Monday, November 29, 2010

Hand-carried stuff...

My friends have asked me from time to time to bring them things from the States that they can't get locally.  They don't impose; they always ask politely and insist on paying the costs.  It took me awhile to understand the economics.

For instance, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis costs $20-$30 for the English edition of all 7 books in a collection.  In Portuguese for my friends in Sao Tome, it costs $220 or more for the same small collection.  It has to come from Portugal by air freight or be hand-carried, because there's no book store in the country.

We're so used to finding what we want and buying online.  My friends in Sao Tome can't go online and buy because nobody ships to Sao Tome.  Nobody in Sao Tome has a credit card either; nobody there accepts credit cards except the two big tourist hotels, as far as I've been able to find.  Even the car rental places  expect cash.

If I buy a box of books for the school (8 bibles the principal asked for), it costs $40 to mail it to him, and it takes weeks to get there, and it's not very reliable.

Tennis shoes, dry-erase markers, ballpoint pens, small electrical components.... I've hand-carried a few laptop computers for friends.  Usually young men trying to make the next step up in their education.  Their folks save up for it, and then run into the difficulty of actually buying one.  Local purchase, if what they want is available, will cost twice or more what the European price might be.  Even more if compared to the U.S. prices.  It's a tough problem.  And it changes the way the local economy works.

I usually carry as many books as will fit in my backpack; I buy them at the mall in Lisbon (and don't look at the price), and give them as gifts to my scholarship kids or to the elementary school.  They use the bibles in the classroom.  Encyclopedic texts on science, biology, math, etc., are a big deal.  Bible stories, too.  :) 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

African Community Radio

Ever wonder if the UN was doing its job? 
For all the fussing about UN politics, there are several UN agencies that serve communities effectively.  For example...

International Alert and partners, UNICEF and UNDP, established the first community radios in Sao Tome and Principe.  I was there while this was going on.  Located in two of the country’s most deprived and isolated regions, and introduced at a time when the country is entering a new and challenging phase as a potential oil producer, the purpose of the radio stations is to empower, inform and give a voice to local communities, and enhance their participation in democratic processes. 

I've visited one of these communities. The teens who 'kidnapped' me a couple of years ago took me to Angolares.  The restaurant where we ate is in the video. 

This video is an encouraging word (along with some engaging video scenes) from Sao Tome.  Practical progress is such a satisfying end to hard work.  My compliments to the partners.

The video is from Help Images on Vimeo.  Interesting folks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heal the sick?

CNN reports: Cholera kills more than 1500 in Nigeria

Nigeria catches my eye when it's in the news; I've got friends there.  It's like seeing a weather alert for the neighborhood where you kid lives.  Cholera is easily prevented and treated, and it's on the agenda for aid organizations.

In an attempt to be honestly concerned about my fellow man, I went to the World Vision website and inquired about cholera.  It cost me $100.  Now, that is and isn't a lot of money.  It'll barely cover a weekend's goofing off these days.  I won't really miss it, at least not a lot.  On the other hand, it'll buy a heck of a lot in the way of medicine and help in the places where it really matters.  If you can hold that hundred dollars in your hand and ask yourself honestly who needs it most, perhaps you can find a little willingness to sacrifice a bit.  If you consider it long enough to weep, you're not alone.  Our brothers and sisters and their children could use a hand.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Not the longest week, but close perhaps. Rich people problems.

In a week consumed by business, my thoughts wander loosely from friend to friend.  A fellow I love is going into the hospital here for surgery; it'll save his life.  In the Ukraine, a friend's mom is in the hospital, but they can't figure out what's wrong; she's failing.  Here, my wife and daughter have their favorite doctor; me too, but he's a different one.  In Sao Tome, most of them won't know a doctor.
She was quite ill, we discovered in April.

In Africa, my friends won't even meet a doctor unless someone takes them to the hospital.  Here in the states, we get annual checkups for things like blood pressure and chemistry, screenings, prescription renewals.  They don't do things like that in Africa, mostly.  Marilyn was admitted to the hospital here a couple of times this fall.  Surgery and some follow-up care.  Expensive, but insurance covered most of it.  Great care, though.  My friends in Africa just die, usually.

Took her to the hospital, then the clinic.
Photos are of a girl we've known for a couple of years; the instigator among the teens that kidnapped me back when.  In Jan, we discovered she was quite ill and not being treated.  Took her to the hospital, then the clinic, then the pharmacy, paid for the medicines.   It was the equivalent of several month's income for a local family.  She's doing well, now.
Healthy & happy again.

So when I find myself struggling through a difficult task at work or tired at the end of the week, I'm reminded that I have a job.  I have health care.  I have two cars and a house and food and a grocery store down the street with dozens of kinds of everything.  I get paid well for my work, more for a day's effort than my friends get paid for a month.  Or three.  My problems are 'rich people problems' my wife reminds me.

My African friends, on the other hand; their problems are real and not easily resolved.

The company I work for is modern, aggressive, image conscious; they do humanitarian work, but they're careful to get credit for it.  They took tentative notice of the things a couple of us have been doing in Africa where we work; scholarships, family rescue, micro-business capital, nutritional assistance, health education.  I told them that for $20,000, they could take all the credit and publicity they wanted.  I need about $50K for the next 5 or so years of work we'd like to do in Sao Tome.  I'd be glad to put their company logo on the effort if they'll pay the bill. :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reconciliation? I don't know that reconciliation would have occurred to me.

Thanks to World 
Vision's peacebuilding efforts, many youth in Rwanda have transitioned 
from traumatic childhoods to hopeful futures, like Sharon, Josiane, and 
Albert (left to right).Thanks to World Vision's peace-building efforts, many youth in Rwanda have transitioned from traumatic childhoods to hopeful futures, like Sharon, Josiane, and Albert (left to right).
©2009 Albert Yu/World Vision

Reconciliation?  I don't know that reconciliation would have occurred to me.  Brutality and wickedness wound so deeply, my gut response is that somebody just should kill the bad guys.  The problem, of course, is that justice alone doesn't heal.

World Vision: Bringing healing and reconciliation 

It's been more than 15 years since the Rwandan genocide.  It's not over, but there are some good things happening there.  Some assistance efforts are changing their world. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

So just how tough is it to be a kid in the third world?

Well, since this time yesterday, 24,000 kids have died from preventable things like diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. That's about 30 kids who've died since you started reading this article.

Interestingly, they didn't have to die. It wouldn't be hard to keep them alive.

Like the little girl I met at the elementary school I visit when I'm in Africa. It was the Children's Day celebration that sticks in my mind. She's in the pictures I took and printed for the school wall. One of my little friends and I were enjoying the pictures when a teacher pointed her out and gave me the bad news. She'd died of malaria. Another sweet little girl had lost both her parents to malaria as well. I'd met both of them, shook hands with them, laughed with them, and took their pictures. The following year when I came back, one was dead and the other had lost her family and been moved away to live with relatives. They didn't have to die, but for now there's not much in the way of basic health care where they live.

UNICEF ImageRead Isaiah's story of living on the streets in Lagos, Nigeria here:


Digital Diary: Nigerian street children tell their stories of life without security

NEW YORK, USA, 26 December 2007 – Isaiah has spent 5 of his 15 years living on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, the second largest city in Africa. 

It's harder being a kid in poverty than most westerners can imagine. Lots of opportunities to get involved, of course.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Left behind / Deixou para trás ...

As we wrapped up the week, folks stopped by my office to say goodbye.  They're heading out to the Bahamas for work.  What a heart-breaker, right in the middle of some the world's most beautiful beaches and waters.

À medida que encerrou a semana, as pessoas pararam ao meu gabinete para dizer adeus. Eles estão dirigindo-se para as Bahamas para trabalhar. Que um coração quebra, bem no meio de alguns do mundo mais belas praias e águas.
Some others are on their way to Mombasa, Kenya for work .  A harsh but fascinating place.  Like everywhere else we've been, there are some fine folks interested in doing well by others.  That's what we keep telling ourselves.

Alguns outros estão a caminho de Mombaça, no Quênia para trabalhar. Um lugar duro, mas fascinante. Como em qualquer outro lugar nós temos, há algumas pessoas bem interessadas em fazer o bem pelos outros.

Guys checked in with us as they're leaving Djibouti after a couple of blindingly difficult weeks there in the desert.  Flight connection problems in Ethiopia added 30 hours to the return trip; not a fun place to get stuck for a day..  Flat Stanley went with them; hope he survived the ordeal.

Dois dos nossos engenheiros e-mail para nós como eles estão deixando Djibouti após duas semanas de trabalho árduo no deserto. Problemas com o vôo de conexão da Etiópia adicionou 30 horas para a viagem de regresso, não um lugar divertido para ficar preso por um dia .. Flat Stanley foi com eles, espero que ele sobreviveu à provação.
Carrying gathered sticks home for the kitchen fire, these ladies here wouldn't accept a ride because we couldn't take them all at the same time.  They won't leave anyone behind in the desert.
Carregando varas recolhidas em casa para o fogo da cozinha, essas senhoras aqui não aceitaria uma carona, porque não poderia levá-los todos ao mesmo tempo no nosso caminhão. Eles não vão deixar ninguém para trás no deserto.

Me?  I spent the week researching and re-writing an excruciatingly detailed irrelevant report.  All in all, I'd rather be in Africa.

Boy, would I!

Passei a semana pesquisando e reescrever um relatório detalhado excruciatingly irrelevante para um escritório do governo estranhamente gerenciado. Tudo em tudo, eu prefiro ficar na África.

Que eu iria!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building a house in Africa

Curious how it's done?

My friend shows us the site next door where his oldest daughter and her new husband are building their home.  It will be a simple house, maybe about three hundred square feet.

Here, his daughter and son-in-law carry beams from the local sawmill to the building site.  You buy what you can afford, build with what you have.  Buy and build more later.

 They'll store the material in poppa's front yard where it will be watched over.

Construction is a friends & family type event.

This is the local lumber yard, about a quarter-mile from their site.  The nearest sawmill is another mile down the road, I think.

Individual boards are priced from about $1.50 to $7.50 here.  The local equivalent of a 4x4 costs about $10.

To give you an idea of the timeline, this photo is from last October.  Friends of ours walk past the site where the younger one will build a new home with her husband.

Here, 6 months later, the posts and frame are mostly in place.  It's the rainy season; a neighbor stops and poses on her way over to visit.
In August after perhaps 6-8 months of work, the house is in place.  This is quite a nice home for the area.  The metal roof will last perhaps 20 years, the unpainted wood maybe not so long.

These folks are fairly well off by community standards.  They have a water spigot (lower left in the photo) just a few meters from the porch.

The yellow vans are wrecked taxis they hope to repair and use to generate income.  It's a difficult prospect at best as parts must come from Europe.
You can see where the boys have replaced the boards on grandma's house.  Maintenance is pretty much a continuous process, like it is for us in some ways.  It helps having a number of competent men in the family that can do the labor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Visible Progress in Africa?

From Sao Tome & Principe, one of the world's (and Africa's) smallest countries; still, it's a nation with the same difficulties to face as the others.  I've been here regularly since '07.

Political and public events of interest in Sao Tome & Principe: With recent election results now confirmed by the courts, there has been a change of government with a popular mandate for fiscal accountability and reform, at least according to the word on the street. I’m told that the incoming prime minister was ousted in a preceding government because he insisted on strong accountability measures in the budget processes. Now, perhaps, he has a chance to push hard on the issue again with a cooperative cabinet and national assembly.

Numerous road construction projects are visible in areas we’ve not seen served since our program’s inception. They seem generally to be significant efforts including new concrete curbs and ditches, short seawall borders for roads along the beach, significant amounts of material, and so on.

The three photos here show examples of major road work above and below Santana and of a new seawall at Ribeira Afonso. There’s a new secondary school in final construction just above Trinidade and due to open in November; capacity perhaps 600 or so. All encouraging developments, particularly to those of us who have been driving these roads with heretofore epic potholes!

Embassy staff tells me there’s a new power plant in operation that is now being integrated into the national grid. Until that is complete rural community power is still just a few hours a day.

All of these efforts precede the election and continue afterward.

Schools have textbooks as of last September. I'm told it covers the entire school system. Impressive.

Health care remains unnerving for a westerner, and difficult for the local folks to access. I had occasion to rush a lady to the hospital; she’d been in an encounter at the community water spigot; she had her nose split and broken by a blow from a water jug; thirty-six stitches and some impressive swelling. The hospital was an uncomfortable flurry of activity when we were there, late afternoon.

The Seabees, always well received and appreciated here, are working on security fencing at the airport. Although an essential for the country, this particular project is less popular with some of the locals (photo) since they walk across the airport to get to the nearest water, to school, etc. On the upside, the airport authority is building a water tank for the affected community on the far side of the airport. That should ease the imposition somewhat.

For regular folks, life remains difficult for all but a small, wealthy percentage. In schools, the failure rate at the critical 6th and 9th grade levels remains above 70%, precluding advancement for most. Under-nutrition in children persists at around the 35% level.

Some accuse Africans of being lazy, and in doing so illustrate their misunderstanding of the plight of many. It doesn't matter how far they walk or how hard they work, they'll get little to nothing for their efforts. My African friends including their children work harder than I do, but there are few who will pay them for their efforts. Fishing and garden agriculture produce a bare subsistence. It remains a difficult world.

To keep the people and culture in perspective, these fine folks in the last picture are a Catholic volunteer organization working in a community to restore their fields to productivity. They spent a couple of weeks working in a hillside community, lending a hand where it's needed. It wasn't easy work. I met them through three of their guys wheel-barrowing drums of water along the road and up the hillside. We put the water in the back of my truck, went up the hill, and met the rest of the crowd. Nice folks. Came back a few hours later with cold cases of soft drinks. Big hit; got a standing ovation.

Intelligence, perseverance, a strong work ethic, and grace, all evident in the folks here.  It's a pleasure to work with them and heartbreaking to experience the difficulties that are part of their lives every day.

Home again, home again....

A loose schedule gave us time to visit friends. Two of my teen-aged friends and I were invited to lunch with Sebastiana's family. A larger number of the men were there this time, so the conversation was largely wine and guy talk. The several men sat at the table while the ladies stood and ate elsewhere in the room. The children were supposed to eat on the floor in the kitchen, but a few brought their plates into the main room and sat where they could watch the men and their guests. Several glasses of wine into the meal, I discover that African men just don't cook! Ever... except for this one fellow from Cabo Verde, but he spoke French, so... They didn't know how to respond when they discovered that I can cook and do so regularly. It was an uncomfortable moment in the conversation.

I spent time with each of our families, chatting about the kids and work.

With the help of a friend in the states, the family here has built this kiosk on the road in front of their house; they sell some things they raise in their garden along with a few items they buy in the city. It generates a little income for the family. Dad lost his job when an accident cost him his arm, so the kiosk provides their only income at the moment.

Portrait photos like this are often serious looking; it's a cultural thing. They smiled and laughed with us during our visits, however.

They knew we were coming, so they cooked a couple of fish on the family stove for us to eat as thanks. For our visit, dad walked down to the shore about a mile away to buy the fish from the local fishermen. Called concon locally, the fish are unfamiliar but quite good, cooked with lime, salt, and pepper.

All four of their children finished the school year successfully! It's a big deal for the oldest son; he passed the achievement tests at the end of the 6th grade. About 80% of kids fail that test. Passing means he gets to keep going to school next year. He'll begin studying English, so we brought some book in Portuguese and English for him.

Mediocre self-photo of coconut chalice, caught Dad here disposing of fish bones of which there were plenty. He embraced me as we made our departure and sends his thanks to his American friends.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

'Things you don't want to know' for $100, Alex.

I'm a selfish, tight-fisted person by nature.  Ouch!  I didn't  know that until I threw a tantrum over my kid's cell phone bill some years ago.  It hurt her feelings and troubled me deeply.

Along the way, eventually, I heard a different tune about my 'tightfisted' heart ...  

Proverbs 21:26 ... the righteous gives without sparing.

Luke 6:34  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend, expecting to be repaid in full.

1 Timothy 6:18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Deuteronomy 15:7 ... do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.  Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.

Matthew 5:42  Give to him that asks in need, and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away.


On a cruise with wife and family, I was reminded of the ease of our lifestyle compared to so many of those whom we know and love.

Elsewhere in our career travels, we've seen how the reality of rural poverty limits the lives of folks so painfully.  Forced to choose between educating their kids, getting some health help, or eating, life is more than difficult.  It's devastating.

I'm having an increasingly difficult time being willing to continue this path of ease.

Fortunately, my wife is a gracious and generous soul with simple needs who encourages me.  We live simply and have no great financial difficulties.  The only real difficulty we have these days is sorting and deciding among all the real needs our Father has given us opportunity to see.

We have dear friends scattered across Africa, some in the drought and famine areas of Djibouti and Kenya.

The boys here in their new school shirts are among the kids we've agreed to sponsor for school costs.  Fine fellows all.

They might as well be our own children and family.  What do we do next, Father?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

AUG '10 - Back in Africa

In country for a couple of weeks work, I made time at the end of the day to visit friends. Just a few minutes from my work site, this is the first family I met here back in '07. Poppa shows me the site for his daughter and son-in-law's new house. My Portuguese remains inadequate, but I think he said they were just married this year.

It will be a simple home, perhaps 300 sq ft. Water is available less than 10 minutes away. Having family nearby is a big deal, of course. In the collage left, the young couple carries wood from the sawmill for the project.

On the right, Poppa's youngest and my first friend in Africa (and our fourth grade scholar) enjoys summer vacation. School starts in October here. She's been making good grades all along and actually enjoys school.

We're tied to five families here now with twelve or so of their children in school. This last school year went well and all of our kids passed on to the next grade. Our oldest boy passed the critical sixth grade standard achievement test, which is quite a big deal. It means he gets to go on the the 7th grade. The test has about a 70% failure rate marking the end of education for most. The next big hurdle is at the end of the 9th grade. Only a few children go on to finish high school.

Aug 26, 2010

With photos from our time together a few months ago (photo, right) and some books from Lisbon, my friends here are part of a large family of fine folks. Grandma adopted me awhile back and the rest of the family has made a place for me. Books in Portuguese are an appreciated gift; there's no outlet in the country where they can buy new books and the libraries are minimally helpful. Most manufactured goods come by plane or ship to this isolated country.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to where I left my heart...

Given a hurry-up task in Sao Tome, we threw together a plan and coordinated with the folks we hope to serve there.  A bit of a scramble; visas stalled in the embassy while the ambassador was out of the US for two weeks; had to drive to DC to pick up our passports with the visas finally approved on the day before our flights.

In spite of the flail, we're glad for the chance to go.  We work with fine folks on important capabilities that help their country in practical ways.  Fisheries enforcement is on the top of the list in my estimation; the little country is being robbed of millions by international companies who fish illegally in African waters.  The declining fish populations make it hard for local fishermen to feed their communities.

Arrived at the airport already tired; now just 36 hours of airplanes and airports to go. Dulles, London, Lisbon, then Sao Tome.

We expect to land in Africa the morning of 20 Aug.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We're here for a short visit...


"Strange is our situation here upon earth.  Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes  seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know.  That we are here for the sake of others... for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected... by a bond of sympathy."

Einstein's oft quoted declaration points to what so many of us fear about ourselves; that perhaps we're selfish and deliberately blind to the condition of our fellow man.

Could it be that we that we complain about our "rich man's problems" such as our supermarket's lack of good avocados or the rising cost of a good education? Then we neither feel nor say anything about our brother in Pakistan who lost everything in the flood last week. He lost his home, his livelihood, his wife and children. Or how about the African father who weeps because his children are undernourished and he has no power to feed them better?

"We are not in control. We can't change things," one sweet friend said to me yesterday.

Actually, she does change things. Although confined to a wheelchair, she travels with a group to Africa every year accompanying a shipment of things that help communities there. They work all year, collecting goods, then they go to the most difficult places and live in the communities, teaching and helping and dispensing love unconditionally. :) She and her friends at  Casa Fiz do Mundo are on my short list of heroes.

"Estranha é nossa situação aqui na Terra. Cada um de nós vem para uma curta visita, sem saber porquê, mas às vezes parecendo um propósito divino. Do ponto de vista da vida cotidiana, porém, há uma coisa nós sabemos: que estamos aqui para o bem dos outros ... pelas incontáveis almas desconhecidas com cujo destino estamos ligados ... por um vínculo de simpatia."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Married at age 11...

The image here is one of a series of photos about child marriages taken between 2005 and 2007 in Afghanistan, Nepal and Ethiopia.

The groom, Mohammed, is 40 years old and the bride, Ghulam, is still a child; she has just turned 11.

UNICEF estimates that about half of Afghan women are married before they turn 18. In Afghanistan, most parts of South Asia, Southern Africa and other regions, marriage is often seen as a business transaction that has nothing to do with personal desires. In this process, the bride is the article of trade – the younger she is, the higher the bride price.

“What are you feeling today?” Ms. Sinclair recalled asking Ghulam with regard to her engagement.
“Nothing,” the bewildered girl answered. “I do not know this man. What am I supposed to feel?”

UNICEF Germany ‘Photo of the Year’ raises awareness about early marriage

NEW YORK, USA, 24 December 2007 – US photographer Stephanie Sinclair is the winner of this year’s ‘Photo of the Year’ competition presented by the German National Committee for UNICEF.

There are so many versions of child abuse. From kidnapping and sale to families giving their daughters as child brides to satisfy a debt they owe. The list is horrifying to consider in terms of individuals.

Child Trafficking

UNICEF-EC programme gives a second chance to a would-be child bride in India

NEW YORK, USA, 22 April 2010 – Bablu, 15, lives with her family in a small village in rural Rajasthan. She was 13 when her community decided she should be married. “I did not want to get married,” she said. “I thought my life would be completely ruined.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Marriage before age 12 ...

Sept. 14, 2009 A Child Bride, 12 year old Girl Dies in Childbirth After 3 Days of Labor (ABC)

Three times I've started this subject and abandoned it, unable to think clearly about what such a thing might mean.

I'm a father with perhaps some insight into the vulnerabilities of childhood.  My mind explodes into blinding horror when I think of the child brides who will marry today, this week, and be raped before week's end, and who will die from abuse or from complications due to being pregnant before their bodies are mature enough to carry a child.

Tihun Nebiyu the goat herder doesn't want to marry. She is adamant about this. But in her village nobody heeds the opinions of headstrong little girls.

That's why she's kneeling in the filigreed shade of her favorite thorn tree, dropping beetles down her dress. Magic beetles. 

"When they bite you here--" Tihun explains gravely, pressing the scrabbling insects into her chest through the fabric of her tattered smock "--it makes your breasts grow."

This is Tihun's own wishful brand of sorcery--a child's desperate measure to turn herself into an adult. Then maybe, just maybe, her family would respect her wishes not to wed. She could rebuff the strange man her papa has chosen to be her husband. And she wouldn't have to bear his dumb babies.

Tihun kneels in the dirt, eyes closed: an elfin figure whose smile is made goofily endearing by two missing front teeth. She holds her small hands over her nipples. She is waiting for the bugs' enchantment to start. Seconds pass. But nothing happens. Eventually, she starts to giggle. The beetles have escaped--by crawling up her neck.

"It doesn't work!" Tihun says, disgusted. She heaves an exaggerated sigh and squints out across the yellow-grass hills surrounding her world: "I will just have to run. ...

Tihun was born into a gruff, noisy household--the clan's squabbles reverberate across fields 50 yards away. A pious and conservative patriarch, Melese disdains schooling for his girls and brooks no resistance to early marriage.

To save on wedding expenses, he has shrewdly arranged to marry off four of his children on the same day. Tihun and her more worldly big sister Dinke, 10, will be carted away on horses by strangers who are their husbands. And two teenage sons will bring home 10-year-old brides."

Ethiopia, Yemen, ... In many countries, the legal age is 18, but the traditional practices allow and still persist in marriage long before legal age or reasonable consent.

It's consignment to hell for the child bride.  Removed from school, in the equivalent of involuntary servitude and sexual slavery, in spite of what she might have chosen if she'd been given the chance, destined for poverty and helplessness for a lifetime.

Twenty-five thousand times a day, every day, day after day (according to the UN).   Dear God, can such a thing be true?  Kenya, Sudan, ...  Every few seconds, another daughter, another precious child is forced into such circumstance against her will, before she's able to understand and consent.

(CNN) -- A 12-year-old Yemeni bride died of internal bleeding following intercourse three days after she was married off to an older man, the United Nations Children's Fund said.
The issue is on the international agenda for developing countries.  I used to be a conservative fellow, leaving all those nebulous 'human rights' issues to the nut-case, left-leaning liberals.  'Human rights', the way we said it in those days, was a slam, a casual dismissal.  Now I have this pain inside me and it's difficult to speak of what I barely understand. I have a few faces in my mind to go with the issue now. 
... and others by the hundreds and thousands.
Traditional practices are difficult to replace with reasonable understanding and principle.  Actually, it isn't uncommon for girls to be married before age 10, often in an exchange for debt owed by a parent.  Sub-Saharan Africa is rife with such.

From CNN earlier this year, "The issue of Yemeni child brides made headlines in 2008 when 10-year-old Nujood Ali was pulled out of school and married. Her husband beat and raped her within weeks of the ceremony.  To escape, Nujood hailed a taxi -- the first time in her life -- to get to the central courthouse where she sat on a bench and demanded to see a judge.
After a well-publicized trial, she was granted a divorce."

I find myself applauding the judge who granted this 10-year-old a divorce from the brutal criminal to whom she had been unwillingly wed. The husband was not arraigned.  It wasn't a marriage; like all such arranged unions, it was child abuse and almost beyond our ability as parents to comprehend in its cruelty. 

The traditional conservative position is to remain aloof from the internal practices of foreign cultures.  I'm not so conservative any more.

"The case of Khadija Rasoul, 13, and Basgol Sakhi, 14, from the village of Gardan, in the Dulina district of Ghor Province, central Afghanistan, was notable for the failure of the authorities to do anything to protect the girls, despite opportunities to do so.

Forced into a so-called marriage exchange, where each girl was given to an elderly man in the other’s family, Khadija and Basgol later complained that their husbands beat them when they tried to resist consummating the unions. (NYT)"

US Dept of State on Forced Early Marriage
We have the promises of the World! 
Video Essay on Child Marriage
Just Die Quietly 

So, what are you going to do with what you know?
Do a little research, read a little US policy on the subject, drop your congressman a note, contribute to an organization that's fighting for this among other human rights, go and see for yourself, meet a few family members, a few husbands, ....
Or do nothing at all, don't have an opinion, don't hurt for the sake of someone else's child, don't grieve over the death of a 12 year old wife who dies  in childbirth.  She was precious to God.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Now, what do I do?

Compared to the world, most western world folks are pretty well off.  We probably spend more on telephone service than some of my African friends have for their family's income.  Our typical fancy TV cost more than many of them spent building their house.  I don't know what to do with that information yet, but it hurts a bit just to know that my life and thinking and culture are so messed up.  Soon, maybe.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend; he's a PhD (Sociology) college professor.  Discussing the plan to fence the border with Mexico, he defended it with an analogy of his own house.  "I don't want to keep folks out so much as I want to selectively allow folks in.  I want to be able to manage things, so I don't lose ..."

So I don't lose ...  ... what?

This is a good guy, understand.  He's always got guests in his house, usually students or friends of his children, sometimes a foreign student who needs a place to live.  He and his family are wonderfully generous, but his caveat triggered an awareness in my own heart.  Is that the limit I place on my generosity?  That  I'll be generous as long as it doesn't intrude into my current standard of living, my accustomed luxury lifestyle, my plans for myself and my family?  So we don't lose some measure of what we have?

So this one fellow came to Jesus, asking about what good work he might do to inherit eternal life.  Knowing the fellow's heart, I suppose, Jesus told him to go and sell everything and give to the poor, then come and follow Him.  He went away grieving from Jesus' answer.  He just couldn't do it.  I know the feeling.  How do you fight with yourself over accustomed luxury and comfort?  Was that the rich fellow's struggle?  I just want to manage things so I don't lose ....

Sharing ....
The new testament church did a lot of giving and sharing.  People got saved and began selling what they had and sharing with others.  Selling my accustomed luxury lifestyle?  Giving up my current standard of living?  Being so radically changed that my generosity might approach a little self-sacrifice?

So, what are we going to do with what we know?
Do a little research, pray a little bit, re-do our budget a bit.  Or what if we were to go beyond our religious, capitalist baggage and actually do something grand?  Something that costs you a lot, maybe a couple of years savings, but it was grand and noble, and what if it was enough to actually make a difference for somebody?  Would we?  Would it be worth it afterward?

“When we find a way to save millions of lives, to give hundreds of millions of families the ability to make a healthy, productive future, we should give everything we’ve got.” ~Melinda Gates