It was a hot summer day in Florida. I had just received a new swim suit, and given the temperature, I was more than ready to try it out. I liked the swim suit, the color scheme was really cool, and the fit was great! It was all going swimmingly right up until the moment I jumped in the water. It seemed the swim suit had just dissappeared, leaving me in my boxers. Money-wise these weren't cheap, but for all practical purposes they were worthless. This isn't the first time I've encountered such thread bare and pathetic clothing and its not just the Wal-Mart clothes either. Brands that used to stand for something now make garbage, and lets not even talk about whether there is any environmental aspect to most of these clothes, (Honestly it would just be depressing and scary to analyze what chemicals are on most clothes and how much environmental damage they do just being made in the first place). Fortunately, the fall of the clothing industry is not universal and some companys are beginning to take back the lost markets of quality and environmentalism. Here's a run down of my three favorites.
HessNatur: Quality - They're German, of course its quality. Think Porsche, BMW, or Mercedes quality control then translate it into clothing and you get HessNatur. Style - Classic would best describe the HessNatur style. For the younger crowd many of their clothes may be a little too classic, but most will appreciate the time proven styles. Environmentalism - All of Hessnatur's cotton is 100% organic. They also utilize organic wool and silk as much as possible. They have one of the world's only organic silk farming operations and whatever they can't grow organically is, at the very least, grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. All of the clothes are made with environmentally friendly dyes that don't contain any known carcinogens or heavy metals. Company - HessNatur sources its materials from all over the world. Everything they buy is fair trade and the company pays an additional 50% to the Grameen foundation to support its work in improving the social standards for workers. HessNatur and Grameen helped fund an organic cotton farming project in Burkina Faso that taught farmers how to grow organic cotton and sent them to school for free so that they could learn to read.
Patagonia: Quality - My family has purchased Patagonia products for over twenty years now. We still have every jacket and sweater we ever bought. The only give away that some of the pieces aren't new is that they are styled for the 80's instead of 2012. I have one navy blue sweater that my uncle bought fifteen years ago. He wore it while bicycling across the United States. My brother then had it for many years during which it went on two cross country camping trips. I now own it and I have to says it looks really good you might even say like new. Quality for patagonia is not in dispute for me. Style - The cut and fit of Patagonia clothes are always very athletic and slender. The patterns on the clothes can be hit or miss. The Patagonia brand has always had a free flowing, hippy, vibe to it. I would say that for many, the patterns and color schemes will be a lot of hit or miss. Environmentalism - Patagonia is best known for bringing demand for organic cotton back in the U.S. They also pioneered the creation of fleece jackets that are made from recycled plastic bottles. All of the dyes in their clothes are free of harmful carcinogens and heavy metals that are bad for human and environmental health. Since 1985 patagonia has given 1% of its profits to organizations that help the environment. They have also created an organization to encourage other businesses to do the same. Patagonia and Ebay teamed up to create the Common Threads Initiative. This is an ebay page dedicated to selling Patagonia products for the second hand market. The CEO of Patagonia wrote a statement asking buyers to purchase second hand items and only buy what they really need. Pretty cool! Company - Patagonia is based in California. Employees can take advantage of the company internship program which allows any employee to take up to a month of paid leave to go volunteer with the environmental organization of their choice. Employees are often the testers of the gear they make and if the waves are right its ok to grab a board and head to the beach. Chances are the CEO will already be down there. The founder of Patagonia, Yvone Chouinard (pictured above bare foot with his dog), is a stalwart environmentalist who has a track record of putting nature before profits. From the top down I think Patagonia has the right idea.
Ice Breaker: Quality: Ice Breaker produces some of the finest 100% wool products available. Unlike Patagonia which utilizes the latest in technology to recycle plastic bottles, Ice Breaker sticks to giving a lot of New Zealand sheep hair cuts. A year ago I ordered a few pairs of socks and a baselayer from Ice Breaker. While its impossible for me to give them the 20 year test, like I did for Patagonia, I can say that after heavy use the socks show no signs of wearing out and are very comfortable. The base layer feels awesome. The fit is very athletic similar to Patagonia. When I put the top on it was hard to believe I was wearing wool, it was just that smooth. I also love the little thumbholes they put on it. Style - Athletic, form fitting, and modern would best describe Ice Breaker. Its safe to say that after trying out Ice Breaker you will never picture wool as being your Grandpa's musty old knitted jacket. I only wish the company had more options to choose from. Environmentalism - Ice Breaker harvests all of its wool from the green slopes of New Zealand. When it comes to environmentalism, its hard to beat wool that was sheared from range grazed mountain sheep, but just in case you can't sleep at night, with nightmares of those shears taking more than just innocent sheep hair, fear not! Thanks to Ice Breaker, a whole new level of transparency has been pioneered. Every piece of clothing from Ice Breaker comes with a barcode known as a baacode. All you have to do is rub your bloodshot eyes, go to their website and type in your baacode number. You will then be taken to an interactive map that shows you where your sweater came from, and at each location you can watch a video with the local farmers explaining how they take care of their sheep. Now return to bed, and count happy Ice Breaker sheep, until you fall back asleep. Company - Ice Breaker has strict standards for every element of their supply line. Sheep farmers in New Zealand must treat their sheep, and the land they graze on, with the utmost care and stewardship. Ice Breaker also sources its production to other countries. The companies Ice Breaker works with, have all signed contracts that treat workers better than any other factories in the area and pay them above the regional wage. If you have any doubts regarding Ice Breakers corporate ethics, go to their website and read through their detailed list of human, animal, and environmental company standards. You won't be disappointed. Ice Breaker
So what's the down side to these companies? You've probably guessed it. They are really expensive. The bottom line is you can't own very many clothes if you buy from these companies, but then again, you won't need very many clothes if you buy from these companies. Furthermore, these companies do it right. Buying clothes from Wal-Mart has hidden costs that many people don't understand, but one way and one day we will all have to pay for those hidden costs through the environment, through our personal health, and perhaps through welfare, because bad companies, making bad products, often damage ecosystems, pollute our water supplies with heavy metals, and lay off good people. To try some of these clothes yourself click the HessNatur picture above. It will take you to their website. For Patagonia or Ice Breaker I recommend clicking the department of goods icon (below). The website is great, and often provides excellent deals on both of these brands. Also, for Patagonia be sure to check out the common threads initiative on Ebay
Its not easy for anyone to lose their eyesight, but for many in the developing world its a critical condition to life itself. Today over 40 million people are classified as legally blind and atleast 300 million are in need of prescription glasses. To make things worse the vast majority of these people live in developing countries where cataracts from the sun and water borne parasites have caused the blindness. In many places to be blind is to have no hope of a future, but for many it may not be time to give up in despair just yet. You see Up to 80% of those who are blind can have it restored through corrective surgery. If they could just get to an eye surgeon or afford prescription lenses.
Meet Geoff Tobin and Josh Silver. Between the two of them blindness might be on its way out. Lets start with Tobin. An eye surgeon from Salt Lake City Utah, who has scaled the seven highest peaks, and helped invent the sport of bungy jumping. Impressive achievements perhaps, but ones that pale in comparison to what I think Tobin will ultimately be rememberd for. It was during a trip to Pakistan that Tobin met Greg Mortinson, a fellow mountaineer turned philanthropist who now helps to improve the lives of Pakastani communities in the Himalayas that once saved his life. I'll be sure to write about Mortinson sometime in the future, but for now if you haven't read it flip through his book "Three Cups of Tea." Anyways Tobin found inspiration in Mortinson's work and with a drive to match even Mortinson he began performing eye surgery's in developing countries all over the world on every break he could get from his normal job in Salt Lake City. When Tobin flies in he immediately sets up and goes to work performing hundreds of eye surgeries in his short stay. He generally gives himself a few days to enjoy an adventure wherever he is and then flies back to work thinking on where he will go next. National Geographic wrote an excellent article on Tobin. Here's the link: Nat Geo Tobin Bio
For all of those who just need a pair of glasses Josh Silver has them covered. At a TED talk Silver revealed an amazingly simple design for affordable prescription glasses that can be adjusted to the right prescription for any user by filling hollow sacks in the lens with water thus eliminating the need for an optomitrist. His TED talk covers all the details so enjoy.
I've found both Tobin's tireless drive and Silvers designs to be very inspiring. I think its safe to say that both of these people have taken a step in the right direction.
In the middle of florida, in the town of Lake Wales, back behind a small, little known, university called Warner exists one of the best training camps for people headed into rural areas overseas. H.E.A.R.T. (Hunger Education And Resource Training) as it is called is situated out in the florida scrub surrounded by palmettos, gopher tortoises, and rattle snakes. The program lasts for one semester and is designed not only to educate students about how to live overseas, but to test them as if they really were in a remote area. There is no running water or air conditioning. There are no phones. Most Importantly there are no flushing toilets.
I recieved my training from H.E.A.R.T. Missionary Training Institute. Coming from someone who did the program I can say it will test you, most of all it will test your commitment and resolve to leave behind the world you knew, which is exactly what you have to do in order to last in a remote area somewhere around the globe. During my time at H.E.A.R.T. a goat cracked my sternum, my lung collapsed, I killed three rattlesnakes, had to pull a five foot indigo snake off of my shower head, I had to kill a scorpion that ran out onto my friends leg, and spent one of the most miserable nights of my life on a swamp island getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Many of the other students got ring worm and all of us suffered through the 110 degree heat and 100% humidity as well as, and most importantly, the loneliness of having no contact, except for letters every two weeks, with the outside world. In fairness, I shouldn't blame my collapsed lung entirely upon being at H.E.A.R.T. but that event did happen while I was there.
I know that last paragraph makes H.E.A.R.T sound pretty terrible, but I need to get a point across. Living in a rural area in a developing country is one of the most difficult and perhaps most dangerous things someone can do. I believe that ideally we should train harder for the challenge than what the challenge is itself. H.E.A.R.T is as close to a remote third world village as anyone can get while still being on U.S. soil. Half of the learning comes from the classes but the other half comes from living in a simulated third world village.
On the brighter side I learned a fantastic amount while at H.E.A.R.T. about how to live in a rural environment, and quite a bit about myself. I met some extraordinary people and shared a number of adventures and experiences with them that I hope to never forget. More importantly, I learned how to live in a developing country, and most importantly I learned to what extent I was cut out for such a life choice. Watch this video and visit the H.E.A.R.T. website http://heart-institute.org/ to learn more.
Below is a list of what is taught at H.E.A.R.T.
I. APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGIES - 3 CREDITS
Lanterns, fire extinguishers, fire prevention, safety
Wilderness field trip, camping & outdoor survival skills
Appropriate technology and culture
Care and use of hand tools
Concrete work, foundations, laying brick or block
Health & sanitation, building latrines & sanitary facilities
Basic skills for welding
Water sources, wells, water lifting & transport
Water purification, filters, chlorination & sedimentation
Basic AC and DC electrical wiring
Small engines and general maintenance
General servicing of automobiles
Alternative energy sources, solar, wind and kinetic
Basic construction skills, framing, roofing, etc
Surveying & tube level techniques
II. ANIMAL HUSBANDRY – 3 CREDITS
Introduction to animal husbandry
Keeping animal records
Animal nutrition and ration formulation
Tropical feedstuffs, grasses, forage, etc.
Animal production in primitive conditions
Essentials for keeping animals healthy
Breeding plus care of young animals
Fish farming and aquaculture management
Proper techniques for slaughtering animals
Production of animals for marketing and income
Fencing construction and maintenance
Lab experience of working with various animals
III. SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE – 3 CREDITS
Garden project: students plant & manage a garden bed
Biodynamic, hydroponics and minimum till gardening
General plant botany
Soil structure and fertility
Principles of sustainable agriculture
Understanding integrative farming systems
Prevention, control, identification of pests and diseases
Understanding the politics of world hunger
Soil & water conservation including irrigation techniques
Women in agriculture and the power of groups
Extension methods for small farmers
Care of orchards, pruning and grafting techniques
Field trip to the E.C.H.O. farm
Lab experience in sustainable agriculture
IV. PRIMARY HEALTH – 2 CREDITS
Orientation and evaluation of needs
Maternal health, birthing & family planning
Pediatric disease, immunizations and rehydration
Clinical session taking vital signs
Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies
Immunization and disease prevention
Dealing with skin diseases
Adult medical problems including parasites and STDs
Certification in CPR
Basic skills in First Aid
Clinical session on suturing and giving injections
Student demonstration of health teaching models
V. NUTRITION/FOOD TECHNOLOGIES – 2 CREDITS
General human nutrition
Biblical principles of nutrition
Alternative cooking devices
Nutritional evaluation of diets
Food storage, preserving nutrients, prevent poisoning
Canning & drying foods
Cooking basic staples:beans, rice, cornmeal, etc.
Cooking skills: stir fry, bread baking, pressure cooking
Foods from other cultures
Lab experience in meal preparation and planning
VI. CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATION/COM. DEV.-3 CREDITS
Foundations for cross-cultural communication
Understanding cultural differences
Coping with culture shock
Bonding with nationals
Keys elements of language learning
Dealing with missionary stress
Principles & models for community development
Challenges of ministry to the poor
Review of mission journal articles by students
Area study of people groups by students
Worship experiences to various ethnic churches
Urban mission field trip
VII. SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT OF MISSIONARIES – 2 CREDITS
Group dynamics and community living
Enhancing relationships with God, mentors & colleagues
Ropes course activities for team building
Disciplines for spiritual growth
Skills for conflict resolution
Students undertake a semester project
ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is very similar to H.E.A.R.T. ECHO however, is more focused on agriculture. The organization gives students extensive training on how to grow crops in a variety of settings from rural agricultrue in the mountains, to rooftop gardening in the city. They have a really creatively designed garden that is divided up into separate zones, similar to the way that disneys animal kingdom is divided up into different continents. Each zone contains a different type of agriculture. ECHO also has a great bookstore with a number of really interesting books that are very hard to find elsewhere.
Every year ECHO hosts the ECHO Agricultural Conference. At this conference missionaries, social workers, students, and interested people gather to hear talks given by inventors, and other people with expertise in the field. The topics span the entire range of ideas and solutions that address problems in developing countries. There are too many presentations to go to over the course of the three day event. Throughout the day there are generally three to four presentations being given at once. There are also booths at the conference center with representatives from various organizations including H.E.A.R.T. and back at the ECHO headquarters and garden there are all sorts of really neat devices like bicycle powered saws and rocket stoves. H.E.A.R.T. and ECHO are the places that I first learned about things like Sand Dams, Moringa, Rocket Stoves, Corn Cob Charcoal, and Play Pumps.
If you live near ECHO or H.E.A.R.T. and are interested in these sorts of things I would recommend calling them up and arranging a tour. If your too far away than I would pay the ECHO online bookstore a visit: www.echonet.org/bookstore I also found a really good article and video on ECHO at: Growing a Greener World