Thursday, July 10, 2014


An alternative to the developed world's grocery stores.
This fortunate country in western Africa has climate and terrain suitable for small plot farming.  Folks work hard, buy and sell, and are mostly insulated from the western world's market upheavals.  Wall Street hasn't yet made inroads here yet.

Markets like this one in Sao Tome and Principe and the more common street markets elsewhere in the developing world are similar to our farmer's markets in the west.  If you've got a little cash, you can find what you need.

These are the alternative to processed and packaged foods that cost the same or more as in western stores.  With monthly household incomes of around $60, a $3 box of cereal isn't an option.  Fuel for a vehicle costs over $5/gal.

Laundry is done by hand everywhere.
Our friend poses by the freezer; one 
of the kids took her picture.
Assistance efforts that work have to focus on how folks live.

Did you know, there are few refrigerators in places like this.  Those who can afford one buy a chest freezer with the door on top.  That way, it stays cold when the electricity is off. Many only get a few hours a day of electric service every day or so.  Refrigerated items would spoil but frozen foodstuffs survive just fine.
Our kids clean up after a bit of a safari upland.

A washing machine would be a wonderful luxury, but it would require water and electricity and plumbing that homes don't have.

No indoor showers, no bathtubs.  No big deal.

So what kinds of things can we do that help in this country?
Things that are difficult for families here; keeping kids in school costs about $50/semester for elementary school (uniforms and supplies and fees), and high school costs about three times as much.  Businesses need more skilled workers.  Tech training is hard to find.  Healthcare, illegal fishing, class discrimination ...  lots of opportunities.  Local NGOs are in place and effective in the communities if you'd like to get involved.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kenya Troubles

At least 48 men were killed when armed gunmen stormed into a Kenyan coastal town and launched a major assault on a police station, hotels and government offices, officials there tell us.
Around 50 heavily-armed men dressed like police officers drove into the town of Mpeketoni, near the coastal island and popular tourist resort of Lamu, late on Sunday, June 15th.

We're told they first attacked a police station before starting to randomly shoot at men on the streets.

One source tells us, "Witnesses say they asked the locals if they were Muslims or Christians; they immediately shot any who were Christians. They also broke into houses and dragged the men into the streets to execute them. Women and children were released, but houses and cars were set on fire. The ensuing gun battle with Kenyan security forces lasted for almost five hours."
Lamu deputy commissioner Benson Maisori said several buildings in the town -- which is around 100 kilometres  south of the border with Somalia -- were burned down including hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices.  The community is about 90% Christian.

Many children are
left without fathers.
Church friends in Mombasa hired vehicles this week and took food and clothing and some cash to address immediate needs.  It's what you do when there's need.  Working through the local churches in Mpeketoni, the help is received gratefully and thoughtfully applied.  The great tragedy, families and the community are shattered, children left without fathers, mothers left to fend for themselves in an economy that virtually shut down because of the attack.
Our friends there tell us the gunmen may have originated in the Mombasa area. They hired a vehicle and killed the driver.  They later burned the vehicle to hide their actions.  Police are investigating.
Internal tensions continue to flare up in Kenya despite progress in governance and economic growth.  The country is still harshly divided by class distinctions, mostly along tribal lines, that disenfranchise many.  The gap between rich and poor is wide and unjustly maintained.
The Christians and Muslims we've met in Kenya tell us they're proud of being able to live graciously together, but as one worker describes, "This incident happened against the backdrop of a complex mix of ethnic and religious tension."   A church leader spoke honestly about this difficult time. "Many Christians have left. Others stayed but do not come to church anymore out of fear. We now visit them in their homes, counseling and trying to encourage them to come back to church. Some are slowly coming back but others are not yet strong enough. One told me the other day, 'You continue going to church because you have faith, when I get more faith like you, I will come back to church.'"
Kenyan tourism, a primary industry, has come to a standstill in the region.  Beaches normally packed with European tourists and their children are vacant. Hotels and resorts are empty, many closed. Many hundreds whose livelihood depends on the industry are now without work or other means of survival.

Your prayers for our friends and all the others there would be appreciated.
What churches do ...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

School in Africa

Our kids are in the elementary school in the distance; it's a government
school, built with donations from foreign friends.
A new classroom!  It will be a great help; the school is overcrowded with 100+ students in each classroom.
The newly constructed classroom was provided to the school in Guruguru, Kenya, by Safaricom, a mobile phone service provider there.

The Guruguru village center today, a simple marketplace
Working in Kenya, we had the opportunity to visit the village. Once a bustling marketplace for local crops, after more than a decade of drought, the only crops available are from elsewhere. Forests have receded, stressed by the local need for firewood to cook.

The fellows out to play a bit ...
my buddy Wakil on the front
row, 3rd from the right; bright,
strong, good-hearted.

Theirs is not a comfortable world,
neither safe nor easily changed.  The
way forward is a difficult path, and
education is a critical element for
making a difference.
Some of us here sponsor a mob of kids in the village who otherwise wouldn't be in school. We've got sponsors for some teachers too.  The school is understaffed for the number of children they serve.

Most folks walk everywhere; water is from a distance
away.  It's primarily women's work, carrying water,
at least for now.  A government water project has
been in the queue for awhile; we'll see.
There are plenty of opportunities to help out; fees and uniforms for school cost around $45 per semester.  A truckload of water costs a couple hundred.  A teacher can be funded for around $600 for the school year.

Friday, July 4, 2014


My friends, visiting a beach on the other side of the country from where
 they live.  It's only about 20 miles; it's a small country.
Among Africa's more fortunate residents, young folks play on a tropical beach that rivals any in the world for beauty.  In the background, young men make their way to today's fishing grounds.

Clowning around for the photo ...  they took 100+ pictures
with the cameras.
The country is extraordinarily appealing, maybe because it's not like anything in the developed world.  Not remotely. Perhaps that's the reason the few who know about the place are likely to return despite the travel difficulties and expense.  Given the chance, we'd gladly spend summers and weekends and holidays there.

Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny island country in western Africa's Gulf of Guinea.  They face tremendous challenges as they labor to build a stable government and economy.  They're perhaps more likely to succeed than most coastal nations.  They're small enough to keep folks aware and involved; they're government is perhaps less corrupt than ours.

Like kids everywhere, these enjoy the chance to goof off for a few hours.  Unlike the developed world's youth, these have only little concern with fashion or possessions or some 'in crowd'.  They and their parents are content to be fed, housed, and healthy.  They have virtually no violence or crime, primarily perhaps because everyone is poor and everybody knows everybody.

It's 85 degrees and sunny, pretty much every day, year around.
A perfect place for beach lovers.
Houses are commonly raised off the ground to keep critters out, 
and the upward air flow through the floor from the shaded 
area underneath cools the house a bit.
Moms and dads work harder than most of their counterparts in the western world. Employment is hard to find and pays at best perhaps $60/month for unskilled labor and twice that for skills.  Their costs for everything in a store is about the same as ours.  The saving grace is that the islands are prolific with mangoes and bananas, breadfruit and coconuts.  With modest effort, you can eat.

Most live in the simplest of homes.  Electricity is available in most areas, but hasn't been particularly reliable.  The country's new power plant provided by Taiwan as a development project should improve things.

Our hope for the little country is the same as theirs, that the country can develop moderately and sustainably, and avoid the decimation we've seen in the oil-rich economies.  None of those have done particularly well.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Anti-malaria training program in western Africa, 2014,
by STeP UP Sao Tome, the in-country NGO.
We know that help is most successful when it is no longer needed. The greatest assistance the United States can give to developing nations is the achievement of self-sufficiency and sustainability.
~U.S. Agency for International Development

The same applies to our individual efforts to help others.

There are always immediate needs, of course.  Getting through this day or this year is impossible for some.  A war, a drought or disease, a regional upheaval; such things cause displacement and suffering that call for help just to survive.

Beyond that, what helps a family or a country make their way forward to a sustainable life of their own?

Many success and failures over recent decades illustrate what works.  Investments in education, technology, government, health, all can make a difference.  The key element needed for success, however, is a clearly defined goal coupled with the long-term commitment to get there.

A one-time gift to feed a family is deeply appreciated.  It makes surviving the day or the month possible.  A long-term investment may be what's needed to make a difference in the days and years to come.

For a family in Kenya living at the survival level, helping them keep their kids in school is at least part of the way forward for them.  Sponsoring the oldest son's advanced education is culturally appropriate as he will step in alongside the father to provide for the family.  Helping them start and operate a small business is culturally appropriate as that's the viable option for rising above poverty in their economy.  Chickens, agriculture, a small motorcycle to be used as a taxi service, shoes and tools for basic life labors, all are possible options. The key element remains necessary; a clearly defined goal coupled with the long-term commitment to get there.  It's something a friend can do; small-scale, focused, attentively refined to keep on track.  It's much more difficult for a government program to accomplish.

The best options available to westerners who want to be effective are both small and large.

World Vision is perhaps the most effective organization available to us.  While they offer child sponsorship, the actual work on the ground is community based.  Their workers will spend a couple of decades in a community, helping them get on their feet and on a path sustainably forward.  The sponsored kids are served well, but the assistance extends to include their family.  Schools, roads, wells, agriculture improvements, basic business education, and more are offered within the cultural context in usable forms as the members of the community are equipped and resourced to tackle the issues.
Kids get mosquito nets for their homes in the battle
against malaria.  One among many  STeP UP
projects that really help.

In-country NGOs like STeP UP are precisely on target and accountable, recommend by knowledgeable folks at the U.S. Embassy.  On FaceBook here.  They're good folks whom I know personally.

Churches in the U.S. often have direct connections to foreign organizations that provide direct, accountable, and effective assistance.

Best first option, perhaps; go see for yourself.  You can learn more in a week abroad than in years of study and speculation.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Your Choice

At the store, we've got plenty of choices for bathing products. They're all one or another variety of soap, usually with stuff added.  They're almost all necessary, of course.
Bars of soap along with other common products;
corn meal, rice, salt, sugar, oil, pasta ...

For comparison, note the blue bars in the photo (right).
That's soap in Africa and perhaps for much of the world. The large bar is cut off in chunks and used for laundry, for bathing, for hair washing, and pretty much everything along that line.  It's not bad, really.  It's used in school and home and at the river where they do laundry and dishes, and it works fine.  

So how much does our culture shape us?  We know you have to have at least five kinds of soap, and you can't dry clothes without using a softener sheet, and men and women can't use the same deodorant.  True?  OK, five kinds of soap: bath, hair, dish, laundry, and nice smelling stuff for shaving.

Do we maybe over-do it a bit?  The proliferation of stuff in our lives is at least in some measure force-fed to us by a profit-driven marketplace and social acquiescence.  Much if not most of it all isn't worth the time and effort, much less the money.

You can choose, despite the social and marketplace pressures.  You can strive to have everything and lots of it, like your culture insists, or you could choose ... to live quite simply, and leave some room in your budget thanks to the absence of excess.  Then you could do things with your kids or help others or put your kids through school without going into debt, perhaps.  Or travel.  Thoughts?

Just an aside, the cost of the bathing products (top, left) would pay for the products and school uniforms (top, right) plus tuition and fees for a semester, around $45 or so.  Feel like joining the assistance effort?  It's tax deductible!

And on a fun note, I took some kids with me on a trip to a little grocery store for momma.  One pre-teen discovered the nice smelling bath soap (Dial or Dove or something like that); she figured it was really special, so she excitedly asked if I could buy a bar for the kids to use.  Of course.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

At Play

At play on a sunny afternoon, boys ride on the raft they threw together from local bamboo.  I remember doing the same on a pond with friends when I was a kid in Texas.

Up by the waterfall, moms do the family laundry.
(You can click on the pictures to see them full sized.)
Down the eastern shore of Sao Tome & Principe, an African island country, the mountain river flows over a waterfall into the inlet where they play.  Moms do laundry up near the falls before the fresh water mixes with the salt ocean.

No tourists, no hotels; a local fellow invited me down to see the village and meet folks that live there.

Kids learn to swim early on.  No Red Cross swim classes like where I grew up.  They teach each other in the course of growing up.

The kids stand on a sandy beach, but the rocky
 shoreline is from the island's volcanic origin.
The only work for fathers here is fishing, and that's troublesome.  Illegal fishing by wealthy countries has seriously depleted the pelagic fish populations in the Gulf of Guinea.  The gulf's coastal communities who depend on fishing have been the ones most harmed. International efforts to stem the illegal activity have had minimal success; it will be a century or more before the populations recover.

An almost-road leads down through the tiny village
to the shore and the waterfall.  The cobblestones are
a leftover from the early 20th century.
Fortunately, unlike much of equatorial Africa, the climate here supports a fairly prolific ecosystem. Breadfruit, bananas (maybe 5 different types), jackfruit (jaque), and mangoes, all are commonly available.

The kids from a family took me by the hand to go with them to get mangoes.  I thought we were going to a kiosk vendor, but they took me to a tree along the pathway and threw sticks up into the tree until they had a dozen or so, then we went home.

My friend and work partner Freddie had an
interesting problem.  When we traveled
together, folks would insist on talking to
him in Portuguese.  Since he's black,
obviously he would speak Portuguese!
Not a word, unfortunately.
Unlike much of Sub-Saharan Africa, they have enough rain here.  It feeds the rivers and the countryside well enough.  You can use a banana palm leaf for an umbrella if you get caught out in the rain; that's what they do.

As tough and practical as the folks here are (and must be in order to live), they are comfortably hospitable.  We were welcomed pretty much everywhere we stopped.  Community leaders, school faculties, government officials, police and military, all were approachable and graciously receptive.  It's a nicer place than most.