From “Street Kid” to Dream Builder:

Our next Round Table guest hails from Pretoria, South Africa. His name is Tendai Sean Joe he and describes himself as a: former street kid, Trail of Hope Foundation founder and director, friend, activist, youth leader and writer.

1. You are a self-described former “street kid”; can you please tell us what inspired the positive change in your life?

Well firstly, I use that term not to let people feel sorry for me, but to inspire! Being a street child was not a choice, so neither was it going to determine my destiny. Life in the streets was always filled by hopelessness. As I was there with other children, including my brother, in the public eye we were like the social outcasts. I was still young and confused, but I could not stand the abuse and poverty in the streets. At home there was poverty and so was home. Sometimes the police brutalized us, sometimes it was the public. Our major source of food was two chain stores: TM and OK. At OK they would throw away perishables like meat, polony, sausages, fruits and other foodstuffs. But they would make sure that they poured petrol on the food and burned it; so that we could not eat it (we ate the food anyway and we were never sick). Worse thing is, we were street children in a town without a Soup Kitchen. Seeing other children in uniform was painful for me. I told myself that to be able to tell my story, I had to get an education, no matter the challenges.

Tendai Joe as a child

2. When many people imagine girls living on the streets, they think of how their misery is compounded by sexual abuse. What can you teach us about the subject?

Yah I think that’s so wrong for people to think that way. Selective attention is not a sustainable solution to the social problems that children face in the streets. Pedophiles are not that selective. Both young girls and boys are vulnerable to abuse. If girls are raped, young boys can be sodomized. So no child has to be in the streets. However young girls are more vulnerable, as they are easy targets.
3. Youth. They are clearly near and dear to your heart. What are you hearing in your interactions with them that they want us to know? What topics are most important to them in your part of the continent?

Interesting subject, children and youths are the future. I chose to invest most of my time to them, as I am quite sure that my efforts will not go to waste. There is so much we talk about and share, having built a very close relationship with many of them. There are a varied issues affecting youths; but the most touching ones are Sexual Abuse and Poverty. In a country like South Africa, the chances of young women falling victim to abuse are very high and that insecurity affects many in the planning their future.

4.  Alright, let us widen our focus. I have heard you discuss a wide variety of issues facing Africa. What would you say are the top three problems that we Africans need to address immediately? In other words, what 3 things are most urgent in your opinion?

Sustainable Development, Education and the Empowerment of Women. With vast resources and donor investment in Africa, I think if we refocus our attention to the three elements I have mentioned; ironically they are also part of the MDGs that need to be achieved by 2015. The use of renewable energy is out of the question, we need that. Climate Change is impacting on the Third World countries more than other country; we cannot keep on contributing more carbon, when we have alternative resources. It’s time we started having Eco-Villages in Africa, where everything is run by green energy, where children could come and learn more on green living. Teach-1-Teach-All (giving education to many) will give us an educated, self-motivated and innovative continent. Hopefully we would not have many armed conflicts; we will be able to negotiate in boardrooms. Women are the primary caregivers, so educating them compliments the fight against a variety of issues including nutrition, Child-Health and other diseases that affect many people in Africa. Besides, mothers will most likely support their children to attain an education.
5. Tell me about your passion for Africa.

Its cultural and historical diversity. Having blood from different countries (Mozambique and Zimbabwe), it is easy for me to connect and identify with many African cultures and traditions. It is in Africa where I see the uniqueness of God’s creations. Besides, wherever I am in Africa, I am at home. When someone asks me who I am and where I come from, I say: I am Tendai Joe, I am an African!

6. What specific types of programs is your Trail of Hope Foundation implementing on the ground and what kind of results are you getting? What projects are you most proud of or excited about?

Trail of Hope Foundation’s pillars are: Advocacy, Partnership, Outreach, Empowerment and Leadership. Trail of Hope Foundation is a platform that highlights the desperate struggles which orphaned and vulnerable children face in order to survive against poverty, trafficking, abuse, crime, institutionalization, disease and recruitment into military conflicts. Thus, the international community can effect change. We are running different projects including e-Learning for the girls at an Orphanage. Due to challenges in funding, we have not yet achieved what we really dream to achieve; so there is not that much to write about. At the moment, we run empowerment projects that do not need any financial input. However we have projects like Dream Leaders Conference (is a leadership program developed by Dreams for Kids (Chicago, U.S.A) to celebrate and enhance the unique ability in every child by giving them opportunities of service while working alongside children of diverse backgrounds. Dream Leaders teaches middle school and high school students how they can use their struggles as motivation to help others. Dream Leaders gives teenagers the tools to see their challenges such as living in poverty, having a disability, facing discrimination, losing a loved one, or whatever else life has thrown at them, not as a limitation but as a guiding force in their journey to make positive change in the world.). All in all, we have six projects.

Tendai works vigilantly against the trafficking of women and children in the sex trade

7. What is your one wish for African children today?

I wish to see a non-politicized sustainable solution to Child’s issues. UNICEF does a great job; but that’s not enough, because they cannot help on all Issues. I look forward to an Africa with a collective stance on Children’s policy that will protect all of our children from harm and create a world conducive for all child to learn and play safely.

Well, that wraps up my questions for today.  TJ, I’d like to thank you again for joining me at the Round Table. It was a great pleasure getting to learn more about your childhood and your projects for the future. You are an inspirational man with a lot of care and concern for Africa’s children. They are lucky to have you on their side!  It was also nice to hear that kids in the US are able to reach out to their African peers and affect positive change. Finally, it was also of great interest to me to hear the connection you make between the importance of empowering Africa’s women and building a good future for their children.  I’ve always believed that the two issues are intertwined.

I now invite our readers (whom I consider important members of our Round Table talks) to share their thoughts with us so that we can continue this discussion about the future of Africa’s youth…

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You learn more listening than you do talking

There are so many injustices in the world.  Every person has their list of a thousand causes.  Each person wants us to take up their cause, their banner and head off into battle with our time, our resources and our money.

Let’s imagine that someone walks up to you tomorrow and says “Here is a check for 10 million dollars.  The only catch is that you cannot spend any of it for your own gain.  You must donate all of it, every cent.”  The average person could easily come up with a list of a dozen causes dear to their heart that they would be happy to donate to.  The farmer in Spain has the things which affect his family personally (cancer, education…), the issues which affect his community (animal welfare, local environmental issues…) and those which he is attached to in the world at large (hunger, human rights…).  We all do.

I think that everyone has a fair idea of which issues are most important to me.  If I had to place them in a short list, I could.  But, I have learned a lot while on my journey to address some of them.  And one of the lessons I have learned a lot about is this: there is sometimes conflict between the causes important to me and there is sometimes overlap between them that I never would have expected.

I have learned that in our desire to become better advocates, we are also required by the most basic of ethical standards to be fair and maintain integrity.  One of the things I have noticed of late is a systemic problem: the refusal to have open and honest dialog.  Not grandstanding, not speech-giving; but dialog.  You love the environment; but a farmer addresses the problems that completely “green” farming methods create for poor African countries.  He tells you that they are facing the prospect of starvation for their citizens if they can’t increase food production drastically.  Do you listen to him?  Or do you dismiss him as “anti-green”?

You’ve recently adopted a child from Ethiopia; and someone asks if you feel that you might be promoting the “harvesting” of children from poor mothers in the developing world.  Do you take the time to engage them in discussion or do you just say “The agency assured me that this child is an orphan, and my family is none of your business!”

Please don’t misunderstand this to mean that I don’t believe in international adoption or green technologies.  I do support both in fact.  On the other hand, I also want to point out that we have to remember to factor in the one thing that so many of us forget when talking about the benefits of our causes—people.

History has shown us that jumping in with both feet sometimes produces disastrous results.  Most of the horrific deeds committed in history by national leaders were done (officially anyway) with the aim of improving lives in the long-term.  The atrocities were viewed as “necessary evils” to accomplish the task.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that the average person is willing to tolerate evil deeds as horrible as Hitler, Idi Amin or Stalin.  But, we chip away at our own integrity and allow it easier for us to be willing to tolerate bigger and bigger offenses as we move up the ladder of “well just this once” or “if it helps the cause in the long-term”

As a woman who was born in Africa, I love my continent.  But in my desire to be an honest and fair woman, I am also obligated to take the time to hear the views of others, especially those who misunderstand or challenge the causes important to me.  I find it particularly important to hear the views of people who are NOT like me.  For that is where I risk learning the most.

Take the time to hear others.  I promise you, it will only lead to your growth as a person and to the advancement of your ideas in the long-run.  You may actually learn why they disagree with you.  You might truly find that there is common ground there that you’d never have seen if you had shut them down before you heard them out completely.  In fact, it’s even possible that they have points which you haven’t considered: facts which will be helpful to you in the end.  And in the very least, you’ll have improved your listening skills.  There is a West African proverb which says “You learn more from listening than you do talking.”  The elders had it right!

Take time today to listen to the “other side”.  You’ll be glad that you did!

Q&A: What is a good NGO to donate relief money for Haiti to?

Here is an excerpt from an email I received this morning. I thought I’d share my response in the hope that it would help others as well
“… told me to ask you if you knew of a good NGO to donate relief money for Haiti. Do you have any suggestions?

– HR”

Dear HR,
Thanks for your confidence! As you already know, Mama Afrika doesn’t have any connections personally in Haiti. We hope one day to be able to trade with and assist women in the African Diaspora such as Haiti; but that is a future endeavor. Let’s talk about today.

As is always the case, when major disasters strike like the horrible 7.0 earthquake that hit the island nation of Haiti, it seems that every organization sounds the battle cry and asks for donations. Don’t get me wrong, this is important and necessary in order to get help to those who need it! But, as someone who has worked in the non-profit sector for years before starting Mama Afrika, I feel compelled to warn people of one thing: Big names don’t mean honesty.

It would be my greatest pleasure to tell you that all of the largest non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross had their “clients” at heart when they made decisions. It is sadly, often not the case though. So, please be wary when choosing who to donate to.

I highly recommend that when donating to organizations you look before you leap. Here is a great website which can assist you with that: http://tinyurl.com/yeu83s2 . They and some other organizations like them, rate large non-profits based on their responsible usage of donations. (My personal opinion is that I wouldn’t donate to anyone with less than a 4-star rating. Financial responsibility counts!) We all want our donations’ recipients to be those on the ground, not some well-paid member of management in Washington DC, or New York, right?

We all know about the outrage after so much money was raised by the Red Cross who led people to believe that their donations would be used to help victims and their families after the terrorist bombings on September 11th or hurricane Katrina. History showed us though that there was deception at the very least and outright fraud in the worst case. We’ve also all heard horrible stories of how monies collected for victims of tsunamis, floods, wars, famines, etc. is filtered off by employees or wasted in other ways.

Even the United Nations hasn’t had clean hands in the past. Those of us working with and in Africa know about the disgusting wide-spread scandals where UN humanitarian workers required young girls come to pick up their families food rations so that they could sexually abuse them before handing out their rations.
The world of humanitarian organizations is full of such tales. And although I would love to only focus on the good that they do; it is important that we as donors are responsible to those we are trying to help.

These abuses, both financial and human are the reason that I left the non-profit sector. The large, corporate mentality where people jockey to move up the corporate ladder at all costs was just not for me. I’m called to help the poorest in the world; not to earn a 6-figure salary and treat my job like I would treat any other job in any other industry.

I recommend asking yourself the following questions before donating:
1. Does this organization already do work “on the ground” in the country where the disaster occurred? This will tell you how well networked they are, what kind of contacts and relationships they have on the ground and how your money will be used if they meet their financial need where the specific relief project is concerned. In this case, for example, if the organization raises 2 million dollars more than it needs to provide emergency relief for Haiti; will it be able to use the money leftover in Haiti, or will it go to a general fund for disasters elsewhere… or even worse, to pay for raises for its employees in the US?

2. If the organization already works in Haiti (in this case), what is their “regular work”? Is that something you would fund otherwise? Are they usually in the adoption field and simply fund their orphanages with money they usually raise? Or, do they usually empower the poor through sustainable living projects like fair trade?

3. Do they have clearly defined goals or are they just saying “Help us”? This should give you some idea of how well they are able to meet the needs on the ground.

Sometimes, if you don’t feel completely confident giving during a particular disaster because you see that there is a large outpouring of assistance (relative to the size of the disaster, naturally); you might be just as well to wait.

I know that this is an unorthodox comment and that many will not appreciate it because we are all flooded by the emotions that naturally come with this magnitude of disaster. The photos pull us in and the stories are so heart-wrenching. But, intelligent giving is important. You might want to give to another region of the world, give your time to help in your own community or plan a fund-raising campaign for a cause that is important to you. That is OK too. Giving is what matters: giving of your time, your energy, your prayers and your resources.

Haiti is one of the few places on earth that has it so much harder than even many places in Africa. They might be the oldest Black democracy in the Western Hemisphere; but they haven’t reaped the benefits one might expect from it. Sabotage from the US from their earliest history as well as corruption within Haiti in more recent times has made it one of the most ill prepared places to deal with this tragedy.

You will, therefore have a chance to wait a few months until the dust has settled to find out who was responsible with their donations, what new projects are emerging due to the increased focus on the country and which of those new (or older) projects you want to fund.

I honestly cringe each time I think about the potential that times like this have to cause people to get burned and decide not to give again later. I know how much harder it makes it for those of us who have honestly and sincerely dedicated ourselves to the poor, even when the lights aren’t shining and the news cameras aren’t around.

I just ask that we all take the time to reflect on what our money will really be used for on the ground… instead of giving only to regret it when we hear in 6 months or a year that the money was used in a way we wouldn’t approve of. Again, I would begin by digging deeper and investigating what organizations are translating your dollars to good works, which are going to remain on the ground to help after the immediate emergency situation is helped and which are doing the most to include ordinary Haitians in the process as opposed to sending employees in. I’ve found two through the site I gave you which are listed as 4-star with financial accountability and I’ve noticed that they have long histories in Haiti, employ Haitians for the clean-up (providing at least temporary employment) and have long-term sustainable development programs. I, personally, would donate to either gladly—and have. You can learn more at: http://www.foodforthepoor.org or http://www.hopeforhaiti.com

And, of course, in a few months when the world is calm again: remember those in the world who most need your help and support those who are trying to assist them in living better lives.
Blessings, Mama

Mama Afrika’s first ever Black Friday (After Thanksgiving) Sale!

Mama’s THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SALE
Those of you who have been clients for a while know that Mama Afrika doesn’t really believe in “sale prices”, “deep discounts” and “drastic reductions”… “Why not?” You ask yourself.

Well, the idea is simple: Mama Afrika doesn’t have sky high mark ups on products. She believes that the reason for selling fair trade African products is to feed African families; not become a billionaire and drive a fancy sports car.

So, we only mark our products up as much as is necessary to help the business branch out to include new cooperatives in new countries. As you’ve probably noticed: offering the best price possible is part of our plan. We know that if our prices are great; then so are sales. If we were able to discount items to 50% off a few times a year; then you would know that the rest of the year… we were charging you 50% too much! Easy to understand right?

Well, Mama’s making an exception this year. And she’d like you to know why: This economic crisis is tough for everyone. Its probably affected your family in some way too, directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, African families are having a really tough time too. The crisis has meant fewer sales locally and globally for them; thus less income for many who were making it day to day as it is.

So, this Friday through Monday only, Mama Afrika is discounting prices in the hope that it will encourage you to reach out and help these families make it. Many items will be sold at almost no mark-up. But, if that allows us to re-order products from our cooperatives, that is enough for now.

God has blessed us many times over the past 9 years and we are hoping that this gesture shows you how dedicated Mama is to the women she has grown so fond of.

And, this year Mama will be sending the 10% donation to help our cooperative members children celebrate Christmas this year. We will be donating toys, art supplies and sending donations to help those most in need make it through the holiday season.

Come by Mama’s Open Market this weekend after you have eaten your turkey, and given thanks for all that you have… and help us give our cooperative members reasons to be thankful too.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving. May it offer you the opportunity to be surrounded by your family and friends.

Blessings, from our family to yours,

Mama

Sending goods not always the best solution

I was talking to a really nice woman today on the phone and our conversation brought something to mind that I would like to share with you. It is something I briefly touched on during a talk I gave in Vienna a few months ago and I’m happy today’s conversation reminded me to post a note to all of you here: Donations. I’m sure that some of you have been approached at some time or another by someone at work or church or maybe your child’s school asking for donations of clothing or other items which would be sent to Africa. Despite the generous gesture; next time say no and offer this bit of advice instead: “Send money and stimulate the local economy instead.”

It isn’t the idea of sending tennis shoes or dolls that bothers me, far from it! But what I think many people are either unaware of or perhaps just don’t give any thought to is that Africa is a continent where most things can be found and almost always cheaper than they can be purchased in the West. Let’s think about this logically shall we? Let’s take a fictional scenario as our example of responsible donating:

Jane wants to help poor children in Rwanda and figures a good way to do so would be to ask the members of her local church to donate used children’s clothing at next Sunday’s service so that she can mail them to a church that they are affiliated with in Kigali, Rwanda. Sounds like a lovely idea doesn’t it? Yes it is; but there is a more socially responsible way of accomplishing the same task:

Instead of paying the shipping (and often bogging the receiver down with import taxes in addition… why not raise some money and send it to someone at the church in Rwanda to ask them to purchase clothing directly. After all, there is a local economy which probably includes women who make their living selling used clothing from market stalls.

By taking this approach, Jane has 1) saved in shipping charges– thus having extra money which could be helping Africans instead of the postal service 2) avoided often heavy import taxes which many African countries levy on imports 3) still provided the children she wanted to assist with clothing to wear and 4) supported the local economy by purchasing the goods from local businesses in Rwanda.

Think about Jane the next time you consider a fundraiser for the poor. Or, the next time you hear someone talking about gathering items for donation to Africa; let them know that you are sure they have the best intentions. But remind them that unless it is a donation of items that really can’t be found in the area they are donating them to… there might be a more responsible way of accomplishing their mission.

Blessings,
Mama

 

Donations: How to Best Help

Hello again everyone and Happy New Year!

I would first like to apologize for not having any posts earlier; but you will soon see what I’ve been so busy on (hint: BIG changes coming to MamaAfrika.com soon!)

I was talking to a really nice woman today on the phone and our conversation brought something to mind that I would like to share with you. It is something I briefly touched on during a talk I gave in Vienna a few months ago and I’m happy today’s conversation reminded me to post a note to all of you here:

Donations. I’m sure that some of you have been approached at some time or another by someone at work or church or maybe your child’s school asking for donations of clothing or other items which would be sent to Africa. Despite the generous gesture; next time say no and offer this bit of advice instead: “Send money and stimulate the local economy instead.”

It isn’t the idea of sending tennis shoes or dolls that bothers me, far from it! But what I think many people are either unaware of or perhaps just don’t give any thought to is that Africa is a continent where most things can be found and almost always cheaper than they can be purchased in the West. Let’s think about this logically shall we? Let’s take a fictional scenario as our example of responsible donating:

Jane wants to help poor children in Rwanda and figures a good way to do so would be to ask the members of her local church to donate used children’s clothing at next Sunday’s service so that she can mail them to a church that they are affiliated with in Kigali, Rwanda. Sounds like a lovely idea doesn’t it? Yes it is; but there is a more socially responsible way of accomplishing the same task:

Instead of paying the shipping (and often bogging the receiver down with import taxes in addition… why not raise some money and send it to someone at the church in Rwanda to ask them to purchase clothing directly. After all, there is a local economy which probably includes women who make their living selling used clothing from market stalls.

By taking this approach, Jane has 1) saved in shipping charges– thus having extra money which could be helping Africans instead of the postal service 2) avoided often heavy import taxes which many African countries levy on imports 3) still provided the children she wanted to assist with clothing to wear and 4) supported the local economy by purchasing the goods from local businesses in Rwanda.

Think about Jane the next time you consider a fundraiser for the poor. Or, the next time you hear someone talking about gathering items for donation to Africa; let them know that you are sure they have the best intentions. But remind them that unless it is a donation of items that really can’t be found in the area they are donating them to… there might be a more responsible way of accomplishing their mission.

Blessings,
Mama