Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reflections of a visit to Africa through Fresh Eyes

From Helen:

In the spring, I helped Judy and John put together an itinerary for their July trip to East Africa, making their reservations, arranging for visas, hotels, and meetings while on the ground. All the while, they talked about the possibility of me joining them as it would mean a lot given my new role as Director of Operations in Eliminate Poverty NOW. I thought they were just being their polite, kind selves. Well, they really meant it because I went with them on July 3rd when they left for a 2 week tour of the programs that EPN supports in Kenya and Uganda.

I tried to limit my expectations and let the experience drive my impressions. I knew I was going with seasoned travelers – I left my fate in their hands.

With all the advanced hype of how poor the people are, how great EPN’s charity partners are, and how they hoped we would have a successful trip – I thought nothing could be as bad or good as they described – it was too hard to believe.

Well, if you think you know what poverty is, you don’t. I personally visited the poorest county in the USA several years ago as part of a trip sponsored by Save the Children. I was stunned that kids in our country live this way - in dirt, dust, debris, and malnutrition. Compared to the children I met in Kibera, Kenya and whose homes we visited – the kids in Kentucky live in the lap of luxury. At least most have electricity and running water.

Little Rock nursery school students

Our Little Rock Scholars live in 150 square foot hovels piled on top of each other without running water and electricity – sleeping on the floor or in a chair. They get up in the morning and go to school where they have their only meal of the day. Then they return to the squalor and rubble, and must be in their homes before dark unless they want to be robbed, raped, or murdered.

Little Rock Scholar Candidates
Yet, the children have hopes and dreams – they want to do whatever they can to “get out”. They are amazing when you see what they live with. You would think they should just give up because there is no way they can possibly succeed with the illness, hopelessness and death that surrounds them. You may not believe they will make it but many do – their ambition drives us and the overwhelming desire to help them in their quest to succeed.

 I met the most amazing, dedicated, and passionate people on this trip. Their belief in what they are doing is so strong and motivates everything they do. The founding Director of Little Rock School even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for her “kids” and the programs she runs at the school!

Determination and entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Eldoret, Kenya - through the auspices of the Joyful Women’s Organization (JoyWO). A small group of women began providing financial services to other women through a concept known as “table banking” – similar to what we recognize as a credit union in the US. It has grown to over 30,000 women throughout the Eldoret area with coffers in excess of $3.5 million in pooled savings they are loaning back to each other. Plans are in the works to grow nationwide throughout Kenya in the near future. This is a true example “give them the pole so that they can learn to fish” story.  

JoyWO Members and Staff

Witnessing another exhilarating experience was meeting the success stories that came out of this endeavor – women who are lifting their families out of poverty by providing financial resources, establishing their independence in many cases in abusive or neglected relationships, and giving their children a future they could not have otherwise. 

When I first arrived in Africa, I thought that maybe the work that EPN is doing is just too small to make any kind of difference because the problems they are trying to solve are so profound, long term, and ingrained. Now I can say that I believe that I am changed forever by my visit to Africa with John and Judy. I have many more stories to recount but I will spare you my blathering.  Suffice it to say that there are images, memories, and relationships that are now etched in my memory that will serve to make me a better person driven to understand and help wherever I can delivering a message of hope and success for the future.

P.S. Would you like to meet these extraordinary kids, experience life in Kibera, witness first hand the power of Table Banking, and spend quality time with the remarkable people leading these programs?

We are thinking about another trip in or around July 2014.  If you would like to join us, please feel free to reach out – Helen Greenberg (hpgreenberg@eliminatepovertynow.org or 908.725.2325). We would love to have you come!

Where is God? In Kibera.

From Judy:

(Don't miss the video at the end of this post!)

There's still so much to tell you about our trip to Kenya and Uganda. We visited all seven grantees in East Africa, and saw wonderful results of our funding. Lives are being transformed. We'll tell you about all of them as soon as we can.

But there's so much we need to tell you about Little Rock Scholars! John's last post was a moving slideshow about the dismal world of Kibera, which these children come from. All of us - yes, even John - tear up when we watch "A Walk to Vincent's House."

When Lilly said, "God is in that place," Helen was shocked. "What do you mean?" she asked. Lilly answered, "Because these kids are alive, they come to school, they have hopes and dreams and want to succeed."

Thanks to you, the first 6 Little Rock Scholars are thriving. Not only are their minds being stretched, but they are getting 3 meals a day and sleeping in beds for the first time in their lives.

Next year's candidates will sit for their secondary school entrance exam soon. We met them at Little Rock and asked them about their hopes and dreams. Talking into a mike and being videotaped is hard - I can't do it at all. And they were really nervous. (See how their friends are huddled close to support them?) But people rarely ask them about their lives, and every one of them wanted to share their story with you. Because life in Kibera is really hard.

These kids are some of the bravest people I've ever met. And it is an honor for us to share their voices with you. So we'll be introducing you to all of them over the next several weeks.

Thank heavens, the videographers were professional. Please forgive the amateur job (mine) of editing. I've added subtitles, which should help until your ears are tuned to the beautiful Kenyan English accent.

Now meet Emily Atieno - the epitome of bravery!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Walk to Vincent's House

From John:
Vincent Oduor

Please join us for "a walk to Vincent's house." Eliminate Poverty Now awarded a 4-year secondary school scholarship to Vincent Oduor, based on his outstanding performance on Kenya's national entrance exam.  What makes his achievement remarkable is that he excelled in the the face of extraordinary hardship.  Vincent grew up in Kibera, Kenya's largest slum.  When asked to describe life in Kibera, his answer was simply "life is hard."  To see just how hard, please click here to visit Vincent and his mom in their home.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lunapads One4Her Distribution: Judy, John, and Helen in Africa - Day 2

From Judy:

No, you didn't miss a post on Day 1. We had a wonderful first day in Kenya, and we'll tell you more about that later. But before that, we MUST tell you about the incredible day we had on Saturday, July 6 at the Lunapads One4Her Distribution.

One4Her donates sanitary pads to Kibera school girls
First, the background: Eliminate Poverty NOW has provided access to sanitary pads since we started. Many girls in Africa lack access to sanitary pads. They may miss a week of school a month, increasing the likelihood that they will drop out. But girls who stay in school tend to marry later, have fewer children, a lower risk of HIV, and a much higher lifetime income. 

Kibera school girl at One4Her distribution

As we've told you on earlier occasions, Lunapads - and its founder, Madeline Shaw - have been extremely generous to Eliminate Poverty NOW. And not just to us - they established One4Her so that their customers could  help girls in Africa receive sanitary pads. It's a fantastic program. As their website explains:

For every One4Her purchase you make, Lunapads will provide a girl in need with a Uganda-made AFRIpad to support her education. 

We contacted Lunapads to see whether the girls in the Kibera slum in Nairobi could be beneficiaries of the One4Her program. Madeline Shaw asked whether there were 2,000 girls who needed pads! Two thousand is a big number - our largest previous distribution had been 200 girls. So we asked Lilly - founder and director of Little Rock ECD Center, our partner in Kibera - and Lilly said, "Absolutely! We welcome the opportunity to transform so many lives."

Kibera girls in line at One4Her distribution

Kibera school girls receiving kits of sanitary pads
The pads were produced at AFRIpads, a small, but growing, business in Uganda employing 60 local women. AFRIpads delivered 2,000 kits (the pads come in a sack with a small purse pouch) while Eliminate Poverty NOW added a bucket, mesh drying bag, and underpants, since many girls don't have those either.

Teacher Evelyne explains care of AFRIpads

We arrived in time for the first distribution day at Little Rock. Lilly and her staff selected 2,000 school girls to receive the kits. On the first day, 300 girls came from primary schools, secondary schools, and girls' groups, including Little Rock's own girls' group. All of them are enrolled in programs that provide sex education, HIV sensitization, gender empowerment, hygeine, etc. There were 6 training sessions, each with about 50 girls. 

The girls were interested, attentive, and VERY grateful for the opportunity these pads give them to stay in school. They asked telling questions. My favorite? Teacher Evelyne explained the importance of drying the pads fully in the mesh bag on the clothesline, to avoid infection. One girl (a 6th grader) asked, "Will I be able to dry them in boarding school?"

Kibera girls learning about AFRIpads
This question is special because this girl clearly assumed she would go to a good secondary school, all of which are boarding schools. She would obviously be the first in her family to do so, since she did not realize that there would be clotheslines at the boarding schools. What an opportunity Lunapads gave us to help this girl - and the other 1,999 - to achieve their life's dreams.


A professional video of the distribution is being produced, but for now you can see what this special day was like in John's beautiful photos. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Eliminate Poverty NOW featured on FoodTank

John, Judy, and Helen are busy in Africa, and we're waiting to fill you in on all the news of their trip, but that doesn't mean we don't have other things to share with you in the meantime!

In May and June, Food Tank posted three blog posts we wrote for them about Eliminate Poverty NOW. Food Tank is a great site for anyone interested in global food issues and trends. Co-founders Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson create a network of connections and information, meant to be used and shared, that offers environmentally sustainable solutions for alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty. Read more about Food Tank here.

The first EPN post, published on May 17th, was about Farmers of the Future. The second was about the Songhai Women's Capital Fund, and was published on May 24th. Finally, on June 21st, the third and final post we wrote for them was published, an overview of EPN and what we do.

We hope you'll take a few minutes to check these out! We so appreciate the support of Food Tank, and Danielle Nierenberg in particular. These posts act as great overviews of the featured projects, and EPN itself; we hope you will share with friends and family who might be interested! And please take some time to familiarize yourself with the great work that Food Tank is doing.