Letter from Africa

View other:

Dear One Sky sponsor,
            With great intentions I set about writing up a synopsis of my trip this summer that I was going to send to each and every one of you. Instead I find myself in Nigeria, months later, late at night feeling impelled to write and thank you. The trip went well. I have almost finished that write up, which I will send. It was an adventure to kayak up north. We completed the crossing and with the help of other Athletes for Africa we raised almost ten thousand dollars this summer. I came within 150 dollars of my personal fundraising goal of 3000 and it ain’t over till its over. Our success has been entirely due to your generosity.  Thank you.
This week I have been visiting the breakthrough initiatives to which your money was allocated. Yesterday it was a youth empowerment group that required the sanctioning of all the local chiefs, clanheads and women to make it official. There were libations to the ancestors, breaking of cola nuts and dancing. Most importantly there were speeches and fifteen youth stepped forward to participate with the approval of the ENTIRE village.  It is one of three villages participating in that initiative. Fifteen youth promising their dedication while literally hundreds of villagers watched. The day before it was a governance group trying to explain the concept of constituency meetings to an urban stakeholder group within a fledgling democracy barely capable of holding an election.
Today twenty widows gathered in a dusty village hall to try to understand how to fill out assessment forms. The leaders were trying to gather basic baseline information. “How old are you?” stumped most of them.  No idea but it was the year that such and such happened.  The most perplexing question was “What difficulties do you face?”
It seemed like such a strange question after being abandoned by all their relatives and left to fend in old age entirely on their own often stripped of their belongings.  Even the local chiefs had taken pity on this particular group given their age and circumstances. Life is difficult for them said one young man with a limp and empathetic expression.  Perhaps a more pertinent question might have been what difficulties do you not face every day when you get up in the morning.
The significance of these various initiatives is what impresses me most. After the workshop the widows wanted to pray. One old lady started up in her native language and although I could not understand the words her countenance spoke a thousand feelings. Her devotion broke her voice and clamped my throat. They are pinning their hopes on being trained in how to sell fish and the way she affirmed her commitment, intoned her voice, and beseeched her God with humility was hard to witness. Three days ago it was a group of hunters pinning their hopes on learning how to butcher cows instead of hunting gorillas. A couple of days ago we visited the conflict ridden Bakassi Peninsula where again a group of widows has agreed to form a cooperative. Each and every one of these initiatives has come from the leaders themselves with their collective knowledge of the villages and the circumstances people face.  In each and every case the work has been sanctioned by the chiefs and understood in the context of their culture.
Our leadership course is about working with people who are already committed to change. Your money goes directly to their ideas on the ground here in Nigeria.  Although it looks like you are supporting a widows group, or a climate change project or an alternative livelihood initiative what you are actually supporting is “leading from within” or African leadership. This is as much about helping young leaders run projects, manifest ideas and learn from a global community as it is about local changes on the ground. I don’t know how successful they will be and cannot promise anything in that regard. But I do know that over the past couple of weeks here I have seen the basic ingredients that can change the world and seen hundreds of people who have been touched by just thirty engaged individuals.
Tomorrow we drive North to participate in a workshop on woodstoves and the next day on climate change. None of this is possible without raising funds from Canadians to match our grant. A big warm thank you for making it possible.  In my opinion your money is being well spent.


Be the first to comment on this story. Use the form below.

Leave your comments on this story:




Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below: