At Last, the Map is No Longer Blank

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At Last, the Map is No Longer Blank

How would you rank survival, life and living? Are you focusing on survival first and care little about life and living? Or do you put life first so that it will not be in vain? Or are you pursuing a high income, so that you find little meaning in life if you just work to stay alive? No matter how you rank these three, they do influence how we plan for our lives and whether we can live life to the fullest.

World Vision’s statement is “Our vision for every child, life in all its fullness; our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so”. Through Transformational Development, we equip children, families and communities to be able to plan and manage their lives. Certainly, we are all responsible for our transformational development. And when children, families and community members are willing to learn and develop together, they will be able to improve and seek the well-being of more children, bring about lasting change and live a life of abundance.

Mapping out a Life Plan

In some of the countries where World Vision works, in addition to poverty and lack of knowledge, resources and opportunities, deeply-rooted traditions, concepts and norms often restrain children and families from seeking change. It is as if their life map is a piece of blank paper, with no indication of where they can go. But as Keigo Higashino writes in his famed novel Miracles of the Namiya General Store, “It is troubling when the map is blank, no one knows what to do. But because it’s blank, you can draw any map. Everything is free and the possibilities are endless.” When children and families in need are given access to knowledge and resources through World Vision, they will be able to develop their abilities. The map that they draw themselves will come from the transformation that they have experienced, and it is way richer and more abundant than we can ever imagine.

Malawi

The Key to Change: Heart, Mind and Pocket

44-year-old Ireen is a beautiful but poor lady from Malawi. In her community, which is about 30 km south of the capital city Lilongwe, poverty means not having enough to eat, wear and survive. For girls, it also means dropping out of school, and even child marriage.

Ireen was first in her class when she had to drop out of school following the death of her father. “I felt pain,” she recalls. “I wanted to go to school. I wanted to become a nurse to help my community.” Instead, she got married at the age of 19, working as a farmer and selling crops to support her family, so as to raise her five children with her husband Salimoni. “We had a lot of problems,” she says. “We couldn’t find money. We ate nshima (maize flour porridge) two times a day. I had no peace. I’d wake up in the morning worrying about having no food to eat.” Ireen and her husband were hopelessly in debt. With money lenders charging them exorbitant amounts of interest, it was simply impossible for them to repay.

A Remarkable Change

But change finally came when Ireen’s son Lackson became a sponsored child in 2006. “For the first time, the children started eating breakfast before school,” says Ireen. In late 2017, World Vision started the Transforming Households Resilience in Vulnerable Environments project (THRIVE) in Malawi, targeting 16,000 farmers, including Ireen. The project believes that transformation starts with the heart. Through a four-day training known as Empowered Worldview, the project helps participants see that they are made in the image of God, and understand how God’s love empowers them to take responsibility for themselves, their marriages, families and communities. Participants are also taken on a journey of self-discovery, finding their gifts and talents and understanding which traditional systems and values can negatively impact development.

That first meeting is etched in Ireen’s mind. “Fifty farmers came to a meeting,” she says. “First, we were told that THRIVE is about changing the way we do things. After that meeting, there was change in our mindset. Everybody had been doing things on their own. Now we would do things together.”

THRIVE not only changed mindsets, but also taught Ireen and other farmers new ways to farm. In Malawi, there is only one rainy season, and therefore, one yearly harvest. In the past, farmers could only pray that their yearly harvest would be blessed by good rains. But what if the rains didn’t come? And in a country where 20 percent of the area is covered by surface water, why depend on rain in the first place? Ireen began to use water from ponds on her property to water her crops, and now she could grow crops all year long. However, being poor, she had been using poor quality seeds and fertilisers. So she applied for a small loan from World Vision to purchase better inputs. She also had training called Farming God’s Way, which taught her how to conserve the soil.

Another change in the mindset is about collaborating with one another. Ireen volunteered to lead five groups of farmers—called commercial producer groups—who farm individually, but sell together. Working this way turns subsistence farming into a business. In just two years’ time, Ireen has seen a more than twentyfold increase in her income, which has allowed her to save money for her children’s education and meet other needs. She was elected as a leader and began to lead saving groups of about 20 members who all save with the aim to send children to school or deal with the unexpected—like a health emergency. These families that once had almost nothing now have savings and are leading a better life.

Rediscovering the Beauty of Living

Married young and living in poverty, Ireen and her husband Salimoni used to struggle. “In the past, I thought about other women,” says Salimoni. “Now I just love Ireen. She is so beautiful.” The Empowered Worldview training has restored their relationship. Now, Salimoni is a good father and husband. “When I married my beautiful wife, our home only had a door made of grass. Now our life has completely changed,” he says. “Before it was difficult to send a child to school. Now we can send our children to college. Through THRIVE, we promote access to finances and market linkages. In the past we were doing farming and ended up being robbed. THRIVE opened our eyes.” Their 12-year-old daughter Tesha dreams of becoming a nurse, just as her mother once did, and now Ireen and Salimoni are capable of supporting their daughter to pursue that dream.

Change comes from development of ability. It starts from the heart and then expands to the mind. And through behavioural change, the pocket will be filled with income that comes from such change. As the slogan of this project says, “Heart, Mind and Pocket”.

Bangladesh

A New Beginning towards Change: Promoting Gender Equality at Home

In southwest Bangladesh, some 30% of the families are still living with less than HK$15 a day. To make things worse, this region is often hit by cyclones, tidal waves, floods and droughts. With a lot of farmland converted into shrimp farms, farmers are having a difficult time providing sufficient nutritious food for their children. To tackle the issue of malnutrition among children in this region, World Vision is running the Nobo Jatra (New Beginning) programme, which intervenes with projects that get at the root of poverty: maternal and child health, water and sanitation, gender, food security and livelihoods, good governance and accountability, and disaster risk reduction.

Tumpa’s house was destroyed when Cyclone Aila hit Bangladesh in 2009. “We didn’t have anything,” says Tumpa. “We took a loan to prepare this house.” Tumpa’s husband, Bikash, works at a local clothing store and is the only breadwinner of the family. As if that was not difficult enough, their water source was dirty and they often got sick. It all put an unbearable strain on their relationship: Bikash was often angry and Tumpa felt unsupported in her housework.

Seeking Change for Children

When their son Arko was born, Bikash decided to seek help. His friend connected them to a local Nobo Jatra project. The first assistance that the family received was postnatal care and growth monitoring for Arko, now aged 2, through a maternal health facilitator. “Whenever I feed Arko, I wash my hands. When I cook for him, I have to clean all the vegetables thoroughly. I wash his clothes every day with an antiseptic liquid. I have to keep my house neat and clean. We should also wash our hands with soap after taking food and using the latrine,” Tumpa recounts the things that she has learnt.

Their community was also identified as one in need of better water quality. As a result, World Vision helped them install a pond sand filter and established a water management committee that Tumpa and Bikash are part of. “We are so proud,” says Tumpa. “We are drinking safe water and helping other community members too. At the same time, the water-borne diseases decreased sharply in this area. Now we are living a healthier life.”

“It is our responsibility to keep it clean,” says Tumpa confidently. “The next generation as well. When Nobo Jatra is no longer here, we will maintain the water system by ourselves and for ourselves.”
To improve the family’s nutrition, one of Nobo Jatra’s agricultural facilitators helped them set up a vegetable garden on their property so that Arko could have a reliable source of nutritious food. “I used to wait so long for my husband to collect vegetables from the market,” says Tumpa. “Now we have our own vegetables.”

Nobo Jatra’s disaster risk reduction facilitator equipped Bikash and Tumpa to become more resilient against cyclones. They were taught how to save money and make an emergency plan that includes securing livestock, storing dry food, and going to the nearest cyclone shelter. “As human beings, the disaster is not in our hands,” says Tumpa. “But now we know we can take precautions.”

The Greatest Change in Life

However, the greatest change for Tumpa and Bikash has been the improved relationship between them. Nobo Jatra’s gender facilitator led them in training, which helped Bikash see Tumpa as an equal partner in their family. With Bikash’s view changed, their relationship has become much better, a significant change that is also felt by Tumpa. “I didn’t have the confidence to talk to my husband before,” says Tumpa. “We had a gap between us. Now we understand each other very well.”
Now, Bikash would even help take care of Arko and keep the house tidy. He even cycles to fetch water to save his wife from the hassle. “Now I can understand my wife. We are living as a very happy couple. This is the biggest change in my life,” says Bikash. “I wish my Arko will be better than me. I wish he will have a good relationship with his wife and that they will understand each other even better.” These changes have turned them into a much admired couple in their community. “People think we are one of the ideal couples,” says Tumpa. “So they are replicating what we do.”

This is how Nobo Jatra prepared Bikash and Tumpa to become sources of transformation in their community, bringing about more permanent and profound change for children and families to embrace an abundant life.

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