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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The Clever Farmer, an African Fable

One day a farmer decided to take his cow to the market to be sold. When he met the merchant, he greeted him and told him he had a cow he wished to sell. The merchant asked how much he wanted for his cow, to which the farmer replied “Fifty measures of grain”. The merchant began to laugh and said that the farmer must be a fool to ask such a price since the cow was only worth a single measure of grain.

The two began to barter the price and their tempers rose as the argument continued. A crowd began to gather around the two men. Then the farmer said that he wasn’t a fool; because no fool could know where the center of the earth was or how many stars there were in the heavens.

The merchant got very angry and tried to punch him. At this point a few men in the crowd took both of the men to the judge so that he could decide.

The judge heard the version of both men then turned to the farmer to ask “If you are able to tell us the number of stars in the sky and where the center of the earth is; then here is your chance.” The farmer paused and reached for his cane which he lifted and plunged deep into the ground. “This is the center of the earth”, he said, “and anyone who can prove the contrary is welcome to do so now.

He then reached down and took a handful of dust from the ground. “The number of stars in the heavens is equal to the number of dust particles in my hand and anyone who can prove me wrong is welcome to speak now.”

The judge understood that he was dealing with a very clever man. So he ordered the merchant to pay the clever farmer fifty measures of grain for his cow.

Eritrean Fable: Even the Flies and Spiders

“Mother, I hate spiders and flies!” said the prince. The queen replied wisely, “There is a purpose for everything God made.”

Although he knew his mother was a wise woman, he doubted her words this time. After all, what purpose could either of those annoying creatures serve? He continued his day, giving it no more thought.

A month passed and something very horrible happened. There was a rebellion in the kingdom and the king’s family was killed. The only one to escape was the young prince. He knew that his enemies were not far behind him and that they would never let him escape. Having the prince alive would mean that he could one day gather an army to take the king’s place and rule the land.
He decided to go and live with an uncle who lived far away. He traveled only at night and through the countryside so that he would not be seen. But he soon learned that they were close behind. If only he could make it through one more day of travel, he would reach the safety of his uncle’s home.

On the last day he reached an open place with a small water hole where he could rest and take a drink. The long days of travel had made him quite tired; so soon he was asleep leaning comfortably against a tree.

A few hours passed and a fly landed on his face. He shooed it away; but it came back again and again. Finally, annoyed by the fly he opened his eyes and saw his enemies approaching in the distance. He had been sleeping so well that he didn’t hear them coming.

So, he jumped up and made his way into the hills as quickly as he could. There were many caves in the hills; so he chose one and made his way inside. He went deep into the cave and hid himself as best he could. Time passed and he heard his enemies talking outside of the cave.

One said to the other in a loud angry voice, “Don’t bother checking that one, can’t you see that there is a spider’s web? He could not have entered without disturbing the web and as you can see that the web isn’t broken! Let us leave and check the next cave!” So, they left and went to check the other caves.

As it turns out, just after he had entered the cave, a big spider had come to weave her web just at the cave’s opening. Since she was so large, it didn’t take her long to have a large web which covered most of the small opening.

As the prince escaped safely the next morning to his uncle’s home, he remembered the wise words of his mother. He wept remembering what she said each time that he had complained as a child saying he hated flies and spiders: “My dear son, there is a purpose for every creature God made… even the flies and the spiders.”

African Fable: How the Desert Came to Be

Kweku Ananse and his friend Akwasi were known to everyone to be very good farmers. They had such large farms that people came from all over to buy everything from them. As time passed they became rich.

Yet one year, everything turned bad as the rains stopped falling. Ananse and Akwasi didn’t know what to do. All the streams and rivers had dried up and people quit coming since there was nothing left to buy.

Akwasi decided to go to Nana Nyankopon, the creator of the universe, to solicit his help. So one morning, he called on Nana Nyankopon and said to him, “Nana, there has not been rain for a long time; so all the rivers and streams are dry. All the crops on my farm have dried up and wilted. Please, let me have some rain.”

God was touched and said to him, “I have delegated some of my work to people, because I get so tired of small requests all day long. I have given the chore of wind to Paa Kwesi, the chore of sunshine to Yeboah and the chore of rain to Nsiah, the hunchback. If you want rain, go and see Nsiah the hunchback and ask him to give you some rain.”

Akwasi was very happy and thanked Nyankopon. He went off to look for Nsiah, the hunchback. Eventually, he came across him sitting under a tree resting from the weighty task which God had given to him. Akwasi said hello then told him that God had sent him to ask the hunchback for rain. “If it is God who sent you, I cannot refuse. Take a small stick and beat my back” he said.
Aswasi picked two small sticks and gently tapped Nsiah’s back two times, thanked him and went home. In the morning, he went to his farm and sure enough, there had been a heavy spell of rain. All the plants were standing upright and green.

Ananse passed Akwasi’s farm the next morning and was so happy that he jumped up and down with joy. He punched the air and yelled “Yippee!” He thought the rain had fallen on his farm, too. But unfortunately when he got to his farm, he realized with shock that the rains had stopped at the boundary. There had not been any on his farm. But why had rains fallen on Akwasi’s farm? Surely, there must be an answer. He became suspicious of his friend and decided to go and ask him how on earth he got rains on his farm.

Akwasi did not want to tell Ananse about God’s rainmaker because of Ananse’s sly nature. But later he changed his mind, so he told Ananse about God’s rainmaker.
As soon as Ananse heard this, he too decided to go and look for the rainmaker. He combed the forest for many hours and at long last came upon him sitting under a tree taking a rest from the heavy task God had given him. As soon as Ananse saw him, he picked up a big stick and hit the hunchback’s back with all his might. The hunchback cried in pain. But Ananse continued hitting him at the back with all his might with the heavy club. The hunchback fell down panting, but still Ananse continued hitting him with brute force. After continuous beating, the hunchback lay still, not moving. Ananse called out to the hunchback, but there was no response. Ananse had killed the rainmaker. He had killed God’s rainmaker. He became frightened. “Oh dear, what have I done? I have killed God’s rainmaker.” He wanted to run, but realized that if he ran away he would put himself in difficult position. Because his friend Akwasi would know he had killed the rainmaker.
Ananse was so cunning though that, it wasn’t long before he came up with a solution. He picked up the dead body and went to hide it in the middle of a mango tree.
He then went to call on Akwasi and told him that he had seen a mango tree which was full of ripe mangoes. He told Akwasi that they should go and pick the mangoes. Akwasi liked mangoes very much but he was reluctant to go, because he didn’t trust Ananse. He later changed his mind and went with Ananse. When they got to the mango tree, Ananse told Akwasi to climb up the mango tree and shake it. So Akwasi climbed the mango tree and when he got to the top, started shaking it vigorously. Suddenly, there was a big crash. The body of God’s rainmaker had fallen from the tree top when Akwasi shook the tree. Ananse started shouting and wailing. “Akwasi, see what you have done. You have killed God’s rainmaker. He must have been hiding in the tree taking a rest from the heavy task that God had given him. See what you have done now, you have killed him. What will God say now?” Akwasi became confused; he didn’t know what to do.
He quietly got down from the tree; but then as he was getting down, his mind worked like lightening. He pretended to be shocked and said he was going to see God about it. Then, he went away. Ananse was very happy and jumped and clapped his hands. “Fool, I have put you into trouble. God will really punish you.” Little did Kwaku Ananse know that his friend Akwasi had gone to make a plan to teach Ananse that he wasn’t a fool after all.

Before long, Akwasi Owusu came back with some people and told Ananse that there was no problem at all. God was happy that the rainmaker was dead because he had been lazy at times and refused to work. “I am going to reward you for killing him” God said. Then Akwasi started singing and dancing happily. He said again that he had come with God’s messengers to carry the dead body to God. Ananse immediately became furious when he heard this. He said angrily “Look, Akwasi, don’t try to be too clever. I killed him! I was afraid God was going to punish me, that is why I hid the body in the tree. I am going to claim the reward.” So he carried the body on his shoulders and quickly went to God’s Palace to tell him that he had killed the hunchback and that he should be rewarded.

But when God heard the news He was so angry that he punished Ananse by never allowing rain to fall on his farm again. Ananse’s farm was where the desert is now.

Abu Nuwasi Sells His House, an African Fable

Abu Nuwasi built a two-story house for himself. He decided to live in the bottom and sold the top story to a merchant. After some years, he made the decision to move out of his house and live in a far-a-way town.

His hope was that the merchant who rented the upper story of his house would agree to buy the lower half so that Abu would have the means to build a new home elsewhere. But the greedy merchant refused Abu Nuwasi’s offer. The merchant hoped that if Abu could not find a buyer, he would simply leave anyway and the merchant would get the entire house for free.
After trying again to talk the merchant into buying the house with no success, Abu went to town. He returned with a dozen men whom he left outside and then went upstairs to talk to the merchant. “I have come to inform you that since I was unable to sell my part of the house I have hired some men to help me destroy it. I just wanted to let you know so that you could do what is needed to save your part.”

Needless to say, the greedy merchant changed his mind and decided to purchase the lower story from Abu Nuwasi at his original asking price and Abu was able to leave the town as planned.

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.

An Open Letter to the African Child

Dear African child,

On the one hand, I know you down to the most intimate of details.  You see, I have a few of you whom I’ve carried in my own womb.  I’ve fed you, cared for you when you were sick, worried when you were worried, cheered you on from the sidelines, comforted you, held you in my arms, taught you about God and loved you with my whole heart.  I’ve helped you with your homework, helped you plan for your future and dreamed the biggest dreams for you.  I’ve taught you to work hard, pray hard and play hard.

On the other hand, I know I haven’t done enough.  I’ve tried you know?  But I’ve also failed more than I’ve succeeded.  To you, the child I never held, I’m sorry.  My arms are open wide; but I can’t seem to reach you from where I stand.  To you son, who I haven’t given the opportunity to dream because you were too sad or lonely while your other parents abandoned you; I am so remorseful.  I want to be your “real” mother, after all mothering is an action, not a definition of bloodlines. I want to show you that your future is full of possibilities and hope.

To you my daughter, whom I never talked to… you know that talk I’ve wanted to have where I tell you how much you mean to me and to the world, that talk where you learn that you can be anything, say anything and do anything regardless of what those lying men in your culture tell you.  My dearest daughter, you are indeed worth everything to your Creator and to me.  I have always wanted to sit down with a cup of Red Bush tea and tell you how much the world needs your special skills, talents and abilities, that we are depending on your beautiful hands to build a new nation and a new world full of love and compassion… that only your hands and others like them can do it.  I want you to know that anyone who tells you that you should be held back, that you are worthless, that you are only put here to please men, that you are worth less than your male counterparts… well, the truth is, they are lying out of fear of what you might become: empowered to fulfill your destiny.

Every one of you, my dear children are valuable to me and to all of us.  You are the ones who can do better with our resources.  You are the ones who can show your elders what they were capable of doing.  You are precious to me and I will find you, one by one, and show you.

I might not get to hug you or kiss you or look you in the eyes.  But please know, that you are mine and you are treasured.  Know that I think of you, I pray for you and I love you deeply.

Know too, that I will work today and tomorrow to ensure that you know you mean as much to me as do those who I carried for 9 months and raised with my own hands.

Love,
(your) Mama Afrika

 

PS: To those children who are already living in the homes of my brothers and sisters who are treating you so lovingly, supporting you so well and teaching you to nurture your dreams… please find your siblings, lift them up and care for them as well as your mothers across the continent care for you. Every gesture matters and each of you can do little things to make your parents so proud.

Celebrating the 4th of July with Alexis La Pollo at Mama’s Round Table

I am so incredibly proud to have a guest at Mama’s Round Table that I can honestly tell you I love dearly, my daughter, Alexis La Pollo. Only 18 years old, she is a self-published author, president of her graduating class and someone you will certainly be hearing more about in the years to come.
As a member of the first generation of African from our family born in the United States, it seemed fitting that she be the guest at my table this 4th of July. I am her mother, so of course, there are lots of other things I could ask her about which are fun and interesting. But, this is Mama Afrika’s table; so don’t worry, we will stay on topic.
Hello Alexis and welcome to the Round Table. I know that you have read other interviews conducted at this table and I’d like to begin by welcoming you to this space which is so important to the future of Africa: A place where all viewpoints are welcome and respectful dialog is encouraged.
So, let’s get started:
1. Who are you? Can you describe yourself in a couple of phrases?
I am a daughter, sister, friend, and leader. I am African, Italian, French and American, all at the same time.
2. What does it mean to you to be African?
It means the world to me to be African, even though I may not look African in appearance it is a big part of me. Growing up I met plenty of Africans both in the US and in Europe and the bond that Africans share, whether you are from Senegal or Madagascar or whether you now live in Sweden or China is undeniable. Africans have built a strong community and a bond worldwide and I am privileged to be a part of that.
3. What does it mean to you to be American?
America, to me, is one of the greatest countries in the world. It is a beacon of freedom and hope to many around the world for good reason, it is a nation built on hard work, equality and diversity unmatched throughout the world. I feel proud when I tell people I am American, our nation may have made mistakes in the past, but we have overcome them and set a wonderful example for the rest of the world. I am proud to live in this land of opportunity.
4. Do you think that members of the African Diaspora, especially those born abroad, have a greater allegiance to their nation of birth or the nation of their ancestors’ roots?
In many ways I feel that it greatly depends on how close the person has remained to their roots; however, I also know that no matter how detached a person becomes from Africa while living abroad they still consider Africa their home. In this way, there will always be an allegiance to Africa that runs a little deeper than the newer bond they have with their adoptive country.
5. How do you imagine your life if you’d have been born in Eritrea instead of the U.S.?
I can truthfully say that my life would not be as great as it is not. Living in Europe and the US has given me the freedom to follow my dreams and forge my own path in the world. Living under an oppressive dictatorship in Eritrea would not have allowed me to voice my opinions, continue with my education the way I wanted to or even to be able to write my book. On top of this, living in Eritrea would mean being in fear of my government instead of being able to vote and give my opinions like I can here. Just being able to take part in the political process is not something I could have done in Eritrea.
6. What are some of the things that you think any young African can do to contribute to the betterment of Africa without necessarily dedicating their life to politics or running a non-profit organization?
One of my favorite quotes, by Margaret Mead, reads “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” As cliché as it sounds, small thoughtful acts done by everyone could really change everything. Donating your time, talents, or funds to an organization that you can see doing good in the world is a great start. Even spreading the world to your friends about the issues facing Africa today is a great help. The more people know about an issue, the easier it is to be solved. We cannot count on the media to spread the word for us, we must do it ourselves; and in this age of media and social networking it isn’t even difficult. Share a link, like a page, re-tweet something powerful, it is as simple as that. You may never know who will see it and be able to also contribute their time, talents or funds.
7. In what ways do you feel your African heritage has driven your goals for your own future?
I think that the main driving force in my choosing to major in International Relations has been my background. Being African in particular has made me really want to make a change in Africa through the political arena. I want to see the day that all countries, especially Eritrea, see the freedoms that I had the privilege in growing up with in America and I now plan on working towards that every day.
8. If I say “tiger mom” many think of high pressure Asian mothers which push their children to attain success in all things academic. If I say to you “lion mom” what do you think of?
Immediately I think of African mothers, though Asian mothers get a lot of the attention, African mothers are just as fierce. I grew up, as I’m sure most members of the diaspora have, hearing all about family that still lived in Africa. Every time I brought home a bad grade or misbehaved in some way I heard all about this cousin or that aunt who would kill to have the opportunities that I do in the west, and how it was wrong and disrespectful to them for me to squander those opportunities. I have not met many Africans, especially in my family, who have not risen up to every challenge and met every goal they set for themselves; not just for themselves but for those back home who never could.
9. OK, my signature question: “If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change any one thing for women and children, what would it be?”
I would stage fair and just elections for all oppressed countries so that the voices of the people, the ones who really know best for the country, can finally be heard.
10. Finally, please tell us all about your book and what made you write it.
My book, Patchwork, began as a school project in my senior year and grew into something bigger than I ever thought it would be. I, and many others, struggled with my identity as a child. Where was I really from if I had so many cultures as part of me? I was filled with questions, what really makes a person American in a nation comprised of immigrants? How strongly to others feel connected to their home countries? So I set out to interview immigrants to the US from all over the world. My journey, along with their interviews are what became the foundation for my book Patchwork.
Thank you Alexis for showing us a glimpse into that shadowy space where cultures blend.

I often talk about how important our youth are and how necessary it is to invest in them if we want to see a strong Africa. I hope that today as many Americans of African heritage celebrate freedom and liberty in this nation; we are able to take a moment to think about how to create a generation of African youth who have the ability to express themselves and their vision for their respective countries in a productive way. Our children, be they in Berlin or Boston, Beijing or Bamako… all have something to contribute to the future of Africa. Let us raise those living in the Diaspora to take what is good from where they live and find a way to incorporate it into Africa’s future in a way that respects our indigenous traditions and heritage.
Happy 235th Birthday America! And thanks most of all for giving me a safe place to raise and educate my children and for having provided me with opportunities that I’ve been blessed with during my time here. The U.S. has welcomed me and despite the glitches and needed improvements I see in this nation; I must say that today, along with millions of other people of African heritage, I am also proudly American.

Photo Friday: Smiles Melt the Heart

Photo Friday:

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

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

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

Black Dolls and Dreamers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to address those dolls: Why only Black dolls?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year,

Mama