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INSPIRATION, MOCHATERNS, PERSPECTIVES, Uncategorized

Mochatern Monday 12.19.16 : Fare Thee Well

It’s been almost 4 months since I tried to enter the back door of Mocha Club and eventually found the front door of our lovely office. I drove 8 hours the day before from Virginia and all of my belongings for the next 4 months still filled my car. I walked into the office and began. As it often does, the time rushed past and now I have about a week left in Nashville. As I think back on these months spent in the South, I consider what I learned.

I learned a lot of things, but the most important one that will affect my work and life is about how to relate to other people. I deeply respect the way that Mocha Club staff members operate by working closely with African leaders. They make these leaders’ dreams their own and work with them toward their goals with a posture of humility and respect. I could go on about the many other things I learned through being here day to day, or talk about how every person at the office showed me kindness and included me, but that might make for a long post. So I’ll stop here and just say that as I pack my bags, I will be taking more with me than when I came—things that I cannot pack in my car, lessons that will stay with me all of my life.

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote based on a quote by one of our partners in Africa. May you be blessed and spread the blessing.

 

But Then

“The name of that place is actually Tumbe . . ., which means a place for rejected people, but God spoke to us and told us these people are not rejected, they should not be called rejected, they should not live with the name of rejection, so we said we are going to call this place Blessed Camp.” –Peter O O’chiel (Action Ministry)

The first word of the first Psalm

In my English Bible reads “blessed.”

A foundation of identity, something I

Have always been without knowing.

Ignorance is hard to shake

But it is not the kind of knowledge we

Think we need that will save us.

We think we are damned—

And we’re right, sort of.

We think we are unworthy—

And there is a hint of reality in that bitter delusion.

We think we are rejected—

And we could not be further (and nearer) to the truth.

We are only these things before.

We are only these things without.

We are only these things outside.

But then Love.

MOCHATERNS, PERSPECTIVES

Mochatern Monday 12.05.16: So why the Mocha Club?

 

I’ve asked this question to a number of my colleagues here at Mocha since beginning my internship three months ago. What brought you to this organization? Why this nonprofit, rather than another? Why work at a nonprofit at all? I’ve phrased the question in different ways each time, but really there’s one thing I want to know: tell me, how passionate are you about what you do? How invested are you in Mocha’s vision? screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-1-38-10-pm

If you’re anything like me, you tend to approach nonprofits with a critical eye. There are many pitfalls that go along with aid work in developing countries, particularly when that work is cross-cultural in nature. (I’ll point you, not for the first time, to books like When Helping Hurts and documentaries such as Poverty, Inc because they’ve been so helpful to me in understanding such challenges.) Doing work that is truly good, helpful, and sustainable is never easy. So when I think about the initiatives I want to support, both financially and with my time, I tend to start with a bit of cynicism, and I ask a lot of questions.

An internship is, by nature, rather like just skimming the surface of an organization. So during my time here at the Mocha Club, I’ve tried to ask questions, to dive deeper. I keep asking: why are you here? Why work at a place like the Mocha Club? 

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-1-39-21-pmAnd you know what? My coworkers really believe in the work that the Mocha Club is doing. They keep looking back at me with excited eyes and telling me about what they love most. One talks about Mocha Club’s work with our artist partners, and how beautiful it is to work hand-in-hand and face-to-face with artists to unite their musical pursuits with the opportunity to support a good cause. Some talk about how the transparency of the organization makes it easy to see where your donations go; others speak on how much they believe in the value of the pastor training, orphan care, and the other projects that Mocha Club supports in Africa. I’ve had many conversations about the challenges of working cross-culturally—with, not for, the poor—and more than one coworker has voiced the importance of listening and of humility.

Forgive me if this all sounds like a pitch. Because here’s the thing: my internship with this lovely group of people is about to conclude—in fact, this is my last post on this blog. And this is what I’d love to leave you with. Believe in the good heart, the effectiveness, and the humility of the work that Mocha Club is doing in Africa. Believe in the people that send you emails, invite you to support new initiatives, and answer the phone when you call the office. When you join the Club, you’re joining a pretty special thing.

INSPIRATION, MOCHATERNS, PERSPECTIVES, Uncategorized

I Want You . . . To Care About Economics

Economics is not my thing, not my strong point, quite frankly not my delight. Among all the subjects I studied in school, that one fit least well into the mold of my particular brain. I struggled to grasp the concepts presented during the last semester of my senior year of high school. I never took an Econ class in college, but I cracked open a book the other day and all things economics tumbled out: statistics and terms that I don’t use on a regular basis in my own financial context. Although I struggled to make sense of what the author conveyed at times,, I ultimately came away from the book as a grateful reader. Hang with me through the next few paragraphs and I’ll explain why.

Dambisa Moya wrote this book, titled Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, because she tired of seeing her native continent inundated in money that brought harm rather than betterment. (To clarify, the aid she mentions has little to do with international nongovernmental organizational (INGO) work. She refers to governments (generally Western) dumping funds on African governments.) Even if you’re not a “numbers person” this statistic might shock you: “Since the 1940s, approximately US$1 trillion of aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. This is nearly US$1,000 for every man, woman and child on the planet today” (pg 35). That’s 1,000,000,000,000 dollars. Twelve zeros. Wow.

Moya explains the situation by giving a brief history of aid and then explaining why aid has not achieved the goals it set out to accomplish. In a section titled “The vicious cycle of aid,” she enlightens the reader about how this happens:

Foreign aid props up corrupt governments – providing them with freely usable cash. These corrupt governments interfere with the rule of law, the establishment of transparent civil institutions and the protection of civil liberties, making both domestic and foreign investment in poor countries unattractive. Greater opacity and fewer investments reduce economic growth, which leads to fewer job opportunities and increasing poverty levels. In response to growing poverty, donors give more aid, which continues the downward spiral of poverty (pg 49).

Whew! If you’re anything like me, this sounds a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Moya doesn’t stop here. She gives more details about this corruption and its relationship to aid. Then she turns to providing alternatives for African countries: issuing bonds, finding investors, obtaining a credit rating, borrowing from institutions other than the World Bank in part to build credibility, and trading with other countries inside and outside the African continent. Moya spends a good amount of pages on current Chinese investment in Africa (which I found to be very interesting).

Ultimately, her recommendation is to cut out aid incrementally over a five year period until a country no longer receives any. She says that the general population of Africa won’t suffer as much as the reader might think because so much of the aid money is going to a small number of powerful people in African government positions anyway. If donor countries cut aid, African governments will be forced to stand on their own two feet and find ways to replace that money through the suggestions listed above.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, you’re reading this on Mocha Club’s blog, so chances are that you care about Africa and its people. If you truly care about something, you generally invest time, money, or some other element of life into it. I’m not about to suggest that we all need to be economic scholars in order to care about Africa. But what I am suggesting is that education is important. If you care about something and want to see change, educate yourself about that issue. Start by reading one news article per day or following organizations you care about on social media.

Even though I’m not a huge economics fan, this discipline is integral to international development, so it’s worth my time to invest in learning a little bit about it. Take the plunge, friends: Pick up that book, scroll through that article, ask a friend about their life experience. You never know; economics might just be your thing.

INSPIRATION, MOCHATERNS

Better when we’re together.

storyhouse-jpg

82 degrees. It’s fall in Nashville, and the leaves are letting go and falling to be crunched under our boots, but the temperature doesn’t know it yet. We’re fine with that, though, because today we’re putting on a house show, and we’ll trade cold fingers and toes for a light breeze.

We arrive at 4:30; doors won’t open until 6:30. We spread twinkle lights around the back porch, spread a rug, and call it a stage. The sound guys arrive at 5, with a minivan full of equipment. We set up borrowed tables, spread someone else’s tablecloths, put out the snacks we bought at Kroger last night, hoping-praying we’d be reimbursed soon. We spread blankets gathered from three different houses as the bands run through soundcheck. Friends and friends of friends begin to come in the back gate just as they’re finishing, and we turn on the collaborative Spotify playlist.

This is what being a college student in Nashville looks like: concerts in the backyards of our houses, nights where everything we need is borrowed. Everything pauses when the band starts to play. For a few hours we sit and listen, marveling at the talent of the friends who perform and the good hearts of the ones who welcome us in. And then the concert is over, we pack up all the things, and a few of us head to Cookout for milkshakes and french fries. Homework is ignored, but so much good work is done.

Nights like this remind me of something that I hope I’ll remember long after I graduate: sometimes, it only works if we all work together. And isn’t that half the fun? Isn’t it even better if the ground is covered in blankets you don’t own and the seven strands of string lights come from four different people? When the after-concert Cookout party consists of the bands, the photographer, the hosts, the ones who donated time and apple cider and the rug for the stage, and the friends who just came to support?

When we look at our lives, aren’t the sweetest moments the ones we worked for together?

Speaking of Nashville nights…Come to The Well at Green Hills on Friday, November 11 at 7pm to enjoy a night of stories and songs in support of Mocha Club, much like the night I just wrote about, and hear the artist pictured above + some more great songwriters & storytellers! 

https://www.facebook.com/chrisrenzemamusic/

http://www.randwalter.com

https://www.facebook.com/marsongs/?fref=ts

INSPIRATION, MOCHATERNS

“They Do This,” But We Don’t Have to Do That

The People of the Other Village

hate the people of this village

and would nail our hats

to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them

or staple our hands to our foreheads

for refusing to salute them

if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,

mix their flour at night with broken glass.

We do this, they do that.

They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.

We devein one of their sisters.

The quicksand pits they built were good.

Our amputation teams were better.

We trained some birds to steal their wheat.

They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.

They do this, we do that.

We canceled our sheep imports.

They no longer bought our blankets.

We mocked their greatest poet

and when that had no effect

we parodied the way they dance

which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God

was leprous, hairless.

We do this, they do that.

Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand

(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.

_____

Part of me doesn’t even want to write anything about this poem by Thomas Lux because I want it to settle on the reader and get minds whirring on their own. But I will share a few thoughts since this is, after all, a blog and not a “share a poem” newsfeed.

I came across this poem in college and it moved me deeply. It cuts through so many excuses humans make for how we treat each other. This poem was written as a war protest poem and could easily lead to a discussion about that topic, but instead I want to look at how the poem calls out a mentality that many of us have but choose to stifle or ignore. How easy it is for us to live our days trading tit for tat with our enemies. How easy it is to say, “They started it.” How easy it is to retaliate because we do not want to look weak. Extending grace and forgiveness is an act of moral strength, not weakness. “They do this,” but we don’t have to do that.

Consider the many facets of your life. Where do you contribute to brutality? Most likely you aren’t putting shards of glass in your enemies’ flour bags, but where are your words stinging someone’s heart? Where are you putting yourself and your selfish reactions first? I ask this not to guilt trip anyone. There is always grace! I ask this because politicians can do great good, but they cannot create world peace through charters and laws (though we need them). We, the masses, have a role in creating peace, too.

There are at least two kinds of steps that we need to take to bring more healing into this world. First, take steps of reconciliation to close the gap between you and the person you hate or dislike. Second, take steps to close the gap between you and someone with a different type of need. Helping another person is not a matter of the “haves” and “have nots,” though it is tempting to think of the situation in this framework if you view yourself as the one with more power. (Yes, one group might have more of one monetary or spiritual asset, but the point is that we all lack in some capacity.) Instead, see yourself as an equal partner. You might have a little bit of money and someone else might have a way of life marked by joy. Give and receive. Make the next year or ten thousand more beautiful than brutal. “They do this,” but we don’t have to do that.

 

*Poem found at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48485

**Thoughts in this post influenced by When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and this Mocha Club video.

AFRICA NEWS, MOCHATERNS

Mochatern Monday 10.17.16 : Happy in the Midst of Horrible

painting

2016 has been a year of discouragement in so many ways. Between the refugee crisis, the primacy of terrorism in world affairs, and, here in America, a presidential race that is perhaps the most hate-filled and controversial that this country has ever seen, the news cycle is often filled with fear and confusion. News from Africa, especially, is often dominated by images of war, devastation, even hopelessness.

So today when I opened my computer and found some happy news, I immediately wanted to share it. The image above was painted by Leslie Lumeh, a Liberian artist. When the Ebola crisis hit West Africa two years ago, Lumeh was one of the artists called upon to help formulate posters to educate the public on how to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease. His posters went to multiple countries in West Africa, saving countless lives in the process. In addition, even after the crisis subsided, he continued to document life in Liberia, with colorful, winsome paintings like the one above.

Though Ebola-stricken Liberia was in many ways a fear-filled place, Lumeh’s art doesn’t just show that horror—it is also filled with hope. “I paint scenes and subjects that people can relate to,” he says. “You see it, you understand it, you know it, you feel it.”

Click here to read on, and to see more of Lumeh’s work: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/20/africa/african-artist-who-helped-in-fight-against-ebola/index.html

INSPIRATION, MOCHATERNS

Mochatern Monday 10.10.16 : The Day of Small Things

It’s the way the sunlight drapes itself over the tops of the bushes in front of the office. The way the little chipmunk just scurried by. It’s hidden in plain sight: the sun rose this morning, maybe when you weren’t looking at its brilliant artistic talent strewn across the sky.

Did you see it?

That brief moment where something happened? There it is again . . .

Writing 35 thank you cards this week to some generous Mocha Club donors reminded me of how important it is to be aware of these moments. The task consumed time and wasn’t the most brain stimulating exercise. But it was worth my time and focus. Why can I say that? First off, who doesn’t love receiving a hand addressed envelope in the mail? Maybe just getting a letter gave someone that happy feeling when they wonder what’s inside. (If you’ve never felt that feeling, you need to get a pen pal ASAP.) Hopefully the letter reminded them that they are appreciated – that what they do has a positive impact on the world. How lovely that I got to be a part of bringing that thought to someone’s mind!

Here’s the point of this little ramble: Celebrate “the day of small things.” (Hint: that’s every day.) Some days just don’t feel fun or exciting or joyful or enjoyable. I get it; I live this human life, too. But muster the courage to find a window, look out, and consider whether there is something there worth noticing. Whether it’s your friend down the street, raindrops on the windowpane, or the tree branches dancing in the wind, there is something to inspire gratitude. And if your office or classroom doesn’t have a window, I’m sorry (I’ve been there too), but I’d bet that you can find something good in the article you’re reading, the décor in your officemate’s cubicle, or in the lines of the paper you’re writing for that college class.

Here at the Mocha Club, we’re all about everyday generosity. It starts with a small gift that gets transformed into food for an orphan, medicine for some who is sick, clean water, etc. Never believe the lie that a small gift of time, money, or energy cannot bring meaningful beauty into someone’s life. Here’s to the day of small things, to discovering joy in the mundane.

*For some inspiration, check out Alli Rogers’ song, “The Day of Small Things.

MOCHATERNS, Uncategorized

Mochatern Monday 10.03.16 : “Poverty Inc.”

What if our efforts to fight poverty have hurt more than they’ve helped? Do good intentions always equal good impact? What if we’re part of the problem?

Last Monday, my fellow intern, Kelly, wrote about the importance of working with—not for—the poor. Dignity is more effective than pity; the poor need a seat at the table, not a handout. Unfortunately, the poverty industry as we know it has far too often maintained the us vs. them mentality. Donations of money, food, clothing, and much more pour in; while this can be a boon for people in poverty in the short term, this variety of long-term aid can leave economies, local business owners, and individuals worse than it found them.

That’s all a little confusing, though, isn’t it? Phrases like “the poverty industry” can make us want to run far away from any such discussions. What does all of this really mean, anyway?

There are two things that have been most helpful to me in learning about poverty and how we should (and should not) address it. First is the documentary Poverty, Inc. I saw this film for the first time last year, and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. In a mere 90 minutes, Poverty, Inc. introduces viewers to stories of success and failure in poverty alleviation, explanations of why the system works the way it does, and solutions for forward movement. I can’t recommend it highly enough—get yourself on over to Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes, and watch it.

The second thing that’s been helpful to me is getting involved with organizations such as Mocha Club. The reason I applied to this internship at all is that, after getting to know Mocha Club last spring when I helped organize a showing of Poverty, Inc. on my college campus, I was impressed by the candid, honest way that Mocha Club seeks to help those in poverty in Africa and connect them to people here in America. Mocha Club wants to work with people in poverty; they help us break down the notion that poverty alleviation is a simple idea, and Mocha Club seeks to do this work in a humble manner that listens first to community members and workers already on the ground.

So what does all this mean for you? Go watch Poverty, Inc. Ask good questions. Find winsome, honest nonprofits like Mocha Club to support. (Go back to Kelly’s post from last week, and read the book she mentions, When Helping Hurts!) Poverty alleviation and relief isn’t impossible—it’s just not simple. But it can start with people like us taking steps to effect a cultural paradigm shift in the way we talk about the poor. It starts right here.

MOCHATERNS

Mochatern Monday 09.26.16 : Work with, not for, the people you aid.

“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.”

Although our media-driven culture constantly places shocking images or words in front of us, this quote from a man or woman in Uganda emphasizes aspects of poverty that often merit less attention in North America. I am familiar with the need for food and clothing among people living in poverty, but hear less about what it is like to experience feelings of inferiority and being voiceless. What can we do so that this person has access to food and clothing as well as a sense of being heard in her community?

When Helping Hurts, the book where I found the above quote, strives to help North Americans answer this question, and its underlying questions, well. Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, the authors of this book, taught me an invaluable lesson about perspective. The quote at the beginning of this post does mention physical needs, but it, along with many others that Fikkert and Corbett use, demonstrate that when asked about what poverty is, many of the poor talk about psychological and social issues. In other words, poverty is deeper than its physical manifestations. However, when asked about the same topic, North Americans often refer to having less material things. Fikkert and Corbett go on to talk about how this lack of continuity in thinking damages the ability of wealthier North Americans to truly help those living in poverty. The authors emphasize the need for healing in relationships in order to bring about restoration and poverty alleviation.

Additionally, North Americans often perceive the poor as inferior. This can result in working for the poor instead of with them. They advise, “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.” The authors teach readers to combat this mentality of working “for” instead of “with” by using tools like asset-based community development. When beginning an aid project, a group often does a needs assessment, which essentially asks, “What is wrong?” Instead, an asset-based community development model asks, “What is right?” In other words, this method starts by asking what is good in a community that can be used to help solve whatever problems they currently face.

When I think about what I learned over the past month by interning at Mocha Club, the most important thing that comes to mind links perfectly to what I’ve learned from When Helping Hurts: Work with, not for, the people you aid. I love that the staff constantly communicates with African leaders about how to run the programs currently operating in multiple African countries. We partner with them to help their visions succeed. I think we’re part of helping, not hurting, this world, and I’m thankful to watch and participate in this work.

FROM THE FIELD, MOCHATERNS, Uncategorized

Mochatern Monday 09.19.16 : What is Africa like?

Whenever you travel or experience something new and different, your return home comes with the inevitable onslaught of questions. Boil all those questions down, and everyone is asking essentially the same thing: What was it like? What did life look like there?

This gets at a desire that many of us, especially here at Mocha Club, share: to experience the lives of people who are different from us. What is Africa like? We want to know.

What do you do on a Tuesday morning in urban Kenya? What does Friday night look like in rural Malawi? Is it immensely different from life in America? Is it similar? Whenever it’s me on the receiving end of questions like these, I fumble around for answers, remember we all like showing more than telling, and then stick my iPhone in front of my listeners. This is what driving down the road on a Saturday afternoon in rural Uganda looks like. Cows being herded down the highway. Driving on the left side instead of the right, with innumerable speed bumps when you’re passing through every village. That’s not a baby you hear crying at 0:11 seconds—it’s a goat bleating. Those are the Rwenzori mountains in the distance; you’re heading east. It looks like rain. Of course, this is only a tiny moment—one minute and one second, to be exact. But moments like this can be invaluable to us. We get to step out of our own selves and be someone else for that minute. And when we go back to our own selves, the ones holding a phone or sitting in front of a computer in the United States of America, we find that Africa isn’t so far away after all.