Pioneering Program Combines Family Planning With Community Assistance
"Guinea pigs are a good source of protein, and they take up very little
raise," explains Annette Souder.
Souder, Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program director,
rank guinea pig high on her personal list of food preferences, was joined
last August by a dozen Sierra Club population activists on a 10-day trip
including a visit to Bolivar Province, where a pioneering family planning
program has been established in several rural Andean villages.
The program is a joint venture of World Neighbors, an Oklahoma-based organization
that promotes sustainable agriculture, and CEMOPLAF, an Ecuadoran organization
that provides health care and agricultural assistance to rural communities. It
combines family planning with agricultural and health care assistance to the
One of the major problems afflicting rural Andean communities is chronic
the recommendation that guinea pigs (for protein) and swiss chard (for vitamin
A) be incorporated into people’s diets. Many villagers are learning
for the first time that some vegetables provide more nutrition than others.
Past efforts to promote family planning in the region had largely failed. When
family planning was offered by itself, people tended to be suspicious of it and
stay away. But when family planning services are combined with other community
assistance, people are much more likely to participate.
"The way we’ve been able to get the confidence of the community is
and animal husbandry, because that’s where their income is," says
Julio Beingolea, an Ecuadoran who works for World Neighbors. "I talk
about the need to space the corn for a healthy crop and can use that same
with regard to children."
Birth rates in Ecuador remain high—the country’s population density
is the highest in Latin America—and extreme poverty is the norm in the
Andean highlands, where more than three-quarters of indigenous children ages
3 to 5 years suffer from malnutrition. In Bolivar Province, widespread deforestation
is a bleak reminder of the indigenous population’s impoverishment.
"Still," says trip participant Gayle Loeffler, "it was clear that
the integrated approach is reducing starvation and alleviating pressures on the
through reduced birth rates and the use of sustainable agriculture. I told Annette
early in the trip that even if we went home tomorrow, what I’ve seen
here has changed my life forever."
"It really demonstrates the wisdom of John Muir’s words when he described
how everything in the universe is hitched together," says Todd Daniel, another
Sierran on the expedition. "This program provides a total package
for the well-being of the women, the children, the family, and the community."
The Sierra Club group traveled by bus to several of the communities where
the integrated program is in place, accompanied by World Neighbors’ executive
director Ron Burkhardt and a local leader of CEMOPLAF. "We were able to
observe first-hand what works and what doesn’t work." says Ned Grossnickle,
chair of the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program Committee. "The
results were striking."
Grossnickle says the simple act of communicating with people and asking
what their needs are establishes a strong level of trust that makes
a world of
integrated approach has resulted in smaller families, greater crop
yield per acre, reduced poverty, and less environmental degradation
than in the program
that offered just health care," he says. "And spacing the
births of children and having fewer children per family isn’t
just healthier for the mothers, it allows families to raise enough
food to sell at market
than struggle just feed their own families."
"Plus," adds Ramona Rex, another Club activist on the trip, "the
program has been set up so that local volunteers get the skills to
continue the health
and agriculture programs that are so beneficial to their communities."
Unfortunately, the Bush administration has eliminated badly needed
funding for the United Nations Population Fund, and imposed restrictions
on the U.S. Agency
for International Development, resulting in less funding for critically
needed programs. The Sierra Club is uniting in a major effort to make
the Bush administration
more responsive to environmental challenges.
"Our job as Sierra Club population activists is to educate others about
the dangers of overpopulation and advocate for the programs that can reduce the
human ‘footprint’ on
the earth," Ramona Rex says. "There’s no question
that one of the most effective ways to slow population growth is
planning services to all who want them."
"This trip showed all of us the extreme importance of international family
Todd Daniel. "Coming back to the U.S. and educating our elected
officials and the public about what we saw in Ecuador is really what
this trip was
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