Tag Archives: South Africa

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

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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Cape Town: Visual Delight

We’ve spent the last week in Cape Town. What a great vacation for Steph. This is her first time away from the Bethany House since July.

We discovered the cute little Cafe Doppio Zero down the street from our hotel. Free wifi!!! What an amazing thing, when every other place else costs per MB. Since I tend to process pictures (major MB), Doppio Zero is our fav hangout. We’ve come every day since we found it. This is our last full day in Cape Town, so I wanted to share a few pics with you. The stories will come later as I have time to process.

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We fly home tomorrow to spend Christmas with the children of Bethany House in Johannesburg. My daughter volunteered my potato soup for Christmas Eve. I’m used to making it for the three of us, not 50+. I think we’ll be peeling potatoes for the entire day. But, what fun!

Merry Christmas to you all!

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Flying South for Winter

The temperature dropped to the mid 20′s here in the DC region today, with the wind chill factor registering in the teens. Brrrr. Biting cold. The heater in my house rarely gets over 64 degrees on cold days like this. As I pack for a Summer Christmas in South Africa with daughter Steph, I find the irony amusing.

Giraffes from Mike Boon's South African Game Reserve

Giraffes from Mike Boon's South African Game Reserve.

Note: For those who don’t know, my daughter Steph works with the Bethany House counseling school children who are victims of trauma. The stories the children tell her keep Steph awake at night. Part of our journey to South Africa is to encourage and uplift her, so that she can pour out her heart to the children who are hurting — damaged by unspeakable abuse and heart-breaking life experiences.

Here is a excerpt from Steph’s blog

Steph talks about her journey in her Blog

Now, let’s talk about our airline-imposed travel constraints:

Jet Blue allows one bag for the DC to NYC leg of the trip. South African Airways allows two.

Here’s what I need to take with me:

  • Steph’s summer clothes (she didn’t have room to take down with her in July  which is winter in South Africa),
  • gifts and goodies for the children of Bethany House,
  • Steph’s Birthday gifts (she turns 25 next week),
  • Christmas gifts for both daughters, and …last but not least…
  • my clothes.

Basically, I’m faced with an over-constrained equation. The only way to make this work –remove variables. Meaning, my clothes!

I spent yesterday trying on summer clothes in an EXTREMELY chilly house in my effort to edit down to the bare essentials for three weeks in Africa.

This little packing exercise got me thinking.

  • What about our space pioneers who pack for six month on Space Station — especially if travel means tucking three humans into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft? What do you take? What do you leave behind on Earth?
  • What was it like for early American pioneers leaving behind family treasures to load up a westward-bound covered wagon for the nine-month journey across mountain passes to uncertainty on the other side?
  • What about families who left Europe to start a new future across the ocean in the Americas?
  • What about refugees who flee violence or poverty or drought in countries around the world today?

The shacktowns in and around Johannesburg are filled with families who left everything behind to build a better life in South Africa. Take Portia, for instance….

We met Portia outside Johannesburg.

We met Portia outside Johannesburg.

My buddy Mike Boon introduced us to Portia last time we visited South Africa. Portia lives in a one room tin shack outside Johannesburg. She welcomed us into her home. No electricity. No plumbing. No running water. (The orange containers in the doorway are for transporting water, which she has to do every day.)

Squatter's Village outside Johannesburg

The shack village where Portia lives.

Yes, I’m spoiled. We live in a land of excess. I’m ashamed to admit my struggle over what NOT to take with me for a three-week trip.

Perhaps I should take a cue from the birds who fly south for the winter: Take nothing, find food and necessities along the way.

Matthew 6:26 comes to mind:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Last word: After hearing my tale of woe today, Adam and Ben of Jess3 called Jet Blue and discovered I can take an extra bag for only $30. I know. I know. I could have checked myself. Somehow that never made it to my to-do list. Now, I get to decide if it’s worth it to repack and add back my “excess” things.

So, do I fly south like a bird, or like an American?

At least I have a choice.

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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

JAM: Help Africa Help Itself!

One child dies every eight seconds.

One of the reasons we traveled to South Africa this summer: to survey potential organizations where my youngest daughter might possibly serve orphans who’ve lost their parents to AIDs. She’s completing her grad degree in Counseling, with a specialty in Play Therapy.

Joint Aid Management, JAM — South Africa’s best kept secret — was our first appointment. Our taxicab driver had trouble finding JAM, but once we did, WOW. Their complex is amazing.

Reception office at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg.

Reception office at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg.

What is JAM?

During our meeting, we learned about JAM’s history and how they’ve morphed into the humanitarian organization they are today. We walked the property and watched two movies about their work that brought us to tears.

We learned about JAM’s founder, Peter Pretorius (seen in the portrait above, who “saw the light” after he was abandoned in a refugee camp for ten days. He lived the plight of the refugees, with no food and no care. He watched people around him die EVERY day, and helped bury the bodies. What he saw during that ten days broke his heart. He returned home wanting to help feed the starving people where the need was the greatest.

"Informal Settlement" or squatter park not far from JAM HQ

"Informal Settlement" or squatter park not far from JAM HQ

JAM’s website describes them as follows:

“Joint Aid Management is a South African founded, registered non-profit Christian humanitarian relief and development organisation, with 25 years experience in sustainable development.”

The organization helps almost half a million children in need each year. They focus on the community as a resource to support the children through:

  • school food programs to offer on nutritional meal each day,
  • drilling for clean water convenient to the community,
  • help with proper sanitation,
  • assisting vulnerable children and orphans,
  • programs to combat HIV/AIDS,
  • community training and skills development,
  • agricultural training,
  • assisting projects to bring income into the community.

JAM’s little red plastic bowl (visible in the portrait above) is their signature. Each bowl holds what may be the only meal the child gets each day — a porridge-like nutritionally-fortified food ration made of corn, soy beans, sugar, and micronutrients.

JAM’s little red bowl provides 75% of each child’s recommended daily allowance (RDA), by UNICEF‘s standards.

Right now, JAM is actively fighting back against starvation and human suffering through the schools in several African countries:

  • 237,000 children fed each school day in Mozambique;
  • 202,000 in Angola;
  • 2,200 in Sudan, with plans to increase support to 15,000;
  • 24,000 in Zimbabwe, in partnership with World Vision;
  • 4,948 in an informal settlement in Orange County, South Africa.
JAM Headquarters Offices

JAM Headquarters Building

We learned in our meeting at JAM that feeding children in South Africa has been traditionally lower on the priority scale because needs, until recently, hadn’t been as desperate as in other African nations. With the influx of poverty-stricken immigrants from neighboring countries, the situation has changed.

JAM plans to feed 100,000 children in South Africa within the next five years.

We toured JAM’s headquarters, a complex with an extensive logistics network that includes food storage, vehicle maintenance, housing units for employees, multimedia lab, and office space. JAM employs 700 full time employees, with over 3,000 volunteers. They make every attempt to employ locals in the communities they serve, offering job training and income support to help self-sustain the effort as time goes by.

JAM's Vehicle Depot

JAM's Vehicle Depot

JAM operates a fleet of 170 vehicles, many purchased at auctions and rebuilt for their rugged logistics requirements. These trucks travel over rough terrain where roads may or may not exist. Believe me, after driving in Zambia, I completely understand what wear and tear is expected of JAM’s fleet.

Partnering with JAM, you can “help Africa help itself.”

You can donate online to feed a child for a year. Or fund water drilling, HIV/AIDs support, or emergency relief. The choice is yours. As we move into the giving season, consider giving friends and family the gift of life for a child.

Save yourself a trip to the shopping mall. Give a donation in honor of your loved ones. What better gift can you give?

JAM has a US presence in downtown DC and one in Alexandria, Virginia. You can start here:

900 19th Street, NW, Suite 400; Washington DC, 20006

202.380.3566

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Filed under Africa, humanitarian aid, poverty

Southern Africa: Story Behind the Eyes

Growing up as a kid in Texas, I remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF, an organization that helps at -risk children in developing countries. We collected donations instead of candy. Going to school in Nova Scotia following high school, I organized a 40-mile walk-a-thon to benefit UNICEF. Only three of us completed the forty miles. I only remember dehydration and an emergency room visit upon finishing. The rest is a blur. I have no recollection, what-so-ever, of how much we earned for our efforts. Probably not much.

All that seems so long ago. UNICEF never went away. At-risk children never went away.

Perhaps I lost sight of the cause once my own life got complicated.

I’m looking at it now though. My daughter’s passion for children orphaned by the AIDs pandemic focused my attention again.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

According to UNICEF:

“About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.”

Boys in the bush.

Boys in the bush.

The UNICEF website cites frightening statistics for the southern part of Africa:

“The number of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is projected to reach 25 million by the end of the decade, 18 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. This, along with only modest progress fighting malaria, means the threats facing child survival are as grave as ever.”

I’m just now researching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Yes, I know. I haven’t been paying attention.

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership
Kids on street in Zambia

Kids on street in Zambia

Goal 6, combatting HIV/AIDS, directly relates to my daughter’s passion for the alarming number of children orphaned by the great killer.  Projections point to 18 million parentless children in Sub-Saharan Africa by next year. These children must assume the parental role of finding food and caring for their siblings, forcing many to drop out of school.

In South Africa, the statistics on the number of individuals, of all ages, living with HIV/AIDs — simply staggering.

This girl's got spunk!

This girl's got spunk!

Everywhere we went during our time in South Africa, the topic came up. Parents are dying. If family members aren’t available to care for the children, the social services steps in. But often, the children slip through the cracks because their parents never informed the schools of their illness. The children simply stop coming to school. As we learned from our interview with the school principal in Soweto Township, she often serves as a detective/social worker at times, trying to determine where the child is, once he disappears from class.

I really started this blogpost to show you the faces of the children we met. Somehow, I felt compelled to add a bit about their world. I don’t know their individual stories to share with you, only the aggregate.

Just look into their eyes. I’ll let the children speak for themselves.

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Fighting for the shot

Fighting for the shot

South Africa school uniform

South Africa school uniform

Simply gorgeous

Simply gorgeous

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

Now THAT's a pose!

Now THAT's a pose!

Such a tiny one.

Such a tiny one.
He elbowed everyone to get near me.

He elbowed everyone to get near me.

Hopeful, yet measured

Hopeful, yet measured


My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

Best friends

Best friends

Full of promise

Full of promise

Not sure of me...

What a dumplin'

She never once smiled

She never once smiled

Play buddies

Play buddies

Thumbs up

Thumbs up

He wanted a "sweetie."

He wanted a "sweetie."

She's not sure about me yet.

She's not sure about me yet.

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, poverty

Mike Boon’s Vuka! Wake-Up Call

Ancient African proverb: “A man without culture is like a zebra without stripes.”

South Africa: 1996

“Mike Boon, a white, was on the mean streets of Soweto photographing anti-apartheid graffiti when he was caught by the mob. About 1,000 supporters of the Pan African Congress – motto: one settler, one bullet – had beaten him, doused him with petrol and were preparing to burn him alive in a horrific spectacle known as necklacing.

“They had the tyre, although they never put it around my neck, and they were shouting for matches,” he says. Mr Boon only escaped a hideous death because he speaks fluent Zulu, and was able to persuade his captors that he was there to promote their cause.”

Paul Rodgers, The Independent, 20 October 1996

Yikes! Meet my buddy Mike.

Mike on his Game Reserve

Mike teaches us about animal poop on his Game Reserve

Mike, the multi-lingual ex-special forces peace-loving folk music guitar-picking minstrel, who founded a marketing company in the 1980′s in a rags-to-riches story. His vision: creating community-based, culturally-targeted delivery of product messages into the hands of people on the streets and in the townships of South Africa.

In order to understand an issue, Mike seeks to understand the root cause — the people, and how they view the world.

Under his leadership, Group Africa grew into a multinational organization of 7000 employees operating in over 25 countries in just 17 years. As he tells it, Mike grew tired of constant international travel and the burden of corporate leadership, and sold his business to an American public relations giant.

For his second act (or third, really, if you count his time in the military), Mike launched the Vulindlela™ Network to help bring about personal and organizational VUKA! — interventions to foster cultural and social understanding and shared vision. Mike’s work brings about reconciliation. Mike’s bio states:

“His work unashamedly acknowledges and deals with the inherent racism, prejudice, anger, fear and denial…”

Tuff stuff, the challenges Mike takes on. What can I say? He’s Superman. So, by now you’re probably wondering how I know Mike. Let’s take a trip back in time.

Texas: 1974

I met Mike Boon in 1974 at a Southwest Texas Rotary International meet ‘n greet for incoming and outgoing exchange students. Mike was going to high school in Gonzales, Texas for the year. I attended San Marcos High School, and had been selected to spend a year in Denmark. Mike and I hit it off immediately.

What I remember most about Mike? His to-die-for accent, easy laugh, and deep dives into the meaning of life. He taught me a bit of Xhosa, an amazing clicking language; and introduced my family to a more efficient method of left-handed eating — keeping the fork tongs-down and the knife in my right hand. We Americans tend to eat right-handed with the tongs facing upward, switch the fork to the left hand tongs-down to cut, then switch back to the right hand tongs-up to eat.

Mike faced a mandatory 2-year term in the military when he returned home to South Africa. I couldn’t imagine the soft-hearted, deeply thoughtful, easy-going boy carrying a gun. Much less shooting it. Much to my surprise, but not really because Mike always exceeded expectations in everything he undertook, Mike went into the military and earned a spot in the elite special forces. The letters he sent from active duty had sections literally cut from the pages.

Mike always wrote me about fighting injustice, opposing the forces of evil, standing up for what’s right, understanding the core of humanity. Deep stuff. Mike stuff.

Mike and I stayed in touch on and off through the years. Our lives took so many different turns. I knew Mike had written a book, and that he’d done well. I had no idea HOW well. We lost touch about 10 years or so ago when my Christmas letters started bouncing back. I kept sending them, they kept returning. Enter the age of the internet. Mike found me a couple of years ago through NASA. I’d spent a few years as Editor of NASA.gov. I’d left digital fingerprints everywhere.

Our friendship spanned decades and continents, yet we’d not seen each other for 35 years. Until this summer.

Summer: 2009

ZambeziCoverPageI learned so much about Mike, the man, during our visit to South Africa. I had really only ever known the boy. Spending time with Mike and his family helped fill in the gaps. Ok, not gaps. Craters.

Reading both Mike’s books before our visit, helped remind me who Mike is — Mike, the philosopher. No depth is ever deep enough for him. He’ll always dig down and uncover another layer of understanding. We are alike that way. I really need to understand what drives things, what makes pieces fit together. I appreciate the way Mike approaches a problem and finds a way around an impasse.

Mike deals with culture in his ground-breaking 1996 book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership. Reading this book, I understood, for the first time, some of the cultural issues we face, even today, in the United States.

Mike describes the “Western” view of time as individually-focused — control is internal. For instance: “I missed the bus.” Yet the traditional African view of time is circular, where “the past is more important than the future.”  In Zulu, the expression would be, “The bus left me.” In Xhosa, “The bus died on me.” Both are externally-controlled. (p. 6-7) He notes that the pace of business based on an internal or external focus is fundamentally different. On the question of when it’s time to “move on” — forgive and forget — to order to repair the nation after apartheid was abolished, Mike offers this: “The ‘African’ view would be that a considerable amount still needs to be done to settle the damage done by apartheid.”

In a circular view of time, where the past is more important than the future, how long is long enough?

I absolutely have no answer, but at least I understand the context.

MikeBoonZambeziReconciliation seems the focus of Mike’s second book, Zambezi, The First Solo Journey Along Africa’s Mighty River. 1n 2002, Mike embarked on a solo expedition down the Zambezi River from source to sea in a kayak, which had never been attempted before. Missionary-explorer David Livingstone traveled by boat down the Zambezi in the 1850-60′s, and nearly lost his life. Others attempted the journey though the centuries, but never the entire river. Mike knew he would be traveling through war-torn countries and areas of civil discontent. His trip included: Northwest Zambia, Angola/Zambia border, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The river itself has unchartered areas with unknown rapids and falls.

Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

In his own words, here’s Mike’s assessment of his chances on the river:

“In addition to the political and geographic challenges, I had to prepare myself for any number of medical eventualities. Injury and trauma could be caused by assault or bites from snakes, hippos, crocodiles, and other animals. Possible illnesses included malaria, hepatitis, dysentery and infection. I needed to be able to self-administer any number of treatments, such as suturing wounds, setting fractures and carrying out amputations.”

Mike indeed encountered near-death in a whirlpool, abduction by military guards, close encounters with crocs, hippos, and elephants. His 99-day physical challenge brought emotional healing from Mike’s ‘military and corporate combat’ demons. The Zulus named Mike, Chunge,” which means “he who achieves even though the road be difficult and torturous.” Perhaps he needs to replace the word “road” with “river.”

Mike, Man of Many Years, at last reconciled with Mike, Idealistic Boy of Long Ago.

During our visit in South Africa, I learned more about Mike’s work through the eyes of his former employee, Doug, who accompanied us to the Soweto Township, home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Through Doug, I learned that Mike created the Lesedi Cultural Village for business partners to experience tribal life and better understand the people their products would reach. He recreated village life and brought in families to live and share their culture with visitors. He is no longer associated with Lesedi, which has become a successful tourist attraction, but he met his need to teach the “Western world” partners about African culture.

Primary School has new kitchen.

Primary School has new kitchen.

We visited an impoverished Township primary school. The school principal told us that the result of one of Mike’s VUKA! experiences, the bankers returned to volunteer with the kids and build a kitchen for the school. (They still need a regulation soccer field.)

Day Care has paint and furniture.

Day Care has paint and furniture.

We spent time at a pre-school day care in SnakePark, the poorest section of Soweto. Two mothers couldn’t bear seeing children without care and on the streets. They formed the Big Smile Little Faces Day Care. As a result of Mike’s VUKA! experience,  a business group returned to volunteer and provide essentials for the children — desks, chairs, rugs, book cubbies, and more.

VUKA! landmark

VUKA! landmark

When I wanted to take pictures of the painted towers in Soweto, not far from Nelson Mandela’s home, Doug pointed out the towers were painted for the community as a result of a Mike’s VUKA! program.

Mike mixes rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and old  – drawing them together through a transformation process that strips away preconceived  cultural bias and builds bridges of shared humanity.

I saw evidence of his success whereever we went. Mike’s ground-breaking reconciliation/facilitation work is sought at the very highest levels of business and government, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Mike was flown to the Middle East to resolve settlement disputes between the Jews and Palestinians. Is there anything Mike can’t do? Slow down, maybe. Hardly likely.

Mike’s new challenge: an 8-month river adventure through even more dangerous territory than the Zambezi to draw attention to prejudice in all forms.

But, I’d like to give Mike a different challenge, as if the elimination of prejudice weren’t enough. I’d love to bring Mike to NASA, to challenge our entrenched, bureaucratic culture. I’ve only been introduced to snippets of Mike’s work to bring about reconciliation.

The more I see, the more I want Mike to bring VUKA! to NASA.

Just think, we have our very own whirlpools, rocky embankments, hippos, crocodiles, and infected thinking to offer a tempting challenge to Mike. We’ve had 50 years to develop ruts and dysfunctional business patterns.

Those of you at NASA know what I’m talking about. Folks at NASA field centers and Headquarters often mistrust each other. Organizations build walls to keep out competing other organizations. Power is not often shared well. Threat to power…well, I shudder at the thought. Many individuals and organizations operate under the fear of retribution — for thinking or speaking outside what is deemed culturally acceptable by individual managers. Sad, but true.

Not all of NASA can be described this way, of course, but enough exists to warrant at good look. Good news, though. We have a new leadership team at NASA. What better time to bring Mike in to wake us up, transform our thinking, ignite us for the future? We have much work to do.

Let’s VUKA!

Annie's Treehouse

Mike welcoming us to Annie's Treehouse, an aMAZing retreat he built for his wife!

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Filed under Africa, culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, space