Search This Blog

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Birth of the Afrobag - Part 1

The primary goal of is to contribute to the elimination of global poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, starting with Zimbabwe. I am no expert on poverty and maybe I am somewhat naïve but surely the solution to poverty elimination is to teach people how to help themselves and facilitate the means to do so until they can stand on their own?

Why is poverty still an issue in 2008?

I’ve asked myself over and over again - What can I do? I mean, it’s my country after all and I am a product of Zimbabwe at its best time as bread basket of Africa. Was all that education for nothing? I applaud the countries and organizations that have helped Zimbabwe & Africa, but I also think it’s time that those Africans who are able to do so, do something to lift their own continent out of poverty!! It really isn’t that difficult. Look at nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus and It really is that simple. Some African countries are difficult for international organizations to penetrate, but people like you and me who visit home often can enter and make a difference without all the red tape.

I always felt overwhelmed about where to start and how to make a difference. So I spent many years planning, analyzing and researching, then planning, analyzing and researching - just going in circles just like that. Then one day a person told a story on television which finally motivated me into action. I didn't know the story teller but she told the story the way my Grandmother would have told it - in the old African oral story telling tradition known as "ngano" which is typically based on characters in the Animal Kingdom. The title of the story was "The Hummingbird Perseveres" and the storyteller as I later learned was Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Mathaai. I was so inspired that I went on to purchase her book, and today she is one of my greatest inspirations.

The story goes as follows:
"I want to tell you a story because it is a story of "never give up." It is a story of a forest that went on fire, a huge forest that suddenly was on fire. There was a big fire raging. All the animals came out of the forest. As they came to the edge of the forest and they started watching the fire, feeling very discouraged, feeling very disempowered. Every one of them did not think there was anything they could do about the fire except a little hummingbird. The little hummingbird said, "I can do something about this fire. I'm not going on the side to watch the forest burn."

So the little hummingbird ran toward the nearest stream. The little hummingbird took a drop of water, and put it on the raging fire. Then back again and brought another drop and kept running up and down. In the meantime, the other animals are discouraging [the hummingbird]. They are telling it, "Don't bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too little, you can't do much about this fire." Some of these animals that were discouraging it had big beak that could have brought more water than the hummingbird. But they weren't. They were very busy discouraging.

The hummingbird decided not to be discouraged. It kept going up and down to get the water and put it on the burning forest. And as the animals were discouraging it, without wasting its time, the bird looked back to these other animals and saw how desperate, discouraged and persuaded they were to stay on the sidelines and not get involved. One animal said, "What do you think you are doing?" And the hummingbird, without wasting time, looked back and said, "I'm doing the best I can." "

And this is how I see the work of Tashanda - "we're doing the best we can"

Muhammed Yunus and Kiva, like the hummingbird, started by giving micro loans of about $50, $100 or more to individuals who wanted to start a business. And today the impact has been phenomenal. Don;t get me wrong - I know many of us are already sending money home to send family members to school, to pay their household expenses etc… but let’s think for a minute about what we can do to help them help themselves as well. It’s not hard to find micro-entrepreneurs in Africa – they’re everywhere - just search within your own family.

There is an unfortunate misconception that Africans wait for handouts all the time, and I really want to challenge that misconception. I’ve never known people who work harder than Africans. Africans are so resilient and innovative, and many, many Africans are working against seemingly insurmountable odds to survive another day. A modern day welfare system is more of what I would describe as a “handout” to be honest. I’ve visited rural areas where even under the worst drought conditions poor subsistence farmers living on less than a dollar a day will wake up at the crack of dawn to go and plough their dry, soil eroded fields until the sun sets, in an effort to make a living. So to say people like this are waiting for handouts is somewhat unfair. What they really want is a stepping stone to the next level. Their challenges are not only limited to the climate, but also to infrastructure. The poorest people are often isolated from roads and the hub of their communities whether it is the city or a smaller growth point.

Zimbabweans continue to work just as hard and I'm determined to keep up the hope through Tashanda's support of artisans on the ground. Just today, my good friend and sculptor, Wimbai Ngoma, send me about 21 photographs of his latest pieces (which are totally amazing by the way). If this website did not exist, how was he going to show the world his talent?

In Zimbabwe we face all the challenges you can imagine, but I am still very optimistic that the economy can turn itself around. I don’t like to talk about politics in Zimbabwe because I feel there are enough people doing so already, and as a result, the attention has shifted from the positive stories of the possibilities & good things happening on the ground, to issues of all the negativity. While I don’t dispute the negative aspects, I’m one of those who still strongly believes in the strength & goodness of Zimbabwe, so I prefer to leave all the ugly political stuff to those that want to talk about it. I believe it’s better to act than debate all night without reaching a solution; and at this point in time those who can drive the economy (like Wimbai Ngoma) are waiting for orders which aren’t coming because of all the bad news which has driven away investors…Luckily this is my blog and I get to decide what I want the news to be! And I'll show you both sides of the story!

To be continued….