Monday, February 24, 2014

Studying South Sudan

As some of you know, I work at an international hunger relief organization called Stop Hunger Now and I volunteer with an organization called RESULTS.  Over the past few weeks, both organizations have had me thinking about a country that most people don't think about on a daily basis...South Sudan. You may have heard about the country recently on the news...the government take-over...the fighting...the internally displaced people...though the news doesn't post about it anymore, their problems have not yet gone away.

The village of Old Fangak
At Stop Hunger Now, we primarily have volunteers package meals that we ship internationally in to school feeding programs, but in the past few years, we've been working on a special project in South Sudan.  In 2011, our founder, Ray Buchanan, took at trip to a small village called Old Fangak to see their situation.  They have a resident physician there named Jill Seaman who has been doing amazing work in the country for over 25 years now. Old Fangak is a very small town...about 1,000 people...and it's main draw is Jill's medical clinic.  The village used to be a main trading hub but after multiple floodings, the town withered down to almost nothing. They live in small mud huts and they have hardly any access to education. It's a grim situation.

School under the trees
RESULTS major push this month is the Global Partnership for Education. The GPE is the only multilateral partnership devoted to getting all children, especially girls, in to school around the world.  Our local group decided to research different countries in the GPE and because of my involvement with the Old Fangak project, I chose to look in to South Sudan.  After doing the research I found that the GPE started working with South Sudan in 2011. I looked in to the report and found some shocking figures. Out of the whole country, only 42.9% of children are enrolled in primary school.  Less than half. That's insane! And only 1.9% of girls are in secondary school with only a little over half of their teachers being trained.  That just broke my heart. How can you pull a nation out of poverty with over half of the population not even receiving a primary school education? You can't. It's impossible. As I read on I learned that 1 in 3 children in the country are stunted due to malnutrition.  Because of this, I know that Stop Hunger Now is working in the right place.

A woman sifting for Plumpy Nut that dropped on the ground
When Stop Hunger Now picked up the project, their plan was to deliver a fence for the medical clinic, a completed women's center (they had a building but no roof), a school, teacher training, and an agricultural program to make the village self-sustaining.  We're still in the works with this project, but after the recent fighting, things became very urgent. This tiny village of 1,000 is now over 10,000 and counting. Refugees fled from all over the country to the town that they heard was 1. peaceful and 2. had a great medical clinic. So now they are running out of food and resources.

My job over the next few weeks is to kick up the campaign for South Sudan. I'm collecting images and video, creating content, fundraising proposals and working to get the South Sudan crisis back on the world's radar. Personally, I feel that it's so important for people in developed countries, who were born in to such privilege, to do something for those that were not so lucky. So I want to encourage every one of my readers to do something about this. So what can you do?

1. Learn about it - Search for information on the country and the current crisis...get informed. Check out resources such as the Alaska Sudan Medical Project, BBC, and the UN.

2. Share it - Tweet about it, post about it, blog about it, tell friends and family about it...but most of all, just raise awareness of this crisis. People don't hear about it on the news anymore so now they've forgotten about it.  So let's bring the cause back to light.

Jill helping a child with kala-azar
3. Donate - Donate whatever you can to the cause. $5 is great, $50 is awesome, $100 is amazing!  If you have a specific charity you like that you know is working in South Sudan, perfect, but if not, consider donating to Stop Hunger Now (and make it "in honor" of the South Sudan Project), the Alaska Sudan Medical Project, or even the UN. Also ,if you know anyone who works for a company that might be able to donate medical supplies, school supplies, seeds, or anything that might help with the Old Fangak project, please let me know.

They are in desperate need, but yet there is so much hope. Old Fangak is a haven for these beautiful people, so let's strengthen it and create a village of educated, healthy people who can turn their lives around and make a difference in their country.

So that is the challenge I'm giving you today...ready...set...GO!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Home Grown and Perfect for a Chefs Daughter

I think we have a caterer! No paperwork has been signed just yet...but I think we'll go with them.  As some may know, my father used to be a chef (currently a culinary arts instructor) and my mother used to be a food and beverage manager...or for all intents and purposes, the event planner.  So I have a pretty handy set of resources at my disposal! When my dad was at his last job, his sous chef was Greg Kilpatrick, who now owns Home Grown and Saffron Fine Foods Catering with his wife Miki in Asheville. They have wonderful southern yet sophisticated food and it's exactly what we're looking for.

For the past few weeks we've been trying to catch them and kept missing them for one reason or another, but just yesterday we finally connected!  They called my mom today and had a chat about our vision and we're right on par with what they do and they're happy to be flexible with us (because of dad). We meet with them this weekend.  So yay!!! It looks like we will have an amazing caterer and I cannot wait to work out the menu with them!

We've been envisioning something simple with a twist. We've been thinking family style rather than buffet but we may do a mix of both. The vision is a lovely fruit and arugula salad on the table with a delicious homemade vinaigrette.  Possibly a soup for all of the non-salad eaters.  For dinner we're thinking options of pork and fish...possibly trout since it's NC :) For sides we want my dad's infamous butternut squash pudding...the best ever....and some veggies and maybe a starch.  Keep it simple...but delicious. I'm so lucky to have my family helping me through this...they used to (and still do) make menus all the time so they know exactly what will hold well, taste amazing, and what will wow our guests who have traveled so far to be with us.

The dessert is going to be the real fun...I don't want to give too much away but we're thinking lots of New Zealand favorites...southern pies...and some delicious homemade ice cream.  I'm also blessed in that my mom is currently working as a gluten free baker, and my future mother-in-law is a pastry chef! Talk about luck! So the dessert will be their area to play with...lots of cute happy pie crusts and delicious varieties. Lot's of berries and apples (it's apple season in the high country!) so that will add some fun color as well.  And a favor that's edible and hopefully a huge hit...And the cake, we're thinking we'll have a (lovely) friend make it and we'll do the decorating...I'm thinking chocolate bark and berries and flowers. We'll see how it turns out but get ready to taste the best most favorite cake in the world since I've been a child.

Oh and for the rehearsal dinner? FOOD TRUCK! Don't tell anyone. It's going to be awesome. We're having the rehearsal dinner on sight at the Dairy Barn that I mentioned in my venue post.  The goal is to have everyone gather to do the ceremony run-through then hang out for some fun food, beer, and laughs. We may even throw in a few games...think wedding olympics ;) So the food should be amazing...just like everyone is expecting from a chef's daughter and pastry chef's son. Yay!!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sandy Beaches and Turkish Bazaars

So since I'm documenting the wedding planning process, I figured, why not bring the honeymoon planning process here for everyone to follow along with as well? :)

Andrew and I were thinking about going to Thailand for the longest time. Exotic beaches, ancient ruins, a completely different culture...Sounded great! But then the more we thought about it, and how we're going to (sometime in the near future) move to that side of the world (to New Zealand), we thought, ehh, maybe we'll do something closer to home.

Out of that...somehow...we came Greece and Turkey! Not exactly close to home, but still quite awesome! Andrew has a think for ancient history and said he would love to go to Istanbul one I started looking in to it and thinking, that woouuld be quite cool. The culture, the food, the bazaars (shoppinggg!).  So Istanbul it was! But I was fixated on those white sandy I looked at the map and noticed Greece isn't too far away! Why not?! So there you go. As of now, we've decided Greece first, for a few days of ruins and beach side relaxation, Turkey second.

There are so many interesting places we want to see in each country! I've been hunting all over Pinterest and Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor to see where we should start. So over the next few months I'm going to be looking around and figuring out where we want to go...and attempting to document it all here. I'll be sure to post links to sights, suggestions, and planning tips I've come across :) And if you have any suggestions FOR me, please please please post in a comment! I've never been there, so any insight will be lovely.

I'm getting so exciting! This will surely be an adventure!