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Valliwide Organic Farms, Using Fresh Fruit to Fight PovertyValliwide Organic Farms is a California-based company focused on organic farming and produce. While it sells succulent mandarines, plums, nectarines and oranges, its vision is one of a bigger, more helpful mission: fighting extreme poverty. By partnering with When I Grow Up, a charity focused on addressing childhood poverty, Valliwide Organic Farms has used the profits of fresh fruit to fight poverty.

The Valliwide Organic Farms

Tod and Traci Parkinson have owned Valliwide since 1992, first as a produce marketing company. In 2010, they purchased their own organic farm, as agricultural demand shifted in that direction. However, before their venture into organic farming and produce, Tod and Traci felt a pull to help others. They invested in a charity called When I Grow Up, and in 2010 when they bought their farm, dedicated large portions of their profits to the charity. Valliwide was committed to using fresh fruit to fight poverty.

To provide futures for the next generation, Valliwide Organic Farms’ partnership with When I Grow Up seeks to create opportunities for those in disadvantaged communities. Their motivation to grow matches their motivation to give back.

When I Grow Up’s Partnerships

When I Grow Up started in 2006 when, after a visit to a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, a group of Americans decided they needed to do something to help the thousands of children struggling with disease and a lack of resources. The newly-formed charitable group partnered with local indigenous leaders who knew how to best manage and allocate the help they provided. As their name suggests, this charity focuses on giving children the means to be hopeful for their futures.

Their work in Nairobi has been in coordination with the Faruha Community Foundation (FCP), an organization working to provide an education to local children in situations of deprivation, many of whom are HIV positive. Its start as a tutoring support group has blossomed into a primary school of 500 children and, more recently, a high school of 150 students. Additionally, they provide healthcare, residential living assistance and microloans for those without resources. With funding from When I Grow Up, the FCP has accommodated and supported many impoverished students and given them the tools to create a successful future.

Other locations of need include Zone 18 in Guatemala, where crime and violence are widespread. When I Grow Up partners with Esperanza Para Guatemala, a local group working to provide sustenance and emotional support for local children and their families. They stock the local library with books and computers to learn essential vocational skills such as carpentry, baking, cosmetology and computers. Over 9,000 plates of food are served every month to children and their families in need.

Feeding Children in Haiti

Furthermore, When I Grow Up’s recent work in Haiti is of paramount importance for Valliwide’s owners, Tod and Traci, as Tod is the region’s field leader. Partnering with Lucson Dervilus, a native Haitian, Valliwide and When I Grow Up sought to provide support for the struggling, isolated communities of Palma and Jacob after the devastating earthquake of 2010. In October of that year, they created a feeding program for a local school intended to help local children escape poverty situations in the region.

In July of 2012, they began building a new school to accommodate more children. Alongside the school, local families would receive grants to start trading to earn sufficient income to provide for their children. Over a couple of years, more than 250 students attended the school, with more teachers and staff to support their education. Additionally, the school received cattle and goats to begin an agricultural program to supplement their income.

The work that When I Grow Up has accomplished is awe-inspiring. Moreover, Valliwide Organic Farms’ dedication and commitment have allowed the fresh fruit farm to help others on a global scale. While they have an American base in California, their vision is to help children worldwide.

Tod and Traci Parkinson use their fresh fruit products to do veritable good for the world. The juicy flavors of their mandarins, plums, nectarines and oranges pale in comparison to their ardent and steadfast dedication to providing for the next generation. By using fresh fruit to fight poverty, Valliwide Organic Farms is picking the commendable route to profitability and genuinely taking the fight against extreme poverty into their own hands.

– Eliza Cochran

Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr