Thursday, May 26, 2016

Live, Love, Laugh in Kansas City

What's crowded and fun and full of excitement one Friday of each year in Kansas City, MO?  It's the annual LIVE LOVE LAUGH festival raising friends and money beneath a big tent for girls' education in South Sudan and Haiti!

Organized by the indefatigable Jo Marie Guastello and her amazing family, this is a block party you don't want to miss.  Genuine Italian sausages, plenty of cold beer, desserts to die for--and most of all, the friendliest folks on the planet. All coming together to boost the work of Mercy Beyond Borders.

Top, see the items bring raffled. Above: "Cousin Frank with Jo Marie's brother, Paul."

Would you believe? This event, coupled with a 5k run the same weekend, brings in tens of thousands of dollars?  Wow! This is the American spirit of volunteering at its finest.  We thank you, Jo Marie, and we thank the whole village that makes it happen.  Awesome!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Leg to Stand On

At first you wouldn't even notice that Ijok has one plastic leg. She stands straight, smiles often, and even runs on the playground at St Bakhita Primary School in S.Sudan. She will tell you straight out, "Even if I am disabled, I can do anything!"  And I believe her.

As an infant, Ijok was caught in a rebel ambush. "My mother was shot in the stomach," she says, "and I lost two fingers and one leg to the bullets."  (That is how she got the name, Ijok, meaning "Bad Luck.") 

Ijok adds, "Then my mother, I suppose, could not imagine how to raise a child who had only one good hand and one leg. She ran away and disappeared, leaving me in the hospital. I was rescued and raised by my grandmother."

Happily, Ijok's grandmother found a way to bring her to St Bakhita's. Now she's thriving. She loves reading, playing with friends, and learning new things, especially in the MBB computer lab.  She has a future now! 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Who doesn't love a puddle?

The kids in South Sudan are just like your own kids in so many ways.

After a rain shower, they jump in puddles and  chase one another around the school yard. They float leaves in the ditches and find treasures under the rocks.

But in South Sudan they must also look out for poisonous snakes and scorpions--and of course the malarial mosquitoes that thrive in stagnant water.

Never mind. They're having fun today!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

South Sudan to San Francisco

Maureen Limer, a Sister of Mercy from northern England, has served the peoples of E.Africa for the past 35 yrs, including many years in South Sudan. Oh, the stories she could tell!  She's now a volunteer in South Sudan with MBB's scholarships program.

Maureen recently spent a few weeks in California and participated in a meeting of the MBB Board. She's pictured here at "Land's End" in San Francisco with board member Shirley Tamoria, MD. Land's End, you say??? Surely that describes S.Sudan more than San Francisco!

PS:  If you are ever planning a safari to Maasai land in Kenya, contact Maureen first. She taught most of those safari guides when they were in school.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Currency Collapse

On average, teachers in South Sudan earn from 450 - 600 S.Sudan Pounds (SSP) per month.  Until last month, that was roughly $150 - $200 USD. Not a fortune, but enough to make ends meet. 

Then the government, giving in to international pressure to reduce the yawning gap between its official exchange rate (3.1 SSP = $1 USD) and the street exchange rate (38 SSP = $1 USD), allowed the Pound to float.  Its value plummeted. Today that teacher’s monthly salary is worth a pitiful $15 - $20. 

Adding to the misery, the government has not paid any civil servants their salaries since last November.  Teachers, soldiers, health workers, clerks…. No one!  

Even the most dedicated ex-pat teachers who stayed in South Sudan throughout all the years of war and turmoil and danger are leaving their posts because the $50 border-crossing fee eats more than 2 months’ pay!  Kenyans and Ugandans who were, in many cases, the only trained teachers in S.Sudanese schools, can no longer afford to stay.  It’s going to be a very rough year for everyone, including students.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Q.  When is a rubber band not a rubber band?
A.   Soon after you bring it into South Sudan.

Within 24 hours the rubber band hardens, cracks and splits open from the intense heat. It’s no longer elastic and no longer a band. It’s a useless brittle strip of what was formerly quite handy for holding things together.  

South Sudan is like that now. It’s hard to hold things together there. The country is unraveling: hardening and cracking and splitting open from political and tribal divisions, violence, currency devaluation, famine, and massive population displacements.  When is a country not a country? South Sudan teeters on the edge.

Once again, I’ve emerged unscathed from several weeks inside South Sudan. The odds of that are not favorable, but I am lucky that way.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reality TV ?

One lone and very dusty TV set occupies a place of honor in the meeting hall of the Narus compound where I stay when visiting St Bakhita School in South Sudan.  It sits atop an old wooden cabinet, next to a wall clock forever stuck at eleven minutes to six. The TV is on for an hour or two each evening, powered by a generator. It gets only one station: CCTV, an African version of Chinese state broadcasts. Under the guise of world news, it treats us nightly to a peculiar perspective on current events. My favorite was a recent documentary about how the Chinese government honors the Tibetan culture by “preserving” its monasteries as museums. The videography was stunning but the narrator neglected to mention China’s systematic oppression of Tibetan people and religion. Or its imprisonment of monks and nuns. Or its forced relocation into Tibet of tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese to replace the indigenous Tibetans. 

Well, I watched the station several times. There isn’t much else to do once darkness falls. Each night without fail, at about 9:00pm and lit only by the glow of the TV screen, a small swarm of bats swoops up and outward from some secret hideaway behind the wooden TV cabinet, lurches lopsidedly around the room and eventually settles onto upside down perches from the ceiling.  Now, THAT’s reality TV!  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Sting Operation

Yes, it's a scorpion. The kind whose sting can kill a child, or make an adult writhe in pain for 3 days. The kind that thrive in hot, dry, gritty deserts--just the very sort of place that is Narus, South Sudan.

My close encounter occurred when I was looking for a rag to wipe the dust off my laptop.  I reached out to grab a washcloth hanging from a rack on the wall.  Living in constant fear of spiders, I had the good sense to lift the rag very gingerly and shake it a bit to dislodge any unwanted critters. As I pulled it carefully off the rack, I saw the scorpion, larger than my thumb, on the wall just behind it. 

I suppressed a scream and instead squeaked, "Sister Edvine!  In here, please!"  Edvine-the-Brave came running (she just earned a raise from MBB), took one look at the scorpion, uttered a respectful "Ooooh," and summarily thwacked it with her sandal, resulting in one fewer scorpion in South Sudan and one very relieved Executive Director.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


I had invited the Principal of St Bakhita High School over to “my place” in South Sudan (a corrugated iron shipping container long since converted into a guest dwelling). There I was, sitting casually on a flimsy plastic chair across the small round table from him, chatting about the challenges of running a boarding school where there are never enough trained teachers.  Beyond the meshed wire windows I could hear birds trilling and see the garden thick with trees growing ‘round the bomb shelter.  Then I heard a scampering. Tiny feet skittering across mesh. An unmistakable sound. And a long naked tail trailing behind. Hard to ignore. 

Yes, a sizeable rat was dashing along the mesh several inches behind the head of my guest. Dashing, that is, until our eyes met: then Mr. Rat froze in place, pretending to blend into the general scenery. Ha!  If it could have grinned at me, it probably would have: “This is my house, too, you know!”  I conceded the point: I am only a visitor here for a few weeks. We wordlessly agreed to share the space: “I’ll take the ground floor, please; you can have the rafters.”

Postscript: two days after writing the above paragraph, I cornered a large plump rat in the shower stall. Again, a brave MBB colleague dispatched it to the netherworld. But all night long we heard the running of many, many tiny feet in the rafters. Perhaps they were gathering for the funeral?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Firewood Woman

The firewood woman—I did not learn her name--looks old and weary and worn, yet she has a toddler with her so she must be young. She once had a husband who helped her with the work, cutting and bundling the wood. He died. She is now a widow stripped of all possessions (according to the Levirate custom); even the wedding necklaces she once proudly wore were reclaimed by the dead man’s brothers. 

Reduced to near starvation, this Firewood Woman has walked four miles to reach here. She steps slowly, deliberately into the Narus compound beneath her heavy load, then bends to topple its weight onto the ground. She sits on the dirt and turns her head upward, hoping that the compound manager will purchase the wood so that she and her child can eat. But no, she has come too late: the compound bought its supply of wood yesterday from another woman. 

This firewood woman sits motionless on the ground for another hour, absorbing the news the way the earth absorbs the punishing heat, without complaint; then she hoists her burden onto her head, stands upright, and walks back through the gate.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Some people say they are unlucky in life; others unlucky in love. Myself, I am unlucky in phones. 

Both my mother and my mother’s mother had careers as telephone operators --long before cell phones, when Ma Bell was still a monopoly, back when phone numbers had quaint names like “Klondike 3477” and a switchboard actually involved switching a wild tangle of lines manually from one plug to another on a huge board.  

Despite the fact that I must have inherited some of those clever genes, I hate phones. And they know it. They snicker when they see me coming. Several months ago I purchased a basic phone in Haiti specifically for travel. I used it while visiting MBB projects there.  When I reached Nairobi en route to South Sudan recently I confidently produced the cell phone and exchanged the Haitian sim card for a Kenyan sim card. Nothing happened. No lights, rings, or whistles. It didn’t work. The technician who had just sold the sim card to me said, “Your phone, Madam, it is locked. This will function only in Haiti.” Perhaps you heard the slow grinding of teeth.  There is no way around it. I am unlucky with phones. I accept my fate.

PS: The above paragraph was written upon my arrival to Kenya in February. While going through security screening at Nairobi’s main airport this past weekend prior to my flight home, my smart phone was stolen.  Need I say it again? Definitely unlucky with phones. Sigh.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Coping with Malaria

Thanks to the generosity of Dignity Health System in San Francisco, Mercy Beyond Borders has been able to bring Sr Edvine Tumuheirwe, an experienced RN, to live and work at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School for a year.  Given that there are over 700 girls in the school (half of them boarding), she does not lack for patients.  In her first 2 months on campus, she treated 82 cases of malaria, plus girls with pneumonia, skin rashes, parasites, and more. Here you see her comforting a feverish girl while others lie in the shade of a classroom behind her. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Two Edvines

What are the odds that, among 4 MBB staff in South Sudan, two of them would be named "Sr Edvine"???  And that both of their surnames would begin "Tum...."  That would be Edvine Tumwesigye and Edvine Tumuheirwe, to be precise.  The former is our amazing Scholarships Coordinator, and the latter is our newly-resident nurse at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School.  In our books they are simply Edvine #1 and Edvine #2. We love them both!

Here's Edvine #1, who traverses the vast, rough geography of Kenya and S.Sudan to support and encourage our Scholars.

And here's Edvine #2 tending to a young girl sweating with malaria.

Day after day, they do the hard work of improving the lives of women and girls with MBB in South Sudan.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

(The Illegal Leap) From 10 to 28

Here's the map of South Sudan established at the time of its independence in 2011.  Note that it has 10 States.

The embattled government of S.Sudan, which has been struggling with various armed rebel groups for two years, has recently decided to split the country into 28 States instead. This has caused an uproar and brought the peace negotiations to a halt.  The rebels claim, with substantial cause, that the gerrymandering is illegal and that it heavily favors the dominant Dinka tribe, to the political detriment of all other tribes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eastward to Africa

Here I go again!  By the time you read this post, I'll be winging my way across 11 time zones from San Francisco to Portland to Amsterdam to Nairobi.  Lest that sound exotic and fun, let me share the details:

After 28 hours in transit, my zombie-like self will, I hope, clear Kenyan immigration and customs before midnight and land at a local Mercy convent. Then it's back out to Jomo Kenyatta Airport early the next morning for the next leg of the trip to S. Sudan: a flight to Lodwar, in central Kenya.

Alas, the discovery of oil in northern Kenya has vastly complicated my travel to South Sudan: the airport at Loki, quite near the S.Sudan border, has been shut down (several years already!) for repairs and expansion.  Lodwar is an undesirable alternate airport, located some 5 hours south of Loki, and thus necessitating a long road journey to the border, where I must stay overnight (think lovely motel "tukul") because it will be too late in the day to get cleared by the border control officers. The next morning the journey resumes northward, with long stopovers to obtain multiple official stamps in my passport from Kenyan and S.Sudanese immigration personnel. That done, we cross into S.Sudan and after another hour or two (providing the rivers are not impassable) arrive at our nearest project site, Narus.

Beam me up, Scottie!

But, you might ask, "Why not fly into Juba, the capital of S.Sudan, which is less than 150 miles from Narus?"  Yes, that would be a better option, for sure (a mere 12 hour road trip) except for the fact that the road linking Juba to Narus is plagued by ruthless bandits murdering travelers every week.  Often the road is simply shut down by the army as "too dangerous" for transit.

Anyone want to come with me?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Child Soldiers and Much More...

                                                                                                    Photo from
It shouldn't happen anywhere--young children being used by governments or rebel groups to fight their wars--but in South Sudan it's just one horror in a long list of horrors.  In January the UN Mission in South Sudan issued a scathing report detailing widespread atrocities: "The scale, intensity and severity of human rights violations and abuses have increased with the continuation of the hostilities" and have pushed 4 million people to the brink of starvation. The report cites large-scale killings, attacks that single out children, and "an unprecedented level of sexual violence including gang rape and sex slavery." A particularly disturbing feature of the conflict, the report says, is the warring parties' total disregard for any safe havens including hospitals, religious institutions and areas such as UN enclosures where civilians fleeing the fighting have assembled.

The UN estimates that 13,000 - 15,000 child soldiers are now active in the escalating conflict.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Election Unrest in Haiti

The Presidential election in Haiti has been postponed several times since December due to political protests in Port-au-Prince that threaten to spread to the rest of the country.

Opposition groups denounce President Michel Martelly (whose term ends on Feb 7th) and accuse his party of corruption and vote-rigging. Demonstrators burn tires, overturn vehicles, block traffic and face down the riot police.

To date, the programs of Mercy Beyond Borders have not been directly affected,primarily because we operate in rural regions only.

Photo from

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Precious Water

Here in Calif a 4-yr drought is making us more aware of how precious water is. We're cutting usage by 25% or more throughout the State.  But still, whenever I turn on the tap, water flows. And whenever I want to take a shower, I do it.

In Haiti, as in most developing countries, in-home plumbing remains a distant dream,  Families spend hours every day hiking down (and back up) steep hills to bring water from streams at the bottom of the ravines. Here, MBB Scholar Venande collects rain water outside her mountain house. Precious indeed: collected with effort, stored with care, used sparingly, and never taken for granted.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Just Hangin' Around After the Holidays

Uninvited guests can be awkward, esp at holiday time.  There aren't many belfries in South Sudan; perhaps that's why this bat decided to hang out inside one of the tukuls (mud and thatch huts) where staff at St Bakhita Girls School live. No windows for him to fly out, and the white curtain that covers the doorway provided netting in which to get entangled. Eventually it found the way out.  Just another day in South Sudan!  

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Post-Prandial Slump?

Have you made a resolution to get off the couch and spend more time exercising in these post-holiday weeks, perhaps aiming to work off a few pumpkin-pie-induced pounds?

The girls at St Bakhita commit to exercising, too. For them, however, it’s never about shedding extra pounds.  Rather, what weighs on them is stress. Many have lived through war, witnessed (or experienced) violence, fled their villages multiple times for safety, known the pain of severe hunger, suffered the loss of family members, 

And beneath all that trauma, they bear the constant anxiety of never knowing when their relatives might show up to pull them out of school for early marriage. 

So, it’s no small thing that the 702 girls you support at St Bakhita school can stretch and race and play and laugh. They can forget their worries for a while. They can enjoy being children! 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

No Magi here...

If you're looking for a contem-porary Madonna & Child, look no further. South Sudan has many. The women are beautiful, strong, resilient. They go about their daily work collecting firewood, hauling water, tilling farmland, making mud/thatch huts and cooking meals, usually with the youngest child strapped across their back -- the lucky ones get a dried gourd as umbrella against the tropical heat.

No Magi here.  No angels promising peace. Just the daily work of nurturing new life in a harsh environment. Just the joys and sorrows of being a mother. Just the most important job in the world.

This Christmas we remember and honor all mothers around the world. Mercy Beyond Borders admires your hard work, your spirit, your tenderness, your endurance. Together we form the hopeful chorus for PEACE ON EARTH.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Laundry? What laundry?

If you look very closely you will see a girl in the background pumping water and several others doing laundry....

But not these two! They're obviously focused on football (soccer) as the preferred way to spend a Saturday morning.  Judging by the joy on their faces no one is going to take that ball away... And no one should.

We take PLAY for granted. We know it's essential and normal for all children. Yet in the villages of South Sudan girls have neither time nor opportunity to play. In fact, St Bakhita Girls' School is the only place in South Sudan where I've ever seen girls playing.  Good for them! Literally.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Did I Really Look Like THAT?

In 2013 Valki Anderson (left) accompanied Sr Marilyn to Haiti as an interpreter.  While there she met many of the MBB Scholars and took some pictures.

Flash forward to today: Valki is back in Haiti, now as the full-time MBB Scholarships Coordinator. She recognized Francheline (right) and showed her the "ancient" picture of herself from two years ago.

"Mon Dieu!" Francheline squirmed and squealed. "Did I reeeally look like thaaaat???"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

An Oasis Amid Chaos for Girls in South Sudan

You know from the news about the continuing chaos throughout South Sudan. You know about the violence, the displacements, the constant uncertainty as rival militaries battle to control land and resources.

What doesn't often get into the news is the importance of school in regions torn by upheaval. School is welcome place of normalcy for children. School is safe. School is fun. School is engaging, taking their young minds away from daily problems.

St Bakhita is that haven of safety and learning for more girls than any other single place in South Sudan.  THANK YOU for supporting our 702 girls in this oasis amid chaos.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thank You for Colored Pencils!

Have you ever given thanks for colored pencils? This young girl at St Bakhita School is definitely grateful for them. Can you tell how engrossed she is in the experience of creating art?  Perhaps she will be the world's next Gauguin or Picasso.  Or better yet, she could become South Sudan's first world-renowned artist.

Join me today in saying THANK YOU to all of you around the world who support Mercy Beyond Borders. You're working miracles, great and small.  You're saving girls from early marriages, enabling them to pursue careers as educators and nurses and journalists and agronomists. And you're putting colored pencils into the hands of budding artists!


Thursday, November 19, 2015

It worked!

MBB scholars at St Bakhita Secondary School stand amazed at having created light in their science class through the marvel of electricity.  Most of us in the West take electricity for granted, but its presence is more than enough to elicit "oohs" and "ahhhs" from these girls who are now deciphering its mysteries through lessons in circuitry.

On a deeper level, it is these girls themselves who promise to be the light of their young nation. MBB is not seeing any "brain drain" among its Scholars. Quite the contrary: as soon as they finish their university studies, they get jobs within South Sudan, eager to serve despite the volatile and dangerous conditions that persist.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Do You See What I See?

When a team of optometrists from Lions InSight came to Gros Morne, Haiti, with Mercy Beyond Borders this past April to conduct vision screenings for 1,000 children, most of the students who needed corrective lenses got them immediately, Several dozen others, however, needed specialized prescriptions not readily available.  Their eyeglasses arrived at the end of the summer, just in time for the opening of school.  

Do you see what I see? A girl who won't get  headaches every week from squinting. A girl who can both see the blackboard and enjoy reading books. A girl whose chances of doing well in school (and in life) have increased dramatically.  Thank you, Lions InSight. Thank you, MBB. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sign right here, please

What does it take to register women for health services in the most remote parts of South Sudan? An intrepid young nurse like Grace Layet, a graduate of Mercy Beyond Borders' scholarship program and now a practicing nurse in rural Kuron Peace Village.

Grace, sitting on the striped blanket, is enrolling women for the clinic's health outreach services. Of course, none of the women surrounding her was ever lucky enough to go to school.  None of them knows how to hold a pencil, much less sign her name. Grace walks each one through the enrollment process and patiently answers their questions. She first learned their local language (Toposa) while she volunteered for a yearlong pre-nursing internship with MBB. Now she's a full-fledged RN, back at the same place, using her skills to improve maternal/child health.  We salute you, Grace!  By your commitment to work where the need is greatest, you epitomize the MBB spirit of "paying it forward."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What does 100 look like?

If you were a 4-yr old girl learning to count at St Bakhita School in Narus, South Sudan, you wouldn't have much trouble visualizing "100."  You'd just look around the room!  That's how many pre-schoolers squeeze into each class.  Counting to 100 would be as simple as ticking off the names of all your new friends.
Pity the teacher besieged by two hundred little hands wanting her attention? No, not really. These girls are eager to learn and happy to be in school.  Sure, they're squirmy. And yes, their attention sometimes wanders. But certainly there is no place else they'd rather be!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Peanuts (but no popcorn)

The annual peanut harvest: it's a joyful community event.  Students are excused from school; everyone from young to old pitches in to pick, dry, shuck and sack the bounty.  There are no corner grocery stores in rural South Sudan, so for most families a good harvest of "groundnuts" (as they are called in Africa) means they will not starve during "the hungry months" each year.

Here we see a family in South Sudan  with MBB Scholar in the foreground working together to transfer the nuts --well, actually, legumes -- to a sack for safe storage.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

High Fives, Everybody!

Do you remember your teen years? Lots of personal changes, academic stresses, worries about fitting in with your peers....  Our MBB scholars in Haiti are not immune to such things, and so the excitement of going out-of-town to the annual Leadership Week brings welcome relief. Besides learning new skills, the Scholars have time for making new friends while having good ol' fashioned let-down-your-hair fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

All fur fun

No doubt about it: Manchu is a big hit wherever he goes in Haiti. He literally stole the show at MBB's annual Leadership Week in August.  Haiti, of course, has plenty of dogs--but they are mostly street dogs or guard dogs, not really pets.  Manchu's owner, Valki, is MBB's new Scholarship Coordinator in Haiti. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Nature vs Nurture

Look closely and you will see ragged sandbags ringing this dry riverbank--hundreds and hundreds of sandbags that are being washed away, month after month, by torrents of water that surge with each heavy rain. 

Why do we care? Because the sandbags exist to protect St Bakhita Girls School from the relentless erosion that threatens its campus. 

If we were millionaires we'd rebuild the school on safer ground so that the power of nature could no longer erode the power of nurture in this wonderful school community which is doing so much to further girls' education.... So, if you know any millionaires who care about girls' education, please send them my way:  THANKS!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Deep, Dank Place

Outside of every classroom at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School in South Sudan you will find a strange rectangular hole, quite deep, cement-reinforced, and with rough steps leading down into the darkness. Bomb shelters, used often by the children and teachers during the long civil war that pitted North against South for decades. Bombs hit the school more than once, and one student lost her leg to shrapnel.  Though no bombs have fallen in this part of South Sudan since independence in 2011, other dangers persist.  Venomous snakes and large rats have discovered that the dark, dank spaces suit them just fine!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Let's hear YOUR ideas!

Photo by Valki Anderson

Ten Haitian women packed a small room in Gros Morne to share their dreams for MBB's newest project, a Women's Center scheduled to open there in early 2016.  In this, the second of a series of focus groups, the women freely discussed their personal and community priorities for the types of programs they want the Center to host: Literacy. Skills development. Health screenings. Business opportunities. And most of all: JOBS.

Elisa, MBB Country Director in Haiti, was kept busy scribbling notes on the blackboard!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Who's in Jamaica?

Who's the first person that comes to mind when you hear the word JAMAICA?  Maybe it's the singer Bob Marley?

or maybe it's the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt?

I'll bet you're NOT thinking about me, the Director of Mercy Beyond Borders. But Jamaica is exactly where I am this week, enjoying the warm hospitality of the island while giving some workshops to school faculties for the opening of the academic year. Lucky me!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Color Is Your House?

In South Sudan, where paper is hard to come by and colored pencils are rarer than a white rhino, the girls at St Bakhita School revel in the opportunity to draw and color and create. Their art lessons are funded by MBB's collaboration with ART IN EVERY CLASSROOM, a nonprofit in San Francisco. Look carefully: You just might be looking at the next Matisse or Picasso; or better yet, the first South Sudanese young woman to gain future fame for her masterpieces....

Thursday, August 20, 2015

No Place Like Home

Many Haitian families in the mountains keep goats, chickens, and yes, mourning doves.  This is the home of Rosi Claire in Pendu, about an hour's rough ride by moto (on the back of a motorcycle) beyond Gros Morne, along dirt trails and up and down steep ravines. The house sits atop a rocky incline. No running water or electricity or other amenities--but it can boast of a million dollar view of the surrounding countryside. Rosi Claire is happy to reside in our Scholar's Lodge in Gros Morne, since it would be nearly impossible to commute daily from this place to school.  Still, her face lights up when she gets the chance to be back here for a weekend with her mother. There's simply no place like home.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Nimble Fingers

What's the first thing you do in choir practice? Warm up with voice exercises, of course. What's the first thing you do in computer keyboarding class?  Wiggle your fingers, of course!

MBB Scholar alumna Achemi Bakhita has been teaching daily computer classes to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders at St Bakhita Girls Primary School in South Sudan.  The room is stiflingly hot, but the laptops are powered up and the girls eager to learn.  Each class starts with finger-wiggling joy.  Surely these are the nation's youngest computer students!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Skinny on the Loo

People who know that I travel back and forth to South Sudan will usually, eventually, circumspectly clear their throats and inquire, "What kind of, er, bathrooms are available?"  Maybe this is just an American preoccupation, but toileting does seem to crop up in these conversations more than you might imagine.  So, to save you the awkwardness of bringing it up in polite company, here's the skinny on loos in Narus, South Sudan.

The standard outhouse toilets at the Narus guest compound are cement-floored, long-drop holes. Immaculately clean by day, but swarming with frightful spiders and roaches by night.  (Plan your fluid intake accordingly.)  For those who don't take to squatting, there is one stall containing a wooden toilet seat built over the hole, complete with wooden cover. Comfie, but there is that moment of dread when lifting the cover to check for "wildlife" beneath.  

Of course, if you are not at such a lovely guest house, anything goes in the elimination department. There you have it. Any questions?

Photos by 2014 MBB volunteer Max Markusen

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Good News for Haiti

MBB Scholar Isabel eyes her new best friend, Valki

MBB happily announces the addition of Valkyrie Anderson to our staff in Haiti.  Next week, Valki will assume the position of MBB Scholarships Coordinator.  (The staffer who previously held that position, Elisa Divoux, has been promoted to Country Coordinator.)
Besides a winning smile and personal warmth, Valki brings a gift for languages (French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Spanish--plus English), 4 yrs of teaching at the high school level, a knack for photography, and experience as a court-appointed advocate for children in foster care.  

Welcome  to MBB!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wheels without Worries

Driverless cars are here!  It's true: Google is test-driving its vehicles in the city of Mtn View, CA.  Hundreds of them are navigating  around the surface streets, quietly and smoothly negotiating traffic, pedestrians, obstacles, and intersections without so much as a hiccup or a lurch.

I love seeing them because it means we are one step closer to a world where the disabled can be more independent, where the elderly can "keep their license" even after vision or reflexes fail, and where the rest of us can get where we're going with less stress. It means eliminating the congestion and accidents caused by distracted or impaired drivers.  It means being able to sit back and enjoy a good book (or a nap) while commuting. It means wheels without worries.

Google believes these cars will be commonplace in 5 years. Of course, such marvels are still worlds away for places like South Sudan (where there are only 50 miles of paved road in the entire country) and rural Haiti. But some day.....