Ga Duniya

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Tag Archives: Work

In the Field in Guatemala

First Visit: San Raymundo

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a loving mother learning to feed and care for her previously malnourished daughter

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moms and babies listening to songs at the Children’s Integrated Development Center

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ambitious and determined young girls

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Second Visit: Ixim Achi

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DSC_0374-001couldn’t get enough of this cutie

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DSC_0347the path we walked in Ixim Achi

DSC_0288and an old woman combing her hair

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Sabina: The Rest of the Story

216955_10150151653281487_624002_nHave you ever had one of those moments when you really didn’t want to do something, but had to do it anyway, and then you find yourself on the other side with a huge smile and a happy heart? That happened to me in Kenya.

You see, I had an agenda. It wasn’t often that someone from my team had the chance to travel to the field, so I was determined to make the most of it, to maximize the life-or-death story gathering potential out of every minute. And in a place where visiting just one rural family requires a two-plus hour drive each way over rocky hills and footpaths, I didn’t have time for a side trip to witness a successful (not need-focused) story about water (not food) programs.

But while I was the leader of our small team, I hadn’t anticipated the influence of Moses — the inspiring leader of the local office where we were guests. He was the type of man who demands, and then actually warrants, respect. And he wanted us to go visit Sabina and her family.

I knew about Sabina; she was somewhat of a celebrity in the story-telling world of our work. Two of my colleagues (and, might I add, two of the most talented people I know) had spent time with the Kenyan woman a year earlier to learn about and experience for themselves Sabina’s greatest challenge — bringing clean water to her family.

Ever since she was a little girl, Sabina had spent four hours every day in pursuit of water. She traveled to the closest river — over sand, rocks, and thorn bushes, and under the relentless African sun — one hour each way two times per day. At the river she would dig a hole in the sandy shore to create a pool of fresh water with which to fill up her canister. Then she carried the 70 pounds of water back home and used it to cook, clean, wash clothes, and bathe her children.

The endless need for water meant that Sabina hadn’t enjoyed the freedom to attend school, and it meant that she couldn’t pursue other activities that would benefit her family, like planting and tending a garden.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet Sabina. It’s just that I thought the most compelling part of her story had already been told. But I was wrong.

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We arrived at Sabina’s home in the late afternoon and found that she was out running an errand. Even though it was our fault for being hours late, I felt selfishly justified in my opinion that this visit was not worthwhile. But we were there, so we might as well wait for Sabina to return.

We weren’t alone as we waited. Some young children were among those at the compound when we arrived, and as we stood nearby they began quietly singing a simple tune.

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I asked one of our guides to translate the words. The children were singing: “My heart loves so much Kari.” And then my heart began to soften as I thought about how sweet it was that they remembered with fondness the colleague who had come before us.

As I walked slowly around Sabina’s compound, I began noticing some remarkable things. Like how she’d built a storage shelf to keep her modest collection of plates and cups perfectly stacked above the ground. And how, instead of relying on the open landscape as a bathroom, she’d constructed an actual walled-off latrine space out of the ever-present thorns. And how despite the dirt, the chickens, and the kids all around, her home was spotless. She owned very few possessions, but what she had was clean, tidy, and organized — even down to the decorative rock barrier she built to distinguish the area around her hut from the yard beside it.

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I thought about how unfortunate it was that Sabina was denied an education. A woman with so much natural drive could have accomplished great things with the right tools. Thankfully, she’d recently had a significant tool added to her life. A massive water project undertaken in her region had resulted in the installation of a spigot right in her back yard. Now, Sabina no longer has to walk to the river twice a day for the water her family needs to survive. Now a new chapter of her life begins.

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Sabina demonstrated for us how easy it is for her to access clean water now. She happily filled every container she had on hand, and offered a refreshing drink to her husband and children.

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Along with every task, she sang. Her song was a constant part of her life, and those around her joined the chorus.

We were delighted to see how quickly Sabina’s life was transformed by having clean water within reach. But part of why we came to visit her that day was to bring a little more delight into her life.

Sabina’s story had been featured in a recent issue of our organization’s magazine, and we brought copies for her to keep. In a part of the world where facebook and instagram are as incomprehensible as time travel, it’s a pretty big deal for someone to see themselves in a photograph. Her ambitious (but until now, denied) spirit burst through as she thanked us for the gift and asked, “What can I do to read this, since I didn’t go to school?” Then Sabina and her best friend, Christina, began jumping and waving their hands in the air as they laughed and shouted words of happiness and thanks. The outburst enthralled and engulfed us all.

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As the sun set someone opened up a laptop. And someone else brought over a case full of coca cola. The real fun was about to begin. The entire community gathered around on makeshift benches or the dirt ground to get a view of the little screen propped up on a stool. They sipped the warm liquid treats and stared enamored by the video documenting their lives before water came to their home.

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They didn’t understand the words they heard, but only they truly know the meaning of the story.

After our team said heartfelt goodbyes to Sabina and her family, we began a precarious trek along the short path back to the Land Cruiser, ultimately relying on the light of our iPhones to guide the way. “We’re so weak,” I thought to myself, “Sabina’s lived her whole life without running water and we can’t even walk 50 feet in the dark without the help of an iPhone.”

That’s when I realized that God had used this visit to change my heart. My agenda wasn’t as important as witnessing lives transformed. My plans weren’t so pressing that there wasn’t room to share joy. My ideas weren’t so concrete that they couldn’t be moved by an extraordinary woman and her overflowing spirit.

From Burbank to the Berry Farm

Solomon had never been on a plane before, Eliana couldn’t remember that she had. Reuben had never flown with a child, I had never flown with two. At 4:45am one morning in September, we were on our way to change all that.

A 7am flight with two small children. That’s a lot of work. Just packing the bags kept us up till around midnight. Then the theory was that the kids would stay asleep as we transferred them from bed to carseat, and once the plane took off they’d be ready for naps. But these are the Schug babies — they love adventure. Both Eliana and Solomon were wide-eyed from the moment we brought them downstairs until several hours later as we drove down the freeway in Burbank on the way to our hotel. And even that nap was short-lived. One of the wonderful things about our kids, though, is they do amazingly well on very little sleep — they’re just so excited to experience new things.

We arrived in Burbank so early — about 9am — that we couldn’t yet check into our hotel. So we stopped to pick up some vacation supplies, then had some local Mexican food for lunch. Finally our hotel room was ready, just in time for me to change into work clothes and head to the office. This was a working vacation for me, after all. While I tried desperately to focus on donor analytics with just 4.5 hours of sleep, Reuben took the kids to visit an old high school friend who lived in Pasadena. That evening we enjoyed the company in their beautiful home and had the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted. Our super-babies had by that point been awake roughly 16 hours, and with very little fuss Eliana finally put her head down on the table and declared “I want to go to sleep!”

The next morning I headed to the office again, but cut the day short so we could all meet up at… DISNEYLAND! The agency I work with treated us to the whirlwind 4-hour visit to the happiest place on earth.

Four hours obviously isn’t enough time to take in all that Disneyland and California Adventure have to offer. But, thankfully, Eliana hadn’t even realized the place existed until about a week prior to our visit. I had to explain to her, “You know that castle at the beginning of your movies? Did you realize that’s a real place? It’s where all the princesses live!”

While she did wear her pink tutu to visit the park, she was not the hyper, squealing three-year-old you might expect. Instead, she was quietly observant — barely making eye contact with us as she looked all around soaking it in and trying to make sense of it all.

The good thing about having only four hours in Disneyland, was that we were only there for the kiddie rides. While my teammates waited about an hour to get on Splash Mountain, we whisked through the lines for Dumbo, the Teacups, the Chip-n-Dale roller coaster (twice), Toontown, the Little Mermaid, a new Cars ride, and more. But there was one grown-up ride we wanted to take a turn on — Pirates of the Caribbean.

When Reuben first suggested the ride I (admittedly) made the mistake of suggesting it might be too frightening for Eliana. She heard me, and insisted she did NOT want to go see the pirates. After much reassurances, I eventually persuaded her by giving her my sweatshirt and suggesting she could put it over her head if she was afraid (remember her visit to the T-rex?). So, she did just that for the first couple of minutes. But then, slowly, she lowered the sweatshirt and started looking around. Then she was intrigued. Afterward, if you asked her what her favorite ride was, she’d tell you it was Pirates of the Caribbean. Even now, she likes to wear the eye patch I promised to buy her at the dollar store, and she’ll sing “yo ho, yo ho a pirate’s life for me!”

On Friday I had one more day at work, which would have been kind of a drag except that I love my job and I have a great team. Oh, and this happened:

Right outside the conference room window we watched the Space Shuttle Endeavour take it’s final journey on a lap around Los Angeles. It gave us all chills.

Meanwhile, my family was enjoying the perks of our fancy (for us) hotel.

Eliana was her usual super-confident self in the pool. And Solomon is becoming a little fish too — not at all afraid floating on his back and finding endless entertainment flapping his arms in the water.

When my work was done I joined them in the pool and we ordered hotel pizza and enjoyed the California evening.

The next morning we packed up and headed to the beach! We transferred to a not-so-nice, but cheaper, hotel in Redondo Beach where we could be close to our friends Eric and Patty. Here is one lesson we learned on the way — when you’ve been driving the California freeways for an hour and your daughter in the backseat starts squirming and saying her tummy hurts, pull over immediately. We were about 2 minutes away from our friends’ house when Eliana puked all over herself and her carseat. I guess I’m just thankful it didn’t happen on the way back to the airport instead.

She greeted her new friends in nothing but underwear and we moved her quickly to the bathtub as Reuben hosed down the car and started the laundry. After that slight setback, the fun could continue…

We watched OSU beat UCLA while enjoying sandwiches and snacks with the McCullums. Skipping naps again, we took the kids to the beach to play while the dads surfed. Oh, to live in a place with warm beaches — it’s so wonderful!

After washing the sand off back at our hotel room (and realizing that the TV didn’t work, for which we complained and scored an upgrade to a much nicer room for the remainder of our stay!), we rejoined our friends for a salmon dinner.

Sunday was a day for more friends and more beaches! We met my dear friend Penney in Santa Monica and were introduced to her husband, Greg, for the first time. It was so wonderful to catch up with a friend and make a new one. After brunch we walked down the Santa Monica pier, where Eliana rode the carousel and met a generic-looking Mickey and Minnie Mouse (Who we had to pay to get a photo with. Hmm.). At the end of the pier we stopped for drinks (yay for vacation!), and then on the way back we skipped the carnival rides in favor of a visit to the small aquarium underneath the pier.

That evening we enjoyed the beach again, and were rewarded with a breathtaking sunset. Although, Eliana would tell you that her favorite part was discovering that Hermosa beach has a swing set on it! Both of our kids loved swinging on the beach. After shaking off the sand, we strolled along the boardwalk, where the music was loud and the visitors lively. Deciding that this was the easiest place to get dinner, we chose a restaurant with outdoor seating and were humored by the sight of our two babies in the midst of what was essentially a twenty-something bar scene. How times have changed.

Our last full day of vacation was set aside for a visit to Knott’s Berry Farm. We arrived shortly after the park opened, and found that we practically owned the place for the day. Eliana could walk up and climb aboard any kids ride that she wanted to try. Multiple times. With no wait. Reuben and I even took turns riding the roller coasters — skipping through the railings that normally organize the crowds, and requesting the front seat with no lines ahead of us.

Knott’s Berry Farm was a good choice for this phase in our lives. The rides definitely catered to either a very young child or teen/adult crowd. So there were plenty of things to keep Eliana entertained, and others that we thought were fun. If we had been there with, say, an 8-year old, it might have been a tougher sell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old-town theme of Knott’s Berry Farm is fun in and of itself, and we enjoyed exploring the different “shops” and watching a couple of theater shows. In the saloon show, Reuben was even called up on stage and used as a character in the sketch, much to our amusement.

We spent the entire day — from open to close — at Knott’s Berry Farm. Solomon snoozed for a little while in the stroller, but Eliana was living it up the whole time. Our favorite rides were those we could go on as a family, which we did about 3 times each — the log boat ride (above) that we took turns with Eliana on, and the coal mine train ride (whose guide with a horrible fake old-timer accent over an even more horrible PA system was impossible to understand and endlessly amusing for Reuben and me).

By the time we strapped the kids into their carseats for the ride back to the hotel, Eliana had reached her limit. We didn’t see her awake again until the next morning at about 8:30.

On Tuesday we packed up our bags (barely meeting the 50lb checked bag limit!), and began the journey back home, this time at a much more reasonable hour. We all thoroughly enjoyed our first big family vacation. Reuben and I think we have two of the best kids in the world — happy, curious, adaptable, and fun. For her part, Eliana regularly talks about “the next time we go to California.”

Drought and Despair

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a die-hard advocate for the people of Niger. With one short and unreliable rainy season per year, the Sahara Desert threatening to overtake sparse crops, the highest fertility rate in the world, and often ranking in last place on the world’s development index, Niger needs our help.

I truly believed I’d never find people poorer than those I knew in Niger.

And then I went to Kenya.

Mamaselina, age 30, and her seven children were the first family who showed me that poverty can hit hard in other places too. I remember walking the rocky path to their home and noting that while the landscape looked green, it was a mirage. The bushes and trees weren’t lush, they were either cactus or branches full of thorns. There were no fields, no crops, no water sources.

To get water for her family, once per day Mamaselina walks two hours to the nearest river. She’s able to carry about 20 litres back home, which would be enough for one of us to take a two-minute shower or flush the toilet twice. My upstairs bathtub faucet drips about this much each day.

If her children have enough energy, they might join her in the task, carrying 5 litres each. That barely puts a dent in what they actually need, though. The minimum standards are 25 liters per person per day. As a result, each child is rationed one cup of water to bathe with once per week.

During her two-hour trek back home, Mamaselina will collect firewood–adding it to her 44 pound burden of water–in hopes that she can sell it for a few shillings at a nearby market. This is her only source of income to buy food. On the day we visited, only the two smallest children had eaten a bit of porridge. No one else in the family had eaten since they boiled some maize the day before.

I looked around the compound as we spoke with Mamaselina. Besides the mud hut, there was almost nothing to indicate that people lived there. No granary, very few dishes or utensils, barely any possessions even inside of the hut. I could see why she wasn’t worried about locking up her home during her daily trek for water. What could anyone steal?

The destitution was obvious in Mamaselina’s answers to our questions as well:

We asked if she knew why little Julia (left) was often sick, with a swollen belly and dull, yellow eyes. “Who knows?” she replied.

Do her children ask her to give them food when they are hungry? “No, they are used to being hungry.”

I was shocked at her fatalistic sentiments when we asked if she felt the baby she was nursing was receiving enough milk. “I believe the little milk the child is getting is enough and she will be used to this life.”

At 7-months old, how sad that a baby should already be resigned to a life of hunger.

Does she have hope? “I just believe that God will help me. There is nothing I can do.”

I wanted to argue. But what could she do?

In that thorny, hot, remote, dry landscape, Mamaselina needs resources. So what can we do? Pray. Donate. Help.

We emptied our water bottles into the family’s plastic jugs, hoping that would at least help a little. And we returned home to tell the story.

I often think of Julia, and her younger sister Chathrine. During our visit someone had placed a handful of thick-skinned fruits into an empty bowl and handed it to them. I’d already noticed how the toddlers simply sat in the shade, too tired and hungry to be playful. But it was equally disturbing to watch them with the bowl of fruit. Suffering from chronic hunger, you’d think they would have dug in and devoured it as quickly as they could. I know my two-year old would do that if she had a bowl of candy. But Julia and Chathrine mostly just held the fruits protectively, and picked at one. The toddler impulse had been replaced by the wisdom to ration the food and make it last.

Portraits of Kenya

I’m waiting in the Amsterdam airport to board my flight back to Portland. The past two weeks in Kenya were intense, exhausting, exhilarating, and rewarding. I have many stories to share once I have energy (and stable internet access!) to write them.

I am eager to see my family again. I am thankful to have so many comforts to return to. But every time I leave Africa, I feel I am leaving a piece of home behind. Despite the harshness of living, it’s the people who draw me in.

Since I’m too tired to write anymore now, I just wanted to add a few photos of the faces I’ll remember from my unforgettable time in Kenya.

Child with empty bowl

Sabina’s baby

A woman I had the privilege of interviewing

The beautiful Turkana

Stories of desperate need

And stories of hope

 

 

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