The Epicenter Strategy: How It Works
An epicenter is defined as a cluster of 10 to 15 villages within a 10km radius, with a population of approximately 10,000 people, that come together to meet basic needs. The centerpiece of the strategy is an L-shaped epicenter building that houses the community's programs for health, education, food security and economic development. The community elects an overall epicenter committee and forms subcommittees to manage each program.
Phase One: Mobilization
The purpose of phase one, which takes up to one year, is for villagers to create a vision of a future free from hunger, commit to realize their vision, and inspire and organize people to take self-reliant action.
The first step is for The Hunger Project to meet with local government representatives to apprise them of our approach and gain their support.
We then give the Vision, Commitment and Action Workshop (VCAW): first at the district level for government officers and invited representatives from villages, and then at the village level to several hundred villagers. Leaders begin to emerge, and an equal number of women and men are trained as volunteer animators who inspire their fellow villagers to set priorities and take action.
Individuals and small groups launch animator-initiated projects as "homework" for the VCAW. Projects may include rebuilding schools, planting vegetable gardens or launching small businesses. People gain real confidence when they succeed at their first self-reliant project.
Functional literacy classes for women start at the village level. This opens a whole new world, and women begin to see themselves differently.
We begin organizing the our Microfinance Program [formerly known as the African Woman Food Farmer Initiative (AWFFI)], through which The Hunger Project provides small loans. Women come together, form loan groups, select their leadership, and for the first time in their lives, contemplate earning a cash income and having economic power.
Throughout phase one, each village in the cluster tends to work on its own. Phase one is complete when villages begin to work together as a larger community with real economic and political strength, which we call an epicenter, and elect an epicenter committee to lead them in phase two.
Phase Two: The Tipping Point
During phase two, which also takes approximately one year, the cluster of villages works together and constructs its epicenter building.
The villagers get approximately five acres of land donated for both the building and a community farm. The Hunger Project secures clear title to the land, and hires a contractor to train the people to make bricks and supervise the construction.
The villagers build the epicenter building, which houses a food bank, credit union, health center, library, community meeting hall, preschool, classrooms for literacy training and food-processing equipment.
The building becomes a symbol of partnership, self-reliance and community unity. It's an achievement that is almost unimaginable to the villagers. The successful construction of the epicenter building is the tipping point in the five-year process. Once this has been achieved, the process of calling forth self-reliance becomes irreversible.
Also during phase two, the Microfinance Program loan committee begins providing loans to women's groups.
Another important intervention of this phase is that The Hunger Project begins delivering the HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop, coordinated by the health committee.
Local government provides nurses, teachers and supplies for the preschool and health clinic.
We know that phase two has been successful when the epicenter building is formally inaugurated at a big public assembly with senior government leaders in attendance.
Phase Three: Progress on All Fronts
In phase three, for up to three years, the people in the epicenter make progress on all fronts, including solidifying and creating an even more powerful partnership with local government.
With access to training and credit, women grow more and better food. On the community farm, farmers learn how to use new seeds, small-scale irrigation systems and composting techniques to improve their crops. They diversify crops and use food-processing equipment to reduce drudgery and preserve food. The food bank is stocked from the community farm, and stabilizes prices for farmers as well as protects against shortages.
With better production and better prices, incomes increase. In addition, with training and credit, people invest in income-generating activities, such as raising goats, chickens, pigs and cows, food processing, sewing and tie-dying.
The health clinic provides basic treatment, first-aid and nutrition education. Villagers are able to treat and prevent diarrhea, TB, measles and malaria. There are immunizations and health records for all children, pre- and postnatal classes for women, and trained midwives and traditional birth attendants from the epicenters. The sanitary latrine reduces disease, and the villages can afford to bore wells for safe drinking water. Because of the HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop, more men and women use condoms and seek voluntary testing for HIV.
With increased family income, more girls and boys stay in school. The preschool frees women's time for more education, training and participation as leaders. Animators reach out to remote villages to build more classrooms. Men as well as women begin participating in adult literacy classes.
Through equality of leadership, the Microfinance Program and the HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop, women gain confidence. There is greater respect from men, and more authentic partnership. In addition, two women from each village receive training in legal literacy and reproductive health, becoming "barefoot lawyers," village-level resources to women about their rights.
The Microfinance Program successfully places and recovers loans, keeps records and mobilizes savings. The women who run the bank take classes to pass the government exams, so that the loan program can become an official, government-recognized Rural Bank.
Phase Four: Self-Reliance
Once the Rural Bank is officially recognized, no further financial support from The Hunger Project is necessary. Epicenter communities can meet their own basic needs and have become agents of their own development.