Self-Help International

Self-Help International (SHI) devotes its efforts to alleviating world hunger and poverty by providing opportunities to rural citizens that ultimately lead to self-reliance. Since its inception, Self-Help has served as a vessel; training, education, and opportunities are provided to rural citizens and whole communities in developing countries so that they can have better lives. MISSION STATEMENT: To alleviate hunger by helping people help themselves. SELF-HELP'S INITIATIVE Educate: We educate the people of the United States to understand the problems of life in developing countries particularly the awareness of the perpetual struggle by millions to produce and distribute food to battle p...
Oct 7, 2014

Kontomire gathers to celebrate QPM feeding program

Children sing QPM koko song
Children sing QPM koko song

Yesterday I visited the community of Kontomire to see first-hand how the QPM feeding program is progressing after one year of operation.  The journey began early, with a 90 minute drive from the office to the rural village.  The final 6 miles involved a lot of bumping and jostling as Benjamin, Self-Help’s country director in Ghana, deftly navigated around the gaping holes in the road that would have taken the truck out of commission for a day or more.  He noted that this community was particularly grateful for Self-Help’s support, since few NGOs would be willing to work with such a remote community due to the challenges of transportation.  As we turned on to that final stretch, Bridget climbed in with her infant son Fifi to join us for the rest of the journey.  Bridget is a junior high school teacher, but due to lack of residential housing at the school, she commutes more than an hour to work each school day if she pays for a taxi, or longer if she goes by food on the treacherous road.

Upon our arrival in Kontomire, we met with the teachers, who shared that the program is “an immense benefit” because it helps them to relate to kids, and for that they are very grateful.  The main challenge is that the program depends heavily on the willingness of the parents and community members to donate QPM. To address this challenge, the community secured a ½ acre plot to cultivate QPM, and harvested 1 ½ of the 5 bags of QPM needed for the school year. They are also working with the chief to secure an additional ½ acre plot along the edge of the school grounds for the teachers and junior high students to cultivate for an additional maize supply. They would like to extend the feeding program beyond the KG1, KG2, and class 1 up through the junior high school, but understand that the feasibility depends on a consistent supply of maize. 

After the meeting, we spoke with the caterer, Auntie Nana, who prepares the QPM porridge each morning – called “koko” locally.  She said that before the feeding programs were started, many children reported sick and went home.  But now that they are eating daily, their “sicknesses” – more likely actually hunger pains – have subsided, allowing them to spend more time in the classroom and attentive. The enclosed kitchen where she prepares the porridge was built by the community with material contributions from Self-Help, and is well-maintained.

Then began the main event: an assembly of the entire community in which the chief, head teacher, country director and I all addressed the community, recognizing how much progress has been made in our partnership, and challenging the parents to continue to support the program. Despite some wonderfully drumming between talks and lots of joyous song and dance, the highlight for me was when Mavis, Victoria, Yaa Angel, and Serwaa, student beneficiaries, sang about koko (the local term for the QPM porridge):  

Go, go, go
Go to school
And eat koko
QPM
Koko is sweet!
Koko is sweet!
Koko is sweet!

Another student, Mariama gave a speech of appreciation to SHI for offering free QPM breakfast for the past year.  Then a group of students enacted a play recounting the true story from a few months ago in which community members who didn't understand the QPM program went to the Headmaster with false accusations about the program, he clarified about the benefits of QPM and confirmed that the program really is free, and, once on the same page, everyone agreed that the program was in fact very worthwhile. Then the head teacher, Emmanuel, appealed to the community to provide the school with more chairs for students in class 1.  The grade is more congested this year due to increased enrollment associated with the introduction of the feeding program last year – a very good problem to have.

Finally, the chief appealed to Self-Help for continued assistance in building a library and information communication technology (ICT) center in the coming year, since the community has recently gained electricity.  This heightened interest in children’s education is new and an exciting sign of the community’s dedication to their children’s success.  An appropriate building has already been identified, so Benjamin and I agreed that if the community continues to demonstrate support for the QPM feeding program by consistently donating the necessary maize, we would set about working to provide assistance in filling the ICT center/library with computers and books.

Your donations, which brought the feeding program to Kontomire in the first place, have made the difference in encouraging this community to better invest in their children.  Thank you for your ongoing support!

Auntie Nana, caterer, serves students QPM porridge
Auntie Nana, caterer, serves students QPM porridge
Woman answers call to support community programs
Woman answers call to support community programs

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Sep 5, 2014

Pickling program popular with beneficiaries

Beneficiaries display their first jars of pickles.
Beneficiaries display their first jars of pickles.

At the start of the year, Self-Help International introduced a pickling and preserves program at the Fred Strohbehn Training Center in Nicaragua. Targeting the women in the microcredit program and

their children, this new initiative aims to educate families on how to start a home garden using drip irrigation technology, as well as how to add value to their produce at market.

The women are able to sell the fresh produce from their garden as an extra source of income, and what they don’t sell, they can preserve for even more income with a greater profit margin. The Nicaragua Training Center offers monthly training sessions on preparing pickled vegetables, jams, and marmalades, where women like Ana and her children learn proper methods to preserve produce.

Ana, a mother who takes pride in her children and home, wanted to provide for her family by gardening and pickling. On April 23, Self-Help International taught Ana and her three children how to plant a variety of seedlings in their family garden: chili peppers, papayas, passion fruit, and dragon fruit. Two weeks later, Ana brought her children to the training center where she and her children learned to make marmalades to preserve their fruits.

“What I’ve learned from the program is how to cultivate a garden, I have ideas of how to do things better in the home…it’s not necessary to go to the hardware store,” she said, gesturing to the watering can she made for herself from an old jerrycan while she was saving up to install a drip irrigation system.

Ana listed off what she had learned from Self-Help: to make marmalades, chili sauce, and to share experiences with the other women in the training sessions, as well as how to manage money, make profit, how to make better investments, “all these things!” she exclaimed with a grin.

Ana said of the micro-credit program, “I give thanks to the donors and all the people who are involved in this program. You help us and all the hardworking women who are involved now, who aren’t shy, who work and struggle: you help us make progress. It’s beautiful.”

This program has already reached 53 women like Ana through demonstration gardening plots at the training center. As many as 29 adolescents have attended training sessions on how to make the value-added products, and many more have helped their mothers with the gardening, pickling and fruit preservation at home. The program is increasingly gaining popularity as training sessions are continuing to be filled by interested women and youth.

Self-Help International aims to expand this program to more families in Nicaragua, introducing composting and other methods to encourage sustainable agricultural practices for generations to come.

Ana
Ana's children plant a vegetable garden
Ana and her children learn to preserve fruits.
Ana and her children learn to preserve fruits.

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Sep 3, 2014

Micro loans unlock talents

Diana displays her products in March 2014
Diana displays her products in March 2014

Diana is 50 years old and a native of Bedaabour in Ashanti region of Ghana. She is a product of the old Ghanaian education system, in which basic school curricula included practical teaching of home science and technical skills.

Like others her age, Diana learned from a young age how to make dresses with needles. After middle school she became a trader and ‘yaadee yie’; someone who carries sewing machine and move from house to house to mend cloths.

This type of hands-on training for youth was critical for Diana and others like her, but insufficient on its own: she needed access to micro-loans and market avenues as well.

In January 2013, Diana joined Self Help International’s micro-credit program and used her loan to purchase and start selling fabrics to earn additional income. Ready access to fabrics revived knowledge and skills she acquired decades ago as a school girl. Diana tells SHI, “I was never an apprentice seamstress. I am here as a result of needle work lessons I had decades ago and micro loans from SHI.”

She now sews and sells dresses to her community members. An apt businesswoman, she offers to sew dresses at discounted rates for those clients who purchase their fabric from her.

When visited in August 2014, Diana had made dresses that compete favorably in her local market. It is obvious from her designs that she is not only good at cutting and putting fabrics together but she also understands colors.

Diana has 6 children (4 females and 2 males) aged between 9 and 27 years and is able to take good care of them. With the profits earned from her business, she is building a 3-bedroom house to shelter her family and plans to expand her business to be able to train and employ more young women in her community.

Sharing her trade is important to ensuring that future generations of women are able to develop the skills they need to participate in the village economy. Over the past few decades, the educational system of Ghana, like many developing countries, has undergone a transformation aimed at achieving a more efficient system that produces quality human resource to achieve national development. In the process, many practical education programs were cut.  

In the old system, girls were taught to cook delicious local dishes and do needlework, sewing beautiful baby dresses and table cloths, while boys learned to mark and cut wood. The benefits of this type of practical training were enormous. Almost every household had needles which were used to mend torn dresses and it was common to see pupils with patched school uniforms. Though it wasn’t always pleasant to the eye, it saved the family money.

The situation is different today. People, especially those products of the new education system, readily replace their old worn out clothes by purchasing used ones that are imported largely from Europe rather than mending their old clothes. These imports contribute to the collapse of indigenous fabric and dress making industries, and the ever worsening unemployment situation. Current unemployment rate is around 40% and it is not surprising that crime rates are high nowadays.

Women like Diana set a strong example for others of using their talents to advance local industry. There are several other “Dianas” in Ghana who need access to credit in order to unlock their talents as well. Such individuals constitute the much needed growth poles to bring about development in Africa.

Your donation has helped Diana, and many women like her, explore their talent and grow their businesses. Thank you for your generosity.

In August Diana shared some new designs
In August Diana shared some new designs

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