The research I did while writing the book on the Peace Corps suggested quite strongly that a significant number of volunteers went on to make substantial additional contributions to the original Peace Corps goals after their years of service. My data came mainly from the hundreds of volunteers who served in the Philippines during the 1970s but I suspect that the results would be replicated using any other similar data base. In a nutshell the data showed that ‘making a difference’ continued to be an important part of their lives.

However, two of my colleagues from those years have accomplished, and continue to accomplish, remarkable feats that go well beyond what most of us could even think about, let alone do. Joe and Pat Richter, volunteers in the Philippines during the seventies, and Phil and Lynn Lilienthal, Ethiopia volunteers during the sixties and staff members in the Philippines and Thailand during the seventies, are engaged in international activities that draw admiration and support from literally thousands of people around the world.

I’ll save the Lilienthals’ Global Camps Africa for my next posting and today concentrate on the Richters’ FARMS International.

For over 45 years FARMS International, a faith-based program out of Knife River, Minnesota, has provided initial leadership, funding, and ongoing support to an ever growing list of countries to help the poor out of poverty while preserving their individual dignity and avoiding dependence. FARMS works through often-struggling Christian churches to provide seed money to members with small business aspirations, but no capital. Some projects and their outcomes in Rwanda are described in a pdf document that can be downloaded using Adobe Acrobat.

Typically, FARMS loans a small amount of money, often less than two hundred dollars, to finance the purchase of a piece of equipment, some inventory, an animal, some seed and fertilizer, and the like to begin a small business. FARMS relies on local church leadership to select the recipients and to provide ongoing program support.  The repaid loans, the rate of which approaches 100%, are then recycled, and the process begins anew.

The amazing thing is that the big, important development agencies in recent years have discovered the magic of ‘micro’ loans. FARMS has been doing it for decades!

Pat and Joe joined FARMS when it was little more than an idea and have played major roles in its development over the years from that initial embryonic stage to having a dynamic presence in twelve countries, the Philippines, appropriately, being one of them. Joe is the Executive Director of FARMS International and Pat handles administrative matters. Having following him and his work for a number of years leads me to think that he has probably logged more miles in the developing world that most of us have taken breaths.

Most of us can’t aspire to be doing the work the Richters do, but we can support them in theirs. Please think about joining me in doing so by googling FARMS International and following the directions.