Doggone it!

May 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Today was a very sobering day.

Back in 2010 when Stephanie and Kyson were last in Malawi, they spent some time at an orphan care center in Govala, playing with the children and teaching them English through songs. Stephanie wanted to go back to check up on the kids and also to deliver some books, toys, and treats we brought for them. Thankfully we were able to tag along and hitch a ride from some missionaries in town and visit the kids today.

It was my first time in a rural community and at first glance, it was the typical depiction of an African village – something you would see in National Geographic. The 30 children or so were crowded in a small cement room with a thatched roof and no windows. They sat on a tattered, brittle mat on the hard concrete floor and flashed their exuberant faces at the foreigners who came to sing them songs and take their picture. I felt very conflicted visiting because I wasn’t actually doing anything to help the kids and I was simply a spectator, watching them, not with pity, but with a regretfulness at how unfair life can be. 

However, the children gave me hope. There was so much potential and so many bright futures ahead of these kids. I started playing catch with one little girl and when other children crowded around us to get in on the game as well, she instinctively picked up on my hand motions and started organizing the children in a circle and directing them on how to toss the ball so that everyone got a chance to play. She did all that at the ripe old age of 4.

Little girl from Govala

Leader in the making

Children grow up fast here and there were two year olds walking home alone from the orphan care center. Thankfully the village is safe enough where there is little risk of harm besides the fact that they may forget the way home. It’s a little scary though because bikes and cars do traverse the same dusty roads the children use and it would take little more than a smudged rear view mirror to result in a horrific accident. But all in all, the children were happy, healthy (from what I could see externally), and full of energy.

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What really broke my heart today was the dogs. 

I saw two dogs in Govala today and both dogs made me tear up. I came across the first one as I was walking through the market. It was so malnourished that I could count all of its bones and it barely had enough energy to stand. The edges of its ears were torn and bleeding and flies languished upon the open sores. I wanted to run to it and pet it and feed it something hearty but all I could do was stand there and stare as tears filled my eyes. No one seemed to care that a dying dog was in their midst and in that moment, the world seemed so cruel.

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The other dog I saw was underneath a truck. It was also a walking skeleton and it had taken refuge underneath the wheel of a truck yet when the truck needed to leave for another city, it refused to come out from under the wheel. The situation generated a crowd of spectators as the locals found the stubborn dog hilarious as it refused to leave the side of the tire – as if that tire were its mother. For a while I thought people were just watching the truck struggle as it moved back and forth, trying to get a grip on the road and I wasn’t entirely sure what was quite so funny until a man pointed out the dog underneath the truck to me as his eyes crinkled with glee. Rather than laugh, I gasped, as I saw the poor dog struggle under the truck to stay underneath the covering of the body and I watched fearfully as the truck moved back and forth, trying to get the dog out from under it. At times the truck would run over a part of the dog and it would yelp in pain. I looked for something I could use as a noose to catch the dog by the neck and pull it out from under but I couldn’t find anything and the crowd had blocked the way to the truck so that I couldn’t get through. After a few minutes of watching this I had to walk away because I couldn’t bear to see the dog get run over. It made me sad because I knew that this wasn’t a battle I should fight and I felt so helpless knowing that anything I did would be like putting a bandaid on a broken leg. 

Eventually the truck left and I ran back looking for what I thought would be the remains of the dog. I didn’t see them though so I signed to a woman, indicating that I was looking for the dog. She replied in broken English that the dog had gone. Apparently it wasn’t run over and as soon as the truck left, it followed, hobbling along until it no doubt ceased to exist.

After the orphanage visit I ate lunch with Stephanie, three missionaries who worked with the children at the orphan care center, and Pezo, a local Malawian and Reverend of a local church. We ordered a typical meal of rice, goat, and beans each and had an extra plate of seema so that Stephanie and I could try the more typical fare. It was too much food for us and I asked Pezo if I could feed the leftovers to the dog. He seemed confused at my question and said that they would feed the leftovers to the kids. When I repeated my question he assured me that the food would not go to waste and that they would distribute any leftovers to the children. When I protested that the dogs were so skinny, someone else remarked at how the children were also so skinny and often only had one meal a day.

Seema, beans, and goat meat

Seema, beans, and goat meat

The exchange made me feel like I was ten again when I told my mom that I wanted to become a veternarian and she responded telling me that for that many years of schooling I should just become a doctor. When I protested saying that I wanted to be an animal doctor and not a human doctor, I received a very stern lecture on how people were more important than animals and how I needed to reprioritize my feelings.  It’s a speech that I get often, even today, usually from a well meaning adult. 

To me, it’s not I think humans are less important than animals. Rather, it’s because I feel like animals have too few people to speak for them while humans have billions of advocates merely in the fact that we are all of the same species. I’ve always rooted for the underdog and in this case, it literally was an under (the truck) dog. Also, my animals have created such joy and happiness in my life and it’s hard to see harm come across something you care about, even if it’s not your own.

Some people have questioned my line of work and asked why, if I love animals so much, why I don’t simply work for a wildlife organization or the Humane Society and work with animals. And the answer to that is because I believe in long term win-win solutions. I believe that I can significantly positively impact a population (human and animal) by implementing sustainable economic practices and raising the standard of living for all. Once people are not starving and have excess food to spare, animals will stop starving. That is the far reaching type of impact I aim to reach with every project that I work on – starting with Bamboo Lota, the Nonhuman Rights Project, Girls 20 Summit, and hopefully many more.

For the time being, I’m doing what I can and trying to learn new skills as quickly as possible so I can turn all of this into a reality. I also take my small wins as they come as long term plans take much patience and planning. 

After lunch I snuck a piece of seema and goat meat that had fallen on the floor and peeled off from the rest of the group to try and find the first dog. Once I found it, I dropped the food at its head, trying to attract as little attention as possible. The dog appeared to be blind and deaf as it’s ears hardly twitched when I called to it. I finally nudged the food with my shoe until it was right underneath its nose. It was heartbreaking to see the dog lie there, with no strength to even put the food in its mouth. Thankfully, after a few minutes, it realized that the food was there and slowly started to eat. I teared up as I watched it eat, sorry that I hadn’t grabbed more food, but more sorry that I couldn’t do more to help that one dog and all the other dogs that were undoubtedly in the same situation. It was a sobering view of the reality of living in Africa – one I had been shielded from experiencing firsthand until today. And as painful as today was, I’m thankful for the experience because it further hardens my resolve to truly make a difference. It sounds so idealistic and childish when I say it out loud but I do feel like there are a lot of people and animals counting on me (and people like me) to make a difference and I refuse to let them down.

Africa

May 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

It has almost been a year since I went to London. It was an amazing trip but sadly, it looks like I didn’t keep up with the blog while I was there.

Now, I’m moving on to Africa. In a few short minutes I will be leaving for the airport and begin an excruciatingly long journey to my final destination: Zomba, Malawi. There aren’t any direct flights to Zomba so my route will be SFO -> Amsterdam -> Jo’burg (South Africa) -> Blantyre (Malawi) and then a one hour car ride to Zomba. Stephanie, Kyson, and I are headed there to continue our work on Bamboo Lota. You can see our Indiegogo campaign for what we plan to do while we’re there.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Africa and soaking in the culture. I’ll definitely be checking in and updating everyone on how I’m doing.

Love,
Joanna

Stephanie in Dubai

September 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Check out Steph’s fascinating post on Dubai!  Oh how I wish I was there! From http://stephaniewu.tumblr.com/

Saturated is the way of this city, dripping heavily with perspiration in the hot humid air, painted an opulent color of glistening gold and silver, sagging under the weight of money made from thick, dark oil.

However, Dubai’s majestic alien towers house nothing but air-conditioned, fake circulating air. It is an empty, affluent city redefining superficiality and westernization.

So, calling all Dubaians— where are all of your people? This city feels lonely and cold, echoing hollow without laughter or noise, just unvoiced silence and stares. I am fairly certain that all of this modern infrastructure takes a ton of money and time, but dear me, in my opinion you chose the wrong place to do so! The desert is a flushing hot and humid experience, and I am happy that when we head back there on our next layover, we’re not headed back outside away from 12degC AC.

Fascinating facts I’ve learned from our tour guide (we got a night tour of the city, glowing and futuristic under hazy fog, 93 degrees at midnight, damn.):

1) Petrol is cheaper than water. It’s about 35 cents a litre for gas, and 80 cents a litre for water.

2) Locals get free education and health insurance, to name a few benefits. Foreigners pay much, much more.

3) However, foreigners make up about 80% of the population (working or living), the other 20% are local people.

4) Foreign women can easily obtain citizenship, as local men can marry foreign women; however, local women are forbidden by law to marry foreign men. Thus, it’s also very difficult for foreign men to obtain citizenship.

5) Our tour guide lived in the Dubai Desert— in a labor camp (literally. We looked it up on the bus map today). He gets paid about $500/month for working 6 days a week for 12 hours a day.

6) He explained that there is no crime in the city because the city is so expensive, you must work hours upon hours a day. There is no time to go home and formulate criminal plans after work.

7) Houses here go for an average of about $8 million (we drove past many, and also the Shiekh’s palaces!), and apartments are about $40K for a 99-year lease (in the Palms). In addition, only locals are allowed to buy certain property, such as the apartments on the Palm’s fronds or houses on Jumeirah Road.

8) Of the seven United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the very commercial and rich city, which then allows more lenient laws on alcohol, religion and clothing. I’m trying to understand all the dichotomies between different religions and customs, but still was surprised at the sheer number of women dressed/veiled modestly. My long dress and cardigan didn’t even compare.

While briefing us about Dubai, the driver took us around to see many distinctive points of interests. I’ll post pictures soon! Settling into my hotel in Nairobi (which is an awful adventure in itself, will describe more later!) Good night, world.

Bamboo Lota is Really Going to Malawi

September 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

The Bamboo Lota team is finally going to Malawi!

For the past nine months, following the culmination of the MTV/Euronext social entrepreneurship competition,  we have been conducting further research for implementation as well as cultivating stronger relationships with our various contacts and organizations in Malawi.  Initially we had planned to use the prize money to travel to Malawi all together but life and smarter business decision-making forced us to conclude that only the members with a significant amount of time (more than one month) should go.  Hence, here I am in my apartment writing this blog post while Stephanie and Kyson are on their way to Dubai (transfer point to Malawi).

The journey here was most definitely filled with bumps in the road but this past week takes the cake in terms of emotion.  They have run the gamut from pure joy and excitement to frustration and despair.  Let’s just put it this way.  A movie made from scenes of the last week would have been a million times more exciting than a movie made from scenes from the last six months.  But as apprehensive as we were/are in our own abilities, the desire to do good trumps all other distracting factors.

Stephanie and Kyson boarded their plane from SFO today and I can only hope that they can accomplish all that we set out to accomplish with this one trip.  Before leaving we set tangible goals with clear metrics on what constitutes success.  We also set up and planned meetings with focus groups, assisted by the ever-helpful Helen from Emmanuel International.  Last but not least, we planned meetings with government officials to discuss policies and initiatives for cleaner technology in Malawi.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this project from its inception as well as those who may have been more skeptical.    We have learned so much from everyone who has given us feedback, good and bad.  Stephanie, Kyson, and I will all be blogging regarding the progression of the venture on our blog (http://bamboolota.wordpress.com/) so please feel free to drop in anytime or follow Stephanie’s tumbler at http://stephaniewu.tumblr.com/.
Wish us luck!

www.Bamboolota.org

January 16, 2010 § 1 Comment

It’s really rudimentary but.. it’s up!

http://www.bamboolota.org

=)

Something I learned about Malawians

January 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

A few days ago, Kyson and I met with a former Malawi Peace Corps volunteer/MBA student at Haas to discuss the upcoming Bamboo Lota trip to Malawi.  Danielle (our contact), was a tremendous help and taught us so much about Malawi.  And although I learned many interesting new things about Malawi, the most fascinating fact was that there is no concept or word for homelessness in Malawi.

Rather than give you the answer now, I want you to think about it and ponder why that would be.  Why would Malawians not even have a word to describe a homeless person?  Danielle was telling us how her Malawian friends were so shocked when she told them that there were homeless people in America.  They could not understand why America, one of the richest countries in the world, had people without homes.

Last Episode of Movers and Changers

December 15, 2009 § 5 Comments

The last episode of Movers and Changers is up.  Ugh, I hate how they used that clip of me during the presentation!  Did they HAVE to include me saying that I was flustered? -_-  Basically what happened was that Kyson and Stephanie went a little overtime and so I had to explain my seven or so slides in less than two and a half minutes.  Then to top it off, during my last two slides, one of the producers was sitting in the background, right in front of me, gesturing like frantic to get me to stop talking.

Now, that is no excuse for me letting that faze me, thus my unhappiness (shown in the episode) at how the presentation went.  The question and answer portion went pretty well and overall I thought it went alright.  We definitely could have prepared more and what not, but considering the circumstances I think it was fine.  I went into the whole thing more as a learning experience than anything else.  And  in that sense, I think we won.

Although it was exciting to see how they edited the show and all, I think Allan, my sister, and cousin were way more excited to watch it than I was.  From day one they all pestered me to tell them the results but I wouldn’t budge in my determination to keep the results secret.  They tried everything from threats, bribes, and all kinds of tricks but I made them wait until today.

Anyway, a big (public) congratulations to Wet Tea, Safe Snip, and Bamboo Lota!  We all basically won.  They don’t make this clear in the video but the judges pitched in money to raise the prize money for the two other teams to $20,000.  The $15,000 they mention is in addition to the $5,000 we already won as a finalist. It’s pretty amazing to think that a simple idea and some research got us this far.  Bamboo Lota plans to use the money we won to actually travel to Africa and institute a pilot project with a partner nonprofit.  We’ve been working hard and streamlining our business model to make it more realistic.  Hopefully in the future, you will hear of us again.

=)

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