they are anything like The Tap, they will be well worth reading. I encourage you to read The Tap, then share it with others; it’s a message worth passing on.

The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of the book discussed in this post. Other than the review copy, we received no compensation or incentive for reviewing the book. No one influences the content of any of our reviews other than the writer. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Blue Planet Green Living is an Amazon associate. If you choose to purchase this book or anything else by clicking on our Amazon link, we receive a very small percentage of your sale, which goes toward the operating expenses of this website.

For more information about our review policies, please visit the Policies link in our top navigation bar.

End of Part 3

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Part 1: Frank McKinney – “Tapped” to Live a Dichotomous Life

Part 2: Self-Sufficiency – The Best “Return on Donation”

Part 3: From Rich to Enriched – Responding to The Tap (Top of Page)

Self Sufficiency — The Best “Return on Donation”

Haitian children in one of the Caring House Project Foundation villages now have safe homes to live in. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“We are one global community,” says builder, author, entrepreneur, and humanitarian Frank McKinney. “There are so many places around the world that do not have the social service net to protect the indigent like we have here [in the U.S.]. So we took our ministry, if you will, to Haiti.”

This is Part 2 of a three-part interview with McKinney, author of the book, The Tap. He’s a complex individual living a dichotomous life, as described in Part 1. Using the sale of the mansions he builds, he funds the charity he founded, the Caring House Project Foundation (CHPF), which constructs villages for some of the world’s poorest people. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

“We realized the dollars would go so much further by creating self-sufficient villages in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” Frank McKinney explains. “Commencing in 2003, and by the end of 2010, we will have built 15 self-sufficient villages in Haiti. We were there seven years before the earthquake took place. And we’ll be there many years after.

“We realized we could touch a life with shelter for about $500 internationally. So we sold two of the domestic houses [described in Part 1], kept one, and took whatever proceeds we had and stretched those dollars further internationally.”

Simple Design for Sturdy Construction

Asked about the strength of the Caring House Project homes to withstand Haiti’s devastating earthquakes, McKinney says, “By default, when we built our villages to withstand the hurricanes, we had no idea we were building to withstand an earthquake, too. But fortunately, the simpler the design, the better.

Caring House Project Foundation buils schools, hospitals, orphanages, and community centers as well as homes. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“The standard structure we build is a one-story house, one-story community center, one-story church, one-story school, or one-story orphanage with a concrete foundation, concrete walls with steel rebar in them, and a light metal or zinc roof.

“But when I went over there on a search-and-rescue mission 40 hours after the earthquake hit, what I witnessed was a tremendous number of buildings that had collapsed under the weight of an ill-supported, heavy, concrete roof. If there was rebar, it was insufficient.

“And if it was there, besides insufficient, it was very old and very corroded. When a Haitian family builds a house, they leave rebar exposed for a generation, until they have enough money to put a second story on their house. And so then, when you put the weight of a heavy-duty concrete roof over the top, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“We had 11 villages — 8 finished, 3 under construction — when the earthquake hit. Only one had minor, minor cosmetic damage and no injuries. Even if the buildings that we had built had collapsed, which they didn’t, what would have collapsed would have been a corrugated zinc roof. They’re very light. Nobody would have gotten injured from the weight of something like that.”

McKinney tells me that Caring House Project Foundation has built 850 homes housing up to 6,800 family members in Haiti alone. When I ask about the capacity of the homes he builds, McKinney replies, “A typical Haitian family has six to eight residents. And that could be of the same family or an extended family. The houses that we build are quite small; 500 square feet is about the average size of a home. There’s a front porch, two interior rooms, a kitchen-type room, and then typically a latrine or a bathroom attached to the back of the house.

“In the bathroom there’s always a toilet, or an area in the event that running water is ever brought to the villages. There’s a well, or there’s a ditch that the residents use for clean drinking water. And then, obviously, there’s a latrine for them to use the restroom.”

I ask McKinney how Caring House Project Foundation chooses the communities that receive the homes. He replies, “Typically, we will partner with an organization that has the human resources on the ground. They will tell us where a new village would be needed.

“We never have to buy the land. It’s usually donated by private individuals or by the government. So, we go over, and we perform a site inspection, just to make sure.

“I’ll never forget, four or five years ago, we had a choice of two plots of land. And I chose one that just by sight was maybe two or three feet higher elevation than the alternative site. And wouldn’t you know, that was the year, 2004 – 2005, when all the heavy rains and the hurricanes came through. A lot of the Haitians had drowned in the low-lying areas. Just because we chose that one area that was a little bit higher, our village was unscathed.”

Partnering with Local Organizations

Choosing a site is something that a builder like McKinney would be particularly good at. “But how could you know, among the millions of Haitians, who would be deserving of a CHP home?” I ask.

Residents gather outside their new home. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

“We get proposals from partners over there who know a lot more than I would know as far as the need is concerned. What we’re really good at is master planning a community. We combine the orphanage with the school, with the clinic, with the community center, with the clean drinking water, with the renewable food, and with the new houses, all in a campus-like setting. And they’re very small, close-knit, almost like a college campus.

“Then we partner with other entities — relief organizations like Operation Rescue the Children, the Haitian Health Foundation, and Food for the Poor. One thing we don’t have is overhead — or a lot of overhead. I have one executive director, and that’s really it. I don’t pay anybody on the ground. I don’t take volunteers over there, either. If I did, I would be taking a job away from a country that has an 80 percent unemployment rate.

McKinney’s organization generally “funnels the money” through their partner organizations. “I want to make sure that the entity we’re working with is trusted, because of the corruption factor, especially in Haiti. “

One such partner is the Haitian Health Foundation, a grassroots organization that has worked in Haiti for 30 years.

“I really like them,” he says. “They were just building hospitals, and we got them to think in terms of the whole self-sufficient village concept, and encouraged them to embrace it. They’re so well respected. They know the terrain. They know the culture. So they would be the ones that would be kind of our eyes and ears on the ground.”

“Who owns the homes when they’re finished?” I want to know.

“The people selected to live in them receive the homes without obligation,” McKinney says. “We are not involved in the selection process. Typically a local church knows the needs of the families — who is most deserving, who has gone through hardships. We would have no idea.

“Our only caveat is that they are not able to sell the homes. They can’t rent them. They have to keep them within the family. And our partners obviously can’t sell them to anybody. They have to be deeded. They have to be given.

“One of the most enduring characteristics of an entrepreneur is survival. And when you take away the need to survive for somebody or some group of citizens that have been forced to survive, they flourish! Just imagine, a man now has a place he can call home. He can go out and get a job. Once that need for shelter has been taken care of, we go back, three, four, five years later, and it’s amazing how well these villages are flourishing.”

Yielding to the Statistics

There are many considerations involved in designing a village for people in another nation. McKinney says, “I yield to the statistics. And what I mean by that is if the average age that someone’s going to attain in Haiti is 47.1 years, then I know that there’s going to be a lot of orphans. So we build an orphanage. If the infant mortality rate says that there’s a 22 percent chance that a child will not see his fifth birthday, then we need to be building clinics. The same thing holds true for the daily wage rate of the average Haitian being less than two dollars. If I import concrete, I’m not helping that statistic. We’re buying mixed concrete, concrete block, steel, the metal roof, the wood framing. And all of that is bought locally.”

McKinney stands with a family who has just moved into their new home. Photo: Courtesy Caring House Project Foundation

Doing such an ambitious project as building a village requires on-the-ground support. And that, says McKinney, starts with a competent project manager that the local people look up to.

“In most cases,” he says, “those people are clergymen or priests of some kind. Some of the best project managers we’ve had were priests. They were knowledgeable about building. They knew the ins and outs of what the residents needed. And those are the ones who tend to decide, along with our partner organization there, who is worthy of the homes.”

Caring House Project Foundation focuses its efforts primarily in Haiti, but has also completed building projects in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Indonesia. In the Haitian villages they build, CHPF includes an agricultural element as well.

McKinney says, “We tend to introduce the most basic agricultural products like pregnant goats and chickens and pigs. Right now, in our new villages that we’re building, each person will get a goat and two fruit trees — a mango and an avocado tree — because those are the two trees that the Haitians won’t cut down for their firewood. The caloric and nutritious content of those trees far outweigh the benefit of cutting them down and using them for charcoal.

“And then each village gets a mule. The mule is the ‘workhorse,’ so to speak. So a village that has 50 houses will get 50 latrines and 50 goats, 100 trees total, and one mule for this one small village.

“One project we built is a fishing cooperative. We provided boats and motors and fuel. The Haitian waters, if you get away from shore a little bit, are teeming with sea life. We provided a building where they grind the fish, clean the fish, freeze the fish or refrigerate it. Then, after everybody else’s little three-inch shiner fish has gone rotten in the sun by 11 a.m., our people bring out their nice, clean fish at noon. They can charge a little bit more money for it, and they can be self-sufficient that way.”

No Annual Funding

But self-sufficiency has to be learned. As many charitable organizations find out, simply giving “things” — even new homes — to people and expecting them to know what to do to take care of them is a recipe for failure. So, I ask Frank McKinney how CHPF helps the recipients transition to life in the villages it builds.

“Typically, groups of women provide training,” he says, “with the most basic of hygiene and just teaching the way to live a clean life. They teach the children, and teach the villagers how to manage their money.

“We don’t get into annual funding of our villages. That’s not our deal. You sink or swim on your own. We’re in the self-sufficiency business, not the charity business. We’ve provided everything for that village to succeed, and it’s up to these women, in many cases, to train the villagers not to blow the chance they’ve been given.”

End of Part 2

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of the book discussed in this post. Other than the review copy, we received no compensation or incentive for reviewing the book. No one influences the content of any of our reviews other than the writer. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Blue Planet Green Living is an Amazon associate. If you choose to purchase this book or anything else by clicking on our Amazon link, we receive a very small percentage of your sale, which goes toward the operating expenses of this website.

For more information about our review policies, please visit the Policies link in our top navigation bar.

Related Posts

Part 1: Frank McKinney – “Tapped” to Live a Dichotomous Life

Part 2: Self-Sufficiency – The Best “Return on Donation” (Top of Page)

Part 3: From Rich to Enriched – Responding to The Tap

Industrial Overfishing Causes Food Insecurity in Uganda

Children stand near a fishing boat at the edge of Lake Victoria in Uganda. Fish stocks are threatened in the lake due to overfishing. Photo: © Lightfoot55_Photobucket

Estimates by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) indicate that stocks of the Nile perch have decreased over the past decade from 1.9 million tons to only 600,000 tons in 2009. For each of the nations bordering Lake Victoria — Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya — exports of fish are falling, with yields dropping 10,000 tons in 2008, according to the international fisheries magazine Globefish.

Fishing has almost collapsed in Uganda, especially Lake Victoria,” said Seremos Kamuturaki, Executive Director of Uganda Fisheries & Fish Conservation Association (UFFCA). “The stock has dwindled tremendously, as evidenced by the fishermen’s small daily catches. This has resulted in very low incomes and a food-insecure fishing community. The people have nothing to eat.”

While  visiting in the United States, Kamuturaki explained the dire situation facing his nation in an interview with Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL). He was on a mission to ask for public support from the US, Canada, and the EU in boycotting Nile perch in order to save the livelihoods of local Ugandan fishermen and their families.

We asked Kumuturaki to begin by giving us some background. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

KAMUTURAKI: The major factor is the international fish export trade. Before that, there were enough fish for people to catch, to sell, to put money in their pockets — and to eat. Now, with increasing fish exports to Europe and America, this has directly increased the pressure on our fishing stocks.

In the past, fishermen used to fish fewer hours per day. But with the increasing demand, it meant that people had to fish throughout the day and during the night. And this actually had a bearing on the stock. Initially, the men who were hiring the boats started catching a lot more, much more than before. Then, to make it worse, they started catching even the smaller fish. Now there are no fish.

Seremos Kamuturaki speaks with National Family Farm Coalition President, Dena Hoff, at the Community Food Security Coalition in Des Moines last October. Photo: Joe Hennager

When there was a booming business in the fish export trade, many fish factories were established on the shores of Lake Victoria. There are about 25 in Uganda, about 30 in Kenya, about 20 in Tanzania. So, you can imagine all that over-capitalization on the lake.

BPGL: What is the effect of over-capitalization on the local people?

KAMUTURAKI: Over-capitalization meant that these factories had to break. They are there for profit making, and cannot operate at a loss. They have to get fish at whatever cost, whether they’re small fish or big fish. And so, all this pressure on the lake has resulted in collapse.

It is a major problem in the area. I tell you, people are very poor. The fishermen themselves don’t keep the fish. The little that is caught is taken away by the factory to be processed and exported to support the fish export and processing factories. So this is the major concern for me.

BPGL: What about breeding? Are young fish replenishing the stock?

KAMUTURAKI: That’s also a problem. There are two new dams in series just downstream of what they call the source of the Nile. These are in addition to one that was built in the 1940s. The dams have caused the water level of Lake Victoria to recede.

And when the waters recede, it means the shallow areas that act as fish breeding grounds are left bare. And being left bare means killing the eggs that were there and exposing the young fish to predators. So that has contributed to the dwindling fish stocks in addition to overfishing and destructive fishing gear.

BPGL: What is the effect on the local economy

The lack of fish is contributing to the extreme poverty of many families along the shores of Lake Victoria. Photo: © Lightfoot55_Photobucket

KAMUTURAKI: Before the introduction of the fish-export trade on Lake Victoria, women used to get fish from their husbands. They used to smoke sun-dried or dry-salted fish, sell them locally, and get money to feed their children and support the family. Now, with the increasing liberalization of the fish-export trade, it has meant that women have lost. They cannot compete with the strong factory agents who buy fish at the highest price.

Women are being thrown out of the business. What is happening now is that, for the woman to get fish, she has to sell her body. That is the negotiating tool. The man says, “If you want me to sell you fish, you have to go to bed with me.” It’s sex for fish. It’s crooked. Without that, women can’t get the fish, I can assure you. They can’t.

BPGL: What is happening to the families under pressures such as these?

KAMUTURAKI: A lot of families are breaking up. They are disintegrating because of economics. You know what happens in Africa when there is no food in the house, when there is no money? (It’s not only in Africa — it’s true with any human beings — it could happen in the US.) You’ll see families breaking. Without food, without money, there’s no life at all. And the culture is completely lost.

BPGL: What are you doing to try to solve this problem in Uganda?

KAMUTURAKI: For us, every year, we do campaigns. We organize a campaign at a regional level for all countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania. Every year, we get support from the Oxfam Novib and Code Eight. We run these campaigns every year, and we condemn the government about it. We pressure the government to change these policies, which hurt the poor.

Nile perch were the primary food source found in Lake Victoria until overfishing depleted the stocks. Photo: © Lightfoot55_Photobucket

We have been doing this for the last three years on Lake Victoria. We haven’t succeeded, but we have the hope that we shall succeed. But what’s important is for the global north peoples and organizations to pressure the consumers in Europe and America not to eat the fish.

BPGL: Which fish do you want us to boycott?

KAMUTURAKI: Nile perch from Lake Victoria. It is not being caught with sustainable fishing methods. That’s one reason. And second, the people are suffering socially and economically. So, if there’s a boycott on these continents, America and Europe, where the fish is consumed, then there can be some kind of pressure on our government to stop all these bad things. And that’s the only way to go.

We want the Ugandan government to change their policy from one of export to allowing people to catch locally and sell locally. That way there’s enough for people to eat in the future.

BPGL: What are you doing to try to pressure the government about the water level in Lake Victoria?

KAMUTURAKI: I can assure you that at one time there was a massive demonstration by various people, environmentalists and so forth. Some people were almost shot! My colleague died from an accident last year in September, and he had an accident because he was one of the demonstrators.

So, you see that’s how the situation is. When you want to fight for the rights of the people and you are demonstrating — or not even demonstrating, but you are expressing your grievances — government doesn’t tend to understand you. It’s driven by foreign investment. That’s the interest in our government.

BPGL: Are you seeing the effects of climate change in Uganda?

KAMUTURAKI: Yes, that is another major concern I have. Climate change on Lake Victoria has caused a lot of problems. I can attribute it to a massive cutting of the forest by the people, within the islands of Lake Victoria and along the shoreline. They cut the trees to build houses and to get wood for smoking fish.

Then, there is the recent palm oil project by an Indian company on Bugala Island. The whole forest was cleared just to plant palm oil. Can you imagine that? The forest had been acting as the regulator of the rainfall. Now, you can see the whole ecosystem was destroyed.

Lake Victoria is the largest lake on the African continent and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Art: © Ruslan Olinchuk -

BPGL: How was that allowed to happen?

KAMUTURAKI: The government allowed it, because the government wants to see more foreign investors and more taxes. And all this is driven by the World Bank. They profitize everything and liberalize the trade duties. It is the World Bank that is behind it. It is an IMF kind of thing. At the macro level, the World Bank is responsible.

I think the situation is so bad. People are telling the government, but the government doesn’t seem to bother. That is what they call industrialization or transformation of agriculture. The government thinks that these investments are okay.

BPGL: What is the purpose of your being in the U.S.? How does that relate to your work back at home?

KAMUTURAKI: Unless we in Africa build strong alliances with the organizations that are in America and Europe, where the consumers are, we shall not succeed in our campaign efforts in Africa. We need to build strong alliances and networks in Africa and with organizations, social movements, and the NGOs in America and Europe. Together, we can put pressure at a global level, at a regional level, as well as at a national level. It will not help us to only put pressure at a national level.

My purpose in coming here is to see that we are viewed as this kind of alliance, as well as for networking and the sharing of information. We must have solidarity in fighting these oppressors of human beings.

BPGL: How long has the overfishing by international interests been going on?

Industrial fishing is depleting the fish stocks so that local people have nothing to catch. Photo: © Lightfoot55_Photobucket

KAMUTURAKI: Since 1980. That was the beginning of the huge industrial fish processing factories in Uganda. Nineteen years is a long time for the companies to raid our natural resources. Trading in fish is not like a factory producing clothing. It’s a natural resource. It has a limit.

BPGL: You are seeking support from consumers in the US. I assume you would also like to have support from our president. If you had a chance to speak with President Obama, what would you say to him?

KAMUTURAKI: I would tell him not to support some of these policies, which hurt Africans. If he was not supporting them, they would stop. The system would stop. But the system is still continuing. Maybe he has not been told. He has to know, because he has heard these voices from the past president, so he has to know this was happening before. As a president, he must know. He’s informed. He’s briefed. I would tell him, “Please, stop supporting policies from Africa which hurt the poor.”

BPGL: What is your message for the American and European people?

If overfishing is controlled in Lake Victoria, poverty will decrease in villages along the shore. Photo: © Klaas Lingbeek- van Kranen

KAMUTURAKI: I want to appeal to people in the U.S. and Europe, for example, that there are very many efforts in Africa that are supporting genuine programs and genuine interventions, but they lack support. And I invite those who have the financial and material support to come and join the good-intentioned Africans like us to fight this trouble.

That is my appeal to Americans, because now I am in the land of America. An American who has good will, who has a good heart, and a good intention, I call upon him or her to come to our rescue. Let us join our hands together and fight this struggle.

We don’t have the capacities to be able to advance this struggle alone. We need the support of our brothers and sisters in America here, those who have the genuine vision to support the poor. That’s my message to Americans. And to the Europeans, I give the same message.

Let’s get our hearts together, and together we shall succeed.

We may feel like shedding tears, but we will not give up. We shall continue struggling, struggling, until one day, we know, one day, one time, we shall succeed.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Audio, Blog, Books, Front Page, Poverty, Women

It has been nine years since Koffi Annan, then the UN Secretary-General, made the statement at the Fifth World Congress on Women that the future of our planet depends upon women.

Much progress has been made towards the realization of the United Nations 3rd Millennium Development Goal to “promote gender equality and empower women,” but so much more still needs to be done.

For several years I have followed New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, as he travels the world, often at great personal risk, shedding light upon the overwhelming challenges that women throughout the globe continue to face. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, both Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and authors of two previous books, are about to release their much anticipated Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Women hold up half the sky – Chinese Proverb

As Kristof says, “We wrote a book devoted to women in the developing world because, if you want to fight poverty and extremism, you need to educate and empower women and bring them into the economy. A country can’t grow and be stable if half the population is marginalized.

The reviews of Kristof and WuDunn’s book suggest that it will enlighten, but also inspire readers. Their book tells the inspiring stories of brave women who have overcome the most terrible circumstances to set their lives on a bright new path.

Once inspired, then what?

I have chosen to accept the invitation extended by Mercy Corps to activate this inspiration into action.

If you’re interested in joining Mercy Corps in an unprecedented endeavor to provide women with the training, financial resources and education needed to raise their families and communities out of hunger, please consider reading “Half the Sky” and hosting a fundraising event. Mercy Corps will send you all the information you need to host a successful event, whether it’s a campaign set up on your Facebook page or hosting an informal luncheon. Visit OneTable on the Mercy Corps website for details.

Together, we can help women around the world use their own ideas and energy to lift their families out of poverty. Click on the book image to the left to pre-order the book, which will be released September 8, 2009.

Laura Mack
Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living

Grameen Bank – “Working toward a Poverty-Free World”

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A Grameen Bank borrower with her livestock. Photo Courtesy: Grameen Bank

On October 13, 2006, Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh stepped to the podium in Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. The work for which Yunus was being honored had started a financial revolution of sorts in 1976, when he turned the banking industry on its head by giving micro-loans to poor people.

Professor Yunus displays his Nobel Peace Prize. Photo Courtesy: Grameen Bank

With the success of his initial loans, Yunus founded the Grameen Bank. (The definition of Grameen is rural or village in the Bangla language.)

“We were happy that the world has given recognition, through this prize, that poverty is a threat to peace,” Yunus writes on the Grameen Bank’s website.

Grameen Bank, and the concept and methodology of micro-credit that it has elaborated through its 30 years of work, have contributed to enhancing the chances of peace by reducing poverty. Bangladesh is happy that it could contribute to the world a concept and an institution which can help bring peace to the world.”

Innovation in Lending

I remember reading about the Grameen Bank (GB) more than two decades ago. I was evaluating various charities that I might consider supporting. I didn’t have much to share, and I wanted my small gift to have the greatest possible impact. Grameen’s innovative idea of making microloans to impoverished people excited me.

The Grameen Bank left the central field of my vision for a number of years, and I hadn’t revisited their work until writing this post. What I’ve learned about Grameen Bank since has continued to inspire me. GB no longer accepts donations. By loaning money to enterprising poor people over three decades, the bank has amassed enough money to finance projects on its own.

What’s more, it supports 23,689 staff, who visit 84,237 villages across Bangladesh each week. This is a labor-intensive process, but necessary, so that the bank can fulfill its first purpose: “The clients should not go to the bank, it is the bank which should go to the people.”

Guiding Principles

Handcrafts help women support their families. Photos Courtesy: Grameen Bank

Other principles of Grameen Bank illustrate the group’s dedication to serving the under-served poor of Bangladesh, especially women. Here are a few of Grameen Bank’s other unique practices that make it different from traditional banks:

  • There are no contracts between the borrower and Grameen Bank, and the bank never sues if a borrower has difficulty repaying her loan.
  • When a person can’t repay a Grameen Bank loan in the time they agreed to, GB renegotiates the payments to give them more time. There are no late fees or penalties, as in a traditional bank.
  • If a borrower experiences trouble that prevents her from paying her loan on time, GB works with her to help find a solution including. Employees may even work with her to recover her health. The bank never takes away collateral in lieu of repayment.
  • GB never charges interest in excess of the value of the principal. In a conventional loan, a borrower may repay the principal many times over.
  • GB charges simple interest, rather than compounding interest quarterly.
  • Grameen Bank concerns itself with the welfare of the borrower’s family, not just the welfare of the loan principal. The bank often provides scholarships to the borrowers’ children, helps with housing and sanitation, works with them to establish pension funds, and assists in emergencies.
  • If a borrower dies, the loan and interest are considered paid in full. There is no additional insurance fee for this service, and the borrower’s family does not assume the debt.
  • Bank ownership is held by the borrowers, not by a few wealthy people.
  • 97% of the borrowers and owners are women.
  • If a borrower builds a house with Grameen Bank funds, the bank insists that the ownership remain in the name of the woman. By owning property, a woman gains new status and a more equal foothold on power in the family and the community.

Serving the Poorest of the Poor

Microloans financed this basket-making project. Photo Courtesy: Grameen Bank

To me, the most significant difference between Grameen Bank and conventional banks is this: Conventional banks only loan t people who have money. The more one has, the more one can borrow.

But Grameen Bank puts the priority on loaning to those who have nothing. The less a person has, the more likely she is to get a GB loan. As the GB website puts it, “Conventional banks look at what has already been acquired by a person. Grameen looks at the potential that is waiting to be unleashed in a person.”

Grameen Bank actively seeks out beggars to offer them loans. The goal is to give each person dignity through work and to end her begging. If a woman begs on a street corner, for example, the GB persuades her to carry some small merchandise to sell. Or, she can sell door to door. Imagine a bank in a developed country offering loans to the poorest of the poor — especially with such favorable, humanitarian terms.

Sixteen Decisions

Grameen Bank borrowers create supplemental incomes for their families. Photo Courtesy: Grameen Bank

For borrowers affiliated with Grameen Bank, the experience is life changing. That is partly true because the majority of borrowers have never been extended credit.

But it’s also reflective of the “Sixteen Decisions,” which GB encourages all borrowers to make. These include:

  • paying no dowry upon a child’s marriage
  • educating all of the borrower’s children
  • installing and using a sanitary latrine system
  • planting trees
  • eating vegetables
  • getting clean drinking water
  • and more

How It Works

Grameen Bank groups are formed of five people, who support each other. Initially, two of the five may borrow money. The others enter into a morally binding contract with each other and with Grameen, to support the borrowers and help them repay if they should have difficulty meeting their obligations. As the first two women show responsibility in repaying their loans, two more may request funding. If all goes well, the fifth and final person then gets funded.

By forming this moral bond, the groups become reliant on each other, yet self sufficient at the same time. They move out of poverty together, helping each other along the way.

“Bicycle bankers” move among the villages, supervising and providing discipline to the borrowers. This highly effective model has resulted in 97% loan repayment.


This woman is a happy Grameen Bank member. Photo Courtesy: Grameen Bank

The benefits are multiple and have powerful effects on the women’s lives. According to the Grameen Bank website, “Women… proved not only reliable borrowers but astute entrepreneurs. As a result, they have raised their status, lessened their dependency on their husbands and improved their homes and the nutritional standards of their children.”

But what about their families? Does Grameen only benefit the women? Take a look at what the Grameen Bank website says:

It is estimated that the average household income of Grameen Bank members is about 50 percent higher than the target group in the control village, and 25 percent higher than the target group non-members in Grameen Bank villages. The landless have benefited most, followed by marginal landowners. This has resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of Grameen Bank members living below the poverty line, 20 percent compared to 56 percent for comparable non-Grameen Bank members…. What started as an innovative local initiative, “a small bubble of hope”, has thus grown to the point where it has made an impact on poverty alleviation at the national level .

And that is as good a definition of success as any.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Kiva – “Make a Small Loan, Make a Big Difference”

Kiva lenders helped Rosalinda Matea Rosales Rosales purchase a loom. Photo Courtesy: Kiva/Uncornered Market

[P]eople, even with a very modest amount of money can have a huge impact.  Just think about it.  You and I could become bankers to people and we could monitor their progress and people in their neighborhoods will see and they will look for micro-loans, they have their own ideas, so we can give them a chance to raise their kids with dignity, send their kids to school, and in troubled places like Afghanistan, we marginally increase the chance that peace can prevail because people will see there is a positive alternative to conflict. — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking on Countdown with Keith Olbermann about Kiva

When someone with an entrepreneurial vision lives in a developing nation, they often need only a little capital to turn their dreams into reality. Costs are low, relative to the developed world. And a small amount of money — by first world standards — goes a very long way. But even “a little capital” is out of reach when the person has a daily struggle to buy the barest of necessities.

Raising capital, even for a micro-enterprise, can be an insurmountable problem for a person of limited means who lives in a third-world country. Entrepreneurs who have nothing but their vision to use as collateral are generally considered a poor risk by institutional investors. The harsh reality is, without an infusion of capital — often as little as US$100 — they must give up their dreams. Yet, with micro-loans through Kiva, entrepreneurs are turning their dreams into income, and lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.

Connecting Dreams with Lenders

While on assignment in central Africa, in 2004, Matthew Flannery and Jessica Jackley learned firsthand about the important difference a small amount of money can make in the lives of poor, but ambitious, individuals and families. As they traveled, they met dozens of entrepreneurs who, with very little money, were raising themselves and their families from poverty by starting small businesses. They were impressed — so much so that they knew they needed to find a way to help many more enterprising people become self-sufficient through micro-loans.

Sophia Chum and her husband are silk weavers who purchased weaving supplies through a Kiva loan. Photo Courtesy:

After returning to the U.S., the Flannerys decided to create their own micro-lending organization, one that would allow individuals lenders to connect directly with entrepreneurs they wish to sponsor. In 2005, they founded Kiva, a nonprofit organization that invites potential lenders to learn about a wide range of entrepreneurs and their projects, then select someone they wish to support. Direct lending to a specific recipient engages an investor in a way that isn’t possible with large organizations.

Kiva presents potential investors with a wide range of choices on its website. Reading and reviewing all of the applicants’ stories can take hours. We learn about their families, their plans and dreams, and their track record for paying back previous loans. After selecting a person and project to support, signing up is easy. PayPal has agreed to process Kiva loans free of charge, or investors can use a credit card, if they wish.

Kiva facilitates the transfer of an investor’s money to the selected recipient’s Field Partner, a lending organization that will supervise the loan disbursement and repayment. Field Partners are carefully screened and monitored, to assure they are good stewards of the funds that Kiva sends through them.

In turn, each Field Partner has its own screening process for selecting projects to put forth to Kiva and its investor pool. While neither Kiva nor the investors charge interest from the entrepreneurs, the Field Partners are entitled to collect a minimal amount of interest, in order to stay in business themselves.

Every penny loaned by an investor goes directly to the borrower. Kiva supports itself through investment interest on the loaned money while it is being transferred to and from the recipient. At checkout, investors are also prompted to donate an additional 15% to help support the organization. For a $25 loan, that comes to a (U.S.) tax-deductible donation of $3.75.

Spreading the Risk

Sponsors can invest as little as $25, supporting a share of the entrepreneur’s request. This method of pooling resources with other donors spreads the risk, so that a single person isn’t heavily impacted if the recipient defaults.

But defaults are rare. Most borrowers pay their loans back within the time allotted, meeting the schedule they’ve agreed upon with their Funding Partner. As I look through the database of applicants for Kiva funding, I’m struck by how many borrowers already have successfully repaid multiple loans.

A woman from Viet Nam, who wants to expand her incense business, has previously borrowed and repaid 10 loans. A 48 year-old woman from Bosnia and Herzegovina has repaid two loans for livestock and chickens, and is now requesting a third loan for more chickens and feed.

Customized Solutions for Individual Needs

I was surprised to see the variety of requests. Not all applicants are entrepreneurs. Some simply need to improve their living conditions. A schoolteacher in Nicaragua, for example, needs a loan to repair the cracks in the flooring in the home he shares with his daughter. This is his fourth micro-loan.

Sey Chhang Photo Courtesy:

Srey Chhit and her husband purchased a boat and fishing nets with Kiva funds. Photo Courtesy: Kiva/John Briggs

Not all loans go to third-world nations. Kiva recently began facilitating loans to applicants in the United States through a pilot program with the Field Partner Opportunity Fund. The fund is designed to support the working poor, who often launch small businesses to improve their circumstances.

In many cases, enterprising individuals will join together to support each other with a group loan. “In a group loan, each member of the group receives an individual loan but is part of a group of individuals bound by a group guarantee,” the Kiva website explains. “Under this arrangement, each member of the group supports one another and is responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members if someone is delinquent or defaults.”

The Kiva site has several helpful tools for lenders, including a post about each recipient, a map showing the recipient’s home country or state, and pinpointing lenders’ locations. Lenders can, if they choose, join a team of like-minded people. Groups range in interest from Mormons to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) to Italians to Texans to Catholics to Unitarian Universalists, Microsoft Businesses, Shoppers, and more. Or, if you can’t find a group that you like, create one of your own.

Maintaining the Flow

Once the entrepreneur repays a loan, the investor has the right to collect the money due, but most choose to reinvest those same dollars into another project. An initial small loan of $25 to $500 may be repaid and re-loaned time after time.

In Kiva’s Community pages, I see people who’ve supported more than a hundred projects. I’m struck with the thought that either they have a lot of disposable income, or they must have been repaid several times over. And that, I discover is partially true. A list of each person’s projects and recipients reveals whether repayment is still in progress, repayment has not yet begun, the loan has been defaulted on, or the loan has been fully repaid. Many people have been fully repaid, but others have multiple loans in progress at the same time.

Why Lend for No Return?

What is the appeal of micro-lending? There’s no financial gain, as your money earns no interest for you, and may even lose value during the time it’s being repaid.

One reason for lending is that you get to know the people you support through journal entries on the web (posted either by them or by a translator). You watch their progress in words and photos. You learn about their struggles, and you cheer them on as they progress. Although their financial future is only somewhat tied to yours, you begin to feel that their success is your success.

Joe and I have a dear friend who quietly makes microloans to individuals, helping them convert their entrepreneurial ideas to salable goods in the marketplace. He’s inspired by helping others bring their dreams to reality.

The fact that he knows who he’s supporting and believes in their project makes a huge difference in his willingness to risk his own capital. “Many businesses and other worthy causes only need a small infusion of cash to get launched successfully,” he says. “And organizations such as Kiva are essential to coordinate lenders with people in need.”

Besides, it just feels good to give someone a little boost that allows them to help themselves.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Heifer International – A Sustainable Solution to Poverty

Xhevrije Shkurti, 58, of Librazhdi, Albania, with Molla, (in Albanian, "Molla" means "Apple") the name she gave to her Jersey cow, which she received in October 2006 from Heifer Albania. Xhevrije gets 10 – 12 liters of milk per day from Molla. She produces cheese, yogurt and curd out of the milk but for the moment has no extra milk to sell to make income since as she needs it to feed her large family, which includes 6 children and 3 grandchildren. The cow is the only surce of income in her home. Photo Courtesy: Heifer International/Oliver Bugbee

Xhevrije Shkurti, 58, of Librazhdi, Albania, with Molla, (in Albanian, "Molla" means "Apple") the name she gave to her Jersey cow, which she received in October 2006 from Heifer Albania. Xhevrije gets 10 – 12 liters of milk per day from Molla. She produces cheese, yogurt and curd out of the milk but for the moment has no extra milk to sell to make income since as she needs it to feed her large family, which includes 6 children and 3 grandchildren. The cow is the only source of income in her home. Photo Courtesy: Heifer International/Oliver Bugbee

“What we have learned from the work we’ve done in developing countries is that it doesn’t take that much to improve the lives of many people.” — Esther Duflo, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at M.I.T., quoted in the New Yorker May 5, 2009.

An Inside Job

“Lifting people out of poverty doesn’t come from the outside in; it’s an inside-out job,” says Christine Volkmer, spokesperson for Heifer International. The organization she represents is known worldwide as having a highly effective method for helping one family at a time to not only survive, but prosper. More important, families helped by Heifer International also commit to share, passing on the benefits they have received.

“Heifer’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the earth,” says the NGO’s website. The organization works to accomplish this ambitious mission by providing livestock to needy people in 57 countries around the globe, including the U.S. Prior to receiving one or more animals, the recipients of a Heifer gift receive required “environmentally sound agricultural training” to prepare them to care for their living gifts. Since its founding in 1944, Heifer International has brought sustainability to more than 48 million people — and the number keeps growing as the animals reproduce.

“Every gift of an animal provides direct benefits such as milk, eggs, wool, fertilizer, as well as indirect benefits that increase family incomes for better housing, nutrition, health care and school fees for children,” the website explains.

A Gift of Sustainability

Heifer International is supported by financial gifts from individuals and groups. Most gifts to the organization begin with the desire to honor a loved one. Perhaps you want to celebrate a relative’s birthday, but she’s 70 years old and doesn’t want any more knickknacks, sweaters, or flowers. Maybe she’s even told you, “Don’t get me anything. I have all I need.” If that’s the case, check out the Heifer International gift catalog. Then give her a gift she won’t have to dust or store or eat: a flock of chicks, ducks, or geese (currently US$20). Or, maybe she’d appreciate a “Knitting Basket,” a gift of two llamas and two sheep ($500 for the full gift or $50 a share).

Photo courtesy of Heifer International: Jake Lyell

Photo courtesy of Heifer International: Jake Lyell

Heifer has developed numerous packages with attractive gift options in all price ranges. When you browse the Heifer International Gift Catalog, you’ll find so many options that it may be hard to choose. You can spend as little as $10 for a share in a goat (full share: US $120) or a pig (full share: $120). Or, if your budget is more expansive, you can provide an entire “Gift Ark” ($5,000) with 15 pairs of animals to provide milk, eggs, meat, and transportation.

Isaya Shakwet, 33, is the Village Chairman of Mkuru: “Camels aren’t bad for the environment, camels eat leaves of trees and not the grass. Camels feet are different from cows- its like sponge….Before we didn’t have camels… When we get camels we are happy because they changed our life. Camels can carry a lot of luggage and goods like water and supplies. We were able to take people to the hospital by camel. … They are changing our life quite a bit because now we employ people with our safari company.”

Women in Livestock

Heifer International has created a gift specifically to benefit women. Here’s how the organization’s website describes the power of a gift to Women in Livestock Development:

Heifer International‘s goal is to end poverty. It’s a simple goal but requires serious commitment. In our effort to do this we recognize that women make up 70% of the world’s poor. Women produce 80% of developing world’s food yet own less than 1% of the earth’s land.

By focusing on women we also help struggling families and communities. Overlooked by government programs and often denied education, rural women face a cycle of poverty, hunger and despair. Without help, many toil endlessly yet watch, helpless, as death, too often steals their children.

But there is a way out. In a world where too many women feel powerless you have the power through a simple gift to help them to change their circumstances.

You can become a helpful participant by making a donation to help out the women who are looking for a way out not a hand-out. Through training from Heifer International and our model of Passing on the Gift, women and their entire communities overcome social and cultural barriers.

Photo courtesy of Heifer International/Darcy Kiefel

When women have financial security, they take care of their families and their communities. They use their resources for food, clothing, and education. They are community builders, bringing sustainability that lifts those around them out of poverty too.

Sambekie of the Ekenyawa women’s group, part of the Tanzania donkey project. Before they got the donkeys the women had to carry 40 liters of water twice a day from the local watering hole, which was several kilometers from the village. The work was extremely fatiguing. Hygiene in the village was lacking because of the water shortage. Today the donkeys carry enough water so the entire village can have water to drink, for cooking and washing clothes, and to use to bathe.

What a Small Donation Can Do

Photo Courtesy: Heifer International Geoff Oliver Bugbee

I was fascinated to read about the many and varied projects Heifer International is engaged in throughout the world. A few of them appear on this page. You can read about others at the Heifer International website.

Channel Cyuzuzo, 6, daughter of Frida Mbanda, posed with the family cow “Superbness,” which they received through a Heifer project in the Muhazi Women’s Dairy and Horticulture Development Project in Nsinda Village in the Kibungo District of Rwanda. Her mother, Frida Mbanda, 33, named the Jersey hybrid a superlative after it was placed with her family on February 12, 2007. The cow produces 14 liters of milk per day. The benefits of this yield cannot be underestimated as Frida is the mother and primary caregiver to 12 children (5 are biological, 7 are orphans of relatives of hers who were AIDS victims.)

Passing on the Gift

Poverty forces people into survival mode, Volkmer tells me, and it causes them to withdraw internally. Giving to others is out of the question when they don’t have enough for themselves or their families. But Passing on the Gift is a vital part of the Heifer International program. Each recipient must agree to give their animal’s first offspring to another needy family.

“The experience of giving to others becomes transformative internally,” Volkmer adds. “Watching the ceremony of Passing on the Gift is a powerful feeling. The whole village gets involved. Everyone is ecstatic, especially the person who is giving the animal away.”

Photo Courtesy: Heifer International/Jeff Lyell

Photo Courtesy: Heifer International/Jeff Lyell

“Other relief programs give animals to people in need, too,” says Volkmer. “But this is what’s different about our work: The animal is secondary to the heart of the work, which is to provide a long-term, sustainable solution to poverty.” And that’s exactly what happens during the Passing on the Gift ceremony.

Shama Wuji with a pig in Daxing Village, Xide County, China. “Before this project we could not afford to raise pigs. Now in less than half a year we have sold two pigs and several little pigs, which has brought about 3,000 RMB for our family.”

Find out how your gift to Heifer International can spread sustainability year after year after year.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Make a Difference in Hunger, One Person or Village at a Time

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Starvation looks like taut skin over brittle bones. (c) Mickeal IRLES_Fotolia

When most people I know talk about hunger, we are referring to a rumbling emptiness in our stomachs that makes us look forward to our next meal in a few minutes or, at worst, a few hours. We get hungry, but we are far from starving.

Yet I have known plenty of kids whose only meals were the breakfasts and lunches they received at school. I’ve seen hungry people standing in line waiting for a free lunch from volunteers. I’ve filled bags of groceries for hungry families who count on the food bank to supplement the little they have in their cupboards. They lift their own grocery bags and walk to a car or stuff their items into a backpack to find a safe place to eat. This is often what hunger looks like in the U.S. and, I suspect, in other industrialized nations.

But starving? Almost without exception, starving happens in developing nations. Starving looks like taut skin stretched over brittle bones, ribs outlined in scrawny chests, and distended abdomens. Starving is listless people who no longer have enough energy even to stand, let alone carry food. Starving is a slow march to death.

The lack of adequate nutrition kills some 5 million (5,000,000) people per year, according to Wiki Answers. About 30,273 people die every day from starvation. Those are staggering numbers.

To put it in perspective, consider this fact from the United Nations Millenium Development Group (UNMDG) report: “Every day, nearly 7,500 people become infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS…”  So AIDS, about which we hear so much, kills only a bit more than one fifth the number of those who starve to death each day.

Poverty in developed nations generally means hunger, not starvation. Photo: © Xavier MARCHANT-

Why don’t we hear more about hunger and starvation? Or do we hear, but we just don’t listen? Maybe we’ve become inured to the photos of children with distended bellies and sticks for legs and arms, and mothers so devoid of hope that they stare without expression while holding a skeletal toddler. Perhaps we’ve grown weary of hearing of other people’s troubles when we ourselves are struggling to make ends meet. There is hardship everywhere, and we cannot, as individuals, save the world.

Relief agencies cry out for money to buy food for the masses in refugee camps and disaster areas. That humanitarian effort is a vital one, but something else has to happen, too. If all we do is provide food for people without also providing education, jobs, and safety, we have simply extended the inevitable spiral toward death by a few more days, weeks, or months.

Target 3 of the UN’s Millenium Development Goal is “Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.” This is a complex issue, as the report goes on to explain:

Overall, most poor people are caught in a vicious circle. Breaking this circle requires an array of simultaneous actions: a single intervention is unlikely to be sufficient. Governments should ensure that poverty reduction is mainstreamed into all policies, ranging from national macroeconomic strategy to local-level administrative actions. Particular attention should be paid to the creation of additional opportunities for decent work. Public investment and public institutions should endeavour to target the poor, particularly in their expenditures on education, health and infrastructure.

Ensuring gender equality and empowering women in all respects – desirable objectives in themselves – are required to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to ensure sustainable development. The limited progress in empowering women and achieving gender equality is a pervasive shortcoming that extends beyond the goal itself. Relative neglect of, and de facto bias against, women and girls continues to prevail in most countries. As an indispensable starting point for women’s betterment in later life, all countries that failed to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment by the target year of 2005 should make a renewed effort to do so as soon as possible. Improved support for women’s self-employment, and rights to land and other assets, are key to countries’ economic development. Above all, however, achieving gender equality requires that women have an equal role with men in decision-making at all levels, from the home to the pinnacles of economic and political power.”

Give to organizations that will empower people. Photo: ©TheFinalMiracle_Fotolia

These are ambitious goals, and I would love to see the nations of the world take leadership and give equal educational opportunity to girls and boys, provide equal job opportunities (with equal pay for equal work) to women and men, and protect women and girls from the gender violence that (though not mentioned in this report) puts them at risk of rape and abuse both at work and at home. By providing such opportunities, governments can help people rise from poverty and gain the means to feed their families and themselves.

You and I alone can’t change the policies of nations. But we can each make a difference to one person, one family, or one village. We can give to charities that fight hunger directly, of course, but a far more potent solution is to give to organizations that empower individuals to feed themselves, attend school, or start a business of their own.

In the next few days, we’ll look at the Heifer Project, Kiva, and the Grameen Bank. These are three important weapons that help families and individuals fight the deep-seated economic and social problems associated with poverty and starvation. If you have suggestions of other organizations that are battling poverty and starvation through empowerment, let us know who they are, so we can spread the good word about their work, too.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Swallowing Your Pride to Put Food in Your Stomach

A week's rations at the food bank — once the soy-containing items are culled. Photo: J Wasson

I was at the local food bank today, having given a ride to a friend. He’s talented and capable, but temporarily out of work and low on resources in this tough economy. The experience was a painful one for him, and I write this with his reluctant permission. He wishes to be anonymous, he says. He’s embarrassed that he has to avail himself of these life-saving services. He’s not alone.

In the short time we were there — possibly 15 or 20 minutes — three dozen people crossed our paths, arriving, waiting, leaving. Ours is a relatively small city of 60,000 or so. I can only imagine the numbers of hungry residents lining up for help in Dallas, New York, or downtown L.A.

Our local food bank is a compassionate place. The folks who go there for help are treated with dignity and respect by the staff and volunteers. Clients are treated like human beings, not like numbers. And yet, there seemed to this observer to be a pervasive sense of embarrassment among many of them. I saw several people quickly scan the waiting room, then furtively watch the door as they waited for their names to be called for a bag of groceries. Others’ heads were lowered and their shoulders hunched, perhaps in defeat, perhaps in an attempt to draw inside and become as small as they could.

Not all reacted the same way. Two women stood at the entrance, openly snacking on a bit of this pastry and a mouthful of that fruit bar. The elder of the two tossed boxes of generic macaroni and cheese onto a worker’s cart as he passed her. “I don’t want no more of that crap,” she said sharply. “Every week, it’s the same bad stuff.” The worker took her comments in stride, smiling. I got the impression that he’d heard the same story many times before.

Canned beef stew contains two forms of soy. Photo: J Wasson

In the center of the reception room, people gathered around a large table loaded with cartons of soy yogurt, wilted greens, organic sour cream, French onion dip, cottage cheese, and a few stray cans of fruits and vegetables with unappealing labels. Bread racks on two sides of the room were loaded with loaves of French bread, wheat bread, ciabatta rolls, and dinner rolls. All this is a bonus; clients can help themselves to as many of these items as they can carry. And they do.

When their names are called, each person gets a single bag of groceries assembled from the donations of concerned citizens and businesses. The intake form asks about dietary restrictions, and my friend wrote “Soy Allergy” in big letters. He might not die from eating soy, but he suffers with welts that last for more than a week. He is understandably cautious.

In his bag of groceries, allowed once per week, at least three quarters of the items listed soy in the ingredients on the labels. Coffee cake: soy lecithin and vegetable oil (may contain soy). Canned soup: contains soy protein. Canned chili: contains soy protein. And soy and soybean oil and more soy and soybean oil. “Go back and ask them again,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“I heard you shouldn’t make trouble, because they’ll remember the name on your slip and give you all the bad stuff the next time,” my friend said. But after looking at the slim pile of groceries remaining in his bag, he went to the counter and asked to exchange. A second try, and the volunteer cheerfully brought him a small bag of Doritos (soy ingredients). He also handed my friend a few cans of tuna and some beef jerky — which one might expect to contain just tuna and just beef.  “These should be fine,” the man said. My friend checked the labels and said, “Thanks for trying, but all of these list soy in the ingredients.”

“What can you eat?” the volunteer asked. I thought he sounded exasperated, but he surely couldn’t have been as exasperated as my friend, who kept his cool through the whole ordeal. A third try, and he brought out two small, sealed snack packets, one containing tuna and the other shrimp. No soy this time, but not enough food to get through the week, either, after having to forgo the soy-inclusive items (canned beef stew, etc.) that had formerly filled the bag.

The canned fruits and vegetables in his shopping bag were the cheapest quality goods on any grocery store shelf. I get it that the food bank needs to stretch its dollars as far as it can. If green beans are priced at three for a dollar for the generic brand (with lots of sodium and water), and the brand name beans are 79¢ apiece, then it’s no contest. The food bank will opt for the cheaper variety every time. Feeding three people wins out over feeding one. But no one asks about the quality of the ingredients; they can’t afford to raise the question.

What struck me as I waited was that almost all of the clients were overweight, and some were grossly obese. Former Texas Senator Phil Gramm (one of Senator John McCain’s main economics advisers during the presidential campaign) is quoted as saying, “Has anyone ever noticed that we live in the only country in the world where all the poor people are fat?” The implication seemed to be that overweight people couldn’t possibly be that poor, because they’re obviously eating. But what are they eating?

Even beef jerky contains soy flour and soy beans. Who knew? Photo: J Wasson

Another friend who had lived with us for a while also took regular trips to the food bank. Most of what he brought back was pastries and breads and pasta. The pastries and breads were the items available daily (rather than weekly) in the waiting area, because stores freely offer those items as their expiration dates pass. Like my friend today, he could take as many of those as he wished. So what does a hungry person do when nutritious food is hard to come by, but starches are plentiful? What would you do, if your belly was aching to be filled and that was your only option?

It’s a vicious cycle, of course, as malnourished people have difficulty mustering the energy to get a job. And people without a job have no money to buy healthy foods — for themselves or their children. Malnutrition also begets despair, and despair often feeds its belly with comfort food. Comfort food — the pastries and breads and pastas — lure the poor onto a treadmill that fattens them. And being fat begets inertia, so that getting a job becomes less of a goal — and less of a possibility — all the time.

So much for my penny psychology.

What I learned today — the takeaway that I would like to share with you — is this: When you have the wherewithal to donate to a food bank (and, unless you’re receiving food there yourself, perhaps you do), please choose selections that will provide first-rate nutrition. Sure, everyone loves a guilt-filled snack now and again, but try to remember how much healthier it is to munch on trail mix or dried fruit. Donate food (or funds) with the sobering thought that one day you, too, could be on the receiving end of the generosity of others.

Oh, and it would also be helpful if you could find some foods without the ubiquitous soy. (Read the ingredients label.) Someone who’s hungry may thank you.

Julia Wasson

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