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Bamboo Farming Update

December 20th, 2015

In 2014, Visions for Villages initiated a bamboo farming pilot program to help families in this community with a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle. We plan to add more families to this program over the next 2-3 years.

Funds were provided for bamboo seedlings to be planted on one acre of land per family.

As you can see, the baby bamboo plants are growing quite well.
It takes a minimum of three years before the first bamboo crop can be harvested in this area.

We have included an additional picture of some products that are currently being made with bamboo by families in this community to help support themselves. Our long term plan is to bring some of their products to the international market. (Photos courtesy of Kong Daai Diengdoh, the agricultural officer in Meghalaya, India who is helping us with our projects).

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A Message of Thankfulness

December 2nd, 2014

We are truly thankful and blessed. Together with our village communities, Visions for Villages would like to extend our deepest gratitude and thanks to all of you who have supported our projects in 2014.

Because of your generosity and your compassion for others in need, you have made a significant and positive difference to the lives of so many families.

Additionally, we would like to thank the following people from the Government of Meghalaya for their critical role in helping Visions for Villages with the successful implementation of our projects.

  1. Mr. Pochister Kharkongor – IAS Officer and Principal Secretary, Govt of Meghalaya
  2. Mr. Clement Kharkongor – Joint Director of Agriculture
  3. Mr. W. Narry – Officer and Civil Engineer, Dept of Agriculture
  4. Ms. D. Sohtun – Officer. Dept of Agriculture
  5. Ms. Daai Diengdoh – Officer, Dept of Agriculture

Please enjoy the updates and pictures of the projects we were involved in below…

Jan – Feb 2014 – Bathrooms for Lumkyntung School

The village community has been busy building urgently needed bathrooms for their village school.

Four bathrooms have been completed, with a brand new, properly designed, septic tank. Now both the girls and boys each have two long-term, functional and sanitary bathrooms.

Consolidated Bathroom3March 2014 – A Fence for Safety

A fence has been completed between the school premises and the organic fish ponds which are near the school – this was a concern and safety issue for the children.

April 2014 – Bamboo Farm

Visions for Villages initiated a pilot program of bamboo farming for four families, to help them on the road to self-sustainability.

Funds were provided for bamboo seedlings to be planted on one acre of land per family.

It takes three years before the first bamboo crop can be harvested. This bamboo will be used in making essential items that are sold in the local markets for these families.

Below are some products that are currently being made with bamboo by these families to help support themselves. Our long term plan is to help bring some of their products to the international market.

Bamboo

May 2014 – A new cottage

Upon the recommendation of Mr. Clement Kharkongor, our government liaison helping us with our projects in Meghalaya, it was determined that the first house should be built for the village headman and his family.

Old House

A new home, scheduled for completion by Nov 2014, will provide him and his family shelter from the massive rains that this area gets every year.

Labor for this house will be provided by the village community under the guidance of Mr. Narry.

June 2014 – Visitors from the USA

In June 2014, some of our donors and family members were able to visit both the Lumkyntung and Mawthawtieng communities as we wrapped up the old projects and initiated the new.

Our first stop was Mawthawtieng Village

This was an exciting adventure as we all set out in a convoy of 4-wheel jeeps on narrow mountain roads and hair-splitting curves to the beautiful, remote location of Mawthawtieng, aptly translated as “Rocks which create fear”.

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Because it was the monsoon season, the road to Mawthawtieng was foggy for much of the 45 min drive (a blessing as this prevented us from seeing how deep these ravines really dipped down from our tiny little paved road).

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When we got to Mawthawtieng, we met with the village folks in their tiny little schoolhouse that was precariously built on the edge of a mountain, to discuss the progress of our projects.

Foggy Schoolhouse

We were also able to see the beginning stages of the cottage that was being built for this family (below).

Family

Next we went to Lumkyntung School to wrap up our work there and to celebrate the projects we have completed together within the last three years (summarized below):

1. Building first floor of Lumkyntung School (Completed 2011)

Year12. Building second floor of Lumkyntung School (Completed 2012)

Year23. Salary for additional teacher for growing student body (Completed 2012)

4. Sustainability program (fish seedlings for organic fishponds) to support future teacher salaries. This is an ongoing revenue growth via organic fishponds (Completed 2013)

5. Four bathrooms for the school (Completed 2014)

6. Fencing around the perimeter of the school (Completed 2014)

During or work here, we were also able to provide warm clothing, school supplies, sports equipment and indoor board games for the school. We also provided gift bags filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and many other items that we felt would be appreciated and used by the children. 

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We are really sad to say goodbye to Lumkyntung as we have grown to love both the adults and the children in this lovely little community. They will always hold a special place in our hearts as this was the first village we worked with in this region.

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Our last visit of the day was to Grace Orphanage on the outskirts of the town of Shillong with approx 20 orphans ranging in age from 6 years to 14 years of age. These kids were so sweet and precious and we really enjoyed hearing the lovely songs they sang for us.

They were so appreciative of the small gifts we gave them. Wish we could have done more…

Stuft Animals

 

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One of the local ladies who went with us was very touched by this little place and these children and mentioned that she wanted to be involved and help them in the future. We are so glad that she was able to join us on that visit that day. Who knows how many lives she will be making a positive difference to. God is truly amazing in how He connects people. 

July – Aug 2014 – Cottage walls go up

While Visions for Villages is providing the funds for the materials, the village residents work together as a team and provide free labor to help this family build a new home.

Wet and Rainy Construction

Sept – Oct 2014 – Heavy Monsoons

Cottage is almost done. The months of May through Sept are heavy monsoon months of torrential rain, so the work gets done when the weather permits.

Nov – Dec 2014 – Family gets a new home

With the exception of final touches of paint and cleanup, the cottage for this family is done.

Our thanks to the engineer Mr. Narry, for his planning and supervision of this construction, to Ms. Daai for her visits and status updates to us, and to the village residents for working together to help build this home.

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In Conclusion:

Paying it Forward is a concept we feel very strongly about and we teach and promote it with all our projects. We believe it has the potential for a wonderful ripple effect that can change many lives for the better.  

We have been providing these cards with this message to all the people in the communities we have been working with.

In English…

Front

And in the back of the card, in the local Khasi language…

Back

Once again, thank you for making a difference to the people in these villages.

In alignment with our vision and mission, we will continue to collaborate with, and empower these communities, so they can live a thriving and more abundant life.

Thank you and God Bless You from all of us at Visions for Villages, Inc.


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Year End Project Summary

December 1st, 2013

Thank you from our communities!

2013 has been a very good year for the projects that Visions for Villages has been involved in as we have been able to work with the village community to complete the following:

1. Sustainability Program

  • As mentioned in our previous post “Teach a Man to Fish“, Visions for Villages helped a community purchase and release 330 pounds of fish (underlings) into two fishponds to help generate income to pay for teacher salaries and other expenses for the Lumkyntung school as needed.
  • According to reports from our project liaison in India, in the past five months, the village has generated enough net profit from this investment to pay for approx 70% of the 2014 salary of a new teacher they hired for the school.
  • Additionally, they are anticipating healthy profits for 2014, with plans to reinvest some of the funds towards more underlings so as to increase the fish population for ongoing growth to their revenue stream.

2. School bathrooms – we have completed the building of a boys and a girls bathroom for the school.

3. School fence – our Oct 2013 Tea Party fundraiser generated enough funds towards a fence for the school and a small playground for the students.

We are so very grateful to you – our donors. Without your generosity and compassion for these communities and their needs, and your support for the projects we are working on, none of this would be possible.

So THANK YOU for making a difference and helping this world to be a better place and for providing more opportunities for those less fortunate. 

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A Fun-Filled Garden Afternoon Tea…

October 21st, 2013

On Oct 6, Visions for Villages had a Frilly Frocks and Hats Charity Tea to raise funds for a fence for the Lumkyntung school.

It was in a private home, in a garden setting where 34 women from three different meetup groups – the South Bay Women’s Social Group, the Silicon Valley Women’s Social Group and the Unstoppable Women of Silicon Valley, as well as some additional ladies outside the meetup groups – ate delicious food, drank tea and visited with each other.

It was a very lovely afternoon of  fabulous hats, beautiful dresses,  and stylish women – what a fun afternoon it was! AND we raised enough for the fence and additional funds towards a playground for the school.

As I had said in one of my facebook posts, I am continually amazed by the kindness of people, their giving hearts and an overall goodness and goodwill which continually surrounds us. 

In my next post I will share 3 Delicious Tea Sandwich Recipes you can use at your next get-together with your friends – guaranteed to please!

 

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Sustainability Plan Success

August 25th, 2013

It appears our Teach a Man to Fish plan is working! 

Earlier this year, our village released 320 pounds of fish into the fishponds to help seed the ponds that Visions for Villages helped build to bring additional revenue for the village . The ultimate plan for this revenue is to help pay the wages for additional teachers for the school as it grows.  

Well, I just received word back from Bah Clement, our Government agent and liaison in India who is helping us manage this project, that as of mid August the village has raised over INR 27,000 (Indian rupees) in income related to these fish ponds.

This is very encouraging as this amount has already surpassed over half the amount Visions for Villages donated towards this project (we donated INR 50,000 to seed the ponds with fish). 

What we are also building is a girl’s and boy’s bathroom for the Lumkyntung village school. Currently they have no bathroom facilities as the previous makeshift bathroom has ceased to work. 

Once again, we are very grateful to our generous donors for making a difference to this community and these children! THANK YOU!!!

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Teach a Man to Fish…

June 27th, 2013

While I was in India recently on personal business, I was also able to meet with some members of the Lumkyntung village council to discuss the completion of our final year of working with them (in 2014 we will be starting our next project at another village about 30 miles away). 

Thanks to the generosity of our kind donors, Visions for Villages will be able to complete the following in 2013:

  1. Help with salary for a new teacher who was hired for the 2013 school year as student body grew with the addition of new classrooms. 

  2. Self-sustainability program for the village. This program involves two organic fish ponds which will help this village community pay for ongoing teacher salaries as the school and student body grows.

  3. Construction of one girls toilet and one boys toilet at the school.

  4. Fencing around the Lumkyntung school premises.

  5. Playground for school which includes some swings and slides as the children currently have no playground. 

Here are some pictures of the fish ponds, during construction and  after they are filled with water and ready for the fish to be released. Visions for Villages is working directly with the Agricultural department of the Government of Meghalaya and the village community, to ensure that the proper process and training is being done to ensure the success of these fish ponds. 

On June 13th, over 320 pounds of various fish were released into the completed ponds. The village council on this project will be setting aside a percentage of the profits to purchase additional fish to supplement what has been marketed, and a percentage will go towards the salaries for teachers for the school.

It did not start out this way with a plan for community fish ponds, but as it turns out, after consulting with the local agricultural department, the farmers and other members of this community, this is one of the best sustainability plans for these communities, as demand for fish exceeds supply in this region according to the Times of India.

And we are literally practicing the old Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”. 

It is so rewarding to work with these villages, to see that what we are doing is truly making a positive difference to their lives. So thank you again for your continous support and encouragement. May you be blessed for being such a blessing to others. 

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In Loving Memory

June 25th, 2013

A Message from Connie Umbenhower, Founder, Visions for Villages, Inc:

I have some sad news.

A champion of our projects and someone who loved the children of Lumkyntung school, someone very near and dear to me – my mom – passed away earlier this month.

I have been in India since April and have just returned recently and this blog post is to honor her for her contribution to Visions for Villages.

My mother’s Role within Visions for Villages:

Since I live in the USA and my mother had a lifestyle of living six months in India and six months in the USA, she assisted by playing an informal yet critical role in Visions for Villages. She started initially with a visit to our first village in the Lumkyntung  community of  Meghalaya, India to do a preliminary determination of their needs.

She continued her involvement until the last few months of her life, to ensure that the needs of the village were being met and were in alignment with the vision and mission of the company.

Her last interaction with this community:

I would like to share with you her last interaction with this community – her closing prayer during the November 2012 inauguration of the second floor addition to the school. During this prayer, she asked God to provide wisdom for the teachers and help for the students so they may thrive and grow not only in wisdom but in honor and integrity. She also prayed that the students would remember as they grow up and are able to, to reach out in kindness and be a blessing to others.

She Made a Difference:

One of the school teachers paid a great tribute to my mother at her funeral. He stated that not only had my family lost a treasured mother, but the Lumkyntung village community felt that loss deeply.  He stated that she will always be remembered for her kindness and her dedication in helping to improve the school, so their children can have a better education and ultimately, a better life.

She leaves Visions for Villages her legacy of love, memories of her gentle kindness, her giving spirit and her compassion for others less fortunate.  She will be greatly missed.

P.S. Please enjoy a few pictures below of my mother during the various building phases of our village school.

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7 Facts for Parents on Reading

March 12th, 2013

I love to read. However as a child growing up in India, I did not have the luxury of just walking into a bookstore and selecting a story book for purchase – they were usually very expensive and a luxury to own. 

Of course I had all my school books because those were necessary, but not the beautiful, colorful story books I saw on store shelves such as Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, or The Secret Garden, to name just a few that I would have loved to own.

But I was very fortunate because one of the schools I attended did have a small library and students were allowed to check out a book a week and I loved doing that.

To this day, I still fondly remember a series of  mystery books about a group of children exploring caves near the ocean and the dangers of pirates lurking about – I felt as if I was right there with them! I am not sure who that author was but he/she was very imaginative and but I just loved those books. I was also able to borrow and exchange books with many of my friends so I never felt deprived of reading material growing up,

Because Visions for Villages has projects on educating children, I wanted to do a blog post on reading so I did some research and found interesting statistics which I would like to share with you from scholastic.com’s 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report,

Did you know that:

  1. Despite the fact that infancy is a crucial time for establishing language skills, only about half of all children were read to at home prior to age one.
  2. Reading frequency declines after age 8. Girls are more likely to read more often, than boys.
  3. Mom is the top source for book suggestions for kids age 5-11, and friends are most influential among kids age 12-17, who also turn to the Internet.
  4. Kids like choosing their own books  — 89% say their favorite books are the ones they picked out themselves.
  5. Parents who are high frequency readers (read for fun daily) are six times more likely than low frequency parents to have children who also read for fun daily.
  6. Three in four Harry Potter readers say reading Harry Potter has made them more interested in reading other books – and parents agree.
  7. Two-thirds of kids say they do better in school since reading Harry Potter and their parents agree. 

What are some of your experiences with reading as a child? Did you have any favorite books? How do you feel your reading experiences affected you as a child growing up? As an adult?

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Adventure with a Purpose

March 5th, 2013

Recently, I took a necessary road trip and almost reached the limit of my normally adventurous spirit.

I was in a jeep traveling with my sister and some friends on a steep mountain road which seemed to get narrower and narrower – a seemingly endless windy road with multiple hairpin curves and gorges so deep, one literally could not see the bottom. Guard rails on most sections of this road were practically non-existent!

After a somewhat hair-raising two hours, we finally arrived in Khadarshnong – the village for our next project in Meghalaya, India.

As our jeep stopped midway up the mountain, we then climbed (huffing and puffing!) to the top to meet the village elders at their little school to discuss the needs of this community and what we can do to help.

As we stopped halfway up, breathing in pristine, fresh, clean air, enjoying views of lovely misty mountains in these Himalayan foothills, we felt as if we were standing almost on top of the world.

However, in such a beautiful world we also saw extreme hardship. Many of the people lived in very tiny homes which housed their entire families, earning small and sporadic income, mainly from farming and small livestock.

More importantly for four months out of the year this community has extremely limited access to one of the most basic things we take for granted – water!

Between December and April, this area gets just enough water to drink from the two wells they have in this community, and the villagers have to walk about one and a half hours to the nearest water source to fetch water for bathing, sanitation and other general usage.

We believe we can make a difference to this community, and are currently doing a more in-depth assessment of enhanced water availability through the harnessing of rainwater, conserving greenery around the existing water sources as well as some other possibilities.

We appreciate all the help our donors have given for our projects  – a little bit goes a long ways in this area and we are very excited to be involved in this new project.

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Serving a Global Community

February 9th, 2013

I want to share with my readers a recent experience I had in rural India.

Visions for Villages is not affiliated with any religious organization, and we provide our services to communities independent of their religious beliefs. But in 2012, we shared common ground with a local group from my home church – the Sunnyvale Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Although not involved in any acitivities associated with Visions for Villages, this church chose to serve another small, rural village called Mawpun, in the same region of Meghalaya, India.

I am originally from Meghalaya and I had the honor of helping to coordinate and participate in this project with the teams from the U.S. and India, and I personally witnessed the loving and generous spirit of both teams.

Some highlights of the events in Mawpun during the course of our visit were:

  • The hosting of a medical camp where local doctors and a dentist from the surrounding areas volunteered their services over a two-day period to help the village. These doctors worked tirelessly and saw about 700 patients over two days, averaging over 110 patients per doctor per day!
  • Prescription medicines were arranged by our team in India, and provided at no cost to the village residents who came for medical help. This was very much appreciated as medication is prohibitively expensive and would have caused the villagers undue hardship to purchase. 

  • Donated prescription eyeglasses were provided on a first-come, first-served basis. People flocked to take advantage of this service and the number of glasses allocated per day for distribution were gone within the first few hours. 

  • The U.S. team presented health seminars in tandem with the medical camp, teaching adults and children alike about the health hazards of alcohol and tobacco, as well as principles of cleanliness and healthy living.

  • Local government officials from the agriculture and horticulture departments visited for a question-and-answer session with the residents of the village. Discussions included how to optimize the cultivation of paddy, ginger, pineapple, potatoes, carrots and more, as well as how to improve their current pest control processes. As a result of this discourse, the villagers were given a point of contact for future issues and questions. Additionally, the local agricultural department will be providing special hybrid peach trees to these residents, free of charge, to help them bring in additional revenue for their families.

  • The team also fund-raised for the building of a small parsonage which will better enable the pastor of the Mawpun church to continue to serve the community.

  • Each household in the village received a warm blanket and a new Bible in the local language. (This region already has a high Christian population so the new Bibles were much appreciated).

We have received much feedback from the region, and clearly the services provided left an impression of goodwill on the community. This is because the services were given with love and respect for the local people, and without expectations.

Additionally, I cannot say enough of the local team in India who were involved with this project. Some of them spent the cold November nights sleeping on the cement floors of the small Mawpun church, guarding the medicines and supplies that were being stored for the medical camp.

Everyone literally poured out their time and effort on this village, many at considerable hardship to themselves and their families.

As for the other team members and myself, we were blessed by this experience because we truly connected with the local people, and fell in love with them in a way that we never expected.

At the same time we saw the love of God manifested repeatedly through the graciousness and goodness of both the people who were helped, and those involved in carrying out this project. 

I would like to conclude with a favorite quote by Mother Teresa:

“The success of love is in the loving – it is not the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done.”

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