What is Sustainability?


Sustainability is a buzz word these days, but what does it really mean? Meet our new Director of Sustainable Practices, Cheryl Cuthbertson. Children of the Nations (COTN) is blessed to have her experience and passion leading us in this area. Cheryl just returned from Malawi and Uganda and is full of ideas. She sat down with me and answered some questions we all have about sustainable development.

What does sustainability mean to you?

When we were in Malawi and Uganda, I taught the kids about sustainability. So in the simplest terms it’s the ability for someone or something to continue to move forward with minimal input from the outside. 

                                 Cheryl explains the concept of sustainability to children in Malawi.
If you think about a COTN child’s life, sustainability would be how the child would come through our program and be prepared to go beyond COTN, into adulthood, and successfully live on their own. 
It’s the same thing with our programs. We have to ask ourselves, “Can they continue to move forward and thrive on their own?” 
The hope is to move from being transactional, to being transformational. It all comes back to the way we solve problems. Instead of just going in with a solution to a problem, our hope is to work with the local COTN boards, leadership, and communities to, one, identify the problem, two, find a solution that’s long-lasting, and three, help them implement it.

You recently traveled to Uganda and Malawi with COTN. From your recent trips, what are you most excited about seeing develop?

Number one is agriculture. Because 80 percent of income on the continent of Africa still comes from agriculture. I’m excited to see how we can leverage this resource God gave us, which is land.

There are three things I’m excited to see develop in agriculture: 
One would be to give back to God by fertilizing His soil, keeping His earth green.
Two is that I’m excited to see how we can train young people in modern farming techniques, so they can see that farming is both reputable and profitable. 
Three is to see how we can continue to help COTN become more sustainable in growing our own food, both to feed the children, and to raise money for COTN through cash crops. 

One of the ways COTN is currently feeding children and generating income is by growing our own sunflower seeds and using a press to make oil. This oil is used to cook the children's food and is also sold. We hope to develop more initiatives like this in the future.
There are many initiatives that I’m excited for and I think are important—clean water is important—but I think agriculture is the most complicated one to tackle, and also will be the most beneficial. 

Children enjoy the harvest from our Chitipi Farm in Malawi. An increase in production will help our in-country programs become more sustainable.
The other thing I’m excited about is our future partnerships. There are so many great organizations that are already doing great things that can fill in the gaps for us. The more God’s organizations come together around one child, the healthier that child will be. We have to partner to have the most holistic care. 

You mentioned teaching children modern farming techniques. What are other ways that a more sustainable model will have a direct impact on the children?

If we want to raise children who transform nations, they first have to be able to transform themselves, their immediate environment, and their villages. Then they can transform their nation. 
Sustainability is a way of being and thinking. We want to teach our children to have a sustainable approach to life. When they encounter problems as adults, we want them to ask, is the solution long-lasting? Who is it impacting? And am I dependent on someone else to accomplish this?

We hope to see our children develop their own solutions to issues of clean water, food, and education in the future.

What are the biggest challenges in achieving sustainability, specifically to COTN?

The biggest challenge is going to be transferring the mindset of sustainability to some of our villages. We can come up with a lot of ideas, but it’s not about a program, it’s about the mindset. 
The solution has to be theirs, they have to own it. And that is going to take some patience and diligence on our part. I think that’s the biggest challenge for me personally—I like to hit the ground running. 

The Widows Initiative is an example of empowering local people to identify and solve their own problems through small businesses. The women, who have children in COTN's sponsorship program, are considering sewing moquito nets. This would both generate income for their families and serve the community.

We are so blessed to have your insight and experience here at COTN. Can you share a little of how you learned about sustainability, and what brought you to this ministry?

My knowledge of sustainability comes from experiences in program management and development. I worked in urban community development, and what I was seeing was the programs we were doing in the inner city would be really hot for a few years and then die off. Basically, if the government didn’t intervene, all of our programs would die off. It was very frustrating. 
And then I started realizing, we’d have all these big meetings, and no one at the table was actually from the community we were serving. We’d see more and more money going into social service programs, and the results would be less and less for the community. It wasn’t sustainable. 
That’s when I started learning about sustainability, and started asking myself, how do we build initiatives that are long-lasting? We had to listen to people, which meant doing things like changing our meeting time so the mom who worked nights could make it. Before, we never even asked her schedule. 
Also, my background as a Christian gave me the desire to see people truly getting healed—not just a Band-Aid solution. The answer is usually in sustainability.

I’ve always had a heart for Africa since I was a little girl. COTN is a place where I can combine my love for ministry and sustainability. 
The end goal is to walk into a village and see our children literally managing our programs, sitting on boards, going out to serve, and working in local government. We want them to be physically healthy, spiritually healthy, and educated, and transferring that on to the next generation. That would be the end goal.
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