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!

1 comment:

  1. I can't even imagine what it would be like to see these things in person. Thank you for all that you do!