Marion Institute Blog
Our Executive Director Janet Milkman recently visited Nepal to see the work of The Himalayan Project firsthand. Below, Janet shares what she observed:
In March, Marion Institute Board Member Ryan Wagner and I went to Nepal to visit The Himalayan Project in Chaurikharka and trek halfway to the Everest Basecamp. The Marion Institute has been the fiscal sponsor for The Himalayan Project for over a decade. We make it possible for Sally Hunsdorfer to raise charitable donations from the U.S. for the project. As a new Executive Director, I wanted to see one of our Greenhouse Initiatives in action, engage with the leaders, and test a new model for adventure travel for MI. As an outdoors enthusiast and practitioner of mindfulness meditation, it has also been a dream of mine to visit the home of Buddhism and hike in the Himalayas.
In a country like Nepal - and perhaps everywhere- it is very, very difficult to bring about large-scale positive change. This hit me hard during our trip. In my non-profit work spanning nearly 30 years, my goal had always been to aim high, to think big, to bring about systemic change. My greatest learning from this trip is that change at scale usually only comes about after many years of small steps. These small steps are what most people can and should hope to accomplish with limited resources. We must aim to do the most we can as efficiently and effectively as possible. We must leverage leadership on the ground everywhere we find it.
Progress: Rebuilding Homes and Structures
The $200,000 raised by The Himalayan Project for earthquake relief and to otherwise support the village, made an enormous difference. The April 25th earthquake measured 7.8 and its aftershock, 7.3. While no one was killed in Chaurikharka, many homes were badly damaged. Most families lived in tents for 9 months, through the winter, until rebuilding finished shortly before we arrived. When we arrived in March we saw:
- Homes of 52 families (250 people) totaling 50,000 square feet had been repaired or fully re-built; with structural changes to support them in the event of another earthquake
- The Sherpa Cultural Center (first built with the help of THP) was rebuilt
- The monastery and stupas are in the process of being rebuilt
- Funds were set aside for the reconstruction of the Lama’s house
- Scholarships for 25 students to Chaurikharka school (all schools cost money, even public schools) and 1 to Kathmandu
Challenges: Fuel & Transportation
The mountainous Khumbu (Mt. Everest) region, like many areas of Nepal, has no roads. Everything that must be delivered beyond the airport in Lukla – food, materials, etc. – must travel on the back of a porter or animal. Because of political disagreements over the new Nepali constitution, there was also a blockade by India for several months in the fall and winter, which meant that fuel was only available on the black market.
Keys to Success: Local leadership and Personal Responsibility
Leadership and community were the keys to rebuilding. The key players were Sally Hunsdorfer, the US leader of THP, and Karsang Sherpa, a community leader with whom Sally has worked for 18 years, supporting Chaurikharka and other villages in the Khumbu region of Nepal. A few weeks after the earthquake, Karsang reached out to Sally and asked for her help. There was little to no help coming from the government, the Red Cross or others. Sally and her husband, Peter, went to Chaurikharka just in time for the aftershock. They made it to Chaurikharka and, with Karsang, interviewed everyone in the village to assess the damage and prioritize funding. Then they came home and through the Marion Institute, communicated their story and pleas for support. When the funds came in, Sally returned to Chaurikharka and a counsel of villagers made a plan for and distributed the funds. Because Sally had built relationships in the village over many years, and because Karsang was a respected village leader, the process worked.
What still needs to be done?
The master plan for the school in Chaurikharka, which serves the region – children walk up to 2 hours each way in some cases – requires $700,000 for implementation.
Much of the earthquake damage in Nepal remains. According to our Red Cross dinner companion one evening, very little international organization funds have been spent on rebuilding yet, as the Nepali government is working to develop “earthquake-proof” building standards and train builders. Tent villages still cover acres of Kathmandu. Recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and TIME Magazine confirm this.
I’m carrying around one of katas (the ceremonial scarves given to us by everyone we met in Chaurikharka to express their gratitude) with me (see photo) to keep this experience fresh. The Sherpa sense of community and generosity will continue to inspire me.
GROW Education's Director honored as Earth Day Hero by the Standard-Times
The Standard-Times is saluted six local (Southcoast MA) residents whose earth-friendly actions have helped improve their communities and the planet.
"New Bedford students will be tending nearly 130 raised garden beds across 12 schools by the end of this spring, and among others, they’ll have Zoe Hansen-DiBello to thank.
Hansen-DiBello, a 29-year-old Dartmouth resident, is the Grow Education program director for the Marion Institute. Grow Education is a collaboration between the institute and New Bedford Public Schools, with a goal of increasing nutrition, agriculture and sustainability education across the city.
Thursday at Alfred J. Gomes Elementary School south of downtown, Hansen-DiBello walked through the 12 garden beds on the school’s north side and eyed seedlings for Portuguese kale, strawberries, sugar snap peas and more. Adam Davenport, Grow Education’s garden manager, watered and ran a hoe through some of the beds.
Hansen-DiBello said the program will break ground next month at New Bedford High School, where 15-20 raised beds could be installed. She said Grow Education also is partnering with Dartmouth restaurant Not Your Average Joe’s, and New Bedford specialty foods distributor Sid Wainer & Son, to hold cooking lessons for local youth.
“We’re really trying to engage with community resources,” Hansen-DiBello said.
On Saturday, a day after Earth Day, she’ll be planting seedlings with local youth at the New Bedford YMCA downtown. She said people wondering how to get more involved in environmental efforts could start by joining like-minded programs.
“I think that when people are kind of stuck, I think the best thing to do is connect with groups of people who are doing things you want to do,” Hansen-DiBello said, suggesting checking out local composting workshops, for example, or volunteering at community gardens.
“Getting involved socially is going to lead you to pathways to become more sustainable,” she said."
— Mike Lawrence
This month at the Marion Institute we are looking at examples of leadership both locally and globally, so it made sense to pull this keynote from the Connecting for Change video archive.
Bill Strickland's work in providing job training for at-risk youth and adults is nothing short of revolutionary. Students learn real-world skills and engage with the arts in state-of-the art centers. Strickland is motivated by the belief that "People are born into the world as assets, not liabilities."
Watch Bill Strickland's 2013 keynote and get inspired to lead:
Greg Watson traveled to Cuba in 2014 to tour the country's agricultural system and was impressed by what he saw: abundant produce grown in urban, suburban, and rural communities without the use of pesticides. In other words, Cuba was feeding itself entirely with sustainable agriculture.
In this interview, Greg talks about his findings in Cuba and how we can apply them to improve our own agricultural practices in the United States and beyond:
Can you tell us about the context of your visit to Cuba? When was it? What was the purpose of the visit?
Back in October of 2014 I was serving as commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) and on the board of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. During a Schumacher board meeting I mentioned that MDAR was ramping up its urban agriculture program. When asked where is the best example of urban agriculture, the discussion turned to Cuba. Within months, Schumacher executive director Susan Witt had secured funding to send a delegation to Cuba to learn about its Sustainable Food System focusing on its agroecology and urban agriculture programs.
What surprised you most about your findings there?
I was surprised most by how open and candid Cubans with whom we spoke were in offering their thoughts about the shortcomings of the socialist economic system. While they were extremely proud of the country’s gains and continued commitment to the social agenda centering around education and healthcare, they admitted that a new economics – something along the spectrum between socialism and capitalism – is needed. That has led to the social solidarity movement that places emphasis on cooperative business development.
What makes Cuba’s agricultural system so different from the one we have in the US?
Small organic farmers growing food for the people of Cuba are the backbone of Cuba’s agricultural system, unlike the U.S. where large, energy-intensive industrial farms dominate. Cuba’s agroecology system did not stem from ideology or in protest against an existing system. It emerged out of necessity and played the major role in helping the people of Cuba avoid starvation. That’s not to say that it’s perfect, but farmers are committed to making it as perfect as it can be.
Why do you think Cuba’s agriculture has been so successful?
Cuba’s agroecology system was born of necessity following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1991. Farmers organized in response to the crisis and developed a strong support network. More than 100,000 families support one another through their participation in this national farmer-to-farmer network. Experience has taught them that organic farming works and what originally emerged out of necessity has now been embraced and promoted by the farmers. Moreover, Cuba’s agrarian reform movement has made land available to anyone willing to produce food as part of Cuba’s food sovereignty movement.
What are the most important lessons we can learn here in the US from Cuba’s success?
I think Cuba’s agroecology movement is a living example of the power of grassroots organizing. It was instrumental in transforming their agriculture and avoiding mass starvation. Now they are attempting to transform their economic system as well – one that can improve people’s economic condition without compromising the social and environmental achievements of the revolution.
Cuba’s agroecology movement succeeded in large part because of its farmer-to-farmer education and technology exchange network. This Internet-less social network is evolved into a powerful way for farmers to share what they’ve learned with one another. It has proven to be more responsive to farmer’s immediate needs than the agricultural extension program. At the last meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) that I attended as commissioner, representatives from all fifty states acknowledged that the U.S. Cooperative Extension System is in crisis. That’s because much of the research being conducted at our land grant institutions is funded by large agribusiness interests and consequently is designed to address their challenges.
You’ve commented that the US opening relations to Cuba is a double-edged sword: what do you think would be the best possible outcome of renewed US-Cuba relations?
The best outcome would be the U.S. lifting its embargo against Cuba.
Did you observe any social trends related to the way Cuba grows food? In other words, does urban farming affect urban culture?
Without question. One striking example is the Alamar Cooperative located just outside of Havana. It has earned accolades around the world as a model agricultural cooperative. It is a source of pride and inspiration as well as a source of food. It has helped elevate the status of farming in the eyes of Havana’s citizens – both young and old. Of course, urban agriculture is also influencing urban culture here in Massachusetts and throughout the U.S. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s urban farming program that was one of the catalysts for my 2014 visit to Cuba has really gotten traction under the guidance of Rose Arruda.
Returning to Cuba, it’s no secret that Havana’s infrastructure is crumbling. It will be interesting to see how Cuba’s urban agriculture system will be integrated into redevelopment plans for Havana when investments begin to flow in that direction. For example, will agriculture be seen as a viable economic driver in Havana’s plans for the future? We’re seeing a number of U.S. cities focusing on this question, including Boston and Detroit.
GROW Education is a program that implements community gardening in public schools. What role can programs like GROW play in shifting food culture in the US?
I think that programs like GROW are among the most effective tools we have for shifting the food culture of the U.S. I say this because children can be our most important ambassadors and change agents when a topic resonates with them. Today so many of our youth are desperately seeking to make sense of a world that seems to be hopelessly spinning out of control. Community gardens are incredibly empowering in this regard. They offer a very tangible way for children, their families, and their neighbors to assume some measure of control over meeting a fundamental basic need. It is something that they can enjoy together. I’m convinced that there’s nothing more important to be teaching our children. Our children, in turn, teach others, be it their peers or parents. Gardening is powerful community-builder and generation “connector”.
See Greg Watson in a panel discussion with Zoe Hansen-DiBello and Adam Davenport of GROW Education on April 14th at 7pm in New Bedford. Register online >
Photos courtesy of Greg Watson.
Adam Davenport knows that meaningful community work requires rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. In this interview, Adam shares how his work as the Garden Manager of GROW Education has tought him about the importance of communication, community, and the wisdom of different cultures.
What is your role in the GROW Education program?
I am the garden designer and manager for all of our school-based community gardens. I am in charge of everything from planning what the community grows to building raised beds, to ordering soil, plants, seeds, fertilizers and everything else that goes into growing food.
Along with the garden logistics I help connect on-the-ground gardening work with the larger social impacts of the program. I build the bridge and connection between soil and nutrition, nature and health in our community.
What is it like interacting with the different groups involved, IE students, teachers, and family members? Are some groups more engaged than others?
Being a former teacher I have always loved working with groups of students. It’s a worthy challenge to harness the collective attention of the group to get your point across! This also gives me sympathy to the teachers, their schedules, and the strict requirements they’re held to. There is no stopping a passionate teacher who puts their all into their students’ experience. What has been a great part of the GROW program is the opportunity to interact with the parents and families. The different ethnicities of the families can be a challenge for the school system, but they can all share their skills and enjoy the garden.
What are some of the challenges you face with GROW?
New Bedford, like most Gateway cities, suffers from several issues that we deal with and address in the GROW Education program. With every issue, the problem leads to a solution.
Communication is always a challenge, whether we are communicating with the busy teachers, the surrounding communities, or with immigrant populations. This is where the impact of our project can be seen. A garden is a place to connect the community members (teachers, students and parents) around a common theme: food! Often you don’t need to understand a person’s language in order to communicate in the garden!
We also face a lack of resources: Not only is land access an issue, but clean land access. From textiles to newspapers to drills, manufacturing has polluted many parts of the city making the soil unsuitable to grow in. We have to bring in more materials: wood, soil, compost, etc. in order to make raised beds suitable for growing food. This costs more money and resources for already marginalized communities. The raised beds bring an opportunity for education, on how to safely grow food in the city and ALSO how to use sustainable growing practices while growing food. In a raised bed it is easier to grow healthy soil, and to organize and maintain your crops.
What positive impacts have you observed in the community since this program began?
The obvious impact is getting children and families out into the gardens to learn about healthy eating, taste veggies, and connect with each other. We can see less obvious impacts from a programmatic view point. GROW Education is focused on not only building gardens, but on creating a platform for marginalized neighborhoods to gain access to resources they deserve. Much of the impact of our work is the cultural translation needed between these communities and the organizations they are working with. This isn’t simple language translation, but translating the ways in which these residents access and understand information passed to them. Schedules are different, resources are different, and it’s a constant learning and adapting process for us. It’s really about building relationships.
Do you have a favorite moment or story that summarizes what this program is all about?
My favorite moments are in the late afternoons while I’m tending to the (soon to be 12) gardens throughout the city. This is when the neighbors are out walking their dogs, playing with kids, or just enjoying the afternoon. I often get shouted at: “Hey, you’re the gardener? Thanks, man!” “Yeah, I’d grow stuff in here, can I help?” Almost all of my conversations have been positive, expect the one afternoon when Zoe and I were planting flowers and an old man walked up to us and said, “What are you doing, planting flowers, eh, I hate flowers.” I guess you can’t please everyone!
How do you think that growing food connects with education, health, and community issues?
We are what we eat, period: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. An increase in healthy food produced and eaten locally would have dramatic impacts on our community in many ways:
Would issues in the school system change if kids were fed three fresh, healthy, nourishing meals per day?
If a food culture was re-birthed in our inner city neighborhoods, how would this change our communities?
How would the local economy benefit from an established and enhanced local food system on all levels in New Bedford and the Southcoast?
If you had no limitations, how would you like to see this project evolve over the next 5-10 years?
This project will continue to evolve and become a connector of community within New Bedford. With the infrastructure of a garden at every school in New Bedford there will be a resource for residents, teachers and organizations to connect with each other. The gardens will become an outdoor classroom by day and a vibrant community space in the evening and summer. GROW Education will continue to connect resources for things like growing food, healthy eating and living, local entrepreneurship and more!
What advice would you give to people who want to start a similar initiative in their communities?
Get out into your community and talk to people! There is no other way to do it. I am always amazed at the amount of people in New Bedford and beyond doing amazing things. There is incredible diversity and knowledge in the culture of this city and I don’t think this is often recognized or appreciated.
Find your passion and stay flexible and creative in structuring your initiative. If you keep a learning mind, you will never stop adapting and improving what you are working on.
World Water Day is March 22, 2016. This is an opportunity to learn more about water related issues, and be inspired to take action. To help you find some ways to save water, here are the top 5 actions recommended by the SouthCoast Energy Challenge.
#5. Use Recycled Paper: Print on Both Sides
It takes over 10 quarts of water to make just 1 piece of A1 paper, so saving paper=saving water!
#4. Keep Water in the Fridge
If you like a tall cool drink of water, store your drinking water in the refrigerator rather than letting the tap run until it is cool. This will save water from going down the drain and comes with a little $omething $pecial - the money you'll save by efficiently running one of your home's most energy hungry appliances. Keeping water (or other products in the refrigerator) will help it run more efficiently. Read more about it on our blog.
#3. Lose the Leaky Toilet
Toilets are responsible for the largest amount of water use within the home. Flushing a regular toilet uses 5 to 7 gallons per flush, which accounts for about 38% of the water used in your home each day. To test your toilet for leaks, place a few drops of food coloring in your toilet’s tank. Wait about 10 to 15 minutes (do not flush); if the coloring appears in the bowl, you have a leaky toilet! Luckily leaky toilets are easy to repair. Check out our blog to learn more on how to repair them.
#2. Switch To An Aerated Shower Head
For maximum water efficiency, change your showerhead to a low-flow model; preferably one with a flow rate less than 2.5 gallons per minute. By using less water in the shower you’re heating less water and therefore saving energy.
Here’s a quick way to test whether or not you should switch:
1. Place a bucket – marked in gallon increments – under your showerhead.
2. Turn the water on at the pressure you normally use to shower.
3. Time how many seconds it takes to fill the bucket to the 1-gallon mark.
4. If it takes less than 20 seconds to reach the 1-gallon mark, you could definitely benefit from changing to a low-flow showerhead.
#1. Kick the Soda Pop Habit - Drink Tap Water
At first it may counter-intuitive to think drinking tap water will save water but let's look at the facts. The average American drinks 1.6 cans of soda a day. It takes more than 25 gallons to make 1 plastic bottle and about 40 gallons for 1 aluminum can. Last year the average American used 167 disposable bottles, but only recycled 38.
For more ways to save water and energy, visit our website.
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