Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Help "Stuff The Bus"!!!

Remember the excitement of buying all of the new school supplies for the new school year?
Getting that new backpack, sharpening all of the pencils, writing your name on everything?

So many school age children won’t be able to go school shopping this year. So, in Florida and Georgia, Publix has teamed up with First Coast News, and the Red Cross to accept new school supplies, that will be donated to needy children along the First Coast. Donations will be accepted at all Publix through August 14th!

In Colorado, 9News has made it easy to “Stuff The Bus” by enabling you to donate online. You may also be able to drop off new school supplies at a local Walmart. You may donate by following this link:

Let’s help all of our children have a great start to the new school year, and give them the tools needed to succeed!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Children of Mali

"From here to Timbuktu", a popular statement, but do you know where Timbuktu is? Is Timbuktu even a real place? Yes, Timbuktu is a real place, where gold, salt, ivory, literature and knowledge used to be traded. Timbuktu sits on the Niger River, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, in Mali, a large Northwestern African country, about the size of California and Texas combined. Much like the US, Mali provides free public education to all children between the ages of 7-16. So why, with a population of 14.5 million people, are only 61% of the Malian children attending school, and why is the national literacy rate somewhere between 27-46%? (
Though families do not have to pay school tuition, the cost of uniforms, supplies, books, and other fees to attend school, are unattainable for many Malian families. According to about half of the population of Mali lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.
Additionally, access to schools, teachers, and supplies is limited. Especially in Mali's northern regions. Situated in the Sahara Desert, the climate is harsh and water is scarce. The nearly 1.5 million people occupying these lands are primarily nomadic. They regularly move from one location to another, in search of food and water for their families and livestock. Often the children of these nomadic families are constantly on the go as well as working in order to help care for their families. Constructing, staffing and supplying a permanent school can be problematic in such an environment. Considering the circumstance, would children even be able to attend school if there was one?
There are organizations who are trying to make a difference. One such organization, Build a School in Africa ( Build a School in Africa has built at least 7 schools in Mali since 2005. Their goal is to build 1 school per year. According to their web site, they can get a middle school large enough to accommodate 200 children built for only $30,000. Mali needs more organizations, or at the very least, more people to care about its people, to help provide a basic education. In America, we don't even thing about not having an education. Kids complain daily about having to get up and go to school, and the children in Mali be to go to school, but many can't.
Information for this article was obtained through the following web sites:

Friday, May 6, 2011

What It's Like to Be a Homeless Mother

Mother’s day affords us the opportunity to reflect on, and appreciate, all the hard work and sacrifices mothers make for the sake of their children. What does a mother do, however, when she finds herself homeless? The following article published in August 2010 on offers a powerful glimpse into life as a homeless mother. Click the link below for the full text. It is an incredibly powerful and moving story.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Farm Worker Housing in California

A great story from National Public Radio’s Housing First Special Report on migrant worker housing (originally broadcast in 2003) can be found at:

It paints a vivid picture of the conditions migrant workers face and some of the initiatives that were trying to improve those conditions. It is important to note that inadequate housing is reality faced by many migrant workers both foreign and American born.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Migrant Farm Workers: Feeding the World While Going Hungry

Have you ever trolled the colorful booths of your local farmer’s market, or sat down to enjoy a leafy salad, and wondered how all that horticultural goodness got there? From the nut orchards of the San Joaquin Valley in California to the endless corn rows of the Midwest to the sweet smelling orange groves of central Florida, millions of laborers work hard to keep our plates full and our stomachs happy.

The hands that plant and harvest the food that we consume everyday are rough, and the lives of the millions of migrant farm workers that work the approximately 406 million acres of cropland across the US can be hard.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture conducted by US Department of Agriculture, American farms sold nearly $297 billion in farm products and employed over 2.6 million laborers. Many of them were migrant workers.

The term “migrant farm worker” can be applied to those that who move often within a yearly period, for employment purposes. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known.” explains Terrance a farm worker whose life is shaped by the crops in season, “Each year starts in Florida. We do cabbage. Then we move up to Virginia and Delaware for potatoes.”

The BOCES Geneseo Migrant Center reports that nearly 80% of migrant farm workers are men who, like Terrance, often must leave their families behind while they seek work. Terrance spends long hours in the field to earn money to support his 14-year old daughter and 4-year old son, which is difficult when half of all migrant farm workers earn less than $7,500 per year.

The Florida Department of Health reports that 150,000 to 200,000 migrant and seasonal farm workers, like Terrance, and their families annually travel and work in Florida. Typically, these laborers will work for a farm boss who contracts them out to plant or harvest for farm owners in the surrounding area. The farm owner pays the farm boss who takes a cut before paying the farm worker.

Often, migrant workers are housed in barrack like buildings adjacent to the fields they work. These barracks can be filled with men floor to ceiling during the peak of a harvest. At least one of the barracks we visited while researching this story had holes in the roof. The Florida Association of Farm workers Reports that a 2001 housing study conducted by the National Center for Farmworker Health found that 22% of farm worker housing units had serious structural problems, and 26% of the units were directly adjacent to pesticide-treated fields. The same study also found that 29% of farm workers paid more than 30% of their income for housing.

“We’re only fed once, sometimes twice, a day” explained Terrance. “You get hungry working the field. I gotta pay for the roof over my head and support my family. Where am I gonna get money to eat.” Food and housing, however, are not the only expenses that drain farm worker pockets. They must also pay for the boots, gloves, and clothing necessary for their line of work. More often than not, however, these luxuries cannot be afforded. Many of the farm workers housed in the barracks where we met Terrance wore clothes that were in tatters and had to slog through the fields in boots with holes.

This is a common circumstance for many migrant workers. Like Terrance, they have been working the farms from childhood. Often they leave school to do so. “I’ve gotta do something different. I need to make a change,” he expressed. With no money and living so rurally, this will be difficult for Terrance.

Sadly, education and alternative employment opportunities are not the only things beyond the reach of most migrant farm workers. Hard physical labor, dangerous equipment, and pesticide exposure make agriculture one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States. According to the National Advisory Council on Migrant Health, migrant health centers provide accessible care for farm workers, but existing centers have the capacity to serve fewer than 20% of the nation’s farm workers.

Living out their lives in parts of the country many of us will never see, these men and women remain invisible to most as they toil under the heat of the sun. There are organizations, however, that are serving these laborers that help feed the world. United Farm Workers ( advocates for farmworkers and serves to broaden awareness of issues surrounding migrant labor. The Farmworker Association of Florida ( is an organization committed to challenging and transforming the well-established systems that maintain farm workers and the rural poor in situations of poverty, exploitation, and powerlessness. Student Action with Farmworkers ( brings students and farm workers together to learn about each other’s lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farm workers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change; and Migrant Health Promotion ( builds on community strengths to improve health in farm worker and border communities.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When is Someone Worthy of a Home?

Though I am not quite sure where I first learned it, I recall from my youth that both food and clothing were basic human rights and should never be withheld from someone in need.  In other words, food and clothing should never be used as “weapons.”  What I always understood this to mean is that, as a basic human right, these should never be used to influence or coerce a behavior or opinion. It always seemed odd to me that shelter was not regularly discussed as one of these basic human rights.  As I grew older, and began a career in community development and social services, I found that this was exactly the case - that while food and clothing were basic rights, housing was something that people often had to work for, or in a sense, become “worthy” to have. 

There is a model that was common about 10 years ago and remains at the core of social services in many communities today.  It begins with meeting someone who is living outside, on the street, or in some place not designed for someone to live.  This person is invited into an emergency shelter where their immediate needs (food, medical care, clothing) are assessed and they are provided with all of these basic needs for the immediate time being.  After a few days or weeks, services begin to focus on long-term stability and tackling the barriers that keep this person from being self-sufficient, including medical issues, addiction, mental health, and/or employment (or under-employment). 

As these services are offered, this individual might move into housing that is not an emergency shelter, but into other temporary or transitional shelters. The housing location might change two or more times as this person becomes ever more prepared to move in to a place that they can call their own, whether that be an apartment or small home. 

At any point during this process, however, housing can be revoked for behavioral issues associated with a mental illness and/or relapse of an addiction and the person will find themselves back at the bottom of the ladder. In this way, many find themselves caught in a continuous loop until they are finally able to overcome all of the barriers that face them.  In this model, housing is not a right, but instead used as an incentive, and often as a weapon that can be held against an individual and lost at any vulnerable moment.

About 9 years ago I moved to Asheville, NC, and began working for a small non-profit that sought out to seek out the core barriers, and develop workable solutions, to someone having sustainable housing.  During my time at Homeward Bound of Asheville, Inc., I became more familiar with a model called “Housing First/Housing Plus”, a services model that many communities are adopting.  In this model, housing is not used as a “weapon” but instead recognizes it as the first and most important facet to someone obtaining stability and self-sufficiency.  It recognizes that as long as the individual does not have a permanent address and a consistent and safe place to keep their medicines, important belongings (including photo identification, paperwork, clothes, etc.) they remain in a suspended state and are much more likely to re-lapse or fall back into the old habits or behaviors that first resulted in homelessness. 

In this model, a person is moved directly into stable permanent housing after their immediate needs have been met. Once in housing (subsidized by public funds or grants), a care team designed to meet the specific needs of that individual is put together and services are provided to them in that housing unit. The team visits on a regular basis and serves that person in their home, where they have a bed, a closet, a medicine cabinet, and a safe location to keep items.  They never go to bed at night wondering how long it will be theirs, and if a relapse or behavior issue arises, the housing is not taken away from them. Instead, the care plan put forth by the team adjusts to better suit their needs. 

Many communities have noted drastic decreases in the number of people seeking emergency room visits and being arrested by local police once participating in a Housing First; and the costs saved by reduced emergency and law enforcement expenses often outweigh the costs associated with publicly subsidized housing. It is my hope that many more cities will begin to investigate the possibility of serving their communities with this type of program, and begin to recognize housing as a basic human right, and not something that a person has to show worthiness in order to attain.

More information about these statistics and model Housing First Programs can be found on a website, Homeward Bound of Asheville has a website at

By Missing Petal Contributor Kenneth Kidd

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Genetically Altered Fungus Designed to Attack Malaria in Mosquitoes

Click the headline above to read a fascinating article published on the Scientific American blog by Francie Diep about combating malaria by using a protein found in scorpions to genetically alter a fungus that dramatically reduces the number of malarial cells found in carrier mosquitoes. According to the article:

The most effective treatment combined two types of the transgenic fungi. Only 25 percent of the mosquitoes treated with both the scorpine-enhanced fungus and the [SM1]8/scorpine-enhanced fungus carried malarial cells after treatment, compared to 94 percent of untreated mosquitoes. The treated mosquitoes that did still carry infectious cells showed a 98 percent reduction in Plasmodium falciparum in their bodies.