Tag Archives: Bethany House Trust

Is Social Responsibility Innate or Nurtured?

I came from a business lunch today with a NASA colleague and Mikkel Vestergaard of Europe-based Vestergaard Frandsen, a unique company that manufactures disease-control textiles. I met Mikkel at our March LAUNCH: Water forum at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mikkel served as one of our LAUNCH Council members.

Mikkel Vestergaard of Vestergaard Frandsen.

Mikkel Vestergaard

Quick back story for Mikkel. He comes from a textile-manufacturing family in Denmark. At 19, he sought adventure in Africa where he founded a trucking company. Political instability sent him packing back to the family business, but his experience ignited a passion for Africa. In a few years, he turned the company from uniform supplier to humanitarian relief products. Pretty amazing story. WIRED featured his story in April.

Passion Statement from the Vestergaard Frandsen website:

By innovating products and concepts focusing on preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases, we turn our commitment into action. We innovate for the developing world, rather than developing products for wealthier regions, and then trying to adapt to those who actually need them the most.

Mikkel is in town participating in the Women Deliver conference. We were fortunate to catch him on the run between events. We’re busy planning our next LAUNCH sustainability event. Mikkel will be working with us to make it an even greater success than the LAUNCH: Water forum.

I write this today because I’m stirred by his commitment to make the world a better place by focusing his “profit for a purpose” business strategy toward the creation of innovative “life-saving products for the developing world.” He cares about people in need, and he’s poised his company to take swift action in partnership with government, non-profit and profit entities.

Zambian Village

Zambian Village

His heart for Africa touches close to our family. My aunt and uncle serve as missionaries in Zambia, and my youngest daughter, Steph, moves to South Africa in the next few weeks.

Mikkel asked how I feel about Steph’s decision. My answer, as always, “I’m thrilled.”

Steph will spend the next year (or more) working with the Bethany House Trust victim empowerment program.  Bethany House was established in 1998 to provide shelter, primary health services and education to young people in crisis. Steph, who just received her graduate degree in Community Counseling, will counsel kids who have untreated trauma. She specializes in Play Therapy.

Bethany House Trust

Bethany House Trust

So my question: Is social responsibility innate or nurtured?

What makes some of us comfortable with a cosy little routine that never changes? What makes some of us rush out in the world to make change happen?

I’m dying to be one of those out there changing the world. Life placed me here  at home helping others go out into the world. Some work with villagers out in the bush country. Some type on a computer in a government cubby hole. (Yeah, that second description would be my reality.) But, how cool for me to rub shoulders with a cool world-changer like Mikkel, and support my daughter as she reaches out to help those who can’t help themselves.

Bethany House: Toddler Living area.

Bethany House: Toddler Living area.

With our new LAUNCH sustainability forums, I get to help change the world from right here in DC. With our ten disruptive innovations, we hopefully throw a life-line to our planet. One small step…. Oh, I won’t even go there.

Whether or not the desire for social responsibility is born or grown, we should nurture it where we can. Feed it. Water it. Prune it. The needs are too great to be born by the few. Each of us can find small (or HUGE) ways to contribute. Be creative. Make it your own — like Mikkel did with his family’s business.

If you’re out there changing the world already, send me postcards (or twitpics). I’d love to travel along virtually. God speed!

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, Earth, environment, federal government, humanitarian aid, NASA

I Met Beth Moore!

Coming back yesterday from the STs-132 mission tweetup hosted by the Johnson Space Center, I met Beth Moore at the airport.

Beth Moore. Credit: Living Proof Ministries

Beth Moore. Credit: Living Proof Ministries

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, let me just tell you she’s an inspiration to women of faith around the world with her books and Biblical studies. My daughters, sister and Mother have all read, taken, and shared Beth Moore studies through the years. In fact, when I was in Zambia visiting my missionary aunt Melody, we watched a Beth Moore series video with the other missionary ladies serving in country. “Breaking Free” was my first Beth Moore experience. My daughter shared “Praying God’s Word” with me when I was going through a tough time. I bought the book to share with my friends. I have a library full of Beth Moore books and devotionals.

No, Beth Moore's hair doesn't look like this!

No, Beth Moore's hair doesn't look like this!

Back to my story: I noticed a petite woman on the escalator in front of me wearing a cute outfit and Texas hair. Those of you from Texas know what I’m talking about. Texas hair is perfectly coiffed. Virginia hair is pony-tailed or clipped. (I moved from Texas hair to Virginia hair long ago. I’ve worked in DC for 20 years now.)

I followed this cutely-dressed woman into the airport tram. As the doors opened, I saw her face for the first time. She looked so familiar. Then it hit me, she looked just like Beth Moore — who I’ve only ever seen in video and on book bios. As we left the tram I asked her if anyone ever told her she looked like Beth Moore. She responded with a laugh, “Oh, I get that all the time.” I laughed and told her I wasn’t surprised because she looked just like her. As I started to walk away, she added,

“….It’s because I am Beth Moore.”

Wow! We chatted as we headed down the escalator and to our respective gates. I told her how my daughter Steph and I visited the JAM facilities in South Africa because of her!

Last Christmas, I attended a Christmas tea at the Willard hosted by a colleague’s church. At the tea, Candice Pretorius, daughter-in-law of JAM founder Peter Pretorius, showed a video with a clip by Beth Moore talking about JAM‘s amazing work feeding poor children in Africa. I talked with Candice about Steph wanting to serve orphans in South Africa and that we were planning a trip to survey potential organizations. Candice connected us with Joy Nell at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg to learn more about what JAM does.

As it turned out, JAM really doesn’t need counselors at this time. They focus on feeding the most at risk children. And what a great job they do! See earlier blogposts of our time in Africa.

JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa

JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa

Steph, BTW, just graduated in May with her Masters in Community Counseling, with a specialty in play therapy. I shared with Beth Moore that she accepted a one-year (or more) position with Bethany House in Johannesburg, South Africa to work with victim empowerment program to counsel kids with untreated trauma. She leaves in July.  Here’s the cool part about meeting Beth Moore: she told me several times how thankful she was that my daughter was going to serve in South Africa.

She told me to tell Steph how proud she was of her.

Bethany House

Bethany House

Just let me tell you, those few words of encouragement on a chance meeting in the IAH airport (though I don’t believe in chance) made all the difference to my daughter Steph. She’s facing some life-altering experiences — both thrilling and unsettling. She’s uprooting to a different continent, leaving friends and family, and starting over with children who desperately need help. She’s following God’s call for her life, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Beth Moore’s heartfelt words of thanks gave Steph a boost when she needs it most.

Thank you Beth Moore for all you do! So cool to meet you!!

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Filed under Africa, space, tweet-up, writers

Dot-Connecting Snippets: SCBWI Bologna 2010

With spotty wireless access at our Bologna hotel — four WiFi providers in four days — blogging became a contact sport. Now that I’m back home, I can share a few snippets about the personal connections I made in Bologna without fear of losing internet connection.

Bologna Book Fair Logo

My sister Aimee, of Aimee Louise Photography, flew up from Dallas, Texas to travel with me to Bologna. She offered her services to the SCBWI Bologna organizers for the conference. They graciously accepted. YAY! How fun for us to attend together! While Aimee documented events at the symposium and Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I attended the writers’ sessions and manuscript critiques. Aimee shared a few of her pics with me — like this one of Illustrator John Shelley’s tie. Her blog has more pics.

Illustrator John Shelley's tie

Illustrator John Shelley's tie. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

John, one of the organizers of the SCBWI Bologna 2010 event, wowed us with his wardrobe choices and colors. Red seems to be a theme for him. I’m not sure yet what it reveals about him, but he’s hard to miss in a crowd. Delightful. Unique. Engaging. The tie says it all!

I enjoyed chatting with Leonard Marcus, Children’s book historian, author and critic. Aimee used his book reviews in Parenting magazine to pick books for her boys. Leonard is interested in putting together an art exhibition of childrens’ books on space. What a great idea. We have a NASA Art Program. Might be a good fit.

"Do" of Tara Books. BolognaRagazzi Award winner

"Do" of Tara Books. BolognaRagazzi Award winner

What a privilege to speak with Gita Wolf of Tara Books in India. They search for local artisans to translate their art into book form. “Do!” — text by Gita and illustrations by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram DhadpeGita — won a BolognaRagazzi Award in the New Horizons category. I love how a magnificent book like this can bring rich traditions of India to children around the world.

Funny story about Neal Porter of Roaring Brook Press. We could only get wireless down in the lobby at our hotel — when we could get it to work. Aimee was processing her conference images, selecting the top dozen to submit to the SCBWI organizers, but couldn’t get her internet access to work. She put the images on a thumb drive for me to email her selections. I was waiting for the images to upload into email. Took forEVER.

While I waited impatiently, Neal Porter walked into the lobby with colleagues. His image stared at me from my computer screen while he settled on a couch nearby. So bazaar. I walked over and showed him Aimee’s picture. He loved it and asked us to email it to him. I did. Of all the hotel lobbies in all the city….

Neal Porter. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

Neal Porter. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

I met new friends and reconnected with writers I’d met in Bologna two years ago. The amazing Candy Gourlay typed furiously in front of me during the conference, trying to capture notes from our presenters. Her blog, Notes from the Slush Pile, is delightful. I was blown away by Candy’s writing in during the 2008 symposium — lyrical, musical language. She’s a gifted writer. Her post about Richard Peck captures his “call to action” for us as writers.

Sarah Towle , founder and creator of Time Traveler Tours, gave us great advice on best places to eat near our hotel. She’s writing a wonderful historical novel about the French revolution. Based on the excerpt she read to us during one of the sessions, I can’t wait for a publisher to snap up her manuscript.

Author Sandra Nickel. photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

Sandra Nickel. Credit: Aimee

I met a kindred spirit: Sandra Nickel from Switzerland. She’s writing a story about a haunted French chalet. Sounds intriguing. She signed with an agent in the last few weeks, so things should get moving for her. She’s so much fun. I wish we lived closer!

Marjorie Van Heerden is a children’s book writer and illustrator from South Africa. My daughter is moving down to South Africa in July to work with Bethany House Trust as a counselor, so I was thrilled to spend time with Marjorie and soak up her stories about my daughter’s new home.  Marjorie illustrated over 100 children’s books which have been published in 33 languages. In her spare time, she serves as the co-regional advisor of the new South African chapter of SCBWI. She invited us to visit her in Cape Town. We just may take her up on her offer.

Space Cat by Doug Cushman

I met Doug Cushman, author/illustrator of over 100 books, during lunch at the conference, then kept running into him at the Bologna Book Fair, the shops in Bologna, and on our flight from Bologna to Paris (his home base). He’s warm and unassuming — though he thought we were stalking him. ;) Nice, nice guy. Bonus points for a guy who writes about a Space Cat!

The manuscript critiques, as much as I hate them, really gave me great insights into how to make the stories better.

Ellen Hopkins, author of multiple New York Times bestsellers in teen fiction, as well as numerous non-fiction books, critiqued “Purrgus, A Cat of Olden Times.” She suggested the story should be about a boy, rather than a cat; and challenged me to consider nonfiction. So many possibilities. Thanks Ellen. Her newest in the “Crank” series, “Fallout,” comes out this fall.

Literary Agent John Cusick of Scott Treimel NY critiqued “The Ultra Secret Lives of Xandri and Jam.” He liked the concept but thought little Jam should be older — 5 or 6, possibly 7. Makes sense. He offered great insight on how readers relate to characters. I look forward to my next rewrite with his comments in mind. John’s young adult novel, Girl Parts, will debut this fall. How cool is that?

Purely by happenstance, I was given the opportunity to pitch “Xandri and Jam” to Ginger Clark, Literary Agent for Curtis Brown in New York. I’d actually met Ginger briefly at a 2007 writers’ conference in Texas. Ok, we didn’t actually meet. She stood beside a group of us at the reception and I offered for her to join us. Ginger doesn’t carry fond memories of the conference or Texans, for that matter; but is willing to overlook my Texan heritage. Good thing.

At the Bologna airport, we befriended Erika Pedrick, Subsidiary Rights Supervisor for APA Books/Magination Press of the American Psychological Association. She stood in line in front of us at the Air France baggage counter for over an hour, only to get turned away and told to return in 30 minutes for the next flight. We became traveling buddies. What a nice surprise out of a frustrating experience.

SCBWI Bologna Fair Booth. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

SCBWI Bologna Fair Booth. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

A big THANK YOU to Team Bologna:

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Filed under Africa, artists, NASA, space, writers

Have and Have-nots: Light years apart

Koome Village

Kooma Village

I’m really strugging with reintry into my 1st-World lifestyle after three weeks in a 3rd-World reality in southern Africa.

I’ve experienced 3rd-World living before. I studied in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Mexico during college, and built a church in a little village in poverty-stricken central Brazil. And yet, this transition seems harder for me. The situation in Africa — ever more desperate.

In addition to extreme poverty among the citizens, the mass migration of millions fleeing from tyrannical governments, such as Zimbabwe, strains scarce resources to the breaking point.

SnakePark

SnakePark

So, what drew me to Africa? Business? Pleasure? A little of both. This trip was an “occupational survey” for my youngest daughter, who completes her graduate studies in 2010 with a degree in counseling. Her specialty is play therapy, to help children work through traumatic experiences. She has a heart for children of the AIDs epidemic.

Kids from the street.

Kids from the street.

Her time in South Africa and Mozambique last summer introduced her to the “child-head-of-household” crisis caused by AIDs. With parents dying and children forced to raise their siblings, they are forced into early adulthood without the emotional maturity for the job. My daughter wants to help the children cope with tragedy in their young lives.

JAM: Change a Life. Feed a Child

JAM: Change a Life. Feed a Child

We embarked on a “survey” of potential organizations where she might contribute her counseling skills. In South Africa, we met with  JAM (Joint Aid Management), which feeds starving children across Africa; Door of Hope, which accepts abandoned babies no-questions-asked (CNN reported on Door of Hope the day we visited), Bethany House Trust, a home for orphan and foster children with a holistic approach to treatment and placement; and a Soweto Township Primary School and Day Care. In Zambia, my daughter accompanied a Play Therapy specialist to a local orphanage to meet the children.

I offer a few observations from the trip.

South Africa:

Nelson Mandela poster in school.

Nelson Mandela poster in school.

We saw and spoke with people on both sides of the apartheid system of government in South Africa, which is a relatively new democracy after the handover of power from white to black leadership in 1994. South Africa has 1st-World infrastructure in the historical “have” population, and a 3rd-World reality for the have-nots.

In the 19 years since apartheid was abolished, South Africa’s infrastructure for the ‘few’ has been shifted to cover the ‘many’ — straining the country’s resources.

Soweto Po

Abandoned Power Station

Electricity, under apartheid, was only available for the white population in the cities. The black townships had no power. Now that the power stations are supporting the total population, the system shuts down regularly. Without new power stations, the infrastructure can’t cope with the demand. Power is often “hijacked” by makeshift power lines strung from the overhead cables to the ground. These wires, when not properly grounded but held down by a pile of rocks, bring tragedy to innocent children playing in the area who stumble across the hot wires.

Desperate people do desperate things.

SnakePark

SnakePark

Woman Fetching Water

Woman Fetching Water

In preparation for the upcoming 2010 World Cup events in South Africa, the government of South Africa is providing propane heaters and cooktops to lessen the demand on electricity. One of our cab drivers told us how welcome the propane units are, though he held held little confidence the units could put a dent in the problem. At least, he informed us, his wife could cook for him when the power went out. (I won’t even TOUCH the division of labor between men and women. That would fill an entire book, not a just a blogpost.)

Portia's 1-room tin shack

Portia's 1-room tin shack

We visited squatter villages, many filled with destitute emigrants who fled from other countries to the cities in “Hope in Africa.” We met with Portia who came to South Africa from an unnamed neighboring country. She allowed us into her one-room shack. No water. No plumbing. No electricity. She graciously told us about her life (as interpreted by my buddy Mike who speaks a dozen or so languages). Outside her little tin shack she planted little cactus gardens. (You can see her water buckets outside the structure in the picture.)

The human spirit is amazingly abounding, even in the most hopeless times.

Making the best of circumstances

Making the best of circumstances

AIDs epidemic:

This little girl stole my heart.

Big Smiles Day Care

Dan (name changed for privacy issues), our escort for a day in the Soweto Township (home of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Dan), is HIV-positive. He told us the story of how he found out. His second son had health issues. After repeatedly taking him in for treatment, the doctor suggested an AIDs test since the boy exhibited the telltale sign of lumps behind his ears. The boy tested positive. Dan’s wife admitted she was HIV-positive. Dan tested positive too. He felt devastated and betrayed. They lost their youngest boy to AIDs. No medicine was available to help him.

He wants attention

Big Smiles Day Care

Dan had two choices: leave his wife or stay with her. The doctor counseled that their healthy son could soon be an orphan, as so many other children who lose both parents to AIDs. The boy should enjoy his parents as long as possible. Dan chose to forgive his wife and stay a family.

On the happy side of this story, Dan and his wife have enrolled in an AIDs program through a US NGO (I’m not sure which one) which gives them drug cocktails for free. He boasted his white blood cell count as being in a really good range. He threw out numbers that met the world to him, yet nothing to me. I had to ask what was a dangerous vs. acceptable number. I admit. I really knew very little about the battle against AIDs beFORE this trip. I am now painfully aware now.

To quote Dan:

Everyone is either infected or affected by AIDs.

Plight of Children:

Primary School Principal

Primary School Principal

When visiting a primary school in the Soweto Township, the principal spoke to us in a dark office. Power had been out for a couple of weeks. She’d been assured they would have power sometime the following week. She told us of her challenges running the school. Children starve. Their parents die of AIDs. They, themselves, are infected. Older children care for younger siblings. They may or may not have family to help. Many drop out and end up on the streets.

Playground Games

Playground Games

The principal told us a story. One of her young students quit coming to school. She discovered he was caring for his deathly ill Mother, as well as his brothers and sisters. The principal found a hospice organization to take the Mother in. After proper treatment, she returned home to care for her own children.

So, why isn’t the same care available to ALL infected parents?

The principal explained she can’t help when she doesn’t know the family has a problem. Many parents won’t admit they are sick, much less that their children are sick.

Stigma. Shame. Fear.

Can you resist that face?

Can you resist that face?

The government now provides a grain product so that every child has one meal a day at school. The principal told us that she asks for a donation every week from the children that allows her to buy spices, olive oil and other ingredients to add to the porridge-type substance they serve the children — just to give it a flavor. She also has them bring in containers to take the grain home for the days when school is closed. Otherwise, they may not eat until school opens again.

Many of the children experience sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Rape is rampant. How do you build hope in a child who has so little and so little to live for? (Thankfully, my daughter has skills to help.)

And yet, those with the least keep going…in spite of it all.

Thumbs up after receiving new "tropicals" or flip-flops

Thumbs up after receiving new "tropicals" or flip-flops

Zambia:

Streets of Livingstone

Streets of Livingstone

My long-lost aunt Melody and my uncle Phil are missionaries with the people of Zambia. My aunt found me two days after I joined Facebook. She invited us to visit. Since we planned to travel to South Africa, we decided to hop over to Zambia while in the neighborhood. We spent a glorious week with Melody in Livingstone while my uncle was in the US for surgery. Girl-time!

Power is sporatic in the city. Thursday is their “load-shedding” night where the city goes dark for 3-4 hours. I can only assume the government is selling that “saved” electricity to a neighboring country, perhaps. That’s only my speculation. Power went out Saturday morning for several hours, but I’d gotten up early to download pics to Facebook, so I felt proud to beat the outage. No hot breakfast though.

Lion King welcomes Chinese investment.

Lion King welcomes Chinese investment.

What surprised me the most? Chinese infrastructure EVERYwhere. Roads. Schools. Buildings. Why, you may wonder? Infrastructure in exchange for mineral rights. Zambia is rich in copper, amethyst, aquamarine, beryl, emerald, tourmaline, garnets and more.

Koome Village Community School

Kooma Village Community School

In comparison to the shantytowns in South Africa, the poverty in the Zambian villages felt hopeful. I know that sounds strange. To me, the squalor of the squatter towns in South Africa felt oppressive, yet the villages felt almost quaint. They looked artistic, picturesque. Even the poverty of a one-room school hut seems idyllic.

Mukuni Village: Home of Lion King

Mukuni Village: Home of Lion King

The villages still operate with a strong sense of community. Village elders. Social heirarchy. Family structure. They are established and well-run. The shacktowns, in comparison, come together in chaos of uprooted people with no community ties. Society breaks down. Crime and despair follow.

What’s Next?

So what now? What can I do to make a difference?

Zambian boy

Zambian boy

Over 30 years ago, my Daddy felt a burden for starving people in Africa. He tried to persuade our extended family to cut back on lavish Christmas spending and give gifts to those who needed it most. We adopted the idea later when my girls were little. We agreed with family to exchange Christmas ornaments and give donations in family member’s honor. Our girls chose Toys for Tots. We gave them an amount we would normally spend on gifts and let them shop for toys.

Street Boys

Street Boys

We piled the toys into a mountain, took their picture in front of it, and give the picture as our gift to family. In recent years, we’ve given gifts through the World Vision Gift catalog. And last year, after I met with folks from JAM, I give gifts to JAM in my daughters’ names. And yet, these contributions feel so incredibly inadequate.

Mukuni Village Boy

Mukuni Village Boy

My time in Africa reminded me of Daddy and how God broke his heart for the people of Africa. (And how cool that his youngest brother is now living and serving in Africa!) There I was, in the very place, looking at the very faces he yearned to help.

I want to do more.


Bethany House Transport

Bethany House Transport

Bethany House Trust, a Christian-based organization, stole my heart on this trip. I want to find a way to help get the word out about the amazing things they do in their community. Gert Jonkers told us they spend R4000 per month per child ($510). The government reimburses them R1000 per month ($127). The government is five months behind in payment. Gert and Antoinette have used all their savings to keep Bethany House afloat. In this economy, many like organizations already folded.

Bethany House Playground

Bethany House Playground

$1 each would help. $50 would be a tremendous contribution. I don’t think they are set up for US contributions, but you can contact them directly to see how YOU can help.

So I leave you with this double rainbow I discovered over Victoria Falls. I saw the red flower, walked over to take its picture, and saw the most gorgeous site EVER! What a wonderful sign of hope and new beginnings.

Double Rainbow over Victoria Falls

Double Rainbow over Victoria Falls

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, Earth, poverty