HOTLINE - week of October 18, 2010

Women in parts of Central America empowered to provide food for their families; CWS continues assistance and advocacy for displaced Colombian families; Women's empowerment in Kenya brings a new water source to a village.

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Olga Tumax
Olga Tumax teaches indigenous women in Guatemala to grow a variety of vegetables for their families and the local market.
File photo: Rolanda Hughes/CWS

Central America

In parts of rural Central America struggling with food insecurity and malnutrition, women are taking the lead.

That was the message this past week from Olga Tumax, a rural farmer and trainer of indigenous women in Guatemala, speaking at the Iowa Hunger Summit, a lead-in to the World Food Prize symposium held annually in Des Moines.  

In a panel on “Global Farmers’ Perspective on Food Security,” Tumax told U.S. and international farmers, agronomists and development leaders how women are playing a key role in a Church World Service Central America food and nutritional security program that goes far beyond growing crops.

"In Guatemala, most land is owned by men,” says Tumax. “But, with this program and trainings in empowering women, we have learned to advocate to have access to land,” she says.

“The land is still in the name of men, but now they give us an area where we can work and produce a variety of vegetables and build greenhouses,” adds Tumax, who is responsible for 480 women in the women's organization Ixmuncane, whose members are among the families in CWS’s Guatemala program.

In Nicaragua, Rosa María Matamoros works with CWS and partner CIEETS (Inter-Ecclesiastic Center for Theological and Social Studies) on a similar food security program.  

Matamoros says that the program’s advances go beyond increasing crops, saying it’s “an integral approach to sustainability and community development,” incorporating water, sanitation and a focus on nutrition. “We see the importance of an approach that includes agriculture, small animal husbandry with… sheep, rabbits and chickens, integrated with establishing clean, potable water and sanitation to enhance the nutrition of families.”

Says Matamoras, “By making communities stronger in leadership and organization, they are able to apply on their own for projects in their municipalities,” and are “capable of developing their own solutions.”

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The human suffering and displacement of millions of Colombians forced from their homes to escape the violence of war has been called the "hidden crisis" because of its near invisibility on the global stage.  The crisis, however, has long been a concern for CWS and its faith partners, who have engaged in humanitarian assistance and advocacy with communities affected by more than four decades of civil strife.  Meanwhile, the fighting between government forces, paramilitaries and guerrillas drags on.  

In 2007 CWS was part of a coalition of faith-based and human rights organizations that successfully advocated to Congress to reduce U.S. military and police aid to Colombia and to increase assistance for social and economic aid, development, and stronger human rights protections.

For a quarter century, CWS has worked through Latin American partners to assist people victimized by violence and human rights violations, through humanitarian assistance, resettlement of refugees, training and capacity-building, and advocacy on behalf of those affected by the conflict--particularly Afro-Colombians, indigenous communities and women.  

Bishop Johncy Itty, chair of the board of directors of CWS, says CWS will continue to stand with Latin American ecumenical partners in supporting "policies and practices that address the suffering of Colombia's displaced people" and advocating for human rights protections and against U.S. aid that focuses exclusively on military assistance.

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Women and water

“Water is a woman issue.  When the water is not there, it is the woman who spends her whole day looking for it,” says CWS’s Mary Obiero. “A community that lacks water lacks everything,” she adds, “There is no food, no sanitation.”

Lack of water for drinking and irrigation is linked to hunger and malnutrition. On the upside, access to water is a game changer.

Kwabenzi village, in central Kenya, has suffered from 15 years of drought. With support from CWS, the women of Kwabenzi built a sand dam to improve access to water. Now, the girls are in school and the women are putting their energy into small-scale farming.  

Says villager Bernadette Summer, “We feel very much pleased to have the water.  Now life is very, very enjoyable.”

“It’s the women themselves that have done this,” adds Obiero.  “They want to change their lives for the better.”

Ripple Effect Images, a team of dedicated journalists, tells this powerful story via video at:

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