Wednesday
Feb112015

A word from Megan...

At the Arise Africa home, our goal is to raise these kids as apart of a larger community.  They attend a local school as well as attend a local church.  Our hearts behind having a home is to make sure that our kids experience life and not confine them to institutional living.  This means that our kids go to Sunday School each week and as our kids get older they start attending youth groups.  Because of this, our kids have grown to love the body of Christ.

With that comes responsibility and involvement that goes further than them just  receiving.  Last week at church, our pastor requested that people come and help plant trees and plants on the church grounds.  What better way for our boys to start connecting and serving at the local church.   Instead of going to their weekly football game, Abraham who many of you know and love, picked up the boys and took them to church to help out. 

Of course the boys were a bit bummed out at first when they heard they were not going to their football practice.  However, once they got there and started helping out, they began to see that other people were giving of their time and they jumped right in.  Armond loves gardening, so I think he actually liked this more than football!

The boys worked really hard and gave it their all, so what better reward than pizza and ice cream! 

As we sat there, they were tired and dirty, but I could see that they had enjoyed giving back and had a sense of accomplishment.  When there was one slice of pizza left, I asked the boys who deserves the last slice?  Armond, the shy one that he is didn’t have much to say.  Fred said, “I deserve it because I worked hard at planting trees” and out of nowhere Mukonda replied, “I deserve it because I am a better dancer than both of these guys!”  They decided to share it as good brothers do. 

It makes me so proud to see these boys living as brothers.  To see the changes happening in their lives and in their hearts is such a miracle from God.  All I can say is…get ready world because we have three young men who are destined for greatness!

 

- Megan

Sunday
Nov302014

It's beginning to look alot like...

CHRISTMAS FOR ZAMBIA!

This month we are hitting the road and taking the Arise Africa Christmas Catalog party to Dallas, Midland, Houston, and Austin.  Well to be honest with you I meant to write this blog post a few weeks ago because Dallas and Midland have already happened.  Sorry if you are late to the party for those.  We had great success in both cities and can't wait for Houston on December 3rd and Austin on the 7th. Food and drinks on us!

 

Please join us for those parties if you live nearby:

 

Houston                                                                        Austin

Wednesday December 3rd                                             Sunday December 7th

St. Arnold Brewing Company                                         Contigo Restaurant

Investors Pub                                                                  6 - 9 PM

7 - 9 PM                                                                          2027 Anchor Lane

2000 Lyons Avenue

 

If you are unable to make it to a Christmas Catalog Party we STRONGLY encourage you to shop with the catalog we sent you in the snail mail or online

Thursday
Nov062014

Jesus is Better

Note: this blog post was written by one of our 2014 summer interns, Ellen Taylor

I have been back from Africa for some time now and I am just now getting around to writing this post. I guess it takes that long to process through a trip like the one I had the opportunity to experience. A life-giving, life-changing trip. A trip that shook me to the core and taught me lessons that I am still learning almost three months later. It was an unforgettable month.


Exhausting. Hard. Good. Draining. Eye-opening. Incredible.

These are just some of the words I have used to describe my time in Lusaka, Zambia this past summer. Whenever people ask me about my month there, these few, simple words are all that I can usually muster up. It’s hard for me to even start describing my experience because it was one that was completely different than I could ever have pictured. It was a day-to-day humbling, uncomfortable, but incredibly life-changing month.

For those longer conversations with good friends over coffee or a shared meal, I tell them stories. I tell them about the people that I met and the pure joy that overflowed from them despite all the hurt they had been through. I tell them about the beautiful, precious kids I got to know and the determination many of them have to overcome the obstacles they face for a brighter future. I talk about the antics that went down when you throw 5 college-age girls together for a month and the sweet community that happened with these girls whom I had never met before our trip. I talk about how my internship changed me and challenged what I want for my future. And most importantly, I tell them that Jesus is better. That He is better than anything that this world can offer or supply. That our circumstances should not define our joy and limit our Savior. That Jesus is better today, and He will be better tomorrow and every day after.

 

The media and the Western world tend to shape people’s view on Africa. I know it did for me. They paint a picture of a broken, hurting, poverty-stricken continent that is full of desolation and in desperate need of our resources and occasionally our help. They tell us that we must fix their symptoms through tangible resources instead of fixing their deeper needs. Yes, I saw hurt and heartache. I walked through dark streets and had my eyes opened to a life that is completely different than the one I live here in Texas. But, what the media and Western world leaves out, is that these are hurting people. People like you and me. People who have a deep, abiding, unending amount of joy. Who do not let their circumstances define them and steal this joy away. I saw Jesus clearer in these people than I ever have before. Time and time again, they taught me what James commands us to do in James 1:2:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”

To simply rejoice. To give all the glory to God, no matter what life throws at you. My friends in Lusaka live this out daily and taught me that I still have so much to learn when it comes to trusting my Savior. I learned by watching them live their lives for Jesus that we were made to know Him. And to make Him known. When something good happened to them, they gave all the glory to God. When something bad happened, they still gave all the glory to God. They knew that they were loved and known by Jesus. I only hope that one day I can be as half as loving, grace-giving, humble, and generous as them. I look up to them for their strength, courage, and compassion. And most importantly, I look up to them because they understand that Jesus is better than what this earth can supply us.

I could go on and on about my time in Zambia. I could fill blog post after blog post about all the lessons, big and small, that I learned from my time there. I am so thankful that the Lord sent me there this summer to meet and get to know the people that I did. I am forever changed by them. Jesus is greater y’all. And so much better.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” // Ephesians 3:20-21

 

- Ellen Taylor

 

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