SUNDAY SOCIAL GOOD: Inspired by the slums and people of Khon Kaen, Thailand

This post is part of my Social Good Sunday series. It is a guest post from Alicia Rice who is living in Thailand working on a documentary film about the people living in the slum communities of Khon Kaen. This is a post about her work. 

A man from a slum community making baskets from recycled material. Photo credit: Author.

I came to Thailand as a study abroad student in 2008.  For four months, we learned about globalization and development projects in Northeastern Thailand, the poorest region of the area.  We read studies and got the chance to talk with government officials and company representatives. But the most important parts of our education were always getting the chance to talk with villagers.  We got the chance to sleep in the houses and get to know the people who’s houses were being threatened, or who’s farm was being taken away.

There was one moment in particular that really stood out to me.  As American students, we were often left with the question of what we could do, or more importantly, what we should do.

The more you learn about social justice work abroad, the more you learn the importance of people to be empowered and solve their issues themselves.  It left me feeling helpless and puzzled.

Global Issues Poverty SOCIAL GOOD

How all moms are ONE Moms

This week I’ve been actively following a group of amazing women who are part of the ONE Moms/ONE Mums delegation to Ethiopia. Today these women are flying home to the United States and the UK where they will continue to use their voice in sharing the stories and photographs of what they learned and saw during their week long journey in Ethiopia.


Feeding 7 billion: World Food Day October 16th, 2012

Photo taken of farmland in rural Guatemala.

Do you ever wonder how on earth we are going to feed the world? With a population of 7 billion and growing every day, how will the world come up with enough food to feed its population?

Per a recent alarming UN report on global sustainability, the forecast is frightening:

“As the world’s population looks set to grow to nearly 9 billion by 2040 from 7 billion now, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially.

Even by 2030, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, according to U.N. estimates, at a time when a changing environment is creating new limits to supply.

And if the world fails to tackle these problems, it risks condemning up to 3 billion people into poverty”.

The best produce in Guatemala is exported and the leftovers remain for the people.

Food Security Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD

SOCIAL GOOD SUNDAYS: Cows R Us with Heifer International

Today’s Social Good Sunday’s post is written by Betty Londergan, Global Blogging Ambassador of Heifer International. Betty is currently on a one-year trip visiting 12 countries in 12 months to document the impact of Heifer. You can read about her travels and work on her beautiful, inspiring blog Heifer 12 x 12.

Cows R Us

Rwandans love cows. They have songs about cows, they have dances, their whole culture is based on the love of the cow.

The beautiful umushagiriro (cow dance) — I guess those are their horns.

And Rwandans are infinitely patient and gentle with their cows — even when they are being kind of .. pushy.

This Heifer heifer walked right into the ceremony, butted the speaker, went for the drinks & nobody batted an eye.

Kirehe, Eastern Province

So it makes sense that the Rwandan government would partner with Heifer, an organization named after its favorite animal, to help 6,382 families in the poor rural district of Kirehe earn a living, improve their land, and feed themselves. It’s part of the government’s national initiative called A Cow for Every Poor Family — that remarkably (well, not really) is based on Heifer‘s beautiful training/giving/passing on model.

Why a cow? I asked Kirehe veterinarian Dr. Jean de Dieu Niyitanga that question and he had this succinct answer, “Cows mean milk and money.” Then he waxed poetic and scientific about what cows need to thrive. For someone like me who thinks a cat requires far too much attention, raising a cow sounds like an inconceivable amount of work. So I asked him to elaborate.

“First you have to love your cow, because if you love your animal, you’ll treat it well, feed it well, and keep it clean and healthy.” Okay, but what does that exactly mean?

The cows Heifer gives to poor farmers in Rwanda are pure breeds, either Jersey cows (brown) or Friesians (black & white). They produce a lot of milk (up to 30 liters a day) but they also demand a lot of food– about 1/10th of their weight in food a day in grass, cereals and legumes that the farmers must grow and harvest. Cows also need a salt lick to provide calcium, potassium and sodium to replace the minerals lost when they are producing milk.

Like any nursing mother, heifers drink a lot: 50-80 liters of water a day, depending on their weight, and that also has to be carried on somebody’s head back to the home.

Cows are big, gentle animals but they require shelter from the elements. So before getting a cow, every participant has to build a shed with 6 bags of cement (@$16/bag) provided by Heifer for a concrete floor to keep the cow’s feet out of dung, wet mud, and to facilitate manure-collection. They’re also given aluminum sheets for roofing – and required to pass on the same cement & aluminum when they pass on the gift of the cow to another poor farmer.

Veneranda Mukagakwandi & her cow & her cow sheds.

Alfred’s son digging the fields.

Then there’s the issue of keeping the cow clean: the shed needs to be shoveled out at least once a day, and the animal washed with soap and water twice a week (more water to carry). Cows must also be sprayed to protect against flies and ticks that can give them theileriosis, a tickborne disease that can kill them if left untreated. And the heifers are always watched closely for mastitis – or they can permanently lose use of a teat.

My brain was whirling with the possibilities for bovine disaster, but to Rwandans a cow simply means milk, money and manure. One cow will produce 3 tons of manure a year – and that is hugely important to the farmers planting their crops in the over-cultivated, poorly producing soil in Kirehe. Farmers report a 75-100% increase in ag productivity with the addition of cow dung– and that’s no small potatoes.

So, how has a cow specifically changed the life of somebody like Alfred Nsengimana? After Alfred had a home visit and was designated as able to raise a cow, (if you don’t have enough land or strength to take care of a cow, you’ll first be given goats or pigs), he built his shed and received the 182 hours of training that Heifer gives all participants – to make sure they know how to breed, lead, raise and take care of the animal.

After those six months of training, Alfred received a pregnant Friesian heifer, it gave birth to a female that he’s passed on to a neighbor, and now Alfred is earning $50/month from the cow’s milk – in a country where 60% of the population earns under $1/day. With that milk money (I love this entrepreneurial spirit so much!) he bought more goats and rabbits that are easier to raise and quicker to sell than cows, if the family needs money for school fees or health emergencies.

Then, Alfred dug a cistern in his back yard and he is also harvesting rainwater from the roof –so his family can make fewer trips to the town well to carry water back on their heads.

Water harvesting with a plastic-lined tank — how clever!

With milk to drink, meat to eat, and money in the bank, Alfred & his wife put a new cement floor & walls in their house—a real luxury. He would like to keep at least two cows, because then he’ll have enough manure to qualify for a bio-gas unit (half paid for by the government) that will mean they don’t have to collect and burn firewood and can cook in half the time.

Biogas – a giant leap for woman-kind: no collecting wood/cooks in half the time!

Alfred’s neighbor Jean de Dieu Habayarimana is 24 years old and an orphan responsible for raising his two younger brothers. He doesn’t have land to grow forage for a cow, so he received the gift of 2 pigs from Heiferlast December and proved himself so good at raising them, he was given the stud pig for the community – which means that he’ll get 1 piglet from every brood his pig sires.

If you’ve got no land for a cow, take the pig!

This Kirehe Project is a massive undertaking, requiring a daunting amount of work from Heifer (home-visiting every prospective family and giving 182 hours of training to each beneficiary), the government, and all the local organizations across five pilot zones in 12 sectors of the Eastern Province. But 1,000 heifers have been already given in 2011 (and 360 passed along), with 1,145 more to be given this year (plus 2,000 South African Boer goats and 562 purebred pigs). That means that families like Alfred’s will be given the chance to take this opportunity and leverage it to feed their families, earn a living, double their agricultural productivity, and climb out of poverty.

The real beneficiaries of Kirehe’s big project.

Makes me feel like hollering Oyee! Amata Iwau Kuruhimbi, which means something like Let us always have milk in our homes!

Yes indeedy.


About Betty:

Betty had a 30 year career as a creative director in advertising and then changed her focus to writing in philanthropy. She wrote two books, started a blog called “What Gives 365” on January 1, 2010 and gave away $100/day for 365 days to people, causes and organizations that she believed were making the world a better place. Her current adventure is volunteering as the Global Blogging Ambassador for Heifer International. In this role, Betty is dedicating a year of her time, writing and photography to visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 and write about Heifer’s work to end poverty and hunger
around the world. It is an amazing feat!

If you enjoyed reading Betty’s post on Cows R Us, here are a few more that you would love:


India and Nepal: Culture Shock upon Arrival

Our hotel was found using Trip Advisor and was a four-star.  It was a lovely place with lots of gorgeous, authentic Hindu artwork and a fabulous rooftop restaurant deck where guests were served an enormous breakfast and delicious hot chicken tikka at night.  For a moment, you forgot that just outside your hotel window was how the “older half” live (or quite frankly, most of the world).  Directly outside the lovely confines of our hotel, the contrast of luxury and poverty in India was shocking.   A tent (plastic tarp) community lived right out on the side of the road, within the heaps of dirt and garbage and surrounded by the continual loud, polluting traffic that whizzed by 24/7.  Of course there was no running water and no electricity.  The people could be seen cooking up their meals over an open fire of burning trash.  Sadly, this is reality in India, along with the continual garbage thrown EVERYWHERE alongside the roads, dirt sidewalks and “highways”.   I found it also quite sad to see all the livestock, mainly cows who are sacred in India, living right in the middle of the roads eating off the endless piles of garbage. 

Reality awaits right out our hotel window…….


Worth a Read……

White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga

“Midnight’s Children”  by Salman Rushdie

“Untouchable” by Mulk Raj Anand



Although Nepal is on the US Government Travel Warning list, that did not stop me from going.   There have been some Maoist uprising in the past that have literally shut down Kathmandu, however, things have settled down recently (especially since the end of Nepal’s 10-year People’s War in 2008) and the Nepali government is hugely promoting foreign visitors (2011 is the being advertised as The Year of Nepal).  I was a little nervous about the safety situation so I did my homework and talked to a lot of other people who have visited Nepal.  I heard over and over again that it was fine and remembered that I have probably been to less safe places before (such as interior Mexico, Peru and South Africa). While there, we heard over and over again the common acronym for Nepal = Never Ending Peace and Love.  I never felt threatened and in fact felt very comfortable with the kind, docile Nepali people.

In my opinion, probably the scariest thing about Nepal was the transportation by road and by air.  The roads are poorly maintained and the driving is insane, just like India.  Given Nepal’s mountainous geography, only small (and very old) planes can be flown into many of the airports such as Lukla in Everest region and Jomson near the Annapurna.  Most of the flying is down through the valleys and weather can change quickly.  Lukla has experienced the highest share of crashes and is considered one of the most dangerous airports in Nepal, however, it is the easiest, fastest way of getting to Everest.   So you have to often balance safety versus the odds.  Driving to some of these remote places is probably much more dangerous than flying, that is for sure.

I have flown a lot in my life, however, I still am fearful of small planes and had worried a lot about the internal flights.  The flight at the end of our trek from Jomson to Pokhara was NUTS but I survived.  We flew at low altitudes (@ 10,000 feet) on an ancient looking plane, through the valley of the mountains which rose over 15,000 feet above our plane.  The entire time I held on tight to my Buddhist prayer beads that I got along the trek in Manang from a 95-year-old monk, and somehow tried to feel safe.  Twenty-five minutes later, after feeling like I was in some kind of Indiana Jones movie, we landed safely in Pokhara and it felt nice to have my feet on the ground again, safe and sound.

Here are some pictures of the crazy flight:

Inside our 14 person plane.  It didn’t feel safe yet the flight was surprisingly smooth.  We flew along the riverbed between the 25,000 foot mountains at an altitude of only 10,000 feet (barely over the trees!).  We even had our own flight attendant.

Not the best picture, but you get the point!  View directly outside plane window….the mountains are a little too close for comfort!

The Trials and Tribulations of Transportation in a Third-World Country

Rajan, the owner of Earthbound Expeditions (who organized our trek) met us at the hotel in Kathmandu upon arrival and laid down the details of our trek.   He was amazingly thorough and very personable, giving us a customized trip and top-notch service.  The drive from Kathmandu to the Besi Sahar, the start of the Annapurna trek is “supposed” to take 4-5 hours.   We were scheduled to take the $5 per person tourist bus the next day.   However, Rajan mentioned, kind-of as an afterthought, the other more expensive option.  For $125, we could hire a private driver to bring us, our guide and our porter to the start of the trek in a Land Rover.  For Americans, this was a no-brainer yet for most Nepali people $125 was not an option given that the average salary is less than $2 a day.  For them $125 is a lot of money.

We opted for the driver and this ended up being a very good idea and worth every penny.  Having never been to Nepal, we had no idea the dire, dangerous situation of the roads or the incredible amount of traffic.  Leaving Kathmandu, there is only one highway out and it has only two lines, one per direction.  Thus the drive is notorious for huge traffic jams, which we instantly experienced.  We moved out of Kathmandu at a snail’s pace, being surrounded by three-wheeled carts, motorbikes carrying entire families, buses (with people riding on the top, out the sides and holding on the back), bicycles and rickshaws.  Plus there was the usual amount of cows living in the streets and other livestock.

Apparently it was a holiday week in Nepal and everyone was returning home on the one and only route to their villages.  As we drove out of the congested, polluted city, the traffic somehow managed to go, but in no order whatsoever.  We arrived outside of the city and into the immense, lovely green Kathmandu Valley and finally got a visual of our situation.  One look at the rows and rows of traffic dwindling down the curvy, windy roads of the valley made me realize that this was going to be yet another long day (it was only our third day out of the States and the first two were spent flying).  Instead of 4-5 hours, it ended up being 9 long hours of hell.  The traffic was jammed up all the way the mountain on each side and the drivers had to do their best to move around all the old, broken down cars and trucks on the narrow, mountainous road.  Feeling quite restless, at one point, my father, our guide and I all got out of the car and actually walked a few hours.  It was faster than driving however the pollution was intense and the road conditions were dangerous.  I actually twisted my ankle an hour into the walk (what bad luck at the start of a 100-mile hike) and it swelled madly.  I kept walking since there was nowhere else to go.  (Thankfully the swelling stopped and I was fully recovered in two days!  I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to come all this way and have to go back!).

When we finally arrived in Besi Sari, we were utterly exhausted, dehydrated and famished.  We were also behind a day in trekking that would have to be made up.  Here are some great photos of that daunting drive from hell:

Leaving Kathmandu:

One of my favorite site:  The eye-catching,crazily decorated trucks.  Not only were they colorful and decorated to the max, their horns were hilarious sounding and used often.

A common site:  How people get from place to place in Nepal when cars are expensive.  Any way works…even on top of the bus!

This is why it takes so long.  What happens, as often does, when a truck or car breaks down and you have to try to pass?  A huge traffic jam.

The road conditions were pitiful.  At points the road was washed away by landslides or there were big huge potholes.  No wonder all the breakdowns!

When all else fails, walk.

Or ride…..

Yet we were rewarded by all the lovely views of the countryside and what was to come.

And, the beautiful smiles of the children dressed in their school uniforms, waving at us joyfully and yelling out “namaste”.


Yet, the first sight of the mighty Himalayas in the distance instantly calmed us and made our frustrations disappear. 

Finally, we were in the countryside and traffic moved!

And we drove alongside villagers going about their daily business.