Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about an organization that I have been following for the last ten years…Healing Hands International.
Healing Hands International, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, Tenn., began in 1991 when Randy Steger, a Lipscomb University marketing professor, hoped to teach his class how to use their talents to help those in need. Twenty university students hoped to make a difference. Hundreds of donors hoped to help the cause. When hope took over, a small class project grew to become Healing hands International (HHI), an international nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that touches thousands of people’s lives every year. Since its beginning, Healing Hands International has delivered more than $100 million in aid to more than 75 countries around the world (and I’m pretty sure that the number is much higher than this…I think this is an older statistic.)
Here’s more recent information from just one aspect of the work Healing Hands International does: Since it began, the agriculture program for HHI has conducted a total of 535 workshops in 35 countries, training 27,466 people firsthand. Many of their trainees are quick to share what they’ve learned with others, creating a multiplying effect. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization “Agriculture production needs to increase 70% by 2050 to feed the world.” HHI’s simple, practical, affordable, sustainable agriculture training is helping to solve this problem. It is life-saving and life-changing!
HHI does many things well. They are listed as a four-star charity on Charity Navigator. You can go their website and get a full overview on all of their many programs and see exactly how any donations are used. In this podcast, I’m just going to talk about one aspect of their program: the agricultural component. Ever since I first wrote an article about HHI, I’ve been fascinated by the way they work to discover the needs of a community and find practical, sustainable solutions to help meet those needs. The agriculture program empowers communities to fight hunger by providing instruction on basic gardening techniques that can be used even in drought prone areas.
I had the opportunity to interview David Goolsby multiple times when he worked with HHI as the director of international agricultural development and relief. Part of his responsibilities included designing workshops and vocational education to teach community leaders around the world how to help fight the devastating hunger overwhelming many areas. He taught communities to work together to build an efficient and lasting agricultural economy to provide for their own needs by practicing simple sustainable technologies.
“We teach participants to start a garden with minimum resources. For successful gardening we focus on simplicity, affordability, sustainability and practicality. We want to make sure a widow with five small children can tend her garden. People with more resources can adapt what we teach to their circumstances,” said David Goolsby in a 2009 interview.
One method for successful agricultural development Goolsby passed on in his training programs involves a drip irrigation system using simple materials easy to provide to communities around the world. After the first ten farmers went through the training in 1999 and the first fruits of this method became evident by early 2000, a nationwide interest in drip irrigation grew all across Ethiopia. As a result of drip irrigation and survival garden training, families were able to provide more than enough food to sustain them and to share amongst their communities. Thousands of people started to use this method of gardening in Ethiopia and in several other neighboring and regional African countries as well.
The HHI website (hhi.org) has a video to show how to create a drip irrigation system. It teaches families and farmers how to grow vegetables during their dry season. The video shows gardeners how to place drip lines on raised gardening beds to ensure that each plant receives sufficient water. The gardeners are encouraged to use materials they already have available in their communities along with items supplied by HHI. Buckets or barrels placed on a raised stand are connected to the drip lines on the raised beds. A hole is drilled into the bottom of the bucket and connectors are used to secure the drip lines. Various groups help to provide the connectors to gardeners in each area. A cloth over the top of the bucket filters material that may clog the lines from the water. One raised bed can produce enough food to feed a family of five to seven people during the dry season. Extra beds can produce food available to sell at the market or to help sustain other community members.
HHI has worked with people in Haiti since 2013 through sustainable agricultural workshops. During the first workshop, 75 farmers learned how to turn a rocky field into raised planting beds with a compost trench and drip irrigation.
The HHI team has shared many stories of success that can be found on the website.
- In May of 2011, HHI staff and volunteers traveled to Kayenta, AZ to teach the lifesaving skills of survival gardening and food preservation to families of the Navajo Nation. The “hands-on” workshop taught the use of a drip irrigation kit, composting and seed transplanting.
- In 2002, Malawi was suffering from years of famine and a growing AIDS epidemic. Orphaned children were dying of disease and starvation and the livestock and crops were decimated. HHI’s Agricultural Director, David Goolsby, traveled to the country to train local farmers in survival gardening techniques. As he taught them he encouraged them to go out and train other farmers in these same techniques. From that initial trip grew a first-of-its-kind operation in Africa. David eventually spent seven months helping more than 200 local workers build the Madalitso (Blessings) Food Plant. The plant turns corn and soybean crops grown by the local farmers into VitaMeal, a vitamin fortified flour that is purchased by Feed the Children and Nourish the Children.
- In 2008, Dr. Willa Finley, knowledgeable in agriculture and nutrition, Brenda McVey, a missionary in Ghana for more than 20 years, Eleni Melirrytos, a seasoned cook and gifted public speaker, Janice Goolsby, with more than 20 years of experience in food preservation, and Alisa Merritt Van Dyke, the youngest of the group, boarded a plane to Maiduguri, Nigeria. Their mission was new and simple, teach women the skills of food preservation techniques and empower them to bless their families and communities. This project was inspired by a Muslim woman, one of the few women to attend a drip irrigation workshop held by HHI the previous year. She made the comment that it would be useful to the women of her country to learn ways to better preserve and prepare food for their families. From this initial workshop to date, hundreds of women have been trained in food preservation skills. Not only has HHI been able to touch these women’s lives, but many of them are going back to their community and training others, spreading the knowledge they have learned!
HHI workshops teach sustainable food production and preservation skills to those struggling to feed their families. Over the course of two days, trainees are taught survival gardening techniques using drip irrigation, raised garden beds, composting and mulching, seed transplanting and basic garden management. After completing the workshop attendees are given a drip irrigation kit to take with them back to their communities to start their own gardens. HHI also holds workshops that teach methods for drying and preserving food, often in conjunction with the food production workshop.
I think I’m fascinated by this project for many reasons. First, it’s so practical. People need food. What better way to support a community than starting with something so basic as making sure they are fed. Second, because it is sustainable and manageable after the HHI teams leave the area. This work doesn’t leave a community dependent upon outside resources. True, this agricultural work doesn’t solve all of their problems. They may still need fresh water to drink or medical assistance (by the way, HHI has other teams to step in and address these issues), but food is a great way to start.
Third, this work is done with the local people in the community. The HHI teams work with existing leaders or farmers or families to teach them the details about what needs to be done and empowers them to then become teachers themselves.
So what’s our challenge for this week? Let’s find some really practical ways that we can use our knowledge and our resources to help someone. Identify ways that you can mentor someone who can then go forward to be a mentor for someone else. We can change communities one person at a time.
Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.