Cincinnati-based OMID-USA works to reduce world poverty

According to Mohsen Rezayat, CEO and president of OMID-USA, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit, many of the world's problems are because of the imbalance between the rich and the poor. OMID's goal is to increase earning power by three for individuals around the world who make, on average, less than $2 per day. OMID, a Farsi word that means "hope," is what the organization wants to provide for the more than one million people it aims to reach. 

"There's a lot of data gathered to show that if a person makes $1 per day and then that is brought up to $4 per day, it makes a huge difference in their lives," says Rezayat. "They can build a house; their kids can get higher education; they can afford medicine for their kids and their wife when they get sick." 

OMID began in 2009 with the intention of finding a way help the bottom 1.2 billion people in the world who make less than $1 per day. According to Rezayat, 85 percent of those individuals are farmers who live in rural areas, where obtaining water for their crops is extremely difficult. 

"We thought to solve the problem, we should start at the very beginning, and that's control over water," says Rezayat. So the nonprofit, in conjunction with electrical engineering students from the University of Cincinnati, designed the Portable Renewable Energy Platform, otherwise known as PREP, to assist farmers in using drip irrigation to move water from its source, while conserving it by allowing it to flow straight to the roots of their crops. 

"It's basically a single solar panel that can be set up very quickly, raised so that it's at the right angle to face the sun, with some electrical components that regulate and boost the voltage; and we also have a pump," says Rezayat. "So the panel, the pump and the drip irrigation all cost about $400. With one you can drip irrigate about one acre of land, so we can move the water from any location to another location, put it inside the plastic tank that we have and let gravity kind of feed the water in." 

Since the technology is too expensive for the subsistence farmers to afford in one lump-sum, OMID offers microloans to make it more affordable. "By increasing their production, they can pay back the money that was lent out to them," says Rezayat. "The whole idea is that if people invest their own time and their own money, then they have a sense of ownership and responsibility." 

The nonprofit's purpose is not to continue manufacturing technology and transporting it to the regions in need, but instead to go into an area, set up the technology and find out if it's a good fit, and then show the people how to use it so they can adapt the technology and begin to create jobs by producing it locally. 

That's exactly what OMID did in Iran, which was the location for PREP's first pilot project in 2010. The project took place in three villages with 20 farmers. Though the volunteers working on the pilot had hoped to reach more people, they were forced to leave the area because of sanctions. Their work, however, was not in vain. There are now three manufacturing plants in the closest town to the three villages that participated in the pilot that are making the drip irrigation system. "And from what I've been told, there's a big rage—even the mayor of that town has used the drip irrigation for the city building to show people how cool it is," says Rezayat. 

OMID is set to perform another pilot project with PREP, which is set to take place in March. This time, the organization will travel to Haiti in an effort to get closer to its goal of one million farmers. 

"Farmers in Iran told me very recently, if they didn't have the drip irrigation PREP system, they would have lost everything in the last two years because it was extremely dry," says Rezayat. "It's all about survival, and it's very satisfying to hear these farmers tell me that they basically wouldn't have had anything if it wasn't for us giving them the ability to. " 

Do Good: 

• Attend OMID-USA-sponsored events, such as the upcoming domino 02: Aqua—an international exhibition where 12 artists' collaborative work will be displayed and available for purchase. Rezayat will unveil the PREP prototype during the event's opening reception at the Artisan Enterprise Center Jan. 18. 

• Support OMID-USA by making a donation.

• Promote awareness by liking OMID-USA on Facebook, sharing the page and spreading the word.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.
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