Agros Blog

Hurricane Ida in El Salvador

As many of you know, Hurricane Ida hit El Salvador late Saturday, Nov. 7, fed by 145-kilometer-per-hour winds and causing heavy flooding. The Category 1 hurricane left over 130 dead and thousands displaced.

We are saddened to report that our four Agros El Salvador communities have all been impacted, as follows:

San Diego de Tenango: The road is inaccessible, a portion of their crops have been lost, homes have been damaged, and families’ health have been impacted.

Nuevo Renacer: Roofs are leaking and floors have turned to mud. There is considerable erosion to the access road and a loss in basic grains and vegetables.

La Esperanza: Severe erosion to the road as well as significant loss of basic grains has been reported.

El Milagro: A large portion of the families’ basic grains were lost.

We are in daily contact with our El Salvador staff, and plans are underway to help these villages recover and rebuild. We will keep all partners posted as this process continues.

World Food Day

Vegetables2Today, October 16th, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes the global observance of World Food Day. In a year deemed the ‘worst financial crisis since the Great Depression’, the ripple effects of which exponentially hurt most those already suffering, it is fitting that this year’s theme focuses on Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis.

The FAO highlights the critical importance of food security for the entire world’s citizens, especially as the ‘economic crisis is stalking the small-scale farms and rural areas of the world, where 70 percent of the world’s hungry live and work. With an estimated increase of 105 million hungry people in 2009, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger.”  Please visit the FAO’s World Food Day website to learn more about food security issues and how you can get involved in making a difference.

CultivatingLandFor Agros International, land tenure and food security are tantamount to everything we do working to improve the lives of the rural poor of Central America and Mexico. From selection of fecund, productive agricultural land to providing sound agricultural training, Agros staff is committed to providing Agros communities with all the tools necessary to ensure their ongoing food security and growth.  In turn, Agros communities have worked hard to implement sustainable agricultural techniques to diversify their crops and increase yields. In many cases, these improvements have meant the difference between one meal of tortillas a day to three consistent meals a day from a diversity of nutritious food groups for the whole family.

EggsWe invite you to reflect on this date the value of food security in your life, and how critical it remains for the millions of people who continue to go hungry. Please consider giving a hand-up to those working to create sustainable food sources for themselves and their families. Give the gift of One Acre of Seed or a Flock of Chicks today!

International Day of Rural Women

WomensChayoteProjectToday, October 15th, we celebrate the International Day of Rural Women. Established in 2007 by the UN General Assembly’s resolution 62/136, the annual observance recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” The observance serves to not only applaud the many contributions made, but also raise awareness around the many challenges and inequities still facing most rural women globally.

As noted in the UN Secretary-General’s annual message, the disparities that continue to exist are particularly noteworthy in a year that also marks the 30th anniversary of the only international human rights treaty to address the rights of rural women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This doctrine calls upon us all “to ensure that women fully participate in rural development; have access to health care…training, education, credit and loans; and benefit equally from infrastructure investments…”

WomensGroupAgros International has always recognized and supported the critical role of women in building and nurturing thriving communities, families, and individuals. Women in Agros villages are not only working the family’s crops, they are also successfully raising their children and managing the home. A great number of them are at the same time advancing their studies to better their future opportunities, taking on loans and successfully managing income-generating microenterprises, and holding elected offices making important decisions in village community leadership. Inspiring isn’t it?

It is probably no surprise, then, that a cornerstone of Agros’ model has always been to ensure that women get equal billing on the title of land ownership—both the husband and the wife’s name is on the land title. Owning land for the first time in their lives is a major step forward for women and a tremendous sense of personal pride; getting equal recognition and reward in the eyes of the law for their contributions is an important component to building equity in other areas of community development.

JuanaRodasMore amazing still are the women who do it alone – work the land, raise the children, go to school, manage small businesses and contribute to village leadership – working towards attaining their land title.

One such example is Juana from the village of San Diego in El Salvador. While her husband left her with five children to raise alone, she built a life for her family through hard work and a hopeful spirit. During the war in El Salvador she and her family sought refuge in Honduras, surviving difficult conditions. When they returned after the peace agreements and learned of Agros, Juana and her family were one of the first to join the community of San Diego. Partnering with Agros has been one of the most important decisions she ever made because with land of her own, she can take care of her children. In San Diego, her oldest son Nelson helps her cultivate corn and beans and diverse vegetables. Juana is also one of the first in her community to start a tilapia project where she and business partners earn $2/lb. for the 150 – 200 pounds of fish they farm on average each quarter. She’s also an active member of the Women’s Committee, working on a multitude of projects to improve the lives of women and youth in her community. Through these activities, Juana can send her children to school and provide them a more stable home than she ever had.

Through much hard work and determination, Juana is expecting to pay off her land loan very soon. She still has a bit to go, but is determined to see the day when she can take her title to her land as a single working woman, and share the rewards with her children and their children for generations to come.

We invite you to recognize and pay tribute to the many achievements made by so many in the face of great adversity on this International Rural Women’s Day. In honor of this special date, please consider making a difference in the life of a rural, poor woman in an Agros village who, like Juana, is working hard to make a meaningful change in their lives. Make a Women’s Small Business Loan today!

For All Women

On this Thursday, October 1, Oprah Winfrey will deliver a call to action for all women. Inspired by the New York Times best-selling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, The Oprah Winfrey Show will spend a full hour revealing stories of women overcoming adversity to realize a better life for themselves. Be sure to tune-in to the “Oprah” show this Thursday, Oct 1, to hear this appeal in support of women around the world. Check local listings for time and channel.

In conjunction with the show, Oprah will launch a new giving registry online at www.oprah.com/forallwomen, where Agros International will be featured.

You can find Agros’ featured project in Oprah’s giving registry by clicking on the project entitled “Economic Independence for Women in Central America.” Or, you can navigate directly to Agros’ featured project page at GlobalGiving.

ou can find Agros’ featured project at the registry by clicking on the project titled “Economic
Independence for Women in Central America.” Or, you can navigate directly to this project
page at Global Giving by clicking here.

agros-guate-womanAgros exists to end rural poverty for entire village communities, and supporting women is an important message for Agros because we believe investing in women is a critical component in the development of solid communities.

Not only do women prove themselves to be successful entrepreneurs, but their commitment to reinvesting profits into their families reaps rewards for the extended community. Women’s projects are becoming a significant source of income in many Agros villages and better position families to pay off their land loans ahead of schedule.

Here are just a few examples of projects that offer women economic independence, confidence, and the ability to contribute to their families’ income:

Twenty-five women in Batzchocola, Guatemala have joined together to form a Community Bank. They have successfully completed six six-month lending cycles with a 100% on-time repayment record and have saved $1,847 to lend to other community members outside of the Community Bank. This is a huge accomplishment for a group that started working together just three years ago and will significantly increase access to funds for all village members interested in starting projects.

Griselda, 48 years old, is the President of the Community Bank Group A in Cajixay. “My dream for our group,” she shares, “is that the projects benefit all of the women in our community.” Griselda currently invests in a small store where she sells sugar, water, nachos and medicine. She also raises pigs and rabbits, in addition to having her own bread oven! Griselda is so ambitious she has established a partnership with a nearby restaurant that places a weekly order for her breads. With the income that she earns, she hopes that her grandson Denison will be able to go to college, just like her son Jacobo who graduated in 2007 in agro-forestry.

78GuatePortraitWomen in other Agros villages are concentrating on a variety of projects including baking and food catering, animal husbandry, weaving and embroidery, decorative arts, and small retail stores.

Your support helps Agros make a significant impact in the lives of rural, female entrepreneurs and their families.

Events in Honduras

On Sunday, June 28, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup. While there are reports of ongoing protests in both Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the rural areas where Agros works have not been directly affected. Agros Honduras Director Joel Martí­nez has reported that all Agros villagers and staff are safe.

As for travel considerations, we not canceling any Service Team or Vision Trips at this time. As we continue to monitor the situation, we may cancel trips in the future if there is any undue risk.

We will continue to monitor events closely, and will stay in very close contact with Agros Honduras staff. Any future updates will be posted here on the Agros blog.

The Sweet Smell of Success and a Taste of Giving

It never ceases to amaze me just how much we stand to learn from children. Their perspective about the world around them is so bright, their demand for equality so unwavering, and their desire to “do good”  so pure.

I saw a great example of this in practice the other day at the St. Joseph School’s bake sale. When you think of the traditional bake sale, it’s typically employed to raise money for things the kids need, like more instruments for the school’s band or new uniforms for a sports team.

BakeSaleAdBut this bake sale was different. After first being introduced to Agros and its mission by teacher Beth Peterson, the three 1st grade classrooms at St. Joseph’s joined forces and decided to put on a bake sale to raise money for the children and animals in Agros communities. Their zeal was infectious, and soon a date was set and moms and dads alike were in line last Fall ready to help bake for a cause!

On a carefully orchestrated rotating schedule of parents, students and teachers manning tables across a several hour span, the first bake sale held in the school’s cafeteria was an absolute success. Offering a variety of delicious treats, ranging from cookies to cakes anywhere from 50¢ to $2 for a bundle, the first bake sale brought in an astounding $640!

BakeSaleTables_Kids

The kids clearly had a blast baking with their parents. But what may have trumped that was the fun in having the adult responsibility of selling the goodies and handling all the finances. The 1st graders were so pleased with the fruits of their labor, they decided they wanted to do it again in the Spring! In the meantime, the $640 raised was set aside for safe keeping until the next bake sale scheduled a few months later, after which they planned to present one check to Agros.

AgrosPresentation_to_ClassBefore the next bake sale, Ms. Peterson invited her longtime friend and Agros staffer, Dave Spicer, to come share a bit more about Agros with the students. As one of Agros’ fundraising officers, this was the youngest group of “future philanthropists” he’d ever presented to. So he went prepared with rich stories and visuals to engage the children in a way that would help relate the Agros children’s daily experience as compared to their own; showing both the similarities and differences. There were many pictures of Agros children with animals like goats, rabbits, chickens and cows and the children loved it. After the presentation was over, student after student shared that they really liked that “Agros works with people and animals, and they help each other.”

Dave and I both were humbled, and wanted to make sure the kids knew how many lives their efforts would touch in such positive ways, and how inspiring they were to us personally.

BakeSaleTables_Moms

When the time came for the second bake sale, the parents, teachers and students functioned like a well-oiled machine. The resources were in place, the goods were plentiful and varied (and I might add quite delicious!), and there were prospective buyers a plenty with thanks to well-placed and artfully decorated poster advertisements! Buyers came and went in steady waves, and the baked goods seamlessly replenished to meet the needs with thanks to the many organized parents behind the scenes.

It was such fun to see the 1st graders work their magic and sell people not only a delicious treat, but also talk about Agros’ mission and what inspired them to run the bake sale in the first place. It was equally heartwarming to see kids from the other grades carefully look at the photos of Agros villages we’d brought and ask such smart questions about the work.

At the end of the day, the second and final bake sale of the year brought in a little over $500! That is a lot of cookies, muffins, and cakes exchanging hands!

CheckPresentation_to_AgrosA few days later, in a poignant and heartfelt ceremonial gesture, the 1st graders from St. Joseph’s presented Dave with a check to Agros in the amount of $1140!

Our sincere thanks to the first grade teachers at St. Joseph’s Elementary, Beth Peterson, Mary Doquilo and Aimee Meier for their vision and leadership to see this project through, and to all the parents who offered so freely of their time and resources to bake and host the bake sale tables.

And most especially, our warmest thanks to the 63 students of St. Joseph’s 1st grade classrooms for including Agros on your journey to “do good in the world” and reminding us all of the importance of giving. We would be honored to work in tandem with you again next year, and hope you’ll share some of your coveted baking recipes with us, too!


Agros Honduras Villages Faring Well After Earthquake

Our heartfelt thanks to our friends around the globe for your concern about the welfare of the Agros villages in Honduras after last week’s tremor. The powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Honduras at 3:24am local time last Thursday. The jolt toppled approximately 80 homes in both Honduras and Belize, killing at least six and sending untold numbers of people running into the streets in the middle of the night. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya estimates the damages total upwards of US$37 million.

Thankfully, the families in the Agros Honduras villages are all safe and sound, and report no damage to community buildings or infrastructure. Equally, Agros in-country staff and their families are all well. We are grateful that the Agros family is unharmed and the only resulting disruption was to the main office’s Internet connection which is expected online again in a few days.

For more information on the quake itself, read CNN’s latest update.

HondurasEarthquakeMap.jpg

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.

Responding to Swine Flu

As the World Health Organization (WHO) raises the swine influenza A (H1N1) pandemic threat alert to level 5, Agros is carefully monitoring the situation in the countries and regions in which we work.

Of the five countries Agros works in, “Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico”, Mexico is the only country with confirmed cases of swine flu to date. On Tuesday of this week health officials from member countries of the Central American Integration System met in Managua, Nicaragua to coordinate and discuss preventative swine flu measures, which include tightening border and immigration controls. In addition, these health ministers signed joint accords committing to unite together, and to use all resources available to confront the epidemic.

Agros villages are located in the rural sectors of these countries. We have field staff who are in regular contact with our villagers and if anyone starts to show swine flu symptoms we will work to make sure they obtain medical attention. In addition, our staff are conducting hygiene reminders in every village and making sure villagers know what to look out for.

As for travel considerations, we not canceling any Service Team or Vision Trips at this time. As we continue to monitor the situation, we may cancel trips in the future if there is an undue health risk in any region where we travel and work.

Lastly, here are a variety of helpful links:

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/index.html

CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION
http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/
http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx

US STATE DEPT TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS
http://travel.state.gov/

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL INSURANCE SITES
http://urgent.internationalsos.com/default.aspx
http://www.hthtravelinsurance.com/extras/swineFlu.cfm

GENERAL NEWS SOURCES
http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/swineflu
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/

Upcoming Events

Following are a list of educational, film, and international development events in the Seattle area:

May Events

Meaningful Movies, ‘Un Poquito de Tanta Verdad’ (A Little Bit of Too Much Truth)
May 1st, 7:00 p.m.
Keystone Church, Wallingford, 5019 Keystone Place

“Un Poquito de Tanta Verdad” shows the story of a community of farmers, workers, and students organizing in Oaxaca, Mexico to tell their story of oppression when the mainstream media refused to report it.  Filmmaker Jill Freidberg will be in attendance and host a community discussion after the film.

International Worker’s Day Rally and March
May 1st, 3:30 p.m. rally, 4:00 p.m. march
Judkin’s Playfield, behind St. Mary’s Church, 611 20th Avenue South
(206) 324-6044

Join El Comite Pro-Reforma Migratoria y Justicia Social for the annual May 1 rally & march in support of workers everywhere.

El Centro de la Raza Cinco de Mayo Celebration
May 2nd, 3:00 p.m.
Jefferson Community Center, 3801 Beacon Avenue South
(206) 957-4602

El Centro’s 4th annual Cinco de Mayo celebration will feature traditional food, arts and crafts, children activities, local vendors, and entertainment.

Sandra Cisneros at Town Hall Seattle
May 7th, 7:00 p.m.
Town Hall Great Hall, 8th Avenue and Seneca Street

Author Sandra Cisneros celebrates the 25th anniversary of The House on Mango Street, a novel about a young girl growing up in Chicago’s Latino neighborhood.

Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa
Featuring Dr. Dambisa Moyo
Kane Hall, Room 130, University of Washington

The World Affairs Council presents Dr. Dambisa Moyo, member of Cambridge University’s Center for International Business and Management and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Dr. Moyo argues for more innovative ways for Africa to finance development, including trade with China, accessing capital markets, and microfinance.

Pacific Northwest Microfinance Conference
May 8th, 7:00 p.m. and May 9th, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Upper Gwinn Commons, Seattle Pacific University

The Pacific Northwest Microfinance Conference brings together local organizations on the forefront of microfinance to collaborate and share ideas about reducing global poverty. The conference features a talk from Skip Li, Agros founder and Laurie Werner, Program Director.

Genevieve Albers Forum: Bill Gates, Sr.
May 19th, 7:00 p.m.
Piguott Auditorium, Seattle University
(206) 296-5732, haukebatseattleudotedu

Seattle University Albers School of Business hosts Bill Gates, Sr., discussing Showing up for life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime. Gates, Sr. is the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is involved in various philantrophy and non-profit projects.

International Relief, Development, and Conservation in the Cloud
May 21st, 7:00 p.m.
Museum of History and Industry, 2700 24th Avenue East

The World Affairs Council presents four CIO’s (Chief Information Officers) from leading NGOs, Ed Granger-Happ from Save the Children, Simon Jennings from Oxfam, Vida Durant from CARE, and Jean-Louis Ecochard from The Nature Conservancy. They will discuss the effect of information and communications technologies on the work of humanitarian agencies.

Environment in a Developing World
May 26th, Time and Location TBA

Join the discussion with various Washington-based groups on how to improve working conditions and the environment in the developing world.

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 (www.kiva.org). 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!

2009 Pacific Northwest Microfinance Conference

microfinance-conference1.jpgOn May 8th and 9th, Agros Founder, Skip Li, and Program Director, Laurie Werner, will speak at the 2009 Pacific Northwest Microfinance Conference. They will share observations and insights gained from their years of experience using microfinance as one integral part of Agros’ holistic approach to poverty alleviation for entire communities.

Integrated within the five-component Agros development model, small capital loans provide the opportunity for villagers, especially women, to dramatically increase their income and productivity. This conference is an important local forum for discussion about poverty alleviation and an opportunity for Agros to talk about our unique holistic development model and to connect with other local non-profits using microfinance.

Interest in microfinance as a tool for poverty alleviation has skyrocketed in recent years. The MicroCredit Summit estimates that at least 3,000 institutions utilize microfinance and over 100 million people have participated in microfinance programs. The Conference presents a unique opportunity for local professionals, educators, students, and interested members of the public to connect and engage in a dialogue about microfinance. The diverse group of speakers and exhibits will demonstrate the range of institutions using microfinance, showcase a wide variety of success stories, explore recent innovations, and provide information about how to support local organizations engaged in microfinance.

Chi-Dooh “Skip” Li will deliver the Saturday evening address, “Call to Action”.  In 1982, Li responded to the needs of the landless poor in Central America by founding Agros International, a non-profit with an innovative development model. He will draw on 25 years of experience working with rural poor and observing the effects of microfinance programs. Laurie Werner will be speaking on the panel Beyond Credit: The Integration of Financial and Non-Financial Services Within the Community: looking at the impact of how microfinance can be used as part of a larger, integrated strategy of poverty alleviation.

The Microfinance Conference presents a fantastic opportunity to learn more about microfinance, support Agros International staff members, and connect with local citizens supporting the effort to find solutions to global poverty.

Please come to support Agros and learn more about local microfinance!

2009 Pacific Northwest Microfinance Conference
Upper Gwinn Commons, Seattle Pacific University
Friday, May 8, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. and
Saturday, May 9, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Registration: Before April 30th: $40, $10 students (first 100)
After April 30th: $50, $20 students

Additional Information: http://www.spu.edu/depts/sbe/se/microfinance/

Employment Opportunity at Agros

Agros has a new open position for an Annual Campaign Manager.  As follows:

Position Summary:

The Agros Annual Campaign Manager will plan, manage, and grow all aspects of Agros’ Annual Giving efforts. This individual will increase overall annual giving by leveraging channel marketing expertise, direct mail and online giving experience, expertise in donor segmentation, and implementing effective donor acquisition and retention strategies. The Annual Campaign Manager will directly oversee the management of all direct mail, online and monthly giving programs, and work closely in all aspects of resource development to create, market and manage multi-faceted fundraising campaigns. Additionally, the Annual Campaign Manager will also help in the design & production of associated online & collateral material to promote the various aspects of the Annual Campaign.

Key Result Areas:

  • Campaign Management: Plan, market, and manage Agros Annual Campaign efforts, leading the effort to secure gifts, acquire new donors, and through segmented communication channels strengthen relationships with current donors.
  • Donor Acquisition: Increase the overall number of donors within each giving channel by marketing an integrated array of online and direct mail giving opportunities.
  • Donor Retention: Increase donor retention through segmented donor stewardship and communication best practices.
  • Fiscal Management: Under supervision of Director of Marketing and Communications, able to maintain and fiscally monitor campaign budget.
  • Collaboration: Ability to collaborate across departments in a team environment; ability to work with and lead vendors and volunteers as necessary.
  • Demonstrated Knowledge: Understand principles related to resource development, fundraising strategies, channel marketing, and resource management (statistical analysis of campaigns).

Click here for more details.

Trace Bundy in Concert

trace bundy album coverTrace Bundy, a world renowned guitarist and a passionate Agros supporter, will perform this coming Monday, December 1st, at the Triple Door in Seattle.

Trace’s most recent album “Missile Bell” is named after the story of an Agros village in El Salvador called San Diego de Tenango. Tenango’s history is laced with hardship and displacement. During El Salvador’s civil war, the villagers fled the country, surviving the war in Honduran refugee camps. They returned years later to find their land destroyed and occupied. With the help of Agros, the 18 families were able to purchase property and embarked on a new life together. The families, filled with gratitude and deep faith, postponed building their own homes in order to build a church and hold a service of thanks. But they needed a church bell. So they went searching and found an old missile casing leftover from the war – perhaps similar to one that destroyed their village in the first place – and they hoisted it up on a rope, transforming it into their bell.

Their missile-turned-to-bell speaks to the power of redemption: ugly become beautiful, dead things alive, old things new. Trace took that image and wrote a song called “Missile Bell” playing ugly, dissonant chords in a way that becomes harmonious. He plays it as a proclamation of peace and a testament to the villagers in El Salvador.

Trace and his wife Becca, together with friends and family, support the Agros Village of Villa Linda in Barillas, Guatemala. It is their desire to use their platform as artists to advocate on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Partnering with Agros has been an exciting way to make that vision a reality. The story of Tenango’s Missile Bell continues to impact their lives, their work, and their faith.

We invite you to come experience Trace’s music!

Triple Door Mainstage
216 Union St. Seattle, WA
Monday, December 1st, 7 pm
$10 advance / $12 at the door
206.838.4333
All-Ages – doors at 5:30pm
Additional Info and Tickets:  http://www.tripledoor.com/event.aspx?eid=3838
www.tracebundy.com

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.

Come Run with Agros!

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Our 1st Annual Agros 5K Fun Run/Walk is coming up Saturday September 13, 2008 at Magnuson Park (directions). Early registration deadline is next Friday September 5, 2008.

Invite your friends and family to run and bring awareness about the great need for hope and opportunity in Central America and Mexico.

Schedule:
Race Day Registration: 7:30 – 8:30 am
Run and Walk: 9:00 am
Awards: 10:00 am
Kids Dash (ages 5 and under): 10:30 am
Kids Dash (ages 6 to 10): 10:30 am

Fees:
Run:
$25.00 per person, early registration, through 9/5- includes registration and T-shirt.
$30.00 per person, late registration (after 9/5) and race day – includes registration and T-shirt (T-shirt will be mailed to you).

Walk:
$25.00 per person, early registration, through 9/5- includes registration and T-shirt.
$30.00 per person, late registration (after 9/5) and race day – includes registration and T-shirt (T-shirt will be mailed to you).

Kids Dash: Free.

Runners/Walkers can register online, by fax, email or snail mail:
Register Online
Download PDF

Become a Fundraiser!
You can help Agros by creating your own fundraising web page for this event. Invite your friends to join the mission of Agros and let them know about the Agros 5K Fun Run. Click here to start.

For more information about the event:
- Email Doug Haley at racedirectoratagrosdotorg  (racedirectoratagrosdotorg)  
- Or call 206.528.1066

Good News in Nicaragua: Impressions from a Friend

I recently had the opportunity to take Claude Nikondeha, founder of the Amahoro Network, to see our work in Nicaragua. Claude is from Burundi, and he is interested in contextualizing and implementing the Agros development model in East Africa. This is what Claude shared with his network after our trip:

claude.jpg

Dear friends,
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Latin America for the first time. I arrived in Nicaragua to learn first-hand about the work of AGROS INTERNATIONAL. Upon my arrival, I immediately recognized that the people of Nicaragua are wonderful people with the most beautiful language, living a simple life of caring for each other and the land that God has given them. As I walked through their communities and witnessed the pride in their agricultural accomplishments, I was impressed with their eagerness to work hard to bring about lasting change in their villages. Their joy was contagious, and I found myself infused with deep delight with each encounter, with each story told and each meal shared together. Cultivating and owning your own land, is good news, indeed!

The vision of Agros is “to restore hope and opportunity to the world’s poor.” In other words they go after what Jesus called ‘the least of these’ and give them tangible hope in the form of farmland. For the last 25 years, Agros has been doing rural community development in Latin America with a simple but very transformative process — building self-sustaining and thriving communities.

While mistakes have been made, it is success that thrives as Agros creates communities with land, local leadership, homes, and a spirit of generous hospitality. Their work is a visible manifestation of God’s good news to the impoverished people of Latin America.

I went to Nicaragua hoping to be inspired for ‘the least of these’ in my own homeland of Burundi. Indeed, the rural farmers of Nicaragua inspired me beyond what any book or essay on rural development could have ever done! These are people who are getting their ‘first chance’, their first real opportunity to build a home, own land, run a business, lead in their village and experience the goodness of God’s provision. Their industrious and gracious spirit reminds me of my African kinsmen, and I feel like I have got a glimpse of hope for the countryside of Burundi.

For many years I have looked for a way to sustain healthy development in a rural setting and a communal culture. I believe this is it, this is what it can look like! Agros offers a paradigm that offers me hope; it is a model that can deliver real transformation on the ground. This model allows communities to grow, leadership to develop and opportunity to spring up like wild flowers. I have seen what is possible in Nicaragua, and I believe that it is possible in Burundi and across rural Africa. By partnering with the poor and making land, agricultural knowledge, community development and leadership training available to them, good things can grow. This can be good news for Africa! This summer while my family and I spend time in Burundi, one of the things we will be exploring will be a potential local NGO who can partner with Agros to bring this opportunity to the poor of Burundi.

Amahoro,
Claude Nikondeha

The Move to 4th and Bell

The move is now officially complete. The Agros Seattle staff started working at the new office on Monday (3/17/08).

Special thanks goes out to Agros Office Manager Kathy Kautzky for shepherding, facilitating, and managing what has been a mammoth undertaking. She has managed this process with efficiency and remarkable grace.

Please note: our phone number will stay the same, however our new address is now:

2225 4th Ave. 2nd Floor
Seattle, WA. 98121

Trace Bundy at the Triple Door!

Trace Bundy, a world renowned guitarist and a passionate Agros supporter, will be releasing his newest DVD recording on Monday, March 10th at the Triple Door in Seattle.

trace bundy album coverThe album “Missile Bell” is named after the story of an Agros village in El Salvador called San Diego de Tenango. Tenango’s history is laced with hardship and displacement. During El Salvador’s civil war, the villagers fled the country, surviving the war in Honduran refugee camps. They returned years later to find their land destroyed and occupied. With the help of Agros, the 18 families were able to purchase property and embarked on a new life together. The families, filled with gratitude and deep faith, postponed building their own homes in order to build a church and hold a service of thanks. But they needed a church bell. So they went searching and found an old missile casing leftover from the war – perhaps similar to one that destroyed their village in the first place – and they hoisted it up on a rope, transforming it into their bell.

Their missile-turned-to-bell speaks to the power of redemption: ugly become beautiful, dead things alive, old things new. Trace took that image and wrote a song called “Missile Bell” playing ugly, dissonant chords in a way that becomes harmonious. He plays it as a proclamation of peace and a testament to the villagers in El Salvador.

Trace and his wife Becca have recently committed to a six-year Journey with a Village partnership with a new village in Guatemala called “Villa Linda”. It is their desire to use their platform as artists to advocate on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Partnering with Agros has been an exciting way to make that vision a reality. The story of Tenango’s Missile Bell continues to impact their lives, their work, and their faith.

We invite you to come experience Trace’s music at his DVD release show, and particularly to hear this song “Missile Bell” and remember the families of Tenango.

Triple Door Mainstage
216 Union St. Seattle, WA
Monday, March 10th 7:30 pm
$10 advance / $12 at the door
206.838.4333
All-Ages – doors at 5:30pm
Tickets Available HERE
www.tracebundy.com

My Christmas Gift

The following is a translation of an article written by Agros Guatemala Board Member Humberto Preti and published in the Guatemalan newspaper ‘Prensa Libre’:

Barillas01“Last week the Agros Guatemala directors went to visit the communities that Agros supports in Barillas, Huehuetenango. After traveling through the beautiful peaks of Los Cuchumantes, we arrived (over torturous, difficult roads) at our destination and were surprised to see the inhabitants of these communities truly involved and working with a spirit of betterment. The men and women there are developing an aptitude for entrepreneurship.

It’s clear just how important the organization’s support has been for them. They are working hard by themselves, taking initiative and participating in projects that go above and beyond the aid that they have been given. Pascual particularly impressed us. In spite of his lack of education, he was able to build a drier for his coffee, which he made entirely by himself by copying the drawings that he saw in a manual. There are other community members developing their own businesses and implementing projects as well, some on their own and others in a communal fashion. The communal projects include a tilapia tank for raising fish, important buildings for the community such as schools, and sewing rooms to keep the machines in (some of which were acquired through loans).

Barillas02Agros has been providing women with loans in the form of a community-run bank, which they have already taken to the next level by receiving training to be able to process their own loans. It’s admirable to see that no one has been defaulting on the loans ‘ve received and that some women are already moving on to their third loan.

It was our turn during the visit to one of the communities to give the land titles to everyone there who had repaid their land loans (in the Agros Guatemala village “El Edén”). Since the Agros model isn’t about giving everything away for free, it generates hard work and commitment among the villagers. This desire to improve is visible in the Canjobal communities as much as it is in the Ixil triangle – the importance that they are giving to their children’s education, their desire to get trained in different skills. These things have been made possible with the help of Guatemalan organizations such as INTECAP (a training program developed by the Industry Council of Guatemala) and ANACAFE (Guatemalan Association of Coffee Growers), as well as other organizations like Agros International, Generalitat Valenciana (Spanish Municipal Organization), USAID (US Agency for International Development) and other international organizations that have dedicated themselves to helping the poor by investing in productive projects.

In some communities where there are water resources, the families are already thinking of building their own hydroelectric system. Although there are already electricity networks in nearby, the villagers are not able to pay the excessive charges due to our dependence on hydrocarbons.

Barillas03We then went to see La Providencia, the new farm that benefits one hundred families, and saw how there exists in each family member a desire to begin work on various projects and the construction of their homes. Nobody was thinking about the past, or about vengeance; their minds were on the future and in the wellbeing of their families in spite of having been among the communities most affected by the useless armed conflict that had plunged them into misery for many years. They are making gigantic steps. The families are already receiving information about birth control and are accepting it with interest.

The satisfaction of seeing these groups that are moving ahead, with clear visions, was my Christmas gift.

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Agros International | Land Hope Life Ending Rural Poverty Through Land Loans, Community Training, And Empowerment.