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Giving back to Africa

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Yesterday and the day before my wife and I attended a couple of events sponsored by the remarkable Seattle-based global health NGO, PATH. The events focused on one of PATH's many projects in Africa; a ten-year effort to develop and deploy an affordable vaccine to prevent Meningitis-A, a terrible and deadly disease that annually kills or maims tens of thousands of African children and young adults in the "meningitis belt" which runs throughout western and central sub-Saharan Africa. The disease leaves a high percentage of the victims - those that survive - with lifelong disabilities such as decreased mental capacity, permanent total deafness, or both. Roughly 200 million people are at risk in the region.

To make a long story short, through the combined efforts of international organizations like the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH itself, a remarkable biotech firm in India, and - and this is the important part - ordinary people who contributed seed money, the vaccine was approved last year and production was scaled up so fast that twenty million - yes, million doses of "le bon vaccin" were administered in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in a one month period starting in December. They hurried to deploy the vaccine because cases of Meningitis-A appear during the dry season, and stop appearing when the rains begin in May. They wanted to beat the clock.

They also had to make it affordable. These are some of the poorest countries in the world, so-called "dollar a day" countries where personal income is around that much - under $400 a year. The vaccine had to be cheap enough to administer on a scale that would be effective and which would not crush the host government's finances, even if most of the cost were borne by others. The vaccine developed by PATH costs roughly forty cents per dose. Save a life for the cost of a candy bar.

The result? In Burkina Faso, instead of the tens of thousands of cases that appear in a typical year (the number 45,000 sticks in my mind, but I can't vouch for it) this year a total of… one… case has been reported. This year, PATH hopes to increase the number of people vaccinated to 40 million; 60 million next year, and so on, until the disease becomes scarce, maybe even… gone.

So why am I bringing this up here? Because I suspect that many readers of this forum found that traveling to Africa was for them, as it was for us, a transformative experience. We come back changed; not just stunned by the glory of the African environment, but deeply moved by the human story that unfolded in front of us, the poverty, the hope, the promise that Africa contains.

We want to give back, to do what we can to make that promise stronger. Give money, sure, but do more than that, if we can.

I would like to propose that we collaborate here by sharing ideas, providing links, mentioning organizations or efforts with which we're familiar - that can make a difference in Africa. The more knowledge we can gain, or spread, the better the chances that we can get something done; if not through our own work, volunteerism, or charitable giving, then by getting the word out, and pointing others toward ideas, organizations, and to channels that work.

For a start, here are a couple:

If you know or can recommend other organizations who are making a difference in Africa, let's hear about them.

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    Empower Women in Africa, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that brings economic and educational opportunities to WOMEN AND GIRLS in rural Namibia, empowering them by giving them the skills to improve their lives, and those around them.
    Vision. (

    Education is the key to overcoming the poverty and gender inequity that many individuals are born into in the developing world. By working locally to support girls in their education and women in securing a job, communities will be transformed and lives will be changed.


    Lori Schippers, the founder of Empower Women in Africa, Inc. (EWA), was a Peace Corps volunteer math teacher in Andara, Namibia from January 2009 until December 2010. In many Bantu languages spoken in southern Africa, “Ewa” is a common greeting used in passing, in parting, or amongst friends meaning, “Everything’s fine,” or even “See you later.”
    Through the relationships Lori formed and the trust she earned from her primary school students, she learned about the incredible weight every girl carries with her as she grows up in poverty. In childhood, she shares all of the household chores with her sisters, if she has any. These include fetching water from a river or borehole, near or far, washing clothes in a river so she doesn’t have to lug the water home first, collecting firewood at ever increasing distances because it’s being used up close to home, cooking on an open fire for her family, washing the plates after dinner, all while she is trying to maintain her studies and find time to complete her homework. She must struggle to find enough money to cover her school fees and hope that if she has brothers, her unemployed parents will be able to come up with enough money for her brothers and herself. She must find some way to get a dollar or two to buy a pen or pencil, hardly ever having enough money for both. She must search for menstrual pads (and if she can’t find any, depend on toilet paper, newspaper, old rags or cloth) to use each month once she reaches puberty, or face the reality of missing school every time she’s menstruating and getting behind in her subjects, failing, or even dropping out.

    Lori was able to obtain a donation of 1364 reusable cloth pads for Andara Combined School, Omuthitu Combined School and a teen clinic at Omaruru District Hospital. But a single donation wasn’t enough. She wanted to be able to help more girls stay in school, with one less obstacle to overcome. And she wanted to address the financial dependence on men that women face in much of the developing world.

    Thus, Empower Women in Africa was born with a mission to keep girls growing up in poverty in school to alleviate the obstacles they face in life, as well as to work with women to develop small businesses making and selling reusable cloth menstrual pads – creating jobs for women and making a much needed product affordable and sold locally to girls who need them.

    This of course is on a much smaller scale but still addressed the greater needs at hand.

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    There is so much need, and not enough dollars. Some of the donations I have made, which is too little:

    UNICEF - you can give a bike. They are used to transport vaccinations.

    Malaria nets (mossie nets) save lives.

    School uniforms so children can go to school.

    Micro loans for (mostly) women to start a micro business.

    Clean, potable water and waste treatment.

    Encourage more partnerships with USAID and multi-national corporations. Coca Cola is building a plant in Limpopo Province, S Africa. They are required to supply the nearest town with potable, running water due to the SA govt and USAID's involvement. No, it isn't perfect, but good.

    In the last few years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has started to accept donations from the masses. (meaning, not just Warren Buffett). I have a friend at Partners in Health and they are amazing. They run a clinic in Lesotho as well as Haiti and S America.

    So much need. So many ways we'd like to help. Spend lots of travel money in small towns, tip your guides well and try to use local people for some services. If you have the opportunity to visit community based game reserves instead of the big multi-nationals, that helps, too. Small steps. Our (a collective our) travel dollars help, no matter where we choose to stay.

    We plan to join the Peace Corps in retirement.

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    foundation helping in Africa since 1995

    Out of Emory University in Atlanta

    Doctors Without Borders charitable foundations.

    my top 4 potentially saving millions of lives

    from malaria #1 infectious disease killer

    of children worldwide.

    Try to give/volunteer generously to these reputable folks

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