“The Thing With Feathers” — An Update From HOPE International by Art Zaratsyan

Remember “The Thing With Feathers”? This show-fundraiser, put together last May in support for the work of HOPE International Development Agency in Cambodia and Ethiopia, raised over $12,000—and it looks like it was put to good use. 

Here's a quick report from HOPE, verbatim, for all you good people. Thank you for your on-going support, and keep up the good work! 

 

The Thing with Feathers 2015 Update

All proceeds from The Thing With Feathers went towards HOPE International Development Agency’s work in Cambodia and Ethiopia.  Thanks to the kindness of all who took part, 12 families in Cambodia are now able to grow more rice year-round. In Ethiopia, 24 women have started small businesses and become more confident in their skills. 

Cambodia

In 2014, HOPE International Development Agency provided seeds, tools, training, and irrigation infrastructure to help 80 families in the villages of Bakan and Kab Krorlanh to start farming dry season rice, a rice variety that grows more quickly and requires less water to grow. Previously in these villages, over 70% of families were living in poverty, and were only able to harvest rice once per year. Families were fortunate if they were able to harvest enough to feed their families, and typically they would not have any extra rice to sell and provide income for the family, leaving them in a cycle of poverty. 

Through your support, families in Bakan and Kab Krorlanh have established community seed banks. The seed banks are a place for farmers to borrow seed and fertilizer to grow rice. After their harvests, families return the borrowed seed, which becomes available to others. Communities also received small water pumps to irrigate the rice during the dry season. In addition, farmers learned new sustainable agriculture techniques and how to manage their local seed banks.

These families initially planted 37.5 hectares of rice and harvested over 120 tons of rice paddy. In the next growing season, encouraged by the initial gains, farmers planted 106 hectares of rice with great success. 

In 2014, Kuoy Saren, and his wife, Chem Saroeurn received training, irrigation, seeds, and fertilizer to successfully begin growing dry season rice. They live in Bakan village, and have three children, as well as their parents, living with them. Before, Kuoy & Chem were only able to harvest about 2000-2500 kg once a year, which was only enough to feed their family for four months. For the remainder of the year, all of the family members were forced to earn income by harvesting rice for others. Kuoy & Chem also had to borrow money just to cover the cost of expensive chemical fertilizers. Now, after just one crop of dry season rice, they harvested 3500-4000 kg of rice, which means that the family has more than enough to eat, as well as extra to sell! This is in addition to the two additional crops they will now harvest each year. Kuoy, Chem, and their children no longer have to work harvesting rice for others, and the children are now able to attend school. Kuoy dreamt, “to have enough money for my children to study at city and have a good work to do in their life” and now, this dream is possible. Photo: HOPE International Development Agency

In 2014, Kuoy Saren, and his wife, Chem Saroeurn received training, irrigation, seeds, and fertilizer to successfully begin growing dry season rice. They live in Bakan village, and have three children, as well as their parents, living with them. Before, Kuoy & Chem were only able to harvest about 2000-2500 kg once a year, which was only enough to feed their family for four months. For the remainder of the year, all of the family members were forced to earn income by harvesting rice for others. Kuoy & Chem also had to borrow money just to cover the cost of expensive chemical fertilizers. Now, after just one crop of dry season rice, they harvested 3500-4000 kg of rice, which means that the family has more than enough to eat, as well as extra to sell! This is in addition to the two additional crops they will now harvest each year. Kuoy, Chem, and their children no longer have to work harvesting rice for others, and the children are now able to attend school. Kuoy dreamt, “to have enough money for my children to study at city and have a good work to do in their life” and now, this dream is possible.

Photo: HOPE International Development Agency

Ethiopia

In many areas of rural Ethiopia, there are few opportunities for women to earn enough money to support their families. To increase opportunities for these capable women to care for themselves, HOPE International Development Agency is helping local women to organize themselves into small self-help groups, and then access resources, training, and support through these groups. By taking part, their financial capacity is greatly improved, they increase their ownership of property, and the overall conditions of their own lives and those of their families are greatly improved. Together, they are able to achieve far more than they would have be able to on their own.

In 2014, 120 extremely vulnerable women from Adami Gotu and Dembeli Keta, communities in the Oromia Region, participated in self-help groups. Capital, in the form of goats, other livestock, or funds were provided to the groups, as well as training on saving, animal care, life skills, and personal health. Many of these women, who have never had the opportunity to learn to read or write, also participated in literacy classes.  In addition, the majority of the spouses of the group members took part in training sessions to improve gender sensitivity. Afterwards, many women reported positive changes in their families.  Through these activities, these women are improving their own self-sufficiency, as well as their families’ self-reliance.

Now, these women are working together to manage savings and credit, start and manage small businesses, and resolve family and local issues collaboratively. Soon, the women will “graduate” and continue to thrive independent of HOPE International Development Agency’s involvement. Approximately 400 family & community members’ lives have also been dramatically improved as a result! 

Birhane Mulisa is one woman who has taken significant steps forward in 2014. That year, Birhane earned income by raising animals: she now has two goats and one calf. Each week, Birhane met with other vulnerable women in her community. Together with this group, Birhane received training and financial and social support she needed to become more confident, including learning how to read and write. A highlight for Birhane in 2014 was a five-day health and life skills training that covered a range of important family issues. Along with other women, Birhane had the opportunity to discuss health, family planning, HIV, leadership, conflict resolution, and problem solving. With the income she is earning, Birhane is able to take care of her family and home, and is even starting to save small amounts regularly. Her family is in good health and is filled with optimism that they will soon be able to provide for themselves. Birhane hopes to realize this dream of becoming completely self-reliant. Photo: HOPE International Development Agency

Birhane Mulisa is one woman who has taken significant steps forward in 2014. That year, Birhane earned income by raising animals: she now has two goats and one calf. Each week, Birhane met with other vulnerable women in her community. Together with this group, Birhane received training and financial and social support she needed to become more confident, including learning how to read and write. A highlight for Birhane in 2014 was a five-day health and life skills training that covered a range of important family issues. Along with other women, Birhane had the opportunity to discuss health, family planning, HIV, leadership, conflict resolution, and problem solving. With the income she is earning, Birhane is able to take care of her family and home, and is even starting to save small amounts regularly. Her family is in good health and is filled with optimism that they will soon be able to provide for themselves. Birhane hopes to realize this dream of becoming completely self-reliant.

Photo: HOPE International Development Agency

Learning in Kianyaga by Art Zaratsyan

Last December I traveled to Kenya to shoot a project for Photographers Without Borders. The subject of the project was the work of Elimu Impact Evaluation Centre, who are conducting a research on the impact of legal aid on the development of the local population in the Kianyaga region, on the foothills of Kenya mountain.

The local population is mostly composed of small scale farmers, and like most farmers, their legal issues revolved around land ownership and succession. Exacerbated by corruption in the Land Registry and in the courts, their legal problems are immense and hopeless: the rich folks can bribe their way through any hurdle, while the poor folks have nowhere to turn to. Even the lawyers of Elimu were often unable to navigate through the maze of bribery, "lost" paperwork, delays and the general incompetence of the legal system of the area.

Despite all this, I saw a lot of strength and beauty in the faces of the locals. Even though life threw a lot at them, they went on with their lives with heads held high. And what surprised me most was their optimistic outlook, the will to keep fighting even when the lawyers told them they had no chance, and their smiles... Their big, warm and beautiful smiles, that made me wonder if I was really the one who was the less fortunate, and they were the ones who had the real wealth.

Experiences like these make me want to rethink everything about my own life. Family, love of the ones around us, these are things most of us have left behind in the "developed" world. Globalized, mobilized, we're often far from those who we love, those who love us. We're roaming around lonely, chasing wealth, finding no happiness...

The longer I'm on this Earth, the more I understand that the things we were taught when we were kids, the importance of family, love, and friendship, these are the things that carry the most real value, they are the things we should hold on to, and never let go.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy looking at these photos from Kianyaga, Kenya as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Peace.


Did We Learn from The Ruins of Angkor? by Art Zaratsyan

Walking through the ruins of the great capital of once magnificent empire I can't help but to wonder: are we the proverbial those who don't learn from the past, condemned to repeat it?

Angkor, the great ancient city, solemn symbol of old power and might. Once home to over a million inhabitants, until a handful of decades ago it was a forgotten shadow, lost in the jungle. To us visiting this wonder of the world is an adventure. We walk for hours through its vast area, land of hundreds of great temples and thousands of beautiful sculptures. We scurry around struggling to find a quiet corner to snap a photo free of the masses of tourists swarming the place. We try to imagine life back then, what sort of people used to inhabit this city, build these massive structures. We drop our dollars, euros and yuans in the collection trays, light incenses and buy souvenirs. And we leave, taking home gigabytes of images, suitcases of gifts and flurries of memories.

How many of us pause to draw a parallel between the fate of Angkor and our world today? How many of us realize the fragility of life as we know it? How do we know centuries from now another civilization will not find ruins of ours, swallowed by jungle, wondering who we were?

"That won't happen. We're different, we're smarter!" you might say, and I'd ask: based on what?

ISIS, Ebola, drone warfareUkraine, CAR, tar sands, climate change, Fukushima, Uganda, Sudan, Gaza, Syria… The list is growing. The stakes get higher and higher. Our Angkor today is the entire planet.