By Gabriel Newman, Board Member of World Neighbours Canada
I want to tell a short story about a conversation that occurred just before the Covid pandemic took over the Americas.
Back in March, Edwin Escoto, the Executive Director for our partner organization Vecinos Honduras, was in BC giving talks about life in Honduras. While I was with him, I got to watch him talk to about two hundred high school students. He talked about corruption, poverty and hunger in Honduras; he spoke about the human rights that are not afforded to many; and he talked about VH’s approach to helping communities build capacity and to advocate for their own rights. It is a lot to absorb in an hour-long talk and I could tell that many students felt overwhelmed, but they also felt compassion. The most common response I heard from students and teachers was, “what can we do?”
Honestly, I didn’t have a great answer for that. The trip was not for fundraising purposes but education. I wasn’t going to try to sign them up as monthly donors and World Neighbours doesn’t “do” anything in a concrete sense other that raise funds and leverage those funds for grants so that people in the communities can gain the skills to “do the work.”
One teacher said that they do an annual fundraiser and was curious that if they raised $500 for VH, what it could go towards. Edwin quickly mentioned hygiene for students. As part of the slate of programs and training VH conducts in communities, proper hygiene training for children in schools (hand washing) would have a huge impact on the health of students. I could tell it wasn’t the sexiest of answers. It wasn’t concrete and it felt somewhat basic. I figured I would have to think of something more interesting and important. Then came Covid.
While the communities that VH works in lack food security, water and easy access to hospitals, they do understand hygiene and community health through VH’s training. That gives them a huge advantage in battling Covid. These communities already have a collection of volunteers to organize and spread information and conduct health training. And most importantly the children and adults understand the importance of hand washing, the main defence against contracting the virus! This does not make these communities immune from Covid, but it will help slow the spread should the virus reach these isolated people. And it will arrive soon if it hasn’t already. People are leaving the heavily affected cities to go to their family homes in the villages and bringing Covid with them. What I dismissed as uninteresting became the cornerstone for helping these communities protect themselves.
So, the next time I am asked where funding could be allocated, I will definitely say, “hygiene in schools.” It is inexpensive and basic, yet this pandemic has demonstrated it is also life saving.
At World Neighbours Canada we are waiting with concern to see how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect our partners and the communities they work. Unfortunately, the countries they are located in are ill prepared to deal with the crisis. This is certainly the case in Nepal where health care funding has been traditionally low, they lack the basic health care equipment to test and treat Covid positive patients, and complaints of corruption have stalled getting proper safety equipment to health care workers. As a result, very few people have been tested so the current number of confirmed cases of 9, as on April 10th, is not an accurate assessment of the situation.
In order to limit the spread of the virus the government closed it borders and enforced a mandatory lockdown. Suresh Shrestha, the Executive Director of our partner NGO, Tamakoshi Sewa Sameti (TSS) puts it this way:
“Since 24th March, we are under the official lockdown period. About 90% people are confined within their homes. All offices and shops are closed nation wide. As per the government order, it has been prohibited all public movement outside the home, except for medical & purchase of food stuffs. All public and private vehicles without special permission are forbidden in the streets. All national and international flights have been suspended until 30th April. The daily necessary food selling stores are open for 2-3 hours only. Anyone defying the government order will be punishable according to Infectious Disease Control Act.”
The lockdown has not stopped many Nepalese who were stuck working abroad in India to return home to their communities. There is an increased risk that they are bringing the virus with them to remote communities.
On April 7th Nepal reached an agreement with the World Bank to access $29 million dollars to improve testing facilities, equip health facilities with personal protective equipment, create new ICU, beds, and isolation facilities, and strengthen public institutions to coordinate the response.
This is good news as without testing, and certainly without testing outside of Katmandu, there is no way to assess the seriousness of the situation, or to deal with it.
We are hoping the communities we work with are able to weather the storm. At least they have access to water and improved sanitary conditions thanks to the work of TSS and those communities.
For nearly two weeks Vecinos Honduras’s Executive Director, Edwin Escoto, toured British Columbia speaking to groups large and small about Honduras and the work Vecinos Honduras is doing. It was an inspiring week! Edwin is a dynamic speaker, and despite doing every one of his twenty presentations in his second language, he was clear, passionate and inspiring.
During Edwin’s stay in Canada, he did presentations in Vancouver, Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, Cranbrook, and Oliver. He presented to over 500 Canadians; including talks to elementary, secondary and university students as well as several presentations to the public, and with post secondary institutions. He was also able to conduct a webinar with the BC Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) which is available for anyone to watch online at (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1W4nZwz9zgMZV_IG1JghZhMbfNCcZvfQ-?usp=sharing.
Edwin was deeply honoured to be invited to come to Canada and share the activities of his organization and the situation in his country. Response from participants was very positive. To be able to put a face and details to a complex situation opened the eyes of many Canadians to international development and Canada’s role in assisting these countries.
We, at World Neighbours, want to thank everyone who welcomed Edwin, attended talks, invited him into their classrooms, their homes, and made him feel so welcome on his first visit to Canada. A special thank you to BCCIC, Global Empowerment Coalition of the Okanagan (GECCO) and the Okanagan Regional Library for cosponsoring talks.
At the end of his trip there was some concern about his ability to return to Honduras as countries were closing their borders due to Covid-19 concerns. Luckily, he was able to change flights and returned to Honduras a few hours before Honduras shut its borders. He is now self isolating at home.
Thank you Edwin!
Edwin Escotos’s recent visit to British Columbia was made possible through World Neighbours Canada Society grant from Global Affairs Canada under the Maternal Newborn Child Health initiative.
There will only be four public opportunities to hear from Vecinos Honduras Executive Director, Edwin Escoto, when he visits BC this week. He will be speaking to community groups, schools and universities but there will only be four public opportunities.
Luckily, the first opportunity will be online and so you can either join in person in Vancouver or log on for a “lunch and learn.”
This is a great opportunity to learn about our partner, their work, and Honduras in general.
World Neighbours is excited to announce that Edwin Escoto, the Director of Vecinos Honduras, will be coming to British Columbia to do a public speaking tour. From March 2-14 he will travel to Vancouver, Kamloops, Vernon, Cranbrook, Oliver and Penticton to meet with school children, universities, service groups and community organizations.
If you want to host a speaking event in your area, please let us know as he is booking up quickly.
We will be posting a detailed list of events shortly.
Edwin Escoto, is the Director of Vecinos Honduras. Since 2009 Edwin has helped build Vecinos Honduras into a leading NGO promoting rural development and agroecology. Edwin has also been appointed to be the new Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean for Groundswell International, a non-profit organization with a mission of strengthening rural communities to build healthy farming and food systems from the ground up.
Vecinos Honduras uses a very effective and proven approach to empower local people to manage their own affairs. The organization typically stays in an area for 6 to 8 years. Initially they generate interest by training people in specific techniques for growing more crops, raising healthier children, and so on. They also begin to train local leaders to: organize activities among themselves; include women in decision-making; run effective local organizations such as health committees; and manage finances. Gradually Vecinos Honduras staff phase themselves out and local leaders take over. After 6 to 8 years, the goal is that people will have the knowledge and skills to initiate village development projects on their own, and seek technical support and funding from government, national or international organizations as needed.
World Neighbours Canada takes a practical approach – we want to help people achieve tangible improvements in their lives. Nonetheless it is useful to keep track of trends in international development from a wider perspective. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of attention paid to the “Sustainable Development Goals”. These goals were adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015. There are 17 goals. Goal 1 is no poverty, Goal 2 is zero hunger, Goal 10 is reduced inequality and Goal 13 is climate action, to name a few. They are intended to apply to all countries, not just developing countries. And a key part of the concept is that all the goals are interconnected. The goals (often referred to as the “SDGs”) seem to be mentioned in just about every meeting and document that touches on international development. The high profile of the sustainable development goals has helped to draw attention to the struggles faced by people around the world who are trying to grow enough food for their needs, find enough water, and survive drought and other natural disasters.
World Neighbours Canada supports the goals, especially the ones central to our mission like no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality and climate action. But we look at the goals from a “results on the ground” perspective. If our programs can be stronger by taking a more integrated approach – for example, the gender equality implications of increasing food crop production – we embrace the concept of the “SDGs.” Our partner organizations have a deep understanding of the connections between the different goals. For example, in Nepal our partner organization has been focusing on goal 6 – clean water and sanitation – but the outcomes they are aiming for are goals 3 (good health and well-being) and 6 (gender equality; women and girls do most of the water-carrying). In Burkina Faso, food security and child malnutrition are critical issues. Our partner organization works in an integrated way towards zero hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality and no poverty. In Honduras, our partner is embarking on a new initiative to provide entrepreneurial training and support for young people in rural areas, touching on goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) and goal 4 (quality education). In every country, we have a long history of ecological approaches to agriculture, which fits with the environmental goal called life on land (number 15).
The Sustainable Development Goals provide a useful framework for a coordinated approach to the alleviation of poverty and better management of finite resources. World Neighbours Canada is inspired by these goals to support our partners in ensuring that people’s lives are impacted in meaningful ways, rather than focusing narrowly on specific outcomes.
We at World Neighbours Canada feel blessed and this New Years we wanted to share 20 reasons we feel so lucky. These are the reasons as submitted by our board members and volunteers.
I am grateful to all the people in Canada who support World Neighbours Canada year after year. Every donation, large and small, is appreciated and the moral support means as much to us as the financial support.
I am grateful to the staff and volunteers associated with our partner organizations in Nepal, Honduras and Burkina Faso for their tireless dedication to the alleviation of poverty. They are remarkable people who deeply understand the communities where they work and know how to help villagers achieve self-reliance and avoid dependency.
I’m grateful that the staff of our partner organization in Burkina Faso, (Association d’Appui à la Promotion du Développement durable des Communautés – APDC) AND those of our project villages have, to date, escaped being targeted by the Islamist insurgents in the Eastern region of the country. This is a huge concern for all living there and demonstrates the commitment of staff and villagers to implement changes that will improve their lives.
When our younger daughter died in 2006 she had said that she wanted some of her money to go to Nepal. We were thankful at that time and still are thankful to find World Neighbours. We knew right away we had found the right place to donate Rachel’s money. Water systems seemed so basic and the idea that all the money went to the people and the projects was very satisfying for us. It gave us a purpose and made us see some good coming out of the death of someone in the prime of her life.
I’m grateful for the opportunities my husband and I have had in the past to visit the Fada region of Burkina Faso to see firsthand the work this small local NGO is doing, teaching new skills to the villagers and sharing new ideas so that the beneficiaries are able to become more independent and improve the quality of their lives.
I’m grateful to be a part of World Neighbours Canada as I truly believe that the philosophy of “neighbour helping neighbour”, “a hand up not a hand out” is how lasting change can be achieved.
I’m grateful that World Neighbours Canada’s philosophy includes the notion that change occurs slowly, over generations, and as such we are committed to support our partner NGOs for the long haul.
I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve developed with the staff of APDC and admire and respect the commitment they all demonstrate in continuing to support the villagers during these turbulent and difficult times.
I’m grateful for the support I receive from the other directors of WNC, as this support enables me to complete the necessary reports that need to be submitted.
I’m grateful that Excel spreadsheet is still an acceptable form for accountants and government officials for tracking donations and expenses.
It is wonderful to have different directors responsible for each country project to liaise with and to solve any money transfer issues within their assigned country.
I am grateful I got to visit the projects in Honduras and meet the staff of Vecinos Honduras, who my father had worked with, admired, and told me so much about over the years.
I am grateful for the many service groups, and schools who have allowed us to come in and talk about our organization and the work of our partners.
I am grateful Suresh Shrestha, Executive Director of TSS, and Govinda Ghimire, Director on the TSS Board, were able to visit BC in 2019 and give presentations.
I am grateful for our member organization BCCIC (BC Council of International Cooperation) for the training sessions and other educational opportunities they offer. I have learned a lot.
I am grateful for those who read the articles (print or online), and click on the social media posts.
I am grateful for a federal government that understands that small NGO’s are some of the most effective groups in the world to affect positive change in the world, and continues to fund us. As with all funding, it could be greater and it could come with a little less paper work, but I am very grateful for what we get.
I am grateful for groups like Rotary in Oliver, Kamloops and Aldergrove who have been supportive and generous for many years.
I am grateful for my wife who lets me go traipsing through the mountains of Nepal on bad roads and in suspect vehicles.
I am grateful to know that the future can include positive change and I look to the upcoming year with hope.
One of the highlights of 2019 was that our partners in Honduras celebrated their tenth anniversary. For most of the year different communities around Honduras have been celebrated with Vecinos Honduras. These celebrations have highlighted the many changes that have occurred in those communities, by the hard work of the communities as a result of the guidance of Vecinos Honduras.
The celebrations wrapped up this October with a conference where there was much well deserved celebrating.
Vecinos Honduras was formed after our original partners Vecinos Mundialus (World Neighbour Honduras) was shut down by World Neighbors International as it went through restructuring. Vecinos Honduras was created out of the best and brightest of Vecinos Mundiales and we have worked with them ever since. We are incredibly proud of all their hard work and the communities who have been transformed over the past ten years!
We look forward to the next ten years! Congratulations
With a donation to us you know that 100% of your donations will go to our projects run by our partners in Nepal, Honduras or Burkina Faso as we have no paid Canadian staff and our limited overhead is covered by the directors and GAC. Also , we will send out a personalized hand made card to the person of your choice!
The Canadian dollar goes a long way in our program areas. So, for the price of some chocolates you help someone build a smokeless stove. It is important to note that we do not just give items, our partners teach communities how to build and repair their own stoves and water systems as well as work to build capacity, gender equality, micro-lending opportunities, and improve maternal and child health.
An example of Material Costs:
$10 – Stovepipe for a smokeless stove (Honduras)
$25 – Materials for a family toilet (Nepal)
$50 – Treatment for one severely malnourished child (Burkina Faso)
$100 – Materials for one community market garden (Burkina Faso)
$100- One community faucet (Nepal)
$100 – Screening children in one village for malnutrition (Burkina Faso)
$300 – Training for a volunteer health monitor or mother guide (Honduras)
Despite the insecurity in Burkina Faso a great deal was accomplished by our partner organization APDC and the communities they work with. At a glance, here are just some of the activities and sessions that have taken place during the past year:
The development (adding stone bunds to undeveloped land) and planting of 186 hectares of land by 72 people including 16 women and 56 men. In this activity, women’s participation has increased significantly compared to previous years.
The development and planting of 3 hectares of lowland terrain with rice, in the village of Kpentouangou. 74 people including 67 women participated in this activity.
This result of the above is a big step forward in terms of access to resources (land) by women and a significant improvement in the gender equality domain.
The functioning of 6 vegetable gardens, including 2 new ones, which produced fresh vegetables, allowing for improved nutrition of children aged 6-59 months and pregnant and nursing women in those villages. Furthermore, the women have increased and diversified their income through the sale of excess vegetables grown.
23 women’s groups planted sweet potato and moringa cuttings in order to minimize malnutrition. Both of these plants are rich in vitamins and grow well in the Sahel, with limited water supply.
The dynamisation and functioning of 27 savings and credit groups which include 702 women. This enabled these women to mobilize a total of 5,436,850 West African francs (about $12,000 or approximately $17 per participant) to grant small loans to those in need and provide a means for the women to solve problems. (This seemingly small amount of money is critical to giving a woman some independence and the opportunity to solve a problem herself without needing her husband’s aid or permission.)
33 outdoor video projection sessions on gender and rights, gender and nutrition, gender and family planning strengthened the knowledge of 3,741 people in the 18 villages covered by the project. This will undoubtedly contribute to increased gender equity in the villages.
The training and retraining of 75 leaders (40 women and 35 men) on gender and women’s rights in 14 villages to continue to strengthen and improve gender equity.