Thursday
Sep252014

Meeting Colliard

Just over a month ago, my family of five returned from a life changing trip to Lusaka, Zambia with Arise Africa.  While I could write pages and pages about our amazing expedition, I was asked to condense my words for this post and focus solely on meeting the child we sponsor through Arise Africa’s child sponsorship program.   This is like asking someone who’s been to Disneyworld to report on just one ride in the park.  Seriously?  But because I’ll hear from Alissa if I don’t follow the rules, I will do my best to stay on task.

A little over a year ago, My husband and I decided to sponsor a child through Arise Africa.  I wish I could say it was a decision that came from the heart, but it was honestly because Alissa point blank sent me an email with a picture of a sweet little boy asking if I would sponsor him.   How could I say no to that?  Or to Alissa?  Don’t get me wrong, I was NOT guilted into doing it.  It was just not something that was on my radar at the time.  Because, well, life.

When we agreed to sponsor our child, Colliard, I had no idea I would eventually be in his home one day or that my children would be playing soccer (futbol) with him in his ‘front yard’.    What a difference a year makes.

Our first introduction to Colliard, 13, was a hand written letter and a 4x6 photograph sent to us from Arise Africa.  We tacked the letter and photograph to a bulletin board in our laundry room as a reminder to pray for him each time we saw his face. 

Even though I knew what we were doing was a good thing, it was hard to make a heart connection simply from a picture.  I couldn’t hear his voice. I couldn’t see him smile.   I didn’t know if he was shy.  I didn’t know if he had a sense of humor.   I just trusted that somehow we were making a difference by ‘sponsoring’ him.  What did that even mean?

 

Fast forward 365 days and my family was on a plane (or four) to Zambia.  We were told we would be able to meet Colliard once we arrived at his ‘compound’ (similar to a neighborhood, but not at all.)  When we drove up the dusty road to the compound and parked the car, my youngest said, ‘There’s Colliard!”  I think I laughed out loud because I assumed he didn’t have the first clue when it came to identifying one specific African child in a literal sea of African children.  (It turns out, however, there’s a reason he’s in TAG and I was not.)  It WAS Colliard!  Of all of the (what seemed like 10,000) children that were swarming our car, he was standing right in front of us.  And my kids recognized him from a 4x6. 

There’s something so surreal about going from praying for a child who you’ve only known from a photographic image to actually meeting him in person.  No description I write could ever do it justice.  I could literally see my children’s brains connecting the dots that THIS is the child who we are helping.  This is the child who’s handwriting is on that notebook paper in our laundry room.  This is the child for whom we have been praying.  My heart almost couldn’t take it. 

We brought Colliard an FC Dallas jersey as a gift from our family.  We wanted something that represented our city, but also something to which he could relate. 

(Have you ever noticed that soccer somehow speaks the universal language?)  He immediately put it on as we awkwardly hugged him one by one.  I say awkwardly only because my husband and 2 of my children have personal space issues and to hug them is akin to embracing a porcupine.  And really, because what is not awkward about 5 white people whom you’ve never met jumping out of a vehicle excitedly greeting you as if you’ve just reconnected after years of absence.  It was like a scene from a high school reunion gone wrong.   

 

After recouping from the overly anxious meet and greet, we accompanied Colliard back to his ‘house’ where we met his younger sister, Vida, and his older brother, Gift.   We were struck by the visual images that filled our minds on that journey.  There were kids everywhere.  And kids holding kids.  And more kids. 

 

It was unbelievable.  I’ve never seen so many beautiful little faces in such a small space.  As we approached his modest cinder block home, we were pleased to find a small garden of vegetables that his family had planted.  (Of course my kids had no idea what THOSE were, so I just told them they are a delicacy only grown and eaten in Africa.) 

Colliard invited us in by pulling back a piece of fabric that acted as a door.  I was struck by the darkness of this tiny dwelling, and it took my eyes awhile to adjust to the lack of light.   Once inside, the five of us sat on whatever furniture we could find.  Colliard’s brother, sister and cousin all joined us along with two Arise Africa staff members for translation.  We asked several questions and learned more about this precious family that was quickly starting to feel like our own.   It was then that I heard Colliard’s voice.  It was then that I saw him smile.  It was then that I learned he is shy.  And it was then that I learned he does have a great sense of humor.   In those moments, he went from being an image on my bulletin board to being a part of my family.

After a natural break in conversation, my children asked Colliard if he would like to play soccer outside.   We then watched as they quickly integrated with the other children in the compound and played various games with the soccer ball.    We were also able to go visit his classroom that day, as well as feed he and his classmates a nutritious lunch.  It was by far one of my favorite days on our trip and one I will never forget.

 

We also were able to write in and leave a Bible for Colliard.

What does sponsorship mean?  It means so much more than writing a letter and sending a check each month.  It means touching the life of a child who is in need of education, spiritual guidance, food and hope for a future where the cycle of poverty is broken.  The Arise Africa staff has a personal relationship with each child it sponsors.   These kids are followed and cared for by loving people doing the work of the Lord in Zambia.   I saw it first hand, and pray that this post urges you to consider helping just one child.   You may never have the opportunity to meet this child, but I promise you have the ability to change them forever.   

 

- Jamie Kraus

Thursday
Sep182014

Are all donations really a good thing?

Recently we have been contacted by a few organizations that want to help ship food and other items over to Zambia in an effort for us to be able to help and feed more children.  Although this sounds like a home run for us, you might be surprised that although the offer is very generous, we typically say no.  And let me explain our philosophy.   

 

I want to first of all say that in no way am I trying attack people and organizations that are doing this.  But I do ask people to really look at the big picture before they get involved with helping others. 

Arise Africa has spent countless hours learning about boosting the economics of a third world country.  If we are really focused on ending poverty and helping people have lives that God desired for them than we have to attack poverty on all fronts, right?  When unemployment is 70 – 80% at times how do we boost the economy and not hurt it?  A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a man by the name of Robert Doar who is a Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.  Let's just say he studies poverty for a living and has been for years.  Robert kept encouraging me in what we were doing in Africa and continued to say to me "Alissa if you can help their economy and provide as many jobs as possible that's the key to ending poverty, teach them to provide on their own and get them to tools to do that and you are doing great!"

How do we help increase more jobs to people in these countries that hopefully one day the exact children we are helping have jobs?   

We feel this is a prime example how: Arise Africa strives to purchase food and other items we need with local men and women and farmers who sell these items in their stores, markets, and farms in Zambia.  Let’s just take food for an example.  What this does is not only provide food for the children we are helping at our schools or elsewhere but it also provides income which is food for the people selling it.  It provides them a job, it keeps their job secure, and it keeps them from being jobless and having to beg for food themselves.  Local women in the markets we buy from use our money to feed their own children and pay for their kids to go to school.  If we were to ship donations in from organizations, we would wipe out an entire economic level of people who benefit from us.  We have a farmer who we get all our chickens and eggs from, and we are some of his biggest sales weekly.  He can count on us, we are always there and needing meat.  Through Arise Africa purchasing food locally it provides jobs.  Not only the farmers themselves, but the people who work for them.  How can we expect the economy of Zambia to improve if we aren’t purchasing local?   If we want to encourage individuals to be self reliant and sufficient, we have to provide the opportunities too. We are trying to teach people how to stand on their own two feet. 

Let me be the first to say that Arise Africa doesn’t buy everything we need in Zambia.  If you were at my house a week ago you would have witnessed me packing a massive box that was getting shipped to Zambia on a container ship. 

 

 What was in that massive box I was packing was a brand new basketball goal for the kids in the Arise Home (it is a secret don’t tell!) for Christmas.  In three months after crossing the Atlantic Ocean and going through port in Namibia the goal is for the goal (get it goal/goal ha ha I digress so fast) to make it to Zambia.  You might ask why I went to ALL this effort to get a basketball hoop over there that cost me 4 times as much as the goal itself to ship?!  Because they don’t sell basketball hoops in Zambia and can you imagine the looks on the kids faces when they see they have one?!  And we have had quite a few made by welders over there, and let’s just say they are sub par.  After purchasing the goal I then opened it and filled it with other items we pack and take ourselves over to Zambia, which in this case were books.  Yes heavy Christian books.  See, when you ship stuff there is no weight limit, just a size limit, so I stuffed that box with everything I could.  Books in Zambia are rare and about three times the price they are in America and Christian books are nowhere to be found.  Therefore we make exceptions to our “buy local” rule.  DISCLAIMER:  yes if you look closely at the photo you might see fireworks in there that were purchased in America.  I have no comment about the illegally packed fireworks other than I strongly feel every child in the world deserves a proper New Years, which involves fire works in my opinion. (This is a personal opinion not an Arise Africa opinion)

Arise Africa makes exceptions for things that also are not made well in Zambia.  For example we have learned that door knobs are imported from China to Zambia and are terribly made.  Imagine how much wear and tear a door knob gets in your home.  Now imagine the Arise Home, there are at least 24 hands in that home, grabbing the door knob and our kids are kids, they don’t treat things very “lovingly” at times.  The Arise Home door knobs don’t last, like not even a week.  It looks like our children have chain saws as hands if you saw our doorknobs. They are broken in half, torn out of the door etc… (don’t get me started on the toilet seats in the boys bathroom, that’s a whole other blog post)  Therefore we have decided to replace our door knobs with American made doorknobs that can withstand the brutality that the Arise Home provides.  We really should be a durability product testing lab for companies, we could make major money because I promise you our kids can destruct anything in ten minutes. 

When the Arise Home was getting built, we were offered by a company in the USA to ship all the furniture over there on containers.  Once again this was a very very generous offer.  We choose to hire a carpenter and welder to make all of the furniture in Zambia.  We gave them work for months and months.  They had never had someone come to them and ask for ten metal bunk beds to be made!  They were able to increase their shops and staff because of us.  They had enough profits to purchase better equipment which in return gave them the ability to make things quicker and better and boosted their business forever.  We hired local women in the markets to be our seamstresses and make all the kid’s bed spreads and couch cushions.  We provided labor and jobs for so so many people.  The sad thing is folks, these people were BEGGING for work, and were beyond grateful to us for using their services. 

The cost that people spend to ship food and items across the oceans is astronomical. To ship one basketball goal was $536.  How much is an entire 20 or 40 foot container?  We are talking $15,000 - $30,000 easily.  That doesn’t even factor in how much the items in the container cost that you ship. Now imagine how much food you could buy in Zambia and the kids you could feed with the shipping costs alone and what that would do for their economy?  Is it really smart to use hard earned dollars to pay for shipping when the item you are shipping can be bought in the place you are sending it to?  If your aunt lives 500 miles away and she needs food and cannot afford it herself are you going to go buy heavy rice and food and package it up and pay to ship it to her?  Or are you going to write her a check and put it in the mail? 

In theory these offers seems like a no brainer right?!  Get as much food as you can to feed kids.  But we feel that to make a long lasting impact and help the country of Zambia stand on it’s own two feet, this isn’t helping them, in fact it is hurting them.  This is a hard pill to swallow for some Americans, and we understand that.  But everyday I try to look at the bigger picture and am working to put myself out a job. That happens when poverty doesn’t exist. 

There are some areas of the world where shipping food or goods in makes sense.  Maybe there is a drought or floods that have wiped out all the local farming.  Maybe there was a war and it wiped out all the available shops to purchase from.  Look at Haiti after the earthquake, they needed many many things brought in.  Maybe what you are shipping just doesn’t exist in that country.

We want to be responsible and aware of our impact in Zambia on ALL levels.  We want to improve the standards of living for all.  And we don’t want to spread materialism issues or hurt their economy any more than it already is.  That is why we are so very careful to take on any project and closely evaluate the impact we have. 

We don’t do everything right, in fact I know some would argue that this exact blog post isn’t correct.  And that’s OK.  We appreciate the generous offers, we really really do.   This isn’t to say organizations that are doing this aren’t making an impact.  We have chosen to not partake in this.  That’s not to say we are trying to point fingers at those who do.  I get many questions about this and wanted to express our side on the issue, that’s all. 

- Alissa

Thursday
Sep112014

Continuing Education

         For years our staff in Zambia have always loved any books or manuals I can get them that helps them do their jobs better.  I love taking over Bible Studies, books and sermons on all sorts of topics such as depression, anger, loss, grieving, healing from physical or sexual abuse, how to work with children who have been abused etc... Unfortunately in Zambia those resources are not available, it is something that we take for granted in America.

      This year in an effort to help us grow and have deeper of an impression Arise Africa has decided to go more in depth in educating our staff on how to do their jobs to have the biggest imapct.  Even though food, shelter, and education is at the top of our list to help these kids, the bottom line is we want to impact their hearts and teach them about the Lord's love for them.  If we aren't training our staff how to work with children in really difficult situations, than we aren't working to our maximum ability.

      Furthermore, we have started the Arise Home and thrown children in a living situation they have never experienced before.  They came from living on the streets, living with distant relatives who didn't care for them, and their lives have had major trauma and abandonment.  The transition to living in our home isn't easy, and they had to learn the basics of living.  They didn't know how to use running water in a home and the toilets were new.  Figuring out what goes in a refrigerator was a new concept.  Everything was new to them.  Imagine how hard the change was for the kids in the home, and now imagine how hard the jobs are of our house moms!  They are helping 10 kids figure all of this out!  They are helping with school work, and cooking, and dealing with every single part of that child's life - times ten!   It isn't fair for Arise Africa to not fully equip and train our house moms to know how to deal emotionally with children they work with.

      Arise Africa has partnered up with a Dallas Counseling practice, Nikao,

 

to work on manuals and plan a training workshop for our staff.  Nikao has been very very gracious with us in this process and their counselors are working hard to make manuals that our Zambia staff can use for many years down the road.  We are meeting regularly as these manuals are made and it is awesome to see how in tune Nikao is to learning about the culture in Zambia and the children we work with.  They want to know about our staff and working situations and every aspect of how we operate and reach out to children in Zambia.  This is a daunting project that they have fully embraced. 

        We are also planning to go to Zambia in 2015 for a week of training with three Nikao counselors to fully educate our staff.  Words cannot express the excitement that both our Zambian staff and myself has over this!  This will not only help us minister and help reach kids on a deeper level, but also help Arise Africa as a ministry work together and grow in a positive and healthy manner. I just hope Nikao knows that they are getting themselves into when you put all Arise Africa staff in one room together! 

 

In Him,

Alissa

 

Thursday
Jul312014

Megan Megan she's our girl!

Today is a very special day for Arise Africa because we are celebrating Megan's Birthday!

 Happy Birthday Megan!

For those of you who haven't been to Zambia you might not know Megan.  Megan is our (ONLY!) American living in Zambia and does just about everything you can imagine on the ground.  From chasing kids down who are in trouble to handling finances and running mission trips she can do it all.  If you were stranded on an island you would want Megan with you because she has done just about everything you could ever need to do already!  (and she is a good cook) Megan has lived in Zambia for 8 years and has been one of my best friends since 2008.

I am not sure Arise Africa would still be in existence without Megan.  YEARS ago as I dreamed about Arise Africa and when we started, Megan was my "sounding board."  She worked for another ministry at the time and we met through friends in Zambia and always chatted about my ideas.  As time went by and I dreamed and bounced thoughts off Megan, she was always quick to give advice and listen, two things I desperately needed.

Fast forward a few years and Arise Africa was up and running and Megan was ready for a new ministry to call "home."  She threw out the idea on a visit to see me in Dallas and as she remembers we were standing in my garage at the time.  I really didn't know what I was doing when I said "yes" that Arise Africa would love Megan to come on board and the massive impact it would have.  There is NO way we would have grown or accomplished so much in such short time without Megan!  The only way this story could have happened was through the Lord.  Without him how does a girl from Chicago even get along with a girl from Texas?!  The blessing Megan has been on Arise Africa is immeasurable.  And personally the blessing and advice and support she has been for me as a friend is priceless. 

Megan puts up with alot from me and I don't deny that.  Heck she is from Chicago and deals with Texans on every single mission trip.  She might make fun of how we have everything monogrammed and are obsessed with Texas A&M and love fireworks and guns and Mexican food but we know she loves us deep down.  Megan deals with me when I am stressed on the phone or have an absolute crazy idea.  She has a way of telling me "no" in a way I need to hear.  She will do anything when I ask her even as far away as I am.  She is ALWAYS looking out for others and willing to serve. 

Megan is willing to do the trust fall with kids she barley knows when she is deathly afraid of heights:

She is the one that thinks up all the kids Bible Camp Curriculum and comes up with fun ideas like dressing kids up in aluminum foil as soldiers of the Lord:

God put a friend in my life when I needed one most.  As I started out on this Arise Africa "venture" I never dreamed it would turn into the ministry it is today.  And there is no doubt the Lord had a plan for both Megan and I and all who have been involved.  God has used Megan within Arise Africa in ways we all can tangibly see on earth, just imagine what it looks like from heaven!

Megan as you celebrate your birthday I hope you know how much you are loved by ALL of us within Arise Africa.  There is no doubt that hundreds of children are being helped daily because of your efforts.  You are selfless, loving, motherly, a best friend to many, a servant, a Christ follower, a leader, a great sister, a great aunt, a great daughter, and an incredible person on this earth.  You make Arise Africa what it is and we thank you for ALL you do in the Lord's name !  WE LOVE YOU MEGAN!

Love,

Alissa and ALL of Arise Africa staff and Arise Home Children

Thursday
Jul312014

Ebola Outbreak

In the past week I have received quite a few emails from individuals asking about the Ebola virus and if it is affecting Arise Africa.  We currently (Thank the Lord) are nowhere near the Ebola outbreak.  In fact, from what I have heard it isn't being discussed much in Zambia mainly because most people don't know it is going on in Western Africa due to no news and lack of communication. 

Our staff however does and Arise Africa is watching the outbreak very very closely. 

Here is a map to help you understand where the outbreak is compared to where Zambia is:

Although we currently are not in harms way it hurts us so much to see this outbreak happening. And it is scary enough even as far away as it is!  It hits close to home for us in that the community of Americans serving in Africa is close knit and we know and have ties to both US aid workers who have contracted the disease while working to help stop the spreading. You can read more about them here.

We ask you to join us in praying very hard for this disease to be stopped and controlled.  Pray for the countries in direct warfare with Ebola right now.  Pray hard for there to be supplies and clinics to not be overwhelmed.  Pray for the people of that country to become educated as fast as possible in understanding how this is spread and the precautions that need to take place.  Pray for Dr. Brantley and Nancy Writebol to recover and for their families right now during this difficult time.  Pray for the aid organizations who are trying to evacuate their missionaries and aid workers before they are affected.   (Samaratians Purse, Serving In Mission, etc...)  Pray for those who have Ebola and are in isolation that they feel comfort from the Lord. 

We will continue to monitor Ebola in West Africa and try to be as ready as possible if it were to spread towards Zambia.

I can't imagine if this were happening in Zambia right now what we would be doing.  I know we would be in trouble and I ask you to pray for all the aid organizations and people who are trying to help in these affected countries.  They need our prayers right now! 

 In Him,

Alissa