10 Things You Can Do to Help Africa Today

Lots of people ask me what they can do to help Africa and Africans.  After all, the general consensus (thanks to mainstream media) is that Africa is falling apart at the seams, right?  It is my hope that at least a few of these things will help you to see that although Africans, in general, have many challenges facing them; there is also another side of Africa that is important to remember as well.

So, I’ve decided to come up with a short list of things that anyone can do to help Africa at large.  Here we go:

1-      Pray for us. I know that many people say that when they can’t come up with anything else to do in life, they pray.  I mean, it’s the way that they do something when they feel their hands are tied and they don’t feel that they can do anything else “more constructive”.  I’d argue that it’s usually the best place to start.  I am not going to give you a prayer to say or tell you how to talk to God.  Perhaps for you that is done in a temple, a church or maybe out in a field full of wild flowers sitting and appreciating nature.  I don’t think the surroundings matter much, and the words are probably a detail too.  But, spend a few quiet moments thinking about Africa and focusing on what good things you would like to come to her people.  I’m sure that if nothing else, it’ll help you remain focused and open to opportunities as they present themselves.

2-      Learn something new about the continent today.  I genuinely don’t think it matters what you learn.  This might sound odd; but I sincerely believe it.  Perhaps you are an art buff, love all things tech or are an avid gardener.  Take the time to read an article which talks about your interest as it relates to Africa.  I’m sure that a simple online search with just a few words like “potato plants in Africa” would render much more information than you expected.  This will engage you in a way that you are already interested.  Frankly, all of the heavy political reading isn’t always needed; and it isn’t interesting to everyone.  Just learn more about Africa’s diversity.  Walk a path other than the “another famine” “more civil unrest”… kind of thing.  You’ll also come very quickly to understand that knowing a little about Africa doesn’t have to feel like a chore.  There are a million different ways for you to be engaged with such a massive continent after all.  The more you know about Africa and her people; the more informed your choices will be concerning what is best to do to help later when an opportunity arises.

3-      Share what you’ve learned. Just talking to your friends, family or coworkers about Africa in a way they don’t expect is a great way to serve as an ambassador.  I think you’ll enjoy the look on their face when they realize that little bit of information they never thought of as being related to Africa.  When you step out of those keywords that are used to talk about such a diverse, dynamic continent, (namely: safari, drought, starvation, coup d’état, poverty, development); you’ll see quickly that people are really happy to hear something positive or interesting that relates to Africans.  Discussing a new artist’s debut in a gallery in Johannesburg or talking about the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed of dog might just open their eyes to another face of Africa.  People who know about our continent are more likely to find ways to act as goodwill ambassadors the next time they hear negative or untrue things being said about Africa, right?

4-      Buy African. You might be surprised to know that in simply changing your morning regime and making your cup of coffee or tea yourself can actually significantly impact the lives of African farmers.  Maybe you could switch the coffee at home or ask your coworkers to toss the $5 per day that they usually spend at that large coffee chain on the way into work into a jar that you can use to buy a pound or two of Mama’s fair trade coffees or teas?  This would allow them to enjoy some superior quality coffee each morning (they’ll never want to go back to the “other stuff” once they’ve tried our freshly roasted, fair trade coffee!)  Plus, you can make an impact which will make you proud.  Not a coffee or tea drinker?  That is OK too.  There are hundreds of other ways to help through African products such as gift baskets, clothing as well as supporting African musicians or filmmakers.  Buying African is so much better for the continent than making donations to large organizations which use too much in administration costs and too often don’t make the long-term impact you are hoping will occur.  After all, it allows Africans to feed themselves through their hard work!

5-      Visit Africa. You don’t have to want to go on a safari to find something wonderful to do in Africa.  One of the greatest newer ways to visit the richness of the continent is through environmental tourism or cultural tourism.  There are tour operators in South Africa which can take you and your family on a trip to important places in Apartheid history or to get to know more about its diverse ethnic groups and their history, culture and arts.  Or, you could go to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda or Ghana to learn more about the cultures there through the eyes of the people who have lived in the region generation after generation for thousands of years.  Talk about a living history lesson!  Of course, supporting local economies through responsible tourism allows Africans to build better communities and nations.  Sounds like a good deal for everyone involved, if you ask me!

6-      Can’t travel quite that far? Then visit Africa locally. I completely understand that international travel isn’t for everyone.  Or, maybe you would love to go; but you just don’t have the budget, health or ability to go.  I have an alternative for you: visit a museum, festival or other outlet that highlights African art or culture.  You might not be from Vienna, Austria where every October they have Africult; or you might not be living in San Francisco, New York or London, where you can visit African art galleries and museums.  But trust me, if you take the time to search “African culture” and the city closest to you; you’ll find that there are lots of opportunities for you to see art, dance, festivals and other events centered on various African cultures.  The more support groups and organizations like this may receive, the farther they can spread their message.  I am convinced that especially where children are concerned, one of them may one day be the adult that discovers, invents or creates something that makes the lives of Africans better… just because they had an experience in their youth that sparked an interest to learn more about African people, animals or culture at large.

7-      Play a game. How about playing a game online where you test your African geography?  This way, the next time you hear or read about Namibia, Guinea Bissau or Zambia; you’ll know where they are.  We all know how important geography is to current events and history.  People often are in conflict due to natural resources and borders.  And, knowing where all 53 African nations are will help you understand the people of Africa and their needs better.  Who knows, maybe it’ll prompt you to volunteer to teach local school kids more about the African continent?  Knowledge is power, right?

8-      Eat, drink and be merry.  Now here is a fun way to incorporate Africa into your daily life: food and drink.  Did you know that South Africa makes some incredible wines?  Kenya, Eritrea, Malawi, Togo and many other African countries produce some superb beers.  And whether you drink alcohol or not, you can certainly find an African restaurant near you.  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love Eritrean or Ethiopian food for example (OK, so maybe I’m a little biased 😉 If you are in the Los Angeles area, the Nyala Restaurant is an excellent choice and comes very highly rated by most food critics.  And no, I don’t have any affiliation with the owners… I just love good food!  How is eating a great meal with your friends helping Africa?  Well, since a great number of Africans use their success in the West to support their families “back home”; so supporting them, often means supporting those in their native country as well.

9-      Ask a question. If you are wondering about something, be it big or small, concerning Africa… ask! I don’t know everything; but I do have a fair number of resources that I can tap to find the answers to most questions concerning Africa.  Feel free to contact me here on the blog, on Twitter, or via email.  NEVER hesitate because you think that a question is “too simple”.  Just ask and know it is my greatest pleasure to try to help you find the answer.  Besides, you can be sure that if you are wondering the answer; there are certainly many others who have the same question too.  You’ll notice on the side of my blog, there is a Questions and Answers link.  Check there and you might see an answer which inspires you to start a project, plan or movement to help Africans in one way or another.

10-   Focus on the good news: In just three clicks of the mouse: 1… 2… and 3… you can find three excellent resources for getting a daily dose of good news from Africa.  Focusing on the good news, instead of all of the challenges and obstacles is a healthy reminder that we can accomplish anything our hearts desire.  It helps us dream and without dreams, there can be no improved reality.  Dreaming is an important part of helping us to build a better future for ourselves, our villages and the generations to come.

I hope that you will try to incorporate at least a few of these ways to get to know Africa better and help her people.  I’m confident that as you learn more about this magical continent, its history, cultures and people; you will be inspired to learn even more and help in one way or another.  Remember that as much as we do need financial assistance, support with trade opportunities and advocates… we also need people who believe in our ability to build our own future.  Seeing what we have already done will inspire you to know that anything is possible in Africa.

After incorporating some of these 10 ways to learn more about and to help Africa; I recommend that you take the time to read this post which I wrote a few months ago.

I look forward to hearing any of your ideas now! How other simple ways would you recommend for people to engage Africa and Africans?

Love,

Mama

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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