Friday, November 28, 2008

Life and Death in Africa

The past couple of months ran the full spectrum of human experience. “A time for all things” Solomon said. Our good friend and colleague, Peter, lost his father early this month, after battling with cancer. We were invited to join in the 3 day funeral/wake/celebration of his life, in which hundreds of family members, friends, and neighbors gathered to mourn, laugh, cry, and remember this great man’s life. It was very evident that he had deeply touched many lives. Morris was actually Peter’s uncle, but was called and considered his father, as culturally the headship over the surviving wives and children pass to the next male sibling upon one’s death. As Morris was his last immediate uncle to pass, Peter is now the male elder of the family, responsible for his aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces.


Family and Friends gathered under the tent for the service.


More family and community members in front of Peter's home. Accompanying huts can be seen in the background.


Restore Academy students also gathered to remember Morris, and support their Headmaster, Peter.


During the service, John and I were invited to speak, and afterward we shared a meal with Peter and the the elder males in Peter's community.


Tragically, our good friends at Cornerstone Leadership Academy also suffered recent loss, as a car accident claimed the lives of two students and one teacher. There are only 25 students in each of the classes, made up of the brightest kids from varied tribes and areas of Uganda, so the loss shocked the small community. We mourn their loss as well.


A Celebration of Life and Restoration...

Bob Goff, the Founder and President of Restore International, and his team of four (Brian of YoungLife, Kippie and Kristin from Chicago) recently arrived for what was to be an absolute blast of a trip. The foursome, along with our good friend Gary, who operates Kenmore Air (seaplanes in Seattle), were an absolute kick in the pants. We had 10 awesome days together, highlights including meetings with several dignitaries (The First Lady Janet Museveni, several Ministers of State, High and Supreme Court Justices), visiting the boys in Naguru Remand Home, and a fruitful trip to Gulu to visit the Restore Academy Community, and finalize an initial purchase agreement for a 38 acre permanent location for the school we’re hoping to build.


At the Statehouse with Bob, Gary, Tim Kreutter, Brian, Kristin, Kippie, two Members of Parliment, and First Lady Janet Museveni (in hat).


Kristin practicing her balance...


Kippie holds one of our student's baby. The students of our school face unique challenges, and some of them are child-mothers. Kippie absolutely loves children- and they love her!


Fun car rides and conversation with (from left) Kippie, myself, Bob, and Kristin.


Bob up in a tree, filming a song/poem that the students performed for us. It was incredibly moving, as it spoke of the atrocities faced in their lives, and the hope they have for the future:


video


After two years of hard work, and countless hours (put in by our former Country Director Ilea, my colleague John, Laker, Peter, and the Restore International Team) of struggling and learning, we were thrilled to finally sign this agreement for the land. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Restore Academy Interim Board of Directors, the PTA, the students' families' communities, our lawyer Kenny, and the local Leadership of La Mogi area for their tireless efforts on behalf of this endeavor.


Bob, John, Peter, James, Kenny, PTA and Board Members, and the local family members celebrating at the future location of the school.


Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves, as we’re hoping to build 4 initial school buildings, thanks to Lazarian World Home’s generous help. This is an awesome organization that focuses on Insulated Concrete Form construction (the same type we built with at Cascade Head) in impoverished areas around the world. www.lazarianworldhomes.com They plan to send a construction manager, and all necessary supplies for the building of the school. The beauty of Lazarian Homes’ design is that it is relatively simple to construct, allowing for easy training of unskilled labor forces in these areas. Additionally, Lazarian Homes is also planning to leave the tools here, allowing us to start a micro-enterprise construction company using this unique and cost-effective building product. The cool thing about ICF is that it's styrofoam block, so it insulates well, but is filled with concrete and rebar, making it incredibly sturdy, safe, and long lasting. It might just create a wonderful new construction industry in N. Uganda.


Bob and the Restore Academy Staff and Students


The dreams and potential for the school are overwhelming. We hope to incorporate solar technology, allowing the students a hands-on opportunity to participate in physics and chemistry coming to life in practical ways before their eyes (photosynthesis simulation, AC/DC battery technology, conductivity etc). Most of these students, who primarily come from the surrounding villages, haven’t been exposed to much technology, so it will be quite a leap! We hope to power lights for studying at night, as well as a computer lab, to connect them with the “Global Village”. This will allow the students to gain valuable computer and communication skills, and provide a wonderful opportunity to talk with their elders, and share their family and cultural history, and aspects of their daily lives (like photos of local foods, huts, roads, and videos of the language) with other students from around the world - A great way to claim back some of the cultural identity lost in the violence and disruption of the last 20 years.


Cause to celebrate!!!


Farmer John...

The soil is rich, and we’re incredibly excited to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty! We have a great opportunity to grow our own food, as well as experiment with novel crops that could create new micro-markets in N. Uganda. Biology and Agriculture will come alive in practical ways as the kids learn valuable skills, and maintain a close, practical and organic relationship with the land. Jim Lorenzen, the father of our adoptive Kampala family, is a plant geneticist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, and will be advising us on which crops we can grow, and how to do it. Also, Kristin from Chicago is tied in with a seed company who is interested in donating to causes such as ours around the world, so we’ll be working together to put in a proposal for funding and equipment. It’s an absolute blast and a blessing to watch God put the puzzle pieces together!

Preliminary survey of the land


So needless to say, there’s tons to keep us busy here, but it’s joyous work, and incredibly humbling to be a part of the story God is writing in this community. We're praying that everything continues to go well for the building of the school, and the projects in the High Court. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as well~

I truly hope you are all doing well- I know I’ve dropped the ball on communicating for awhile, but please fire me off a message when you get a chance, I’d love to know how you’re all doing!

Peace to you~

-Blake

Thursday, October 9, 2008

hiatus...

Hello all, sorry for the long hiatus! The last 6 weeks have been full of ups and downs- going through a lot personally, as well as keeping super busy with Restore activities. I'm in Kampala today, as several of us were able to attend the National Prayer Breakfast this week. Most of the Ugandan Members of Parliment, several ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, President Museveni, and hundreds from the community gathered at the Hotel Africana Wednesday to lift up Uganda in prayer. People from various faiths were there, and it was a wonderful morning of reunion, friendship, hope and prayer for the future of Uganda and the larger African community. Unfortunately, they didn't allow cameras for security reasons, so I'm unable to pass along any photos, except this one of ten of us squeezed in the Land Cruiser on the way home from Hotel Africana:



It's made a world of difference having John here- we're able to bounce ideas off each other, watch each other's back, and meet much more effectively with leaders as a team. Restore has had some pretty exciting developments, with some great prospects for finding land for the school in Amuru District near Gulu. It's been exciting to watch the students, parents, faculty and surrounding community exhibit more ownership in, and excitement about Restore Academy. The students have been doing wonderfully, and are growing not only in knowledge, but also in character and maturity. We recently elected the PTA members, and met with some of the Educational Officers for the local districts. We've been blessed to have such wonderful, wise men and women guiding us. This pic is from the Parents' visitation day last week:



We've also been very busy with the High Court, and just recently received some good news to move forward with a couple of exciting proposals we have submitted. We're trying to assist the noble efforts the courts are making to effectively administer justice to those in need. We should have more on this in the coming weeks.

John, his good buddy Kyle, and I were able to sneak away a couple of weeks ago for a little hiatus of our own. Finances have been super tight for me, so I was so glad when we had the opportunity to slip away for a two day shoe-string ($60) safari. Murchison Falls is not too far from Gulu, just an hour and a half west of the halfway mark between Kampala and Gulu. My REI tent (thanks to Erin) kept me dry in the torrential downpour and thunderstorm. Here are a few shots from the safari and the Nile River (thanks for the river tour Kyle):


Sunrise over the Nile


hungry hungry...


Jungle _____ of a feather stick together


H2O _____ soldiers (think Bob Marley)


After awhile...


honestly...ok, I'll stop.


Kyle and our river guide George: this guy was absolutely hilarious, and managed to hit us up for some beer money. Murchison Falls is in the background.


Took this one the morning of the safari- just thought the tree was quintessential Africa








Ok guys- promise I won't let so much time slip by before the next post. Thanks for hanging in there with me~ I hope all are well~

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kenya and Tanzania

Wow, so much to catch everyone up on! I'm a little behind, so I'll send out another couple of posts soon~ In the meantime, here's a little blip from our trip through Kenya and Tanzania:


At the end of last month, John, a couple of Kampala friends, myself, and about 70 Cornerstone Ugandan friends all jumped on a couple of buses and headed out on a 24 hour bus ride through western Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The drive was long, but absolutely beautiful:

video

The view from our "rest stop" in the Serengeti desert of Kenya




The destination was Arusha, Tanzania at the foot of Kilimanjaro, for a 4 day conference called the "Jesus Conference". Predominately Christians, but also Buddhists, Muslims, and folks from other religious backgrounds all gathered to "think, talk, act, and love like Jesus", seeking to understand His teachings on reaching out to the fatherless, widows, and poor. The conference has been running for at least 4 years, and is organized by a group called "The Family", aka "The Fellowship", aka "the group behind the National Prayer Breakfasts worldwide", founded by Doug Coe, a former and current advisor and friend of multiple world leaders. Meeting around the person, life, and teachings of Jesus, whom the Buddhists consider a great teacher, the Muslims consider a prophet, and Christians consider to be the Messiah, has proved to be a great uniter of this incredibly diverse group of people, and a beacon of hope for future inter-religious peace, understanding and collaboration. Certainly important differences in perspectives about Jesus were held, but the nature of the meeting was not to disregard differences in deeply held theological convictions and spiritual experiences, or forge a new universalistic religion, but rather to gather together on the common ground that all shared: a deep respect for the life and teachings of Jesus, and a belief that they can help inform efforts to love and serve the poor, widowed, and orphaned. The conference drew about 350 people, from 23 countries around the world, including Japan, Nepal, India, USA, Norway, Ecuador, and multiple African countries. We had a wonderful time of friendship, meals, rest, recreation, workshops, and speaking sessions on youth mentoring, school development, and many other humanitarian aims. A truly amazing group of people, our team felt honored and privileged to share ideas and experiences, build relationships and support, and glean some wisdom which will help guide our future efforts in Uganda.

video

Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Maasai dancers and watermelon juice


A view of the pool and castle-like architecture of our gorgeous Nagurdoto Mt. Lodge in Arusha



It's the rainy season here, so unfortunately Mt. Kilimanjaro was mostly clouded in, but we were able to catch a couple of glimpses, and we had a hard time believing the scale. We'd see dark spots in the clouds as they drifted by, but didn't even imagine it was mountain, as the scale seemed impossibly large. Fortunately, the water-bottle labels were cloud-free, (so I improvised :)



This is Esteban, one of the friends in my small group, who happened to be from Ecuador. Having difficulty understanding the African accents, I was able to help out by translating for him. He was one of only three Spanish speakers at the conference, but we happened to be in the same small group, and even seated next to each other when I discovered his difficulty. Never thought I'd be using my Spanish in Africa, but then again, God seems to weave some pretty wild twists into His plot! He seems to have quite sense of humor, and a flare for the improbable ~


Okay all, thanks for reading this far! I hope this message finds you all doing well, and again, I should have some more updates coming soon...

cheerio!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Never fear, Erin's here!

So I'm a little late with this post, but I'm sure you understand. Erin arrived early this month, to begin this amazing chapter of life in Africa. I linked up in Kampala with some wonderful folks from her Adjumani family, Jeff and Michelle Thiessen, and Jacqulin. We all headed to the airport to welcome Erin, and I got to steal the first hug :)

We were able to meet some of the people involved in World Venture over the next couple of days, and we spent nearly a week together before heading up to Gulu. From there we moved on to Adjumani, where Erin got to meet up with Rick and Faye Meyer, and begin settling in to her nice rural homestead, complete with chickens roaming around the yard.


Erin and I at the Lorenzen's in Kampala


We went on a little hike to the top of Naguru Hill in Kampala, and took this video:


video


I'll send another update soon~ Hope you are all well!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Restore Academy Celebrates

Head Teacher Peter, and our Project Coordinator Laker in front of a banner which students designed for Restore Academy's 1 year anniversary celebrations.


Parents, students, and community members gathered to listen to the celebration addresses. The grove of trees behind the school in Kati-Kati provided a welcomed shelter from the hot sun.


After giving a short speech, James (Deputy Head Teacher/Translator) and I connected speakers to my laptop, and played a greeting from Restore's founder, Bob Goff, which we had recorded over telephone the previous evening. It actually worked pretty well!


Mzee Paul Lwkuia, our Interim Board Chairman, leans on my knee and shares some words of wisdom. He's a gentle, wonderful man, and grandfather-figure for many. Very well respected, and an amazing advocate for children in multiple communities, he's also a dear friend, and we're blessed to have him guiding our development team.


After the speeches, and a delicious meal of posho (cornflower dumplings), chicken, mashed bananas, and greens, students and community members gathered for a soccer game with visiting Saint Mary's College. Despite being younger, our boys, some of which played with no shoes, gave a spirited effort, and defeated St. Mary's 6-1.


Enjoying the game...


Gooooaaalll!!!


Local kids cheer with Laker~ A wonderful way to cap off a splendid day of celebrations~

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bobi IDP Camp

Children of the Bobi IDP camp


Lending a hand...

A wonderful group of 4 students (Matt, Amber, Veronica & Travis) came from San Diego, and together we visited the Bobi IDP camp (Internally Displaced Peoples) where Restore International has built and repaired wells. As the area continues to recover economically after years of war, the government and the World Food Program have begun cutting their food supplies to encourage the people to resettle in their home villages, and begin to live off the land again. One difficult challenge in that process is that many parents have been killed, or have died due to AIDS, leaving many orphans in the hands of the elderly. The majority of these elderly have lost their social security (their children). Traditionally, the adult children would work the land, supporting the elderly and their own children. With the parents now gone, these vulnerable segments of the population remain in the IDP camps, dependent on the waning food support of the WFP. One "Mosee'", or elderly man, that we spoke with had custody of 20 children who's parents (many were his own sons and daughters) had died from either the war or AIDS. He is struggling to feed them, using the last of the WFP's allocated support food. He is not sure what he'll do now, but he continues to hold out hope that he can provide food and school fees for the children to escape poverty. It is not yet determined how the government, or the WFP plans to support this vulnerable segment of the population.






It's incredible to see how the people utilize nearly everything. This door is covered with tin from cans of US AID vegetable oil.






Restore International has built and repaired several wells at Bobi. Before this, many people were forced to gather drinking water from a nearby bog, which lead to dysentery, typhoid, worms, and a host of other health issues.

One of Restore International's wells in Bobi



Despite the challenging realities of life in the IDP camp, we were received with bright smiles and greetings of "Munu..Munu!" (White-one, White-one!) After surveying the community and wells, and participating in a prayer meeting in the church hut with the pastors, women and children, we joined hands for a game of duck-duck-goose, which was an absolute riot for the kids. The elderly joined in the laughter as dust flew, and the children ran.


Photographs courtesy of Matt, Travis, Veronica and Amber.