Monthly Archives: July 2010

Transparent Trust

The conversation of donor trust has been on mind lately.

Donors are the enablers.  They enable our development, our projects, our programs to get off the whiteboard and into reality.  Without funding, our programs couldn’t be implemented, much less flourish over generations.  Donors are the ‘man behind the curtain’.  Without them, we would only be talking, and we’d much rather be DOING.

Yet it’s a huge leap of faith when a donor commits his or her money to an organization that they are not connected to.  Hell, its a huge leap of faith to give money to your own brother/sister/uncle/cousin.  The donor is saying, “I trust you with my hard-earned money.  I believe you will use this money wisely to change lives, empower communities, and make the world a better place.”   It is up to us, as an organization, to inspire trust by our words.  Develop trust by our actions.  Sustain trust by our transparency.

Our founding ethos was to connect communities and cultures within our projects.  Creating dialogues and cultural exchanges.  In short, making sure we share our project communities with our donor communities.  It is difficult when we are operating halfway around the world, in a country surviving nearly 4 decades of conflict, to bring donors into our project communities.   Video, photography, and documentation become integral to showing donors how their money is spent and who it is affecting.  Art and photography exchanges between US and Afghan classrooms is another connection and one that allows us to connect students specifically.

In addition, collaboration is one of our core values.  We work closely with local organizations and communities to create sustainable programs.

Collaboration is key in conflict regions.  We seek advice, and often partner with other NGO’s, local organizations, business partners, and the like to make sure we use money effectively and wisely, but also to make sure that our projects can have accountability outside of our organization.  Ensuring that more than one perspective has been heard when making decisions, and more than one set of eyes sees our projects.

We are not infallible.  Mistakes will be made, but we will own up to mistakes, learn from them, and work to ensure they don’t reoccur.  Sweeping our mistakes under a carpet will not help us grow as an organization, or help nurture trust with donors.

This full disclosure relates to the financial documentation as well.  Financial disclosure through our 990’s posted online and our financial statements upon request.  Board members that can understand the breadth and depth of our projects and overall vision, that can speak openly with donors.  Board members that have a say in our long-term strategy and work to provide oversight to ensure we stay on track.

I believe that if we can grow Mountain2Mountain with an internal and external policy of open communication and transparency, we can develop bonds with our donors and projects that will build a sustainable organization to support the women and children of Afghanistan for generations to come.

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An Army of Women

Hilary Clinton wrote the book and thus coined the phrase, “It Takes a Village”.

In our case, I’d argue it takes an army.

Not a military one.  An army of women.  A battalion of passionate mothers, daughters, and sisters, that are willing to sacrifice time, money, and energy to be crusaders of gender equity and human rights.

The time of turning a blind eye, of ignoring the headlines, or saying, “but what can I do about it?” has passed.  The time for change is now.

No longer can we ignore the women raped around the world, the girls trafficked across borders for prostitution, or the unplanned babies born to both.   Women and girls traded as commodities and used like a disposable, empty, object.

No more can we dismiss genital mutilation, ironing breasts, or other torturous concepts that put the blame of rape and childhood pregnancy on the women, instead of punishing the men that perpetrate the crimes.  Mutilating women to stem sexual assault just adds insult to injury.

It is not acceptable that as women living in the West, enjoying the freedoms women before us fought for, that we do not rally, advocate, and work to ensure that women EVERYWHERE have these freedoms.

It is not enough to shout against the injustice done to women across the globe.

Action is the key.  As women, we must act.  As mothers, sisters, daughters, we must act.

We must build schools, train women, employ women, support women.  Provide education and healthcare to women.  Advocate against violence and mutilation practices.

Action, a forward momentum, an effort to make a change.  Little steps by the masses create large ripples that change lives.

John F. Kennedy stated, “One person can make a difference and EVERYONE must try.”  One woman on her own, can change several lives if she commits.   An army of committed women can change the world.

photo by Di Zinno

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Renewable Energy Provides Solutions in Afghanistan

Green technology, renewable energy, sustainable and energy-efficient construction.  These words are still cutting-edge in the West, but they are also integral to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Most have gotten used to the idea that development work and reconstruction means ugly concrete blocks, built for function, not design.  Many more take limited view that technology such as solar and wind power are novelties in a war zone, not necessity.

Yet function, design, and sustainability should be commonplace in development and reconstruction work.   Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a daughter of an architect that makes the above statement resonate so deeply.  Perhaps its the love of the outdoors and tragedy of waste, and short-term, disposable solutions that pollute our environment.  Regardless, its the approach I’d like to see in all development work. Work that most often takes places in countries that have the worst pollution, worst access to electricity, and ugliest construction.

Our goal with all of our projects within Mountain2Mountain is to run a green thread throughout with the intention of partnering with sustainable partners that can help us achieve our goals with sustainable, minimalist impact, especially in a country as ‘impacted’ as Afghanistan.

One of our first partners, GOAL0, has launched an incredible product that addresses renewable energy in a portable package.  Field tested in the Congo on humanitarian projects, they have found ways to provide reliable and portable renewable power sources that eliminate the barriers to progress.   I now use their portable, Sherpa 120, a portable solar panel and power pack when I travel to remote areas, and its small enough to carry in my messenger bag or backpack along with my other necessities.

In supporting our projects, we discovered that we could use one of their other projects, the Scout Explorer Kit, to provide light for our midwives that live in rural village without electricity for nighttime deliveries.   The kit looks like a thin briefcase with a thermos and two lights.  The briefcase is the solar panel and the thermos is the power supply.  The two lights provide adequate light for the midwives to work safely and save lives.  The majority of rural deliveries in Afghanistan are done at home with no birth attendants, medicine, supplies, or light, and consequently Afghanistan suffers from the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.  Mountain2Mountain takes a decentralized approach to the problem with a village-based training program for local women to become skilled birth attendants.  Upon completion, we provide them with a basic birthing kit which includes the Scout to provide a reliable light source for their work.

Our other partner lies in the realm of construction.  Innovida and IHFD partnered to help support the construction of our school for the deaf  in Kabul.  Using Innovida’s innovative green technology in the construction process ensures a quickly built, energy-efficient, and a green alternative to tradition building methods.  They also create a designbuild based on our floorplan so that there is minimal waste of the building materials, but without creating a ‘big box’.

Creating an eyesore that is functional doesn’t inspire.  It doesn’t add value.  It doesn’t show a country its worth as it rebuilds.

IHFD’s use of GeoBricks for our security wall uses a new technology to address the traditional brick and mortar structural needs.  The bricks are energy-efficient, fireproof, non combustible, fireproof, and bulletproof (a useful consideration for a security wall in Afghanistan)  They are also providing solar, wind, and hydro solutions to the electricity issue prevalent in Afghanistan where electricity is still unstable at best, and non-existant in many communities.  Diesel generators run constantly adding to the soot and petrol that permeates every breath you take.

Utilizing the solar, wind, and hydro solutions can provide our projects, and the Afghans sustainable energy for generations to come.  In addition, they are working with Kabul University to set up a renewable energy degree so that future generations of electricians can have the skill set to not only install, but maintain country-wide solar grids.

Function, sustainable power, and design all covered in our approach. As we continue to find partners that can help us solve problems and build schools, it is imperative that we look forward to the future generations that will be affected by what we do now.  Just because Afghanistan has been destroyed over decades of conflict, and needs country-wide rebuilding, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking at all the tools in our arsenal to build energy-efficient and sustainable projects that can endure for generations.

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Simple Solutions to Save Women’s Lives

You would think there would be more of an uproar in a country with the highest maternal death rates.  No other country in the world loses more women in childbirth than Afghanistan.  None.   Rarely has being first at something meant so much loss.

It’s not just the women either, lest you callously chalk it up to the inevitable argument over women’s oppression in a country like Afghanistan where women set themselves on fire to escape arranged marriages, rapist go free, victims go to jail, and women die in childbirth when a male doctor lives just 10 minutes down the road, because he is unable to view her naked or worse yet, touch her.

The children too are dying at alarming rates.  Skirting at the top of the heap, currently in the second position when I last checked, of the highest infant death rates in the world.  Babies die from suffocation when they a nasal suction would clear out their mouth and nose post delivery.  Babies die of dehydration when they are given dirty water instead of breast milk.  Babies die common colds due to harsh winters with little to keep them warm.

All three causes are easily rectified.  As are many of the major causes of the mother’s deaths.  Dirty knives that cut the umbilical cord and cause infection.  Inability to deliver the placenta causes the woman to bleed out.

Lack of a few simple medicines, lack of pre or post natal care, lack of female doctors equal death on a large-scale in a country already suffering from something akin to country-wide post traumatic stress disorder due to nearly four decades of war and incredible loss of life that has affected every family.   In short, many of these deaths are preventable, and families crave midwives even areas that they won’t yet education girls.

Midwife training schools exist in nearly every province to address this situation and the Afghan Minister of Public Health touts its success.  Successful for cities and larger communities, yes.  But this 2 year program rarely spreads far.

Lack of education makes a trickle down effect nearly impossible.  A unique village-to-village approach is needed to save lives in rural communities.   The reason?   Girls must have a 9th grade education to attend midwife training.  Those that have the education, must then have the permission from their father or husband to leave their community for 2 years to attend training.  In the rare case that education, permission and scholarship is available, and the girl attends school, she will return to her community to live.  A wonderful solution for THAT village and she will do much for her community’s welfare, but what about the communities that do have educated girls to send?

It is extremely rare that a girl would return from school to a village other than her own.  So the villages that don’t have girls educated to 9th grade, a rarity in many regions, have no hope to train girls from within their own village.

So, the solution?  Train women and girls with low levels of education, to be skilled birth attendants.  Teach them the simple solutions that save lives that you or I could learn in 4 short weeks.  Teach them basic sanitation and have them educate their village.  Teach them how to administer basic medicines and vaccinations.  Pay them a small stipend to work in their village.   As the village thrives, and the women earn money for their family, the value of women increases and deaths decrease.

A great example of this cultural shift occurred in a remote mountain village in the Panjshir.  We had ongoing discussions about building a girls primary school, and the elders were reticent.  When we shared our other program, rural midwife training, their eyes lit up and questions and stories flew around the room as I struggled to keep up with their pace.  Upon realizing that we couldn’t train illiterate women, and the knowledge that there wasn’t one single literate woman or girl in the village, we ended the discussion.  The next morning, fifteen men met me with green tea and said they would like to pursue the original discussion of a girls school.

Often it’s illustrating the way girls and women can contribute to the general welfare of the community that makes the rational argument for their health, worth, and their education.

Our first training begins with women from two Taliban-controlled provinces.  Where women have long suffered under oppression, but where even there, the lives of women and their offspring have value enough to save, but no one to save them.

Until now.

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