Waiting for a Message of Hope

We are now entering Advent, the four Sundays of preparation before we celebrate the birth of Our Savior. For most of us, December is a busy month of shopping, cooking and baking, entertaining, traveling, and savoring time with our families.

I ask to you to take a moment in the midst of it all to ponder what “advent” means. The word’s origins are in the Latin word for “coming.” It means the arrival of something notable or important, such as the advent of the printing press, television or the internet. You get the idea.

In the Catholic Church, Advent points toward the arrival of the most notable and important event—the coming of Christ. It is a time of preparation, expectation and waiting, which are reflected in the liturgies and rituals.

So in the hustle and bustle of the season, slow down for a few minutes. Let your mind and your soul contemplate the expectation. Let them wait.

In our contemplation we can glimpse fleetingly the experience of people 2 millennia ago—the fear and despair of a world that God seemed to have abandoned and the hope that something was about to happen that would change everything.

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Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Brings Business Support to Farmers in Kenya

By Donna Rosa, Volunteer for the Farmer-to-Farmer (FTF) Program 

Donna Rosa, with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

Donna Rosa, with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is well known for providing technical assistance to small farms in developing countries, but did you know that the program also contributes much-needed business support to agribusinesses and small food enterprises?  After all, farms are businesses.

I recently returned from a volunteer assignment in Kenya where I helped a women’s community group with a complete business evaluation, business plan, financial tracking, business development, and business advisory services. I was sent by CRS under USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program. This program sends U.S. volunteers to developing countries to assist small farms, agribusinesses, cooperatives, and food processors.  Volunteers are selected for specific skills, and they work hands-on in the field for 2-4 weeks. Expenses are covered by the program. Group training is often involved, but work with individual businesses is also typical.

While much of the Farmer-to-Farmer work involves horticulture support, there are assignments that call for small business support and training.  My experience in Kenya is an example. It illustrates how one person can make a difference. I feel strongly that there is not enough individualized business support for small enterprises in developing countries, particularly at the base of the pyramid.

I worked with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi.  This remarkable group of 30 women (and one man!) understands that if they want to improve their lives, they must take action to help themselves.  They formed a community group after seeking and receiving local training in crop irrigation.  In addition to providing ongoing social services for the community, they also took advantage of training in basic commercial food preparation and processing.  Importantly, they came to understand the concept of adding value.

Along the way they entered and won a contest by collecting the detergent packages. But instead of splitting the 250,000 Kenyan Shillings (about 3,000 USD) winnings among the group, they used it to purchase milling equipment in order to generate ongoing income. Pretty smart and a flicker of business acumen.

Huruma began by offering milling services to individuals and schools in the community, and later opened a small retail store where they sell flours, flour blends, crafts, dried fruits and vegetables, and snacks. The group members are poor, illiterate and lacking in business skills (especially record keeping).  They required help with their day-today business, but also needed a business plan to provide a roadmap.

Inside the Huruma Women’s Group retail shop in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

Inside the Huruma Women’s Group retail shop in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

That’s where I came in.

What was the experience like? The area was rural and very poor.  I stayed in a local guest house where the accommodations were basic, but the staff couldn’t have been nicer. Internet access was manageable but spotty and slow, and there were several power and water outages.

I met with the group several times under a towering fig tree, with occasional visits from cows, goats, chickens, and baboons. Only one member, Rahema Madega, spoke English. I also met with the group’s stakeholders, including local government officials, USAID, customers, suppliers, and other women’s groups. I used afternoons, evenings, and weekends to work on the business plan, financial templates, analysis, final report and presentation for CRS in Nairobi.

I asked a lot of questions, but the poor record keeping made it difficult to get an accurate picture of the financial status. They did not have a handle on either income or expenses. Still, I was able to make recommendations. For example, Rahema was managing the entire enterprise herself, and this is not sustainable. We outlined a management team structure in order to split the work, but there will be challenges to find people with the requisite skills.

The milling operation was losing money due to constant equipment breakdowns, but they had taken steps to purchase new equipment and locate better manufacturing and retail facilities from the county government so they might eventually become a certified food processing plant. Huruma also had a solar drying facility donated by USAID that was completely underutilized, so we explored other fruits and vegetables that they could dry and sell at low manufacturing cost but good profit margins. In addition we identified marketing tools, promotion ideas, and new value-added products that they could add longer term. They now have a plan to use as a guide for growth and importantly, to obtain financing.

This type of volunteer work is ideal if you enjoy hands-on international development experience and learning about a culture by living it. It is also great for building experience for a career or job change, if you can block the time to do it. Each assignment is unique, and the challenge is exceedingly gratifying.

For more information on the Farmer-to-Farmer Program click here.


God’s Grace Is in Your Gift

Dear Friend,

Thanksgiving is a time to take stock of our many blessings: our families, friends, health, freedom—and the remarkable bounty that provides for our needs.

Certainly there are needs, wants and injustices in this country that prompt our concern and action, but consider that at the very least our well-developed food supply chain ensures that there will be plenty to eat.

Even if there is a drought that disrupts the harvest we celebrate every autumn, we won’t go hungry. Millions of small-scale farmers and poor urban dwellers wish that they could enjoy that kind of resilience. Catholic Relief Services works alongside them every day to make their resilience a reality.

But as we contemplate a table groaning under the weight of the food we will soon put on it—and the friends and family we will share it with—I want to draw your attention to an even more fundamental gift from our generous God.

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Pope Francis Calls for ‘Change of Paradigm’ in Ending World Hunger

VATICAN CITY, October 17, 2014 (Zenit.org)

Bor County (Kondai Village - Makuach Payam), South Sudan - Beneficiaries Ayak Wal Garang, 14, and her father, Wal Garang Dhiek, 42, remove weeds from the family's groundnut field. The tools they're using and seeds for the groundnuts were provided by Catholic Relief Services. Ric Francis for CRS

Bor County (Kondai Village – Makuach Payam), South Sudan – Beneficiaries Ayak Wal Garang, 14, and her father, Wal Garang Dhiek, 42, remove weeds from the family’s groundnut field. The tools they’re using and seeds for the groundnuts were provided by Catholic Relief Services. Ric Francis for CRS

Pope Francis says that defeating world hunger will require more than aid and donations. Instead, we must “change the paradigm of aid and development policies” and change “how we understand work, economic aims and activity, food production and the protection of the environment.”

The Pope said this in a message to the director general of the FAO, Jose Graziano da Silva, to mark World Food Day, held Thursday.

World Food Day was instituted in 1979 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in order to raise public awareness and strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

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CRS Offers Five Fixes for Youth in Central America

Claudia, pictured here with her daughter and cousin, lives in a small town in Honduras. With the highest homicide rate in the world and few economic opportunities, many young people like Claudia feel compelled to migrate. She tried to reunite with her mother, who lives and works in the United States, but the journey was too dangerous, and she was eventually sent back to Honduras. (Photo by Silverlight for CRS.)

Claudia, pictured here with her daughter and cousin, lives in a small town in Honduras. With the highest homicide rate in the world and few economic opportunities, many young people like Claudia feel compelled to migrate. She tried to reunite with her mother, who lives and works in the United States, but the journey was too dangerous, and she was eventually sent back to Honduras. (Photo by Silverlight for CRS.)

Sean Callahan, chief operating officer for Catholic Relief Services, recently traveled to Central America to meet with government officials, members of marginalized communities and Church partners to discuss real solutions to the realities children face.

 

“I not only heard of, but witnessed the increasing desperation of families due to inescapable violence for many children, degrading poverty and family separation,” Callahan said. “In the long run, we must help to provide security and opportunity in their home communities to stem this migration.”

 

As part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual conference, Callahan participated on the panel Unaccompanied Central American Minors: Long-Term Solutions. He presented five fixes to help youth in the region:

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Web Chat: Providing Assistance for Refugees and Vulnerable Populations in Iraq and Syria

On September 30, 2014, Catholic Relief Services and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted an online Catholics Confront Global Poverty discussion: Crisis in Iraq and Syria: Providing Assistance for Refugees and Vulnerable Populations. Below is a transcript of that conversation.

Live Blog Crisis in Iraq and Syria: Providing Assistance for Refugees and Vulnerable Populations
 

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God’s Fields Are Never Fallow

Dear Friend,

There is no time like fall to appreciate the magnificent generosity of God. The fields that a few weeks ago were filled with plants reaching for the sky—full of grain and corn and beans and all sorts of other crops—have yielded their bounty.

In orchards’ tidy rows, the branches of trees that were dipping toward the ground as they tried to support the burden of their heavy fruits, have done the same.

In so many ways, the earth lets us know once again that its promise has been fulfilled as God intended. With fields harvested and those orchards picked, their abundance is now available to us, whether in farm markets or roadside stands or at your local supermarket. This is the time of year when we can see and smell and taste how good God is to us. There is no doubt. But when we think of the fruits of the harvest, let us not limit ourselves to this familiar yearly cycle. There are many seeds that are planted which do not bear their fruit according to that calendar. Some take years to mature.

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Learning Support and Solidarity During Crises

Dear Friend,

As our children go back to school this month, it’s a good time to educate ourselves about a world in need.

Everywhere, people are crying out for help. Together we show them God’s care and grace. As children open their new textbooks, I urge you to read and learn about how you can build solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters overseas. The Gospel asks us to hear their cries, and to respond to them, because no matter where people live, they are our neighbors. When we help them, we become God’s helping hands.

In Iraq, adherents to minority religions—including Christian faiths that have been there since Christianity began—have been uprooted by militant fighters. People are fleeing their homes to escape persecution, violence and death. Their future, and that of the entire region, is precarious.

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Web Chat: Addressing the Humanitarian Emergency of Unaccompanied Children

Please join Catholic Relief Services and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for an online Catholics Confront Global Poverty discussion:

Addressing the Humanitarian Emergency of Unaccompanied Children

July 29, 2014

12 -1 P.M. EDT

Live Blog Addressing the Humanitarian Emergency of Unaccompanied Children
 

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Disasters Threaten South Sudan, Central African Republic

Dear Friend,
Responding to emergencies is one of the most important jobs we have at Catholic Relief Services. Many are high-profile events covered extensively in the media, like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the earthquake in Haiti or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. But many are events you’ve likely never heard of—local flooding or storms or violence just as devastating as the ones that draw widespread attention.

Working with our local partners around the world—often Caritas and other Church organizations—CRS spreads the bounty of your generosity to those forced from their homes or in need of food, water and other necessities through no fault of their own.

The spotlight usually falls on disasters that happen suddenly—like an earthquake or a typhoon. The suddenness is part of the story, part of the drama, part of what makes it so compelling to news organizations and to viewers and readers.

What often receives far less attention, though, are what we call slow-onset emergencies. They don’t strike all at once like disasters that make the ground shake or the waters rise or the wind blow. But they are just as devastating.

I want to call your attention to two coming disasters. Both are man-made—caused by escalating conflict.

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