Sustainable Development

On a Firm Foundation

HILDA DE BOJORQUEZ holds a set of blueprints in one hand. Her other hand is pointing. At a better future, perhaps, if things go well.

De Bojorquez is the chief engineer at this construction site in a neighborhood just outside Port-au-Prince still blemished with rubble from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She commands respect from the all-male crew of Haitians working at the site—she tells a group of visiting U.S. reporters that her gender has never been an issue in the male-dominated world of construction, here or in her native El Salvador.

When asked about obstacles on the project, De Bojorquez goes on for 15 minutes—she’s an engineer, after all—but the point is that they’ve tackled them, one by one, and done so the right way. She extols the importance of a solid foundation and robust retaining walls. She points to the cinder blocks and the rebar, and explains how her group had to teach a company how to provide high-quality materials, with the promise that they’d buy everything the company made. And she emphasizes that she’s there not just to oversee a number of construction projects, but to train Haitians to do it themselves the next time—and to do it right.

The steel-reinforced blocks are rising into walls that will surround a new six-room school for perhaps 200 children in this neighborhood four miles east of Port-au-Prince. The narrow site is wedged between two crumbling buildings, both showing earthquake damage. Even to an untrained eye, the differences are obvious between the fragile, deteriorating blocks next door and the solid retaining walls rising at our feet.

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'Testifying to the Truth': EPA Testimonies (Part Two)

Peter Adriance, Representative for Sustainable Development, Baha’is gives testimony to the EPA. Photo:Joey Longley/Sojourners

As President Obama has pointed out, the climate issue is not only a technical one. In his words, “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” We in the faith community would, of course, agree. But it is not only future generations that will bear the impacts of climate change. They are being felt now, most intensely by those populations around the world who are least able to cope with them. We must act with great conviction and haste to move toward solutions.

The central principle of the Bahá'í Faith is the oneness of humankind. This principle has deep implications for policy in many arenas. It should guide us to seek solutions that are equitable and just, treating all people as members of one human family. I believe that to be effective, the carbon standards established by EPA over the next several months must be animated by this foundational principle.

Nuts and Bolts

On a trip to Mali, Jock Brandis was asked by women he met in rural villages to send them a simple, cost-effective nut-sheller to aid their ground-nut business. It turned out that the “holy grail of sustainable agriculture” didn’t exist, so he built one. The Universal Nut Sheller costs $28 to make and has raised village incomes by an estimated 20 percent. Brandis’ organization, the Full Belly Project, has placed machines in 17 countries, created similar machines for other nuts, and trains folks to locally manufacture and distribute them.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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Cordwood and Community

In nearly 30 years together, neither Linda nor I had built a shelf or a box without something being crooked. How did we talk ourselves into building a cordwood and straw bale cottage? The answers boil down to the twin goals of building community and committing ourselves to live lightly on the earth. Wood for the posts and cordwood walls came from the surrounding land, the straw bales from a local family farm. Scrap sawdust—mixed with lime to keep the critters out—and fireproofed recycled blue jeans serve as insulation. We’ve planted a living roof (that includes 6,000 pounds of compost) to keep us cooler in summer and warmer in winter. And a few tons of local clay, sand, and straw have been laid for an earthen floor that in winter will absorb the warmth of the sun and radiate the heat back at night. Nearby trees and large overhangs will prevent the summer sun from baking us.

How did such inexperienced people accomplish this? With some reading and training, but most of all through the helping hands and spirits of others—people we knew well and friends of friends that we had never laid eyes on before.

This project often has been energizing and hilarious, sometimes exhausting and frustrating. But overall we’ve had a wonderful experience of stepping into the unknown and being encouraged and pulled forward by a community of people who are more and more like family.

Scot and Linda DeGraf worked at Sojourners for a combined total of nearly 20 years. Now both work at Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, D.C. For more information on this project, visit www.rollingridge.net/staffhouse.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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The Power of Small

This summer's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was supposed to be the inheritor of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but it turned out instead to be the betrayer of its dreams. While progress was made in some significant areas, once again the United States and its allies made sure the gathering enshrined unrestrained free trade and corporate profitability as the world's "development" model.

Ten years ago, the Rio summit recognized the urgent need for all nations to respect and preserve the earth's natural resources while engaging in solutions that would create property for all. The summit produced a challenging document, "Agenda 21," that called for world leaders to evaluate a decade later the progress (or lack thereof) toward these solutions. The Johannesburg meeting was given the mandate to put into action a plan that would carry out the thrust of Agenda 21—that is, to preserve the environment while promoting development.

To know whether or not it accomplished this, one must keep in mind the outcome of the March 2002 U.N. Conference on Financing for Development ("The Monterrey Consensus") that took place in Monterrey, Mexico. The Monterrey Consensus made it clear that the agenda for the United States and its partners (Australia, Canada, and Japan) for the foreseeable future would be "free trade," which they described as an engine for development. To facilitate free trade, a high level of importance was placed on "good governance," "private flows," and "security for corporations." The Monterrey Consensus put in place funding for whatever development (sustainable or not) the United States and its partners could push through the Johannesburg gathering.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2002
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Healing Hands

Much like the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, members of Sarajevo Phoenix are rising from the devastation of the 1992-1995 war in the former Yugoslavia. The 17-person embroidery cooperative is comprised of Croatians, Muslims, and Serbians who are attempting to heal the wounds of despair, bitterness, and loss through the work of their hands.

The group—originally all women—formed in the fall of 1997; at that time they were all unemployed. Some existed on miniscule pensions. But each woman had learned to embroider at the feet of her mother and grandmother. Now the 16 women and 1 man meet in program director Bela Sejdic’s home, and in their own homes, to produce altar cloths, liturgical stoles, and wall hangings. Each person who cuts and sizes, designs, and embroiders represents the rich diversity of Bosnia-Hercegovina; each believes in a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

The cooperative formed with the help of Hands Raised Together (HaRT), a ministry associated with Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Although the program’s goal calls for self-sufficiency, HaRT currently subsidizes Sarajevo Phoenix’s embroidery work. Members are paid $20 for a stole, for example, that HaRT contracts to sell for $12.50; HaRT pays the cooperative $12 to create a wall hanging that is sold for $6.50. Considering that many of the women’s pensions amount to only $40 a month, they can create three to four stoles and wall hangings and triple their monthly incomes.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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