Monday, November 30, 2009


What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word corruption? Most Americans have no idea what real corruption is. Visualize a third world county hospital not having basic necessities like gloves because a high level official is refusing to accept the free donation? Why? Because he would rather show off his power than see his people helped? In the Concise Oxford Dictionary the word corruption means decomposition, moral deterioration, perversion, and deformation. But what does it mean in real life?

I will give you several examples of corruption. As you already know, I am originally from Ukraine. In order for me to get married to an American, my husband and I had to jump through so many legalistic hoops that you cannot not even imagine. At that point Ukraine still had a Communist mentality and if you wanted something to happen, you had to “grease its wheels” a bit! At one point we even wondered if it was worth getting married!

The road police did not stop you because you violated some law, but to see if they could find something wrong so they could extract a bribe from you. If you wanted a room in a hotel, you had to pay a bribe! If you did not want to spend hours at customs, you had to pay a bribe! If you wanted to have clean bandages and a clean bed at the hospital, you had to pay a bribe! If you wanted a pain killer during an appendectomy, you had to pay a bribe! I got a C in Algebra in my senior year at High School not because of my lack of knowledge, but because my family could not afford to pay $50 as a bribe to my teacher!

And now we are in Malawi. We watch as a once lush and massively forested county is slowly turning into a desert! Now the trees are cut in the protected national parks and no one cares a bit! Police drive by mountains of chopped wood and piles of illegal charcoal. Sometimes they will stop and buy some. Meanwhile a driver may be fined by the police for not having two triangles while a “junker” with no headlights or windows is waved on through!

Has anything like this happen to you in America? What makes you think that the government is corrupt? In America, corruption hardly exists! I have never encountered problems in America like I did in Ukraine and now do in Malawi. Inefficiency in dealing with the INS? Yes! But they never asked me to “help” them do their job! In order for one to fully understand and appreciate the whole meaning of this word, he or she needs to move into a third world country and live there for at least a month. Then, and only then, the meaning of this word will fully sink in!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hard choices over food versus education in Malawi

This is the first article that I found on BBC Africa that is about Malawi, the country I am currently residing in. Unfortunately it is not a happy one. It is kind of interesting that I found it in the hardest weeks I have had in Malawi so far, with all the fuel shortages and electricity going out for hours at a time.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. People live here from harvest to harvest and if the growing season did not have enough rains, the hunger that year is imminent. The Malawi government has made a new “food security” program which provides subsidized fertilizer and seeds to the poor farmers. It has had success in reducing hunger. But with the government’s increase of “food security” funds, schools are still terribly underfunded. It is uncommon in a typical Primary (grades 1 to 6) school to have up to 200 students to one teacher.

Chilamba school, located in the central region of Malawi, is made of mud walls and a thatched roof. It used to have 2 teachers for 500 students but now a small grant from Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) increased the teacher number. In a small classroom one can see about 100 six-year old students sitting in neat rows, three to a bench, raising their hands to answer the questions. It is not easy to learn in the class with over 100 students and most of the students have to walk a long way and most of the time on an empty stomach. The school does not have funds to feed the children so they are hungry till the end of the day. But with all of these problems this school is still a cheerful place.

The roots of the teacher shortage problem are very deep. Former school inspector Lexon Ndalama says that some of the teachers are not well qualified to teach themselves and the reason for that is that they were taught in the overcrowded classrooms. The solution to this problem is to train more teachers. The new addition to the teacher training facilities is an Emanuel Teacher Training College founded by European church groups. But even with the new colleges opening up “the need for new teachers far outstrips the supply.” Malawi loses most of its teachers to HIV/AIDS and it has been reported that more teachers die due to this disease than the teacher training schools produce.

Education is not a top priority for the Malawi government. There are more pressing needs like keeping ever present hunger at bay. But education can yield solutions to some of the problems Malawi faces. Don Taylor, Education adviser for DFID in Malawi, says that education “enables subsistence farmers to produce more food. It helps reduce the very high birth rates which are a feature of most poor countries. And those things, in turn, lead to better educational opportunities.”

Life in Malawi is not easy for an average person. Even after giving your garden the best care possible the harvest will still depend on the amount of rains; too little and the crop will not grow, too much and it will rot. Some families simply cannot afford to send their children to school to begin with. Although this article talks about the government not having enough money for the education of its growing population, the President was still able to “scrape” enough to buy himself a nice jet! His purchase plunged the country into a Foreign Exchange deficit which in turn led to petroleum and diesel shortages. The best thing the Malawi government can do for Malawi, is to stop the ongoing problem of corruption and focus on the younger generation that will hopefully raise this country from poverty.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

South Africa’s child-parents

“Many thousands of South African children ive in homes with no parents, largely as a result of HIV/Aids. Life is desperate for the children left at the head of their families.”

Nokubonga Oaba was left with her four younger siblings at the age of ten when both of her parents died from TB in 2002. For a while she and her siblings lived with her grandmother but were left completely alone after she passed away in 2004. Now Nokubonga is 17 and they have an addition to their little family, her one week old baby. Sadly, her story is not unique in South Africa. About 150,000 children are raised by other children after their parents die. Many of these deaths are from Aids and the sicknesses related to it. In South Africa there are higher rates of Aids than anywhere else in the world. The Government gives these Aids orphans grants but they are not enough. Reverend Mthimkulu Msikinya, head of the Lusikisiki Child Abuse Resource Center, says, “Diseases such as HIV/Aids have had an enormous impact in the number of children who are orphaned and left having to fend for themselves. We help where we can but in the end a grant can only do so much.”

Nokubonga and her little family have no steady income. When their grandmother was alive, they were able to survive on her little pension. Now they live on handouts from a government grant. She receives 650 Rand ($87) but it is not enough the money runs out in the middle of the month. On many occasions they go to bed with hunger pains. When they run out of food, Nokubonga goes from neighbor to neighbor and begs. Sometimes they give her a little something and sometimes they don’t. The father of Nokubonga’s baby does not help because he is also poor and is still in school. Nokubonga’s sister, Zodwa, sends them a bit of money whenever she is able to get a job. In the meantime the little family survives on grants, food parcels, and old clothes donated to them by the community.

The statistics from the South African Institute of Race Relations are:
In 2002 there were 118,000 children living without parents; by mid-2007 there were 148,000.
Some 146,000 of the children are black.
Eastern Cape Province has the second largest number of child-headed homes in the country.

This story makes me appreciate my childhood and the fact that I got to enjoy it. How many Americans are left with four siblings to raise and feed? Our Social Services may not be perfect but they are there and will take care of a family like Nokubonga’s as best as they can! I just wish South African orphans had the same opportunity as us Americans.

Are South African police trigger happy?

This story is again about the South African police and is related to the previous story.

The South African crime rate is on the rise and the police are under intense pressure to curb it before the soccer World Cup in 2010. The new Police Chief Bheki Cele was appointed by President Jacob Zuma two months into his presidency. President Zuma said that the police need to toughen up to deal with the high level of crime but not to be “trigger happy.” Mr. Cele calls police to use “deadly force” only when necessary. The government recently proposed changes to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act to allow the police to use “whatever means necessary to effect an arrest.”

But there is a noticeable spike in the loss of innocent lives. Although there are no statistics for the numbers of innocent people who have been killed by the police, there are three recent incidents that the South African media has covered in recent weeks:

Two off duty officers who were “under the influence of alcohol” shot and killed a street vendor who wanted them to pay for the sweets they took from his stall.
On October 31 a trainee officer shot and killed 21-year-old Kgotatso Ndobe when he ran from the police as they were approaching his house. His family said that he was smoking marijuana and got scared that he would be arrested.
And 30-year-old Olga Kekana was killed on October 11 when the police mistook her car for a hijacked vehicle. Two of her friends were injured as well.

Dianne Kohler Barnard of the Democratic Alliance said, “The proximity between the recent spate of police attacks on civilians, and the police commissioner’s wild talk about shooting to kill, is surely no coincidence.” Family members of the victims question the police’s “apparent inclination to shoot first and ask questions later.” The law states that the police are allowed to use lethal force only if their lives are in danger. They are not allowed to shoot fleeing suspects or those who are suspected of committing serious crimes, as it used to be under apartheid. The police “watchdog,” the Independent Complaints Directorate, said it will “not hesitate to take action against those officers who act outside the ambit of the law.” But the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation says the officers are left unsupported, “Heated political rhetoric which encourages the reckless or unlawful use of lethal force does not serve to support them in legal jeopardy.” The officers arrested are currently going through the judicial system.

Giving more power to the police is a double edged sword. South African criminals are some of the most vicious criminals in the world and I can see that the police there need all the help they can get. But there needs to be a system of “checks and balances” to make sure they do not shoot someone just because they have a gun. How does it make them any different from the criminals they are supposed to stop?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No “license to kill” for South African Police

A day after a South African minister said officers should shoot criminals, President Jacob Zuma said, "No police officer has permission to shoot suspects in circumstances other than those provided for by law. The law does not give the police a licence to kill."

South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates. It is calculated that on average there are 50 killings a day! With the 2010 World Cup soccer games being hosted in Johannesburg the government is trying to reassure potential visitors that the country is safe. The government is giving police more power to use force against the criminals. Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula urged the police to “shoot the bastards.”

An incident last week sparked outrage all over the country. Three-year-old Atlegang Phalane was shot by a police officer. The little boy was sitting in the back seat of a car next to his uncle. The officer alleged that the boy had what looked like gun in his hands. After the search of the car no objects that could be mistaken for a gun were recovered. The officer is now charged with murder.

South Africa’s crime rate is high indeed! I have several South African friends and the stories they tell me are hair raising! Police need to crack down on criminals but to kill a little boy because it “looked” like he had a gun? I have a 9 year old son. When he was 3 he liked to play with guns and such but I would never ever dream that an American police officer would shoot him because he had a toy gun in his hands. The laws against the use of excess force are there for a reason and South Africa needs to clear them up so that no further such tragedies occur.

Friday, November 13, 2009

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her!

When I first read this article on BBC Africa this verse from John 8:7 came to mind.

In southern Somalia, 33 year old Abas Hussein Abdirahman, was stoned to death in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the port town of Merka. One of the onlooker said that "He was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving." Why do you ask did he deserve such a fate? For committing adultery with his girlfriend! His pregnant girlfriend was spared, for now. An official from the al-Shabab group said that she will also be stoned after the baby is born. The baby will then be given to the girlfriend’s relatives to be raised.

Islamic groups run most of southern Somalia. This is the third death by stoning in the past year. Last year two men in town were stoned to death after being accused of spying. Also a 13 year old girl was stoned to death for adultery when in fact she was raped.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years now. New president,Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a former rebel leader, was sworn in after UN- brokered peace talks in January. He says that al-Shabab is “spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.” The new president wants to implement new Sharia law, but al-Shabab says it is too lenient.

How lucky we are to live in a country that gives us such freedom! I am not justifying adultery, but is the death of both parties going to make it all right? How about the baby? How is making him or her an orphan going to help? In the Bible, when Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her! “ he meant, Who are you to judge this woman? Are the 300 who stoned this poor man completely pure and without any sin in their lives?

Democratic Republic of Congo army “used aid as bait”

The aid agency of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)- Doctors Without Borders- says that DR Congo used vaccination clinics as “bait” to attack civilians. Thousand of Hutu’s were targeted when they came over to the clinic in the area controlled by rebels to get vaccine for measles. MSF calls this attack in North Kivu as “an abuse of human action.” On Monday the UN withdrew its support of the government army because its soldiers are accused of killing 62 civilians.

MFS said that the clinics are targeted even after security promises from all sides. The immunization is carried out in the Maisisi district, north-west of the city of Goma. MFS operates with the support of the Ministry of Health, whose workers are not able to access this region because it is controlled by the Hutu rebel group FDLR. Luis Encinas, head of MSF in Central Africa, feels that they are being used as bait. “How will MSF be perceived by the population now? Will our patients still feel safe enough to come for medical care?” Charities operating in DR Congo with the support of the UN are concerned with this targeting of the civilians. The Congolese government suspended military action in this area to conduct an investigation into UN accusations of government soldiers killing civilians.

Since January 2009 the UN has been helping the Congolese army to battle the FDLR. These rebels have been at the heart of the unrest in this area, fighting with the local Tutsi population and government troops. FDLR leaders fled to this are in 1994 after being accused of taking part in Rwanda’s genocide.

Imagine going to your local Health Department for your kid’s vaccination. While you are there, the US military arrives and starts shooting at you. The chances of this sort of “horror” equal to zero! We are so blessed to live in a country where we know we are safe when we go to a hospital. But many countries in Africa do not have such a simple guarantee when they venture out of their huts in the morning. Their lives can be taken from them just for being from a different tribe either from the rebel forces or the government army.

Congolese children forced to fight

Sadly, children are abused all over the world. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo they are taken away from their families and are forced to fight in the rebel army. Rebels are doing this to boost up their numbers among the various militias.

This story is from last year but is still very much up to date. It begins with a story of a sixteen year old Jean Vierre, (His name has been changed for safety reasons.). One day Jean, six of his friends, and three teachers were kidnapped on their way home. “We were on our way back from school when we met the rebels. They made us carry some luggage for them and then told us to go with them.” When they got to the camp they were told they had to join the military. Two of the boys managed to escape but before they did, they saw other teenage boys in a similar position.

Eighteen year old Haguma (not his real name) tells us his story. He was taken from his home and told that he had to fight the government soldiers. He was wounded in the village of Mgunga when the rebel soldiers were defeated. As rebel forces were heading for Rutshuru, Haguma tried to escape and was shot by one of the rebels. Government soldiers found him and took him to Goma.

Recruitment of child soldiers is not new to DR Congo but now rebels are targeting entire schools and groups of students. Children are then forced to transport firearms and become combat fighters. In addition they are often sexually abused. Children that have been able to run away from these camps are now in the care of the UK charity Save the Children, located in Goma. No one knows how traumatized these children are or what kind of effect that his trauma will have on their lives in the long run. Save the Children is trying to reintegrate these “child soldiers” back into society. The charity tries to prepare their families for the coming back of their child for he will never be the same. The numbers of these children are huge; even before the outbreak of last year’s fighting and the new wave of kidnapping, there were 3,000 “child soldiers” in eastern DR Congo. By now the number is much higher. Some of the children will never recover from what they have been forced to go through. Fifteen year old John (not his real name) said that, “I was just waiting for the day I would die so that it would end.”

This story is just too common to Africa. Sierra Leone, Uganda, and other countries share similar stories of children being kidnapped and forced to fight. Save the Children “want international condemnation and pressure to stop the practice.” International forces cannot keep peace in every county in the world. Africa itself needs to rise up and take charge of the abuse that goes on this continent.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dangerous African Elephants

This story is about Anton Turner, a 38-year-old Briton, who worked for BBC in Tanzania, Africa. He was working on a show that was tracing the footsteps of the famous British explorer David Livingstone in Africa. Anton was charged by an elephant and was mortally injured. The doctor who accompanied the filming crew treated Mr. Turner and said that he died shortly after being attacked.

A lot of people do not understand how dangerous African elephants are. They are not the cuddly looking elephants we see in the American circus shows. These elephants are mean and vicious and are not hesitant to attack at a moment’s notice. My Malawi neighbors sported two gaping holes on the side of their Toyota Land Cruiser where an elephant charged them with its tasks.

I will tell you a scary story that happened to our family. Well, it was scary for me anyway :-) In April of 2007 we took our friends to the Mvuu Lodge in the Liwonde Game Park. Mvuu Lodge provides guided tours of the park and we felt it was safer to go with them than to venture out on our own. We all piled in into their car and set off. It was my first time to be there so I was as excited as our visitors were. But I still remembered all the stories of charging elephants that I have heard of before. After a little while we came upon a family of elephants with young ones. The driver pulled up very close and turned off the engine. My first thought to that was, “Does his starting motor work well?” I could feel panic build up in me because I have always heard of elephants charging to protect their young. And sure enough, the male elephant started walking slowly towards us. I asked the driver if we could leave to which he said, “Don’t worry, Madam. He is just walking. If he starts to flap his ears and sound his trunk, it means he is about to charge.” And at that moment he did just that! My heart went cold and I thought we were all going to die! All I could do is to plead with the calm and confident driver to start the car and leave that place. Finally the guide could see the panic and tears in my eyes and we left. But what if the car did not start? This blog would not exist!

Eighty four year old Nigerian and his 86 wives

Here is another hilarious story I found on BBC Africa! It is about a Nigerian man Mohammed Bello Abudakar, 84, who has married 86 wives during his lifetime and has fathered at least 170 children. He told a BBC reporter that "A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them."

Most of the women Mr. Abudakar has married came to him to look for his healing power. Most of them are less than a quarter of his age and are younger that some of his children. Mr. Abudakar does not allow his family to take medicine and does not believe malaria exists. When these women came to be healed, and were healed, Mr. Abudakar got “divine” instruction to marry them. One of these ladies, Sharifat Bello Abudakar, who was 25 at that time, came to see Mr. Abudakar about her headaches. "As soon as I met him the headache was gone. God told me it was time to be his wife. Praise be to God I am his wife now." But not everyone has been cured. One of his wives lost two of his children, "They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come." Most of Mr. Abudakar’s wives see him as “next in line from the Prophet Muhammad.”

Mr. Abudakar and his wives do not seem to have any visible jobs that would support them and he refuses to say how he is able to feed and clothe all of his family. In one day his family cooks 80 lb of rice; that is $915 every day. Mr. Abukadar says that everything comes from God. He does, however, ask his kids to beg sometimes. If they all do it they can bring home about $290.

Islamic authorities in Nigerian condemn Mr. Abukadar for marrying so many wives for most scholars agree that a man is allowed to marry only four wives and he has to treat them all equally. But Mr. Abukadar says that there is no punishment for marrying more than four wives. "To my understanding the Koran does not place a limit and it is up to what your own power, your own endowment and ability allows." "This is heresy, he is a heretic," says Ustaz Abubakar Siddique, an imam of Abuja's Central Mosque.

I suffer horrible migraine headaches so after reading this article I have decided, since I am already on the continent of Africa, I might as well go up to Nigeria and see this “healer” and become his wife number 87. But at least I will be his first white wife! :-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Today I will tell you about a wonderful piece of machinery we use at Namikango. It is called a V-Tractor. V stands for “village.” It is called that because it is designed for work in any village. It is very simple to operate and anyone can use it!

In order for Malawians to grow their gardens they have to do hard, back-breaking labor. To ease their work Thom Rich invented the V-Tractor and put it all together in his garage in Lebanon, Indiana. The V-Tractor is a simple tractor that can do tilling, pumping and irrigating, planting, fertilizing, and act as a generator. It can also act as a well drill and its engine can be changed within 30 min. It has been designed with simplicity in mind. The parts are easily accessed and quickly changed. The V-Tractor was first tried out in Malawi in September of 2008.

“The tractor is powered by a Hartz diesel, and utilizes a unique three or four-wheel drive hydrostatic transmission utilizing two independent pumps and wheel motors. The V-Tractor also has an 11 gpm auxiliary hydraulic pump to power attachments. The current M-9 tractor can power a 30 gpm water pump, 10 kW generator set, and cement mixer. A wide variety of attachments are available for development as additional applications for this diverse unit are identified. A simple forward reverse pedal engages the tractor with no gear changes or clutching.”

In 2009 Thom Rich started Agricultural Aid Organization in Indiana. “Now additional trials are ongoing as new attachments are developed and modifications to future unites are carried out.”

Excerpts are from the V-Tractor brochure. If you would like to learn more about the V-Tractor and AAI organization, please go to

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Somali man, 112, weds girl, 17

I first heard this story on BBC World Radio and later was able to find it on BBC Africa. It is about Ahmed Muhamed Dore, a 112 year old Somali man, who wanted a younger wife who could bear him more kids. His new wife, Safia Abdulleh, is 17 years old! She is young enough to be his great-great-grand-daughter! They both live in the same village and “he had waited for her to grow up to propose.” Mr. Dore already has 5 wives and 114 children and grandchildren combined, but it is not enough for him. This marriage is described “as the first of its kind in the Horn of Africa nation for more than a century.” The reactions to this marriage have been mixed. Some people disapprove of it and others say that is OK under Islamic law. Mr. Dore says, “It is a blessing to have someone you love to take care of you.”

My first reaction to this story was uncontrollable laughter which turned into horror! I was also 17 when I got married but not to a 112 year old man! From his last comment I can see that he wanted someone to love him, but could he not find someone closer to his age? Why look for a girl who is 95 years his junior? He wants more children? Isn’t having 114 kids and grandkids not enough for him?