water by day, apples by night

Day 3

Awakened by the metranome sound of our room’s ceiling fan , the early morning Accra traffic outside, and a light knocking on our door. I climbed out of bed to begin my third day in the same clothes and to greet the helper boy saying, “Your friends are calling, it is time for breakfast.” We had slept in just a bit. Roommate Kyle and I entered the bright morning courtyard to see our entire group already there and enjoying a meal of eggs, peppers, tomatoes, and chicken sausage. We barely finished eating before the bus arrived to take us to lecture.

Our first site of the campus was the welcome arches and sign for the University of Ghana. We drove directly to our seminar room in the School of Communication. Professor Tims gave us our welcome and first introduction to the University and then we left for lunch. We had lunch in Osu, where there are many good resturants and tourists. At the Country Market we were treated to a variety of delicious Ghanaian dishes: fried plantain (banana), beans & rice, gari foto (from cassava), fish, chicken, yams, spinach, and freshly squeezed mango juice – liquid heaven.

From our travels to the University and to lunch we were able to get our first views of the city of Accra. There is a lot of construction happening everywhere: hotels, apartments, shops, huge structures, a stadium, and more of which I have no idea what they will turn out to be. The economy must be doing very well in Ghana (global economy) from the boom in cocoa prices and the gold supply. As I have stated before it is much like Kampala, but there are is more developed buildings, road infrastructure, traffic lights, and no men with AK-47s at the store fronts. There are many skyscrapers and massive buildings built from foreign companies investing in the country. The traffic flows well, most of the time, because sometimes the stret lights do not work and it breaks down to the wanton driving that Accra’s taxis are known for. All over the place there are hawkers with anything and everything that you could want or need. From bags of water, plantain chips, fan-choco, toilet paper, pens, DVDs, posters, etc. – the list is really quite endless. These hawkers have made navigating the streets difficult and many accidents have occurred, but these hawkers also provide a walking grocery store for all the people on the move during the day. The majority of hawkers sell water during the day in bags, yes bags and it is safe. At night most hawkers are selling apples in bags of three or toilet paper rolls.

Our first lecture was from an ‘insider’ on Accra and Ghana. It was a bit boring and nothing that our amazing bus driver, Eric, had not already told us. After the first lecture we had a bus tour of campus. The University of Ghana, or Legon University as it is known to most Ghanaians is the best in the country. It is a very expansive campus and reminds me of MSU, but MSU is much more flat. Some of the buildings look nicer than those at MSU. There is now a threat of an exam boycott because the University is asking students to leave the University housing on campus to the more expensive hostels in Accra. On our tour we traveled all the way up the hill to the Vice-Chancellor’s house where we were met by an amazing view of Greater Accra below.

After the lecture and tour we went to the ‘art and culture market,’ or in better terms the Ghanaian way of saying tourist trap. It was an intense experience. As soon as the vendors saw a bus full of Obroonis they flocked and told of the wonders of their wares. It is customary for Ghanaians to ‘make a friend’ and so I had about 3 by the end of the experience. Every stall that you go past someone sticks out their hand to greet you, but you are not given your hand back and in return you receive an earful about a nice shirt, or cloth, or jewelry. After a while I met a very well spoken man who asked if I was looking for drums. Heck yes I was! So I followed him to his shop. He and his friends proceeded to bring over drum after drum and we worked on a price. Now in Ghana you have to bargain for everything. They give you the Obrooni price and we are told to cut that in sixths and offer that as a starting price. I bargained, probably not too well and not as far as I should have but we agreed on a price of 550,000 cedis, which is about $60 USD. I would say that is not bad for a handcrafted, quality drum from Ghana, when in other places you would be charged upwards of $300. Before we settled on the price I told him that before I bought the drum he had to teach me something, so we played a bit before finalizing the price. I was still a bit wary and told him that I did not have the full amount with me. No problem they would bring it to the hostel tonight and my new friend, Omar, would bring his group and we would play.

After dealing with all the ‘friends’ and sellors, I had to get away and join my friends who had already escaped and were watching a large football (soccer) game right next to the market. It was a great game, but the more interesting one was played by a group of players not in the larger game. They had tiny nets with nho goalie and used the area next to the market as well as the people in the market and the big football field as a game field. The were very skilled and cursed anyone who got in the way of the game, as it was a game that took away a major walking path.

Later that night as we sat chatting in the hallway, one of the students came up and said that there were visitors for me. Omar brought the drum and his drum teacher. We sat and drummed and hung out for a while. I learned a lot and it was great to be learning of the traditional music. Omar’s drum master was a great teacher. He has dreadlocks, and the local people call them the rasta. They see the rasta as people who they can learn something from, however others see the rasta as bad people looking to make trouble. At any rate they were nice and I learned a great deal. Here are some great quotes from the drum master about life and living, “It is nice to be nice, we have the same color eyes and we bleed the same color blood” and “Africa is about much experience.” When he said the last line we were talking about travel and education. He said that it is great to be taking something back, experience, but also culture and music. It will be as if I did not just travel to Africa, but I will be able to give my friends a good idea of what it is like and I can, in turn, teach them. I would say he had a sharp mind and they told me that they could come by every night to teach me more.

The bus showed up and I was finally able to get away from the rasta lectures on life and we ventured back to the airport to get our ‘lost’ luggage. It was a fun trip. There was a long line, because many people did not get all their luggage on the same night as us, and they beat us there.
It was a tiny office where an man who exuded false importance sat to check your luggage and have you sign a large official book with your John Hancock, for what purpose? I have no idea, but it must have been important. There was a small room where all the luggage was crammed in. There was luggage dating back to last year still there as we rummaged to find our luggage. Some luggage was still missing and some people still had only one pair of clothes. Check out the bus before and after pictures:

Day 4
The next day began again with waking up late finishing my french toast just as the bus pulled up – no time to shower (day 4 no shower, gross). We went straight to the University and had lecture from Professor Passah, head of the History Department, on the history of Ghana and its people, colonialism and its impact, and its positives and negatives. For an African Studies major these were not very interesting lectures as I had heard them all before, but learning more specifically about Ghana was great.

Super Fast History Lesson on Ghana:
In the 15th Century, the Portuguese discovered the vast gold wealth of the Ga people. They had been searching to find a gold source that was not throught the Middle East, since the Arab states had a sort of monopoly on the gold trade and the Christian Portuguese did not want to trade with the Muslims. The Portuguese also knew that the gold from the Middle East did not originate there, and so there must be a source elsewhere. With their great sailing abilities and inventions such as the compass and magnet, the Portuguese found the Gold Coast. The Portuguese had the goal of spreading their religion as well as gaining wealth, so they built a great education system to teach and convert. This is part of the reason that Ghana has such a high rate of educated citizens. Their discovery of gold sparked a gold rush and the Dutch, British, French, German, and other nations rushed to set up fortresses and trading posts along the Gold Coast. This began the trade in slaves as well. Later in 1807 the British abolished the slave trade in paper, but not in practice. The slave trade was perpetrated worst by the British. The castles of Cape Coast and Elmina (La Mina – The Mine) were finally both controlled by the British and the British were able to claim Ghana as its colony in 1901, when all other imperial powers had left. The Btisih also gained control by working out an agreement with the Ashanti people, who fought hard for access to the coast to trade, for peace. It was signed by the chiefs on 6 March 1844 in Palaver hall at Cape Coast Castle, and is called the Bond of 1844. And so now today the greatest influence is Britian as Ghana is surrounded by all french speaking countries. The slave and other trades have relegated Ghana to being solely dependent on cocoa and gold as its wealth is focused on its resources. No industries for production were created because everything was exported to the imperal powers where industry had developed.

We learned about colonialism and its impacts which was nothing new to me. However, the professor claimed that there were positives of colonialism. Sue education was great, but forced and using unity as an argued positive will not work. Everyone here has a sense of being Ghanaian, but the imposed boundaries divided ethnic groups, increased tensions, and took no consideration for nations of people in the area which were already developed. Unity through division is not a positive. After the lectures we were let out for two hours to explore campus on foot. We headed down the main road,mostly lost, and found an internet cafe – I had to write to mom and let her know that I had indeed made it safely. As one could have guessed she had already emailed me with a slew of questions. I emailed back with not enough time to blog and we had to quickly find lunch. We stopped at a cafeteria and asked for some rice ‘to go.’ Our waiter thought that we wanted to eat outside or have food delivered. He finally understood and we briskly walked to the bus. We got some very cheap and delicious boxes of rice and chicken.

We reached the full bus and headed out to the Kwame Nkrumah memorial park. Many students had no idea who Nkrumah was or what he did for Ghana and Africa. So I was able to give a short history lesson to some. The park was an amazing place, with a great memorial structure representing the life of Nkrumah. There is a large statue of Nkrumah where he stood in 1957 to give his speech, which I had watched in history class at MSU, declaring Ghana’s independence and the moving forward of Africa from colonialism. The structure represented a tree trunk, with aspects of the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower,and other famous monuments. Africa is supposed to have built upon that tree trunk, but it seems we have yet to see this tree blossom. Does Africa still realize this goal of Nkrumah? As you can imagine outside the park hawkers followed us everywhere. We then headed to the W.E.B. DuBois museum and toured his former house and work. At 93 he immigrated to Ghana to help with Nkrumah’s efforts, he also left the States because of his displeasure with the american people missing his message.

We headed back to the hostel after the museums and were on our own again until our 3rd trip to the airport to get the remaining luggage. We took our first solo adventures in Accra. Calling a taxi is very easy being Obrooni and because all you have to do is point your finger down to signal that you want a drop ride. Five of us crammed in a taxi for Osu. I sat in the front. I can tell you from that ride that this was the real Accra experience. Flying down the streets, honking the horn in short bursts, with exhaust and trash fire smoke in your face – This is Accra.

In Osu we ate at Frankie’s which is the hangout for the wealthy Ghanaians and Obroonis. We ordered a delicious pizza. After everyone ate some of us ventured to the streets (dangerous?, maybe) to find an internet cafe and phone cards. Stopping at a gas station to ask we finally located internet. We passed many Obroonis in the street, but none smiled – which is very odd in a city where everyone wants to be your friend. An hour spent online and we easily hailed a taxi to our hostel. We were hanging out and the drummers showed up again. They brought more drums to sell and more people played. It was a lot of fun, but I am still a bit wary of them as they are definitely looking for something. I learned more rhythms and perfected some skills. One of them told me, afterhearing me play, “this is a drummer,it is in your fingers, you can feel it.” What a great compliment.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

something you can taste

Hello All from Ghana! I first have to send out a Happy Mother’s Day to my mom back home!

I have arrived safely and soundly in Ghana. The journey was long and tiring, but nothing I am not used to. My mom thought that my absent-mindedness might kill me, but now that I am here there is nothing more to worry about. (That’s for you mom) The reason that mom was worried was that I happened to forget after reading my flight departure that I was to leave in the PM and not the AM. The evening before planning to leave at 7AM the whole family went out to dinner to celebrate mother’s day and send me off to Ghana. We went to a great Chinese restaurant and my fortune interestingly read: “You are about to embark on a most delightful journey!” A good sign. When we arrived home it happened that we discovered that my flight was to leave at 7PM and I still had a whole day ahead of me in the States. Oops.

I have to begin my first post from Ghana with a disclaimer: There is no way that I can completely or even remotely express and capture the full Ghanaian experience. There is no way that I could even claim to have the ability to write in such a way.

Day 1 & 2
At the airport all the study abroad students met up to check in. We all were quite excited and began awkwardly talking about our hopes and fears of traveling to Africa. Many students had said their friends made jokes and asked, “Why Africa?” There really is no answer one answer for everyone and I wonder how many just played along with the joke. We made it through security and boarded our flight across the Atlantic. Many students had never crossed the Atlantic, this will build their waiting ability in Africa. British Airways is a very nice airline (or so we thought) with jovial stewards serving food and libations in their beautiful british accents. Each seat was outfitted with a screen and high-tech options for movies, music, news, etc. I watched the ‘Freedom Writers’ and ‘Last King of Scotland’. I will share my review of those movies later.

Arriving in London, the only way you could tell it was London was because of the constant rain and the small british cars. The airport Terminal 4 was not too exciting and there was a lot of sitting and learning Twi, the main language of Accra. In the airport I had my first real world test of french as a man asked me where I he could go to smoke. I fully understood him and had to reply that I had no idea. After sitting around for a long while, we then boarded our plane to head to Ghana. The flight was delayed I found out later. I had fallen asleep as we sat in the plane waiting to take off. Our first greeting from the African continent was a blazing red sunset – absolutely beautiful. Many studetns commented taht they would not believe that they were going to Africa yet, until they were actually there.

After much rest and a long plane ride we arrived in Accra, Ghana to the Kotoko Inernational Airport. We were welcomed by a slight drizzle.The green, red, and yellow colors of the Twi saying: “Akwaaba” (meaning welcome or ‘you have gone and come back)shone brightly as our first glimpse off of the tarmac. It was roughly 10PM and as soon as you stepped off the plane there was a heat and humidity that you couls almost taste because it was so thick. We enter the country and passed immigration with no problem, but our luggage did not arrive with our plane. For some reason British Airways decided not to send it along. Kotoko Airport is like many in Africa – a hint of colonialism in decay with many people walking around in official uniforms. After waiting in long lines for tickets to claim our luggage the next night, we boarded our University of Ghana bus and headed out into the nearly empty night. The bus was nice and air-conditioned, but had an odd smell of human sweat circulating. Accra looks much like Kampala, Uganda. However, I would say that they should call Uganda the Ghana of the East, not vice versa. The similarities are frightening, but I will touch more on the city later. One big difference is the bill boards celebrating 60 years of independence of Ghana.

The hostel is not far from the airport and is quite nice. It is definitely a luxury in Accra. There is AC, a television, a mini-fridge, private bathroom, and a type of bellboy. The Ghanaian music on Music Africa is great and we watch football (soccer) before bed. It is a very nice place to stay for a few months in Ghana.

I am a bit behind in my writing, but be sure to check back for Days 3 & 4 and more pictures.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the impact of conflict on health

The correlation between violent conflicts and health may seem to be very obvious, but there is more to the issue than what crosses the mind. Everyone can make the simple connection that there is direct impact of conflict on being unbenefittal for the betterment of health. For example it is easy to read this <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6590965.stm
“>article and see the obvious connection to artillery shells hitting a hospital in Mogadishu. Internal clashes and conflict creates a more difficult situation for humanitarian operations all over Africa.

Africa represents the highest rates of internal conflict and disease, especially HIV/AIDS. This disease has been used as a weapon in conflict. Many times infected soldiers are sent to the front lines to spread disease and infect the opposition, which generally turns out to be the innocent population. Populations affected by armed internal conflicts end up experiencing severe public health consequences from food insecurity, displacement, and combat. All this ends in a collapse of basic health services which are essential to the survival of the population.

I could not find the article again, but the BBC had reported on the difficulties faced by those bringing humanitarian aid to Darfur, Sudan. They constantly faced issues with the government shutting areas down or denying them entrance. infrastructures for basic health, or created systems for basic health become neglected or destroyed. In many cases the impact of conflict can be felt at the very lowest levels of a population; women are unable to protect their families, fathers just might not be present anymore, children have no access to schooling, and everyone suffers from an absence of basic health – no food, no medications, no stable doctors, and no way to deal with the injury inflicted by the violence of conflict.

With the renewed peace talks for Uganda, the twenty year civil war seems to be coming to a close and the health of the northern Ugandan population may be improving. The rebuilding effort is going to be long and difficult, but there is hope. Many organizations are beginning efforts to improve the health situation and support hospitals and health centers that have been impacted by the conflict.

There are so many topics that can be covered as a result of conflict in a country and its correlation to health. However, I am not here to expound all of the information available, but know that it is out there: sexual violence, psychological impact on children, and especially the toll on health workers. Conflict impacts health plain and simple, but there is so much more as the impact trickles down to the population, the families, and the children. The future of a country in conflict lies in its ability to rebuild and provide aid to their populations after conflict.

malaria awareness day

April 25th, the first US Malaria Awareness Day. An award winning photographer, Chien-Chi Chang, traveled to Uganda to give image to the story that is very often never heard, to give a face to the people who are never seen. This is not just another award winning privileged person traveling to get pictures or a story because these images and story are accompanied by a call for action. The images were used to raise awareness and promote involvement with Malaria No More. This is an organization that is fueled by celebrity involvement and received great attention from American Idol, but this is an issue and conflict that does not require you to be a celebrity to make a difference. Everyone is a celebrity in their own right.

On the <a href="http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=6178&&edition=2&ttl=20070426013440
“>BBC’s news forum where people can write in their thoughts, many people called for a change in government actions and in people’s actions. Governments need to provide more funding for their health sectors and people need to depend less on their governments. I would add that we here need to understand that governments are not the ones who will make the greatest impact, when individuals support other individuals more lives will be saved.

In her blog, Acumen Fund Fellow, Keely Stevenson, writes about a socially responsible company in Tanzania working to provide bed nets. AtoZ uses a simplified, cheaper manufactoring process to make more bed nets for less. The company then charges a nominal fee to get the bed nets to people who will actually use them. Many times when organizations just hand out bed nets they end up as fishing nets or table cloths, but when there is a small fee – people who actually want them to use them will be supplied with them. This has been credited with bringing malaria deaths down in Tanzania.

Malaria is a preventable disease that claims the lives of over <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6591169.stm
“>one million people, 90% of them in Africa. Using a bed net is said to reduce a pregnant woman’s birth complications and potential miscarriages by one third. A treated bed net costs about $4 and can save the lives of so many people is it is used. There have been numerous studies on the impact of malaria on mothers, children, and others – but the simple and known truth is that using a treated bed net can save your life and your family’s. There is no reason that malaria should kill so many people each year, our government should be stepping up its efforts, governments in Africa need support so that they can support their health sectors, and we here need to step up our efforts. Making bed nets more available and more affordable is the answer to a preventable disease without a cure.

Read up on malaria here.


Surrounded by the dead and decaying behemoths of industrialization and the monsters of the modernized, civilized, material world, as cars and trucks alike race down the expressway next door, we, the youth, stop to build a cardboard tent city in a once barren parking lot in the middle of the massive, jutting, Chicago jungle. In that empty and barren parking lot of Soldier Field, we filled the void with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies to raise awareness and bring an end to a war. With the warring interests of commercializm, business, capitalizm, and the fast paced, go-go american society, we will break for a brief twenty-four hour period to be displaced. Displace me!

Next week I will be entering my third decade of being, staying alive. Now you may wonder how can that be such a feat in today’s world, but there are so many places where this luxury is not present. On the other side of the world, a place many people relegate to disease, conflict, and poverty, there is a war that has paralleled my time alive on this earth. In that time so many have lost their lives, most of them children, but yet here I am, here I stand – alive and well and trying to understand what they have experienced in all those years when I had no idea.

The civil war in Northern Uganda is entering its twenty-first year. The longest running war in Africa is seeking an end, and soon! Roughly ten years ago the people of Northern Uganda were given 24 hours to pack up and leave their homes to enter Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps. The government thought this would be a solution to the conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). However, all it did was exacerbate the situation and increase the amount of death and suffering caused by the war. Last night, in 15 major cities across the US, people gathered to remind US and world leaders that there are over 1.5 million displaced Ugandans suffering from a nearly invisible war. No one should be invisible, no one’s troubles should go unknown for so long, no war should continue for such a long time. I can only imagine those my age in Uganda who know nothing but war, who know no home except for an IDP camp, who only know a life of suffering. If this war could end from a handful of the american populace displacing themselves, then we will truly know the power of people who care.

the pearl of africa, tarnished and shined

Once called the pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, Uganda was seen as the great hope for Africa with its beauty and its believed secure government. However, as a recently viewed documentary has made me realize, that nickname is not far off and no where close. The documentary, Reporting Africa, which I just watched in my Africa and the World course looked at the way the West was reporting Africa or rather how the West was not reporting on Africa at all. The documentary was made in 1987, the year I was born, and the realities of Western media in Africa are nearly the exact same. The reporters all recognized the disparity in news coverage and were very dedicated to bringing out the blaring issues and hopes of Africa. They began their travels in Kenya and then headed on to Uganda where they were covering the new government of Yoweri Museveni and the AIDS crisis in the state run hospital. The reporters were from CNN, BBC, and a local independent journalist. As they likely would today, the reporters faced government delays and approvals and denials.

They first covered the AIDS crisis and the government hospital’s denial that it was a large threat or problem. The doctors turned them away and failed to recognize that people were dying from the disease. However there were both sides to the story and the reporters also found recognition of the realities. One doctor recognized that although there were no ‘reported’ cases of AIDS yet, people were dying and he also recognized that action was needed. The reporter also praised the Uganda government’s unique openness about the disease. The other story they covered was the new government of Museveni. After covering the history of Uganda from Idi Amin, who transported Uganda into the Western mind with his brutality, to his even worse predecessor, Milton Obote. The world only began to understand Obote’s horrible impact after Museveni invited Western media to see the killing fields of Uganda.

Yet, even today, the Ugandan pearl is still in conflict with Museveni’s rule. As his government began so too did its opposition movement. It is very interesting to view the Uganda of 1987 from the documentary and the Uganda we know today. The woman credited with founding the long-running resistance movement in northern Uganda, Alice Lakwena died today from illness while exiled in Kenya. She claimed to channel the Holy Spirit and told soldiers that her magic would protect them from government bullets. The predecessor or her movement was Joseph Kony, who claimed to be a relation of hers and could also use magic. Lakwena’s 7000 fighters nearly reached the capital, Kampala, before being beaten by government forces in 1988. Kony has built a resistance that hinges on the abduction of children to fill its ranks forcing many children to commute at night to larger city centers and bus parks to be safe from abduction. Kony calls for a government run by the Bibical Ten Commandments, yet his perpetuation of the conflict seems to be out of order with the commandments.

Peace talks have been underway in southern Sudan to work towards a peaceful end to the fighting in Acholi land, northern Uganda. There are now threats from Kony’s fighters, the Lord’s Resistance Army, that they are fed up with the stalled talks and want to return to Uganda. They are not welcome in south Sudan and are prepared to re-enter Uganda, which the government of Uganda says will start the fighting again. The Ugandan forces say that they will attack and fire on any rebels that try to enter Uganda from Sudan. This has frightened aid agencies in Uganda working to rebuild. The peace agreement in August was seen as a hope to end the 20-year conflict that has torn so many lives apart. The LRA has said it may send fighters back soon, but was not reached for comment. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Courts as both sides accuse each other of breaking agreements.

As always there is hope. An organization that I learned about just two years ago is working to raise awareness about this forgotten conflict. Invisible Children was started by a group of three college-age aspiring film makers who decided to travel to Sudan and make a documentary about the civil war between the North and South, however, on their journey they came across the Ugandan conflict. They first met night commuters as they walked miles for safety and packed themsleves into shelter for the night. They were moved and inspired by their experience and now their documentary has been viewed across the country and world. Besides raising awareness, Invisible Children also runs programs to assist those affected. Their premier program is with bracelets. The bracelets are made from materials from Uganda, crafted by people who otherwise have no employment, and sold in the US with a story of a person affected by the conflict. Through this program Invisible Children has allowed numerous people to rebuild their lives and has enabled many children to get an education. Even with great conflict and pain comes great hopes for the future. Check out the Invisible Children site and get involved.

africa’s long to-do list?

In a recent article posted on the BBC By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, a National Public Radio reporter in Accra, the issues of Africa and challenges to face in the new year are highlighted. However I would say that it is nothing new or exciting to a person who follows the news of Africa daily. The article notes the conflicts across the continent from Niger Delta, to Somalia, to Darfur, to Northern Uganda. Quist-Arcton notes the coming elections in many countries and the worries of violence at the polls. The reporter does well to examine the challenges in the future and the causes of problems in the past. However, this African reporter seems to have very little hope for the new year, except for a few lines near the end hope is finally noted – the country of Ghana turns 50 and the 2010 South African World Cup is on its way. Is that the only hope for the continent? I think not. I hope that I have noted some positives for Africa in 2007. I do not wish to hide the realities and so the positives are accompanied with the negatives, but there is always hope. Check them out here:

finally, something good happens in that country

something new for the new year

interesting things to note in the new year for africa

a promise fulfilled, land rights deferred, the new UN, and spreading violence

a promise fulfilled, land rights deferred, the new UN, and spreading violence

An election promise, a first for Africa, a hope for a better future. The Ugandan government in cooperation with private donors will begin offering free secondary schooling for high performing children. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s “President” of 20 years, made a promise in his re-election bid to offer free secondary schooling for needy students. The education ministry has said there has been a high demand for secondary school after universal primary education was introduced in 1997. Of the 350,000 primary school students only about 40% are absorbed into the secondary school system due to the need for help at home, lack of funds to attend, or a number of other reasons. Incredibly the Japenese government will be providing teaching expertise and a grant from the African Development Bank will allow for the construction on facilities. This is an amazing development in Africa with the role of advanced education moving to the forefront. I am glad that Mr. Museveni has recognized the importance of secondary schooling. I can see this as a great hope for Uganda’s future and Africa’s future. While I was in Uganda, in 2002, we traveled to so many schools. Schools which were small brick structures with open squares for windows and doors, schools which had maybe a few benches and possibly a black board, schools that were jam-packed with young children who had walked many miles (as far as 8 miles) without shoes, schools where one teacher had as many as 80 students. We visited so many schools and met so many inspiring and dedicated students. They really wanted to learn, when you compare that to students here in the US, there is a drastic difference in academic drive at such a young age. With all the schools we visited there was just one that continues to stand out in my mind. Near the end of our time in Uganda we visited an orphanage and montessori school for children affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The children welcomed us excitedly, sang welcome songs, performed dances, and then demonstrated their academic poweress. These students could read, point out many countries on the map, and do simple math among many things – take note these students were only preschool age! Preschool and they already knew where they were in relation to the globe, where the US was, how to add 10 and 2, and how to sing and dance their traditions. And yet even with so much hope, there is a great despair. Being HIV/AIDS orphans means that more likely than not most of the students are also positive for HIV. These children have no access to medications or treatments, they do not possess great financial means to survive. And I wonder, are these inspiration little geniuses alive today? Did they make it past their fifth birthday as many do not? Will they be able to benefit from the free secondary schooling program?

Late last year there was great hope that people would cease to be exploited by their governments. That has now been called into question in Botswana. The San people, more wrongly referred to as the Bushmen, were granted the rights to their ancestral lands, which now reside on the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), in the Kalahari Desert. However, even though the Botswana high court determined that the San were forcibly removed to make way for tourist and economic development, when the San went to begin rebuilding their community they were turned away at the gates being told that they did not have clearance. Governments will no longer exploit their people? There is hope and fear for the future. Another great hope for Africa is the appointment of Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy Secretary General of the UN. Today she became only the second woman in history to be appointed to the position. The AU special envy on Sudan welcomed the appointment as do I. There is hope that African issues will remain a top priority for the UN in the years to come.

In less hopeful news, there is increased violence in Chad due to the Janjaweed’s attempts to drive people from their homes. Spilling over from the Sudanese conflict in Darfur, this conflict is beginning to threaten the regional security of Central Africa. Is that not enough to intervene? In a recent poll (because they are so reliable, and I can’t remember the source) 64% of Americans support sending US troops into the Sudan to help qwell the violence. I agree, what a better use of our massive military budget – saving lives, repairing the US’s tattered image, and bringing peace to so many people. Behold, emerging on the US political scene. . . Barack Obama! An American born of a Kenyan father who was an immigrant and an American mother, Obama brings a beautifully refreshing and hopefully new approach to American politics. Besides speaking to the people, Obama also has a great place in his heart for Africa. With his father being from Kenya it makes sense. Just last year the Illinois Senator went on an African tour visiting South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Chad – discussing the issues of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the growing violence in Darfur, refugees from the Sudan conflict, the Kibera slums, and Africa becoming a new haven for terrorists. I wonder if he is in favor of the Africa Command? Obama presents a great hope for American political reform and rebirth, but also Obama presents a great hope for Africa and bringing about a more focused and effective and involved US African Policy that is not afraid to invest in the continent.

a small bite can topple a giant; malaria

This first story takes me back six years when I first became involved in basic healthcare activism for Africa. This story comes from my mother’s first trip to Uganda in 2001. My family became very good friends with Fr. Joseph from Uganda in the summer of 2000. He dealt with many medical issues in his traveling from village to village fulfilling his priestly duties, but he did not have any medical background. He asked my mother, who is a registered nurse, medical questions when he was here and sometimes called from Uganda to ask the best medical procedure or prognosis. She had found it very difficult since we had such a limited knowledge of what conditions were like in Uganda. So, that following summer my mother made the journey across the ocean to see the medical situation first hand. While she was there the realities were painfully obvious. Fr. Joseph owned a donated Toyota pick-up truck and while my mom was there she traveled around with him on his day to day work. An important note to make is that the pick-up truck doubled as the area ambulance. On one particular day, at a village stop to give mass, a pregnant mother needed transportation to the hospital because there were some complications. The nearest health clinic was seven hours away on the red, dusty, hole ridden ‘roads’. I can only imagine the ride in the back of a pick-up truck, dust thrown about, bouncing along so that a child may have a better chance. En route the pregnant mother went into labor. Still hours from the hospital the mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl and then died. They decided to name the baby after my mother – Baby Elizabeth. A family from the village adopted baby Elizabeth and she seemed to have a good chance in the world. Later the next year we were told that baby Eilzabeth had died. She had contracted malaria and since she lived in such a remote village, she and her family had no access to the $1- $2 medication that could have saved her life. If the access had been there baby Elizabeth might have lived to her fifth birthday, a rare occurance in many African communities due to poverty and disease.

Malaria is a parasite that is carried from human to human by mosquito. Malaria is a very preventable disease, yet kills over a million people each year. Over 90% of malaria deaths occuring in Africa making it Africa’s leading cause of death for children under five. Just recently President George W. Bush has said eight more African countries have joined a $1.2 billion US program to fight malaria. The five-year program works to provide funds to limit malaria’s spread by using insecticides and anti-mosquito bed nets, and also to provide drugs to people already infected. The renewed enthusism for the program has brought the World Bank and billionaire philanthropist, Bill Gates on board. Also on the scene are recent scientific advances, such as progress towards a vaccine, which prove to offer great hope to defeating one of the world’s great killers. A new treatment developed by British scientists collaborating with Kenyan experts is based on a technique for fluid replacement for children ill with malaria. The problem is that intensive care methods, only available at pediatric units in developed countries, is needed to treat infected children.

It is estimated that through partnerships working in Uganda, Tanzania, and Angola – US taxpayers already have helped approximately 6 million people to treat and prevent malaria. There are great hopes for the future prevention and defeat of malaria, but it requires the continued support of people in the developed world. US taxpayers need to push the Bush administration and future adminstrations to remain dedicated to the mission of saving lives affected by preventable disease. President Bush also announced at the Washington Summit on Malaria that the US Volunteers for Prosperity program will be expanded to recruit skilled US volunteers, doctors, and nurses to travel to at-risk countries to train local health care workers. The Gates Foundation has also expanded the number of projects it funds to research new malaria treatments. Likewise, there is a large private sector effort, such as, Nothing But Nets and the Acumen Fund, among others. Check out the blog of an Acumen Fellow working with a mosquito net facotry in Tanzania. There are so many opportunites to donate, to get involved, to volunteer, and to save a life. Check out some of the links posted and make a difference today!