Via Sir Nigel: Operation of Hope offers free cleft surgeries-29 July

I’m sure that many of you know how much I like stopping over at Nigel’s blog to see what he’s up to in Zimbabwe.  Here is something I just had to share with you.  If you know anyone who could benefit from the good work that Operation of Hope will be doing in Harare this summer… be sure to spread the word!

 

Dear Friends:

Please help us get the word out to anyone (regardless of age) that is in need of free cleft surgery-

Cleft palate: hole in the roof of the mouth
Cleft lip: slit at the lip

Operation of Hope is a 23 year old foundation and has performed more than 3,000 free surgeries in people in need. Consisting of all volunteers, this surgical team has been in Zimbabwe since 2006 and has performed more than 550 free surgeries at NO cost to the patient and their families.

If you know of someone in need of cleft surgery, please bring have them bring all pertaining medical records on Screening Day, Sunday, July 29th, 2012 by 8:30 am to Harare Central Hospital- (paeds ward)
Please contact Jennifer Trubenbach, President of Operation of Hope if you have questions and/or concerns.

Warmest regards,
Jennifer

http://www.operationofhope.org

 

Nige, thanks again for always taking the time to share good news with us.

And to the folks at Operation of Hope: THANK you for your good works in Africa!

Love,

Mama

Advertisements

(We’re) All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day, a day to celebrate all of those saints, both known and unknown.  Regardless of whether you are celebrating the holiday today or not though; there is certainly something to be learned from it.  You see, saints are those who have shown the way.  They are ordinary people who came into the world in the same way that you or I did.  Some were born rich, others poor.  Some were particularly gifted; others had great physical deformities which made their lives particularly difficult.

But, all of them have one thing I common: they overcame obstacles while walking the on the high road.  You see, it isn’t some angel that comes down from heaven and makes you a saint by decree.  These people were just that: people.

What makes us different in the end? It certainly isn’t our potential because we all have that.  I’d argue that it’s our choices. Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to act with patience or kindness when the person we have facing us is particularly difficult, crass or disrespectful.  We know the “right thing to do”; but we tend to be focused on our own goals, our own pride, our own needs and those daily struggles which seem to sometimes remove our ability to see the much greater picture.  It is part of being human after all.

Let me be very clear: I am not writing this in an attempt to convert you to a different religion or to burden you with guilt. What I want you to know though is that the reason that saints are so wonderfully important to me is that they show me what can be done… because they have done it.

Superheroes in their capes are great fun.  But because they are fictional characters, they are only that: fun.  We can dress up to look like them; but it doesn’t make us able to fly or shoot spider webs from our hands.

Saints though have done those things that we strive to do and they’ve done it under the harshest of circumstances.  The one thing they all have in common is that they didn’t let go of their belief of what is right.  So, whether you believe in literal saints or not and regardless of how or to whom you pray; isn’t this something that we can all agree on: Miracles are possible and regular people are the tools that make it happen.

Many of you have worked to improve the lives of others, some of whom you will never meet.  To those people, you were saints. Perhaps you (like me!) wouldn’t want people to know all of the errors you’ve committed in life. You might not want to have your mistakes printed in the local newspaper.  The thing is that is why you are human.  I know I’d never come close to passing even the most rudimentary stages of the scrutiny involved in attaining sainthood! But, I can say that I look to the perfect example of how to be and it inspires me to know that even I can be a concrete tool for the creation of good things in the life of someone else.

When I imagine myself throwing a dinner party for a group of saints, I think of whom I’d like to have next to me for interesting dinner conversation and many of you would be invited. Among my guest list would be a few friends like Geoff, Nigel, Kathleen, Tomas, Ida, Paul, Dominic, Freweini… Hmm, now that I think about it: It would have to be a really large dinner table!

There are hundreds of people whose paths have crossed mine over the years who have made me strive to work harder, smarter and more faithfully to improve the lives of African women and children.  There are those who simply stopped to encourage me along my own journey.  Many others skipped one of life’s little pleasures in order to make a small donation to our cause.  I’ve met women who decided to offer their own child one less gift for their birthday or at Hanukkah or Christmas in order to donate so that one of our coop members could see her child receive a present or school supplies.  We have received orders for multiple gift baskets with a note that says that someone is committing to only offering fair and ethically traded gifts to their friends and family.  Some businesses decide to throw an office party using our larger gift baskets instead of offering small individual gifts to their employees.

Then there are those who pray for our women, fundraise for them or invite me to come speak so that we can spread the word about concrete and efficient ways to help. Every single person who acts is a piece of the puzzle. Every individual is a saint to us.

Happy All Saints Day everyone and thanks so much for each act, each purchase and each voice… we’d be nowhere without them!

Love,

Mama

The Root Causes of Famine

Regularly, there they are… those same images.  Sure the faces change and occasionally, so do the names of the countries affected.  But at the end of the day, it’s the same story: millions of people starving to death.  As someone who has been working to alleviate poverty for years now; I can tell you that many of the root causes are the same.

This is the first time that the international community has used the term “famine” since almost a million Ethiopians died of starvation in 1984.  And, as with that situation, we could see the lead-up and it was clearly predictable.

One issue is rarely discussed during the “panic stage” of the immediate crisis is bad land policy and goodness knows there is enough to talk about where that subject is concerned!  With better land policy, many governments could avoid facing the cyclical problem of starvation, food aid, starvation…  Instead, so many are content to defend the redistribution (forcibly) of the land of small family-owned farms giving millions of acres to foreign governments instead of investing in local farmers who will produce food not only for their own families; but for the nation at large.

The biggest losers in this continually bad decision making process are women and children.  Women produce 80% to 90% of Africa’s food and that means that no one eats if African women aren’t given the tools that they need to be successful.  Land is the most basic of those needs.  Unfortunately, only 5% of all titled land belongs to women in Africa and the same percentage applies to women in training and extended services.  So, the numbers are simply turned on their heads: 90% of food production by women; yet more than 90% of the time, they are not who governments look to help.  This is bad math, plain and simple.

So, understanding that women are the backbone of domestic food production, one wonders why there is little or no technical support for these women farmers.  It is even more worrisome once you learn that in places where women are targeted through even small pilot programs which encourage (and train) women to have small plots of land called “city gardens”; food production increases.  This is a huge benefit for their children who then have access to more nutrition.  Many of us who work in development in Africa can tell you that investing in women produces real and lasting results.  It is a sad shame that so many international organizations and government don’t seem to get the point!

I’m certainly not an expert on the subject; but I think that the most important things to address if we really want to solve the problem in the long-term are these:

  • Women must have independent access to land if we want to eradicate poverty.  With ownership, they will gain the ability to make decisions and get loans among other things.
  • Lack of human rights, women’s rights among them, is an issue that might not come to mind immediately when thinking about famine; but it is certainly a relevant topic.  Consider the following:
    • Currently, even amid one of the worst famines in decades, the Islamist group, Al-Shabaab of Somalia is refusing to allow food to be delivered to the starving, considering aid agencies as “infidels”.  Many governmental organizations (in the U.S. and elsewhere) are concerned (legitimately, in my view)
    • Flashback to the past:  This problem isn’t anything new or original.  Using the poor as a weapon is done more often than you may know.  During the terrible famine in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopian government refused to allow aid through to Eritrea (before Eritrea got independence.) arguing that it could fall into the hands of “the enemy”.
    • Acts such as burning trees, crops, etc. in order to prevent people from supporting rebel or government forces is an all too common “weapon” used during conflicts.  Act such as these can even cause or exacerbate famine, even more so if there is a drought.
  • It is simply not possible to have food security without general security.  How can we expect crop returns to matter in areas where people are fleeing from conflict or being chased out of their homes and villages? The lists of countries is a long one; but one need look no further than the Horn of Africa for starters.  But the same has been true in many parts of the continent.
  • The lack of long-term planning creates strong, powerful “aid” agencies.  But, who is ultimately being aided?  It seems a fair assessment to state that the creation of hundreds of high-paying jobs in the humanitarian sector is not what will aid the development of Africa and improve the lives of women or their families.
  • Rural credit access must be available to women as well as training and information concerning markets, etc.
  • High global food prices are making (and will continue to make) buying food aid even more difficult.  We keep hearing about this; but isn’t it even more important to ask ourselves why on earth food aid is being brought in from countries like the United States when there are African countries able to export food instead?  It seems like a pretty common sense solution after all: Let the women of one African nation provide food for others who need it.  Even in urgent situations where food aid is needed; why aren’t international organizations supporting regional African farmers so that they can further prevent poverty for Africans?
  • Development policies which consider the specific needs of women (versus men).  Policies crafted around men’s needs are not always the most efficient or helpful for women; so why aren’t women being consulted at local, national and international levels when policy is being developed?

 

This is an old problem and we are in need of new thinking.  We must stop repeating the errors of the past and expected new results.  That is after all, the very definition of insanity, right?

OK, so now is the most important part: Tell me YOUR viewpoint!  As I always say: “Everyone has something to add to the discussion! Let us talk, then, get to work on the long-term solutions”
Love,

Mama

Its Our 10 Year Anniversary!

10 Years Later…

 

Where does the time go? Despite spending the past few months getting ready for our 10th anniversary celebration; I still can’t seem to believe that I’ve been doing this for 10 years already! It sounds completely cliché I’m sure; but it is still true: It feels like yesterday that I got my first sample of baskets in the mail from Africa! 10 years… it’s crazy!

One of the 1st cooperatives Mama started working with (Ghana)

So, where has the time gone? Well, over the years, we’ve managed to rebuild houses, invest in tree planting, pay for the training of new cooperative members, send eyeglasses, school supplies and textbooks to countries across the continent. We’ve made donations to the elderly, the sick and to many schools. We have added new product categories and made so very many new friends.

I’ve been invited to speak and teach in local schools, international festivals and to groups like the Rotary Club. I’ve hugged cooperative members and dear friends like Paul from Uganda, Elizabeth from South Africa and been blessed with the cheerful attitude of now world-renowned artist Janet Akii-Bua of Uganda.

Over the years, I have answered questions such as “What is a dictator?” and yes, even offered help to the occasional German, Canadian or American high school or college student when they were stumped on their homework. I’ve listened to people’s excitement about their recent trip to Africa and heard tales of a passing conversation about an issue related to African women.

I’ve sold our products online, in a shop, at a booth on a military base, and yes once even from the trunk of my car (desperate times call for desperate measures… and this lady was desperate for a gift!).

We’ve increased our product lines and the number of countries we trade with. We’ve sold hundreds of baskets, pounds of chocolate, dozens and dozens of carvings and you know what? We are just getting started!

I’ve learned many lessons, made many great connections and even more dear friends. Yes, 10 years seems like such a long time… but I’m in this for the long haul. One woman at a time, one product at a time… we are going to relieve poverty and increase opportunity for African families.

Join me and our cooperatives for another 10 years of smiles, great African art, coffees, teas and chocolates. I promise you that you haven’t seen anything yet! We’re just getting warmed up!

Remember we can help African women live better lives: one sale at a time!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for your support over the last 10 years,

Love,

Mama

** This post was originally written for MamaAfrika.com ‘s Grand Re-Opening.  Be sure to stop by and see what else is new on the site!

My Quest for Africa in Europe Begins

Last week, we packed up most of the family, my giant puppy and 15 pieces of luggage and headed to France for the summer.  Once at LAX, I noticed something that I rarely pay any attention to; but picked up on immediately since deciding to document a bit of the Africa-Europe connection for the blog: African faces make up a part of the truly French experience.

Here is a small snippet to help you understand better:

When we reached the Air France counter at LAX, (our 4 carts stacked high with luggage in tow), I was greeted with the huge smile of a man who says: “Bonjour Madame! Ou allez-vous avec ce petite famille et un chien si beau?”[1]  Now, to those who are not francophone or who haven’t lived in France that would have been a nice airline employee asking if he could help.  But to me, who immediately recognized the accent and knew that generally speaking, that level of engagement with strangers is a no-no in French culture… I was secretly entering the France-Afrique connection a bit early.  He asked me where I was from and I knew instinctively that he didn’t mean what part of the US.  I answered Eritrea and he smiled even bigger.  You see, it was his job to tell me what counter to check in at, period.  And had he been most (there are always exceptions!) employees of Air France- or any other large company for that matter- he’d have done just that.  But, once he told me that I was his sister from the East, I understood.  From that point on, my family and I got a little extra kindness.  He even went to get tissues to literally wipe the drool from my puppy so that he “didn’t walk around embarrassing himself in front of the other dogs”.  I felt at home. Standing in that huge airport surrounded by hundreds of people passing this way and that… I was at home.

This kind North African was so gracious to my family and my giant puppy that you would have thought he’d invited us into his home for tea.  He petted the dog each time he passed by, made faces at our youngest daughter and gave our eldest a speech about finishing her studies before she even started to think about boys.  He was more like an uncle than a man working for an airline who just happened to be on duty when the doors to Terminal 2 opened.

Many people imagine France as a land of white Europeans who walk around the streets of Paris looking chic and smoking cigarettes.  Yes, that is a part of France.  But, like all things, France is multidimensional, layered and complex.  And this kind man from North Africa is a part of the France I know and love so much.  He is part of the African face of Europe.  Not the young thug who acts like an idiot on the to the train or metro, not the terrorist who goes off to Pakistan from London to join al Qaeda, not the man who forces his wife to wear a veil… but a smiling happy and kind man who calls France home and said to my husband as we walked away after thanking him for being the one who began our journey to France with such incredible kindness: “C’est normal après tout… entre Gaulois”.[2]

This experience marked the beginning of my quest for Africa in Europe… and it happened while still on American soil.

I’ll be blogging more of my adventures; so keep in touch!


[1] Translation: “Where are you taking your little family and such a beautiful dog?”

[2] An interesting reference to the special relationship between French natives; which he clearly felt despite his African origins.  He clearly felt completely tied to French culture, not just citizenship.

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

International Women’s Day: Support or Discrimination?

There are a few questions that are posed to me often when I’m invited to speak about the women’s cooperatives that I work with.  One of these concerns the fact that we trade exclusively with women’s cooperatives.  It is asked in a myriad of ways; but its core is the same.  Why would I choose to focus on women when men are also living in poverty?  Are girl children really of more value and worth investing in more than young boys?  Why does Mama insist that at least 80% of the cooperative members are women; don’t men need work too?

First of all, I’d like to say that there is certain compassion and a sense of equality implied in the question that is both honorable and to be applauded.  But, I think that it is incredibly important to put this into its proper perspective.  Here is a quote that states the real situation for many African (and other) women on the ground:

“Six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women who must, as the primary family caretakers and producers of food, shoulder the burden of tilling land, grinding grain, carrying water and cooking. This is no easy burden. In Kenya, women can burn up to 85 percent of their daily calorie intake just fetching water.

Yet some 75 percent of the world’s women cannot get bank loans because they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership. This is one reason why women comprise more than 50 percent of the world’s population but own only one percent of the world’s wealth,” (UN Development Program).

You see, it isn’t about competition between the sexes or putting men under women in status or importance.  For me, it is about two things in essence: leveling the playing field and giving families and communities a better chance by investing where we’ve seen that it pays off the best.  I won’t enter a discussion accusing men of this or that; frankly I don’t see the point of it.  I could begin listing statistics which talk about the rates of spousal abuse, etc.; but I don’t see what is gained in it.  After all, I am an African woman who has a son, a brother, uncles and cousins who are all wonderful, generous African men.  I don’t see that there is much benefit in painting a negative image of African men in a world where Black men in general already have certain stereotypes that I’d love to see changed.

On the other hand, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the kind of person who believes in saying things as they are: directly and honestly (sometimes to a fault).  For ten years now, I have been working with African women’s cooperatives and other organizations (run and managed by women) which are working to improve the lives of women most in need.  I also know the fabric of African society is woven by women.  It is their ability to network, share and focus on others that makes them the group that I reach out to first.

For years now, I’ve seen African women do what they do best: cooperate for the collective good.  When people ask me why Mama doesn’t give donations to large organizations which already have programs in the countries we work in, I tell them that I prefer to work with small-women run organizations which know how to “turn a dollar into five”.  Somehow, like Jesus multiplying the loaves; African women seem able to produce miracles.

I’ve seen it with the hundreds of women in Rwanda who took in 5 or 10 orphans at a time after themselves losing their entire families in the genocide.  I’ve heard it from women like Elizabeth in South Africa who talked to me years ago about how she only has chicken bones to boil and make broth; but still shares it with the children in the village whose mothers have even less.  I know it because of the countless women who walk hours each day to collect water for their children, work in the hot African sun to grow their food, weave baskets during the dry season in Ghana to supplement their income and work hard despite the fact that they have AIDS or malaria so that their children can get an education.

Women, I’d argue are hard-wired to care for their children above themselves.  Of course there are exceptions; but as the expression goes “the exception doesn’t cancel the rule”.

I know some feel that men are marginalized in the process; but here is what I say to them: Men were once boys… and boys are raised by mothers.  Invest in women and you invest in the family.

The numbers are all there if you seek them out. Investment in women does in fact yield greater results for the whole family than investment in their male counterparts.  But, as an African woman, I don’t need the UN’s statistics to tell me what I’ve seen and known my whole life.  I have been called to work with Africa’s most impoverished in a way that helps women and children; and I cannot in good conscience do anything else.

God willing, I’ll still be here in ten years telling you that we’ve been able to make an even greater impact on thousands more women.  And with your help and support, one cup of coffee at a time, one glass of tea at a time and one basket at a time… we’ll get there.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to salute all of the beautiful, inspirational and hard-working women I’ve been blessed to know and work for over the years.  To you Janet Akii-Bua of Uganda who always has a smile, rain or shine.  To you Beatrice Mukansinga who decided to do one small thing for your fellow Rwandan women only to see it grow into a tree that provides shade to so many.  To you women who weave such beautiful baskets in the warm African sun so that your children can eat today.  To you girls and women in Lesotho who inspire me to work through adversity as you face HIV and AIDS with such courage and integrity.

To women everywhere and to the men who understand that International Women’s Day isn’t about competition with men; but about encouraging and supporting women to be better so that they can help both their daughters and sons be better in turn.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

Love,

Mama

My silence explained… (via Sir Nigel’s Journey…)

Last year, Nigel was a guest at Mama’s Round Table and promised to keep us updated on his progress after moving back to Zimbabwe from the U.K.. Its been a couple of months since his move home and now he’s found the time to tell us what he’s been up to.

I found his blog post an interesting reminder that day to day life often puts politics into perspective, even if politics does greatly influence one’s daily life in the end.

Thanks Nigel! And keep the updates coming 🙂

Love, Mama

I haven’t blogged properly in almost 2 months now. And if you’re wondering why the silence – sadly and unfortunately I wasn’t kidnapped by ‘’Mugar-be’s Firing Squad’’ as reported on SKY News late last week! I simply took some time out from writing to fully appreciate and familiarise myself with my ‘new’ surroundings. I’ve moved back home now and I’ve spent the majority of my time settling in, spending time with family, networking, adjusting to my … Read More

via Sir Nigel’s Journey…

Interview with President Kagame of Rwanda, Part Two

Click here if you missed the first part of Mama’s interview with President Kagame.

PART TWO:

6. “No man is an island.” What women in your life most shaped your world view and influenced you?

I have been influenced mostly by the injustice that I lived in my childhood and youth. There are women who worked hard in difficult circumstances – like the mothers in refugee camps who raised families in desperate conditions, and our female comrades fought beside us to liberate Rwanda. Their acts of courage and bravery are a continuing inspiration.  I greatly admire the women of Rwanda and how they have taken up the task of building a new country after total devastation – they are a big part of why Rwanda is where it is today. I also have a wonderful partner in my wife Jeannette, who works tirelessly through the Imbuto Foundation to educate and empower women and girls.

7. I would imagine that one of the biggest challenges to leading a nation which has seen the devastating effects of hate speech; is to then find a balance between freedom and restraint.  Considering Rwanda’s history, how have you walked the delicate line between respecting human rights such as freedom of speech and preventing hateful speech from again dividing your nation?

I think the answer has been in writing a comprehensive constitution. We looked at many constitutions and also involved citizens in determining what would serve them best, considering the experience they had just gone through and how they lived harmoniously together before colonial dislocation. Today we make sure that that constitution is strictly adhered to. Only those who do not understand today’s Rwanda and Rwandans, or those feel they have a right to influence how Rwanda should be governed, talk about lack of freedom of speech.

8. I’ve noticed a certain duality in your leadership style.  On the one hand, you have reached back to Rwanda’s traditions to implement solutions such as the Gacaca courts; yet you are also utilizing high-tech solutions like Twitter to communicate.  How do you think Africa in general, and Rwanda in particular, can best manage the natural conflict sometimes caused when tradition and new ideas meet?

I seek out the best of everything, in tradition and in modernity. I am relatively new to tweeting but I really like the way it allows me to talk directly to people all around the world about everything from African politics to Arsenal, my favourite football team. Similarly, the traditional Gacaca court system helped us try a huge number of genocide cases quickly but, more importantly, it also helped reconcile and unite Rwandans after an incredibly painful period in our history.

9. “Africa for Africans” is a phrase that is used by some to mean that Africa shouldn’t be “recolonized” by China.  For others, it means that Westerners shouldn’t be the ones that dictate the solutions to Africa’s problems.  Others use it to mean we should look invest in our African children in the hope that they will be our future problem solvers.  What does the phrase mean to you, Mr. President?

It means Africans determining their own destiny. We truly value the support and friendship with partner countries, including China and other countries in the West and elsewhere but ultimately, Africans alone must shape the future of this continent. By giving our children the best possible education and health facilities we are not only giving them the best start in life – but ensuring Africa’s continued dignity, development and transformation. This is the only way for us to be on equal footing with the rest of the world.

10. Please forgive me for asking such an unsophisticated question to a man of your status.  But, it has become a tradition here at Mama’s Round Table, and if you’ll allow it; I’d like to ask you the same question that I ask all of my guests: If you could wave a magic wand over Rwanda and change one thing; what would it be?

I would rid Rwanda of all poverty so that everyone, regardless of background or birth, were able to enjoy all the opportunities that this wonderful country, and our abundant continent hold.

Again, thank you so much Mr. President for your time and candor.  I am sure that no matter where people stand on the issues that we’ve discussed, they would join me in thanking you for sharing your time, views and opinions with us.  As for me, I look forward to another 10 years of work with the wonderful people of Rwanda.  May God bless your beautiful nation with a wonderful and prosperous future.

Feel free to share your views with us in the comments section below. This is a round table after all and all voices are welcome!

Blessings,

Mama

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