Remarks from Ben Turner, Second Annual Report From the Field

December 12, 2014

The following is a transcript of the remarks delivered by Ben Turner, president of Just Hope International, at our Second Annual Report From the Field, held December 2, 2014. To view a gallery of photos from the event, visit this post.

A little over a year ago at Just Hope’s First Report From the Field, we announced our pilot project for economic development in Sierra Leone – a pineapple farm to be used to employ local farmers, introduce new ideas and ultimately present a legitimate business opportunity for them. In the six months that followed, a five-acre plot was cleared and prepared for planting; pineapple “suckers” were delivered (some of you might remember the tutorial on “suckers” from last year’s event), sorted, trimmed and planted. The plants were watered during the six-month dry season and mulched in preparation for the rains. Throughout the six-month rainy season that just ended, the plants have been weeded. Every bit of this work has been done by locals, by hand.

Despite significant challenges to securing large quantities of suckers as originally planned and the crippling effects that the Ebola outbreak has had on a nation already facing terrible conditions, we are THANKFUL to have 90,000 healthy plants today that should produce a harvest in 2015. You can see here on the walls some of the images of the pineapples and what it looks like to make your own mulch.

Last year we also announced the start of construction on what was to be the first of many orphaned children’s homes located on the same property as the pineapples. In the six months that followed, thousands of bricks were laid, trusses were assembled, a concrete floor was poured, roofing was secured. Today, that home stands complete with windows and doors.

We knew last winter that in order to expand our service on a regional level in Sierra Leone, to do so by empowering people economically, in a way that would actually work, and last beyond our initial involvement, we would need a much better understanding than what we had at the time. So, while the pineapple and construction was underway, we completed a four-month intensive assessment of the region. We wanted to know more about the people, their motivations and interests, the culture, what works and what doesn’t. In this process, we learned that people not only need a way to produce something to generate household income, they need a way to simply eat on a regular basis throughout the year. In addition to these findings, we also acknowledged that we aren’t the first to address these issues and there must be others in the world from whose experience we can learn. So, we combined what our research of these efforts produced with our assessment findings, and our team has developed project plans this past summer that have the capacity to reach hundreds of Sierra Leone households for these objectives – household food security and income.

Three days before our scheduled flight to Sierra Leone to implement the plan, our flights were cancelled due to safety risks of Ebola. Today, God willing, we believe we are ready for Sierra Leone when Sierra Leone is ready for us.

That’s the activity report. Now for what matters most: the impact, the people.

We do not see people as the object of our pity or the target of our charity. We see people as incredibly valuable and capable. It is their circumstances that are the target of our efforts. To give you a sense of this belief at the project level, I want to share with you an excerpt from our written plan developed by Peter Mueller, our Project Manager for Sierra Leone/West Africa:

“This project is founded on the beliefs that the best solution to poverty and hunger is to empower people to use available resources to improve their own livelihoods, and that the most valuable resource is the local people themselves. This model is not contingent on the introduction of external goods, but is an expression of human potential. People are our top priority. We invest in people in order that they may invest in others. We strive to develop great leaders who serve others and lead by example, making other leaders.”

The year’s efforts round out almost 100 local people who have worked directly with Just Hope in Sierra Leone. As we learned through the assessment, 100 workers represent roughly 500 people in a Sierra Leonean household. And, as you see from their own words in the testimonials that have been displayed on the screen, quality of life has improved – families are eating; children are attending school; medical care is being received, and entrepreneurs are identifying and pursuing opportunities. You will also read in the testimonials that new skills have been acquired, and the dignity that comes with improving your own community is present.

It’s the people. As we followed the Ebola outbreak, we continually asked ourselves, “What can we do?” We aren’t equipped to offer relief services. We are a development organization. What can we do? In a discussion with one of our trusted contacts in Sierra Leone, I asked this question and I was provided with an answer. In the fight against Ebola, a critical need was being expressed from the front lines: effective transport of blood samples, patients and corpses.

Without transport, logistical bottlenecks would only grow. Bottom line: fewer people treated, more infected people remain in communities infecting others. For the past month we have been working on a partnership with World Hope International to provide a short-term, privately operated ambulance service in the fight against Ebola. Just Hope purchased five ambulances that are currently en route to Sierra Leone. Operations are scheduled to begin this month as Ebola cases are spiking. It is not our focus. God willing, the need will not be long term. Our hope is that a climate for development effort will return very soon.

While we remain committed to Sierra Leone, we also have been hard at work this fall identifying additional project possibilities in the world. A small project team has just returned from 10 days in Central America evaluating multiple project opportunities there – some rural, some urban. Some similar to our approach in West Africa, some serving physically and sexually abused girls who will need to be equipped to survive in the world. We have a visitor in town with us today and tomorrow to discuss a project opportunity in West Africa. We look forward to sharing more about any and all of these opportunities and plans as they develop. God willing, 2015 will be an exciting year.

We are so thankful for your support. We ask for your prayer support, and I know many of you are providing that. We need your financial support, and many of you are providing that. We need your minds and experience and energy as volunteers, and you have provided that. This is a grand adventure to serve others in the world. We believe God is up to something very special. We are delighted to be a part of it, and we hope you will be a part of it too. Thank you for being here, and thank you for your attention.