Remarks prepared by Juanita Lagg for an address at the Fifth Annual International Festival, around 1981
Thank you for inviting me to participate in this, our Fifth International Festival, and for the opportunity of sharing with you two of the International Programs and projects I have been directly involved with during the past 10 years.
Your theme—“Education for International Understanding”—certainly is a timely one. How I wish I knew more about that subject—EDUCATION! My methods have been mostly trial and error with a lot of research and hindsight experiences. From each, I’ve gained a lot of education!
Extension Homemakers have been involved in both of these projects. While I was attending the Triennial conference in Oslo, Norway in 1971, the Swedish Housewives came to that conference with a proposal that literally shook my teeth. As we say, they had “done their homework.” They came loaded with facts relating to the problem, as well as a workable solution to help correct it. They had discovered that a huge percentage of the children living in India were blind before they reached their 5th birthday. Research studies indicated that a lack of Vitamin A in the diet to be the main cause. Now, that seems simple enough to correct, doesn’t it?
But how do you go about that when the very life style and customs of the people were involved? Of course, education was the key. They proposed that a team of a doctor, a nurse, nutritionist, cook, and driver be formed and the 10 small villages, located close together, be selected for a pilot project. They would call this scheme “Save The Sight,” because that is exactly what they hoped to accomplish.
The team would travel between the villages on a rotating basis. The doctor and nurse would take care of the health exams and establish the need for a child to be entered into the program, and would follow their health care. The nutritionist would talk about the need to include a green leafy vegetable which grew almost wild in the area in their diet along with their daily bowl of rice. The cook would prepare the meal and show how simple and tasty this new food really was. The very ill children were kept at the clinic until they regained some of their health. In addition the green food in their diets, they were given large doses of Vitamin A to assist with the deficiency.
An interesting thing happened. Many of the children they kept did regain their health as well as their sight, and in due time were allowed to return to their homes. However, when a follow-up was made some time later, these children were back almost to the stage they were when they were first brought in. The problem was that the parents had not been educated to follow through with the necessary changes in meal preparation at home. It was true, they had been introduced to this new leafy green vegetable, similar to our spinach, which was readily available. But this old custom of only a bowl of rice daily was hard to penetrate. To make a long story short, a new course had to be charted. It was decided that it would be necessary to bring the whole family to the clinic where they would be taught how to cultivate and gather the food, how they could prepare and cook it, and most important, eat a cup of it on a daily basis. When all in the family unit were educated, they were returned to their home and a change most often occurred in their life style to continue the program they had been taught.
The project was so successful that first year that the government of India carried through their promise of establishing similar clinics. They had promised if the project worked that they would establish similar clinics throughout all of India within 20 years. I’m pleased to tell you that the government of India is making good progress with their promise.
Homemakers from all around the world responded to the call for funds to purchase the van, pay for supplies and salaries to establish the pilot program.
UNESCO became involved later on in the program and produced a film in one of the villages to tell the story. The name of the film—Save The Sight.
This is one of the best success stories I’ve ever heard about. And the reason for it…it came about because someone cared what was happening to children in developing countries. They researched the problem, they found a workable solution, they were willing to work with existing agencies (in this case the government and other concerned groups), and most important, they were willing to fund the project for a full year to see if a change could make a difference.
Ten years have passed and Homemakers around the world still contribute their pennies for this continuing project, which has spread to other developing countries. What better way of using the least coin—a penny—to develop international understanding and lasting friendship.
The second success story I want to share occurred in Central America. The year following the 1976 earthquake which damaged or destroyed many villages in Guatemala, I was selected to participate in a search team to go to Guatemala as a guest of their government and the School of Home Economics, and visit villages that could benefit from a “family living” program the National Extension Homemakers Council of the USA could fund and participate in. During that week’s visit, I had the opportunity to visit many villages, both large and small, and talk with the people who lived there.
In each village we met with key leaders and listened to what the Indians felt were their most pressing needs. We looked at the existing facilities that were available to carry out such a program. I am impressed with the needs they mentioned. In one village, the women wanted to learn how to preserve fresh tomatoes from the garden for use when none were available. This we did here at least 60 years ago. They wanted to know how to keep bugs out of their dried black beans. Another group wanted to learn how to sew with a machine. One group said they thought if they had a knitting machine, it would help with the time-consuming task of making warm garments for cold evenings.
In one village, the men had decided that what they needed most in the village was a $5,000 red tractor—like the one they had seen in Guatamala City. I asked how they would use this piece of equipment. Their answer was, another village nearby has a small one and we want a larger one for demonstration purposes.
To begin with, they had very little ground flat enough for a tractor to travel on, much less be able to turn over the soil. There were no repair parts, nor money for gasoline to operate it, and about all the good it could serve was to look at as none of the farmers in the area could have afforded to buy or rent or even use a tractor of any size. Guatemala is very mountainous and farming is done mostly by hand, planting one hill of corn at a time.
One thing that really tore at my heart was the simple and primitive living conditions of many of the Indians. They cooked over three stones, ground their corn for tortillas and lived much like their ancestors did 300 years ago. Many of the women spent a great deal of their time carrying water for their family needs from streams or wells scattered throughout the country side.
Clean drinking water, something all of us in this room sue from a faucet within a few feet of us at most any given time of the day, is a very precious item in many developing countries.
I simply could not shake this concern from my thoughts so when I returned to North Carolina, I showed a few pictures that told the story of the need for clean drinking water. The North Carolina Extension Homemakers responded the same way as I and together we decided that we should fund some wells UNICEF had proposed for Guatemala.
Working with UNICEF, I quickly learned about the term “red tape.” After a year, we gave up the idea of working with this agency because they could not identify for us a location and we were not willing to plunk down hundreds of dollars and not know where the wells would be situated or who they would serve.
I contacted other agencies, and I’m here to tell you all governmental agencies have the same problem. We kept inquiring and searching for an agency we could work with. Finally, one day, we learned that one of the Wycliffe workers in Guatemala was searching for a group to fund a water system for a village of 750 Indians who had been without water during the dry season since the earthquake.
The earthquake separated the ground and cut off their water supply, and the women and children had to walk two miles to 1,800 feet altitude to the nearest spring for all the water they used.
The people of the village were willing to come up with the first $150 (which was a lot of money for them) to buy the water rights, the men were willing to provide the labor and work crews if they could find someone willing to pay for the cost of the materials to lay 12 miles of pipe needed to get water to their village.
The Wycliffe workers agreed to engineer a simple water system that had proved effective in other villages that would not require costly power driven motors to operate.
The North Carolina Extension Homemakers agreed to raise half of the needed funds, and Wycliffe would seek matching funds from another source. The cost would be about $11,500.
By this time, a couple of years had passed. Much unrest and a lot of guerrilla activity in the area forced the Wycliffe workers to leave their homes in the villages and return to their headquarters in Guatemala City. However, the water project still had top priority.
One thing I learned is that if you decide to assist with a project, you simply must do it at their pace and use their methods, not yours, if you want to be successful. In due time, November of 1980, a letter was received from Guatemala with the news that as soon as the dry season arrived in January, 1981, they would like to begin digging the lines. Matching funds from a group in Canada had been secured, and would we please send our money, which amounted to $6,715.53 by this time. It had also been decided that another small village would share in the clean water supply as well as the village at the site of the spring. All total, the system would serve about 1,100 Indians. Inflation took its toll on the cost of the supplies and increased our cost about a thousand dollars, but our funds had been increasing with interest and thus we were able to handle the increased cost.
If we are to further International Understanding, I feel we must be willing to do about seven things.
1. We must have a genuine concern for our fellow man…beginning at home, and more especially when we travel.
2. We must be able to communicate with them in some form or another. Wherever you may be on a one-to-one basis.
3. If we offer assistance, we must be able to accept his needs on his terms, not ours, instead of our way or forget it. It’s a lost cause and it wouldn’t work anyway. The water project is a good example of how this works. The reason this was successful was the realization by 25,456 North Carolina Extension Homemakers that one of the things we so take for granted—a cup of clean drinking water—is in reality a very precious luxury gift in many parts of the world. We had to practice patience while we watched so many dry seasons come and go without sufficient funds to begin the project, but worth the joy and satisfaction we received from completing the project which will provide clean drinking water to new unknown friends in three villages in Central American whose language we cannot speak.
4. We must be willing to study other cultures and existing circumstances. We must try our best to understand their positions on issues. We don’t have to agree, but we must be willing to listen.
5. We must learn to compromise.
6. We must be an ambassador of goodwill and develop friendships that last.
7. We must realize what we thought we saw during a trip to another country might not be the norm. Customs, traditions and lifestyles vary from one region of a country to another. Events and situations may be regional.
Remember, there is a diversity of culture, thought, and attitude in every country of the world. There is an old saying, Do not criticize another until you have walked at least a mile his shoes.