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.

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It’s Magic!

ImageThe mind of my 5-year-old son is startling sometimes. In his world, it is okay to send chickens down the tree house slide and to ride the dog like a horse. He believes the duck he met at a pond 15 miles away is going to show up at our house someday and be his pet. Joseph has asked the house fairies to give him magic fairy dust so that he can open a portal in the TV so he can go and fight bad guys and he is pretty convinced we should be writing to Santa right now in order to get the gifts he is envisioning for Christmas. You see, Joseph invents toys in his mind, toys that are going to take Santa a lifetime to create, patent, and mainstream. Just last night, Joseph was insistent that I find him a submarine so that he can search for treasure at the bottom of the ocean. This was after he requested my help in making capes for three of his friends… “one white as snow for Chloe, one pink as a baby for Gracie, and one blue as the sky for Maggie.” Little Cassanova has asked repeatedly for a love potion, which I concocted from dried lavender, purple sugar crystals, and warm water. When he sprayed it on me, I pretended to be madly in love with him (which I am of course) but it doesn’t have quite the same effect on others. In fact, it had the opposite effect on his sister. Next potion on his list? A sleeping gas. “Mommy, do you know how to make any other potions besides love potions?” NOPE! “Fiddlesticks. I need a sleeping gas so I can …” and I got lost in the tale he wove of bad guys and good guys and fights and battles and portals and … I’m dizzy.

 

Potions, gases, portals, fairies … the world is very magical for my little guy. Someday, he’ll stop asking for potions, stop believing in fairies, stop asking Santa for presents because “reality” will settle over him. The bad guys he goes off to battle may be less sinister, more commonplace, your run-of-the-mill greedy, narcissistic co-worker, employer, or colleague. C’est la vie. (Excuse me while I wipe the tears away. As much as the world of make-believe drives me crazy, I will miss it when it’s done.)

 

There’s the magic of kids, the magic of innocence and imagination where situations and life challenges are played out in a safe environment. And there is magic, the kind that goes beyond illusion and imagination to dabbling in or full immersion in the occult. I was recently listening to Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom (CompassioNow founders and Compassion Tea directors) speaking on KKLA, a radio station in Los Angeles, about their work with the “least served” in Africa. They mentioned that among the difficulties they face in bringing successful medical care to rural peoples in Africa is the traditional, cultural practice of consulting the local shaman. In 2007, there were estimated to be as many as 200,000 indigenous traditional healers in South Africa compared to 25,000 Western-trained doctors. 60% of the South African population consults these traditional healers first or exclusively. I asked Wendy if this statistic holds true for the rest of Africa. Her response was affirmative for the countries CompassioNow works with.  In Zambia, for instance, there is a missionary to the Tonga people who states, “The Tonga culture is steeped in witchcraft, ancestral worship, and other occultic practices many of which form part of their traditions…. Traditional healers play an important role in health care. They normally take care of the ill with herbal and other plant remedies.”

 

The shamans of Africa follow centuries of traditional methods for treating illnesses. Many African cultures believe that ancestors from the spirit world guide, protect, or attack the living. Witchcraft, pollution from impure objects, or neglect of the ancestors are believed to be the three major causes of illness. Bringing harmony back between the living and the dead, the diseased and the harming spirits, is the primary job of the shaman. Herbal concoctions (muti), animal sacrifice, burning of incense, conjuring, throwing the bones, purification rituals, and ancestral channeling are all methods of restoring this balance and harmony, which will then alleviate the patient’s suffering.  Usually, the shaman undergoes some ritual or divination to speak to the spirit world to gain insight into the problem. In consultation with the spirit world and the patient, the shaman will come to a desired course of action, which may or may not include consulting Western medical practices.

 

There may be much to learn from these ancient traditions. According to a Wikipedia article titled “Traditional Healers of South Africa,” “Botanists and pharmaceutical scientists continue to study the ingredients of traditional medicines in use by [shaman].” However, there is also much concern about the old ways. While people are often “called” into the shaman “profession” by recovery from a serious illness and they subsequently undergo an intense initiation process, charlatans also abound. The missionary in Zambia notes that, “Many [of the traditional healers] require some form of payment and villagers live in fear of these healers because of their supernatural powers.” Wendy explains further that a shaman may tell a person “I’ll heal you” and will demand a cow or goat as payment. The shaman provides a medicine that doesn’t work. When the patient returns, he or she is told that if he or she stops taking the medicine (which isn’t working, remember), then he or she will be cursed. The patient must then provide payment for the curse to be lifted before the patient can stop taking the medicine. For further example, Wendy tells of a time a woman in Zambia went to her local shaman because of sores on her leg. The shaman prescribed a concoction of ash and rabbit hair. The concoction ended up giving the woman a horrible infection.

 

Shaman charlatans may not just be ineffective medical caregivers.  The Wikipedia article also notes that “Some [shamans] have been known to abuse the charismatic power they have over their patients by sexually assaulting them, sometimes dressed up as ritual.” Wendy recalls that the shamans offer help beyond medical care, too. It is common knowledge among the Tonga people that if a villager wants a fellow villager killed, he or she can go to the shaman who will give the villager a stick the size of a match to place in the water container of the intended victim. When the victim goes down to the lake to fetch water, the stick will turn into a crocodile and kill the person.

 

Despite the obviously occult nature of the shaman’s care, most rural Africans still turn to these “doctors” because of the lack of western medical care. The missionary in Zambia states, “Amazingly, there are many clinics built in the valley [near Lake Kariba in Zambia where the Tonga people live], but these are under-staffed and most have no medicines. Simple training in hygiene and first aid measures could prevent many illnesses.” In an article titled “Inside South Africa’s Rural Healthcare Crisis” posted on the Voice of America webpage, Dr. Thembinkosi Motlhabane of the Zithulele clinic in the Oliver Tambo region of South Africa explains that he doesn’t have the medical equipment and medicines to treat his most seriously ill patients. He has to wait for an ambulance from Mthatha, a larger medical facility 60 miles away, to come collect those patients. This could take hours, if the ambulance comes at all.  Liz Gatley, another doctor at Zithulele, comments, “(Our) patients struggle to access care, so they often only get to us when they are very, very sick…. I know it sounds like a silly thing to say but when doctors who come from other parts of the country come here, they comment to us on how sick our patients really are.” Ncedisa Paul, a local community health worker, said “many children in the countryside are killed by diseases that are easily treated in more resource-rich areas – again because of the great distances involved in accessing healthcare, and lack of clean water.” 

 

 The Voice of America article goes on to state:

Disease rates, as well as numbers of deaths, spike when rural public healthcare facilities run out of medicines and other essentials and the government fails to deliver important medical equipment. “We’ve run out of TB treatment; we’ve run out of antibiotics,” said Gatley. “It’s happened that we were down to one or two IV (intravenous) antibiotics, which is ridiculous.” 

She said hospitals and clinics endure regular shortages of the “most basic” of medical apparatus. “We’ve run out of surgical gloves. We’ve run out of oxygen many times before… Sometimes it means people die.”

Gatley said public health workers order basic supplies from the government, but they never arrive. “So now we buy all our stationery ourselves, like printing paper, which we need for data sheets, and our whiteboard markers and so on,” said Shannon Morgan, an occupational therapist at Zithulele hospital. “I run a department on donations and self-bought materials. We use our own cars and petrol to visit patients who are too disabled to come here.” 

Health workers claim South Africa’s public healthcare system, especially in the more isolated districts, is characterized by bad management, administrative inefficiency and poor planning.

 

These are exactly the same situations that CompassioNow hears regularly from the clinics it helps, exactly the same situations it strives to prevent through its donation of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to those clinics. It often feels like an uphill battle. But it is essential to keep trying, because the places our clinics serve are seeing greater and greater numbers of lives saved.

 

Wendy poses this dilemma:  “What do you do when you are 5 hours by bicycle from the nearest medical clinic and your child is bitten by a snake? The villagers will tell you to take your child to the shaman because just last week the shaman healed a child that was bitten by one. If you decide to go the Western medical route, you set off on the 5-hour bike ride, and your child dies while you are trying to get help. When you get back to the village, the people will say, ‘Cursed are you! You should have gone to the shaman!’” This goes beyond the love potions and sleeping gases of a boy in the throes of childish magic. This is a matter of life and death.

 

Olympics and the Temporary

Oh Olympic fever is taking hold! The excitement is building! Opening Ceremonies are on today and I’m thinking about how to best view them and what foods to have at the ready. As I’m typing this, I have a window open to USA Today’s online Olympics coverage where a clock is ticking down the time until the Opening Ceremonies. It’s not long now!

Next to the clock is an article about Michael Phelps in relation to his housing in the Olympic Village.  (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/swimming/story/2012-07-25/michael-phelps-ryan-lochte-share-suite-in-village/56485516/1) The Olympic Village is of course the temporary housing for all of the athletes and is meant to be cozy, a good place to relax, and designed to encourage friendly camaraderie with athletes from around the world. According to the article, Phelps has a single room in a four-bedroom suite he shares with six other swimmers including his rival Ryan Lochte. Apparently, the village has no air conditioning (and after having lived in London for a year I question why it would need air conditioning) but “athletes use rotating fans of the kind familiar in college dorms.” And then the article finishes off with: “Phelps said his room ‘is about the size of a closet. … You walk in, and I’m not joking you, my room is probably about that wide.’ And here he spreads his arms and then tucks his elbows in, to indicate his room is not as wide as his famous wingspan. ‘I have, like, a bed, a nightstand, a dresser,’ he said, ‘and that’s about all I got.’”

Doesn’t it just pull on your heart strings? After three very successful Olympics, shouldn’t Mr. Phelps be entitled to something more posh for his fourth and last?

“Temporary” is the key word here. The Olympic Village is home for roughly two weeks. Temporary.

Two of my Compassion Tea friends, Chris and Jack, are currently flying to South Africa where they will be visiting our partner in serving, Dawn Faith Leppan at the 1000 Hills Community Helpers clinic in the Valley of 1000 Hills. While they are visiting, they will be making a trip to Claremont Camp near Inchanga. According to Ms. Leppan, Claremont Camp was created “in 2007 [when] the local municipality identified a squatter camp near Claremont, on the outskirts of Durban, and it was planned that this population would receive government subsidized housing in Inchanga. In the interim they were moved to temporary housing structures adjacent to the land where the subsidized housing would be developed.” That was in 2007. Five years later, the population still lives in the temporary housing, which consists of  “6 rows of pre-fabricated temporary housing units with 60 rooms per row.” The estimated population is 2500 people of all ages. Ms. Leppan has described the camp as a place of high unemployment, high rates of alcohol and substance (mostly marijuana) use, and highly dangerous for several reasons.

1.     There are communal toilets but they are “blocked and littered with excrement.”

2.     The municipality supplies water but the connections are broken creating a “wet area which is a breeding ground for disease as well as wasting valuable water.”

3.     The camp has electricity… in the form of wires snaking across the ground, open connections and uninsulated wires exposed to physical contact. Ms. Leppan writes, “There have been several incidents of children and adults being shocked by electricity.”

4.     There is no safe place for the disposal of garbage so the camp is littered making it dangerous for children and animals and serving as another breeding ground for disease.

5.     HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis rage in this camp where people are over-crowded and there is little privacy.

For more information about the camp, read the blog from 1000 Hills regarding their initial visit to the camp: http://1000hch.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/the-story-of-inchanga-camp/

Ms. Leppan and her staff have set up a weekly mobile clinic at the camp in order to provide much needed medical care on-site including supplying contraception, training on how to live more healthy, and creating support groups for patients with chronic illnesses. They serve 40 to 50 patients a week at the clinic and are securing food for the roughly 200 families in need of food. Currently, they have enough to cover 60 families.

This is a slightly different temporary housing situation than Mr. Phelps’ closet-sized bedroom. And it is much less temporary. Thankfully, Ms. Leppan is making headway in improving conditions. Yet, this gives another insight into why waiting for government organizations to take action is not effective planning. CompassioNow and Compassion Tea both understand the necessity of grassroots efforts of support for organizations already operating in rural Africa. So, what can you do to help?

1.     Donate directly to CompassioNow on their website: www.compassionow.org.

2.     Purchase a tea membership through Compassion Tea (www.compassiontea.com/memberships). 100% of after-tax profits go directly to CompassioNow and on to people like Ms. Leppan.

The situation in Africa is proving to be anything but temporary. Together we can make it more temporary!

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.