I never imagined in my youth that I would end up living in foreign countries for most of my adult life, working in war zones, or responding to natural disasters in all kinds of challenging environments. This gave me a strong sense of empathy for the poor and disadvantaged and a passion to find ways that could counter the injustice they constantly faced.

The biggest impression I witnessed as an outsider working alongside civilians caught up in civil-war or disasters, was their inability to prevent what had happened to them or protect themselves from the suffering it brought. Many became my friends—all of them were ordinary people with normal hopes and dreams, but their lives descended into despair. They were left facing a future of seemingly impossible challenges and uncertainty.

This gave me a passion and desire to help change their situation and replace despair with hope, and their uncertainty with a measure of control over their futures as they dealt with the challenges they faced. I saw that most poor families living through such difficult circumstances would prefer to have the resources or ability to help themselves, and not have to rely on foreign guests like me coming to help them in their crisis.


body4.jpgMeeting with model farmers at the training farm in Sri Lanka. 
 
For this reason, 10 years ago when I returned to New Zealand, I joined Tearfund to help support poor families around the world to help themselves. Through our Farming and Enterprise programmes, whether it is a dairy programme in post-war Sri Lanka, an agricultural programme in post-typhoon Western Samar in the Philippines, or a community market gardening programme in Mongolia, each project gives ordinary people a chance to rebuild their lives and determine their future. 
 
Our approach is to invest in communities. We assume that everyone lives in a community, and individual poor and disadvantaged households can determine their futures if they work together. Organised communities working together and supporting each other, strengthen their ability to become more resilient in the face of external challenges and to find opportunities to take control of their lives.

It takes time and vision, and it requires a long-term strategy, but we have found that if we persevere and support communities, the lives of families improve. They are happier, feel safer and believe they are in control of their lives. 

body1.jpgMobile milking machine.

This approach creates positive change for families and improves their wellbeing, household security and community goodwill. They also recover much quicker from future shocks such as drought or severe cyclones caused by climate change. By working across multiple communities, especially across diverse ethnic social and gender groups, our farming and enterprise activities also help improve trust, build peace and bring people closer together.

We have found that over time, our approach to investing in communities works. They prosper and are happier—they have dreams and believe the future for their children will be safer. They don’t leave their families in search of work and they are not coerced into selling their children to human traffickers offering false dreams in overcrowded cities. 

And when a crisis comes along like the global pandemic we all faced this year, none of the communities in our Farming and Enterprise programmes needed outside help. They remained food secure, could support themselves, communities remained safe, and families supported each other.

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