Friday, July 30, 2010

A Taste of Tending to Eden

The following excerpt is from pages 112 to 115 in Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God's People by our Executive Director, Scott Sabin.

This book connects the dots between poverty and the environment, and makes the biblical case for how as Christians it is our job to care for the earth. Tending to Eden also comes with a creation care Bible study, so you and your congregation or Bible study can more deeply explore and apply this concept.

You can purchase the book through our website here:

For every purchase that is made through our website, will donate a portion of the proceeds to Plant With Purpose, which will go toward directly benefiting the rural poor. Thank you, faithful readers, for your support! And stay tuned for more "tastes" of Tending to Eden.

“Daddy, when I grow up, I want to help you save the rainforest.” My daughter, Amanda, then five, looked at me with an expression that made me melt. For a fraction of a second I thought we were completely in tune. Then she added, “I could be a butterfly or a fairy and fly around pollinating the trees.”

It wasn’t quite the kind of help I was looking for, but it does serve to underline

an important problem. Once we understand the state of the world and our call to be stewards, what can we do? Where do we start? The problems are vast and often seem so far away.

As each of us considers how to respond to the groaning of creation, there is much that can be learned from Plant With Purpose’s story. The entire world faces vicious cycles similar to the one we recognized involving deforestation and poverty. And the

re are undoubtedly other virtuous cycles that can address two problems with one solution. Each vicious cycle we confront presents an opportunity for a corresponding virtuous cycle.

Two of the biggest problems in the world are environmental degradation and widespread poverty. There are 3.14 billion people living on less than $2.50 a day. If the poor are recognized as a resource rather than an obstacle, can a virtuous cycle be discovered

in the midst of this? Is it possible that the poor could become leaders in solving the enormous environmental problems the planet faces?

Van Jones, in his book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, makes the case that this is possible in the United States. He advocates putting the unemployed and underemployed to work to create a healthier, more sustainable country. Jobs can be created weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, and improving energy efficiency. As Jo

nes says, we need to do everything we can to aid and encourage business and eco-entrepreneurs to develop market-based solutions to solve environmental problems. This is similar to what Plant With Purpose is doing internationally.

We must also look for opportunities to create

smaller virtuous cycles in our environmental and economic solutions. Nature is designed to function as a series of virtuous cycles. But most often, our attempts to address the problems are linear and finite. Recycling is one step toward closing the loop to sustainability—but it is only the beginning.

Solutions must be empowering. Everyone, from the church member in Michigan to the farmer in Haiti, has a role to play. The rural poor must have a role in the stewardship and restoration of the land, and the urban poor must have a role in greening and redeeming their neighborhoods and cities.

Any real solution must take into account both environmental and economic considerations. I once walked miles into a protected national park in Indonesia that was filled with illegal cinnamon plantations and crisscrossed by paths used by illegal loggers to get deeper into the park. The national park was set aside with the best of intentions. But without corresponding changes in the incentives for the people who rely on the land, nothing will change.

The same applies to solutions in the United States. Economic incentives must be aligned with environmental outcomes. At a national level this means changing the way farm subsidies are applied. It means incentives and standards for improved fuel efficiency for cars. It means investment in alternative energies. It also means finding creative ways for local communities to participate in and benefit economically from the health of their surrounding environment.

Finally, any viable solution must have a spiritual dimension, because ultimately the problem is a spiritual one. The church must lead the way, offering the hope we have and setting an example with our own stewardship. We must forsake the wanton consumerism that has overwhelmed our culture and which is ultimately suicidal. And we must offer a healthy alternative based on biblical values of worship, contentment, community, and Sabbath.

How then should we respond as individuals? First, we as evangelicals need to get over our suspicion of science and learn what we can from it. Unless we understand our environment and how it works, how can we protect it? And we must learn not only from the scientists but also from our brothers and sisters on the front lines: the farmer in Tanzania who can no longer count on the rain, the Gabra elder who can no longer graze his animals, the Haitian family who has seen firsthand the devastation that comes when life-support systems are wiped out.

Second, we in the church should realize how much we have in common with the wider environmental community. They value creation, in part, because they hunger for the Creator. We should engage in dialogue with them, but we must begin with an attitude of humility. We have been absent from the conversation for too long to be brash.

Nonetheless, we have something important to offer: hope in a place where there is a dearth of good news. A former colleague at Plant With Purpose told me he became a Christian partly because of the despair he felt as an environmental-studies major. The problems were too vast. The solutions proposed by science and government were draconian or came up short. As far as he could see, there was no hope for the world, except in Christ. Of course, that is what we believe: that Jesus is the hope for the world.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wyclef for President?

By Annie Fikes

Yesterday, while searching the Internet for news about Haiti, I discovered that singer Wyclef Jean is seriously considering running for President of Haiti in the November election. He has not officially placed a bid, but he recently filed the necessary paperwork to run when the time comes.

At first, this struck me as a little ridiculous. As a native Californian, I’m no stranger to celebrity politicians, but the presidency? He’s a college drop-out, Grammy-winning, multi-platinum recording artist, and former Fugees member. He had a hit single my senior year of high school about a prostitute who used to be the “Sweetest Girl”. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who found the idea of Wyclef Jean the rap star running for the President of Haiti a little ridiculous.

However, there is more to Jean than his music career. He is the founder of the Yéle Haiti Foundation, which spreads global awareness about Haitian struggles, employs adults, sends children to school, and raises awareness about HIV/AIDS. Jean has remained committed to helping Haiti post-earthquake and serves as an ambassador-at-large under the current government. Wyclef Jean is passionate about the well-being of his country and optimistic about its potential for progress.

I have to confess.

I’m a total nerd when it comes to governments and politics.

I’m going to try to restrain myself and give you a bite-sized rundown of the Haitian government and presidency. The Haitian government has suffered from serious corruption and instability in the past, often greatly harming its people. Being the president in Haiti is similar to being the president in the United States, but not exactly the same. Haiti is a semi-presidential system, like France. This means that there is an elected president who shares executive power with a prime minister from the majority party in Parliament.

Haitian presidents are required to have lived in Haiti for five consecutive years, own property in Haiti, and have only ever been a citizen of Haiti. Wyclef Jean was born in Haiti and raised in the United States. I am unsure about Jean’s citizenship status; I have read that he remained a Haitian citizen his entire life, and that he is understood to be a U.S. citizen. He spends a lot of time in Haiti, and probably owns property there, but it is going to be difficult for him to prove five consecutive years of residency.

The implications of Jean’s presidential bid are vast. He is already famous and rich, so voters will trust that he is not running for personal gain. His fame and activist-image could bring higher voter participation than in past elections, particularly among young people. A celebrity president could keep media attention and foreign aid coming into Haiti long after it would have otherwise dwindled. His political inexperience could mean that he is outside the corruption that characterizes Haitian politics. However, It could also mean that he has no idea what he is doing and is unequipped to handle the slew of problems that face the future Haitian president.

I’m curious to see what will happen in Haiti. August 7th is the deadline to place a bid for the presidency, and other potential candidates have been reluctant to declare their intent to run. Jean may decide not to run, may not meet the necessary qualifications, or may turn out to be exactly what Haiti needs in a president. Whether or not that person is Wyclef Jean, electing the right president for Haiti will be an important step in continuing earthquake recovery efforts and stabilizing the nation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don't Forget About your Hometown

by Corbyn
Tequios (tech-key-os), 'is a form of communal work which is unpaid and done by community members for the public benefit.' Tequios, I learned today, is a rural indigenous custom that is still practiced in the Mexican state of Oaxaca where Plant With Purpose has worked for over 11 years. It is because this piece of cultural history is still in existence that Plant With Purpose has adapted its programs in Oaxaca to conform with the local tradition.
Every Tuesday at our office here in San Diego we have staff training. Today our training was led by Milmer Martinez Vergara, our Mexico and Haiti program officer. I was captivated as I sat and listened to the strategic thought process that our 16 Oaxacan staff go through to develop longterm relationships with the rural indigenous Mixteco people in 52 communities throughout Oaxaca.
It is always interesting to think about how I can take the stories and testimonies we receive from the field and translate them (figuratively) into dialogue that will be relevant and engaging here in the US. One thing that has become increasingly popular in conversation here in the United States is sustainability. Are we driving cars that emit less emissions, using energy more efficiently, looking for cleaner ways to power our cities, reusing everyday items like plastic bags and water bottles etc.? Well, sustainability is something that has been around since the beginning of time, and when we look at the situation in Oaxaca where families are being forced to migrate because they can no longer provide for their basic needs, we have to enter into a relationship that allows each party (Plant With Purpose and the farmers) to learn from each other and adapt.
Oaxaca has one of the highest migration rates of any Mexican state. Families are leaving the land they have grown up on for generations to try to find some other sort of opportunity. Take a look at this picture of a sign on the way out of one of the communities where we have started to work. It is a sobering reality of the situation in Oaxaca. Translated, the sign says, 'Thank you for your visit- if you emigrate, don't forget about your town.' Plant With Purpose is committed to being a part of the long term development in Oaxaca, and it is so encouraging
to see families benefitting and growing stronger in their communities as they partner with our organization. Whether it be greenhouses, family gardens, chicken and rabbit coops, ecological latrines, cisterns, business training, savings groups, tree nurseries, goat and sheep pins, or any other of the many programs that help families to have the ability to live sustainably and provide for the needs of their loved ones, there is a lot of good work that is being done in Oaxaca.
The programs have been developed specifically with the long term in mind, and they have used the cultural history of community (Tequios) that already exists in Oaxaca as the foundation to build upon. We have to thank those of you who are supporting the work in Oaxaca; without your commitment, the exciting advancements would not be possible.
We would love to have you join the transformation that is taking place. Through our Sponsor a Village program, for as little as $30 a month you can commit to supporting the work of an individual village in Oaxaca. You will receive updates and testimonies from families like Godofredo's (pictured here with his Wife Luisa and their three children) about the progress being made and the barriers being
When you sign up to sponsor a village your recurring donation will be matched for an entire year, doubling your donation! Please take a look at the villages that are available for your partnership here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

People With Purpose: Jimmy Lee

The Plant With Purpose Development Department welcomed Jimmy Lee last week as the new Development Department Assistant. Jimmy will be helping to further develop our Sponsor a Village program, and he will be assisting the Development Department with coordinating upcoming events such as the San Diego Film Festival and our annual gala.

A former Plant With Purpose volunteer and intern, Jimmy initially heard about our organization a couple years ago when our Executive Director spoke at an Intervarsity Fellowship large group meeting at UCSD. As an International Studies major, Jimmy took classes on poverty and wanted to find a way to make a difference. After hearing Scott’s talk, he became interested in volunteering at Plant With Purpose.

“In college, helping the poor seemed so idealistic,” Jimmy said. “But it was neat to find Plant With Purpose because they have the most holistic approach of helping people in need out of all the other organizations I’ve seen.”

During his internship, Jimmy helped with Plant With Purpose’s re-branding efforts. Using his creativity and sharp research skills, Jimmy helped to create various Plant With Purpose collateral including banners, stickers and gift cards. He also helped design our blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

After his internship, Jimmy went on to work with the San Diego Asian Film Festival and the San Diego Jewish Film Festival before coming back to Plant With Purpose. He says that he's excited to be working at this amazing organization and that he's looking forward to contributing to the mission of Plant With Purpose.

Welcome to the team, Jimmy!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Trans-border Tensions Between the DR and Haiti

By Annie Fikes

The relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has been wrought with tension for hundreds of years. Haiti and the Dominican Republic, or the DR, as it is frequently called at Plant With Purpose, share the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. The French colonized Haiti and the Spanish colonized the Dominican Republic. At one point, after winning freedom from the French, Haiti occupied the entire island, forcing the Dominican Republic to fight for its freedom from Haiti.

Hope for a better future between the two countries has grown since the January earthquake in Haiti. The Dominican Republic responded better to the earthquake than anyone expected, providing swift, critical aid and efficient disaster relief to Haiti, greatly aiding in recovery.

However, as the DR is providing vital aid to earthquake victims, it made a constitutional change that prevents any DR-born child of undocumented workers from becoming citizens. The Dominican Republic is a wealthier nation than Haiti and many Haitians go there attempting to find work; almost all of them are undocumented. This change takes away citizenship from any child of immigrants who had it before the law passed, preventing them from acquiring a much-needed national I.D. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for children of undocumented workers to get a college education, certain jobs, and passports.

Tensions between Haitians and Dominicans go beyond those caused by the recent constitutional change. Haitian immigrants in the DR have suffered lynching, murders, burned homes, and rampant racism, especially in the countryside along the border. This tension is the result of the struggle between Dominican farmers and Haitian immigrants who compete with them for land and economic space. Charcoal production, chopping trees and using a furnace to turn them into more efficient fuel, has long been a way for poor Haitians and Dominicans to make money. Charcoal production is extremely environmentally detrimental and is a huge cause of deforestation on Hispaniola. The DR banned the production of charcoal to protect its trees, but as forests in Haiti disappear, more desperate Haitians cross the border to participate in illegal charcoal trade in the DR. This damages the environment of the Dominican Republic and the relationship between the two nations.

Many Haitians cross into the Dominican Republic and become sharecroppers. Haitian work is cheap, so Dominican farmers hire them, but Haitian sharecroppers frequently return to their forest-clearing habits for charcoal production, extending Haiti’s ecological problem into the DR.

While the DR’s response to the earthquake may help the countries’ relationship, the disaster itself will further impoverish Haiti, driving even more undocumented workers who cannot become citizens into the DR, further damaging the environment.

Plant With Purpose is active in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, often in conflict-heavy areas. Plant With Purpose attempts to ease the tensions between Haitians and Dominicans through our trans-border project by finding alternative employment for Haitians so they don’t become sharecroppers or participate in the charcoal trade. Plant With Purpose reforests areas that have been cleared by the charcoal trade and teaches sustainable agriculture to farmers on both sides of the border, helping them to heal their environment. By emphasizing God’s love for His people and the planet, Plant With Purpose hopes to foster a mutual respect between Haitians and Dominicans and a care for the environment. Creating jobs for Haitians, helping plant trees, and encouraging environmentally friendly land use will help eliminate many of the causes of violence and tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

For more on the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, see this article: or read Scott’s book Tending to Eden!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Preparing for Oaxaca

PWP supporter Katy Dhanens will be traveling to visit our programs in Mexico on a Oaxaca Vision Trip next week. Plant With Purpose Vision Trips are designed to educate donors on the intricacies of our programs and offer a hands-on experience. Here are her thoughts as she prepares for her trip.

By Katy Dhanens

The proverb, “It takes a village” takes on literal meaning in regards to Plant With Purpose's projects in the villages in Oaxaca, Mexico.

In pouring through Plant With Purpose reports and resources, I have learned that each ‘success,’ be it a new tomato greenhouse or a successful educational program in an elementary school is the result of many people coming together to pool their God given talents and resources. This coming together essentially creates an integrated network of (economically, environmentally, spiritually based) relationships that transcends political borders and cultural or linguistic challenges. I have found this cooperation and collaboration to be clearly evident in the relationship between Plant With Purpose and its complementary, but independent Mexican counterpart, Misión Integral. Misión Integral, in turn works alongside local churches and schools to impact the lives of individuals and families living in various villages in Oaxaca.

For example, in a Plant With Purpose initiative called “Church, Community, and Change,” local churches are equipped and empowered to become an “agent of positive change” in its surrounding community. I think that to create economic, spiritual, and environmental progress that is sustainable, any sort of initiative or project must be grounded in the local community. Plant With Purpose roots its projects in long-lasting relationships and trust, which then sets the stage for future cooperative action.

This week, I have been inspired by the cooperation and friendship communicated through the blog, the Sower newsletter, and various reports and testimonies. However, I am very excited to see firsthand what I have been reading about. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Oaxaca at the end of this month with Doug Satre and a few members from Solana Beach Presbyterian Church. Although this summer did not turn out as I originally planned, I have found myself in surprising and unexpected opportunities to learn and to serve. Because of this uncertainty, I set my own personal goals for my uncertain summer of 2010—to learn to be patient and to be a good listener. In Oaxaca, I am looking forward to practicing patience and listening as I get the chance to learn from and witness the work of the Misión Integral staff, as well as the individuals who experience change and progress in their daily lives.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Village Spotlight: Rio Comal, Mexico

The “ranchita” of Rio Comal is a small community made up of small clusters of families who depend on the neighboring town of Ojo de Agua for services such as schools and churches. There is little rainfall, and during the dry season the steep, barren hills are dusted brown and desolate. The people of Rio Comal make a meager living by selling charcoal to city dwellers to use as fuel wood for cooking. Desperate to feed their families, farmers cut down more and more trees for charcoal, destroying the land and further entrenching themselves in a vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

Plant With Purpose’s community projects such as a building a cistern to store up rain water to use during the dry season can literally transform an entire community, helping farmers get back on their feet with sustainable long and short-term solutions. Give today, and you can be a part of the transformation that is taking place in the hearts and lives of the people of Rio Comal.

When you sign up to become a monthly donor, you'll help Plant With Purpose sustain community‑based efforts that improve the lives of rural farmers. And, if you sign up for a recurring donation, your gift will be matched for the first year! To learn more about Rio Comal or to sponsor this village, click here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

United Nations Tool Distribution in Haiti

posted by Corbyn
We are continually encouraged by Plant With Purpose's cooperation and partnership with local authorities in Haiti as well as major relief and development agencies like the United Nations. This is a short re-post from Bob's blog (our Technical Director who is currently in Haiti) that demonstrates that collaboration:
"Today is distribution of tools courtesy of FAO, the agriculture branch of the UN. Plant With Purpose Haiti is the distributor on their behalf. As I type this I can hear the crowd outside the office waiting patiently, some since about 7 am to get a pick, a machete, and a hoe. I am guessing there are about 500 people. The distribution is being organized through the locally elected leadership, and these leaders met this morning early to coordinate with staff."
To read another of Bob's recent blogs about 'a model farm' and the illegal trespassing arrest that was made yesterday, click here. You will enjoy the insight as well as the humor of the situation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Vuvuzela: Echoes of Change in East Africa

by James Ellett, Grant writing intern
If you watched or even were around someone watching the World Cup this year, you no doubt heard the incessant droning of what is best described as the sound of a cloud of angry killer bees.
The source of this sound, the vuvuzela, has become quite a controversial subject since the first (and seemingly only) note broke into the ear canals of soccer (sorry, football) fans across the globe. People have raised arguments that vuvuzelas cause the spread of germs and disease, cause serious hearing damage, and can even be used as weapons. Players have complained of the distraction that the constant din creates on the field. The controversy has caused this descendant of the kudu horn to be banned at various sporting venues around the world--from Wimbledon to Yankee Stadium.
And yet, the vuvuzela plays on.
Try as foreigners might to ban its monotone symphony, the horn remains very much a part of South African soccer. It refuses to silence itself in the face of oppression. It plays as a reminder of the unshakable resolve of the people of the African continent. The ubiquitous hum of the vuvuzela is an illustration of the culture, life, and indomitable spirit of the people who play them.
Nowhere is this spirit more evident than in two of the poorest African nations: Burundi and Tanzania. These two countries have seen everything from poverty and corruption to assassinations and genocide. The World Bank ranks Tanzania and Burundi numbers 192 and 213 in terms of average annual income, respectively. There were 213 countries ranked.
Dire as the situation in these places may seem, it is not hopeless. Plant With Purpose has been working in these poverty stricken countries to give the people there the tools that they need to pull themselves out of poverty and heal their environment. The farmers that we work with are shining examples of the hope that exists even in the poorest of areas.
An exciting development has been made in these countries that gives us further reason to hope. The East African Community (EAC)--made up of the Republics of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the United Republic of Tanzania--have put into effect this month an East African common market. The goal of the common market is “to enable the free movement of people, capital and services and abolish import duties” according to BBC News. As of July 1, all barriers to trade among the member nations have been removed. The idea is that this will encourage trade and cooperation among the members of the East African Community, much as the adoption of the euro did in Europe.
While this is an exciting development, and it is encouraging to see these poor nations banding together to improve their situation, the market is not without risk. Some are concerned that Kenya will dominate the other, poorer, member countries. People are worried that jobs will leave countries such as Tanzania and Burundi, and go to the stronger Kenyan economy.
Please keep your prayers with the people of East Africa, and specifically with Plant With Purpose’s programs in Burundi and Tanzania. Pray that this common market creates unity and economic health in the EAC, and that Plant With Purpose will be able to work effectively in this new climate to bring about the healing that is so desperately needed.
To learn more about East Africa’s common market, visit
To learn more about the East African Community, visit

Friday, July 16, 2010

New Thailand Video

We wanted to share with you a recent video that highlights our work in Thailand and our partner company, the Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP). Click here to view this inspiring 6 minute video titled "Uncommon Environmentalists":

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stay With: Child Slavery in Haiti

By Annie Fikes, PR and Events Intern

In Haiti, children from impoverished families who are given by their parents to do housework for another family in exchange for food and housing are known as “restavek” children. Restavek is a Haitian word that combines the French verb rester (to stay) and the word avec, which means “with”. In English, the word means “stay with”, referring to the fact that these children are staying with another family.

Restavek children are not adopted or participating in some type of home-stay program. When sent away to live with a family, they are traded into domestic slavery. They are vulnerable to every manner of abuse and mistreatment by members of the household. According to Jean-Robert Cadet, author of a book on Haiti’s child slaves, 80% of restavek children are girls, who are often victims of sexual as well as other abuses.

The word restavek really resonates for me. A restavek. A “stay with”. When I say I am “staying” somewhere, such as a hotel or a friend’s house, it implies an impersonal impermanence. I am saying that place is not really where I belong, that I will eventually leave and return to my home. The name given to restavek children reflects the worthlessness that is placed on them as a domestic slave. They live and work in a house, but they are just staying there. They are not part of the household and this lack of belonging leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Unlike when I stay at a hotel, restavek children cannot leave the place where they are staying; they are trapped in their slavery, abused, and outsiders in their very name.

Before the January earthquake, approximately 300,000 children were in domestic slavery in Haiti. After the earthquake, Cadet estimates that the number will double. The poor in Haiti are more desperate, and more likely to offer their children as slaves. Almost an entire generation of Haitian children was orphaned in the earthquake; Cadet believes that these children will almost inevitably be absorbed into the restavek system. In the desperate times following the earthquake, restavek childrens’ situation has worsened. They receive less food and endure even harsher conditions than other Haitians.

The work that Plant With Purpose does in Haiti is important for eliminating child slavery in Haiti. Plant With Purpose provides an upstream solution to a downstream problem by working in ways that reduce the conditions that lead to child slavery. By working to reverse deforestation and poverty, supporting local churches, and strengthening communities in Haiti, Plant With Purpose is able to create a more stable, less impoverished country. Plant With Purpose is helping Haitians recover from the earthquake, use efficient and sustainable agriculture practices, and grow their communities. Stable communities and stable families are less likely to trade their children into slavery and are more able to care for orphans instead of forcing them to be restavek children.

Read this article for more information on restavek children:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Preserving a Heritage

by James Ellett, Grant writing intern
Everybody loves a good family heirloom.
When I was about 15 years old, I received from my father my very first heirloom: my grandfather’s old hunting knife. With a handle inlaid with beautiful wood and a mountain lion engraved on the 5 inch blade, it was truly a majestic tool. I was in awe that I was now in possession of this ancient relic that conjured up images of frontier beaver trappers and rugged cowboys. What I decided to do with my piece of family history truly helped to preserve the history and memories that it held.
I used it to practiced my knife-throwing skills.
As you can guess, my 15-year-old self--all 5 foot 10, 100 pounds of me--did not actually have any knife-throwing skills. After bludgeoning many a tree with the knife’s handle and chasing after hundreds of errant throws (they didn’t miss by much, I swear), I learned to treat the knife with the proper amount of respect it deserves. This object had been handed down through generations. It had first been my grandfather’s, then my father’s, and now it was mine. It had travelled the very road that led to my own creation. To be stripped of this heirloom would not just be losing a knife, it would be losing a story of my heritage--of where I, James Ellett, came from.
The people of the hill tribes of Northern Thailand are being stripped of an heirloom that provides much more than stories: their land. The lands occupied by these tribes have been handed down to them through generations, and are absolutely crucial to their way of life, as they are used for villages, medicine, food, and construction materials. Unfortunately, most governments don’t recognize ancestral ownership as legal, and the Thai government is no different. Just as I cannot prove that I own my grandfathers knife with a receipt or certificate of ownership, these people cannot prove that the land belongs to them.
In fact, according to the Thai government, the land of the tribespeople--who are not Thai citizens--is a forest reserve, and it is being occupied illegally. Authorities have begun prosecuting these rural farmers, claiming that their communities and agricultural practices are destroying these “forest reserves” and contributing to global warming. Some farmers are facing fines of up to $49,000 USD, and are even being charged criminally. In reality, the hill tribes do not destroy their native terrain. Their belief in the holiness of the land and of spirits occupying all of nature causes them to treat their environment with the utmost respect. Their rotational farming actually helps the soil by re-fertilizing it. They are an ally of their land, not a threat. Be these facts as they may, the oppression continues because they have historically had nobody to advocate for them. These rural farmers are being forced off of the land of their ancestors, leaving them with no place to go.
Since 2005, Plant With Purpose has been working with the hill tribe people of Northern Thailand, facilitating training on property and citizenship rights, as well as innovative agriculture and business training. We realize that all the agricultural and economic training in the world will do very little good if the people have no land on which to live. That is why, in 2009, Plant With Purpose assisted 134 hill tribe members in the process of receiving Thai citizenship as part of the ongoing battle against injustice in the northern highlands.
Please keep your prayers with the people of Northern Thailand and with the work that Plant With Purpose is doing there. The hill tribes are being stripped of an heirloom that tells the story of their very identity and supplies the resources that they need to live. Let us pray that God will keep the people and the land together, and proceed to heal them both.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Plant With Purpose's Work in Haiti Featured in the New York Times

News about Haiti resurfaced in the media yesterday, July 12th, which marked the 6 month anniversary of the tragic earthquake. People blogged, reported, and Tweeted about what has been done to help Haiti since that fateful day. Our work in Haiti, including the progress we have made and the steps we are taking to protect Haitian farmers against potentially deadly hurricane storms, was featured yesterday in the New York Times. Here is a brief excerpt:

"Sabin's organization has so far hired some 2,200 workers to plant more than 170,000 trees to protect communities. The extra available labor has allowed him to scale up Plant With Purpose's operations, constructing more than 260 miles of soil erosion barriers to protect farmland from hurricanes and tropical storms."

Click here to read the full article "Devastated Haiti Braces for an Active Hurricane Season":

Monday, July 12, 2010

Haiti 6 Months Later: "Haiti is on its knees, but not down yet"

Today marks 6 months since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Although there is still much to be done, the communities Plant With Purpose works with have made significant progress by planting trees, constructing soil conservation barriers, and providing incomes to support their families through our “Cash for Work” program.

Below is a firsthand account about the situation in Haiti from Plant With Purpose Technical Director Bob Morikawa who spent a total of six weeks in Haiti over a four month period after the earthquake and is returning next week to continue to work with our local Haitian staff to continue their relief and development efforts.

“It has now been six months to the day since the earthquake in Haiti which triggered one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent history and also one of the largest relief responses ever seen. I myself arrived in Haiti on January 24th, crossing overland through the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti since the Port au Prince airport was closed to commercial flights at the time. I found a country devastated as we have all come to know through the extensive coverage on the news and in social media. I also found many people hard at work, throwing all their energy into the immense task of bringing relief and shelter to the hundreds of thousands affected by the quake. I was very encouraged to find, first of all that none of our local staff were lost (one of our technicians tragically lost his wife and child), and second that our local staff were hard at work as well, organizing work teams to clear debris from the local feeder road, and making initial efforts to distribute water and supplies. Over the days and months to come, we and many other organizations were able to rapidly scale up our efforts, to meet the needs of many victims. The scale of the need was mind boggling, and although even our small organization was able to provide seeds, food, tools and employment to thousands, it never seemed like enough. Fortunately, we have come through a successful cropping season which has stabilized the food security situation somewhat, and thanks to the efforts of many NGO's at least temporary shelter has been provided for many. There are still thousands who find themselves essentially homeless, or in very vulnerable quarters and we can only hope for a mild hurricane season which would buy us all more time to improve recovery efforts.

Speaking from our own experience in the communities where we directly work, we found that the initial quake created an extremely fluid situation where many people from urban areas fled to rural zones (where we work) to take shelter with their relatives. This put an immense burden on already poor rural families and boosted family size from 6 or 7 members up to 10 or 12 members. Meals per day dropped to just one or less in many cases. Now, according to surveys we have conducted, many of those additional family members have returned to the city, and most families are eating 2 or more meals per day. This is still not back to pre-quake levels, but at least the trend is in the right direction. Now our efforts as an organization, and those of many organizations are shifting focus from immediate relief and instead we are putting our efforts into helping families make the transition to a more stable situation where food supply is secure, and income is reliable. In rural areas, this will involve such interventions as tree planting and soil conservation to stabilize farm fields, and income generating projects such as poultry and goat production. We will also continue--as we did before the earthquake--to work with community groups to help strengthen local leadership, and improve a community's ability to mobilize savings, and deal with their own economic issues. In fact we found that this was a distinct advantage for us because those relationships and the leadership built up prior to January 12th enabled both our organization and communities to respond more rapidly and with greater order and precision than would have been possible otherwise.

Take a moment to consider the resilience of Nelta Fils-Aime, who was displaced from Port-au-Prince where she worked and lived with her 5 siblings. She has since returned to the countryside with her siblings to live with her father. She is not a member of Plant With Purpose’s programs but her father is. Through the soil conservation work provided by Plant With Purpose she has been able to contribute to her household. She has no plans to return to Port-au-Prince for now but says she is grateful for the opportunity to make some money for her family. Everyone refers to her as very courageous, because the work she does, she does with only one hand. She is uncertain of what will happen next, but says she would like to start her little business and stay in the countryside.

The work is far from over. Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world even before January 12th, and I had always thought that people were living on the edge. It turns out that now that 'edge' has been moved to a place I simply would never have imagined. It is surely a testament to the resilience of the people of Haiti, and as a locally popular song inspired by these events says "Haiti is on its knees, but not down yet."


Since the earthquake, Plant With Purpose has provided 125 tons of food to 15,000 Haitians, distributed nearly 80,000 pounds of bean seed to over 2,000 families, and employed over 2,000 farmers through our “Cash for Work” program. Additionally, farmers have constructed over 260 miles of soil conservation barriers and planted over 170,000 trees. The “Cash for Work” programs are allowing people like Nelta to stabilize and contribute income to support their families.

Plant With Purpose has raised nearly $1 million to support all of our Haiti relief efforts, and part of that support has been provided by partner companies of 1% for the Planet, a non-profit that blogged about our work in Haiti last February (click here to read that blog.) 1% for the Planet has blogged about our work in Haiti again today, which you can read here:

Plant With Purpose has responded to the immediate and interim needs in Haiti where we have built long-standing relationships over the last 13 years. Please consider partnering with us as we continue our long-term recovery efforts in Haiti. To make a donation, you can visit our website, You can also subscribe to our blog to receive updates on our work in Haiti at

Friday, July 9, 2010

How Plant With Purpose Helps Farmers "Produce" through Empowerment

By Annie Fikes, PR and Events Intern

I’m not “outdoorsy” by any stretch of the imagination. I love wandering around in forests, playing sports, taking nature walks, and going to the beach, but it would take a superhuman amount of persuading to get me into anywhere near a week-long backpacking trip or a mountain climbing harness. When I left my native San Diego for college in Seattle last September, I entered the land of Birkenstocks, Northface parkas, hiking, snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, and weekend backpacking trips.

At least three of my friends keep full mountain climbing gear in their dorms and scurry off to scale cliffs every chance they get. I, on the other hand, am still physically and emotionally scarred from my first and last attempt at mountain biking.

I never expected to participate in any “Outdoor Adventure” and “Recreation Program” trips until I saw the flyer for a day trip to a local farm. Off I went to work on a biodynamic farm on the first truly gloriously sunny day of spring. It was blissfully un-extreme. I escaped from the city to a gorgeous valley where I got to sit barefoot in the dirt, planting broccoli and kohlrabi and learning about sustainable agriculture from a philosophy professor-turned farmer.

Biodynamic farming is based on the idea that soil and the farm are living organisms. Biodynamic farms attempt to be entirely self-sustainable and individual, striving to break free from the massive, environmentally detrimental farms that dominate American food markets. Biodynamic farms try to preserve soil quality for future generations, provide produce to their local area, make their own fertilizers and composts, and always avoid pesticides.

I left Jubilee Farms covered in dirt and sweat and enlightened by new ideas. I couldn’t help but think about what I learned there when I read about the GMO corn and tomato seeds that an American company, Monsanto, attempted to donate to farmers in Haiti. Monsanto’s seeds were treated with fungicides deemed so dangerous by the EPA that American agricultural workers must wear mandatory protective gear when handling them.

Haitians are extremely angry about the introduction of these foreign and dangerously treated seeds into their market. A group of Haitian farmers, the Peasant Movement of Papay, has been leading demonstrations against Monsanto and burning the donated seeds. Haitians, like biodynamic farmers in America, want to protect the integrity of their local markets, agriculture, small farmers, and environment. One farmer, Jonas Deronzil, said, “People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds. They’re ruining our chance to support ourselves.”

Plant With Purpose strives to help people “produce” when it empowers local farmers in the countries that it works in to farm their own food in ways that will protect their local environment. When I work with Plant With Purpose I do it from a desk, but I feel like my opportunity to get out into nature at Jubilee Farms gives a little bit of an understanding of what Plant With Purpose is really about and the amazing relationship that people can have with the planet.

To read more about Monsanto seeds in Haiti, check out this article:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Children & Burundi

By Annie Fikes, PR and Events Intern

Last week, I had the opportunity to work at Summer Blast, my church’s mini K-6th summer camp. I am the leader of the 3rd and 4th grade group, the Blue Dolphins. I couldn’t be more excited about Summer Blast. I am all about singing songs, doing dance moves, playing games, and chasing after 8 kids with my clipboard and team sign in tow.

It was lucky that I was stoked to be part of Summer Blast because the Blue Dolphins are loud, excited, energetic, competitive, and talkative. It was imperative to them that I knew that dolphins aren’t actually blue, and that even though sharks could eat dolphins (5th and 6th graders are in the White Sharks group), we would be okay because “dolphins have bigger brains than sharks.” After a talking-to because of some unfortunate behavior during their games session, the Blue Dolphins remained loud and energetic, but proved that they could listen and follow directions while having fun. I had a great time talking to them about God, the Bible movies, books, and World Cup Soccer. Being present while children learn about God never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

A few months ago, another intern, Stephanie Rudeen, blogged about Burundi’s civil war and path to recovery. Burundi was plagued by 40 years of ethnic conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi people that live there. Hundreds of thousands of people died and even after peace was achieved in 2006, thousands of refugees remain impoverished and homeless as they attempted to return to their homeland.

Although the conflict is over, the 2009 United Nations report on Children and Armed Conflict states that the Parti pour la libération du peuple Hutu-Forces nationales de libération (Palipehutu-FNL) continues to recruit children, even after it declared an end to hostilities with the government in 2008. Sexual violence against children is frequent in Burundi, and is even committed by members of the National Police, National Defense Forces, and FNL members.

The U.N. report states that there is “no formal action plan” to stop the recruitment and abuse of children in Burundi, but attempts have been made, some of which were successful, to demobilize children and reunite them with their families. The FNL currently refuses to discontinue the recruitment and use of child combatants.

Stories like this break my heart, but are unfortunately common. I think about children in countries such as Burundi and how they are no different than the Blue Dolphins. Those children deserve to be safe, play games, do crafts, and learn about God just like children here. I’m very glad that Plant With Purpose is working in Burundi. As refugees learn to farm their new land in sustainable ways, discover God’s love for them, and become empowered through Plant With Purpose’s work, Burundi will become a more stable and peaceful country. Burundi can become transformed into a nation that is safe for children through such operations.

For more about Burundi, see Stephanie Rudeen’s blog from Thursday, April 8th, 2010 or this U.N. link: