Ms. Prosy Nabwami, Master Artisan and Weaver

sm-Ms-Prosy-Nabwami3

Ms. Prosy Nabwami is the current group secretary and a master artisan in the Balikyewunya Women’s Group and the district at large. She is an active mobiliser and trainer with a passion of seeing her fellow artisans develop and improve their standards of living. She also runs the group’s store/showroom in one room on her house.

The group makes a number of natural fiber based products which mainly include:

– Fruits Baskets, Hats, Placements
– Shopping Baskets
– Assorted house accents

Recently, Ms. Prosy Nabwami was one of the first recipients of our “Light Up Their Lives!” project to provide solar kits to our cooperative members in Uganda. We have put much thought into our process and will be distributing kits based on how many children they household has, followed by their level of participation in our cooperatives. Thus, based on her long-term and important level of participation as a master weaver, trainer and group secretary; coupled with the number of children in her household; Ms. Nabwami was among the first on the list.

We forwarded some questions along with the solar kit and Ms. Prosy was kind enough to take the time to reply to them. Here, then, is our (remote) interview with her:

“We are very pleased to receive the solar kit; this is a catalyst in our development” said Prosy.

1. What is the greatest advantage you will see from having this solar kit?

– Better light for everyone in my house to do their work by at least 2-3 hours in the night. During this time, our children and grandchildren will be reading their books.
– For me, I will be able to add some working hours to my craft work/ especially weaving.
– Apart from my immediate family, 6 members of the group in the neighborhood work from my home for some hours in the evening, they charge their phone during the day.

– For my children and grandchildren, they will be able to do read their books/do their school homework in better light.
-I also used to pay UGX 500 (about $0.20 US) each time I took my phone for charging and have to charge it 3 times a week; I now save this money.

2. How many people will benefit from using the solar kit?

– Six (6)members of the group who are close to my house will be able to meet at my house in the evening from 7-9pm as we work on our products.
– During the day we are able to charge our telephones at my house instead of walking a distance and paying charging fees.

3. What will you now be able to do that you couldn’t do before owning the kit?

– It was not possible to weave/ make crafts after sun set. With light of the solar kit our working time is extended.
4. How much time, energy or resources will you save because you now have a kit?

– I have been walking at a distance of ½ Km to take my phone for charging and I pay UGX. 500 ($0.20 US) per charging; It stays there for almost one full day then I collect it. In total I have walked two km and unable to receive calls when charging. With an old phone like mine, I have to charge it twice a week.

5. If you have children, how will owning the solar kit specifically make their lives easier or better?

– Reading light is far better and each individual is reached in the house. Children no longer have to gather around one kerosene lamp to read their books.
– Because of better light, they will now read their books a little longer without headaches or worries that the fuel is soon running out.
– Solar lighting is brighter than kerosene lamps. I couldn’t afford to buy several lanterns so children have to congregate around one lamp and read their book. They complain about headaches and pain in the eyes from time to time. I think over exposure to the kerosene lamps could be one of the causes.

6. What one thing do you want people who are considering making a donation to know?

– The Solar lamp is a key catalyst in development of our grassroots communities. The benefit of enabling us work longer, in better light is unmatchable.
-The initial cost of a Solar Kit is high for most people but again using kerosene lamps for light is expensive in the long term for example I use Uganda shilling 1,000 (about $0.35 US) for kerosene per night (6:30pm till 10:00pm).
– Most of us cannot afford to buy solar because the initial cost is high. We end-up using kerosene lamps but these too are expensive in the long run. I spend Uganda Shilling 1,000 per day on kerosene for one lamp, (approximately US$ 0.35).

If you want to help in an even bigger way, buy a product that is made by women like Ms Prosy over at our website. This is an amazing way to help us sell the baskets being woven by the very women in Uganda that you are proving light to. You’ll be giving twice!  For every Ugandan basket ordered in 2015, Mama pledges we will donate a part of the proceeds to our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

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Light Up Their Futures!

ProsyNabwamiLast autumn, we made a decision to start a new and exciting project in Uganda at the suggestion of one of our favorite people around… thank you Paul!  One of these days, we are really going to have to invite him to talk to us at the Round Table. He really is an amazing guy.

For decades now, I’ve watched as well-intentioned people trek off to Africa giving donations of things they deem important or helpful. The intention is definitely right; but the actions are often misguided and uninformed; thus rarely truly helpful in the long run. So, each year, we ask our cooperatives to tell us what we can do to make their lives easier, what projects they are working on, etc.

And at the end of 2014, we heard something that we got really enthusiastic about: solar power for our cooperative members’ homes. We’ve always known that fair and ethical trade should be tied to much more than just fair prices and working conditions. It is about a sustainable lifestyle for us and most issues are linked.

We have always understood that the way we do business might not always make sense to a “numbers guy”; but it will always resonate with someone with lots of heart. And, this is one project which did just that: it touched our hearts. Maybe donating part of our proceeds to projects like this one reduces our “bottom line”; but for us the real “bottom line” is treating people ethically and making the world just a little bit better. We’ve done so since day one and we’ll do it long into the future, with your continued support.

After some discussion, my family decided to forego most of our gift exchange last holiday season and do what we thought the season is really about: giving. We informed our friends and relatives that they wouldn’t be getting gifts this year and told them that instead, we’d be putting our Christmas shopping budget towards purchasing solar kits for some of our cooperative members in Uganda instead. The kits would allow them to work later in the evening and would give their children the chance to study once the sun went down. Of course, they all reacted with the grace and kindness we expected. A couple even decided to follow suit! To our personal donation, we added a portion of the proceeds from sales at the holiday season and here is the result:

Light Up Their Futures, the first round of lights are delivered and photos have arrived!!

Soon, we will be posting an interview with Ms. Prosy Nabwami, detailing her experience with her new solar kit and how it is already improving her life and the lives of others in her community.
We expected, due to our years of experience working with African women and their families, that there would be some extended benefits for the communities we sent the kits to; but wow! As we have known for a long time, each woman (and some men) tends to support more than just their immediate family. Generally speaking, every African breadwinner supports an average of 10 people. Those who have share, it’s a simple as that. But, we had no idea that the positive effects of a single solar kit would reach quite so many people.

Here is a quick overview of our project and we are really hoping that you will join us with a small donation to help us continue to Light Up Their Futures!

Solar kit initial cost: $120. Reoccurring costs per kit: ($5.50 for replacement bulbs (bulbs last for approximately 8-12 months) and 35 cents for replacement batteries (lasting 3-5 years each). We have invested in high quality solar kits which are expected to last 20-25 years.

Benefits we expected and are seeing:
• Safer, cheaper and cleaner burning than kerosene lamps. Simply put, more sustainable and environmentally safe
• Allows weavers, etc. to work at least 2-3 hours later each night, thus increasing potential for income
• Allows children to do homework after daylight hours, thus reducing dropout rates
• Phone charging ability reduces cost and time spent traveling to/from charging stations
• Ability to have any light at all after dark for those who couldn’t even afford kerosene lamps
• Light is easier on the eyes than the light given off by kerosene lamps
• 100% renewable source of energy without the pollution

Added benefits we are seeing that we didn’t anticipate:
• Increases sociability as women now gather in their homes with friends 7 neighbors to work using the lamps instead of working alone
• More flexibility to do housework in the evenings allowing for more free time during the daylight hours
• Increased quality in work done because solar lights are brighter and clearer than kerosene lamps previously used
• Children now have increased ability to read for pleasure because there is still light available after homework is completed
• Ability to use cell phones 2-3 days more per week
• Women no longer have to leave their old phones at charging stations 2-3 times per week
• Savings of time and effort for those who used to walk 2 miles each time they charged their phones
• Over a dozen people directly gaining from use of each kit.

For those of you who are interested, you can either donate the $120 for a kit or you can give a portion of the cost, which will then be added to the funds given by other donors. Hey, if those women can work so well together, why can’t we, right? You could get together with a dozen friends and each donate just $10. Your group of 12 people will, in essence, allow 12 Ugandan women to weave a better future for their kids who are studying by the very light you donated. Beautiful, right?

We will continue to use part of the proceeds from all online sales to fund our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

And, if you want to really help out in an even bigger way, buy a product that is made in Uganda over at our site. This is an amazing way to help us sell the baskets being woven by the very women that you are proving light to. You’ll be giving twice!  For every Ugandan basket ordered in 2015, Mama pledges to ensure that the usual donation we set aside goes directly to our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

If your coworkers, classmates, friends or church want to make a larger donation or sponsor a few kits; please do so here, or contact Mama directly.
Blessings to you and yours. May your life be filled with… light!

Love,
Mama

Mama to One, Mama to All… Meet a few of “my” kids in Ghana

Ghanian child with babydoll on her backI’ve received hundreds of pictures over the years from our cooperatives in Africa as well as from those we’ve helped through your support.  But there is just something about photos like these that brings tears to my eyes every single time!

I have to admit I love getting photos from our cooperatives of their training sessions, the ladies getting paid for their hard work or just sitting around together laughing while they attend training courses or work together.  But the kids… oh the kids…

The whole class

As a mama, my heart has a special warm place in it for Africa’s children.  As I often say: “Mama to one, mama to all.”  So, meet a few of “my” beautiful children enjoying a few of the recent donations that were sent to their school in northern Ghana.  And most of all, thank YOU for your purchases which made this possible yet again.**

Oh, and if you are curious as to why we sent dolls and art supplies, be sure to check out my previous blog post about Black Dolls and Dreamers

Ghana dolls Standing proud

** Mama Afrika offers fair and ethically traded products and then donates a percentage of all proceeds to small local projects across Africa which are working to improve the lives of women and children.

Mama’s After Thanksgiving Sale

Now that you’ve had your fill of turkey, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and laughed at the dinner table with family and friends… its time to head over to Mama’s After-Thanksgiving sale.

It’s true, working through that list of gifts to buy can be stressful for a lot of people and it isn’t always easy to do it while living on a budget.  So, why not take a break from it all, sip some of our delicious Red Bush Tea and listen to your favorite music while browsing through the many items we have discounted (some up to 50%!)  You’ll get to avoid the crowds at the shopping mall AND you’ll be helping some great African women feed their families this holiday season.
Whether you’re getting gifts for Hanukkah, Christmas presents or putting a few things away for Kwanza… you can keep the true spirit of the holiday season because you’ll be giving gifts that give twice: Once to the person you offer them to, and again to the women who make them.  Hey wait, I almost forgot!  You’ll also be giving a built-in donation to our fabulous friends in Rwanda too!  Wow, 3 gifts in 1… who wouldn’t love that?!

 

A portion of all sales from November and December will go to assist our friends in Rwanda who are working to expand the number of women and families that they serve by adding over 500+ women to the already hundreds of women and orphans that they assist!  Although it was initially started to help genocide survivors (primarily women and children) to receive trauma counseling, job training and other forms of direct assistance; they now also help those with or (caring for those with) HIV-AIDS.  As you may know, women are most greatly affected in the HIV epidemic as they are the caretakers in a family.

Mbwira Ndumva is now working on completely renovating a small building so that they can offer additional job training, counseling and other services to those suffering from or caring for family members with HIV.

 

So, this holiday season, we respectfully ask that you remember those who really need you: the women of Rwanda.  You’ll be able to offer a great gift such as our African coffees, chocolates or a beautiful basket PLUS you’ll help a woman in need to provide a better life for herself and her family.  And let’s face it, there really is nothing that feels better than knowing you stepped up to help a woman who is working hard to help herself.  Mama is convinced that sustainable development like this job training program which will lead to more ethical trade in Africa is the only way to permanently alleviate poverty in Africa and to help African children have a better future.

 

Join us in saying “We love you.” through your order or donation.  We won’t end poverty this year; but we sure can work to alleviate it… one order at a time!

 

Our friends at Mbwira Ndumva thank you and so do I.

 

Love,

Mama

Photo Friday: Smiles Melt the Heart

Photo Friday:

Those of you who know me, know how much I love my morning cup of African coffee.  But this photo actually made me forget it for a moment or two.  I received it yesterday and just at the right time!  It has been a long week and I needed the extra boost  to face the day’s “to do” list.  And, there it was in my email box first thing in the morning.

This photo is a perfect reminder of why I wake up each day.  I love Africa’s children… with my whole heart!

Little Ones Bring Big Smiles -- These children attend a day school in northern Ghana which recently received a small donation from Mama Afrika

Black Dolls and Dreamers

After a recent conversation with a friend about Mama Afrika’s policies concerning donations, I thought this might be a good time to talk about that subject.  I am sure that some people wonder why on earth Mama spends time, energy and money on things like glitter glue or Black baby dolls.  After all, Africa needs much more substantive things than that right?

Well, I’d like to invite you in to my thought process and then we can discuss your views if you’d like.

Number one: Imagination matters. I’m going to say something here that might be contrary to accepted wisdom; but scientists are dreamers.  We’ve always had this image in our head of nerds with pocket protectors and very little social skills.  I mean, that is the stereotype right?  Men (we rarely imagine women, let’s be honest) who are not interested in art, music or fun… just solid science.  No dreams, just numbers and theories.

How ridiculous an idea when you take the time to think about it.  After all, what does science do?  It pushes the envelope; it reaches out into the future, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world around us or at the very least, new ways of explaining it.  Science is, by its very nature, exploratory and full of dreaming.  Thus, scientists need to be dreamers.

Think back in history to those who discovered new worlds or new theories which are commonplace for us.  They were all thought of as ahead of their time, some even as crazy.

So, it is in that spirit that I send art supplies to children in Africa.  I want them to step out of the rigors of daily life and dream a little.  Creativity might be sparked in their first art project or in seeing and working with a new art medium that takes their brain to a new place… only God knows where it might end.

Am I thinking forward to a child being a scientist or artist of the highest caliber?  Not necessarily; but goodness knows it wouldn’t shock me!  Africa is full of young minds, brilliant minds which are capable of all things.  There is only a lack of opportunity and exposure which prevents them from being the next great minds of the future.

Number twoIt provides a glimpse into the world as they see it.  Just another small positive aspect of the art supplies that we’ve sent in the past is that children have been able to describe their lives, their surroundings in a different way than they are used to.  A group of kids in Ghana made these pictures for me and it was something that brought tears to my eyes.  They were so skilled at conveying their daily lives to me a world away.  None of these children have lived the hardships like some have in Africa (child soldiers, child slaves, AIDS orphans, etc.).  But, in seeing their creativity, I was brought back to a film I’d seen many years ago concerning child soldiers of the LRA in northern Uganda.  When these kids were brought out of the field, they were given simple pencil and paper as a form of therapy.  It helped them to explain what they’d lived without having to talk.  I never forgot those images.

Now to address those dolls: Why only Black dolls?

Ironically, in most parts of Africa, (a land full of black faces), it is even more difficult to find a Black baby doll.  This fact, leads me to Number Three: Color matters. Dolls teach us how to care for others.  As little girls or boys, we feed them, bathe them, love them and they are sometimes the only friend in the room with us when we’re having a bad day.  I find it important that young African children have access to a doll which looks like them, their village and their nation.

I am not a militant who thinks that all things black are automatically better than others.  I am not a woman who is trying to isolate ethnic groups, tribes, or people of different skin colors.  But, I think that anyone with an honest heart would have to admit that it is crazy to think that little Black children in Africa don’t have the choice to have dolls which resemble their mothers, their sisters and their grandmothers.

Number Four: Buy local when possible. I met with a woman last month who was going back to her village in Southeast Asia to donate items to a local school.  She had taken months to raise money and items and was so excited to finally be going to donate them while on her family vacation.  One thing struck me though, she didn’t buy local.  When I asked which items she was sending, she mentioned items that could certainly have been found in the country that she was visiting.  She could (and should) have taken the monies and purchased those items locally.  In this way, her donation helped twice: the local merchants and the school children.

This is the final reason that I am sending the items that I’m sending: they can’t be purchased locally.  I am always vigilant about asking our cooperatives (or other recipients of donations) what they need.  It sounds elementary; but it is SO often overlooked.  Which leads me to the final point, one which I tell my children often: Number Five: Help means doing what people need, not simply what you want to do.

As a rule, Mama donates funds to some small, local organizations (like Mbwira Ndumva) who know how to stretch a dollar into five.  But at the end of the year, I take the greatest pleasure to send some things to Africa’s children.  It is my prayer that these items will be able to spark imagination, create dreamers, and yes allow kids to just be kids: playing with their dolls.

If you would like to participate by donating $10, Mama will use it to buy another doll and Mama will cover the shipping!  We have thus far, been sending dolls to hospitals, HIV-AIDS clinics and employment training centers so that they can be shared by children; thus increasing the impact.  In some circumstances, dolls are given to individual girls who are suffering particularly difficult times (due to serious illness, orphans, etc.)

Lastly, I’d like to you keep in mind that the real and lasting way to improve the lives of African children and their families is through the support of ethical and fair trade.  Jobs not only help women feed their families; but allow them to do so in a way that maintains their dignity (unlike hand-outs).

Happy New Year,

Mama

Beginning the Year on a Good Note

Black dolls; school, art and office supplies and toys being packed for Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana

When I was a child, I was told that it was very important to start the New Year in the same way that you want to spend the entirety of the year.  I can clearly remember my mother cleaning, cooking… in short doing all of those things she liked least in the days leading to the end of the year.  All so that she wouldn’t begin the New Year doing those things. New Year’s Day was reserved for fun, food, family and friends.  I came to learn, while growing up, that this tradition is one shared by many cultures throughout the world.

It is in this spirit that I held off a few days instead of sending the donations at the end of this year.  On the 2nd of January, you’ll find me in line doing what I hope to spend my year doing: making African children and their mothers smile.  I’ve enclosed a picture of what I’m up to right now.  I am taking a break from the packing to write a quick blog post to remind you to do the same… Don’t bother with useless resolutions about never touching any chocolate or never again losing your patience with the guy who shares the cubicle with you at work!

Instead, make a vow.  And take it as seriously as you would any other serious vow to God.  If you are a particularly grumpy character, I’m sure God will be just fine if you just make it one act of kindness per week (it is progress right?) 😉

I am setting the tone for my year of greatness, 2011.  I’m doing so by doing what I love best and hoping that it will grow again into something beautiful.  I’m sure it sounds a bit silly; but I’m choosing my first day of work in 2011 as the day that I make the first donations for the year.  But, I’ll just be the one standing in line for you.  After all, you have to get to the office, feed the kids and get them off to school on time, work off that Christmas dessert and make dinner.  I’ll be there because YOU were supportive this year.  Because you chose to offer a fair trade birthday gift to your best friend, because you chose a gift basket full of Omanhene chocolates for the office party instead of buying the usual gift cards from the big chain coffee shop around the corner.

I don’t know what the New Year holds for you.  I am not a fortune teller.  But, I can tell you one thing with no reservation: thanks to your prayers, your support, your donations… this year will start well for lots of children in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.  There will be a sick little girl in a hospital or a child in an HIV clinic waiting room who is holding a doll that looks like her.  There will be a young boy discovering the magic of a special pair of scissors that cut beautiful designs in the card that he is making for his mother.  There will be a teacher who is thankful for the relief he feels when opening a box full of supplies which make his job just a little easier.  And that will be thanks to you.

After all, I am just the woman who stands in line to ship that joy for you.  I’m just the messenger.  And I pray with my whole heart and soul that 2011 will bring many more opportunities for me to deliver good news and gifts on your behalf.

God bless you all in the New Year!

Love,

Mama

Mama’s Round Table: Nigel Mugamu (Part 2)

Hello again everyone, and welcome back to Mama’s Round Table! I hope that you enjoyed yesterday’s portion of my interview with Zimbabwean, Nigel Mugamu.  Let’s just jump right in where we left off, shall we Nigel?

6. Here is an easy one: freedom or food?

Give me freedom any day

 

7. You are a well-educated, successful man who is doing well for himself in the West.  What has made you decide to contribute to the reversal of “brain drain” from Africa and return home to Zimbabwe?  Would you recommend the same move to other Africans living abroad?

 

Firstly home is home and I always intended on returning. Without getting too sentimental, returning home had to make sense both financially and otherwise period! Let’s be realistic here. This is very important for anyone thinking of this. It made sense for me to return home given my work experience, exposure and the direction of my own life. I have been away from home for several years now. I was fortunate enough to spend a year in Zimbabwe 5/6 years ago so I’m not jumping into the deep end without experience. Economically things were bad then – shortages and so forth. This is no longer the case. I have been home twice in the last 10 months and I am currently involved in a startup which we hope to launch once I am on the ground. So you see it makes sense to go home for me.

 

People need to realize that this plan has been in the works for 2 years now. It takes time and proper planning and even then things don’t always go according to plan. Reversing the brain drain in my opinion is a direct by-product of my decision to go home. We need to be realistic and less emotional about returning home. I recently wrote about this issue here. I asked the question of others and many people I know personally have real concerns about moving back home. I believe that Zimbabwe or Africa is not for everyone for a variety of reasons. Some are simply accustomed to certain things or a certain life. Some have children to consider and the list goes on. I completed my MBA a few years ago now, and I have to admit that it (MBA) definitely has a direct impact on the way I think and live now. I have always been very entrepreneurial in the way I think but this program pushed me over the edge and now that’s how I live. I see a challenge and opportunity to overcome and I move forward. Others might see a roadblock and simply stop. It’s all relative. Staying here for me meant employment and going home (in my head) meant employing others. So you can see why returning home made sense for someone like me. Like I said, everyone is different and our journeys are certainly not similar.

 

8. From your experiences living in the U.K., what would you like to take home as a lesson for Africans?

I am a proud African as you know. Proud of our heritage, our ability to ‘make a plan’ and move forward. One of the things I want to take home (in any unorthodox way) is to remind myself and others like me that our way of doing things in Africa isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s an African way of doing things and we should be proud in some cases. We often need to find middle ground. We also need to learn from others if we are to achieve our potential; for example learn about how some businesses in UK operate and the benefits of some strategic relationships they have whilst remembering the context. It is imperative that we acknowledge that UK businesses operate a certain way but we must, for fear of a better phrase ‘Africanize’ or localize certain business practices when I return. I firmly believe that humility on my part is key. Humility is critical in working out that something that works a certain way in the UK won’t necessarily work in Zimbabwe. Humility is important to realize that one shouldn’t force or expect employees or various stakeholders to adopt completely foreign and unnecessary business practices simply because ‘this is how the British do things’. It’s not right to patronize others – we must encourage cohesion and sharing of ideas. So to answer your question, humility is what I intend to take home with me.

 

9. The United States is often called the “land of opportunity” because it has become a place that people from all over the world go to live out “The American Dream”.  Do you envision an “African Dream”?  If so, what is it and how does it include foreigners coming to Africa as their “land of opportunity”?

I’m not too sure about the ‘The American Dream’ and I certainly don’t believe in Africa being viewed as just the ‘land of opportunity’ by foreigners. I want to discourage such practices – this is not the gold rush era. Like I mentioned earlier I believe in Africa first. Africans must be empowered both economically and otherwise. Inward investment is good and in fact encouraged but not at the expense of the local people and their livelihood. Wealth and opportunities must be distributed so that people are involved in the economic process. I would like to see a situation where certain sections of society are not marginalized. Let people become empowered to go out, work hard and achieve prosperity whatever that means to them.

From an investment destination, I see Africa as a place where partnerships via joint ventures and so forth should be sought and in fact encouraged. We need to diversify our partners. Traditionally we have partnered with Europe and the Americas but we need to look east as well. India is an interesting partner with similar challenges and population. I envisage a situation and you know this already, where our African governments are aid-free. Africa has sufficient mineral, land and other such resources to sustain ourselves. We already know that aid doesn’t work and those that push for it have other agendas.  I envisage a situation where we increase our intra-trade within Africa from its current levels of approximately 10%. Why shouldn’t we trade more with each other? We definitely need to. I envisage a situation where we borrow and work closely together in terms of resolving various challenges like electricity and so forth.

 

10. Finally, I couldn’t let you leave our Round Table without asking you what has become my signature question; so here it is.  If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change one thing; what would it be?

 

One thing only huh? What it means to be a true leadership with respect to governance related issues.

 

Thank you so much for your time Nigel!  I am sure that many will be inspired by your journey.  I wish you the very best on your ventures as you return home to our mother, Africa. May God bless and keep you on your road to success.  Since I am a mama at heart, I ask you to always keep our people in your hearts as you walk toward the realization of your own dreams; so that you can take many others with you.  Even if you never run for political office, this is what will make you part of the leadership change you said you’d be inspired to change in Africa.

Now, friends, please join the discussion via Mama’s comments section because the most important portion of our Round Table discussions isn’t our guest or me… it’s you!

Mama’s Round Table Guest: Nigel Mugamu (Part 1)

Today, I am pleased to welcome a man who is Zimbabwean; but also unmistakably African.  He doesn’t just love his nation; but his whole continent.  You’ll find out what I mean if you take a look at his blog.   We agree on some issues and disagree on others; but I always enjoy his company and am honored to have him with us at Mama’s Round Table today.  He has an entrepreneurial spirit and a real passion for open dialog concerning issues facing Africa and her people. Please welcome, Nigel Mugamu.  OK, Nigel, let’s dive right in:

 

1. Please tell us, who are you?

I am a son, a brother, a Zimbabwean, an African in short. I often laugh but I consider myself a ‘retired idealist’ who has been smacked around a few times by the reality of life to accept that I am now a full-time realist. However I tend to be optimist about things in general. I am very passionate about my continent and her development. I work as an accountant for a US based company by day and with my MBA head screwed on, I continue to work on this online travel project with my business partner by night. I blog so therefore I consider myself an aspiring columnist. Not sure about this yet, but I have recently started having dreams of pursuing a PhD. I tweet, read plenty of literature, love travel and attempt to call my sister at least once a week.

 

2.       As an African currently living in the Diaspora, what frustrates you most and what inspires you most?

The thing that frustrates me the most is probably fellow Africans who speak so negatively about Africa or indeed their own countries without proper facts or taking into account ‘context’. Context is often overlooked yet so important in conversation. I believe we need to focus on rebranding and re-educating people about what Africa is really all about. Like anywhere else we face various challenges, for example electricity in the case of Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe and yet the fellow Africans I am referring to tend to focus on the actual challenge and not on the solutions. This I find both sad and extremely frustrating. They are sharing, in my opinion 25% of the situation.

The thing I am inspired by is our resilience as Africans. Despite the challenges I just spoke about we still find some way of ‘making a plan’ (Zimbabwean saying and trait).I read a great deal especially about African entrepreneurship, development and travel. I am inspired by stories like when you consider where Rwanda is now given what happened in 1994. I am inspired by Kenya’s current political and economic journey. I could go on really. There are so many African stories to tell that inspire me.

3. I’m sure you suspected it was coming; so let’s get it out of the way.  How much do your views on development, the economy and Africa in general have to do with your (or your family’s) political affiliations in Zimbabwe?

My parents are realists who encourage us to debate and find our own answers for many of life’s interesting questions. I couldn’t honestly tell you who they voted for in the last election but we debate (heated at times) the political, historic and economic situation in Zimbabwe and indeed Africa. Thinking about Africa now, as a family we had many family road trips that usually covered South Africa and Botswana. I was always aware that Africa was massive and I always wanted to see more of this beautiful continent – I still do! This online travel project I’m working on is testament to that. I’m hoping to travel across Africa and finally see the pyramids, Lagos and spend time in Tunisia for example. Interestingly enough, I left home to attend university and it was then that I started to appreciate and discuss Africa in more depth. I met other Africans at university and gained a proper insight into what was happening in Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique or Mauritius through my new friendships. Essentially it took me leaving the continent to look back and truly appreciate what I have and what we need to work on.

I moved home 6 years ago for about a year. I continued to work and started my MBA at that point. I had studied and worked in Australia for some time by then. Going back home for a year was probably one of the most important decisions I’ve made thus far. I still call it my ‘character building year’. I bonded with my family especially with my parents whom I am very close to. We continued to exchange stories of the Zimbabwe then and I gained another insight into the country and its history. So yes my relationship with my family has had a direct impact on the way I feel and think about Africa.  I had the opportunity to assess Zimbabwe and indeed Africa having spent many years away. I fell in love with the continent all over again to be honest. We are resilient as I mentioned before and our proper story needs to be told in full.  As I prepare to return home, I now read or research more about development and what we as Africans can do for ourselves more importantly.

 

4. We are being blessed with an insider’s view through your presence at Mama’s Round Table today; so please tell me what you think of Zimbabwe’s current leadership?

 

Coalition governments in general are never easy for a number of reasons. Decisions are difficult to make due to the agreements made to form the actual government and of course individual party agendas are also at play. The leadership in Zimbabwe is only a transitional government in my opinion. Therefore it makes it extremely difficult to assess them in the truest sense. With elections supposedly in 2011, I hope to see an elected Zimbabwean government with a full mandate to govern going forward. I believe that at this junction we will be able to see how far the leadership in Zimbabwe has come.

 

5.       Despite my sincerest affection for my African fathers, brothers and sons, I feel that Africa’s future lies in the opportunities granted to African women.  Where do you, as a young man looking to build a future for himself in Zimbabwe, stand on the issue?

 

I believe it is fundamental that women are empowered in general. When you listen to statistics used in the recent Clinton Global Initiative 2010 event, Melinda Gates shared an interesting one – 70% of farming in Africa is done by women. Initially I thought this was an extremely high percentage but then I looked at my own family and really thought about it. I can now see why that percentage would make some sense now. This tells me something positive i.e. women are already involved – more than I thought perhaps? My next question is whether the same 70% are then the recipients of the revenue at harvest time. This is my main concern right now. If not, this needs to be rectified. In the same token I also hope that access to capital for women in the farming sector and others is made much easier. However, I don’t share your sentiments i.e. ‘Africa’s future lies in the opportunities granted to African women’. I’m thinking it’s broader than that. I believe that Africa’s future will be determined by a variety of factors depending on the country and their individual economic growth stage. We cannot directly compare Egypt with say Namibia.  I firmly believe that one of those important factors in determining Africa’s future lies in the informal sector as I discussed here. Some economists believe that 60% of Zimbabwe’s economy is the informal sector and we also know that this sector is a prominent feature across the continent as a whole. I also believe another aspect of Africa’s future lies in what Vijay Mahajan’s describes as ‘Africa Two’ in his book Africa Rising. This is the African middle class who are spending and sending their children to school and in return raising the new generation of cheetahs. In Zimbabwe, the finance minister broke the country into 3 economic brackets: –

  • 3% top
  • 12% middle
  • 85% bottom

 

I believe that unlocking and empowering that 85% is critical to Zimbabwe’s economic success for example. So you see, there are a variety of avenues that Africa can take going forward. Ultimately we need to recognize that the informal sector plays a crucial role in the various economies and that it is also imperative that we as Africans are empowered and participate in the economic process irrespective of gender, race and so forth. Simply put – Africa first!

 

Alright, this wraps up Part One of our interview.   We’ll see you all again tomorrow for the second and final portion of this interview with our guest, Nigel.  Thanks Nige, I look forward to continuing this discussion tomorrow.  And, I of course look forward to reading your comments in the interim everyone!

See you again very soon!

Love,

Mama

Question and Answer with Mama: I want to help, now what?

I recently received this question from a young man who visited MamaAfrika.com I am sharing it for two reasons. Firstly, it is an essential question: What do I do now that I want to help? For some, it’s because they saw a news story, saw a documentary or read an article. They are aware of a situation in Africa which has touched them deeply… so now what? Secondly, I know that this blog has some of the smartest readers I know. I’m sure that some of you will have excellent comments for J. Please feel free to share them.

Hello Mama,

My name is J… and I am just a regular person and trying to make a difference. Its an ironic introduction, but there it is. In the sea of modern civil and uncivil social lobbying and social activism, one kid’s perception must seem irresolute against the gale of cries for awareness, action and justice. I am traveling to Ghana and my family is helping me spend this coming year studying and volunteering there. The orphanage I hope to volunteer with is dedicated to ending child slavery in Ghana, and indeed the founder escaped child bondage, went to college and started this movement. He asked me to help raise awareness of the real danger of child bondage in the Ghanaian countryside, and to stimulate income generation with the families of freed children and of those at risk of human trafficking. The avenue that this project as followed has become the empowerment of woman by selling small hand made goods through the premise of fair trade to the United States. It seems like a long shot. I choice to be the mediator between the United States and the folks in Ghana.

The most descriptive method to describe my role in Ghana is to follow the lead of this organization and go beyond a superficial realm, resolving of the most difficult of issues facing children at risk of human trafficking. The risk for those children is the endemic cycle of poverty, disrupting education and family stability. Without those chains broken these communities threatened by slavery cannot be reached. The cycle is viscous; while poverty inhibits education and education is the key to elevate poverty. The complex will stop only when these youth are inspired with an education that provides empowerment and independence. Ghana is celebrated as a shinning example of democracy, yet underneath the hopeful outward vision, the entrapment of poverty has become profuse for many Ghanaians.

Honestly, my efforts have fallen into an overwhelm daze of fool hearty plans, and my ability to help is not materializing. It is a harsh realization that chills me to the bone. My imagery for this project has deviated far from the reality I have found. There just seems to be no doors open to help these children. It is not right for me to let these kids down. I am letting this orphanage down! I cannot afford to go to Ghana till the beginning of this coming month. I have been looking for a way to help them till I can go, and my searching came across your website.

My journey begins at the bottom of the mountain heart breaking failures. The bottom line is that there is no representation for these children in the world or even in Ghana. While, the potential is slight, my efforts are devoted to changing the livelihood and education of for this community. I have volunteered to attempt to mediate access the United States and facilitate trade for this community. My plans and dialog with my friends in Ghana are only very minimal now. Yet, still I hoped to learn about your organization and if you might have any advice. I sent this e-mail in the hopes to learn about Africa and how my efforts could be best used to help.

Thanks for your time

_____________________________________________________

Dear J,

First of all, I would like to thank you for your care and concern for Africa’s children. For, be they in Ghana or elsewhere, they are Africa’s children… therefore in some way, they are my children. I sincerely appreciate your deep desire to help them.

I have read your email a couple of times now and I am left thinking that you do have a genuine desire to help; but have made an error that I have seen many times in my years of working with Africa: a lack of planning. Unless you have left out some of the details; it seems to me that you (and perhaps even your friends or associates in Ghana) have left out the most important step in wanting to help (other than the desire to do so of course!): and that thing is very good planning.

If your family is indeed interested in helping you with your travel expenses and wants to see that money go to good use; I am sure that you also want to ensure that their money is well-spent and doesn’t go to waste. If you rush too quickly into Ghana without a concrete plan in place to help, you will soon find that your financial (and other) resources will be used up. Then, if you do come across a sincere opportunity to improve lives in a concrete way; it may no longer be possible to do so.

I tell all people (from my own children, to leaders of organizations, clubs and churches) who want to make a real change in the lives of Africans to do two things: RESEARCH and PLAN! I simply cannot overemphasize the importance of these two steps. The failure to properly do these two steps leads to countless examples of failed attempts by individuals, church missions and yes, even major non-profit organizations to make any real change in the long-term.

Make a short list of things that you would like to accomplish and make those concrete, measurable things. Do not list “make kids lives better”. List instead something like: “provide funding so that children can purchase school uniforms”. I hope that makes sense the way I am explaining it.

Additionally, please ask your friends in Africa (perhaps one way that you can help them is doing it yourself or finding someone you know who has experience in the arena) to write a business plan. It might sound overwhelming; but it is imperative.

Most of the disastrous plans and programs I have come into contact with in Africa over the years are caused by the lack of understanding of local cultures, resources, and yes even local desires. It is easy to say: everyone wants to go to school or get education. But it is not necessarily desired (or appropriate) for an organization to have the aim of all African children in a village or town to attend university either. Perhaps if you sat down and talked to the people they would tell you that it is in their tradition to farm, or herd and they simply need tools to do so. Then, your aim could instead be to ensure that children receive basic education with the option of advancing to college if they so choose; but also plan on providing agriculture-based training for those who want to farm. This is just an example from the top of my head. I hope it makes my point clearly.

I’m sure that you have heard the term “African solutions for African problems.” This isn’t said to tell Westerners (be they American, European or Australian) to get their nose out of Africa’s business. It also means, more importantly, that we must ALWAYS consult people to know what their specific needs are and then strive to help them to address those needs.

I therefore urge you to do something before deciding to go to Ghana or to move forward with your plans to help: listen, plan and pray. Listen to the “real” needs on the ground. Plan diligently before you start any program to solve them. Then pray that you’ve done the right thing and follow your intuition (which is often God’s way of speaking to us to ensure we follow the right path for ourselves and others).

If there is anything else you would like to ask or if you need assistance looking over your plans as you start to formulate them more concretely; please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Blessings,
Mama