27 November 2008

Africa is Large

On my way on a day-flight from Lusaka to London there was lots of chance to see Africa. The flight took almost 10 hours, of which more then 7 hours were above Africa! It is the Gall-Peters projection that shows areas of equal size on the globe equally sized on the map, and see: Africa is long!

When looking down, and thinking of the hundreds of millions of people living there, and all need to participate, and interact, it really dawned what massive task there is ahead.

The change of abilities of a community to participate after bringing Internet to a rural settings are significant. For instance, any of the capabilities underneath only became available after Internet was introduced in Macha. Before that event, they were not possible:

So, off I go again, from summer to winter, from South to North, on a quest to assure attention for the plight of the people in rural Africa whom need to be connected now!

19 November 2008

Internet in African Bush Changes Lives

Internet is a powerful engine for development. Today this became true again, making another big impact in our family life.

On the website of LinkNet there are many stories on how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been an engine for development at Macha. The story of how information was gathered through the internet that added sunflower growing to the agricultural landscape of Macha is well read. As is the information on the data entry work via the Internet at Macha. Interest often focus on financial significance.

The biggest impact that I experience of the full time availability is in inspired lives; Esther Kalambo is now certified pastor in the Brethren in Christ Church, after numbers of years hard study on a college in the USA connected from her home in Macha. She did so while uninterrupted serving Macha Hospital and the rural community at large. Fred Mweetwa is well underway in his Bachelors studies Public Administration at the University of South Africa. He does so from his tiny room in the Ark, while continuing to serve as emerging leader in rural Community Development. Doctor Sitali is studying for a Masters in Public Health from his house in rural Macha, while continuing to serve as medical doctor at Macha Hospital. And in Mukinge, the matron of Mukinge Hospital, Lynn Hacker has commenced an online MBA study. Most educators I know in these rural areas are now studying online, or are having plans to do so. This development in minds and skills of local people will have lasting impact on society.

Every day life of most professionals in Macha is now intertwined with the rest of the world. Sending and receiving e-mails is a continuous routine. Searching the internet for answers too. Exchange of pictures of medical cases to check with peers are nothing special anymore. We are all connected through Facebook and instant messaging, we post and discuss, and put Standard Operating Practices on Intranets. Local and online file servers, document servers, and application servers do their job, and internet libraries are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some even buy cars in Japan, and almost all tickets and lodging bookings are done online. In Macha it is now news when the internet is down, not when it is up. It is like tab water, one only takes note when it is not flowing.

Of course, this is not applicable for everyone in Macha. Most people are not yet connected to, or using, the Internet. Like many do not have running water or a power connection. However, ICTs are now available and accessible. And most professionals in the community are able to use this connectivity to communicate with family and friends and do online studies. Through peer-to-peer communications with others the quality of work improves. One can even start thinking about 'efficiency' in rural Africa as personal effectiveness is enhanced.

We run between 4 and 10 Gb a day through the internet from this rural village. That is almost a DVD full of information flowing into this rural area, every day. It was ony a few years ago that the only way of communication was per weekly post batch or by HF or VHF radio.

Today, for our family, there was an apporteosis. At 17.30 hours, Merel sat behind her kindly donated, full size piano keyboard, glancing at the computer screen in front of her. Through the Internet connection she was able to see what her teacher Kristin was saying and showing on her piano, over 15.000 kilometers and 8 hours time difference away. Diligently she played on the piano keys for the first time, keenly watched over by her teacher in her music studio in Minneapolis. Merel played "kitten are we, cute as can be, playing the keys, miauw", and two other rimes.

We live as a family in rural Africa. This implies advantages and disadvantages for our children. I saw our daughter doing piano lessons today ..... there are no words to describe how I felt. Wow, thanks God, technology, all involved, and anybody else! This is life to the fullest, which should be available for all on earth, also to those living in rural Africa.

Existence Farming

This morning while cycling with Elmo, Beauty and Merel to the primary school MICS, the air was full of noises of people working in the fields. Men cheered their oxen pulling the plough, and children joined their mothers and grand mothers in working with the how in the fields. Holes are being made, seeds are dropped, holes are covered and prayers go up for good rains and affordable fertiliser.

Yesterday afternoon the first good rainstorm hit Macha. And thus today people plow and plant. Last week we brought 1,200 kg of seed maize for the workers at Building Activities from Choma to Macha. Then all was still very, very dry. Today looks different, with muddy paths and messy roads. One big rain storm makes all the difference. People working in the fields, quickly doing their work in the fields from sunrise till going to work in the hospital, the schools or the mainy works at Macha. Any piece of land is being used.

The encyclopedia defines: "Susistence Farming: form of farming in which nearly all of the crops or livestock raised are used to maintain the farmer and his family, leaving little, if any, surplus for sale or trade." We might have to define 'Existence Farming' too.

This morning I turfed at least four power outages of the electricity grid, and electricity is gone since 05.45 hours. I am writing this blog while on generator. There are no banking facilities in Macha, and business loans are not readily available for people in tribal lands like Macha - hardly for anybody in Zambia actually. Heavy machinery and other production assets can only be bought in major towns, hundreds of kilometers away from Macha. Fuel and other consumables are not readily available. Most supplies needs 'imports' from other clusters of activities like towns. And transport is hardly available, and if so very expensive. So much for technology.

On the other side, the perils of the economic trouble in the world are hardly known to people in Macha; Its effects noticed only when taking a long term view on the future, which is not something kin to the local culture. It is all going by as an iceberg in the far distance. An analogy is climate change; Africa is the region where the impacts of climate change on agriculture are predicted to be the most severe. Well, a few in rural Africa know, will observe, and try to play part in preparing. Hopefully we become empowered to be through it all and be part of a solution.

About 20 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP is generated by agriculture. In many countries, agriculture is the main source of employment. Our next chiefdom Chikanta, with very poor infrastructure, no electricity what so ever, and even being further away from centers of activity, is reknown in Zambia for its production of maize, yes, maize for sale also!

Unfortunately, food production in most of sub-Saharan Africa has not kept
pace with the population increase over the past four decades. Lack of access to markets constitutes a binding constraint to the agricultural sector in most of the continent. [Source: United Nations report "Trends in Sustainable Development, Africa Report 2008-2009"]. Previously harvested maize produced the seeds for next year, now we need to buy genetically modified seed and thus have cash at hand. One has to evade this gloom picture and continuously go farward.

Well, this day people are planting again, in fields that were used by their ancestors and their ancestors. Given by the chief to the family in the oral tradition of the land. When we will be blessed with good rains, then we will harvest, and eat. Whatever happens or not happens with the electricity, heavy machinery, bank loans, buildings, and fuel, we will eat and live. Thus, there we go: early morning, digging and planting. And later early mornings: weeding. We will eat, understanding the works of our own hands, like our ancesters did.

I look forward to innovations in the area of agriculture. When we start planting oil crop for local and small scale production of bio-fuels, growing a diversified economy. When knowledge will emerge on new crops like sunflower and soya beans, indirectly stimulating crop rotation and thus yield of the land. To supply for local production of healthy, High Energy Protein Supplement foods, especially for those affected with HIV. It is about the 'human measure', the collective to understand and comprehend, to align with and preserve local culture. It is all about continuity of existence. Today people farm for their existence. We want and will be part of it. Let's put our hands at the ploughs.

17 November 2008

Sports, part of Vision Community Works

At Macha we have many students from various 'walks and activities of life'. They take time during their studies to be part of what is going on in Macha. Some do so as part of their studies, others as an intermediate activity. They are also human resource that can be focused on a task that needs attention. Most students to Macha come for activities in medical fields. Some students are easy going, some need lots of attention, but it is always worthwhile and a moving experience to be living within the rural African community. Students keep blogs about their experiences often, and with a Google search you might find several of them.

Today student Pim Herweijer gave his end-presentation of a three month period in Macha. He is student physical education at the University of The Hague and has been instrumental in helping the activities of Vision Community Works, Sports, an other leap forwards. He worked reporting to local community works expert Fred Mweetwa.

Sports offer important means in rural community development. It provides tools in the migration path between value systems pertaining traditional and ritual ways of tribal group life towards value systems incorporating higher authority and direct, absolutist rules. It trains participants in asserting self and handling of dominant behavior and power, as such imparting real life skills needed while being confronted with a changing world. And, of course, sport is conducive for good health.

Although we have been trying for years, it has been difficult to get attention - and funding - for sports development in rural areas. As Macha is now used to 'new developments' Pim entered a fertile area. He worked diligently and supported teaching of physical education at various schools, including Lupata Basic School and MICS. This inspired local educational talent to face questions as 'why sport', 'how to provide sport education', and 'how to use sports equipment'. This went alongside training and participating with local talents on organising of sports events, workshops and more.

We intend to measure effectiveness of visiting experts and students in the amount of coproduction with local talent they produce. As such, Pim worked with Mr. Kennedy Kanane, physical education and mathematics teacher at Macha's Francis Davidson secondary school, on a first concept for a 'rural proof' syllabus for physical education. This sylabus helps teachers in the process of improving Physical Education programs at their rural schools.

There is still lots to do and there is lots of room for further study. For instance, how to understand the rural mindset and view of sports, and how to build and maintain an innovative Vision Sports facility at Ubuntu Campus. However, it is again clear that sports activities are an other important element for sustainable progress in rural Africa.

16 November 2008

The Bore hole Pump

Water comes from deep in Macha. In this area boreholes are over 70 meters deep. The yields are low, apparently due to the rock formations in the ground. Boreholes often run dry. Continuity of water supply in rural Macha is a challenge, with today a miraculous saving of our single bore hole and pump at Ubuntu Campus.

We had to drill three boreholes, to find one yielding water - rated 1.5 ltr/second - 60 meters deep at Ubuntu Campus. Costs of drilling one bore hole range between EUR 4.000 and 8,000 depending on the supplier and relocation costs of the drilling rig.

Our 1 horsepower bore hole pump - costing about EUR 1,500 one year ago, excluding transport costs - stopped working about one month ago. Diagnosis at Macha: burned engine. Result: no water at Ubuntu Campus. While hauling drinking water in all kind of barrels and jars from MIAM Campus to Ubuntu Campus, I made a trip to Lusaka with the pump for assessment (transport cost USD 800). The diagnosis was confirmed: a burned engine due to stuck pump as the pump was worn out. As we have ran 'dry' in more then one aspect, I bought with our private funds the only available a new 1.5 horsepower engine with pump at the Lusaka supplier at that moment of time and took it to Macha.

Upon assembling the pump and pipes, and lowering in the bore hole, it was found that our two operational generators were not strong enough for the new pump. Fine tuning the voltage from a newly arrived generator took an other couple of days.

After a few minutes of pumping the new bore hole pump stopped working. The electronics became hot and the pump needed to be stopped. No water was flowing. Assessment by experts from Lusaka by phone: wiring mistake. Thus our chief technician Lemmie Muleya took the Thursday plane from ABFA-MACHA Aerodrome to Lusaka with pump, engine, electronics and all 100 meters of wiring. That same day it was assessed that the wiring was OK, however the pump was full with mud drawn during the short exercise. After cleaning of the pump Lemmie took the whole assembly back to Macha by taxi in Lusaka, bus from Lusaka to Choma, and taxi from Choma to Macha. He arrived home at 02.00 hours.

Friday morning the cleaned, new pump with the well tuned generator was pumping from a higher position and water filled the tank at Maanzi Office (Maanzi = Water). After 15 minutes the bore hole already ran dry and the pump had to be switched off.

Again the whole assembly came out yesterday. With the pump lower it worked well for 10 minutes, after which water stopped flowing again.

Now in crisis - as users were out of water again during days of all most 40 degrees - relatio assured 10 persons to work on the bore hole site this Sunday morning. Disaster really struck when the nylon pulling rope - reaching the surface while attached to the pump - broke! The sisable rope was possibly weakened by a year hanging under water in the bore hole. Now the pump with about 20 meters of 40 mm diameter poly-pipe, full with water, was hanging on a three-core electricity cable only. At this time I was requested to be at the scene.

I saw a hugely strained electricity cable holding a load of tens of kilograms, with the poly pipe about 10 meters in the bore hole. The risks were huge: loosing the bore hole pump and the bore hole itself, as the assembly would clog up the usable range of the borehole.

Well, there were no alternatives. Thus we started pulling the three-core electricity cable. At least five men carefully pulled the heavy load. When the pipe came in sight the wire started to slip, and it felt near that the whole would disappear into the deep bore hole. We blocked the cable and reviewed the options. There were none, so the corporate decision was to keep pulling. Apparently 'down there' something got some grip, and higher the pump came, and then the electricity cable felt to slip again.

Against all logic, we kept pulling and miraculously the poly-pipe now appeared from the bore hole. When it was half way out, we noticed the electricity wire had come completely loose from the pump and was entangled a bunch of 2,5 mm2 earth wire. Further pulling that bundle out we noticed that the bundle also had entangled with the remaining nylon rope. In the end only the rope pulled the load.

Although there are still many obstacles to overcome before we have water running again - eg where and when to get new nylon rope and a role of class 6 40 mm poly-pipe - at the time this morning that all was over, it took over 15 minutes for the adrenaline in my body to settle to normal levels. Elation of the miracle of saving the bore hole lingered much longer.

14 November 2008

Cross Culture

This morning I saw two ladies sitting at the Vision Community Works, Library and Craft shop in Macha. They are from Mabombo area in Chikanta Chiefdom. This night they traveled the 60 kilometers distance over virtually impassable dirt roads. They offer their Tonga baskets for sale, and will go back with money to pay for transport, their children's education, clothes, and other goods that will help them in daily rural life, all in exchange for their locally created produce.

It was moving to see that opportunities in Macha are drawing people from far. These ladies came with their hands full, with what they have produced. In the process they palaver with people from Macha and learn about the developments that are taking shape. They will go back inspired and empowered with fresh ideas as how they could adapt what they have seen with their own eyes as to reach their collective and individual potential.

It reminded me about what a long road it has been to come this far as a community; I had to learn a lot, and continue to learn every day.

First of all I had to shed my drive to help as in this inclusive environment everybody is geared towards helping each other, which includes me. I had to redefine the value of ratio, as the rural African environment first and foremost relatio is where it is about. Next was looking at goals defined by the answer on the question 'what?', as goals in rural Africa are enshrined within answers on the question 'who?'. My western sense of individuality then was to go, as in rural Africa the individual is defined as being part of the collective, the community.

And on it went, next the anticipated solid grounds of legal security, which needed rerouting to base security in the authority granted for the responsibilities one commits to bear as part of the community. And my drive to accumulate tools to get the job done was challenged by the environment where one gets the job done through the power of tested relationships.

It takes a considerable length of time to become member of the rural African community and references from my previous - non-rural African - life were of no avail. An important barrier to being together went when I grasped that my default linear view on time does not coincide with the more corkscrew or circular notion of time in rural Africa. I started mainly motivated by the opportunities in the future but it all became more wholesome when appreciation grew for the community working from wisdom and knowledge distilled from experiences in the past.

It is a privilage to be together with the the ladies from Mabombo. I recognize it is almost unavoidable that new entrants to rural Africa go through often heavy culture shock and strain in their personal lives as they must adjust to the local environment. We did and do so for almost seven consecutive years. It is worth it!

11 November 2008


This morning I had the privilege to observe proceedings at Macha Innovative Community School, MICS. For the first time this season we had steady rain in the early morning, so it was a nice, fresh start today at MICS House. It was impressive to see the discipline of local teachers being supported by others from various backgrounds and areas from Zambia and abroad. There is a strict and tight planning, and lessons start in time and hitting the ground running. There is a drive and power in all involved that is rubbing off. Head teacher Sakala mentioned: "these children learn more then I did during my primary school".

During the chapel time, the Christmas play - to be performed 5 December - was being rehearsed. Then I visited the different grades and sat in each class for a while. During the first years of education focus is on Reading/Writing and Mathematics. This provides the foundation for further development. I observed that Grade 4/5 did breeze through a school DVD on the subject of 'paragraphs' and when probed had no problem giving the definitions of imperative, exclamatory, and interrogative questions. At Grade 3 I saw the children working on the different prefixes, suffices of words, and sentences. In Reception Class the children were at "W", almost at the end of the alphabet. During activity classes each grade worked with gusto at puzzles of different complexity.

It is wonderful to see that MICS is succeeding in integrating high quality education using local resources in a rural African setting. It was special to see how the teachers communicate the materials within the context of local cultural setting in a truly African way, which does focus on the positive, affirming good behavior and results, incorporating it all in a collaborative and inclusive environment.

MICS is currently about 50 students, prone to double at Ubuntu Campus for, say, three more years. At the same time MICS will be multiplying in the other primary schools in the area (and beyond). This will bring growing resource needs as there is an ever increasing demand for class rooms, teachers and housing, to assure quality and quantity growth both within and without the example school MICS. The current team has grown MICS from the proof-of-concept with one class room in 2006, to proof-of-reproduction with two class rooms in 2007, to proof-of-production with now 5 grades operating in 2008, to a professionalisation and multiplication stage in 2009. They have never ceased working hard in a difficult and resourced challenge area. To grow this work is a massive, important and rewarding challenge.

07 November 2008

Sharp Shooting

In the pursuit of Sustainable Progress we at Macha translate relational thinking in a holistic approach with tangible results. It is always good to come back to Macha from other places in the world to see what we really have achieved! We are able to bring together a broad coalition of partners in the South and the North whose aim is to inspire local talents to take the reigns in their communities, realizing their collective and individual potential. Such is done at the Center of Experience in Macha, with many more Centers of Experience to follow - ideally at least one rural site in each province - to harness the local and rural experience and bring it ever nearer by to all those and inspire to tap from this source.

The three key ingredients of the approach are:
  1. Internet connectivity;
  2. Local talent in the driver seat;
  3. Scalable solutions that work in rural setting.
Men, are we making progress?! Everywhere I go I find people busy. Today I touched base in two hours, after a two days visit to Lusaka. In that short time span I saw the following, mind boggling amount of activities - which are just a tip of the iceberg that is again floating today:
  • local talent working on clearing for high voltage power lines to the Ubuntu Campus;
  • local talent working on new roads to a proposed site for Bio Energy production;
  • local talent working on replacement of a worn out water pump;
  • local talent working on building a classroom for LITA, the ICT-training branch of the proposed Ubuntu Leadership Academy at Macha;
  • local talent working on finishing the MICS House, the future housing facility for destitute children at MICS, currently already in use for the school and to house a family for guiding the children;
  • local talent finishing the first two rondavel housing experiments at Macha;
  • local talent putting some improvement on the roof of Vision Broadcasting House at the onset of the rains;
  • local talent working on new technology implementation at LinkNet in a make shift laboratory environment, in both network mesh technology and access and accounting technology.
While going around I met local talent with which I discussed our financial and accounting processes and outstanding draft reports and funding requests, with other talents the implications of the ethics involved with administration and our wish to be fully transparent to the local community first, second Zambia at large, and thirdly international stakeholders and the international community at large. Then on it went, discussing the flight schedule of the airport with the local leaders at ABFA-MACHA Aerodrome, bringing new drugs to be tested at MIAM that I transported from Lusaka in our new car, handed over an old battery that I received in town for a local person in the rural, in the mean time continuously explaining how to culturally appropriately view the realities witnessed during this short tour with a a Netherlands student whom tagged along and whom arrived in country yesterday only.

Well, after writing this blog I will continue working on putting the oral information into written format on locally defined and tested ideas and plans for health, education, transport, communications, education, health, and agriculture. Great I have got access to Internet in the whole of Macha, on any devise, so we can continue communicating and interacting, over any cultural, geographical, time, and whatever barrier.

It is a great privilage to be alive and kicking in the African rural areas!

02 November 2008

Pick A Baggy

Johannesburg International Airport is getting renowned for its picky bagging. And, again something got stolen from my luggage this week. It is pretty amazing, as my hardshell suitcase was locked and arrived locked. But a relative small external computer DVD-drive was taken out of it. That one was in the locked suit case, and in a box in an other computer box in the suitcase. The box was neatly closed again, as was the suitcase. And nothing else was missing! A pretty sophisticated theft, which would need initial X-ray equipment as to know what was in the suitcase.

It is not the first time my stuff goes missing at Johannesburg International airport. Early this year two duffel bags with building materials, one from my father and one from my uncle, coming to help in Macha, went completely off the radar, never to be seen in Lusaka nor back at its origin Amsterdam. Or specific electronic equipment - mini DV video and or photo equipment - or even watches have been removed from suitcases from family and friends flying through O R Tambo International Airport.

But the huge, wonderful gift from friends in the USA - a full size and large Yamaha electronic piano keyboard - went through uncatched. Maybe too big? Yes, ok, it got delayed for three days, completely off the radar in the baggage system, but thanks God it showed up at lost luggage Lusaka on Friday. Flying Mission picked it up and flew it to Macha, and now Merel, Elmo and the friends do not talk about anything else then 'the piano'. An other miracle, a full size electronic piano at Van Stam's residence. Merel is scheduled to receive piano lessons from friends in the USA via Skype..