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VEGFAM: Feeding the Hungry without exploiting animals Frieden Howard interviewed by Malcolm Horne, Vegan Views 67 (Winter 1994/95)

For some 30 years VEGFAM has been working with, and influencing, the major charities to carry out projects which do not exploit animals by co-financing projects that are in agreement with this principle.

Over the years VEGFAM (the "veg" is pronounced as in "vegetable") has provided both short and long term aid to countries whose people have been the victims of drought, flood, cyclone, earthquake, famine In countries such as India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Jordan, Kurdistan, Thailand and Vietnam it has, for example, financed the purchase of pulses, or seeds for planting, or vegetable plots, or water wells or irrigation projects.

In the last five years between 6,000 and 21,000 has been distributed each year to a number of different projects. In 1994, for example, VEGFAM donated 1,000 worth of seeds to Bosnia, and 3,000 for the purchase of maize, beans and vegetable oil for the Rwandan refugees. It also placed 1,000 with Concern Worldwide for emergency feeding of children in Angola; it donated 1,565 for fruit trees in Malawi, and 1,435 for emergency feeding of people affected by natural disasters (earthquake and plague) in India. And 1,000 went to a leaf concentrate project in Jaipur, India - it is hoped to send a further 1,000 to this project soon.

At the Vegan Summer Gathering in Exmouth in September 1994 FRIEDEN HOWARD spoke about VEGFAM, and later answered questions. What follows is an edited version of that meeting (a small amount of material was added afterwards).

Frieden Howard and his mother Ruth Howard have been Trustees of Vegfam since 1967. Sadly Ruth, a vegan since the 1930's, died in October a few weeks after the talk was given - she had been unwell some time. Perhaps this article may serve as a small memorial.

How did Vegfam come about?

Well, if we go back to the early sixties there was a young couple called Chris & Janet Aldous who, like many young Christian couples, were interested in doing their bit for the world. They knew about the work Oxfam was doing, but they weren't entirely happy with some of the projects, and they thought "wouldn't it be nice to have a charity which vegetarians and vegans could support, and know that their money would not be going to finance anything to do with animal food production?".

So Vegfam was registered as a charity in December 1963 and, after collecting up the first donations, Chris & Janet got ready to go to the Middle East and do the first distribution of vegetable foods, even though they'd had their first baby. They asked if my mother and I would be prepared to "mind the shop" while they went abroad, this was in 1966, so we took a deep breath and said yes ... and then they came back, and family pressures and professional pressures were mounting, and they asked my mother and myself if we would be prepared to take it over formally as Trustees. So we took another deep breath, and said yes, and we became Trustees by deed in 1967. Meanwhile my mother had moved down to The Sanctuary at Lydford in Devon, and that has been Vegfam's headquarters ever since.

How vegan is Vegfam? Or how otherwise?

In the actual words in the deed it talks about "vegetarian", but to be frank the founding Trustees, and the present Trustees (my mother and myself), have always really interpreted that as being vegan, although it doesn't actually say so in the "deeds".

The actual objects of Vegfam, as registered with the Charity Commission and the rest of the official bodies, are as follows:
(1) To provide and distribute vegetarian foodstuffs for the relief of hunger and starvation and under-nourishment arising out of famine, earthquake, pestilence, war, or any other emergency, or due to the inadequacy of group or national or social or economic resources in any part of the world.
(2) To propagate the Christian gospel of the Lord Jesus and to manifest his love and salvation to the world.

So does that mean that Vegfam's money is spent on Christian propaganda or anything like that?

The answer is no. My mother and I are Quakers, and fall roughly into the "practical Christianity" heading, shall we say. (The pastors we help in South India take the Message of Jesus to those they Serve.)

LEAF CONCENTRATE

Vegfam is there to alleviate hunger and so on, using vegan means as far as possible. But we were very excited earlier on to hear of an organisation called FIND YOUR FEET which advocates using the goodness out of leaves as a protein, or leaf concentrate (LC) as it's known today - it was called leaf protein at one stage. We met Carol Martin, who was the Chair of Find Your Feet, and basically Vegfam has co-operated o where possible with Find Your Feet on its projects.

Find Your Feet is a completely independent organisation - they go their own way and have their own council (which I serve on). I'm happy to say that there's usually been some project to which Vegfam has been able to chip in with its donation. We've been involved in many of their projects over the years, initially Coimbatore in South India in 1977, and more latterly Mexico. Also Bangladesh - Vegfam financed that project quite heavily.

From 1977 to date, except for '83 and '88, Vegfam has financed LC projects. But recently Find Your Feet projects have tended to use the leaf fibre commercially as animal feed, and Vegfam has refused to finance these. I won't say any more about leaf concentrate except to say that it's always featured strongly in Vegfam's projects, and we hope this will continue.

See box for more information on Find Your Feet and leaf concentrate. Following Frieden's talk Michael Cole gave a talk on leaf concentrate and a demonstration of how simply it can be manufactured.

PLACING THE FUNDS

Who actually does the work at Vegfam?

I have to say that it is a very small organisation, it's basically my mother and myself and one voluntary assistant, Chrissy Leyland. We're a fundraising organisation and, having raised the funds, we then have to place them either with field workers, say pastors out in South India, or else with major charities such as Find Your Feet and Concern Universal (on whose boards I serve), and Save The Children, War On Want, and others. I'd like to mention Ethiopia because there you have the CRDA (Christian Relief & Development Association) which is a collection of some 30 charities all working together, and that is an excellent example of how charities can co-operate.

In the case of food obviously we have to send the money to an organisation which purchases and distributes it on the spot. For example, in the Biafran Civil War in 1969 we found a charity called Africa Concern (now Concern, based in Dublin) and they bought on our behalf four tons of soya flour and distributed it to the needy.

If you're a relief organisation, or representative of it, going abroad and trying to help, you're very restricted in what you can do. You're there to do your little bit, but there are a lot of things you may see or hear going on that you can't do anything about. And I think if you do go abroad as a volunteer, you've got to accept that situation, and work within the confines that your relief charity places upon you. And the other thing to bear in mind is that each of us has our own particular diet, and if the particular staple food that you eat (say corn or wheat) isn't available, and someone says here's a bag of rice then you may still starve rather than eat unfamiliar food - these situations do occasionally arise I'm afraid, that inappropriate food is sent out to people who are facing starvation.

WATER ABROAD

I'd like to talk briefly about water as well. I should explain that I'm a civil engineer who specialised in water resources and water supply, working for the public authorities in this country and then the National Rivers Authority until the end of 1993. Water supply abroad is an interesting subject. It's usually very scarce, it's often polluted, and I'd like to mention one or two simple techniques that can be adopted to overcome a. contaminated water supply.

If it's a spring supply emerging from the rocks, then it's possible to take simple steps such as constructing a concrete apron to let the water trickle out, and have a proper filling place. And obviously you must keep animals away so that droppings don't get in the water and contaminate it. Again with bore holes or wells you can have a similar precautionary system of a concrete apron around the well. It's better if animal power isn't used for raising water, but sometimes it is. Solar power could be used, that's an ideal. There's a lot of sun out in the tropics, but at the same time there's not a lot of solar power generated by it. There are just one or two instances where solar pumps are used, for example in the Abosa Irrigation Project, at Lake Ziway in Ethiopia, where water is taken from the lake and sent along a pipeline for irrigation purposes.

A "sterasyl candle" was then demonstrated as a means of purifying water. Made of light and porous material, it is about the size of a small washing-up detergent bottle. It filters out "bugs", and any animal waste or small plant life, when water is passed through it - but it cannot remove pesticides or dissolved metals in dangerous concentrations. 40 portable water filters were donated by Vegfam to Kurdistan refugees.

If you're abroad in arid areas it's possible to use dew-catching techniques. For example, you can dig a hole and lay over it a sheet of polythene, weighted down at the edges and middle, and not touching the sides or bottom of the hole. And then below the poly-thene you place a small container, because moisture will often be evaporating out of the soil and it will condense on the underside of the polythene and run back to the middle, and hopefully be caught by the container, from where it can be sucked out by a flexible tube.

... AND FUEL

Obviously people abroad rely on wood fuel, and over the years fuel-efficient stoves, ie wood-burning stoves, have been developed. I'm very interested in these and I would add that at The Sanctuary we do have the most efficient type of wood-burning stove called an "Ampliflaire". I wish it could be used (with the patent holder's permission) to the maximum ecological effect in developing countries where they do really need efficient wood-burning apparatus - it's sad that you have to burn wood at all. That brings me to the last point, the importance of raw food.

The importance of raw food cannot be over emphasised. If people can be persuaded to incorporate raw food into their diet, then the pressure on their local ecology can be reduced. For example, if clean water can be provided to sprout seeds instead of cooking them (always assuming cooking is not necessary to destroy unwanted toxins), then fuel, and therefore trees, can be saved - although I accept that a warm drink is beneficial at night before retiring.

Ellen Spivack challenges us "to commit yourself today to the idea of women ending hunger - it can be done!" (from JOHNNY'S JOURNAL, which advocates a raw food diet, PO Box 294, Lewisburg, PA 17837, USA). And in this country attention should be drawn to the work of FRESH (Fruitarian & Raw Energy Support & Help), co-ordinated by Susie Miller (The Fresh Network, Harmony Cottage, Cutteridge Farm, Whitestone, Exeter EX4 2HE, Devon).

QUESTIONS

You said that there isn't much use of solar power in the Third World as yet - can you expand on that?

Well, my knowledge of solar power is basically what an organisation called Self Help (Hacketstown, Co Carlow, Fire) have been doing. They pioneered the application of solar power for pumping irrigation water, but the water is not lifted any height because there isn't enough power. But the pumps are very reliable, with very few moving parts, also solar power technology is developing rapidly.

Self Help is the organisation I know of, but I'm not saying there aren't others. And of course you've got the Alternative Technology Centre at Machynlleth in Wales.

There's no such organisation actually in the Third World?

Self Help do work abroad, yes, they're a volunteer charity and they're doing excellent work throughout the African continent - not in every country but in many of them.

One of the problems taking something like that to the Third World - people and organisations have done things in the past with pumps and so on - is that you take too much technology without teaching people maintenance procedures, or allowing them to use natural resources. So really it's short term, and if it goes wrong then you're left with a big scrap of iron...

Yes, I thoroughly agree. If you journey around then unhappily you do see tractors and things like that rusting away for want of oil, or what we would consider relatively simple maintenance. That brings us to the point about leaf concentrate, it's relatively simple machinery and often made on the spot, and it's easy to repair. That's one of the advantages. But yes indeed, I did have a visitor from India about five years ago whose job was to look at the technology and to make sure that it is simple enough, and sustainable and appropriate, and that the apparatus that's used is repairable so I thoroughly endorse what you say.

When you're handing out the money, how do you trust the other organisations?

Well, we're working with major organisations. Either that or I serve on their councils or committees - not every one obviously, I mean we do have one or two people abroad that we trust, you just have to do that. Obviously if things go wrong you cease to use a particular person or organisation.

Perhaps I could tell you something that happened in my early life. We all went to bed one night and were wakened by shouting, "your house is on fire", and we looked around and saw that the back of the house was alight and it was spreading towards our staircase. Fortunately we had a water tank full with 100 gallons, and so we went out and Mother threw water at the fire until the fire brigade came. I think the world situation that we face today is something like that - you throw water at the fire, if it hits it and puts it out all well and good, but if it misses you don't turn your back and just walk away from the house and let it burn down, you keep throwing the water until it hits and puts out the fire. That's not an excuse for being slack on vetting individuals or organisations. I wouldn't stand here and tell you everything we've ever done at Vegfam has gone right because it hasn't. Things do go wrong once in a while, but we do our best, and will continue to be vigilant. We once returned an individual's donation, with interest personally paid by the Trustees, because we couldn't place it in accordance with the donor's wishes.

How do you go about fundraising?

Basically through the vegetarian and vegan press, and it's perhaps a little wider now with charity gazettes and things like that. It's basically through private donation from individuals, and we do have one or two covenants, including one from a company. Occasionally people do sponsored events for us - if you want to do a sponsored event give me your name and address and I'll send you some forms and authorisation. Running and swimming are examples, but also the Sunflower Restaurant in Oldham baked a big vegan cake and raised money for us that way.

Vegfam is somewhat unusual, possibly unique, in that the money you donate to projects actually goes on those projects. The running costs of Vegfam are paid by the Trustees (initially the founding Trustees and now the present ones), and people can if they want make specific donations towards our administration expenses. These are especially welcome. This is, I do accept, a limiting factor on the rate of growth of Vegfam, but on the other hand I think it's part of the reason we've been reasonably successful over the years. The best year we've had was some years back when we collected and distributed 21,000 in a 12-month period. It's a lot lower at the moment, due to the Recession, but I'm sure things will pick up.

How much influence do you think you have at present with the major charities you support (and with the actual benefactors) as regards the "not exploiting animals" theme? Does this get through at all, or do people simply accept the money gratefully without considering the idea too closely?

It's difficult to know without research. But I can give the example of being approached by Find Your Feet, who sought my agreement to the waste leaf fibre in the Bangladesh project being given to ploughing oxen, since their grass field was flooded in the rainy season. I agreed to this.

Because you concentrate on vegetarian and vegan provision, does this mean that in the past, and probably in the future, you concentrate on those countries where large proportions of the population are inclined towards that way of life, India for example? Or has that not entered into your outlook so far?

Well, I have to be frank and say that first of all Vegfam doesn't have a lot of money to distribute in any case, regardless of where the need is. The second consideration is whether we're able to place it with an organisation which is already on the spot, and whether we're satisfied that that organisation will carry out and respect the conditions under which Vegfam funds are made available. If that's the case then we help wherever we can.

So it's a combination of where we can place the funds, and if we're satisfied the funds will be used properly. And usually, because our supporters demand and expect it of us, we usually support relief efforts for whatever the current crisis situation is.

Do you differentiate between short-term and long-term aid? How does that divide up?

Yes. In emergency situations we check with the on-the-spot charity that Vegfam's conditions for providing (vegan) food can be met before placing funds. But sadly we can't dictate to that charity that only plant foods can be used throughout the emergency feeding situation - however, in many cases only plant foods are used. Long-term aid comprises leaf concentrate or fruit tree planting projects. It used to divide about 50/50, but there is a tendency now to short-term aid, as communities sadly pay the price for non-ecological lifestyles leading to "natural" disasters such as floods through lack of tree cover.

Do you have any links with Oxfam? Presumably a lot of their projects are vegan anyway?

Many of them are, and some of them aren't. We only have formal links, no close links at all. We support some Oxfam projects, and we helped with one in Sudan sometime ago, but we don't have close links although it's something I'd like to foster.

Do you have any thoughts on the "trade not aid" slogan? What do you think about that?

That's an involved topic, and I'd say "yes" in principle. I might add that many of Find Your Feet's leaf concentrate projects encourage the making and marketing of leaf concentrate, although it is usually freely available for children suffering from malnutrition.

What about your profile within the vegan movement (and links with the Vegan Society)? Perhaps it could be more prominent? Vegans are quite often criticised for focussing too much on animals, and if Vegfam had a higher profile then vegans could be seen to care about humans too - but there's rarely been a lot about Vegfam in the Vegan Society's magazine, aside from the adverts.

There's scope for Vegfam's profile to be more prominent (and this article in Vegan Views is a first step). Our relationship with the Vegan Society is cordial, and we intend to send out more news of Vegfam's projects to the vegetarian and vegan publications.

Do you plan for Vegfam to carry on more or less in the same way, or will it expand in the future?

What I'm hoping to do is to expand the Vegfam Council, and in the longer term I would look to Vegfam becoming a limited company, somewhat akin to Find Your Feet or indeed the Vegan Society. And the load would be shared out amongst volunteers or, possibly, some paid staff, so that Vegfam could continue to grow. This year we are laying the foundations for Vegfam to grow, for example increased advertising and mail shots.

Vegfam's ideas are fine, its time has come in many ways. It doesn't of course have a monopoly on the ideas, indeed we would like to see them replicated and copied elsewhere. I think basically that once the major charities, or ideally all the charities, realise that using animals is not the best way forward in trying to solve the problems of starvation and so on abroad, then that's the time when perhaps Vegfam can cease to exist. But we haven't done ourselves out of a job yet, and there are lots of well-intentioned people using animals to solve the starvation problem, and while they're doing that we hope we will have some influence on their thinking and their policy. I always have to temper that by saying that at the same time you've got to respect the individual diet, whatever it is, of the people you're trying to help - for example it might be the Masai out in Africa (and they're not exactly vegan!).

For more information send a large SAE to VEGFAM at The Sanctuary, nr Lydford, Okehampton, Devon EX20 4AL. Tel: (01822) 820203 or (01550) 721197).

LEAF CONCENTRATE

FIND YOUR FEET (37/39 Great Guildford Street, London SE1 OES tel: 071-401-8794) is a registered charity whose sole aim is to assist communities in developing countries improve their health and nutritional status by promoting the production of leaf concentrate. Leaf concentrate (which can be made from the leaves of lots of different plants) is highly nutritious, and only a tablespoonful of fresh leaf concentrate is needed daily to reverse the effects of pernicious nutrition deficiency.

It is also very easy to make. Fresh leaves are rinsed to remove dirt, then they are ground to a moist pulp and pressed to extract the juice. This juice is then quickly heated to boiling, coagulating the protein and other nutrients, and pasteurising the leaf concentrate. The curd, when gently pressed to remove as much liquid as possible, yields a green crumbly cake - leaf concentrate. It can be added to drinks, incorporated into breads, cakes or wafers, mixed in stews and soups, etc.

Find Your Feet's LEAF FOR LIFE projects are currently working in communities in Bangladesh, India, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Mexico and Nicaragua.

IN MEMORY OF ...

by Harry Mather.

Ruth Howard who died on 22nd October 1994 aged 70 years. She was brought up on a conventional diet with plenty of dairy products and as a child she was often sickly with anemia and chest trouble and could not take part in school games. At 15 she turned vegetarian and her health improved. Seven years later she became a 'plant eater' (in 1937 the word vegan had not been coined).

A couple of years later she became pregnant and determined to overcome orthodox misgivings about her diet, took to sitting cross-legged to stretch the pelvic bones. She had heard this was done in 'backward' countries (where giving birth is less trouble).

In 1940 she duly gave birth relatively quickly to a 7 lb son, which she was able to breastfeed. At 3 months he weighed 15 lb and was shown off at the clinic as a 'model' baby. He grew up healthily and progressed in his studies till he qualified as a civil engineer.

Ruth Howard continued to grow fresh vegetables from the allotment she maintained as well as holding a full time job. She also found time to take a B.A. (honours) degree in English Literature as a mature student, in her spare time! She also ran the VEGFAM organisation from 1966 till 1989. She will be remembered with affection as a Vegan Pioneer who, without any scientific support, felt instinctively that a plant based diet made sense and proved it not only for herself but also for future generations.

A memorial tree was planted in her name on December 4th at Plants For A Future, The Field, Higher Penpol, Cornwall PL22 ONG. Another tree was also planted there in memory of Margaret Thorne, another staunch pioneer vegan and firm friend of Ruth Howard.

About Vegfam...

The Overseas Aid Charity for Vegetarians & Vegans is
VEGFAM
(British Registered Charity No. 232208, Inland Revenue Ref XN8555)
FEEDS THE HUNGRY WITHOUT EXPLOITING ANIMALS
The Fragile Environment of Developing Countries cannot support TWO populations
Humans and their Food Animals.
For over 30 years VEGFAM has provided short and long-term Relief to People who have been the victims of Drought, Flood, Cyclone or War in over 40 countries. Our Supporters control how much of their Donation goes on Administration since VEGFAM operates three separate Funds for the use of Donors/Testators the particulars of which are:

GENERAL DONATIONS paid into a/c No 65023307 00 will be apportioned (by % shown) between
PROJECTS (91%) a/c No 65023323 00
Administration Expenses (7%) a/c No 65023310 00
Office Building Fund (2%) a/c No 65023336 53

The Co-operative Bank plc, 242 High Street, EXETER, Devon, EX4 3QB, Sort Code 08-92-90. (Midland Banks a/cs retained for use by existing Donors). Postal cheques, IMO's, MO's and PO's to Lydford address, please.

UK SUPPORTERS ARE INVITED TO PAY DONATIONS DIRECT TO ANY OF THESE ACCOUNTS.

USA the American Vegan Society has agreed to take U.S. dollar donations and make them available to VEGFAM in British Currency. Please make your cheque payable to AVS. Donations will go to VEGFAM's General Donations accounts unless you specify it is all for PROJECTS. The American Vegan Society, 501 Old Harding Way, PO Box H, MALAGA, N.J. 08328-0908 (Phone (609) 694 2887 Fax (609) 694 2288).

Australia VEGFAM has a PROJECTS Donations account at Westpac Banking Corporation (Sydney Office), 341 George Street, Sydney, NSW 2000. BSB & a/c no. 732-000 74-8282.

Tel/Fax Lydford (01822) 820203 [if you are outside the UK: +44 1822 820 203] or (01550) 721197 for more details - Covenant Forms/Bankers Order Forms etc (& self catering visitors accommodation) or write (SAE appreciated) to: VEGFAM, The Sanctuary, Nr Lydford, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 4AL, UK. Website: www.veganvillage.co.uk/vegfam Email: vegfam@veganvillage.co.uk

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT

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Cross-reference: Third world + Famine Relief