Friday, December 24, 2010

"A Long Journey to Hope"- blog by Steve Reynolds, True Spirit of Christmas Team Leader

Introduction by Mindy:

One of my favorite movies growing up was Back to the Future. I used to love watching Michael J. Fox jump into that flashy time machine car and whiz off down the street as he suddenly flashed into another year in history...or the future. It always made me wonder…what if I could do that?! What year would I want to go to?

This week in Africa, there have been days I’ve wished I had a time machine so I could leap back in time to see what life was like before World Vision had a presence here. Yes, I’ve met children who greet me smiling, happy and healthy. Yes, the animals they’ve received mean they are no longer starving. And yes, their parents say they are more successful than they’ve ever been.

I’ve only been an employee with World Vision less than a few months so I’ll admit… as the newbie to rural economic development …I have struggled this week to not judge too quickly “success” from a touristy American’s perspective. Some of the children I’ve met this week didn’t have shoes on or didn’t have a front door on their mud constructed home. One boy had to make his own soccer ball. Another girl had a rudimentary bandage on her recently sliced finger. And most, you could tell had never been to a modern dentist.

Should I feel happy for their ‘success’? Or disappointed?

My questions are probably too complicated to answer during this brief, 14-day journey through Africa, but I do feel as if I’ve had a sort-of ‘time machine’ with me this trip helping me out.

Steve Reynolds, a 27-year veteran of World Vision, has been our guide so far and remembers what Africa was like decades ago when he first started working here. I’ve peppered him with questions nearly every day asking him what life was like then. I encourage you to read his blog as it gives us a rare perspective on ‘success’ in rural economies…a perspective that starts by taking us back in time.

A Long Journey to Hope Steve Reynolds

The memories come flooding back to me whether I want them to or not. They are just mental images now: snapshots, really. But they are as clear now as they were 26 years ago. I can't forget the faces. Tiny eyes looking up at me through the lens of my camera. Eyes which I could swear had given up hope of ever looking happy again. In a way, I don't ever want to forget them - if for no other reason than to remind me of just how bad things can get. The year was 1984, and I was standing in a dusty dry village in northern Tanzania. I had just left Ethiopia where the greatest Famine of the 20th century was already claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. I watched helplessly as the same killer drought ravaged countires further south.

Fast forward the tape to this past Tuesday. I'm standing in another village in the same part of Tanzania. It's a lot greener now than it was then, but otherwise it looks the same. Only this time, instead of photographing emaciated bodies and children too weak from malnutrition to keep the flies from their faces, I'm watching a father help his son and daughter pull a net through a fish pond. I stand there watching as they expertly drag the net along the bottom with one hand, while holding the other end above the surface. I am skeptical. Maybe they'll get a few frogs ,I thought. Then, with a skill and adeptness that only comes from a lot of practice, they lilft up the net and inside are literally hundreds of small "fishlings" each one about four inches long. They don't eat these fish, they sell them, and earn cash to buy food, clothing, and pay their children's school fees. They also use the cash to buy banana seedlings, the excess produce of which they also sell. "As you can see," says Michael Shirima, the father, "my daughters are fat enough because they have lots of nutritious food to eat." He smiles and the girls giggle. I nearly cry.

What made this simple miracle possible? A small loan form World Vision.

These small loans are revolutionizing Africa in a way I never thought possible. They are allowing the poor families like Hellen and Michael Shirima - across the continent and around the world - break the chains of desperation and dependence, provide for their families, and become independent, respected, and successful entrepreneurs. The difference is astonishing. It's not just the food and the clothing and the school fees, although those are miracles in themselves. It's the look of pride in a father's face at being able to provide for his family. It's the look in a mother's face that says "We did this. We made this work." Everyone wins.

Tomorrow we'll be on to see other "gifts that make a difference." But today, maybe for the first time in a long time, I have hope for Africa, for families like Hellen and Michael Shirima's, and for myself. Who knows, maybe I'll finally get rid of those haunting images and replace them with images of smiling little eyes and giggles...and fish.

Ahh. Hope never looked so good.


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