In a post from fall of 2015 I touched on how the troubles of the world can deeply impact many of us highly empathetic people and in a follow up post I looked at a further understanding of empathy and what we could do to tame our empathy "polar bears".
This post relates to those two posts.
A good deal of why so many people suffer from the pain of the world is that we feel so helpless to do anything. This only increases the pain and stress. As I said in the piece on taming empathy, the brain does not distinguish psychological pain from physical pain. Any pain triggers the stress response system to "do something". If we feel helpless and cannot do anything about what is causing us pain, this is what contributes to chronic stress and declining mental and physical health.
When we are highly empathetic people, what many of us yearn for is a way to help make the world a better place. This, my friends and followers, is what Project Africa is all about.
I don't think anyone could argue that Africa is not our world's most troubled continent. For as long as I can remember (which goes back to the 1960's) I can recall heartbreaking stories on famines and underfed children. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this.
However, helping Africa and the children of Africa has proven very difficult. Since the sixties, billions and billions of donated dollars and goods have poured into Africa. Yet the problems remain. Why is this?
Let's have a bit of a look.
First up, we have the terrible truth about Live Aid, the enormously famous double fund raising concerts put on by Bob Geldof in 1985.
He discovered it was not doing good, but, horrifically, unimaginably, the exact opposite. The Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu, until then deadlocked in the war, was using the money the west gave him to buy sophisticated weapons from the Russians, and was now able to efficiently and viciously crush the opposition. Ethiopia, then the third poorest country in the world, suddenly had the largest, best equipped army on the African continent.
By this time we had all seen the pictures and TV footage of Bob Geldof, the figurehead of Live Aid, bear hugging and playfully punching Mengistu in the arm as he literally handed over the funding for this slaughter. It was on TV now alright, but as an endless, relentless reel of heroic Bob Geldof highlights. He drenched himself in the adulation and no one begrudged him it, until our investigation exposed the holocaust that Live Aid’s collected donations had help perpetrate on the Eritrean independence fighters.
Most damningly, Keating reported that Geldof was warned, repeatedly, from the outset by several relief agencies in the field about Mengistu, who was dismantling tribes, mercilessly conducting resettlement marches on which 100,000 people died, and butchering helpless people. According to Medicins Sans Frontiers, who begged Geldof to not release the money until there was a reliable infrastructure to get it to victims, he simply ignored them, instead famously saying: “I’ll shake hands with the Devil on my left and on my right to get to the people we are meant to help.”
A Google search of "humanitarian aid warlords" will bring up numerous pages reporting how humanitarian aid can often end up supplying warlords and further feeding conflict while the aid does not reach the victims in need.
Many of us have probably long been aware of the bloated salaries and administrative costs in large charities. While not on par with aid inadvertently ending up in the hands of warlords and combatants, again we see large portions of the funds raised not reaching those in need.
Aside from these examples, international aid is often rife with problems with aid efforts being more about ego and PR than really doing what is necessary to solve the long standing issues that contribute to problems in many of the populations of Africa.
Then we have this report on how little the Red Cross did on the ground in Haiti with nearly half a billion dollars in donations.
Many years ago, as I poked about working and living here and there abroad, I discovered that if you want to enact real change in difficult situations in a foreign country or culture (and a "foreign" culture can exist within our own countries), you need a few things.
- "boots on the ground", IE: people who know the territory, cultures and people and have the abilities and qualifications along with practical experience and a can-do attitude to get things done.
- build real relations with people within the country or culture where you would like to see change. Again, these need to be people who know the territory, culture and people and understand the issues first hand and who already doing work to change the situation.
- people who are trustworthy and have a clear track record of dealing with the issues in question and getting results.
Like many people in the west or the industrialized world, it pains me to see what goes on in Africa. It's heartbreaking. But for nearly five decades, I've felt helpless. For almost as long I'd been aware of the difficulties I've seen these aid efforts yet see them end up as outlined above.
So what can we, in the developed world do? How can we stand by and watch such a great continent and people struggle?
This has always been the problem we wrestle with, isn't it?
Then I met Jane.
I can't recall how we first "met", to be honest. Through this blog (and others) and my photography many people friend me on Facebook or circle me on Google+. I follow many different people because this is a big part of the way I keep up with the world and issues. In any case, Jane and I became friends on Facebook and I began to follow her posts and get to know her and her world.
One day earlier this spring (of 2016), Jane reached out to me. This is not unusual; many people do. But Jane was different (as you will see). We spent some weeks talking and getting to know each other before finally settling on a project we could work on together.
I began to feel excited. Now this, I could see, is how we in the west or industrialized countries could help Africa. This, my friends, is the way - you build relations with with women like Jane. If you know anything about Africa, you will know that it is women who make the real difference in hard pressed areas.
So you can get to know her a bit as I do, here is Jane's Facebook profile. Jane lives in Gatina, Kawangware on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya which in her normal matter of fact and straight forward manner describes as a slum.
The following is her list of credentials:
What I do for my community:
I mobilize women to form groups. I train them how to start a microfinance, how to save the little one has. Members borrow loans according to ones savings. So far I have formed 6 groups in the last three years. The members are able to start small businesses of their own like green grocers, shoe shops, hardware, etc
I train them skills like soap making, tapestry mat weaving, beadwork, yogurt processing, tie&dye, shampoo/conditioner making, bags, aprons, pastries etc. They use these skills to uplift their living standards and save to the microfinance.
I lecture about:
- Counseling and guidance,
- Health relationships,
- Children rights,
- Drug and Substance Abuse,
- Adolescence/Puberty stages
- And any thing that can be a hindrance to bright future.
As a Health Community volunteer, am responsible for a hundred (100) households with the following responsibilities:
- Report any disease outbreaks
- Give health talks e.g every household should treat drinking water, practice proper waste disposal,
- Make sure the 100 households have functional latrines/ toilets.
- Give information about nutrition
- Make a follow-up of TB and HIV patients so that they don't default,
- Encourage community to go for HIV and TB testing
- Encourage women to do family planning,
- Trace children living with disabilities and advise caregivers to join support groups for exposure.
- Trace children of school going age who are not in school
- Trace persons with diabetes, high blood pressure and give them referrals,
-Trace orphans and refer them to the relevant authorities.
-Trace drug and substance addicts and refer them to rehabilitation centers.
-Mobilize community to do cleaning up especially during rainy season.
- Help giving out polio immunization.
This, my dear Polar Bears followers, is a woman who gets things done. She is not some phony pop artist looking for personal glory with little idea of how Africa works. This is a real genuine woman, the very face of Africa. Working with a woman like Jane, my dear friends, is how we can help enact change, this is how we can make a difference in this big difficult world of ours. So many of my Polar Bears followers deeply feel the pain of the world yet feel so helpless. This is how you can feel less helpless, this is something you can do that will have tangible results - we support someone like Jane who can get things done.
So from now on, Project Africa will become an integral part of Taming the Polar Bears and what it is trying to accomplish. It is not enough to do things for ourselves, dear readers, we must do what we can to make the world a better place. That doesn't happen with big flashy efforts like Geldof's ill fated Live Aid concerts. It happens bit by bit by supporting women like Jane who quite simply Know How to Get Things Done.
What we Polar Bears people will primarily be doing is supporting the children of Jane's immediate area, specifically their education. As of now, the conditions are deplorable. The area is a slum (and Jane feels no shame in admitting this, it is her reality, the reality she is trying to change for her people) and the school reflects this. Great people, a hard working dedicated teacher, but the challenges are great. The most immediate need, Jane tells me, is feeding the children of the area. Many have trouble attending or even staying alert through the day due to malnutrition.
The school attempts to alleviate this by supplying simple meals but even this is extremely difficult because they cannot afford a suitable kitchen. And so this is our first project - raising the funds to build a new kitchen.
This is what currently passes a "kitchen" for a school of around an average of 120 students:
What we're shooting for would still be very modest and not a great deal of money but in real world practical terms, to the school, the students and indeed the whole community it would make a world of difference. I have created a GoFundMe page for this effort. It is the most secure and simple way at this time for me to aid in this fund raising effort.
Please follow this link - New School Kitchen. It will take you to the GoFundMe page where it is very easy and straightforward to make a donation.
You can help in two ways:
- by making a one time donation at the link above
- better yet by making a small monthly donation
- and by sharing this post or the GoFundMe page as far and wide as we can.
It is my great hope that as a part of improving your own mental health and in feeling that you are part of something very real that will make a deep tangible difference for hundreds of people, you will become a part of Project Africa.
And finally, from Nelson Mandela:
There is nothing more true in human history than the fact that all great change and advancement the world over comes through education. By supporting Project Africa, you can become a force in changing the world.