Jaunty Fashion, Proud Cultures, and Fighting Hunger in Guatemala and Ethiopia

men in red striped pants in guatemala

 

After a very productive scouting trip in Ethiopia and Guatemala, I’m home again — and I’m already looking forward to going back. I’ll be there again in April with our crew, to film a one-hour public television special on the hows and whys of modern development aid.
 
My trip was made possible by many wonderful non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and I’d like to credit them now for their support and commitment to making our world a better place.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a great impact on Ethiopia. They were my primary “fixer” there, and Meron Semunegus, from their Addis Ababa office, was my guide. Gates is synonymous with smart development in Ethiopia — a country with a changing image, thanks to recent progress.

I’m a big fan of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), and part of the inspiration for this project came from David Beasley, the executive director of the WFP. A year ago, I had dinner with him in Rome, where he oversees the distribution of UN funds to fight hunger, and his passion for this challenge was contagious. On this trip, I visited WFP health posts in southern Ethiopia and Guatemala. In Guatemala, I worked the director of the WFP there, Laura Melo.

In Ethiopia, I visited a village in the Tigray region supported by A Glimmer of Hope, which provided many vivid examples of how to help people help themselves. And we visited with Bete Demeke, who heads up Project Mercy — an NGO that’s innovating winning ways to stoke development.

In Guatemala, I hired Augsburg College’s Center for Global Education and Experience (my alma mater in Central American educational tourism) to provide me with essentially a private tour. CGEE’s Guatemala Site Coordinator, Fidel Xinico Tum, was my primary guide there. We met with Nate Bacon, of InnerCHANGE, to learn about Guatemalan gangs and life in a Guatemala City barrio, and Karen Larson of Friendship Bridge took us to see their microloan and women’s empowerment work at Lake Atitlán.

I spent a very busy day in Huehuetenango with the Guatemala director of Project Concern International, Pascale Wagner, seeing the impressive work they do — and another experience-filled day in Nebaj with Chris Megargee, seeing the inspirational work of Agros International in three communities (El Paraíso, La Esperanza, and Cajixay).

Every day on this trip, I met people whose mission is to help struggling people lift their lives out of poverty. And I flew home excited to make a TV special that shows that the battle against extreme poverty is a battle worth fighting — and it’s a battle we can win. Stay tuned.

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My $1,000,000 End Hunger Challenge

Thank you for joining me over the past few weeks as I’ve traveled through Ethiopia and Guatemala. Together, we’ve learned about the root causes of hunger and extreme poverty — and the power of smart development to create a better, more stable world. Judging from your comments, I know many of you were inspired to ask, “How can I help make a difference?” Here’s your answer: Every Christmas, our traveling community comes together to raise money for Bread for the World, an organization that helps hungry people both at home and abroad.

This year, as our government considers drastic cuts in aid to hungry people, our community’s holiday tradition feels especially important. I’d love your help in empowering Bread to speak up for hungry people in the halls of Congress. This is advocacy (like lobbying — but for what I consider a very good and important cause: explaining to our elected representatives how their legislation impacts hungry people). When it comes to fighting hunger, I believe Bread’s advocacy work gets me the most bang possible for my charitable buck. That’s why I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of their work for 30 years.

My challenge: This year, we are going to raise a million dollars. Here’s how it works: You make a $100 gift to Bread for the World. I’ll match your donation 2-to-1 (contributing $200 for each $100 given), up to $700,000 — and send you my European Christmas gift pack or my Complete Collection DVD Box Set as a thank you. If I can inspire 3,333 of you to join me in this initiative, we’ll hit our million-dollar goal!

I see Bread for the World not as a charity, but as a service. Our support can help Bread help millions of struggling people in our country and around the world. Go to www.ricksteves.com/bread to get on board — and please let your loved ones know about this challenge, too. Imagine: As an extended family of caring (and traveling) people, together we can empower Bread for the World’s work with $1,000,000. That will put a special dose of love into this holiday season.

 

Video: Witnessing People Power, Community Energy, and Hope in Guatemala

I’m in Guatemala, scouting for an upcoming one-hour public television special — and today I had the honor of sitting in on a powerful community gathering of hardworking farmers. I was brought here by Project Concern International, an NGO with a smart approach to development that focuses on empowering women, supporting farmers, and helping communities become self-sustaining.

A much-needed community center here costs about $3,500. (Meanwhile, my hometown is currently building one for 4,000 times that amount — and that’s considered a good value.) Societies develop better and faster when they can unleash people power. And people get power a lot more easily when they have a place to meet. Today, as I watched this community gather to share their little triumphs, one proud citizen at a time, I was struck by the shack that used to be their center — and how just a little money gave them a nice, new cinderblock center.

Pride and dignity give people reason to hope, and give a community energy. These are intangibles — but in struggling communities, they create desperately needed tangible results.

 

More Rabbits Means Bigger Cauliflower: Smart Development at a Guatemalan Family Farm

In the developing world, most people live and work on small family farms — and “development” means evolving from being a subsistence farmer into a small business owner, growing diverse crops that are tailored to the needs and appetites of the market.

I’m in Guatemala, scouting for an upcoming one-hour public television special about hunger, hope, and smart development. And today, I visited one of several family farms that are becoming independent with the help of Project Concern International, an NGO that supports farmers and helps communities become self-sustaining. Following their Guatemala director, Pascale Wagner, as she checked in on these hardworking families, I could understand why they love her so much, and why she loves them.

Join me for two minutes in this clip, and you’ll see some results of the great work Pascale and Guatemalan farmers are doing together.

Video: Simón’s Smart Stove

I spent a busy day today in the highlands of western Guatemala with Project Concern International (PCI), an NGO with a smart approach to development that focuses on empowering women, supporting farmers, and helping communities become self-sustaining.

As I learn and scout for my upcoming TV special on global poverty and smart development, I’m especially interested in the “low-hanging fruit” of development aid: simple, low-tech, inexpensive tools, ideas, or innovations that make a huge difference in people’s lives. And smart stoves are a perfect example.

With the help of PCI’s Guatemala director, Pascale Wagner — a brilliant woman who’s dedicated 18 years to helping Guatemala develop — and with no help from my embarrassing lack of Spanish language skills, I enjoyed a fascinating little visit to a home that has benefited greatly from a smart stove. Join me in this little clip and take a look for yourself.