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Reports & Updates

Toe River Food Security Newsletter (link) September 2015

Work Planned Using Newly Awarded Grant Funds from Appalachian Food Shed Project …. $10,000 for September- January, 2016!

• Mitchell County Church Listening Project- one time 40 hour interviewer job available @ $12.00/hour plus gas

• Development of Real Time/Interactive Web-Based Platform for M/Y churches/agencies to communicate with each other regarding resources and referrals

• A few community gardens already exist as sources of healthy food. TRFS will promote and work with efforts to create new or expanded community gardens

Read more about our work or get contact information at the link above.

Listening Project Updates, December 2014

The Toe River Food Security Listening Project by Herb Walters (from our newsletter)
The Toe River Food Security Network, is planning to use a Community Listening Project and Facilitated Group Listening programs as integral parts of a comprehensive community development process that will benefit food insecure populations in Mitchell and Yancey Counties, both in the mountains of North Carolina. Right: Locally-grown food increases food security: a garden in Yancey County, NC.A garden inn Yancey County NC

What is food insecurity?
According to the latest report from the UNC School of Government, 17% of the population of Mitchell County or 2,620 are food insecure with 28% of the children living in food insecure homes. In Yancey County 17% of the people or 3,060 are food insecure with 30% of the children in food insecure homes.

Food insecurity is tied to other personal needs, problems and issues such as substance abuse, debilitating health, and domestic violence involving women and children. Anecdotal reports indicate that some community and government leaders harbor doubts as to the actual needs of the food insecure families.

The Toe River Food Security Network will develop an inclusive, sustainable, and evidence-based 3-5 year food security plan for the 2 counties. It will also provide an institutional and grassroots foundation for meeting the overall objectives of the Appalachian Foodshed Project agenda for Western North Carolina. This includes:

  • Increase the bridging and bonding of food system networks to connect available resources for all residents of Mitchell and Yancey Counties
  • Increase access to healthy foods by connecting local farmers and growers to food insecure populations
  • Link these efforts to other health, nutrition, safety, and education initiatives addressing the needs of food insecure people (e.g., local government, County Extension Service, Toe River Health District, Domestic Violence Center and Substance Abuse programs)

Please contribute to this project. We will be funded at $4,000 less than what is needed so we hope you will consider donating to this project that when completed, can provide a model for other rural communities.

Tatua Listening Projects: Two Field Reports by Kenneth Chomba, Field Manager and Co-Founder of Tatua, in Kenya, Africa

Left: Tatua organizers at training to conduct Listening Projects in several neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya in Africa. Below are brief reports by two of Tatua’s numerous community organizers conducting Listening Projects in highly-impacted communities in Nairobi, Kenya.

#1 Report by Gabriel Odhiambo from Mukuru Kwa Njenga in Nairobi, Kenya
When you google Mukuru kwa Njenga one site says it is, one of the largest slums in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Many of the images that slum brings up are accurate but it does not convey the virtues and the struggles of the people. As a community organizer Gabriel has conducted in-depth listening sessions with 142 members of his community. Utilizing what he has learned, Gabriel is now organizing group listening programs that will bring forth many more voices from the people. He has managed to get a lot of information that he never would have known going straight to his project. For instance, most children working for survival are not orphaned like he had assumed. Many kids actually contribute to the survival of their family. He also learned that children roaming the streets during school days come from families that are as big as thirteen siblings, hence the parents are unable to cater for their needs both economically and socially.

Gabriel will work with others in the community to organize community forums that can disseminate information from the Listening Project and allow for collective decisions about a focus for community organizing and empowerment. He has also increased awareness about his mission in that community as many people now know about his potential campaign. Many people have already made commitments to be at his first community forum.

#2 Report by Purity Muthoni from Mukuru kwa Lunga Lunga in Nairobi, Kenya (read an interview with Purity here)
Purity Muthoni is running a health campaign in Mukuru kwa Lunga Lunga. She has managed to listen to 137 people about health in her community. 75 of the people she interviewed wanted an urgent intervention to the health crisis in the neighborhood. She is now working with her coach to train a team on listening skills so they can add to her team of listeners. The team will further work with Purity in setting up a community gathering for a health forum.

During her interviews, Purity noted that the community was looking to such a platform where people would come together and support the sick in the community. She has learned that stigma is the big threat to health improvement in her community especially for Tuberculosis and HIV victims. This hinders them from seeking medical assistance from the community hospital. She is currently working with volunteers to host a community health day and talk about her findings from the Listening interviews with the entire community.

August 2014: Update from Tatua: by Kenneth Chomba, Field Manager and Co-founder, Tatua Kenya, Africa

The fellowship members who have now received Listening Project training consists of 25 participants who are primarily leaders from communities in Kenya looking torun successful campaigns around a diverse range of poverty related issues. Left: Kenneth Chomba teaching on community organizing

Two examples: (1) One of our fellows, Purity Muthoni, lives in a slum known as Mukuru kwa Njenga. In her community, people die of curable illness because they are not taking precautions like eating health, keeping their environment clean to cub diseases. And when they get sick they don't get to the hospital earlyenough. Also local government hospitals are not giving medicines to the patients. The Doctors in these hospitals are instead prescribing medication to the patients and sending them to private hospitals belonging to them to buy medicines that are sold expensively.

Muthoni is organizing her community to exercise awareness of their health and that of their children to go for regular medical checkups and invest on cheap but balanced diet feeding and keep their environment clean. She is currently doing a Listening Project to establish the community’s take on their health practices and response to health challenges.

The united community is now committing to small regular activities bettering their health then will rally their new found power to influence the Government hospitals to give medication - not just prescribe or send the patients to their private hospitals (power over).

(2) Gabriel Odhiambo lives in a slum called Mukuru kwa Njenga where many children are out of school majorly work and “hustle” to feed siblings. They engage in selling scrap metal and small packs of snacks by the roadsides to make small cash to support their families. Some children are orphaned while others in the hands of parents thriving in such practices. He is currently doing interviews to Listen and engage the community effectively in a campaign that seeks to keep children off labor.

They then plan to use their new marshaled power to rally the government to allocate the land meant for children's recreational activities now given/issued forprivatization illegally.

Updates, July 2014:

21st Southeastern Permaculture Gathering, August 1-3 in Celo Community

    • Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence (NNADV)
    • Tatua Kenya, Africa
    • Toe River Food Security Collaborative

The Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence (NNADV) by Elizabeth Stoffel, NNADV Program Manager

NNADV provides statewide advocacy, education and support for front-line organizations that help women impacted by domestic violence.

NNADV is partnering with six community-based domestic violence and dual service programs in our state, to develop and implement the Nevada Rural Advocacy Project (NRAP).  NRAP is providing federal funding to hire or retain victim advocacy staff in rural Nevada, enhance victim services through networking and training opportunities, and evaluate the effectiveness of services through the compilation of statistics, survivor satisfaction surveys, and survivor narratives.

NNADV knows that listening to the voices of survivors is central to, and must continue to inform, its work to stop domestic violence in Nevada. Therefore, an important component of the Nevada Rural Advocacy Project is our Survivor Listening Project that will hear the voices of at least 100 rural survivors of domestic violence.

On March 27, 2014, nine local domestic violence advocates and two coalition representatives from throughout the state participated in a day-long Listening Project training in Reno, Nevada, led by Herb Walters from the North Carolina organization Listening Project RSVP.  Prior to the training Herb consulted closely with us, helping us refine our project goals and strategies and develop the questions that guide our interviews.
NNADV Participants in Listening Project TrainingThe women we listen to in our community Listening Project will share their successes, challenges, and lessons learned as they move toward safety. During the training held in Reno, we refined our listening and questioning skills so we can ask additional questions that will foster trust, reflection insight and creative ideas that will strengthen our ongoing work. Our skillful questions and listening will also help us identify and empower survivors who are interested in helping other women.

We are very grateful for the organization Listening Project and for Herb’s expertise and commitment of time and resources to our project. The training was a huge success.  NRAP advocates are now very well positioned to ask the right questions and listen to the responses of domestic violence survivors in rural Nevada.  We will keep Listening Project informed about the progress of this project that we believe can provide new approaches to reducing domestic violence -- a critical issue for communities throughout the U.S.

Right: NNADV participants in a Listening Project

Tatua Kenya, Africa Project by Natalie Finstad, Learning Team Lead and Co-Founder

Tatua Kenya was founded in 2010 with the goal of creating new and sustainable ways of eradicating child poverty in Kenya. We were deeply disturbed by the fact that children at orphanages in Kenya ate one meal a day, had no clean drinking water and couldn’t afford to go to school. For years, people had been trying to address these problems through outside donations but every time the money would run out the Kenyan orphanages were left to find another donor.

My experience as a community organizer gave me the knowledge needed to train youth leaders in Kenya to mobilize local resources for orphanages, thus providing a more sustainable revenue source. University students began a food drive to feed children, raised donations to pay salaries and organized a health clinic that treated 60 children who were in need of medical care.

However, something far more beautiful was happening under the surface, the team I worked with was transforming. Young adults, who had never had opportunities to lead, began to assert their agency and in doing so, recognized themselves as powerful agents of change in this world. They were waking up to the truth that they could do whatever they wanted and what they wanted was to achieve justice in this world.  Change begins with us realizing our intrinsic power and dignity.

Below (left): Kenneth Chomba, Tatua Kenya Executive Director, teaching at a training at Nyumbani Children’s Home. (right) Tatua Kenya team members enjoy a BBQ together one Saturday.

In 2013 Tatua Kenya worked in 6 communities to organize community-run movements that addressed local poverty. Through those efforts we are have seen children go back to school, parents form support groups around parenting challenges, and community gardens were started as a way of feeding children and subsidizing school teacher’s salaries. Each of these movements began with Tatua Kenya organizers listening to their communities.

This year Tatua Kenya is training 50 community organizer who will work in 25 communities to begin community-run movements to address poverty.  These organizers will be addressing issues such as gender violence, environment, child poverty and health care and each of these movements will begin with listening.

For months Tatua had looked for a way to bring Herb Walters to Kenya for Community Listening Project training.  The cost, however, was prohibitive and since I was going the U.S. for other reasons, I visited with Herb for three days of learning about the methodology and training used in Community Listening Projects.  What a wonderful time of sharing and learning from each other! Herb will continue to provide Tatua with Listening Project consultation and resources  in the coming year.

We are excited about the hope that will spring out of this work and look forward to sharing our stories of change with you. Learn more at our website.

Toe River Food Security Collaborative

The Toe River Food Security Collaborative has asked Listening Project director Herb Walters to provide training and resources that will strengthen grassroots engagement and leadership for a project focused on food insecurity in Yancey. Mitchell and Avery  counties. The project will meet the overall objectives of the Appalachian Foodshed Project agenda for western NC.  It will also:

  • Increase the collaboration and effectiveness of food system networks
  • Connect farmers and growers to food insecure homes
  • Link these efforts to other health nutrition, safety and education issues faced by food insecure people in our communities

We will keep you informed of this project as it develops.

UPDATE: will be providing Listening Project consultation and training for the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence (NNADV), an organization providingresources to fight domestic violence in Nevada, a state which has had the highest level of domestic violence in the US.

Listening Projects in Kenya, Africa: Kenya TATUA wants to train their organizers to use Listening Projects and Facilitated Group Listening in their efforts to empower economically impacted communities in Kenya.

UPDATE: May 2013: Dryden NY Wins Battle Against Fracking

Listening Projects on Fracking in New York by Dirk Trachy

In recent years, the controversial gas drilling method known as high volume hydraulic-fracturing, or fracking has become a topic of household discussion across the country. In the state of New York, concerned residents have organized scores of grassroots groups to confront the oil and gas industry and have effected a de facto moratorium for several years now.

In the economically depressed rural rustbelt of Upstate, tensions can run high on the issue. While the media often portrays simplistic dichotomies of landowners or lease holders versus environmentalists, the on the ground realities are far more complex. Safeguarding our water, air, climate, communities and rural economies requires complex local knowledge and relationship building in sometimes polarized areas.

In the small town of Van Etten, NY, one community group approached its grassroots organizing from a starting place of listening.

Van Etten, NY
Van Etten has experienced gas drilling and leasing for generations but high volume fracking is a game-changing development in the local history of community/gas company relations. Just 12 miles from the Pennsylvania border, news of the gas drilling boom that fracking has brought there, both good and bad, is never far away. Being directly in the path of the newly constructed Millennium Pipeline, Van Etten is a place that could see fracking far sooner than surrounding towns, should the method be approved in NY state. Landmen have been selling leases, neighbors have been making deals, various facilities have been proposed. Great controversy exists as to what fracking could mean in Van Etten and the stakes are as high as the very air, water and rural way of life most residents cherish.

At the same time, rural poverty is very real and employment is often low paying and a very long drive away for many residents. Fracking has been marketed as a miracle cure for economic hard times and many are as eager for an economic boon as they are to safeguard their home. Gas company PR is continuously deployed to exacerbate this tension. We cannot shy away from the complexity.

The Van Etten Listening Project
The Van Etten Listening Project (VELP) emerged from the efforts of local farmers who had signed gas leases and were concerned about what the gas companies were up to after having negative experiences with them. Researching and speaking with others across the country, they learned of the havoc fracking had caused in other areas and realized that they had to do something to protect their home. They also realized that they would need some very thoughtful approaches.

VELP trained 50 volunteers in active listening, non-violent communication, basic community organizing skills and the complex economic and cultural factors involved. Most households in Van Etten were visited and interviewed over the course of two winters (2009 and 2010). Residents were asked about their hopes and desires for the future of their town, their experiences with gas companies, their perceptions about their neighbors attitudes towards gas drilling and more.

The extensive face-to-face listening grounded activists in a deep level of context and confidence in understanding the fracking issue in Van Etten and gave many residents an opportunity to discuss their strong feelings about an important issue, sometimes for the first time out loud to another person.

The Van Etten Listening Project ensured that community organizing in Van Etten would come from a humble and grounded place, informed from a broad perspective and a genuine desire to take other's needs into account. Far from a cookie-cutter landowners vs environmentalists morality play, we found that many landowners and leaseholders had deep concerns about their land, water, air and rural lifeways and many concerns about the oil and gas industry that were not being discussed on television or in the newspapers. The widespread concerns over water issues led to the creation of Cayuga Catatonk Waterwatch -- an innovative community initiative whereby residents were trained by scientists to conduct extensive baseline water testing and stream and creek monitoring throughout local watersheds.

Listening Spreads
Inspired by the Van Etten Listening Project, community members in Dryden, New York carried out their own listening project and trainings and materials have been shared with other groups as well. We even shared materials with a group in Bolivia! Listening is a powerful place from which to build a movement. As climate change, resource depletion, inequality and economic austerity loom, every community increasingly find themselves in complicated social territory in uncertain times. Listening Projects can be a very powerful way to begin to restitch our social fabric and build the relationships from which creative and lasting change can emerge.

Dirk Trachy is a former NY farm worker and present day crisis specialist on a southwestern hotline where listening continues to be an important part of his life. He has a passion for social and environmental justice and is interested in just about everything.

UPDATE: Listening Project & Sustainable Development – A Report from Yancey County

The Yancey Times Journal will soon be featuring a regular column that support local businesses and sustainable development in Yancey County, North Carolina. This project is an outgrowth of Listening Project work in Yancey County that has resulted in the formation of two local organizations: Christian Stewardship of Creation (CSC) and Sustainable Yancey (SY). Christian Stewardship of Creation is led by conservative church leaders, many of whom were born in the county and can remember the deep connection and caring for the land that is a part of local history, culture and faith.   Sustainable Yancey is an outgrowth of CSC and it will be the sponsor of this effort. In keeping with the principles of Sustainable Yancey, the Journal articles will use language that highlights common ground between people who don’t associate with environmentalism and people who do. In this way, sustainability can be the common ground that helps unify our community and strengthen our local economy. 

The column will focus on development that strengthens our families, future generations, economy, natural resources and our mountain traditions and faith.  This includes finding ways to celebrate how our local businesses contribute to sustainable development:

a. Locally-owned business is itself a vital part of creating a sustainable community. We will honor that by focusing on the unique ways that our business owners provide goods and services. This may include an historical look at the business, helpful business practices, and more.

b. We promote business practices that are conducive to sustainability – business practices that benefit our people and protect our natural resources.  Even the smallest thing should be celebrated.

According to Herb Walters who has organized this project on behalf of the Sustainable Yancey Leadership Council: 

“We are not looking for perfect models of sustainability. Our goal is to celebrate the simple but important ways that local businesses are vital for our local economy and the things they do that move us in the direction of being good stewards of creation. For example, if we interview a farm family, they do not have to be an organic farm. We can look for and focus on the fact that they are a family farm and celebrate other practices that are sustainable.  On the other hand we will also focus on organic farming, which is growing rapidly in the county.”

Past newsletters are available in the Resources Library.

The Human Cost of War: Listening to Voices of Iraq Veterans and Their Families

In 2009 the Pittsburgh, PA office of the American Friends Service Committee undertook a listening project focusing on the impact of the war on Iraqi and US soldiers’ children, spoken through the voices of the mothers. Our definition of a child is anyone from the age of 1-19, so in some cases, we were listening to soldiers who were only eighteen or nineteen years old.

The goal of the Project is to better understand the impact of war on children. We believe it is important for people to hear the stories of how the Iraqi war has impacted our military children and Iraqi children. We listened to mothers and wives of members of the military who served in Iraq. At the same time, we listened to Iraqi mothers to hear their children’s stories. A related purpose is to offer those most closely involved an opportunity to be heard without being judged- to describe their perceptions, tell their stories, and share their concerns about the war. We selected some of the most impactful quotes and have developed them into a dramatic reading which can be used in discussion groups. The dramatic reading heightens awareness of how children are impacted by the war.

Background: In 2007-8 the AFSC Pennsylvania Office initiated a Listening Project that focused on the impact of the war on US soldiers and military families, including their experiences from recruitment to post-deployment. The Military Listening Project’s primary purpose was to personalize and help us understand the “human” cost of war. We listened to 22 people, half of whom were family members. You may also contact Scilla Wahrhaftig at AFSC:  412-371-3607.

San Jose: Building Democracy and Strong Neighborhoods

There are many stories of neighborhood residents organizing and pushing city hall to respond to important community needs.  In each case certain residents step forward and act as organizers that help the community come together with effective plans and actions for change. 

The City of San Jose, CA, provides a new, proactive model for community change.  In San Jose, the city itself hires organizers.  These organizers empower residents to develop their own leaders, priorities, plans and actions for effective community change.

In San Jose, nearly thirty public employees work as organizers across 19 neighborhood areas in a program called the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative (SNI). This program is recognized by the National League of Cities as the top urban revitalization program in the country. In 2007, SNI workers embarked on a pilot project to organize San Jose residents in three neighborhoods: Seven Trees, Silver Leaf, Camden/Hillsdale.

To read more about these projects, click here.

Listening Project at United Nations

In a past newsletter we carried inspiring results revealed by new documentation of Centar Za Mir's Peace Teams Listening Project in Croatia. This project conducted over 2,000 interviews and translated listening into action that:

  1. Helped stop inter-ethnic violence
  2. Increased inter-ethnic cooperation
  3. Made possible concrete social and economic advances

The Peace Teams Listening Project has been recognized internationally at the United Nations. Katarina Kruhonja, director of Centar Za Mir, presented the Peace Team's Project to the U.N. General Assembly as a model for use in conflicted regions of the world. Included in her speech were the following words:

"The UN provided space in which peace activists were able to work, but we did not have the support of Croatian governmental institutions. However, that...lack of institutional power, became...also our advantage. We were forced to choose those methods of work that relied on the empowerment of people to take part in peace building. The Listening Project, a method of applying active listening that we learned from Herb Walters of the American organization Rural Southern Voice for Peace... empowered both, us as listeners and the people we listened to."

One of the Top Ten Development Projects in the World Used Listening Project

The United Nations has included the “Community Development and Peace Building Project” implemented by the Centar Za Mir Peace Team in Okucani, Croatia, as being among the 10 most successful examples of Reconciliation and Community Development work in the world.

The Centar Za Mir Peace Team, was one of six teams that successfully utilized RSVP’s Listening Project as a primary tool for development and reconciliation work in the war-torn Republic of Croatia. RSVP director, Herb Walters worked for three years with Centar Za Mir on this project.

Listening Leads the Way - InCommon in Omaha, NE

Operating under the motto “building community through community,” inCOMMON has brought the Listening Porject to Omaha's Park Avenue neighborhood. Click here to read about the project. Click here to read "Where poverty fight is personal" about inCommon's efforts to fight poverty in the Omaha area.


Other RSVP Activities

Regional Permaculture Gathering

Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is: "The harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order." (Geoff Lawton).

Each August, over one hundred permaculture explorers and activists gather at the Arthur Morgan School. For further information, go to www.southeasternpermaculture.org.

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