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A Widow Woman & Swamp Rice In Sierra Leone

About a week ago a friend asked me: “What project are you working on?”   It’s pretty hard to explain the open-ended process of bringing people together in community development as “a project.”  But, one of the projects I do work on is being part of a team of people who focus on increasing the impact of World Renew’s agricultural programs around the world.

Through the kindness of a donor we have a special fund to enable people to try new ideas. The ideas  can be new for their area.   I’m part of a team of people who review the ideas that come in, offer feedback and approve small grants so the ideas can be tried.   One idea came in a couple of years ago from Sierra Leone.  It was to help women rice farmers have enough seed for swamp rice planting.  It came out that these women were only allowed marginal places to plant—swamps, and had a hard time getting seed on time, and got almost no agricultural advice to improve their farming.   Now more about the story is coming in.   I share this story with thanks to Andrew G for writing it:

“Most women in Benduku village find themselves in polygamous homes, with each of the wives bearing the responsibility for taking care of, on average, five children. They struggle to adequately feed and educate their children due to the low income realized from subsistence farming activities in the community. Madam Fatmata, aged 45, was targeted as part of Christian Extension Services’s Sustainable Agriculture Food Security  project in her community. Her husband died three years ago, and she has seven children to care for. Fatmata’s life was made more difficult because her late husband’s close relatives and other men avoided any connections with her due to the magnitude of her responsibilities.

Fatawa

Fatmata was chosen to be the head of a group of 37 women whose challenging situation qualified them to benefit from the program. The main economic activities of this group are swamp rice farming, upland rice farming, and local vegetable gardening. She and the other group members were each given a loan of two bushels of improved rice seed. Fatmata said, “The program has really helped us increase our incomes. With the increased harvests we can feed ourselves and have some surplus to sell at market. This year I made Le 710,000 (US $177.50) from rice sales. I am hoping to purchase a corrugated sheet to replace my thatched roof.”

The economic situation of Fatmata and her children has dramatically changed for the better over the course of the last two years, and her leadership skills have developed significantly. She is contributing to the Wara Wara Yagala Chiefdom by paying her local taxes and participating in meetings. She represents local women’s groups at community workshops and is interested in becoming a local ward representative in her village.”

Solo le Pido a Dios…que el dolor no me sea indiferente.

Solo le Pido a Dios…que el dolor no me sea indiferente.

I only ask God, that I not be indifferent to pain, war,  injustice, treason, or to the future

 

Mercedes Sosa’s rendition of  Solo le Pido a Dios  has a haunting, prayer-like quality, with  the introspective expressiveness of Latin American heart.     That I not be indifferent to what is going on, but be open to do what I can do via the opportunities the Lord gives to me.  It’s open for each of us to apply in our own situation in life.  It’s a gift to the world  from the hearts and of  the peoples of Latin America.  You can listen to it on you tube and come to your own applications.

Solo le Pido a Dios, by Leon Giecom, 1978, Sung by Mercedes Sosa

Solo le pido a Dios
que el dolor no me sea indiferente
que la reseca muerte no me encuentre
vacia y sola sin haber hecho lo suficiente.

Solo le pido a Dios
que lo injusto no me sea indiferente
que no me abofeteen la otra mejilla
despus que una garra me arae hasta la suerte.

Solo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.

Solo le pido a Dios
que el engao no me sea indiferente
si un traidor puede mas que unos cuantos
que esos cuantos no lo olviden facilmente.

Solo le pido a Dios
que el futuro no me sea indiferente
desgraciado es el que tiene que marchar
para vivir una cultura diferente

Solo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.

 

Translation:

I only ask of God
That the pain is not indifferent to me,
That the dried death does not encounter me
Empty and alone without having done enough.

I only ask of God
that injustice is not indifferent to me,
That they do not strike my other cheek
after a claw has scratched my fortune.

I only ask of God
that war is not indifferent to me,
It’s a large monster and it treads heavily
on all the poor innocence of the people.

It’s a large monster and it treads heavily
on all the poor innocence of the people.

I only ask of God
that treason is not indifferent to me,
If a traitor can do more than a number of people,
that this number of people will not forget easily.

I only ask of God
that the future is not indifferent to me,
Hopeless are those who must march on
to live a different culture.

I only ask of God
that war is not indifferent to me,
It’s a large monster and it treads heavily
on all the poor innocence of the people.

It’s a large monster and it treads heavily
on all the poor innocence of the people.

Originally written and performed by Argentinian musician Leon Gieco in 1978. This song is an anthem that was widely used throughout the social and political hardships and civil wars across Latin America, particularly in Argentina and Chile. It belongs to the Chilean ‘Nueva Canción’ genre. This version, performed by Argentinian aboriginal Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009)is the most recognized version, though it has been performed by such groups and musicians as Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, U2, and Shakira.

 

 

Beauty and Bombs

Fear seems to reign, at least it’s pretty strong right now in the United States.   It seems to me that the flip side of fear is often anger and violence.  That violence can ravage beautiful places in this earth.   Then the  land suffers for the sins of  humanity.

Yet, there is great and mysterious beauty.   And, we say, sometimes with mustard seed-like faith: “God is good.”  Yet, the nagging wonder question persists for me: How can the world contain such ugliness and such beauty in the same world?

I share these pictures of the sovenir bomb casings in Laos—reminders of the American bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos;  and Lake Michigan at sunset in November.  These seem to touch our fear-torn reality,  longing for peace, and  to be surprised by hope.

 

 

Lake Michigan In November

Lake Michigan In November

 

Gracias Infinitas

Infinite thanks. In the English language I don’t think we express thanks with the word infinite. But, one of the beautiful things about experiencing the varied peoples in this world is to experience the various ways of saying thanks. In looking back over these last couple of years, one of the sweetest little expressions of thanks came to me from Mexico. (more…)

A Man and his Wife: Making a Living in Bangladesh on a Tiny Bit of Land

Something like 165 million people live in Bangladesh in about the land area of Wisconsin. People count their land holdings in terms of 21 foot X 21 foot little blocks called decimals. Shukumar and his wife, Kojalrani, impressed me with their resourcefulness as they strive to make a living. World Renew has a fancy name for this kind of development: “Livelihoods.” We have special funding from the Canadian government (DFATD) to help us enlarge our livelihoods efforts.  But, it really comes down to resourceful people, and people with the willingness to learn and apply what they are learning—like this man and his wife.

So what are Shukumar and Kojalrani up to? Well, through the World Renew program partnership with PARI development trust ( a self help organization) they have learned to multiply their potato harvest: before it was only 10 to 15 kg/Their 2 decimals, but this recent harvest was 80 kgs! Now…how did they do that? Well it’s all about the compost pile and the interesting insecticide. First, the insecticide: instead of buying it at the agricultural store, they have learned to make it. What’s the recipe? Mahagony seed and cow urine. I did not get to see this being done—but I did get a picture of the mahagony seed that they use. If I understood the story rightly, they actually use the pulp that’s around the seed before it gets dry.

Bangladesh Mahagony Seeds The Fruit has insecticide

Bangladesh Mahagony Seeds The Fruit has insecticide

And, then it’s all about the soil. In Bangladesh synthetic fertilizer, especially urea—has provided the nutrients that have enabled rice production to keep up with the hungry people. But, too much of this good thing can acidify the soil, and the double and triple cropping has diminished the amount of organic matter that keeps the soil soft and holds the nutrients.  So, it’s rewarding for me that a composting training we did a few years ago has proven appropriate in enabling people like Shukumar and Kojalrani to grow more potatoes! Here’s a big compost pile in the starting stage:

Starting a Big Compost Pile

Starting a Big Compost Pile

Shukumar is part of the community organization, called “Peoples Institution” that World Renew’s partner, PARI, has organized in their village.  He is actually one of the peoples institution supervisors who ensures that people practice what they have been taught.

For example, they have learned that in order to combat malnutrition, families, especially young children, should eat vegetables and fruits of varying colors: red, yellow, orange.  And, that animal-sourced nutrients are more absorbed by the body.  So, it’s wonderful to see red-leaf vegetable amaranth growing in the gardens.   And, it’s great to hear Shukumar that out of 24 members training in fish rearing, 6 are trying the rice-interfish method and the other 18 are trying small fish ponds.   In both methods they are trying to maximize the protein production and extend their use of precious water as long as possible after the rains end. The interfish method only works in the interval before things get too dry.

Fish are Actually Swimming In Between the Rice

Fish are Actually Swimming In Between the Rice

I did not write down the name of the farmer who showed us his “interfish” rice. But, he told us that he spent $51 to buy the fingerlings and expected to earn $130 when he sold the fish. That’s not a bad return, considering that there isn’t much extra labor involved in letting the fish feed and grow amid the rice.

I remember my dad’s lessons to me on the subject of teaching me how to work. These lessons started when I was 7 or 8.   He said it was important for a man to know how to work so he could earn a living.  I think he would have been pretty amazed at how the people of community where Shukumar and Kojalrani live are using their small plots of land, the water hyancinth weeds that grow in their ponds to make compost, the rice straw and bamboo to make baskets, the seeds of trees and cow urine to make insecticide—-learning to work with every space and every resource that God has given to them—to make a living.

Basket Weaving and Calf Growing

Basket Weaving and Calf Growing

 

 

A Widow’s Ducks

She’s caring for her daughter’s baby and for her aging mother.  Her husband left her for another woman, effectively leaving her a widow.  How can she earn her own livelihood, as a poor widow in northern Bangladesh?

Nest Basket of Duck Eggs

Nest Basket of Duck Eggs

Well, it turns out that Bangladesh has a lot of water.  Many ponds last through the dry season and are replenished by the monsoon rains.  And, there is a special kind of duck, that lays up to 300 eggs a year.  They are called Khaki Campbell ducks.   Right now Manjura has just a couple of them—they are the dark brown ones among the others.   They are doing great.  She treasures them and has their nest basket for laying eggs hidden in the darkness under her own bed.  She was willing to show us. (There was another basket for her chickens and one of them flew out when I shown the light on her—quite upset!)

Duck Weed for Duck Feed

Duck Weed for Duck Feed

What to feed them?  Animal food is expensive.  So, Manjura goes out into the neighbors flooded rice fields and collects the tiny floating green plants on top of the water.  I’m pretty sure it’s a species of “duck weed.”  She mixes in some rice bran, makes a curious little call to the ducks and they come “a running,” paddling actually.

I hope that we can expand this initiative with Khaki Campbell ducks.  World Renew just completed a nutrition assessment in Manjura’s district.   We found that almost 59% of the babies become stunted after they are weaned from breast milk.  Tragically, stunting harms both their mental and physical development.   But, parents simply assume that their people are small people.  However, we know that high quality post-weaning food, along with prevention of diarrhea, respiratory infections and malaria—could make a huge difference.  We know that animal protein, vitamins and minerals are more easily absorbed by the human body than from vegetable sources.    So, we hope that Manjura’s small success with the Khaki Campbell ducks will grow into a much bigger impact for children in the first 1000  days of life.

 

 

 

Creation Care in India

Living Erosion Hedge Barrier

Living Erosion Hedge Barrier

Sense of place.  Caring for the spot of the Earth that  the Lord gave your family.  Making it a better than when you started.  That’s a feeling many have but don’t know how. Sometimes they are too poor to even own the land they farm.

That’s the case of many farmers in NE India.  In the Patarkhama region where World Renew has partnered with the North East India Commission on Relief & Development, the poorest people farm the hillsides of the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains.   In their traditional way they would cut the trees, plant for a couple of years, and then let the forest grow back for 10 or more years.   The rest-in-forest restored the fertility, eliminated the weeds, and kept the rivers clear.  But, now there are too many people to allow the 10-year rest time for the land.

In their pre-colonial system the land belonged to the king of the Khasi people, even though other ethnic groups also lived among them.  Without clear land ownership for individuals and for the non-Khasi groups, there was not clear incentive to care for the land.

For the past 15 years World Renew has worked with NEICORD and the people of Patarkhama, and for the past 6 years the Foods Resource Bank has supported us to develop ways of restoring the soils of the hillsides.  It has taken a lot of persistence.   But, now, finally, the farmers are seeing soil that used to wash away in the rainy season get trapped behind contour rows of nitrogen fixing trees.   It’s curious that the farmers even call the trees: “NFTs.”   (Actually, the genus of the trees they are using is Tiphrosia.)

It’s satisfying to see the soil building up behind the lines of trees and to hear the farmers say that this method is helping them have better crops.  It’s great to hear farmers give thanks to God for this blessing.

Proudly Showing The Soil That Has Built Up Behind the Contour Hedge

Proudly Showing The Soil That Has Built Up Behind the Contour Hedge

And, it’s great to hear the farmers who own little parcels of flat land tell how the system of rice intensification has helped them….but that’s another story.  And, it’s great to hear about how now that they are organized into self-help saving groups and have their own umbrella organization, called a peoples’ federation—that they have all sorts of access to government services that they did not have before.  The government clinics’ records show that malnutrition is way down!  It’s a great community development story!

A Glimpse of Lives of HIV-AIDS Positive Couple

Their story goes back to teenage rebellion and drug use.  There must be a lot more to it.  The doctor from SHALOM has known them and their families for a long time.  He has reached out to them to try to help them improve their livelihoods by getting them a couple of pigs to fatten and sell.

HIV-AIDs Positive Couple Preparing Feed for Their Pigs

HIV-AIDs Positive Couple Preparing Feed for Their Pigs

Fortunately neither of their two children have contracted AIDs and the mom is able to get low cost anti retroviral medicine from the India government health post.

Unfortunately, the father has tuberculosis and will not be able to receive the anti-retroviral drugs for AIDs until the TB is cured.

Nevertheless, they are trying to live. He works as a construction laborer.  (It’s hard to imagine how he has the strength!)  She works to earn a little extra money by rolling cigarettes and raising the two pigs the Shalom doctor helped them obtain.

HIV-AIDS Positive Couple Making Money By Rolling Cigarrettes

HIV-AIDS Positive Couple Making Money By Rolling Cigarrettes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigs Eating Those Tasty Leaves

Their Pigs Eating That Concoction of Tasty Leaves

Freedom Fighters

It’s a city on hills in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains—-with a name that looks strange to western eyes.  Aizawl.

Aizawl (pronounced “Is-all”) perches precariously in the steep Himalayan foothills of North East India.   It’s the cultural center of the Mizo people. A Welsh missionary named William Williams first brought news of Christ to the Mizo people 125 years ago, and they have become predominately Christian. The Presbyterian Church of Mizoram celebrated the missionary arrival on the Sunday we were in Aizawl.

But, Aizawl also lies precariously close to the border with Myanmar (Burma) and to the influx of cheap heroin and more recently invented drugs that are tempting and enslaving their children. As a result of intravenous drug use AIDS has been spreading with tragic consequences.  We heard of young people who inject heroin up to six times per day.  This can result in horribly ulcerated bodies as in the photo below.  We visited a young couple who are both HIV positive as a result of their drug use. We heard a church leader say he was thankful that Shalom was doing what the churches seem unable to do.

Ulcerated Leg of Intravenous Drug UserWorld Renew is privileged to help a courageous organization called Shalom to get hands-on involved with helping the teenagers of Aizawl to help their friends. With Shalom we are using funds raised in the EMBRACE AIDS campaign to enable the training of teenagers to use Facebook, WhatsApp, text messages and friendship coaching to help their friends face down the drug temptations and the potential enslavement and AIDS. Four HIV positive people, a medical doctor and a seminary graduate coordinator all work with the teen peer coaches. So, for me there is again wonder: at the way misuse of drugs destroys human dignity in the same place where a missionary miracle story happened, and at the way God’s kindness to humanity still shines through the people of SHALOM who have not turned their backs on the drug users and AIDs sufferers.

Teens as Peer Educators Using Social Media and Friendship

Mizo Teens as Peer Educators Using Social Media and Friendship

Laos: Deep Desire to Learn What happens to that hunger in the USA?

In the remote mountains of northern Laos World Renew works with people who, until this generation, never had the chance to go to school.  Now, we are able to bring elementary schools to the villages! The Akha women in this picture of a village development committee meeting are using photos to help them prioritize their village actions. They wish that they could at least speak the majority language of Laos so that they could participate with more confidence in markets and other aspects of social life.

Village Development Committee Planning

Village Development Committee Planning Using Pictures to Overcome Iliteracy

 

For teenagers and the most dedicated adults World Renew sponsors night literacy classes.  Here a dedicated community teacher takes on the added challenge of working with adults whose mother tongue is different than the majority language of Laos.   To me, it seems like such a painstaking process.

Literacy Class At Night in Laos

Literacy Class At Night in Laos

Laos Literacy Class At Night Students

Laos Literacy Class At Night Students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laos: Elementary School We Built Together

Laos: Elementary School We Built Together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a riddle that’s hard for me to unravel.  Last Saturday a friend of mine told me about his Mexican- American son who recently dropped out of community college even though he had full financial support.   At least this son completed high school.   But, this story and so many others leave me wondering what happens to the hunger to learn among so many of our children in the United States?