Monday, November 30, 2009

Dominican Town Explores Ecotourism

What’s a small, Dominican beach town to do when it seems its only options are to stay forever trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty or sell out to big name resorts that often cause more harm than good? The town of Miches in the Dominican Republic is exploring a different solution: ecotourism. See how the people of Miches are seeking sustainable, ecofriendly means of development in this video featured in the New York Times.

Plant With Purpose works in similar areas to help communities develop in sustainable, empowering ways that utilize local talents, gifts, and resources to transform the community.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: No Small Tomatoes

by Aly Lewis

As the sun set over the hills of Rio Plaza, my world was about to be rocked—by a tomato greenhouse.

Earlier in the week our friend Godofredo of Llano de la Canoa showed us his family’s tomato greenhouse. I had been impressed with the size and production of the greenhouse; it produces almost 2,000 pounds of fresh, high quality tomatoes a year that Godofredo sells for a good price to his community. Little did I know Godofredo’s family business was small potatoes—or in this case, tomatoes—compared to what I was going to see.

The large, community-operated tomato greenhouse in Rio Plaza was huge. The tomatoes where suspended on vines, as if they were hanging from the ceiling, not growing up from the ground. I was reminded of a cornfield, but instead of rows and rows of corn, the place was sprawling with tomatoes. Lost in my own tomato admiring reverie, I couldn’t even hear—or see—the group talking on the other side of the building. It was that big.

We had been later than expected when we finally arrived in Rio Plaza, and almost everyone had left for home. Everyone except one patient farmer, Claudio. He patiently answered our questions, explaining that the plastic covering the mounds of soil is to keep the weeds out and the water in. When Graciela, one of our Oaxacan staff members, asked him how business had been, he responded with a simple “Try one” and a twinkle in his eye.

More striking than the massive scale of the greenhouse and the time and care and knowledge the abundant crop represents is the remarkable impact the greenhouse has on the community of Rio Plaza. Without a greenhouse they can’t even grow tomatoes in the chilly mountains of the Mixteca Alta. Most families grow—and eat—only corn, beans, and squash and malnutrition is a serious problem.

With PWP’s technical expertise and the community’s hard work, they are growing enough to supply the entire village with fresh, nutritious tomatoes year round. The greenhouse also brings in around $3,000 a year, providing a huge supplement to local income. With the added income, families can receive adequate nutrition, invest in other sustainable businesses, and even send their children to school.

Congratulations, Rio Plaza, you’ve put my Tomato Terror to shame.

Don Claudio smiles as he packs up tomatoes from the greenhouse.

The greenhouse in Rio Plaza, photo courtesy of David Overturf.

Top Right photo courtesy of Ruby Coria.


Aly Lewis is Plant With Purpose’s Grant Writer. She researches funding opportunities, writes proposals, and submits progress reports on funding received. She also writes the content for Plant With Purpose's Sponsor A Village program.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alternative Gift Season!

We here at Plant With Purpose are committed to planning and attending alternative gift markets throughout San Diego during the holiday season. It is a chance for everyone to escape the typical necktie and frumpy sweater gifts during the holidays. Plant With Purpose offers people the opportunity to choose charitable gifts to donate in the name of their relatives, friends, and associates. You can plant 10 trees in your brother-in-law's name, donate a family garden for your mom, or buy a wood saving stove in your dad's name. You can also buy coffee that supports our Tanzanian programs and check out the Jedidiah t's that are out just in time for the holidays! These are some of the options you will come across at these Alternative Gift Markets! Here are some AGM’s that are upon us!

November 29th—Shoreline Community Church in San Clemente, CA 9am-1pm.November 29th—Faith Community Church, 7:30 Saturday night and 11:30 Sunday morning

December 4th—Radvent at Point Loma Nazarene University San Diego, CA 4-8pm

December 6th and 13th—Union Presbyterian in Powell, Wyoming

December 5th and 6th—Threshold Ministries in Santa Maria, CA 12/5 from 10am-2pm and 12/6 from 11am-1230pm

December 6th—Westminster Presbyterian Church in Westlake, CA

December 6th—La Jolla Presbyterian Church, San Diego

December 6th—Village Church, 9am-12pm

December 6th—University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA

December 6th—St. Paul Episciple- San Diego, CA

December 6th—St. Peters Catholic Church in Fallbrook, CA 8am-1pm

December 8th—University of San Diego, 12-2pm

December 10th—Greenwood Senior Center in Seattle, WA

December 13th—Flood Church, all four services

December 13th—Point Loma Community Presbyterian Church, 9am-1pm

December 13th—San Diego 1st Church of the Nazarene

For more information about any of these events or volunteering please contact Corbyn Small at

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trees of Life

Plant With Purpose and Floresta have been featured in Christianity Today for the second time this month! For those of you who haven't been able to pick up a print version of the magazine, the article highlighting our transformational work in the Dominican Republic is now online. Check it out below.

Trees of Life

by Deann Alford, Christianity Today

The rain started to hit Jimaní, a town along the heavily deforested border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in late May 2004. After three days and 20 inches of torrential rainfall, the surrounding water-saturated mountains suddenly released tons of debris. Flash floods swept up boulders, some weighing eight tons, and sent a 15-foot wall of water and mud down onto sleeping villagers on the night of May 24.

Within minutes, about 2,000 lives were wiped out. The dead were found lodged in trees and entombed in debris fields and sandbars throughout the impoverished border region in south-central Hispaniola, the island comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On the Haitian side, the entire village of Mapou was submerged, becoming a shallow lake. On the Dominican side, the waters destroyed about half of Jimaní.

Since 1986, 12 flash floods have hit Hispaniola, and each has created similar havoc. Flash floods are problem enough, but starting about 25 years ago, peasants began using intensive slash-and-burn agricultural methods to cut down forests for fuel and charcoal. Slashing and burning significantly increases the chance of landslides, and Dominican officials began instating stringent regulations in the 1960s to limit deforestation. But on the Haitian side, 90 percent of trees have vanished across the landscape, creating a brown-green line visible in satellite photos of the island, and leaving border towns especially vulnerable during flash floods.

Click here to read how Plant With Purpose has joined with farmers in the DR and Haiti to restore their land, strengthen their communities, and plant trees to make the next hurricane less devastating.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Balboa Park Goes Green(er)!

by Mackenzie Miller I can’t believe it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, and I am already looking forward to Christmas. Poor Thanksgiving. Shoved between Halloween and Christmas. Store displays are already red and green, with candy canes, mistletoe and lights springing up all over San Diego. Balboa Park is no exception. Sunday, November 22 is the annual tree lighting on the Old Globe Plaza, which includes performances by the cast of The Grinch! The tree lighting kicks off the season, immediately followed by “Balboa Park December Nights,” the largest free community festival in San Diego. December Nights is expected to attract more than 300,000 visitors between December 4th and 5th alone. In the spirit of the holidays, participating Balboa Park museums open their doors free of charge from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. both evenings. I know what you’re thinking. Crowds. Trash. LIGHTS. Christmas festivities – traditional as they may be –
CAN be a little wasteful at times, can’t they? That’s why I was SO happy to find that Balboa Park is going GREEN for December Nights this year! San Diego Gas & Electric is covering the center of the Plaza de Panama with an energy efficient canopy of LED holiday lights, illuminating the Park for the entire holiday season. SDG&E is also offering to trade free LED holiday lights for old incandescent ones! As if that weren’t enough, guests will receive a free Home Energy & Water Savings Kit and a reusable shopping bag. The Balboa Park website gives great tips for San Diego Public Transportation, too. Who knew that the holiday season could be so energy-efficient? Thanks for looking out for the environment, San Diego! For more information on Balboa Park December Nights, and the Tree Lighting ceremony, visit:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Being a Good Samaritan

by Kate McElhinney

I have been meaning to post this article since early November. That’s when my friend, Shannon Leblanc, shared a truly amazing and touching story of how she found a camera and managed to return it to its owner.

NBC 7/39 in San Diego found out about this incredible story, and here’s the article. It’s inspiring to me that there are still good Samaritans out there, and I am proud to know one and share her story.

Tireless Good Samaritan Tracks Down Camera Owner

Amateur detective reconnects daughter with last pictures of father


Shannon LeBlanc of San Diego and Maggie Flynn of Las Vegas have never met. But thanks to a lost camera and some amateur detective work, LeBlanc gave Flynn a most precious gift: the last pictures of her father.

The mystery began when LeBlanc was returning to her office from lunch and noticed a homeless man snapping pictures on a new Samsung digital camera. The man told her he'd found the camera, so she bought it from him for $20, determined to find the original owner.

"It just really stinks to lose a camera and memories and pictures, so I just felt compelled to find the owner of that camera," she said.

LeBlanc looked for a name or address on the case. She contacted the Samsung with the serial number, hoping it was registered. She posted info on Craigslist's Lost and Found. Nothing worked.

So she turned to the pictures.

"It was the same girl in a lot of the pictures, so I knew it was her camera," LeBlanc said. "And I found the 'bingo!' which was a picture inscribed in the sand here in San Diego -- 'Maggie loves Louis' -- so I knew the couple's names.

"At one point in the middle of the week, I was like, 'This is a lot of energy I'm spending on this,' but I just felt I really wanted to find them."

Then LeBlanc found a picture at a local restaurant. She picked out the name of the restaurant, Greystone Steakhouse, from a menu in the picture, and had the date the photo was taken. She called the restaraunt and hit the jackpot. There was a reservation for a Maggie on that date, and the restaurant had her cell-phone number.

LeBlanc left a message and got a call back within minutes.

"She asked if she could get sappy with me for a second, and I said sure, and she said I'm out to dinner with my mom and some of my other family members, because tonight would've been my parents 27th wedding anniversary," LeBlanc said.

"Well, the thing about it is, my dad just died a little over a month ago, and my last pictures with him were on the camera," Flynn told LeBlanc.

Flynn still can't believe someone would take the time and effort to do such a thing.

"There's not many nice people out there who would go out of their way to do that," Flynn said. "They would just take the camera and forget about it, so I'm very grateful she did that for me."

"I had goosebumps" LeBlanc said. "God was involved. It was definitely meant to be that she got her camera back."


Kate McElhinney is the Marketing Coordinator for Plant With Purpose. She plays an integral role in executing the company’s marketing campaigns and PR efforts. Kate also coordinates the annual gala and oversees the production of the company newsletter, The Sower.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: Building a Better Life

by Aly Lewis

With Plant With Purposeʼs help, the people of Ojo de Agua are literally building a better life for themselves and their families. Community members have joined with Plant With Purpose to install a carpentry shop to manufacture furniture. Now, what on earth does a carpentry shop have to do with restoring the environment and lifting people out of poverty? A lot actually.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with an innovative group of five men—all related—who are now making diverse, quality pieces of furniture that they can sell in the community to supplement their income. With the goal of simultaneously providing vital income sources and decreasing the family’s environmental impact, Plant With Purpose provided eight weekly sessions of professional carpentry training to this hardworking family. The family contributed 40% to the cost of the

professional machinery, and it has been well worth the investment. Selling firewood or other types of unprocessed wood provides little return on investment, forcing farmers to cut more trees or undergo the harmful process of making charcoal to feed their families. A nice piece of furniture can be sold for $100—much more than the $8 for a bundle of charcoal.

Unlike the smoky haze, dirt, and grime of charcoal making,

the shop was clean and orderly, a safe, healthy place to practice a craft. For Edén Miguel López, the youngest of the relatives, the carpentry shop has been a dream come true. Edén beamed with pride and gratitude as he shared that he had “dreamed of becoming a carpenter since I was a little boy.”

Edén and his hardworking family is an inspiring example of the innovative ways people are teaming up with Plant With Purpose to utilize their resources and talents to transform their communities.

Edén and his family have also started an agroforestry farm with Plant With Purpose's help.

Eduardo, Plant With Purpose staff member, explains how the project provides vital jobs and quality wood products to the community. It was probably a good thing their newest armoire wouldn’t fit in my duffle bag…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tree bien! Unbeleafable!

by Aly Lewis

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. So the blog has been a bit text heavy the last few days. In honor of all you bullet-point and picture-loving people, today’s post will be a tree seedling photo montage. Farmers have joined with Plant With Purpose to plant over 4.6 million trees, restoring their land and transforming their lives.

Here’s a sampling of our most photogenic seedlings:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oaxaca from a different point of view

by Corbyn Small

Now I know it's not Oaxaca Wednesday yet, but since I also spent a week in Oaxaca a few weeks ago, I wanted to share with our faithful bloggers some of my reflections as Plant With Purpose's Outreach Coordinator.

On October 21st, myself and some members of the PWP staff and about 10 individuals interested in learning what Plant With Purpose does internationally went to Oaxaca, Mexico for 5 days. This was my first trip out of the country as an employee of Plant With Purpose and it was everything I could have imagined and more. I had been sharing stories and testimonies with everybody that I met to get them excited about the transformational development taking place through PWP staff. However, everything I shared was second hand, either from reports, updates, or fellow staff, and all that I knew and shared was based on my trust in the 25 years of impeccable historical credibility that is Plant With Purpose today.

Well I am glad to be another source of encouragement to the rest of you as I say now that my experience was exactly what everyone said it would be. I saw the cisterns, latrines, chicken coops, and wood saving stoves. I met the families, students, rural farmers, and Plant With Purpose staff. It was all just as I had read and heard about! Hundreds of Plant With Purpose programs being implemented successfully by communities!

Over the course of our trip we visited communities in the mountainous Mixtec Alta region about a three hour van ride north of Oaxaca city. We intentionally started by visiting communities who have been working with Plant With Purpose for only 1-2 years. Then over the next 2 days we visited communities that had been participating in programs for 3-5 and 9-10 years. Plant With Purpose's overall strategy is to reach "transformational development" in 10-12 years. To explain very simply what this means, I want to share the differences between the 1st and 3rd day of our visits.

On the first day I saw many of the aforementioned projects, including cisterns and latrines. We

met many people who were happy to see our Plant With Purpose Mexico staff and each community hosted us most graciously. Throughout the day we received many thanks and blessings from community officials and leaders. On our second day we met a farmer named Claudio and his wife Milsa, whose current occupation was making charcoal. They were participating in Plant With Purpose programs and were very eager to be involved in anything else that PWP had to offer. On the third day we traveled to Loma Chimedia, a community who has been working with us for 10 years. Here we sat in a community center, which was planned and executed primarily by Loma Chimedia residents, and read timelines for the historical progress achieved by the community. We saw a vision statement that ultimately said their goal as a community was to work together to make it possible for their children to stay and not be forced to migrate.

I saw the difference between the first day, where there was more focus on individual projects that were being taught by PWP staff, to the second day where a family living in poverty was trying to transition from the harmful and difficult life of a charcoal maker to a more sustainable and healthy source of income, to the third day where a community of empowered local individuals was the driving force behind everything they did. Each of these communities were eager to participate, but it takes time and teamwork to create community change.

I saw our Mexico national staff coming alongside these individuals, each at different stages of their 'transformational development' and I saw the active engagement of community officials as there is a team effort to improve the quality of life for entire communities.

I loved seeing the expertise of our staff in every different capacity from teaching sustainable agriculture techniques like composting and agro-forestry to helping increase economic opportunity through women's craft groups and micro-credit groups. I could go on for days (and if you know me well enough I probably already have), but the main point is not that I went on a trip and had my whole world changed. The main point is that this trip took my faith and trust in Plant With Purpose and reinforced everything I have learned about transformational development and effectively restoring relationships between people, the land, and God.

As Plant With Purpose's Outreach Coordinator it is my job to reach out to students, volunteers, churches, and individuals with the goal of raising awareness, involvement, and funds. All of these increase our ability to continue service in the 220+ communities where Plant With Purpose works worldwide. I hope that you all are enjoying our blog and that you use it as a resource to learn and share what is being done in so many lives all around the world.

Make sure you don't miss Oaxaca Wednesday when Aly, Plant With Purpose's grant writer, dives into details about our programs in Mexico!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mustache+November = “Movember”

by Mackenzie Miller
A strange wave of facial hair has taken over the University of San Diego Campus. What started as a little after-Halloween-fuzz has now escalated into a grizzly-like demeanor for any of my formerly clean-shaven male friends. What’s with the lack of personal hygiene, lately? A little thing called “Mustache-November,” or “Movember.”

This innovative opportunity is being presented to the entire USD community to rally for a cause and change the “face” of men's health. Benefiting The Prostate Cancer Foundation, Movember is a fun way to raise awareness for an incredible cause. During the month of November, all gentlemen involved refuse to shave their faces, in an active statement to fight against Prostate Cancer.

This is how it works. After finding the willing sponsor(s) of choice (ladies on campus, family, friends, local donors, etc.), $1 will be donated to The Prostate Cancer Foundation fund for every day the participants do not shave! Assuming the gentlemen involved last the full 25 days with either a full beard or mustache, a full $25 donation will be made on their behalf. They will also qualify as a member of the Communal "Shave Off" held on November 24th.

Yes. Communal SHAVE OFF!

So while I’m getting used to my friends sporting mustaches and beards, I’m reminded every time I look at them that my sponsorship is going to help save lives. Sometimes the whackiest, most innovative fundraisers make the biggest impact.

It got me thinking about innovative ways we could get the word out about PWP. But aside from living in trees (which I know many DO actively partake in to protest) I can’t think of anything as creative yet relevant as growing a beard to fight for a cause.

What about for Plant With Purpose's Outreach Coordinator? He's got the 'stache, he's on a Movember team raising money for prostate cancer.. what could he do to support Plant With Purpose as well? Any Ideas?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Grounded Faith

Plant With Purpose and Floresta have been featured twice in the November issue of Christianity Today! You have to check out the article on our programs in the Dominican Republic in the print edition, but you can read about our Oaxaca programs on the CT website.
CT reporter Jeremy Weber traveled to Oaxaca last summer to report on how "Mexican ministry branches out beyond tree planting to bring healing to souls in a barren land" in his article titled "A Grounded Faith". Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: Firsthand Ripple Reporting

by Aly Lewis

I’d like to take this Oaxaca Wednesday to tell you about the time I became Buddy the Elf. It was mid-afternoon in the village of Monteflor in the Mixteca highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico. We were standing in a circle listening to the Plant With Purpose local staff introduce the town’s community leaders. I was in my own world, rapidly scribbling down every last quote and name and description of the place so that I would have an ample supply of writing material to use once I returned to my job of elaborating on Plant With Purpose’s programs from my pseudo-cubicle. I was just completing a page of Spanglish scrawl when a new community member was introduced: Senor Gumersindo.

My Buddy the Elf transformation was instantaneous as it took everything in my power to not jump up and down yelling heatedly, “I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!”

Now I know Senor Gumercindo is no present-delivering, elf-befriending Santa Claus, but I sure did feel like it was Christmas morning. You see, a couple months ago for one of my Ripple Reports I wrote about this mysterious man named Senor Gumersindo who had introduced his neighbor to Plant With Purpose and subsequently transformed his life. I had received a few line testimony from the field mentioning Senor Gumersindo’s pivotal role, but that was it. I wrote the blog post and hardly gave him another thought. I never imagined I would get to meet him.

So back to my Elfish excitement. I couldn’t believe this modest man with his smoothed slack, pressed white shirt and backpack was the Senor Gumersindo I had written about. His identity was confirmed as Raul, our Family Garden and Greenhouse director, described him as “la voz de Misión Integral”—the voice of Plant With Purpose. Not only was he the man I had written about, he was even more influential in the Plant With Purpose story than I had imagined.

After the introductions ended and we began touring the village, I pounced on the opportunity to learn more about my legendary Plant With Purpose promoter. At first Senor Gumersindo hung back shyly, but when I approached him and asked him about Plant With Purpose’s projects he wasn’t shy at all. It turns out Senor Gumersindo is from the village of La Muralla, a two hour walk from Monteflor. Plant With Purpose has been working in his community for a number of years and he told me about all the direct and indirect benefits of Plant With Purpose’s projects. He told me about his family garden that is producing amazing vegetables and how his cousin grew the biggest onion he had ever seen. He talked about the lack of economic opportunities in La Muralla and the ways community members are finding sustainable ways to conserve resources and make money. As he explained the details and benefits of an ecological latrine better than I ever could in a grant application I could see why Raul would coin him the voice of Plant With Purpose. He was genuinely beaming as he talked about Plant With Purpose’s expansion to the community of Monteflor (at his suggestion) and how the number of participating families has grown from six to 70 in the past year!

So thank you, Senor Gumersindo and all of the farmers I met who are spreading the word about Plant With Purpose’s transformational program and projects. It turns out the multiplier effect really is alive and well in our Mexico program (and I can rest assured that my whole career hasn’t been a lie). Farmers really are sharing the knowledge they learn with their friends and neighbors. They’re multiplying the scope and depth of our work and encouraging others to do so as well. This is just one of many examples of Plant With Purpose’s ripple effect that is fostering long-term transformation in communities around the globe.

I’ll eat some candy corn to that!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Shop till you drop"?... but I don't want to drop.

Dave Bruno, an active and enthusiastic Plant With Purpose advocate, is running a photo contest through the month of November and $100 goes not only to the 1st place winner, but to Plant With Purpose as well! The contest will run till November 27th and the winners will be announced the first week of December. We'd love to see our Plant With Purpose bloggers participating in the contest!
We want to join Dave in his mission to challenge consumerism, especially during the holidays when American's spend 450 billion dollars every year on presents for friends, family, and co-workers. Think about how you can creatively challenge the norm through submitting some photos to the 100 Things Challange.
Here's the low down:

Challenging Stuff. Mass consumerism is a way of life. Photos should challenge assumptions about consumerism.


1st Prize: $100 plus a $100 donation to Plant With Purpose Trees Fund in winner's

name (Donation provided by PLNU's Center for Justice and Reconciliation)

2nd Prize: $25

3rd Prize: $15


  • Submit photos at
  • Make photo's caption "challengestuffphoto09"
  • Limit of 3 submissions per entrant
  • No nudes
  • Must be able to demonstrate permissions/copyrights for photos
Images are examples of submissions at 100 Things Challenge
Brandon Ian Smith (boots)
Cory Verner (Gucci)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Transformational Development: The Purpose of Plant With Purpose

by Aly Lewis

The other day I was telling a good friend about the work Plant With Purpose does in other countries. I said something like, “we work in X amount of villages in Oaxaca, Mexico,” to which she replied, “and what is work?”

And—even though I talk and write about Plant With Purpose almost incessantly—I found myself at a loss for a succinct way to boil down exactly what it is Plant With Purpose does. I mean, our work includes a million different aspects and nuances. We work with the poor. We work to restore the land. We work with our local partners. We work with communities. We work on specific projects: tree planting, sustainable agriculture training, business management, stove and cistern and latrine building, partnering with churches, and a smattering of other projects and initiatives.

From the looks of it, we’re workaholics. But what, exactly, is the point—the purpose—of our work?

Luckily for me and my feelings of Plant With Purpose-explaining-inadequacy, we’ve started a training series as a staff to go through the book Walking With The Poor by Bryant Meyers. Granted we’ve only gone through the first chapter, but Meyers’ discussion of what it looks like to come alongside the poor in a process called transformational development has already illuminated, explained, and articulated so much of what we do—and why we do—that I feel like not sharing what we’re learning (or relearning) would be a crime.

And if the term transformational development doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. I’d never heard the term until coming to work at Plant With Purpose and even then the exact definition was still a bit hazy. I’ll do my best to do no harm in my explanation (Bryant Meyers gets a whole book; I get a blog post).

Most of us know or have a general idea of what development means. As Meyers says, “When most people think of development, they think of material change or social change in the material world.” We think healthcare, access to water, education, and economic opportunity—all good things. But at Plant With Purpose our goal, our purpose, goes beyond helping people in rural countries to “get more things.” That’s where the transformation part comes in.

We believe that all of us—not just poor people or rich people or people who speak different languages or live in different countries—are on this journey of transformation. A journey of learning—and choosing—to live and enjoy life as it was intended to be. A journey to “recover our true identity as human beings created in the image of God and to discover our true vocation as productive stewards, faithfully caring for the world and all the people in it.”

There are four important things to remember about this journey:

  1. We are all on this journey. We are all a work in progress.
  2. This journey takes work. It is not a free float down a lazy river, but a tough, worked-for journey that requires effort and patience and intentional choices and sacrifices.
  3. Transformation includes every aspect of our lives: the physical, the social, the emotional, and the spiritual. It includes our relationships with each other, with God and with everything around us.
  4. (We think) it’s worth it. The result is an abundant life, a meaningful life; life as God intended it.

So when we talk about transformational development and Plant With Purpose’s role as an organization, we’re referring to our goal of working with rural communities to seek “positive change in the whole of human life materially, socially, and spiritually.”

That’s it. That’s what we’re about. That’s what this “work” is that we do. With a heaping dose of humility and a hearty dash of respect we seek to come alongside individuals and communities to bring about this positive change, both in their lives and in our own.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sowing Seeds of Sustainability

The following article on microlending was published in Flourish Magazine this week by Bob Morikawa, Plant With Purpose's Technical Director. Bob facilitates the initiation of new PWP programs and promotes technical innovation amongst field staff and farmers. Microlending in rural areas restores more than just financial stability by Bob Morikawa Haitian farmers, desperate for both healthy land and money to support their families, have a common saying about the choice they often have to make between the two: “If this tree does not die, then I must die in its place.”

Such is the reality of many rural farmers in poor countries, who are forced to cut down mature trees bearing still-ripening fruit for charcoal to sell to feed their families, pay for their children’s school fees, cover for a shortage until the corn crop is harvested, or buy inventory for their small businesses.

The rural poor are often vilified for cutting down trees to make a profit. And they who live off of the land are keenly aware that this destruction sacrifices environmental capital for economic capital. But credit is often in short supply in rural regions of poor nations, in spite of the expansion of the microfinance movement. As a result, impoverished farmers turn to trees, selling either timber or charcoal to make up their short-term deficit. The resort to deforestation is their last resort.

A movement’s missing link Microcredit has become one of the most widely used and successful tools in the fight against poverty. The need for a financial catalyst, or a financial bridge, as a means for assisting the poor is now well understood and commonly accepted. And the fact that the capital involved can be small, often in the range of $50-500, and that loans with interest are more effective than handouts, is one of the most exciting discoveries in the history of modern community development.

But if microcredit is an effective tool for getting people out of poverty, and if poor farmers, like those in Haiti, could so clearly benefit from access to credit, why does the microfinance movement seem absent from many rural areas?

One explanation is that modern microfinance industry places great importance, and rightfully so, on financial sustainability. Lower risk loans mean lower operating costs and greater returns on investment. Many microfinance institutions (MFI’s) that have adopted this strategy have been able to graduate from MFI status to commercial bank status, and some commercial banks have been able to enter the microfinance market and maintain a profit margin.

This is a win-win situation, where commercial institutions profit and the poor gain greater access to credit. However, rural areas often do not meet the criteria for this scenario. Risk in farm- and forest-dependent communities is high, and transportation costs can be an order of magnitude greater than in urban areas. For example, the distance from Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, to a rural farming community can be approximately 30 miles in a straight line, but take three hours in a pickup truck. The last three miles can take one hour.

These simple—but daunting—realities have led some organizations to consider how microcredit tools might be adapted to benefit the rural poor. Floresta, as an organization looking at the problem from a Christian perspective, takes the challenge a step further: It is seeking to both transform lives among the rural poor and reverse deforestation through the innovative use of specific microcredit strategies. Here are the transformative stories Floresta has encountered in that process.

Growing wealth on trees: Agroforestry loans Nicolas Ruiz, a farmer living in Haiti’s neighboring country, the Dominican Republic, worked his land for 30 years, only to watch weeds thrive on it, year after year. But that began to change after Ruiz received both an agroforesty loan and training in innovative, sustainable farming techniques.

Agroforestry loans were first effectively used in the 1980s and 1990s by Floresta’s partner organization in the Dominican Republic, Floresta Incorporada. The credit is coupled with training in agroforestry, a farming system that integrates trees with cropping and animals. Although more complex than monoculture, agroforestry allows farmers to diversify their production, make optimal use of limited resources on a small piece of land, and lower their risk. Initially, large individual loans were offered to farmers, along with training to encourage them to plant a combination of fast-growing trees for poles and timber, citrus trees for fruit, and oregano as a source of annual income. Loan repayment was expected to begin when timber trees were harvested, usually after seven to ten years. Although these loans effectively promoted reforestation and helped farmers increase their income, the loan accounts were difficult to manage, and repayment was often late or unreliable. Now smaller loans are offered for shorter time periods, increasing repayment rates and extending microcredit to more communities.

With his access to an agroforestry loan, Ruiz has been able to improve his farm’s soil quality and production of crops, producing a variety of fruits and an abundance of trees for timber. The income generated from these healthy crops has allowed for Ruiz’s son to graduate from high school, and his daughter to attend a university. At the root of all of these good things is Ruiz’s new understanding of how to work with the land, instead of against it.

Cooperative Credit In Kandi, in northern Haiti, Montes Pierre leads a group of entrepreneurs participating in the microcredit system of credit cooperatives, which gathers groups of 30 to 60 community members to support each other economically and socially. Groups like Pierre’s receive training and support in group formation, bylaw writing, conducting elections for group leadership, and leadership training. They also learn how to build their own savings accounts, and make loans from those accounts at interest, to grow their investments.

Once a group has demonstrated financial management proficiency, the supporting organization—in Pierre’s case, another Floresta partner, Floresta-Haiti—offers it a loan. The group receives and is responsible for the loan collectively, but then grants loans to individuals from within the group. Pierre received a loan for 1,000 gourdes (about $250), and invested it in a small business selling rice, cooking oil, beans, and other supplies. In an agricultural context, applicants must demonstrate that they are practicing sustainable farming methods, such as tree planting and soil conservation, to receive a loan from their credit cooperative.

The profit on Pierre’s loan investment was 1250 gourdes (about $300), which he used to buy a goat. That goat, in turn, will continue to benefit Pierre and enhance his business as it produces offspring for him to sell. The approach of credit cooperatives can be costly to the supporting organization, and does not equal the levels of organizational sustainability common in conventional microfinance operations. But it promotes practices that directly reduce deforestation, and even benefit ecosystems, while providing sustainable income for innovative businessmen like Pierre.

It Takes a Village A collaborative microcredit model similar to Pierre’s—but with much more ownership on the part of group members—is the system of Village Community Banks (VICOBA), which developed in West Africa. Unlike in the credit cooperative model, no outside credit is offered to VICOBAs by a supporting institution. Instead, villagers form groups that are provided with training and support in group formation, bylaw writing, leadership election, leadership training, and savings and loan management. The group bylaws then require that every member contributes at least one share per week to the group savings fund, and when this fund is large enough, the group begins to make loans to selected members. In this way, the group not only gains access to credit, but also gets returns on its investment in the savings fund. Transparency among members is an essential aspect of the VICOBA model, and great emphasis is placed on member participation. Although the amount of credit available is small, compared with local demand, this approach reduces cost and risk to the supporting organization, and puts more responsibility for community development in the hands of villagers.

Some of these villagers, in VICOBA groups in the Malindi area of Kenya, have taken special notice of the water shortage problems in their region. They are pooling their resources, both labor and cash, to build a large water tank on a local hill and provide a more reliable water supply to the surrounding villages. The self-sustaining group model of VICOBAs has so empowered these community leaders that they are taking this step toward environmental sustainability without the assistance or intervention of any outside supporting organization.

A risk worth taking Entrusting financial accountability to rural communities is a risk worth taking when it leads to that somewhat elusive goal of sustainability. Freeing poor farmers from the heartbreaking decision to cut down the family mango tree in exchange for food, innovative rural microcredit systems allow farmers the economic liberty to plant new trees for their children and grandchildren to inherit.