Grassroots International

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  • Visiting our Partners

    During the next two weeks, Grassroots Staff will be traveling to Haiti and Palestine to visit our partners. This is always one of the most exciting times of year for us, as we get a chance to see first hand the inspiring work they do under extremely challenging conditions. Daniel Moss and I will be traveling to Haiti, where we will divide our time between Hinche and Port-au-Prince from March 30-April 6. Jennifer Lemire and Stephanie Sluka Brauer will be traveling to Palestine, where they will visit a variety of communities throughout the occupied territories from April 1-April 12.

    As always, we are committed to sharing our impressions of these visits and the perspectives of our partners with you. We will be posting those impressions here from the field as often as we can, given the local infra-structure and our schedules.

    Stay tuned.

  • Their Land, Their Lives, Their Decisions

    From the 17th-19th of February, more than 80 participants from 11 countries gathered in Indonesia for the "Regional Conference on Rebuilding Peasants' and Fisherfolks' Livelihoods after the Earthquake and Tsunami Catastrophes" sponsored by the Via Campesina.

    They came from fisher and peasant organizations, from groups representing the victims of the earthquake and the Tsunami and from non-governmental organizations committed to community-led development and rebuilding efforts. Grassroots was proud to provide financial support to allow some of the attendees to make the trip. (We are also proud to have collected and passed through more than $20,000 to support Via Campesina's emergency relief and rebuilding efforts.)

  • Dying for Land Rights

    In my last post, I was writing about the real barriers -- including violent resistance on the part of big landholders and real estate speculators -- that make some of Hernando de Soto's land-tenure legalization theories untenable. Today, the New York Times brings us the sad news (registration required) of the assassination of Sister Dorothy Stang, who was killed for her work with poor and landless workers and her efforts to protect the rain forest from loggers and land speculators.

    We live in a world where real estate speculators will hire gunmen to shoot a nun four times in the chest in order to protect their profit margin. The idea that giving poor people a deed and saying, "OK, now you own this land, you can compete fairly in this predatory economic system" seems hopelessly naive.

    Sister Stang had been telling of death threats from the loggers and land speculators for years, but she couldn't turn to the police for protection, Rhoter writes, because they viewed her as a trouble-maker.

  • Make Trillions With No Money Down!

    Peruvian Economist Hernando de Soto has a simple idea that he believes could flood trillions of dollars into the poorest sectors of the world economy: by giving poor people clear legal title to the land they live on and the homes they've built, he says, we could give them the collateral they would need to get bank loans that could help them build businesses and enter the formal economy. The concept has made De Soto a star in the international development world. He's the toast of the World Bank and the darling of Davos, and if his theories worked, he'd be one of the greatest friends that the poor of the world have ever known.

    Unfortunately, like a lot of things that seem too good to be true, de Soto's plan doesn't pan out well in the real world.

  • Tsunami Rebuilding Priorities: Tourists or Residents?

    How people choose to rebuild a society that has been decimated by a natural disaster says a lot about what the rebuilders value most. As the tsunami relief efforts move beyond rescue and recovery into rebuilding, we've begun to see some disturbing signs about what the local governments value most in their countries. In Sri Lanka, local farmer and fisher groups are denouncing government efforts to push through -- in the guise of disaster relief projects -- neo-liberal policies that have already been rejected by the people at the ballot box. Patrick Barkham, writing in the Guardian, suggests that there are similar problems in Thailand.

    It's just one more reason why it's crucial to deliver aid dollars as directly as possible to the people who need them and who know best how to use them to solve their own problems.

  • Weekly Update from Via Campesina

    Throughout the area affected by the tsunami, the member organizations of the Via Campesina have been hard at work surveying the damage to rural communities, providing emergency food and medical relief, and beginning the process of rebuilding.

    In Thailand, the Federation of Southern Fisherfolk is about halfway through its survey of the more than 400 villages that were devastated by the tsunami. With estimates of nearly 5,000 dead, the villages have also lost thousands of boats plus nets and gear for catching fish, shrimp, crab and squid. The Federation has begun to provide maternal and child care, health care services, and boat and engine repair services.

  • Tsunami Rebuilding: Follow the Money

    Money is power, and with billions of dollars of aid and assistance flowing into the countries around the rim of the Indian Ocean, there is a lot of power at play.

    There are many examples of inspirational work being done: peasants distributing fresh fruit and vegetables to their hungry neighbors, bloggers on the internet setting up virtual bulletin boards to help reunite families and friends, churches, NGOs, and movements organizing to make sure that help goes where it is needed most.

    There are also examples of what seems like the kind of "help" people might be better off without.

    The US government has pledged $350 million (nearly ten times the amount Bush plans to spend celebrating his second inauguration) . Unfortunately, it seems that much of that money may be destined to support the repressive military regime in Indonesia. (See Roger Burbach and Paul Cantor's piece on Bush, the Pentagon and the Tsunami here.)

  • Update From Via Campesina on Local Relief Efforts

    The Via Campesina has begun to produce weekly news updates with reports from their members on the situation on the ground in the areas affected by the tsunami. In this first issue, you can read about groups like the Indonesian National Peasants Federation (FSPI). While donated food is stuck in airports and warehouses, local farmers are providing fresh fruit and vegetables, cassava and rice, and cooking tools and oil to the victims of the disaster. Other groups in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India are using their local movements to organize work crews to clear rubble, recruiting boat builders to begin to repair the devastated fishing fleet, and tailoring their relief efforts to meet the specific needs of the people who need the most help.

  • Tsunami Aid: Support Fisherfolk and Peasant Communities’ Grassroots Relief Efforts

    Indonesia's National Federation of Peasant Organizations (FSPI) and Sri Lanka's National Organization of Fisherfolk (NAFSO) have organized rescue and relief teams in Aceh and North Sumatra Indonesia and in isolated communities in Sri Lanka. Other local organizations of fisherpeople, farmers, and indigenous people around the rim of the Indian Ocean are launching similar efforts in their own home towns.

    With decades of community work, they have built strong, representative membership organizations in their communities. These organizations can make sure aid is used not to deepen poverty and dependency, but to build viable rural livelihoods. Their on-the-ground networks make them good candidates to relieve logistical bottlenecks; they have an agility and a knowledge of the local scene that no international aid organization can match.

  • Tsunami Relief Efforts

    More than 100,000 people have now been reported dead in the aftermath of the earthquake and floods that have devastated the coasts nations around the Indian Ocean.

    Grassroots International sends its condolences to the thousands of people who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the catastrophe.

    We are monitoring the situation, looking for local groups that are doing vital relief and redevelopment work and advocating for a swift and effective response from the U.S. government. During the present emergency situation, we are directing our supporters to send their contributions to groups that we believe are doing their best to work directly with local organizations, and who are doing so wherever possible without becoming beholden to the U.S. government by dependence on government funding.

  • Little Town of Bethlehem

    Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), sent us a note with seasons greetings and forwarded a copy of a Christmas card that PCHR had received.

    He writes, "I think the card illustrates very effectively the state of affairs in Palestine. We look forward to a brighter and better year for Palestinians, and for peace loving people around the world, in 2005 and hope we can build this with your continued help and support."

    Here's the card:



    Grassroots International

  • Report from the World Forum on Agrarian Reform


    Every once in a while, in the midst of reports of massacres, political oppression, and natural disaster, we get a welcome reminder of the value of the work that we do here at Grassroots, and of the power of movements and organizations like our partners to find ways to move forward, in the midst of the violence and the chaos of everyday life.

  • No Lessons: The Pictures

    Yesterday we received a note from Ziad Abbas with the news that the Ibdaa cultural center's kindergarten had been badly damaged when Israeli forces used explosives to demolish a nearby home. Today Ibdaa sent along these photos from the bombing.

    I'm trying to imagine how people here in Jamaica Plain would react if the police came in the middle of the night and blew up someone's house next door to a kindergarten or a day care center, wrecking the kids' classrooms in the process, and it's just unfathomable. (It's also pretty clearly a form of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.)

    Homes and kindergartens

  • No Lessons Today

    In the past few weeks, members of the staff of Grassroots International have had the privilege of visiting young people at schools in Boston and the surrounding area, gaining inspiration from their energy and their commitment to finding ways to make the world of tomorrow a better place.

    Meanwhile, in the world of today: This morning we received a note from Ziad Abbas, director of Ibdaa cultural Center, one of our partners in Palestine. He was writing to let us know that the building where Ibdaa's kindergarten was housed had been destroyed, blown up by an Israeli demolition crew in the pre-dawn hours.

    Ziad's note begins:

    At quarter to four this morning the Hamash family building was bombed by the Israeli Army. At least 12 jeeps invaded Dheisheh Camp and surrounded the families? homes, as well as Ibdaa?s kindergarten ? which share the same building. The Army ordered Musa Hamash, Aziz Hamash, and Ahmed Hamash and their families outside into the damp and chilly morning air. They were given 30 minutes to remove as many of their belongings as possible before the bombing. Not only was this not enough time, but the presence of Army jeeps blocking each of the narrow nearby streets made it even more difficult for them to save some family memories and some meager possessions.

    You can read the rest of his letter here.