You Probably Won’t Like This

This week I saw online a video about a well known musician who visited Western Africa and was shocked when he saw young boys sleeping outside in a canoe like boat. He was so shocked his first reaction was to put them up in a hotel that night. The video at the end stated ‘these boys are safe for tonight, millions aren’t.’

The comments that came in after this was posted included words like ‘amazing, wonderful, we should be like him’. However, since I’m working on the ground in such areas I had a totally different reaction and got berated for it, so thought I would write about what actually works and why short term solutions are not the best.

What people don’t understand is that when a famous person appears in a developing country as a spokesperson or ambassador for a large organization, they are getting paid for it. The average person receives between $20 – 50,000 dollars for an appearance fee. That’s on top of their first class ticket, staying in a five star hotel etc. Very few self fund their appearances. They don’t just ‘happen’ to be in Liberia or Sudan in between a gig.

Unless it’s an emergency situation, like a famine, short term is not an answer. Famine or war situations don’t happen overnight. The famine happening in South Sudan for example, has been warned about for years.

Large NGO’s spend A LOT (some up to 90%) of their income on administration, private planes and paying their top managers more than a CEO in Aussie gets. ‘Project Costs’ can easily be hidden, but these include getaway weekends for staff, safaris (team building), conflict resolution meetings (staying at a spa can resolve a lot you know!). Meanwhile on the ground the team are working with limited resources in dangerous places and often don’t have what they need in crisis situations.

I’m not saying these things to point at certain groups but when you’ve been doing it as long as me, you see things as they really are, not how they are portrayed in the media.

So what actually does work?

Long term solutions for people to help themselves out of poverty. You have to look at it holistically. For these boys sleeping outside, putting them up somewhere for a night or two actually puts them in a worse predicament. If the famous musician wanted to do something, he would find an organization he has a trusted relationship with. They in turn would be able to come up with an action plan that would include reconciliation within their home community and find one family member that would be able to take them in. The family would need ongoing support from a community worker to make sure donations are spent where they should be (food, clothing, housing, education, medical) and not at the local bar up the road. That child will need financial support until they are at least 18 years of age. Then they need support in starting a business and going on to tertiary education.

Let’s rethink child sponsorship.

I’ve been to events where there’s a hard push after a pull in the heartstrings video presentation for the thousands in the crowd. Then the presenter talks about how bad the situation is, then they get people to put up their hands if they will sponsor a child for X amount of dollars. You’re instantly given a photo to put on the fridge and ‘wallah’ you have a new child in your family.

We need to become intelligent givers and start asking the hard questions. How much of that money gets through to the project? What child protection policies does the organization implement? Where are the annual reports? What happens when that child finishes secondary school, what is the plan?

Now I’m not discouraging child sponsorship, I do it myself.

 

What I want people to realize is:

  1. It’s not your child – they belong to someone else. You are simply assisting a community.
  2. The money doesn’t go to them – it gets pooled together to cover project costs.
  3. There is no point in sponsoring for a year or two, it’s a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
  4. Don’t send them gifts. Most of the time it won’t get there, and the money you spend on postage and the gift, could be used in a more impacting way within country.
  5. The word ‘sponsor’ in the developing world actually has negative connotations connected to it. It’s like saying someone has a sugar daddy. The money isn’t free, there are strings attached.

 

If we want to get more kids sponsored we need to be telling the success stories not just the sob stories.

My last rant is about the huge waste I see in transporting goods from your home country to a developing country. Often you can buy or get made the chairs, desks, pencils, sport gear, underwear, babies clothes, any clothes and furniture in the needy country. It costs on average $10,000 to get a container shipped over with goodies. Then, you spend up to another $5,000 to get it off the wharf with bribery money. Often when organisations sort through what is in that container, they throw half of it away (especially clothes) as they are unusable. People think giving their junk is an honourable thing. Trust me – you can keep it.

We should be encouraging manufacturing in developing countries, buying from within where possible. While we see the nice smiling faces of a kid in Africa or Asia opening a shoe box at Christmas time, it doesn’t have lasting impact. The money spent on the effort could start small businesses who employ parents and give them business training –  who could then feed their families, pay school fees, buy clothes from the market more than once a year and make sure their kids have a future. Yes, they would even buy their kids a toy.

So, did the famous musician waste his time? I hope he got to see some organisations working on the ground being a part of the solution and not cause more problems. I hope he invests into these organisations long term and gets more involved.

I hope the adults in the video don’t beat those boys up or worse because some white foreigner with a camera crew came into their ‘home’ and therefore thought the boys were getting paid for being on camera.

My hope is that we become more intelligent givers who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions.

Organisations in developing country need partnerships that cause them to become self sustainable, they need long term solutions through development and not aid.

Go ahead and sponsor a child, it does change their lives. But also send them a letter a few times a year. Build a friendship with them, not a reliance on you as a Westerner and therefore their funder. Most of all, sacrifice your income and go and visit them at least once in your life. You will find your life will be changed forever.

You are not a donor – you are a partner. Build good partnerships.

White People!

A few weeks ago I was talking with someone back in our home country who was trying to help out a friend who was travelling to East Africa to volunteer for a couple of weeks. This person had been before, for a few months so had a small insight into some of the challenges visitors have. No matter what she said, the other person was ‘I know, I know’ even though they had no clue what they were letting themselves in for. My friend said in exasperation “White people!” (she is white herself).

I just laughed as those two words sums up the frustration many of us have with visitors.

 

It doesn’t matter how many books you read or movies you watch, you just ‘don’t get it’ until you spend some time here on the ground – and with an open mind.

tourist

 

We recently spent a day with some people from overseas who had been here a long time ago. No matter how many times we told them not to, they became happy snappers, wanting photos. I know it’s always exciting to be in a new place and try and capture as much as possible, but we and our team actually live here and have to do life with the people you’re wanting to photograph. Too many foreigners have come with their cameras, climbed out of their large safari vehicles, snapped some shots (without asking permission) and whizzed off again.

 

It makes people feel like they are animals in a zoo.

 

So here’s some tips for when you go to a new country, whether it’s developing or not:

  • Learn some of the local language, like greetings
  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Ask before taking photos
  • Carry little cash on you
  • If you don’t like something (like the food) keep it to yourself and try not to show it on your face (out of respect for your hosts)
  • Don’t take your security for granted

 

When you’re in a new place, it’s not like home, it’s different, and different is good.

 

If you’re visiting for a short while, you’re a tourist. Even if you go somewhere for a couple of months, you’re still a tourist. Anything up to two years, and you’re still a visitor.

 

Please have respect for the local culture, take things slowly, and pretend youre back in school – it’s a great learning experience.

tourist-2

 

 

Not Quite What I Thought It Would Be Like

Yesterday we moved our belongings into an apartment. For the past 6 months we’ve been living out of suitcases while we went on a fundraising tour. Pretty much we were in a different bed every second night, so we got into a routine and where everything went. We had our ‘speaking clothes’, ‘casual wear’ and ‘travel clothes’. We knew where our toiletries would be and most importantly, where to find the hair brush.

Of course, after 6 months it did get a bit tedious but we were there for work so we made it the easiest for us.

So when we decided to return I was really looking forward to settling down and having a home to ourselves.

However, it hasn’t turned out so wonderful as I thought.

I thought finding an apartment would be easy. What I didn’t take into account was how prices for rent had risen since we’d been away. We were pretty specific on what we wanted. We needed a balcony for our BBQ (and I love sitting out there) and I wanted somewhere for my washing machine. I also wanted to drop how much we would pay per month because we hadn’t raised our personal income enough to spend more.

To find a place here you decide on the area you want to live in, then go from gate to gate and ask the guards if there is anything available. After a couple of fruitless days we employed the skills of two agents. I’d had other agents call me after I made some enquiries online but they all wanted $50 upfront for a commitment fee. At least these two guys wanted nothing (they got paid by the landlady).

We ended up with two options, none we were 100% happy about but we needed to find something this week. On the Friday we signed for the apartment and then discovered that the President announced a public holiday on Monday. Thankfully, the guy we’ve used before was able to bring together a team to work on the Monday anyway.

I’m used to moving so it was no big deal to do it for the umpteenth time.

What got me was when we started unpacking the 30 something boxes. I got so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we had accumulated over 4 years. I was used to just a few clothes and here I was looking at more clothes than I ever saw. Then when I went to unpack the kitchenware I got annoyed with myself in how many plastic containers we had. Seriously, did we need that many containers? Did we need that many clothes and shoes?

I know after a few weeks I’ll adjust but right now I’m staring at my wardrobe and already deciding that if I don’t wear them in the next few months, I’ll pass them on to someone who actually needs them.

We do have to ask ourselves if we really NEED the amount of belongings we own. While travelling I’ve seen some people who have a whole room dedicated to just their shoes. Isn’t there a better investment in life than that?

Stuff disintegrates, but the investment we can make into the lives of people is what continues forever.

That’s where I’ll be making more of an investment in. What about you?

Coming Home

I once asked some friends who were returning to Australia after two years of volunteering in Tanzania “How long do you think it will take you to get used to being there?” Their answer was a couple of months.

After spending 6 weeks in the US, I can verify that answer. We were just getting used to the conveniences of life and how things worked in another world.

But now we’ve returned home.

Home is where the majority of my family is. Hannah is with her husband Luke in New Zealand, awaiting the birth of their first child next year. That leaves Pete, Liz and I.

home

We were all a bit anxious about returning because we knew what we were heading into. It will be home for a few more years. We were looking forward to a more familiar world and definitely not living out of a suitcase.

Home, a 4 letter word that means so much more than that.

Our first morning here was interesting. None of our showerheads were working, so I ended up having a bucket shower. One where you fill a bucket with boiled water and pretty much pour it over yourself a few times. I realized afterwards that I had forgotten to pull out the tap so water came out of the showerhead.

shower

We thought our internet had pretty good speed, until we went overseas. Now it feels painstakingly slow. It’s way better than dialup but also much slower than what we experienced in the US.

Coming home meant unpacking an entire houselot of furniture from a spare room. Because the floors had been sanded and repolished all of the cupboards were full of red dust. You could tell that the workers had thumbed through our clothes hanging up because their fingerprints were all over the place. We also discovered they had stolen our very good iron and used our TV stand as a ladder. We knew because there was paint all over it. To say we weren’t happy campers is an understatement. And this was just Monday.

Of course, you can’t live in their world any more without the internet, but guess what wasn’t working when we returned? This meant trips down to the mall to visit our friendly staff at Zuku who worked it all out for us.

Jetlag, unpacking, buying food, meetings on day 3, all were a bit much. Before Liz headed off to volunteer at her preschool I insisted that she put up the Christmas tree to keep her busy. Liz had absolutely no worries about jetlag. She slept like a baby, while Pete and I got about 2 hours sleep and stayed awake the remainder of the night. We’ve never had such jetlag in our entire lives, and we’ve done a lot of travelling. It took an entire week to get back to normal.

Coming home also meant that we were broke.

We stayed two weeks too long on our trip. While we had a couple of schools in that time, it really put the financial pressure on us. We didn’t realize how expensive the US was going to be for public transport and food. We stretched ourselves way further than ever before. We don’t have a credit card to fall back on, no savings that we could dig into. What we had is what we had and with the fall in the Aussie dollar there wasn’t much bang for your buck.

dollar

Coming home meant coming back to very little freedom. This has been my biggest challenge to date. No more walking around at night. Always having our bags and cars checked at church and shopping malls. Having to take off my jewellery before walking out in public. Locking the metal gate and door every time you step out, even to get rid of the garbage.

The loss of freedom is something I haven’t got used to. A friend who lives here but is in New Zealand over the Christmas break, couldn’t help but send me a post of Facebook post to say she had just walked home at 10pm at night. I miss freedom.

But – this is home.

 

 

mass

 

 

Why we chose to move to Africa

I’ve heard some real doozies about why people think we moved to Kenya, here are some samples:

  • To be a missionary
  • To go and drill wells
  • To live somewhere hot
  • You like Africa more than Australia
  • To get away from issues
  • To prove something
  • To go on a working holiday

 

These are just some of the weird things people have said to our faces.

globe

We stated from the start that we felt we had skills that could help people help themselves. We also could keep a closer eye on our projects as all the people we had dealt with in the past we had known, but herein it was new territory. Everyone we had contact with was told why we were moving but I guess some people just don’t get it. And to be honest,

Pete has a long history in the building/farming/construction/business area. If you need something practical done, Pete’s the man to get onto it. He has valuable practical knowledge that most people don’t. He’s able to take a problem and work it through to make sure it works.

Originally he volunteered with an organization that works with streetboys. After a few years though he couldn’t see himself as more than a fixer-upper. In his words, he might as well move back to Australia and make some money and at least have job satisfaction. So, he moved on.

kili 9

I was unsure where I would fit volunteering so joined the same organization as Pete. I ended up working in an office. I was looking forward to being part of a team. While it was good for a while I was trying to split myself between them and BeyondWater, which we had started in Australia.

So while we came here for one thing, we’ve ended up doing something quite different. Now, both Pete and I are developing a team here in Kenya. We’re on the ground living life as Kenyans do, learning every day about how we can be more effective and building networks.

DSCF1362

So here’s my short answers to people’s perceptions:

To be a missionary – every person of faith is a missionary (one who is sent out) to make a difference wherever they are. Our intention here is not to ‘convert’ people but to befriend them.

To go and drill wells – I have not, nor probably never will drill a well. That’s why we employ people to do it.

To live somewhere hot – think about that one. It’s much hotter in Australia, here in Nairobi our temperature goes from around 13 and sometimes hits 30. That’s not hot.

You like Africa more than Australia – not sure why people think like this. I don’t love a country, I love my family and we could probably live anywhere. We happen to be in Kenya for a purpose.

To get away from issues – everybody has issues and they follow you wherever you go.

To prove something – people with ego’s don’t last long here. The romantic notion of living in a developing country wears off pretty fast – and we’re not young so there’s not a lot to prove.

To go on a working holiday – Pete’s dad always asks how our holiday is going. I don’t know many people who go on a holiday for 3+ years. This definition would mean you work for a few months then go on holiday. We work and are able to stay because we have friends and family who give us money each month. Our visa allows us to volunteer only – as in you work but don’t get paid.

So now you know. Why did you move to where you are living?

truck up hill

Solomon’s Choice

When people think of labels like ‘Third World’ or ‘Developing Country’ there’s this automatic picture we get in our mind of streets lined with beggars.

I can only speak on what I’ve seen here in Kenya – there aren’t that many beggars. Pete tells me that he was shocked when he went to Ethiopia and saw so many people begging on the streets. We see some regulars at their normal spot. A mother with a child, a legless man, an elderly bearded man and a bunch of kids (on the weekend). They’re all situated by shopping malls where traffic slows down or there’s an intersection. During the holidays there’s a whole stack of primary school boys who have a ‘pimp’ telling them how to get more money.

We’ve made it a general rule not to give out money to kids begging on the street. It’s a hard one because you know that these kids are from families that live on $2 a day. They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t have to. Most people here will find a way to make money, usually by selling some goods, clothing or services.

The reason we generally don’t give out money is that we don’t want to encourage the practice. There’s a huge assumption that because you’re a foreigner you have lots of money. It’s true, foreigners generally do have more money than a local. However, if you look at whose driving the BMW’s, Mercedes and Prados, many of them are driven by Kenyans.

Last Sunday our stance was challenged. Liz had stayed to hang with her mates at an after church event so Pete and I snuck out to a great Chinese restaurant by our house. The food there is ridiculously cheap and tastes fantastic. Sundays are the only time you can drive around the city and not get stuck in a traffic jam.

This is not the boy I saw begging

This is not the boy I saw begging

As we’re driving into the restaurant I notice a boy aged around 4 dressed in rags and looking like he hadn’t bathed in days. He was by himself which is unusual because they normally work in groups. He wasn’t actively begging, running up to cars and tapping on the window. He was simply standing as close as possible to the road with a vacant look in his eyes.

He was four.

Two hours later we drove out of the restaurant and he was still there, in the same spot.

As we refueled the car I just kept staring at this boy. Here, we had just spent hours eating, having a Coke and planning out the next few months. This boy had no future, he didn’t even have today. I had to make a choice – stick with the plan or give this kid a chance.

As we drove past I told Pete to slow down, wound down the window and handed the boy fifty shillings (around 50 cents). I said to him “Go buy yourself some food”. He probably hadn’t started school so didn’t know what I was saying but I’m sure he got the gist.

The reason I only gave him that amount is that he was by himself and if I gave him more someone would’ve snatched it out of his hand. If I had something like some fruit in the car I would’ve given him that. At least then there would be food in his stomach.

This is why I hate poverty. It makes people do things they normally wouldn’t. It stops them from having a life where they can go to school, find employment and have a future.

All I did was help for one minute. Imagine how many more we can help long term.

Would I do it again? Maybe. I’m not planning on making a habit out it but I am planning on helping a whole bunch more who can help themselves.

Want to help me achieve that?

http://makingadifference.gofundraise.com.au/page/TheGirlsProject

When You Break A Bone

This last week has been an interesting one in the Crean household. We had visitors staying overnight who we were taking to the airport the next day. That night Pete (who didn’t put down the bathmat) slipped on the floor as he came out of the shower. He made the biggest bang I’ve ever heard in my life.

Then there was silence.

It doesn't look broken but it is.

It doesn’t look broken but it is.

After yelling 3 times Pete finally answered. He knew right then that he had broken his arm/wrist. I wasn’t convinced and mandatorily put on a packet of frozen peas to see if the pain would subside. It didn’t and so off to the hospital we would go.

Two weeks ago our insurance ran out and we didn’t have the funds to renew it. We put out the word to everyone on our social network sites – nothing. We just hoped that nothing would go wrong until we magically found the money.

Part of the waiting room at A&E.

Part of the waiting room at A&E.

Because he’s a man’s man, Pete insisted on driving the 15 minutes (at 11pm) to Nairobi Hospital. I tried to convince Pete to go to a cheaper one but he was insistent on going there. Nairobi Hospital was the place we went to when he broke his leg on Mount Kilimanjaro. They did a great job, but the insurance was paying for it – $12,000.

I was thinking it wouldn’t be busy getting close to midnight. What a fool I was. The place was packed.

Because Pete had been a patient before they had him on record so I was saved from filling in a registration form. First step – pay to see the doctor ($26). Typically you have to pay for every step along the way before it’s done. Naturally, the staff thought that our insurance would pay for it and wanted to dole out anything they wanted. Till they found out it was a cash job.

Waiting for the first cast.

Waiting for the first cast.

Second step is to go to a nurse to have a look at the wound, take your blood pressure, temperature and weight.

Then you wait once again.

Everything was moving slowly and there was the worst movie on TV. Mind you we had the choice of 3 TV’s in the waiting foyer – a Swahili program, an old cartoon or a movie about a prostitute. At midnight, what you want to do is go to sleep.

There were only a few people left and at 12.30am we were called in to see a doctor.

The next day we returned to get a better cast on.

The next day we returned to get a better cast on.

I’m not sure why doctors ask you “So how are you this morning?” when you wouldn’t choose to be there if you didn’t have to. After I had paid another $57 Pete was given a jab in the butt and we were sent off to the X-ray department. I was thinking it was going to be another hour wait.

Actually there was no one there for a few minutes. I reckon half the staff were sleeping at 1am as no one was around. The x-ray didn’t take long and Pete’s arm just above his wrist had a small crack. Thankfully nothing major (says she who has never broken a bone).

Back to the small curtained area to wait for the attending doctor to give us her final word.

A much happier Pete Crean

A much happier Pete Crean

She had a 5 second look at the x-ray and told us they may want to wire it. No way was that going to happen, there was no money for that. We would have to see the orthpeadiac surgeon in the next couple of days but meantime they would put a cast on it.

Another $93 later, it begins. I had to go out of the room because it was too small for 4 people. Meantime I was instructed to go and get his medicine. I was thinking to myself ‘it better not be just Panadol, as I’ve got stacks of it at home.’

At the beginning of our hospital visit I had asked if all the charges could be put once on a card, thus trying to avoid several international transaction fees. Looked like it wasn’t going to happen.

What infuriated me was the last bill I had to pay was only for $23 for the medicine.

It was 2am before we were able to get out of the hospital. Again, his royal highness insisted on driving home. Pete’s one crazy guy.

Overall the hospital visit wasn’t tragic. Nairobi Hospital is one of the best in town, and it’s the closest to us. You don’t have to pay for parking but like other medical places, you have to wait a long time to get seen. I’m glad it wasn’t something life threatening like a heart attack and you’d die while waiting to be seen.

Nairobi Hospital has a lot of high tech medical devices, it’s just whether you can afford to use these. I was surprised how helpful and polite the staff were in the early hours of the morning.

The medication is working, the heavy cast has been replaced by a much better support cast, after spending another $200.

Dr. Atinga repaired Pete's broken leg 4 years ago. Now he's done the arm.

Dr. Atinga repaired Pete’s broken leg 4 years ago. Now he’s done the arm.

All up the slip coming out of the shower cost $400. Insurance for a year is $1,400. Go do the maths.

The next day we returned to visit Dr. John Atinga who put Pete’s leg back together after he broke it on Mount Kilimanjaro. Unlike the doctors the night before he took a quick look at the x-ray, never mentioned surgery and gave us the simple option – a lighter support cast or 3 weeks and then a review. I wish he was on the night before as it would’ve been a much cheaper and simple option in the first place.

Here’s hoping we can get covered soon as Kenya isn’t exactly the safest place to be in (even without slipping). There’s a high terrorist threat at the moment, the roads are crazy and personal security even walking around isn’t good.

Here’s also hoping we don’t visit a hospital for a long time. Meantime, if you feel you could help us be covered by insurance you can donate online HERE.