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Empowerment Through Literacy

In the Pampa de los Silvas community of Peru, CHOICE found that 39% of the adult population was illiterate—and among this group, 93% were female. There was a clear disparity in who was learning to read, and who was able to experience the empowerment that literacy brings. Women in the community were missing opportunities to participate in economic endeavors and community leadership because they couldn’t read or write. 

Humanitarian projects are not just about building structures and investing in the physical needs of a village; they are about investing in people. CHOICE developed a women’s literacy program and began to implement it in Pampa de los Silvas. Within just one year of beginning the program, women in the area experienced a 73% decrease in illiteracy, gaining the ability to read and write basic phrases and empowering them to have a greater say and influence in their communities. Even more exciting, 90% of the women in the community developed leadership capabilities and a sense of empowerment within that year. 

One touching example of the impact of the CHOICE women’s literacy program is Filomena Yarleuq, a 72 year old housewife who learned to read for the first time. Filomena, like many women,  was denied the opportunity to study as a child. Now she is a student of the women’s literacy program, and is elated to know how to read and write her name. 

Filomena says, “Thanks to the literacy project of CHOICE Humanitarian, today for the first time I managed to write my name, read small texts, and know what my identification document is. This makes me very excited and happy, because I never thought of achieving this, let alone at this old age. I thank CHOICE for caring so much for my community and giving us the opportunity to continue growing as people.” 

In addition to the program in Pampa de los Silvas, CHOICE Peru leads, manages, and motivates women’s groups to integrate literacy and promote unity between municipalities, the government, and CHOICE themselves. Education and empowerment of women is essential to sustainable poverty solutions, and must be an integral part of any plan to bring success and gender equity to a community.


What is Extreme Poverty?

To many of us, the term “extreme poverty” can feel somewhat vague. It’s hard to imagine what extreme poverty looks like when most of us, in our daily lives, are so far removed from it. People living in extreme poverty survive on $1.90 or less a day. To put that in perspective, poverty in the United States is considered living on $34 a day or less for a one-person household. That statistic might sound confusing at first—many people living above the poverty line may feel that they survive on less than $34 a day. But that number is not just about how much you spend on food and necessities in a day. When you factor in the monthly costs of rent, utilities, health insurance, car insurance, gas, internet, phone plans, and even services like Netflix, most people will find that they actually live on far more than $34 a day. When that cost is compared with someone living on $1.90 per day, it can be hard for us to imagine what that really looks like.

For many of us, the term “extreme poverty” typically conjures up an image of someone lacking food or housing. While this image is not wrong, extreme poverty is so much more than that view imagines. Extreme poverty affects every aspect of a person’s life.

Living in extreme poverty means much more than lacking material resources. It means trading one vital need for another just to get by. It means denying your child food for a day so you can afford to take them to the hospital. It means missing out on opportunities for work or school because you have to spend an entire day collecting water. It means your daughter missing a week of school every month because you cannot afford menstrual products. Extreme poverty can rule a person’s life, and when they cannot find a way out, it creates a cycle that their children, and their grandchildren get caught up in. It leaves people feeling hopeless and stuck. 

Eliminating extreme poverty isn’t just about helping people survive; it’s about helping them thrive. It gives parents the opportunity to raise their children to be successful enough to one day give back to their communities and the world. Eliminating extreme poverty is not just about giving a family enough food to eat or a place to sleep. It is about building up communities that are self-sustaining. 

Research and CHOICE’s own experiences in the field show: when you give people living in poverty the tools to grow and succeed, they will take them and go farther than anyone might expect. When you give people in underserved communities empowerment, they invest in their families and communities, and become a vital part of building up those around them. When you give children in poverty the chance at an education, they’ll use what they learn to not only break the cycle of poverty within their families, but often to give back to their communities too. 

Fighting extreme poverty is about so much more than a fair income. It’s about fighting for clean water, fighting for gender equity, fighting for education, and fighting for a more just, peaceful world. Many issues of injustice in the world are intertwined, and primarily affect the most vulnerable among us—in many cases, the most poor. When you fight extreme poverty, you fight against every injustice that goes along with it. When CHOICE helps a community lift themselves up, they help lift up the world.

If you would like to make a difference in ending extreme poverty, we encourage you to join The Village, where you can make an impact for as little as $0.30 a day.

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Success in Sustainability

The CHOICE model is unique because it provides hand ups rather than handouts by teaching communities how to organize themselves to tackle the problems they face. In the community of Peñitas, Mexico, CHOICE helped establish an aquaponics system so the locals could raise plants and fish to eat and sell. However, shortly after this system was established, the water system in Peñitas went out. This was a devastating turn of events for the locals, because without water, the plants and fish that relied on the aquaponics system would soon die, and the program would fail. The cooperative that managed the aquaponics system could have called the CHOICE team for help; instead, they took matters into their own hands.

The women of the cooperative came up with an idea and decided to act. With the help of CHOICE Humanitarian, they had previously built ovens in the community to make pizzas and other baked goods. The women of the cooperative took initiative to use their new resources to help their community. They came together and used the ovens to make pizzas, which they sold throughout the community. With the proceeds from their self-made fundraiser, they were able to bring in a water truck to replenish the water supply in the aquaponics system. However, one truck was not enough to get the community water system running again. Undaunted, the women came together again, made more pizzas, and sold them again. By working together twice to raise the funds for water trucks, the women were able to get the community water system running again and save the aquaponics system, along with all the plants and fish that relied on it. 

This story provides a shining example of the success of the CHOICE Humanitarian model. CHOICE strives to help communities become self-developing; to help communities think for themselves and utilize their own resources, so that their path out of extreme poverty can be sustained even when the humanitarian organization that helped lift them up is gone. The women of the Peñitas cooperative illustrate the principles of this model perfectly: when disaster struck, they did not call the CHOICE team or the volunteers from the U.S. who had come to participate in one of CHOICE’s humanitarian trips. Instead they came together and utilized their own resources to solve the problem at hand. By building the ovens CHOICE gave the community of Peñitas the means to support themselves; by encouraging and empowering women in the community to have a place and say in leadership, the women of the cooperative were able to take ownership of their new resources to create a self-sustaining solution to their disaster, benefitting their whole community in the process. 

Thanks to the women of the Peñitas cooperative, the aquaponics system was saved and is now flourishing, producing fish and vegetables that will provide both food and income for the community of Peñitas. The self-reliability the people of Peñitas have shown hints at a bright future of continued progress and a self-sustained path out of poverty.

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Fresh Vegetables and Fish in the Desert

For those living in the Irapuato region of Mexico, malnutrition and limited access to water are realities of daily life. The desert climate and poor soil make traditional farming practices very difficult. To address these challenges, CHOICE has partnered with the Women’s Rotary Club of Irapuato Internacional, the Rotary Club of Logan, and FNC Aquaponics to create a solution -- aquaponics.

Aquaponics is an innovative approach to raising both fish and crops through a unique symbiotic relationship, combining two typically separate ecosystems. The waste from the fish provides essential nutrients to the plants, which in turn purify the water for the fish. This creates an environment where fresh produce and protein are provided and very little water is needed, combating malnutrition in Irapuato’s dry climate. These communities are now able to enjoy fresh tilapia fish, fruits, and vegetables.

Learn how local technology with community ownership is making an impact in Bolivia also! See page 4 of our Annual Report.

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Farmers in Peru Work with CHOICE to Double Their Income


In 2018, the leaders of the CAPPO Banana Cooperative in Peru faced a daunting challenge. Comprising 102 farming families, the co-op had been supplying their bananas to the Dole Company at a fair price. Dole notified them that in response to changing demand, CAPPO would need to begin farming its bananas organically and obtain the necessary organic certification. Without this, the farmers would lose their sole buyer. The co-op quickly implemented the necessary agricultural changes to begin producing bananas organically. However, steep certification fees and their inability to obtain local bank loans prevented them from becoming legally recognized as an organic producer.

CAPPO reached out to CHOICE, who was eager to respond with a loan of $10,000 from CHOICE Ventures -- a social investment fund fully owned by CHOICE Humanitarian and designed to invest in economic development opportunities. Impressively, the co-op paid back their loan one month early! Once certified, the organic bananas sold for double the non-organic price. The co-op now earns an additional $28,000, or $275 per family, each week. With the increased income from organic certification, these families now have the means to obtain clean water, healthcare, and educational opportunities for the first time ever.

See our 2018 Annual Report to learn how CHOICE is eliminating extreme poverty in seven countries!



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Tragedy in Guatemala Highlights the Challenges and Opportunities- Devin Thorpe

“There is nothing we can do here. I know it sucks, but there is nothing we can do,” said Chris Welch, a paramedic traveling with a group of CHOICE Humanitarian volunteers in a remote area of Guatemala, as we peered down the steep embankment where minutes earlier a large truck with eight people aboard went over the edge.

Three passengers and the driver escaped unharmed. Three had to be taken by ambulance for emergency care for head wounds, broken bones and other injuries. One, crushed by the truck, died at the scene. The steep hillside dropped about 500 to 1000 feet. The truck itself was out of sight, presumably at the bottom. The passengers and driver had all leapt or been thrown from the truck as it began an apparent sideways role down the virtual cliff.

Chris’s trained reaction wasn’t far wrong. There was nothing to do for the crushed victim and we could only-render first aid to the others as we waited with them for an ambulance. When one showed up about fifteen minutes after our arrival, which was perhaps ten minutes after the accident, I was surprised. It turns out, the ambulance already had a patient—a mother experiencing a difficult delivery—on board. We added the three accident survivors and the little ambulance now packed liked sardines with patients was on its way.

Note, I have no photos of the accident. In a rare moment of clarity, it was clear that my highest and best use at that moment was not taking photos.

Coming at the end of a week-long volunteer expedition, the tragedy took on grave significance. It was a reminder our entire week had been like the 30 minutes we spent at the accident site helping. Our intervention made a difference but not a big one. Life in Guatemala as for the accident victims would carry on much as if we hadn’t been there. It was we who were changed more by the experience than those we sought to help.

CHOICE Humanitarian works with communities in a mountainous region of tropical and semi-tropical rainforest from a technical school and farm located in the village of Sikaabe. The breadth of what we observed—and to a much lesser degree helped to do—hints at the complexity of helping people here to lift themselves from poverty. The team of volunteers came mostly from Utah and Idaho with a Floridian added for good measure.

We visited a school where CHOICE had helped to organize a community event, covering more issues in a single day than I imagined possible. We greeted and played games with the children; it is impossible to know if the children or the adults enjoyed it more. This highlights, however, shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the other activities of the day.

First, we helped in a very limited way to plant 200 special palm trees. Our effort was limited because the kids and adult members of the community did the bulk of the work. With at least 100 total volunteers, including students, local adults and visiting CHOICE staff and volunteers, each only planted an average of two trees. Therein lies a key measure of success. With the local community doing the bulk of the work, they feel a greater sense of ownership and will be more likely to care for the trees.

There is a good reason to care for the trees. They generate cash directly. The trees are a special kind of palm tree whose leaves are burned in certain traditional Mayan ceremonies and are quite valuable. The trees, allowed to grow, will produce a valuable cash crop.

If you’re asking, as you should be, how Utah-based CHOICE Humanitarian figured out that planting this species of palm tree would be best for the school, you’ll be interested to learn their process was rather innovative. They asked the local community what should be planted and helped them do it.

In the same day, CHOICE led training for the students on climate change and the need to protect the environment. Guatemalans living in the rain-forest are beginning to see enough adverse change in the weather, from extreme storms to droughts, that they recognize now that the warming climate impacts them. While their energy consumption—even including burning wood as a primary fuel for cooking—is tiny compared to the average American’s, their environmental impact is still significant. That wood for cooking comes from cutting down rain-forest.

There’s more. That same day, CHOICE staff trained the women on personal and feminine hygiene. CHOICE staff trained the men on personal hygiene and being good fathers. They also were trained on human trafficking and how to avoid having their sons and daughters become victims.

Let’s add to the considerations the things we observed that represent issues of concern for CHOICE. The 90-minute trip from Sikaabe included roads that had been previously closed by landslides and that could be closed again at any time by more of the same—ignoring the fact that every inch of the roads between the two community was unpaved except for two bridges crossing rivers.

Add our visit to the CHOICE hospital the day before and a range of other issues leap to mind. The beautiful little hospital where operating rooms were recently operated was empty when we visited. It is staffed by one doctor who is employed 40 hours per week, but much of that is spent doing visits to outlying communities in the service area. So few people have vehicles that getting to the hospital is virtually impossible for most.

This is made clear by an experience Dr. Edna Magnolia Toc Alvarado, who staffs the Sikaabe hospital, related. A mother brought in her severely burned little girl who had knocked over a big pot and had been scalded by its contents. Preparing to scold the mother for taking so long to get her to the hospital, she asked why she had delayed so long to bring her to the hospital—it had been at least 12 hours since the girl had been burned the previous evening.

The mother responded that she had no access to a vehicle or money to pay someone to bring them to the hospital so she had put her daughter in a wheelbarrow and began walking at 2:00 AM to get her to the hospital when it opened in the morning.

Dr. Edna, knowing should could not care adequately for the severely burned girl there in the little CHOICE hospital, told the woman the girl would need to go to a regional hospital for treatment. The mother then got on the phone to call her other daughter and asked her to sell the young duck they were raising to pay for the trip.

Dr. Edna, hearing the call, called the CHOICE team and arranged for the CHOICE vehicle to take the girl to the regional hospital. The girl received her treatment and recovered. The mother gave CHOICE the duck—which, the team says, will never be anyone’s dinner. It wanders the campus with the status of a sacred cow.

During the week, we observed much more and helped do a bit more, including the painstaking deconstruction of a small home on the CHOICE campus so the materials could be used to build better housing for the staff. Still, even the Guatemalans we met, will little remember or note that we came to help.

But we will remember that we went. It is not our noble sacrifice or big impact we will remember; to the contrary, we will remember how the people we met changed us. We will remember their joyous smiles, their self-confidence and capacity, their generosity and their kindness. We will remember how they changed us.

We got so much more than we gave that I wonder if it is simply too selfish for us to go. While one could reasonably conclude that the world would be better off if the volunteers had just sent the money instead of themselves but I come to a different conclusion. The world is better off when it shrinks, when we find greater respect for one another and build lasting bonds of friendship.

Guatemala didn’t need our help to plant trees or teach hygiene classes. Local CHOICE staff can do that without American volunteers. We volunteers need the experience of building respect for people whose life experience is so vastly different than ours. We didn’t solve all their problems any more than we saved the man crushed by the truck. Guatemala changed us. Guatemalans changed us.


About the Author: 

Devin Thorpe is a Forbes contributor who is passionate about ending poverty, disease and climate change. Learn more at
See the original story here:
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From Extreme Poverty to Entrepreneur of the Year

Shyam Pariyar lives with his family of five in the Lamjung district of Nepal. For years he struggled to provide for his family.

His family worked in seasonal agricultural jobs in their neighborhood and participated in sharecropping. Although they worked hard, they could barely afford enough food to survive. In addition, Shyam had a debt of US $400. Shyam found himself unable to provide good food and warm winter clothing for his family. As he struggled to provide for his family, sending his children to school became more difficult over time.

However, things changed for Shyam in 2014 when CHOICE Humanitarian launched the Nepal Self-developing District Program. During the program, CHOICE interviewed families throughout the district and discovered there were 2,556 families in Lamjung living in extreme poverty. One of those families was Shyam’s.

CHOICE’s staff provided families with business development training and mentorship. After the training, Shyam assessed his resources and strengths and began to planning for a business raising pigs. CHOICE found Shyam very keen on improving his situation. He and his wife participated in each business development training CHOICE provided as well as a savings program. CHOICE assessed Shyam’s business plan for his pig farm and decided to provide him a loan of US $500.

With the help of the loan, he was able to buy three pigs. He used the pigs for breeding and sold the piglets from one of the sows to pay off his debt. He then sold the piglets from the other sow for meat to have an income for his family. Because of his successful business, after the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015 and brought severe destruction throughout the Lamjung district, Shyam was able to build a nice home for his family.

CHOICE staff has continued to provide mentorship to Shyam and his wife. And their pig farm has continued to succeed, they now have 14 pigs. Shyam’s wife now manages the pigs and Shyam is able to take on additional jobs to continue to bring in more income for his family.

When asked how he felt about his success, Shyam says, "I never imagined that I could improve my situation. The neighbors would not trust me even to lend 10 cents. Now they are ready to lend me even hundreds of thousands [Rupees]. I feel I have a voice. My self-esteem is high."

He went on to tell the CHOICE staff, “It was your encouragement; teaching and mentorship that helped me improve my situation. When you constantly visited and inquired how we were running our businesses, I started thinking positively about us. It's our privilege, to have CHOICE come to us and help. You are investing a lot on me. Then I felt why shouldn't I try?"

As a result of Shyam’s hard work in building a business, CHOICE Humanitarian Nepal recognized Shyam as the “Best Entrepreneur of the Year 2019”, a well-earned title.

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CHOICE Brings International Team Together For United Nations Conference

For the first time in the United States, the United Nations Civil Society Conference will be held outside of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, New York. This August, this meeting of global changemakers will be taking place in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference will be Utah’s largest international event since the 2002 Olympics, and CHOICE Humanitarian will be playing a dynamic role.

CHOICE staff sits on three committees that are helping to coordinate the conference. In addition, CHOICE will be presenting several workshops. The conference is focused on building inclusive and sustainable cities and communities. CHOICE headquarters staff, in-country staff, and co-founder will be sharing their expertise from 37 years of international development work building sustainable communities.

CHOICE Nepal In-Country Director, Prateek Sharma, will be speaking in a workshop titled, "Understanding Infrastructure as the Catalyst for Inclusive, Resilient, and Sustainable Communities" (Tuesday, August 27th, at 12:00PM)

CHOICE Co-Founder, Dr. Jim Mayfield, will share from his extensive experience from his 50-year career in rural development in a workshop titled, "Empowering Women and Girls: The ONLY Way to Accomplish the SDGs" (Tuesday, August 27th, at 12:00PM)

Chris Johnson, CHOICE's Director of Economic Development will be speaking with representatives from CHOICE's partnerse in a workshop titled, "The Essence of Ethical Supply Chain Sourcing: Partnering to Facilitate Sustainable Essential Oil-Producing Communities" (Wednesday, August 28th, at 10:00AM)

American Airlines has partnered with CHOICE for the United Nations Conference and will be connecting their diverse staff from eight different countries by providing international roundtrip flights for all seven of CHOICE’s In-Country Directors as well as several in-country staff members. It is a rare opportunity for CHOICE to have their international team together.

CHOICE plans to utilize the week leading up to the conference by holding an intensive training seminar for their team. The training will include interactive workshops that allow the teams to learn from each other in a collaborative setting, unifying their team and keeping CHOICE as a leading development organization in ending extreme poverty.

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The Duck that Saved a Life

The CHOICE Humanitarian In-Country teams are faced with new challenges daily in working to end poverty. Recently the CHOICE Guatemala team met a mother who had walked for hours on end (starting at 4AM) to bring her daughter to the Nueva Concepción Hospital at Sikaabe. The night before, her toddler daughter had suffered third degree burns so severe that her skin was misshapen on her face. The staff recognized that the burns required extensive medical attention and insisted the mother take her daughter to a large hospital in the nearest city. The mother, heartbroken, told the CHOICE staff that she could not afford to pay a doctor. She did not have any money to offer; all she had was a duck.
The mother was determined to sell the duck to pay for the cost of a doctor, but the CHOICE team knew that the duck was only worth a portion of what it would cost for medical expenses. The team told the mother they would like to buy the duck from her. They gladly paid three to four times the actual price and quickly took the mother and daughter to a larger hospital. A few months later the mother returned to Sikaabe to tell the CHOICE team that after a month and a half in the hospital, her daughter was doing well.
As the CHOICE team reflected on the experience, they recognized that if the woman had been in a different region, she would have likely never been able to find medical treatment for her daughter. The duck now roams throughout Sikaabe without fear of ever being the next day's meal. The CHOICE staff will not let any harm come to it as it now a famous, life-saving duck!
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With Increased Quality Comes Increased Income

Mr. Baltazar lives in the community of Ejido de Detiña in Acambay Mexico. Three years ago he started his sheep project.

At first, he was very disappointed because his animals were not growing and he was not earning a lot of money from them.

He became part of CHOICE’s entrepreneurs' group. He went to all the training meetings and put forth great time and effort to apply the knowledge he gained from them.

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