Thursday, October 1, 2015

EPN Heroes: Father Godfrey Nzamujo

Father Godfrey Nzamujo

Next in our EPN Heroes series we are featuring Father Godfrey Nzamujo. Father Godfrey is the founder and director of the Songhai Centre, one of Africa's premier technical schools.  He firmly believes that "agriculture can be a weapon of mass construction." 

We see many common themes among our EPN heroes. They see opportunities to make their world a better place and share a passion to make it happen.  Godfrey Nzamujo, known simply as Father Godfrey by his peers, is innovating new ways of wealth creation for Africa's most impoverished and underserved. His contribution to agriculture research, science, and the eradication of poverty aren't just inspiring, there heroic.

Father GODFREY NZAMUJO, is a true renaissance man.  Born in Kano, Nigeria in 1950, he has a B.A. in Modern Philosophy and Mathematics, an M.A. in Theology and a PH.D. in Economic Philosophy. As if that weren't enough, he has an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and a PH.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Irvine.  We're still trying to figure out how many languages he speaks.

The Songhai Centre, Benin

While working as a professor in California in 1984, west and central Africa experienced one of the worst famines in recorded history. Everyday, on every news network, he watched his countrymen literally starve to death. Equally distressing was the foreign response to the crisis. Nation after nation poured into Africa, handing out food and clothes, flooding the economy with aid, but not opportunity. 

"It's good to provide the hungry with food," he said, "but it's far better to provide them with opportunities for self-sustainability. The key to ending poverty is to make the impoverished productive." He committed right then to go back home and reverse the "logic of poverty" at work in Africa. 

When he arrived back home in Nigeria, Father Godfrey met with local government officials to pitch an idea to transform the fight against poverty. He envisioned a place where people would be trained to use technologically advanced, eco-friendly agriculture to launch their own businesses and feed their communities. With visions of petro-dollars dancing in their heads, the Nigerian officials thought agriculture seemed pretty mundane.  They turned him down.  But Father Godfrey was undeterred.  

He traveled to the neighboring country of Benin. After meeting with national officials there, he was given one hectare of land (roughly 2.4 acres) to begin work on the first Songhai Centre. With a staff of seven local high school dropouts, he converted a section of once infertile land into an agricultural oasis. People from all over Benin started flocking to the Songhai Centre to learn agriculture and entrepreneurism from Father Godfrey. 
What once was a wasteland is now a lush field of nutritious greens!

Twenty-five years later there are 13 Songhai Centres in four African nations, each of them equipping agricultural entrepreneurs with the tools and training necessary for economic self-determination. Additionally, the groundbreaking research being done in these facilities is helping the world better understand how farmers can have a symbiotic relationship with mother earth. Father Godfrey's impact on the lives of his pupils, colleagues, and countrymen is immeasurable. His commitment to excellence and service is utterly awe-inspiring, and of course, heroic!  

In our next post we will take a look how Father Godfrey five fold approach towards creating wealth in some of Africa's most economically depressed areas. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cross-Cultural Connections: Life-Changing Inspiration Through Little Rock

In recent posts on EPN Hero Lilly Oyare, we showcased many of her activities and what makes them so remarkable. But her work even touches lives of people back in the States.  Today, we are sharing a conversation we had with Ellen Arian. Ellen is a longtime friend of John and Judy and a supporter of the Little Rock Scholars Program. Thanks to Ellen's contribution, one special young lady, Faith, is realizing her dreams to attend one of Kenya's top secondary schools.

The Little Rock Scholars Program allows donors to reach out to the students they are supporting and have a more personal relationship through email conversations. Ellen has exchanged several e-mails with Faith.  Here's what Ellen had to say: 

Faith Amondi, Little Rock Scholar, and friend of Ellen Arian
How We Met Faith
"Connecting with Faith has been a wonderful experience for us, and talking with her through email has left our family wanting to know her better and feeling lots of excitement about her future.

We began our support of the Little Rock Scholars program early on. I have 3 daughters who have been able to go to the schools of their choice. After hearing about the students at Little Rock and the challenges they face in pursuing secondary school education, it seemed like an extremely important cause; we knew right away that we wanted to join in the effort.

Our friend, Ellen Arian

From the start, we hoped the effort would be personal. But we couldn't have imagined how gratifying it would be to connect with Faith. Having conversations with her has truly been a blessing and it has inspired me in a couple of ways.

How Faith Has Inspired Us
First, our interactions with Faith have deepened my capacity for gratitude. I've heard the stories and seen the pictures of Kibera. Here is a girl raised in the most dire poverty, yet she has emerged grateful, rather than tough and embittered. She is filled with appreciation, love and hope. It's so touching to read her words, and seeing these qualities in her helped wake me up to the remarkable power of attitude. Our conversations with Faith are continually instilling in me an even deeper sense of gratitude for all that I have.

The second place where Faith has moved my heart is seeing her belief in her own bright future. When we first began writing to her, we saw that Faith wasn't focused on obstacles - she was determined to make a difference and she believes she will. She sees years ahead full of possibility and promise. When we read Faith's reaction to receiving her scholarship, we saw someone with dreams whose biggest barrier to their success was just removed. That was truly inspiring.

We've seen the same appreciation, the same pure heart, the same love, in every letter from Faith. And none of this would be possible if we had not had the chance to communicate with her directly and get to know her, even across miles. It has truly been a blessing.

Faith Amondi (far left) with other Class of 2016 Little Rock Scholars
A Blessing to All Involved
The Little Rock Scholars Program has allowed us to help remove the biggest barrier to Faith's success. With a relatively small contribution, we have been able to make a huge and lasting impact on Faith's life. If you are in a position to make a difference you won't find a more compelling cause. And  because you will have the opportunity to communicate directly with that young person, your own life will be enriched in the process."

So there you have it. The words of our dear friend Ellen, who was paired with Faith in her support of the Little Rock Scholars campaign. 

As we close out our EPN Heroes campaign on Lilly Oyare (who Ellen described as "a dynamo"), we'd like to reflect on what makes this campaign important. It certainly shines a light on Lilly and her work. But what is really noteworthy is the lives of the students who come through the program. Lilly and the Little Rock School foster a sense of hope and the belief that with hard work and determination anything is possible.  In the midst of the slums of Kibera that is truly heroic work.  We're privileged to know her and help support what she does. 

How have the words of Ellen inspired you?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Introducing Kaveh Naficy

We’re following up on our last post introducing our newest board members here at EPN. The second is Kaveh Naficy, who, like Peter Wentworth, is a good friend of Eliminate Poverty NOW, as well as John and Judy.

Kaveh is a founding partner of Philosophy IB, a management consulting firm based in Florham Park, NJ. Kaveh has close to 40 years of business experience as a corporate executive, management consultant and entrepreneur. He also has extensive international experience, as the son of a diplomat and an expatriated executive, leading international businesses.

Kaveh's career has spanned assignments with global organizations such as AIG, American Express, Citibank, Ernst and Young management consulting, and Warner Lambert/Pfizer.

At Warner Lambert, Kaveh met John Craig and immediately connected with him professionally. Kaveh developed a deep respect and affection for John, Judy and, some years later, their work with Eliminate Poverty NOW. 

Kaveh's father, Habib Naficy was one of the catalysts of modernization and progress in Iran under the Shah regime. Amongst other amazing accomplishments, he built over 150 technical and vocational high schools and universities all over Iran. Many of his former students now lead renowned organizations throughout the world. Bearing that influence and legacy, Kaveh carries a deep passion for helping the underserved to reach their potential and to make a difference to their communities.

Kaveh's dream was to someday return to Iran and give back to his country. Unfortunately, that dream was circumvented by the Iranian revolution in 1979. However, when Kaveh met John and became familiar with the great work of EPN, Kaveh was convinced that he can realize his dream through EPN. Kaveh believes in EPN's mission of helping to erase poverty as a precondition for achieving self-respect and a sense of worth. He believes in the unlimited potential of people once their basic needs are met.  He sees Africa as a bedrock of extreme poverty and a place where good work goes a long way. He also deeply believes in John and Judy's personal involvement and sense of accountability. 

On a more personal note, Kaveh has three children, ages 29, 26, and 5 who are the loves of his life. He is an avid tennis player, skier and a voracious reader. Being Persian, he cannot help but to carry backgammon in his blood.

Kaveh received his BA from Baker University, a Masters in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, and an MBA from Boston College. Kaveh is a frequent speaker on the subject of Leadership and his blog has attracted a wide following.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Article Review: "Giving More Globally, and Less Locally"

In a recent New York Times article, we find that despite an increase in overall philanthropy in the United States, global giving accounted for only 4% of the total $358 billion donated in the past year. Some suggested reasons for the low amount were:
  • No major natural disasters in the past year.
  • Causes like Ebola left potential donors feeling helpless.
  • A "desire not to turn our back on our neighbors". Essentially, we connect with and give back to causes that seem 'close to home' for us.
Researchers and professors are looking into what factors can encourage people to give more globally. One such professor, Peter Singer, a philosopher out of Princeton, favors the idea of "effective altruism". "Effective altruism" is about large scale impact, measurable improvement, and addressing an often overlooked cause.

Training the women of the Farmers of the Future Program, a prime example of effective altruism

This kind of giving can radically improve and even save lives around the world from perils that many would not even imagine in the United States. While it is important to give and volunteer locally, our donations can go a lot further in places far from our own homes.

Sound familiar? It definitely did to us. At Eliminate Poverty NOW we've been working on "effective altruism" for quite a while, and that'll continue with your support.  We're continually amazed at the impact we have by working directly at the local level with wonderful partners.  Despite modest budgets, we've positively impacted thousands of lives over the last 5 years.

You can feel great about a donation to Eliminate Poverty NOW.  One hundred percent of your donation goes to work directly in Africa to help change lives.  And the support you provide is more than just a donation. It's an investment. The work we do is designed to grow and sustain itself in the people and communities we support. Now that's effective altruism, and with your help there is so much more we can do.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The EPN 2014 Annual Report and 990

Hi all! Here we are, halfway through 2015, and we have done so much in the past year. This is just a brief post to share some of that progress, in the form of the 2014 Annual Report and 990. Programs like the "Songhai Women's Capital Fund" and "Farmers of the Future" have steadily increased in both funding and reach. We're pleased with all we've accomplished in 2014 and the future looks bright.

If you click the following links, you can take a look at the full Annual Report and 990. In the meantime, here's a brief excerpt from the Annual Report:

In 2014, Eliminate Poverty NOW completed its fourth full year of operation. We continue to sharpen our focus on the mission of empowering Africa’s extreme poor to lift themselves out of poverty. We place special emphasis on empowering girls and women, using a combination of education, training and funding to create opportunities to boost their income –today, tomorrow and for years to come.
Two young friends we made while working with Dov Pasternak in the Sadoré Village
If you compare the projects featured in this year’s annual report to those of prior years, you’ll see many similarities. It’s not by accident. Breaking the shackles of extreme poverty takes patience and perseverance. We have plenty of both. Some projects will take years to achieve sustainable change. In the case of Farmers of the Future, with its goal of changing agricultural practice in an entire country, it may take decades.

The success of such ambitious projects lies squarely on the shoulders of our local partners. EPN is blessed to work with remarkable people doing remarkable work. Superlatives like this are overused and therefore often overlooked. So we’ve started to feature our partners on our website under the heading of “EPN Heroes.” As you read their stories we think you’ll agree that they are, in fact, extraordinary.
Dov Pasternak, one of our good friends and our first of many EPN Heroes, showing Judy some of his work

You can continue reading on the website here, but let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

5 Things You Need to Know About Kenya's School System: Part 2

In our last post, we shared some information about Kenya's school system that makes the work done at Little Rock all the more amazing. You can check out Part 1 of that post here, but we'd like to continue with 2 more points today that really impressed us about Lilly's work in Nairobi, Kenya.

4. Many students have to learn a whole new language just to learn in school.

That language is English, and many students from Kibera do not start off speaking English around the home. The "mother tongue" in most Kenyan homes is Swahili, while the language of instruction in school is English. As you can imagine, putting a kid straight into the school system in Kenya without knowing English creates a huge disadvantage. The Little Rock School intervenes here in a great way, getting young kids comfortable speaking, reading, and writing in English before they go into the public school system where English literacy is essential.

5. Special needs students are not served by the Kenyan public school system.

No special needs children have access to the public school system in Kenya. A typical teacher in a Kenyan classroom might be responsible for 100 students (think of a large university lecture hall in the United States). As such, there's no way that a teacher could provide the personalized attention that special needs students require.

This point in particular is what really makes Lilly's work go above and beyond. She opened the doors of Little Rock to special needs kids in 2006. They are "doubly disadvantaged." They deal with extreme poverty as well as deafness, Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy, or autism. The schooling they receive at Little Rock is unique and vitally important. Today, one third of Little Rock's preschoolers have special educational needs, and Little Rock offers the only inclusive preschool option in all of Nairobi, a city of 4 million people.


Eliminate Poverty NOW focuses support primarily on the students beyond preschool. As students move on to eighth grade, Little Rock offers test prep tutors, funded by Eliminate Poverty NOW. This tutoring program drastically improves the chances that students earn high marks on their secondary school entrance exams and qualify for some of Kenya's best secondary schools.   Once qualified, we provide 4-year scholarships so students can attend.   To date, EPN has funded 26 scholarships and hopes to add 10 more this coming year.

You'd think that after a year of intensive test preparation, scoring well on the entrance exam and qualifying for a scholarship, the rest would be easy.  But students from Kibera have huge cultural adjustments to make in secondary boarding schools. They are away from home for the first time, sleeping in a bed for the first time, and dealing with the challenge of being "the kid from the slums" in schools made up largely of students from well-to-do families. So Lilly and EPN added an additional tutoring and mentoring program for Little Rock Scholars to ensure their success. And it's working.

Of our 16 scholars who have completed at least one year of secondary school, half are in the top 20% of their class, several are in the top 5%, and one is in the top 1% of her class.  Not bad for a group of kids from the slums!!

As you've seen from these facts about the Kenyan school system, children from Kibera face many challenges before they even get into the classrooms. Hopefully these posts give a clearer picture of how heroic Lilly's service is. Students lucky enough to attend Little Rock are going on to do great things in school, and we are hoping to see great things well beyond! With your continued support, we can keep on working with Lilly to make a difference in Kenya. Leave a comment below, and donate for a Little Rock Scholarship here!

How has this information on the Kenyan school system inspired you? What came as a surprise for you? Share your thoughts below, and share Part 1 and Part 2 with friends!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

5 Things You Need to Know About Kenya's School System: Part 1

For those of you who may have missed it, one of our last posts highlighted our EPN hero Lilly Oyare. Her school, the Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre, provides children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya with pre-school education, plus a wide range of activities for primary school students including after school tutoring paid for by Eliminate Poverty NOW, and scholarships to secondary school. 

If you are anything like me, you might need some background on the differences between Kenya's educational system and our own to really see what Little Rock is doing, and why the school is so important.

So just to give a fuller picture of what makes Lilly's work so amazing, in 2 parts, here are 5 Things You Need to Know About Kenya's School System:

1. Primary school, even public ones, can be very expensive. 

On paper, Kenya may be closer than any other Sub-Saharan nation to universal primary education. Primary school fees were technically abolished in 2013. However, many small fees make it difficult or impossible for poor families to keep up with the cost of schooling. Parents often can't afford the school uniforms, textbooks, transport, meals and supplies. All of these are required for students to attend school, and without them, some students may never get into primary school, and others eventually drop out.

2. Secondary school is even MORE expensive than primary. 

While primary school is at least free by law, secondary school is not. In fact, it is quite expensive. Only 55% of primary school graduates continue on to secondary school.  For those who do, tuition, room and board, and additional fees account for about 55% of household expenditures for the average Kenyan family.  

3. Beyond primary school, students must qualify for secondary schools, and compete for scholarships.

To qualify for a slot in secondary school, students must demonstrate that they have sufficiently learned the basic skills in primary school. Data show that 77 percent of private school candidates qualified for secondary school, while only 45 percent of students in the public schools qualified. As in many cases globally, family wealth and test scores are related. Children who attend private primary schools have the best teachers and resources and are much better prepared to compete for the next-level scholarships. This makes an uneven playing field even steeper for students raised in poverty. 

We share these points to say Lilly's work is great in itself, and certainly inspiring. But we really began to appreciate what she is doing at Little Rock after better understanding the education system in Kenya. By providing high quality early childhood education, Lilly ensures that many of the children living in Kibera learn the crucial skills necessary for academic success in primary school and beyond. 

What questions about Kenya's school system do you have? Do you see the work of Lilly, Little Rock, or EPN in a new light? What other thoughts do you have? I Share in the comments below!

As we mentioned, there is still much more to come-the transitions for young students from Kibera can be quite challenging for reasons like language and culture barriers...we'll explain more soon! But be sure to share your thoughts on this post, and look out for our next post as we share a few more thoughts on Lilly's work in Kenya's school system.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Little Rock Appeal

We recently shared with a number of our friends several fundraising appeals for the Little Rock Scholarship program. As many of you know, each year, with the help of generous donations, we support up to 10 top students in Kibera with full 4-year scholarships to secondary school.

This post is an opportunity to read each of the personal appeals in one place:
  1. Transform Any Lives Lately? tells the story of many of the students we see in Kibera -- bright, full of potential, and studying hard despite the severe challenges they face. But these students still have one hurdle to overcome-and you can help.
  2. Imagine the Good We Could Do tells the story of Faith, a special young lady at Little Rock, and the family that is supporting her. Her story is truly inspiring, and it does not have to be the only story of its kind out of Kibera.
  3. It's in Your Hands shares the story of our most recent EPN Hero, Lilly Oyare, and her work in Little Rock. Education is the clearest way to break the cycle of endless poverty for these kids and their families.  We look at her narrative as an example of the great things that can be done when we see an issue in the world and commit to positive change.
We are half way to our goal of raising $40,000 to send 10 more of these outstanding students to secondary school with full 4-year scholarships.  The work that we do with Little Rock is definitely a team effort and the help we get from each of you is tremendous. Thank you for your continued support and please help us to reach our goal by sharing this post with others who share the desire to make a real difference in people's lives.

Monday, June 1, 2015

EPN Hero: Lilly Oyare

Earlier in the year, we put the spotlight on one of our partners, Dov Pasternak, as he does amazing work towards eliminating poverty over in Africa (Here's Part 1 and Part 2 to his piece). 

We'd like to take some time out again to share some of what another one of our friends is doing over in Kenya. Lilly Oyare, the founder of the Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre, took a social issue into her own hands. Now she is doing great work in her home country. This is just a bit of her story.

For the well-fed, well-sheltered, and well-warmed, the idea of poverty may seem a world away. Good fortune often obscures the horrific misfortune of others. Lilly Oyare, founder of Little Rock, has spent her entire career educating children. What she noticed is, "If we do not do something now, it's like a time bomb waiting to explode, and it will affect every one of us. Love is about others, not self." Lilly and the pupils she mentors are demonstrating how we all benefit from ensuring that each child is given the love and education required to reach their full potential. Lilly's selfless commitment to the most vulnerable among us, her perspective and foresight, is more than inspiring. It's heroic.

Lilly addressing students at Little Rock

Lilly was born in Mombasa, the first born of 8 children -- five boys and three girls. Her father worked for Kenya Railways, thus the bulk of her childhood was spent in Nairobi. Through primary school and high school Lilly earned high marks. Her father held his children to high standards, requiring that they be well disciplined and studious. Whereas many of her classmates enjoyed nights out shopping and going to the movies, Lilly's non-academic activities centered around church life. After high school Lilly went to Asumbi TT college, becoming a teacher after graduation.

Lilly knew from an early age that she wanted to work with children. She noticed a tremendous gap in the kindergarten instruction received by the children of Kibera, Kenya's largest slum, and their middle-class counterparts. As virtually all educators affirm, proper early childhood education is critical to ensure successful academic careers. The children of Kibera are trapped in a vicious cycle of education inequality, keeping them generationally trapped in poverty as adults.

Some of the 8th grade class participating in the EPN-sponsored after school tutoring program

Some people see a huge problem like that and simply turn their backs. Others say: "What a terrible problem. Someone needs to do something." Lilly saw the problem and said: "I've got to do something about it!"

Lilly left her comfortable teaching job to found Little Rock and provide the children of Kibera with a school where they too could receive an outstanding education. Lilly provides the most vulnerable children (including orphans, HIV/AIDS infected, and special needs children) with the educational tools to get ahead. 

The new Little Rock ECD campus

The Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre is part school, part community center, and part tutoring agency. Children get a great start in Little Rock's pre-school program, then enjoy Little Rock's many after school activities for primary school students. As they approach 8th grade, students have the opportunity to work with tutors funded by Eliminate Poverty NOW to help them prepare for entrance exams into secondary school. Students who qualify can receive a full 4-year scholarship to one of Kenya's premier secondary boarding schools.

Over the last 10 years, 441 children have successfully matriculated through primary school and 35 have received scholarships to secondary school, 26 funded by EPN. Currently, 360 children attend kindergarten Monday through Friday. Every available metric indicates that the children of Little Rock are excelling academically in every grade and class. Quite remarkable!

Lilly is helping Kenya's next generation of doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers realize thier dreams and overcome next to impossible odds. The very children most overlooked are the children who Lilly seeks out. Together, Eliminate Poverty NOW and Lilly Oyare are working to expand the school's reach, so that more of Kibera's children can receive the transformative education that leads to life-long prosperity. 

Lilly's extraordinary compassion and commitment in the face of enormous obstacles make her not only an outstanding teacher, but a true hero.

During a trip to America, Lilly stands between John and another one of our friends, Colin Jones
In coming posts, we will share a bit more about Lilly. We truly see her work as necessary, and her presence has changed the lives of hundreds of young people in Kenya. Did this inspire you to act? Share your thoughts below!