Thursday, August 12, 2010

Final Thoughts at the end of the Journey

We have now completed our visit of four World Neighbors programs in Kenya and Tanzania, and although I have tried to come up with many words that can best describe what I have witnessed and the emotions I have felt, there is only one word that constantly filled my mind - Wow.

I know it is a simple word, but it is the word that continually came out of my mouth during this experience. It was the only word that I could summon as I sadly witnessed the daily battle families must wage against hunger. It is the only word that could accompany my nodding head as I finally understood the toll that HIV/AIDS has had on these countries, communities, families and individuals. And what other word could I use to describe the realization that poverty is everywhere I look?

But, wow is an interesting word. Just as it is the only thing I could manage to say as I witnessed the cruelty of this world, it is also the word that time after time popped up as I met the men and women who have chosen to stand up to those cruelties and say ‘no more.’

To the women who came together, saved their money and now have thriving businesses that support their families, I said wow!

To Vincent, a program participant living with HIV whom when World Neighbors met him could not get out of bed ,but who now is extremely healthy, has an amazingly successful farm and now stands as a leader in his community, I say wow!

To Janet, a program participant whose lush and diverse farm not only feeds her five children (the fourth of which she named World Neighbors), but also can send them all to school, I say wow!

To the hundreds of other neighbors in Kenya and Tanzania who have opened their homes to us, made a wonderful meal for us, sang and danced with us and shared their incredible successes, I say wow and thank you!

And to you, who might have wondered if supporting World Neighbors can really make a difference, I have another three letter word - YES! There is no doubt that real change is happening and there is no doubt that when neighbors both far and wide join together to fight hunger, poverty and disease we can turn that little word, wow, into nothing but a huge positive.

- Patrick Evans

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trees, Crops and HIV/AIDS Programs

Today, we crossed into Tanzania. It was nearly a two hour process by the time our two vans were cleared. This morning we visited a program site where erosion is a huge problem. The local leadership under World Neighbors guidance is planting trees on the banks of gullies to slow the water after a rain and is planning detention ponds for the future so as to harvest the water for use.

The birds are different and fun to identify and try to photograph. One of the advantages of visiting sites in the rural areas!

I have enjoyed observing the different rural landscapes as we have crossed Western Kenya and now have entered Tanzania. In the West central area in the Busia region, farming is intense with every bit of land cultivated or grazed. As we traveled west from Kisumu, it gradually becomes less populated and field sizes increase. In the Busia region, farmers can plant and harvest two crops a year because of the two rainy seasons. South and west of Kisumu, there is only enough rain in the longer of the rainy seasons to realize one crop. This makes a huge difference in food security. The Busia region can support more people.

Some of the most outstanding work World Neighbors is doing with village and community based organizations is to enable those living with HIV/AIDS to have hope and live productive lives. We met farmers who are able to do the manual labor necessary on a Kenyan one or two acre plot. Women now make a livelihood through tailoring, raising chickens and dairy goats. Those who are living with HIV/AIDS meet in support groups to share their problems and their successes. Those living with HIV/AIDS are more accepted in the community and more men and women are receiving treatment and joining groups. This is an example of how community health, nutrition, sufficient food and counseling are all necessary to work together.

- Steve Schomberg

Children in Kenya

Children are now on vacation from the government schools in Kenya for the month of August. That has given us the opportunity to see more of them than we might have at another time of the year. Students go to Primary School for their first 8 years and Secondary School for the following 4 years. Primary School is basically free, but school uniforms are required; each school has its own set of colors and design. For many families, paying for uniforms stretches meager resources. Secondary School students have additional fees to pay.

Schools in the rural villages are generally built on a large piece of land with multiple one-story buildings. We visited one classroom at the MUDEP site which was smaller than most U.S. classrooms and would generally be for an average of 45 students, but sometimes must stretch to accommodate up to 100!

One concern of rural villages is care of OVC (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children). These children are often the result of the deaths of their HIV Positive/AIDS parents. We saw orphanages in larger areas but it appears that the villages work hard to place OVC with either family members or volunteers in the village. Assistance is provided in a variety of ways but the needs are beyond the assistance available.

Children are actively involved in 'household work' including gathering firewood. I often saw pre-school age children involved in that task whether they could carry 2 or 20 sticks/branches -- generally on their heads or sometimes on a bike. Children also are key figures in keeping the family supplied with water. They may make several trips a day with a large plastic container to the nearest spring or borehole (well). It's amazing how good they are at carrying very heavy containers of water on their heads!!

Children wear a range of clothing, clearly from donated sources or perhaps very cheaply available in the local market. It is common to see shirts representing sports teams in the U.S. or 'characters' such as Thomas the Tank Engine.

The visits we have made, make it clear the many ways project involvement with World Neighbors has accomplished the overall goal of improving life for the children in the village. For example, raising goats has meant improved nutrition for the children. Kitchen gardens vary their diet and have helped address some major deficiencies.

Play is very different than what we see in the U.S. My favorite example is the kind of ball young children make from discarded plastic sacks held together by string made from sisal raised locally. I was like a little kid when I was able to purchase one a boy had just completed! He was overjoyed to go spend his profits immediately :-) Children have loved the bubbles some of the journeyers have shared with them.

Of course children are similar everywhere -- the wonderful twinkles in their eyes and their insatiable curiosity among other characteristics.

- Janie Schomberg, World Neighbors Traveler

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reflections from a thriving community

This morning the group awoke with extra excitement. The sun was shining bright as we made our way out of the hotel with a beautiful view of Lake Victoria in the distance. After maneuvering the busy morning streets of Kisumu City, we hit the open and very bumpy road to the Busia District of Western Province. Along this two-hour trip we were amazed to see the enormous mass of people walking along the roadside. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were walking from their villages to the closest towns and markets that we passed along the way.

The drive went by very quickly as we stopped in the trading town of Bumala to drop our things at the hotel and then quickly were on our way to visit the board of trustees for the Akakuranut Development Trust (ADT), a former World Neighbors program partner.

Upon arrival, we were greeted very warmly by the ADT board. We then went into a meeting hall where they had gathered important members from their communities and those that had worked with World Neighbors in the past. We listened intently as they explained the long history that the community had with World Neighbors. They explained to us that the partnership started in 1989, when a small group of villagers began organizing themselves and a World Neighbors representative arrived offering assistance. From there they talked about all the tangible areas in which World Neighbors supported them, from capacity building in agriculture, livestock, organizational management, strategic planning, business management, financial management and computer skills, to the assistance they were given in establishing a cereal bank for their children's improved nutrition and the groundwork for a micro-finance initiative that has helped so many.

It was amazing to here about all the work that had taken place within this community over the years leading up to World Neighbors phasing out in 2004, but what was even more amazing were the stories of how peoples’ lives were changed and continued to improve after World Neighbors left.

One by one the community members stood from their wooden benches that filled the small, plain concrete meeting hall. They told their stories of how World Neighbors and ADT came together to lift this community out of despair. There were stories of how food used to last only a few months, but now they are healthy and full with plenty left over to sell for extra income. They talked with a beaming pride about the businesses they had started and the orphaned children that can now go to school and how even those living with HIV/AIDS had been thriving leaders of the community. It was truly inspiring to see the excitement on each one of their faces as they talked of their triumphs. Some old, some young, some women and some men but all were changed by their partnership with World Neighbors. The afternoon quickly passed away and we said goodbye for the day, but made plans to meet again the next morning at a home in one of the partners villages.

And now I will also say goodbye for now but want to leave you with my favorite quote of the day. "We were very thin and very small, but as you can see we are not anymore!"

- Patrick Evans

Monday, August 2, 2010

Initial Thoughts from a World Neighbors Trustee


With a few minutes this morning before meeting with the World Neighbors staff members, I'll share initial experiences and thoughts. It is an obvious point but each time I travel, I am reminded that going on a Journey is learning about a continent, a region and a people whose stories and lives were remote until now. Traveling to Nairobi itself was spectacular as we had a clear view of the Swiss Alps, Italian countryside, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sahara. The Sahara appears to go on and on forever. From the plane I could pick out long wind blown dunes and depressions.

We arrive in Kenya during the week of a vote on a referendum to approve a new constitution. It is exciting to be part of the build up as the Yes and the No sides each are holding rallies and everyone is talking about it. The new constitution will provide for expanded civil rights, an increase in the balance of power among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Kenya now has a strong executive system. With the new constitution, the members of Parliament will have greater say in matters. There are many more changes that are too numerous to go into. The rallies are similar to the political rallies around the elections in the USA. The vote is Wednesday. Keep your eyes on the paper for the outcome!

We enjoyed a city tour yesterday, a visit to the National Museum and exploring the local handcrafts and folk art.

- Steve Schomberg, World Neighbors Board of Trustee Chair

Initial Thoughts from a World Neighbors Staffer

31 July, 2010

The crisp cool air of a Kenyan winter greeted me last night as I was finally able to put my feet down on Nairobi soil. It was 1:30 a.m. local time and after a 26 hour odessy that included an unexpected detour to deliver tires to a stranded airplane in Rwanda, I found myself smiling ear to ear as my friend and colleague Chris Macoloo, World Neighbors associate vice president for Africa, greeted my arrival.

After a short night’s sleep at the hotel, I was awakened today by the beautiful songs of what seemed like a hundred birds outside my room. Whatever frustrations of the previous day's travels that were still left in me quickly washed away as I opened the curtains and saw the stunning lime trees and lush landscape that awaited me.

After a quick bite, I was off to explore Nairobi's downtown and city market. Kenyan tradition is to get paid for their labor once at the end of each month, so with the 31st falling on a Saturday, the markets were crowded with what had to have been half a million people.

The sights, sounds and aromas of the city center with designer clothing being sold on one corner and whole cows hung on the other is something I will never forget, but what was most striking about my walk was the friendliness of everyone I interacted with. Quick and warm conversations were had at every stop I made and although these conversations predominantly centered on my life back home, talk amongst locals has been dominated by the August 4th vote on a new constitution. Everywhere you look there are advertisements and stories related to this important vote. (As I write this I can hear music and inspired leaders in the distance at a rally in favor of the changes).

I have enjoyed educating myself on the various issues surrounding it and invite you to do the same as some of the changes could very well impact those living in World Neighbors program areas.

It has been quite a first day in Kenya. I am sure that tomorrow will bring another set of adventures as we welcome the rest of our Journey's travelers but the truly enriching and enlightening portion of our trip will begin on Monday as we make the days trek to Kisumu City- our gateway to see the life changes being made in World Neighbors programs around Lake Victoria.

I look forward to offering you these snapshots of our remarkable journey over the next two weeks (internet access willing) and hope that I can summon the words to do this experience justice.

Kwaheri (Goodbye) for now!

- Patrick Evans, World Neighbors Annual Giving Coordinator

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Know Your Destination: Tanzania

Tanzania is located along the Indian Ocean on the eastern coast of Africa. It is bordered by Kenya to the north and Mozambique to the south, and it also shares a western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Contained within its borders is Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is the highest point on the African continent. The country is home to over 38 million people, nearly half of whom are undernourished, and is about twice the size of the state of California.The HIV/AIDS pandemic has led to significant increases in infant mortality and death rates, lower life expectancies and lower population growth. The country is one of the poorest in the world and depends heavily on agriculture (which accounts for over 40% of its GDP). Tanzania also hosts the most refuges of any African nation, with over a half-million.

The People

Population : 41,892,895

Population Undernourished: 44%

Population w/o Improved Water Source: 38%

Population Living Below US$1/day: 57.8%

Population Living Below US$2/day: 89.9%

Population Below Nat’l Poverty Line: 35.7%

Life Expectancy at Birth

Male: 50.9 years

Female: 54.03 years (2010 est.)

Probability of Not Surviving to 40: 36.2% of cohort


Adult Prevalence: 6.2%

People Living with HIV: 1.4 million

Labor Force: 80% Agriculture

The Land

Land Use:

Arable land: 4.23%

Permanent crops: 1.16%

Other: 94.61%

Irrigated Land: 1,840 sq km (2003)

Total Renewable Water Sources: 91 cu km (2001)

Natural Hazards: flooding during the rainy season; drought

Home to Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa

(Sources: 2007-08 Human Development Report (HDR); 2007 World Development Indicators (WDI); UN World Population Prospects; FAOSTAT, CIA World Factbook)