Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tough Times? Oh Yes!

Development work is some times just great and more other times just absolutely heartbreakingly, souldisturbingly tough. We have gone through roller-coaster upsanddownsanddownsandupshopefully like you won't believe this year.

First, it was the magificant launch of our client's debut CD of marimba music and traditional song. And we were on top of the world.

Then, we heard that funding for our economic development project from government has 'disappeared' of the budget. And we are still asking questions. And will continue to do so...

In the mean time, we had to let staff go who is willing and able to go the third mile for developing communities. Very special people indeed. It is exhausting. Is it worth it?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Imaginary American...

I could not resist it, and I completed an online politics test to see where I fit into the bigger scheme of political thought - from an USA angle. The results were certainly interesting: I best described as a Democrat, with social liberal and economic liberal tendancies. Well, whatever I am - I wish I could have voted in the States! But then again, the South African democracy makes so much more sense to me, than Bush's brand of imposed freedom. (No offence intended...) Oh, yeah, I am a Democrat it seems!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lecturers that Really do not Get it...

Had to deal with a College lecturer today...Oh, my! It was an ordeal like you will not believe. She just copied a product from one of the entrepreneurs we support and started training ten new students on making the ceramic bowl. The fact that the product belonged to the new business, the fact that the bowl was requested by a client and was now being mass-produced. The fact that small manufacturing businesses ARE their products. She understood none of it. Then, she also asked to buy boxes from the same entrepreneur, but she wanted to see the price tag from the supplier and refused to pay a cent more. As if she would do the same with any other supplier! I was angry today. Exploitation in disguise. Or is it just the ignorance of an educator with an honest passion to get on with the business of training others?

None of the reservations and complaints of the entrepreneur made any sense to her as she does not have a mind of a business person. The business ethics simply do not apply. Oh, we always have to look out for the interests of our clients...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ribbons make all the Difference

They play together in kindergarten (pre-school) and one of the little ones get hurt. "So who was it?", the teacher demanded when she got a word in through the fountain of tears. "The one with the green ribbon", came the answer with great confidence and resentment. This was a real incident in a small rural town in South Africa. I heard it for the first time yesterday when I had some Sunday afternoon coffee at the local harbour restaurant. With some McDonald's Ice Cream for the children (in us) afterwards...

The incident says a lot: South Africa celebrates 10 Years of Democracy this year, and the event shows some of the movements in our lands. The mindset of a generation has changed, shifted into the positive: "The one with the green ribbon" is just one more child in the playground, but she is also the only black girl in this multi-racial school out there in the country. And she was identified for her misbehaviour by the colour of her ribbon and not the colour of her skin... How much easier it would have been to say: "The black girl did it". But a different choice of words tell a story of its own.

We have come a long way. But we have not arrived yet. In many ways, I believe, we are further along than any other country in the world.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lelethu has no more sweets!

I have heard that our client, Nombulelo in Thambo Road, lost her precious Lelethu Shop and has no stock left for Christmas. I wonder what is going on? So many of these micro-entrepreneurs are survivalists living from hand to mouth. I wonder if they are truly entrepreneurial, some times... What does it mean to be an entrepreneur, any way?

Eyes in the Dark

In my life, there are so many moments that warrant some comment and extract some giggles and smiles: A few days ago, there was another evening filled with laughter when we visited our client Thembisa in Kanana Street in a local township. It was dark, with only the street corner smokers hanging around open fires. So, we called Thembisa on the mobile to get directions and end up in a back road without any lights. A lady in the distance walking cautiously towards us and we started hooting and flicking the lights with excitement. Her eyes grew huge in the light from our car and she speeded off, looking very scared. It was the wrong lady. And we were, to her, two crazy white people in a strange white car at the wrong place and time, altogether... But Thembisa laughed until she cried....

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Silence does not mean Anything...

It has been a long time since I wrote here. It is not that nothing significant has happened. To the contrary, a lot has deafened the silence and sanity around me in the past few weeks. The coffee cups still stand forgotten and half-filled with its cold brownish remains on my desk as I rush out in the wintery morning to meet the demands of the day.

Just some times, it gets so hard to go through the hours with the anxiety and tension that fills my work days to the brim. The memories of experiences make me cold; unsettled in my mind when the darkness envelopes me at last. Just a week ago, two co-workers travelled to Guguletu (Cape Town) to meet with community leaders and were tipped off about carjackers who awaited them outside the building - to rob what do they did not possess in any event. I get a call that they 'are coming home' to the office of our NGO and I chill to the bone about the possibility of crime coming so close, again. How do we insure their safety? I make frantic enquiries and are left with the answers from everywhere: It is nowhere safe. It is a risk that you take every day to do the work you do in townships in Southern Africa. There is no assurances and no insurance - let alone any reward to compensate them for the dangers they face. I could never understand the values in our societies, where one gets paid less as a community worker than sitting in a cosy office with some paperwork.

I need to deal with this. I am a white African that want to be here and do this - with all my heart. I have to ask the question about whether I am welcome. If we should go on? There are enough voices of all races that invite our organisation into the midst of community challenges to work hand-in-hand with them as South Africans with a dream for a better future for all. So much good will. But we are also targets for those criminals that see only the colour of your skin and assume that you come with a hand bag of money...

And all that works on days of doubt, like MY SILENCE to comprehend and contemplate and get new energy. But silence does not come. Noises commenting on being safe instead of courageous are deafening today. So I turn to my blog and these few words. And maybe an understanding ear and voice of encouragement, some where....

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Good Coffee and Poor Contracts

So, today, we met with one of the up-and-coming building contractors and two of his clients in an affluent area in Cape Town. Two ladies, two contracts and two very different experiences - one stressful and loaded with emotion (anger) and the other relaxed and filled with emotion of a different kind (gratitude). It was like being on an emotional rollercoaster, and you are supposed to steer a cart that is already running full-speed on its course.

He came to announce 'the problem' about two days ago - telling the business advisors in our organisation that his client will be making a case with the police and he 'has now left the site'. A dispute about how much he pays his labourers has errupted and the client is livid. Last night he called to say there is 'a nasty letter' we need to see, asking to fax and discuss it. I postponed to decent office hours and we met this morning with a strong coffee and a tearful grown man - who is very upset for his values being questioned. But, we discovered soon: he signed it, it was agreed and it did not happen. Not a good start...

It had to get worse before it got better. Handing over of tools, materials and documents. Termination. Walk-out of employees. Shouting on the building site. Threats. All of it. Not good.

But then came the second round of coffee in Blakes around the corner, with the second client. A trusting soul, who 'seeks not to do anyone in', but really does not negotiate well for her own interest. Thankfulness for a second chance. It was a fascinating case and we ended of negotiating a contract to be mutually beneficial to 'our' builder and his client. A lot of learning applied right there.

All and all, it was a good day! I laughed when I drove home and I realised, I enjoyed solving the problems of this day...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Make Poverty History

Two weeks ago I heard about the 'Make Poverty History' Campaign aimed at the G8 Summit in Edinburgh. But yesterday, it became real, when two emerging entrepreneurs who live in poverty-stricken communities came into the office, and presented a small gift after we helped them finish an international ceramics order on time. I was thinking the whole week about the macro-plan of relieving debt, increasing trade justice and more aid in Africa. For Linda and Thembisa, increased fair trade made all the difference and I have seen the evidence that their poverty is becoming part of history. Why? Because there are companies like THE BODY SHOP INTERNATIONAL that takes trade justice seriously and practice it in real ways, to change peoples lives. It was good to see it happening...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Breath of History

I have wise friends. One of them told me today that 'History is only the subjective recollection of the storyteller's memory'.

I was greatly impressed, because it makes so perfect sense. Just think of the average accident and the many many versions of such a simple, horrid, factual event. What happened? And who made it happen? And everyone disagrees. So there are also perspectives on wars and crime and simply, just the every day relationships that we have.

In the last analysis, one cannot help but wonder about the legitimacy of opinions - even your own take on a specific moment - and how TRUE these actually are.

Which bring me to the question: What is truth?

Well, all of this was triggered when someone wrote a case study on the community development work we have done together with another agency, and called it BRILLIANT and INNOVATIVE. A compliment, one should think, but then you have to realise that we have already done an internal review and decided that the programme has WAY too many gaps and problems to be replicated or even continued. Just not good enough. And here it is heralded by another as THE solution to many poor people's lives. And we wonder...

What will remain as the historical version? Our internal review in the private archives or the public speaker's notes - now published in a global magazine?

Makes one think about those experiences in Iraq... and elsewhere, where 'history' is in the making.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mondays and Monkeys

Heck, tomorrow is another round of Monday again in Cape Town, South Africa. I sit here with R&B in my ears and wish that the previous week just ended for a bit longer. An extended weekend to monkey around at coffee shops and chill on the beach, and chatter about the meaning of life with two of my best friends at La Vie Bistro around the corner.

On the surface of the day itself - a Monday is not much different than any other day. Just another 24 hours wrapped in a name with a meaning long gone. But it is the day most popular for suicides - for humans that is, because monkeys couldn't care less. They are just happy to eat, play and sleep. And work is just to achieve more Eat, Play and Sleep. So what do we learn from these monkeys and their Mondays? Except of course, that they would never ask this question!!

Certainly, we should be much more like frollocking primates and just enjoy the hours for what it bring. The friend of mine (who is also a caffeine addict) conveyed passionately to another friend entering an existential crisis: Life is more simple than we all make it out to be. It is about just enjoying small things. Sounded much like Eat, Sleep and Play to me. But she is an intelligent soul and in no ways related to some species of clever monkey from India, or even the local troop of baboons that frequently visit my garbage bins for odds and ends.

But to her, life is simple, indeed. And as I heard today from a medium on my favorite TV programme: "For the life of you, you cannot die". So I have come to the conclusion: I better just live and start enjoying it in small ways. And who knows - a Monday and a Monkey may add up to Meaning in a Massive way.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Another Day in the life of an African dog...

There is domestic movement around every corner, in the doorway of every self-made shack - different sizes and colours. Mostly just lazing away in the dirt and sun, but some times having aggressive fights for dominance, with children screaming madly. These dogs are just becoming more and more and my team and I are on constant puppy watch when we drive through the crowded township streets. There is a beautiful animal watch organisation called TEARS that try and stay ahead with spraying the dogs, but it appears a loosing battle. The packs are growing into troops of urban wolves on the prowl for affection.

And the dogs are well loved, but not loved enough in most cases - looking at the their skinny bones and dull fur. But then again, maybe there is much love, but less means to actually feed the children and the dogs! Oh, and the past four years, I have never ever seen a cat in the same township of Masiphumelele (meaning 'We succeed' in IsiXhosa, an African language).

I have lately become aware of a few dogs hanging around the meat markets (an open table on the sidewalk with chicken bodies displayed to the passers-by). Clever ones...these dogs. Because not every dog owner will have $6 for a chicken that could last three days, but there are always a big hearted animal-loving lady behind the counter, swatting sticky flies and throwing bits to the side...

The difference that $80 makes to one person...

I met her at our community office - one of the ladies who lost her entire small business to a raging fire in Masiphumelele, a South African township. And through a local Rotary Club, we managed to get her some money to buy stock and get back on her feet. I never seizes to amaze me how eternally grateful someone can be for something so insignificant in this magnitude of poverty. The smile on Julia's face will stay with me for a long time. Why has money become so little to so few and so much to so many?!