Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Emergency Family Assistance in Rural Guatemala

Ever think what life would be like if you and four
of your family members lived in a tiny shack like this one here?

High above the idyllic volcanic Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, near the destitute village of Tusuna lives Rosa and her 5 children, ages 5 to 12. Being indigenous Mayan, they have very little means of income or land to farm. Two years ago the father died, leaving Rosa and her kids with no stable income. To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, the family lost their home and their few possessions in a land-slide after a tropical storm. 

When we met them, they possessed  only the clothes on their backs and one single mattress for   all of them. The shack they were living in has dirt floors, a leaking tin roof, and makeshift walls of thin metal and bamboo.  Life in this hovel is unimaginably hard. The family lives on tortillas, rice and coffee. No fruit, no vegetables, no meat, no dairy. It is a tragic and appalling way for a family to live. Since their extended family is also quite poor, there is little help available to them. Sometimes Rosa is able to make a little money by collecting firewood but due to a very poor diet lacking in proper nutrients, Rosa and her family are all very small and malnourished. 

Luckily, help was on the way. The government offered to build them a new home but to get it stated, Rosa needed to pay $500 to pay to move the building supplies and hire a bricklayer. The house took two weeks to build. 

When we learned about the gravity of her family’s situation, we jumped to action. 
Upon meeting Rosa, it was immediately clear what a strong mother she is. We could see the pain in her eyes that she is not able to properly care for her children. She is quick to point out though that ALL the kids go to school every day, as she is determined they will all get an education. She is very eager to help her family climb out of this cycle of poverty.

Cause & Affect provided the $500 Rosa needed to get her home constructed. 
With an additional $300, my mother Linda and her friend Mary equipped her home with beds, blankets, pillows and kitchen supplies like pots, plates, a stove...basically everything she needed to make her house feel like a home. 

Rosa is now one of our partner organizations Feed the Dream for free to pay off the money in sweat equity, as she is very proud and doesn't want to live off of hand-outs.  

Needless to say, Rosa is extremely appreciative for the generosity of others, most of whom she has never met. When my mother Linda recently met with her, she was expressed how joyful she was that someone “heard her prayers for help.” Mom explained that Cause &Affect  was pleased to have been able to help her, as we have all been very blessed in our lives, but she made it clear that one thing was expected from her: one day, when someone else is in need, in whatever way that she can, Rosa will help out another family.   Pay it forward, as they say.

Seeing how far this family has come in just a few months proves once again how effective Cause & Affect's micro-philanthropy model is. Special thanks to my amazing mother who invested the money and sweat equity, shlepping furniture up a mountain, to help rescue this impoverished family in their time of need. You’re amazing mom.  

Please click here to support life-changing projects like this. Credit card and Paypal donations accepted. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reducing Disease and Improving Sanitation in Rural Guatemala by Building Latrines

In searching for local non-profits to partner with, Cause & Affect looks for those organizations that implement a bottom-up model, allowing the local community to speak up and propose solutions for the issues that affect them.

For, this reason, we were overjoyed to discover the work of People for Guatemala, a US and Guatemalan-based NGO that creates development councils of village women that meet to discuss their local issues, propose solutions and then submit a detailed proposal to the organization's board to seek funds.

This model is imperative as it allows the local Mayans, for decades cut off from any involvement in their own development, to identify problems and seek solutions. In many cases, the only thing holding them back from realizing all of their projects is a lack of funding. Cause & Affect visited one such village, Los Magueyes, to learn about their attempts to improve their living situation. Fortunately, they had already addressed two of the most pressing issues:
1. They had built Chapin-style stoves in their home to cut down on respiratory problems caused by use of wood-burning stoves
2. They had installed water purifiers to reduce the amount of
 water-borne diseases
The 3rd issue was addressing the unsanitary and often dangerous latrines they had been using. Without running water, rural Guatemalans use latrines, but the old-fashioned ones (basically a hole in the ground) present a lot of dangers, such as:
1. Flies breed in the waste and then enter the family home, spreading disease through contact with food, etc.
2. Mosquitoes breed in the latrines and spread disease
3. Children accidentally fall into the deep holes, often drowning
4. During rainy season, latrines overflow, spreading waste everywhere
5. Fecal matter seeps into the groundwater, tainting water supply.

What are needed are a special type of dry latrine that separates the waste between urine and feces, as it is this mix that becomes noxious; on its own, the feces biodegrades and can be used to fertilize the fields, as all of these families grow their own food.  These latrines are much safer and do not breed flies or mosquitoes.

The community has seen these special latrines in action and only lacked the start-up funds to make it a reality. Another great component of this development model is the fact that each family makes a financial contribution to the projects, so they have a stake of ownership and maintain the facilities with pride and diligence. With $1,500 Cause & Affect financed the construction of 5 latrines for the community of Los Magueyes. In addition, everything is done on a communal basis. We purchased the materials and dropped them off and taught them how to construct the first latrines and then the village men get together and build the other four. This is the most effective model of communal development and we are very happy to have been able to help the inhabitants of Los Magueyes help themselves! The film shows the success of this model and the entire process in action. To donate to projects like this, simply click here - donations accepted via credit card and Paypal. Wonderful projects like this are financed due to all of your wonderful donations, no matter how small!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cook & Affect: Assisting a Vocational Training Culinary Arts Program in Guatemala

In rural areas of Guatemala, the indigenous Mayans have been economically marginalized for decades. One of the biggest challenges they face is finding sustainable jobs, beyond seasonal agricultural work. Luckily, a fantastic local non-profit called Amigos de Santa Cruz is addressing that need and helping the locals of one such town help themselves and find work.

Since partnering with Amigos de Santa Cruz back a few years ago (see 2010 field report here), we have been charting their amazing progress in building their CECAP center, which is a vocational educational center for the local Mayan inhabitants of Santa Cruz. Since Santa Cruz has very limited educational and work opportunities for its inhabitants, this center provides very valuable training for the locals in six fields: sewing, computer education, carpentry, welding, foot loom weaving and culinary arts. On a recent visit, we saw these classes in action and salute Pat Torpie, the organization's founder and their amazing staff for helping prepare and place so many locals for employment that will allow them to provide income for their families. Their program director Juan Antonio is a great cook and patient instructor who shares their vision and is an integral part of the program's success.
                            WATCH FIELD REPORT HERE
One of the greatest successes of CECAP has been the culinary arts program, as all 17 of the graduates from the first two years have steady work as cooks in hotels and restaurants in the area. Building upon this success, we offered to help them develop their program, as they are looking for ways to make the program self-sustainable. They have established a small restaurant in the CECAP building, which has majestic views over beautiful Lake Atitlan. In one year, profits from the restaurant Sabor Cruceño have already allowed the culinary arts program to be self-sustainable.  

In order to expand their menu and bake goods they can then sell in the local market, Cause & Affect decided to help them by purhcasing the kitchen supplies they need to start baking pizzas, desserts, cakes, etc. With $955, Cause & Affect purchased a new food processor, a Kitchen Aid hand mixer, a rolling pin and various other kitchen accessories needed to expand the program's menu, instruction and profitability. 

We then brought in our resident chef, Linda Champagne (Adam's mother who lives in Guatemala and used to teach cooking classes and write cookbooks) to share her expertise by conducting a series of cooking classes to teach new recipés. In her first class, she taught them how to make pizza, including making the crust from scratch. Special thanks to Mom for her great help - and very impressive Spanish skills! It's such a joy to work with Amigos de Santa Cruz and their wonderful work helping the residents of Santa Cruz find such rewarding work.     WATCH FIELD REPORT HERE


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Helping Deaf Children from Calcutta's Slums Become Heard



Life is very tough here in the slums of Calcutta, India but it is even more challenging for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Faced with such a lack of medical care, many diseases and conditions go undiagnosed. The same is true for deafness. As a result, many parents simply assume these children are just stupid or mentally-handicapped. In many cases, these kids do not get properly diagnosed or ever learn sign language. Can you imagine being trapped in your own home, unable to express your most innermost feelings. Never being able to play with your brother, tell your mom that you love her or ask your father how his day was?


Fortunately, an amazing woman named Brinda Crishna recognized this problem and decided to open an amazing non-profit to help address this shortcoming of aid and education.  Today, VAANI (which means "sound of the soul") works in several regions in India, but Cause & Affect decided to address the situation here in Calcutta, where VAANI works directly with deaf children and their families through their Kolkata Metropolitan Project. 90% of all the project's deaf children and families come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and low literacy levels.

The project is an effort mainly to combine center-based specialized services with a community-based approach and aims to:
  • Ensure that all deaf children aged between 0-14 years have access to diagnosis, early stimulation and education
  • raise awareness of the issues surrounding the primary education of deaf children
  • work towards raising the expectations of parents and the wider community for the deaf child’s potential
  • help the parents and the wider community to understand the value of educating the deaf child

It has been a challenge convincing parents who are mainly concerned about their child’s educational needs to also be involved in his/her emotional and social growth. VAANI's community mobilizers have worked hard to make them understand the need for communication, and to convince reluctant parents to come with their children to the resource centres and to be a part of the VAANI extended family.


After numerous field visits, Cause & Affect looked for the most direct way to assist the project. Our timing couldn't have been better, as they were looking for funding to open a brand new Resource Center. This facility will house a new Early Prevention Program to allow babies up to 3 years old to participate in the project as well.  Cause & Affect donated $1,000 to purchase supplies and materials for the project. As the video shows, this project is transforming these children's lives. It is amazing to see children suddenly have the ability to express themselves for the first time in their life. We are so thankful to VAANI for their amazing work and professionalism!

Please allow us to continue supporting worthy projects like this by donating here.
Special thanks to Eric Wiesner for your assistance and generous donation - you da man!