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.

The Medical Gap

As pretty much the entire universe knows, our youngest daughter gave birth to the most perfect baby girl on Wednesday. But it hasn’t been without its dramas.

Hannah has had gestational diabetes throughout her pregnancy. That means she has had to cut out sugar, reduce her carbs and test her insulin levels 5 times a day. There’s extra scans and monitoring baby growth closer.

Baby had been super active in the womb and it was all looking good that the doctors had decided to let Hannah go right up to the 40 week mark, where originally they were going to induce her at 38 weeks.

And then baby stopped moving.

This was one of those events that stops your heartbeat. I suggested to Hannah to call the midwife whose care she was under, who said we should immediately go to the hospital. Luke (Hannah’s husband) drove pretty determinedly but there was this heavy silence in the car. No waiting, they saw us straight away. The relief experienced when we heard the heartbeat was huge. They decided to keep her in anyway.

Although baby’s heartbeat was good, the doctors had decided to induce baby on the Tuesday night. Not sure why they chose nighttime as the morning seemed a much better idea to me.

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I was really impressed with the staff, the quality of care but mostly the concern for baby and mother. The resources and technology are amazing, way better than when I had my kids 25 years ago.

Of course, it all got me thinking about the huge gap between what is available here and that in developing countries. I’ve friends in Kenya who have had babies and it’s a whole different world there.

 

  1. The God Factor

I call it this, because there tends to be a thinking in East Africa from people in certain positions – medical staff, police, teachers – which says ‘Don’t you know who I am, I must be obeyed without questions at all times’.

Kenya: You would never dare question what the doctor says and you simply don’t ask.

NZ: They give you informed options and don’t flinch if you question them ‘why’ or ‘could we try this’.

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  1. The Price

Kenya: While there is a policy of free maternity care, practically it’s not so. You need to pay for services like scans. I’ve close friends who didn’t have the $30 for a scan and had a breach baby who died 20 minutes after birth because of complications. The emergency cesarean section would’ve saved his life but that was around $800. They only earn $200 a month. You need to take everything in with you to hospital.

NZ: Every single thing is free. Food, personal bathrooms, sanitary products, scans, hospital stay, sheets, pillows and even free wifi.

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We met a young 18 year old who had been raped and become pregnant. We arrived on the day she gave birth to her son. She was not allowed to leave hospital because her family did not have the funds for payment. Every day she stayed the debt was accruing. No doubt the family had to borrow money to get the girl home.

 

  1. Rooms

Kenya: Don’t be surprised if you are sharing a room with 8 other women. Imagine a metre between your bed and the next. Babies are often kept in a nursery, except for feeding.

NZ: While there’s the odd room that will have 4 beds in it, most are single or doubles. Baby is in your sight at all times, in a plastic bassinet beside you.

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  1. The Birth

Kenya: I’ve yet to meet a Kenyan man who has been in the birthing room. It’s just not done any other way. In rural areas it’s older women who assist.

NZ: At the hospital our daughter went to, you could have as many support people as possible. In the birthing unit you could have two.

Nairobi has a few really good hospitals, so if you can afford to go to them you do. One is notorious for bad after birth care, but people go there because it’s free.

Our close friends whose baby died not long after a breach birth were forced to go to one such hospital. She should’ve had a c-section but the staff said to her that the lines to the theatre were long and ‘she carried small so she should deliver okay’. Of course, as in Kenyan culture, the dad went home (by public transport) but was called back because something was wrong. When he got there he was told his son had died. He never got to hold him because there was ‘confusion’ to the whereabouts of his sons’ body. He was told it was in the morgue, went there and they said to him he was on the ward. Went to the ward and was told he was in the morgue. What the attendants really wanted was bribe money. A terrible experience to an unnecessary tragedy.

Of course, if you have money, nothing is a worry. I’ve friends who’ve been in birthing centres in Nairobi and loved it. I’ve also known people who travel for half an hour on a motorbike to a rural clinic to give birth, all by themselves.

I applaud the work of Kenya’s First Lady – Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta in creating Beyond Zero which aims to improve maternal health. She is using her position to bring about awareness and change in a much needed area.

Me, one of my goals to is ensure that remote medical clinics have access to water, latrines and hand washing facilities. It’s high on our 3 year goal.

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Every life is precious no matter where they are born. For me, I’m getting to enjoy my short time with Isabella Rose and find inspiration every time I look at her to help other children across East Africa have a great start in life.

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The Challenge of Exercising in Nairobi

Nairobi is not the easiest place to keep fit. There are lots of gyms popping up but there are very few places you can get out in the fresh air. We have Karura Forest which you can walk or run through, for us it’s a 30 minute drive away. If you’re into tennis there’s a number of courts to hire. Some people risk their lives biking. I think Nairobi has one actually hockey field but it’s under construction. We have the only ice skating rink in East Africa and costs $10 for a one hour session.

 

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My faithful runners have kept me going for 5 years

So there’s not a lack of variety of things to do, you just need to have the budget and time to drive to where you need to go. Liz plays soccer (we call it football here) on Saturday mornings and she’s just discovered volleyball on Friday nights.

For me I like to run.

I like getting out there as soon as the sun rises and it’s safe to be out there by myself. This means the earliest I can go is 7am. Because we’re close to the Equator the sun starts rising at 6.30am, every day and it’s pitch dark by 7pm.

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Normal 7am traffic

I’ve never been a fast runner, in fact it’s probably more jogging than running. I’ve dubbed it my ‘granny shuffle’.

It’s not exactly easy to run here though. Hundreds of people are walking on the side of the road to get to work. 85% of Nairobians rely on public transport. That means they walk as far as possible to reach a bus to take them to work. The average person spends 1 – 2 hours each way to work. That means I have to run in between people, and most don’t move over.

There are very little footpaths in our area. You simply walk on a dirt track on the side of the road. More footpaths are being built which is great, but not around us. I try and run on the road when it’s clear but with the condensed traffic it doesn’t happen much. Some idiot on a local building site decided to put the broken tiles and bricks into a shallow ditch that suffices as a path. It’s really dangerous whether you are walking or running. It’s easy to twist an ankle.

 

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The ‘footpath’

Buses are my biggest annoyance. The other morning there were 3 school buses outside our compound picking up school kids. The blocked the whole road and don’t care about pedestrians. Just up the road a bus pulled up in front of me and parked up on the only footpath we have. There’s plenty of private schools in the area and kids are picked up from 6am onwards. It’s sad to see the little preschoolers being picked up super early and then they get dropped off at 5pm.

Between the traffic, dirt tracks and people it’s a real challenge to even want to get out there.

However, I’ve found a secret place.

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A 5 minute walk from our house is a gated community full of huge houses hidden behind large fences and security guards. Pete tells me there are a few politicians living there which explains the niceness of it all. Only residents can drive in there, there’s painted lines on the road and there are no potholes at all. In fact you don’t feel like you’re in Nairobi at all.

Running along there with the beautiful green trees, no noise (except the guard dogs) is just serene.

 

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The entrance into the gated community

Over the last couple of months of exercising there I’ve seen the regulars and spotted the new ones out there either walking or pounding the pavement. There’s even a small fitness group with a personal trainer that meets a few times a week.

 

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A little slice of heaven

We move out of our place at the end of the month and I often wonder if we will get an apartment in the same area when I return in September. If not, then I’m going to have to start finding a safe running area all over again. This one took me 2 years to find this one, I wonder how long it will take to find the next one.

 

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How red I get at the end of it all

Dentists and Rats

Admittedly, I haven’t been to the dentist for 15 years, but I was surprised to find parts of my left back molar in my hand as I was eating popcorn at the movies. I love their popcorn, it’s caramel coated. I didn’t love feeling a giant gap in my tooth.

The last time I went to the dentist I had 3 wisdom teeth out – no wonder I make the decisions I do! It was one of the most painful experiences in my life.

I’ve never liked going to the dentist. At primary school we used to call it ‘the murder house’. As an adult I figured out that dentists were most likely bullied at school and this was their revenge, and to make lots of money doing it.

I mean, who wants to look inside the mouths of people every day?

I was thinking of a quick fix, even getting it pulled out. Not going to happen to this chick. It was a crown or nothing, and I had a few other holes, another cracked tooth and the final wisdom tooth that had grown sideways which had to come out.

The drill is a horrible but effective tool.

The drill is a horrible but effective tool.

I got depressed. Where was I, a missionary, going to find the $1,000 to get this done, even some of it? We’d just spent $400 on Pete’s broken arm and we’ve got to find a few thousand to get our visas renewed next month. Pete was really good about it, probably the same support I’ve given him over the last 3 years and the numerous hospital visits he’s undertaken.

I hate going to the dentist the same as I do with rats. I hate rats. Snakes, spiders, even getting robbed at gunpoint, fade into comparison to visiting the dentist or having a rat in my house.

Whenever I get unwell I will do ANYTHING not to go to a doctor here. Pete and others assure me there are some good guys, but I don’t want to find out any day soon.

At least the chair was comfy.

At least the chair was comfy.

I’d heard of a dentist about a 5 minute drive from our place, on the 4th floor of the mall. The place is called Skye Dental. The night my tooth broke I went up there but they had closed. I returned the next morning for the verdict.

It was bad.

Just to get a consultation, x-ray and clean it was $120. Dr. Yakub told me that dentists like to do mouths in quadrants, which meant I have to get one filling, a tooth out and a temporary filling in one go. The next visit $284. The last part, for just one tooth – a whooping $710. No one can even see where that money is going!

But what choice do I have?

Today I got the first part done. Pete insisted on walking me all the way there in case I chickened out. What was I going to do, he had the car keys.

I came prepared this time. I had my playlist ready to go, headphones on.

Dr. Yakub promised me that it wouldn’t hurt. Who ever believes a dentist?

I guess dentistry has come a long way in 15 years. I remember the needle being the absolute worse, but it wasn’t. I had 3 injections and only felt one (slightly). This is because he put this numbing dawa (medicine) on the site first. Even when he pulled out the back tooth I felt nothing.

When it came to the broken tooth, he had to get off the old filling first. The drilling sound is still as awful as ever, but I turned up the music loud. What I really struggle with is the gagging reflex. You feel like you’re drowning even though you’re not. Then they put that sucking thing in and it’s a shocker. It was made worse because I’d drank lots of water when exercising that morning and really needed to go to the toilet.

Straight after an hour at the dentists. Pretty bad shot, no makeup, numb face and the dentist looks interesting too!

Straight after an hour at the dentists. Pretty bad shot, no makeup, numb face and the dentist looks interesting too!

The other horrible thing about my visit was the metal ring they put around what’s left of your tooth. It’s not pleasant. He had three goes at building the tooth and the ring kept slipping. So I spent my time not drowning in saliva, trying to ignore the sucking thing and letting go of the pain as the metal ring was shoved up into my gum. The only pleasant thought was ‘at least I’m making him work for his money’.

I’ve given birth twice, climbed the world’s second highest free standing mountain (Kilimanjaro) twice, moved countries twice, been robbed at gunpoint and watched as our oldest daughter has taken on the challenges of being disabled. But for me, going to the dentist and rats top it all off of the things I hate most.

I’m impressed with how professional and compassionate the staff of Skye Dentists are. I had verbal diarrhea because I was not happy with going, but they let me rant on. The equipment is excellent and the after care is good. Dr Yakub explained what he was about to do and never rolled his eyes when I gagged.

I’m still not sure where we will find the money from for the next part as it’s about half of what we get from our supporters each month. But, for the next 2 weeks I will focus on work and see what happens.

Meantime, I’m really enjoying the numbness in my face.

If you would like to help the Creans get insured while they are volunteering in East Africa, feel free to make a safe, online donation HERE.

Keeping Fit In Kenya

There’s a group of us that get together at our place each Wednesday night. We have a meal and then one person leads a discussion from the Bible. It’s a low key but important night where we can connect with each other and God.

A few of us have decided we want to get healthier and fitter than in the past. We’ve also made ourselves accountable to getting out and exercising.

But, like everything else in Kenya, it’s complicated.

Sure, you can join a gym but it’s anywhere from $80 a month for a small room with little equipment up to $150 a month for something decent. You can do a Zumba class for around $11.

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There seems to be lots of gyms in various sizes around town. I’ve visited a gym in the city where our lawyer goes and it was packed during mid morning. We have one about a 10 minute drive away but it’s fairly expensive. The biggest issue is actually physically getting to one. To say traffic is busy is a slight understatement. Unless you’ve driven in Italy, Indonesia or Mexico you don’t have a clue of how packed things get here.

Security is a huge issue here. I know of someone who was ambushed on her way to a boxing class at 6am, just outside the gym.

When it comes down to it though, it’s easy to make excuses wherever you are for not getting healthy. I’ve a friend who tells me there just isn’t time in 24 hours to look after herself. Another one says there’s too much work to be done. And I’ve told myself ‘it might rain’ and avoid what could’ve been a good 45 minutes of my day.

So here’s Sharon’s solution to keeping healthy in Kenya (or wherever you live):

1. Commit yourself to a healthier lifestyle

It’s easy to say you want to lose some weight or feel better about yourself, but it doesn’t happen by doing nothing. I believe a lot of the battle is in our minds. I know when I’m running as soon as I start thinking about walking, it’s not long before it happens. Commitment means paying some sort of cost. However, be realistic. Start small. I started by doing 20 situps and then added 10 each week until I got up to 100. I did the same with other exercises like squats and pushups (okay I do the girly ones).

Too many people start with a bang and then end up fizzing out.

Don't fizz out like a sparkler

Don’t fizz out like a sparkler

Liz plays soccer on Saturdays so she focuses on becoming healthier because she wants to enjoy it more.

2. Get to bed earlier

Whether you consider yourself a morning or night person, you CAN change your behavior. We used to be youth workers and it wasn’t unusual to be still working at 11pm most nights. When we moved to Australia Pete started in construction work and he would be up at 5am. He still operates better at night time but you can’t burn the candle at bother ends. If you’re a later night person just start by going to bed 30 minutes earlier for a week. The next week try going another 30 minutes earlier. That way your body can adjust.

Here in Kenya it gets dark at 7pm and light at about 6.45am, the beauty of being close to the Equator. While we don’t have to worry about daylight savings or long/short days, you can make the most of these, even if it’s an evening walk.

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3. Get out of bed earlier

We all like that extra 30 minutes in the mornings to snooze some more, but we are the first to claim that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Like I said, it doesn’t get really light until just before 7am, which is a bummer because I wake up between 5.30 and 6am. I have to wait until at least 7 before I can go for a run. It eats into my day and sometimes I can’t do any exercise for a few days. On Tuesdays I Skype our daughter Hannah who lives in New Zealand at 7am. It normally lasts for an hour so after that it’s a mad rush to get as much done, downloaded or sent before the power goes off for it’s normal shutdown on Tuesdays.

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4. Make it part of your lifestyle

I don’t go for a run because I’m a running freak. I do it because I enjoy pushing my body, it makes me drink water (which I don’t do enough) and it gets me off my butt. I run/walk three times a week first thing in the morning. I like putting on my headphones, have some good music going and hit the pavement (which we don’t have many of). I know of others who get out in the afternoons and I pass a neighbor who is going for a walk as I get into the compound. You have to make whatever works for you, but you have to start.

When we got back from Australia a few months ago we made the decision not to have any sodas unless we go out. When we have visitors and they bring it, we drink it. We’re not super religious about it, we just made a decision that we thought we could live with. Every now and then we might get a bottle of Coke with something like takeout chicken and chips but most of the time we get fruit juice. I’m not totally convinced that the juice in Kenya isn’t laden with sugar, but at least it tastes better.

5. Add variety

I haven’t done it for a while, but when we were living in our other apartment I set up a little workout area in my lounge. It was a simple yoga mat and a large gym ball. I had a routine of exercises I could do as I wasn’t running at that stage. Now that I’m hitting the pavement (or dirt) I plan to do a gym workout when I can’t get outside.

Instead of having a Coke when you go out for a meal, try water or a juice. I’m a routine driven person but even I have learned that you’ve got to challenge the way you do things.

The reason I started running again after 2 years was because I had set in my mind why I couldn’t do it:

  • The fumes from the trucks are disgusting
  • I could trip over where there’s no footpath
  • Maybe one day we could find the funds for a gym
  • I don’t have time

It didn’t matter how many excuses I put up, the fact is I just had to get on and do it.

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Even with my running I am forced to have some variety. Because of security issues I choose to run at 7 in the morning because there are hundreds of people walking to work. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be mugged. I don’t take my apartment keys but I do take my phone which is in an arm band under my tee shirt.

I don’t follow the same route, I go different ways on different days. I also tell Pete which way I’m going. He knows I should be back within the hour, so if I’m not and he can’t contact me – then he can panic.

6. Enjoy your life

Liz and I were held up at gunpoint at our house around 6 weeks ago. Although it was horrible and traumatic we’ve decided not to let it define who we are and what we will do. We chose to live here and will make the most of it. We work with some great people, have made some lifelong friends and generally enjoy life here. We are super blessed in Nairobi because local fruit and veges are really cheap to buy, so we could have fresh fruit juice and smoothies every day if we wanted to. We could have a maid for all of $180 a month if we had the budget. We can choose around 10 national game parks within a 4 hour drive. It’s a 5 hour drive to Tanzania, a 60 minute flight to about 5 other countries. There are lots of sport and cultural events within Nairobi – every weekend. If we were the clubbing type we could go to a different spot every night.

We all know that a healthier lifestyle and exercise a few times a week has psychological benefits. The problem is we want it all without the pain, commitment and cost involved.

But, if I can do it in Kenya, so can you – anywhere in the world.

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