Friday, September 30, 2011

A Child's life ... in Africa

The kids are celebrating Children's Day and included me in the fun, dragging me from place to place and posing for pictures.  Here, they're standing still just long enough for the photo.  Then back to bouncing and running.  Kids!  Too nice for words.

Delightful youngsters at their elementary school insist on being photographed over and over.  Printed copies of the photos delivered the following year elicited squeals and dancing.  Like children everywhere, a little fun takes precedence over serious conversation.

The scar on this young lady's cheek tells a bit about her life.  Their environment includes open fires in the outdoor kitchen, uneven pathways, simple home construction, roadways without separate sidewalks, and a lack of construction safety standards for pretty much anything.

The photo here is of the cooking area at their elementary school.  It's in a corner of the playground next to the classrooms and unprotected from the 400+ kids who use the area.  Lunch most days is rice from USAID.  Upgraded by an assistance project the year after this photo was taken, it's now walled in to keep the kids away from harm.

Like most African countries, theirs is working hard to improve life for citizens.  It's an uphill road, though.  A former colony, their independence was hindered by Soviet influence until democratic reform emerged in the 90's.  Unemployment hovers around 50% despite a strong work ethic and healthy Catholic culture.  A lack of skilled labor is part of the problem, and education is a big part of the focus for development efforts.

Parents and teachers are tough, practical folks.  They work hard, long days, every day.  Apart from the children, life offers few reasons to smile.  Change is slow.  Hope is hard to come by.   Feel free to join in and lend a hand.  Mom and dad will thank God for you.

(Poppa, in back, chuckled and commented that he was glad he'd worn his nice shirt for the photo.  These shots were taken in Sao Tome & Principe, one of the nicer places in Africa where we work.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kids at the river ... in Africa

Just a mile from their home, the river is a gathering place.  Today, kids play while mom does the laundry.  Here, a young fellow shows off his day's success.

These are among the fortunate in Africa these days.  They live near water and there's plenty of rain.

I'm in the country briefly for work and stop by to visit the family.

Mom is in this picture (left) and actually working, washing the clothes in the basket.  The rest, the kids, are pretending to help so they can be in the picture.  They're a bunch of cutups I've known for a few years.

 Guys at the river washing their athletic gear; I guess momma drew the line at sweaty sports stuff.  I asked if they minded my taking a picture; this is the pose I got.  :)

More than 50% of the population lives below the poverty level.  That's the UN poverty level of about $1.25 per day.  (The US 'poverty level' is high enough to be considered wealthy here.)

The economy suffers from a number of problems, one of which is the lack of skilled labor.  Keeping kids in school is a high priority for external assistance efforts, ours included.

Domestic food-crop production is inadequate to meet local consumption, so the country imports some of its food. Efforts have been made by the government in recent years to expand food production, and several projects have been undertaken, largely financed by foreign donors.  Taiwan is significant among the sponsors. Impressive folks.

Here, a young beauty pretends to help momma with the laundry.  The tub on her head is empty; it's just a pose for another photo; one of dozens.  She's big sister to a lot of the kids we know. 

More kid stuff (right); the girls thought it would be good photo material...  feet sticking above the water, right, are my friend's.  She jumped in without a moments hesitation.  Upstream, more folks and laundry are interrupted by the squealing and laughter.

Here (left), big sister gets a surprise push that lands her in the water too.

OK, everybody else thought it was funny.

Note the shoreline rock; this looks to have been a volcanic outflow in ages past.  The soil is rich and productive pretty much across the island although difficult for hand-managed crops; there's little level ground available.

The water isn't particularly clean, of course.  It comes down the mountainside, runoff from jungle and livestock areas, used for laundry and bathing.   Boys (right) join in the fun and clown a bit for the camera.

The good news for the kids, their country is making progress in quality of government areas that really matter.  Safety and rule of law, human development, human rights like equality and free speech, all encouraging stuff.  It's slow because it's a nation in the process of growing up; it takes time to change culture and political process and civil activity, but it's encouraging nonetheless.  Elections this September are reported to have been fair and without the turmoil common in less fortunate countries.  Independent since the '70's and democratic since the '90's, they've worked hard at being a healthy society.

And!  They've built a new middle-school!  It'll help with the crowding problem.  All the elementary schools do double schedule because they've got more kids than seats and teachers for them.  Building infrastructure like school buildings is slow, and getting and keeping qualified teachers is an even larger task.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Horn of Africa ... and kids

She and her brother ran out to meet me as I climbed the hillside to their home.  Acquaintances from a year earlier, I was surprised she remembered me.

In Djibouti, our friends (photos, left and below, from JAN '11) live in the most basic of circumstances.  Food and water occupy much of the family's efforts.  Kids are cheerful meeting a traveling white guy; mom and dad are polite but showing the stress of the days.  In the city's fringe area where they live, unemployment is around 80% now.

It's common for us to wince and turn away from those in need.
It's too big for me to make a difference.
I can't help. Foreign aid is so messed up.

It's worth noting though, that these are people.  Folks just like us.  Good men and women, working so hard to feed their families, struggling today with impossible circumstances.  We who live in such comparative ease can afford to lend a hand.  (And text donating is really cool.)