Tuesday, April 15, 2014

John Speaking to the National Council of Jewish Women APRIL 23, 2014

If you're in or near Morristown, NJ on April 23, 2014, you may want to attend the West Morris Section meeting of the National Council for Jewish Women. The event, put on jointly with the Sisterhood/Women's Network of Temple B'nai Or, is free and open to the public. John will be speaking to attendees about the work Eliminate Poverty NOW is doing in Niger.

John and Judy with Rachel Ruto, the wife of Kenya's vice president

Time: 7:30 pm, April 23
Address: Temple B'nai Or, 60 Overlook Road, Morristown, NJ

For more details, or to register to attend, please contact stellahart@optimum.net. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GUEST POST: Reflections from Helen, "Africa Through Fresh Eyes, Part 2"

I joined the Eliminate Poverty NOW team a little over a year ago. Had I been asked before that if I would ever go to Africa – I would have said no, maybe, or probably not. Fast forward 15 months – and I’ve been twice!
FOF Overseas Team - John Craig, Helen Greenberg, Dov Pasternak, and Robin Mednick

The first trip in July 2013 to Kenya was life altering. Nothing could compare – right? Wrong!
I just returned from Niger, in Western Africa, to be part of the eyes on the ground team to the Farmers of the Future program - the largest project we support - the objective of which is to change attitudes toward farming and encourage the adoption of intensive farming practices in the country of Niger.

One purpose of our trip was to visit the Sadore Village and the Farmers of the Future pilot sites to witness their progress. We were to meet with Professor Dov Pasternak, the FOF visionary whose dream is Farmers of the Future; our local team – Hamani Djibo and Sidi Mohamed, and our Canadian charity partner, Robin Mednick of Pencils4Kids. The only way I knew these people before that time was through photographs and conference calls. The other reason we were going was to speak to a number of government and agency people about the prospect of up-scaling Farmers of the Future to a total of 15 sites from the present 4.

 John Craig, Sidi Mohamed, and Dov Pasternak         
I was a bit nervous in anticipation of the trip – after all, I was going to one of the poorest countries in the world with a reputation for unrest, so far away from home with reportedly unreliable communication infrastructure, and then throw in a little fear of the unknown. But I let go as I did last year for my trip to Kenya and Uganda. I was going with seasoned travelers who had been there before, so I put my trust in them.
Robin Mednick, Hamani Djibo, and Helen Greenberg
In the weeks prior to departure, with the help of the local team, we put together a jam packed agenda of meetings which included visits to the village sites, meetings with local government officials and ministries of the national government, and other NGOs for funding possibilities.

My reflections of this trip can be broken down in two parts: the team and the project.

Meeting everyone face to face was exciting. The warmth and camaraderie was immediate. I was seamlessly enveloped as though I was part of the group for years. Another marvel was to see these people in action. Each has a strong personality bringing different strengths to the table, but, interestingly enough, those differences mesh -  making them work together like a well-oiled machine. In my opinion, Farmers of the Future couldn’t be in more capable, determined, dedicated, and passionate hands.
Helen and Robin with women from the Sadoré village

Meeting with the mayor of Liboré

Wedged in among the high level meetings it was imperative that we visited the villages where there are thriving women’s tree nurseries, vegetable gardens, and mother plantations. It was gratifying to see the progress (which I had only seen in photos – not doing them justice) that the women have made since John and Robin’s last visit in December 2012. The mothers in these villages are headed toward elevating the standard of living for their families by raising high yield, high nutrition, and high income producing crops. Now they are able to feed their families and send their children to school. Dov describes poverty
as a magnet – these women are moving out of its gravitational pull.

We met with the First Lady of Niger, the Agricultural Minister, the Leader of the 3 “N” initiative (Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens), USAID, and the Swiss Cooperative among others. We were warmly welcomed by all, and left knowing we had their support toward the scale-up of our program. We were riding high all week.

I came away from this experience with a new understanding for the strength of the human spirit – what motivation can accomplish, an appreciation for the gentle, kind culture of the Nigerien people, and a renewed sense of hope for the work I do.

John, Helen and Robin with the women gardeners at the FOF site

Friday, April 4, 2014

Knocking on Doors of Potential Funders for Phase 2 Expansion

Once the pilot phase of Farmers of the Future wraps up (hopefully by June 2015), the next step is to field a rigorous test in 12 villages with measurable goals to quantify the impact of the program. The test will likely run for 3 years at a cost of $2.5-3 million. Since this far outstrips the resources of Eliminate Poverty NOW and Pencils for Kids who have jointly funded the pilot, we need to begin working now to identify the source of funds. With this in mind, meetings were held with USAID, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Once again, the FOF concept received a warm reception and willingness to explore potential funding.  

It was a great visit at the US Embassy with Rick Bell, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Megan Kyles, responsible for USAID Agricultural Programs in Niger. After the meeting with Rick, conversation continued for another hour with Megan. She was very encouraging about the FOF concept, asked lots of good questions, and pointed out various ways that EPN can position FOF to appeal to a broader range of potential funders. She is advising on the best ways to apply for funds from USAID. While not promising anything, she said it is very helpful to submit an application, because while a grant may not come through right away, we want to be in the line of promising projects worth funding when the money becomes available.  

      The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is Switzerland's version of USAID. They focus on improving the life and living standards of the extreme poor in Niger, and place a strong priority on agricultural development. Director Stefano Berti listened intently to our story of the transformation in Sadoré. He encouraged us to share a proposal on the Phase 2 expansion, and was eager to make a personal visit to Sadoré to see the village first hand.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) meeting was held with Amadou Ouattara, the local FAO representative, and about 10 members of his staff. FAO's three main goals are the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, the elimination of poverty, and the sustainable management of the world's natural resources. EPN's presentation was extremely well received (there was even applause!) and Mr Ouattara concluded the meeting by saying that "FAO's door is forever open" to us. There is much common ground to explore between FAO and EPN, and subsequent meetings will be held to explore the potential for partnering together.

Following the meetings, we scheduled site visits for each of the organizations; seeing these places first-hand is the best way to generate excitement. In the last 2 weeks, USAID, FAO, and Swiss Cooperation have all visited Sadoré and Galbal. They were extremely impressed with what they saw, and welcome continuing discussions on potential partnerships and funding possibilities.

All in all, John and Helen had a fantastically productive 8 days in Niger. They were exhausted, but thrilled, with what was accomplished on the trip, as we all are at EPN.