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

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Wordless Wednesday: Ghana Helps Me Carry My Bounty

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Happy Birthday to Africa’s Greatest Elder, Mr. Mandela

There is much that could be said about Madiba (his Xhosa clan name), or “Tata” (Father) as South Africa’s youth call him. But, I think that the best of his qualities is that he led by example. In my opinion, we have never had a more upstanding “village elder” in Africa. He stood by his principles, sacrificed to bring them to reality, then did what most African leaders of our time refuse to do: left office in order to be equally productive in other domains outside of politics.

Instead of celebrating his birthday as we do many other historical leaders around the world, Mr Mandela asks South Africans to give 67 minutes (the number of years of service he gave to his nation) serving others. I think that its a beautiful legacy that all of us could take to heart. So, what will YOU incorporate as your personal or family tradition each July 18th to celebrate Africa’s greatest elder? Please share with us, inspire each other and join me in wishing Mr Nelson Mandela a very happy 95th birthday!

Here is my wish for each of us:

Dear African leaders, follow his footsteps.

Dear African citizens, require that your leaders follow his footsteps, or simply refuse to let them lead. Integrity is essential, always.

Dear African children, know that THIS is the kind of elder that has come before you to show you how it is done. Become future leaders that lead with honor, respect for your fellow man, long-term vision and an understanding that you are but one member of a team that makes great things possible.

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.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

“Bloom where you are planted.” –Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

When I first read this quote, I had no idea that it was initially written by St. Francis de Sales.  In fact, it was a regular old day in the Paris metro, when I saw a sticker placed on the dreary grey walls of the underground tunnel leading from one metro station to the other.  It first caught my eye because it was written in English and was printed in cheerful, bright colors.  For some reason it has stuck with me all these years.

When thinking about what to write for today’s blog post, my mind kept coming back to all of those men and women who are living difficult lives and yet smiling through it.  We all know them, be they a grandmother, neighbor or friend.  We meet them on the street or in the market and we already know their circumstances: difficulty finding a job, family member battling a tough disease, suffering depression or just struggling daily to make ends meet because they make very little at the only job they could secure for themselves.  But somehow, they manage to smile when they greet us; they ask us how we are doing and seem genuinely concerned.  They are the kind of people who do what they can with what they have.   Then, instead of complaining about the missing parts, they look for solid solutions and opportunities to improve their lot.

I’d like to thank them all, wherever they may be and most of all; I’d like them to know how much they mean to me.  You see, perseverance is a form of encouragement.  Doing the right thing is a way of encouraging others to do the same.  When I see a friend or stranger who clearly lives by the principle “Bloom where you are planted”; I am inspired to try too to make the best of the conditions I have.

I don’t write this to say that it is wrong to feel discouraged.  I understand completely that there are times that we feel like we are spinning our wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.  I know what it’s like to work on a project only to see that it isn’t growing as fast as I know it needs to.  There are times that I wonder what kind of impact one person can make on issues as broad as poverty, human rights or showing others the infinite possibilities there are for a continent as rich in resources and talent as Africa is.

Sunflowers

Yet, it seems that each time I find my mind entertaining these thoughts which enter like a cloud blocking the sunlight; that little light pierces through in the form of a person who is doing it: blooming where they are planted.  And by means of their tenacity, they inspire me to do the same.  They also remind me that a field of flowers is made up of single blooms which happen to be in the same location.

So, as we work to help others, let us also remember to help each other along the way.  I know how much it has helped me to know good people like Geoff, Nigel, Freweini, Neritia and the many others who inspire me to do what I can do and understand that it might not be enough to “change the world”; but that it does have some impact, even if just to be one of the many flowers which make up a field that is in full bloom.

Blessings,

Mama

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

Iceland Offers Geothermal Energy Training to Kenyans

This video has a list of things I love: sustainable energy that actually produces results, education, information exchange which serves to make African countries self-sufficient AND women from Kenya… what’s not to love?

Its only about 11 minutes long and it is SO worth watching.  Grab a cup of our fairtrade African coffee or tea and take a few minutes to learn about this neat project that finds Kenyan students wearing big jackets in Iceland! 🙂

Resilient Rwandan Women Inspire Me!

Here, girls train to make traditional banana leaf fiber art

It has been a little over 10 years since I first heard from Béatrice of Mbwira Ndumva in Kigali, Rwanda. I, like many of you, had seen the horrific and saddening images of Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.  Like most people, I wondered how life could ever return to normal for those who survived such large-scale devastation. Many of us also asked how in the world those who were lucky enough to survive would be able to find the courage to go on, much less to rebuild a nation.

But one thing is true of the Rwandan people: they did not lose hope! They almost immediately began working to move forward and build new lives. Mothers who lost their children in the genocide decided to become caretakers to orphans who lost their parents in the same tragic way. Sisters, aunts and grandmothers began taking in their young relatives. Many others showed an act of love by doing the same selfless gesture with strangers’ children. The already poor offered to make even greater sacrifices to welcome those who were in need.

For over 10 years now, the Mbwira Ndumva Initiative has been working with women day in and day out to: teach them marketable skills, help them heal both physically and psychologically, and to find the hope and the means to start rebuilding the social fabric which was torn apart during the months of mayhem and killing: the family. The women who make up the initiative are loving and hard-working women who are doing their best to ensure a better future for Rwanda’s women and children.

As the years went by, they offered hope to women and children who had lost everything. Eventually, they implemented a program (now suspended due to a lack of donors), which provided microloans to women for a period of one year. This $25 allowed beneficiaries to start new lives for themselves through training and the purchase of the necessary items to start their own businesses. Mama Afrika joins Mbwira Ndumva in praying that it is able to be launched again someday soon.

When Mama first started buying cards and donating funds to this incredible organization, their focus was on women and orphans of the 1994 genocide. Today, in addition to the 700 members that they work to support; there are now an additional 500 women with HIV or AIDS, over 40 young orphan girls and 40 very poor children who also depend on this organization for things such as education, professional training and counseling. They would love your help in caring for some of Rwanda’s women and children.

Your donation to their efforts will allow them to continue to serve the greatest number of people possible. And you can feel good about purchases made at MamaAfrika.com because Mama is going to stay with this great group of women until there are no more Rwandan women and children in need. We look forward to the day when the word “Rwanda” makes people think of prosperity, peace and an example of how empowered women make all of the difference between poverty and prosperity. In all honesty, I can imagine that day clearly and I’m sure that with your help; we’ll get there. After all, the Rwandan women we know are such hard working, creative women that with a little help… it’s inevitable!

If you make a monetary donation, you can select Mbwira Ndumva and Mama will get 100% of your donation to them so that they can continue the incredible work that they are doing!
We sell their Christmas cards  Now, we hope that, with your help, we’ll have a “Sold Out” soon!

Love,

Mama

Love is Not a Big Thing; It’s a Million Little Things

I’ve spent time on this blog talking about politics, sustainable development, women’s issues, AIDS and even recipes.  I’ve interviewed people I really respect like Freweini Ghebresadick and I’ve even interviewed world leaders like President Kagame of Rwanda.  But, today I want to talk about something simple, yet completely transformational: Love.  Without it, life can be a dark place to be.  With it, all things are possible.
Yesterday, I passed the day playing tourist with my family.  When I entered a little shop, I noticed that they sold lots of those little signs that you hang here or there which have sayings about life on them.  You know.  The ones like “Friends gather here”, “Live, laugh, love” and others like that.  But then I saw one which really caught my eye and made me think of Africa: “Love is not a big thing; it’s a million little things”.  Granted, I’m sure that the person who painted that little sign had something else in mind when they painted it; but life is about perspective, isn’t it?  And for me, it was the inspiration for this blog post.

I’m often asked why I have dedicated so many years of my life to Africa.  I have a decent education and could have done a lot of other jobs that pay a pretty good salary after all, right?  I speak a couple of languages, have traveled to a few countries and have been offered a job or two along the way.  But, why do I continue to work for virtually nothing in order to help children, most of whom I’ve never met in person?  Why have I been up burning the midnight oil worried about sales, working on new projects, creating new partnerships or praying for families in Rwanda, Ghana or Lesotho?
In short, what gives me such a deep love of Africa?  Well, love is not a big thing; it’s a million little things.  It’s the smiling faces of women and children like Janet and her son in Kampala.  It’s the pain in the hearts and voices of our cooperative members in Lesotho who have lost so many family members and friends over the years to AIDS.  It’s reading a letter from girls in Rwanda whose lives have been changed so much because their adoptive mothers could put food on the table… and knowing how much a little thing like selling a pack of their greeting cards changes for them after losing everyone in the genocide years ago.  Love is hundreds of sales made to hundreds of people who wanted to do their part after hearing about the weavers, carvers, farmers and other cooperative members we work with.
Love is Cori doing her shopping for her nieces and nephews each Christmas to help them feel tied to their father’s native country of Ghana.  It’s not a giant check for $10,000; but it is the million times she talks about fair trade with her friends and family, sips a cup of our Red Bush Tea or is sincerely excited to see what kind of Christmas ornaments our cooperative in Uganda created this year.  You see, Cori’s million little things are what will change Africa’s future.  Each seemingly small gest adds up to what matters: Love.
I used to love the saying: Love is a verb.  I still do I guess.  But, now that I’ve heard this new quote, I think I prefer it even more.  After all, how is a great romance lived if not through a million little memories which total up to a big love?  How do you raise children, except through a million little conversations, gestures, meals and acts of kindness?  In the end, they total a big experience called parenthood.  Friendships, the kinds that really matter to us, are made up of millions of small cups of tea shared and all of those many moments lost in laughter, tears, support and concern.  It isn’t because she bought you a giant gift at Hanukkah or because she lent you a lot of money when you really needed it.  Sure, those things are helpful and even memorable.  But, real friendships are built on a million little things.  Just as we look back on those little things when we reach the end of our life; just as we can’t make bread without that little pinch of salt… life is made of the small things.
I don’t love my children simply because I gave birth to them.  I love each of them because of their own “million little things”: the way #1 works so hard, yet plays so hard; the way #2 reminds me of old African storytellers and has the beauty of a Roman goddess; the way #3 is talented beyond measure and the way that little #4 has courage and strength way beyond her very young age.  I could go on listing for hours.  My love for Africa is no different.
I love Africa because of the deserts crossed regularly by the Tuareg families headed by people like Boubacar, who taught me so much about the art of leather-work and jewelry we occasionally carry.  I love Africa for because of the beauty of Zulu women like Elizabeth, when her eyes light up as she laughs. My love for Africa comes from knowing how eloquent the Ghanaian’s like Dominic are when they speak.  The style is absolutely charming every time and often makes me think of the great orators of history.  None of that rushed, hurried, get-to-the-point kind of conversation had in the West; but instead, almost prose inspired ways of saying “How are you Sister, since we last spoke?” in a way that only someone from Ghana can.  I love Africa for the incredible history in places like Lalibela, Ethiopia and the breathtaking beauty of its ancient Coptic churches. I love Africa for its diversity: of ethnicity, of cultures, of religions, of geography of foods, of people.  I love Africa for the ancient empires like that of the Great Zimbabwe as much as for the modern day Zimbabweans who grow those delicious beans in my daily cup of coffee.

Carved out of rock, then hollowed out to form a beautiful Coptic Orthodox church, Lalibela Ethiopia is one of many reasons I love Africa.

Even if there might be some “big ones” that others site, I love Africa for a million little reasons.  What are a couple of your million little reasons to love Africa?  I’d love to hear them!

Love, Mama

Letter from Mama to Mr. Mandela

There will inevitably be a thousand blog posts today wishing Nelson Mandela a happy 94th birthday.  I, of course, join them in their happy birthday song.  But, more importantly, I would like to write a thank you letter from the bottom of my heart:

July 18, 2012

Dear Mr. Mandela,

We’ve never met, although I feel like you are part of my family.  Being from Eritrea, there are a lot of my family members I’ve never met, or can hardly remember because it has been so long since I saw them last. With a 30-plus year fight for independence and now a dictatorship that I feel obligated to speak out against… I don’t think I’ll be seeing my home soil anytime soon.  But, I know their names and their characters through those stories told to me by the family elders.  Like my aunt who worked so hard to raise her children, and later her grandchildren.  Like my grandfather who was chief of our village and who taught my mother to always give to the poor, even if it meant cutting her last piece of bread in two.  Like the dozens who died in the struggle for independence and those who have been imprisoned since simply for their desire for real open dialog in our nation.

We might not have been born into the same family; but I have heard stories of your life, your sacrifice for others and your desire for us to learn from your example.  I remember learning that you were going to leave your seat as president to the next person, peacefully, respectfully and with the hope that it would teach Africa’s children what democracy was about… what it was really about… that even the greatest leaders were intended to just be passing through.

I wish that all of Africa’s leaders followed your example.  I wish that we all, as individual Africans wherever we might live, thought of others before ourselves.  If all of us had just a little of you in our hearts, our continent would certainly have already reached part of its potential sooner.

I would like to thank you for lighting the road ahead that sometimes seems dark and long.  I would like to thank you for being someone who took his position as a future elder seriously.  We are all future elders; it’s just that some seem to know it even in their youth, like you.

Let’s face it; you are not just an African hero.  You are a super-hero and the only thing you lack is a cape.  But what makes you such an incredible family member to be proud of is your humility.  Yes, you know what role you played.  Yes, you know you come from a part of the world where it is so easy to abuse that fame and power in order to glorify yourself in the end.  But you walked, and continue to walk, the high road.  You decided instead to be an example that shines so brightly that it lights the way for Africa’s children, grandchildren and beyond.

I am just an African woman who tries to help in her own tiny way.  I see your example and know that I’ll probably never reach the number of people that you do or have the impact that you have.  But, I thank you from the bottom of my heart as a woman, as a mother and as a fellow African.  Thank you for giving me hope that one day, all of Africa’s children will look to your example as a formula for success:  “Make every day a Mandela day” is the perfect way to build our cities and villages to represent the Africa of our elders.

Thank you for being my elder and loving my children enough to show them by example.

Love,

Mama Afrika

PS: Here is a short note from a couple of your many granddaughters,

“Dear Mr. Mandela. How are you doing? You did very well by saving South Africa. Today, I am going to make thank you cards for the police officers and firefighters because they keep us safe.  Love, A-” (Age: 5)

“Dear Mr. Mandela, I think what you did was very brave and courageous.  You stood by your beliefs and it paid off.  Thank you for thinking of others who can’t help themselves. I am going to do something today to help others… “ (A.R., age 12)

In honor of his 67 years spent fighting Apartheid, Mr. Mandela asks us to give 67 minutes (in lieu of a birthday gift)… 67 minutes spent doing something to make the world a better place. So, what are YOU doing to make a difference this Mandela Day?