Where have you seen this picture before?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Carol Falk visited Kenya with her family and while there introduced them to Lilly and her very special school - Little Rock. During the visit Carol reunited with Theresa. Here is their story:

We held hands as we navigated the mud slick warrens on the way to her home in Kibera. The day was hot, and we shared a bottle of water as we laughed about my almost sitting on a vendor’s coffee table that I had mistaken for a bench. I was meeting Theresa for the first time. She is the sister of my first Little Rock Scholar, and I was providing her the opportunity to go to nursing school while her 2-year-old daughter was cared for at the Little Rock day care center.

This past January I returned to Kenya with my entire family and was able to spend more time with Theresa. She looked happy and healthy and her now 4-year-old daughter was thriving at the Little Rock preschool. Theresa is in her third year of nursing school and is getting very high grades despite having to rise well before dawn to prepare for each day.

With the gift of an education, I know that Theresa will achieve her goal of becoming a nurse. She will be able to move her family out of Kibera and out of poverty. My hope is she will become a productive member of society and an example of what hard work can accomplish when given a little bit of help. I am making a real difference in one person’s life. It is a small contribution, but it fills me with happiness and joy and great hope for Theresa’s future.


Youngsters seeing Little Rock for the first time!

Helen Greenberg - Monday, April 1. 2016

My name is Alex Falk. I am nine years old and I live in the U.S. I recently visited the Little Rock School. I think it is amazing how this school can bring education to their students of any age.

For example I visited a class with eighth graders. For some of them they’re here because of a physical disability. They are here because other schools may have rejected them because of their disabilities. But Little Rock is open to everyone!

I also think it’s amazing how the school makes sure nobody feels mistreated because of their looks or how they interact with other people.Seeing this school has changed my life because seeing all these kids who have barely anything at home have so much at this school.

Then there is Patrick who had this to say: Little Rock welcomes children with open arms, regardless of family situations or disabilities. Seeing these kids come out of poverty at home, eager to learn and discover, was so inspiring. It is so, so important to help children around the world get the education they deserve, and Little Rock is taking a big step for Kibera. This experience has been life changing, and I am so thankful that I got to visit the school.


Niger: A great place for EPN to work

Thursday, February 11, 2016

As I mentioned in the previous post, John will be traveling to Niger in the upcoming weeks to visit the site of the Farmers of the Future. Niger is one of the world's most challenging places to live, economically speaking. But when it comes to reducing extreme poverty, Niger is a great place for EPN to work. Here’s why.

Niger: Quick Facts 
 Population: 19,113,728 (2014 census)

Capital: Niamey

Bordered by: Nigeria, Chad, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Libya (a pretty neighborhood these days)


  •   Aïr mountains (a cooler region with altitudes over 1800 meters)
  •   Ténéré desert (where temperatures often exceed 122 F)
  •   The W National Park (home to buffalo, hippo, lions, antelope, and elephants) 
  •   The Great Mosque in Agadez (mud-architecture with 27-meter minaret)
  •   Neolithic rock engravings – some in museums, others left in remote areas

Languages: French (official government language), and 5 main local languages: Hausa, Songhai, Fula/Fulbe, Kanuri/Beri-Beri, Tamasheq/Tamajaq  

Motto: “Fraternité, Travail, Progrès” which means “Brotherhood, Work, Progress.”  

Geography & Climate

Niger is the largest country in West Africa; to give you a sense of its size, its area is just under two times that of Texas. It has one of the hottest climates in the world, and as such has been nicknamed “the frying pan of the world.” Over 80% of its land is covered by the Sahara Desert, and only 0.02% of its area is covered by water. 

People & Culture

Over 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim. Some of the people are nomadic or semi-nomadic, following ancient grazing routes.

Subsistence Farming

The vast majority of the population of Niger survives by subsistence farming, which means that they only raise enough animals and grow enough crops to meet the family's needs. Women are often left for long periods of time while their husbands look for work in town centers or graze the herds. In their absence, the women farm the land and care for children and elderly relatives.

Cattle, sheep, and goats are the main herds that graze the land, and millet, sorghum, and cow peas are important agriculturally. But when the rains are poor, people really struggle. Rainfall has been decreasing over the last 50 years and severe droughts have led to pronounced food shortages as recently as in 2005 and 2009. Agricultural experts are engineering crops that will grow quickly to take advantage of what rains do fall.

While most of the land is too dry to grow crops, Niger’s southeast and southwest corners have more fertile soil. In the southwest lies the Niger River Basin, which Niger shares with eight other countries. The Niger River supports farmers, cattle grazers, and fishermen from all these neighboring countries, and it is thus a very fragile region. In order to preserve it, they have developed one of the world’s most progressive river management systems: The Niger River Basin Authority, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the Niger River’s resources are used judiciously and that it benefits the local communities.  

Farmers of the Future

Perhaps you remember reading about our EPN Hero, Dov Pasternak?  Dov lived in Niger for 10 years and has worked with thousands of rural farmers in the country.  For all the challenges they face, Dov describes Nigeriens as some of the most kind-hearted people he has met anywhere in the world.  And Dov has seen a lot of the world! 

Farmers of the Future nurseries - Niger

Dov is the father of the Farmers of the Future project, and has developed a range of techniques to grow hardy vegetables even on severely degraded land. He’s helping Nigeriens rethink agriculture, to view it as a business and not just a means of survival. Using irrigation to grow and sell high value vegetables, farmers generate significant profits which they can use to purchase essentials and raise their standard of living. John will be visiting Niger in March along with Dov and reporting back on the progress with the Farmers of the Future program. 

The need is great in Niger, and EPN is making great gains there. Stay tuned for more! 

Niger: The worst place to live. The best place to work.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2015, when life expectancy, education, and standard of living are taken into account, Niger is pretty much the worst place to live. These dimensions are used to calculate the Human Development Index (HDI), and last year, Niger ranked dead last: 188 out of 188.1

HDI was developed in 1990 by Mahbub ul Haq, a Pakistani economist, and his team of developmental economists. At that time, monetary measures like GDP were being used to evaluate a country’s development, but many people, including these economists, found that the human element was missing from these calculations.

HDI attempts to measure the richness of human life. It gauges human opportunities and choices using calculations across three dimensions. The first is health, based on life expectancy at birth. The education dimension measures the schooling obtained by adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children. Finally, the standard of living dimension is measured by gross national income per capita. 

To put this all in perspective, consider that the 2015 report ranks the United States at number 8 and Canada at number 9.  Niger has been ranked last for 3 consecutive years, and has always been among the lowest-ranking countries in the report. 

While Niger may be the worst place to live when it comes to HDI, it is most certainly one of the best places to work when it comes to eliminating poverty. John is planning a trip to West Africa in March, where he’ll be splitting his time between Niger and Benin. In Niger, he’ll work on Farmers of the Future, and in Benin, on the Songhai Women’s Capital Fund. You can read more about these projects by following this link, and also find notes and photos from John’s travels in upcoming blog posts.

In an upcoming post we’ll look beyond Niger’s dismal HDI to explore the features of this country and point to opportunities EPN is creating there. John says it’s nicknamed “the frying pan of the Sahel” – and there’s got to be a good story behind that!

What a Year!

Friday, December 18, 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, we’d like to thank you for your generous support of EPN and your enthusiastic engagement with us online. With your help, our work is making a difference for the extreme poor in Africa on so many fronts. Here are some highlights from this year:

Farmers of the Future: 
After 4 years of testing we are nearing completion of the pilot phase in four villages and preparing to launch the optimized model in a fifth.   Over 70 women like Hamsa Kindo participate in the program along with hundreds of primary school students who learn that farming can be a good business.  Our videos of local Nigerien successes in agriculture are a huge hit and plans are under way to share them broadly around the country. 

Little Rock Scholars Program: 
In 2015, the number of students on EPN-funded scholarship expanded to 26.  The extra tutoring and mentoring program introduced last year is paying big dividends.  Eighty-five percent of our scholars are in the top half of their class; 25% are in the top 5% and one is in the top 1% of her class.  Not bad for a bunch of kids from the slums!!  And capped by a successful Giving Tuesday campaign, we will be sending another 10 students to secondary school in 2016. 

Little Rock After School Tutoring: 
This is our sixth year of funding after school tutoring at the Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre.  Currently, over 100 primary school students take advantage of the program.  We foster a love of learning and reinforce that education is the surest path out of the slums.  As students prepare for the national entrance exam to secondary school, tutors work with them intensively to maximize their odds of qualifying for an EPN scholarship.   This year’s 8th grade cohort increased by 50%. 

Songhai Women’s Capital Fund: 
The Songhai Women’s Capital Fund provides low interest loans to Songhai graduates to start their own agricultural ventures.  To date we have awarded 15 loans with 10 more to be extended in Q4 2015.  Several women are struggling to make their new ventures a success.  While it is unrealistic to expect a 100% success rate with startups, we are increasing emphasis on technical support and mentoring in these first critical years to maximize commercial success for these women pioneers. 

Lead Farmers Program: 
We completed Year 2 of a 3-year test to provide affordable technical support to rural farmers in Africa.  The test is being conducted with 5,000 farmers in Myange, Rwanda.  Farmers learn best agricultural practices and ways to maximum farm revenue.  Valuable learnings are being implemented to improve program effectiveness and farmers are seeing meaningful improvements in crop yields and income. 

Thinking of donating still this year? There's still time - take a look at our Annual Appeal. At Eliminate Poverty NOW we are proud of how hard your contribution dollars work. With your support we can touch even more lives in 2016. 

Have a wonderful holiday season - see you next year! 

Giving Tuesday Update

Friday, December 18, 2015

You did it!  We wanted to send 2 more remarkable students from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya to secondary school. And thanks to you that's exactly what we'll do. Our goal was $8,000, but you sent in donations and pledges of over $10,000! Added to the money raised earlier in the year, we now have funding for 10 full scholarships. And with the match from Eliminate Poverty NOW we have an excellent start on funding more scholarships next year. 

On behalf of the 26 students currently on scholarship and our 10 new recipients, our sincere thanks.  Your caring and generosity changes their lives and provides them the opportunity for a bright future.  Well done!!

What's Next for Songhai?

Friday, December 18, 2015

This is the last post in our EPN heroes series. We've been highlighting Father Godfrey Nzamujo , the founder and director of the Songhai Centre. He and his army of "barefoot engineers" are using sustainable agriculture to create pathways towards prosperity for some of Africa's most disenfranchised.  
 In our earlier posts on Father Godfrey we've shared how he has uprooted the logic of poverty at work in Africa and managed to turn 2.4 acres of barren land into one of Africa's premiere research and technical school networks. 

What Father Godfrey has accomplished is remarkable. Today there are thirteen Songhai Centres in four African nations. He has educated thousands, helped to provide communities with nutritious food, and impacted countless lives. What more could Father Godfrey possibly accomplish? We are glad you asked! 

Father Godfrey is a world renowned agriculturist, and his work has caught the attention of some of the world's most important influencers. Starting next year, graduates of the Songhai Centre will be given opportunities to pursue degrees at any French University they qualify for, on full scholarship. There is only one condition: every scholarship recipient must agree to return to the Songhai Centre, and join the teaching or research staff. 

Why all the sudden attention? Father Godfrey and his staff may be on the brink of something remarkable. They are on the verge of innovating self-sustaining agricultural ecologies. That's a mouthful! Here's a simple way to think about it. Imagine a farm where absolutely nothing gets wasted, that requires only minimal human involvement, and never uses agricultural techniques harmful to the environment.That's what Father Godfrey, with the help of his faculty and students, is creating. 

They have closely studied how organic energy is used and transferred between bioforms. What they have in mind combines agriculture, livestock, and seasonal weather patterns into a closed, self-contained system. This system is driven by the natural and mutually beneficial relationships between plants, animals, and the earth. This could be a game-changer not only for Songhai but also for the world! As mankind becomes more mindful of the dangers associated with climate change and genetically modified foods, these sorts of innovations will be essential to our lives. 

What Father Godfrey has accomplished through the Songhai Centre is amazing. What's more amazing is he's not done yet. Everyday he wakes up motivated to "help people who thought themselves beyond help and prove that every person has something to give society." The future looks bright for Songhai. Father Godfrey, his staff, and students are pushing the boundaries of agricultural practice. The world's next major agricultural development may well be the byproduct of their heroic work

5 Core Capitals

Thursday, October 15, 2015

In our last post we introduced Father Godfrey Nzamujo, the founder and director of the Songhai Center. He and his team of educators have trained thousands to use agriculture as a vehicle out of poverty.  

After returning home to West Africa during the famine of the 1980's Father Godfrey encountered a "logic of poverty." He noticed two underlying premises driving the way his countrymen thought about stemming economic deprivation: 1) a dependence on foreign aid, and 2) the need for large amounts of capital to create economic production. 

Although foreign aid can be a wonderful tool to address the immediate needs of people, it rarely, if ever, addresses the root causes of poverty. For example, Tom's, the popular shoe brand, promises to donate a pair of shoes in Africa for every pair purchased here in the States. This means that many people who need shoes receive a free pair. Great! 

Unfortunately, "shoelessness" is only symptomatic of the real problem -- poverty. Giving away free shoes won't create economic opportunity for those who need jobs that pay livable wages. Worse yet, when a village's market becomes saturated with free shoes, the local skilled craftsmen who make and sell shoes can't compete. With this logic at work, the impoverished stay dependent on foreign aid and never become self-reliant. 

Another tenant in the logic of poverty is that massive amounts of money are needed to create economic opportunity for those who have none. If this is true, countries struggling to provide basic services will never have the stockpiles of cash necessary to combat the root causes of poverty. Father Godfrey however, is proving that remarkable economic opportunity can in fact be created without a large infusion of money. 

Father Godfrey preaches that there are five "core capitals" at work, in sequence, to create wealth: 1) human 2) environmental 3) technological 4) social and 5) financial. By properly investing in people, using the right technologies to leverage environmental resources, and selling society on their benefit's, significant financial gains can be made to benefit all. Let's take a closer look. 

"To cultivate human capital, " says Father Godfrey, "you must recognize the productive and creative potential of all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status. Once you recognize this fact, you can develop their latent productive potential through education and vocational training." 

With a team of highly trained individuals, you can cultivate environmental capital, especially in the form of agriculture. By using the right technological capital, which in this context includes machinery, tools, and specialized techniques, you can ensure the relationship with the environment is productive and non-destructive. 

When you produce valuable goods with previously untapped human potential and with non-destructive methods, agencies, institutions and the public start to demand that these principles be adopted as the norm. This creates social capital.  Financial capital is the offshoot of an economic system that maximizes human and environmental potential, not the impetus that makes it possible. 

Need more proof? Father Godfrey started the first Songhai Centre in Benin with a team of high school dropouts on a 2.4 acre strip of infertile land. Today there are 13 Songhai Centres in 4 African nations. Each are "doing more with less" by rethinking how to address poverty and making tremendous use of capital sources that traditionally go overlooked and under-appreciated. 

EPN Heroes: Father Godfrey

Friday, October 02, 2015

Next in our EPN Heroes series we are featuring Father Godfrey Nzamujo. Father Godfrey is the founder and director of the Songhai Centre, one of Africa's premier technical schools.  He firmly believes that "agriculture can be a weapon of mass construction." 

We see many common themes among our EPN heroes. They see opportunities to make their world a better place and share a passion to make it happen.   Godfrey  Nzamujo, known  simply as Father  Godfrey  by his peers , is innovating new ways of wealth creation for Africa's most impoverished and underserved. His contribution to agriculture research, science, and the eradication of poverty aren't just inspiring, there heroic. 

Father GODFREY NZAMUJO, is a true renaissance man.  Born in Kano, Nigeria in 1950, he has a B.A. in Modern Philosophy and Mathematics, an M.A. in Theology and a PH.D. in Economic Philosophy. As if that weren't enough, he has an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and a PH.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Irvine.   We're still trying to figure out how many languages he speaks. 

While working as a professor in California in 1984, west and central Africa experienced one of the worst famines in recorded history. Everyday, on every  news network, he watched his countrymen literally starve to death. Equally distressing was the foreign response to the crisis. Nation after nation poured into Africa, handing out food and clothes, flooding the economy with aid, but not opportunity.  

"It's good to provide the hungry with food," he said, "but it's far better to provide them with opportunities for self-sustainability. The key to ending poverty is to make the impoverished  productive." He committed right then to go back home and reverse the "logic of poverty" at work in Africa. 

When he arrived back home in Nigeria, Father Godfrey met with local government officials to pitch an idea to transform the fight against poverty. He envisioned a place where people would be trained to use technologically advanced, eco-friendly agriculture to launch their own businesses and feed their communities. With visions of petro-dollars dancing in their heads, the Nigerian officials thought agriculture seemed pretty mundane.  They turned him down.  But Father Godfrey was undeterred.   

He traveled to the neighboring country of Benin. After meeting with national officials there, he was given one hectare of land (roughly 2.4 acres) to begin work on the first Songhai  Centre . With a staff of seven local high school dropouts, he converted a section of once infertile land into an agricultural oasis. People from all over Benin started flocking to the Songhai  Centre  to learn agriculture and entrepreneurism from Father Godfrey. 

Twenty-five years later there are 13 Songhai  Centres  in four African nations, each of them equipping agricultural entrepreneurs with the tools and training necessary for economic self-determination. Additionally, the groundbreaking research being done in these facilities is helping the world better understand how farmers can have a symbiotic relationship with mother earth. Father Godfrey's  impact on the lives of his pupils, colleagues, and countrymen is immeasurable. His commitment to excellence and service is utterly awe-inspiring, and of course, heroic!    

In our next post we will take a look how Father Godfrey five fold approach towards creating wealth in some of Africa's most economically depressed areas. 

Across Continents

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

In recent posts on EPN Hero Lilly Oyare, we showcased many of her activities and what makes them so remarkable. But her work even touches lives of people back in the States.  Today, we are sharing a conversation we had with Ellen Arian. Ellen is a longtime friend of John and Judy and a supporter of the Little Rock Scholars Program. Thanks to Ellen's contribution, one special young lady, Faith, is realizing her dreams to attend one of Kenya's top secondary schools. 

The Little Rock Scholars Program allows donors to reach out to the students they are supporting and have a more personal relationship through email conversations. Ellen has exchanged several e-mails with Faith.  Here's what Ellen had to say:  

How We Met Faith 
"Connecting with Faith has been a wonderful experience for us, and talking with her through email has left our family wanting to know her better and feeling lots of excitement about her future. 

We began our support of the Little Rock Scholars program early on. I have 3 daughters who have been able to go to the schools of their choice. After hearing about the students at Little Rock and the challenges they face in pursuing secondary school education, it seemed like an extremely important cause; we knew right away that we wanted to join in the effort. 

From the start, we hoped the effort would be personal. But we couldn't have imagined how gratifying it would be to connect with Faith. Having conversations with her has truly been a blessing and it has inspired me in a couple of ways. 

How Faith Has Inspired Us 
First, our interactions with Faith have deepened my capacity for gratitude. I've heard the stories and seen the pictures of Kibera. Here is a girl raised in the most dire poverty, yet she has emerged grateful, rather than tough and embittered. She is filled with appreciation, love and hope. It's so touching to read her words, and seeing these qualities in her helped wake me up to the remarkable power of attitude. Our conversations with Faith are continually instilling in me an even deeper sense of gratitude for all that I have. 

The second place where Faith has moved my heart is seeing her belief in her own bright future. When we first began writing to her, we saw that Faith wasn't focused on obstacles - she was determined to make a difference and she believes she will. She sees years ahead full of possibility and promise. When we read Faith's reaction to receiving her scholarship, we saw someone with dreams whose biggest barrier to their success was just removed. That was truly inspiring. 

We've seen the same appreciation, the same pure heart, the same love, in every letter from Faith. And none of this would be possible if we had not had the chance to communicate with her directly and get to know her, even across miles. It has truly been a blessing. 

A Blessing to All Involved 
The Little Rock Scholars Program has allowed us to help remove the biggest barrier to Faith's success. With a relatively small contribution, we have been able to make a huge and lasting impact on Faith's life. If you are in a position to make a difference you won't find a more compelling cause. And  because you will have the opportunity to communicate directly with that young person, your own life will be enriched in the process." 

So there you have it. The words of our dear friend Ellen, who was paired with Faith in her support of the Little Rock Scholars campaign.  

As we close out our EPN Heroes campaign on Lilly Oyare (who Ellen described as "a dynamo"), we'd like to reflect on what makes this campaign important. It certainly shines a light on Lilly and her work. But what is really noteworthy is the lives of the students who come through the program. Lilly and the Little Rock School foster a sense of hope and the belief that with hard work and determination anything is possible.  In the midst of the slums of Kibera that is truly heroic work.  We're privileged to know her and help support what she does.  

How have the words of Ellen inspired you?