Category Archives: Africa

Space Apps 2014: It’s a Wrap!

Space Apps Go Beyond

The 2014 International Space Apps Challenge took place last weekend. Over 8000 humans in 95 locations around our planet joined together to leverage NASA data to solve global challenges. So many stories, so little time. Below is a collection of tweets that help characterize the international flavor and collective enthusiasm generated through NASA’s International Space Apps Challenges. Images tell the story better than words can.  I planned to only share five-ten images. Scroll down and you’ll see that I didn’t quite keep to that number.

Find yourselves in these images. I’ll bet you’re in one (or more) of them. 

Local hosts prepared for months to welcome participants: cool venues, name tags, goodies, tools, and hardware.

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps Skopje

Space Apps Valencia

Space Apps Baltimore

Space Apps Certificates

Space Apps Kathmandu

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps Sinaloa Cookies

Space Apps Toyko

Space Apps Nairobi

Space Apps fuel

Space Apps

We had Google hangouts and talks by space pioneers: astronaut Doug Wheelock from NYC, former astronaut Don Thomas in Baltimore, European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts Paolo Nespoli from Brazil and Luca Parmitano from Rome, and space tourist “astronaut” Mandla Maseko in Dakar, Senegal; Lome, Togo, and Pretoria, South Africa.

Space Apps Google hangout

Space Apps London

Space Apps Afronaut Talk

Space Apps South Africa

Space Apps South Africa

Space Apps Rome

The participants formed teams around challenges in five mission priorities: asteroids, Earth watch, human spaceflight, robotics, and space technology. Teams created over 600 projects. The most popular challenges were: Where on Earth, Exomars Rover is My Robot, Asteroid Prospector, Space Wearables, Alert-Alert, Growing Food for A Martian Table, Cool It, and SpaceT

Space Apps Let Hacking Begin

Space Apps Bolivia

Space Apps Mexico City

Space Apps Auckland

Space Apps Porto Alegre, Brazil

Space Apps Doha

Space Apps Bangalore

Space Apps Winnipeg

pace Apps Glasgow

Space Apps Auckland

Space Apps Sinaloa

Space Apps Doha

Space Apps Brazil

Space Apps KSC

Space Apps London

Teams worked together to code software, build software, design mission profiles, and learn how to innovate in a collaborative environment. The solutions were creative, unique, and inspiring — all created in a compressed weekend of long days and short nights.

Space Apps Reno

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps Paris

Space Apps Lome

Space Apps Chicago

Space Apps Istanbul

Space Apps Cork

Space Apps Rover

Space Apps Kansas City: Yorbit app

Space Apps South Africa hardware

Space Apps Exeter

Space Apps Nigeria

Space Apps Toronto hardware

Space Apps Lego

And, my personal favorite….

Space Apps Bolivia

Some of the locations took some time to look up into the skies. And that’s what space is all about, after all. Looking beyond the horizon and wondering, what if….

Space Apps Pittsburgh

Space Apps London

Space Apps Cyprus

Space Apps London

Space Apps Bordeaux

Space Apps Chile

Teams have to pitch their projects to local judges on the final day. Two of the local winners can go forward from each location to global judging, as well as a People’s Choice nominee.

Space Apps Kathmandu

Space Apps Benin

Space Apps South Africa

Here are some of the winning teams.

Space Apps Istanbul

Space Apps Goldcoast

At Space Apps Toronto, I had the privilege of serving as a judge. What an incredible experience.

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Space Apps Toronto Winner

Who can resist a Judges Selfie???

Space Apps Toronto Judges Selfie

And, it’s a WRAP!

Space Apps Toronto: It's a Wrap

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 8.12.26 PM

Space Apps South Africa

Space Apps KSC

Space Apps Sinaloa

Space Apps Toronto

Space Apps London

What overflows my heart is NASA’s boundLESSness — beyond borders and cultures. When NASA calls, global citizens, of all walks of life, answer. What an amazing thing to behold! I’m humbled by the opportunity and privilege to serve the public through programs like Space Apps.

Thank you ALL for an OUT-of-this-WORLD experience!!

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Filed under Africa, collaboration, Earth, innovation, International Space Apps, NASA

Message of Hope: Female Micropreneurs of South Africa

Zanele Mbeki: Founder of Women's Development Businesses in South Africa

Zanele Mbeki, Founder of Women’s Development Businesses (and former First Lady of South Africa). Credit: “Velvet Gloves Iron Fists”

For the final paper in my International Development class this semester for the Virginia Tech Planning, Governance and Globalization PhD program, I took on the topic of microfinance in developing countries. I explored the case of South Africa’s Women’s Development Businesses (WDB) Group to determine whether microcredit empowers or exploits the poorest of the poor. I was awed and humbled by the pioneering work of WDB founder Zanele Mbeki and her colleagues, who refused to stand by and watch their young nation leave behind a significant segment of the population — specifically the impoverished women in rural Mpumalanga, South Africa.

I want to pass on a tidbit of what I learned in writing this paper as my gift of hope, encouragement, and inspiration during this Christmas season.

Much may be wrong in this world, but this is a story of what women can do to help one another.

South Africa squatter's villageThe financial landscape for women in South Africa, an emerging economy in development terms, mirrors much of what female entrepreneurs face around the world. Studies sponsored by the International Finance Corporation point to unequal access to finance, defined by race and gender.

  • Black African women remain on the edge of economic activities.
  • Women comprise 52% of the South African population, of which 91% of white women are banked, as opposed to 38% of black women.
  • 42% of black women have no access to financial assets, with the remaining 20% resorting to informal financial products, including savings clubs, retail credit, insurance, or burial societies.
  • Despite the fact that women traditionally repay loans at a higher rate than men, women entrepreneurs face prejudice and barriers to access to abundant private and public sector financial resources.
  • Black women comprise the largest self-employed segment of the population, with the majority of their businesses in the informal sector.
  • Only one of every four banks considered engaging in more women-owned enterprise programs, and only two microenterprise lenders exist to serve 56,000 primarily female microentrepreneurs.
  • Rural areas remain disadvantaged and neglected.

Image credit: Women's Development Bank of South Africa
South Africa’s Women’s Development Businesses fills the gap in microcredit and financial services for impoverished women in rural areas, and promotes social and economic empowerment.

Following the fall of apartheid and encouraged by the Grameen Bank microcredit strategies, Zanele Mbeki started WDB in 1991 to alleviate poverty and empower the marginalized rural poor. Starting with R20,000, which is the equivalent of little more than $2000, Mbeki gathered together female colleagues with business, financial, and banking skills set out to change the world, starting with a pilot program to meet the needs of 50 unschooled rural women in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. The first WDB clients received R300 or $34 for their initial loans – a huge sum for women who had rarely had access to more than R10 ($1.10). After three months, the woman repaid 100% of their loans, launching WDB into its current operation with three divisions: WDB Microfinance, WDB Trust, and WDB Investment Holdings. Since its inception, WDB disbursed R36 million (over $4 million) to 35,000 women, meaning 150,000 benefitted – assuming an average five-member household.

Women Micropreneurs in South Africa. Credit: "Velvet Gloves Iron Fists"The initial 50  women formed lending groups that were accountable for the collective repayment of the loans. No additional loans would be disbursed until all the initial loans in the group have been repaid. The women worked together to reach success. WDB taught them basic literacy, book-keeping skills and computer training. The women improved their lives as a collective unit rather than as individuals. The Mpumalanga women weren’t content with just one or two loans to get by, they took out larger loans, diversified, pooled their resources, and built business together – recruiting their children, husbands, and neighbors.

WDB gave these women access to microcredit, training, and education, and broke the cycle of poverty. Women who participated in their microcredit programs gained self-esteem, respect and improved status in the family, better access to nutrition and education for their children, improved home life and lower morbidity rates.

Women Micropreneurs in South Africa. Credit: "Velvet Gloves Iron Fists"

Their story speaks of faith, perseverance, and fierce determination NOT to accept the status quo.

Bravo to the women of WDB and their clients who proved microcredit can unlock entrepreneurship, as well as new avenues for confidence, self-worth, and hope for a bright future.

Women Micropreneurs in South Africa. Credit: "Velvet Gloves Iron Fists"

This is the season of giving. If you’re looking for last minute gifts, consider microloan gift cards from Kiva. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. As each loan is paid off, you can lend again and again.

Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth to all mankind.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17

Full text posted on my Virginia Tech blog: “Women Microentrepreneurs: Fuel for Neoliberal Growth Engine.”

Sources:

International Finance Corporation. 2011. “Woman and Business: Drivers of Development.” Telling Our Story, Vol. 5 (2).

Kiva. 2012. “Womens Development Businesses (WDB) Partner profile.” Fundraising information page. http://www.kiva.org/partners/178

Naidoo, Sharda, Anne Hilton and Illana Melzer. 2006. “Access to Finance for Women Entrepreneurs in South Africa: Challenges and Opportunities.” Study by Gender Entrepreneurship Markets (GEM) program on behalf of South Africa’s Gender and Women’s Economic Empowerment Unit of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and FinMark Trust.

United Nations. 2011. “Microfinance in Africa: Overview and Suggestions for Action by Stakeholders.” Report by the United Nations Office of Special Advisor on Africa.

Westoll, Hendrina. 2010. Velvet Gloves and Iron Fists. South Africa: Business Century Publishing.

Women’s Development Bank Group of South Africa website. 2012. http://www.wdb.co.za/index.html

World Bank. 2012. “World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development.” Report for World Bank. http://www.worldbank.org/wdr2012

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Filed under Africa, poverty, social entrepreneurship

Touching Lives

“Life is not a path of coincidence, happenstance, and luck, but rather an unexplainable, meticulously charted course for one to touch the lives of others and make a difference in the world.” — Barbara Dillinham

My daughter Steph came home from a year in Africa yesterday. She served as a counselor to young victims of trauma and abuse for Bethany House in Krugersdorp outside Johannesburg, South Africa. She was heartbroken to leave all the children behind who took captive her heart, as well as all the friends and colleagues who made her year so special.

Steph in Africa

Her cat Sammy (my furry grandchild) kept circling around her, sniffing her clothes and hair. She doesn’t smell the same way she did when she left. He wonders if she’s the same Steph who left our house one year ago. He’s right. She’s not.

After a year of living and working in another continent at the bottom of the world in a totally different culture surrounded by ten unique languages and the vestige of apartheid, she changed. As a professional counselor, she listened to stories of heartbreak and horror from children who:

  • lost their parents to the ravages of the creature called AIDS that devours the lives of an entire generation of adults (and may have AIDS themselves),
  • live with their grannies (who can’t afford to feed/care for all the little ones left to them),
  • or an abusive family member,
  • or pretend to live with a family member but instead serve as the child head-of-household for their younger siblings;
  • have very little to eat and too many responsibilities to study,
  • see no hope for the future, and
  • often believe suicide is the only way out.

Steph’s world view altered irrevocably. In a good way — though at times she too lost hope, overwhelmed by the despair she encountered. Many of the children she’s come to love won’t live to the age of 14. AIDS will claim them too. Each time, she had to shake off the weight of the world,  take a breath, and start over again. She’s a plucky little thing, I must say. She touches lives. She changes hearts. She transforms the hopeless by offering tools to deal with their emotions and circumstances.

Many are tempted to give up if we can’t solve ALL the world’s problems. Instead, the answer is for each of us to do what we can to make a difference: one person, one problem, one day at a time.

I may not get to spend my days out in the field helping people, at least I can take steps to make the world a better place through creative programs at NASA, like LAUNCH and Fragile Oasis. My small contribution is helping to inspire citizens of this planet through our space endeavors to take special care of our communities and neighbors — AND sending both my daughters off into the far reaches of this world to help others.

What are you doing to make a difference inside your circle of influence? A smile. A hug. No effort is too small to touch lives in a positive way.

For now, I’m doing lots of smiling and hugging, now that Steph is back!

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, Fragile Oasis, LAUNCH, poverty, space

Life: Where’s my Debris Shield?

I haven’t posted an update in two months. I know. I know. I feel the guilt weighing heavily on me. My last post was during the STS-134 Tweetup. I never even downloaded the hundreds of iPhone pics I took of all the tweeps. Sorry guys. And here we are on the heels of our last Space Shuttle mission tweetup: STS-135 Atlantis. NEXT week!!

STS-135 crew portrait

STS-135 crew: Rex Walheim, Pilot Doug Hurley, Commander Chris Ferguson, Sandy Magnus

So here’s my list of excuses:

  • I returned from the last launch to a house consumed by voracious weeds,
  • my Mother returned from Zambia,
  • my daughter, Carol, bought/moved into her first home,
  • a project at work required 24/7 attention,
  • I rediscovered my bicycle, and
  • my brain was fried.

In two days, my daughter Steph returns from her South African adventure. I’m thrilled beyond words to have her back home while she pursues her PhD. Skype is great, but face to face is much better. We’ve been busy trying to rearrange the house to make sure Steph has a place to spread out and study.

Which brings me to why I have time to post this. I’m on sick leave. I experienced an unpleasant encounter with falling debris (ceramic vase) which I unsuccessfully avoided.

If only I had Mission Control to monitor threatening debris and maneuver me out of the way — like they did for the crew of Space Station only this morning.

Unlike me, the crew received warning in time to take cover in the Soyuz spacecraft docked to Station. The debris passed without incident, and they returned to their stations to get on with their daily schedules. I, on the other hand, experienced a direct hit.

Really, you’ll never want me on a long-distance mission. I attract calamity. Yes, I’m the accident-queen. Only two weeks ago, I engaged in battle with angry ground wasps in my garden. Two days ago, I attracted a vase from the top of the refrigeration — which had held those very flowers from my garden that the wasps tried to protect.

@FlatSamantha "Next time wear your space suit @bethbeck - it'll keep those wasps from stinging you and help beat the heat!"

Right now, I’m awaiting word on whether or not my ankle is broken. Either way, the doctor has me off my feet with the offending leg elevated. Which, I must say, severely cramps my lifestyle. Sigh.

In perspective, though, I think my calamities are God’s way to get me to slow down.

I tend to live a “shot-from-a-cannon” life. I’m always in the middle of multiple projects at home, as any homeowner will understand. At work…well, we won’t even talk about that.

Now that I’m forced to slow down — ok, grind to a halt — I can take a moment to reflect. The yard looks amazing. Steph boards a plane tomorrow to come home. We’re about to celebrate our last Shuttle mission — which, though sad, is still an amazing accomplishment. And the coolest thing about getting hurt: a CALL from SPACE wishing me well — thanks to Expedition 27/28 crewmember Ron Garan, Mr. Fragile Oasis!

If you haven’t had a chance to browse Ron’s brainchild, Fragile Oasis, take a moment to join the community. Submit your own Earth-based project and if you get all your friends/colleagues/family to vote for it, you can get a picture from space.

In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying views of Earth (my backyard) as I ice my ankle and keep it propped up on pillows. Maybe someday I’ll get my own PDS…otherwise known as Personal Debris Shield.

Planters in my yard

Container gardening adds color in barren corners.

Planters in my yard

Cluster of planters in my yard.

Tricycle Planter in my yard

Tricycle Planter in my yard

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Filed under Africa, Earth, NASA, social media, space, technology, tweet-up

Ode to Spring

My mother celebrates her 80th birthday tomorrow. She’s in Zambia with my aunt and uncle. Before she left, she told me that, at 40, she could never have imagined she’d spend her 80th birthday in Africa.

Zambia: Even lions adore my Mother...

Zambia: Even lions adore my Mother...

Mother at the Cowboy Church in Livingstone, Zambi

Mother at the Cowboy Church in Livingstone, Zambia

I wonder where I’ll celebrate my 80th birthday? In a space tourist hotel? Hey, it could happen!

To honor my Mother, I want to share a poem I wrote for her 76th birthday.

Daffodils from my yard

Daffodils from my yard.

Ode to Spring

Grim, gloomy days. Bleary, bleary.

Barren landscapes. Dreary, dreary.

Frostbite on fingertips. Weary, weary.

Oh when, oh when

come warm tidings of Spring?

Compare the beauty of winter white,

reflecting the sun in brilliance bright,

glinting from mountain peaks in morning light.

Nowhere, nowhere better!

Green gardens of Spring.

Snowdrops, daffodils, and tulips. Jubilee!

Hyacinth and crocus. Fragrant potpourri.

Red bud, dogwood, and cherry blossom trees.

Oh joy, oh joy!

Sweet scents of Spring.

Take flight, old man winter! Harsh adversary.

Melt your frozen pathways. Wary, wary.

Be gone, you wretched nightmare. Scary, scary.

Oh now,  oh now!

Come fresh breath of Spring.

A rainbow of blossoms break winter’s rest,

unfurling new colors with unbridled zest.

Fledgelings eager to soar from the nest.

Rejoice, of rejoice!

New life of Spring.

New dawn awakens with birdsong sweet.

Goldfinch and chickadee twitter and tweet.

Fluttering their wings, early morning they greet.

Oh what, oh what?

Melodic offering of Spring.

Bouquets and butterflies. Giving, giving.

Rebirth. Fresh start. Forgiving, forgiving.

Filled with His Spirit! Living! Living!

Oh welcome, welcome!

Glad tidings of Spring.

Spring at Smithsonian Castle

Spring flowers at the Smithsonian Castle

Happy 80th birthday, Mother.

April flowers to you — from my continent to yours.

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Filed under Africa, poverty

Look Who’s Orbiting My Biosphere!

I rarely leave the NASA HQ building in the cold, blustery winter season. We’re a self-contained biosphere, with a cafe and deli, credit union, post office, and dry cleaner. What more could I need?

Yesterday I zapped downstairs to mail a package. Horror of horrors, I found a note in the chair where the Post Office guy should be. He was off taking a class. Rats. That meant I needed to go down to the garage, get my coat from my car, and trudge out into the winter air to the post office around the corner. (I’ve lived in DC for 20 years, but I still have Texas weather  blood. I really, really don’t like the cold. I was annoyed.)

Let me set the scene. I walk across the street, round the corner, and head toward the sketchy railroad bridge I must go under. A car horn blares behind me. I keep walking. I’m not about to turn around. The car horn is quite insistent. It blasts away, getting closer and closer. I look straight ahead and keep walking. In a matter of moments, I realize the honking car could mow me down, so I turn to see what’s going on.

A shiny black Lincoln Town Car — the kind the NASA Administer rides around in — pulled up next to me. I see a figure inside the tinted windows waving wildly. Wait. I recognize that familiar outline.

It’s my DAUGHTER!!!

The window rolls down. Oh my gosh. There she is, all official in her Homeland Security Legislative Affairs Town Car. She’s on her way to the Hill for meetings with Members of Congress. She introduces me to the occupants in the car. We laugh and laugh. Her driver  teases me that I can still get honked at walking down the street. By my daughter, I might add.

Too funny!

As a mom, I walked on air the rest of the day. A momentary glimpse of my gorgeous daughter lifted my spirits. I didn’t mind the cold after all. It was a poignant moment for me. Not that I didn’t realize it already, but this was an opportunity for me to see my daughter all grown up. And then the irony, of course, made me laugh. She has a better ride around DC than I do. I’m walking. She’s being transported. She orbiting right outside my little NASA-sphere. :)

I’m truly amazingly blessed. One daughter is helping keep our nation safe. The other is helping keep children safe a continent away.

Thank you Postman for taking your class. You gave me an unexpected highlight. Not only did I get a chance encounter with my daughter, but I got to see her in her own sphere of influence. She’s pretty amazing!

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Filed under Africa, federal government, NASA

Space Taxi

I took a taxi this morning to my meeting with Jess3‘s Adam Zuckerman and Ben Slavin in their new DC offices. The taxi driver and I started chatting.

What a delightful little man.

Nigeria Yoruba DrummersI learned he came to DC from his home in Nigeria. He speaks two languages: English and Yoruba, a dialect from his home state. We talked about Africa, a topic near and dear my heart with my daughter Steph living there. I learned that Nigeria is a former British Colony. Each of the states has a different dialect.

He completed his graduate studies in Electrical Engineering at Loyola University in Maryland. When he found out he couldn’t work here in the field without an American citizenship, he applied for citizenship. Now, he’s a proud U.S. citizen.

I asked why he was driving a cab. He has a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering, for heavens sake.

He quit applying for jobs. The process was so painful for him, it made him cry. He told me even NASA turned him down!

As he pulled up to the Jess3 address, I encouraged him to try again. He balked. No way. He said he was done. Finished. He didn’t want to cry anymore. I suggested he try USAjobs.gov, where he can sign up for job categories and agencies and receive email alerts when jobs open up. Nope. He wouldn’t hear of it. He never wants to cry again. The pain was too great.  His wife has a good job in the government, so he can be happy for her. She’s a citizen now too.

I got out of the cab. My parting shot: “If you don’t keep trying, you let them steal your dream.” Unthinkable!
I've got a dream tweetI let the taxi driver in on a secret: being at work sometimes makes me cry. The job hunting process is merely good preparation for when he gets hired. He laughed, and drove off.

You’re probably wondering point of this story. Here’s the deal: I’ve been feeling pretty discouraged about my life now that I’m back from South Africa. I’ve had trouble finding value pushing paper and fighting bureaucratic fires at work (not that I ever did, come to think of it). The 15-minute conversation today with a Nigerian-born-American-citizen-Masters-level-Electrical-Engineer taxi driver showed me that I can make a difference here, as well as in Africa. A simple conversation. A simple encouragement. A refusal to let dream snatchers succeed.

Life is about dreaming big dreams, having the guts to make them come true, and refusing to accept defeat. And that’s what we do at NASA. We make the impossible possible.

Thank you taxi driver from Nigeria. I hope to see you working at NASA someday soon. Or, maybe you’ll bypass NASA altogether and drive your taxi to space. Hey, it could happen.

Space Taxi

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Filed under Africa, federal government, NASA

Significance Vs Obedience

I’ve been struggling a great deal since returning from South Africa just one week ago. I’m having trouble readjusting to “normal” — as in my daily routine. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when I was surrounded by the children of Bethany House — playing, sharing, laughing, snuggling. Just being fully “present” with them felt important to me, like I made a difference in their lives, though even just for such a short time.

Bethany House

Bethany House CourtyardBethany House CourtyardToddler House @ Bethany House

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to serve meals to the homeless at the new Ikusasa Bethany House homeless shelter for boys. Ten boys are now living at the shelter, and over 50 homeless adults come for meals. My contribution: scooping chicken vegetable soup onto a container of pap, a mashed potato looking food. Such a simple act, yet so satisfying.

Bethany House Ikusasa Shelter for Street ChildrenIkusasa Shelter

Serving others puts “self” in perspective. If you’ve ever volunteered to help those less fortunate in disadvantaged areas, you know how humbling the experience can be.

We’re forced to face the contrast between our lives and theirs.

In America, many of us take for granted our giant TV screens, multi-car garages, family cell phone plans. We accumulate the newest, fastest, coolest fad gadgets, and when something breaks, we see it as a welcome excuse for the newer version of our toy. We don’t worry about where the next meal will come from or where we’ll find shelter each night. We’re not faced with decisions that you see described in the Bethany House poster below. Shudder!

Bethany House poster

Returning home to my “normal” existence here feels something like survivor’s guilt. I’m just not sure what to do with myself. Being at work feels like I’m not doing enough to make the world a better place. I don’t know how to put my life in context, now that I’m back.

As I pondered all these things this morning, my eyes fell on a book that Steph sent home with me,I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God” by Bilquis Sheikh. I picked up the book and read it cover to cover, crying through much of it. Not from sadness but because of how amazing God is! I needed this book on this very day. I feel renewed after reading about the faith of one woman, who yearned to know God and risked her entire existence to follow Him.

In the story, set in the 1960’s in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh struggled over her lack of “results.” God taught her to focus on obedience, and leave the results to Him. Yes, I cried at this point in the book too. I realized, yet again, that God placed me exactly where He wants me – to accomplish His purposes, not mine. God didn’t ask me to be “significant,” but rather to be obedient.

Significance is all about me. Obedience is all about God. Huge difference.

Right now, obedience translates for me as being a good civil servant. My NASA salary enables me be a “sender,” allowing others to serve God in the mission field while I stay put here at home.

Over two decades ago, God placed a burden on my Daddy’s heart for Africa. He asked our extended family to refrain from exchanging Christmas gifts and donate the money to charities to help feed the African people. He never got to visit the continent he loved, and yet, look at his legacy: Daddy’s little brother Phil and his granddaughter Steph both serve in Africa. How cool is that? One man’s simple act of obedience reaps rewards even today.

One step of faith at a time.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, culture, NASA, poverty

South Africa: Creatures Large and Small

South Africa is home to many exotic creatures. Some are amazingly beautiful and others quite ugly — yet all are majestic, intriguing and fabulous in their natural habitat. I wanted to share a few pictures with you from our trip.

The zebras amaze me. I can’t get enough of them. Each one looks like a painting.

Zebra: South Africa Pilanesberg Game Reserve

The giraffes seem so awkward, yet so compelling. The elephants so ancient, yet agile. They can run faster than a car — especially the rental car we had. Our little rental car could barely make it up a hill. That’s why we moved out quickly when the elephant (below) started flapping his ears and moving toward us. I wanted a head start in case he decided to give us a scare.

Charging Elephant: Pilanesberg Game Reserve

The Wildebeest remind me of Klingons. You Star Trek fans know what I’m talking about.

Wildebeest Looks Like WorfWe missed seeing the lions at Pilanesberg Game Reserve, so we visited a Lion Park to pet the lion cubs. I had visions of holding the cute little darlings in my lap. That’s not exactly how it went down. The cubs were quite cranky by the time we got our turn inside the cage to pet them. They fussed and paced. We chased them around for the elusive snuggle time. Hey, we tried.

Lion Park Cubs

A highlight of the trip: Seeing South African penguins up close and personal, not once but twice. We saw them at the Penguin Colony in Simon Town and also at Robben Island. I’m quite taken with the little tuxedo-creatures. So much poise. So much character. They’re simply adorable. And they mate for life. How cute is that?

Penguins: Simon Town

Come with me on a visual stroll through my virtual zoo.

I’ve also thrown in some pics of the Bethany House animals — hog, turkeys, chicks — and some geese we encountered at a local shopping mall. 

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After spending time out in the countryside in South Africa (which, BTW, reminds me SO MUCH of Texas), it’s hard to conceive how society “progressed” from living off the land with caves as shelter and wild berry snacks to wifi-wired life with computers, cubicle farms and vending machines. Yes, I’m addicted to wifi and comfy beds, but I long for more time in nature away from traffic and deadlines.

Someday. But, for now, I’ll enjoy trips to visit Steph in South Africa.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust

Rhino Poaching: A Nasty Business

Mike Boon: "Zambezi"During our time in South Africa these last three weeks, we had a chance to visit with my buddy Mike Boon and his family. I’ve written about Mike before. We met in high school in the 1970’s when Mike was a Rotary Exchange student in Texas. After a career in the military, he became a successful businessman and author. He’s written two books: “The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership” and “Zambezi: The First Solo Journey down Africa’s Mighty River.”

Mike owns a private game reserve near Mookgophong (formerly known as Naboomspruit) in the northernmost part of South Africa in the Limpopo Province. He reclaimed farmland and stocked it with giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, hippo, impala, eland, rhino and more. Pretty amazing place.

Giraffe @ Mike Boon's Private Game Reserve

Giraffe @ Mike Boon's Private Game Reserve.

True confession: the rhino scared me the most when we visited Mike’s farm in August, 2009. (Hippo rank a close second.) Let’s face it. Rhinos look like prehistoric beasts. HUGE head, two massive horns, beady eyes, snarly snout, wrinkled hide. Shudder. Mike’s rhinos ran along either side of Mike’s jeep, only a few feet away from us. Their horns seemed larger than the jeep itself. I found myself quite intimidated by the creatures. But not Mike. He stopped the jeep and walked out in the field with them, teaching us that the rhino has very poor vision, but a keen sense of smell and hearing.

Mike's Rhino. Photo credit: Mike Boon.

Mike's Rhino. Photo credit: Mike Boon.

In October and November of this last year, the unthinkable happened. Poachers attacked Mike’s tranquil farm, killing two of his six rhinos. The surviving rhinos suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Rhino’s are killed for the “healing powers” of their horns — though they are nothing more than protein keratin (think fingernails).

Sometimes poachers collude with local vets or game wardens to identify where the rhinos might be found. They use planes and helicopters to spot their prey from the air, then drop guys in the field to track the animals on foot. After shooting the creatures, the poachers hack off the horns with an ax, leaving the creatures to bleed to death– as was the case with Mike’s rhinos.

Heartbreaking. Horrifying. Barbaric!

The story of Mike’s rhinos could be ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel — complete with kidnapping, intrigue, and gunfire…and it’s not resolved yet. Working with the local police authorities, Mike tracked the poachers in the bush, catching two of them. You can read the news article for more details. I predict a third book in Mike’s future.

Poaching is a nasty business — the result of basic economics: supply and demand. As long as the demand is great and the supply scarce, poaching will continue.

For those of us who live away from the magnificent creatures who roam the bushveld in South Africa and other countries, we may be blissfully unaware of the poaching crisis across Africa. I can’t fix the problem, but I can at least write about it. I can share with you the story of Mike and his rhinos. I help point to stories that debunk the myth of special healing powers. Education is the key in the long run…as long as it’s not too late for the creatures at risk.

Arm yourselves with knowledge.

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