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 leadershipcrescendo.com 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!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Peter's Reflections on Africa (Pt. 2)

In our last post, we shared some reflections from Peter Wentworth about his trip to Africa. Here is the continuation of that post...

Rwanda - Lead Farmer Project
Rwanda, called the land of 1,000 hills, is a beautiful country, humbled and energized by its recent horrific legacy.  Kigali, the capital city, is exceptionally clean (and I mean zero litter), and visually appealing - built on dozens of hills with tree-lined roads - and a blur of major construction – commercial and residential.  The economy is strong.  Twenty five miles outside the city in the Bugesera District is the Mayange cluster of villages.

Prior to visiting the first Lead Farmer, we met with the Millennium Promise team overseeing the project.  That gave us a good overview of the status of the project, the structure of resources, and the progress against goals in terms of technology uptake, learnings transfer, and crop yield.  2015 is the final planned year of this project, so the visit provided a good opportunity to assess both progress and sustainability of the effort.



My impressions: 
  • The Project has set up a disciplined and repeatable structure to transfer knowledge from EPN-funded extension agents to Lead Farmers, who in turn pass on the information / skills / agricultural techniques to other farmers within their assigned villages. 
  • The Lead Farmers are implementing the new techniques, some with significant outcomes, as evidenced by the demonstration plot of cassava we visited.   
  • One of the Lead Farmers (Tedeo) has demonstrated strong entrepreneurial skills and built a successful business, expanded his land, increased his number of fruit trees from 40 to 400, prepared videos to share his methods with others, sells cuttings, experiments with grafting, etc.
  • The program is teaching the Lead Farmers to be leaders among peers.
  • The program is providing process and tools/technology (e.g., cell phone app) to help farmers evaluate their progress.
  • The program is enabling a transition from subsistence to income-generating farming.


Looking forward:
To help ensure the success and sustainability of the program, more “Tedeos” need to be identified and supported to ensure there is a critical mass of Lead Farmers with the initiative and entrepreneurial spirit to sustain the effort when structured support ends.  This is possible with strong local leadership, clear and realistic goals, increased leveraging of the successful Lead Farmers as role models, and continued funding.  Work is underway to gain government support and resourcing of these agricultural efforts to offset the potential reduction in NGO and private funding sources as the Millennium Promise demonstration timetable nears its end.

Kenya – Little Rock School
To visit Nairobi is to sit in your car in what seems like endless traffic.  After a short distance and long time, we pass through the outskirts of Kibera, experiencing a feast for all the senses resulting from the squalid coexistence of trash and humanity.  The car bumps down a street and we approach a neatly landscaped wall.  A solid gate opens to a courtyard in bright primary colors, silly over-sized Disney-like characters painted on the walls, and a rich learning haven for children all of whom come daily from indescribable living conditions.


My impressions:
Lilly Oyare has established an extraordinary learning community which is inclusive, non-judgmental, nurturing, loving, and laser-focused on maximizing the students’ future potential.
  • The preschool teaches all children English – the language required for entry to the public school system. 
  • The school accepts physically and learning disabled children who otherwise would have no access to education (30% of the school’s children), and mainstreams as many as possible (hence the sign language for all students/teachers)
  • Focus on nutrition – for many, the school is their only dependable source of food
  •  Focus on values – rooted in kindness, hope, hard work and self–confidence – the last two of which are core objectives for the older students, particularly in the after school and mentoring program
  •  The teacher-student ratio is 1:20.  Compare with up to 1:100 in Kenya’s public schools.
  •  The teachers, therapists (occupation/physical) staff are all very aligned with the school’s vision and mission, highly motivated, and nurturing.  Teacher retention is very high.
  • The school continues to support primary school students through an after school tutoring and mentoring program funded by EPN, to ensure they perform up to their capabilities on the national standardized tests which determine eligibility for secondary schools (high schools).
  •  The performance of EPN-sponsored Little Rock scholars in secondary schools has been very strong – ranking solid to very high among their classmates.
  •  What started as a simple preschool quickly gained momentum as a local intervention and catalyst for community-driven education for children of the slums – key to shaping their outlook on the world, building hope, expanding horizons and providing options for the future.

Looking forward:
Little Rock is an exceptional example of one person’s vision becoming a reality and then growing at an ever-accelerating pace.  Lilly, John, Pete Ondeng (EPN Advisor and first Board Chair of Little Rock) and others recognize that thoughtful management going forward is required for Little Rock to retain its essence and core elements of success.  The challenge is scalability, and significant additional resources are required to successfully expand.  This is a good problem to have.  The school is now on the radar of the Ministry of Education, Save the Children, and numerous other organizations as a model of inclusive education to be emulated throughout Africa.



In summary, the Africa trip was a wonderful in-process look at the work of Eliminate Poverty NOW and the impact being made by the EPN team and its supporters.  I was impressed by the emphasis on local empowerment, accountability, and ownership, and John’s relentless focus on outcomes, ensuring that EPN resources – both time and money – are being wisely utilized.



No doubt that Peter had a great experience, and had plenty to share. Now we'd like to hear from you! What thoughts do you have on Peter's reflections? Do you have a similar story from a trip to Africa that you'd like to share? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Peter's Reflections on Africa (Pt. 1)

A few months ago John took a trip to Rwanda and Kenya to visit several of the projects that EPN funds. He took two friends along with him, one of whom was Peter Wentworth, one of our newest board members. Here are Peter's reflections on the trip to Africa.



John Craig made a simple enough request…would I summarize my impressions of my visit to the Lead Farmers program in Mayange, Rwanda and the Little Rock School in Kibera, the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

Descriptions of the two projects we visited are available on the EPN website, so I’ll spare the details here and focus on my impressions. What is most difficult to capture in writing are the warm smiles, open hearts, rough hard working hands, dusty earth-between-the-toes, robust cassava plants and luscious mangoes, and the entrepreneurial spirit and optimism in the farmer’s fields in Rwanda – just 21 years after the genocide of 20% of the country’s population, bringing it to its knees.


And in Kenya, rising out of Kibera, one of the worst slums in the world, and home to an estimated one million people with no running water, electricity or sewage system, is an oasis of joy, hope, and infectious laughter of 380 bright-eyed children, somehow impeccably dressed in school uniforms, learning together in an inclusive environment unmatched in the US.  They all learn sign language for the benefit of their deaf classmates, and giggle at my attempt to sign my name.  It makes me smile as I write this.

Context makes the ordinary extraordinary. 






……To read more of Peter’s thoughts, be sure to check back with us early next week, as we post part 2 to Peter's reflections!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Introducing Peter Wentworth

"Thumbs Up" for Peter's photography

We’d like to take a few of our next posts to introduce our newest board members here at EPN. The first is Peter Wentworth, a good friend of Eliminate Poverty NOW, as well as John and Judy.

Peter brings a wealth of knowledge and aligned personal values to Eliminate Poverty NOW. He has almost 30 years business experience primarily in the consumer healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.  As a senior HR professional with diverse global experience, he is skilled in building organizational capabilities to drive business growth, identifying and developing exceptional leadership talent, and leading complex change initiatives in global organizations.  He is results-oriented and pragmatic, just as we are at EPN. 

Peter and John met 20 years ago when they both worked at Warner Lambert Company.  Their careers took them in different directions, and they stayed in touch.   Throughout his career Peter had the opportunity for extensive global travel, which has shaped his perspective and influenced his priorities.  He is inspired by the extraordinary resilience of people around the world who, despite their daily adversity and challenges, share the same values, the same spirit, and the same hope for a brighter futures as we all do.  Their drive for success and self-sufficiency has impacted him deeply.


Peter meeting his Little Rock Scholar Daniel Mburu at Langata High School

Peter contributes a significant amount of his time to mission-driven organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, and now EPN.  He serves as President of the Board for Habitat for Humanity in Morris County, New Jersey, whose mission is simply “to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live”.   He has been watching with interest the growth and success of EPN, and both he and his wife Diane began supporting the work of EPN several years ago.  

This past year Peter and John started conversations about the vision for EPN, and the aspirations for deepening its reach and impact in Africa.  Energized by the vision, it was only a matter of time before Peter decided to engage further with EPN, an organization that shares his core values of empowering others, being self-sufficient, and providing sustainable advantage to those in need.

Peter agreed to join the EPN Board of Directors last December, and has been actively involved since then, including going with John to Rwanda and Kenya recently to review several projects underway.

On a personal note, Peter has a management consulting practice and enjoys traveling, skiing, tennis, and photography. He resides in New Jersey with his wife Diane, a professor at a local university who shares his passion for “giving back”.  They have two children – a son who graduates this Spring from medical school, and a daughter in graduate school.

Peter holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Wayne State University, and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Vermont.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Into Africa

Carol (left) with one of her new friends (right) 

I am not a traveler.  I have vacationed in Bermuda and twice in the Bahamas, but except for a trip to Israel with my mother in 1989 and a 3 month stay with a family in the Philippines in 1963, I have seen little of the world.  Thus, my trip to Rwanda and Kenya with my brother John and his friend Peter was anticipated with both excitement and a wee bit of trepidation.  However, we arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, after two flights and many hours in the air, without incident.  It was dark when we deplaned, so I had little opportunity to see much on our short ride to a new, very luxurious hotel, the Grand Legacy.  
The following morning, while John tended to some business, I checked with the front desk to see if it would be safe for me to explore several blocks around the hotel on foot. No problem I was told, so off I went.  I knew of the horrible genocide that had taken place in Rwanda in 1994, so I was surprised to find the streets not only safe, but also the cleanest I have ever seen.  Even as I ventured into some of the poorer sections, everything was immaculate.  Later that day, John and I toured Kigali with a local guide who had lost his father and older brother in the genocide. We learned that not only had plastic bags been outlawed in Rwanda several years ago, but also, on the last Saturday of every month, all citizens are required to clean the streets from 9 to 11 in the morning.  What a concept---and it really works!
Traveling with John, I met many extraordinary people in Rwanda and Kenya, both African nationals and westerners.  All were bright, educated, committed, and very caring individuals who were living their dream to make Africa a better place.  In Rwanda, we visited the Millennium Village in Mayange where innovative farming techniques are being passed along by the lead farmers program.  Eliminate Poverty Now is financing this project.
Goals in both Rwanda and Kenya are improvement in infrastructure, medical services, farming techniques, education, and economic opportunity. Nairobi has it’s own problems with traffic, garbage, and Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world.  However, with all that I experienced, it was the children that gave me the most hope.

Carol leads a song and dance with Little Rock pre-schoolers

Today, we live in a world filled with violence, hatred, and intolerance. Terrorism and the resulting fear it is meant to cause, is rampant. However, the children I encountered in Rwanda and Kenya were well-behaved, happy, smiling, and eager to meet new people.  In Kenya, John, Peter, and I visited an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary. We were joined by scores of elementary school children dressed in their various school uniforms, children full of laughter and joy.  Hopefully, their schools are encouraging tolerance and acceptance of other’s beliefs as part of the curriculum. In Kenya, on the outskirts of the Kibera slum, such a school already exists.
The Little Rock School is one of the most amazing, heart-warming places I have visited.  It opened its doors in 2003 with an enrollment of 12 children.  Since then, it has moved twice and now provides schooling and lunch for over 400 students, most of them preschool age.  A third of the student body is made up of special needs children who are included in regular classes wherever possible.  But before one can fully appreciate the tremendous success of Little Rock, a walk through Kibera, home to most of these children, is essential.
No photograph can depict the poverty that defines Kibera.  Without the smell from rotting garbage and open sewers, the sound of buzzing flies and infants crying, the feel of slimy mud beneath your feet as you wend your way down narrow garbage filled allies, can you understand the conditions in which over a million people live.  The small one or two room homes, made mostly of tin and wood with rusty tin roofs and dirt floors, are crammed together. There is no running water and limited electricity.  Yet from this slum the children, guided by parents or older siblings, dressed neatly in their clean school uniforms, come by the hundreds to Little Rock, an oasis of hope.

Life in Kibera

As a teacher, Lilly Oyare saw the need to reach out to children at the pre-school level. In addition, she wanted to provide support for older students so that they could continue their secondary school education.  Eliminate Poverty Now provides funding for tutoring and tuition so that qualified students can continue their education at secondary boarding schools.  I began my involvement with EPN by funding a 4-year high school education for Victor Andiva.  I then learned that he had a sister, Theresa, who wanted to attend nursing school.  Little Rock provided the day care for her 2- year-old daughter; I provided the tuition.
While in Nairobi, I met Theresa and her now 3-year-old daughter.  Together we walked to her home in Kibera, and I am humbled by the hard work and sacrifices she is making to both raise her daughter and attend school.  Often, we feel that there is little we can do to really make a difference in this world.  By supporting EPN and the Little Rock School you can see your dollars at work. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
John promised me an unforgettable experience and he was true to his word.  It is one thing to look at photos and listen to heartwarming stories, but nothing is more inspiring and energizing than to see places like the Little Rock School in real time.  A special thanks to my sister-in-law Judy, cofounder of EPN, who volunteered to baby sit for my house, 4 dogs, scores of plants, and wild birds who expected their feeders and water to be filled on a daily basis.  When she suggested my going in her place she had no idea that she would also be “enjoying” the worst winter in Boston history.  Thank you John and Judy for making possible this life-changing trip.
Carol and John