Seeds of Hope: How one American woman is helping Africa help itself

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

From there, for the next six years, she continued to stumble along blind. With no experience in international development, Packard relied on networking to learn the skills she could and recruit help with those she couldn't. She appealed to friends and neighbors for help funding the effort. She relied on God for direction. Moving forward. Praying. Changing course. Moving forward again.

Back at home, Packard used her connections with the LDS church to mobilize women across the western United States to put together rural birthing kits. With the help of the World Health Organization, she put together a curriculum to teach basic sanitation to children in schools. At first she took volunteers from the United States to Mozambique to teach the classes. Eventually, she decided it would be best to train locals to do the work year round. She purchased a cinder block building in the suburbs of Beira, Mozambique's second largest city, and added literacy and income generation to her repertoire of classes. She partnered with World Food Programme to pass out food to hungry students. A local nurse volunteered to start seeing patients in the corner of her classroom.

Hundreds came. Hundreds were helped. By all accounts, it was a huge success.

Yet, something didn't feel right.

"We had this center," said Cindy's husband, Blair Packard. "We were offering a product. It was a good product, but we weren't impacting people in a lasting way."

Rather than telling the people how to change their lives, the Packards decided, Care for Life must become an outreach program, going to the villages and mentoring them through the process of changing. They recruited an international development expert from Brigham Young University, gathered the Mozambican staff, and went back to the drawing board. By 2005, Care for Life had a makeover.

The program now centers around behavior modification, using a reward system to motivate villagers to make changes in their lives. Each family makes goals built on Care for Life's areas of emphasis: education, sanitation, family relations. The community makes goals together. Care for Life monitors their progress, and, as they reach goals, they are awarded with the supplies they need — but can't afford — to improve their quality of life.

Simple. But, in a way, revolutionary.

Packard cried when the nonprofit's board made the decision to stop passing out food — or any handouts for that matter. "The children are starving," she argued, heart throbbing. But in the end, she agreed it was for the best.

"There are a lot of folks out there trying to do good — and I think a lot of them do accomplish that — but a lot of them are just creating dependence on foreign goods and foreign help," Woodworth said. "Care for Life is attacking this from the root up, changing behaviors so people can help themselves."

Doing the work

Packard pulls into Chiverano, a rural village 30 minutes outside Beira of about 1,180 people, in a big, white truck. The engine sounds like a disgruntled dinosaur in this quiet, walking community. It's a siren call to the village children, who come skipping just to run their grubby fingers over the shiny paint. In a few months, the fields that surround the area will fill up like cranberry bogs, but today dust swirls around Packard's feet as she climbs out to greet the children. Felipe Castro Duarte sees her coming and ducks inside his cement house to fetch her a plastic patio chair. They've never met — these days, Packard's role in the nonprofit mostly consists of sitting on a board in Arizona — but Duarte greets the "mother of Care for Life" with sparkling eyes. "My life is very different because Care for Life came to my village," he said.

He takes a break from his work (today he is installing a cement floor in his bathhouse) and sits to chat. His wife tinkers around inside a separate cooking hut, cleaning fish. One son is away tending the family business. Nearby, one of his daughters sits on a wooden stool, pouring over her homework.

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