Thursday, March 17, 2011

Faces of Africa

If you're pressed for time, and just want to see John's great photos, click on
(thanks, Meg!)

It's been 3 weeks since we came back from our amazing trip to Africa. Since then, we've been working on implementation and fundraising issues. But somehow, that doesn't sound interesting enough to communicate. Our dear friend Vicky said it was writer's block, and I'm sure she's right.

What makes the work interesting and important? It's the people who are lifting themselves out of poverty with our help.

Someone said to me last night, "Why do you bother? There are lots of other organizations already doing good work." Well, yes - there ARE many good organizations. We admire them, and partner with some wonderful ones, including Pencils for Kids - - which is providing secondary school scholarships for girls in Niger.

But no organization can be everywhere, do everything. As Rabbi Tarfon said, "The day is short and the work is great...It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." There are thousands of people who are on the road to economic self-sufficiency because of their own determination and Eliminate Poverty Now's help. And - like the starfish in the story - it certainly made a difference to them.

(You know the story based on Loren Eiseley's essay, right? A wise man saw a young girl walking on the beach, picking up the starfish that had washed up onto the sand, and throwing them back into the ocean. "Why are you bothering?" he asked. "There are miles of beach, and hundreds of starfish. You can't possibly make a difference with the little bit you're doing." The girl listened politely, then picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. "It made a difference to that one," she replied.)

So thank you for being interested in the work we're doing to help people in sub-Saharan Africa - especially girls and women - become economically self-sufficient. I'll try to keep it interesting by focusing on them.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's Plan B After All

When we put together the itinerary for this 5-leg trip there was always a chance we might not complete the last leg. Uganda was holding national elections the week before we were scheduled to arrive. And we know from first hand experience (witness Nairobi in January 2008) that disputed election results can spark protest and violence. If things looked dicey, "Plan B" was to leave off the Uganda leg and head home from Nairobi.

Well, the Uganda elections went smoothly enough. But we went ahead with Plan B anyway. Here's why.

Last Monday after spending the morning at the Little Rock ECD Center we were walking the streets of Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya. Kibera is home to 1 million people who live in a space the size of Central Park. We were headed for the home of one of the children who attends Little Rock school. The streets of Kibera require some care to navigate. They are deeply rutted and littered with all manner of "debris."

As an experienced hiker I know that the cardinal rule is to always look down when you're on the move. Well, I was looking up and taking photos and video at the same time to give people a sense for the place. We've posted a few of them here.

Sure enough, I slid down an 18 inch rut and landed in an awkward heap with my leg caught underneath me. As you can tell by the expletive at the end of this short video,

I knew instantly I had done something to my knee.

The good news is there's no serious damage -- no broken bones and no torn ligaments. But I sprained it pretty badly and will be hobbling around on crutches for a good week or two. Our days in Uganda were going to be physically demanding. So we dropped off the last leg and headed home on Thursday.

As you can tell from the blog postings, this has been our most ambitious and productive trip to date. Even without the additional site visits and meetings that were scheduled for Uganda we feel good about what we've accomplished. We made important progress on our two top priorities -- the Farmers of the Future school program and Pads for Peace sanitary pads initiative. We established personal relationships with valuable new partners going forward -- the village leaders in Libore Niger and the Songhai Center in Benin. And we identified several promising new projects to pursue. All in all a very successful trip!

And as an extra learning experience, my little mishap gave us an unexpected opportunity to check out the Nairobi healthcare system. We were very impressed. We went to Nairobi Hospital, a private hospital around the corner from the hotel. We headed to the emergency room and went through admissions, triage and an initial doctor's evaluation in less than an hour. From there we went to X-ray, then back to the doctor for further discussion, to the pharmacy for pain meds, and finally to physical therapy to be fitted for a knee brace and crutches.

Total elapsed time from admission to discharge: 2 hours. Total costs including emergency room admission, doctor's evaluation, X-rays, drugs and medical equipment: $125. The same experience in the US would have taken twice as long and cost at least 5 times as much. How's that for a "third world" country! :)