Out and about in East Africa

 

Visiting GO-supported projects in Tanzania and Kenya and putting out feelers for potential new projects has kept me busy in the New Year.  In Kilimanjaro, I was really happy to see the progress of the Gabriella Center, a center for autistic and mentally challenged kids. We were the center’s first international funder, but because we showed faith in them at a time when they were really struggling financially, and because they did so well using our grant funds, they have now attracted the support of a couple other foreign charities and they have been able to add some more therapists and hold more workshops for the community, which is in need of much education so that kids with physical and learning disabilities are no longer locked away in closets or thrown in jail or worse… Gabriella Center is doing great work and the kids are making great strides thanks to all the support from so many GO donors.

I also spoke with teens at the nearby Kilimahewa School, which GO built last year.  It’s a second-chance school, for kids who did not do well enough or who could not afford to go on with their schooling, and here at Kilimahewa, many come for free, and they get a second chance to improve their grades and to continue with their education. They are really motivated and they told me of their dreams to be doctors and lawyers and teachers…  Most of these kids always tell me they want some kind of profession where they will be helping others out of poverty… It must be a natural instinct for kids, that they don’t want others to suffer what they have suffered, and it’s really encouraging to see these youth get a second chance at life.

I also spent a lot of time with all the kids I first met in 2005 on my first trip to Africa, all of whom are teenagers now.  One of the twenty kids is already supporting herself and no longer requires help from us, which is terrific.  She works in Dar es Salaam in a photocopy shop and she’s providing for herself and is really happy.  One other is employed (at Gabriella Center, above), and a couple others are looking for work and considering further vocational training.  The rest are in Tanzanian boarding schools and I spent a lot of time counseling each about what vocations they want to pursue, what’s realistic, what path will help them the most in life… it’s a lot of work (as anyone with a teenager knows), but it’s a crucial time in the lives of these youth to make sure they get on the right path.  They tell me I am a ‘really strict’ dad (e.g., I  make them pay back money any extra they borrow from me, I don’t let them use the motorcycle taxis that are everywhere in the country now and on which people die every day, I make them eat their vegetables, and I’m always telling them to study harder.) The Tanzania education system is not great, so without support and direction, kids really struggle. This group knows they are fortunate to have GO support and I’m anxious to see the path each of them ends up taking, what kind of careers they will find, how they will overcome their challenges, and what kind of life they will lead… It’s both scary and exciting. One wants to be an astronaut – we’ll see how that works out.

I like taking this group of teens to visit orphanages — they grew up in one, and they like to give back – and it’s also important to remind them that their problems are small compared to others.  So this trip, I took them to one orphanage where all the kids are HIV+, and we had a great lunch together.  I also took them to Leaders of Tomorrow orphanage, and those kids truly are going to be leaders.  (They all wore the Xmas clothes I bought for them from the wholesale clothes shops in Los Angeles’s downtown fashion district – didn’t realize they’d look like a hip hop boy band).  Pete O’Neal is bringing up a terrific group of youngsters.  (You can Google Pete – he is an exiled Black Panther originally from the USA, now living in Tanzania).  Pete’s wife Charlotte is a terrific musician and artist and she engaged my group in an impromptu jam session with native African instruments – it was well worth the hot and bumpy bus ride to get there.

 

I also visited a few orphanages, and another home for handicapped kids, all of whom are looking for support.  I’m not sure if all will fit GO’s strict criteria for funding, but some may be eligible for funding, perhaps for income-generating projects.  Poultry projects are quite popular, and these homes are able to raise chickens, and they get eggs and meat for the kids, and also for income-generation, so perhaps there will be some GO chickens running around parts of Kilimanjaro in 2014…

In Nairobi…

Someone stole my local phone and some money from me on my first day here but, honestly, I don’t care in the least. I spent the morning using diplomacy to get a project for youth and young mothers going in a remote inhospitable region of Kenya, and spent the afternoon interviewing some hopeful twentysomethings in a Nairobi slum, listening to them tell me what their lives would be like if it weren’t for the local job skills program we support (they make and sell bags from recycled paper). Both meetings were really powerful, really impactful… there’s always that moment when I realize/remember that these are people’s lives. It’s a big tough world out there, I tell ya’, and most of us have nothing to complain about. Phone shmone. I hope the thief uses it in good health or sells it for medical care or electricity, both of which are in short supply in these parts.

The Kenya economy is down – there was the terrorist attack at the mall which had a bad effect on tourism.  And there is also a fear that China is taking over the whole country.  China is thick with the Kenya government, already plagued with corruption, and many fear a crackdown on human rights issues.  One community leader asked me “I wonder what Africa did to anger God so much, that we are punished so much.  First colonization, then corrupt leaders, and now with China we are headed to a new kind of colonization… We are really going backward.”  Sigh.

Lots of folks seem to have malaria these days… they say it’s malaria season, because it rains sometimes, then it’s really hot… good breeding for mosquitos I presume.  Poor Abdul in Moshi had a severe case – he thought he was going to die, though he was fine.  Mama Grace from Kilimahewa got it too.  And here in Nairobi, several of the yoga teachers from the wonderful Africa Yoga Project  are feeling sickly.  (Africa Yoga Projects is a great job-training program in Nairobi, teaching youth how to be yoga teachers and get jobs – their founder Paige is kindly putting me up in her apartment and saving GO Campaign the hotel fees.)  I’ve only gotten a few mosquito bites myself this whole trip, and the odds of those few carrying malaria are so slim, I am sure I will be just fine.  (I tell myself the same thing when I eat street food and drink water that I’m not quite sure where it came from… I’ve adopted the attitude that if you think you’ll be fine, you will be fine!)

Today I’m off to Gatanga orphanage for a 2 day site visit… going over the books, plotting the way forward with their terrific founder/director, and of course, playing with the kids!