Volunteering With Farmer to Farmer—A Family Affair

Ryan Ringuette stands with fellow farmers in Uganda where he volunteers for Farmer to Farmer through CRS. Photo courtesy Ryan Ringuette

by Ryan Ringuette

Volunteering has (accidentally) become my family’s tradition. Both my father and mother are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (Morocco and Nepal), and both my sister and I are current Peace Corps Volunteers (Paraguay and Uganda). Additionally, my recently retired father volunteers with the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program (F2F). F2F leverages the expertise of US volunteers to respond to the needs of farmers and farmer organizations around the world. And as a third year Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) with Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) F2F Uganda program, I ensure he and others like him can do just that.

I say ‘accidentally’ because I never dreamed about becoming a PCV. When I was growing up, academics were the driving force, farming the family tradition, and volunteering an occasional undertaking. I wanted to help people, be helpful to them, and thought academics were the best way to learn how to do this. However, being the son of RPCV and teacher parents, every summer we would travel. Sometimes domestically, usually internationally, but always as budget traveler’s places with different geographies, cultures, and histories than Hawai’i. At some point I realized I was learning more from these experiences than I was at school, which led me to apply for Peace Corps in my Senior year of college.

I arrived in Uganda as an Agribusiness Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in June 2015. After training with 46 other PCV’s-to-be, I paired with NilePro Trust, a local NGO and F2F host organization in Arua, Uganda. With NilePro, I was a field supervisor for their Vegetable Oil Development Project, promoting oilseed crops (sunflower, soybean, sesame) to farmers and developing farmer groups capacity to link to markets. During my time with them, NilePro received three volunteers; two helping to develop farmer groups into cooperatives and one assessing the feasibility of a sesame processing plant with NilePro. The volunteer’s different practices, perspectives, and experiences with their assignment and in development work enhanced my own understanding of how people try to help other people.

During my first two years, my Dad and I met twice on or after a F2F assignment. The first was after his assignment in Tanzania; we trekked to the gorillas in Bwindi forest and watched lions laze in the trees of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The second was during the last week of his soil conservation assignment in Mbale, Uganda. This is the only time I have seen him in action and how much he enjoys working with farmers from a different part of the world. Making compost piles was something we were taught in Peace Corps, but conveying that message to a farmer so they understand and potentially use it is something I learned from watching him.

Near the end of my first two years, third year positions were developed by the Peace Corps country program with the goal of providing interested PCV’s the opportunity to work in international development. One of those positions was as a program officer with CRS’s F2F Uganda program. My previous, positive experiences with the program and the opportunity for professional, international development made my decision very easy. And allows me to continue the new family tradition.

Read David Ringuette’s guest blog on ACDI/VOCA’s website.

Prayers for Peru

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Peru as they endure hardships brought about by heavy rains, flooding and mudslides.

Light a candle and join us in prayer at the CRS Virtual Votive Chapel.

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There are significant needs in the Diocese of Chulucanas (Province of Piura)—made worse by the continuing rain. A local coordination body—including the local government, the diocese, local community based organizations, and private enterprise—is carrying out assessments of the nearby communities. While CRS is not working in that area, we are supporting Caritas Peru and the diocese in their response.

If you would like to support Caritas Peru through CRS, you can call 877-435-7277 (8am to 11pm Eastern), specifying that you want your donation routed to Peru flood relief, or mail a check or money order (with “Peru” in the subject line) to:

Catholic Relief Services
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, MD 21297-0303

The Visual Aids of Salvation

By The Most Rev. Thomas Wenski

Editor’s Note: At the recent meeting of the CRS Board of Directors—the USCCB-appointed group of bishops, religious, and laity tasked with governing and supporting the work of CRS—Archbishop Thomas Wenski (Miami) celebrated mass for his fellow bishops, board members and CRS staff.  What follows is his homily.  The “Charmaine” he refers to is fellow board member Charmaine Warmenhoven.

Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS

Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS

A picture speaks a thousand words—which is why, today, we are most effective when we can accompany words with images. That’s why we use PowerPoint—and incorporate photos, graphs, maps and other visuals into our presentations. Last night, at dinner, weren’t Charmaine’s words about her trip to Guatamala enhanced by the visuals? Homilies might be more effective— and certainly more interesting—if we could figure out how to effectively incorporate audio-visual resources into them. Some liturgical purists might object, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus does just that. He didn’t have laptop to project a PowerPoint presentation, but he did have miracles—they were powerful “visuals” that illustrated what he was preaching about.

Jesus talked about the Kingdom—in the miracle, there was the Kingdom breaking into the world. Well, those miracles still do happen every day in many different ways, because of Catholic Relief Services—and while I don’t say CRS makes them happen—for the glory belongs to God!—CRS is in the miracle business. Even a goat given to family—a goat that might eventually pay for a child’s schooling—is a miracle that gives glory to God.

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A Critical and Sacred Mission



New CRS President Sean Callahan holds 11 month old Siad from Kobane in Syria, as he and his refugee family cross the border from Serbia into Croatia. Photo by Andrew McConnell for CRS

New CRS President Sean Callahan carries Siad as he and his family cross the border from Serbia into Croatia. Photo by Andrew McConnell for CRS

Never has the Catholic Relief Services mission been more critical to Americans and, particularly, to American Catholics. As I assume the leadership of CRS, it is a time of great uncertainty in our country and around the world. More families than ever are displaced from their homes; there is greater and greater inequality in the global marketplace; and many of us are frightened that our lives can be irrevocably altered by a single, senseless, violent act.

And yet, remaining faithful to our mission, we have seen tremendous successes, including: significant reduction in deaths and negative economic impact from malaria in West Africa; more opportunities for families to support themselves through the creation of viable livelihoods; better capacity of local communities and organizations to respond to crises; and a real chance for people to achieve peace and reconciliation that upholds the sanctity of every human life. Read the rest of this entry »

May Blessings Overflow

Dear Friend,

Carolyn visits with children from northern Iraq in 2014, part of a population of Iraqis fleeing the onslaught of ISIS. Photo by Rawsht Twana/Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

Carolyn visits with children fleeing ISIS in northern Iraq in 2014. Photo by Rawsht Twana/Metrography for CRS

It was 5 years ago that we began this conversation, and now, this marks my last letter to you as president of Catholic Relief Services. Thank you for joining CRS to rebuild livelihoods, restore hope and make God’s promises real for many who have lost much. You have given me energy and inspiration to be worthy of our mandate, of the people God entrusts to us for our care. Thank you for making us part of your faith journey.

I have learned so much about myself in my time at CRS. As I have told you, like so many of those we serve, I was an immigrant. I came to this country from Hong Kong to attend college.

While I was raised in relative comfort, there was always uncertainty. My father battled a gambling problem, and as early as the age of 13, I knew we lived on a precarious financial foundation. It was clear I would need to provide for my parents someday. Plus, Hong Kong was going to be turned over to the Chinese by the British. We did not know what the future would bring. My siblings and nanny helped me scrape together enough money to come to the United States for 1 year of college. I did not know then that scholarships and fellowships would take care of the rest, all the way to my Ph.D.

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What Is GIS?

Photo by Carl D. Walsh for CRS

Photo by Carl D. Walsh for CRS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a system designed to allow the user to interact with geographical data, in order to better manage, learn from and present the available information.  The technology is used by CRS to make our projects more efficient and effective.

The third Wednesday in November (November 16 this year) is recognized by the National Geographic Society as GIS Day. The graphic below demonstrates CRS’ use of GIS to more effectively fulfill our mission of assisting the poor overseas.  The graphic is available as a PDF in English, Spanish, and French.
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Thanksgiving’s Heart of Gratitude

Dear Friend,

In Roche a Bateau, Haiti, where few homes remain standing after Hurricane Matthew, a woman receives food, cooking supplies and a hygiene kit from CRS. Photo by Marie Arago for CRS

In Roche a Bateau, Haiti, where few homes remain standing after Hurricane Matthew, a woman receives food, cooking supplies and a hygiene kit from CRS. Photo by Marie Arago for CRS

As I write this month, thinking about how we will gather as families across our bountiful land to give thanks for all that we have received, my desk and inbox are filled with reports about the hundreds of thousands suffering from the effects of Hurricane Matthew.

When this powerful storm ripped through Haiti’s southwest corner, it devastated a peninsula of fertile land, and many homes could not withstand the winds and storm surge. It was after a similarly destructive storm in 1954, Hurricane Hazel, that Catholic Relief Services first went into Haiti. We have been there ever since, working with the poor through our Church.

And we are there now, in your name, in solidarity with the Haitian people, just as we were in 2010 after an earthquake devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince. The recovery from Hurricane Matthew is just beginning.

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Poverty and Plenty Affect Intelligent Decisions

Dear Friend,

I recently came across a fascinating article in Harvard Magazine. Its title, “The Science of Scarcity,” sums up an emerging topic among behavioral economists, the people who study why we make the economic decisions that we do.

What they find is that when any of us are poor—indeed when we face scarcity of any kind—we tend to make bad decisions. Poverty actually lowers our IQ by limiting what these economists call our “bandwidth.” When we are consumed with the problems of poverty—like where our next meal is coming from—we have less of our brain left over to think clearly in a long term fashion.

Ibrahim Nadashi, 66 years old, participates in a reading and writing class in Ruwawuri, Nigeria. The class is helping people learn these skills so they can earn a living with dignity. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Ibrahim Nadashi, 66 years old, participates in a reading and writing class in Ruwawuri, Nigeria. The class is helping people learn these skills so they can earn a living with dignity. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Did you know that in this country high school students’ SAT scores correlate consistently with only one measurement: household income? The higher the income, the higher the score, and vice versa. Some say this shows that the wealthy can afford test prep tutors. Others say it proves that our capitalist meritocracy works, that the smart are rewarded.

But it’s clear to me that students living in poverty do not score lower because they are inherently less intelligent. They score lower because the stress of poverty robs them of their intelligence. As the article states, people aren’t poor because they sometimes make bad decisions; people sometimes make bad decisions because they are poor.

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CRS Celebrates Canonization of Friend, Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo joins Sr. Mary Prema Pierick, Superior General, Missionaries of Charity, in Rome during the canonization of long-time CRS partner Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo joins Sr. Mary Prema Pierick, Superior General, Missionaries of Charity, in Rome during the canonization of long-time CRS partner Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

On September 4, Blessed Mother Teresa became Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Catholic Relief Services had a long and warm relationship with the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, both as an organization and through personal connections with CRS staff.

Mother Teresa credited CRS with providing early assistance to the Missionaries of Charity before the order was well known. Today, CRS partners with the Missionaries of Charity around the world. For example, in Ethiopia, where the sisters have 18 homes, CRS supports their ministry by providing food, shelter and social services.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services represented the agency in Rome during the canonization of long-time CRS partner Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

“Catholic Relief Services has such close ties to Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity. We share a mission and work closely together to serve some of the world’s most vulnerable brothers and sisters. It was an honor to represent CRS in Rome during the canonization. We are privileged to work toward the vision of a peaceful, just world that Saint Teresa of Calcutta exemplifies,” Woo said.

In honor of the saint, CRS offers this book as a free download. It contains quotes from Saint Teresa of Calcutta as well as other saints.

Getting Refugee Children Back to School

Dear Friend,

Zainab, 10, (L) Ola, 12, (C) and Evine, 12, Syrian refugees from Idlib and Aleppo provinces, attend a science class at the Good Shepherd Sisters Center in Deir al Ahmar, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The Good Shepherd Sisters are supported by CRS funds. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

Syria refugees, from left, Evine, Ola and Zainab attend a science class at the Good Shepherd Sisters Center in Lebanon. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

There are many things we take for granted—water from our taps, food from the supermarket, a roof over our heads, a doctor to vaccinate our children. Yet these are often out of reach for the people served by Catholic Relief Services.

And there is another precious commodity I want to talk about this month—school.

Every September, as sure as water flows from the faucet, our children and grandchildren gripe as their vacation comes to an end and they must march into the hallways of education once again. But imagine if their school wasn’t there. Imagine if September came and went, and the school doors remained closed to our children.

The refugee crisis gripping our world makes that scenario a reality for so many children today. Millions are fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Some have left their countries. Some have sought refuge within them. I learned so much about their plight this summer—visiting refugees in Lebanon, Greece and Serbia.

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