Sunday, October 10

Ethiopia trip

Thought I'd write and let you know a bit of what I have been up to. I'm in Ethiopia with 10 other people, a mixture of church leaders and Tearfund staff, most of whom this is their first trip to a developing country.

We travelled first to Awassa which took most of the day after arriving in Addis, with a stop for lunch by the lake on the way, which was very pleasant.  The first night was in a local hotel/guest house and then after seeing some local programme work each of the team were taken to the host family that they were staying with.  The programme we were visiting is self help groups which have been developed since 2003. Each group has a facilitator from our partner Kale Heywet and each group starts off with about 20 people.  The group starts by saving each week, then making loans to each other and paying them back with interest.  The key to the groups is relationship and trust that is built up between them, which leads to a repayment rate of something like 98%.  Where the relationships are not good the repayment of loans is lower and other troubles emerge.  The group members save initially very small amounts, in some cases as  little as 1p, but now have the equivalent of £3,000 within the group

Each of the group had a translator with them and stayed with families that are members of local self help groups.  The team coped with it in different ways but a number said that it was the best thing they had done (one even said ever).  It is hard sometimes to deal with very different living conditions, to realise that people with so little are so full of faith and blessing God for everything they have been given, some people also just don't like the local food!  One team member had a brother of the wife in the household visit on the last morning, to see why a white man would choose to visit his sister, when as a family they had nothing to do with her, because her husband abused her and she didn't do anything about it.  The brother said at the end of the visit that maybe he should review his attitude of his sister. It is so good to be able to hear stories of attitudes being challenged and maybe changed forever for this lady.

After the immersion visits had finished we had a coffee ceremony (very common in Ethiopia) to celebrate the visit and hear more stories of how the self help groups have changed peoples lives.  One lady shared her story that she had dreamed of having furniture and a bed in her house, and now through the self help groups she has that, is putting her children through school, she has respect for herself and is able to speak in front of a group.  It is amazing to listen to the number of lives changed and transformed for generations to come.

Next we travelled to Soddo and have been visiting conservation projects where whole hillsides have been terraced and are being or have been planted with trees, which will be coppiced and managed in
the years to come.  A whole hillside in 2 ½ months done manually.  We saw a 12 km irrigation scheme, and a self help group that had been going for 3 years, but had some way to go.

Today we went to church, and saw a church HIV group and then a community group of people living with HIV.  The church group was interesting, probably a good  word, and I'm not sure all of the attitudes were quite as they could be.  Finished off with an amazing self help group that had been going for one year, it was their celebratory meeting.  So much achieved and such a sense of community, enjoyment, smiles and laughter.


Saturday, June 19

Had my RedR security training course last week which involved me getting kidnapped – yes I was the lucky one with the sack put over my head and dragged off, then car jacked and a passer by in cross fire. It was useful to be reminded of much of the advice and we also did hurricane and earthquake preparedness.  I now need to prepare ‘hibernation’ boxes for the teams in Leogane in case there is a hurricane and we have to stay in our allocated hibernation room for several days.  Monday we had a tropical storm alert, but by the afternoon it had gone from red to orange alert.

Sunday two of us went up to the church associated with the orphanage on whose land we camp in the Uplands.  It was a Saints day, St Augustine de Padoue, mostly in Creole but I did manage to keep track of bits of the sermon and what was said.  At the end of the offering a group of ladies came down the aisle with large baskets of items for the offering on their heads.  There were chickens and a turkey amongst fruit and vegetables and even a bottle of rum.  If you’d like to see some photos they are on Picasa

We got a special mention for helping the nuns, orphanage and the area, including helping with rebuilding the road to the church.  I’m currently sitting in a plywood and corrugated iron cabin that has been erected on the orphanage site.  It provides an area for work and relaxation (tables and metal fold out chairs) for those living up here which isn’t a tent.  I’m back to my tent that I spent 2 months in earlier in the year.  My thermarest almost looks welcoming.  The latrine we dug is good but not so inviting!

Monday I went to the Uplands site for the first time.  Before setting off at 9.30 I had a manic couple of hours trying to make sure that the staff were all sorted for the next couple of days.  We are still trying to recruit for some positions, especially skilled construction workers and need to set up systems to make the vehicles, purchase requests and stock systems work better.  We have also had a couple of staff bereavements.  The father of a staff member died last week and Monday afternoon a son of another died from meningitis.  Another staff member has a child who has been very sick and this morning a staff member asked for prayers for his cousin.  She was pregnant and now it has been said that she will die.  It is certainly a sobering reminder of the frailty of life.  I’ve order 20 first aid kits and first aid training for our construction sites, to include supplies for breaks and traumas.

Once up at Tom Gato (our site in the mountains) it was a bit calmer.We are sharing an office building with another organisation.  It is rather cramped working conditions but is a permanent structure.  It was the first time that I had met my staff up there and I am hoping to appoint an assistant, to the logs officer, this week to help with the stock movement.  It is increasingly important to make sure everything works properly for warehousing as we start bringing in materials for housing construction.  I had notification that we were allocated 1,000 tool kits and 4,000 mosi nets.  Today I got an email asking if I could arrange a crane for containers for storage at both sites.  Another thing for the ‘to do’ list!  Everything takes up so much space and when it the wood, concrete etc arrive in a couple of weeks it will take all the space we have.  A rub haul is also on my shopping list for storage.

It is a beautiful site coming out of my tent in the morning.  Even when the rain has poured down during the night, the mist across the hills in bright sunshine is very beautiful.  There are clear scars on the mountains from the earthquake.  It is much cooler up in the mountains, I even had a sleeping bag over my shoulders at night, but hot by 6.30am.  The second evening it was just me and some national staff there in the evening, my French is taking a bit of a battering. It may be execrable to listen to for Haitians but I have had to explain all manner of things and my vocab is improving for financial, HR and logistical matters!  I was due to start French lessons with a couple of nuns in the evening but that isn’t now happening until next week.

The education team have been incorporating world cup activities into many of their lessons and have been doing a lot of disaster risk reduction training.  They have been working on material for earthquakes and hurricanes which we have talked of trialling with staff first.  Sadly some are still quite traumatised by all that has happened.  The construction teams are waiting for treated wood and plywood to arrive before carrying on with shelters.  Currently latrines for schools have been their main focus.  I attended a shelter cluster meeting today.  It was good to be back with my favourite cluster, getting ideas and listening to others.  Also they had wireless internet which was very welcome as ours has been on the blink for the last few days in the Leogane office.

We have some beds and even a sofa in our house now.  Still no kitchen so have to go next door for that.  Sheets arrived this week which was exciting.

Please pray for staff over this weekend as we have the funeral for the little boy on Saturday and a major meeting to agree a proposal for institutional funding which needs to be submitted in just two weeks, lots of work to agree all the programme details and budgets.

Sunday, June 13

Plans and Progress

After 2 nights in Port au Prince I spent half a day in the office catching up on logistics, sorting currency, meeting up with national staff again.  It was lovely to see them and I got a great welcome. Arrived in Leogane just before the end of the office day so had time to count the cash box, meet everyone and then the day was at an end. The Area coordinator and I were the only expats there and were able to move into the house next door to the office.  As we each carried a bed in they were still trying to wire up the lighting.  We ended up with none in our rooms or the bathroom.  Some lights were on and attracted a lovely lot of bugs for us to go to bed.  There is still no more furniture as yet though we are hoping for some at the end of this week.

Many homes have been doing rubble clearance which means that a number of roads I have travelled along are now half their original width due to rubble spilling into the roads.  I’ve tried asking a number of people but no one has any ideas as to where it is all going to go. Washing and cleaning facilities are still a challenge for many people living in the temporary settlements.  It is a common sight to see people washing their clothes and themselves in steams of water at the edge of the road.  Some of it does not look too clean, especially as it mixes with the potholes in the tarmac and the debris as it flows along the road.

Tearfund’s programme in Leogane and Gressier is focusing on education, shelter, livelihoods and water and sanitation.  We have currently exceeded our target for latrines and the education programmes are going well with schools clubs now operating in many areas. Livelihoods supervisors start next week and the construction teams have been working hard.  Getting supplies in is a challenge for many INGO’s.  To get treated wood, suitable for construction takes time to get it into the country.  I heard today of some toolkits available as a gift in kind.  Hopefully we may be able to get some of those, the challenge will be getting them through customs.  We still have a number of vehicles that we are waiting to clear customs.  They have been here since around the time I last left Haiti but each week we are promised it will be soon that they are released.  Please do pray that this happens as it will reduce our costs for rented vehicles and will give us the ability to access some of the areas that are difficult to currently reach.

Each week I will be spending two nights up the hillside at a place called Tom Gato, which is our upland base.  This will be in a tent, as hurricane season approaches, at least it may get rid of some of the mosquitos!  There is currently no consistent management support for the site up there so I am covering Monday to Wednesday morning and then the area coordinator will cover Wednesday to Friday morning. I'm quite looking forward to seeing the programme from a different perspective.

Tuesday, June 8

Back in Haiti

Currently sitting in the team house in Petionville.  The rain is pouring down outside and the lightening has been crashing round the house.  It is probably good not to be in a tent.

It seemed to take a long time to get to Haiti.  I left 10am Friday and arrived here 9am (3pm UK time)  Saturday.  I did have an overnight in Miami but it was good to finally arrive.  Flying straight into Port au Prince you get off the plane through the one tunnel into the airport building, go down a quite smart arrival tunnel, like any airport in the world but as you go down the escalator, where you would turn into the arrivals hall, you go out of the building, catch a bus across to the American Airlines cargo hall and enter the bedlam that is customs
and baggage reclaim.  The driver had forgotten to pick me up so had to wait around for about an hour before I finally set off.  Two of the drivers that I knew came to pick me up and it was lovely to be greeted by big smiles and welcomes and them saying how good it was to see me back.

The rubble in Port au Prince is in even bigger piles.  Some buildings that had to be demolished have been taken apart, manually, with pick axes and now lie in huge piles of debris ready for the sites to be cleared.  I saw today one site, that I had previously seen as a spontaneous camp with many tents, now just one  enormous pile of rubble.  Where it will all go to eventually, or when, I have no idea. Some people have now gone back to their homes but there are still many living in the camps.  There have been some evictions from private land.

The life here for the team now is very different from when I was here before.  It is very surreal to be in a house, but see the same items that we had in the camp, the storage boxes, plastic bowls, water filter etc now in very different surroundings.  In some ways it makes me feel very uncomfortable to be in such different surroundings, so removed now from those who are still living in tents, but necessary for the health and safety of staff.  I've been having briefings on HR, finance, security and then logs tomorrow.  I'm hoping to leave for the programme site in Leogane tomorrow (Monday) lunchtime.  I have to come back to Port au Prince for 2 days of security training for NGO staff on Thursday and Friday.  I think I will feel more comfortable at the
programme site, where I will be based, and am looking forward to seeing the programme staff and advisors again.  Lots of work to do and a number of issues to resolve.

Went to church today, where we camped previously.  Saw a number of people who I had known previously and caught up a bit with their news.  Looking forward to more catching up tomorrow

Wednesday, May 12

Update from Zambia

 I don't normally write down any email descriptions of my trips overseas, just the final report at the end, but I found myself thinking about how to descirbe things in the same way that I did in Haiti so here goes.  Andrew this is to prove I do work, even if we never talk, and to those of you who refer to my trips as holidays this is to tell you a bit of what I do.  It isn't written as a blog but a 'welcome to my world'  please don't feel you have to plough through all of it

Flight from Heathrow was fine, 2 hour transfer in Nairobi, just enough time for a mango juice.  Arrived in Lusaka and then had a 3 hour wait before we set off for the road journey to Serenje.  Finally arrived at about 8pm

I've been to the guest house before and the best way to describe it is a bit like a run down 50's single storey guest house.  In my room the curtains are sort of up and not to be moved.  Best not to look too closely at the mattress.  Tiles off the wall in the bathroom.  The sink had a hot tap and the bath a cold tap, but neither had a plug! The other interesting feature was the light switch in the bathroom was broken so stayed on all the time.  I foolishly shut the bathroom door to keep out the light the first night, but because there were just holes and no handles a knife had to be used to open it again in the morning!

Early morning meeting to agree the programme, objectives, messaging etc.  Then meeting with pastors fellowship who are 'owners of the vision'.  Welcome and mini sermon then up to me to bring greetings from Kerith (who fund the project) and lay out my objectives and hopes for the week.  Talked about recent visit from Uganda of partners, the model of church and community mobilisation and the way this has been replication in many countries leading to empowerment and sustainability.  Used the illustration of Joseph going to Egypt to illustrate the way the bible talks about food security.  Their role as pastors to encourage their congregations to use their resources and inputs wisely.  Spoke about empowerment, my desire for them to be in control and not to have to rely on outside help in the future.  Seemed OK as they want to learn more about mobilisation process.

Went to Mosankano community.  Welcome with community and their leaders.  Unusual because chair person is a woman.  Had a report on agricultural inputs of beans and groundnuts (peanuts).  There were exceptionally heavy rains so most of the beans rotted on the plants so poor harvest.  Very good groundnut harvest.  Sweet potatoes currently in the gound but soon ready for harvest.  Certain it wil be another very good crop.  Crops have meant that they have not been hungry like in other years, their childrn have been able to have sweet potato and groundnuts for breakfast before going to school.  They also reported that the educational support has allowed a few children to go onto university and as a community they are very proud of this.  This time I talked about the parable fo the talents, that God ahs given us resources and it is up to us to use them wisely and not just remain in the same place.

We visited a number of fields under cultivation.  Some were better tended than others and I suggested to the field officer for the project that he collect data on yields and adherence to the advice by the agricultural officers.  This may provide motivation for correct planting next season.  It was clear that some were far better tended and had the correct planting formation, whereas others showed a disappointing crop but in a mixed field with bad spacing.  Visiting the fields was a classic case of it is just round the corner and after 25 minutes walk we got there.

Chikitu was next community.  Journey took us down a half metre wide track, so fairly typical African journey where the 4 wheel drive vehicle ploughs through the vegetation.  Another welcome, more songs, spoke this time about work kerith doing in the community.  Then story of woman in uganda who sold her cow, planted cassava with the profits, sold that and used the profit to pay for hiring cows to plough more cassava etc.  She now owns her own tractor, ploughs in 5 days hires it out the rest of the time.

More fields of maize, cassava, groundnuts, sweets potato.  Same stories about bean crops.  All now planting more land and able to save seeds for next year, so generally good news.  Many of the houses are looking after double and single orphans.  Large field of groundnuts should bring in 500,000 kwacha and you need 30,000 for school uniform and about 20,000 for school fees.

Travelled to Kashitu which is about 5 mins on tarmac and then 60 on dirt tracks.  Community members weren't assembled so went off to the fields.  Abandoned vehicle and walked ab out 20/25 mins to what looked like an idyllic house up in the hills.  The mud brick house had flowers in the front, a stream running down the hill near to the house, chickens running ground and all neat and tidy.  Of course the reality is that it take over an hour to walk to school across the fields and about 4 hours to the nearest town.  Maybe not so idyllic. heavily pregnant lady explained how the ground nut seeds, sweet potatoes etc had enabled her to expand her fields.  Also she had invested some of the profits into a local co-operative match funding scheme and bought maize seed and fertilizer.  The family now have all the chidren in school and also have 3 meals a day rather than the one before the project started.  Real sense that the family were looking to the future and planning and investing.

Visited another couple of fields.  One was an elderly man looking after a number of orphans.  he had planted his ground nut seeds, sold some, paid for schooling, bought more seeds, extended the fields he was working.  All been done by hand and was quite extensive.  I suggested putting money aside to hire a plough and he is going to do that this year.

Another lady told a similar story with cassava plants and using cuttings to extend her agriculture.  At the community meeting a number of people described how the seeds had enabled them to pay for school fees for their children, the orphans they cared for etc.  There were also people who complained that their childrn did not have educational support whilst others did.  The challenge is to get people to look at inputs given as investments and not to continue in dependency mode. Priority of new field officer but community already showing excellent examples of this.  33 people said their lives had significantly changed since start of the project.

Community also sold a lorry load of sweet potatoes in 50kg sacks to buyer from Lusaka who had come and collected them.  Suggested possiblity of community putting money aside and hiring a van to sell produce in Lusaka themselves.  Likely to achieve a price 4 or 5 times when they are currently receiving - worth investigating.

Met a girl just arrived in area from US for 2 years with peace corp. Seemed a bit odd as no obvious support (monthly meeting) and she is an agriculture, forestry and bee keeping advisor, but her degree is in English and her training was just a few weeks after arriving in Zambia.

Long project meeting at end of day talking about financials.

Fields first so met a grandmother widow for 27 years and now has care of 3 children from one of her sons.  they are from  first marriage which ended in divorce.  He has remarried and so the children have come to live with her.  Same stories of agricultural expansion, match funding etc.  Also next door was her daughter who had 8 children by her first husband who died (wanted boys) and 2 from her second.

Looked at more fields (quite boring by now) of cassava, ground nuts and cassava.  One field not particularly well tended but the lady explained she was doing it by herself.  Must be hard working land by yourself by hand.

At the community meeting a number commented on the poor bean harvest, though the chief pointed out that it wasn't the fault of the seed distributed since their own seeds had failed.  He encouraged the community members to take the opportunities that were given, not rely on them  for the future but to make sull advantage of them.  More children were in school and the communities are conributing to improving the construction of classrooms for years 8 and 9 at the local basic school.  I spoke about running the race (Timothy), keeping the end goal in focus, not getting put off by downfalls and taking advantage of cars that came along to help you, but making sure it was your vision and goal and not that of someone else.  Used an example from Tanzania where a community now has all tin roofs and children in school through their own efforts.

Lastly project committee meeting to feedback.  Encouraged them to look for the bright spots and use them as examples in communities.  Talked about dpendency and the role of pastors to encourage congregations to look to planning for the future and investing what individuals are given.

Back to Lusaka.  Slightly more upmarket guest house with internet but no wifi key so having to use the computer in reception.

If you have made it this far, well done.  One bit of news on the emails is that I've been asked if I would go back to Haiti.  Obviously can't at the moment as in the wrong place.  I'm in negotiations!


Saturday, April 10

Haiti Reflection

It is a bit late, but finally done something!

It is now over two weeks since I returned from Haiti and in many ways my time there seems a life time away.  Time seems to go so much slower without the immediacy and urgency that is felt when living in Port au Prince.  The rains instead of being remote, are real when you get out of the tent in the morning into mud, that cakes to about a centimetre deep on your shoes within a couple of steps.

I have heard that there have now been a number of afternoon rains heralding the start of the rainy season just around the corner.  The government in Haiti has managed to acquire land for the first of the temporary resettlement camps, preparatory work has begun to ready the 7.450 hectares for occupation.  The team are about to move into a permanent office and the work on the house that I found has almost been completed, the team will be able to move in within a couple of weeks.

It has been quite strange returning to a form of notoriety.  I went to the theatre with a couple of friends who knew one of the actors.  The actor came up to say hello to them after the performance and as soon as they introduced me, just by my first name, he said I've been reading about you!  The gas man coming into work commented to reception that he'd read about me in the local paper, and I met someone today for the first time who said they'd read about me.  It seems an odd thing to have so many comments about omething I consider to have been a priviledge, to do something which in many ways didn't seem special but quite normal.

On Monday it will be three months since the earthquake.  It is likely that newspapers and television will carry mention of what has happened, or not happened.  It would be good if the focus is not just on any negative story, but they will be able to find and report the stories of hope that also abound.  Haiti has an opportunity for change, not just from the monies coming into the country from governments and agencies, but most importantly from a desire from the people on the streets, in the camps and in the churches.  The church I visited on the day before I came home talked about 1,500 people becoming christians and coming to the church, since the earthquake. When replicated across the country this is a real opportunity for lasting change. 

Even though Haiti may have gone from the news the people, and the challenges for the country will still remain in the years ahead and I hope that they will remain in your prayers.

Sunday, March 21

Last update

Well this will be my last update.  Got lots still to do before I leave as after receipt of some emails I need to take some video and photos.  I was due to go to the Upland areas of the DMT programme site yesterday, but it rained all through the night and into the day, so the visit was called off 6.30 yesterday morning.  It means I have to leave some things unfinished and in the hands of others.  It isn’t that they aren’t capable, but I am now more susceptible to the vagaries of communications to get what I need.  The rains meant that there was an impact on the programme work, in the morning they were unable to even get the car out of the parking area.  The road up the hillside is treacherous at the best of times but the rains will make it inaccessible at times.

The rains were heavy and although only for less than 24 hours have an immediate impact on the camps and the roads around Port au Prince.  Yesterday I received the following email via the shelter cluster asking for assistance with tents and flooring.  ‘The compound is situated at the Petionville Club, and there is an IDP camp of approx 45,000 people living there. Last night the hospital tent was damaged and has no flooring so it is taking on water and is a muddy disaster, but they are still using it to treat urgent care and emergency patients. Equipment, including an x-ray machine was moved under shelter but there is more equipment in danger from the rain and mud/flooding. The school tents (over 300 kids enrolled) were ruined and unusable, all of the school supplies and tables/chairs have been moved to high ground, but are not under shelter.
 We need to replace the clinic and school tents, and provide flooring, today if possible. The location for the school has been moved to more stable ground to avoid this happening again if we have the necessary flooring/tents. The clinic would be stabalized if there was flooring and a more stable tent structure.’

The government is still struggling to secure land and agreements for new camps to the north of Port au Prince.  Landowners have not proved willing to give land that will in all probability be a permanent gift, the government has said it does not have the funds to purchase the land (money coming in from appeals has not gone to the government), the church has very little land in Haiti, and so the debates and negotiations carry on.  Plans that seemed firm two weeks ago are now not so concrete, but time marches inexorably onwards.

I was reminded today that news is a matter of perspective.  I happened to see an article from the Guardian about 2 weeks ago reporting the usage of Google earth and map for plotting aid coming into Haiti.  Strange that this is news, since it has been happening since the beginning of the crisis.  Many of the towns and communities have different names in French and Creole, or even just the way they are reported.  Agencies need to be clear where distributions or work is going on and so GPS coordinates have consistently been encouraged and mapped through the coordinating bodies and onto Google.  Technological tools which are deemed almost a necessity suddenly become news.  As Tearfund we have a lovely map of all our programme sites and I’m trying to get them plotted on a map showing contours, mountain tops, main towns etc.  It all helps to give a clear picture of where each agency is working.

I’m off to a church tomorrow that needs rebuilding after the earthquake.  I’m being collected at 6am but am told it will be over by 8am!

I’ve been thinking about things I’m looking forward to or will miss as I return, and a couple of the team have asked about 1st meals!

I’ll miss the sun and the warmth, but not the mud.  Tents and mud aren’t great but then it is warm and so it soon washes off
I’ll miss seeing the programme develop, seeing things I’ve worked on come to fruition
I’ll miss the people who have put so much passion, energy and their dreams into creating the programme and will be able to see lives change
I’ll miss being a part of something bigger than just Tearfund, being a cog in the coordination machinery
I’ll miss the local staff who have got used to our funny ways and shared their lives
I’ll even miss my little tent, my sanctuary from the world!

And what am I looking forward to?  Seeing my children – what else is there?!