Illinois Woman Founds Group That Trains Global Hunger-Fighters
Written by Phyllis Coulter in Illinois Farmer Today publication
Doing volunteer work in East Africa, Joy Kauffman, an Illinois mom of two teenage girls, saw how children like hers were hungry and lacked basic necessities. She saw the lack of clean water and access to healthy food and the need for training to produce it.
It led her to create an international nonprofit organization, FARM STEW International, designed to equip families with tools they need to prevent hunger, disease and poverty.
Her inspiration came when she volunteered in East Uganda with the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2015. On that trip, she was inspired by a translator. He was doing more than just translating, he was helping train.
They were talking about using soybeans for food for children, and the locals learned more from one of their own, she said.
That led her to want to set up an organization where the locals were doing the training with resources provided by the non-profit organization. People listen to their neighbors better than someone getting off an airplane flight that may have cost more than their annual salary, she said.
“They speak the language. They know the culture,” she said.
She knew with her education in public health and international nutrition at Johns Hopkins University and Virginia Tech, along with experience working on children’s health issues at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and her Christian faith, she could do more.
She became the founder and executive director of FARM STEW International, which trains locals to educate their entire communities through gardening, cooking, obtaining clean water, better sanitation, and inspiring enterprise. They conduct hands-on classes, sharing practical skills that equip people to help themselves.
FARM STEW is an acronym for Farming, Attitude, Rest, Meals, Sanitation, Temperance, Enterprise and Water.
“It changes people’s lives,” she said.
She gives an example of a woman who was in a “terrible situation.” She wasn’t in a good marriage with her husband, a shoe cobbler, and couldn’t feed her children. Once she learned skills to contribute to the family income, it was a turning point. Then she was able to train others and help her children. She found more of a balance in her marriage, Kauffman said.
Of more than 202,000 participants in various training program, 72% are women who have participated in a full-day, hands-on FARM STEW training,
Even though Princeton, Illinois, is a world away from the people she is helping, Kauffman said there is a lot of local support. Her right hand is Cherri Olin, the organization’s domestic operations director.
When Olin learned of her friend’s plan to start the organization, she said, “I told her I’d do anything to help except go to Africa.” She started helping and in 2018 “gave in” and went.
“I left part of my heart in Africa,” Olin said.
Also as the mother of teenage girls, she was struck by the absence of sanitary pads for young women during menstruation. The girls had to sit on tiles and dirt floors and got infections. Olin said she was glad to be part of giving the young women better hygiene, health and dignity.
Food is preserved with formaldehyde there — something considered to be a poison here. Food preservation is another important topic of training.
The organizations now works in nine countries and has held 10,000 training events with 250,000 trainees.
“We started with a team of five and now we have 70,” Kauffman said.
Today FARM STEW has affiliated partner organizations in Uganda and South Sudan and partners in Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, the Philippines, Cuba and Bolivia.
It’s like the parable of giving a man a fish and he’ll have a meal or teaching him to fish and he’ll have food for a lifetime, Olin said.