Making Progress

“I’m thirsty all day long. And I have to sit on a bench all day so my back hurts and my neck hurts. It’s hard to sit on a bench with no back to it. And the bun in my hair is giving me a headache. I hate wearing buns; they always give me headaches….” The tirade went on for several minutes in this vein. I can’t say I blame my daughter for her rant. I completely get where she is coming from. I would have the exact same woes were I to have a tight bun in my hair, to sit on a backless bench all day, and not have a water bottle handy. But I think it is a great lesson for her.

Last week was Apple Valley School week for Clara’s class. On Monday, the fourth graders all arrived in period costume and were greeted by a somber and proper Mr. O’Brien – the multi-tasking teacher of kindergartners through high schoolers in the one-room schoolhouse circa 1854 which had once been a 21st century fourth grade classroom outfitted with projection screens and computers and other modern amenities like over-head lighting. As the class went through the re-enactment of life in an 1854 schoolroom, they had a lot of fun.

Clara circa 1854

Clara circa 1854

Dunce caps, fate cards (like Clara drawing a card that said she couldn’t catch the cow and therefore couldn’t get the milking done making her tardy for school for which she lost 5 points), funny names like Matthew who was for the week Carl Jr. (Get it? The fast food joint?), and a classroom that had a cardboard and paper stove, ye old blackboards instead of wipe boards, and a noticeable lack of technology all added to the enchantment of the re-enactment. They had age-appropriate lessons in math and writing and reading (in that each student was given a new age to show the broad spectrum of ages and abilities an 1854 schoolhouse would have housed). There was even an old-fashioned spelling bee.

The first time the ruler hit the desks to get everyone’s attention, there was a visible jump among the students. Old-fashioned manners were in play… bowing and curtseying, ladies first, addressing the teacher in a manner more formal than with the familiarity that has fallen over everyone in the last weeks of school. For misbehavior, students stood on a brick or wore a dunce cap. Clara nearly came unglued on Tuesday morning when she discovered that she had marker on her hands and she would lose points for coming to school with dirty hands. Hats and bonnets were put on when stepping outside and were taken off immediately upon entering the schoolroom.

And lunch was interesting. No Ziploc baggies, no plastic containers, no pre-packaged foods, no cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, juice boxes, Lunchables, water bottles, you get the idea. I packed real foods in a cloth handkerchief all week. But I was not able to let go of the refrigeration element. The ice pack must go in.

It was fun and educational, but as Clara’s tirade after school indicates, it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies. Sometimes, in our high-speed lives, we get to romanticizing the past, thinking that the simple life of yester-year was truly better and if we could just recreate that simplicity we would find our own personal nirvana. Go ahead, chase that rainbow, but any pot of gold you “discover” will be fleeting at best, elusive at worst.

So, why am I bringing this up? Well, first of all, it is fun to see how far we’ve gotten since 1854 when public schooling first began. A group of moms was chatting after school, waiting for our cherubs to emerge from 1854, and we were particularly discussing the challenges of packing lunches circa 1854. As I said then and will say again, “Progress is a good thing.” While there have been aspects of last week, namely the increased manners at school, that I’ve liked, I wouldn’t change 2013 for 1854. No thank you. I rather like plastic and refrigeration and over-head lighting and computers and a closet full of clothes.

Do I need to tell you that there are places in the world where the progress of 2013 looks more like 1854? Because we deal with medical care through CompassioNow, this is the area where I see this the most. Take Zambia, for instance. Through Mission Medic Air, doctors and nurses fly into the bush for monthly health clinics. Otherwise, people in the bush are left to fend for themselves medically. There is no local CVS to head to for over-the-counter antibiotic creams, pain relievers, or bandages. The closest doctor does not hold a Ph.D. but rather has completed extensive training in magic and voodoo. Healthcare in the bush is rudimentary at best.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article (click here to read the full article May 29, 2013 edition) discussing the fact that counterfeit malaria medicines are flooding Africa right now. These medicines, being sold in open air markets and in shoddy “pharmacies” across the continent contain no active ingredients and are threatening years of progress in the quelling of a disease that proves fatal for people who do not have access to adequate, up-to-date healthcare.  According to the article, “Massive Western aid programs have financed the purchase of millions of doses of Coartem and other antimalaria efforts such as insecticidal nets and spraying. Combined, they have helped bring about a sharp reduction in malaria fatalities, health experts say. Over the past decade, annual deaths from malaria in Africa fell by a third, to about 600,000, according to the World Health Organization.” A seizure of counterfeit malaria drugs in Angola last June recovered 1.4 million packets of the medicine, enough to treat over half of the annual cases of malaria in Angola in a year. One report estimates that 1/3 of all malaria drugs sold in Uganda and Tanzania are counterfeit. The article states that, “A study published last year by the Lancet medical journal and conducted by a unit of the National Institutes of Health found that 35% of 2,300 malaria drug samples tested in sub-Saharan Africa were of ‘poor quality’—either fake, expired or badly made. Such pills ‘are very likely to jeopardize the unprecedented progress and investments in control and elimination of malaria,’ the paper’s authors concluded.”

Concurrently, reports of new drug-resistant TB strains are spreading from the third world to the first world. TB, according to the World Health Organization, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest worldwide killer. Between the years of 1990 and 2011 the TB death rate dropped 41%.  Yet, due to drug shortages worldwide, including in the United States, the drug-resistant strains are threatening this progress. The clinics we support see malaria and TB as two of the top complaints they address along with HIV/AIDS. However, they have a hard time keeping typical medicines stocked. Government funding is slim, availability is scarce, and knowledge of sanitary practices among the broader public is lacking.

That doesn’t stop us from trying! Because any progress is good in the realm of healthcare, we continue to look for new ways to send supplies, funding, and aid to the clinics we support. Above all, we make sure that the medicines we supply are up-to-date, not set to expire, and are legitimate. And we continue to add new clinics when we can to spread quality healthcare to people who need it. Several of our Compassion Tea team just attended the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas where they met tea suppliers from all over, including Uganda. We are very excited about the prospects of selling tea grown and processed in Uganda where we just recently added a clinic to support. Stay tuned!

Progress is good. Progress is rapid here… too rapid sometimes. But in Africa, progress is slow and is constantly in jeopardy.  That is worthy of a tirade, too.

Houston, We Have A Problem!

When my friend, Jessica, got her dog, she announced that she would name him Houston. Why? So that when he went potty in the house or had any other kind of puppy accident, she could yell, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
At swimming lessons the other day, I had a lovely chat with a fellow mom who had gone through a house that day, a house that was just coming on the market. The house was in need of updating but was fully habitable, affordably priced, in the right neighborhood for schools, and larger than her current house. The extra square footage, extra sinks in the bathroom, extra room in the garage, larger backyard were all highly attractive. But the remodeling that would need to be done was not. To bite on this or not… that was the question. In a moment of truth, however, my friend commented, “If this is the biggest problem I have to deal with this week, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
That same day, I read this on Facebook: “Tired tonight very busy clinic and kitchen, last Friday school teachers came to the clinic to ask for ambulance child hit by taxi, Brian was out I raced there with our paramedic, poor darling died the next day, Mother ill with T.B. So we think we have Problems. Take each day as a gift from GOD.” This was posted by Dawn Leppan, founder of the 1000 Hills Community Helpers Clinic in South Africa. Let’s look at the problems listed in this staccato message. Problem 1: There’s a mother with tuberculosis… a disease against which we successfully immunize here in the States, a disease that has all but been eradicated here. Problem 2: Her child gets hit by a taxi. Problem 3: No one has a cell phone to dial 911 immediately. Instead, the teachers of the nearby school run to the clinic asking for help. Time is wasted, in our way of thinking anyway. Problem 4: Low staffing at the clinic. The regular ambulance driver is out. Problem 5: The unknown. How healthy was this child to begin with? What other medical factors were at play here? Possible malnutrition? Malaria? And how equipped was the clinic to handle this sort of emergency? We are talking about rural Africa, here. I don’t mean any disrespect to Ms. Leppan and her amazing staff in asking that question. But I think it is a pertinent question.
Let’s see here. For comparison, my problems for the week thus far are: 1. Finding childcare for one child so I can go work in the other child’s class at school for their Valentine’s Day party. 2. Locating Star Wars valentines for Joseph to take to school. 3. Winston, the dog, has a puppy tooth that has to be extracted so the adult tooth can come in. 4. When in the world am I going to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk with all of the places I need to take the kids? 5. Scheduling the summer activities for the kids is starting now. Seriously?
Granted, I’m trivializing things a bit. There are things that I worry about on a daily basis… things like the general health of kids, spouse, and parents, the state of a loved one’s soul, things from the past that rear their heads in ways and places and times I don’t expect. I’ve had problems of magnitude. Praise God that there aren’t any right now. And praise God that when there are bigger ones, I am learning to turn to Him with those problems, learning to let Him handle them.
Really, we’ve all had problems of magnitude. This world is broken. I’m not making some kind of political statement here (although it is tempting at times to point the finger at a politician and blame). The world’s brokenness goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose desire over relationship, knowledge over trust, pain and suffering over wholeness. On the surface, we smile, seem cheery, upbeat, optimistic. We’re busy with life, operating at a mind-altering speed sometimes, and often missing the cues around us showing us the brokenness. There goes a man addicted to pain killers. That woman over there was raped as a teenager. The mom behind you in the grocery store line miscarried 3 times before she had that child who is now screaming in the grocery cart. Over there, that man? He just lost his job and can’t figure out how to go home and tell his wife and kids. He’s lucky. The man ordering coffee over there is about to go home to find that his wife has left him for another man. Dear John. Do you get it? So we think we have problems? Of course we do! Everyone has a problem every now and then. Houston, we’ve got a planet full of problems.
The thing that I find distressing, however, is the thought that perhaps somehow that child in South Africa could have been saved, just like his mother could have been inoculated against tuberculosis, had the resources been available. This is the distressing thought that instigated the founding of CareNow. There are big problems in Africa… HIV/AIDS being among the greatest of the medical related ones. Big problems require bold solutions. Meanwhile, while we’re waiting for bold solutions, there are hundreds of little solutions we can be doing right now. CareNow recognizes this. Oh for a box of surgical gloves! Oh for a child-sized blood pressure cuff! Oh for some novocaine! And Compassion Tea Company recognizes this, too. While we’re waiting for the big cures and big answers and bold solutions, we’re selling tea, using the money to buy and ship medical supplies or to support medical staff. We’re doing something NOW.
Yes, Houston, we have a problem. But a little compassion goes a long way… one small solution at a time.