Archive for the 'Kenya' Category

Jul 23 2015

Shutting Down the Pub

Published by under Kenya

Ten years ago, these women decided enough was enough. The men here were alcoholics. They were spending all of the family’s income on booze. They were selling the family’s possessions to finance their addiction. And they spent all day at the local tavern carousing and being irresponsible. The men were unable to fulfill their “marital duties” to their wives and birth rates plummeted.

The final straw came when someone snuck into the house of a blind man, engaged him in petty conversation, and stole his blankets during their chat to sell them for beer. When the women heard this, they called a few secret meetings. And they set a plan.

One morning, in 2005, the women of the village heard the signal – the sound of a whistle. It was 4am. Three hundred women – yes, three HUNDRED – all marched to the tavern with hoes, axes, and hammers. They tore the tavern apart board by board. They poured out all the alcohol and smashed all the bottles they were kept in. They basically had a riot.

And it worked.

The men, feeling shame, actually humbled themselves to this incredible act. They realized the damage they’d caused to their wives and children (and yet-unborn children). Since then, Kahuria, this community two hours north of Nairobi, hasn’t dealt with alcoholism at any kind of scale like they used to. The men here agreed it was one of the best things that has ever happened in their village. The Kenyan government lauded the action of the women and pointed to it as a model for other communities in the country.

I’m reminded of two things. First, women are extremely powerful. They have the ability to imagine and do incredible things. Second, virtually no American would have thought up this idea. We know almost nothing about the customs and culture of the places we visit. This shows us again that local people have local knowledge and that local knowledge is sometimes unorthodox, but ultimately effective because the solution is local.

When seeing others faced with problems, we’re so often inclined to ask them what the problem is and then design a solution to fix it. Instead, we ought to ask locals, “What do you think the solution is?” Nine times out of ten, their answers will prove to be right. Sometimes you need to tear down a pub that’s tearing apart your life.

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May 12 2014

Funny Stuff On the Way Back from Kenya

Published by under Kenya

Before I start, I want to say that I don’t drink coffee or tea. I know that makes me some kind of monster. It’s not against my religion or anything. I just don’t like the taste of either, so I stick to water. And grape juice on Communion Sundays at church. Speaking of which… I have a quick beef with churches today… Jesus and the disciples ate a full meal when he served the first communion. Why is it that all we get is a little morsel of bread and a shot of grape juice?

Ok, enough of that! My travel….

1. On the flight leaving Nairobi, I fell asleep on the shoulder of the girl next to me. Before we even left the gate.

2. I decided that non-native English speakers can help us be more language efficient. When you greet certain people in other countries (I know this is true in Kenya and India), the interaction goes like this…

You: “Hi.”
Them: “Fine.”

Who needs that “How are you?” question? We all know it’s implied. We should get right to answering.

You: “Hi.”
Me: “Hungry for Oreos and Orange Juice.” (always true no matter what)

3. I visited a couple zoos a few hours before leaving Nairobi. There were two pros and a con. THE PROS: 1. I got to pet a real cheetah whose name is Bolt. 2. I got a picture of it. THE CON (and it’s significant): I basically made a duck face in the picture. I made a duck face while petting a cheetah. The photo will be posted in 22 years on a #tbt (Throwback Thursday).

4. I had the worst-tasting cake I’ve ever had on one of the flights home. You know how a museum smells? That’s what this cake tasted like. I think cakes are a little dicey. They’re too complicated – too hit-or-miss. I think brownies should be standard fare at all meals (breakfast included). I’ve never had a bad brownie!

5. This story takes the (museum) cake. As we walked through the Amsterdam airport, I saw they had an airport grocery store (something I enjoy). A bit later on there’s this woman that gets on a people mover/moving walkway. Problem is: it didn’t look like she was ready for the speed of this particular moving walkway. She loses her balance and starts stumbling forward. Next thing you know, a small bag pops up into the air.

The lady falls down and the bag hits the people mover, spilling its brown liquid contents. In the meantime, there’s another lady who has just stepped onto the moving walkway. She doesn’t see the liquid and steps right into it, losing her balance and also falls down.

By now, there are a number of additional people just getting onto the moving walkway. Not wanting to step on the women or the milk, they start stutter stepping, trying to prevent the momentum of the moving walkway from carrying them forward. It looks like three people who have never ice skated stepping out onto the ice.

I came to find out later that the first lady spilled a bag of chocolate milk she had just purchased at the airport grocery store. Yes, bag milk is a real thing.

I could have made this story up, but the best news is that I didn’t have to. It really happened. Here’s the tragedy, though…. I didn’t see this event unfold. Only my friends saw it. Do you know why? They went to get coffee. And I stayed at the gate because I don’t drink coffee.

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May 08 2014

A Fascinating, Rarely-Discussed Method of Getting People Out of Poverty

Published by under Kenya

Popular wisdom says that children are our future and the solution for giving them a good material life is educating them the best we can. But it’s not totally true. I’ve learned that on this trip to Nairobi.

I’ve probably met 100 people since arriving and I’ve heard a similar theme from adults throughout the time: “I have a degree but I can’t find work.”

Here are some of the dudes I’ve hung with who fit that category… From left to right… Daniel, 24. Paul, 31, Mechanical Engineer. Peter and Steve, both 29, Electronic Repair.

Day after day, these guys are out hustling trying to find work but they come up empty-handed most of the month. They have legit, employable skills but they’re unemployed/underemployed.

So the idea that we can educate today’s youth in the majority world (countries like Kenya) and expect it will fix their situations isn’t true for many. And by many, I mean millions and millions and millions of people. My boys here have had educational opportunity but they have almost no employment opportunity. So what can be done?

There are three broad avenues to employment:

  • Government – through policy and direct employment in civil service
  • Public companies
  • Private companies

All these guys are primarily looking for employment through existing public and private companies. But there are no jobs to be had. Government jobs are coveted but slim, sometimes requiring a bribe of some sort. My friends seem stuck. But they’re not. One option: they could start their own companies. The problem is they have no money. They’re truly broke.

These guys can’t go down to some big bank and ask for a small business loan because banks require collateral for loans and pretty much all these dudes own are a few shirts and a few pairs of pants. Not exactly what banks are looking for.

What could we do as wealthy Americans? Well, we could loan them the money. But if a bank won’t loan them the money, why would we? It would be too risky. My bro Paul needs Kshs. 100,000 (about $1,250) to open a repair business. Suppose I loan him the $1,250 and he decides to throw a huge party in his community instead of using it for the business. I’ll never see that money again. I have no way to make him pay back the debt. And even if I did, he couldn’t make enough in his present condition to pay me back in his lifetime.

Now it seems like WE’RE stuck. But we’re not. Here’s one solution: savings groups.

Savings groups are groups of people in a community who work together to determine who should be given loans and who shouldn’t. These are local community members who each contribute money into a loan account and then collectively make decisions about where to invest that money. Because they understand their culture and business environment, they’re in a perfect position to make informed decisions. They also have incentive to make good loans because THEIR money is the money being loaned out. Finally, the person taking the loan KNOWS the people he’s taking the loan from. It’s very personal.

So instead of a traditional loan where financial capital is used to back the loan (in the form of collateral), it’s social capital that guarantees a savings group loan. Default on the loan and you essentially default on your position in the community. It’s peer pressure being used to maintain and build social order rather than destroy it.

In light of this, I want to remind myself of something here.

First, we need to love God with our minds more. We need to realize that fixing poverty isn’t only about our hearts feeling something. Our minds have to be locked into the issues and understand the landscape of why people are poor and how they get out of poverty.

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
_Matthew 22:37

Second, we need to love God with our souls more. Many jobs can be created at the government level and we need to pray for the governments of the countries we deeply care about. Corruption is a huge issue in many countries. Leaders around the world need to be both good and wise to help their people. And we should pray for that regularly! I hadn’t prayed for the government of Kenya even a single time on this trip before today.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.
_1 Timothy 2:1-3

It says the goal is to have lives that are “godly and dignified in every way.” How beautiful! Oh, that God would help us and the leaders of countries around the world to bring a godly and dignified life to every human being on this planet.

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May 07 2014

When You’re Mad at God for Poverty

Published by under Kenya

Four years ago my buddy Ben was getting ready to play golf in a US Open Qualifier in Phoenix. A couple nights before the event we went to the driving range. As he hit balls, I sat on a bag stand behind him and I cried. Ridiculous, I know. But watching his swing and the flight of the ball was beautiful. It’s so rare to see something so beautiful. I could work for 30 years and not match Ben in golf. He out-guns me in every part of the game.

Visiting a slum is like sitting on a bag stand. You’re an outside observer looking in. Except instead of watching someone hit balls, you’re watching people live their lives. And at some point, I think so many of us will get upset with God. It happens with me. The first time I walked into a slum, I distinctly remember whispering out loud to myself, “This is bullshit!” I’m not sure I’ve EVER walked into a slum and not said that. Last night I had a revelation.

How can we know why God allows certain things?

How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
_Romans 11:28

Here’s the truth: just like Ben out-guns me in golf, God’s on another level. He out-guns us in every aspect of everything. I don’t know how Ben hits such incredible shots but he does. And I don’t really know why God allows suffering like poverty but he does. I wonder if the enemy (satan) causes us to question GOD instead of questioning how people in poverty can be loved and helped out of their situations.

So I decided I don’t want to visit the poor anymore and burn my energy up by saying, “This is bullshit!” I only want to go and say to them, “This is my life. How can I serve you?” Maybe it’s listening to their stories and ideas, maybe it’s prayer, maybe it’s even helping financially.

I see there’s a time for mourning and a time for morning.

Lord, let those of us you’ve blessed with huge means help you make love and goodness dawn on the poor. Amen.

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