Agros Blog

Immigration and Nueva Esperanza

52,000 children.

According to stories in The New York Times and The Economist, more than 52,000 minors from Central America have been detained in a dangerous, desperate attempt to enter the US. The count is 52,000 since October, and 9,000 of those last month alone – a heartbreaking record. Compared to the 15,700 children detained in the prior year, authorities predict that this number will balloon to an unprecedented 240,000 by year’s end.

Alone, without parents, some are as young as five. Their mothers have sewn phone numbers of family members living in the US into their clothing.

These numbers startle, but let’s not allow statistics to sanitize the dialog. This is about children encountering a real-life chamber of horrors including rape, kidnapping and death.  We know how many have been detained, but we don’t know how many didn’t last long enough.

It is almost impossible for me to relate to this incredible tragedy.  I get anxious letting my seventeen-year-old son drive alone at night, even with his cell phone fully charged in case of an emergency.  I cannot imagine being so desperate as to send my child on a 1300 mile trek with barely enough food and water to last a couple of days.

Popular media has lost sight of the children, opting to focus on the political consequences for republicans or democrats instead of the heart-wrenching humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

It reminds me of the Scribes and Pharisees arguing about violating the Sabbath instead of, as Jesus did, healing a person in need.  As I write, thousands of children are landing at the border of this country, famished, frightened and literally dying for some small act of kindness.  Do we really care how this will affect the next election?  Are we really that calloused a nation?

This tragedy demands immediate action to help these children, but it also demands a long term solution to the root causes of the problem.  These children risk their lives to come to this country because they live in extreme poverty with none of the opportunities we have in this country to make a living.   I just returned from a week in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, visiting two of our communities.  In Nueva Esperanza, Julio and his wife, Santa, hosted us in the home they now own after working tirelessly to pay off their land loan.  Their daughter Hazel (12) walks more than an hour one way every day to go to school, overjoyed with the opportunity to learn.

I noticed the entire family could not stop smiling and when I asked Julio why, he told me he how his life has changed. He told me how Agros had given he and his wife, Santa, the opportunity to be successful and he seized it.  With land and technical assistance for Agros coupled with his hard work he and Santa pushed hard to use the proceeds from every coffee harvest to pay off their land. “With our land loan paid, everything we make now comes to my family. I cannot imagine being anywhere else.”

We have a choice: debate policies and politics or force ourselves to look into the faces of these children piling up at our border. If we truly want to permanently solve this immigration crisis, then we must use our resources to bring hope and opportunity to desperately poor families where they live.

Julio and Santa are among thousands who have seized the opportunity to rise above poverty. Given the chance to work their own land in their own country among a community of neighbors, Julio and Santa would never send Hazel any farther than the community school.

Family by family and community by community, Agros has permanently broken the cycle of extreme poverty.  With your help we can stem the tide of this human misery.

Will you join me?

Work Study Students Help Agros

Agros has been very fortunate to have a strong working relationship with the student employment office at Seattle Pacific University. Students who are work study eligible at the college have the opportunity to take their work study funding and find employment with community organizations (as well as the typical on-campus placements.) At any time, Agros has three to twelve work study students from Seattle Pacific University working in various positions in the organization. Over the coming months, we will profile a number of these students. Agros is so grateful for the opportunity to work with these bright, energetic students. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.

Name: Darcy Ma

Major: Business Administration: International Marketing, Finance.

What do you love to do in your free time?

A:  In my free time, I love to read books. In addition, I also love to play sports and exercise. Ultimately, I just love to be outdoors. Whether it is going on hikes, or camping, or just walking around enjoying the beautiful world that God has created.

What do you love about working at Agros?

A:  I have extremely enjoyed my time here at Agros International.  One factor of my experience that I have enjoyed is the friendly environment. This community is such a love-filled, grace giving and friendly community, and it has been such a blessing to be a part of it. Going off of that, the staff is absolutely incredible. They are some of the most patient, hard-working, supportive people I have met and it has been a blessing to work for them this past year.

What are your plans for the summer?

A:  I am planning on spending eight weeks in Shanghai, China, to visit family, tour the country, and study abroad. I am taking an international marketing course along with several Chinese courses, so I am very excited for my upcoming adventure!

What is one important thing you have learned by working at a nonprofit?

A: I would say that there are so many opportunities to use the business aspect of life to do so many amazing things for the community. Commonly, it is hard to think of the world of business having a good culture (because of the terrible examples we hear in the news), but to be a part of a business that works towards using the venue of business as an vessel to serve the LORD, it has truly been a blessing to be a part of.

Darcy Ma

Agros Hires Development Coordinator

Agros International is pleased to announce the hiring of Claire Tirtoprodjo as Development Coordinator. This position is responsible for initiating, developing and sustaining relationships with our middle level donors and launching Agros’ giving group program. Claire will be also be actively engaged in Agros’ annual fundraising event, Tierras de Vida.

“The Development Coordinator position is new to Agros,” explained Anne Baunach, Director of Resource Development. “We added this position to help look for more meaningful ways to engage our donor base. Claire’s background and experience will really help us to think creatively about how we build this program. We are thrilled that Claire has joined us.”

Claire received her BA in Education from Western Washington University. She began her career as a middle school math teacher in Texas. She returned to the Pacific Northwest and has been actively engaged in Seattle’s non-profit community for the last eight years. She worked in numerous roles with Treehouse (an organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids living in foster care) from 2006-2010 and most recently served as the Major Gifts Coordinator for YouthCare (an organization dedicated to providing pathways off the streets for homeless young adults).

Claire began her role at Agros on January 21, 2014.

Agros Hires Engagement Manager

Agros International is pleased to announce the hiring of Guillermo Mario Jiménez as Engagement Manager. This position coordinates programs designed to engage individuals, businesses, churches, and community organizations in the organization’s mission. His primary responsibilities will be to develop meaningful travel experiences that educate donors and prospects about rural poverty and issues specific to Central America and Agros as well as to help develop a global community.This role is part of Agros’ Resource Development and Marketing team.

Guillermo received his BA in Philosophy and Business Administration from Houghton College and MA in International Development from Eastern University. He served as the International Experience Manager for River Church Community in San Jose, CA before returning to his home country of Honduras where he served as the Development Facilitator and Advocacy Coordinator for World Vision Honduras. He also spent two years with Servant Partners in Honduras where he pioneered their community organizing efforts in an urban slum of Tegucigalpa. For the past nine months, Guillermo has served as the Interim Partner Travel Program Manager for Agros. He is also the owner of Metanoia Organic Farm in La Paz, Honduras.

“The Engagement Manager position is new to Agros,” explained Anne Baunach, Director of Resource Development. “We have added this position to help us look more holistically at our travel and education programs as resources to help us in engaging individuals, businesses, and churches in a global community. We interviewed many candidates and selected Guillermo because of his multi-faceted background and experience working both in and on behalf of the poor in Central America. We are thrilled to have him managing this program for Agros.”

Guillermo will start in this new role for Agros on December 31, 2013.

Agros is Hiring Engagement Manager

Agros International is seeking to fill a new organizational position: Engagement Manager. This position, which is part of the resource development and marketing team, works with individuals, businesses, churches, and community organizations to develop meaningful travel experiences. The travel program is designed to educate donors and prospective donors about rural poverty, issues specific to Central America and Agros and help create a global community. Ultimately, the goal of this position is to transform hearts so that those engaged are committed to long-term financial support of Agros.

This position requires a person who is bilingual in English and Spanish. Superior organizational skills and the ability to be timeline driven are necessary. This position will require a great deal of collaboration with both internal and external partners and so the ability to work well within is team is critical. This position may require as much as 40% domestic and international travel.

A complete position description is available on our website at: Applications are being accepted until the position is filled.

Tierras de Vida is coming soon

Would you like to learn more about the work that Agros is doing in Central America and Mexico? Would you like to hear more about Tierra Nueva, Nicaragua through the words of two of our community members, Israel and Alexia Reyes?

Join us on Saturday, October 19 for Tierras de Vida [Lands of Life]. This annual event celebrates the work that Agros International and shares a vision for the organization’s future. This year’s theme is ‘Together Now’ and will focus on the transformation that is happening in Central America through the work of Agros and its partners.

Event details:
Date: Saturday, October 19, 2013
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Fremont Studios
155 North 35th Street, Seattle, WA 98103

Additional details and registration information are available at You may also email dedekatagrosdotorg or call the Agros office at 206.528.1066.

View from the Field

CEO Don Manning recently returned from a visit to four villages in Nicaragua and brought back this update.

You may be surprised to know this, but one of the hardest aspects of development work is not developing a solution to a particular problem, like increasing crop yields. It is getting the farmer to adopt the solution. If it is a proven solution, if it is guaranteed to increase his income, why in the world would a farmer not adopt the practice? To answer that question, let me ask you one. When was the last time you backed out of, say, a New Year’s resolution? Within six months, only 44% of those who make New Year’s resolutions are still in the game. So, I’ll ask you again. Why would any of us not adopt better eating habits or stick with an exercise regimen when we know these things increase both the length and quality of our lives?

This is why Agros hires people like Urania Gutierrez, our human development specialist in Nicaragua. Urania’s job is part marketing expert, part psychologist, part life coach and part customer service representative. She has the unenviable job of convincing families to accept levels of risk beyond anything they could have imagined, and work harder than ever before, in the hope that doing so will improve their health and increase their incomes. Despite the odds, Urania is extremely successful in her work. Once you meet her, you will understand why. Her winning smile, bright eyes and kind heart make it hard not to instantly like her. Yet it is her expertise at building relationships, and her willingness to doggedly walk beside the families, that produces results.

Without Urania and our other human development officers, the proven Agros Development Model would just be a slick and glossy book sitting on a shelf. If she ever becomes a personal trainer, I would be the first to sign up. With her help, I might actually keep that New Year’s resolution. Fortunately for Agros, Urania is committed to our villagers.

View from the Field

CEO Don Manning recently returned from a visit to four villages in Nicaragua and brought back this update.

Boris knew there was a problem long before the rest of us. Sweating and sticky from the short, steep hike through the shaded coffee fields, I emerged into a cleared, cultivated plot of peppers with several other visitors from the United States. The deep green plants stood about two to three feet high in neat mounded rows. To my untrained eyes, the field looked magnificent, each row beautifully symmetrical and carefully covered with plastic to keep out the weeds. Drip irrigation lined the field and tightly strung twine, like clotheslines, stretched the length of each row supporting the plants. I could not spot a single weed in his entire field. To think that these three young men standing proudly among their crop had done all this back-breaking work by hand just amazed me. I shared their pride. An enterprise loan from Agros had provided the needed capital for these hard-working young men to start their crop.

As the young men told us about their work, Boris Corpeño, Agros’ Regional Director of Economic Development, listened intently. Periodically, he bent down and examined the dirt, rolling it between his fingers; or gently inspected the plants, lifting the leaves and examining the growing peppers. When the young men finished talking, Boris waited until others had asked their questions. Then he asked a simple question: “Do you have everything you need to be successful?” The three men quickly responded yes. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you need more advice or technical support?”

Boris has the look and continence of a wise and kindly grandfather. His gaze was intense, but his eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement. Without in any way demeaning the three men or their impressive efforts, Boris began to ask them questions. Did they know that by spacing the plants further apart they could increase their yield? Did they know that putting up barriers between fields would reduce the spread of disease? Did they know why some of their plants were diseased? The young men knew the answers to some of his questions and were skeptical about others. With confidence, they let Boris know that they had the disease problem under control. They would not replant until all the existing plants were destroyed and removed. Boris probed further. Did they understand that the disease was also in the soil and any new pepper crop planted in that field would be infected? As Boris pushed them, their resistance and skepticism ebbed until one of the men said a bit sheepishly, “I suppose we could use some more technical assistance.” Boris had won them over. More importantly, he had expanded their horizons. Getting four or five healthy peppers per plant was no longer acceptable. Now the young men wanted ten or twelve healthy peppers per plant. As they began to mentally convert the greater yield into their potential earnings, the skepticism disappeared and smiles returned to their faces.

Over the past year, Agros has invested in technical expertise and competence. Not only have we hired full-time expert agronomists like Boris Corpeño, we are reexamining every aspect of the Agros model with the help of experts in multiple disciplines like health, nutrition, land selection, and microfinance. Within the next six months, these experts, working in collaboration with our staff, will identify specific techniques, processes, and strategies for expanding our work and improving our results. Like the three young men proudly standing in their field, we want to push beyond our current success, and like the three young men now armed with the technical expertise from Boris, we will expand our reach and improve our methods. We will, both metaphorically and literally, increase our harvest.

Later that day I caught up with Boris sitting at a table punching away on his computer. “Que paso?” I asked. He was drafting a specific plan of action for the three young men with whom we had visited. Boris smiled and looked at me, and said, “I love my job.”

Agros International Seeks Director of Finance & Administration

Agros International is seeking a Director of Finance and Administration to join our team. This is a great opportunity for someone wanting to help Agros achieve its mission by providing leadership, oversight and evaluation of the organization through planning, organizing and directing the various financial functions. This person is an integral part of the Agros senior leadership team, reporting directly to the CEO and having regular interface with the Board of Directors as well. This position has the simultaneous role of regular “hands on” duties as well as big picture strategic thinking. Thus, the successful candidate will possess the dual skill set of being a broad and big picture thinker along with one who can execute and successfully navigate details.

A copy of the position profile is located on our website at Select “Inside Agros” and then “Careers”.

Recruitment for the position is being handled by LuAnn Carlson of Corporate Strategies and Development, LLC. For more information about the position or to apply, please contact LuAnn at 206.972.6967 or lcarlsonatcsdseattledotcom.

Agros International Receives International Service Award

Agros International received the 2013 Distinction in International Service Award (DISA) from the students and staff of The Martin Institute at the University of Idaho on April 30, 2013. CEO Don Manning was on hand to receive the award.

“We were honored to receive this award,” shared Manning. “The students researched organizations that had a holistic approach to the root causes of poverty and chose to honor Agros for the work that we are doing in Central America. This is a great honor coming from students who are preparing to launch into the world and tackle these important issues.”

The DISA award was established in 2011 after the faculty, staff, and students of the Martin Institute began to look at the non-profit organizations in the Pacific Northwest focused on international work. They recognized that some quite remarkable – and largely unrecognized – international work was happening through organizations in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and thus established this award. A five-person selection committee met over two months to review candidate organizations. Five finalists were chosen from nearly 100 organizations, with Agros International being selected as the 2013 DISA recipient. Past recipients include the International Rescue Committee in 2011, and A Child’s Right in 2012.

The Martin Institute is a teaching and research entity founded in 1979 to study the causes of war and the conditions necessary for peace, and is affiliated with the International Studies degree program at the University of Idaho. Nearly 240 students participate in the program, with focus areas including international relations, global resources or development, and international business or economics.

Regional Manager of Economic Development Hired

Agros International is proud to announce that Boris Corpeño has been hired as our new Honduras-based Regional Director of Economic Development. He will report to Joel Martinez, Agros Regional Director, and will help direct the agricultural work happening in the field.

Boris holds a B.A. in agronomy from Zamorano University and a B.S. from the Evangelical University of El Salvador (San Salvador). He has worked with several prominent organizations including the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development where he was an agronomist for 12 years managing a demonstration plot for pineapple, sweet corn and tomatoes. He was also a manager for FINTRAC working in El Salvador and Honduras as well as a manager of irrigation systems at International AgroChemistry.

Boris is passionate about Agros’ work in Central America. “I am excited to start working with Agros,” he says. This position is a gift from God. I have been praying for this kind of work. Because of my religious principles, in this stage in my life, I want to invest in other people. I want to have an impact. The best challenges are those that have great meaning in life. I believe this work will bring great satisfaction. When I see people move forward and achieve something different, I can see it in their face, their children, and the way that they carry themselves. This is my goal.”

Boris believes that success at Agros should be measured by the sustainable increase in the economic status of those we serve. He believes that if they are successful with their agribusinesses, that they then will have the resources for education, better nutrition, improved healthcare, and a higher standard of living.

Boris and his wife, Jasmina, have three children: Laura (21), Andrea (17), and Boris (14). In his free time he enjoys playing the guitar, singing, and playing football, basketball, and volleyball.

We are excited to that Boris is joining our Central America team, and grateful that his expertise will be used to empower Agros communities. Please join us in welcoming Boris to the Agros family!

Press Release: One Village Online Sponsorship Program

July 28, 2010

Seattle-based non-profit launches one-of-a-kind online village sponsorship program

Utilizing cutting-edge technology, the Agros One Village program provides unparalleled access to sponsor Central American villages on their journey out of extreme poverty.

Agros International is proud to introduce a new online multimedia experience and monthly sponsorship program called One Village. This program leverages unique online technology in order to connect supporters to rural families in Central America. For as little as $15 a month, sponsors can make a difference in the lives of rural families working together as a village community to overcome poverty.

Agros is a Seattle-based non-profit organization that works with poor, landless farmers in Central America and Mexico. Through a unique, holistic development model, Agros extends loans to purchase farmland and then partners and trains farmers for 7-10 years in applying sustainable agricultural practices, all with the goal of enabling these families to create, develop, and eventually own a sustainable village. Agros has started 40 village projects across five countries.

Through the One Village website, donors are able to sponsor an actual rural village in Central America, and then follow that community online through first-hand stories, compelling photos, videos, panoramic photography, and project updates detailing village progress.

We’ve learned at Agros that donors want to do more than just write a check to a worthy cause; they want to see the difference their donations make in real lives. Today, we are excited to invite people to the One Village website where they can experience and support a Central American village in an incredible journey out of extreme poverty,” shares Sean Dimond, Agros Communications Director.

In order to build this remarkable virtual experience, Agros International partnered with CrashShop, a Seattle-based interactive media studio specializing in innovative websites, to help develop the online technology. The One Village website is a first of its kind, integrating the WordPress Content Management System with Adobe’s Flash platform. “We believe in Agros’ work, and are thrilled to play a part in helping more people experience and sponsor Agros villages. It’s a privilege to help restore hope and dignity to the world’s poor through the One Village website,” says Michael Redmond, Founder & President of CrashShop.

To learn more about the Agros One Village experience, visit

Announcing One Village!

onevillageheaderWe’re so excited to share with you One Village—a unique opportunity to sponsor and walk with a rural village of Central America in a hope-filled journey out of poverty.

Using the power of multimedia, Agros International has created a truly one-of-a-kind online experience where—for as little as $15/month—you can sponsor and follow an actual village as they create new lives for themselves and their children.

For Agros villages, this steady stream of reliable support will help ensure that the development goals of the village can be met.  For sponsoring donors, the unique access via an online platform to the people and projects that comprise a given village is the closest one can get to actually being in a village short of traveling there. Through this journey, you’ll hear the voices of villagers and ambient sounds; you’ll see the beauty behind both the successes and ongoing challenges that the villagers face.

As you follow the progress of your sponsored One Village online, you’ll come to know the people more intimately through stories told in their own words, compelling photos, videos, and project updates.  And in addition, you’ll receive a quarterly update from your sponsored One Village via email!

1 – You Know About the Devastating Problem
Almost half the world lives on less than $2.50/day. More than a billion people go to bed hungry. Most of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas and are landless.

2 – You Know That Agros Has An Effective Solution
Agros empowers entire rural villages to work their own way out of poverty by providing access to farmable land, long-term credit, and agricultural business training.

3Now… You Can Directly Help One Village Break Free from Poverty!

The need is great…the Agros solution works… and the One Village experience is a truly unique opportunity for you to directly help end rural povertyOne Village at a time.

EXPLORE the unique experience of One Village!

CHOOSE to be part of the journey!

SPONSOR One Village today!

Press Release: Trapichitos Land Titles

June 19, 2010

Seattle-based non-profit enables land for 59 indigenous Guatemalan families
After three decades, refugee survivors of Guatemala armed conflict of 1980s return to their land as rightful owners

SEATTLE, WA–Fifty-nine indigenous Mayan Guatemalan families received titles to their land in early April, twenty-nine years after fleeing from violence incited by the civil war that ravaged rural areas 1960-1996.

These families, living in the village of Trapichitos in rural Quiché, Guatemala, including nearly 250 men, women and children, partnered with Seattle-based non-profit Agros International in 2000. Agros is a non-profit that enables the world’s rural poor to attain land ownership and break the cycle of poverty through a holistic and sustainable approach to village development.

Villagers in Trapichitos—like the families in the other 39 Agros-sponsored villages throughout Central America and Mexico—have spent the past ten years defining a community vision, developing local leadership and implementing a strategic plan that includes housing, irrigation, agricultural business training, micro-enterprise loans, and education and health programs. Agros purchases the land and through long-term support, training and access to credit, families are able to repay the land loan. “Land ownership is critical to ensure vulnerable families are empowered to have a means to work themselves out of poverty,” says Director of Program Laurie Werner. “The Trapichitos families now hold titles to their property, a security and asset they can pass on to ensure a sustainable future for the next generation.”

Since 1982, over 9,000 of the world’s poorest have gained land, hope, and transformed lives in Agros-supported villages throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico. The Agros village model has caught on among villagers and supporters in recent years, with the number of Agros villages doubling from 20 to 40 within the past six years. To date, 210 families, about 1,370 people, have become proud land owners through Agros.

Agros has also won recognition for providing “lasting solutions to poverty” from an alliance of the World Bank, the UNDP, and the Inter-American Foundation, and is also a winner of the 2008 World Bank Global Marketplace Competition.

To read personal reflections about Trapichitos, read this blog post from David Carlson, Agros Donor Relations National Director.

Mary Kay Burdick

The following has been written by Susan Moulton, Agros Board Chair:

mkIt is with great sadness that I am sharing with you the news of the death on April 20, 2010 of our beloved friend, Agros board member, and comrade in the fight to end rural poverty.

This beautiful message was posted on Mary Kay’s Carebridge site the morning of her passing:

“As the birds began a morning chorus, Mary Kay Burdick gracefully passed into the arms of God. She was never uncomfortable or in pain. The events of these final days have been exactly as MK wished. We have been able to grieve and laugh in nearly equal parts.”

Our hearts are also heavy and joyful in equal parts. Mary Kay contributed so much to the world she left behind: her CAN DO attitude and actions in serving the poor have been inspirational and have set into motion generational changes in the lives of so many. I am sad that so many of the families she served with all her heart will now never have the chance to encounter Mary Kay and the shinning light that burned in her so fiercely and brightly.

That light did not come without challenging many to ask questions that needed asking; it did not come without standing up for what was just and right no matter how uncomfortable it could be. As a close friend said, “Heaven needs to get ready, because when MK gets there she is sure to have lots of questions!”

Mary Kay raised her family the same way–by charting a deeply meaningful path, with love and engagement in all of life as a wife and mother. This path of love and engagement in the fullness of life will continue to be lived out by Mary Kay’s remarkable husband Don and wonderful children Morgan and Grady.

We miss MK fiercely, even as we celebrate the impact and legacy she has left in all of our lives.

Additionally, the following obituary was published in the Seattle Times:

Mary Kathryn ‘Mary Kay’ (Delay) Burdick, 51, Seattle community activist and former financial executive, passed peacefully into the arms of God on April 20, 2010. Her death followed a courageous three-year battle with cancer.

Born in Spokane on February 2, 1959, Mary Kay was the oldest of three children of Helen and John Delay. She graduated from Idaho’s Priest River High School, and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Idaho.

In 1981, she moved to Seattle and joined the accounting firm Price Waterhouse. She and Don Burdick were married in Seattle in 1983. Later, Mary Kay worked for Sullivan Payne Company as Chief Financial Officer, and for Costco Wholesale Korea as a buyer.

Charitable causes were central to Mary Kay’s life. She was particularly passionate about health care, serving as a community ambassador for the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH).

She also cared deeply about the impoverished, acting as a director for Agros, an organization dedicated to helping the rural poor in Central America and Mexico.

In addition, Mary Kay was a director of the Eastside Housing Alliance.

Mary Kay was often engaged in many other causes and was a frequent volunteer. Many people knew Mary Kay as a skilled financial officer, and still others knew her as a passionate gardener, Scout leader, active learner, go-to person, tireless advocate for the poor, or simply special friend.

Her husband Don knew her as best friend and faithful companion. To daughter Morgan and son Grady, she was an actively engaged mom who taught by example to love travel, seek adventure, be curious, treasure learning, explore boundaries, and make thoughtful choices.

Mary Kay’s faith was an integral part of her life, particularly after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer. She studied actively and shared her religious principles with her children. Her deeply held beliefs served as the foundation that allowed her to counsel and comfort not only fellow cancer patients but also others who are suffering.

Although disease was part of Mary Kay’s life for several years, it did not define or consume her. She became an optimist, a proactive student of cancer care, and made her own informed decisions about medical treatment.

In addition to her active engagement with PATH and Agros, she continued to travel widely, including trips to South Africa, Cambodia, Thailand, Nicaragua and much of the European Union.

While receiving enhanced cancer treatment in Germany, she kept a blog and interspersed her treatment updates with tales of her travels in Europe, revealing her great sense of adventure, optimism and curiosity.

Mary Kay is survived by her husband Don, daughter Morgan, and son Grady, all of Mercer Island; sister Cindy, and brother John (Angela), both of Spokane; and parents, John and Helen Delay of Priest River, Idaho.

A mass of celebration will be held May 10 at 3:00 p.m. at Saint Monica Catholic Church, Mercer Island.

Please direct remembrances to and

Restoring Broken Relationships

Fair warning: this is long!  However this post is also an attempt to answer two fundamental question at the heart of everything we do:

“What is poverty… and… what is Agros doing to help?”

(Note: if you want the short answer, then watch this video!)

These are basic questions we hear all the time.  Whether it’s on Oprah or at a U2 concert, people hear the statistics, see the pictures, and may even weep at the stories of “the poor”, but with so many approaches and definitions and attempts to help, what does it mean to really end poverty?

The first questions that often come up are numeric in nature: “How many people are poor?”  “How much money do they make?”  “How much money are you asking me to give in order to help?”

Answers are of course numerous.

For example, in terms of the numbers and economic indicators, the World Bank estimates that approximately 3 billion people fall under the international poverty line of $2.50 a day.

In other words, according to the World Bank, almost half of the planet lives in poverty.

Think about that.  Half the planet.

(And in Central America specifically, where Agros works, more than 60% live in poverty.)

But what is poverty?

Poverty is a complex phenomenon, no doubt.  Income is an important component, but access to healthcare, education, employment, sanitation, and clean water also have a tremendous impact on quality of life.

Intangible factors–including discrimination, empowerment, community support, or having a sense of basic worth and dignity are hard to measure, but are all critical determinants of poverty.

At Agros, we have seen that poverty affects the whole person within entire communities.  It’s impossible to isolate single factors that affect just individuals. Therefore, our approach and definition of poverty is holistic.

Agros defines poverty as ‘broken relationships’. We use this definition to create a basis to understand and interact with the multiple dimensions of poverty.

What does this mean?

For the poor (and particularly the rural poor), all of the fundamental connections and relationships that make up a sustainable way of life are damaged or destroyed. This results in the destruction of access to basic community systems, opportunities, and material resources, but also the erosion and eradication of human dignity and worth.

When we define poverty as broken relationships, we’re not speaking in platitudes.

You can measure and quantify the systemic and pervasive effects of broken relationships through per capita poverty statistics including life expectancy, undernourishment, unemployment rates and literacy rates.

Further, the fundamental failures of local systems, infrastructure, and services are exacerbated when village-level relationships with local and national municipalities and institutions break down, resulting in little or no access to education, healthcare, credit, or sustainable employment opportunities.  The resulting desperation is an underlying cause of families being forced apart for months and years to work in urban areas, distant plantations, or immigrating to find work in other countries.

You can measure these broken relationships in the amount of time family members spend broken apart as one or more attempt to migrate for hard-to-find work.

If these broken relationships can be measured, what does this look like in human terms?

Imagine: that your husband and 13 year-old son spend four months of the year working on a coffee plantation hundreds of miles away for extremely low wages. You are left alone during these months, hungry and desperate to provide for the remaining children. You have no access to public services or clean water, and hunger is pervasive.

Imagine: You stumble into a dirt-floor shack after a day of back-wrenching labor. Your work for the day has earned you less than a dollar to feed a family of four children.  You depend on agriculture for your survival and livelihood, but do not own land of your own, so are forced to rent a small parcel of hard, dry land to eke out a meager crop of corn and beans. You go to sleep at night listening to your children crying themselves to sleep with hunger.  The despair is crushing.

Imagine: A barefoot child walks for miles to collect water and firewood for the family. She has never been to school, never owned a book, never been taught to write her name. If she becomes ill, access to medical care is non-existent or limited. There is nothing in her future but more of the same – hopelessness created by the cycle of extreme poverty.

At Agros we see firsthand the impact of broken relationships within extreme poverty.  But most importantly, we also see that these relationships can be restored.

We’ve learned, however, that in seeking to truly eradicate poverty you cannot reduce the solutions  to just the individual or even family level.  To create true, lasting transformation it is critical to address how the causes of extreme poverty stretch across communities and destroy entire generations.

Because poverty affects the whole person within the community, the solution must be holistic. Single interventions to poverty alleviation can have a significant impact, but they are often limited in scope, sustainability, and long-term impact.
You can treat a symptom, but it’s better to find a lasting, sustainable cure.

Given all of the above, the basic question that drives everything we do at Agros is this:  what does is take for an entire community to lift themselves out of poverty?

This is the internal question we ask ourselves in response to the more basic question of “how can you help?”

Our answer is in five parts.  Five components, really.

The Agros development model is designed to restore the multiple broken connections between individuals and their communities, empowering them to build back both economic prosperity and human dignity.  We do this through a unique, integrated, holistic model that encompasses five core components:

Community Organization
Help families define a vision for a new community and develop the local leadership required to create a self-sustaining, thriving community.

Land Ownership
Work with families to identify and purchase agricultural land on credit and use their payments to purchase land for other new communities.

Community Education & Training
Create opportunities for adequate healthcare, education, adult literacy and spiritual growth.

Housing & Infrastructure
Implement community and individual construction projects such as houses, schools, irrigation systems, latrines, infrastructure and community centers.

Sustainable Economic Growth
Develop agricultural production and support income-generating activities through microenterprise loans and technical training.

These five components form an integrated approach that we call 360° development. The components are based on this notion of enabling communities to restore for themselves the basic relationships that make up a healthy, thriving, sustainable community.

Economic considerations are key–income, business development, loans and credit:  But looking holistically–empowering women, establishing a community leadership structure, literacy, family planning, access to healthcare, and most importantly–restoring basic human dignity… these are all important parts of the whole process.

And you’ll notice that while these are issues that people in “developed” nations strive to answer, they are nevertheless human issues and must be addressed in even the most remote, rural, impoverished village.

And while we take a holistic, community-based approach, we believe that every life has worth, and every family matters. And rather than base our work exclusively on an assessment of needs, our approach seeks to build on the values, dreams, and resources of the families themselves.

You see, at the heart of all of this, we do not believe the poor are a problem to be solved.  We believe that have what it takes to list themselves out of poverty.

So we don’t work with a village community by imposing a “development program” based on top-down, theoretical solutions. Instead, we work through a participatory, values-based planning process that results in a master plan being created by the community themselves.  This plan will encompass the five components of the Agros model, but the specifics of implementation will be created by the families themselves.

And it takes time.  There is no easy solution to generations of extreme poverty.  However, by empowering villagers to identify, enhance, and grow their own capacity for achievement, social, environmental, and economic sustainability for everyone in the village is ensured.

An Agros village is highly organized, socially supportive, commercially competitive and environmentally sound.  As families thrive under new conditions of stability and security, they are able to develop agricultural businesses; develop and own assets; establish new pathways to education and healthcare; and forge partnerships with other organizations and government municipalities.

All of these integrated benefits and experiences result in the transformation of a community, and are passed on to the next generation.

After living in so many generations of poverty characterized by a fundamental degradation of human dignity, as families are given the necessary training, support, and capital to build a better future, not only is poverty alleviated, but basic human dignity is restored for everyone involved.

Want to see what this looks like? Watch this video!

Agros is in the business of poverty eradication for the long-term. We do not believe in simple, easy ‘fixes’ to complex problems. Our model provides a framework in which communities are capable of indefinitely maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society.

The vision and impact of Agros’ work is designed to end rural poverty across entire rural villages and through multiple generations.  And with 40 village projects across five countries, this is happening… one village at a time!

A National Shame

Pedro, a college student starting his last year of studies in Agronomy, is from the Agros village of La Esperanza. Next year, he will be the first college graduate from his community and his family could not be more proud. Unfortunately, many children who grow up in rural communities in Guatemala do not have the same opportunities or support that Pedro received growing up in an Agros village.

A recent article from The Economist, A National Shame, examines the extreme social, economic and political inequality in Guatemala. In certain indigenous areas of rural Guatemala, chronic malnutrition affects over 80% of children. Malnutrition results in stunted growth and learning difficulties for children, greatly compromising their potential future productivity.

“A National Shame” describes how the government’s failure to provide basic services to rural indigenous populations has resulted in severe underdevelopment: two-thirds of rural Guatemalans live in poverty.  These people were” totally abandoned in the mountains with no infrastructure, no education, no health,” says Rafael Espada, the vice-president of Guatemala. If the government continues to fail to provide good schools and health care for the majority of people, the article concludes, malnutrition will continue.

In Guatemala, Agros works with indigenous communities to help families achieve food security, obtain access to essential services, and start productive agricultural businesses that enable the entire community to overcome extreme poverty.  As rural families in Guatemala build thriving communities, they are able impact both neighboring villages and their regional economy.

We are directly challenging the despair so many feel when faced with constant hunger and extreme poverty.  Working in one of the most impoverished regions in the world, Agros is bringing practical, long-term, sustainable solutions to thousands who were once desperately hungry, and without hope.

A Conversation with Hans

Today Agros makes the exciting announcement that Hans P. Theyer has been selected as President & CEO, effective June 1, 2009.

By way of introducing Hans to the Agros community we recently asked him to respond to the following questions.

Hans at the Agros Office

What drew you to the Agros position?

The possibility of helping and serving the poor in both the regions where Agros is already working, and in regions where Agros is considering to one day expand.

Agros has a model that actually breaks the cycle of poverty for rural communities. In developing economies, this cycle of poverty and suffering is passed on from generation to generation and sadly is not a condition children can easily overcome.

The key to breaking cyclical poverty for the rural poor is in taking a long-term, holistic approach. This must certainly include empowering families to work and increase their income, as well as helping them to build long-term assets. But in order for the economic component to be successful we must also look at the whole person within the whole community.

To use a familiar analogy, what Agros does is not only teach families how to fish, but how to sell the fish, and to care for the pond. And most importantly, Agros does this in a way where the families themselves become owners of the pond!

We already know that bottom-up strategies that empower rural families over the long-term are more effective than short-term, individual interventions. And for the rural poor, those families depend so much on land for food, security and shelter. Being able to own your own land for these families is not just a dream, it’s essential!

These are just a few of the reasons why I’m honored to be able to join and serve this unique mission!

And then from a personal perspective, working for Agros is a dream come true. Working at Agros is a place where I can integrate the personal, spiritual and professional realms. I come from a background in Latin America where men define themselves in terms of their careers and professional accomplishment, and this does not necessarily go hand in hand with personal growth and serving others.

As you think about the days ahead for Agros, what excites you the most?

It is hard to prioritize — there are so many things. Let me share just a few.

Today I was looking through pictures from our Program Director, Laurie Werner, of families in El Salvador signing their land title deeds after paying off their land loans. Even from a distance I can feel what this means to them and how, previously, obtaining land ownership was a far away dream. But now the dream for these families has come true.

As I’ve had the chance to interact with (Agros founder) Skip, the board and the Agros executive leadership team, it has indeed been a pleasure as they set such a high personal and professional example. I have also interacted with several Journey With a Village partners, and have seen how their eyes and smiles brighten when they speak of their experiences and their connection to their “extended families” in the villages. I can sense how enriching these partnerships are to villagers as well.

I also remember how the Agros staff welcomed me so warmly just a few days ago and I must admit this is one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable teams I have ever seen.

Lastly, for me as well as for my wife and two sons, this opportunity is a joy and a blessing.

Tell us about your past work experience and how it relates to Agros?

First, I believe that my experiences with rural realities in so many different countries give me a good understanding of the challenges our villagers are facing and how Agros’ holistic approach can offer a lasting solution. I have had the chance to work in South East Asia, China and India, as well as throughout Latin America. While these regions are all fairly different from one another, they also have commonalities and similar challenges in their underserved communities.

Secondly, with a background in business, economics, and most recently having brought leadership to Microsoft’s rural computing efforts for emerging economies, I feel I can bring Agros a balance between strategic vision and a results-driven approach, knowing that strong partnerships, relationships, and teamwork are essential.

I have also worked both in the field and in corporate headquarters, giving me an understanding of “both worlds”, a valuable asset for managing our Seattle and country teams in the five countries where we operate.

Lastly, I have worked with and led multicultural and interdisciplinary teams, creating partnerships between many diverse entities, which is also the case at Agros. Creating effective partnerships across cultures, languages, and geographies is a key part of what Agros does.

As you look forward, what do you see in store for Agros?

A time for growth and larger impact! As I recently shared with the Leadership Team, Agros’ work is not only unique and effective, but transformative for everyone involved. Agros has done a good job sharing the work with their current base of supporters, but I believe we have an opportunity to gently but firmly take Agros’ light from under the basket and let it shine in many new places!

Globally, there are so many issues that cry out for sustainable solutions.  Whether it’s the world food crisis, environmental sustainability and over-consumption of resources, or the increasingly linked economies of the developing and developed world; we are in a time where Agros has much to offer.

Alleviating poverty is hard work. There are no quick solutions and so much depends on the generosity of supporters. However, I simply believe that Agros’ work is too effective, too transformative, and too important to not work as hard as we can toward that dream of “mil-Agros”  (In Spanish,  “a thousand Agros Villages” and/or “a thousand miracles.”)

Any last thoughts you wish to share?

Yes. I want to thank Skip, Susan Moulton and the Board, as well as the Agros Leadership Team and staff for how they have already welcomed me. And I can’t wait to meet our hard- working field staff and country directors.

I also want to thank our donors and partners for their support in making Agros the blessing it is for so many today, as well as for the many more rural, poor families we wish to touch. I look forward to meeting and getting to know our current family of supporters, as well as reaching out to new supporters and partners.

You all deserve my very best professional, personal and spiritual effort to assist in this transforming journey called Agros. Thank you.

Introducing Shannon Gallagher!

Shannon GallagherI’m very excited to announce that Shannon Gallagher has joined the Agros team as the new Agros Annual Campaign Manager. We are grateful to have such a talented, committed person join our team. She brings a clear passion to serve, and a remarkable professional background.

Shannon’s previous work experience includes working as the Yahoo! Global Marketing & Programming Manager, Yahoo! Front Page, managing a multi-country targeted IP marketing program to better engage (localized content) and monetize (premium upsell) 90M international daily users adding millions of dollars in new revenue.  She guided a team of designers, web developers, and media specialists to implement simultaneous international internal marketing, co-branded and cause-related campaigns.

Shannon left Yahoo! for Africa, working in Mozambique as a Microfunds Fellow for Kiva ( Returning to the US, she then went to work as Director of Marketing and Content for Graspr, Inc., an online video community that offers high quality instructional content on a wide range of topics.

She has a Masters degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, has studied in Venezuela and Chile, worked on projects in Bolivia and Argentina, and is fluent in Spanish as well as proficient in Portuguese. She also completed a Research Assistant Internship at the United Nations, Secretary General’s Office.

Please join me in welcoming Shannon to the Agros family!

Agros in the Seattle Times

The following is a joint op-ed article published yesterday (10/08/08) in the Seattle Times.  This was written by Tim Hanstad of the Rural Development Institute, Greg Rake of Agros International, and Marty Kooistra of Habitat for Humanity.

You can read the published op-ed at the Seattle Times website by clicking here.

Seattle groups work to secure land, shelter rights

By Tim Hanstad, Greg Rake and Marty Kooistra

Special to The Times

Many of us in the U.S. don’t think much about the relationship between land ownership and poverty. But for the 1.4 billion people on our planet who survive on less than $1 a day, land is the most important asset they could have. It is the crucial source of shelter, food, income and security. And for the poorest in the United States, land and homeownership remains the unfulfilled American dream. This past Monday’s World Habitat Day is an opportunity to call attention to the universal need for secure land rights and shelter.

For Padma, a woman living in rural India, becoming a landowner transformed her life. Like many women in developing countries, Padma did not have legal rights to property. She worked as a day laborer, when work was available, earning 18 cents a day. Her children, who came to the fields with her, ate only one meal of rice gruel a day, not enough to provide them with the vital micronutrients they needed to thrive. They squatted in poor shelter, with poor sanitation and the threat of disease, and were prone to exploitation.

Today, Padma is a landowner. She earns $5 a day with the flower business she started on her small plot of land. The income allowed her to build a home, grow plenty of food and send her children to school, giving them a future full of possibility. With help from RDI, a Seattle-based nonprofit that helps governments provide secure land rights for the poor, the government of India is now giving the same “micro-land ownership” opportunities to millions of families like Padma’s, providing shelter, food security and economic prosperity at little cost.

Padma’s story is not uncommon. In the Ixil region of Guatemala, landless rural residents spend days marching to the coast to work on plantations. In return, they are offered “rights” to plant corn and beans on land that is only marginally productive, leading to malnutrition and hunger. This migration means that families are either separated or, more often than not, everyone who can must go to work. As a result, few children attend school.

Last year, five of these young people graduated from a Guatemalan university. This was possible only because their parents purchased land through another Seattle-based nonprofit, Agros International. With the land, the parents no longer had to migrate and the children were able to go to school. Four of the five graduates were daughters, and all have moved back to their villages to give back to their communities.

The work of these Seattle-based organizations demonstrates the many benefits secure land tenure provides: food security, women’s status, economic development and sustainable housing. Secure land rights give people a reason to invest in their land, improving agricultural production and environmental stewardship. It also reduces urban migration and creates political stability.

These struggles for a secure place to live aren’t isolated to developing countries – they happen right here in Seattle. For a family of refugees from Ethiopia, their recent escape to the U.S. was a dream come true. But the only apartment they could afford in Seattle was cramped and infested by ants. The house was filled with mold, and the plumbing and electricity did not work so the family lacked heat. When they applied for help from Habitat for Humanity, they were initially turned down.

Although Habitat for Humanity strives to serve as many families as possible, it is a constant challenge to secure enough land in Seattle for all needy families. Fortunately, the city of Seattle donated property and the family now lives in a simple home with a 30-year, affordable mortgage.

In the Sept. 29 issue of Newsweek, one week before World Habitat Day, editor Fareed Zakaria described land rights as one of the five most important things that can help solve our world’s problems. The efforts of local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, RDI, Agros, World Vision and others demonstrates Seattle’s role as a global leader in innovative solutions to some of our world’s greatest issues, and shows the power of land rights and shelter in creating a safer, more secure world.

Tim Hanstad is president and CEO of the Rural Development Institute (RDI); Greg Rake is president of Agros International; Marty Kooistra is CEO of the Seattle/South King County Habitat for Humanity.

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