Jun 10, 2019

At Ground Zero in the fight against Agent Orange

2017 Peace Fellow Jacob raised money for Mrs An
2017 Peace Fellow Jacob raised money for Mrs An

This report is being sent to friends who have donated through our appeals for families affected by Agent Orange in Vietnam. Over the past four years The Advocacy Project (AP) has raised almost $14,000 for eleven caregivers including Mrs An, seen in the photo above. Of the funds, $7,614 came through GlobalGiving from 112 generous donors like yourself. The remainder was raised privately by the family of Ai, who served as Peace Fellow in Vietnam in 2016.

Agent Orange was sprayed over former south Vietnam by American planes in the early years of the Vietnam war. The defoliant contained dioxin, which leached into the food chain with devastating consequences for American and Vietnamese service members.

Many Vietnamese soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange served in the south and – by a process that is still not fully understood – passed the poison down to their wives and children. The symptoms began to appear in the mid-teens and have resulted in a range of crippling conditions. Quang Binh province alone has registered over 19,000 cases.

In 2014 we joined with our partner in Quang Binh, the Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD), to survey the needs of 500 affected families. Based on the results, we decided to seek at least $1,000 for ten families that had been especially damaged. All but two families have used your donations to purchase a cow (photos).

We return every year to check up on beneficiaries and have recorded some remarkable stories of suffering and resistance, which can be found on these pages. One of our first beneficiaries, Loi, was forced to chain up three sons who were all suffering from dioxin poisoning to prevent them harming themselves and their neighbors. Duc built a successful business from fish sauce to support his three paralyzed daughters before a Korean factory polluted the sea and killed off the fish. Dung and his wife Miet had 13 children and all but one died in childbirth from Agent Orange. One of the saddest cases, for AP, was the death last year of Tuan, 23, a favorite of our Peace Fellows and staff.

But we also remember the friendships and wry humor. Mrs Loi named her cow “Opportunity,” which seemed appropriate. But Mrs Do was stumped when it came to naming her cow and appealed to onlookers. They came up with a safe compromise - “Friendly Working Relations.”

Our fundraising has been led by Peace Fellows. The lion’s share of the money was raised by Ai, who left Vietnam as a child and returned to help as a Peace Fellow in 2016. Ai and her family have supported six Agent Orange families – a remarkable act of generosity. Jacob (2017) and Marcela (2018) also turned out to be excellent fundraisers and wrote profound blogs about a war that ended long before they were born.

In spite of these achievements, our focus on Agent Orange is not without controversy. We have been told that focusing on one condition risks discriminating against other forms of disability. Our reply has always been that other victims of serious medical conditions have their own champions – why not Agent Orange? Indeed, the US Congress has acknowledged the nature of Agent Orange by earmarking significant funds to clean up “hotspots” polluted by Agent Orange in Vietnam and paid millions to American service members who reported having been exposed during the war. Perhaps the most compelling response is that Agent Orange is uniquely awful in the way that it has targeted children who were not born at the time.

We at AP have a special reason for working with caregivers instead of the victims. The future of these families rests with the parents, particularly mothers, who are fighting a losing battle against their own old age and the relentless assault on their children. Quite simply, they dread the future.

But they have also made excellent use of your donations and turned their livestock into a sustained source of income. This will come as no surprise to those familiar with the work of the Grameen Bank or Kiva, but it has cheered us to see that Agent Orange families are not completely disempowered and dependent on handouts. Put succinctly, they have become credit-worthy.

This points to how AEPD can expand the program. Working from the assumption that caregivers will make good use of money, AEPD and AP hope to establish a revolving fund of around $5,000 that can make small loans to other affected families. Many questions will have to be answered: How large should the loans be? Will repayment put too much of a burden on mothers? How could other family-members (who have not been affected by Agent Orange) and neighbors help? Will beneficiaries form smaller groups and share the risk?

We are asking this year’s Peace Fellow – Mia from the University of Maryland – to answer some of these questions by visiting the beneficiaries and collecting data. We will then work with AEPD and microfinance experts to design an appropriate mechanism and seek the initial capital. If the idea of a revolving fund succeeds, your donations will have helped to build a new and hopeful approach to a tragedy that is associated with death, disability and suffering. That would be something to be proud of.

Thank you from us all at AP!

Mrs An and her daughter Thuy (right)
Mrs An and her daughter Thuy (right)
AEPD outreach worker Hoai with Mrs An's son Huong
AEPD outreach worker Hoai with Mrs An's son Huong
Mrs An's husband Hung died in 1981
Mrs An's husband Hung died in 1981
Mrs An's cow helps to pay for medical bills
Mrs An's cow helps to pay for medical bills

Links:

May 30, 2019

Producing Memorial Quilts and Tiger Bags in Nepal

The first Bardiya memorial quilt
The first Bardiya memorial quilt

We contacted you earlier this year with the news that Bobbi, a well-known American quilter and AP Board member, was heading to Bardiya in western Nepal to work with women who lost family-members during the conflict (1996-2006). You are one of 186 friends who have donated to these women since we launched our first appeal on their behalf in 2015. So let’s begin with a huge thanks!

In this email we report back on Bobbi’s recent visit to Nepal. This was a first for AP. As you may know, we ask American quilters to assemble advocacy quilts from embroidery made by our partners in the Global South. We then exhibit the quilts at events in the US to promote the partner.

But this was the first time we have asked one of our quilting friends to visit a partner in the South and work side by side with the artists.

Bobbi was perfect for the job. She was going through a rough patch and looking for a worthwhile way to use her talents. In addition, Bobbi knows AP and advocacy quilting after assembling several Tiger quilts for the Bardiya cooperative (named after the tigers that live in the Bardiya National Park).

But even this did not prepare Bobbi for a hectic two weeks. She began in Kathmandu by teaming up with Sarita, the inspiring leader of the Bardiya cooperative, and shopping for material. Accompanied by Iain from AP and Prabal, our project coordinator in Nepal, Bobbi then headed off on a 17-hour bus trip to Bardiya and ten days of creative training. The women had already produced the squares, describing the arrest of their relatives in grim detail. Bobbi helped to turn the squares into something that they could cherish.

This produced deep friendships and plenty of reflection. The women are still deeply affected by the loss of their relatives and we have tried to capture this in profiles. Older cooperative members like Belmati, who lost a son and two daughters in law, rarely smile. Even the younger women like Kancham and Kushma, who were too young to really remember their lost relatives see the effect on their mothers every day. Many of the families were driven into poverty by the loss of their breadwinners.

The Bardiya training lifted their spirits and produced more laughter than tears. The artists were amazed that Bobbi could show such energy at the age of 71, and she was bowled over by their talent and affection for each other. By the end of the week they had finished one striking quilt, which will stay in Nepal and be exhibited on August 30 (International Day of the Disappeared). A second quilt will be housed at AP in Washington and exhibited in the US. There were smiles and hugs all round before Bobbi and Prabal set off on their return trip to Kathmandu.

Bobbi performed a second service for the Bardiya cooperative by helping Sarita to design Tiger bags for western consumers. AP has commissioned 100 bags and will let you know when they come on the market!

So much good came out of Bobbi’s trip that it’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular. Our Nepali partner NEFAD (The Network of Families of the Disappeared) plans to use the quilt, and our new web pages, to argue that those responsible for the disappearances should be brought to justice. Sarita and her cooperative hope to earn money from selling tiger bags. We at AP hope that Bobbi’s trip will inspire more American quilters to travel south and provide technical assistance with a difference!

But as we suggest in our profile of Bobbi, the greatest impact may be personal. The Bardiya women have a new friend and know that Americans want to help - and this is is huge. As for Bobbi, she has a sense of achievement and a deeper understanding of the resilience of women - in Nepal and the US.

We will report back to you on the Tiger bags. Thank you for making it all happen!

Iain and the AP team

Bobbi and Sarita in Kathmandu
Bobbi and Sarita in Kathmandu
Hunting for fabric
Hunting for fabric
Cooperative endeavor
Cooperative endeavor
Remembering the disappeared
Remembering the disappeared
Sarita, Bobbi and their new tiger bag
Sarita, Bobbi and their new tiger bag

Links:

Mar 25, 2019

Fellows for Peace - Why They Succeed

Fellows Ginny and Sarah in Afghanistan, 2004
Fellows Ginny and Sarah in Afghanistan, 2004

This report is coming to you because you have been kind enough to donate to our appeal for Peace Fellows on GlobalGiving. Thus far 126 donors have given $15,319, for which we are truly grateful.

Our last and eighth report to you in November reviewed the accomplishments of our 2018 Fellows, who were deployed to six countries. With recruitment again under way for this coming summer we want to share some of the lessons learned. In this day and age it is more important than ever that young people are exposed to the challenges that face people in the Global South. We feel that our program offers them a unique opportunity. But it can always be improved.

Finding innovative solutions

Over the past sixteen years we have deployed 305 Peace Fellows from over 60 universities, including those shown in the photos. Their job has been to provide 10 weeks of technical support to our community-based partners, and we are constantly reminded of just how well they do it. We recently posted new web pages on Uganda, where we help the Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) to install accessible toilets in primary schools. GDPU has built 19 toilets and hand-washing stations in three remote schools since 2015. As a result, 2,000 young Ugandans can enjoy their right to a decent education. We can also see how WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) can lift enrollment, build tolerance towards students with special needs and involve the local community – in other words, change the way these rural schools operate.

This is as exciting as it is unexpected and it would not have happened without the hard work of the eight Fellows who have served at GDPU since 2011. This Uganda project shows how graduate students can come up with innovative ideas and trigger social change which still studying for a Masters degree. We have posted other inspiring examples on our website.

This year we will be working with nine community-based partners like the GDPU. Six will be receiving Fellows. As always we advertised the placements widely and received around 50 applications for the six slots. We charged a small fee ($25), to make sure applicants were serious, and visited as many universities in person as we could. We also received several strong applications from Europe.

Providing technical support - without imposing

Our main goal in recruiting Fellows is to strengthen partner organizations in the Gobal South and enable them to meet their program goals. This poses something of a dilemma. Community-based organizations (CBOs) are strong in motivation and social capital (contacts, networking etc) but weak when it comes to professional skills (monitoring, evaluation, money management). They are the first to acknowledge that they need help. But there is also the risk that “capacity-building” by a foreign NGO, however well-meaning, will be resented if it is imposed.

We try and thread the needle by offering six services (developed with partners) and inviting the partner to choose. We then provide a week of specialized training for Fellows before they leave. The services offer help with startup development, story-telling, fundraising, social media/websites, and international outreach. Our Fellows can also help produce annual reports and strategic plans – important deliverables that can be written in ten weeks and provide lasting benefits.

This approach has shown us that in spending our grants and working with our Fellows, CBOs acquire important skills such as keeping receipts, reporting to donors, setting goals and developing budgets. We call this “indirect capacity-building.” The other point to make is that “capacity-building” works both ways. Our Fellows – and our own organization – benefit from these partnerships. As a result, we ask partners to assess our capacity and let us know how we can do better.

We have gone into some detail about our approach because we feel very strongly that CBOs can be agents of change, but only if donors tailor their support to the needs and strengths of their partners instead of imposing their own agenda. This is one reason why we appreciate GlobalGiving.

What we look for in Fellows

So what is special about a Peace Fellow? Over time we have come realize that a 26 year-old graduate student with relevant professional experience (eg Peace Corps) possesses attributes that are badly needed by CBOs like GDPU in Uganda. To list a few: curiosity, friendship, adaptability, the ability to work in a difficult environment, a commitment to goals and achieving results, a knowledge of English, international contacts, a liking for online fundraising, and a familiarity with ICT (websites, social media, and Excel). These are valuable resources for a group of highly motivated people who are trying to build a professional organization on next to no money.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out. In recruiting Fellows, we can misjudge someone’s ability to put up with pressure (which can take many forms). Partners, too, have to invest in their Fellows if they are to get the most out of them – and sometimes they don't make the effort. But such examples have been few and far between. Of the 305 Fellows we have deployed since 2003, only five left prematurely. Most of the others exceeded our expectations. Last summer alone, Fellows raised $70,467 for their hosts and gave us a wealth of blogs and photos which attracted over 120,000 views. Most important, they left their hosts stronger and better able to manage cutting-edge programs like the WASH program in Uganda. And as always AP benefitted. Our website received 524,764 visits from 193,451 individuals in 2018 – a 31% increase over 2017.

We’ll report back in June when this year’s Fellows head out for their assignments. In the meantime we invite you to read more about the Fellowship program; dive into the blogs; see how Fellows live throigh their videos; view their photos; and get a sense of how the lives of Fellows have been changed by the experience. You can also read more about the field programs in our annual reports.

Your donations have gone a long way!

In gratitude

The AP team.

Sylvie writing blogs in the DRC, 2010
Sylvie writing blogs in the DRC, 2010
Dina offers IT training in Uganda, 2011
Dina offers IT training in Uganda, 2011
Mariko sells Malaysian baskets, 2007
Mariko sells Malaysian baskets, 2007
T.J. helped make the Nunca Mas quilt in Peru, 2014
T.J. helped make the Nunca Mas quilt in Peru, 2014
Chris joins the dig for toilets in Uganda, 2018
Chris joins the dig for toilets in Uganda, 2018
 
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