viernes, 25 de enero de 2008

All Hands on Deck in America

January 21st, 2008 Martin Luther Kind Day and iGA Inauguration Day
Missing from the photo:
Rich Craft, Accountant and iGA Treasurer
Nancy Bareham, Professional Fund raiser

Today we presented iGA to our friends and family. It was a very nice evening and our friends had a chance to learn about our work with iGA and also contribute ideas. iGA or Interface Global Alliance is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that will be our platform to help us irradiate poverty, improve education and health in the small rural villages of Equatorial Guinea, thru sustainable development projects.

It has taken nearly 6 months to set up this non-profit organization. Not only did I have to attend workshops, read countless articles and stories and also interview experienced humanitarians to learn the finer points of running a successful non-profit organization, but I have spent much of that time doing tons of research.

The board members of iGA (Paul Mulford, Dan Ragatz, Rick Craft) have been instrumental in helping me work through so many of the issues that must be studied and considered when starting an organization like this one. I am very excited about the projection for iGA and also I am thrilled to see how many people are buzzing about the opportunity to help fight poverty in Africa.

Please visit our website for more information about iGA and don't forget to sign the guest book.

lunes, 20 de agosto de 2007


My auntie smacked me upside the head...for having my head in the clouds

The more I thought about the children's "soup kitchen" project, the more I realized I needed local help. I felt way out of my depth on this one.
So, I went to my aunties (the "elders") for some suggestions.

First, I was smacked upside the head by one of them for not coming to her sooner, then I was similarly harassed by another for having my head in the clouds. "Tsk, you can't feed so many girl!" She punctuated every other word with a blow.

Man, mature African women world
wide have the frightening ability to dress you down in no uncertain terms with just a Tsk. Faced with weaponry such as their sturdy walking sticks, sharp relentless tongues, and not to mention the smart round house to the side of my head, I was quickly made to see things their way.

Their collective mother hen spirits quickly came up with a preliminary plan of action. Instead of feeding the whole world at once, we will start in our own little village of Ekuku. This is where everything began for my own family. There are about 30-60 unsupervised children, at any given time, starting as young as age two or
three. There are probably twice the number but nobody really knows...

There are no jobs in the village and adults are forced to travel miles to the city for very little income. One of my aunts has an abandoned fish fry shack on the beach where we will be able to start the project (see photo...lots of room to expand too!)

Armed with minimal equipment and resources, we will be able to start. Now I must ask for your help to find funding for this little project. I need ideas
as to what to do and contacts.

In pre-colonial times, the little village of Ekuku (pop. approx 600) use to be a successful fishing village. Framed by the Ekuku river and the Atlantic ocean, daily protein was not hard to come by. Generations living under brutal dictatorships and meager handouts, however, have made many forget our roots. People here buy their fish in the market!!!

Well, since the river and the sea shore are still there...I hope that so are the fish!
I do not know much about fishing or trapping craw fish and crabs but I am sure the old timers around here and someone in my American family can point the way. We can add this to our soup kitchen menu (Yay, free food)

I will probably need funding for start up costs like store bought food supplements (rice, oil, flour, canned etc) and supplies (pots, pans, utencils). One of my aunts will probably administer the kitchen but most of my aunties are in their 70s and not capable to run the day to day operations. I will, therefore, need funding to employ a cook, a helper and a gofer from the village (gasp, JOBS!). Strangely enough, $100-$200 a month is a dream salary to the average Equatoguinean.

I need help thinking up a small industry that could bring some income into the village as well. For example, I found a book that teaches how to make a very productive clay bread oven from the mud in one's backyard and other simple materials. Maybe with a good bread recipe, some here could sell bread to the surrounding villages (the closest bakery is in the city). I am only sharing this idea with you cause my aunties would probably clobber me for returning my head into the clouds.

My hope is that this little project will invigorate this small community and that surrounding villages (and prosperous villagers) will copy some of our ideas and spread the love.

(Maybe someone could comb the Living More with Less books which are loaded with tried and true methods and ideas used by missionaries)

sábado, 11 de agosto de 2007


This is my buddy Jimmu (jim-OOH)

He is 11 years old and very cool. I took a picture with him not only because him and I make a cute pair (sorry Dan but I do think I should start to consider the idea of finding a younger trade in), but because we are standing at the scene of a budding project.

On the land we are standing, we plan to build an experimental project based school for Jimmu. Equatoguinean schools are based on the Spanish education system which works wonders for Spanish children but is it is neither here nor there for Equatoguinean children.

Kids in Spain that are successful in school can hope to find a job. Children in Equatorial Guinea that do well in school don't find ready job because there aren't many. What is
worse, they do not have the tools, know how and opportunity to create their own jobs. You do find a little entrepreneurial spirit here and there but rarely do their business ideas take them past subsistence living.

I spent this last year really thinking about this stand still and the past 2 months doing some brain storming with a couple of Michigan educators crazy enough to even consider this idea. We came up with this Project Based School idea.

Starting with farming in this little farm, students in our school will combine academics with trade skills. Learning, reading, plant biology, entomology, earth science, mathematics (marketing), art and other academic requirements in a working farm will be much less stuffy than the good ol' classroom (take it from me).

We will start with a few children, a few crops, some chickens and a couple of goats. The hope is that our little farm school becomes self sufficient and
our children learn many of the real world aspects of starting, running, working in and expanding a business.

What is even more mind boggling is that eventually, the surrounding villagers will have access to fresh local produce, eggs and cheese for the first time since the end of the colonial era. Right now, if you want a fresh tomato or even salad greens, you must buy from some foreign bloke who imported it from Lebanon! Imagine the expense, not to mention the nutritional value of that artificially ripened world traveled tomato.

Why wait till you are 23 to find work experience in a unpaid internship when you can start experiencing how it is all done at age 7?

Yeah, well it all sounds good on paper...

So far we have 6 acres, a budding experimental farm, a very interested Spanish philanthropist who I must court in the coming year, and a very enthusiastic project manager. Its a start....uhm...right?


I have much to celebrate!

The English Language Center officially has a sponsor today. Equatorial Guinea Liquefied Natural Gas (EG LNG) has agreed to finance the center.

I am so happy, I do not know what to do with myself. It has been a very long road and now we get to walk up hill because the hardest work is still to come.

My eyes fill with tears to think that maybe with luck, this little girl and her winning smile will have the opportunity to study English, a language I so take for granted.

Look at those eyes...She won't have to travel far away and leave her loved ones behind. She will not have to suffer the indignities of being "the foreigner" in her school. She can learn English from MSU trained teachers right here in Malabo, where she belongs.

Everyone here wants to speak English because it offer opportunities and open doors regardless of one's tribe or social class. The word is out and people are lining up...Now, I have to work to not disappoint.

Thanx to everyone who emailed God to remind him to come to the funding meeting. You Rock!

Indeed, today I give thanks and I smile...and smile some more.

viernes, 10 de agosto de 2007


Trying to get things started here, is a bit like pushing against a brick wall.

I am reminded of the story of the hen who wanted to bake a loaf of bread. She asked many of her barn neighbors to help her pick the wheat, make the flour, collect the ingredients and finally prepared the oven to bake the bread.

Everyone she asked had a very original excuse as to why they could not make time for her. Of course, when the delicious smell of the freshly baked bread wafted through the barn, everyone cued up to have a taste.

Decades of living under a well meaning but misguided hand-out subsistence has placed many here in a very cynical place. The mistrust of empty promises has truly tired the sense of initiative in Africa. In the western world, this cynicism is often interpreted as a show of laziness, ineptitude and/or lack of value for life.

I have to keep reminding myself that if and when they see the project up and running and the smell of a good program spreads through the campus, people will cue up to participate. This optimist believes that after they have sampled this program and seen its results, they will be more apt to lend a hand of their own accord when help is needed in future phases of this project.

I really have to believe that today, or tear my hair out, jump off some dilapidated bridge and end it all. I got a lot of lukewarm pseudo-commitments and unresponsive attitudes at UNGE today and I am looking for a handful of nails to chew to see if that will make me feel better. We will see how I feel tomorrow.

jueves, 9 de agosto de 2007


Meet Rosa, my guide

At 13 years old and at barely 4' 6", she has appointed herself my tour guide extraordinair. She comes to my house every morning at about 9:00am to tell me where we are going to visit that day. Armed with my camera, water and writing materials, we embark on our daily walking tours through the deepest parts of the city where change is needed the most.

I am actually very glad that she found me because, to tell the truth, I couldn't possibly find my way around some of the shanty towns and over crowded neighborhoods alone. She also knows the local ways so she can watch my soft American behind in tight spots.

She takes her job very seriously and makes sure that every day, she points out "interesting" places for us to visit. I wonder how many 13 year olds that I know back home could give me a tour of Lansing.

Young girls like her are out in the streets by age 5 or 6 to find their own way. They make ends meet. The lucky ones, get taken in by families that need nannies, cooks and domestic help. The others turn to men for money and get themselves saddled with several children by age 18. The smart ones like Rosa, use their wits as long as they can but quickly succumb to the stereotypical street life for lack of other opportunities.

Smiles like hers fill me with the need to do something. Another project that I am here to investigate is the creation of a primary/secondary project based school here in Malabo. I have found some Spanish companies (Barcelona) very interested in financially backing schools in Africa and a group of very talented dear friends/educators in Michigan willing to travel here to help me set it up. I will tell you more about it as I continue my research next week.


I also spent time in the Spanish Language and French Language centers here in Malabo. Both programs have been in existence for many years and therefore have beautiful facilities.

I had a chance to interview the program administrators and some of the staff to get a sense of how they run things. I was able to tour their facilities and marvel at their great classrooms, two floor library, music room, auditorium, art galleries, etc....

It is mind boggling to think of how much work there is to be done. A lot of these huge projects have great sugar daddies and