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Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

Banking Without Borders

On Monday I made a trip out to a small village near Oshakati, Namibia’s second largest city. I went to profile a group of women that receive small ($25-$300USD) loans from our newest partner, Project Hope Namibia. Project Hope operates a small microfinance institution, and we’re teaming up with them to allow ordinary people, such as yourself, to make small loans to some of the poorest people across northern Namibia. Here’s a little background on Project Hope:

Project Hope Namibia, a USAID funded Micro-finance Institution

Project Hope Namibia, a USAID funded Micro-finance Institution

The Mission of Project HOPE is to achieve sustainable advances in health care by implementing health education programs and providing humanitarian assistance in areas of need. In Africa, Project HOPE engages and empowers women and families by creating sustainable, integrated, community based health programs. In Namibia, the foundation of this project is to expand Project HOPE’s Village Health Bank (VHB) methodology to families supporting and caring for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). This is done by providing small-scale loans to groups of women to start or expand their income generation activities along with valuable health education in a capacity building environment. The project has expanded to reach elderly caregivers, orphan headed households, and young girls/women.

All loan recipients receive health education & business skills training

All loan recipients receive health education & business skills training

What we’re attempting to do is pair lenders, such as yourself, with loan seekers in Namibia. You lend a small amount of money to an aspiring entrepreneur through Promote Africa/Project Hope, and as the loan is repaid, you get your money back. And if you’re thinking, “What if they don’t pay back the loan?” Project Hope’s default rate is less than 5%. The key to their approach is group-lending, whereby all loan recipients belong to four-person groups called ‘solidarity groups,’ (SGs) so that if any member of the SG defaults, the others are responsible for loan repayment. The resultant peer pressure ensures extremely low default rates, even though Project Hope lends to the poorest of the poor.

So, the purpose of my visit was to profile the first group of loan recipients that will receive funding from the Promote Africa/Project Hope partnership. Please, please check out the loan recipients here. Read their bios and get to know more about this project. As you’ll notice on their profile pages, we asked them a number of personal questions in a questionnaire that we distributed (which was translated into Oshiwambo). Probably the most memorable moment of spending Monday with the group of women was when we asked them for the number of dependants (people who rely on their income) they had. I sat and watched while many of the women counted through both hands multiple times. Eventually, because several of the women were unable to keep track of all of their dependents, we had to set an upper limit. Any woman with more than 15 people relying on their income was allowed to simply write in “15+”. This simplified things and hurried the process along.

The Women of the Omulumbu Village Health Fund

I joined the women of the Omulumbu Village Health Fund

This week, we’ve launched our fundraising campaign for several projects, including partnerships with Project Hope, Omuthitu Combined School, BEN Namibia and Yelula, the sum of which we’re calling Banking Without Borders. In the spirit of holiday giving, please pick a project and help us help them. Happy holidays everyone!!

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Last Thursday I made a visit to Ongandjera, a tiny village in northern Namibia, to meet with community leaders and see if there’s any way that we can get their idea off the ground. They have a plan to increase school enrollment and performance levels by developing a school-feeding program. Food will grown by students on school property and cooked using solar ovens. What we found is shown below, but in short, I was blown away by the community’s involvement and enthusiasm for an effort that requires such minimal funding and holds such significant promise. The communal environment, where students study, work in the fields, eat food that they grow themselves using solar ovens, etc.—reminded me of a monastery I visited on holiday in South Korea last year, yet this is a tiny, disadvantaged village school in rural Namibia.

Research suggests that school feeding programs, in addition to improving child welfare and nutrition, can increase school enrollment rates. This is due to the fact that, in Namibia, the school day ends at 1:00PM, which removes the school’s responsibility to feed lunch to learners. In Ongandjera, it is estimated that 40% of school age children have lost at least one of their parents to HIV/AIDS. Additionally, due to financial constraints, many of these learners miss at least one meal a day. Ensuring a free or subsidized lunch at school provides a strong incentive for parents to send their children to school, and it will help learners with their academic performance, as they will have renewed energy and enthusiasm to study.

Omuthitu Combined School Feeding Program Directors

Omuthitu Combined School Feeding Program Directors

The project started when a US Peace Corps volunteer at the school began using a donated solar oven to make bread to sell to teachers. Since then, the community has formed a volunteer feeding program committee comprised of 35 school parents. In a school of 300 students, nearly half of whom are orphans, this number of parents represents over half the children at the school. Clearly, the community’s level of involvement thus far has been extremely encouraging.

The soon to be garden (funds permitting)

The soon to be garden (funds permitting)

To date, the school has acquired three solar ovens and some foundational supplies to begin constructing a school kitchen. However, in order to scale up the project into a school-wide feeding program, more investments are necessary. These include 2 new solar ovens, pots, pans, poles (for the kitchen), wiring (fence to surround the garden for security purposes) and initial seeds will have to be purchased. To donate directly to this project, please go to www.PromoteAfrica.Org. 100% of your tax-deductible contribution will go directly to Omuthitu Combined School.

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A considerable amount has happened in the last month, so we’ll recount a few of the better stories/the ones we remember the best. On October 6th, we left Namibia for the Lake of Stars (LOS) festival in Malawi. As the LOS film crew, we wanted to gather compelling promotional footage for the festival’s organizers and some live performance footage for the Deep Roots Malawi documentary we’ve been working on. So, we (Adam & Benjamin) spent three grueling days traveling 3,000km overland each way from Namibia to Malawi. Along the way, we stopped in Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Benjamin, on the edge of Victoria Falls

Benjamin, on the edge of Victoria Falls

You have to take a taxi from Livingstone to the actual falls, which are on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. When we got out of the taxi, I had bananas in one hand and chips in the other. Benjamin had a backpack on and only had room for the bananas, so I proceeded to carry the chips in my hands, which turned out to be a mistake. As we were walking down the hill (Benjamin, per usual, was delivering a long monologue about something academic), an alpha-male baboon climbed over a fence and came sprinting towards us, a little drunkenly as if he were rabid. I began tapping Benjamin and saying there is a really large baboon sprinting at us….Benjamin turned to look at it right as it stopped just a foot short of us. The baboon stood on its hind legs and stared us down, blocking our path.

I, seeing the whole process, had time to plan my actions. Once I alerted Benjamin, I looked at the baboon, turned and ran. Benjamin, caught completely by surprise, looked at the baboon and took at a swing at him with his Nalgene bottle. The baboon dodged his swing and suddenly lost interest in him, instead taking off in hot pursuit of me. After getting about ten yards, I looked over my shoulder and saw the baboon chasing me. In front of me there was a tractor-trailer truck and I decided to try to juke at the truck and fake out the baboon.

Well, I was wearing sandals and running rather quickly on gravel. The juke was an utter failure. I slipped down and slid under the truck in a large cloud of dust. As I climbed out from under the truck and got to my knees, I looked up to this baboon standing over me. At this point cab drivers were throwing rocks at him trying to scare him off, but he didn’t budge. Completely disoriented, I realized that I had chips in my hand, so I threw a shovel pass in the air, and straight out of a playbook, the baboon caught them, jumped the fence in one leap and was gone. I got up and continued walking to Victoria Falls with an insane heart rate and abrasions all over the left side of my body. By the time we got to the falls, I was almost to the point of fainting, not from the beauty of the falls (while they are nice), but from looking at blood dripping down my arm and leg. Long story short, Adam got mugged by a baboon.

Luckily, a day later we arrived at the the Lake of Stars festival in beautiful Senga Bay, Malawi, aptly nicknamed ‘the land of a thousand smiles.’ The set up of the festival was brilliant…the stage backed up to a large rock, a smaller and yet still impressive stage similar to that of Red Rocks amphitheater. The best part however was that the stage was adjacent to the beach. So while listening to music and dancing, people were able to hang out on the beach or jump in the water during the daytime heat. We camped about 50 yards from the beach.

The Lake of Stars music festival in Senga Bay, Malawi

We filmed three days of music, and because we had press passes, we were able to get some great on-stage footage as well as interviews with the musicians backstage. And, since Lake of Stars is a relatively small music festival, there was much more interaction between the performers and the spectators than at other festivals, with several performers during the weekend collaborating for impromptu acoustic jam sessions right on the beach, inviting anyway who could sing or play to join in.

Feeling the rhythm

Feeling the rhythm

It was a pretty special environment, and we felt more connected to music than we have in a very long time listening to those jam sessions on the beach. There were probably about 3,000 people in attendance at the festival, most all who were camping on the grounds. Many of the people were from the U.K., but there were also many Malawians there, as well as Canadians, Americans, and people from other parts of western Europe.

Sunday morning gospel

Sunday morning gospel

During the festival, a cut on Adam’s foot from the baboon got infected and continued to swell until he could barely walk. Our first night there, a guy at the beach bar saw his bandages and inquired as to what happened. Turns out he was a doctor, the festival doctor. With a beer in hand and who knows how many in his stomach, he doused Adam in iodine and bandaged him up. After which, he offered us cigarettes; we said no thanks doc. By the end of the festival, Adam knew almost all of the medical personnel in attendance. Also, throughout the weekend, we would meet new people who would ask what happened to his arm and foot. Often, before he could respond they would say, “wait, are you the guy that got attacked by the baboon? Oh wow, that’s awesome dude. I heard about that last night. Great story!” Then Adam would hobble away…great story…

On our way back to Namibia, we traveled with two Scottish girls who are doing a year of travel around the world and were heading in the same direction. On crossing the border into Zambia, we had to get a cab ride for 20 km to the next town. About halfway into the ride, the driver pulled over. He told us that there was a roadblock ahead and he didn’t have an official taxi license. He said that the roadblock would be removed within thirty minutes, so we waited. While waiting on the side of the road, we became somewhat of a spectacle for the village kids, so we put on a show, borrowing bikes from two kids and racing up and down the street. Benjamin won…but keep in mind, I was injured :).

Finally, a police officer came walking over the hill. He saw us pulled over to the side, and asked the cab driver to get out. They talked for a bit. Finally, the police officer, at the peak of irritation, asked for the cab driver’s keys, jumped in the car and drove off without the driver. While parked at the roadblock waiting for him, Benjamin jumped in the driver’s seat and drove about a 100 hundred yards down the road as a joke…the police weren’t amused. After a long wait at the roadblock and a trip to the police station, we arrived at our hostel three hours later.

The rest of the trip back went pretty smoothly. We went on a cruise down the Zambezi River, where we saw hippos, elon, and crocodiles. It was beautiful. After traveling, 7,000 km, a distance equivalent to Miami to Seattle and halfway back, we arrived back in Otavi ten days later around midnight. The next morning we took twenty-four middle school age kids four hours to the coast for the national marathon.

Sunset cruise with hippos on the Zambezi River

Sunset cruise with hippos on the Zambezi River

We are now in our new apartment in Tsumeb and have been here for about two weeks. We’ll give more details about our home, daily lives and the work we are currently doing in the next update. Sorry about the length of this one. We like to write more than we thought.

Hope you all are well,

Adam & Benjamin

P.S. We’ve been out of the loop…was there some sort of election in the states?

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The Trip Home

I’m knackered after five days of overland travel, but the past two weeks have been two of the most memorable of my life. We finished filming the 15th of August, after which two friends from Namibia flew up and backpacked Malawi with me. Having spent the previous two months traveling the country and scoping out my favorite spots and making a list of the places I hadn’t seen enough of, we quickly left Lilongwe in search of quieter grounds. The highlights of our journey included four days on Mt. Mulanje, central Africa’s highest peak, and two days at Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Mulanje, well, was incredible. The massif rises up out of the earth much like the Tetons of Wyoming or Europe’s Dolomites. On approaching the range, it’s almost difficult to imagine any mountains amidst the gently sloping surrounding area. Then, you’re suddenly forced to crane your neck upwards as the range clears the clouds before you. At first, all you can see is the enormous plateau that lies 4,000 feet above base camp. So, it’s easy to misjudge the size of the massif or the density of the range because you have to climb up onto the plateau before you get a clear view of what lies above. Here, dozens of peaks rest in close proximity, large enough to pull moisture from hundreds of miles away and alter the region’s storm systems in the process.

Sunrise over Mulanje Massif

Sunrise over Mulanje Massif

Rising at 3AM, we summited Sapitwa Peak on the morning of the third day, managing to catch sunrise from the summit ridge. While the view from the top was amazing (and cold), we quickly made it back down to our high camp, spent the night, and hiked out the next morning, catching a bus to Lilongwe.

Sapitwa Peak, the highest point in central Africa

Sapitwa Peak, the highest point in central Africa

After saying goodbyes to friends in the capital city, we started the long journey back to Namibia, hoping to land ourselves in Lusaka on Day 1, Livingstone on Day 2, and back into Namibia on Day 3. Well, that was the plan, but planning doesn’t always work so well when you’re hitchhiking on terrible roads and reliant on the compassion of people paying $11/gallon for gasoline.

Our first test was our ability to talk our way into Zambia. Because of the political instability in Zimbabwe, the Zambian government realizes that they have a monopoly on tourists operations to Vic Falls, the country’s main tourist destination that rests on the border of Zam/Zim. Therefore, in the past 12 months, the Zambian government has jacked up tourist visas from $25USD to $135USD and seemingly eliminated all transit visas.

April and I have both been to Zambia multiple times and had no interest in paying the exorbitant visa fee, but unfortunately, Zambia represents the only other route for overland travel back to Namibia from Malawi other than going through Zim. So, Zambia it was, although we figured there must be a way around the $135 tourist visa if all we wanted was a transit visa to pass through the country in three days time. Sure enough, there was.

We arrived at the border playing stupid, unaware of the need for a visa. Then, we explained our situation as volunteers in Namibia, confident that there must be a way we can work something out so to get a transit visa. After 45 minutes of negotiation and smiles, we paid $50USD each, got stamped with transit visa, and off we went, happy that we were able to navigate the delicate, flexible immigration policies that we had anticipated encountering.

Our adventure took a turn for the less desirable in Lusaka, when, after standing on the side of the road for eight hours, we decided to jump in the back of an 18-wheeler. The only problem was, this particular truck was used to haul coal, and the previous load had included several drums of oil. So, we cozied up inside the sealed container with a coal heap and oil stained floors for 11 hours of bouncing along pot-whole ridden roads. We got sick and dirty, but after a while, just gave up hope and endured, arriving in Livingstone after midnight.

The next day we decided to take a well deserved rest, opting for a hike to Victoria Falls and sunset booze cruise rather than hitting the road to Namibia. The water was much lower than my past two visits to the falls, but because of this, we were able to hike right up to the water’s edge and stare down the falls. Also, we walked out onto bridge that connects Zam/Zim, where we met a few Zimbabweans and chatted with them about their country’s difficulties. Consumption items of any sort, whether food, pens, hair ties or really anything, are in such shortage in Zimbabwe, that people are desperate for anything. We parted with a couple hair ties and pens, and in return I brought back a couple 50 billion Zimbabwean dollar notes as reminders of the country’s hyperinflation. After walking around the falls for most of the day, we jumped on the afternoon boat headed upstream, and downed a few cold ones while watching elephants play on the banks of the river while the sun set behind them.

The next morning we unfortunately selected another unreliable transport vehicle, breaking down 6(!) times in 190km. The last break down occurred at 5:45PM, only about 20km from the Zambia/Namibia border post that closed at 6PM. Fortunately, as soon as we pulled off the road, another vehicle was passing, which we flagged down and paid to run us to the border.

We made it to the Zambian side around 5:55, and surprisingly, they hadn’t checked out yet. But, being so close to knocking off, they didn’t even check our documents, just waved and stamped us out of their country. But, unfortunately for us, the walk between the two border posts is about ¼ mile, and as we made it to the Namibian side of no-man’s land, the guard had already closed the gate on us. So, there we were, stuck without food in no-man’s land with no way of legally entering either country.

April quickly made the decision for us, and within 15 minutes, we were illegally in Namibia and in a cab headed for Namibia’s border town. We spent the night in Katima and returned to the border the next morning, calmly explaining our situation to the immigration officers, who mercifully and legally admitted us into the country. From Katima, we managed to make it back to Otavi (900km) in one day, thankful to be back in a country with good roads and reliable transport.

Now that I’m back in Namibia, I’ve been busy looking for an apartment to move into, as Adam Hinman, another UGA graduate, has just joined me from the states. More to come on this later, but I hope everyone is doing well. Cheers.

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We’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks readjusting in Namibia and scrambling to get together a trailer to be screened at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi next month. We’re going over film in Windhoek this week before returning to Rundu next Friday to turn all the content over to our editor, Cedar Wolf. From there, we’ll spend the better part of three weeks working to cut things down before heading back to Malawi the first of October for the Lake of Stars.

In addition to the production updates, we have a couple of key developments for the Deep Roots concept. We are currently speaking with several Malawian businesses to solicit corporate sponsorship and make the leap from Deep Roots as a film to Deep Roots as a registered Malawian music/film production and promotion company. We’ll keep everyone posted as the talks progress, but we hope to coordinate and film at least two music and cultural events in Malawi next year under the Deep Roots banner.

Also, we are happy to welcome the first member of Deep Roots’ staff. Sophia Brillant (sbrill33@uga.edu), Deep Roots’ new project manager, is responsible for artist development, advertising, promotion, PR, blog management and registration of the business in Malawi. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions regarding our projects, please contact Sophia.

More to come soon, so stay with us.

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After five days of overland travel from Malawi to Namibia, it feels good to be home. The workload piles up during eight weeks of neglected correspondence, but slowly we’re catching up on everything. In the process, we’ve coordinated an exciting development.

In addition to screening Deep Roots for the press at the Lake of Stars festival, we’re hoping to schedule a show in the festival’s line-up. This Deep Roots Malawi time-slot would feature some of the talent we uncovered while filming, including performances by Charles Mkanthama, Gasper Nali and the Makambale Brothers. Also, we’re looking to bring up several marimba players from southern Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley.

More details are forthcoming, so stay with us!

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Kenny, Waliko and I have spent the past three days in Blantyre going through footage, making sure we’re on the same page—translations, cultural explanations, film treatment, etc—before we all head our separate ways. For Ken, he’s off to Canterbury to start a new year of teaching secondary school in the UK. For Waliko, it’s back to TV Malawi and the election year turbulence stirring the office. I’ll be traveling around Malawi for the next 10 days, tying up loose ends before starting the overland trek back to Namibia.

Waliko, Kenny & Benjamin

The Deep Roots Team: Waliko, Benjamin & Kenny

From there, our editor, Cedar Wolf, and I will start the slow process of turning this experience into a finalized product. We hope to have a short trailer ready for screening at the Lake of Stars festival’s international press conference in early October, so we’ll be hitting it hard once I get back. After that, we aim to have the full-length feature available by the year’s end.

Thanks to everyone who has kept up with us along this incredible journey, and please continue to check back periodically for updates as we move into editing. This project was the first of hopefully many more to come, so please stay with us as we move from the field and into the studio. Thanks!

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