Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008- Poverty

Today is the second Blog Action Day, with this year’s them being “poverty”. Meike Bosserhoff, A friend and a colleague of mine, recently returned from three and a half months of volunteer work at the El Shadai foster home in Uganda, so I was excited to her about her first hand experiences in Africa and thought that it was appropriate to the Blog Action Day theme of poverty.

In Uganda there are over 2 million orphans (18 years old and younger) and 50% of the population is under 15 years of age. El Shadai takes in kids from the streets, poor families in neighboring villages, and some real orphans. Currently during school holidays there are 35 kids living there and when school is in session, that number drops to 20, with 13 off at a boarding school, and 2 attending university. The home provides food and shelter for the kids staying there and they pay for school age kids to go off to a boarding school. The home is 8-10 km away from Uganda’s second largest town (Jinga) and 80 km from the capital. It is also close to Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile.

The kids’ diets are limited to mostly beans and corn flour and water type of paste. The kids can also have rice but this requires that they eat way larger quantities to feel even remotely full, so it isn’t eaten that often. Fruit is too expensive to be served very often. Although the home does have a refrigerator, they aren’t always able to pay the electricity bill and it is often without power, so it can’t really be used to keep food cold and from spoiling, further limited what can be served to the kids.

Malaria and Typhoid are not uncommon and it is a challenge to get good drinking water. Boiling water to make it safe is too expensive and not a real option. The home is required to burn charcoal, which is more expensive than burning wood and so the charcoal is used more for cooking than for boiling drinking water. Meike’s saw one of the girls that had gotten tired of the limited diet that the kids were being offered and wasn’t eating regularly, got sick and she had to convince the girl to eat, even though the girl didn’t want to eat. The girl’s medicine required that she took it with some food in her stomach. I can very well imagine that I would tire of that diet as well! Also, I know that beans don’t always agree with me when I do eat them.

Living in the home provides other challenges that many of us aren’t used to as well. Water pressure in the showers was not what many of them were used to. In addition the home had a hot water tank on top of the complex that absorbed heat from the sun in the daytime, but it was not uncommon for the volunteers to have to take cold showers. Many volunteers made arrangements at take a hot shower away from the home so that they could occasionally have a hot shower.

Treatment of animals is different than many of us are used to. Animals are generally not “pets” but have a real function. They would buy a cat because there were mice. A dog was to be a watchdog and help to keep people off the compound. During Meike’s stay one of the dogs vaccination expired and it got sick. It lost its balance and wasn’t able to walk and was howling with pain. Meike paid for eggs, milk, bread, and some chicken along with treatment so that it could recover. The children weren’t used to seeing anyone providing such care for an animal before. They were relieved and happy that their dog recovered and lived.

I’ve seen several of the pictures that Meike posted as well as many on various web sites related to El Shadai and I’m amazed at how happy the kids appear. Many of them have had hard lives before coming to the home but you don’t really see it in their smiles and laughing faces. The home provides many of them opportunities that didn’t exist for them before. One of the goals of the home is to provide an education for all the kids living there, in many cases that will include studying at a university.

Fundraising efforts for El Shadai have resulted in the home being able to buy the land that the home is located on and while they’re living on this land, new construction is planned. The donation of construction materials, transport of the materials, and people to build it are all still needed. In addition, it would be great to make use of solar power to help with the power needs of the home and clean safe drinking water would be most certainly welcomed.

Meike has written about some of her experiences at El Shadai in her blog (German version, English version). She has several web albums of pictures at Picasa. In additions to the albums of pictures from her time in Africa (album 1 and 2) there are some other albums with pictures of items that Meike brought back from Africa and is selling (all money will go to El Shadai). You can also donate at Meike’s sites and she will transfer the money to the home. For anyone needing receipts of donations for tax or other purposes, you can donate to Friends of El Shadai (based in the U.S.) or to Bulungi (based in Germany). You can become a volunteer at El Shadai, the length of time that you would stay would be up to you. Keep in mind that you would need to pay for your flight and other associated transportation related costs, housing and food costs during your stay, and there is a donation built into your stay, weather it be 2 weeks, 3 months, or longer. If you’d like to sponsor a child you can do this at Friends of El Shadai or at Bulungi, as the El Shadai website is not equipped to take donations. You can also donate money for some other specific purpose, just be sure to let either of those sites know that this is your wish.

After talking to Meike I saw a segment on CNN about PlayPumps that looked very promising. They put in water pumps in sub-Saharan Africa that are powered by kids playing on merry-go-rounds, so there is no need for electricity to power the pumps. The pumps are typically drilled near schools, so there are lots of kids to power the pumps and because the water is not coming from rivers and lakes that typically are contaminated, they produce cleaner and safer water that doesn’t need to be transported the great distances that people currently do from rivers and lakes. I’m hoping that one of these could be set up at El Shadai, but I haven’t had the chance to check this out yet. Since more than a billion people worldwide don’t have access to clean safe water this is serious problem that this organization can help with.

I hope that you’ll get involved in helping eliminate world poverty. Helping kids to attend school in Uganda at El Shadai or getting involved in PlayPumps efforts to provide safe and clean drinking water are a couple of ways that you can make a difference.

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