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What’s It Like to Live On Top of An Ancient Mayan City?

Right across from our house in Corozal Town in Belize is the ancient city site of Santa Rita.  It was one of the last Mayan cities to be active.  One of the good things is that Santa Rita sits in a minature national park, and about 20 years ago a caretaker named Pedro planted lots of native trees around it.    We also planted lots of trees around our house.  So, now one of the great things about living on top of the ancient Mayan City is that we have lots of birds.   Actually a pair of Chachalacas, a forest species, is living in our yard and they sit up in our trees.

 

Maya Ruin Sta Rita

Chachalaca: Nesting in Our Flamboyant Tree

Chachalaca: Nesting in Our Flamboyant Tree

What Does Our Search For “The Beach” Really Cost?

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One of the themes of this blog is wonder, especially the sense of wonder and awe at our amazing Creator, the amazing creation and the amazing people in the creation.   I think that there is a longing within us all to experience places and people that fill our need to wonder.  In developing countries ecological tourism or eco-tourism has been touted as an income earner that has minimal environmental consequences.   In this blog, Joe Oh, who is interning with me this summer and recently returned from a semester in Thailand with the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute, shares his impressions of the environmental consequences that tourism has brought to one of the perfect beach locations in southern Thailand.

Tom Post

 

In a movie called, “The Beach”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, an American college student named Richard, goes to Thailand with the intention of experiencing something radically different from his familiar life. One can relate to this, for many desire a great adventure, a paradise, escaping the mundane routine.

4943372_18_bBut at what cost, this perfect getaway…

Most would imagine that the only cost is their money.  Enough money for traveling expenses, for renting a nice bungalow or a hotel—-and it’s “good to go.” But the reality is that there are so many more costs than mere money. In Thailand, by visiting different islands and talking to the natives in the Adang Archipelago,  one of the biggest tourist attractions for exotic getaways—-I found out that people who come for vacations have changed the island. It is true that living in one of the hottest destinations for people who are looking for beautiful beaches and snorkeling among colorful coral reefs has been a huge income earner for the native islanders but it is slowly destroying their environment and their island.IMG_1794

 

One of the problems is that barges come into the island bringing in materials to build hotels, and are destroying the coral reefs in the process.  The trash that is created by tourists is another huge issue—- it’s polluting the island and even getting into the ocean.
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I am not saying that people should not have an amazing vacation at an exotic island, but we need to understand the true cost of things that we enjoy and understand how our actions  affect the livelihood of others. Just because one is on vacation and just because one has “spent good money”— doesn’t mean that he or she can do whatever they want. The place one  vacations in is a home to others; therefore, he or she  should respect that home and not abuse the environment around it. People still believe in paradise, but it’s not some place one can look for. It’s not where one may go, but it’s how one feels for a moment in their life when they’re part of something. And when one finds that moment… it lasts forever. We are part of this world therefore we need to take care of it, for we are indeed stewards of God’s creation, earth.
sunset

 

Opium Freedom Journey

Husband and wife smoking opium

Husband and wife smoking opium

A previous blog told about families in a Thai village becoming free from opium addiction and what that freedom means for husband-wife relationships.  To gain this freedom people needed economic alternatives as well as changes of heart. In Laos World Renew  helps send opium addicts to rustic treatment centers and also helps opium producing villages try alternative cash crops. In Phongsaly province, opium addicts’ families are  often the poorest  among the poor.   Sometimes opium-addicted fathers actually sell the rice harvest leaving their families without rice.  And the addiction consumes both their money ($2/day) and their time, as they wile away many  hours smoking.  As a result, both families and whole villages languish.

In the face of this multi-faceted challenge World Renew is trying to introduce coffee as an alternative cash crop in the we hope will help a villages  in Laos overcome opium like the Hwai Tong Kaw villagers in Thailand.

Members of the 5 family coffee group having a meal together on site of improving water supply at their coffee processing place. Te Cheh is right in the center in the back and his wife, Che Cha is the second from the left.

Members of the 5 family coffee group having a meal together on site of improving water supply at their coffee processing place. Te Cheh is right in the center in the back and his wife, Che Cha is the second from the left.

While farming and using opium Te Cheh and his wife, Cheh Cha, used to be one of their village’s  poorest families. World Renew started a coffee as   cash crop experiment in 2011, with the hope it could provide Te Cheh and Cheh Cha a choice. Coffee cultivation was something new to the village.  Villagers weighed the options. Opium takes only 6 months from planting to harvest and gives good returns, while coffee that takes 3 years and requires more work.  Opium is illegal, exposing growers to persecution. Two of the richest families decided to go “all in” in coffee. A few others took smaller steps, trying coffee on  small plots. Eventually, even Te Cheh and his family became part of the coffee nursery project and planted 3000 little coffee trees. Te Cheh confesses that he always felt guilty that he spent little or no time at all providing for the family during his addiction,  but now, with the help of World Renew, he wants to make coffee their family business and give his children an opportunity for a brighter future.

People need hope, opportunities and choices. We hope that with a little push and encouragement, they will conquer the slavery of opium.

Freedom From Opium: Changes Gender Relationships

Hwai Tong Kaw Village

Hwai Tong Kaw Village

One of the kids from the village

One of the kids from the village

One of the scourges that keeps people poor everywhere in the world is addiction to drugs.    World Renew encounters this addiction and poverty, especially in Laos and we are trying to help people gain their freedom from this addiction.  This article is written by Joe Oh, a Calvin College student who recently studied in northern Thailand for a semester.   I hope to follow up with a few other articles that show some of World Renew’s work on opium addiction. Here is Joe’s writing:

This peaceful village called Hwai Tong Kaw, located in northern Thailand, actually has a dark past. In the past, the villagers, especially men, were addicted to opium as they labored in the poppy fields of Hmong and Lisu producers, generally being paid in ropium rather than cash. Having the head of the family enslaved to opium addiction, women had to take the burden of hard farm work and feeding the family. however, with the help of different NGO’s and Thai-German Highland Development Programme’s work to overcome opium addiction, today Hwai Tong aw village is opium-free! Also, while women did everything to keep the family alive, they had to take on some of the mens’ role in farming. The gender roles balance changed and the way women see their own ability and the way men see theirs. The men now work in their farms: but not alone, with their wives together! Now we see men and women working together: inside the kitchen and outside their homes, weaving baskets.

Men weaving baskets

Men weaving baskets

What is this strange bird?

Do you think this bird is some sort of vulture?    If you live in Canada or the USA and have a “front lawn,” how would you like to wake up in the morning and see one of these guys standing in your front yard?

 

Strange Bird: Maribou Stork

Strange Bird: Maribou Stork

One of the strangest looking birds that I’ve ever seen is the Maribou Stork.    That big chin bag he has makes me wonder what he keeps in there?

 

How Does Amaranth, Ancient Crop of the Aztecs Help People in Africa?

During the past 2 weeks East African people have shared many stories about how grain amaranth flour, and eating the leaves, too—-has helped them enormously!    People living with AIDs whose CD-4 counts sat in the low hundreds see their count and their strength rise steadily after getting the anti-retro-viral meds and taking amaranth porridge every morning for breakfast!  People appreciate the way they can eat the leaves, the fact that amaranth crops take only 70 to 80 days from planting to harvest (at the equator), the way amaranth mixes well with their staple foods, and the way they feel so much more healthy when they eat it.    It’s amazing to see the way the amaranth work we began in 1999, in just two villages in Kenya has now spread to Uganda and Tanzania.

(Recipe:   Boil 3 parts of corn or millet flour in clean water with some sugar for about 10 minutes, then add one part amaranth flour and continue to heat for another five minutes.    Maybe add some cinnamon, and maybe some vanilla, too—-if you want a little more taste.   You should aim to take in about 40 grams of amaranth flour per day, or 20 grams per day for children.)  Not only do people living with AIDs praise amaranth!  Old men claim new strength and virility, healthy women claim pregnancy and kicking babies in their wombs, mothers claim healthy post-weaned infants.

Eating Amaranth & Millet Porridge and Amaranth & Wheat Flour Chapatti in Western Kenya (Kakamega Area)

Eating Amaranth & Millet Porridge and Amaranth & Wheat Flour Chapatti in Western Kenya (Kakamega Area)

There is so much need for follow up research to explain the whys!    How does amaranth affect the immune system and CD-4 count?   Is it the high lysine content of amaranth, the balance of the amino acids in amaranth? Could it be that people are so malnourished on their starch-based diets that they respond dramatically to a little added and balanced protein?  I so wish that research funding would go toward amaranth!

Drying Amaranth Grain in Tanzania

Drying Amaranth Grain in Tanzania

Wilson & Family Members in Amaranth & Corn Field in Tanzania

Wilson & Family Members in Amaranth & Corn Field in Tanzania

Sara Sytsma, World Renew volunteer in Uganda has written an excellent blog story about our evaluation in the Lango area of Uganda:http://anthsara.blogspot.com/2014/05/amaranth-evaluation.html   Thanks for this, Sara!

Marketing: The biggest complaint of amaranth farmers in Uganda is that when they produce a surplus there is no ready way to sell their amaranth.   We need some good business people to help!   But, in Kenya one of World Renew’s former partner organizations, the Anglican Development Service of Western Kenya, organized farmers to have collection points and also flour milling.    There you can find amaranth flour in the supermarkets!

Amaranth Flour in the Supermarket in Kakamega, Western Kenya

Amaranth Flour in the Supermarket in Kakamega, Western Kenya

 

 

 

 

Bonus: How to Load A Truck Uganda!

Bonus: How to Load A Truck Uganda!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longing and Living For Peace with Justice

Moises In a Fun Moment

Moises In a Fun Moment

Moises Colop, a former World Renew colleague in Guatemala, pictured above, used to talk with me
about “la lucha de los pueblos.” He meant the struggle of the peoples and nations to have deep freedom— a freedom of peace with justice. Five hundred years after the Spanish conquest, Moises saw the continuing struggles of the brown-skinned native peoples of Latin America for land, food, health, education, and for identity as God’s image-bearers as our challenge as World Renew workers. I often recall Moises’ phrase, la lucha de los pueblos because this struggle for peace with justice seems so long and so hard everywhere, not only in Latin America. Our American journey for healing and harmony among the races is like this. And, in our work with Asian countries, Bangladesh is an example of this “lucha.”

During November and December 2013, Bangladesh lived a new chapter of its struggle for a just government, freedom, and fullness of life. In the lead up to elections, there were executions of opposition party leaders accused of atrocities in the civil war of the early 1970s, there were repeated nation-wide strikes, and there were killings and burnings in the villages. The burning attacks were often started by majority people against minorities, usually those of Hindu culture.  Pathos in Bangladesh was real, and forgiveness—even more than 40 years after their war of independence with Pakistan—still so lacking.

But, this week I read this hopeful little blurb in one of  the reports from one of our partner organizations
in Bangladesh: “A number of primary groups, especially in Panchogorh, Birgonj, Kaharol, Tanor, and Debigonj, have many transformed leaders who are working for their communities using the values they have learned by working together. We can give you an example: the majority people save their fellow group members during the post-election violence.”

What a precious fruit from years of community development work! During the intense emotion of a controversial election result, some Muslim majority people stood up to protect their fellow
group members of the attacked Hindu minority from violence. And they protected each other because of shared values and shared accomplishments—in working to free their shared communities from poverty. Here are some of the accomplishments those people have made together:

• 3,250/4000 children under 5 years old are at normal
weight for age.

• 755 households are eating 3 meals per day.
• 637 farmers have vegetable gardens to supplement
their rice.
• 437 farmers are trying new methods of growing
rice and 471 are using compost.
• 45 box libraries are running so that newly literate
people have good things to read.
• Their own organizations, called “peoples’ institutions,”
are advocating for social safety-net services.

Proud, Newly Literate Ladies and Their Community Box Library

Proud, Newly Literate Ladies and Their Community Box Library

It happens that this morning I read something striking about the theme of justice in the Bible: “There is
absolutely no concept in the Old Testament with so central a significance for all relationships of human
life as that of righteousness and justice (sdqh). It is the standard in the Old Testament not only for man’s
relationship to God, but also for his relationships to his fellows, reaching right down…to the animals and
to his environment…for it embraces the whole of Israelite life.” *

We as Christians share this longing of Moses and the prophets, and we share in this lucha for peace with
justice. As Christians we work together with Muslims and Hindus in Bangladesh for this longing.
* Paul Hiebert, p. 160, in Transforming World Views, quoting Gerhard vn Rad on this.

 

Street Scene in the Capital City of Bangladesh

Street Scene in the Capital City of Bangladesh

 

 

 

What Happened to the Roman’s Streets and Buildings?

Ferrari On Milan Street

Ferrari On Milan Street

Descend down to the Milan subway train.

Stair Way Up from the Ancient Roman Street Level

Stair Way Up from the Ancient Roman Street Level

Then, to one side is a glass window.   You peer through it and look at some blocks.   A little sign says that these are the street blocks that the city’s people built in the days of the Roman Empire.  Wow.  How did that street get buried so deep? If it’s true that it takes 300 years to form 1 inch of soil, why does this seem to happen so much faster in cities?   Is it all the dust and waste that people make that accelerates the soil formation that covers up the cities?

Roman Walls Long Buried

Roman Walls Long Buried

Duomo Cathedral in Milan

Duomo Cathedral in Milan

The magnificenDuomo Cathedral in Milan now stands at the center of radiating streets in Milan, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll Never Imagine What These Giant Jars in Laos Were Used For

Jars in the Shade: Plain of Jars, Laos

Jars in the Shade: Plain of Jars, Laos

Once in a while, we encounter something from the past that makes us wonder: What did they do with that?  One of the regions that World Renew works in Laos, is adjacent to a mysterious place called the Plain of Jars.    The times I’ve been there it’s been a plain of mostly dry grass.   It’s not much to look at.  But, in what appears to be a random way, there are these gigantic jars standing out in the plain.  The theory that sounded most likely to me is that at one time people put the corpses of their loved ones in the jars and left them there until the flesh had rotted away.  This could have also been the point when they felt that the spirit of the person had also left.  Then, they might have burned the remains.

Friend in a Cracked Jar at the Plain of Jars

Friend in a Cracked Jar at the Plain of Jars

Cave Where Soldiers Hid from Bombings During Vietnam War Time

Cave Where Soldiers Hid from Bombings During Vietnam War Time

For an extra bit of wonder, the tourist entrance to the Plain of Jars is walking distance to a cave where soldiers hid out from bombings during the Vietnam War that raged in this area.  You get to wonder about what things were like at the Plain of Jars during  those war days.

 

 

 

Gearing Up To Discover What’s Been Happening With Amaranth In East Africa

I’m looking forward to an opportunity in April to evaluate the long-term impacts of World Renew’s promotional work on grain amaranth. Starting in 1998, but especially in the years 2006 and 2007, we made a special effort to teach farmers and mothers how to grow and how to prepare grain amaranth for eating. (more…)