AFRICA NEWS, Education, FROM THE FIELD

Hannington’s Story

I was born on 11th November in Githogoro, Kenya, as the third child in a family of five. My parents were both laborers in the coffee estates that surrounded the region.

When I was eight, my mom died from an unknown disease. Due to the family’s economic status, it was not possible to get appropriate medical attention; hence, the diagnosis of the illness that took her life remained unknown. I was class one (grade one), my two elder brothers, Nicholas and Phanuel were in classes three and four, respectively, while the two younger siblings, Freedom and Philip, were in baby class (pre-school) at the time. It was apparent that my parents valued education and took initiative to ensure all of us attended school.

Following mom’s burial, things took a negative twist. Dad bore thehannington sole responsibility of fending for all five of us, which was hardly sufficient to place a single meal on the table. Our family was living on rented premises which made things far more difficult. Basic items such as clothing became a luxury alongside anything else. A day with one meal was considered an extremely good one.

Because of the intensified hardships, my eldest brother, Nicholas, dropped out of school to assist Dad in hustling. The combined effort did not yield sufficient income, so eventually the remaining four of us dropped out of school as well, each turning to the endless search for a meal. There were disappointing times when he came back home empty handed. This got us even more desperate.

Not long after, Dad came home with some news of a high school that was being started in the neighboring Huruma village. Many who had been out of school for years and could not afford the secondary education were interested when it was confirmed that the school was offering free education. This was music to our ears! The only requirement was for students to bring to school a bundle of firewood for cooking of our lunch. I was in high school at New Dawn Educational Centre with no fees required, no school uniform necessary and as if that was not enough, there was free porridge (uji) and the popular beans/corn meal (githeri) provided for lunch. Who would ever resist that? A miracle of miracles!

Hannington

My experience at New Dawn transformed me totally. I came in hopeless, but I was filled with hope. We found a mom in Mama Irene Tongoi, the school director. She was so assuring that a lot of good would come out of our lives. Mama Irene ensured that we received a holistic education; intellectually as per the curriculum, socially by meaningful and impactful interaction amongst ourselves and the community around, as well as spiritually through the word of God.  We had regular devotions and sessions of what was known as ‘vision conferences’. These spiritual forums provided opportunity to be affirmed and assured of God’s love and purpose for our lives. Our confidence was boosted and the sense of hopelessness gradually faded away. Where else would students be treated to good meals and even offered food to carry home for the next meal for the family? We were loved.

To my greatest amazement, upon completion of high school, I topped my class with a grade “B-” and qualified to join public university. And Mama Irene contacted me with grand news: a donor had showed up and was willing to pay the university fees for anyone qualified to join university from our class! God again provided the resources in my time of need.I was enrolled in a five-year degree course at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geomatic Engineering and Geospatial Information Systems (GIS). All this was accomplished with the help of the scholarship.

I appreciate God’s work through the ministry of New Dawn and all the well-wishers who contributed towards the transformed life that has become mine. You did it not only for me but for the many others that have walked along the same path.

“Give me bread today and tomorrow I will ever be at your door knocking, but give me education, the key to life, and you will have transformed the world.”

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.

FROM THE FIELD, HIV/AIDS + Healthcare, Uncategorized

The results are in…

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In a place where there is a high percentage of individuals & families suffering from HIV/Aids, the real suffering occurs when the community turns its back on those in need instead of stepping in to support their own.  In the Kibera slum in Kenya, Peter and his staff at HEKO are striving to reverse this problem.  In a place where the church should be stepping up to lead & “care for the poor” in this situation, this place that should be one of rescue & restoration is actually virtually useless and detrimental.

Peter and his team conducted a study with the local church to find some answers; these were the results:

  • The majority of church members have felt the extent of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
  • Gossip is the main source of how they know who has the HIV and AIDS.
  • There is significant loss of membership and tithe/offering returns.
  • Level of stigma is unbelievably high.
  • Level of awareness on transmission is very low.
  • Limited church initiated programmes on care and support.
  • Use of condoms are highly condemned and this position is non-negotiable.
  • Screening and testing for HIV is highly opposed.
  • Churches have not developed any activities or associated plans for the People Living with HIV/AIDS or family households affected by the HIV pandemic.
  • Church leaders and many parents are not prepared to tackle the issues, except the youths who feel free to share sexual experiences and discuss challenges with each other.
  • Lack of human material and capital resources including training, capacity building, material acquisition, curriculum development particularly on the sex education for youth, visionary leadership and resources acquisition to care and support OVCs and PLWHAs.

So, there is a vacancy in the space of help & support and Peter and his staff at HEKO are stepping right in.  Here are the services they offer:

·       Health and Nutrition Education: General well-being of the person and the value of good balanced diet to PLWHA on ARVs-ART.
·       Food Relief and Social Support: For the support of PLWHA, OVCs and Home Based Care givers for improved livelihood.
·       Sports and Recreation: To help improve good body health and social relationships among different target groups irrespective of status, age, tribe, culture and religious affiliations.
·       Economic Empowerment: To PLWHA, OVCs, Care Givers linked to opportunities for income generating activities.
·       Counselling: To PLWHA, OVCs, family household, drug addicts and other risky behaviors and negative lifestyle.
·       Life Skills: Psychosocial skills required in all aspects of young peoples lives that is critical to controlling HIV/AIDS among the youths as well as other aspects of education that highlighted participatory methodologies of the empowerment in all the activities and processes of decision making that concern the youth.
·       Discordant Couples: Special counselling service to couples where only one partner is infected or living HIV positive.
·       Alcohol and Drug Abuse: Small changes can make a big difference in reducing harmful effects and chances of having alcohol-drug related problems among the youth. Drug and substance abuse is linked to the rising crime rate, HIV/AIDS prevalence, schools unrest, family dysfunction, poverty and other malaise in the community. The youths are deliberately and tactfully recruited into the drug culture through personal factor, uncontrolled media influences and other related social exposure.

HEKO’s presence in the community is vital to closing the door on stigmatization, opening the door to community building, and ultimately ending the HIV/Aids pandemic. When you support Mocha Club and it’s healthcare initiatives, you are part of this eradication. Thank you.

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AFRICA NEWS, MOCHATERNS

Mochatern Monday 10.17.16 : Happy in the Midst of Horrible

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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.

I NEED AFRICA, INSPIRATION, MOCHATERNS

Mochatern Monday 09.12.16: “Sit, sit and watch for a bit. Listen, listen a while before you speak.”

This summer, I went to a faraway place. The dirt covers your feet there, the mountains loom large and the children shout “mzungu!” (white person) as you pass. I went to Bundibugyo, a small town in rural western Uganda, and it did not leave me where it found me.

While in Bundibugyo, I learned to say about forty words in Lubwisi, the local language. I learned to say hello, goodbye, and thank you. I could say chicken, cow, and goat. I was a far cry from any sort of real conversation. I learned to buy chapati (a tortilla-flatbread-pancake sort of thing) from the lady chapati maker on the corner, though I too often forgot to greet her before placing my order. I learned my way around the market, through stalls of cabbage, tomatoes, fish, beans, and rice, always struggling to figure out how Ugandan shillings worked in my American-dollar brain. Though I was welcomed and loved by both the community I lived in and the organization I joined, as I drove eastward to the Entebbe airport on my way out of the country in late July, I knew I’d barely scraped the surface.

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I think this gets at one of the biggest things I realized, in those weeks in Uganda: the immense length of time it would take to really become a part of the community. You can’t simply pop over the Rwenzori Mountains from Fort Portal and start enchanting all the locals with your enthusiasm, your willingness to help, or your care for children or elderly people or pregnant women. No, it takes a bit more than that. Because even if you’ve got the Lubwisi down, you’ve got an accent too; and do you really know the culture yet? Do you know why western Uganda is the way it is? Do you fully appreciate all the nuances of life there? And let’s not forget you’re a Mzungu, a white person from a place very far away. Sit, sit and watch for a bit. Listen, listen a while before you speak.

This lesson is one that has served me well, even after returning to America, and into my internship here at Mocha Club. Much of the work that Mocha Club supports is done in places like Bundibugyo, places where joy and brokenness and sorrow and gladness live side by side. The Home Again Children’s Home, for instance, a ministry supported by Mocha Club that provides a home for over 70 children, is in Kaihura, Ugandaa town I drove right through on my journey back to America. These are places with need, but they are not places devoid of of histories, of traditions, of language, or of people who love them. The joy for us comes when we listen, when we wait, and when we join in the work that is already being done.

That’s the real privilege, isn’t it? Even here in the States, somewhere around 8,000 miles from a place like East Africa, we who are a part of the Mocha Club get to join in this work. We get to go to shows, contribute a few dollars a month, see photos, and hear stories of the work already begunwith, not for or around or in spite of, the people in places like Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. We join in. And maybe that’s all way more humbling than we expectedbut oh, see how much better it all is, and watch how much we learn.