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Notes from the Field
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:22PM EST on March 29, 2012
John Uniack Davis, Country Director, CARE Madagascar
"Six weeks have passed since Cyclone Giovanna hit the east coast of Madagascar, and the humanitarian situation is becoming more and more clear. Needs assessments carried out by the United Nations, NGOs and the Malagasy Government came in and they offer precision regarding the affected population and its needs. But even without quantitative data, the passage of time has allowed us to see who is able to get back on their feet on their own and who needs outside help to return their lives to normal.
This week, I returned to the Giovanna-affected zones for the first time since February 22-23. My objectives were to thank and encourage our team, which has been working non-stop since the days immediately following the cyclone, and to get a sense of the evolution of the humanitarian situation. I traveled to Vatomandry and Brickaville Districts, those that were the most affected by the wrath of the cyclone. Accompanying me were emergency operations manager Mamy Andriamasinoro, communications officer Katia Rakotobe, and emergency officer Emmanuel Lan Chun Yang of CARE France. We made an effort to visit some of the villages that I visited five weeks ago, in order to have a clear basis of comparison and evaluate the evolution of conditions on the ground and our activities. My visit brought many issues surrounding the response into sharp relief.
In Andranofolo, a hard-hit village just south of Vatomandry, we revisited a young woman named Voahanginirina. When we had seen her previously, she was living in the precarious fallen wreckage of her house with her three daughters aged eight, four, and three. When we visited this time, the ruins of her home looked even worse. Consequently, Voahanginirina, who is barely over 20 years old, made the wise decision to move her family into a little structure that once served as their kitchen. It doesn't give the family much space, but it is safer than where they were before. The family of four makes do with Voahanginirina's meager earnings from making and selling baskets.
In the same village, we came upon Rose-Marie, a 73-year-old widow using the roof, which is all that remains of her home after Giovanna, as a simple lean-to-like shelter with the two grandchildren she cares for. Demonstrating that she is doing her best to make a good life for her grandchildren under difficult circumstances, she proudly showed us the neat mosquito net hanging inside her tiny makeshift dwelling. Rose-Marie makes the best living she can collecting and drying reeds from the nearby marsh, which she sells to people like Voahanginirina for basket weaving.
The next day we returned to Andovoranto, in Brickaville District, where Giovanna made landfall on February 14. Things are slowly returning to normal for many in that small seaside town. But those without extra resources or family to help them remain in quite dire straits. For example, we went back to see a widow named Marie-Jeanne, who once had a sturdy little wooden house, but a direct hit from cyclone-force winds left it a twisted, misshapen remnant of what it once was. Marie-Jeanne lives with two of her three children in this house that is slowly crumbling around them, closer each day to collapsing completely. Marie-Jeanne ekes out a fragile existence selling charcoal to neighbors who are only slightly better-off than she is.
As CARE moves forward with our response to Cyclone Giovanna, we cannot help everyone, nor should we. Many families suffered a lot in the wake of the cyclone, but have nonetheless been able to rebuild their homes and reestablish their livelihoods, thanks to their own resources or the support of family and friends. But some people, such as Voahanginirina, Rose-Marie, and Marie-Jeanne, need a little bit of outside help to regain safe and decent housing and get their lives and their livelihoods back on firm ground. These are the types of people that CARE will continue to work with in coming weeks and months as we continue helping people rebuild their lives.
Our cyclone response activities evolve over time but the principal themes remain the same, focusing on food security, restoring safe shelter, and reestablishing transport infrastructure for economic activities as well as access to vital services such as health care. We are grateful to USAID and private sector donors for giving us the wherewithal to hit the ground running and begin bringing our activities to scale. We are currently finalizing plans with other generous partners, including the Government of France, who will help us to meet the most pressing needs of those worst affected by Cyclone Giovanna."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:47PM EST on March 20, 2012
By Melinda Gates
Everywhere I go, people ask me how they can help. They want to know what they can do to help alleviate hunger and poverty, to stop women from dying during childbirth, and to make sure children grow up healthy. It's incredibly inspiring to know that there are millions of us, around the world, who want to work together to make the world a better place.
Fighting big issues like hunger and poverty, and working to save women's lives can be overwhelming. Where do you start?
Today is International Women's Day, a day to acknowledge and celebrate the women of the world; but, also, to recognize that we have a lot of work ahead of us to improve the health and lives of women, especially in the poorest countries. In partnership with Threadless and CARE, we're launching a T-shirt design contest to inspire and engage us all to act on behalf of women in the developing world; and to spread awareness of how important maternal health care is to the lives of women in the poorest communities of the world. It's one way you can help.
You don't have to be a professional designer or artist. If you have an idea for an inspiring image or just a simple message, I want to see it.
Take a moment out of your busy day to think about the millions of women who struggle to deliver healthy babies safely. Think about how you can help.
I also remember sitting on the floor with about 40 pregnant women in Malawi, at the Dowa hospital. Why were they on the floor? These women arrive at Dowa hospital up to four weeks before they are due to give birth. They sit and wait so that they'll avoid complications – or even death – from birthing at home.
No woman should have to endure what Eliza or the women I met in Malawi endure. No woman should die in childbirth. It is simply unacceptable. It's why we'll continue to work to improve women's health and lives through access to family planning as well. In July, we'll join forces with the UK government to raise awareness of the unprecedented need for access to contraception for the world's poorest women.
Women around the world go to great lengths to make sure they have a healthy baby. They are willing to walk for miles or sit on the floor for weeks in a hospital, waiting. Are you willing to join our t-shirt design challenge to make a difference in women's lives? If you've wondered how you can help, here's one simple way you can.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:22PM EST on March 20, 2012
By John Uniack Davies, Country Director, CARE Madagascar
"Just over a month has passed since Cyclone Giovanna struck the east coast of Madagascar and left thousands of lives in disarray. The day after landfall, CARE led a helicopter overflight assessment of affected zones and we have been working non-stop since then to help people put their lives back together. First, we coordinated the distribution of pre-positioned USAID plastic sheeting to 4000 households, about 20,000 people, whose homes had been badly damaged and destroyed. We are now seeking funding for longer-term work helping the poorest and most at-risk to build inexpensive cyclone-resistant homes. In the meantime, we are helping people meet their food security needs while simultaneously rebuilding key roads and such in and around where they live.
Once plastic sheeting distribution was under way, we quickly began the painstaking work of distributing food to those most in need – the elderly, handicapped, or widows and other vulnerable female-headed households are being given urgently-needed food for their families with no reciprocal obligation of any kind. But the majority of the food we distribute is given out in the context of "Food-for-Work" activities – those who are seriously affected by the cyclone but are able-bodied receive rations in exchange for making a contribution to rebuilding their communities. In the case of the Cyclone Giovanna response, we are focusing Food-for-Work on rebuilding footpaths and dirt roads that are necessary to restart economic life. For example, after Giovanna made landfall in the small oceanfront town of Andovoranto, it became even more isolated than ever, with roads cut off and economic activity interrupted. The people of the communities south of Andovoranto are working with CARE to rebuild the oceanfront road that heads 45 kilometers south to the district capital and major market town of Vatomandry. In rebuilding this road, fishermen will ensure that they have a market outlet for their catch, thus restoring their principal livelihood. While they are rebuilding the road, they will receive food rations for their whole families, thus providing essential short-term access to food. In the current phase of our response to Cyclone Giovanna, we are supporting about 32,500 people with food assistance, most of this through Food-for-Work activities. We are grateful to USAID and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for supporting this important support to those most in need.
In spite of all this, much remains to be done. Many families lost their entire maize and cassava harvests, and many also lost other crops, including rice, Madagascar’s main staple. Consequently, many families do not have nearly enough food to make ends meet while they replant and get back on their feet. Many families will thus need food security assistance at the same time that they are going about rebuilding homes and other infrastructure and doing the hard work of another agricultural season. We at CARE Madagascar continue to work with the Madagascar Government Disaster Risk Management Agency (BNGRC) as well as the United Nations system and other partners in order to make sure the most affected get the help they need."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:12PM EST on March 20, 2012
By John Uniack Davies, Country Director, CARE Madagascar
"This continues to be a difficult cyclone season for Madagascar. Two weeks after Cyclone Giovanna, Tropical Storm Irina crossed the northern part of the "Grande Ile" and then parked itself off the west coast, in the Mozambique Channel, dumping lots of rain and affecting weather throughout the island. The severe weather caused extensive flooding and mudslides in the southeast part of the island, which had also been badly effected by flooding after Tropical Storm Hubert and Cyclone Bingiza in 2010 and 2011, respectively. In one mudslide in the roadside town of Ifanadiana alone, 47 people died, and the current death toll for Giovanna, Irina, and associated weather is now at least 100. But the number of lives affected by the storms far surpasses this number.
The town of Vangaindrano in the southeast has become, for all practical purposes, an island, and populations there are cut off from assistance and at great risk of crop loss as a result of flooding. Devastation to crops would make the local populations very vulnerable in the medium term, bereft of livelihoods. Our team in Vangaindrano is assessing the impact and we expect to mount an appropriate response. We are also discussing a possible overflight with other key actors in order to ensure that necessary, coordinated assistance reaches populations in need in the southeast.
CARE Madagascar continues to be a key actor in the response to Cyclone Giovanna, which struck on February 14. We have overseen the distribution of 397 rolls of USAID plastic sheeting distribution, which have permitted 20,000 people to escape from the elements and begin to rebuild their lives. We are grateful to our colleagues at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), who played an important role in helping us to get plastic sheeting out to the needy populations of Brickaville quickly. We are currently stepping up efforts to provide food to those in need. We are in the process of coordinating food for work teams to rebuild roads and restore access to villages cut off by Cyclone Giovanna, primarily by fallen trees and mudslides. Through our current food for work activities, 6500 households, at least 32,500 people, will benefit from 342 metric tons of rice and other food, and we are in the process of obtaining additional commodities from USAID and the World Food Program to permit additional rebuilding of infrastructure and providing short-term food aid to families in need.
Visitors to Brickaville and Vatomandry are moved by the difficult conditions in which families are living. CARE Emergency Operations Manager Mamy Andriamasinoro says that he is most struck by seeing children sleeping in precarious, damaged homes without roofs. ‘I realize how fortunate my own kids are, and as a parent I am really affected to see the conditions in which kids have no choice but to make do,' he says.
We at CARE Madagascar are doing our best to relieve the suffering of families affected by Cyclone Giovanna and other storms this year. We want to do our best to ensure that they have adequate shelter and enough food to eat in the short term. And in the medium term, we are looking to help the poorest farmers and fishermen restore their livelihoods and regain their self-sufficiency. For this, we will need additional support from the international community."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:05PM EST on March 20, 2012
As the Sahel region of West Africa faces a hunger crisis, Evelyne Guindon, Vice President of International Programs at CARE Canada recently visited CARE's operations in Chad to assess the situation firsthand.
You may not see many news stories about the looming food crisis in the Sahel, but my recent visit to West Africa showed me that immediate action is needed to prevent a large-scale emergency, much like that which we saw recently in East Africa, including deadly famine in parts of Somalia.
Erratic rains in West Africa's Sahel region have left over 10 million people displaced and malnourished. The drought has limited agricultural production and sent food prices soaring.
Chad is one of the countries hit hardest by the unfolding crisis.
I visited CARE's operations in Iriba, a small town in northeastern Chad providing a safe haven for thousands of refugees. Though the host community in Chad has generously welcomed the refugees from neighbouring Darfur, I was alarmed to see that the Chadians were, in some cases, more malnourished. I saw many parents making the difficult decision to pull their children out of school and sell their livestock just to afford the rising cost of food.
CARE had mobilized a team to cope with the increasing demand for aid and was already engaged in preparations to scale up to an emergency. I had a chance to see this activity firsthand -- CARE staff working hand-in-hand with community leaders, women and men, traditional leaders, government staff, and parents.
CARE's work in Chad is a reminder that when it comes to emergencies, we are often among the first to arrive and the last to leave. With limited funding and infrastructure, CARE has been working on long-term projects in Chad for over 40 years to improve conditions and provide support to residents.
Though my visit to Iriba was sobering, I kept thinking of a women's group I had met on a past trip to Dadaab, Kenya. Like the Chadians, the Dadaab women were once impoverished and lacked education, but learned to make honey and grow food and animal fodder through a CARE project. They developed skills that created businesses, which provided their families with a reliable source of income even in the face of a drought and food crisis.
The people in the Iriban camps were suffering, but my memories of the women's group in Dadaab reminded me that sustainable change is possible when people are given the tools they need to succeed.
CARE's focus on long-term solutions like enterprise and economic development, food security and female empowerment gives me hope that we can help the people of Chad become resilient and strong in the face of frequent drought and rising food prices.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:48PM EST on March 2, 2012
Katsuhiko Takeda, National Director, CARE Japan
March 2, 2012
"CARE's vision is to fight against worldwide poverty and to protect and enhance human dignity. CARE Japan decided to respond to this disaster to protect and enhance human dignity of the affected population. Mega disasters, even in developed contexts, can leave people with absolutely nothing in the immediate aftermath, push self-sufficient populations into poverty, eradicate years of development and threaten people's right to life with dignity. Today, I can firmly say: If the same scale of earthquake hits Japan, we'll respond again. This is a firm commitment shared among all the staff of CARE Japan.
CARE Japan has decided to run our psychosocial program until June 2013.One year has passed since the earthquake and tsunami. Temporary housing compounds have been built. Many more stores are restarting their business. And, newly developed local organizations are now playing a major role in initiating recovery efforts. Still, the psychosocial effects of the disaster remain present. Many of the survivors are struggling to overcome the events of March 11. "I sometime do nothing but keep watching TV which is not showing anything," told an elderly lady who wanted to be anonymous to a CARE staff at a community café CARE supports.
CARE had completed the food program in June 2011, and now focuses more on community relief and psychosocial support to help people recover from the trauma. The needs of the people in the affected area will shift as the time passes. CARE continues to coordinate with local authorities and other aid agencies in order to identify the needs and reach the most vulnerable people."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:00AM EST on March 2, 2012
Johannes Schoors, CARE Niger Country Director
This couldn't have come at a worse time – not that there is ever a good time for brutal fighting that burns people's homes to the ground and sends them running in fear to another country. More than 130,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Mali, and many of them have arrived here in Niger, a country that is already in the grips of a worsening food crisis.
Most families in Niger, especially in the areas along the border with Mali, are running out of food. Families have reduced the numbers of meals in a day. Children are going hungry. The refugees are adding to the strain already being suffered here. But the people of Niger are amazing – they have almost nothing, but they are helping the refugees. They are sharing what little food they have. This is the culture in Niger. They help out how they can: a Nigerien will share a cooking pot with a refugee family, and the refugee family will use it, and then pass it on to another family.
Tens of thousands of Malian refugees have fled into Niger. There was heavy fighting last night, so more refugees are crossing the border. This will get worse. And as always, the ones caught in the middle are the civilians.
Their villages were burned to the ground. They have nothing to go back to except sad memories. Already the numbers are growing. CARE plans to help the people who fled to Banibangou, and we were initially told there were 600 families – there were in fact 1,260 families (9,000 people), and more people are crossing the border as the fighting continues.
The refugees are in a bad state. Many of them are sleeping in the open. I saw a photo of a pot with brown sauce in it, and I said to my staff, 'oh, so they are eating millet?' But my staff said no – that's muddy water. The refugees are drinking muddy water, because they have no access to clean water. We need to help them filter the water, or the refugees will start to get sick. Water is a real problem.
CARE is gearing up to provide clean water, food and emergency items to the refugees. But we need to help the Nigeriens in this community, too, because they are sharing what they have with the refugees. By helping the refugees, they're running out of food more quickly.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 12:30PM EST on March 1, 2012
Sparrow McGowan, CARE Canada
When asked about her life five years ago, 50-year-old Dulali Begum quickly becomes shy. She and her family live in Velabari Village in the Bogra District of Bangladesh and were among the extremely poor of an already very poor community. Her husband Jamal had lost the use of his legs and Dulali had to beg to feed her family. But ask her about her life today and she immediately lights up. From the simple provision of 200 Taka (approx 2 to 3 USD) worth of seeds and training from CARE's SHOUHARDO program, with a small patch of land from her village, Dulali and her family now have a steady and healthy supply of food, a small business and her 14-year-old son is in school.
Dulali’s owes much of this success to her persistence and dedication to building a better life. Dulali took the seeds given to her and planted and cultivated them to produce vegetables that could be sold for an income, and also used to feed her family. From the money she earned from her vegetables, she bought hens and started a small poultry farm. She then sold hens for a profit allowing her to purchase supplies for her husband, a skilled craftsman, to start making handicrafts. Today, she sells the handicrafts locally, using market knowledge she learned through CARE's SHOUHARDO program – all this from the cultivation of seeds and support from CARE.
"When I used to go to the market to sell products, I wasn’t able to bargain. Now I have the ability to determine my proper price and say ‘this is the price – you can buy it if you want to pay that price'. I’ve become quite clever."
Dulali and her family now enjoy three meals of good food daily, compared to the one or two meals they previously managed. They eat a mixture of vegetables as well as small fish and eggs, and meat a couple of times a week. She has also purchased trees that are planted around her house that serve two purposes: Dulali lives next to a flood plain and the trees help stop erosion and keep her land elevated, but they are also an investment. In about five years, the trees will mature and their wood will command a significant amount of money at market, approx. 6000 Taka (72 USD).
The relationship with her husband has also changed substantially. "This family depends on Dulali because she is doing every job," says her husband Jamal. "Although I make the handicrafts, she is selling them and cultivating the vegetables, going to market and managing the family. I respect her for this." When asked if she is now involved in household decision making, Dulali responds, "Definitely! Why not?" They also look forward to a brighter future for their son -- that he will be well educated and go on to have a good job, a better life.
The Chairman of the Village's Development Committee points out that the village was one of the poorest in Bangladesh, but that women like Dulali are helping to improve the condition of the whole community. "Dulali is one of the influential women in the community", he says. "She is a role model."
What's more, the EKATA group has expanded the world for its members. Since joining the EKATA group, Rina has travelled across the country, carrying her goal to make life better for herself, the others in her group and her community. Referring to her group's meeting space, Rina says, "This room was not the only destination in my life. I had to explore beyond it."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:57AM EST on March 1, 2012
Sparrow McGowan, CARE Canada
Five years ago, 40-year-old Rowshan Ara was making thread for a living, earning an average of 200 to 250 Taka (2 to 3 USD) a week. Coupled with her husband Toiab’s small income as a handloom labourer, they struggled to buy food and were unable to afford school costs for their children. Today, Rowshan Ara reflects on that time, saying that she knew that owning their own handloom would give them the opportunity to make change in their lives, but the 6,000 Taka (approx. 72 USD) price tag for a handloom was out of reach.
Identified by CARE’s SHOUHARDO program as being amongst the very or extreme poor, Rowshan Ara became eligible for support. She was given a grant of 1,500 Taka (approx. 18 USD). Still short of the cost of a handloom, Rowshan Ara and her husband took a loan from a local organization and were able to purchase a loom. They returned that loan and through saving and borrowing have grown their business to include six handlooms, producing 150 saris a week in their small factory. They sell the saris at the local market and earn between 24,000 and 25,000 Taka weekly. What's more, they employ six workers.
Rowshan Ara points out that the relationship between her and her husband is excellent. With him managing the purchasing and selling and her managing the factory, they are a team. The business not only ensures that they, their sons (22, 16 and 3 years old) and daughter (13 years old) are now able to eat regular, healthy meals, but her 16-year old son and 13-year-old daughter are also in school, and her eldest son is part of the family business. In the community, Rowshan Ara is now seen as a role model and business competitor.
In looking to the future, Rowsha Ara points out that currently the factory is all hand-based machinery, but they are planning to eventually bring in modern machines so they can increase the number of workers and the factory size.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:54AM EST on March 1, 2012
Sparrow McGowan, CARE Canada
Rina Begum's soft smile belies the strength and inspiring leadership that has made her both a community and national leader in her home country of Bangladesh. Five years ago, Rina wouldn't have been able to leave her home in Lalmonirhat, Bangladesh, unless she was accompanied by a male family member. Today, she welcomes both female and male visitors as the leader of her local women's group, known as an EKATA (Empowerment, Knowledge and Transformative Action) group.
Rina's group, originally started as part of CARE's SHOUHARDO program five years ago, is made up of 20 women. Although CARE's involvement in the program ended over a year ago, the women have continued the group, making great strides for bettering not only their lives but the community as a whole. Today, they talk about everything from children's education and local dispute resolutions, to ensuring community access to government services such as immunization and birth delivery, and ensuring people receive their national identity card so they can vote.
Rina also serves on other community groups, including three school management committees, and is an executive member of the People's Organization Convention (POC), an annual meeting that brings together more than 400 community groups. Rina, through the POC, is trying to bridge the gap between the needs of local communities and the national government service providers. She is a rare leader, who has not only managed her own development, but has created a space for the other women in her group to flourish. Because of this, they are all seen as leaders in their community, and regularly turned to for support, such as resolving family disputes or going to the hospital.
The group points out that husbands are showing increased respect for their wives throughout the community. And the group now knows what their rights are – and are fully confident in asserting and accessing them. “We were worried that our intermediaries were misrepresenting us,” says one woman in reference to men who would go to the local government with their requests. So now they communicate directly with the service providers, travelling some 60km to the local government offices. “It was only because of joining this EKATA group that this is possible,” she says.
Together, the EKATA group has stopped a number of child marriages in the community, started an early child care for development program and created a savings group. They are also all employed, earning income through activities such as raising livestock, making and selling food products, running a small shop or offering tailoring services.
The results for their families and the community have been inspiring. Five years ago, young girls would often be pulled out of school at a young age. Today, the education of young girls is valued and they push for continuous education. The families of Rina and the other women in her group would previously have lived on only one to two meals a day. Today, they all get three meals a day, and their children are fed a range of healthy foods, including eggs, meat, fish and vegetables.