JUN '11 - Home again, Africa

It had been nearly a year since I'd been in Sao Tome.  The world had become larger in that brief time. 

With a year's work behind me, it was such a joy to visit the wonderful folks in Sao Tome.  With Kenya's drought in my mind and our struggles to be helpful there, it was nice to be in Sao Tome where hunger isn't a pressing problem. To make things even better, it wasn't a work-related trip.  Accumulated airline miles paid for the ticket and simple accommodations kept the costs down for a personal trip with no work agenda.  It's familiar enough to feel a bit like home when I'm there.

We've been trying to be helpful, my friends and and family have.  We've been working through STeP UP, an NGO based in the city there.  Four families and a dozen-plus kids are the beneficiaries.  We've been focused on keeping the kids in school and getting a good education, but we've tried hard to intelligently address some assistance to the families as a whole.  Good success all around this year.  All our kids are doing well and school and the families have done well.

The best of the trip was in spending time with friends.  I visited each household, spent time with moms and dads, and got the grand tour of the year's efforts with pride and cheerful explanations.  Parents have been working hard, and it shows.

Our hope is to avoid being a blind benefit program without any relationship or feedback.  When we began, we offered to partner with the families, to help them do well by their children, specifically for their education.  We've learned a bit and expanded a bit since then.

This year, we got to see one family's big improvement; they have water by their house now!  We funded the materials; dad and the oldest son did the manual labor of digging the trench across the road and laying pipe from the mountain water main. 
Here's the road dad had to dig up to lay the pipe.  Permissions took awhile, but he has a water spigot in the yard in front of his house and a washing table so they don't have to go to the river to do laundry.
  It gives them water for the house and for the pair of pigs they use for breeding.

They proudly took me through the couple of acres they have for crops, too.  Corn, beans, unrecognizable African vegetables, and okra!  They get a small yield of okra pretty much every week.  They feed themselves and have a little to sell in the kiosk we helped them build.

Most recently, they've bought a little generator and a TV for the kiosk.  No one in the neighborhood has electricity, so now they can watch the local channel and maybe buy something from the kiosk.  It's a common gimmick in Africa.  I know a couple of neighborhoods where the kiosk with a TV is where folks congregate in the evenings.  Good business idea.

We helped a family buy their house this year.  They no longer pay rent, so things are much easier.  They beamed as they told me about their lives.  We helped another family buy a little plot of land so they can begin building a home.  Exciting stuff all around.

The most fun this trip was dinner at grandma's house.  In preparation, I took the daughters to the market; they dragged me around carrying bags of stuff for three hours.  Bananas, fish, breadfruit, more bananas.  The day of the dinner, I guess twenty or so family members showed up. 

Grandma's boys are linebacker sized fellows, all goodhearted and tons of fun, especially with kids around.  We had nearly a dozen kids in attendance.  Laugh, dance, sing, eat, laugh some more.  Kids singing using carrots for microphones was cute.  It was a great afternoon.

I often wonder at the impressive sense of community and family I see here.  They seem so much better than we at some of the important parts of caring for each other.  Don't misunderstand; they're African and tough as nails.  An in-your-face kind of love.  They're good church-going folks; I wonder what the sermons are about here, but my Portuguese isn't really good enough to tell.