Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bono uses Yahoo to get the word out on Poverty!

Have you seen the number of answers that question has drawn on ?? Within 2 days, he had more than 25000 different users answer his question: What can we do to make poverty history?

I have discovered Yahoo Answers yesterday and think it is amazing online concept to harness local intelligence and manage knowledge globally. I really like it. So, I also posted my answer for what it may be worth:

Poverty (and any campaign against it) is related to Human Rights first and foremost. There are several organisations that fulfil an international role to advocate for the reduction of poverty through various strategies. This is brilliant and needed...

However, in my humble opinion, there are many non-poor people speaking up for the poor in well-meaning ways, but too few platforms for the poor to VOICE their OWN plight. Local intelligence to solve problems are overlooked in favour of global intervention with big money attached to aid programmes and (often) self-interested political or economical agendas. Or worse, it is a manifestation of pity for 'those starving children' and the inability of parents or social structures to make a difference.

Global monetory power players call the development shots and move into communities and areas with well-defined 'projects' to increase trade, invest in social systems, monitor aid distribution and write off local debts incurred. However, they often overlook the desire of local residents to be part of the solution and to participate in meaningful ways - LEADING the process of reconstruction and opportunity formation. The poor is too often viewed as unintelligent, under-resourced and unimaginative and then treated as such! If this is not changed in the minds of those 'who have', they will continue to disempower those 'who have not' through paternal approaches to development. This was confirmed for me in the brilliant book 'Ripples from the Zambezi' by Ernesto Sirolli:

"After six years of economic development work in Africa, Ernesto Sirolli witnessed how little most foreign aid programs were actually doing for the people they hoped to help—from creating a communal tomato field on the banks of the Zambezi river (only to be demolished by the river’s hippos at harvest time) to donating snow-plows to African nations! However well intentioned, Sirolli points out, inappropriate development often creates more problems than it solves".

In dealing with - like I do on a daily basis in Southern Africa - I would ask for the world to do simply this: Be open to learn more before you give more. For the answer is not giving, but understanding what you lack by NOT living in poverty...

Here is a practical way: I know one organisation making a real difference from Cape Town South Africa. Social Investments (nationally registered public benefit company) identifies and supports projects that have measurable outcomes in poor communities. There are MANY similar organisations around... Just make your pick and you will be surprised how much difference $1 a month could make for someone around here...

Email the Directors at if you want to know more...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Racism in Reverse or Fast-Forward?

I have attended the Council meeting of the yesterday. The political parties took their seats and I was keen to see the dynamics of the Council in action as it will impact in some way on our development projects down the line. Oh, I was disappointed to hear the unmasked of members of the Council. The pale-skinned politicians - including the well-known opposition advocate against apartheid, now the Mayor of Cape Town, were ridiculed and abused for the simple fact of "not being black and poor" or living amongst those who "are black and poor".
I sat in the Gallery as invited guest and was simply sick to my stomach to hear the statements of racism, referring to politicians (simply based on their skin colour!) in derogatory terms - very personal and very unprofessional. I am not sure why these politicians did not respond with the disgust that the abuse deserved. As an onlooker, it was quite clear who the racists were, who brought up race first, who referred to the past (instead of a collective future), and who judged purely on the base of their own prejudice towards all whites present. It was sad.
I am of the opinion that they are very wrong to assume that only those who are black can speak on behalf of the poor of the City and of our country. One need not be black, or poor to have a sense of justice and a sense of humanity. Life is simply not so black and white...
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Monday, May 22, 2006

No Wetlands in the Bible

It is a new day after much rain storming in from the Atlantic into Cape Town. I can just imagine the damage done to the informal shacks down the road, and the bitter cold - again. There are those who had to build in the wetlands (the only space!) and now live in mud and then there are those who live on mountain sides in seven-room mansions with breathtaking views. And I think about the Biblical story of building your house not on sand, but on rock - for wind and storms will come and tear it down. But it said nothing of 'title deeds', homeownership. money, access to morgage or space allocation according to your income and traditional tribal clan. Those were the days, I guess...
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Saturday, May 20, 2006

We are what we Stand for...

I saw yesterday. I will take one line from the movie script with me: "You are what you protect, what you stand for". I have found some courage through the words to continue with the development we started in Masiphumelele, amidst the politics and power games that we face daily.
I have also wondered a lot lately about the value of our programmes. "Is this (the work I do) something I would die for?" I think about the life of Rachel Corrie who died for what she believed in her twenties. Her life has inspired me and I think about her (and her family) whenever I feel discouraged.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When my House costs less than My Leather Jacket...

I was walking in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town with a co-worker today, and made a comment about how great he would look in a designer suit. "Well,..." he said with a smile, "I cannot wear something that costs the same as my home". It took me a moment to take in the words, and understand that the informal corrugated iron home he sleeps in (inherited with pride from nhis uncle!), actually cost less to build than the price tag of the suit hanging on the plastic doll in the window. When one lives in poverty, one has a different reality...
... and a leather jacket often costs the same as a home.
Note to Self: Know the world is different for all of us.
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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Kinds of Cold

The thing is: There are different kinds of cold. I never really thought about it, until I took my two guys out this morning for their business on the grass. And it struck me that this cold reminds me of the winter blizzard in Chicago in 1996. I can barely believe it is ten years ago that I was in the USA and landed between walls of snow to visit with friends. I still have the image clearly. But it was the cold that struck me deep inside and left me breathless. Like this morning.

And then, there is the cold in the township where my clients live with candle light and oil burners and cherish a blanket like a bucket of water. The cold that rips your skin from your body and lets you feel that you live outside of yourself as an observer of your own slow death. I have seen children turn blue from this cold, where the homeless cuddle together under a bridge and some shared carton and body heat. I have watched the destruction of tin homes from fire intended to keep the cold out. And nothing remain...

My friend took her little nephew to Ice Age and the the theater was filled with young laughter. The cold was inviting and slippery with animated creatures having fun and adventure becauce of frozen surfaces. It is almost the same cold of my cildhood, when we would drive into the mountains and closest farm and make a snow man stuck to the car window - just to watch them melt and slide suicidally onto the road. I would watch the muddy snow man with scattered carrot nose and beady eyes until the next car killed it off finally. It was always a sad, predictable end to an unbelievable day of white snow in our sunny country.

But the cold I feel for some people surpasses all... There is no match to the cold that is born from my anger and frustration with ignorance of self-absorbed people. The ones that live a small world with their furnances and wool and scarfs and feathers without even acknowledging the cold that exist for others. Some times, I also forget. And it chills me.

I can only describe it all as