Finding Good News About Africa
Wednesday - August 17, 2005
“It is overwhelming that Americans can come all the way from America, join with our neighbors in South Africa, to come and assist to alleviate the poverty in our country … helping to eliminate poverty … this is a miracle in the making!” — INKHOSIKATI LaMBIKIZA, Queen of Swaziland
In my past three columns, I’ve painted a pretty grim picture of Africa: an HIV/AIDS pandemic, an untenable orphan problem, sky-high unemployment, unresponsive, unstable governments, the potential for terrorism recruitments, and repressive cultural practices. The bad news.
But this week I have some good news.
First, it’s good news that 53 people from Hawaii, mostly members of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, paid their own way (or collected donations) to travel halfway around the world — literally — to plant vegetable gardens for people in deep need, sometimes in areas so remote they had to hike straight up mountains. It’s also good news that the people of Swaziland now know the spirit of Aloha. They saw it in our youngest missionary, all of 11 years old, and in those in their 70s.
“One of the blessings of this mission trip has been to see the Hawaii people bring so many clothes and toys from so far away to give to the people here,” said Dennis Bader, from Orange County, Calif., also on the Dream for Africa, Never Ending Garden planting trip that brought us there. “They inspire me.”
Likewise, it was good news to attend a church service in the town of Manzini where we stayed and to share hula with the local congregation. And, in turn, to be regaled with the beautiful, passionate voices of the Swazi choir. And especially to be humbled by their amazing spirit of Christian outreach.
“We are asking you to give what you can for our mission trip to Mozambique next week — food, clothing, money, anything you can spare for our neighbors,” said the pastor’s wife from the pulpit. What a lesson: the poor serving the even poorer simply because God commanded it.
“The orphans here make food to take to the children in prison,” Janine Maxwell, a Dream for Africa volunteer in Swaziland, told me. “Children who have next to nothing are taught to help the even worse off. And, yes, children as young as 5 go to jail, a horrible place, for something really awful like stealing an orange.”
There is good news in the faces of the children we met both in the schools and even in some dreary mud hut homesteads and orphanages — faces of hope for a better future. After all, they’re children. Deep hardship and tragedy can’t entirely suck out a child’s innate spirit of play, laughter and trust.
“I just want to hug them all,” I told one teacher at a primary school.
“Go ahead. They need hugs,” she replied with a knowing smile.
So I went down on a knee for my hug, and one suddenly became 50 hugging, kissing kids that landed me on the ground, them on top.
More good news is that right now world leaders and the media are paying real attention to Africa. Maybe for the first time. Perhaps the words of Mwatabu Okantah, “Africa, my Africa, hear our cries. Hear your dispersed children … Our face is your face, is the same face,” are finally heard.
Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, author of New York Times bestseller, The Prayer of Jabez, and founder of Dream for Africa, realized like many of us that giveaway programs only swat at the fly of poverty. Helping people have gardens of nourishing vegetables restores health, hope and self-esteem. And the spread of HIV/AIDS (70 percent of the world’s infection is in Africa) can only be stopped by education. A million African high school students will go through his “Beat the Drum” program in 2005.
There is good news of new solutions. Emily Oster, an economist who studies the financial impact of HIV/AIDS, concludes in a Forbes article, Treating HIV Doesn’t Pay, “Higher transmission rates in Africa seem to be due largely to higher rates of other untreated sexually transmitted infections — gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts — that produce open sores. Antiretroviral treatment is around 100 times as expensive in preventing AIDS death as treating other sexually transmitted infections and around 25 times as expensive as education.”
And good news about water: Life Outreach International’s mission, Water for Life, has taken on digging water wells to provide not only clean drinking water in African nations, but accessible water for gardens, since an unclean river is the only source for many.
And finally, Uganda, one of the countries hit first and hardest by AIDS in the 1980s, is a success story. Through high level political commitment to prevention and care, the numbers of infected have been drastically reduced.
If we look at the whole of Africa, the need is beyond comprehension. But if we look at one child, one family and one village, then help for one country, one region and one continent, success is possible.
Good news lives in Africa. We just need to go there.
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