Learn how CHOICE Humanitarian is supporting bright futures in Kenya!
CHOICE Humanitarian is pleased to announce Steve Pierce as their new Chief Executive Officer. Pierce's start at CHOICE has included more excitement than anyone had imagined. His first month brought a massive snow storm followed by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake at the CHOICE headquarters as well as a global pandemic. Despite the eventful start, he and the CHOICE team remain optimistic about the future!
Pierce is an international development leader with over 30 years of experience in the field. He is the former Director of Policy for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) where he led a team of experienced professionals to develop, operationalize and assess policies and strategies on a broad range of critical humanitarian and development priorities. Prior to assuming that position, he was on assignment to the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School, where he served as Associate Professor for National Security and Resource Strategy and USAID Chair. At NDU he taught courses in National Security Policy and Strategy and Industry Studies for senior military and civilian government leaders. Prior positions with USAID include Director of Program Staff; Special Coordinator for Development Effectiveness; U.S. delegate to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, representing the USG on all matters related to development cooperation at the OECD; Director of the Office of Donor Engagement; USAID Executive Secretary, and Senior Policy Advisor to three USAID Administrators. He has extensive field experience in Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia and has served in a leadership capacity on several international boards and networks, including as Co-Chair of the Effective Institutions Platform (EIP). Prior to joining USAID, Dr. Pierce held leadership positions at the Inter-American Foundation and the Synergos Institute. He began his career in development as the Country Director for Bolivia with the Andean Children’s Foundation (ACF), now CHOICE Humanitarian.
Learn why Steve Pierce is the ideal leader for CHOICE Humanitarian in the video below.
"I am Binisha Ghimire from the Dalit caste, which is considered the untouchable community, in the Makawanpur District of Nepal. My father is a taxi driver and my elder brother works in small scale farming. My father struggles to feed, clothe, and educate his children and manage our family of nine.
I never dared to dream big, as my family does not have the means to provide us quality education. However, I experienced a change I never thought would happen in my life. I was selected for an annual scholarship worth 803.00 USD to fund my education, a three-year agriculture technician training course. The training is very valuable as Nepal needs more agricultural technicians. The award has relieved pressure on my family to fund my education. I am working hard and doing well in my studies. This degree will go a long way in helping me establish self-dignity and supporting my family financially after I graduate. It is empowering me to be independent and skillful.
My heartfelt thanks go to CHOICE Humanitarian for giving wings to my dreams of being an able and educated woman."
CHOICE Humanitarian invites you to become a member of The Village, so that more people like Binisha can dream big!
Many people from the United States have the ability to travel and see the world, to experience cities, people and cultures. However, there is a difference between the “tourist” and the “traveler.” The tourist sees the sights, tastes the food, shops in the foreign markets; photographing each and every step along the way and savors the experience for many years to come. The traveler, however, is more of an adventurer, taking in the more subtle nuances of the people, the customs, the grit of a culturally different way of life. The traveler looks under the hood of each and every place choosing to live as the people live and getting to know more of the “why” and not just the “what” of foreign destinations often allowing the experience to serve as the souvenir.
Floating on the Mekong River in rural Vietnam in the 1990’s my teenage daughter had one of those experiences that separate the tourist from the traveler. In quizzing a local, she discovered that the cost of a modest dwelling along one of Asia’s longest and most important rivers was the same price as a dress she wanted to wear to a high school dance. This was the type of an “aha” moment that I could never have taught her as her parent. The mere thought of that moment still gives me chills as that unspoken lesson vividly illustrated the disparity of opportunity in our two infinitely different worlds.
That hot, humid day we experienced just one of many defining “traveler” moments as our family has participated in several humanitarian experiences over the years. Each of my children has had their own unforgettable interactions with villagers working side by side with them. Observing children scour through garbage for food on the streets of Kathmandu, walking with school children to school for nearly an hour each way on dusty trails, holding a flashlight as a youth had infected and impacted teeth removed and then watching them walk back to their village a half-days journey away causes your soul to stir in a unique and unforgettable way. The difference between the first world problems of getting the latest app on your phone or deciding what will you wear to meet your friends at the mall is starkly different from a rural villager's problems of what will our family eat, how will a sick family member get well or how will we stay dry when the rains come.
Those experiences have resulted in career choices and lifelong goals to participate in humanitarian outreach for my entire family. Whether in Vietnam, Peru, Nepal, Guatemala, Bolivia or Mexico we have learned through singing, dancing, working and dining with villagers that possessions do not make us happy, nor do they necessarily improve the quality of our lives and relationships. We return home changed and think we will never forget the lessons of the village. Every few years we choose to be reminded of the lessons of the village to keep us grounded and aware of what we value most. As we help villagers accomplish goals of education, clean drinking water and finding ways to support their families, they in turn, teach us that we can be happy, content and fulfilled with much, much less.
There is no gift you can give your child that is greater than the gift of perspective through participating in a rural humanitarian expedition. We step away from our conveniences, our excesses, our time-wasting habits and rituals and step into a world of service, friendship, and teamwork. These types of experiences change the trajectory of human lives. While reminiscing about an expedition last Christmas to Bolivia and the magic of that trip, two participants laughed and said “It is probably time we take another trip so we can reconnect with our teenagers.”
It is true that a village experience is unpredictable, sometimes uncomfortable, and outside of our norm. However, it is in the unpredictable, the uncomfortable and the unusual that we really discover who we are and what we are made of. Therein lies the true magic of the expedition. There is no comfort in the growth zone and no growth in the comfort zone. With all that uncertainty, I can promise you one thing - you will come home changed, forever changed!
From teaching adult literacy programs to training entrepreneurs, see how CHOICE Humanitarian Peru changed lives and eradicated poverty over the last year.
Cooking and keeping warm is essential to any household, but for villagers living in extreme poverty, fulfilling those needs can be costly. In rural Nepal, indoor air pollution caused by wood stoves leads to significant health concerns, particularly for women and children. Prolonged exposure to unclean air lowers the life expectancy of women and children in Nepal. During their lifetimes they often suffer from eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, while more long-term health concerns such as respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer can end lives tragically early.
The health and well-being of women and children is integral to the health and well-being of a community. Sustainable poverty solutions depend on the education of children, the health of families, and promotion of gender equity. These solutions are all hindered when women and children suffer unhealthy living environments, as is their quality of life. CHOICE has made it a priority to help control indoor air pollution and save those vulnerable to it from related hazards; to do this, CHOICE has been implementing biodigesters and metal stoves throughout communities in Nepal.
Biodigesters are a simple and sustainable way to provide a home with a safe, clean stove. They use biomass (i.e. animal and human waste) to produce methane gas to power the stoves. Slurry, the by-product of the digester, makes for a highly valuable organic manure that villagers can use to improve their farming. With biodigesters villagers can eliminate the need for wood-burning stoves, keep the air in their homes clean, and produce fertilizer for their crops all at once.
In higher-elevation parts of Nepal, biodigesters cannot be feasibly constructed, but a solution to indoor air pollution is just as vital. In these areas of Nepal, CHOICE instead provides and promotes metal stoves with an in-built chimney system. These stoves funnel smoke outside the house, keeping indoor air clean, and warm the home in the process. They’re also efficient, using only 30% of the wood needed for traditional stoves. This reduces air pollution and deforestation; it also significantly cuts down on the time women spend collecting firewood, giving them opportunities to pursue personal and family interests they didn’t have time for before.
Through the use of biodigesters and efficient metal stoves, CHOICE is saving lives, improving the health and comfort of women and children, helping the environment, and, in the process of it all, ending poverty.
In the Pampa de los Silvas community of Peru, CHOICE found that 39% of the adult population was illiterate—and among this group, 93% were female. There was a clear disparity in who was learning to read, and who was able to experience the empowerment that literacy brings. Women in the community were missing opportunities to participate in economic endeavors and community leadership because they couldn’t read or write.
Humanitarian projects are not just about building structures and investing in the physical needs of a village; they are about investing in people. CHOICE developed a women’s literacy program and began to implement it in Pampa de los Silvas. Within just one year of beginning the program, women in the area experienced a 73% decrease in illiteracy, gaining the ability to read and write basic phrases and empowering them to have a greater say and influence in their communities. Even more exciting, 90% of the women in the community developed leadership capabilities and a sense of empowerment within that year.
One touching example of the impact of the CHOICE women’s literacy program is Filomena Yarleuq, a 72 year old housewife who learned to read for the first time. Filomena, like many women, was denied the opportunity to study as a child. Now she is a student of the women’s literacy program, and is elated to know how to read and write her name.
Filomena says, “Thanks to the literacy project of CHOICE Humanitarian, today for the first time I managed to write my name, read small texts, and know what my identification document is. This makes me very excited and happy, because I never thought of achieving this, let alone at this old age. I thank CHOICE for caring so much for my community and giving us the opportunity to continue growing as people.”
In addition to the program in Pampa de los Silvas, CHOICE Peru leads, manages, and motivates women’s groups to integrate literacy and promote unity between municipalities, the government, and CHOICE themselves. Education and empowerment of women is essential to sustainable poverty solutions, and must be an integral part of any plan to bring success and gender equity to a community.
To many of us, the term “extreme poverty” can feel somewhat vague. It’s hard to imagine what extreme poverty looks like when most of us, in our daily lives, are so far removed from it. People living in extreme poverty survive on $1.90 or less a day. To put that in perspective, poverty in the United States is considered living on $34 a day or less for a one-person household. That statistic might sound confusing at first—many people living above the poverty line may feel that they survive on less than $34 a day. But that number is not just about how much you spend on food and necessities in a day. When you factor in the monthly costs of rent, utilities, health insurance, car insurance, gas, internet, phone plans, and even services like Netflix, most people will find that they actually live on far more than $34 a day. When that cost is compared with someone living on $1.90 per day, it can be hard for us to imagine what that really looks like.
For many of us, the term “extreme poverty” typically conjures up an image of someone lacking food or housing. While this image is not wrong, extreme poverty is so much more than that view imagines. Extreme poverty affects every aspect of a person’s life.
Living in extreme poverty means much more than lacking material resources. It means trading one vital need for another just to get by. It means denying your child food for a day so you can afford to take them to the hospital. It means missing out on opportunities for work or school because you have to spend an entire day collecting water. It means your daughter missing a week of school every month because you cannot afford menstrual products. Extreme poverty can rule a person’s life, and when they cannot find a way out, it creates a cycle that their children, and their grandchildren get caught up in. It leaves people feeling hopeless and stuck.
Eliminating extreme poverty isn’t just about helping people survive; it’s about helping them thrive. It gives parents the opportunity to raise their children to be successful enough to one day give back to their communities and the world. Eliminating extreme poverty is not just about giving a family enough food to eat or a place to sleep. It is about building up communities that are self-sustaining.
Research and CHOICE’s own experiences in the field show: when you give people living in poverty the tools to grow and succeed, they will take them and go farther than anyone might expect. When you give people in underserved communities empowerment, they invest in their families and communities, and become a vital part of building up those around them. When you give children in poverty the chance at an education, they’ll use what they learn to not only break the cycle of poverty within their families, but often to give back to their communities too.
Fighting extreme poverty is about so much more than a fair income. It’s about fighting for clean water, fighting for gender equity, fighting for education, and fighting for a more just, peaceful world. Many issues of injustice in the world are intertwined, and primarily affect the most vulnerable among us—in many cases, the most poor. When you fight extreme poverty, you fight against every injustice that goes along with it. When CHOICE helps a community lift themselves up, they help lift up the world.
If you would like to make a difference in ending extreme poverty, we encourage you to join The Village, where you can make an impact for as little as $0.30 a day.
The CHOICE model is unique because it provides hand ups rather than handouts by teaching communities how to organize themselves to tackle the problems they face. In the community of Peñitas, Mexico, CHOICE helped establish an aquaponics system so the locals could raise plants and fish to eat and sell. However, shortly after this system was established, the water system in Peñitas went out. This was a devastating turn of events for the locals, because without water, the plants and fish that relied on the aquaponics system would soon die, and the program would fail. The cooperative that managed the aquaponics system could have called the CHOICE team for help; instead, they took matters into their own hands.
The women of the cooperative came up with an idea and decided to act. With the help of CHOICE Humanitarian, they had previously built ovens in the community to make pizzas and other baked goods. The women of the cooperative took initiative to use their new resources to help their community. They came together and used the ovens to make pizzas, which they sold throughout the community. With the proceeds from their self-made fundraiser, they were able to bring in a water truck to replenish the water supply in the aquaponics system. However, one truck was not enough to get the community water system running again. Undaunted, the women came together again, made more pizzas, and sold them again. By working together twice to raise the funds for water trucks, the women were able to get the community water system running again and save the aquaponics system, along with all the plants and fish that relied on it.
This story provides a shining example of the success of the CHOICE Humanitarian model. CHOICE strives to help communities become self-developing; to help communities think for themselves and utilize their own resources, so that their path out of extreme poverty can be sustained even when the humanitarian organization that helped lift them up is gone. The women of the Peñitas cooperative illustrate the principles of this model perfectly: when disaster struck, they did not call the CHOICE team or the volunteers from the U.S. who had come to participate in one of CHOICE’s humanitarian trips. Instead they came together and utilized their own resources to solve the problem at hand. By building the ovens CHOICE gave the community of Peñitas the means to support themselves; by encouraging and empowering women in the community to have a place and say in leadership, the women of the cooperative were able to take ownership of their new resources to create a self-sustaining solution to their disaster, benefitting their whole community in the process.
Thanks to the women of the Peñitas cooperative, the aquaponics system was saved and is now flourishing, producing fish and vegetables that will provide both food and income for the community of Peñitas. The self-reliability the people of Peñitas have shown hints at a bright future of continued progress and a self-sustained path out of poverty.
For those living in the Irapuato region of Mexico, malnutrition and limited access to water are realities of daily life. The desert climate and poor soil make traditional farming practices very difficult. To address these challenges, CHOICE has partnered with the Women’s Rotary Club of Irapuato Internacional, the Rotary Club of Logan, and FNC Aquaponics to create a solution -- aquaponics.
Aquaponics is an innovative approach to raising both fish and crops through a unique symbiotic relationship, combining two typically separate ecosystems. The waste from the fish provides essential nutrients to the plants, which in turn purify the water for the fish. This creates an environment where fresh produce and protein are provided and very little water is needed, combating malnutrition in Irapuato’s dry climate. These communities are now able to enjoy fresh tilapia fish, fruits, and vegetables.
Learn how local technology with community ownership is making an impact in Bolivia also! See page 4 of our Annual Report.