Themes in Food Security

The most important themes in food security work today are understanding that, first, the root cause of food insecurity is poverty, driven by systemic racism, and second, it’s important to respect the reality of organizations addressing these issues on the ground and “decolonize philanthropy” by giving in ways that acknowledge complex and ingrained power dynamics and the skills, knowledge, and capacity of local actors.

Ultimately, we know how to solve the problem of hunger in our communities, and there are in fact many solutions in terms of strategies, technologies, and infrastructure. Food insecurity is fundamentally a resource distribution issue – some people don’t have money to buy food because of systemic inequality and racism. The organizations that are trying to address this require consistent access to resources over the long term. Funding should be directed to organizations that are providing basic needs, without requiring “innovation” or shiny new programs. Food sovereignty – wherein communities are in control of their own resources and able to meet their own needs – is essential to fundamentally addressing our unequal food system.

We have to look holistically at how to make our communities more resilient, not only in terms of food, but in relationship to all of our collective systems that support well being. For further reading and ideas about next steps, an article that does an excellent job encompassing some of these issues and positing very pragmatic, solutions based strategies can be found here: Why We Need a Public Food Sector


Blog Content provided by Eva Agudelo (she/her/hers)

Eva has worked with beginning farmers, restaurants, retailers, farmers markets, nonprofits, and hunger relief agencies to improve community food security and bring about a food system that works for everyone. Eva started the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project; served as a FINI (now GusNIP) program officer at Wholesome Wave, supporting incentive programs at farmers markets across the US; and most recently was the Assistant Director of Programs at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, administering federal nutrition programs and supporting Rhode Island’s statewide network of food pantries and meal sites. She holds an M.S. from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, is a former member of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council (RIFPC) and sits on the board of Osamequin Farm.
In 2018, Eva founded the nonprofit Hope’s Harvest RI, which improves the livelihoods of local farmers, increases food security for our most vulnerable residents, and gets everyone engaged in strengthening the food system by eliminating on-farm food waste. As Rhode Island’s first statewide farm-based food rescue program dedicated to securing the supply chain of fresh local produce to hunger relief agencies, Hope’s Harvest coordinates a strong network of volunteers, farmers, and food pantries to recover local produce and distribute it to neighbors in need.


Nurturing Artists and Audiences, Alike

Blessed Unrest, now in our 20th year, is a subversive physical theater ensemble that transforms new and classic plays into channels for unexpected alchemy, energetic discomfort, and complex articulation.  Through a dedicated and diverse ensemble, international collaborations, and a rigorous training and devising process, we are fueled by the innate human desire to collaborate, the thrill of the impossible challenge, and the instinctual need to rebel.

We are an unusual organization in that we are a large company of creators who have been working, training, and honing our crafts together for anywhere between two and 20 years.  This allows us to go deeper every time we engage with the work.  It allows us to play hard.

We believe that complex, smart, physically driven theatre with strong narratives and a sense of humor can move and inspire a wide audience, and ours includes both fans of the avant garde and mainstream theatergoers.  The diversity of our ensemble broadens the scope of our work and attracts diverse audiences.

Blessed Unrest is honored to have been funded by the Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust since 2018.  Particularly in the wake of the past two years, their contribution has helped to assuage the uncertainty of not only how to survive, but of how to continue making vital work as an arts organization.


Throughout the course of the pandemic, while live theatre was on respite Blessed Unrest continued to make work safely, recognizing the increased need for community and the presence of art in our lives.  We developed a process of prerecording all elements of sound involved in a production in order to eliminate the dangers of live speaking and vocal projection.  A rich tapestry of music and pre-recorded speech was developed to create soundtracks with which movement was interwoven.

TOUCH performers at Madison Square Park. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Working both remotely, and outside in masks, TOUCH was born, a pandemic meditation on skin-hunger and longing to connect.  Inspired by our growing understanding of the function of mirror neurons and driven by the need to provide a refuge from the isolation and fear, the piece invited audiences to partake in the warmth of creative intimacy, with the safety of distance.  The research on mirror neurons and the emotional brain suggests that a witnessing of the authentic corporeal experiences of others can stimulate the very same visceral response in our own brains, as though the experience were ours.  It’s a forging of literal compassion through neural growth.  TOUCH was performed outdoors in Madison Square Park as part of the NYC Open Culture Program. The success of TOUCH led to the creation of a very different piece of theatre, but developed in a similar way.  Commissioned by The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, we took on Williams’ very first full-length play, Battle of Angels.  When it opened for a brief run in Boston in 1940, Battle of Angels was referred to as, “Indecent and improper…lascivious and immoral,” “Low and common,” and, “Putrid.”  Dramaturgy surrounding the play suggests that Williams intended to cast a black man in the lead role but that the idea was rejected by his producers.  That is how Blessed Unrest chose to present it, turning an otherwise innocuous story into a racially-charged illustration of the bigotry of the American south.  Battle of Angels opened at the New Ohio Theatre in New York City and went on the headline at The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in MA.

A scene from Battle of Angels. Photo by Maria Baranova.


Blessed Unrest’s latest undertaking, The Untitled Othello Project (, is an exercise in creative justice that pays a living wage to all artists, and employs ensemble-based creative practices to engage in deep and sustained exploration of Shakespeare’s text.  We seek to evolve a script that provides humanity and dimension to the title character, and all of the characters that people this widely produced, but to so many, toxic and re-traumatizing play through a series of residencies at academic institutions.

Our work begins with extreme and in-depth text analysis, and conversation about all that we encounter, particularly in the realms of race and misogyny.  We maintain an open forum for all responses, and engage both students and faculty in the discussions.  With the information that we gather, we’re then cutting, and reordering to build a streamlined version of the story that allows room for the actors to truly express the humanity of the characters, all without actually rewriting Shakespeare’s words.  Next steps for the project include additional ensemble-building, and physical exploration of status and hierarchy in the play through movement work.  Our initial two-week residency at Sacred Heart University was hugely successful, and we’re seeking other collaborators of that caliber with whom to continue this important work.

Blessed Unrest is honored to be partnering with Keith Hamilton Cobb (American Moor), Midnight Oil Collective (a creator-led arts investment, development and production group), and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Participants from The Untitled Othello Project meet in an open forum.


In our 20 years, Blessed Unrest has staged 35 productions (21 world premieres) at New York Theatre Workshop, New Ohio Theatre, PS122, Public Theater, Baruch Performing Arts Center, Interart Theatre, NYU, Columbia, Manhattan School of Music, and Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. We have toured Western Europe and the Balkans three times with original bilingual (English/Albanian) plays created with Teatri Oda of Kosovo. We have held developmental and production residencies at New Victory Theater, Baruch Performing Arts Center, New Ohio Theatre, IRT, and Interart Theatre, and teach our methods of theatre-making at universities around the country and internationally.

We were honored with a commendation for distinguished leadership from the Kennedy Center ACTF National Awards Committee, First Prize at the 2016 Secondo Theatre Festival (Switzerland), and the 2014 Cino Award for Sustained Excellence from the NY Innovative Theatre Awards, from whom we’ve received five other awards among 17 nominations (including Outstanding Production and Choreography/Movement).  Artistic Director Jessica Burr received the 2011 LPTW Lucille Lortel Award for her work as a director and the body of work we have created under her leadership.



Jessica Burr

Jessica Burr

Blog content provided by Jessica Burr. Jessica is the Artistic Director and a founding company member of Blessed Unrest. She has been honored with the 2019 Kennedy Center ACTF Commendation for Distinguished Leadership

Launders Charitable Trust Continues Its Support of the Community Hospice House of Richmond VA

Jeff Fairfield and Jerry Lonnes  present a check to Kyle Clark of the Community Hospice House of Richmond

RHLCT Co-Trustee Jerry Lonnes and RHLCT Executive Director Jeff Fairfield present a check for $10,000 to Kyle Clark, MSN, RN, Head Nurse at the Community Hospice House of Richmond.  This grant was approved and funded by the RHLCT Board of Trustees this summer to support the on-going capital campaign to expand the capacity of the Richmond Community Hospice House.  A facility operated by Bon Secours Mercy Health Foundation, the 16-bed facility in suburban Richmond provides compassionate, end-of-life care to terminally ill residents and their families.  Since 2015, The Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust has awarded grants totaling $162,500 to the Community Hospice House of Richmond.

Launders’ Gift to Reduce Sexual Violence in Rural Uganda Exceeds Expectations

The Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust is the first funder to support the Solar Electric Light Fund’s (SELF) pilot project in Bukyerimba, Uganda.  It is aimed at reducing sexual violence against women and girls who are stalked by predators while collecting water and firewood for their families in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.  By installing solar-powered streetlights and a solar-powered water station, as well as introducing solar cookers for food preparation, the project will significantly decrease the need for females to venture into isolated areas.

Based on the success of the project, SELF and its Ugandan partner, Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF), believe the pilot can be replicated throughout Sub-Saharan Africa where the need is greatest.  In central and eastern Africa alone, the prevalence of sexual violence against women can be as high as 37%. 

Ugandan women carrying water to their village.

SELF has installed a three-story water tower that connects to a distribution network in the village so that no one will have to walk far to get water.    It is no longer necessary for women and girls to spend several hours every day seeking water—with the threat of a brutal attack always on their minds.  Another advantage resulting from the system’s clean water is that water-borne diseases are no longer a threat, especially to young children. 

Solar streetlights now illuminate the project area at night—but not just to increase security.  Students in Bukyerimba and nearby villages congregate at the streetlights to do their homework, and neighbors can now safely gather at night.    Businesses are staying open longer because customers are no longer afraid to be outside after dark.  With businesses staying open, the local economy is starting to improve. 

In 2021, SELF plans to launch a program that will introduce the community to a new kind of cooking that depends upon solar thermal energy from the sun for heat; thus, it drastically reduces the need for collecting firewood.  When wood fires are no longer used for cooking, life-threatening pulmonary conditions from inhaling smoke and ash will no longer be a danger to the women.  The program includes launching a women-run, solar cookstove business. A 10 kW micro-grid will provide light in the RHF safe house, children’s center, and administrative office.  It will also serve several solar-powered appliances—a cell phone charging station, grain mill, and refrigerator (for cold drinks).  The appliances will generate revenue to assure the project’s sustainability and provide an opportunity for the women to learn entrepreneurship.

Hellen Tanyinga surrounded by children from the village.

Even though the project’s entire installation is not yet complete, evidence of success is seen around the community—not just for the women and girls, but everyone.  Hellen Tanyinga, Executive Director of RHF, says that the Kamuli Police Department (where Bukyerimba is located) reports that, since the opening of the water station and the installation of new streetlights, the number of sexual assaults has already dropped by 30%. Add to that statistic that 100% of the people in Bukyerimba have had their lives significantly improved because of their access to clean water and lights.  What started as funding from the Launders Trust to reduce sexual assault has delivered multiple returns on its philanthropic investment.

Contributed by Karen Allen. Karen is the Development Director for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) based in Washington D.C.  Her work at SELF brings her full circle to her early career when she spent time in the bush in Central and South America, where she witnessed first-hand the consequences of energy poverty.

Potholes on the Road to Development

Health Access Sumbawa (HAS) does malaria control and community development work on a shoestring budget in a roadless area of Sumbawa, a relatively poor Island in Eastern Indonesia.  In 2015 we set out to control malaria in three remote villages for the price of a car. Remarkably, we succeeded. Our systematic program involves prevention measures such as hanging insecticide treated bed-nets in every home, then screening the population for malaria with a microscope and providing effective treatment. * 

Five years ago the coastal farming village of Sili (where HAS is based) had every development challenge you could think of: No reliable road, not much electricity, no public water, no toilets, no employers, no health clinic, no shops, no schooling past the 6th grade. 

Everyone wants the benefits of technology. We take our comforts for granted and sometimes forget that there are millions of people still living without such luxuries as running water or a toilet. Poverty is a major hurdle to overcome, but lack of money is not the whole story.  Large well-funded development projects can fail just as spectacularly as small grassroots efforts. There are many potholes on the road to development. 

What follows is a series of personal stories and lessons gleaned from working in Sumbawa at the grass-roots level over the past five years. 

The significance of roads 

Everything we do is made so much harder because Sili village in central Sumbawa has no reliable road connecting it to the outside world. Some might say the area is not exactly roadless. there is a dirt track that’s passable by a 4 x 4 truck or a strong motorbike on a dry day. But after a rain, not even a dirt bike can make it up the steep greasy mountain track to Tolo’oi. Walking out is your only safe option in any weather.

rutted roads in sumbawa

The lack of reliable roads in Sili Village is a real issue for its inhabitants.

A road connects a community to hospitals, schools, government services, buyers and sellers.  Minor equipment failures such as a broken pull cord on a chain saw can delay projects for days or weeks in a roadless area. No reliable transport means the sick stay home in bed instead of going to hospital, students quit school after the 6th grade rather than go out for junior high, farmers sell their crop at lower prices to the only broker who comes to their village, people go hungry when they run out of food in their kitchen, and government planners fail to fund development projects because so few people have ever visited the community to see the problems. 

Road construction is beyond the scope of Health access Sumbawa activities. Nevertheless, we needed a transportation strategy. 

  1. We lobby elected officials for a road. I’ve found it’s most effective to emphasis the economic potential of the roadless area rather than complain about the hardship of living off the grid. I’m sure the Bupati (the area regent-an elected position) had never heard of Sili and it’s “best beach in Sumbawa” before I told him about it. The next year there was a plan (but no funding yet) to build a road.
  2. We develop relationships with strong skillful motorbike drivers to “taxi” HAS nurses and administrators around.
  3. We found a reliable fishing boat captain for water taxi. HAS supplies passengers with U.S. Coastguard approved life jackets.
  4. We bought two 29-inch mountain bikes for the clinic. Human-powered. Large wheels to handle rough terrain. Faster than walking. 

Electricity- What went wrong with the ambitious solar grid? 

A reliable source of electricity is another cornerstone of development. Even people in off-the-grid communities depend on cell phones and rechargeable battery powered lights these days. 

In 2013 the government built a small community-based solar powered grid for Sili village. It was state-of-the art. Every home was connected by cable. The solar panels, inverters and batteries at the power company headquarters provided every home with enough power for a few lights, cell phone charging, and maybe a TV set for an hour each evening. the system even included street lights for the village. 

The grid worked well for a year or two but by 2016 there were frequent periods of no service. One problem was cheating. Many people wanted to run a water pump or a TV. Homeowners soon figured out that they could bypass the metered connection to their house and take unlimited power directly from the pole. This caused the system to crash. Half the rate-payers stopped paying their modest $2 a month utility bill so the service technician stopped responding to calls. 

There has been no electricity in the village for the past two years except at the power house. The three-room utility building has become a central charging station for phones and flashlights from all over the village. The room is a maze of power cords. People have decided that a central charging station is their greatest need for electricity. They’ve abandoned hope for a power grid that delivers electricity to their homes. 

What went wrong? Perhaps the whole concept was too complex and, in the end, delivered too little power. The goal was to provide 300 watts per household, which is not enough to run water pumps, refrigerators, or power tools. People would still need a gasoline or propane generator for that. The grid never addressed that need. 

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that there were more appropriate solutions to meet the modest power generation goals of the project. Two alternatives are: 

  1. Solar charging stations distributed around the village.
  2. A decentralized program that places mini solar panels on each home. This decentralized concept solves several of the fatal flaws of the centralized grid.  It eliminates the problem of cheating, and pushes responsibility for maintenance down to the individual household level. When a system fails, only one house is affected.
    solar power

    Solar powered lights are a reliable source in Sumbawa.


Some of the personal solar power technology available today is astonishingly good. One of my favorites is Waka Waka Power +, a solar powered power bank and LED light the size of a hand phone. The light is bright enough for my old eyes to read the smallest type, and the battery lasts many hours. We also use cheap solar-powered security lights for general lighting. They activate by a motion detector, so you have to wave at the unit from time to time to keep it on, which is amusing at first but eventually becomes second nature. You can also hang the light from a string and spin it, creating a disco effect. Yes, we actually do that. 

Toilets-  The dangers of doing it badly. 

Promoting Toilets is another goal everyone can agree on. What could possibly go wrong? A few years ago the village government gave three bags of cement to every house as a way to encourage people to build toilet houses. Unfortunately, there was no design guidance, no supervision, no follow-up. Most people sold their bags of cement. A few toilets were built, mostly too close to their water well. The septic tank design was faulty, and within a year raw sewage was visible on the surface of the ground. 

A bad toilet is much worse than no toilet at all.  It becomes a hazardous waste site. The traditional “jungle floor toileting” used by people in rural communities disburses the waste over a large area where it breaks down quickly. It is nature’s system. As we promote widespread use of toilets, we really must teach about the risks of bad waste water system design. 

Health Access Sumbawa has built four toilets in Sili village in the past three years. One is a public bathhouse/toilet in front of our clinic. We consciously designed the building site so the septic tank/field could be at least thirty meters from any well.  Our toilets are the only ones in Sili village to have running water. By the way, the primary school in Sili village has neither a toilet nor water.

squat toilet

A squat toilet is available in the public bath house in Sili Village.

Few people used the public bath house the first year, perhaps thinking it could not possibly be for them.  By the second year it became so popular we had a problem supplying enough water. People started to complain that the water tank was often empty when they wanted to shower. We have since added a second tower and another 1,100-liter tank. 

Pumping water while off the grid 

It is challenging to provide running water to a community with no electricity or public water system. You need electricity to run a water pump, unless you are lucky enough to have an elevated water source such as a mountain spring which flows by gravity. 

We dig or bore a well by hand, then pump water into a 1,100-liter water tank which sits on top of a tower. The tower is not expensive to build. We construct it from local timber which has been milled into columns and planks using a chain saw. Once the tank is filled, gravity provides the water pressure. This works fine as long as your taps are lower than the bottom of the tank. 

There are three ways we could pump water without a power grid. 

  1. Use a generator to power an electric water pump.
  2. use a gasoline-powered portable water pump.
  3. Use a solar or wind powered water pump. 

Our first choice would be solar powered, because the fuel is delivered for free. Re-supplying propane canisters or gasoline cans is difficult and time consuming in a roadless area. It’s pretty common to run out of fuel, and resupply requires a full day of hazardous travel by motorbike.  Solar water pumps move low volumes of water continuously whenever the sun shines. They don’t pump when the sun doesn’t shine. The pumps we found seem to work best when residential use can be paired with a trickle irrigation system for a farm. This is fine if you have the right situation. We’re excited about trying this pairing idea at our Beach Farm after we get the beach cottage built. 

Solar pumps need a lot of storage capacity to perform satisfactorily in situations where demand for water peaks several times a day, such as a public bath house.  For this application, a gasoline powered water pump is our most practical solution. 

Advantages of portable water pumps- 

  • Move more water faster and with less fuel than a pump powered by a generator.
  • Are affordable, rugged and easy to service.
  • Can be transported on a motorbike. We plan to use one machine to fill tanks in multiple locations. 

Regarding safe drinking water, we have found that the Sawyer 0.10 microns hollow membranes water filter is reliable and easy/cheap to maintain. (Back-wash by hand. No replacement filters required). We have been using these for four years now. One unit can filter enough drinking water for several households and costs under $100. We have not tried to filter muddy water. Fortunately, our water doesn’t have sediment. 

Malaria control in three years- but no quick fix to sustain the gains. 

As with all HAS initiatives, sustaining progress is the hardest part of our malaria elimination work. There is no inoculation, no immunity for malaria. People suffer repeated bouts in endemic areas. The only way to sustain a low infection rate is to fund an ongoing health service. You need to provide primary health care with a malaria component. This is a much bigger mission than we originally signed up for. But there is no other choice. 

It turned out that HAS could step into this added role quickly and cheaply by partnering with the government health service. HAS already had one of the best health facilities in the region, the only clinic with running water. We hired the government nurses working in adjacent villages to come to Sili two days a week on a staggered schedule so our clinic is staffed and open 6 days a week. Primary health care at our clinic is free to the public, including medicines.

woman washing baby

A woman in Sili Village bathes an infant in fresh water.

Travel by motorbike over dirt trails is tough for the nurses, but the added income provides powerful motivation. Government salaries are so low, the nurses are able to double their monthly income by working two days a week for HAS. 

Small is beautiful 

HAS is a volunteer organization with no paid staff at headquarters. We have a strategic reason to stay small.  As social entrepreneurs, we want the enterprise to become self-sustaining one day. The goal of sustainability is more realistic if we keep our program in scale with the local economy. HAS is working toward a budget of $100,000/ year, which is significantly more than the government currently spends on health care in our expanded service area, which covers 50 kilometers x 15 kilometers and  about 7,000 people. 

Our operating budget for the clinic is just $20,000 a year. A $15,000 challenge grant provided by The Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust ( was the catalyst HAS needed to increase its total annual budget to $55,000 last year. These new resources allowed us to significantly expand our service area for malaria, and pursue a range of initiatives designed to improve access to clean water, sanitation, and adequate nutrition. 

A lesson in humility -The limits of technology 

One morning we were leaving Sili for a meeting in the city of Macassar. When I tried to fill the kettle to boil water for coffee, no water flowed from the tap. The 1,100-liter water tank had been drained dry by early bathers at the community bathhouse. I went to start the water pump but we were out of gasoline. To top it off, when I tried to light the two-burner stove in the kitchen, there was no flame. the propane canister was empty. Someone joked that we had timed our departure from Sili almost perfectly. 

For a few minutes we were baffled. Then the solution became obvious: We needed to revert back to the traditional way of doing things. Someone got a bucket and a piece of rope to take water from the well. Others built a cooking fire in the garden. Soon we were enjoying our campfire coffee and delicious grilled fish, fresh-caught during the night by our neighbor, a rare treat.  We had been humbled by the limitations of our hard-to-sustain technology, and were reminded that sometimes the old ways are most reliable. 

It’s not easy to design sustainable infrastructure which is as reliable as traditional methods. Poor people will not choose to cook with gas when firewood is free and readily available. A solar cooker is fine when the sun shines, but it’s useless on a rainy day, after dark or inside the house. A good gravel road is better than a thin asphalt one. Potholes in gravel can be patched with local materials.  Potholes in bad asphalt become money pits. 

We have learned that people often revert back to their traditional ways rather than fix technology when it stops working. People want technology, but it must be reliable, durable and affordable. Keep it simple and easy to maintain. Avoid products with “consumable” parts to buy, such as replacement water filters or disposable batteries. 

A squat toilet with a properly designed and located septic system is an example of old technology that works great. The squatting position is already used by villagers and is anatomically preferable to sitting, the toilet flushes with just a dipper of water, there are no moving parts to break, and no consumables to buy such as toilet paper. Users wash their bum with water using the dipper. Hundreds of millions of squat toilets are in use throughout Asia. 

Another old technology that has been updated is the mosquito net. Today’s nets, woven from polyester yarn, are less likely to get moldy than the old cotton ones. They can be impregnated with a safe long-lasting insecticide that immobilizes insects. We use WHO tested nets, Permanet 2.0 size 190 x 180 x150 cm. We can place three of these large nets in a home for about $30 to protect the entire family. Any tears or holes can be repaired with a needle and thread. 

There have been many potholes in the road to development in Sili. We fill them in as we go along as best we can. The journey continues to be the adventure of a lifetime.

*For more information about the HAS project in Sumbawa, see RHLCT.ORG under Grants (Discretionary).

Contributed by Jack Kennedy. Jack is the son of a public health doctor who specialized in tropical medicine. He grew up in the South Pacific and South East Asia. Jack went on to pursue a successful career in international business, including activities in Indonesia. A lot of his time since 2014 has been devoted to Health Access Sumbawa in his roles as founder, president, and chairman.