31 October 2008

Voting Beats Violence

Next Tuesday, 4 November 2008, is election day in the US of A and that is great news! It means that we are still holding free and peaceful elections after more than two hundred years. It is no longer the largest voting event in the world (In 2004 380 million people voted in India) but it holds second place and it is still one of the oldest in modern times. The process allows for universal suffrage, is managed by thousands of volunteers and includes a secret ballot which eliminates intimidation. It is truly a “we the people” event. It isn’t without problems but that means it is healthy.

Before we had elections we had violence. In the past the strongest, most dominant individual with the greatest number of strategically placed armies wrested control of the state by force and were free to do as they pleased until the next great power came along and took over. It was a very bloody process but the upside was a great fiscal outcome, you didn’t have near as many people to govern (or feed) when it was over. The downside? There was never a peaceful end. Leaders were constantly watching their back and usually died an early and violent death. The balance between peace and conflict could not be maintained.

To avoid these pitfalls civilizations began dabbling with other options one of which stuck, voting. It is the modern replacement for bloodshed. Although you still have the odd punch up at the polling stations and there is a lot of heated incrimination between the candidates and their supporters before and after the vote it is still the foundation of a peaceful democracy.

Casting a vote is what I do instead of firing a bullet. Casting only one vote is a way of respecting the rights and opinions of my neighbors. Casting a vote consistently is the least we can do to be good citizens. Casting a vote is the best way to say thanks to everyone who paved the way to peace. Casting a vote is one way to be a good example to the rest of humanity and the idea is catching on.

All of that is to say this. Don’t be discouraged by the bad mouthing, name calling and exaggerated accusations from the candidates and those who support them. Do your own research and don’t believe everything you hear. Obama isn’t second cousin to ben Ladin and McCain doesn’t have a harem on the side. “Freedom of speech” must be complimented by “freedom of thought.” We must learn to separate emotion from substance.

Keep in mind these things. The process is sound even with the problems. Every election is managed by humans and will have its flaws. Mess ups are not always equal to corruption.

The candidates are different more by ability than philosophy, this year any way. When you take away all the rhetoric they are much closer than many would like you to think and having two sides is great. Popular agreements are reached when two opposing sides debate, discuss and argue until they find the acceptable middle ground.

Whoever wins the election will be the president of every person in the country. Elected officials will be serving every person in both parties and will need the prayers of everyone who still believes God is in control. Partisan mentalities must give way to good governance and “we the people” must make it clear that we expect that to happen. But, all of this starts with your vote. Don’t miss it!

I have already cast my vote by absentee ballot. Whom I voted for is none of your business. The person you vote for is none of mine. Not voting, however, is an insult.

For those not eligible to vote in the coming US elections I have included a poll for you to have your say (right side column). It won’t change the outcome of the election but it is nice to express your opinion so take your pick. But, in whatever country you live do your civic duty and register to vote. One vote at a time we can all have influence. We might not change what is but we can slow down the process to becoming what should not be. ThinkAboutIt

25 October 2008

Coffee Consumption Supports Third World

I grew up drinking coffee. Been drinking the stuff so long I can't remember when I had my first cup. I didn't start out as a connoisseur and wouldn't say I am one now but I do know a good cup when I taste it. In fact, I have been known to walk into and right out of a restaurant based on how they manage the coffee making machinery. Truth: No respect for the coffee, no respect for the customer.

Well, I was recently invited to a local coffee shop which reportedly "served the best coffee in town." For that kind of guarantee I will travel. Becky and I visited and we weren't disappointed. The coffee was really great! The shop is called "Urban Grounds" and is situated on the south side of Durban (Glenwood area) at the corner of Frere and Ayott Roads. They offer a great line up of coffees, friendly and helful staff, an interesting gallery in which jewelry and art items are displayed (all locally made) and a unique, one of a kind, atmosphere. It is the kind of place where repeat customers pop in just to connect with friends and enjoy the brew. We met several new people when we visited.

I also logged onto their web site and discovered some interesting information. They are very supportive of South Africa and use only locally roasted beans. They follow World Barista Championship standards for making their coffee which means, for one thing, they never use beans more than 14 days old. They also include very interesting posts on various technical aspects of the coffee industry. It is good information to have if you happen to enjoy a good cup of coffee and find yourself needing factual information to defend this enjoyment against coffee antagonists. There aren't many of those left but you do find them occasionally. By the way, UG will serve you a cup of tea if you prefer.

I receommend their shop and their web site. You will find their web page here and it includes all the details for finding or contacting the shop.

Visit soon. Its a long ride for those who live on the north side of Durban but you won't be disappointed once you arrive. They had to run us out. We stayed past closing.

Many of you don't live in South Africa but if you ever venture to this part of the world you now know a place where you can drink the water and the coffee is great!

Another interesting observation came to mind while visiting the UG web site. Coffee is not a first world luxury. It is grown, roasted and ENJOYED in many third world countries. The economic success of these countries is driven by their coffee industry, which means, every time you drink a cup of coffee you are helping to uplift economies of the less privileged. Drink up!

22 October 2008

I Finished...Was Finished

My first organized effort to raise funds for charity was a great experience! If you have never done anything like this you are missing out. Please let me share the experience with you.

Race day came early. Was up at 3:35 AM after only two hours sleep and travelled 90 kilometers to the start line in Pietermaritzburg. Fortunately, I was able to catch a ride with a group of well-experienced riders, who knowing I was a newbie, willingly gave lots of good advice and were very encouraging. My start time was forty minutes earlier than theirs so I was on my own during the race but that was a good thing. I knew that any pressure to keep up with a group would work against me and I didn’t want to hold anyone back.

The weather was perfect. It was foggy and misty at the start and remained overcast for all but the last 20 kilometers. I was cool for most of the day. Never had to use my sunglasses once. I was grateful.

The climbing was actually different to what I expected. There were two 20 kilometer stretches where the climbing never seems to stop. I thought the last series of climbs could end my race. But, my fears were wasted energy. I got through the climbs better than I thought and my biggest problem was stamina. I really struggled over the last thirty kilometers. I was finished when I finished but all the pain dissipated when I crossed the finish line.

Apparently, there are many riders who don’t complete this race so it was a personal victory for me to reach the end. I am experienced now and will train for longer rides before the next race. It was hard but I loved it and can’t wait to do the next one. I am writing this post on the morning after the race and I feel great! A little sore around the knees but nothing too severe.

Now, to the important stuff. Along the race route (very rural), we were cheered on by many locals. They were fantastic! There’s nothing better than a bit of positive input while you’re trudging along. They cheered, clapped, encouraged and even sang songs making us feel better about the pain.

On one stretch, I went by a large group of orphans. There must have been 250 kids gathered along the road. I took my time there. I waved, said hello and thanked them for their support. Some of them were in wheel chairs. Most seemed healthy.

Unfortunately, this is very common. It isn’t unusual to find orphans and make shift efforts to care for them everywhere. They are as numerous as trees in the forest and it is a problem that constantly stares you in the face in this part of the world. They were the reason I rode in this race. They are the ones for whom we need to give. We CAN make a difference in their lives.

In the last two posts, I have tried to put this problem into perspective. Most of our efforts in the past aimed at solving the problem that caused the orphan tragedy, AIDS, and a lot has been done to control it. Sadly, the orphans still need us more than ever. I also introduced the CRP as a great orphan village project that anyone could be pleased to support.

Now is the time to make a donation and anyone can do this. Please click hereto do so. If you have questions, please check out this link to the CRP web site. Look through my last two posts for more details but please know that any donation you make will be useful.

Two notes for South African donors:

One, the postal code in the online donation form requires five digits instead of four. To solve this problem put a zero in front of your code.

Two, the online amounts are shown in US Dollars. To make a donation using a South African credit card (which I have done) decide the Rand amount you wish to donate and divide that figure by the exchange rate. That will give you the Dollar amount to use in the donation form. Right now, for example, R100 would be equivalent to approximately $10.

This effort is only the first attempt at raising funds for orphans. We will do this again and will make the process more user friendly for South Africans in the future. In fact, I want your input. I believe every person cares about this problem and wants to be a part of the solution. If you have ideas for doing this better, share them. You can make a comment or send an email. Suggestions are welcome.

Disclaimer: I took the picture at the start line. It is horrible but I was using my phone camera which sometimes works and sometimes not. When I finally got it to work I decided it would have to do. You can see the CRP logo on the left side of my jersey.

14 October 2008

AIDS Treatment No Use To Orphans (Continued from last post)

There is one very good reason why every person should donate to the Children’s Resiliency Project (CRP). All the work done to solve the AIDS problem has done nothing to solve the orphan problem it caused. AIDS and orphans are two entirely different problems and require two completely different solutions.

All the hype associated with the prevention, treatment and cure of AIDS has overshadowed the stark reality of the plight of orphans. When a cure is finally found for the disease we will still be left with millions of children who have no parents and in most cases no place to go. Solving the AIDS riddle does nothing to eliminate the orphan tragedy and the solution for both problems require very different methods.

If the orphan problem were a disease, it would actually be easier to address but there is no injection to make this problem go away. Walk-in clinics are not designed to meet this kind of need or the demand. The only useful treatment for orphans is tender loving care and they need it 24/7.

There is a substantial supply of funds and thousands of professionals already working in unison to discover and dispense cures for all kinds of diseases. The infrastructure to meet the needs of orphans, however, barely exists.

The work to find a cure for AIDS is winding down. The work needed to meet the needs of orphans has hardly gotten started.

Both problems require an enormous effort to solve. One has gotten a lot of attention. The other has gotten mostly lip service. The disparity between the investments made to solve these two problems is embarrassing.

And, to make things worse, while the devastation of AIDS (to those who contract it) is being diminished, the orphan problem is only getting worse.

UNICEF estimates the number of orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa will reach 20 million by 2010 (up from 11 million in 2001) and that is only the number orphaned by AIDS. The actual number of orphans is considerably higher at more than twice that.

The “20 million” number counts for as much as 25% of the childhood population in some of these countries and it represents 90% of all AIDS affected orphans in the entire world. But we don’t see this for what it really is, an entirely separate problem. We have made a lot of progress in treating AIDS. We have done very little to address the orphan issue.

CRP is not addressing the disease and probably never will (it would be overkill if it did) but it is addressing the outcome of the AIDS problem, which according to statistics, has become bigger than AIDS and is still growing.

Question: Will you be a part of the solution? If you have not donated time or resources to any specific orphan home or village then I would ask you in the name of the millions of orphans who desperately need you, to do something today, now.

If you would like to make a donation to CRP and I am encouraging you to do that, go here (South Africans must add a zero to the front of their postal code). If you would like to know more about CRP click here. If you would like to know what I am doing check out my last post (I am riding in a bike race with “CRP Orphan Village” plastered on the front and back of my jersey).

If you want to think about it before you donate, please remember this. When AIDS patients need medication they have dispensaries to rely on. When they need special care they go to clinics and hospitals. Orphans, however, take to the streets. They rely on traffic lights to appeal for a bit of pocket change and rubbish bins outside fast food restaurants for an occasional meal. Let’s do something about this. ThinAboutIt later? Do something now!

Please don’t keep the children waiting. They’re hungry!

BTW, Bob Graham, the founder of CRP, is a highly qualified man. He holds an earned PhD in education, has run a very successful basketball program at the high school level, which he used to develop underprivileged kids, and taught effectively for many years in a private school. He could be leading a normal life making very good money and wishing the best for all the orphans. Instead he is taking the problem head on and all he needs from us is support. It is a privilege to be able to help.

06 October 2008

Pedaling For The Less Privileged

On 19 Oct 2008, just a couple of weeks away, I will be riding in a bicycle race but I am riding for more than just the exercise. I need the exercise, to be sure, but it seems a little self-centered to ride only for my physical well being, especially since I live in the presence of hundreds of thousands who have so little and need so much. Therefore, I am adding another dimension to this event, orphans. I decided to use the occasion to raise awareness of the problem in general and to promote one project in particular, The South African Children’s Resiliency Project.

The SACRP (locally known as CRP) is spear headed by a good friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Bob Graham. I first met Bob in 1990 and since that time he has made numerous trips to South Africa and worked with us on many short term projects. Bob, however, doesn’t do things in a small way. His vision and dream involved helping the underprivileged on a long term basis and, therefore, the CRP was born. Bob is now living in South Africa developing orphan homes for those affected by AIDS.

To date Bob has purchased a large farm near Pietermaritzburg and he is in the process of building seven homes each of which will house six orphans and at least one caregiver. To see the village master plan and read some staggering statistics on AIDS affected orphans visit Bob’s web site here.

All the funding for CRP has been raised from individuals and institutions (religious and commercial) that care and donors have given generously but there is always a need for more help. Charitable projects like this do not make money. Therefore, I am asking everyone who will, to work with me on an idea I have for raising funds for CRP.

I will ride in the race and wear the CRP logo on my jersey (I can’t wait for people to ask about it). Each of you can help by making a donation which is very easy to do. If enough people donate, we can have an impact. Just click on this link and follow the instructions for making a donation. I tried it and everything worked fine with one exception for South African donors.

FOR SOUTH AFRICAN DONORS: You must add a zero to the front of your postal code when you register. The codes must have at least five digits. Do this and everything will work well. If you have problems or questions about the donating process leave a question in the comments. You can also contact Bob through his web site.

Now, just a few thoughts about the race. I am not a cyclists by nature. I enjoy it as a recreation and have tried to ride regularly but this particular race is bigger than anything I have done.

It is 106 kilometers long (66 miles) beginning in Pietermaritzburg and finishing in Durban. It is ultimately downhill but there is a LOT of climbing over the route. There is a total assent of 1160 meters (3/4 of a mile). The race starts at 600 meters above sea level and ends at 2 meters above sea level but there is still an average rise of almost 11 meters per kilometer. To describe it as "hilly" is an understatement. You can check out the race profile here.

What I am saying is this race is no “piece of cake” for an old guy like me. I have trained well enough to finish but will have many breathless moments on the day.

What I am asking is will you help? Not can you, but will you? Let’s work together to help those who cannot help themselves.

If you make a donation please leave a comment to let others know. You don’t have to say how much and you can make your comment anonymously but please respond. It will encourage others to do the same. For the record, I will be riding but I have also made a donation. Let’s make this happen. ThinkAboutIt!

PS – Don’t leave your friends out. Email this blog to others. There is no end to the need and no fear of doing too much.