$1 million donation from Mid-Columbia group to help famine victims

PRESCOTT -- Victims of drought and famine in east Africa will be receiving some emergency relief, thanks to a $1 million donation from the Vista Hermosa Foundation of Prescott.

The foundation, which distributes profits generated by Broetje Orchards, announced this week a $1 million donation split evenly between World Vision and Catholic Relief Services.

The Horn of Africa is undergoing the worst famine and drought in 60 years, said Suzanne Broetje, Vista Hermosa Foundation executive director.

The foundation already partners with World Vision around the world and Catholic Relief Services, mostly with drought resistance and agricultural development in Mexico and India, Broetje said.

Both organizations have long-standing partners in the affected countries that will allow the funding to be used almost instantly, she said.

The $1 million donation is the largest the foundation has awarded at one time for this type of emergency relief work, Broetje said.

The situation has reached a critical point with the drought and famine, where more needs to be done to keep people alive until the next rains come in October, Broetje said. The effort now is to get people in tents and provide them with water, sanitation and food.

The nonprofits are focusing on the three hardest-hit countries -- Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, she said. People have been fleeing from Somalia to Kenya and Ethiopia.

World Vision is providing water, food and nutritional supplements and is drilling boreholes, fixing wells, adding irrigation systems and distributing drought-resistant crops, according to a news release. The goal is to serve about 2 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Catholic Relief Services is helping about 1 million people in the region with food, water and sanitation programs.

When a crisis like this hits, farmers are at risk of losing their land and families of being displaced in search of food, Broetje said.

But some communities in the area where the foundation has been supporting water and sustainable agriculture projects actually have weathered the drought fairly well.

In those communities, crops were better than the previous year and farmers were able to store more food and earn more income, Broetje said.

They are not the communities that are especially suffering right now, she said. And that's encouraging because it shows efforts to help the communities become self sufficient are working.

Lemayian Ole Tavo, the project officer for one of the water projects in Kenya, told the Herald in February when he visited the Tri-Cities that he has been teaching families how to conserve water, such as re-using cooking and washing water on a small vegetable garden.

The project, supported by the Methodist Church of Kenya, constructed a pipe in 2009 to bring water 3 kilometers away from the 60 Maasai families who live in and near the villages of Iseuri and Mabatini. Previously, the trip to retrieve water had been 30 kilometers, Ole Tavo told the Herald.

Broetje said their goal is is to help build self-sustaining communities. Most of that work has been in Kenya, India, Mexico and Haiti. In Kenya, the foundation has supported water and sustainable agriculture projects in rural communities.

"As farmers, I think that's what just resonates well with us," she said.

Most farmers can't make a living from the land and are in constant risk of losing their land and having to move to a city, where they will likely end up in slums, Broetje said.

The Center for Sharing provides servant leadership training as part of the effort. Servant leadership is a way of leading by serving others. Then, a community can stand together to address basic needs, Broetje said. Otherwise the foundation could spend every dime it has and never solve the problem.

Broetje and her mom, Cheryl Broetje, plan to go to Kenya next month to meet with Catholic Relief Services and local partners.

Broetje said the foundation doesn't just write checks. It wants to be part of what is going on in the community it is helping.

In the Horn of Africa, the problem has been unfolding for years, and some areas have not had consistent rainfall in a decade, Broetje said.

It's easy to feel the need to respond when a crisis hits, Broetje said. But ongoing support will be needed for the region to withstand droughts in the future.

"It's a very fixable problem," she said. "This shouldn't be happening."