Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

This morning, I received an email from Afrigadget, a blog dedicated to showcasing how Africans solve everyday problems with incredible ingenuity.

This afternoon, I read a selection from “Why I Am Not a Pacificist” by C.S. Lewis. To me, the morning’s email and the afternoon’s reading felt very connected.

The email spotlighted an initiative which transformed a dump in a Nairobi, Kenya slum, into a community farm. Beyond such obvious obstacles as clearing the trash,


there were other less obvious difficulties such as what to do about the high levels of lead, copper, zinc and boron.


Part of the solution was to plant sunflowers, which leach the toxins out of the soil, in between the ordinary vegetables.  Check out this handy, made from recycled materials, planting tool:


It is made from a hollow pipe with a stick tied onto the bottom of it for digging the hole and a yogurt container attached to the top for dropping the seeds down into. No stooping, no bending, no hard work digging.

And here’s an earthworm farm/composting pile for fertilizer:


And the final product, three months after clearing the dump:


And then, this from C.S. Lewis:

It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life must be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering.

I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace.

I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made; just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.

I have come to no great conclusions, based on either the photo essay or the writings of C.S. Lewis. Both, however, have left me with much to ponder. Both challenge me to consider and ask questions about my own life.

What do you think? Do you know people who are making a difference in these kinds of ways (feel free to add your stories here)? Where are you in your thinking and acting? How do you interact with suffering and misery in the world around you? Do you get to work? Grieve? Turn away because it seems too overwhelming? Feel guilty? Or something else?

What direction does the Lewis quote send your mind in? Do you agree? Or disagree? Or some of both?


For more information about  Kibera slum in which this field was planted, BBC has a four part article about it. The link is to the last selection, because it contains links to the other three parts as well.

Photos come from “Farming Innovations in a Slum” at Afrigadget and from the website Green Dreams Organic Farming in East Africa. This website follows the development of the farm in great detail.

The C. S. Lewis quote is from A Year with C.S. Lewis, October 19]

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nets-are-nicea FREE downloadable book for children about malaria and the role of mosquito nets in prevention.

This book by Gary Edson, with a forward by First Lady Laura Bush, is published by Malaria No More, in conjunction with Scholastic.

The Malaria No More campaign also has an informative ten minute video about malaria, its history and current initiatives to do something about malaria. (And here is my usual disclaimer that I am not promoting or endorsing any specific program or campaign. My hope, today is to bring attention to this disease and make space for a moment of preoccupation on others and this specific, prevalent and preventable disease which impacts so many people in the world.)

Whatever your opinion on the Malaria No More campaign (and I hope you’ll visit the website and think about the subject enough to form an opinion) I think this free book is a beautiful way to help American children think outside their little world to the bigger world. The photos are stunning, and the text is simple. There is a malaria fact sheet at the back of the book.

There is also a malaria knowledge quiz at the Malaria No More website.

If World Malaria Day seems irrelevant to you, or just one more world problem to think about when you are bombarded every day with world problems, I understand. I’m not into asking you to do something specific or predetermined about malaria. (Heaven forbid that I, who am so skeptical of campaigns, would start one of my own 🙂 ).

On this, my third post of the day (that’s got to be some kind of record for me!), focusing on malaria, I’d like to leave you only with the suggestion of printing and reading this lovely little book and taking a few minutes to stop and recognize–to make space for thinking about–one particular type of suffering that affects a great many people in our world today, every day.

(Follow these links for Part One and Part Two of this three post focus for World Malaria day)

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The second of three posts in consideration of today being World Malaria Day. Follow this link to post one (with a vivid photo of malaria in action).

~The malaria parasite goes through several different stages in its life cycle. Inside the human body, it divides (multiplies?) in nonsexual ways. It reproduces, sexually, though, inside the body of the mosquito. Quinine, a bark that has been used to treat malaria for many years, works by destroying the stage of malaria that causes problems in the human body. It does not, however, destroy the stage of malaria that can reproduce in the mosquito’s body. So, a person could get better with treatment, but still facilitate the transmission of malaria to others through the reproducing part of the malaria being picked up by another mosquito. (Again, that is not the most technical explanation and certain aspects may not be exactly “the way it is,” but it is the best I can do to explain one of the fascinating and complicated aspects of malaria.)

~Malaria used to be a major problem in the U.S. during the Civil War. From a random website I discovered today, here is the number of deaths from various illnesses in the Union Army:

tuberculosis: 6497
smallpox: 7058
malaria: 14,379

Although the exact number of Confederate Army deaths from malaria is not known, there were 41,539 cases in an 18 month period (January, 1862-July, 1863) in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The cause of the disease was not known and soldiers often slept without the protection of mosquito nets.

~Malaria was a very real problem for the Ingalls family in their Little House on the Prairie.

~Malaria struck the fledging settlement of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1798. One young boy, Seth Doan, “kept everyone in Cleveland fed during the epidemic. Thanks to his efforts, no one in the settlement died.” A fictionalized account of that summer of malaria and Seth’s role in saving the lives of the people in the settlement is recounted in The Boy Who Saved Cleveland, by James Cross Giblin. This historical fiction novel for children is only 64 pages long.

~There is only one species, out of the 3000 or so species total of mosquitoes, that carries malaria, and even then, it is only the female (I haven’t substantiated this information, but, from what I understand, the females live on human blood, the males on fruit.) You can tell the differences in species of mosquitos by the presence or absence of stripes and also by whether or not the back legs are resting on you when she is biting versus lifted up. I could never remember which signs indicated a malaria carrying mosquito, and, personally, I prefer to kill them all.

~Here are some interesting books your library may have, on mosquitoes in general, or malaria, in specific:

Mosquitoes, by Jonathan Kravetz (a fascinating book for children)

Mosquito: A Natural History of our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe, by Andrew Spielman Sc.D. and Michael D’Antonio (I read this one about five years ago, but I seem to remember it being interesting and not too technically complex)

The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria, by Mark Honigsbaum (This one was a bit more technical, but still doable. Fascinating stories about science “back in the days”, politics, the mixing of the two. There was a lot of bravery that went into the search for a malaria cure as well as some craziness that would seem to have bordered on insanity. Again, even though I didn’t understand all of the technical explanations, the history and stories of the people involved were fascinating to me.)

~And a few well known people who have taken up malaria prevention and treatment as their cause:

Bill and Melinda Gates

Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated and his “Nothing but Nets” campaign (Well I had never heard of him before, but maybe if you read Sports Illustrated. His passion and emotion in this article are pretty impressive.)

Laura Bush and her support of the Inter-faith Malaria Project in Mozambique (and her husband, too, but I was impressed that it is one of the causes the First Lady has given her support to.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to be a bit skeptical of the efficacy of campaigns and causes. I must say if money is going to be thrown somewhere, I’m at least a little bit happy that some of it is being directed towards research for a disease that doesn’t primarily affect the Western World. Still, while I commend these well known people for taking malaria seriously and bringing its devastating impact onto our radar screen, I’m not exactly recommending their approaches.

In general, I tend to think that for every well intentioned Super Solution, a few more problems (some of them Super Problems) tend to be created. G. M. Prabhu left an insightful and thought-provoking comment on Lingamish recently, which addresses some of my concerns and hesitancy. I hope you will read the whole comment, but if not, at least read paragraph #8, which has some highly relevant thoughts for today’s focus on malaria prevention and treatment in ways which do not undermine, demean or generally disregard the actual people help is being offered to.

(And even though I’m not actually promoting the Nothing but Nets campaign, I still think you should go read that article by Rick Reilly. It is by far the most profound column I have ever read from a Sports magazine (well, even if I had actually read other articles in Sports magazines to compare this one too, I still think this article would be a winner.)

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Those are a couple of your poor red blood cells exploding (or are they deflating rather limply?) from malaria. The oxygen that the blood cell carries has been paralyzed (maybe disabled? destroyed?). And it’s not getting where it needs to go. A body not getting the oxygen it needs in the liver and brain is not a happy body.

Admittedly, my technical understanding and explanation of how malaria does its thing is lacking. But, having experienced the effects of this parasite, I will say that this visual of the red blood cells losing the battle to malaria was a pretty accurate representation of how miserable one feels when suffering from malaria.

When I had malaria, I had it with the benefits of already being on prophylaxis, which although it doesn’t prevent the disease, usually gives you a bit more time before the disease (at least the cerebral form) becomes a life or death crisis. Plus, I had money for treatment, and the ability to call a doctor in the middle of the night, who called the pharmacist in the middle of the night, who for an extra fee, opened up the pharmacy and sold me the treatment.

Malaria is preventable (mainly by avoiding getting bitten by mosquitos), and it is treatable. Still, many people die from it every year and many more get it and suffer from it over and over, in a cyclically debilitating fashion. I don’t really know how one can estimate the big picture effects of malaria, in terms of life, functionality, performance, overall miserableness and quality of life, etc. But it’s effect IS big.

Eradicating malaria, like just about any campaign (for example, eradicating poverty), is fraught with overly simplistic solutions and overly complex complications to those solutions. Still, for all of my cynicism about campaigns and causes, this is one cause I do care deeply about. You can learn more about malaria and some of the big names working to fight it at the Malaria Consortium website.

Malaria (and the mosquitos that carry it) is a fascinating and interesting topic to me. If I have time later in the day, I might ramble on about it some more. But, for now, at least, on this end of the day, I wanted to draw your attention to this preventable, but devastating disease, which continues to affect and kill many people around the world each day.

(Thanks to Lingamish for pointing out that today is World Malaria Day. The photo above comes from the Ivory Coast Medical Relief Team’s website)

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