Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes #3

Africa Notes #3 (7/22)

(Note: We will be joining our Heifer study project on Saturday –so it may be a while before we can send the next message)

Most all good ideas begin with one person getting an inspiration – and then the idea can evolve and grow. American and European groups often want to help when confronted with the social issues that seem so much in need of assistance. But, what is effective? As we talk to NGO personnel (Non governmental organizations) some things become clear. Well meaning folks often do more harm than good. One group collected and sent 1000 t-shirts for children – fine! – But this utterly destroyed a local industry – and removed jobs from dozens of people. Also, sending computers is tricky for the same reasons – there is a budding computer market here. In addition, the satellite computer system is so ineffective as to make the donated computers non useful in rural areas– much better to collect money and buy local cell phones which supports the development of the local market as well. The bottom line is that Americans and Europeans that want to help need to first thoroughly discuss the needs and implications of sending materials to Africa. The NGOs living and working here would prefer working in advance with those offering to help rather than attempting to clean up the negative results of ill advised projects. There are ways to truly help that truly change lives in a positive way.

We have seen two projects in the last couple of days that have impressed us greatly:

1. Mama Lucy-When you pull into Mama Lucy’s compound you see two neat wings of classrooms and the construction of the new school library underway. She smiles when she talks about what a miracle is has been. She tells of having to send her own children to Kenya for schooling because the schools in Arusha were inferior and overcrowded. Mama Lucy had chickens and an egg production business and her husband had a job working in customs at the airport. When she decided to start a pre-school, she converted a chicken house into the first schoolroom. At first she had to pay all the expenses herself – but later she got some donations of money and supplies. A young couple from Florida, both consultants in business management met Mama Lucy while volunteering in Arusha in the mid 2000’s. They helped her write up a business plan, then went home and founded Epic Change to support her. Contrary to all advice, they sent her $35,000 trusting in Mama Lucy. The next time they visited, she had almost finished the first wing of the school. As money came in, Mama Lucy has been able to buy additional land, and build classrooms and gardens. Vegetables from the school garden are prepared with rice or corn to provide a healthy balanced diet each day. (Often the main meal of the day for the children). She has overcome obstacles to hire the best possible teachers and develop the most effective curriculum for her students. Because her test scores were much better than public school, parents began to discover her. Parents who are in a position to support the school are expected to pay a modest tuition, but poor students pay nothing. Now her big challenge is to expand the school beyond the 7th grade to provide a secondary education. This year she is adding an 8th grade class. She has also purchased a small house for students who are orphaned or live far out to live and attend the school. For more information on Mama Lucy visit her website: <>

2. Heifer International - Judy and I just seem to fall into things sometimes. Yesterday we spotted from our window a Heifer Project van. (The group we will be with next week) When Judy called down to the driver and introduced herself, he asked the school group if we could join them. Mostly Germans, it was a well travelled bunch of teenagers from the Munich International School out to a Masai village to deliver a group of cows, goats, and donkeys to village people. (Separate vehicle). Heifer is a 60 year-old project. The basic concept is this – instead of giving donations of food to people in need – why not train them first – then deliver an animal that meets their need (suitably selected for that particular climate and environment), then require each recipient to give the first born female to a neighbor – along with proper training. A local Heifer board is available to provide support and to make sure that the project continues on track. Yesterday we witnessed what this means for individual Masai village people. One cow means that there is milk for the family and surplus milk to sell – there is sufficient profit to send children to school, and make additions to the home, and to purchase additional food for the family. As additional cows are passed on to neighbors – over and over again - within in 10 years the addition of one cow can impact an entire neighborhood. We will never forget the smiles and gentle manner of women receiving their new animal – Also with a donkey – it means that the daily trip for water (several kilometers) can now be done with their new animal and not balanced on top of their head.

The ceremony of delivery involved beautiful Masai singing and dancing in full formal Masai dress, speeches, the delivery of the animals, and then a meal of fried cassava, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, and a large mug of boiled milk. It was a festive occasion! Here we are in the midst of people who are so culturally different from us – but we exchange hugs and smiles and feel very natural with them. To learn more about Heifer go to <>