Our History

Self-Help International devotes its efforts to alleviating world hunger and poverty, by providing opportunities to rural citizens that ultimately leads to self-reliance. Since its inception, Self-Help has served as a vessel; training, education, and opportunities are provided to rural citizens and whole communities in developing countries so that they can have better lives.

Vern Schield was an inventor and industrialist who founded the Schield Bantam Company in Waverly, Iowa in the 1940s. Vern was also a world traveler, humanitarian, and devout Christian concerned about global missions and world hunger. Raised on a farm during the Depression, Vern observed hard working farmers unable to get ahead due to limited means and inadequate farming practices. He developed a small and sturdy tractor called the “Self-Helper”. During his many travels, Vern recognized the need for appropriate farming technology in developing countries. He created the Self-Help Foundation in 1959 (later renamed “International”) to help meet this need.

From 1959-1989, the “Self-Helper” tractor was manufactured in Waverly and shipped to more than forty countries around the world. Self-Help eventually stopped building and shipping tractors once similar equipment could be purchased in-country for less money than what it costs us to manufacture and ship.

In 1989, upon request of native Iowan and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug, Self-Help turned its attention to Ghana, West Africa. For fifteen years, our emphasis was redirected to introducing and promoting Quality Protein Maize (QPM), training and providing technical assistance for agricultural development, and connecting farmers and other groups / organizations.

In 1999, Self-Help introduced a method of training and education programs that had been successful at alleviating hunger in Ghana to communities in Nicaragua, with adjustments to respect local cultural and community priorities.

In 2018, Self-Help Nicaragua continues to expand the women’s micro-credit, clean water, and QPM seed breeding programs to promote economic development and improved nutrition for Nicaraguan and Ghanian families. Additionally, in 2017:

  • 19 new chlorinator systems were installed, ensuring clean and safe drinking water for 11,090 more rural residents and 41,681 hospital patients in Nicaragua
  • 751 children in five communities were fed a healthy daily breakfast through the school feeding program
  • 761 women and girls have been empowered through training and micro-loans to increase income and better meet their families’ needs
  • 743 youth and farmers have attended training sessions on practical agricultural enterprises

See the 2017 Impact Report here