Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Plant With Purpose's Creative Response to Poverty and Deforestation

by Aly Lewis

Compassion requires creativity.  Like I said (or typed) on Monday, a compassionate response is a creative response. As I attempt to apply this to my own life, I’m struck by the sheer ingenuity and creativity of Plant With Purpose.  While my personal compassion level may sometimes come up short, the blend of creativity and compassion I witness daily through reports and testimonies from the field is enough to inspire even my skeptical heart to greater levels of both compassion and creativity. 

The beauty of Plant With Purpose doesn’t lie in a one-stop-cure-all community development model, but in the creativity and passions of the farmers themselves.  Sure we’ve found a way to make environmental restoration economically profitable, but the true beauty of Plant With Purpose is the community’s own involvement and contribution to the development process.  Plant With Purpose provides the training, technical assistance, and opportunities; communities provide the vision, creativity, and determination. They creatively use their God-given talents to pull themselves out of poverty, restore their land, and transform their communities. 

There’s no special prescription for compassion or sustainable development.  All of our programs are different—they don’t look the same from country to country or even from village to village within those countries. The basic premise is the same in all of our programs: we work with communities to improve their quality of life, restore relationships, and become self-sufficient, but each program has it’s own taste, flair, and idiosyncrasies. 

We’ve found that through training in agroforestry and sustainable agriculture techniques families can greatly improve their nutrition and crop yields.  We’ve found that microcredit distributed through community savings and loan groups can give otherwise hopeless farmers the opportunity to start small businesses that will alter the destiny of their family forever.  We’ve found that ecological household improvements such as composting latrines and fuel-efficient stoves help farmers conserve their precious resources while restoring the health of the land and the community.  But all of these projects combined aren’t a surefire recipe for success.   Community involvement and creativity is a must. 

What works in the upland hill tribes of Thailand may not work in Mixteco communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. Here’s just a few examples of the creative ways rural farmers around the globe are creatively working to transform their lives: 

Women in our Oaxaca program have formed handicrafts groups where they use sustainably harvested resources such as pine needles to make baskets they can then sell at local markets and improve their families’ economic situation.  Talk about a creative use of resources!  And in Tanzania, savings and loan groups are pooling their money together to begin special charitable funds within the groups, already using the fruits of their success to give back to their communities in creative ways. 

In the face of overwhelming poverty, suffering, and economic downturn, I’ve found that the loving response is the creative response, the individually tailored response.  PWP’s local, indigenous staff takes the time to get to know their beneficiaries, meet their children, see their farms, and work with them individually and as a community to transform their lives. 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but be excited about the creative, compassionate way Plant With Purpose is working with rural farmers to address complex problems of poverty, deforestation, and despair.  

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