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CEN eNewsletter - March 2015                                                                      Contact Us

In this issue...

Letter from the Director
Why Soft Skills Matter
Rural Family Home Students Bring Sustainable Skills to Their Communities
CENShop to Add Handmade Jewelry, Tablecloths, Baskets, and More
New Video Highlights the Suruacá School Electrification Expansion Project
From the Empowerblog: Can Social Media Activism Have an Impact on International Development?
Volunteer Spotlight: Eloisa Townsend
How You Can Help

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Letter from the Director

BobIn our first newsletter of 2015, I’m pleased to report on our progress since we shifted our organization’s business strategy late last year. We’ve begun our transition from a focus on fundraising and managing projects directly to an increased emphasis on collaborating with larger international organizations. Our new approach guided us in setting our priorities for this year to maximize our impact. So far, we’ve already made great strides on our top four goals for 2015:

  • Establish Partnerships With Larger Development Organizations: One of the key areas of expertise that we feel offers the most immediate potential for collaboration is our experience with PRATICAR Learning ApproachTM, CENs innovative set of tools for building soft skills and mindsets. By strengthening the soft skills that are critical for creating sustainable social change in a community, PRATICAR can improve the effectiveness and sustainability of youth mentorship, microcredit, community development, workforce development and entrepreneurship programs. We plan to contribute our knowledge of strengthening soft skills to larger organizations that have established funders. Developing these skills is essential to self-reliance, which in turn combats learned helplessness and hopelessness. Don't miss my feature article in this edition of the newsletter, Why Softskills and Mindsets Are So Important for Sustainable Development and also be sure check out our new capacity statement for PRATICAR>>

  • Evaluating the Viability of CEN Creating an Online Marketplace: Since we reopened the CENShop last fall, we’ve been exploring the idea of expanding our online sales efforts to benefit the communities we work to empower. We’re excited to share that we’ve increased our product offerings and will continue to do so over the coming months. Read more>>

  • Finishing Our Evaluation of the Banco da Mulher Rotating Savings Fund: To determine how to improve access to business loans to small entrepreneurs in the regions where we work, we’ve been working on an evaluation of the Banco da Mulher rotating savings fund. We expect to have a draft of the report finished by late April that we can share with fund participants, NGOs, and other associations.

  • Supporting Community-led Initiatives: We’ve continued to contribute funding to ongoing projects, such as the Rural Family Home’s Artesian Well Project and the Suruacá School Electrification Expansion Project. We’ve been pleased to see these projects become increasingly self-reliant, as this is key to a project’s long-term success. Rural Family Home (CFR) projects, for example, have offered training to youth in remote populations, teaching them the skills they need to build sustainable livelihoods in their home communities rather than seeking their living elsewhere. Read more>>

We’ve disbursed the money we’ve raised so far for the CFR Artesian Well Project; it will be used for the construction of the well. Members of the Eixo Forte communities plan to send photos and a thank you note from students during the next term. As soon as we’ve received them, we’ll be sure to share them with you.

Recently, we’ve also completed a new video that looks at the Suruacá School Electrification Expansion Project. It explains the challenges the school has faced in educating and nourishing students because of its limited electrical system. Also highlighted is the initiative the community has taken to find solutions. Please be sure to watch the new video.

For our current community-led initiatives in Brazil, we hope to raise enough money that the projects can begin by my next visit, which will most likely take place in late June. If you’re interested in accompanying me, please contact me directly.

Also, be sure to check out our newsletter editor Stephanie Long’s look at how social media can have an impact on international development, along with our volunteer spotlight on talented wordsmith Eloisa Townsend.

All of you enable CEN to continue our work empowering communities in need. We are grateful for your ongoing support – whether financial or moral – and we welcome any questions about our work or how you can help.

Bob Bortner

CEN Founder and Director

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Why Strong Soft Skills and Mindsets Are So Important for Sustainable Development

by Bob Bortner

Children in front of Kitchen

Ten years ago a German organization funded the construction of a kitchen for the women of the tiny Amazonian community of Suruacá to make and sell doces (sweets) from local seasonal fruit, generating income for themselves and their families. About a year later, CEN Director Bob Bortner met with the women’s group to learn why the facility was not being used. The group explained that although they were trained on how to make a variety of doces, they were not shown how to sell the sweets. Instead of taking the initiative to come up with a plan to turn a profit of their own or speaking with others who have had success in similar pursuits, the women of Suruacá were holding off on using the kitchen until someone with power and authority would determine how they should make and sell the treats. The impact of the project, which had initially appeared to be a success, turned out to be ineffective because it could not be sustained.

Through our decade of work in community development, CEN has identified particular soft skills and mindsets that help overcome the sense of powerlessness and bolster the self-reliance of individuals and their communities. Additionally, these basic skills and mindsets strengthen the capacity of communities to address many of the economic, social and environmental problems they face, as well as form a firm foundation for applying higher-level skills that are typically addressed by development programs. Strong basic skills, mindsets and the habits — as well as the behaviors that are associated with them — are critical for communities and their residents in addressing the economic, social and environmental problems they face. Read more >>

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Rural Family Home Students Bring Sustainable Skills to Their Communities

by Joshua Weiss

Rural Family Home planting seeds

As a consequence of geography, residents in remote communities around Brazil often suffer from low income due to limited vocational advancement opportunities. The communities of the Eixo Forte in the Amazon, isolated by distance and poor transportation in the impoverished north, see many of their youth leave in search of better employment and training. This generational exodus compounds the ongoing struggle with poverty.

Rural Family Homes (or Casa Familar Rural or CFR’s) have proven to be a powerful model to address many of these chronic challenges in the communities they serve. Through improved training, infrastructure, and development models, the CFR's holistic community development approach aligns closely with the CEN mission in that it seeks to empower rural populations to lift themselves up, as well as to secure and sustain their way of life. We’ve been working to support the CFR of the Eixo Forte in building an artesian well as part of a comprehensive plan to improve the school’s physical infrastructure and the educational experience for students.

CFR projects in Brazil have taken off in recent years, and communities from the southern plains (pampas) to the central hinterland (sertaneja) are taking full advantage. In Lapa, Paraná, young adults undergo a three-week training rotation according to the alternate pedagogy (pedagogia da alternância) model adopted by their local CFR. For each week that students receive training in modern agricultural techniques, they spend two weeks in their respective villages implementing the new techniques and technologies.  Read more>>

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CENShop to Add Handmade Jewelry, Tablecloths, Baskets, and More

by Stephanie Long


After successfully reopening the CENShop several months ago, we're working to add a variety of new items for socially conscious consumers. By increasing our offerings beyond purses and handbags, we hope to provide more members of the communities we serve with a way to sell their goods and generate a sustainable income. Over the next few months, the CENShop’s inventory will grow to include handmade tablecloths by CEN program participant Regina Souza; woven baskets by members of Suruacá’s women’s group; innovative purses made from lovely pieces of rich sustainably harvested woods; handcrafted necklaces, earrings and bracelets; and much more.

Currently, the CENShop offers bags by Couro Ecológico, an artisan-owned association founded in Maguary, Brazil. The current line of products is comprised of a variety of backpacks, shoulder and messenger bags, and purses. During the past few weeks, we have added more purses, making nearly our entire stock available for purchase online. All are both eco- and vegan-friendly, as they’re made from locally harvested rubber.

In line with our mission, CENShop sales supplement the incomes of people living in rural, poverty-stricken areas, allowing them to use their skills to develop a sustainable income, become self-reliant, and reinvest in their communities. As we increase our inventory, we are excited to be moving forward in our plan to expand the impact of the CENShop. For more information and to browse the selection of products that are currently available, please visit the CENShop today.

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New Video Highlights the Suruacá School Electrification Expansion Project’s Plan to Meet Growing Education and Nutrition Needs

by Stephanie Long

Suruaca School Electrification Video

Located in the remote Amazon community of Suruacá, the school relies on solar-powered electricity that currently lacks the capacity to grow the school’s telecenter and free school lunch program. With its limited power output, the electrical system cannot support an adequate number of computers for students and teachers or the freezer required to be able to offer free lunches to students in need.

Our new video looks at the challenges the community has faced in educating and nourishing its students given the current electrical limitations, along with the initiative it has taken to find solutions. Watch video>> 

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Empowerblog IconFrom Our Empowerblog: Can Social Media Activism Have an Impact on International Development?

by Stephanie Long
The Empowerblog hosts regular postings of opt-ed pieces on topics related to international development written by our staff and volunteers. Please subscribe to the RSS feed so you can receive new postings as soon as they are posted.  Subscribe to CEN's Empowerblog

Central American women twitter feed

Social media activism has proven to be a controversial phenomenon. Its efficacy is hotly debated, as some hail it as the future of social activism and others dismiss it as mere “slacktivism.” Certainly, we’ve seen that social media activism has the power to have an impact on activism. It is credited, for example, with playing a central role in shaping political debate in the Arab Spring, as well as for spurring on $115 million in donations through the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Yet examples on that scale are few and far between. Far more common is “hashtag activism,” which seems to begin and end at posting a message about an issue. If the potential for benefit is there, though, how can international development activists harness it? Read more>>

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Volunteer Spotlight Icon

Volunteer Spotlight: Eloisa Townsend Enjoys Developing New Skills While Having a Positive Impact Through CEN Work

by Stephanie Long

Eloisa Townsend

Born in the Philippines and raised in British Columbia, Canada, Eloisa Townsend is a Pacific Northwesterner who has seen firsthand how extreme poverty can affect lives. Now based in Blaine, Washington, she discovered CEN while looking for local volunteer opportunities. Her professional background and desire to “do some good” turned out to be an ideal fit for the volunteer marketing and communications writer role. Since coming on board in September 2014, Eloisa has made major contributions to the website and was instrumental in the recent relaunch of the CENShop.

For Eloisa, learning about online product marketing has been fascinating. She was tasked with writing product descriptions for the Couro Ecológico line of purses, which required a different approach compared to the work she has done in the past. “You have to balance being creative and practical in presenting information so people understand what you’re trying to sell,” explains Eloisa. Fortunately, the products provided inspiration. “They are well-made and beautiful,” she adds. “It’s very rewarding because you’re helping to give a small business from the Amazon an avenue to sell their goods.”

A graduate of Simon Fraser University, Eloisa studied communications and history. She has since spent several years working in marketing and communications in both the corporate and nonprofit spheres, where she developed her talent for creating strong content. “It’s fun to be able to present information in a way that’s not just informative, but engaging,” says Eloisa. “I’m very action-oriented. I like to look past what’s wrong and try to figure out how we can fix it.”

Eloisa is currently tackling a capacity statement with CEN Director Bob Bortner. Bob will share this communication piece with potential partners and investors during his March 2015 trip to Washington, D.C.

When she’s not busy volunteering with CEN, Eloisa works as the festival administrator of the Pacific Arts Association, helping to organize the annual Drayton Harbor Music Festival. She also enjoys spending time with her husband, their two daughters not to mention her big fluffy puppy!

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How you can help imageHow You Can Help

Donate to the Suruacá School Electrification System Expansion Project

Improve educational opportunities and nutrition for Amazonian children
Suruaca School Electrification System Expansion Project

The tiny Amazon community of Suruacá’s school seeks to improve its limited electrical system to increase the number of computers it can make available to students and members of the rural community, as well as to power the freezer provided by a government nutrition program.

By giving to the Suruacá School Electrification Expansion Project, you will help improve the quality of education and food provided to students.
Your continued support is crucial to the project’s success. The school needs to raise the final $1,700 needed for the project. Please help expand the school’s electrical capacity donating today. Donate Now>>

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Donate to the Rural Family Home Artesian Well Project

Help satisfy the region’s youth’s thirst for opportunity
Rural Family Home Artesian Well Project

The Rural Family Home continues to work toward its goal of upgrading the school’s facilities and improving access to clean drinking water. By giving to the Rural Family Home Artesian Well Project, you will help the three-year vocational school better realize its powerful potential and stem the migration of young men and women from rural areas in the region to overcrowded cities.

Your continued support is crucial to our continued success. We’ve raised $1,325 so far and the Rural Family Home needs only approximately $1,475 before they can break ground on their well. Please help provide clean water for the school by donating today. Donate Now>>

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Use our Amazon.com link whenever you shop on Amazon.com

Every purchase you make supports our projects.

CEN Amazon.com Link

Help support us, simply by purchasing from Amazon.com! Go to this link or click the Amazon.com image to the left to get started. A portion of your purchase will be donated from Amazon.com to CEN with no additional cost to you. Last year CEN earned over $300 through the program!

By using the link http://endruralpoverty.org/amazon every time you purchase items from Amazon.com, Amazon pays CEN as much as 10% of your order – without costing you a penny more.

Book this link to use for all your Amazon.com purchases year-round!



Stephanie Long


Bob Bortner
Roy Gu
Susan Kim
Stephanie Long
Joshua Weiss

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