Monday, March 23, 2009

Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt

Jonathan M. Katz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Associated Press

January 30, 2008

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.

With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some must take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places such as Cité Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings, and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds, 3 ounces (2.7 kilograms, 85 grams) he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.

Food Prices Up

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation, and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the UN Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries.

Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

Beans, condensed milk, and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost U.S. $1.50. Dirt to make a hundred cookies now costs U.S. $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $U.S. 2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Making the Cookies

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shantytown.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Health Effects

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Gabriel Thimothee, the executive director of Haiti's health ministry.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Entrepreneurs Pictures

I was browsing through the list of entrepreneurs our team has funded, and I noticed some of the pictures attached to the loan requests can be indeed very powerful. Maybe sometimes we don't pay a lot of attention to the picture itself, a quick glimpse maybe. But they can tell us a lot of things about the person in the picture, their home, their land, their work. Some pictures even look like a work of art, and sometimes the clothes the entrepreneur is wearing IS the work of art.

I have selected just ten pictures this time, but I encourage you to pick your own favorites and maybe that particular one will speak to you as they have done with me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Sixteen Decisions.

The purpose of this post is to take us back a little bit to the foundations of the microlending movement and his creator, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus from Bangladesh. As I mentioned on the very first post of this blog, Muhammed Yunus took his inspiration to create Grammen Bank from lending a small amount of money to a group of families on his native country after a terrible natural disaster in 1974.

He noticed that it was impossible for poor families to get out of the poverty cycle, since they are totally excluded from the mainstream banking system in order to get funds to create a microbusiness, and the only funds available would be from shark lenders that charge an outrageous amount of interest. That situation is not exclusive to Bangladesh, take a look to another post earlier on this blog about shark loans on Mexico, where companies such as Banco Azteca and Elektra charge 60% or more of interest to low income families.

Grameen Bank developed the following Sixteen Desicions in order to make long term improvements to the conditions of the poor.

  1. The four principles of Grameen Bank --Discipline, Unity, Courage, and Hard Work-- we shall follow and advance in all walks of our lives.
  2. We shall bring prosperity to our families.
  3. We shall not live in dilapidated houses. We shall repair our houses and work towards constructing of new houses as soon as possible.
  4. We shall grow vegetables all the year round. We shall eat plenty of them and sell the surplus.
  5. During the plantation season, we shall plant as many seedlings as possible.
  6. We shall plan to keep our families small. We shall minimize our expenditures. We shall look after our health.
  7. We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.
  8. We shall always keep our children and the environment clean.
  9. We shall build and use pit latrines.
  10. We shall boil water before drinking or use alum to purify it. We shall use pitcher filters to remove arsenic.
  11. We shall not take any dowry at our sons' weddings; neither shall we give any dowry in our daughters' weddings. We shall keep the center free from the curse of dowry. We shall not practice child marriage.
  12. We shall not inflict any injustice on anyone; neither shall we allow anyone to do so.
  13. For higher income we shall collectively undertake bigger investments.
  14. We shall always be ready to help each other. If anyone is in difficulty, we shall all help.
  15. If we come to know of any breach of discipline in any center, we shall all go there and help restore discipline.
  16. We shall take part in all social activities collectively.

The Sixteen Desicions may look like something we take for granted and don't even come to our consideration on a daily basis. But in a poor community, where sometimes raw sewage water may run down the middle of the streets, high levels of crime may be found or no social safety nets exists at all, the fostering of community cooperation and a healthy environment are the first steps for obtaining a better quality of life.

Yunus has inspired many other organizations around the world, such as his own Grammen Bank, and of course, Kiva.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Best. Month. Ever.

This is the most successful month for our team hands down. The amount lended over February was $4,250.00; and the total amount loaned overall grew up 53.46%. Thank you everybody for your efforts during the month and particularly the Valentine's Day Loan-A-Thon.

The Valentine's Day Loan-A-Thon was a total success in terms of growth of total amount loaned, we easily surpassed the initial goal of reaching $10,000.00 invested. Another goal of the Loan-A-Thon was encourage members that have low activity on the team to participate more, however, this goal was met with mixed success, since out of about 90 members at the time of the Loan-A-Thon, only 25 members funded loans, and most of them are involved regularly on investing on Kiva. I hope all the winners have already receive their goodies. Wear your hat and lanyards proudly!!!

On team membership, welcome to our newest members: Anonymous from Washington, NC; Bernardo I and Bernardo II from Mexico city, Bret (Phoenix AZ), Vlad (Canada), Alejandro (Naucalpan, Mexico), Veronica, Martin (Montgomery AL), Sabrina (El Paso TX), Tomás / Toño (Guadalajara, Mexico), marin (Fairfield CA), and Cecilia.

Impact within the Kiva community (out of 5218 Kiva lending teams):
Number of Loans: 397------------Ranking: 68 (+5 from previous month)
Quantity Loaned: $12,200.00-----Ranking: 68 (+2 from previous month)
Number of Member: 94------------Ranking: 61 (-3 from previous month)

Wow! Despite the explosive growth we had, we didn’t climb high on Kiva's rankings, the competition with other teams is brutal!

Now the graphics: