Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The diapers arrive in Kenya

I just received word that my new charity, Mogra Children's Rescue has received the diapers and donations I just sent. Here's the story....
Me with the precious babies at Mogra Orphanage.
Two weeks ago, I joined my husband Ken on a business trip to Nairobi, Kenya; he was meeting with the phone company Airtel. Shortly after we arrived, we ran into some of his colleagues in the hotel lounge, where Ken brought up the idea that I was hoping to spend some time volunteering with a school or orphanage while there. Olga, an IBM expat from Columbia, living in Kenya, excitedly ran over to introduce me to her friend and neighbor Mark. Mark is an Australian expat working for Airtel. Mark had the perfect connection for me. It ends up that Airtel sponsors the food program at a school in the Mathare slum and Francis, Mark's partner, volunteers there. Olga was kind enough to include me in the dinner that night, so that Francis and I could meet and made a plan to go to Mogra school and orphanage the following day.

There was a traffic jam on the road which gave me time to take in the sights.

Francis and his driver David picked me up the next morning and we drove out to Mathare to visit the school Mogra Star Academy and then to the Mogra Orphange. There is so much to say about the meaningful experiences I had at the school; but for today, I will talk just about the orphanage visit. Which, by the way, Ken had lightheartedly had warned Francis against taking me to. He was afraid I would bring home a baby. He often reminds me that I can help more children if I don't adopt one. He knows how strong my maternal feelings can be.

As you can see from the pictures, I had a wonderful day with the babies. 

Francis prefers to work with teens and older children so it was a real gift to me, that he joined me in the nursery that day and then again, when I wanted to go back for a second day.

Before heading back to Mogra for the second visit, we stopped at a local store to buy diapers. Diapers are expensive in Kenya.  I don't know how the orphanage does it. It is funded only by the kindness of others. I made a mental note to get more diapers and baby clothes for Mogra when I got back to the US.

Poor Francis has to go shopping with me for diapers and wipes for the babies and sanitary pads for the teenage girls living at the orphanage, what a great guy!

David, Mark's driver put the boxes in the trunk. None of this would have been possible without him, and Francis and Mark! You guys all ROCK!

David even got in on the fun and played with the babies.

While at Mogra, I met Susan Armstrong, a nurse from the US embassy, who was teaching First Aid. I asked her is she had any ideas of how I could get donations back to Kenya from the US. She told me that her husband Russell, was in fact, going back to the US and may be able to help. When I got home I contacted Russell and we arranged a day to meet. Now that I had a deadline the wheels were set in motion.

I headed out to Costco to buy diapers. But first,  I stopped to drop off a thank you gift to the Keneficks, who had recently bought the wheelchair for a woman in Ghana. I was so excioted about my trip that I could not help but tell them all about the kids in Kenya. Judy then generously donated $100 to help buy the diapers, in her grandson Ian's name as part of his confirmation gift. This web of generosity is infectious. Not only, did they buy the wheelchair and donate the money but now they are helping the women in the wheelchair get physical therapy advice to help her transition to her new chair.
Diapers were a fraction of the cost at Costco than they were in Kenya. I tried to buy as much as I could while keeping the weight of my suitcase under 50 ponds per the airline specifications.

We keep old suitcases around just for this type of occasion. I filled as much as I could and even had a scinece poster left over to include from the last shipment to Ghana

 On Saturday morning Ken and I met Russell and his beautiful daughter at the Gaylord Hotel at The National Harbor. What a joy it was meeting this wonderful kind hearted family. They even helped nurse a baby from the orphanage back to health and are now in the process of adopting her.

 The girls who live at the children's home with the donations.

Here it is, our old suitcase full of diapers, back in the same room where I loved those sweet babies just two weeks ago. I love it when a plan comes together.

Look for a post to come about the new computer for the school!  Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible: the Armstrong family, Francis, David, Mark, Olga the Keneficks and my husband Ken.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A gift of a wheelchair arrives in Ghana!

I have a fabulous heart warming story to share. This confirms my new motto; Tell everyone your dreams and they can come true!

Meet Marge Buzzelli, a retired school teacher. I told her about my project to help find books for the kids in Ghana and she just went crazy, in a great way; calling her friends at local schools asking for for donations. Well, while we were picking up donations at Wolftrap Elementary, we met Kwado, who works at the school and who is from Ghana. So of course I had to torture him with my attempt to speak Twi, and chat about Ghana. As we were leaving. He quietly mentioned that he was looking for  a wheelchair for his sister back in a village in Ghana. Without hesitating, I said, "We'll get you one".  I remembered that there were plenty around when I needed one for my father in law to use at my daughter's graduation. So Marge and I put the world out. Marge was determined to find one and called several friends.

 The next thing I knew, Marge's friends Judy and Frank Kenefick showed up at my house with a wheelchair. That actually bought a wheelchair on Craiglist, for a person they did not know. Heck they didn't even know me. Aren't they Amazing!

Here is Kwado, with the wheelchair when I brought it to him at Wolf Trap Elementary. While there I was chatting with Diane Long the school assistant and she offered to send out a message to other Fairfax County schools to see if they had lost and found items to donate. Yikes, did they. That is a long story for another blog but I will give you a hint that one email will end up providing coats and clothes from many kids in need from India to Darfur and the USA.

Here is Kwado's sister Adwoa (she has the same Ghanaian name as me, Monday born) with her new wheelchair and her children! She and her family are so happy. Ghanaians don't tend to have big toothy smiles in pictures like we do but trust me, she is very happy.

If you look at her legs you can tell that she has been crawling in the dirt since she became paralyzed from an illness at age 3. She has been crawling since age 3 and now she can sit in a chair! See how we can all make big a difference in someone else's life. Bless you and thank you so much Judy and Frank Kenefick and Marge Buzzelli. Isn't giving Fun!

Monday, October 20, 2014

A World of opportunities to help!

I am quickly writing this post from our hotel room in Nairobi, Kenya waiting for my new friend Francis to pick me up and take me to an orphanage and school where he volunteers. I am anxious to meet the children and the school's director to see if there is a way I can help them. The project is having a snowball effect. I am meeting and connecting kind hearted people all over the world. I am so excited a bout the connection I made in Delhi with the assistant manager on the Trident Hotel. We are going to work together to hand out the coats I have collected from the Fairfax County public school's lost and founds, to the children living on the streets and in the slums. When I get home I will be calling more schools to pick up the clothes kids have discarded or forgotten and get them onto the backs of kids who can't live without them.

More later, so happy to be busy and helpful again!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The shipment has sailed!

I am so excited. I just heard from Daniel (pictured here) that the shipment has sailed for Africa and should arrive in Ghana by the end of the month. YAY. I have been saving Ken's frequent flyer points for just this occasion. I am hoping (fingers crossed) that I can fly to Ghana and be there to help unload the container and distribute the donations. 

I saved the best for last with a motor scooter for Billa Mahmud, founder of Future Leaders UCC. He does not have a car so now he will be able to scoot around the dirt roads to visit all the women who have been given microloans. The final count was 81 boxes containing: 8 sewing machines, 2 computers, clothes, shoes, backpacks, toys, a blender, schools supplies, text books, reading books, fabric, sewing notions, power converters, a filing cabinet and a motor scooter and more. I can't wait to see everything in Ghana!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A new chapter in life

Like everyone else I am trying to settle back into a routine after the summer is over.  Painting, Framing, Photographing and Posting. As and artist, the painting is the easy part and I have to practically strap myself to my office chair to get the posting and uploading done.
 The light is beautiful here by this big window in my family room. 
 But sometimes I just have to go outside to paint.
I have finished and varnished this painting. I am just waiting for the frame I ordered to arrive. I have about 10 paintings that are in the final stages of completion. 

I tagged along on one of Ken's business trips to London last week. I loved it there and spent the days immersed in art museums. But, as usual, wherever I go, Ghana is never far from my mind. Even though I didn't find anyone to practice speaking Twi with I was able to talk on the phone with Karen Tooley of the Future leaders UK. She is a teacher in Birmingham, England and spends a month in Ghana each year. She was able to give me more insight into Billa and confirm what I already knew that he is an amazing honest, entrepreneurial man who is using all his energy to help others.

By the end of the summer we had staged 78 boxes of donations at the storage unit waiting to head to Ghana including; 8 sewing machines, 2 computers, chargers, adapters, text books, reading books,school supplies, shoes, clothes and more....

 My son Stephen (in the orange VTech t-shirt) joined us to bring another load of books and school supplies to the storage unit in Woodbridge, the last stop before we load everything on a shipping container going to Africa. Then he was off to start his second year at Virginia Tech. He really enjoyed meeting Daniel. Stephen went to Ghana to visit his sister Alexandra for spring break of his senior year at Oakton High School. When I asked him what the best part of his trip was, he said "Meeting Billa and hearing his story about starting a school for needy children under a mango tree". That was one of the things that inspired me to make my first trip to Africa. That, plus the fact that I missed my daughter and wanted to see her life in Africa.

Before I headed off to London, my friend
Jill Wagner and her children Emma and Ben came over to help me sort through all the bags of lost and found clothes I had picked up from various Fairfax County public schools. The bags of light weight clothes got a pink stripe of duck tape on the outside to indicate that they were going to Ghana. I also put a bright pink stripe on all of my boxes in to the shipping container so that everything going to the children's center could be easily spotted when the container is opened in Ghana.

The heavy clothes and winter coats got a blue stripe on the bag. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them until I met some women from Sudan while I was picking up donations at Wolftrap Elementary. Just last night those two women picked up 8 huge bags of really nice winter coats that will be going to refugee families arriving from Darfur who have no winter clothes for their children. These coats were really nice. Now a child has one less thing to worry about when arriving at a new school in a new county. He or she will be warm and look cool in a new North Face jacket or Abercrombie sweat shirt. I think it is an interesting circle because it was in a history class at Oakton high school where this all began. My daughter became fascinated by Africa, Darfur in particular and she knew that one day she would go there. I never would have dreamed that I too would go to Africa and make helping children there my life's mission. Life is funny. I think it is so beautiful how our children enrich our lives in ways we never expect. If we encourage them to find themselves and follow their own path in life they may end up showing us a new path to follow in our own lives when that chapter of motherhood is over. Thanks Alexandra!

My easels is calling my name so I am off to paint now.  :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Lost and Found Lady

Just when I got all of the books out of the garage, (78 boxes are now at the storage unit waiting for the shipping day) I started to get calls from local elementary schools that they had bags of clothes and coats to donate from their Lost and Found. And when I say bags, I mean bags and bags and bags of great stuff. There were even brand new shoes! 

 I am taking out the lightweight jackets and clothes, washing them and then packing them to go to Africa. Luckily the ship has not sailed yet so I will be able to bring these to the container on loading day.

But what do I do with the heavy winter clothes? Yesterday, I got a call from a local children's charity and I was planning to give them the winter coats, hats and gloves until I found out that they just turn around and SELL them to a store which them SELLS them to the needy. Oh, no, you don't. These clothes were GIVEN to me for free and will be GIVEN to the needy for FREE.

But where do I find people who need winter clothes. Then Voila, just today, I just met two women from Darfur while they were picking up school supplies from the same school as I for a village school they are helping back in Darfur. We starting chatting, I had recently read the book What is the What  by Dave Eggers, a memoir about one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and was able to speak with some knowledge about the hardships of refugees in South Sudan. These women know a great many refugee families who arrive in America with little more than the clothes on their backs and NEED winter clothes for their kids. BINGO! The winter clolthes have found a new home. The lightweight clothes go to needy kids in Africa and the heavy weight clothes go to Africans living in America, how apropos!

Time to start sorting and washing!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Generosity is Contagious

There was a lot of "Giving Back" and "Paying it Forward" in Northern Virginia last week.

On Wednesday night - Frank and Judy Kenefick bought a wheelchair on Craigslist for a man they had never met.  Kwadwo is the custodian at Wolf Trap Elementary School and has been looking for a wheelchair for his sister back in Ghana.

On Friday morning - I brought the wheelchair to Wolf Trap Elementary. Kwadwo has a contact who ships to Ghana monthly. So, his sister in Kumasi will get the wheelchair quicker than waiting for my shipment which is going through Accra. And, now, I have another contact for shipping donations to Africa. :) 

Diane Long, who works in the school's office, decided to send out a notice to other elementary schools in the area, letting them know that I was collecting their extra books and supplies to send to a school in need in Africa. Well, an hour later, I got a call from White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Virginia. They had donations too! While I was driving to Burke to pick up their donations, Gail Magnani dropped off a wonderful selection of sewing needles and notions to be packed with the sewing machines.You rock Gail!

On Saturday morning, I ran out to meet a woman who had children's clothes to donate. I just had met her the day before and we struck up a random conversation about charities. The next thing I know she is offering to clean out her grandchildren's closets and she did!

On the way home I stopped at a garage sale and found a computer monitor and keyboard for sale so I quickly grabbed them. While I was numbering the boxes and putting bright pink duct tape on them so they could easily be spotted in the container,
Marge Buzzelli, pulls up with her grandchildren's old bicycles. We are going to give them to Daniel, my shipping contact, because he also sends bikes to Ghana.

A few minutes later, Daniel calls to say that he is at the storage unit and could I bring the boxes right away. Yikes, my husband Ken woke up covered in poison ivy and we were hoping to take him to the doctor for a quick steroid shot before packing the truck. Well, that had to wait. We quickly sprayed some calamine on Ken's wounds and filled our car and our neighbor Tom's truck with as many boxes as we could and headed off to Public Storage in Woodbrige, VA.

Tom and Ken filling the truck.

Tom and Ken unloading the truck.
We dropped off 59 boxes

but the garage is still pretty full of donations yet to be packed.
Luckily Daniel agreed to wait one more week so that I can get the rest of the boxes to him. Whew. It was a busy weekend.