Monday, 15 December 2014

We are the world! We are the children!

These memorable lyrics emerged from musicians in response to the Great Famine of Ethiopia in the early 1980s.  Then came Live Aid, and with it the infamy of Bob Geldorf and the notoriety of Bono.  The message was that people do care...  These two fellows carried the torch for a long way.  By the time of the Gleneagles summit, forgiving Third World Debt had become a rallying cry.  Some significant gains were made by that Jubilee summit, and pledges that aid to Africa would double by 2010.

We have spent much of the time since trying to tap resources mainly for HIV/AIDS projects, and we see no evidence of such a scaling up.  So it was a catharsis to hear Geldorf spouting off, after the recent G8 meetings in Germany.  “A farce,” he called it, “just a big farce.”  I second the emotion.

The rhetoric of assuring access to ARVs for all those who are infected by the HIV virus world-wide was a step in the right direction, but promises, promises ad nauseum...

It was encouraging to read recently in the letter to the Hebrews, that we should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  (chapter 10, verse 24)  This is mentioned between two other injunctions – one to “hold fast” (v 23) and another to attend worship regularly (v 25).

There is a connection among these three points.  For it is holding fast to our human values and Christian convictions that anchors us.  Awareness of the need to intervene arises from a clash between our cherished ideals and existing realities.  That is what stimulates good deeds.  But this can overwhelm you – so you need to connect with God regularly and there is no substitute for the assembly when you want to draw near to Him.

Leadership comes into it when that clash between values and unacceptable realities gets people stimulated.  Intervention usually starts, of one form or another, as people make a start.  Henry David Thoreau said:  “You see things as they are, and you ask, Why?”  I see things that never were, and I ask, Why not?”  This is called envisioning.  Leaders are sometimes called visionaries.

What He closes, no one can open
Why have the results of our envisioning been so disappointing?

Maybe “the Ask” is uncool?

Constant badgering to contribute to ministries of love and good deeds has not harmed Bono's reputation.  Or Geldorf.  Or Gates...

Maybe it's an excuse?

Are the target group really getting help?  Or is too much going to the middle men, and women?

Maybe it's perceived as self serving?

Volunteers give a lot without monetary return.  South Africa has recently introduced a minimum stipend for volunteers, to avoid exploitation.  This reflects how many are needed, and is a reminder of a legacy that may be forgiven but is not forgotten.  

Maybe it's too much about money and not enough about God?

We have always tried to root and express communiques in a God-fearing way.  Last year's Childermas appeal was one of my favorites – blending leadership, children and church history in a unique way.
Maybe it's not our problem?
Whether you take a humanitarian set of core values or faith, any coherent set of convictions is going to make you realize that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  The shift in the North, from a culture of consumption to a culture of contentment, is going slowly.

What he opens, no one can close
On a personal note, we have found it way more encouraging to deal with individuals, families and churches, than to deal with foundations or institutions.  Especially if they are governmental.  The politically correct approach these days is called sector-wide approaches (SWAps).  It means that all actors in any given sector should pool the resources, and then allocate them in a sensible way.  But this just concentrates resources at the centre.  Well resourced agencies end up getting most of the new resources, proportionally.  Smaller groups get sidelined.  It locks up into a new caste system.

Worse yet, you have what the media in South Africa calls “race quotas”.  Headline news last week in South Africa noted the effect of BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) policies on public hospitals.  They can't staff up because white nationals with impeccable credentials are not hired lest the required racial balances are offended.  So people needing surgery, for example, wait in long queues or go to India where they can get health care rapidly.

The combined effect of these two factors, together with the proliferation of “grantseekers” has hit C4L hard.  For example, none of the 3 psycho-social support camps scheduled for next week have been funded by a donor.  One was supposed to have been, but the pledge has been caught up in the public service strike this month.  So we are only able to run two of the three camps programmed, and these are fully funded by individuals, families and churches.  Most of these are in Canada, but not all.  A team of volunteers is arriving today from Canada as well.  This is the “vanguard” in terms of resourcing C4L's capacity building.  We are being buoyed up by this response to our “stimulating people to love and good deeds”. 

We are thankful to the families and churches that have expressed their love by contributing to these camps.  Hillside Baptist in Vancouver, Christchurch in Campbellford and St George's in White River deserve special mention.  We are glad to see some young people getting off Easy Street, and coming all this way to assist with  psycho-social support for orphans and vulnerable children.

We recently watched a video series about the Apollo mission to land men on the moon.  It was launched by John Kennedy in a speech where he said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and other things... not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  C4L's task is not easy, either.  From planning to fundraising to service delivery, it is difficult and uncharted.  But the results have put so many people “over the moon” that we are holding fast. 


I drafted this letter on the eve of winter solstice.  It is bleak midwinter here... frosty wind made moan.  On the shortest day of the year, yesterday, the tectonic plates shifted.  First the HIV/AIDS desk officer of our provincial government called to report that her HOD had just signed an approval for funding our OVC project, for a year.  Within a couple of hours, an email arrived from Kellogg Foundation to announce the approval of multi-year funding for our core business – leadership and management development.  C4L will be going on-line with this over the next two years, at long last, and this was the green light to move ahead with our own Apollo mission.

The fact that these both arrived within hours, the very same afternoon, is not insignificant, because both the core business of C4L and the OVC project get strong endorsements from these decisions.

“Choose to go to the moon, and other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.