Sunday, July 13, 2008

Learning time - Bolsena, Italy

So really, what am I here to learn?

A few people have emailed and asked for some more information about the course and the information I’m diving into here. You have all heard of the Global Food Crisis. If you haven’t – pick up a newspaper, or look online. Prices are rising, food stocks are declining and the most vulnerable populations (the poorest households) are already feeling the crunch. In North America you can hear the complaints that prices are rising, and some foods are already out of reach of the poorer segments of the population. In Africa the crunch is already more pronounced. As an example, in a country like Niger, the increases in food prices is leading to serious food insecurity (meaning lack of food and lack of safety net that they will be able to afford/find food). In the past month, the cost of tomatoes, a staple, has doubled. Many seasonal foods have disappeared (goodbye most fruits- hello a diet of mangoes!). Sacks of rice have gone up 30%, and corn and maize and millet aren’t far behind. So how do you design programs that really work when the whole world is feeling the effects of this? Well, here is a bit of an except for those of you who wanted to know, and the schedule of what I’m going to be tackling for the next two weeks. I leave for Bolsena tomorrow morning and I am not sure if I will update this for the next few weeks. If we have wireless I will, otherwise not.

Here is the website of where I will based at. Check it out!


This course will explore the dynamics of the use of food aid, the largest single component of humanitarian emergencies. It will review policies that guide the use of food aid, as principal controversies surrounding the use of food aid in emergency and transition settings. The course will also explore assessment techniques used to gauge the vulnerability of affected populations and their needs for food based interventions, as well as explore the food aid management system and its logistics. The course will be held in and around Rome, Italy. Field visits will be conducted to the principal UN Agencies involved in food aid (such as the WFP and the FAO) as well as diplomatic missions that determine food aid policies.

Rome was chosen as the site for this course because it is the home of the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The WFP is the food aid arm of the UN and is dedicated to meeting emergency needs and supporting economic and social development through food aid. The FAO leads international efforts to defeat hunger in both the developed and developing world and is the largest of all UN agencies. The course draws from these resources for fieldtrips and teaching speakers (and makes for some great networking and resource people!)

Here is what I’m going to learn deeper:

Food Aid as a tool for food security
The logistic requirements of a food aid project
Information requirements of a food aid project

Here is what I will do everyday. Follow along!

July 14
AM- Orientation and Introduction
PM- Food Aid and Humanitarian Response: An Overview and review
July 15
AM- Food Aid in HIV Context
PM- Indicators Used in Emergency Assessments/
Policy Background for Food-Oriented Interventions: The Role
of the Rome Agencies
Lab- TDI data: Data quality assessment, exploration, data cleaning
July 16
AM-Food Security Programming: Activities and Program Cycle
PM- Food Aid Used in Nutrition Programs
Local purchase, cash-like and cash transfer management
Lab- Calculate six quantitative indicators
July 17
AM- Non-food Logistics for Food Aid
PM- Call Forward- AER, ocean transport, USDA
Role of Markets in Emergencies
Lab- Design and propose a Food Aid Project
July 18
AM- Group Presentations:
Chronic and transitory food insecurity
Non-food responses to food insecurity
PM-Trends affecting the future of food aid
Food Security Information Systems
Lab: Logistics/commodities assessment
July 19
Excursion to Orvieto, Italy
Meet with the representative of Slow Food
EU policies on food safety, role of HACCP in food security
Visits to sale point with DOC products
July 20
Free Day (woohoo!)
July 21
AM- FAO response in emergencies
PM- Food Aid management: Ports and security, surveyors
Warehouse management, reconstitution, and destruction
Lab- Annual Estimate of Requirements – how to do it.
July 22
AM- Geographic and Beneficiary Targeting
PM- Distributions and beneficiary tracking
Assessments, needs assessment, institutional assessment
Lab- Develop a presentation of your analysis, food aid project and
logistic plan results
July 23
Visit and meet with United Nations World Food Program
July 24
AM- Meeting with US Mission to UN Agencies in Rome
PM- Meetings with Representatives of IFAD
July 25
Day at United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot

On this basis, the student (that’s me!) will propose a food security intervention. A presentation of the analysis and a presentation of the plan for the intervention will be included. Students are expected to complete the following tasks as part of the lab requirement:
o Task 1: Data cleaning, quality assessment, and exploration
o Task 2: Calculate 6 quantitative indicators
o Task 3: Design a food security intervention
o Task 4: Develop a logistics/commodities plan
o Task 5: Develop an Annual Estimated Requirements request based on plan
o Task 6: Present your analysis and present your food security intervention

And, as an added bonus once this course is done I get to do this!:
Position Paper on the use of Food Aid in Humanitarian Settings (600 level grad students only)
required to submit an additional paper on the use of food aid in humanitarian settings.

So there you have it. I rejoice in that this is the FINAL CLASS to complete my Master’s Degree, and while it is a daunting task, I couldn’t have picked a more perfect one for Niger. Please pray for me during these intensive days and weeks that I will be able to remain focused, not miss Paul and the kids too much that I’m distracted, soak up all the information possible, plan a good project specific to Niger and make the most of private meetings. You walk with me even through this. Thanks.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Maybe we're called to do less than fix.
Sometimes the most profound thing we can do is love a person,
even if we can't fix everything.
When Jesus spoke of the poor, He spoke in terms I understand:
Offering water to the thirsty,
Feeding the poor,
Clothing the naked.
He didn't use fixing terms.

Lessons from the hearts of children....

There is big news to report! I want to send out a special huge THANK YOU to the kids at Aspen Heights Elementary in Red Deer, Alberta! I (Chantelle) spoke to their classes in early May all about Niger and the lives of the children there and you really took the message to heart! The class of 16 grade three's made posters, wrote announcements, and wrote little speeches to give to individual classrooms. Your love for the people here that you never even met moved me to tears! The money you raised is being funnelled to a water project here in Niger!

An excerpt from their teacher: "One of the little girls after a big rain storm, was out bike riding. She noticed the puddles forming and thought about the kids you had talked about and the pictures I had shown them off the internet of kids getting water from what looked like dirty puddles. She collected a jar of the puddle water, brought it to school and asked me if she could make a presentation. She showed the rest of the kids in my class the jar of really dirty water and said "We have to do something!" Over the next few days, we watched the mud settle to the bottom and the water become a little clearer but still far from acceptable for drinking in their opinion! Then they had a lunch hour freezie sale after our whole school swim and hot dog lunch. It was very successful, we had some freezies left over so we had another recess sale. They raised $145.00!! It is amazing to watch the power of children, the magnitude of their caring, and the empowerment they gain from helping others."

The needs of all the people here are palpatable. Our guard told us that last sunday, before it was noon, we had seven different people come to our gate looking for money or aid or jobs. 7 people before noon! We are humbled by the amount of poverty and need around us, but are also really seeking wisdom in how to meet those needs. We only have so much time and money and can't help everyone obviously, nor do we believe in free money handouts. So how do we put together a strategy to maximize what we do have to give and target people who will use it wisely? I guess that's a big part of what our mission here in development work will be. Finding the right projects and intercessions that really help people, but also let them keep the dignity, learn skills, and make a better lives for themselves. Handouts only help for a short period of time, so we are envisioning working alongside people in a way that gives them a chance to make it on their own. What a huge job but also a huge priviledge. Pray for us as we work through our responses to neighbors, beggars at every intersection, the young kids who bang on our vehicle doors, the amputees, the shop vendors who rip us off because we are white, etc.

This is Ismaguil (our night guardian) and his wife and two of his four children.

This past Thursday, Paul and I threw a party meal for our guards and helper and their children and spouses. We made a big meal of rice, meat and sauce, with cake for dessert and we all sat on mats on our patio. We enjoyed getting to meet the families of the people who work for us. Our benefits extend to their family and we pay for all their health care, vaccinations, school fees,etc. What a joy to smile and share a meal with them and welcome them into our extended family here. I can't wait for the day when I speak Tamasheq and can communicate with these precious women and share our life stories and joy together.

The rains have begun here. Meaning that every few days some clouds roll in, the temperature stays mild in the mid to high 30s and we may get a shower. Just before it rains comes huge wind storms where the sky turns orange with all the dust that is picked up. We rush to close the windows, but even then we get a fine layer of duct that you can write your name in on every surface of the house! Some nights the thunderstorms are huge! The lightning hits with an intensity I have never seen! It hit so hard it blew our electrical breaker panel one night! Now thats power! The heat difference from the ground to the rolling in clouds and air creates such electricty that its pretty amazing (and scary for the kids!)We hope it rains more often and gives enough moisture for a good crop for the people. They are in serious risk of increased famine and crop failure and many are suffering from malnutrition and starvation in this country.

And talking about famine and food security, did you know that Chantelle is flying to Rome tomorrow (tuesday) night? Well, as many of you know, I am just finishing a Master's degree in International Development work. This will be my final class. I have taken the entire masters over 6 years now and done it all distance based classes from my home in Calgary (the school is in New Orleans). Every summer they have intenstive summer institute classes, but for many reasons i could never attend one. So to celebrate my final class and finishing, and the great topic of the class, I am taking a class in Rome from July 12 to July 25. The topic is Famine and Food Security and is held an hour north of Rome in a city called Bolsena, Italy. This puts us in the area of headquarters for the World Food Bank, United Nations Food Programme, Food for the Hungary and others. We have a tight schedule of assignments, seminars, presentations, guest speakers and papers to write in this two week period, all dealing with famine, the ways to provide food aid in poor countries, and how it all works and why it often doesn't. As you can tell, this is so applicable to Niger that I am really excited to learn it all and put it into action in our development work here! Due to flights I am in Rome a few days before the class starts, and am looking forward to seeing all the greenery and parks, exploring the monuments, eating good pizza and of course taking lots of pictures! Maybe I'll even find a can or two of Dr. Pepper!

Next post- From Italy!