On the Theme of Africa

I have been reflecting on the news coming out of East Africa. Now that it is officially a famine, people are beginning to pay attention to what others have been warning about for years.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Kenya and spending time talking with many incredible people about their lives and their experiences. I was visiting my Dad and Stepmother, who volunteer with a relief organization and who were at the time overseeing a food distribution project in parts of Kenya that had been hit hard by a lack of rain for several years.

As a part of their work, we had discussions with groups of individuals in each village we went to in order to learn more about the people of that village and what their particular needs were. I will never forget one man’s response when asked how his village was faring, Some people in my village have found chemical drugs. Because you bring us food, we will not have to use them. The pain, or shame, of being unable to feed your family must be unbearable. And now it is happening on an even larger scale than even two years ago when I visited Kenya. At the time, I ranted about water use. In a post on Dad’s blog, I wrote:

Since we arrived here we have been able to take part in four food distributions in vastly different areas of the country. While each community has unique challenges and situations, they are united by a need for food relief brought on by a lack of rain. In each place, we sat down with a small group of villagers to find out how they are coping, and in each place we heard a similar story: The rains have not come. In many cases, the rains have not come for three or four years. We have heard stories of livestock (and therefore livelihood) dying for lack of rain. We have heard stories of repeated crop failure so that now there are no seeds left to plant. … We visit villagers and hears stories of drought: “If only we had a borehole/proper irrigation/a pump…” – whatever it may be that they need to get water.

I am not going to make an impassioned plea for your money for Africa. But I will say this, CIDA is currently matching donations, dollar for dollar, for the “Horn of Africa Drought”. If you are looking for a good organization to go through, I can vouch for PWRDF and our partner organizations in East Africa.

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“Dear Artsy and Musicy Friends”

My sister is moving to South Africa – in a little over a week. To say I am jealous would be an understatement (though, as she pointed out, after sailing around the Pacific I really haven’t got a leg to stand on). I’m going to miss spontaneous phone conversations at all hours of the day, but I know we’ll keep connected and I know she is going to have an incredible experience.

You might be wondering what on earth would take her to South Africa, I asked her to share a little about what she will be doing because I think that it is something that many of my friends could relate to and may want to think about supporting. In her words…

Hello, friends of my darling big sister!

I am embarking on a really fantastic adventure and Gillian mentioned that she has lots of “artsy and musicy friends” who might be interested in hearing about it. I’m taking off for South Africa at the beginning of August to teach music in a very rural part of the country.

My destination is Hamburg, on the coast of the Eastern Cape.  The Keiskamma Trust has been active in this area for almost ten years, bringing hope to one of the poorest regions of the country by combining health and art to heal both body and spirit.  In addition to running a health clinic to deal with the high incidence of HIV/AIDS (approximately 35%), they manage art projects that help the local Xhosa people express their struggle for reconciliation through photography, embroidery, and pottery.  Some of their major projects have included the Keiskamma Tapestry and the Keiskamma altarpiece.  For the past five years, children in the area have had the opportunity to receive music lessons through the Keiskamma Music Academy, providing them with an opportunity for creativity and development that would otherwise be far beyond their means.

I was originally put in touch with the Keiskamma Trust because they need a recorder teacher (recorder is the main instrument taught at the music academy), and I am one of that rare breed that has a university education in recorder performance.   As I learned more about the organization I was impressed by their holistic approach to health and by the high musical standards of the Academy.  I’m inspired by their core belief that health is more than food and bread but also includes quality of life and opportunities for becoming more than our lot in life would dictate.

I’ve agreed to go over to Hamburg to teach for at least the next six months because I know that music has made a difference in my life and in the lives of my friends.  I believe many of us would agree that our sense of human-ness comes from the ability to express ourselves through our art.  It’s a privilege for me to give the opportunity of musicmaking to others.

A few of my own music-loving friends have asked if the Music Academy needs anything in the way of music or instruments.  The students use plastic Yamaha recorders, which have worked well, but as the music program grows they are running out of instruments and could use several more sopranos and altos.  These instruments seem very inexpensive to us but are completely unaffordable for these students.

I don’t have room in my bag for instruments, but if anyone is interested in sponsoring a recorder please let me know.  It would be easy for me to take money over to South Africa and purchase instruments there.  Please contact Gillian or myself if you’re interested and we can make arrangements.  I promise to send photos of the recorders in action 🙂

Also, I will try my best to send out sporadic indications by email that I am still alive.  If you want to receive these glad tidings of music making on the other side of the world, let me know! (You don’t need to help purchase instruments to get on that mailing list.)

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom of this message from someone you don’t know, and blessings on your own artistic and musical pursuits!

Jen