Friday, June 25, 2010

"Imagine Beging In A Life You Love"

We live into the future we create. Failing to create a future results in the appearance of a default future. The default future amazingly looks like our past. Ever wondered why the same things happen to you over and over? The same crummy bosses, the same type of intimate relationship of which the end is almost predictable?
My most profound teacher in life was a series of seminars that I took at Landmark Education in New York City. There I created not only the vision of AIDSfreeAFRICA but also who I have to be to lead this organization. No, I did not become perfect, but I am who I say I am. And I love it.

To keep me living in that possibility that became my most exciting and rewarding job I have my business coach Donna Zucchi, president of DMZ Consultants. Every athlete has a trainer/coach. Why not everyone else? It works for me.

In May I was invited by my friend and former Landmark Education seminar leader Toni Smith president of VSA Consulting Group, LLC. to a book signing in New York City. I called all my NYC friends and donors to meet me there for a quick reunion before I was leaving for my sixth trip to Cameroon. It was a delightful warm pre-summer evening. Too busy I did not realize that the book signing was about "Imagine Beging in a life you love" co-written by Jaqui Janes-Lowry and Kristin Andress. Toni's company VSA had donated enough books for everyone that crowded the penthouse terrace listening life to the authors fascinating story. Later that night some of us finally gathered around the authors for a lively introduction and sharing of personal stories. What a fascinating crowed of mostly women had been attracted to this event.

It is deeply satisfying to go to Africa knowing that there are so many of us who not only have big visions but also pursue them vigorously, unstoppable and with much love.

"Less than a zero chance of survival"

This was a prognosis Anne Richard would not accept for her son Michael. Today three years after being left quadriplegic from being a passenger in the wrong car at the wrong time Michael smiles and wiggles his toes. He loves pink - everything pink. So we found him this beautiful Cameroonian outfit - all pink.
Anne struggles to get all the support she knows Mikel needs. She became an advocate for those who can not fight for themselves. Needing so much for Michael she also gives away anything she receives but can not use. This is how AIDSfreeAFRICA got into the fortune situation to help Cameroonians with unused medical supplies.

How I met Anne was as innocent as responding to an offer to pick up moving boxes. The announcement came via Westchester Freeshare, a yahoo group set up by people who knew that one persons refuse is another persons treasure.
I needed to pack up my apartment to allow needed renovations to take place while I working in Africa. When I called Anne she said she had all these empty boxes from medical supplies she receives. Medical supplies? I asked.... and the rest is history. Michael in his hospital bed donated by Yonkers based medical supplies non-profit Afya smiles knowing he helps people far away in Cameroon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Revolving Drug Funds

A revolving drug fund works like this: AIDSfreeAFRICA donors donate the initial amount of money needed that enables AIDSfreeAFRICA to buy a substantial amount of medicine, supplies and laboratory reagents and diagnostic tests. This is given to a small rural clinic that so far operated with few drugs and often no doctor. The clinic now treats patience who pay for the service and treatment. Every week small amounts of money is deposited in a bank account controlled by AIDSfreeAFRICA. When the money in the bank reaches an agreed level and AIDSfreeAFRICA founder Dr. Rolande is visiting, she takes the money and buys more drugs and supplies. The fund generates more money that what is required to keep the fund liquid, thus salaries can be paid more reliably, small improvements can be undertaken and most important the patience come to a clinic that can do more than just talk to them.

Imagine, a child five years or younger contracting Malaria - a very common occurrence - will die within 3 days if the proper treatment is not initiated. Imagine to visit a clinic without malaria drugs in the pharmacy. Imagine mother and child now need to hire transport and travel to the next hospital which may be hours away and if it has medicine you can bet that the waiting time to see a health care provider is long.... 

Our first established revolving drug fund with the Cameroonian Christian Welfare clinic in Limbe is showing success. Leading the clinic is Polycarp Nji, left in the picture with his daughter and relatives taken in his native village Esu. Back in Limbe before the revolving drug fund I saw hardly any patient at all. Now six month later at any given time I showed up there where patients on drips occupying the 12 beds and being treated. About half of the drug we had supplied had been used and paid for by patients.

We thank Alfred Schwendtner and his wife Carole, both members of Servas a international peace organization for helping us to establish the fund with a generous donation. You can not imagine how many peoples lives have been saved and will be saved.

But the before and after picture shows the difference, first a few packages in the hospital pharmacies shelves monitired by John Laluh and the next picture four boxes (one shown) with drugs and supplies arrive.

AIDSfreeAFRICA's projects are all designed to be income generating and perpetual. For this design we reached the semifinals in the 2009 Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge Every year the finalist of this challenge receives a $100,000 US$ award. However, we also have to keep an eye and strict control over these projects. Persistent poverty and living permanently on the edge of an emergency together with access to money, especially cash creates situations where money is easily misappropriated. Of course often we are dealing with outright theft, but where theft is not a problem it is our responsibility to avoid to create temptations. I recommend everyone dealing with African humanitarian projects not to wire money and not to give cash - the temptation is too big, the pressure from begging and deserving friends in need too large to resist. Believe me we speak from experience.

It is also not enough to reward projects well done. We have implemented a double strategy: reward good behavior, severely punish wrong doing. The key is that the punishment has to be figured to really impact the people who run the projects. It has to have teeth. In a society where suffering and uncertainty is a fact of life the definition and type of punishment has to be closely examined and adjusted to the situation.

Non-profits have poured too much money into the hands of people who abuse our generosity. it is time to ask for accountability and to set strict rules. Zambian native and Columbia University professor Dambisa Moyo put is all into her book: "Dead AID, why AID is not working and how there is a better way for Africa." AIDSfreeAFRICA agrees fully with her assessments and recommendations.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cameroonian Hospitality is Top Notch

The five weeks in Cameroon I spend most of my time in three cities Bamenda Yaounde and Limbe. In each city I am hosted by a family in my own room and safely tucked in under a mosquito net. Best of all, there is someone cooking for me. And although I am able to eat local food it is still somewhat adjusted. For example I still can not manage to eat peppe because it burns me from the inside out. In Bamenda I am hosted by the Anyangewe family. Susan can be seen here cooking fufucon over the open fire. The room is so smoke filled that I can manage to be inside only to shoot the video that is posted on our web site.

Moving on the Yaounde a very pregnant Melissa welcomed me. Her brother Steeve is my host, translator and guide in the french speaking capital. Melissa left her boy friend's home to stay with her brother to cook for me. What delicious dishes she cooks. Well spiced with plenty of fish and vegetable and fried plantains among other things. Melissa plans to name her baby "Roland" if it is a boy or "Regina" if it is a girl. I am so flattered.

My final destination is the smallest of the three cities. Limbe, a tourist magnet nestled on the foot of Mt. Cameroon and the ocean, I am welcomed by Rosemary, the principal of the PYC, Presbyterian Youth Center, a good sized church high school. Honoring is a sixteen year old student who cooks with the help of the elder Helen, also secretary of PYC. Helen and I discovered that we were born in very similar circumstances, both of our mothers worked to the last minute and dropped us almost on the doorstep to the hospital. Causing both of us to live a life running working and pushing ahead of everyone. We had such a good time.

One the left principal Rosemary and a neighbor stamping Achu - a delicious traditional dish that has to be eaten with one's fingers despite the fact that it involves considerable amounts of either yellow or brown sauce. The yellow sauce contains lots of potash which is very basic and not for my stomach. The brown sauce is sometimes agreeable especially when it has mushrooms in it.

My Honoring was very photo shy thus I just caught her running away. Young as she is one evening she gave us an education on Limbe's women of the night. They paraded in the small muddy driveway behind the school waiting for lovers. Honoring knew the house where they would go, who comes and goes and who the pimp is watching over everything. For us American hard to fathom that prostitution would be allowed to flourish so obvious behind a high school.

She came down with Malaria good for us I always know doctors. John came and fixed her up. He jokes that Honoring always gets sick when white visitors are about to leave, just to make them stay.... five weeks is little precious time and always comes to an end.