Saturday, August 6, 2011

Paging Ben Affleck: Working Villages International is calling...

     A little good news can certainly provide some very welcome relief, particularly in the aftermath of a polarizing debt ceiling debate, reports on the scorching heat and worsening drought afflicting much of the country, and 500 point free falls on the stock market.
     So here's a story that proves one person, dedicated to his or her vision, can still make a difference.
     Alex Petroff founded Working Villages in 2006; the idea had originated as his thesis at Hampshire College in Amherst.  Rather than solve problems at the symptom level, Alex envisioned that Working Villages would address the root causes of hunger, unemployment, and violence using a developmental model that could be adjusted to almost any region in the world.  Based on Gandhian principals, Working Villages would build communities that developed local self-sufficiency through appropriate technology and small scale agriculture.
     As a result of his experiences in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alex focused on locating the project in Congo.  He hoped to provide a new life for people devastated by 8 years of warfare resulting in the deaths of over 4 million men, women, and children.  After receiving approval from both local and national governing officials, the Working Villages "model" came to life in the Ruzizi Valley, at the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika.
     Several years later, the Ruzizi Project has introduced cutting edge organic farming techniques and produced over 90 different crop varieties.  In this rich valley soil they routinely cultivate cabbages wighing 10 pounds or more and corn stalks that soar over 14 feet.  Currently, 100,000 pounds of rice are harvested each month, making WVI the largest food producer in South Kivu province.  In addition, model houses are being built in preparation for full village construction.  In order to meet these farming and construction goals, WVI now employs 625 (paid) worker.
     Recent news dispatches from Congo have reported on continuing violence--including horrific mass rape.  Yet in the midst of this adversity, Alex's vision continues to thrive as lives are saved and transformed.  The word "hero" is grossly and inappropriately tossed about in this day and age, but if Alex isn't a hero, then he's the closest I'll ever come to meeting one.  Take a look:

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