Monday, December 15, 2008


Not Some Distant Other.

A few days ago, I was reading about the Millennium Development Goal progress Tanzania. The reports were filled with statistics – numbers, percentages and graphs about people living here in Tanzania. And I found myself struggling with disconnection between the information I was reading and my experiences here. Who were the people referred to in this report, and so many reports like it?

And then, it clicked.

The people in these reports are not some distant ‘other’. They are not the people that perhaps I had once imagined when thinking about poverty in Africa. They are not stereotypes, they are not statistics. They are people – each one with a unique story, a unique struggle. People doing the best they can to care for themselves and for their families. They are...

Saimon, our 29 year old Maasai night guard, who left his wife and baby boy in Ngorangora in order to find work in Mwanza to support them. In addition to working, Saimon goes to English class every weekday evening. Afterwards, he sits on our porch studying, singing, and guarding our little house.

The women who we buy avocados and bananas and tomatoes from at the little produce stands on the way home from work.

Jesse, a young man who just finished his 4th year of secondary school. If he passes his exam and can find money for school fees, he will continue to finish the final two years of secondary school next year. Jesse left his only parent, his mother, in a village “a long way” from Mwanza to come and live with his older brother to attend school here.

The women with babies strapped to their backs and buckets of produce or rice on their heads.

Denise, the beautiful woman who owns the little store where I print and photocopy materials for work. She’s had her store for two years, calls me friend, and gives me free photocopies every now and then to say thank you for my business there. Business is hard, but she has big hopes for her store.

The women living with HIV who are waiting for BCDSA to find more funds for microfinance loans. When BCDSA explains that they are still looking for more funds for the project, maybe next year – the women lament that next year may be too late. They may no longer be alive. And, they need to provide for their children before that happens.

Iman, the Dala-Dala (public transportation van) driver that Eric keeps running into. He works in one of the vans that comes to our neighborhood, and seems to be working all the time. He says that sometimes he takes some time off on Sundays.

The women running little cafes out of their homes, cooking delicious rice and beans and bananas and serving those passing by.

Sophie, the 20 year old who is about to begin secondary school. She tried once before, but her English was not at a level where she could keep up in her classes. She has been studying hard, and is ready now. Sophie helps her mother in the house every day, and enjoys playing sports (football, frisbee, volleyball, yoga) in the evening when she can.

The women working, everywhere working, to carry water and care for children and cultivate small farms and wash clothes by hand and sell their fish/peanuts/produce and sew and go to the market. Everywhere, always working.

[[ I am so honored to have met these beautiful people, and so many more. And am grateful to carry their stories with me from this place. The statistics will never be the same. ]]

Dancing Rock.

A Moment to Remember.

I was walking down a path near my office last week when a 3 year old boy that I’d never met came running towards me and proceeded to give me a full-crash-into-the-legs hug. When his friends saw that I hugged back, they followed suit. I need to walk down that path more often.


[ Some of BCDSA’s clients with HIV/AIDS held a meeting recently to share their situation with BCDSA and with me. Elly, the man in the back row of the photo, read the following outloud... ]

First of all, we take this opportunity to thank Busega Organization for reorganizing us and noting that we need assistance, we also thank them for welcoming us to work together. Initially, they used to assist us with soap, sugar and beans once a month. This service has not stopped due to lack of funds. If possible, may this service resume.

We also thank the government of the United Republic of Tanzania for serving us with drugs (ARVs), but it doesn’t provide drugs for diseases which accompany HIV/AIDS. So, we request that they aid Busega to provide us with such drugs.

We are very grateful that Busega helps us in the fight against discrimination.

Due to poor economic conditions worldwide, our standard of living has dropped drastically. As a result, we are requesting for loans which should be channeled through Busega. Right now, we receive very small amounts which cannot help us to stabilize economically, since we need to pay school fees for our children which forces us to engage in manual work. So, may your organization assist us or request other organizations to assist us.

We request to receive food (nutrient boosters) at least twice a week, for this will improve our health conditions faster.

We need regular seminars to equip us with new ideas on healthy living with HIV/AIDS. This need s a lot of funds which we don’t have. Please remember us on this.

We also need to educate the community surrounding us in order to avoid segregation and to know how to deal with AIDS orphans. They also need to know what to do whenever they test HIV positive.

Out of our 65 members, there’s a group of about 20 people who are Partner Clubs. These clubs are very essential in educating the general public on how to be patient whenever they realize that one has tested positive. This has usually brought a lot of problems in various families. Many families have broken up, leading to a lot of suffering by children who are always innocent. This group needs to meet at least once a month. We request that they be given fare to enable them to attend the meetings. They also need seminars on how to counsel the community about HIV/AIDS and AIDS orphans.

Lastly, we pray that God Almighty grants you health so as to keep the good work in Africa. Please pass our warm greetings to our fellows in your country USA.
Busega Oyeee....
Busega Juuu....

Monday, November 24, 2008

Micro-Finance, Inspirational-Change.

One of BCDSA’s current projects is microfinance for women. They provide small loans at low interest for women to start businesses (selling fruits/vegetables, selling fried food on the street, sewing). The majority of their clients are widows or women living with HIV/AIDS. The project is new, but has already proven to be very successful. Their first loan cycle just finished, with 17 of 17 women completely paying back their loans. This allows BCDSA to turn around and offer those funds as loans to a new group of women. I had the honor of participating in both ceremonies – the first loan-completion ceremony and the resulting loan-granting ceremony, and was inspired by the real, tangible difference this program is making in the lives of these women and their families.


Simon is our night guard – our Maasai night guard, who comes to work each evening with his machete and his spear. He has a warm bright smile and sparkly eyes. He’s short – small – and dresses with a blend of traditional Maasai and western clothes. One of the first times we saw him, he was wearing the traditional Maasai purple/red plaid blanket. Yesterday, he had on a flowered button-up shirt with green and red marching-band pants. While we have quiet evenings, while we sleep, Simon hums and studies – Swahili children’s books and English lessons. When we wake up, he is gone.

It feels uncomfortable – strange – to have a guard. But, both Eric and I really like Simon. And we want him to like us, despite our language barrier. We want to be able to talk with him, to learn about his life, to hear what he thinks of things. But for now, we’ll enjoy our brief interactions, his many handshakes, his quick laughter. For now, we’ll enjoy having a Masaii night guard with a spear named Simon.

Mr. Mhamba
Mr. Ezekiel Mhamba works at BCDSA as their project coordinator. He is in his seventies and has already retired a few times – but keeps coming back to work. He is currently working for BCDSA as a volunteer (as are all the staff) until there is money to pay him a salary. He has been married to his wife Deborah for 51 years, and they are very proud of their nine children and many grandchildren. Mr. Mhamba is warm and kind and earnest and absolutely beautiful.

He’s had a full and interesting life. He was a middle school teacher for many years. He was part of the first independent government of Tanzania in the 60’s, and traveled to Romania with his work back then. He went back to school mid-career to study the Bible, and received a scholarship to study at a Bible college in the UK. He worked for churches in Tanzania, organizing social programs on their behalf. He retired. He worked for an NGO that was connected to his church. He retired. He came to work for BCDSA.

Mr. Mhamba speaks English fluently and is often my translator at BCDSA activities. I love having him in the seat next to me, summarizing the goings-on. I love hearing my words communicated is his warm, melodic Swahili. I love having the opportunity to know and work together with Mr. Mhamba.

Mama Nyananze
In Kiswahili, you use generic mother, father, brother, sister words to greet anyone of that general age range. So, anyone in a mother (or grandmother) age range should respectfully be addressed as “Mama”. It’s VERY handy when you just can’t quite remember someone’s name.

There is a produce market that is a 15-minute walk from our house. Around the market, there’s a string of various shops/stores – everything from a barber to a fix-it guy to a little corner shop. In the mix, is a little cafe that has quickly become our favorite place to have lunch. It’s a small room with two long tables and a bench along the wall that is run by a warm, chatty Mama wearing a bright dress and christmas apron. For 80 cents, you can get the biggest plate of rice & beans that I’ve ever seen – deliciously prepared by the cafe Mama. And for just 40 more cents you can have a Pepsi to drink. A perfect lunch and a beautiful cafe Mama.

Mkula Children's Center.

One of the organizations that I'm working with, BCDSA, has a number of different projects that function at varying levels - depending on the current state of their funds. All of their projects either work towards preventing children from becoming vulnerable (by assisting their mothers to remain independent and secure) or caring for children that have already found themselves in a vulnerable situation.

Their cornerstone project is Mkula Children’s Center, an orphanage 2 hours outside of Mwanza for 25 children – 13 boys and 12 girls between the ages of 4 and 16. Some of them have lost both their parents. Others have family in the nearby community, but their home situations are not safe places for them to live. One of the little boys, Erikana, has run away from home 3 times – each time walking the 120 KM to Mwanza, where he has lived on the street. Since being in Mwanza this 3rd time, a group of street boys attempted to rape him twice. In response, he sought help from Streetwise, an NGO for street children here in Mwanza. They suggested that he try living at the Mkula Children’s Center, at least for a while. The Center is near his family, so Streetwise hopes to gradually mediate and build a relationship between Erikana and someone in his extended family – in hopes that he won’t need to permanently stay at the Children’s Center.

The situation at the Children’s Center is difficult. When BCDSA started it, they had sufficient funds to begin the home from their five Tanzanian founding members. Unfortunately, only two of the original founding members are still able to donate to BCDSA, and they are constantly struggling to find funds to support the Center. At this point, the home is extremely deteriorated, they only have one staff member (who works most of the time as a volunteer) and they continually struggle to find money for food for the children.

The Tanzanian Government has recently donated a 15-acre plot of land to the Children’s Center to use for farming. The children farm a small portion of the land on the weekends when they don’t have school, and are currently watching their first crop of maize grow. I recently completed a grant application with BCDSA for oxen and a plough for the Children’s Center to use for farming. This wouldn’t solve the problem in its entirety, but would (hopefully) allow the center to produce a few staple items for the children to eat throughout the year. Together with BCDSA and SAIDA, I am also working on organizing an in-kind food donation campaign to encourage local businesses to donate a portion of their goods to the Center. But, both of these efforts are focused on long-term food sustainability. And, though that is good in many ways – it is still difficult to reconcile knowing that the children don’t have food for today.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I visited Mkula Children’s Center with some of BCDSA’s staff. The children were welcoming and kind and beautiful. They were curious about and amused by Eric. They shyly greeted me – and, when they didn’t think I was looking, they gently touched my hair. There was a distinct sense of comradery about them, a distinct feeling that they were in all of this together. The BCDSA staff brought some food with them – a bag of rice, a bag of beans, some bread – and though the children were delighted, their excitement to receive such a basic gift was deeply sad for Eric and I to see.

The situation at Mkula Children’s Center is difficult.
...difficult to understand, difficult to reconcile, difficult to see, difficult to share. But that, I suppose, is exactly why SAIDIA is here – to bring international support and volunteers to these small organizations that are working in difficult situations to care for others, to care for the most vulnerable among us.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Cats!

...and zebras and wilderbeast and giraffes and elephants and hippos. All in all, we saw 24 different animals in 24 hours, not to mention some of the most amazing land & sky I have ever seen. Joey and Jenny (SAIDIA Tanzania) took Eric and I on an overnight camping safari in the Serengiti. It was an experience that I never dreamed I’d have in my lifetime. I spent all 24 hours (well, almost), with my face to the window, my jaw dropped at the beauty all around me. It was absolutely incredible.

PS. Do you have your “Safari eyes” on? Did you spot the lion through our windshield? WOW.


As we start life here in this new place, I’ve been very aware of our creation of yet another new cycle, a new routine, for our days. Its interesting to see what parts of our daily patterns remain the same in each place we visit – and what is new again and again. One thing that remains the same, is that I want to share the cycle with all of you.

Our life in Mwanza, Tanzania looks a little something like this...

Eric and I wake up around 7:30 in Milestone House, a communal house for SAIDIA Tanzania volunteers in a neighborhood called Bwiru. We have a little breakfast at the house (our latest favorite has been African porridge) and then head to our respective jobs. Every morning, we both work for a small, grass-roots level NGOs. I’m working for BCDSA (Busega Childrens and Development Services Assistance), a group that has programs for women and vulnerable children. Eric is working for DEFESCO (Developing Free Education Services Centers for Orphans), an education project for secondary school aged youth. Both organizations are working with the absolute minimum in terms of resources. The staff at both organizations are currently working as volunteers, with the hopes of one day being paid. They daily struggle with the basics – electricity for the offices, functioning computers, paper/pens – and yet they’re both committed to helping others as much as they are able, with the little they have. It’s an inspiration. And, both Eric and I hope to be of tangible help while we’re here.

In the afternoons, Eric and I are volunteering together for SAIDIA Tanzaniza, the organization helped us come to Tanzania. SAIDIA works with 5 small, grassroots organizations in Mwanza supporting them and placing international volunteers with them. Throughout the process, SAIDIA works as an intermediary between the organizations and the volunteers, ensuring that the work volunteers do is sustainable, truly helpful and a good experience for everyone involved. SAIDIA is a fantastic program – its so practical and is truly making a difference for their partner organizations. Eric and I are helping SAIDIA to develop their organization systems, create new materials and recruit more volunteers. Speaking of recruitment, if you – or anyone you know – is interested in volunteering in Tanzania, I’d definitely recommend checking out

During our evenings and weekends, Eric and I spend time with the other SAIDIA folks, explore Mwanza and participate in some of the fun activities that other NGO-ish folks have organized (ultimate frisbee, soccer, yoga...). And, yes – Eric is the one playing frisbee and soccer and I am the one doing yoga - just to erase any hilarious images of me attempting ultimate frisbee from your minds!

Life is good here – rich, colorful, hot, beautiful – and there’s so much work to do, so much to discover, so much to learn. So much life to live in this new place.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Next Stop: Mwanza, Tanzania.

Three continents, six days and seven flights later, Eric and I made our way from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Mwanza, Tanzania. And, though we were thoroughly exhausted by the time our final plane touched down at the Mwanza airport, we were thrilled to be here.

We are anxious to learn what Africa has in store for us over the next two months. And, I am looking forward to sharing it with you. More soon...

Long Layover in Lima.

As part of our travel between Argentina and Tanzania, Eric and I had the pleasure of spending two days in Lima, Peru. We celebrated Eric’s birthday, ate delicious seafood, sat together on a wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and took our first double-decker-city-bus-tour-ever. All in all, Lima was quick – but absolutely delightful.

Bus 86.

On our last day in Buenos Aires, Eric and I said goodbye with a bus ride to the airport. There are many ways to get there, the bus being the longest route - which, strangely enough, was exactly what we were looking for. We wanted a long road, twisting and turning through the city, allowing us to properly say goodbye.

We wound through the city streets of Buenos Aires and watched the neighborhoods change. From the grand city center with business bustling to city neighborhoods of apartment patios overlooking busy streets. To the high-rise buildings, hundreds of people piled into small spaces – each family on top of the next. To small single-family homes, brick and connected. To large houses with fences and yards. And then, in an instant, to the countryside – with horses and cows and fields and water.

The city structure is so familiar, with its pattern reflected in cities all around the world. We have learned to organize, to classify ourselves – to understand ourselves (and the people around us) – according to where we live. With invisible walls between the concentric circles that clearly divide, clearly define the people of a city from one another.

But, invisible or not, the walls are not necessary.
We do not need the division.
Because wherever we are, if we are willing to defy the circles – to cross the street – we will discover other people, just like us. People trying to live their lives, the best way they know how. People who love their families, work to provide for them, desire joy in their lives. People who call the same city home.

Thank you, Buenos Aires, for welcoming us as visitors in your city. We have been honored to live and work and walk among you. And thank you, Bus 86, for the beautiful goodbye ride. I will remember the circles – and from now on, no matter where I am, I will cross the street. (Reprise).

The definite highlight of these months in Buenos Aires has been the opportunity I’ve had to volunteer at There are so many things that I’ve loved about the experience – the people that I’ve worked with, the projects I’ve worked on, the many things that I’ve learned. But, perhaps the thing that has made the greatest impression on me during my time as an volunteer has been the goodness that I witnessed in countless people that I’ve never met. – and its counterparts and – connect hundreds of thousands of individuals that truly want to do something good in the world with organizations that need their help. It’s an idea that truly works ... and it’s amazing. I found great inspiration and hope in the opportunity to witness these connections, and I believe in the good that is becoming in our world as a result.

Towards the end of my volunteer experience at, they started a blog for their volunteers. If you’d like to learn a bit more about my experience, I’d invite you to visit Scroll down, you’ll find me there!

Children of Fear.

I’ve always found it fascinating to meet people my age from different places in our world. There is something special about knowing that we’ve been living parallel lives of sorts, just in different places. A few years back, while working at Open Arms, I made a friend from South Africa who was a part of the ‘healing of memories’, a project striving to find true reconciliation for the pain of apartheid in South Africa. He was exactly my age, and had grown up outside of Durban, South Africa. While I was enjoying elementary school, piano lessons and Odessy of the Mind, my friend was experiencing the battle against apartheid - by the age of 10, he had endured things so horrific they are difficult to even imagine.

In Buenos Aires, I discovered more “parallel” lives – my Spanish teachers, Martin and Pedro, are both close to my age. In an Argentine History Charla (lecture), they described our generation in Argentina as the children of the disappeared ... the children of fear. In the mid-seventies, as they (and I) were being born, their parents were witness to one of the darkest times in Argentine History. Their earliest years were surrounded by Argentina’s silent fear. In 1976, a military junta overthrew Argentina’s president. In an effort to gain complete control, they began a secret movement to capture, detain, and often kill anyone they suspected of government resistance. As part of their torture tactics, they often demanded that prisoners give them another name of someone involved in “leftist resistance”. When they received a new name, they would kidnap the person – often from the safety of their own home. One by one, people silently disappeared from Argentine neighborhoods – with fear of repercussions keeping most witnesses silent. Despite years of inquiries and protests from the families (especially the mothers) of the disappeared, the government continually denied their involvement until they were final overthrown in 1983. By that time, more than 30,000 Argentines are estimated to have disappeared.

Just last year, the government built a memorial to honor these Argentines – people kidnapped, brutally tortured and killed by their own government. The wall is a work in progress, as they are still, today, learning about this awful time in their own history. As new people’s names are confirmed, they are added to the wall.

As a visitor in Argentina, my understanding of the era of ‘the disappeared’ is very limited. I have hesitated to even write about it, knowing that my knowledge is lacking – and that an overview of the history doesn’t do it justice. But, after visiting the memorial, I knew that these are the kinds of things in our world’s history that we must write about, talk about, build memorials for, learn from – these are the things in our world’s history that we must remember.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bouncing Off Marbled Walls.

As I walk, I can feel the city under and around me. As its buses roar and horns honk and people chatter and grandeur towers and bells ring and fountains burst and dancers tango and flowers sell and sun-streams peek and protesters march and news waits and cafe con leches steam and medialunas rise and park benches fill and couples kiss and cigarettes light and mates sip and pigeons flock and homeless sleep and gardens bloom and boats port and statues keep watch over it all.

I can feel this lovely city under and around me,
as its complex history bounces of its marbled walls.
and its people stand on concrete corners learning again and again who it is that they are.


Every month, LIFE Argentina (the organization Eric and “moonlight volunteer” with every now and then) takes a volunteer trip up to Northern Argentina. For the past five years, they’ve been working with a small community of Indigenous people in the province of Misiones. The community there is a contemporary Guarani village – a group of Indigenous people that lived throughout much of South America at one time. Their history is tragic, and their current existence seems to often be a struggle.

The village that we visited was small – about 80 families. They have access to electricity, but their water is all gathered from a spring on the edge of the village. A teacher comes from outside the community to staff the school during the week. The main language of the community continues to be Guarani, with some of the community members also speaking Spanish.

It was an honor to be their visitor. But, apart from that, both Eric and I struggled with our time there. We found ourselves feeling uncomfortable with the model of development used by the NGO we were representing – and the attitude with which they worked. It was difficult to participate in an effort that didn’t seem to respect or empower the very people it was there to serve. The services themselves (distribution of clothes, food, household supplies) were well intentioned, but seemed to be executed without the participation (buy-in, guidance) of the Guaraní community leadership. Certainly, our view as short-term volunteers is limited, and there may be many more factors at play than we were able to see in one weekend. But, I left with the following gems of learning in my hands:

1. The attitude or spirit with which we do development work matters. Maybe its even broader than that – the spirit with which we work matters. This intangible element to our efforts, whatever they may be, often has positive and/or negative tangible results.

2. The Guaraní people themselves are beautiful - and we very kind to us as guests in their community.

3. Its actually pretty fun to peel hundreds (maybe thousands?!) of hard boiled eggs – especially when you have good company. It was a pleasure to work together with the other international volunteers on our trip.

4. Mutual respect and community participation are critical for relationship-building and long term, sustainable development success. Without buy-in, input or guidance from community members, development efforts (no matter how well-intentioned) can easily become disconnected and ineffective.

5. We need to listen more. What do the people we are serving want? How can we best support them in their efforts? How can we work together in a way that truly moves all of us forward ... together?

[Sidenote: “Guaraní” ring a bell? A part of their tragic history was re-enacted in mid-80s movie “The Mission”. If you have the chance to watch it, be sure to also check out the special feature about making the film. Both Eric and I found it fascinating. Also important to note: the waterfall in the movie is actually way more impressive than it appears. Hard to believe, I know. But, it was absolutely amazing.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Protest Parade.

Last week, I was sitting at my desk when I heard what I quickly assumed to be a parade outside. I looked out my sixth floor window to see if I could tell where the singing and whistles and drums were coming from. From two different sides of a park, protest groups were marching towards my building with banners and voices raised. After recovering from my "where's the parade?" embarrassment, I settled in to watch.

The protest parade stopped at the building next to mine. For the next two hours, they pounded and sang and chanted in unison. They waved flags and banners. They posted hundreds of flyers. They spoke. They cheered. And they sang some more.

At the beginning of August, 23 people were detained and arrested for protesting a raise in their rent. The group I watched from my office window was gathered next door to bravely protest the arrest of these other protesters.

Gatherings like this one seem to be common in Buenos Aires. Almost every week, I stumble across a group standing together, feet to the pavement, voices raised together. The groups are large and small, old and young - assembled in front of government offices, travel agencies, banks, hospitals, and schools.

Just today, I passed a group - fifty or so elderly men with one big banner - assembling in a park. I wonder where they were headed and what they were going to say.

In Minnesota this past month, hundreds of protesters were arrested at the Republican National Convention. Many more were detained, sprayed with tear gas, photographed, searched, injured. Despite the conditions, thousands of people continued to gather, march and raise their voices together.

While I was in Haiti last spring, there were food riots in Port au Prince. Countless Haitians pounded the streets, raising their voices together about the cost of food - telling their government, their media, their world that they were hungry. At least four Haitians died during these demonstrations.

My statement here is not about the sides of these issues. At least not this time.
My statement is more of an observation:
Despite past experience and better-judgement and odds, people bravely stand together in streets all over the world to share their stories, to demand change, to cast light on injustice, to ask for a life with dignity - and to ask people with power to listen, to care.

I am not saying that protesters, just by being protesters, are right.
I am saying that if people are brave enough to stand up and march and sing in the streets, that someone should listen, that we should listen.

I am saying that we should do all we can to ensure that it is safe to stand peacefully with our neighbors and speak our truths.

And I am saying that I hope I will have the bravery to stand, put my feet to the pavement and lift my voice whenever I find myself face to face with injustice.

Serious *Besos* Business

I know I've already mentioned besos ("kisses"), but they are worth a second nod. Besos are, by far, my favorite Argentine custom that I've been introduced to as of yet. Every Argentine greeting and goodbye is communicated with besos, a slight lean to the left and kiss on the right cheek of your friend. The first few times, the newness of the besos interaction left me feeling uncertain and awkward, but my hesitance quickly turned into love.

Everyone besos.
Including me.
And, don't be fooled by their soft exterior, besos are serious business.
A few fun examples:

- Every morning, Idealistas staff members make their rounds through all three of the rooms in our office, greeting every employee and volunteer with besos.

- At Idealistas meetings or gatherings, staff greet everyone in the meeting - as well as everyone sitting in the nearby offices with besos before things get underway.

- Business people and teenagers and friends and families can be spotted giving "besos" on streetcorners and on doorsteps all around the city.

- I was recently walking down a hallway at work when I had to pass through a small group of conversing people to get into the next room. I excused myself to pass through and one of the girls stopped me - and with an eyebrown raised asked "besos?". I happily obliged and besos-ed before continuing on my way.

- And my favorite: When a friend arrived at our Spanish school last week, one of the teachers approached her immediately and apologized for not giving her "besos" the last time she had been there.

Besos. I like it. Watch out Minnesota... I plan to initiate some serious cheek-kissing when I get home!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Remembering Haiti.

Eric and I have been anxiously watching and reading news reports as storm after storm has hit Haiti - and as we have waited for word from our friends there. They sent out a letter today with an update on the situation. As we feared, the situation is devastating - thousands of people are without food, water or homes, in a place where so many were already fighting for survival.

If you'd like to learn more, there is an update on AMURT - Haiti's homepage ( Scroll down or click on "donate" in the home page article for a link to the full letter or the link to their PayPal account. There are also a variety of news updates available online. Here's one that the Associated Press posted just yesterday:

Over and over throughout their history, the people of Haiti seem to have been forgotten by the world when disaster has struck on their shores, and in their lives. But, that does not need to be true this time. I hope you will join me in remembering them and responding as you are able. I invite you pause, to educate your friends and family about this disaster, to donate in support of AMURT's relief efforts ... I invite you to remember them.

In the midst of this tragedy, my friend Dharma wrote from Haiti:
"As these last lines come out on the screen, the downpour outside is hitting the ground in an increasing crescendo. I think of the short-term memory of civilization, and of the merciless nature which indiscriminately affects all, and the deeply innate connection we can feel to the suffering and happiness of others. It is at times of huge suffering that we realize how profound this web of life is, and how irresistible the call for action is."

May we remember them this time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Paint the Town Green (& Blue & White & Yellow & Red).

Light and Love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
- Martin Luther King

Creating Causes.

For those of you that are Facebook users, I have fun new developments to share in Causes land. I've created Causes profiles for both AMURT - Haiti and The Causes application allows organizations to raise awareness and funds for their organizations. Next time you log in, check it out. Within the Causes application, you can search for either organization - the new profile should appear there for you. Or, if you'd like to just check it out, visit my facebook page and click on my Causes tab.

Causes donations are processed through Network for Good, a reputable non-profit donation service. I've seen multiple causes that have raised more than $25,000 through Facebook - Incredible.

Become a member, invite a friend, or just check it out to learn more. I hope to add more photos and materials to both pages as time goes on, so check back often!

Fluent In Hope.

As usual, I was full of questions for Pedro (my spanish teacher) this week. I was asking for clarification about the use of a particular verb when we had my favorite spanish-class-moment so far. Pedro responded to my questioning with his usual kindness, and an extra dose of inspiration.

"Yes, that's one way to say it. But in Spanish, we have 1,000 words for hope - many different ways to express it, depending on the situation."

(1,000 words for hope. What a beautiful thought.)

In that moment, I knew that Pedro and I were kindred somehow - with a something common, something shared at our core. And I knew that I wanted to learn every single hope*filled word.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

LIFE Argentina.

Since Eric and I are both working at NGOs that address social issues on a macro level, we haven't had the opportunity to meet, serve and hear the stories of people struggling (with poverty, health, access to education) in Argentina. In our day to day routine here, its easy to start feeling disconnected from the very people that we hope our efforts will eventually serve. So, we've begun to explore additional volunteer opportunities during our free time that allow us to be a part of service on a more direct level as well.

Last weekend, we volunteered with LIFE Argentina ( - a group working in "socially marginalized and extremely impoverished areas" of Argentina. Their objective is to raise the standard of living for children, giving them new opportunities that encourage their growth and development. Many of their efforts are done collaboratively with orphanages, community centers and soup kitchens throughout Argentina.

Eric and I volunteered at LIFE's celebration for Argentina's "Day of the Child". Together with their partner organizations, LIFE hosted 1,000 children in a city park for games, food and fun. Eric and I took photographs for LIFE and helped to serve lunch. We left inspired and grateful for the good work being done, the kindness and generosity of the people involved, and the opportunity to be a part of it - even for one day.

More LIFE...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Typical (delightful) Days.

As Eric & I settle into life in Buenos Aires, we continue to discover that living in here is a distinct combination of familiar and new. In many ways, our pattern of life here is one that we are used to – getting up in the morning, going to work, living surrounded by people and noises and city energy, having evenings for rest and fun. And, yet, there are little reminders all around us of the new place in which we’re developing familiar routines. There is joy in the discovery.

8:45 - 9 Walk to work.
This is the first time that I’ve ever lived in an urban area, with a small enough distance between work and home that I can walk. Its amazing. I love the air in the morning, the movement of the steps, the people on the street – it’s a great way to start the day. During the course of my 10 block walk I cross Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world. Surrounded by grand stone buildings and the steady stream of motion on this magnificent avenue, I welcome the new day.

9 – 1 I continue to be astounded at the opportunity to be a part of the smart, innovative team at Idealist. My work is interesting and stimulating, and I am hopeful that my efforts will be of help. And not only am I learning an extraordinary amount, I am continually inspired by the work that they do – connecting individuals and organizations to further goodness in the world.

1 – 2 Lunch! Another first: I go home for lunch. As volunteers in a big city, it would be a vast understatement to say that Eric and I are trying to live on a budget. Fortunately, I really like lunch at home.

2 – 5 Spanish (etc).
I am taking Spanish classes at Alem Spanish School, again a short little walk from my apartment. When I’m not in class, I try to study during the afternoons to make good use of the opportunity to learn Spanish, while in a Spanish-speaking country. I have also been known to throw a home yoga session in to my afternoon routine every now and then.

[4 – 7 Tea/Snack time. Well, at least for the majority of the country. Most Argentines eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, tea/snack and dinner. This puts dinner sometime between 8 – 11pm. Eric and I haven’t quite transitioned to this schedule, but we do enjoy coffee and cookies whenever we get a chance.]

During the evenings, Eric and I hang out, try out little coffee shops, read our Argentine history books, watch TV in Spanish (I hear it’s a great way to learn!) and try to find cheap fun. On the weekends, we explore. Our hope is to visit a new neighborhood/town every weekend as we explore this city, hear its stories, learn about its history. Over and over again, there is joy in the discovery.

[Note: The intersection pictured above is Paraguay & Suipacha, the closest intersection to our apartment building.]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

And So It Is.

When I was in college, one of my professors spoke publicly about the experience of losing his wife. He talked about walking around in the world, in the days after her death, wondering how it could be possible that the sky wasn’t falling down. Wondering how so many people could be just walking around, living their lives, unaware that the foundation of earth that had just shifted.

Yesterday, my friend Tyson’s wife died. I never met Leslie, but I do know some things about her. I know that Leslie loved her son TJ and her husband Tyson in a beautiful, true way. I know that she was thoughtful and caring. I know that she had strength and bravery in the face of cancer. I know that, for 32 years, she was a light.

It is hard to imagine that the sky is not falling today.
It is hard to imagine that we all go about our lives as if today is the same as yesterday.
When today, Leslie is no longer in the world.


Last Tuesday, my friend Betsy gave birth to her second child – Jett Gibson Delzer. With joy and reverence and celebration, we welcome his new, unique life into our world.

Today, at the Mataderos Fair in Buenos Aires, Argentina, people were dancing. Guitars strumming, lights and faces aglow, hands in the air, skirts twirling ... joy abounded in the streets.

And tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday. His years of living have had a profound impact on every aspect of my own life, in a way that leaves me shaking my head with wonder and gratitude. He has taught me about living a thoughtful life – a life full of love and laughter and abundant celebration.


And so it is.
Joy and pain – intertwined in us all.
On our faces and in our eyes.
As we ride the bus and walk down the street and step into the quiet of our homes.

May we approach and carry one another gently.
With respect for falling skies and dancing feet.
And gratitude for the ties between us all.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Eric and I are both very excited about our volunteer placements in Buenos Aires. An organization called HelpArgentina ( has coordinated our stay here - everything from volunteer placements to housing and Spanish lessons. Their goal is to bring international volunteer resources into local NGOs, relieving that coordination burden from their partner organizations. HelpArgentina also raises funds for all the organizations they work with. Fantastic.

Eric is working for an organization called EcoClubes ( - they organize youth clubs to raise awareness and provide solutions for environmental problems in Argentina. He is going to be working with the Executive Director to create a national water program that will address the most immediate water concerns throughout the country. Its perfect for Eric, and I love his excited dinner chatter about new kinds of water filters, levels of arsenic in the water around the country and the work of EcoClubes.

I am thrilled to be working with an organization called If aren't familiar with them, stop now and visit their website ( - you won't regret it. [Sidenote: I found myself in tears multiple times during my first read-through. Don't miss their 'First Time Here?', 'Vision and MIssion' and 'Imagine" sections]. Idealist is a project of Action Without Borders, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 with offices in the United States and Argentina. is an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives. I will be splitting my time at Idealist between 3 different projects:
1. Consulting with the Volunteer Program staff, assisting them to develop and improve their local volunteer program.
2. Doing Idealist outreach (reasearch and marketing) geared specifically towards non-profits in Minnesota.
3. Researching a new country for Idealist's expansion - I'm going to focus on profiling the Northern Territory of Australia.

One of the fun features of the Idealist website is that it features new user comments every day. I love this one from today:
“I am inspired by and grateful for this website. There is more good in this world than is reported in the mainstream media and more beauty and hope than is acknowledged in your typical run of the mill cubicle filled office. I have a vision of a better life for myself and the people around me, so this seems like a good place to join up." - Ginger

A Sunday Afternoon Walk.


The heat of the Haitian sun still on our skin, Eric and I stepped off the plane and onto Argentine ground. With the whirl of the Buenos Aires airport spinning around us, Eric and I quickly realized that we were truly in a new place - and were about to embark on an adventure that was all its own.

In our first few days of exploring, we discovered:
* It's winter in Buenos Aires! Since Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere, their seasons are opposite of our seasons in Minnesota. They have a mild winter (temps ranging from 35 - 60 F), but we were surprised by how chilly it felt. Needless to say, one our first tasks was to find light jackets for both of us. [Sidenote: mission accomplished. Mine is cute and black with big, funky buttons - Perfect.]
* The Spanish spoken here is Castellano - a unique and beautiful version of Spanish, with lots of "sh" sounds. I'm excited to learn it.
* This city is b e a u t i f u l. Eric and I are both really enjoying learning about the history of Argentina, and of Buenos Aires - as its hard to separate history from all that we're seeing all around us. There are tremendous European influences in the architecture of the city - French, Spanish, German, Italian. In fact, they say that Buenos Aires was designed "with an eye toward Europe". We have found ourselves, on countless ocassions, walking down beautiful cobblestone or surrounded by grand, lovely buildings and shaking our heads in disbelief that we are in South America.
* The streets are lined with cafes and little stores and delicious pastries. Dulce de Leche (delicious carmel) seems to be their speciality. YUM.
* Everyone (everyone) greets with a kiss (un beso). From middles school boys to business associates to old friends - besos all around. A simple lean to the left and kiss on the right, starts and ends every interaction. I love it.
* There is much to see and much to learn here. The history and culture of Argentina is complex - with great divides between the rich and the poor, the lighter skinned and darker skinned, the city and the country.

With open hands and hearts, we begin to see and experience and walk and learn and greet and love all that there is for us here. With open hands and hearts, we begin.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

On The Road Again.

After a wonderful visit home, Eric and I are on the road again. On a whirlwind visit to Nicaragua, we visited the Center for Development in Central America ( - the organization Eric volunteered for during parts of 2004, 2005 and 2006. We visited friends, took a day trip to the mountain of El Povenir, participated in seminars about Nicaraguan history and the CDCA, and enjoyed time in Managua. It was a great visit.

(On the bus...)

An Invitation.

I have been deeply affected by the experience of living and working in Source Chaudes, Haiti. I will forever be changed because of the people I've met, the stories I've heard and the inspriational efforts I've observed there. Despite the challenging environment, limited resources and grassroots struggles, AMURT - Haiti is doing incredible work in rural Haiti. They are making a tangible difference in peoples lives - each and every day. I've seen it.

I invite and encourage you to support the work of AMURT - Haiti, in whatever way you can. Drop their staff a note of encouragement at, "Adopt-A-Project" at (click on Americas), or send a general donation to the AMURT office in Maryland. I can personally attest to that all donations to AMURT - Haiti are deeply appreciated and are put to good use.

6810 Tilden Lane
Rockville, MD 20852
[This is a global AMURT office, designate donations for AMURT - Haiti.]

Note: As part of my work at AMURT, I created organizational materials (handbooks, flyers, powerpoints, brochures, etc) for them. I am not able to easily attach the materials to this blog, but they are all emailable. If you're interested in donating, but would like more information - please let me know.

AMURT - Haiti Commercial.

While we were volunteering in Haiti, a filmmaker donated his time and talent to make a commercial for AMURT. Its beautifully done, and is a fun way to see some of the people and places that Eric and I came to love during our time there.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Favorite.

There are many moments in time, people and experiences from our time in Haiti that I will humbly treasure for years to come. In my remembering of Haiti, this photo has become a favorite - and favorites should be shared.


For 10 hours, on the 10th day of each month, photographer friends (known and unknown) from around the world are taking photos. Here is my first '10 on 10'. May 2008, Haiti.