October 21, 2006
Rodrigo y Gabriela & African Video-Site
From PopTech site (live coverage happening this week)
March 02, 2006
Children of Uganda
Images of their performance taken by Curious Lee:
February 22, 2006
On African Issues & Dance
Following the scientists and physicists on this year's TED stage, the Children of Uganda follow. Category? Science, sure. Reform, sure. Making a difference, sure. Entertainment and Dance, sure. Most of all, inspiring.
Whenever you have a flux of children, with eager and innocent eyes, kind souls, and inquisitive minds, you can't help but melt and go to a different place, a more mellow and reflective place, a quieter and happier place.
I spent a chunk of time in Uganda (mostly by foot) close to ten years ago. The country was still in conflict and yet, what an amazing place. Unlike the early days when China opened their doors to the rest of the world, the people of Uganda were not as indifferent to outsiders; moreso, they were eager to meet new people, share and learn.
AIDS is still a huge issue in the area; one obvious goal of the organization is to support children with HIV or living with HIV-positive widowed mothers, as well as orphanages.
Children of Uganda also sponsors the education of Ugandan children abroad with its U.S. Scholarship Program and produces an award-winning dance troupe featuring children enrolled in its programs who tour internationally to raise funds and increase awareness of AIDS and its impact on children.
Photos from behind the scenes (before entering the TED stage) to follow later in my posts.
December 29, 2005
I Dance, Therefore I Am.....
I have ALWAYS loved this saying......I Dance, Therefore I Am. Almost as much as I love Dance as if No one was watching......I subscribe to both.
What a beautiful write, a beautiful read. In Wired (yes Wired....), they quote Kafka in a letter he wrote to Milena: "One can think about someone far away and one can hold on to someone nearby; everything else is beyond human power. Writing letters, on the other hand, means exposing oneself to the ghosts, who are greedily waiting precisely for that. Written kisses never arrive at their destination; the ghosts drink them up along the way."
How beautiful --- and sad is that? Thanks for including it in the piece, but then I lose connection on the reference to this ghostliness reference, which "is also the hazard of computing..." Yet, sadly another part of me relates more than I want it to.......
But then he brings me back. I like this guy. He weaves Brian Eno into the picture who was quoted in Wired in 1995 as saying, "Do you know what I hate about computers? The problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them. This is why I can't use them for very long. Do you know what a nerd is? A nerd is a human being without enough Africa in him or her."
WOW, am I LOVING this piece. I have a ton of Africa in me (always more than computers) and lately, I think computers have been winning. I'm not quite a nerd, but have grown boring and less passionate (okay, only slightly). Can't take passion out of a girl, a writer or a natural. Yet computers try. And are trying. Know what I'm talking about?
He gives us references to explain PRECISELY what he means by this. Great writer whoever you are. "The now rather than deferred gratification? Spontaneous expression rather than planning? The concrete rather than the abstract? Will Africa always be these things? Are we, by using "Africa" as shorthand for these things, helping condemn it to failure?"
My book about Africa (physically and the deferred gratification and expression part) remains on hold. But not forever.
Always DANCE as if no one is watching. More importantly, never forget to dance. More Africa, less computers please. (I'll take that straight up, without milk, without the cherry, just without anything extra please.....)
October 30, 2005
Mountain Gorilla Memoires
There we were in a hotel lobby doing a podcast with John Furrier earlier this month, when John looked up and said, “Hey, there’s Jane Goodall.” The same Jane Goodall who I’ve met a few times over the years at the TED Conference, the same Jane Goodall, who is so well renown for her work in eastern Africa.
It threw me and did so, because it seemed so out of place for where we were and more importantly, where my mind was at the time……around a product launch, no two, no maybe more. Technology product launches, a far cry from my life in Africa, which now seems not only like it was another life, but another planet. And this was only two weeks prior to hearing a group of talented Africans speak on the future of their continent, on a panel in Maine of all places.
For a moment, a long moment, my mind rewound a tape and traveled back in time, back to the late eighties when I had spent a chunk of time in eastern Africa, traveling, teaching, writing and playing, that magical word ‘play’ that I clearly don’t do enough of at the moment. Ah, yes, to play. It’s so important to play.
When I got home from the event, I found myself at two am eagerly sifting through storage boxes, in search of the journal that captured that lengthy journey through Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zaire and Somalia, the journey that included a trek into the mountains of Uganda where I met the mountain gorillas face-to-face – in the mist, in the clouds, in the sun…..on top of a beautiful mountain separated by rolling hills in an African endangered forest. My notes from a mere five days of six months are summarized here:
Kibale & Kisoro Uganda
At the time I was traveling through Uganda, Gorillas in the Mist had only recently hit the international screen, so knowledge of the need to preserve a safe environment for mountain gorillas was still not widely known, nor was the location where they populated. The film started to increase awareness throughout the western world however, largely for the areas which were most endangered: Zaire and Rwanda.
Kibale and Kisoro in Uganda were quietly known among those who traveled and lived in the region as an area where some of these rare and endangered gorillas lived. To be honest, traveling as a woman with nothing more than a backpack, a trek through untamed African forests alone – by foot -- searching for endangered gorillas wasn’t the first thing on my list. Yet, the more I started to read about these fascinating creatures, the more I knew that a journey into their world, had to become a reality.
Of course I had heard of Jane Goodall’s work, but her mission didn’t really translate until I made it to Kibale, saw and felt the terrain and talked to locals who grew up in the area. Astonishing and life transforming, particularly at that time.
Imagine never seeing a white face and then one appears – what do you do with it? how would you react? what does it mean? who are they? is it safe to invite one into your world? Lack of understanding leads to lack of empathy leads to lack of richness and fullness of life because of far too many lacks……It’s best not to live in a world where lack of is part of the vocabulary regardless of where you sit and who you face. We learned so much about each other on the top of that mountain.
I remember my first conversation with the District Commissioner’s Office, which was essentially your first formal stop if you decided to embark on such a journey at the time. Here, you would file for a permit and hopefully find a guide who would escort you – if you were lucky. Hiking into the African forests alone without local guidance can be deadly.
It was near Kibale, that I ran into two Americans, a Brit and a Canadian – all men; one was a doctor. They were there specifically to find out more about the mountain gorillas……...photograph, observe and experience whatever they could. In hindsight, the memory was not visual for me; it was all about ‘being in their presence’ and more importantly, ‘feeling their presence.’ When you’re in the wild forests and are suddenly thrown in their world, your immediate thought process – at least mine was – was ‘how do I relate to them? How can I get them to relate to me?’ Only in succeeding in the latter are you safe and really learn about and experience their world.
What neither one of us realized on the day our paths crossed at the District Commissioner’s office, was that we would spend the next six days in the endangered forest together on a search, a long exhausting search for the gorillas in the mist. It was an unprepared and rough journey, one with little food, supplies and contaminated water.
The locals sent us to the Forest Rangers office, which was not far from the only upscale hotel in the area: The White Horse Inn. Here we sat, ordered tea, talked about our journey and what we hoped to gain from being there. I think we were all fairly naïve at the time; I certainly don’t recall anticipating an overnight stay in the mountains. As we made our way out of Kibale, none of us had more than a day pack and two bottles of purified water with us.
The ‘head rangers’ secretary (not the same as the western classification of secretary obviously) was not overly optimistic about our chances of finding a guide. It was early days and they were trying to keep people away from the area, rather than encourage human intrusion, which the gorillas were simply not unaccustomed to. If you planned to head into the impenetrable forest for whatever reason, it was necessary to seek written permission from a head ranger.
The secretary showed us a typed letter that was stamped and dated May 1989. A copy of this letter was posted on the wall next to a “Save the Gorillas—Endangered Species” sign. It stated that visitors were not allowed in the region until the end of 1989 in an effort to reverse the detrimental situation of the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and Zaire, which was where the majority of them lived. (Bukavu and Goma)
Without permits, a ranger or a guide, we set off, not knowing quite where to go or what to expect. The weather was warm when we left however and despite the combined intellect and experience of the five of us, no one thought to bring gear except for the Canadian, who surprised us later in the journey with a small cotton sleeping bag he had in the bottom of his day pack.
While poaching was and continues to be a concern, erosion and clearing away of natural rain forest vegetation was also a grave issue. The European Common Market’s pyrethrum project -- daisy-like flowers processed into a natural insecticide, came from local pressure for grazing and agricultural land. What remained was a constant battle with local government officials and poachers.
In Rwanda and Zaire, Americans and Europeans would pay a lot of money to ‘see the gorillas.’ Not only was it an expensive effort but a time consuming one, as there were limitations as to how many ‘people’ they would allow into the forests – and even then, never unaccompanied.
The Parc National des Volcans of Rwanda, which runs along the border of Zaire and Zaire’s Parc National de Kahuzi-Bukavu were originally created in 1970, to preserve the habitat of the ‘plains gorillas.’ Like the ‘mountain gorillas,’ which still lie on the slopes of the volcanos and on the borders between Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda, they are an endangered species.
The chances of catching a glimpse of gorillas was far higher in Rwanda and Zaire than in Uganda, mostly because they had opened it up to a ‘limited’ public in the former, it was more organized and there were rangers assigned to making this happen. With the war still blazing in parts of the country and less structure around the cause, there were fewer mountain gorillas living in the Ugandan forests.
The war also hurt the tourist industry, and while it was on its way out and growing safer by the day, Europeans and Americans were still few and far between……and those who did venture into Uganda, didn’t stray far from the major cities and towns.
It was hard to think about fear however, when surrounded by people who were nothing but warm, gentle and helpful. Even so, they were not optimistic about our chances of seeing the gorillas and should we run into a ranger on the mountain without a permit, we would not be allowed to move forward despite our best efforts.
The other thing that we didn’t consider at the time was how little human contact the gorillas in Uganda were accustomed to compared to Zaire and Rwanda. This was also a main reason why they had stopped issuing permits to people and discouraging people from entering the forest. The mountain gorillas in this region were also less wild, more dispersed, not as well accounted for or tracked.
We continued to ask for a ‘stamp of approval’ at every village. One ranger suggested we head to Rwanda to improve our chance of success. Despite the fact that transportation had improved in recent years, traveling 60 miles in Africa could easily take a couple of days depending on your luck and visas and shots were always an issue. Additionally, there was heightened awareness of AIDS and Rwanda was one of the highest risk countries at the time.
Enter humorous and gentle tempered Joseph who finally gave us a stamp of approval…..we never questioned whether it was legitimate or not. He did warn us however, that they had turned dozens away and guides were instructed not to bring westerners into the forest, meaning we were on our own and traveling at our own risk……he emphasized the risk part.
I was of course in my early twenties at the time – a mere babe, the stage in our life where we’re fearless about pretty much everything. Nothing seemed to phase me back then, including treacherous border crossings, jail threats for simply doing nothing at all, reading the wrong book or new treks to worlds unknown, where often, there was no or limited food and water.
We were embraced by lush green valleys, terraced hills, and gentle, warm and misty breezes…….as we climbed higher, the air became crisper, cleaner and naturally the temperature began to drop.
I was wearing a tattered pair of white Nikes without socks, fuschia baggy cotton leggings, and a sleeveless tank top. I brought nothing beyond what I wore on my back except for two bottles of water, a notebook, a Swiss Army Knife, a camera with two rolls of film, my money belt, one apple and a gray sweatshirt with a hood in a small bright blue day pack that had seen better days.
We stayed at the Capital Hotel on the way, which had apparently deteriorated in recent years. (what an understatement). Not only was it no longer ‘clean’ and reasonably priced – said a guide -- but there was a stench that rose from the main wing’s bathroom, which seeped into nearly every room. The windows all had cracks and were in grave need of repair. Through the cracks came a bit of everything……brisk cool air, mosquitoes, laughing from the streets, the sounds of spitting and gargling from neighboring rooms and loud western African music.
We teamed up, three in one room and two in another. We discovered the Highlands Hotel and the adjacent No-Name Restaurant, where we downed Bell Beer, chips, eggs, goat kebabs and strongly fermented pineapple in a quiet and dim atmosphere, lit only by a rusty carosene lamp. African breakfasts consisted of greasy eggs with tomatoes and watered down tea.
Lake Bunyonyi was a five hour hike into the hills, through a set of mountains I can’t quite remember the name of…..there were several eagles soaring through the air and the bird life was beyond incredible. Often, the eagles would come close enough to the ground that we had to abruptly move out of the way to avoid them.
We were warned by a man who sold us our morning mandazis, not to ‘hold’ anything too visible. Despite our best efforts, two large eagles swooped down and grabbed the remains of a mandazi that Neil, the yank, was holding in his right hand.
The path quickly became rocky and steep, most of it uncleared and muddy, enough to make the journey in my torn and battered Nikes more than a challenge. Regardless of the treacherous terrain, it was amazingly peaceful, with one rolling hill after another in our view…..layer after layer, an exquisite valley separating each one. I went to heaven and back, as my spirit was continuously calmed by the natural silence and beauty around me.
We passed through a few villages at the top of the first mountain before the descent into the valley and Lake Bunyonyi. Children ran after us, astonished by the sight of our white skin. We rested at the top of the hill gazing at the site of the lake below us, while the children continued to stare and stare and stare. There was fear, astonishment, intrigue and interest in their faces all at the same time. Finally one of them broke the gaze, and giggled, so I started to giggle back.
Soon, we were all giggling and in time, giggling turned into laughter, as we rolled on the grass and gazed at each other in a way that you do when you first discover something or someone truly extraordinary. We were laughing at the innocence of it all and the wonder of each other. I remember saying to myself out loud: “Do you know how incredibly lucky and blessed you are to be here and experiencing this wonder?”
The wonder didn’t stop there, nor did it stop when we finally saw the gorillas days later. The wonders of Africa continue to astound, impress and saturate you in ways I have never experienced anywhere since.
In the early afternoon, the sun would remain hidden for quite awhile, perched behind a hill or in the horizon beyond the lake. The children would form a huddle, and at one point, giggle, and at others, scream and start to run away, only to return and repeat the same pattern. We transitioned from rare creatures of a new color in a cage to creatures they felt comfortable approaching. While verbal language was clearly a barrier, the smiles, the hands and our gestures were enough to move the experience from mutual gazes and laughter to a communication inspiring to all of us.
Eventually, they headed back to their villages….I felt incredibly warm as I watched them run down the hill; their smiling faces, snotty noses, holey shirts, malnutritioned tummies, and baggie trousers………the happiest children I had met in years. And years.
We started to run out of water and with the sun growing hotter by the hour, the ‘left brains’ in the group started thinking about where we might spend the night and find food. There was no turning back despite the fact that we didn’t have blankets, warm clothes, a tent or food.
A village man tagged onto us at one point, suggesting he would get us half way to the point of our final climb and give us ‘clean’ water from a flowing river (flowing river up here, I recall thinking….?), if he could practice his English with us en route. What a bargain.
We eventually passed through an area that was incredibly fertile…..women were working the rows of neatly layered beans, potatoes and maize with nothing more than a medium sized hoe and saboe. Remarkably, nothing seemed to be uprooted or out of place.
They offered to put us up for the night in a wooden shed and if we helped them in the fields, they would give us some beans and potatoes for supper and loan us a pot to boil water. One of the village men offered to take a few of us to a nearby island, where no more than 60 occupied, including children and animals.
We would travel by canoe; hand-made wooden canoes that looked like they were woven together, plank by plank, straw by straw. As we climbed in, I suddenly realized just how narrow and unsteady they were. Despite the fact that I grew up in an old canvas Indian canoe and taught at a summer camp, all bets on American Canoeing 101 were off in this part of the world. The island apparently housed lepers earlier in the century.
We ran into two Ugandans in military uniform carrying guns, and while they spoke very little English, it was enough to understand our mission. These two men led us to where we wanted to go…..without them, I doubt we would have had the experience we had….
The air was full of mist, but soft warm mist and the grass and vegetation around us was rough, tall and hard to face, as we moved forward, step after step, exhausted by our search that started as a one day hike and turned into a long trek into the impenetrable forest, a forest where we hoped for a glimpse of mountain gorillas in the wild, eating, sleeping, sitting, starring.
As the movie itself suggests, once you get close, it’s important to appear as calm, quiet and steady as possible, pretending to eat the grass in the same manner they do, chewing, starring and controlling your movement. Like elephants and other animals, you clearly want to avoid walking or in our cases nearly crawling, in between mother and babies. When you can’t tell the difference as it would have been impossible in our case, a good rule of thumb is to avoid getting in between any two gorillas and of course, getting too close.
I was mesmerized by the experience and couldn’t have turned to run if I wanted to; the terrain was too rough to move quickly and the paths sharp and muddy, causing me to constantly lose my grip and slip. My hands were bleeding from the rough branches I grabbed as I made my way up and down the steep hills. I was fearless, not because the armed men comforted us, but because the gorillas faces and gazes were soft, almost meditative, so much so that I could have sat and starred at them for days, without moving at all.
It’s not unlike the feeling I felt when I first discovered a male and female elephant together drinking water from a pond in southern Africa. Unaware of our presence, they linked their trunks together and slowly swung them back and forth. It was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen in Africa, right next to the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever set my eyes on.
Ah Africa, you golden continent, you with your sunsets, calming voices during the day, wild sounds in the night, and yet you also possess a silence that humanizes you in ways you can’t possibly imagine. Africa makes you feel alive and the African soil beneath your feet makes you feel more human than you’ll ever feel anywhere else on the globe.
By the time we made our way out of the forest, exhaustion set in; the result of poorly sanitized water full of parasites, lack of sleep and warmth at night (one small cotton sleeping bag barely covered five of us), and nutritional food at regular intervals. We also had not showered for days, so while it was less noticeable in the open air, my body started to grow weak and long for a warm healthy meal, one that didn’t have bananas, okra or potatoes in it.
Day after day of long hours on rough terrain without the proper shoes, after weeks of traveling on trucks, buses and half-baked cars on bumpy pot-holed roads, my joints and muscles ached.
While I had been relatively lucky with every border crossing (only one detainment, which is remarkable in this part of the world), I started to dream of military coups, where we were held prisoners for nothing more than being wazungus (whites). An American black friend once said to me, “The only problem with the white man’s burden is that white man causes it and the black man has to carry it.”
I also started to grow weary of countless police checks, and uncertainty as we got closer to a war zone. We would sometimes throw a causal joke in the air for the hell of it; it was a way to connect with something ‘familiar’ and ‘safe’ at times when nothing felt familiar in the immediate world around us.
We managed to make it from Mbarara to Masaka in a remarkable five hours in a cramped station wagon. Here, we camped out at the grotty Victoria Hotel, where the sanitation was grim; you had to hold your nose as you walked through the corridor, avoid the bathrooms altogether and brush your teeth outside using a purchased bottle of water. Local men partied in the room next to me; with their loud music and red glowing light filtering through the door cracks.
While family members and friends were alarmed when I extended my stay, Africa always felt safe – back then. It wasn't until my return 4-5 years later that I felt on edge upon every turn.
We didn’t have email or cell phone communication, but Poste Restante was alive and well and once a month, you found one, where an old fashioned letter from the west was waiting, so very eager to hear and share news.
Ah Africa, you golden continent, you with your sunsets, calming voices during the day, wild sounds in the night, and yet you also possess a silence that humanizes you in ways you can’t possibly imagine. Africa makes you feel alive and the African soil beneath your feet makes you feel more human than you’ll ever feel anywhere else on the globe.
October 28, 2005
Africans Speak Up on Change
Last week, Fortune Magazine's David Kirkpatrick led a panel of ten young African fellows, who spoke on change in local government, healthcare issues, the impact of technology and suggestions on what we can collectively do to make sustainable change.
Here's the line-up of the fabulous voices who spoke out:
Neema Mgana, 30 years old from Tanzania, who is a 2005 Nobel Prize for Peace nominee, a HIV/AIDS and youth leadership activist.
Elleni Muluneh Gebremariam, 20 years old from Ethiopia, who is an education and communications specialist.
Lydia Muchodo from Uganda, who is a promoter of peace and tolerance through sports.
Khaddiatou Diedhiou Diop, 30 years old, from Senegal, who is the youngest member of Parliament of Senegal who is focused on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
Rotimi Olawale, 22 years old from Nigeria, who is a reformer of the private sector in the areas of partnerships and media.
Clement M. Bwalya, 27 years old from Zambia, who is an advocate of social change through sports and a reformer of the health sector.
Brian Longwe, 34 years old from Kenya, who's a CTO for the Africa Internet Service Provider Association (AfrISPA).
Eric Osiakwan, 27 years old from Ghana, who is an Internet communications consultant, journalist, and blogger.
Ndesanjo Macha, 35 years old from Tanzania, who is a key figure of Swahili-language blogging, a lawyer and digital rights activist.
Ory Okollah, 28 years old from Kenya, who is a leading blogger and telecommunications reform activist.
David Gyewu, 41 years old, who is a former deputy minister for communications and technology for Ghana, and a telecommunications reform activist.
Emeka Okafor, 41 years old from New York, who is a blogger, consultant and entrepreneur focused on finance and sustainable technology.
Said one of the panelists from Nigeria:
"The $100 PC that Negroponte talks about will be important, because right now, when we see a computer on the Internet for $300, its $1,000 by the time it gets to us because of taxes, etc. Getting the cost down of PCs will be essential for us to move forward."
Says a woman from Kenya:
"We have to step up to the table and contribute and be part of the conversation. We should not just be the receivers of information, we have some responsibility to give back and to do things differently than our leaders have before."
Says the woman from Tanzania:
"We were given equipment and if a child has access to a laptop, but they only have an empty building, or 80% of the time, they don't have water or power, then its useless."
David Kirkpatrick pipes up....."I want to make sure we cover the following before we're done..."
--Development and how it should proceed in general?
--Evolution of what is happening with technology and impact on government?
David asks the group: “Is aid the way or is it self empowerment?” Most on the panel thought that aid 'today' isn't working. One disagrees and says, "“I wonder about the priorities. People are focusing on semi-developed countries versus countries that have no water, no power whatsoever, no healthcare. What are we doing to address the most important issues that are relevant when we work inside those communities?”
Says one of the two Nigerians: I’d like to see Giro on a panel like this in the states. He’s a Princeton drop-out, but is writing amazing code in Nigeria. I’d also love to see African musicians sing here. The local musicians are amazing, particularly in Nigeria for example. There’s a big movement of something called Hip Life (hip hop and high life mixed together) in Nigeria. I know people -- that if it were not for Hip Life in Nigeria -- they might be in prison today.
Africans must fix corruption in Africa. We must evolve our own systems about how we want to develop. Africa needs to figure its way of doing it. Africa must develop themselves and move Africa out of poverty and make a conscious effort. The leaders in Africa cannot drive into a village in a $10,000 car where there is no water.
Money that was recently used to build something like a banquet hall that costs $100,000 could fix 10 villages. "Why are we doing that," asks one of the Nigerians. "Africa cannot develop on its own but I also want to make sure we hear ‘let’s create, let’s empower on the ground."
A few on the panel have an issue with the fact that AIDS was even raised. They spoke up, "We cannot frame the entire continent with this helpless disease. This is demoralizing for us. We have a problem with it."
David Kirkpatrick reminds the panel and audience that three panelists are in the states because of their amazing work on HIV/AIDS. Says a Ghanean, "All of the doctors who are supposed to be helping out the AIDS patients in West Africa, are all in Europe; there are probably 1,000 doctors left in Ghana. They’re leaving and going to Europe. We need technology to harness the resources and doctors to make things happen. With technology, some of the doctors in the villages could perform some of the tasks needed instead of having a doctor from Accra cross the country."
Says 27 year old Eric Osiakwan from Ghana: (I invited him to my Boston party after the panel - very interesting guy)
"Liberating a village is what I call success. This is what is relevant. You need to lead by example, you need to be relevant, spend money where it makes sense, get infrastructure in place. At the same time, money spent on conference centers may not be the wrong thing. This is a different thing from a government leader driving a really expensive car. When an expensive conference center is built, there are economic implications for the country, like a spike in tourism for example."
"Let's get details of how we can unveil corruption. We need to be in a position where we can uncover some of this corruption, through blogging and podcasting. We need to shame these leaders. They’re living like most Americans can’t afford to live. On one hand, they wear the aid and debt relief hat and on the other hand, they live in a $5.7 million home.”
Says a blogger from Tanzania (who rocks btw - you can see photos of him in the PopTech 2005 photo album), “There are politicians who are asking government to change the constitution. We need new political context and write a new constitution and the government has refused. There’s a group of young people, who are trying to get funding to see how we can use technology to change the constitution."
He wants to use a wiki to start writing the constitution and says "we’re all going to contribute.” I wonder if Ross knows about this.
The woman from Kenya pipes up: “Jeffrey Sacks drives me crazy." Others nod their heads. "He has more access to African government than I do and here I am a woman with an Ivy League degree, etc. What does he know about Africa? Has he ever lived there?”
The age old problem of trying to fix things from the outside. There was an interesting dynamic among the group and thankfully, a nice blend of women and men. (although the men at the table seemed to grab the microphone a lot more often). Great discussion.
October 22, 2005
Sinclair on AIDS in Africa
Cameron Sinclair is speaking to us on the PopTech stage in the morning session of the last day. A disclaimer, "I'm Scottish," he says. That can mean all sorts of things. I was married to a Scot, so I know. And life was always interesting and adventurous! :-)
And it appears he has this quality too, as a recent winner of two prizes, including one from TED.
"Who is Architecture for Humanity?" asks Cameron, as he starts to describe his program, which is a non-profit set up to seek and promote architecture and design solutions to humanitarian crises. "I've created a system which is completely open source," he says.
He has implemented a number of programs, including housing ideas for returning refugees in Kosovo; mobile health clinics to combat HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa; mine clearance programs and playground building in the Balkans; and earthquake recovery assistance in Turkey and Iran.
He shows photos of some of his projects including the creation of a healthcare facility for young girls in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Regarding AIDS, "even if you give them all the drugs in the world, it isn't going to work if a solid nutritional program is in place," he says.
Cameron talks about their reaction and appreciation of what this project has done for them. Cameron recaps as does an accompanying film - "Thank you, thank you for bringing this mobile healthcare into our community." Remember that this is an area, where the AIDS rate is as high as 40%, and in women, its over 50%. In young girls, its even higher and because of the stigma of AIDS, young girls will not go to a clinic.
They're also working to create relief in sustainable ways in areas hit by Katrina. Their projects are far reaching - beyond Africa and internally at home, to Kashmir Earthquake in the East. One of his main goals is to make innovative affordable housing for everyone in the world. A lofty goal.
This man talks with conviction and with passion, particularly as he gives us sad stats to think about -- he reminds us that they're not getting better, so we need to do something. What government has built versus what they've been able to create in shorter periods of time is astounding. AND says Cameron, "My favorite part is when I'm able to say, you, the community, have built this, not us."
His ending remark: "Whatever you do, design like you give a damn."
February 28, 2005
Bono's Three Wishes
He starts out by saying what gets him really turned on about the digital age, the digital revolution. "Technology has closed the gap between knowing and doing. Technology has brought prices down and Imagination has been decoupled from the old constraints," says Bono. "I would like to see idealism decoupled from the old constraints."
He speaks of his journey, which started twenty years ago with Bandaid, the summer he went to Ethiopia for the first time. Anyone who has ever given something to Africa gets a significant amount back. Having lived there a few times in my life (Kenya and South Africa), I agree.
"In Ethiopia, a man gave me his child, asked me to take the child back to Ireland with me," says Bono. Why? Because he knew the child would not survive there and would stand a chance if he left the country. Hard to resist a dying man's face, hard to pass up and yet he did. Wouldn't most of us? How many of us would completely change our lives in the face of such a request and bring an African child back with them?
Yet, the feeling never went away. "This is not about charity," says Bono. "It's about justice. Justice is a tougher standard than charity. Africa is in flames and I'm trying to call in a fire brigade......we would not allow what is happening in Africa to happen anywhere else."
Unless it looks like an action packed movie (Tsunami, War in Iraq), we tend not to jump up and say "enough is enough." He chose his words well when he said to a TED audience, "this way of thinking offends the intellectual rigor in this room."
We all know that poverty breeds despair and despair breeds violence. Isn't it better, cheaper and smarter to make friends out of potential enemies than to protect yourself from them later? We have so much to learn.
Bono brings up "Brand USA," and how damaged it is abroad -- too few in this country realize this. Too few realized this when I lived in Europe ten years ago. Too few Americans ever truly know what the perception is because we're so isolated over here, despite the content that is available if we choose to go digging. It's always been like this.
He impresses everyone with his articulate and passionate speech. He's authentic, doesn't use notes and is dramatic at all the right places....."Our generation," he says, "is the first generation that can look poverty and disease in the eye and say, 'we do not have to stand for this.' This is the moment you were designed for, the ideas you thought about in your youth. Because of us, we can change not just the digital world, but the physical world." And this is nothing but honest: "We're afraid to get too excited about making a change even if we realize we have the potential to, because once we acknowledge that we can, we MUST do something about it."
Hell, my feeling is that if we know we can fix something this grossly unjust, we must. It is about turning idealism into action. Idealism detached from action is nothing but a dream. Idealism tied to pragmatism is powerful.
"The digital revolution, the war on terror and putting the fire out in Africa are three things we'll be remembered for," he closes with before he gives us his three wishes.
1. Help build a social movement of more than 1 million American activists for Africa. This will get the ear of Congress.
2. 1 media hit for every person on the planet who is living on less than $1 a day. We need to get these kinds of statistics out to people so they can understand how serious the issue is...and it must be described as an adventure rather than a burden. Bono clearly understands PR spin as well.
3. I want every health clinic, hospital and school in Ethiopia to be connected to the Internet.
Big dreams and big goals but only by voicing them and empowering people will change ever happen.
If we can, we must.