Sunday, 24 February 2008

Hope at times comes in the form of cows

Lowell Sheppard of the HOPE International Development Agency

A family which benefitted from microcredit in the form of cows
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008

Contributing writer

Lowell Sheppard, director Asia-Pacific of the Canada-based NGO HOPE International Development Agency is on his way back to Nagoya from Shinagawa.

He's been busy with a stream of meetings, relating to events planned for March 2-9 at the Tokyo Hilton, but in which the Nagoya Hilton will also participate, passing on 5 percent of selected second-floor restaurant profits to HOPE.

In Tokyo you will be able to get a charity haircut, with stylists donating their scissor skills daily.
Also there'll be a travel and leisure auction — ¥10 million worth of international flight tickets, holidays and equipment, including Trek bikes — that allows supporters to bid online.

HOPE International was founded by three Canadians, including a housewife and a pilot, and now operates in 20 countries worldwide. It's a very professional no-nonsense NGO with low overheads, using local people in offices and aiming globally to get 95 percent of donations to projects overseas.

"Profit and the nonprofit sectors are now interacting in very interesting and synergistic ways. 'Do-gooders' are operating in the for-profit sector as well as the nonprofit sector. There's room for corporate entrepreneurs, and social entrepreneurs like myself," says Canada-born Sheppard.

HOPE, for example, is engaging companies not only through providing an opportunity to donate to sustainable development that helps the poor, but also acting as advisers and coaches to firms and individuals who are seeking to develop effective CSR policies and practice.

Sheppard joined HOPE International in 1978, working for a time in a refugee camp in Thailand. Later he moved to the U.K. with his wife and sons, and spent 13 years in Stourbridge near Birmingham working for another charity, but maintaining a relationship with HOPE as a supporter and volunteer.

In 1997, the family moved to Nagoya, but after a couple of years HOPE's head office wanted Sheppard back in Canada. "We talked it through, decided Japan was home and that we wanted to see our boys through their own schooling," Sheppard says. "This is when I talked with a group of diplomats and business folks in Nagoya about starting HOPE in Japan and began devoting my spare hours to that enterprise."

Sheppard worked part-time for HOPE Japan until mid-2006, when he was asked to shoulder responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand. "My job is to raise awareness and funds — money that we spend in Cambodia, Sudan, Ethiopia and other areas of desperate need."

The first fund-raising event drew 350 people. HOPE Japan had asked the Nagoya Hilton to donate half the ballroom for a possible 125 guests. In the end they filled the whole space.

"Successful fundraising is all about contacts. HOPE has always believed in building deep trusting relationships over time, something that Japan very much understands and appreciates."

From the very beginning, the NGO went to the heart of the matter. When the organization first began, HOPE was challenged to not simply raise money for Ethiopia, but take it there and work together with local people to put it to practical use. Microcredit in one form or another seemed the best way, assisting those in need to improve their standards of living.

"Today we help in various ways." Sheppard explains. "The upcoming events in Tokyo and Nagoya will be in aid of HOPE's Cowbank initiative. Eighty thousand yen buys a cow both in Cambodia and in Africa's DR Congo, which is then loaned to a family for 18 months. Believe me, it changes lives."

During that time frame, the family uses the animal for plowing and the soil benefits from the cow's droppings as fertilizer. The cow also produces a calf or calves. When the loan ends, the family passes the cow on, but keeps its offspring.

As Sheppard says: "This cycle is repeated six to seven times leaving behind six to seven happy families and calves."

Today, the average family living at subsistence level in Cambodia makes just $250 a year. After a couple of years support from HOPE, they can be earning $1,000 annually, which enables families to lift themselves out of poverty and children to go to school.

Other projects are designed to similar proactive effect. A well, for half a dozen families, costs ¥100,000. A village water system in Southern Ethiopia costs ¥800,000, in Southern Sudan, ¥1 million. A health clinic in the same part of the world serving 120,000 people recently cost under ¥5 million to get up and running.

"HOPE believes in helping people to help themselves. We build long-term relationships, not dependency. We're their bankers, coaches, friends and cheerleaders. It's about giving them a hand and then cheering them on."

Donations are also used to send children to school — ¥12,000 a year per child.

Even more practical are disaster packs, solar lights and solar home systems.

The dinner and auction next month are by invitation only. Of those asked along, 25 percent will have what Sheppard call "deep pockets," half are expected to put in ¥10,000, and the rest will be young people who will donate what they can afford, hopefully about the same they might spend on a Friday night on the town.

Sheppard is kept busy these days covering such a huge region. But amazingly he still finds time to write books.

"I am not a good writer," he smiles ruefully, "but my publisher tells me he likes my ideas, hence the contracts."

So far he has seven titles in print, including the self-help title "Never Too Late," for those who fear they may have missed the boat in life; also "Chasing the Cherry Blossom," which Sheppard describes as a spiritual journey through Japan. Most interesting to parents, perhaps, is "Boys Becoming Men," about creating rites of passage for sons in societies that have abandoned such rituals.

"I love the process of writing; there's such liberty, and it's so therapeutic. Of all my books, 'Boys Becoming Men' was the hardest book to write. Every month, I had to say in handling my own two boys, Well that didn't work!"

His own mother is a writer. Abused as a child, she came out just seven years ago in a self-published book, "Fallen Sparrow Broken Wing," that has since provide her with a new career as a counselor and lecturer.

"I'm so proud," Sheppard acknowledges. "She's very brave."

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