For a few years, the bush stayed put, growing in its private bed abutting my shack in the woods. Then it sallied forth under the flagstone sidewalk, into the ramshackle yard, snuggling up over by the trees near the shed.  Spreading like the happiest of weeds. Meadowsweet, I am told, is its name.

Meadowsweet is a beautiful weed, flowering in fine clusters of tiny flowerettes, in shades ranging from pastel pink to hot violet. And the rampant ravenous deer let them be.  Some kind of miracle.

Most magically, this scrappy shrub is beloved by bees, spirea bees to be precise. Fluffy with dramatical black and yellow stripes, the bees feast in the hot sun, muzzling depths of nectar. They lumber up one by one, hoisting their swinging bums, arc to a neighboring bloom, settle, quieten, feed.  Then up again. Their buzz lulls like the ocean.  Dozens swaying over the swaying flowers are kaleidoscopic.

I do not spend dark nights worrying about bee colony collapse, as serious a global issue as it is. On the other hand, I wash vegetables in a bowl of water, not a gushing stream. I try to waste less. I compost even though I do not garden. Iridescent orange salamaders scurry through my compost. I give them room and board.

I love hosting the bees, sheltering the endangered. And it is a risk, since I am allergic to bees. I do worry at night whether I might step on their hive and I am trying to find it. Okay, so this is living dangerously. But only a little bit. Nature carries dangers. Life does.  That’s life.

I am diligent in annointing my feet with rosemary oil, which repels the bees and ticks and mosquitoes. I observe the biological spectacle at close range without fear. I intend to nourish these bees, a tiny gesture of environmental stewardship, but mine, all mine.

Let that shrub colonize this nano-bit of earth. I do not mow, nor grow, but am letting the wild woods encroach, year by year. I am happy to receive these flowers from nature. In a hundred years, perhaps, my cabin will be thicketed within florid bramble, guarded by thousands of dazzling, well fed bees, ready to defend their ancestral home–and me too, the one who nurtures nature.

All in all, in my own small way, just like my MADRE sisters.

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You’ve heard the story of the butterfly in Asia that flapped its wings and caused a tsunami in North America? In our increasingly globalized world, every policy change is a butterfly wing flap that has the potential to create a chain reaction that can result in food shortages, a climate crisis, or a democratic revolution halfway around the planet. In the case of biofuel, the United States’ purported attempts to cut down on oil dependence and even help the environment are a direct cause of malnutrition in places like Guatemala, where MADRE partners with the Women Workers’ Committee in Barcenas and the Indigenous women of Muixil.

A recent New York Times article observed that:

With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.

The result has been severe and widespread malnutrition, and an uprooted population as families move to find work.

This problem is not new, nor is it limited to Guatemala. “In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest,” says the New York Times. What long-term good might be done by moving away from fossil fuel dependency is countered by the immediate human suffering of the unexamined consequences of new kinds of consumption. Misael Gonzáles of C.U.C., a labor union for Guatemala’s farmers, noted in the same article, ‘These people don’t have enough to eat. They need food. They need land. They can’t eat biofuel, and they don’t drive cars.’”

One analysis the article cited found that corn, which constitutes a large part of the Guatemalan diet and is now prohibitively expensive, cutting some families monetary access by half, would be 17 percent cheaper if the United States did not incentivize biofuel consumption.

As MADRE warned in a 2007 statement:

If we don’t reduce the demand for energy by consuming less, we risk a scenario in which most of the Earth’s arable land will be dedicated to growing ‘fuel crops’ instead of food crops. Growing agro-fuels on a mass scale is already jacking up food prices, depleting soil and water supplies, destroying forests, and violating the rights of Indigenous and local people in areas newly designated as ‘biofuel plantations.’

The Earth itself is, in fact, a finite resource; in order to preserve it, we must address overall energy consumption as well as ways to make the forms of energy we do use more generally renewable.

More than five years ago, MADRE observed that, “We need to consume less, not just differently, and steer clear of solutions that would expand the reach-and all the pitfalls-of industrialized agriculture. Creative and practical solutions for meeting our energy requirements-including some local, sustainable agrofuel programs-are being developed around the world. We can support proposals for developing sustainable renewable energy sources, while recognizing the need to reduce overall consumption .” That need to reduce overall consumption has never been addressed, and the world’s population continues to expand, having recently exceeded 7 billion. The only sustainable solution remains to consume less and in better ways.

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Today on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize the over one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, living with a disability.  Often, they face discrimination and human rights violations that limit access to education, employment, healthcare, and more.

The United Nations recognizes these problems globally, through Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UN has proclaimed today to be an international day of awareness, encouraging communities to address the exclusion of disabled persons and recognition of the challenges they confront.

Many of MADRE’s programs support people living with disabilities in the communities of our sister organizations. In Haweeja, a community in Iraq, families are struggling to cope with increasing rates of children born with disabilities. For nearly eight years, US troops were present, reportedly dumping harmful munitions nearby.

This small community exemplifies the US legacy of war, one that will continue on to the next generation of Iraqis as children continue to be born with birth defects.  Today, we recognize the efforts of Iraqi families and that of our partners, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, for their determination and work to help children live with disabilities, birth defects, cancer, and other health problems.

And tomorrow, the US Senate may finally ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, recognizing and lending new weight to this international treaty—a welcome development.

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This is the first in a series of ten blog posts about the MADRE intern experience from Elaina, a student at Seton Hall. You can find out more about our intern program here.

In just the first eight hours as Program Intern at MADRE, I have learned so much about this international organization!

I have researched our global partners to learn how they work together with MADRE to advance individual and collective human rights around the world. I learned about the challenges faced by displaced Afro-Colombian women and children due to long-standing armed conflict, and how MADRE and its partners LIMPAL and Taller de Vida provide humanitarian aid and education on their constitutional rights. I also learned how the Women Workers’ Committee meets urgent needs of marginalized neighborhoods in Guatemala, providing dental care and women’s reproductive health care for the community.

My first task was to help complete our partner KOFAVIV’s training manual on “Utilizing Humanitarian Mechanisms to Address Gender-Based Violence in Haiti.” The manual promotes a human rights-based approach (as opposed to a needs-based approach) to humanitarian aid and development to ensure that the fundamental rights of every human being are recognized and protected. Furthermore, it calls for civic

At my desk!

participation of the community through mobilization and advocacy at the local, national, and international levels. This gave me a good insight into the tools and strategies that KOFAVIV uses to promote women’s human rights and to help women participate effectively in society.

On my second day, I researched our Nicaraguan partner Wangki Tangni’s Women Waterkeepers. I learned that Indigenous Peoples live on the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua without health or sanitation infrastructure, a result of government neglect and marginalization. Despite the fact that access to clean water and sanitation was declared a fundamental human right by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2010, many people still have no access to clean water, which exposes them to fatal, waterborne diseases. This assignment helped teach me how clean water education and community involvement can ensure resources are shared equitably and sustainably.

This is my fourth year studying International Relations and Latin American Studies at Seton Hall University; it was truly rewarding to see how the knowledge I had gained from my coursework correlates directly to the human rights issues addressed by MADRE, in turn applying my educational skills to my tasks in the workplace. Between the hands-on knowledge gained from the tasks on Haiti and Nicaragua, as well as the exposure to the successes of the organization as a whole, I couldn’t be more pleased with my rewarding new internship experience at MADRE!

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Today is World Food Day, and this year’s focus is on agricultural cooperatives—powerful examples of active, life-changing community engagement.

Worldwide, women and girls are primarily responsible for feeding their families. Women are disproportionately, overwhelmingly impacted by the expanding global crisis of poverty. Climate change exacerbates food insecurity, causing droughts one year and floods the next, and forces people from their homes. These conditions all exacerbate poverty – and again, disproportionately impact women.

MADRE advocates for food sovereignty, meaning that every person has not only the right to food, but the right to choose what food we eat and an understanding of where that food comes from and how it is produced.

Today, we are highlighting three of our partners, whose work to promote food sovereignty allows them to feed their families and support one another through the many challenges they face. By embracing sustainable farming practices, women and their families have the opportunity to support themselves for generations.

In Sudan, Women Farmers Unite to grow the food their families need to survive and encourage young women to become farmers.

Unlike emergency food aid, Women Farmers Unite gives women the tools, resources and technical assistance they need to sustain their families for the long haul. With our Sudanese partner organization Zenab for Women in Development, we provide women farmers with organic seeds and supplies, including plows and a tractor. A special focus on young women helps ensure theirgeneration continues to provide a local, sustainable food supply.

Women gain the resources they need to grow and produce food, alleviating hunger, improving health and nutrition, and fueling local economies. By working together to grow crops, participants build a network of women farmers who share resources and boost their economic status. Elder women transmit skills and lessons to younger women. Many participants are using their increased incomes to pay for their daughters’ educations, breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the chances for further political, economic and social empowerment.

In Nicaragua, women farmers are Harvesting Hope.

MADRE partners with Indigenous Miskito women to promote organic farming and provides families with vegetable seeds. Harvesting Hope organizes a seed bank, through which women cultivate, save, and share local, organic seeds from one growing season to the next. The program emphasizes sustainable land use methodologies, safeguards traditional Indigenous knowledge of natural resource management, and strengthens women’s economic self-sufficiency and participation in public life.

Through MADRE’s longtime sister organization Wangki Tangni, Harvesting Hope organizes local farmers’ markets where the women sell surplus produce.  The markets have become a focal point for community cohesion, with Wangki Tangni hosting innovative culinary contests, games, and musical entertainment. The markets also serve as an opportunity for Wangki Tangni to distribute popular education materials about women’s rights, collective Indigenous rights, and women’s health. Women are earning much-needed income for their families, and are able to pay for necessities such as shoes and school books for their children. In the process, women are boosting their economic autonomy and sense of agency.

In Guatemala, women are Farming for the Future.

Indigenous Ixil women living in the Quiché region of the Guatemalan highlands endured 36 years of civil war. The Quiché region was the area most severely affected; nearly half of all recorded human rights violations – including the killing of 200,000 Indigenous People – occurred here.

Today, many widows and single mothers are the sole breadwinners for their families. MADRE has established small chicken farms as a source of food security and income. The project improves families’ diets by providing eggs, generates income for women, and builds participants’ technical and business skills, in turn creating more economic opportunities for young people in Quiché.Based on a community-centered model of micro-enterprise, Farming for the Future not only brings in money; it also creates opportunities for women to learn and then teach other community members about human rights.

Women are also now in a stronger position to negotiate the distribution of work in the household and provide positive role models for their daughters and sons. Nutrition is improving, which will ultimately boost maternal and infant survival rates and the overall health of the community. Indigenous women are strengthened as leaders come together to attend human rights trainings and plan future community development projects.

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Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People! It was established in 1994 by the UN to promote the achievements and rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world.

Here are just a few of the ways that MADRE works with our Indigenous partners for rights, resources and results worldwide.

Farming for the Future

Indigenous Ixil women living in the Quiché region of the Guatemalan highlands endured 36 years of civil war. The Quiché region was the area most severely affected; nearly half of all recorded human rights violations – including the killing of 200,000 Indigenous People – occurred here.  Ixil women are among the poorest people in Guatemala, which itself has the highest infant mortality rate in Central America and one of the world’s worst rates of malnutrition for children.

MADRE is establishing small chicken farms as a source of food security and income for Ixil women in Guatemala. Implemented in cooperation with Muixil, the project improves families’ diets by providing eggs, generates income for women, and builds participants’ technical and business skills, in turn creating more economic opportunities for young people in Quiché. Based on a community-centered model of micro-enterprise, Farming for the Future not only brings in money; it also creates opportunities for women to learn and then teach other community members about human rights.

Defending Territories and Traditions

On the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, Indigenous Peoples face entrenched human rights abuses, including poverty, the denial of education and healthcare services, and the degradation of the ecosystems that are the bedrock of their traditional diet, economy, cultural practices, and very identity as Indigenous Peoples. Having survived and resisted genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, and multiple invasions by the United States, families here now face further danger from governments and corporations seeking profits from the minerals, timber, fish, and other natural resources located on Indigenous territory.

MADRE has co-founded the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Autonomy and Development (known by its Spanish acronym, CADPI) to promote the education, culture, political participation, and community cohesion that people need to effectively demand their rights and develop their economy and government according to their own vision. CADPI offers art and music classes, human rights trainings, and children’s recreational and skills-building programs for local Indigenous and African-descent communities. CADPI’s museum, Casa Museo, displays the work of local artists, organizes international cultural exchanges, and encourages appreciation of Miskito culture among young people in the area.

Voices for Justice

In Peru, more than half of all people – and nearly 80% of Indigenous Peoples and those of African descent – live in poverty. Indigenous women face the additional challenge of gender discrimination. They are underrepresented in local government, exposed to gender-based violence and lack access to health care. Maternal mortality in the region is 185 deaths per 100,000 live births, as compared to an average of nine per 100,000 in industrialized countries. Indigenous women who seek health care often encounter professionals who do not speak their local language and cannot fully explain reproductive health information.

MADRE and our partner CHIRAPAQ (The Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru) are using radio to share information on health, domestic violence, women’s political participation, food security, climate change and more in these geographically isolated communities. Together, MADRE and CHIRAPAQ are training Indigenous women and men in radio production and broadcasting, providing equipment to a network of radio producers and developing programming to promote women’s human rights and collective Indigenous rights.

Demanding a Political Voice for Women

MADRE partners with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (better known by its Spanish acronym FIMI) to equip women leaders in Bolivia with the skills they need to succeed in politics. The project brings Indigenous women leaders from around Latin America to conduct trainings with Indigenous Bolivian women who want to run for public office. In order to reach the greatest number of Indigenous women leaders, FIMI and MADRE are working with Bartolina Sisa, the largest Indigenous women’s organization in Bolivia, to train Indigenous women for leadership roles at the local, national and international levels.

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We recently heard the story of an Indigenous Guatemalan woman named Catarina. We’re sharing it with you to show just what your support has meant—to one woman among many.

Before Guatemala’s devastating civil war reached her, Catarina lived peacefully with her family in a community called Nebaj.

But when the terrible violence spread to their village, Catarina and her two daughters fled to the mountains—where they faced disease, sickness, cold and extreme hunger.

“We were chased by soldiers, we always tried to hide. There were constant bombings. My daughter Rosa was good and healthy but one day, a bomb fell near my daughter Rosa and now she is deaf,” said Catarina.

Lacking food, Catarina and her daughters struggled to survive. Often, they were forced to subsist off a meager diet of wilted herbs and plants.

But Catarina no longer has to worry feeding her children.  Now, she has the essential skills and means to provide for her family, thanks to your support of Farming for the Future.

MADRE works with Muixil, a grassroots group of Indigenous Ixil women in Guatemala. Together, MADRE and Muixil created Farming for the Future, establishing small chicken farms as a source of income and nutrition for Ixil women and their families. Catarina was able to start her own chicken farm, selling eggs and using the proceeds to put her daughters in school.

Thanks to the success of Farming for the Future, MADRE and Muixil hope to double the number of participants in the chicken farming project to at least 100 women in the next year.

What’s more, Catarina has had the chance to participate in trainings where she learned about her human rights, including the right to vote.

“Before, I was very poor and scared, I never spoke. But Muixil accepted me, and I participate in trainings and meetings. Now I participate in the community, and I have no fear. I know I have the same rights as men. I received the support from Muixil, and I thank all the women who help us in other countries far away,” said Catarina.

Check out the photos below to see the impact of your support.

All photos copyright Muixil

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This past weekend, President Obama hid out from protesters at Camp David. He was hosting the leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest economies, known as the G8. As they readied to meet, on Friday, Obama put forward his New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

This occasion gave Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, the chance to make an astonishing statement:

“We are never going to end hunger in Africa without private investment. There are things that only companies can do, like building silos for storage and developing seeds and fertilizers.”

That’s news to millions of women farmers in Africa. Their harvests feed their families and generate income that sustains local economies. For generations, they have been doing just those things: storing their harvests, protecting and developing seeds, using natural fertilizers.

Smallholder women farmers save and exchange seeds that help keep local crops viable. They demonstrate how to adapt to climate change by adjusting planting cycles, experimenting with new drought-resistant crops and more. They produce crucial food supplies using the small-scale, organic methods that are increasingly recognized as vital to the health of the planet—and everyone who lives on it.

There are differences, of course. Unlike big companies, small-scale women farmers do not grab millions of acres of land for monoculture plantations that destroy local biodiversity. They do not develop the terminator seeds that hold farmers hostage to the seed patent rights of corporations. They are not the inventors of chemical fertilizers that worsen climate change.

Those honors belong to the very companies that President Obama is inviting to oversee Africa’s food security. We know that their primary goal is not anybody’s food security but their own bottom line. That’s why it’s governments, and not corporations like Monsanto, that should bear responsibility for funding and developing agriculture. It is simply not true that only companies can build silos and develop seeds and fertilizers.

President Obama anticipated these criticisms when he addressed “whether this New Alliance is just a way for governments to shift the burden onto somebody else.” He was quick to assure that, even in hard economic times, his administration would continue to make investments in development aid. Let’s make sure that those investments work to prioritize the right to food over corporate profits.

Because here’s the truth: we’re never going to end hunger in Africa without upholding the rights of smallholder women farmers who feed the continent and care for its ecosystems.

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If you thought that more than 950 million people worldwide suffer from hunger because there’s not enough food, think again. The world is already producing 1.5 times more food than we need to feed everybody. The issue is not scarcity, but poverty and inequality.

Time and again, evidence has emerged to show that local farming is the key to ending hunger. Small-scale farmers worldwide, many of whom are women, already raise crops that help feed local communities, using organic methods that don’t pollute the environment.

What’s more, studies on crop yields* highlighted by Food First have shown that organic methods are just as productive as conventional, industrial agricultural methods—in good years. And in bad years, with droughts and other threats triggered by climate change, organic farming is better.

Organic farmers can raise healthier food and stronger crops, without the pollution of chemical fertilizers. They can even improve on land depleted by industrial agricultural methods, increasing productivity by up to 300%.

But there’s not enough support—as Food First points out, funding for industrial agriculture outstrips that for organic methods by 99 to 1. Meanwhile, “the bulk of industrially produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots,” rather to feed the hungry. (For more on MADRE’s stance on biofuels, click here).

To fight hunger in their communities, MADRE partners – like Zenab for Women in Development in Sudan and Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua – are supporting women farmers in impoverished regions of the world to farm in eco-friendly ways that boost local markets.

In Sudan, Zenab and MADRE are providing women farmers with the support and necessary resources to provide food for their families through our project Women Farmers Unite. Together, we furnish women farmers with seeds, tools and training to bolster their harvests.

On the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, Wangki Tangni and MADRE are combating hunger, poverty and unemployment through our project Harvesting Hope. This project provides resources and trainings to Indigenous Miskito women in organic farming, women’s health and Indigenous women’s rights. Thanks to Harvesting Hope, women are even able to sell surplus crops for profit.

To combat world hunger, we should take a lesson from our sisters in Sudan and Nicaragua, and focus our attention on the real reasons it exists. Only then can we effect real change.

*“Crop yields” is a term used to describe agricultural output, specifically the amount of a crop harvested per unit of land.

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Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate mothers and to honor the invaluable work they do—at home, in the workplace, in the public sphere, everywhere. Here at MADRE, our work to advance women’s human rights is shaped by the realities mothers worldwide face daily. We work together with mothers to change these conditions and to demand their rights. We start by listening to their stories.

This Mother’s Day, we’re sharing these inspiring stories with you. Today’s story comes from Ana Ceto, a leader of MADRE’s sister organization in Guatemala, Muixil.

As a very young child in the northern highlands of Guatemala, Ana Ceto grew up at the height of a civil war, in an area where that war was most fiercely fought. Human rights abuses, especially against Indigenous Peoples, were widespread. She saw fields rich with produce and effort burned to nothing. Food was scarce and violence everywhere.

At 18, Ana began her work to demand human rights. She struggled to document the identities of displaced people rebuilding their lives. She worked with organizations to identify victims. She collected testimonies from survivors of massacres.

At 23, Ana, along with other community members, founded Muixil, a grassroots organization of Indigenous Mayan women working together to promote the health, well-being and rights of their families and communities.

Today, the vibrant colors of traditional weaving dance before her eyes when she gathers the wares produced by the women’s weaving cooperative in her home of El Quiche. Chickens cackle and cluck in the yards of Indigenous women in the community, many of them widows and single mothers. With help from Muixil, these projects help women build independence and economic self-sufficiency. They sell their weavings at market, and chickens produce eggs to sell and for their families to eat. Many mothers use the money they raise to send their children to school.

Ana herself is a mother of three small children. She knows how important it is to be able to provide for her children, put food on the table and send them to school—a right Ana had to fight hard for.

MADRE and Muixil also work together to help Indigenous women participate in political processes.

Recently, Ana testified before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as they reviewed Guatemala’s human rights record. She described flagrant violations inflicted on Indigenous Peoples and women. She lent an impassioned voice to the findings of  the “Report on Violations of Women’s Human Rights in Guatemala” submitted to the Committee by MADRE, Muixil and other human rights groups.

“MADRE has given us strong support. You gave us the first funds for the weaving cooperative and made this trip to New York possible. We are very thankful,” she told the MADRE staff after her testimony at the UN.

When she visited the MADRE office, Ana showed us the women’s weaving. “We make designs according to the different traditions in our communities. When we show our products, people like what we make. The women are very active, very proud,” Ana said.

The Muixil weavers’ woven bags, scarves, bracelets, bookmarks and belts are a beauty to behold. This Mother’s Day, you can purchase these products at the MADRE Webstore and support mothers like Ana!

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