Posts Tagged TPRF

Peace on the Inside–Introducing Peace Education in a Pennsyvannia Jail


Guest-blogger Chip Presendofer provides us with a unique perspective on the steps he and a dedicated group of individuals have taken to launch a Peace Education Program in Berks County Jail, Pennsylvania. Volunteers like Chip and his team are introducing The Peace Education Program in prisons, colleges, universities, civic groups, hospices, and other institutions around the world. Peace Education (PEP) and Food for People (FFP) are two humanitarian aid programs developed by the Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF).

PEP Team (Not All Members Pictured)

PEP Team (Not All Members Pictured)

In January of 2013, I reviewed the latest Peace Education Program curriculum  with three other people at a friend’s house. Ever since I first heard about the Peace Education Program,  I’ve been motivated to contact local prisons, but all my early attempts met with rejection. The curriculum renewed my enthusiasm, and seeing a video about the Peace Education Program in prisons titled “Peace on the Inside” last summer made me feel we had a real story to tell. I think the idea of bringing a message of hope to people who have made some poor choices in their lives is worth the effort.

Feedback from Dominquez State Jail in San Antonio confirms my feeling. We began by hatching an action plan. Two team members wrote an introductory letter and compiled a list of potential recipients who we felt would be able to help us get the Peace Education Program information in the right hands. We sent about ten letters and got a nibble in neighboring Berks County.

On Thursday, February 21st, we met with an official who told us to follow-up with a specific commissioner on the prison board. We persistently followed up with the commissioner, and on February 28th, 2013 we received a letter from the warden expressing interest in implementing the Peace Education Program in Berks County Jail.

Now what? We had to wait until prison management allocated staffing and space resources at the jail. In the meantime, there was paper work to complete for background checks and volunteer training. In April, the prison scheduled training for July 17th, so we were in a holding pattern.

At this point, it seemed like a good idea to bring together everyone who had an interest in PEP under the premise of reviewing the curriculum materials. The thought was that a team of volunteers would identify themselves over successive meetings, and that’s exactly what happened. Every Sunday for about six weeks we met, reviewed the PEP curriculum, and discussed all the information we could glean from everyone involved with PEP. A number of people in the United States, South Africa, and Canada were extremely helpful and forthcoming with information and advice. We were hearing about what volunteers had done, what not to do, what they had learned, and how rewarding it was to actually bring a message of peace and hope into a prison environment.

Five people attended the Volunteer Training at the jail in July. It became very real for us at that meeting. The list of things that could go wrong and the picture painted of the inmates was an eye-opener. As it turned out, the staff instructors were making us aware of what could happen in a worst-case scenario, but when we asked both of them if they would allow their sisters to volunteer, without hesitation they both said yes. This made us feel a little more comfortable, but there were still a lot of unknowns. We discussed our fears and concerns in our meeting and we all decided the risk was worth the effort. It was a real moment-of-truth that we shared and the experience solidified our resolve to keep moving forward.

Peace Education Classroom

Peace Education Classroom

On August 2nd, two PEP team members met with the volunteer coördinator at the jail to look at the classroom and confirm a start date on August 9th. The classroom we chose was large enough for twenty students. On Friday, August 9th, we held our first class. Seventeen inmates attended. After all the students arrived and took their seats, I briefly told them we were going to play a video to give them a sense of what was going to take place and then I would take attendance. All eyes seemed fixed on the screen at the beginning of the class. It was easy for the students to relate to the prison scenes and the inmate interviews kept their attention.

I took attendance by calling out everyone’s name and tried to make sure I pronounced the names correctly. Prior to putting in the first video, I thanked the students for coming and said that the information they were about to see was directed to them as human beings. I asked them to try to listen without comparing it to anything they had heard before. Then I pushed the button on the remote and the class was underway. The class proceeded smoothly, although it seemed the longer videos challenged some students’ attention spans. Experienced PEP volunteers had advised me that it would take a few classes for the energy in the room to jell and for people to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and expose their thoughts.

The inmates came from different cell blocks. Some knew each other (fist bumps) while others were not acquainted. In general, the inmates had no trouble finding seats and being in relatively close quarters. They were orderly, quiet, attentive and helpful. Perhaps in our next class, I’ll invite them to share a little of what they heard and hopefully get them a little more involved.

Before we knew it, the class was over. After replacing the tables and chairs to their original positions, all the inmates wound up standing in a circle around the perimeter of the room. The atmosphere was instantly more relaxed and one man asked whether a person without a conscience could find the peace within. I said those are two different things. Consciousness is being aware of your existence and conscience helps us distinguish between right and wrong. I said I didn’t think a person without a conscience would seek the peace within, but I didn’t really know. He thanked me for being honest with him, and then he said he was just trying to sound smart and not to pay him any mind. I said I was just trying to sound smart also, and that got a laugh from a few people. It was the first time during the class that it felt like we might have connected a little more on the personal level.

Inmate Housing Unit

Inmate Housing Unit

I received another important piece of advice from my fellow volunteers: It’s important to connect personally with inmates without getting too involved. That advice makes a lot of sense to me. The students don’t have to like us individually, but they should know we relate to them as human beings, not as prisoners. This is a fine line, but one that holds significant promise for us as facilitators. If we respect the inmates, there’s a good chance they’ll respect the volunteer team and feel comfortable enough to reveal their thoughts in class. I don’t feel it’s my place to draw the students out, but I do feel like I need to create an environment that will allow them to open up if they wish.

The ability to walk out of the prison made me realize how fortunate I am and what a privilege it is to be able to make my own decisions about my day. Driving home, someone asked me how I felt, and I answered, “Relieved and curious.” Relieved we had broken the ice and now had an idea what we needed to do for next week and curious to see who will return.

With only one class behind us, we have many, many more to go. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and one lit candle can light hundreds of others. We’re on our way, and for that I’m thankful. Looking back, it took a lot of effort to get the program started, but the journey has just begun and the bulk of the effort is still in front of us.

Berks County Jail

Berks County Jail

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Hannah’s Story


Becky Straw

Last year, TPRF  partnered with The Adventure Project to help transform fifty farmers into profitable entrepreneurs in Kenya. We are proud to report that those farmers have moved from poverty to the middle class, and are sending 75 of their children to school for the first time from the money they earn selling produce. Here is a story written by guest blogger Becky Straw, Co-Founder of The Adventure Project, demonstrating the impact this gift is making to feed the hungry in Kenya.

I wish I could take you here. I wish I could take you by the hand and sit you next to me on Hannah’s couch to experience her story in person.

I sat and appreciated the modest house, just one small living room, flanked by two simple quarters on either side. A single light bulb hung from the tin roof, and dozens of baby chicks chirped relentlessly outside. Inside, I admired the walls, every inch covered with images. Soccer posters, old calendars, and embroidered wall hangings. Looking closer I saw that they were bible verses, stitched in between happy flowers: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

Upon our arrival, Hannah shrieked playfully, like so many women would, “You have arrived early, don’t film me yet – I haven’t done my hair!” We laughed and nodded in understanding as she ducked into the next room.

While I waited as she primped, I asked her son, Steve, how he’s doing in school. He modestly mumbled, “good,” like a typical teenage boy, even walking with the gait of a sudden growth spurt. I pushed harder until he finally puts aside his 7th grade indifference and confessed to us his dream. “When I grow up I want to work in hospitality management.”

Hannah With Son Steve

“Why?” we ask.

His neighbor is a hotel manager, and he has a good house, he admitted. There’s also a chance that the President might come into his hotel, and that would be very exciting. It’s a modest dream, but it’s achievable. It’s possible because he has excellent grades and because of his family. Because of his mother.

Outside, Hannah hands me a large package, wrapped in yellowed plastic tarp and tied up with string, like a present. I balance it awkwardly. It takes me a minute to realize, “Oh, this is your irrigation pump.”

Kuyu, the marketing manager for Kickstart, looks at me and smiles, speaking softly, “It’s funny that she wraps it like this. It’s chip-resistant paint. It’s not going to rust or be damaged.” Hannah has had her pump for two years. It still looks brand new.

We tread carefully down a slope to her small garden, walking through trees until we reach a clearing where the sky opens up before us. Fruits and vegetables of every variety lay in neat little rows. Huge fuchsia flowers bloom wildly along her fence. It’s an unexpected Eden.

Carefully, she unwraps her pump and goes to work. Hannah’s farming business has tripled since she purchased her irrigation pump, a fact she is keenly aware of.

Her story is not unique. The benefits of one pump are astronomical. A pump can increase harvests by 3-4 times per year and can irrigate up to 2 acres of land per day. One pump has the ability to move a farmer and their family from poverty into the middle class in just one harvest.

The irony of Africa is that 75% of all subsistence farmers’ children go hungry because they cannot grow enough to even feed their own families. With an irrigation pump, farmers suddenly have so much food that they can sell their surplus in local markets. They earn enough to send an average of 1.5 of their children to school for the first time.

As hard as I try, I can’t think of any single item in America to compare the pump to. What’s the one physical item we have in the U.S. that can transform a poor family struggling to feed themselves into nearly instant middle-class entrepreneurs?

Hannah and Steve Gardening

After Hannah finished watering her garden, she grabbed her old bucket, filled it with water from her small well, and did something I didn’t expect. She began painstakingly washing every inch of her pump free of mud and dirt. Thoughtfully. Methodically. As if she was caring for a precious child.

After twenty minutes she carefully took the pump, laid it on the plastic, tied it up with string, and rolled the hose into a neat coil. I asked if she followed this routine every day.

“No,” Hannah replied. “Plants only need to be watered every other day.” In her own way, she answered my question. I took my notebook out of my backpack and wrote one word in the margin. Value.

Hannah and her husband bought this pump themselves. The Adventure Project is helping to subsidize the costs of Kickstart’s program, so that the pump can be sold at an affordable price. No determined farmer is too destitute to pay, and Kickstart has even developed an extended payment program for those truly in need.

With the income generated from selling her crops, Hannah has invested in chickens and now sells eggs along with her produce. She can also afford her son’s school fees, and he will never miss school again because they can’t afford to buy him shoes and socks.

No longer toiling all day under the hot sun, carrying a bucket, plopping water and drenching seedlings, Hannah now has time for her favorite activity, she tells us joyfully – teaching Sunday School at her church.

I cannot think of one investment more precious. More valuable.

This is the Kenya I know and love. The story I want you to be part of. There is no longing. No begging. No swollen bellies or hungry eyes. If there are tears, they are mine. And maybe yours. Welling with happiness. For me, I know I’ve found my calling. The opportunity to play a small role in giving something more valuable than gold; a job.

Friends, we have set an ambitious goal: we want to help 323 other families in Kenya this year. Every $400 will get one pump to a farmer in need. If successful, our funds will help 323 farmers grow enough crops to become profitable – feeding 25,000 neighbors and sending 500 of their kids to school for the very first time. Imagine giving someone like Hannah the opportunity of a lifetime.

“The Adventure Project is incredibly honored and grateful for all TPRF has done to support food, water and peace around the globe. Your support for our Hunger Campaign has directly benefitted thousands of people, and your $10,000 gift created jobs for 25 farmers last year. We cannot thank you enough for all that you done and continue to do to make the world a better place. Thank you.” – Becky Straw, Co-Founder of The Adventure Project.

                                                                                                                                         Photos Courtesy of the Adventure Project

Hannah In Her Garden

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The Journal of Good News


Is good news boring?  Is there a severe shortage of hopeful, inspirational stories outside of the sports section? Would it violate journalistic standards if the media served up more stories that motivated us to be better people and brightened our days a little?

The answer is you can find stories of hope and inspiration if you look hard enough for them. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be a small part of some pretty amazing stories from around the world as editor of the TPRF blog for the past two years.  I’d like to pass my good fortune along to anyone in the mood for something out of the ordinary.

The TPRF blog began with a mandate to cover the developing story of the third Food for People facility planned for construction in the small village of Otinibi, outside of the metropolitan city of Accra in Ghana, West Africa.  Food for People  is a proprietary hunger relief program initiated by TPRF.  These facilities feed a nutritious daily meal to children and village elders in areas of extreme poverty.

Enjoying a Nutritious Lunch at FFP Ghana

Our first posts covered the Ghana Food for People project in detail beginning when the facility was an undeveloped piece of land awaiting governmental approval of the documents transferring title of ownership to the local charity set up to manage and run the FFP.  We literally watched the facility rise up out of the ground, culminating in a triumphant opening one year later.  The FFP in Otinibi has materialized thanks to the dedication of mostly local volunteers, an expert construction team, funding from TPRF, and donations from individuals following the story on the Internet.

Five hundred children and adults will eat every day in Otinibi. The same thing occurs at two other Food for People centers in Bantoli, India and Tsarapu, Nepal, opened in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

The logistics and effort required to establish and keep the FFP facilities operating boggles the mind. Food and hygiene standards must be established and maintained. A chef has to plan the menus. The meals have to be balanced nutritionally and tailored to the tastes of the people in the area.  Managers have to train and supervise staff and volunteers. The list goes on. Yet it is happening.

FFP Staff Prepare a Meal

Thanks to these Food for People centers, children go to school instead of doing manual labor (like crushing rocks to support their families.)  The nutritious daily meals allow the children to grow and develop normally. Plus, they learn proper sanitation habits and enjoy watching educational television programs while eating.

With healthy bodies and the opportunity to learn in school, these children have a vastly improved chance to realize their dreams later in life.  And something more.  I have seen through these stories that Food for People is an oasis for these children, a place where they can flourish and enjoy their precious childhood.

Six months after the first TPRF blog post, we decided to open up the scope of the blog to other feature stories while still reporting on the progress of the project in Ghana. We regularly cover stories about  TPRF’s Peace Education Program in prisons, independent fundraising efforts, disaster relief, clean drinking water initiatives, and other humanitarian efforts undertaken by TPRF’s partner organizations.

Here’s a thought.  Maybe you are what you “tune into” as much as you are what you eat.

Food for People photos by Francis Ahore.  Ethiopia photo courtesy of International Relief and Development Organization (IRD)

Drought Relief in Ethiopia

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Mission Accomplished on World Water Day


The Adventure Project set an ambitious goal.  Blog writers and their readers worldwide responded with enthusiasm, compassion and generosity.

The idea came to Becky Straw and Jody Landers, Co-Founders of the Adventure Project, from members of their organization, known affectionately as “The Tribe.”  One week before World Water Day (March 22nd) blog writers proposed a challenge to raise $10,000 in one day by promoting The Adventure Project’s latest initiative: repairing broken water pump handles in northern India.  The anticipated results of the initiative are twofold.  By bringing wells that have fallen into disrepair back into use, 300 more people per month (3,600 per year) will have access to clean water.  In addition, the initiative will provide training and jobs to enable unemployed people to lift themselves out of poverty.

A Pump Mechanic Rides to Her Next Job

Becky thought the tribe members might be able to recruit 50 bloggers to promote the fundraising effort.  Jody, an eternal optimist, suggested 100 bloggers.  One week later, 137 bloggers had signed up to participate.  As the final seconds of World Water Day elapsed, the amount raised reached $11,390.  Donations are still rolling in, by the way.  All funds collected go to WaterAid, a charity that takes a unique approach to providing the poorest communities with potable water.

“It all came together like magic,” Becky reports.  She asked her friend and colleague, Nicole Skibola, to find a company that might be willing to provide matching funds to the promotion.  In her role as a “Social Innovation Strategist” with Apricot Consulting in New York City, Nicole works with corporations to create and execute effective programs for social change.  A former attorney, Nicole also serves as a “Social Enterprise Advisor,” for the Adventure Project.

Nicole e-mailed a list of her friends and business contacts in an effort to locate a matching funds sponsor.  Kathya Bustamante’s name happened to be on the list from a position she previously held with UBS.  Kathya, among other interests, now volunteers for TPRF as Manager of the Fundraising Team.  Kathya  recognized a common thread between both organizations:  “Clean Water” and “Dignity.”  She forwarded Nicole’s request to decision makers at TPRF.  Within twenty-four hours, TPRF committed to providing up to $10,000 in matching funds.  “Awesome,” Nicole commented in an e-mail to Becky and Kathya, “the fastest foundation response in history.”

Northern Indian Woman

One final footnote—Although TPRF agreed to provide up to $10,000 in matching funds, we surprised the girls by cutting a check for the full amount of the funds raised on World Water Day: $11,390.

“Your response was so amazing and so responsible,” Becky said about TPRF’s participation.

*Photos courtesy of Esther Havens for The Adventure Project

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