Ghana’s haute couture handbags

The straw basket and handbag makers of northern Ghana are drawing a lot of attention lately– enough, in fact, that two of my clients have each sent me to the region on separate occasions in recent months to get a close up glimpse of these fashionable totes. The groups that make them have banded together in cooperatives in order to buy supplies in bulk and save and lend amongst each other. Some groups have even managed to find financial backing and gain certified Fair Trade status, which would explain why Shared Interest, a fair trade investment firm, sent me there to capture these entrepreneurs at work. The colorful hand bags and baskets are crafted by groups of women using straw that is first rolled and split with their teeth, then dyed in vibrant colors before being woven into intricate patterns by hand. It’s a tradition that’s long been passed down through the […]

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EPPICS: Community Change from the Inside Out

Until recently the northern Ghanaian district of East Mamprusi had the poorest maternal and child health indicators in the region.  Most women gave birth at home, and while this may sound very trendy in our society, in theirs the reason was not a matter of choice, but for lack of transportation to a health facility.  With home births there were no skilled supervisors to assist in deliveries. To make things more complicated, traditional beliefs and practices surrounding pregnancy and childbirth also often inhibited women and children from accessing good health care. For instance, in cases of complicated labor, a soothsayer would be consulted to pour libations in supplication to the spirits or ancestors, rather than seeking help from a health professional. After birth, one of the first things a child may ingest is a concoction made by the traditional healer, often made with contaminated water. How did Catholic Relief Services turn the statistics upside down and make East Mamprusi the […]

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Coffee from the Mountains of the Moon

On my whirlwind five-day trip to Uganda last month I managed to cover a lot of ground in both the east and west of the country. Squeezed between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, Uganda may look like a dwarf on the map, but it’s actually more than double the size of my home state of Virginia. Combining that with some poor road conditions means it can take 12 hours or more to get from one side to the other. Bukonzo Organic Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union (BOCU) is a fair trade coffee producer based in the town of Kasese, Uganda. Its coffee farmers, however, grow their crop in the nearby Rwenzori Mountains. Shared Interest invests in BOCU and other fair trade producers around the globe. The Rwenzori Mountains were known to the ancient world as the Mountains of Moon for their snow-capped white peaks. (Sadly there’s little of these […]

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LEAP Back to Learning

In the Philippines, child labor in the sugarcane fields means quick income for struggling families and interrupted education for children. ChildFund’s LEAP (Livelihoods, Education, Advocacy, Protection) program helps provide alternative livelihoods to parents while bringing children back to school where they belong.

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Below the Surface

Every year it seems I return to Emali, Kenya to document families experiencing water shortages in the extreme. ChildFund New Zealand is and has been working tirelessly in Emali to provide water access one community at a time. This year villages have been impacted by the El Niño weather pattern that is raging in neighboring Ethiopia (see previous blog entry). With families living in such remote areas, 100% access to the earth’s most essential resource may never be achieved in our lifetime, but it is comforting to see the problem made just a bit smaller each time I return.

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Reaping the Dust

There are some parts of Ethiopia right now that haven’t received more than a few sprinkles of rain in over two years. Since so many people live out in rural areas of the country and have to rely on seasonal rains to grow their own food- raising their own vegetables and livestock on small farms- that means the source of livelihood, nutrition, and sustenance for large numbers of people has vanished. Above, a small farmer sifts through the dust of the field he planted last year, but where nothing germinated. Can you imagine having to provide for your family with just a small farm not much bigger than your back yard? That’s hard enough, but take away the water source and it becomes impossible. Below, a woman in Fentale District scoops water from a shallow well. According to government figures, one in ten Ethiopians has been severely affected by the […]

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From the front lines of the Food Crisis

Here is one mother’s testimony and plea for help from the front lines of the current food crisis in Ethiopia. According to the government, at least 400,000 children are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition, a form of malnutrition that, if survived, will impact their growth and development and will likely determine both their physical and cognitive abilities as adolescents and adults.

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Making Childhood Sweeter

I recently spent a week in the Philippines with a few of the 160+ million children across the world who are involved in child labor. Much of my time was spent telling the story of children who have successfully exited  work in the sugar cane fields. The situation I found on the island of Negros was different than you might have imagined. Poverty, more so than the sugar industry, is the villain here. The children I encountered who were missing school were doing so willingly, usually with their parents’ permission, preferring the temporary gratification of a small paycheck over hitting the books. The work is grueling nonetheless, and the effects of missing out on an education are almost irreversible. ChildFund’s LEAP (Livelihoods, Education, Advocacy, Protection) program, which I have been documenting, is responsible for the near-eradication of child labor in this area of the Philippines. My objective was to show what a child laborer’s […]

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