30 April 2015

Trouble Sleeping Due to the State of the World?

I have to confess: I've been avoiding news about Nepal.  I can't bring myself to keep up on the mortality rate, the level of destruction, the numbers displace, injured and missing.  The scope of the tragedy is too big for me to deal with.  Maybe you feel the same: overwhelmed, saddened, disoriented...helpless.

A few years ago I realized that my heart is not designed to carry all the burdens of the world, and neither is yours.  The area I'm called to care about, work toward and advocate for is the state of women in rural Africa.  I don't want to detract from a compassionate response to the situation in Nepal, but if you have some room in your heart and your pocketbook for two women in rural Africa, please keep reading.

Mama Dorina lives on the road between Shirati and one of the Mama Maisha villages, and in the recent heavy rains, part of the wall of her house washed away.  She is a widow and her only daughter died without having children, so this woman is alone in the world.  During the night the wall fell in on her while she was sleeping and hurt her legs.  Now she is sleeping in a corner of her neighbor's home.  Our friend Stephen told us about the situation, and we asked him to go take some photos.   
Then I had the following conversation:
Wesley: Where is the camera going?
Me: Stephen is going to take some photos of a house.
Wesley: Whose house?
Me: A grandmother whose house fell down.
Wesley: Dani's house fell down?! (Dani is Fred's grandmother.)
Me: No, not Dani, someone else's grandmother.
Wesley: Can we fix her house?
Me: Yeah, how should we do that?
Wesley: We call Machumu (our favorite taxi driver) to come and get us and take us with my tools.
Me: Then you'll fix her house?
Wesley: Yeah.  Call Machumu.

If only it were that easy!  Actually, it almost is that easy. Somehow she had saved up in the past several years to replace the thatched grass roof with iron sheets, but the mud bricks were eroded over time by driving rain and weakened the wall.  In order to get her back into her home, volunteers need to lift the roof off the house, rebuild the broken section, replace the door, mix cement and cement over the outside of all the walls to prevent future erosion. All these things can be done for $250, especially right now while the exchange rate for the American dollar is so high but the prices haven't gone up yet.

The other woman we would like to help is Dani, our grandmother up in Fred's home village in Kenya.  A few weeks ago 85-year-old Dani fell trying to reach the outdoor bathroom, which is up a small, rocky hill.  She has had trouble walking for some years, and we would like to rearrange the bathing and toilet facilities to the same level as her house so that she wouldn't be climbing hills anymore.  It is mostly manual labor, which can be done by Fred and some others, but we would like to add a $150 water tank to simplify bathing for her.  Right now she has to have someone carry a bucket of water for her, which is not an ideal situation.

Perhaps the tug on your heart is to help one of these women.  Unfortunately, we don't have time to go through tax deductible channels, which would take at least six weeks.  However, if you would like to write a check to Leisha Adams and mail it to 18009 NE Hillside Dr, Newberg, OR 97132, we could have that money in hand within one week, or if you click below to give to us directly on Paypal (send to email address fredandleisha@gmail.com).

If Nepal is tugging at your heart, you can do some similar, direct impact, low overhead giving by going to Helping Nepal.  My friend Dayn happens to be on the ground in Kathmandu, Nepal with a YWAM team, so they have been able to take donations through the website and translate that immediately and fully into shelter for people displaced by the earthquake.

Either way, whether you help out widows in Africa or families displaced in Nepal, you can sleep better knowing that you, personally, are helping someone else sleep better on the other side of the world.

UPDATE: Thank you so much!  All the money for both women has been donated within a few hours of the post!  If you would still like to give, please give to the Nepal team or you can continue to give to us and we will help other women and families in need of housing assistance.

24 April 2015

Mama Maisha Partners with Mennonite Central Committee!

Of course I forgot to take any picture at all, but earlier this week Mama Maisha has been hosting Tiffanee Wright, the Health Coordinator for Tanzania Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  MCC approved a proposal we wrote to supply hygienic delivery kits to Traditional Birth Attendants and delivering mothers.

We're so excited to roll out this project.  The first thing will be doing a training for the Traditional Birth Attendants to teach them the principles of clean hands, clean perineum, clean delivery surface, clean cord cutting instruments, clean cord tying instrument and clean cutting surface, then we'll train them and give them supplies to support women who cannot reach a health facility at the time of delivery.

We will also have funds to put together individual kits for women who may not reach a health facility with skilled care.  Two months ago I wrote about a visit to one of our villages which has no health facility, and we were emptying our pockets to find soap and razor blade and fare for a motorcycle taxi to a TBA.  In the future, it would be so great for us to be able to have a bunch of kits with the TBAs and our MHAs and the nurse we hired to go out to do village prenatal care.

We had a great time in Nyambogo village Wednesday with Tiffanee, and yesterday we signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the project.  We're excited about the opportunity to partner with such a great organization!

16 April 2015

The Natural Habitat of a Work-At-Home Mom

When I post anything about what daily life is like for our family, people are really interested, so today as I read the item "Weekly Blog Post" on my to-do list, my gaze strayed over the chaos of my desk, and I thought "Do all moms who work from home exist in this kind of chaos?"  

Actually, what I thought was "Do all moms who...WESLEY, no more lollipops!...work from home...Inno, this doesn't look like a good TV show, go play outside...exist in this kind of...No, Adera, I don't have cash to buy a fish right now, so just cook rice and beans..chaos?"

Fortunately I have always been an incorrigible multi-tasker, so I can actually be pretty productive in spite of my environment, but here is a little tour of my work space, aka The Natural Habitat of a Work-At-Home Mom.

1.  Photo of me with two girls I sponsored through Lahash when I was pregnant with Wesley
2.  Photo of me with Lahash staff and partners in March 2012 when Wesley was a tiny infant
3.  Photo of one of my nieces  (Note: if you mail me photo prints, they go up on the walls in our house!)
4.  Postcard from the Redwood Forest, one of the most awe-inspiring places I've ever been
5.  Poem by Persian poet Hafiz
6.  Promotional card for Mama Maisha
7.  Tiny slip of paper with the payment information for our satellite TV service that was always getting lost until I taped it to the wall
8.  Photo of my extended family taken last January
9.  Reminders from Gretchen Rubin's book Happier at Home, things like "Work Smart" and "Enthusiasm is more important than ability"
10. Quotes from Tina Fey and Jane Austen cut out of an "O" magazine
11. Laptop on which the Office programs are actually working
12. Laptop, on which Office programs are not working, but where all my documents are saved
13. Kindle Fire, on which I listen to stuff or read while I wait for things to download or for the power to come back on
    What I'm listening to: "The Civil Wars" album by Civil Wars
                                        "Title" album by Meghan Trainor
                                        Relevant podcast
                                        Slate Political podcast
                                        Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast
    What I'm reading: Keeping Your Child in Mind by Claudia M. Gold, M.D.
                                  God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
                                  The Skeletons in God's Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler
14. My blank book, in which I have meeting notes and lists of things to do
15. Box of lollipops
16. My to-do list with four categories:
             1st priority Support Raising (e.g. Thank you gifts for donors)
             2nd priority Lahash work (e.g. Check on implementation of Discipleship Plan)
             3rd priority Mama Maisha work (e.g. Translate disclaimer into Luo)
             4th priority Personal Items (e.g. Put laundry away)
17. Phone...I instituted a policy that I can only check Facebook on my phone so that I don't get distracted from important work
18. Gretchen's current favorite book, which she carries over to me multiple times a day to read a goodnight prayer out of
19. Boys' dietary supplement, another thing which apparently lives on my desk so that it doesn't get lost

Of course there is the additional detritus, like the wireless modem, printer, Fred's meeting notes for me to type up, a Discman (see no. 19), etc.  All these things are apparently essential to have close at hand in order to get work done for whatever reason.  Hmm...maybe I need to add "Organize work space" to my lowest priority list...I could probably get to that in, oh, July?

P.S. Happy fourth anniversary to my beloved husband!  I'll try to change the sheets, get the kids' toys put away, and get Wesley to put pants on by the time you get home from work, because I know these things will bless you.  (Welcome to romance for parents of little ones!)

Things I have been interrupted during the writing of this blog post to do:
- Move to the bedroom to concentrate.
- Return to the desk to adjust the internet so that it reaches the bedroom.
- Help Gretchen up onto the bed.
- Buy airtime to reply to a text message from Fred.
- Help Gretchen off the bed.
- Remind Wesley that my bed is not where an empty juice box goes.
- Help Gretchen up onto the bed.
- Admire Gretchen's shoe "SHOO! SHOO!".
- Take Gretchen to Adera.
- Negotiate a lollipop dispute between the boys
- Admire a photo of a lollipop taken on my phone by Wesley
- Assure Wesley that the bathroom spray smells nice
- Investigate why Wesley is naked from the waist down
- Receive gifts from a friend who is moving back to Holland tomorrow
- Chat with the Mama Maisha prenatal clinic nurse

11 April 2015

The Second-Born Never Gets As Much Attention

I am the oldest of three, and I have a large photo album of the pictures taken during my first year of life.  Then, when I was 15 months old, my sister was born, and the photos of that time period reduced significantly.  Then, 13 months after that, my brother was born, and I think there might be half a dozen surviving photos from the time Roy was born until we were school-aged.  It's a pretty common experience, but I was hoping (naively) to break that trend.  Of course, then I realized that I have far fewer photos and far fewer updates about my little girl than I ever did for Wesley.  So here's a tribute post to my co-female in the family.
Gretchen sporting a yogurt goatee
Gretchen is a super cheerful 14-month-old, who is at a really fun stage of development.  She is very active, wandering around from activity to activity, dancing on her tiptoes, and very social.  She's been trying to talk for several months, with jibberish replies for everything people said to her.  Now she's added a few real words: juice "joos", peekaboo "peekboo", shoes "shoo", no "ah-ah", power "pawah", down "don", dog "daw", and Dora "doh".  As is usual, she understands far more than she can say, and she recognizes chickens and cows in the yard.  Dogs and cats are her favorite, though.

The kids going for a *short* ride around the house with Stephen
She loves her brothers, and she's a big favorite with them as well.  Of course she and Wesley have occasional spats when sharing doesn't come naturally, but kisses and hugs are just as common as squawking and snatching.  When Inno came home from school a few days ago, Gretchen was so excited to see him!  She's sitting on my lap making motorcycle noises as she looks at this photo.  She has the best appetite of any of the kids right now.

Fred and Gretchen playing in the waves of Lake Victoria
 She's very much a daddy's girl, and whenever Fred comes home from work she runs toward the door saying "Daddy!  Daddy!"  She also loves looking at the family photos on the walls and on the computers to pick out Daddy.  Most of the day she spends with "Dera" (Adera) washing dishes or washing clothes or sitting outside talking to the neighbors.  She also loves moving every shoe in the house from one room to another, and wandering around having pretend conversations on anything resembling a cell phone.  (Her conversations sound remarkably like the tones of my cell phone conversations, except without words!)

Can't forget her favorite word: cheeeeese!

03 April 2015

Cross-cultural Partnership - Two Critical Questions That Never Have Answers

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have been working on a major assignment for Lahash: reviewing all past partners and projects to see if there are lessons that we as Lahash could learn.  This involves reviewing ten years of blog posts, memos, reports, email correspondence and photos to piece together a story of what made one partnership work while another partnership failed.  It's interesting and also intellectually exhausting.  I just finished the six-page report on our first failed partnership and had
In my more naive days - August 2007
some embarrassing moments along the way as I saw my own reports from my early days with Lahash saying things like "I trust [this person] and [this person] entirely with money.  I think they have shown themselves to be very responsible and transparent," only to find out later that they were a few months away from stealing money from clients to fund some illicit activities.  I look back and shake my head at my own naivete, but at the same time, there's a small part of me that misses the days when people would give me reports and I didn't immediately question "who was this for?" and "why this vendor?"  Nowadays I hear stories and a very cynical filter pops into place.  "You say 300 people responded to an altar call at your youth group's evangelism event?  Was the pastor's wife one of them, by any chance?"  I could get into many examples of situations in which the rose-colored glasses of the visitors prevented them (and me) from seeing the real situation.

I've learned a lot since I came to live in Tanzania, and much more since I've been married to Fred, but there are two questions which become more complicated, not less, the more I learn.

1) Where is the line between grace and justice when accusations of wrongdoing arise?
One problem we encountered in that failed partnership was an accusation of sexual impropriety by the founder.  Although the leadership of Lahash (I was just a lowly first-time traveler at the time) took wise and responsible steps to investigate and address the accusation, the man continually denied that he had done this thing, in spite of witnesses and photographic evidence.  At the time, I was very inclined toward grace, believing that there must have been some mistake somewhere.  Now that I've been through a couple of similar situations (though not with Lahash partners), I have realized that full and flat denial in the face of all evidence is the cultural norm.  

Think how hard it is to determine the truth between two different stories when your kids bring you a conflict to resolve.  Now add totally different cultural values, including a different perception of acceptable sexual behavior, a different definition of honesty, different gender roles, economic dependence, and a myriad of hidden motives and back stories totally unknown to the "judge and jury".  It is extremely difficult to determine truth and appropriate consequences when one can't trust that one's own worldview is the same as that of the parties in the dispute.  Eventually a call has to be made, and whichever choice is made, for grace or for justice, sometimes it turns out to have been wrong.  The consequences of that wrong decision might be future embezzlement and victimization of others as a culprit receiving grace continues on a bad path, or it might be unjust termination, economic hardship, and broken relationships for one innocently accused.

Having been called in to judge in a couple of these cases now, having to do with financial or sexual impropriety or falsified reports or the true nature of relationship between person A and person B, I hate it every single time.  I never feel like I know the truth, so I'm just choosing the "truthiest" sounding story.  My gut is better trained than it used to be, but it still makes some dodgy calls from time to time.

2) Which partner's vision is more important, the donor partner or the implementing partner?
In cross-cultural partnerships between Westerners and Africans or SE Asians or South Americans, there are always sensitive power dynamics at work.  The donor partner (usually the Americans or Canadians or Europeans) have money on their side, and they need projects and clients to spend that money on, usually within the confines of a specific vision.  For example, Lahash International's confines are holistic care for vulnerable children in East Africa served by a Christian partner organization.  The implementing partner, in our case the Tanzanian or Kenyan or Ugandan or South Sudanese organization, has the projects and the clients, but they need the money.  So, the people with the money give it to the people with the need, and everyone is happy.  Sounds like a pretty simple match, right?  


Although the donor partner has money and a specific vision for how to use the money from their donors, they are usually lacking language skills, understanding of power structures, cultural context for assistance, to name just a few factors.  Implementing partners have their own agendas based on a complicated mixture of community, family and personal needs.  If a donor comes to me and wants to give money, my priority is to find a way for their square peg to fit into the round hole of the needs that I want to meet.  In the best case scenario, I work for a transparent process to find middle ground for the donor who cares about the global water crisis and the HIV+ widow I'm trying to serve.  

What if there is no middle ground, though?  If I know a child in desperate need of a school uniform, but my donor has stipulated that money is for water, then what?  What if there is no water crisis in my community?  It takes a strong implementing partner to say no to a donor partner because their vision for their money does not fit the needs of my community.  Some donors make it harder by insisting that the implementing partner just tweak their vision, by saying things like "We really want to work with you, so couldn't you just..." fill in the blank.  In those cases, it's even harder for an implementer to say no.

A well-intentioned implementer who set out to promote girl child education takes money for HIV orphans and then has to pay for the girls who are HIV orphans out of this pot while raising other money for the girls who are vulnerable for other reasons.  Then the day for school fees arrives, and the partner is in an ethical dilemma: is using the money according to its express intended purpose (Western values) more important than arranging for all needy girls to continue their education (African values)?  Maybe you can tell me what the right answer is, because the longer I live here, the less I think I know the answer.

Sometimes, despite all the obstacles to cross-cultural partnership, something truly beautiful happens.  This widow and her grandkids were living in a falling-down, leaky, too-small house, but God orchestrated an untrained social worker, a frustrated and cynical development officer, a visiting Canadian woman and generous American relatives of an acquaintance of ours (people we've never even met) to build them one of the nicest houses in the whole village, just in time for the rainy season to start.