Blog: July 2009
Every morning at 6:15am, seven year old Milton begins his 45 minute walk down a steep rocky path toward the small mountain city of Copan Ruinas. Copan Ruinas—famous for its Myan ruins that provided the foundation of a dynamic civilization built over 2000 years ago—is now famous for its tourism and small coffee plantations. Milton is a descendant of the Myan people.
At 7:30am our little friend catches a bus at the foot of his mountain that winds through the city’s cobble stone streets and drops him at Camp Joy—UrbanPromise’s first summer day Camp in the country of Honduras.
Some of you have been watching the political situation in Honduras, which is currently unstable. Citizens of this wonderful country are nervously watching their televisions. Although the protests have not reached the city of Copan Ruinas, the impact of the political unrest is devastating. Tourism, the life blood of this city, has slowed to a mere trickle. Hotels and restaurants, usually filled during this time of year, are vacant. People have lost their jobs. “If it continues much longer,” shared the owner of one coffee shop, “we’ll all be out of business.” This will drive the area into deeper poverty….which will impact the lives of children.
That’s why programs like UrbanPromise are critical.
Camp Joy has been created by three former UrbanPromise interns—Blair, Matt, and Rachel. These committed young leaders have a passion to create an UrbanPromise-type ministry for the children and teens of this small city—a city where poverty is high and opportunities for children to engage in life changing, Christian-based programs are non-existent.
Children like Milton would typically spend their summer sleeping, hanging out in the streets, or doing odd jobs to help support the family. Now they get a chance to improve their English, learn about the Bible, play games, cook food, sing songs and watch skits. Their joy is palpable. Their smiles intoxicating.
“The potential for this kind of ministry is incredible,” shares director Blair Quinius. “There is nothing like it for the children in this community. Parents and community leaders are excited.”
They are not the only people excited.
Otherwise, why would a seven year old named Milton get up before dawn, walk for 45 minutes to catch a bus, just to come to camp? Why: because he loves it!
The African Bible College campus is beautiful; lots of vegetation, and even some wildlife running around. On the drive back from Madisi, I was thinking to myself that I bet the landscape looks much different during rainy season. Currently, Malawi is at its end of winter. The landscape, therefore, has been rain deprived for months and is dry, dusty and brown. I can only imagine the rich greens and wild flower aromas that fill the air during other times in the year. Malawians speak of how there are so many mangoes in December and February that they just fall from the trees in excess. Yum! Avocados, guava, oranges, and other delectable fruits abound when the rain comes. If/When we return, there may have to be an alteration to the time of year we do.
Cohorts 2 and 3 have gathered for an evening and morning of orientation. It is fascinating to observe the characteristics of the two groups. Cohort 3 is anxious, nervous, excited, and eager to embark on their journey to America; where most of them cite their enthusiasm to absorb as much as they can and continually learn throughout their time. Naturally, they have many fears; mostly surrounding the cultural differences between themselves and the children they will be working with in the afterschool programs. Yet, there is also great exhilaration in the thought of flying for the first time, or walking through snow. Although, Peter from cohort two advised that yes, it is fun to witness snow, but after that, they will just want it to go away and get warm again.
Cohort 2 has definitely come a long way since first stepping off that plane one year ago. They have shared incredible wisdom and insight about their year at UrbanPromise and it is clear that they all matured in many ways. The opportunity and experience that these fellows receive at UrbanPromise truly is unprecedented.
Madisi is an hour drive North East of Lilongwe. It is a town that reminds me a lot of Luchenza, where Sullivan and ProjectTEACH are based. For only six months of operation, RiseMalawi is well established and making a profound impact in its community. Roughly 45 students attend the afterschool program, with 5 camp leaders heavily involved in academics and leadership building. Every morning, Tinashe, Za and the camp leaders gather for morning devotionals. The camp leaders then spend the rest of the morning studying and teaching themselves subjects that they hope to improve on for the national exams. On Thursdays, since there is no afterschool program, the team breaks into smaller groups and visits children’s homes in the villages. This is an extremely important relationship builder that invites the parents into the program. Since Wednesday was the last day of the school term, RiseMalawi, held an end of the term celebration, where songs and dramas were performed, and prizes awarded. Many community partners attend the event, which is always great to see. Of course, the biggest request was for the program to grow and include more children. Once again, the children of Malawi stole our hearts.
The other day Kristen, Lindsey and I were outside playing with a couple children. Before we knew it, a crowd of thirty or so gathered to play. We spoke to a few older girls, maybe 12 years old, and asked if they knew any games and songs to lead the little ones in. For the next hour or so, the children played games and sang songs to our delight, and just like that, we were holding our own program with leaders and all! That afternoon reinforced our discovery that there is a huge demand for UrbanPromise International in Malawi. AfterSchool programs with holistic child development are unique and are enthusiastically embraced.
To what I can only imagine was a sign of gratitude for playing with him, one little boy brought a dead mouse for Kristen. All the children found it hilarious when she squealed in surprise. Another ‘you-know-you’re-in-Africa’ moment came when a little boy approached us and said, “My friend will ride a donkey if you take his picture.” Sure enough, Kristen got out her camera and took pictures of this boy riding his donkey. It was priceless.
Our trip is approaching its end. RiseMalawi was the final ministry to visit. Next on our agenda is an orientation at African Bible College in Lilongwe with cohorts 2 and 3, then off to Lake Malawi, where a retreat will be held with cohorts 1 and 2.
We have taken on a level of convenience as our group has grown. Traveling as a pack of five or more, relying on the aforementioned public bus system, and visiting YouthCare’s scattered sites, has led us to renting a vehicle. The only problem . . . . Who can drive a manual on the left side of an unmarked road where people and goats obviously do not know about jay-walking laws? It so happens that I gained much experience growing up shifting left-handed for my dad as he drove and drank coffee on the way to dropping me off at school. Partnering that with a few months of driving on the left-hand side of the road in Kiribati (granted there was only one road) and the art of orchestrated chaos that driving in Korea is, made me more than qualified to act as chaffer extraordinaire.
We saw both afterschool programs and visited SafeHaven (the orphanage for 11 boys). They were a silly group of guys. Most of them have lived there for the four years that SafeHaven has been in operation, and so you could tell that they are all close friends. We also had dinner with Maggie and her husband, Gilbert, who are Urban Promise International’s main contact at the African Bible College for recommending interns to enter into the program. She is actually taking a leave of absence to get a PhD at Eastern University (just outside Philadelphia). She and her husband will be coming to America at the end of August and will stay with Lindsey and I until an apartment is found. She had many questions for us; however, her main fears of freezing to death in America’s winter were put to rest.
Unfortunately we have not been successful in completing our trip without a hitch. Last night, while the four of us dinned down the hall from our rooms in the kitchen, Kristen’s shoulder bag went missing. There were multiple theories flying about, ranging from morphing lizards, to tiny hippos; however, it appeared most likely that someone had opened the window and reached through the bars to snatch what they could. The officials were notified, and shortly after six camo-sporting military men carrying an assortment of large semi-automatic weapons arrived on the scene. After some investigative work, they got their lead and sped off into the night, not before asking for gas money though (That’s just how things work, here in Malawi).
Incredibly, due to the tireless efforts of Malawi’s military, and the staff here at our hotel, especially Fred, Kristen’s hero, the bag was recovered with most of its contents. It has been an emotional 14 hours for Kristen, but the police kept reassuring her that they would get her bag back, and they did! So, we all tip our hats and give a gracious thank you to Malawi and the dedication they have shown us. This could have been a real trip downer, yet it has turned into an amazing story, with a happy ending. When we were relaying the story of what happened and the efforts by the police and hotel staff to the car rental people, they quickly laughed and said with a big smile, “that is why Malawi is the warm heart of Africa!”
The adventures continue as we head to Dowa in a few days to visit Za and Tinashe at RiseMalawi. I am not sure of the internet availability up there; yet, I will do my best to update in a few days.