Monday, October 26, 2009

It's a Honkin' Whale!

LEAD Lands a Very Big Fish

The press release was from Washington DC. On September 29, 2009, The United States African Development Foundation released this headline:
USADF Signs Two Grants to Support the Under-Served in Liberia:
Grants Create Jobs, Enhance Quality of Life for Workers

It was big news, and even bigger for our "Little NGO that could," LEAD Inc in Liberia. A grant Renita had co-authored, one of only two approved for the entire country, went to that organization that just five years ago did not exist. The news release went on to say,
"After reviewing the grants, newly appointed USADF Chairman Jack Leslie stated, 'Funding economic development at the grassroots level is vital to USADF’s work and to the under-served people of Africa. These grants do just that – they provide funding that enables grassroots groups to grow and sustain their projects and give them the means to enhance their quality of life.'”

The three year grant is for $246,000 USD and will help LEAD do the following:
· Open two new offices – one in Grand Capemount County and one in Margibi County, bringing the total number of counties served in Liberia to six (other counties served are Bong, Grand Bassa, Montserrado, Nimba).
· Hire six new staff for these two counties, as well as one IT person for the main office, with salaries for these seven positions for 18 months.
· Purchase of new vehicle (Remember our 94 Red Pathfinder and that 2001 gray land Cruiser? These are all LEAD had to use, so now they will finally have something more trouble-free.)
· Purchase a motorcycle for each county to make it easier for the staff to get around to business clients.
· A little over half of this grant ($125,000 USD) goes toward LEAD’s revolving loan program. LEAD has three loan programs:
-- Providence Empowerment Initiative (PEI) designed for microbusinesses who have been in existence for six months are given a two day training, save in groups of five businesses, and start with a loan of $100 USD; upon successful completion, they can go to a $200 loan, and then to a $300 loan;

-- Nehemiah Empowerment Initiative (NEI) designed for for small and medium size businesses (SMEs) who go through a 36 hour training over the course of 12 weeks, saving for six months, and then receiving a loan for $300-$1800 US depending on their savings. (Graduates from the first program can move up to this program.)
-- Agricultural Empowerment Intiative (AEI) designed for agricultural development and is a new program that will be be launched with this grant.

The majority of the funds given from this grant are for the microbusiness loan program, and a much smaller portion for the agricultural development. Up until this time, all loan funds donated have been for the second loan program and we have been borrowing from this loan fund to help grow the micro businesses to the SME level, so this will provide great support.
· Some funds are also given for training, equipment and other supports.

A big question is how many people will be impacted by this? It’s difficult to say. The beautiful thing about this work is the idea of leverage – if we help one business, that business often supports many people – if the business owner employs three persons, and each person is responsible for five family members, that means that 15 people are now being helped with food, school fees, medicine, etc. What's more, the money that is given for loan funds gets used again and again. It goes out, comes back, goes out again, supporting, returned, supporting, with no reason to end. LEAD has trained over 1300 businesses and given out 1000 loans, so the people impacted already are potentially 5000 and multiplying exponentially.

Please keep this in your prayers as “to whom much is given, much is required.” It is always a challenge in places where poverty abounds to make sure every dollar goes where it is intended. Pray that the staff may be able to handle these additional responsibilities.
Weather: The hot season is looming, and temperatures are on the rise. Daytime temps in the 90's with evenings cooling down to the upper 70's to low 80's. SW Breezes are diminishing a bit, but still in the 10 to 15 mph range throughout the day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Months In

ReedNews Update: October Edition

Weather: Monday begins with heavy overcast and 77F. The weekend was hot and sunny, with daytime highs around 90F and nighttime lows in the upper 70sF. Breezy, with winds most of the day around 15mph, gusting to 20 or so. Today will turn to partly cloudy by noon, then likely clear up by sunset. Temps will be cooler all day, but humid, with highs in the mid 80sF.

The Reeds have hit a normal stride, and I think its fair to say the four of us have adjusted quickly and well to life in Accra, Ghana. We like Ghana. There is a certain pride Ghanaians take in themselves as Ghanaians, and a certain pride they take in the accomplishments of their country. Here is what's been happening on the home front:

Work-- Renita and I have signed a consulting contract with a Ghanaian NGO called Theovision. Theovision has received international recognition for their work in translating Christian scriptures to many language groups throughout Africa. Our work would be in community assessment and in capacity building. In other work news, we'll be traveling more into Ghana soon, then Renita goes to Liberia and Cote d' Ivoire in month, then further out I'm off to Mali then Nigeria.

The Kids-- Even though they don't like to admit it, both Hannah and Noah are doing well here. Both have made good friends and are active with groups every weekend. Hannah especially misses friends back in the US, but when the internet is up, she takes full advantage of Skype and Facebook. Three of us have Facebook pages-- Renita is almost ready to take the plunge.

Utilities-- This last week prepared us for the long hot season. Electricity was out nearly every day for an hour or so, and Sunday we were sans juice for about six hours. It would come on for ten minutes then shut off for an hour, come on for thirty minutes, shut off for another hour. We do not have a generator as of yet, but methinks we will need one soon. As for water, well, we've been getting by ok. The water from the city is often off for a day or more, but with our tanks, we can operate as normal. If the water is off for several days, we need to call in a tanker to fill us back up. Every once in a while, I send Hannah up the ladder to see how much is left in the tank.

otball-- Soccer is big in Ghana-- really, really huge-type big-- so Friday was loud in the streets after Ghana's "under 20 team" beat Brazil for the U-20 World Cup. We watched on TV, and every time something good happened, we could hear the neighborhood react. It's fun, and even though we never cared much for soccer before, we are getting in to it now. Attention is now on the 2010 World Cup-- the big one-- in South Africa. And both the USA and Ghana are in the 32 team playoffs.

Mutts-- All three are doing fine-- and they are barkers! As you may recall, Dusty almost died a while back, but after constant care she turned the corner a few weeks back and is now fully recovered. At her sickest she weighed 3.7 pounds (down from about 10), but she’s almost up to her previous weight now. She’s certainly the Alpha around the dog dishes. Faith and Jack each outweigh her by 15 pounds, but neither dares mess with her.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


As I await the return of my wife, hopefully flying south over the Sahara as we speak, I thought I’d expound a bit on an aspect of life in Ghana that just wasn’t the same in Liberia. In a way, the sight my dear wife is now viewing out her window is part of this glimpse into our lives. To the left, a picture out the window of her Lufthansa Airbus. What do you see? Exactly.

In Liberia, the biggest non-human related environmental difference we had to adjust to was the humidity. As you may recall, I wrote several blogs attempting to share in words what the remarkable, world-class sweltering stickiness of the Liberian coastal air was like
. In Ghana, while it is humid, it is more familiar, similar to the air moisture I might have felt on a muggy Michigan summer day. The humidity here is nothing like I experienced in Liberia. In Ghana it’s not the humidity. It’s the dust.

Africa is famous for its sand and its dust. Most of the continent rests on the oldest, most stable rock on earth, rich in iron. The iron oxidizes, giving much of the dirt its reddish tone that we see everywhere. Over the millennia, the sand becomes pulverized into dust, a heavy red dust that is easy carried by the wind, but settles quickly—and absorbs moisture.

So every day, the rusty dust is there. If you walk around on your “clean” floor in your white socks, you’ll have to change them in an hour. If you wash your car and go to the store, no one will know it was washed. If you come in after a hot afternoon outdoors and wipe your face with a white cloth, your hand print will be plainly visible on the cloth. It is a cultural taboo to speed through communities without paved roads. The clouds of dust get into disk drives, clog up fan vents, and generally spell an early death for unprotected electronics.

None of this bothers me too much. Many places in Africa have it much worse.
(See video in separate post below) I like it here. However, in one area, the dust is a literal pain. My feet. I must warn you, if you are one of those unfortunate people whose dry skin crack open into painful chasms on the heel and side of the foot, a dusty place like Ghana will not be nice to you. The dust here is so fine that it is almost like cement powder; if you have ever stuck your hand in dry cement you understand the problem, as you immediately had to wash your hand to rehydrate it. Walking around on this powder sucks the moisture right out of unprotected feet. I'm used to moving about barefooted whenever possible—Ghana has made this impossible. I went four years in Liberia without cracked feet. The humidity kept them nice and soft. Today my feet are covered with six or seven band aids, as I attempt to coax the gaping fissures to close. I only need to forget to wear socks for a few hours, and the damage is done. And I go through so many socks each day that I sometimes run out.

All in all though, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. I still have this great breeze every day, reasonable temps moderated by the ocean, and sunny days mostly. Not to mention we feel like we have good work to do here. As I say, it could be much worse. Ask the kid the left. I wonder what his feet look like.

The door on a book shop down the road from us.

Scubitrip - Sandstorm in Niger

Its dusty in Ghana, but just North of us, in Mali and Niger, it gets incredible-- huge sand and dust storms that wreck havoc. Here is one from Naimey, Niger, where I'll be meeting with other CRWRC folks in January. Renita passes over Naimey on her flight today.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Our Week

October starts off on the road and in the air. Last week was my turn to travel, the weekend was everyone’s chance, and now Renita is away. I was off for a very quick trip to the US—so fast that by the time I found the luggage United had lost, I didn’t need it anymore. I arrived in Grand Rapids Sunday, and left Wednesday. The topic of the CRWRC get-together was “peacebuilding,” which means recognizing that building just and healthy societies—here or there—requires a multi-faceted, holistic approach. The old reactive approaches to development have proven unworkable. Peacebuilding means proactively laying the groundwork for relationships of mutual transformation; it means understanding the causes of conflict, healing trauma, advocating for a justice that restores, providing an economic foundation that ends poverty, empowers the soul and not only recognizes but embraces the spirituality in all people. Great perspectives, but I could not do much digesting by the lapping waves of Gull Lake. By Thursday I was back in Accra.

Over the weekend, we ventured a hundred miles or so to Ghana’s eastern neighbor, Togo. It was a "diplomatic mission:" Renita and the kids needed to get their visas extended, and to do that they needed to cross into another country and get the extension until we can get residency status. Even though nursing a nasty foot infection that kept me from driving, my foot propped up on the dash, I enjoyed every minute. Ghana is a beautiful country. When we got to Togo’s capital, Lome, I stayed behind because I don’t need the extension, while the others went through the paperwork of 1)leaving Ghana. 2) entering Togo, 3)leaving Togo, and then 4)re-entering Ghana. The process took an hour, and in the meantime I yucked it up with the street vendors, and enjoyed a beverage under a money changer’s umbrella. I brought some pictures.

So today, it is Renita's turn to fly away. She is trying to get to the States to attend the Partners Worldwide annual conference. I say “trying” because she got stuck in New York, bumped from her flight to Chicago due to mechanic problems, but hopefully she’ll arrive in Grand Rapids later today (Monday). Unfortunately, she too will miss her luggage, which is on its way to Chicago. She’ll be gone from us for a little over a week, but I know she’ll have a great time. We, on the other hand, will muddle through.

The roads out of Accra are great for a hundred miles. Well maintained, no pot holes.

Love those Baobab trees.

Along the way, every time a "Tro-tro" stopped, it was mobbed by food and water vendors. Tro-tro is Twi for "thirty, thirty," which is what they used to cost.
The route passed through the Volta river delta. Lovely, peaceful, green and fresh. At least it looked that way.
I wanted to jump in.
Eventually, the road got bumpy and (cough) dusty.

...very dusty.

The first 3/4 of our trip took and hour and a half. The last quarter took two hours. This is Denu, just this side of Tome.
Some of Ghana looks like East Africa, the classic African Savannah.

On the way home--- love those baobabs.

Weather: Hot, dusty and humid, with constant winds from the SW. Until we get a thermometer, we’ll be just guessing. But I’m guessing His in the low 90’s during the day with winds around 20mph, and Lows in the lower 70’s at night. Humidity drops as temps go up, but without that wind, we’re jesdrippin’. Thunderstorms to our north, but very little rain around Accra.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

There and Back Again

Yes, I was There-- and Now I'm Here. Saturday Someplace Else. Sunday, She's There.

This will be brief, but I know two or three of you need something from us every week, so here is some news-- and why you didn't get a blog earlier this week.
First I was too airborne to write, then two busy to write, then not enough connectability to write. I was in Michigan.
I felt like a ghost whisping in Sunday night and vanishing noon Wednesday. I was attending a CRWRC conference on peacebuilding-- remind me to tell you what that means sometime. But the trip was a gauntlet. With only an hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany there and back, there was nothing to do but rush from one 8-hour flight to the next. It meant stuffing this carcass into a cramped seat for seventeen hours, twice. The conference was held at Gull Lake, quite a ways from good cell phone and internet coverage, so it was almost impossible to keep in touch with Renita. However, it was very nice to see my colleagues and fellow laborers, and to meet new ones. But it was over in a blink, and now I'm back. Just in time to travel to Togo Saturday by car with the whole family-- why, you ask?-- we'll fill you in later. We promise to take pictures, but anyway we must rush back because Renita flies out for ten days on Sunday. Where? Back to West Michigan.
I hope to write more about all this when my life settles down on Monday.

Nothing like the blue autumn skies of Michigan. My favorite color. Not "blue--" but "Michigan October Sky Blue." This from Gull Lake, just before I left.

This interesting shot just in, from my window seat a few hours ago-- that's our house down there in East Legon. I have another one of my daughter's soccer team on the field. Cool!