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In 2013 Meridian readers made possible putting a well in Mbele, a Kenyan village, where people were subsisting on one lean meal a day of corn meal because they had no water to grow vegetables. This was an expensive project because it involved drilling 300 feet through bedrock, but what we found was pure, sweet water that gushed forth at 10,000 liters per hour. This was enough to change the economy of the entire area.

Since we left, the villagers, who have been trained in leadership and initiative skills, have cleared and fenced several acres to grow food. They have created a fish pond and sell fish. Electricity has been brought to the school. They have created several businesses that rely on the water. We reported this in a photo essay celebrating Meridian’s 15th birthday.

In addition, Meridian readers brought electricity, water, flushing toilets and new mattresses to an orphanage near by. Thank you for making this possible.

Now Meridian announces its 2014 humanitarian project-and we ask you to join. It is bold, but we believe in this quote: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.” We hope to stir all of our blood to do something special this year.

We are starting a Circle of Abundance, a circle of people who want to make a difference in the world starting with the least among us. This is how to be a part of it. (Please note: This is not some small, start-up operation. In working with Dr. James Mayfield, whom you will meet in this article, $16,000 a month for three years has already been committed. We need $14,000 more a month for three years to make this project go forward. With Meridian readers’ help, we can do this. When you go to the Donate Page,  please write MERIDIAN CARES in the Comments section before you finish so your donation will be credited to this project. And PLEASE CONSIDER marking the RECURRING on a MONTHLY basis button with whatever you can afford: You can choose the amount.)

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Most of us have never seen the faces of the extreme poor, except in haunted looks on faces in photos that stare out at us occasionally from television or brochures about the anguish of developing nations.

Even if we know what it is to feel worried financially or think of ourselves as poor, we have been sheltered from the way the vast bulk of humanity lives. Usually we don’t get to see it first hand and we cannot imagine it.

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The extreme poor are those who live on less than $1.25 a day. Here’s what that looks like. It means their shelter is inadequate, often shacks made of dirt or corrugated tin or having a crooked roof that leaks. Certainly running water or electricity do not flow in the lives of the extreme poor.

Their children cannot afford to go to school. Instead they spend their days in odd jobs trying to earn money for that day’s meal. What they eat is inadequate and scant. The next meal is not secure. They have no potable water. They cook in kitchens filled with smoke, black particulates that cling to their lungs and shorten their lives. The average life span of a woman who cooks in this environment is 38 years.

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They have a lean existence, stomachs that rumble with hunger and lives that are utterly squelched, wasted away just trying to survive. What they could be dies inside of them like a plant starved for water.

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We are used to thinking that nothing can be done about this. But here’s where it gets bold. Dr. James Mayfield, the founder of CHOICE Humanitarian, a former mission president, and one of the foremost experts on earth on development, says that is not so. Extreme poverty can be eliminated. We don’t have to accept it as cruel fate for so many of God’s children.

In fact, partnering with Meridian, the LDS Church and other groups, he has developed a program called the Self-Development Village for eliminating extreme poverty for 100,000 people in Nepal in the next three years. If that number seems staggering, it is, but it is also doable.

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Meridian’s project for 2014-2016 is seeking to eliminate extreme poverty for 100,000 people in 180 villages in one rural district in Nepal.

Our new saying is this: What’s the difference between enduring poverty and ending poverty? UR.

Click here to join the Circle of Abundance

(Be sure and type MERIDIAN CARES in the comments section)

How to Eliminate Extreme Poverty

Moving someone’s income to $2.50 a day completely changes the picture for them. At this point they have adequate food, water, shelter. Their children can go to school and their kitchens are smoke-free. That’s the goal.

So how can it be done? Not by tackling the problems of poverty the way we have always done. Dr. James Mayfield has spent the last 50 years working with the most significant international agencies seeking to eliminate poverty. He has seen all the kinds of efforts that well-meaning groups do. With money poured in to villages across the world and the best of intentions, poverty relief fails because we do it wrong.

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We give governments money, hoping it will trickle down to the poor, but it doesn’t trickle. We give people stuff, but instead of being enriched by it, the opposite happens-increased dependency and frustration, even animosity. We create a kind of fatalism in the people we meant to help, breed apathy, steal their pride and dignity. We send a message, “You aren’t capable. You are children.”

Dr. Mayfield said, “A number of years ago, for a major donor agency, I went to Indonesia to assess how their projects were going. They had spent 27 million dollars trying to put water systems into the island of Java. I went back about four years after this money had been spent.

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“I was shocked that about 85% of these water projects were not working. The pumps were not working. They didn’t have spare parts.I was struggling with this because this agency had spent so much money and thee water projects were not working.

“At this point I asked a village leader what he thought was the reason for this problem.

  He said, It’s simple.  You Americans built these pumps, and we’re waiting for you to come back and fix your pumps.’

Dr. Mayfield said, “When he said, your pumps’, I had an epiphany, a change in my whole mind set. We were trying to change villages when we should have been trying to change villagers.

The Solution Lies within the Villagers

“The solution to the problem of poverty is not as complicated as I used to think it was. The solution lies within the villagers themselves,” he says.

“The common misunderstanding of people inside the United States is that the poor are kind of lazy, that they are illiterate and stupid. I want to tell you from my experience that these people are not lazy. They work harder and with more than energy than I ever imagined.” Take another look at the faces of the poor. They are intelligent, full of capacity, power and potential.

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The old ways of helping people overcome poverty have failed. The old idea is that outsiders know what’s best for the villagers. It was top down, suggesting that we are so smart. The new idea is revolutionary, but also something we already know from being human. It is about letting people know that they are so smart. It is bottom up as they are taught to identify their own problems and work with help to find their own solutions.

Dr. Mayfield knew there had to be a new solution for eliminating poverty and he has pioneered it through CHOICE Humanitarian. It is called the Self-developing Village program where people are systematically trained to be leaders and problem solvers while they instigate projects to help their own village. The projects you do in a village are used not just as an end in themselves, but as a means of growing the capacity and promise of people as they plan and work on them.

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Community councils are elected and trained by CHOICE in good governance. The people are taught how to assess their village needs and given new skill sets. CHOICE Humanitarian has full-time field workers who guide this process and check in on the village half a day each week. Money that comes from CHOICE for their projects comes with the condition that they leverage these funds-and they are taught how to do that.

People expand and progress when they are allowed to participate in their own decision-making. They are revealed to themselves as something more when they have opportunity to exercise leadership. The new idea unleashes people’s power by letting them choose for themselves and training them in leadership and problem-solving. Their potential is unearthed. They find that they have enormous, untapped capacities.

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Development is not just about what happens outside of a person. It is what happens inside-and the rest follows. The best resource any village has is in its own people who have been awakened to their leadership and taught problem-solving abilities through hands-on projects.

The water project Meridian finished last year in Kenya  was so strong, because CHOICE had already trained and energized community leaders in the village. They owned the project. They made it happen. They carried it forward in many more ways than we envisioned after we left.

Why Choose Nepal?

Your heart may be stirred by the poverty in Africa or perhaps a place you served on a mission. Certainly, Scot and I are forever attached to Mbele, Kenya where the poor have lost their anonymity and become instead our friends and adopted family. Why, then, choose Nepal?

Because what we do in Nepal is going to be the model for eliminating extreme poverty in other areas of the world. Once that model is field-tested, measured and refined, this effort will be replicated in other nations all over the world.

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Dr. Mayfield has chosen Nepal because it entered the modern world in 1951 without schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, electric power or industry. More than a quarter of the people in the country still live in extreme poverty. The government is eager to cooperate with CHOICE to change things. Bishnu Adhikari, the head of the CHOICE staff in the country is exceptional and visionary. (Incidentally, he is also LDS.) He says that his goal is to work himself out of a job.

Most important, the Self-Developing Village program has already been field-tested there.

For example, the small village of Duradanda had a dilapidated high school which badly needed replacing. The village was so isolated and money so scarce, the government said they would not spend the $300,000 required. These villagers would not take “no” for an answer, because CHOICE had taught them leadership training, and they had learned to have vision and entrepreneurship.

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Undeterred, the village leaders proposed that they raise the first $40,000. Impressed, the government relented. On their own initiative and with CHOICE’S help, the village finally raised $200,000 for the school. A new high school stands in Duradanda.

What’s Already Happening in Nepal?

Dr. Mayfield has already spent several months in Nepal where 20 new Rural Development Facilitators have been hired to work with villages in the Lamjung District. These RDF’s have received extensive training in how to bring the villages out of poverty.

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They are now visiting every household in the district to do a poverty assessment as a baseline so that as they move out of extreme poverty, the entire process can be documented. Leadership training materials and instructors are available. Village community councils are beginning to consider how to bring the extreme poor to a better place. New projects will be in initiated.

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It is a miracle unfolding. Meridian is so happy to be a part of it. We, personally, as a family are happy to participate. Won’t you join us in the Circle of Abundance and do something bold?

Most often when you think of doing something good, it is small-and small things matter. But this time, it is something really big. Click below and make a donation, or better yet, a recurring donation to eliminate extreme poverty in one region of Nepal.

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The budget is $30,000 per month-not very much to affect 100,000 people. Small amounts or big amounts-and recurring amounts-are much appreciated. Partnering with Dr. Mayfield and all the efforts of CHOICE Humanitarian, $16,000 a month has already been committed for three years.Again, we need $14,000 more a month in commitments. Will you or your corporation participate? Will the company you work for match your recurring donation? Can you as an extended family come up with a set amount each month? Will you join us in eliminating extreme poverty in one region of the world, thereby establishing a model that can be replicated throughout the world? We know you want to be part of the Circle of Abundance that shares.

Click here to donate. Please remember to type MERIDIAN CARES in the Comments section on the donation page so this can be credited towards the Nepal project.

Remember: What’s the difference between enduring poverty and ending poverty? UR.

We’ll keep you updated with films and reports of the progress.