Meridian readers, partnering with CHOICE Humanitarian, have quite literally changed the world in the last three years through a truly astonishing project. It’s audacious. It’s unprecedented. The goal is this—in a three-year period following a new model to completely eliminate extreme poverty in an entire region of Nepal that encompasses 20 villages and 13,000 families.
Poverty is heartless and bone wearying. People with good hearts can’t help but be touched knowing that somewhere a child is going to bed hungry tonight or that a young mother dies because she can’t get health care. The problem is what to do about it.
We try. We do a few good things. We send books to an orphanage or make a hygiene kit, but all the time we know that it is not enough.
Yet, in the last three years, through its unprecedented project called Nepal Life, CHOICE has identified 1750 families in extreme poverty (which means thousands of people) and lifted 1250 of them out of that misery. We have 500 more families who need to finish that goal by our June deadline, but now we are running short of money and we need your help. We need to raise an additional $250,000 for this project.
To eliminate extreme poverty, means that every village in this region had to arise to a new level and hundreds of projects were accomplished, including new schools, greenhouses, entrepreneurial training, leadership training, capacity building, health centers, water projects, livestock projects and so much more.
Struck by an Earthquake
What makes this all the more remarkable is that right in the midst of this three-year project, in April of 2015, Nepal was struck with a 7.8 earthquake, followed by heavy aftershocks for a month that left 510,762 homes completely destroyed (with an additional 291,707 severely damaged), 50,000 classrooms decimated and nearly 9,000 dead. This left a staggering 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
It is ironic that this should happen in Nepal, which measures among the 20 most impoverished nations on earth. That they should have an earthquake here just added fuel to the fire of misery that already burns here.
The work on Nepal life had to stop for some time while CHOICE, with your help as Meridian readers, responded to the immediate and very heavy needs of the earthquake victims, supplying 45 temporary classrooms, 200 new homes, 550 sets of classroom furniture, 500 classroom-size tents distributed to 98 schools in eight districts. You Meridian readers are always generous. We are sincerely grateful.
Helping in times of emergency is critical—and CHOICE was so glad to be there already on the scene–but even more important is arming people with the skills and systems so that they can lift themselves out of the poverty that plagues them for the long term.
Make No Small Plans
So who would dream up a plan to lift an entire region—including the most desperate? It can only be someone who is sophisticated and highly experienced in working with the poor and believes, “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Former mission president, University of Utah professor and founder of CHOICE, Jim Mayfield has spent the last 50 years of his career in twenty nations working on poverty issues, working with the largest and seemingly most effective institutions, including USAID.
What he learned, however, over this extensive career, is what didn’t work on this stubborn problem of poverty. Even the most sophisticated and well-funded groups help people cope with poverty, but seem powerless to eliminate it.
Some programs, even with scores of millions of dollars poured into them, do projects that work for a short time, but have unintended consequences as the poor became dependent on welfare and their own personal dignity is jeopardized. Success for even the best-intended people and groups is terribly limited.
Learning from Experience
Dr. Mayfield formed CHOICE to put those years of experience to the test in a refreshing, new 3-year model that eliminates extreme poverty and began implementing it in 2014. The head of the effort until recently in Nepal has been Bishnu Adhikari, whose story you may remember from Meet the Mormons.
This is a comprehensive program that teaches the people business, leadership and networking skills to raise themselves out of poverty instead of waiting for someone else’s handout as a dependent.
The poverty elimination model is so effective, we are hoping it can be replicated throughout other regions in Nepal and then eventually in other developing nations in the world. This is real life-changing hope for the poor in a seminal effort that is very different than has been tried before. If you ever wanted to help someone who is poor, this is your opportunity.
Every dollar that is donated to Nepal Life is then leveraged by 7 times!
We have reason to cheer about what’s happened in Nepal as we are moving toward the finish line of the initial 3-year phase. The idea is that the only way to change a village is to transform the villagers. The people need to be unshackled with ideas and energy. Then they, of course, are fully capable of solving their own problems.
Empower people and projects follow.
Meridian Readers: We’re calling on your again to help partner with CHOICE in this life-sustaining and life-changing effort by clicking here.
A Brief Outline
Here is the briefest outline of how it works. As the project began, Jim went to Nepal and with Bishnu interviewed scores of qualified candidates to choose and extensively train ten men and ten women to become Rural Development Facilitators (RDFs) who each would work with specific villages in the region over the next three years to facilitate their growth.
The trained RDF’s then interviewed the 13,000 families in the region on a needs assessment scale to see where they currently stood. This gave Nepal Life baseline data to measure from (a step that is rarely done in international development), so we could clearly chart our progress. Was the program actually lifting people and changing their conditions?
The first year of the program was spent in trust building and local leadership training. Nepal Life worked with local councils. Villagers organized into informal groups, discussed their problems, learned about their assets. They were taught prioritizing, planning, leveraging, evaluating—and how to learn from their failures as well as their successes.
They were given enough money toward their self-initiated projects to build trust, but not dependence. They learned how to take responsibility for their own programs and projects and live consistently with the core values of their own tradition.
Too many poverty elimination programs fail because they move into local economic development activities too early and too often provide more money than the villagers can assimilate, thus circumventing this process of village preparation, capacity building, and the strengthening of local village institutions.
Then, Saturday, April 25, 2015 the devastating earthquake struck. It became a litmus test to see what CHOICE had accomplished with its powerful training. Those villagers where the leaders had been trained showed initiative and rallied villagers to be able to solve their own problems. They began immediate work to respond to the earthquake because they had developed the leadership and know-how to take on even this most difficult problem.
This kind of leadership may seem second nature to those of us raised in the United States or Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia or New Zealand (and other industrial nations)—but in the developing world, correct principles have to be taught and learned.
Where local leaders had not been trained by CHOICE, the results were far different.
A year and a half after the earthquake we went to a mountaintop village called Harmi that had been decimated by the earthquake. The government still hadn’t been able to come with aid and road after road was lined with the debris of houses that had fallen. People were living in makeshift shelters they had cobbled together.
But this was a village trained by CHOICE and the leadership was vibrantly at work despite the government’s inattention. They decided their priority was the school, so their children’s education wasn’t interrupted—and they lent all their efforts and resources toward building a school with the help of CHOICE. The people were invigorated by their own priority and the school they were building was not only excellent, but designed so that it would not fall in an earthquake—thanks to the expertise of CHOICE.
With all the schools that were lost in Nepal, the CHOICE villages are the only ones where new schools are being constructed thanks to the strength of the local leaders who have been trained.
The emphasis of the last two years of the program is economic development. The villages have set up community-owned financial co-operatives. They have created agriculture produce collection centers. 740 entrepreneurs have received business loans with a 95% repayment success rate.
We traveled from village to village in the region and sat in on their community meetings. It was early morning in Bhakunde, with the sun just rising over the mountains when local leaders gathered on folding chairs at the end of a road to discuss their water project which is initiated by them and will be implemented by them with the guidance of CHOICE.
Not far away, in another village, we visited their local financial co-op where people can contribute money every month and then borrow for their businesses. One of the main problems for the impoverished is that they borrow from usurers and end up in the bondage of overwhelming debt for life—and then pass that on to their children. These co-ops change that.
And everywhere we met new entrepreneurs—who had been given a start by CHOICE. Let us take you with us to meet one of them.
A Journey up a Mountainside
We are in Nepal, winding our way up a green mountain to Indra and Pratima Khadga’s farm. The scene is so peaceful with a lake below us and the stunning Himalayas beyond, rising like the white caps of a frozen, stormy sea, that we are reminded of Eden. It is a scene of quintessential beauty.
The idea is continued when we see their farm. It is pristine, stunning, and neatly kept with its 8 greenhouses, 100 banana trees in a shady grove and 400 chickens. Their vegetables are lush—and much in demand. They have found a unique niche by growing them organically. You can see the shining pride in both their eyes.
It hasn’t always been so for them. Nepal is among the poorest countries in the world. While to our eyes, used to the wealth of highly developed countries, most everyone looks poor in Nepal, in fact, among the poor themselves there are many levels. The extreme poor live on less than $1.90 a day—and in every village the others know who they are.
They don’t have steady work and are not sure how to feed themselves each day. They work in smoke-filled kitchens. Their children can’t go to school. Their shelter is inadequate. It may leak in a storm or let in the cold wind of a winter’s blast. They have no access to health care. They die young. They feel hopeless and desperate. We asked some of those extreme poor in Nepal what their biggest dream was. They answered, “To not be afraid that we will be hungry.”
Indra and Pratima were in these conditions. He was so anxious to improve their situation he went to Saudi Arabia for two years to work, leaving his wife and three sons behind. At the end of that time he had saved up $1,000. He tried chicken and vegetable farming, but he failed, burning through that very hard-earned money more quickly than he could imagine. They had no collateral for even the smallest business loan to lease land or buy animals. They were back where they started.
Then Nepal Life took him through entrepreneurial training and he learned skills that gave him confidence—things like how to keep a record, how to make a business plan, and how to budget. He was taught gardening and greenhouse skills. They found a willing pupil in Indra, who frankly said, he learned much more than skills. He was inspired. “If others can do it, I can do it,” he said.
He’s right. There are so many, many new entrepreneurs, succeeding at businesses where CHOICE has been working. They are doing goat keeping, pig keeping and small retail businesses and many others. It is inspiring.
The Nepal Life Approach
The Nepal Life Approach creates not only communities of the newly-skilled, but as they call it “communities of compassion.” Villagers see the need to help the extreme poor move out of poverty. It is working. Villages have been transformed all over the green mountains of the Lamjung region of Nepal
We need to help those last 500 families move out of poverty before our June deadline. We are so close, but we need your additional financial help. Every penny that CHOICE takes in for Nepal Life goes directly to this initiative. You can truly make a difference. Please join us as part of the Meridian family.
We are so pleased to have been partnering in this effort. If we can show how this model has worked with such power, it will be implemented in many more regions in Nepal—and then by other NGO’s across the world.
And remember that every dollar you give is leveraged 7 times in this program. We don’t see anything to compare with that anywhere else.
Help Meridian partner with CHOICE in this important effort by clicking here.
Please help us by featuring this on your social media pages. You will see that you can become a team leader for raising funds as well through these donation pages. We would even love to see some competition among our readers!
We always wonder what we can do to help others. We really want to and we are certain that you want to as well. We would love whatever help you can give to change the lives of the poor. This is a bold, unprecedented project. Please join us and donate.
With love, Maurine and Scot Proctor.