Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rachel’s beans

Many of our friends do very cool things, so it's a pleasure to share them with friends and family. Rachel, one of Danielle's bridesmaids, moved to Colorado where she uses her Georgia Tech Industrial Engineering degree to count beans. I am IE'00, so I know something about bean counting myself.

Actually, I'm sure Rachel is a much better IE than me, and I'll be excited to share what her next steps of IE and helping the world will be, but for now, she is helping poor women in Colorado gain self-confidence and work skills to turn their lives around. Here is their video, a PBS report: Bean Project Helps Poor Women.

Bob Lupton Reading List

Bob Lupton is an Atlantan, introduced to me by Angie Allen. When I was at CCF we worked with his organization, FCS Urban Ministries. Bob also happens to be a great writer of gritty substance when it comes to the mission of the church. Theirs is the Kingdom is one of my earliest reads on theology, a collection of stories that leave you to resolve within yourself. Here is Lupton's list:

Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor (2007)

Renewing the City: Reflections on Community Development and Urban Renewal (2005)

Return Flight: Community Development through Reneighboring Our Cities (1997)

Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America (1989)

A friend once taught me that the goal of ministry is to comfort the uncomfortable, but also to discomfort the comfortable. A 2008 Lupton article is particularly discomforting for the international missionary, his comments are bold, and you'll not want to read it unless willing to be humble and challenged. As a disclaimer, the intensity of Lupton's argument does not reflect the cooperative attitude and optimistic spirit of my organization or me personally, but his admonitions serve as a warning of the unintended consequences of benevolent intentions.

Monday, December 29, 2008

18 Top Public Intellectuals, 2008 (also a reading list)

Foreign Policy produced (in May 2008) their list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals. I have stolen away some of my favorites below, many of whom are economists, but certainly not all. 2 DISCLAIMERS: Many of FP's top intellectuals also contribute for FP, and many of my selected favorites are those I've written about before, so we each have our biases. I have also edited somewhat for length and content.

George Ayittey, Ghana - Economist: Ayittey is a prominent Ghanaian scholar, activist, and author of Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa's Future. As president of the Washington-based Free Africa Foundation, he argues that "Africa is poor because she is not free." He is an economist in residence at American University.

Paul Collier, Britain - Development and conflict economist (previous post): Author most recently of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, awarded the 2008 Gelber Prize, Collier is professor of economics at Oxford University and a leading expert on the governance and development challenges faced by the world's poorest countries.

Esther Duflo, France - Development economist: Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel professor of poverty alleviation and development economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studies health, poverty, and credit issues in the developing world. Duflo's papers apply field experimentation and quantitative analysis to development issues.

William Easterly, United States - Economist (previous post) (previous post #2): Easterly views much foreign aid as messianic, wasted, or even harmful to developing countries. He is professor of economics at New York University, author of The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.

Umberto Eco, Italy - Medievalist, novelist: Eco's dense novels, such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, are a dizzying blend of philosophy, biblical analysis, and arcane literary references.

Thomas Friedman, United States - Journalist, columnist: Friedman—New York Times foreign affairs commentator, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and author of The World Is Flat
and From Beirut to Jerusalem—is one of the world's most popular and influential syndicated columnists.

Francis Fukuyama, United States - Political scientist: Renowned for declaring The End of History
after the fall of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama is professor of international political economy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author most recently of America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy.

Malcolm Gladwell, Canada/United States - Pop sociologist, journalist (previous post): Author of Blink and The Tipping Point, Gladwell is a National Magazine Award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker.

Robert Kagan, United States - Author, political commentator: An influential columnist for the Washington Post and elsewhere, Kagan is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author most recently of The Return of History and the End of Dreams.

Garry Kasparov, Russia - Democracy activist, chess grandmaster: Since his days as a world chess champion, Kasparov has become an outspoken critic of outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is chairman of the United Civil Front, a democratic activist group.

Rem Koolhaas, Netherlands - Architect: Koolhaas is Pritzker Prize-winning principal at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, but his influence extends to urban theory, journalism, and beyond. The cofounder of Volume magazine, his most famous works include Maison à Bordeaux, the Seattle Public Library, and the Casa da Musica hall in Porto, Portugal. He is professor in practice at Harvard University's architecture department and author of Delirious New York and S,M,L,XL.

Paul Krugman, United States - Economist, columnist (previous post): A fiery political commentator for the New York Times and a respected trade theorist, Krugman is a John Bates Clark Medal-winning economist at Princeton University. His most recent book is The Conscience of a Liberal.

Steven Levitt, United States - Economist, author (previous post): Best known for coauthoring Freakonomics with Stephen J. Dubner, Levitt is the Alvin Baum professor of economics at the University of Chicago. A 2003 winner of the John Bates Clark Medal for economists under 40, his most famous work links the rise in abortions to the drop in crime rates in the United States.

Samantha Power, United States - Journalist (previous post): A former foreign-policy advisor to Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Power is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. She is the Anna Lindh professor of practice of global leadership and public policy at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Jeffrey Sachs, United States - Development economist (previous post): A former special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the Millennium Development Goals, Sachs directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is author of The End of Poverty.

Amartya Sen, India - Development economist (previous post): Sen is an Indian-born economist whose influence spans the globe and ranges far beyond his field. He won the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on poverty, development, and democracy. Presently, he is the Lamont university professor at Harvard University. In 2000, Sen authored Development as Freedom.

Wole Soyinka, Nigeria - Playwright, activist: Winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, Soyinka is one of Africa's most distinguished playwrights. Soyinka was imprisoned during the Nigerian civil war and became a fierce critic of subsequent Nigerian regimes. He is formerly the Elias Ghanem professor of creative writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and one-time professor at Emory University. Soyinka has prolifically written plays as well as novels, poetry, essays, and more.

Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh - Microfinancier, activist (previous post) (previous post #2): Recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, Yunus is the founder of the Grameen Bank and a pioneer in the field of microfinance. He recently wrote Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thank you

Danielle and I have received cards and gifts and know of more on the way, and without naming names we just want to say thank you. Thank you also to the friends and family who've mailed or emailed their Christmas pictures; they make us feel like we are sharing the Christmas season with you. Thanks also to Rodney who deposits my paychecks in Rwanda, and a special thanks to a group of people who don't know us but have sent us gifts and encouragement anyway.

I want to thank you publicly since I requested pictures and Christmas stories publicly, and I want to share with our family back home how supported we feel by them, our friends, and friends we haven't met.

I hope you all have a great new year's celebration!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas family portrait

Christmas movie ranking

Because I can't help myself, one last Christmas post: Christmas movies – top 20 according to IMDB rankings with my top 10 in bold.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946, 8.6)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, 8.4)
The Snowman (1982, 8.3)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966, 8.3)
Scrooge (1951, 8.1)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, 8.0)
A Christmas Story (1983, 8.0)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947, 8.0)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964, 7.9)
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974, 7.9)
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970, 7.8)
Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983, 7.7)
A Christmas Carol (1984, 7.7)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, 7.4)
Christmas Vacation (1989, 7.3)
Frosty the Snowman (1969, 7.3)
White Christmas (1954, 7.2)
Elf (2003, 6.8)
Home Alone (1990, 6.8)
Scrooged (1988, 6.7)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

They're singing Deck the Halls, but it's not like Christmas at all, as I remember when you were here and all the fun we had last year ...

Christmas in Kigali

Christmas Eve was crossword puzzles, last minute gift shopping, remoulade and olive dips, candlelight service at Christ's Church, last minute grocery shopping for ham, calamari, and chocolate at Nakumatt, Christmas music and dancing at home, dinner while watching Elf, and going to bed.

Christmas Day is singing "Once in Royal David's City" in the St. Etienne's adult Christmas choir during morning service, Danielle directing the children's Christmas play [picture below], coming home and eating, listening to more music, playing Scrabble and Skipbo, maybe visiting with a few friends in the area, and talking to family on Skype.

The Christmas menu today includes French toast flavored with ginger, cinnamon, and caramel extract, and accompanied with local honey and local oranges that also taste like lime. We also enjoyed the best coffee from Kivu region near the lake in West Rwanda. In addition, Cadbury has introduced me to what I now consider to be what Christmas tastes like, the Grand Seville: a subtle blend of milk and plain chocolate with raisins, orange oil & orange liqueur flavour.

Danielle is wearing new, silver, dangling fish earrings and I am perusing the current Economist and Newsweek magazines.

Have a very merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mobile banking

6.5 billion people in the world ... only 1.5 billion have access to a bank account.

There are 3 billion mobile phones around the world.

Wizzit is a mobile banking company trying to reach the unreachable with banking services through mobile phone technology, and they are partnering with World Bank to get their services out there.

YouTube video for those who want more: Banking the Unbanked.

In many developing countries, particularly in rural areas, access to financial services is costly and very limited. This translates to a large percentage of the population operating on a cash basis only and outside of the formal banking system.

It is estimated that 40 percent of South Africa's 45 million population are un-banked or under-banked. However, nearly 60 percent of South Africans have mobile phones. The proliferation of mobile services worldwide has created a unique opportunity to provide social and financial services over the mobile network.

More on mobile banking? Here's a presentation by CGAP (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, an independent group housed at the World Bank).

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Christmas music

I posted our wedding Christmas playlist from December 2006, but we have added some favorites since then that are on heavy rotation. They are in alphabetical order, but I bolded some of my particular favorites. That's two Christmas playlists from me, but seriously, are there any other worthwhile Christmas songs out there? I'd love to hear your favorites that I can add to the list.

Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
Christmas All Over Again - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Christmas in Hollis - Run-DMC
Christmas Will Really Be Christmas - Lou Rawls
Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
Do You Hear What I Hear? - Bing Crosby
The Little Drummer Boy - Johnny Cash
Little Saint Nick - The Beach Boys
Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus - Guster
O Come O Come Emmanuel - Sufjan Stevens
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
Silent Night - Etta James
White Christmas - The Drifters
Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Better than a Christmas tree

I just saw a picture of my parents' Christmas tree tonight on video Skype, it was beautiful. We don't have a Christmas tree, but what we do have is Christmas cards on the buffet right next to a beautifully Rwandan hand-carved nativity scene. Thanks to Brenna for both of our two Christmas cards, she was our house guest and the namesake of the O'Brien room upstairs. Danielle got a card, I got a card, very nice.

Can't say we're not nostalgic for a Christmas tree, but our Christmas is different this year, and we appreciate that. This year, it's us and our nativity scene … and some woven Christmas ball ornaments and Brenna's two cards.

Note: Nostalgia is not Christmas, but that doesn't mean we won't vicariously enjoy pictures of your Christmas trees and presents and parties. Please send pictures. Email us if you have the address, post comments to picture links, otherwise, but we'd love to share your Christmas by seeing your pictures. You know we'll share ours.

Tatum’s 100

My friend Jason Tatum has lost 100 lbs this year! I have shared that story with some friends and family because I am so proud of the tremendous accomplishment, but here are the pictures to prove it and here is a story to boot.

Your first thoughts: camera tricks and a haircut. The truth is that I have read everything he's eaten and every time he's exercised for the last year. Actually, hundreds of people have read everything he's eaten and every time he's exercised for the last year. I am one of many who receive the Tatum Daily Update.

Jason is losing this weight to become mission-field-ready in order to join the campus ministry startup in Birmingham, England (a ministry with a fantastic start, so far). To me, the weight loss is the side story; the main story is an incredible young man leaning on community and pursuing his dreams. Mr. Tatum is very talented, and his mind is endlessly focused on others, on ministry, on justice, on stories, on grace … he has limitless creativity and it's all focused on being a light in the world.

Losing weight is more than an exercise; it is a spiritual journey of identity, fear, and discovery. The discovery for those of us who support him in his future ministry is what calling and purpose await after such a difficult road.

[Note: today we are at a negative 108.2 lbs. As Tatum would say, "fist pump." Also, I think I hear that he'll be working at CCF some while fundraising, that's great.]

Google Earth view of our Kigali neighborhood

Interested in exploring our Kigali map on Google?

This is our neighborhood: Biryogo. We are in the province of Kigali, district of Nyarunge, city of Kigali (Kigali-ville), and then the neighborhood of Biryogo. Some will want to say that I live in Kiyovu but that's where the president lives, we're Biryogo people.

Let's begin with the Anglican guest house compound. We first lived in Mercy House, small bedroom, shared bath, breakfast included (thanks Janet). Now we live in Hope House, 2 floors, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, living/dining room, kitchen, it's wonderful. Hope House is the closest to the street of two apartments in the same building shared with Shalom House. Our neighbors in Shalom, David and Liz, return from England in January/February to work with Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). Mercy House is where we enjoyed the porch with the amazing view. It's rocking chairs looked out over a sizable garden and then a vast hillscape of neighborhoods and lights. The right-side boundary of the compound is where the hill starts sloping down away from Avenue Paul VI, sloping toward the Gikondo neighborhood and sloping back up beyond that to far areas with houses and fields and lights.

Across the street is the Anglican Church compound with the church labeled and slightly up and to the right is the main hall where we do some of our trainings.

Left out of our gate heads toward the Muslim Quarter and some shops where I buy airtime for my mobile phone. Right out of our gates goes toward downtown - 30 minutes walk/short drive: Urwego Opportunity Bank, hotels, restaurants, shops. Within close walking distance is New Cactus, a casual French/continental with free Internet and a great view and lounge chairs in the grass by the hillcrest.

We love our location and it's easy to reference by KIST or St. Etienne's. Now you know where to drop by, but don't come unannounced, Lazarus the guard dog is very protective.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Expatriate Christmas party

Eating, caroling, and glad-handing expatriates. It was actually quite a neat experience to celebrate Christmas carols with a room full of people we don't know who are also away from family and also doing work in Rwanda that is pretty strongly influenced by this baby Jesus we kept singing about.

Favorite carols this year: O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Little Drummer Boy (Johnny Cash version).

In the background of Danielle singing carols you can see Phil and son Sean playing guitar. Phil directs World Relief Rwanda, and Sean is finishing a policy master's at Duke. We see them both at St. Etienne's and we sing with them and Phil's wife Becca in the Christmas choir. Also, note the Christmas ornaments that we bought earlier today and brought to the party; they're in the background of the songbook shot below.

Kimironko Market in Remera

Kimironko is the market's market in Remera near the Kigali airport. We made a brief trip to grab extra ingredients for a Christmas party tonight; we're taking Macadamia Meltaways.

$0.86 = 6 eggs
$0.81 = 1 kg tomatoes
$2.50 = 2 kg flour
$1.25 = 1 kg sugar
$17.89 = 26 Christmas ornaments


How do the poor save? I've written before about how can the poor save. They want to, they can, they do. But for this edition of "how" do they save, let's talk about saving-in-kind.

1968, 1 oz. of Hershey's chocolate costs $0.05

2008, 1 oz. of Hershey's chocolate costs $0.59

40 years, over 5 times the price, simple inflation.

Germany once had inflation so bad that bar patrons would order two beers at a time so that the second beer would not cost twice as much as the first, even though it would be a little warmer.

If you are super poor in a country that has super inflation (I think that's a technical term), then how in the world can you save anything for a bad day? This is hypothetical, of course, not happening here and now, but you could kind of imagine that happening right? Oh, by the way, Zimbabwe's inflation is somewhere in the range of 231,000,000% right now.

What would you do if inflation were to happen in America (again, hypothetical)? Put money in gold or silver? How about cows? Cows actually make a good form of savings, especially if you like milk. Inflation can come and go, but a cow is still worth a cow. Maybe you can't afford a cow … that's a problem. Or maybe you have a cow and you need $5 to go to the dentist; do you just sell a whole $60 cow?

Q: Can you sell 1/12 of a cow?

A: Only if you're ready to eat the other 11/12 of it.

Me, I prefer goats. Danielle prefers goats, too, but mostly as friends. Goat milk or cheese is tastier to me, and you can diversify your investment with 4 goats instead of 1 cow. Then it's easier to cash in just one goat. Pigs will do in a pinch, but they're not kosher.

If you really like easily accessible assets, go rabbits. Quick breeders, easy to cash, tasty to eat, ... but I hear they can catch and spread disease quickly, too. But hey, when one cow gets a disease and one cow is what you got, what are you going to do?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Babies for Christmas

I love Christmas, so Christmas is what I'm writing about once a day until the day. Today, it's babies and Christmas. That's what Danielle wants, but I was thinking a necklace or something. Seems like all of our friends are having babies, at least two of them (who blog about it):

jesse & keight plus one. Does Keight spell Kate like "K" and the number 8? Yes. Keight is what I consider a Christian with Turret's syndrome, so I expect wildly blunt and overly detailed descriptions of what pregnancy looks like. Hilarious.

The Del Angel Family. Tiffany posts monthly mug shots of her belly. I particularly like the sonogram of Madison throwing up the peace sign. They should soon be getting a pink baby blanket on the way from Rwanda via Pennsylvania.

Danielle is not getting a baby for Christmas this year, maybe on layaway. But what I can do is preview some potential Hartley baby names. Also, feel free to use these names, I have no problem with our children having the same exact names and growing up best friends. I think that's great. Merry Christmas Danielle [revised 12/27/2008]:

Elijah Paul (Eli)
Frederick Norris (Rick)
Joseph Elliot (Zeph)
John Francis (Jack)
Moses Oliver (Moses)
Luke Thomas (Luke)

Emma Catherine (Lucy)
Eleanora Mae (Nora)
Mary Alice (Alice)
Gabriella Ruth (Gabby)
Margaret Ansley (Maggie)
Evelyn Esther (Evie)

Danielle over Heaven any night

Give me the choice: Danielle or Heaven? Danielle … any night of the week.

I've been to Heaven, and I love it – great view – but now that our kitchen is up and running, I'd rather eat in. Did I mention Heaven is the best restaurant in Kigali? Well, Indian Khazana was the best restaurant in Kigali, but until they pay their taxes, our Christmas dinner plans will be elsewhere.

So anyway, we've moved into the Hope House after a month in the Mercy House, and we now have our own kitchen, pantry, refrigerator, stove, microwave, toaster, coffee maker. Mmhh, this is nice. Danielle prepared our first meal recently: beef and tomatoes with pasta, cheese, bread, and avocado. We have had tea and coffee in the morning, snacks when we want them. It's a nice welcome home to settle in and stock up on groceries and eat when you want.

A Heaven side story: I ran across Heaven's co-owner Josh Ruxin on Nicholas Kristof's New York Times blog recently. He guest writes. Interesting. We met Josh at Heaven; he insisted we try his strawberry ice cream on the house. It was fantastic.

Our Christmas playlist, what's yours?

Thanks to Krista Greiner, I recovered my Christmas playlist that we made for our Christmas wedding 2 years ago. That makes Danielle and me pretty happy to hear those songs in that order. It also makes me happy to hear that Krista and also Marisa/Justin are still listening to those songs in that order.

Being far away from home, we would love to know what Christmas music you are listening to. Here is our list:

All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey
Sleigh Ride - The Ronettes
Run Rudolph Run - Chuck Berry
Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
This Christmas - Donny Hathaway
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Darlene Love
Merry Christmas, I Love You - James Brown
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies
Please Come Home for Christmas - Eagles
Winter Wonderland - Bing Crosby
The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Lou Rawls
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
Baby, It's Cold Outside - Dean Martin
Carol of the Bells - Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas present suggestions

What do you get someone who has everything? A mug. That question is much easier than most people make it out to be. Get him a mug.

If you're shopping for me, I would like a polo and some books. I have an Amazon wish list that takes care of all of my book needs, but where on earth (or online) can you find both a mug and a polo?

Besides alleviating world poverty, HOPE International has now solved the Christmas crisis. Mug? Polo? Same place: HOPE International >> Get Gear. Note: I would be proud to have friends wear HOPE, and though the detail on the polo is hard to see, I definitely want one. I'm not sure how it works, do HOPE employees get to pick out one piece of gear for Christmas?

Disclaimer: Please don't ship me that polo (or at least post in the comments that you are going to so I don't get 20 polos). I once said "please send socks" and now I'm getting socks, but really, I can buy them here for much less than you can ship them. It was rhetorical. But, yes, I do need socks, so thank you who've sent them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2nd Anniversary

Day 731

Our second anniversary. I surprised Danielle with flowers I bought downtown (at $0.09 a stem) and a long anniversary note on a Joyeux Anniversaire card. Tonight, we go for pizza and beer at Sole Luna, supposedly the best pizza in town and about 50 varieties.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not too late for Christmas cards

Casa Cards. Do you like child advocacy AND Christmas? This may be right for you.

These Christmas cards are beautifully designed by abused kids who need advocacy. Buy 20 5x7" cards with envelopes for $16, order them today, make your address list while they ship to you, then you are ready to mail them back out for Christmas. Also, if you are like my mom, then you can buy cards in bulk - no matter the season - and save them for when you need them.

Let me know which ones you order, I have many favorites. We're in Rwanda this year, but next year you may see one of these cards in the mail from us. Here are my Christmas favorites:

Wedding season

Two big wedding announcements: my cousin Nicholas Baranco & fellow CCF intern alumna Malissa Jones are getting married.

Not to each other, though that would cut down on gifts and travel for me.

Nicholas & Ellie

Malissa & Winfield

This is wedding season in Rwanda, too. Every week in church there are 6 to 10 wedding announcements, but sometimes they are announcing the same wedding. I found out last Sunday that if you want to be married in St. Etienne's (which a lot of people do, it's big and beautiful), then you must be announced three Sundays in a row. These announcements give the church opportunity to speak now or forever hold our peace; we are encouraged to speak with a pastor privately if we have reason they should not be married. Every week couples are announced, they stand, and we all check them out. I try to decide if they look good together and would make good babies, but so far I have not had reason to speak with the pastors.

This is my final announcement for the weddings above. I hope you approve.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

DIY African paper bead necklace

Interested in making your own African jewelry? I know my mom is. Here are the steps to Doing It Yourself.

Materials: colorful magazine pages, scissors, toothpicks, and glue.

Step 1

Cut colorful magazine pages into long triangles.

Step 2

Apply glue to one side of the triangle.

Step 3

Roll the triangle around a tooth pick, starting with the base.

Remove the toothpick once it is rolled, and now you should have yourself one bead, African jewelry style. This is the beginnings of a beautiful necklace if you keep going and thread the beads together. You may add some finishing touches like some kind of sealant and some accent beads. Here is what the final product should look like:

African paper bead necklaces: 3500 RWF, $6.26 USD each

What do savings groups do?

During our core team planning meeting, we began by reviewing our purpose, our successes, and our future. What are we here to do? Why did you get out of bed and come sit around this table to talk about savings and credit associations? Here is one pretty good answer, courtesy of Marie Jeanne, paraphrasing is my own:

In Rwanda, we have had war and division between people. Our savings groups bring the people back together, reconciled, and we introduce Christian community and faith. Our groups do not just meet and do savings, they meet and build relationships. They are on earth for a purpose and are created in the image of God. Division was not created because of physical differences or cultural differences, but because of sin. We are all created in the image of God, and savings groups mean being able to bring those people back together, not to focus on differences, but to find solutions to the challenges they all face.

Empowerment, reconciliation, savings groups mean more, something deeper … restoring right relationships between people and God and between one another.

Worklife update

Update: lots of debriefings, some core team planning, training sessions, and the Champions' graduation

Part I: HOPE people debriefings.

Roger Morgan, an Englishman living in Brussels, is HOPE's Europe & Africa Regional Director. He flew into Kigali for a MFI board meeting with Urwego Opportunity Bank, of which HOPE is part owner. While I am in Rwanda, I work for Roger. He spent a week and a half here when we first arrived and helped me understand the program, my expectations, and he also introduced me to a lot of people. Roger left November 20.

Malu Garcia is a Filipina, and she has many Filipino friends. We hope to convince them we are from the Philippines, too, because they like to get together, celebrate, and eat. Malu is a sweet, wonderful woman who is expert on savings and credit associations and training (see Chalmers Center). She has been training trainers here, and she got me up to speed on daily operations and what she has accomplished here so far. Malu has been year 1 of HOPE's savings programs, I am year 2. Malu leaves December 10.

Brenna O'Brien comes to Lancaster by way of Atlanta, a nice route, and she is a multitalented woman who works with me on the programs team back at CSU (central strategic unit). Brenna now specializes in IT systems for HOPE's network, and she actually came to Rwanda by way of the Philippines where she was helping a partner institution. She is helping us do some strategic planning for the next phase of the program. Brenna leaves December 15.

Part II: Core team planning.

Our core team for the Rwandan savings program consists of Emmanuel Karegyesa, Marie Jeanne Uwimana, Malu Garcia, and yours truly. We have done some strategizing for next year. 2008 has been training intensive, training trainers to train savings group leaders for a goal of 5,000+ savings groups. 2009 will be monitoring and evaluation, program growth, and more training. Also, we are working to strengthen the Anglican Church's capacity to do transformational development, and we are equipping the core team to be self-sufficient after I leave, though Malu and I will likely continue supporting them regularly. We are now establishing our action plan for the next year, a Gantt chart, some new policies, and trying to wrap our minds around the reporting challenges for a program operated mainly through volunteers with high costs for communication and travel. How many groups do we have and how much are they saving? Suggestions?

Part III: Training sessions.

Champions Graduation. There are 3 Champions per diocese that train trainers and promote savings. They have gone through intensive training with the core team, and on November 20th, we held a graduation ceremony for those Champions who completed all of the training. It was a great celebration with speeches and gifts and songs and food and diplomas. Check out the slideshow of the graduation:

I also attended part of a savings group training for members of a child-headed village. There is a significant population of orphans after the war of 1994, and they have now grown up and are self-managing their own communities with the assistance of a social worker (Aunt Harriet), church staff (Especio), and some government housing. With drumming and singing in the main hall of St. Etienne's, orphans from the child-headed village prepared for another day of savings lessons including discussions on discipline and guidelines to create an atmosphere of trust and order. They have some very sophisticated ideas of how to establish trust because they have relied on their own leadership for so long now. Not all attendees were heads of households, some were younger, some missed training because they were caring for their household or working part-time somewhere or visiting a friend in a mental hospital, most were in school between early college and early high school. They all valued savings group training highly.

Soon we have another training here in Kigali, and on the 21st there is a new bishop's ordination in the new diocese, Kivu. On the 23rd Christmas vacation begins and goes until January 5th.

This week, we have a new office to set up at the provincial headquarters … not to mention saying goodbye to Malu. Don't worry, she'll be back for four more trainings next year.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Part of being rich

Money is one part of being rich, perhaps just a small part, though.

When Danielle and I lived in East Point, we were both fulltime graduate students. Not rich. At least, we did not have much money. What we did have was two cars and lots of options.

If I needed socks, for instance, I could get in the car and drive to Wal*mart and have any kind of sock I desired. Fancy socks, maybe argyle. Duke Blue Devil socks. Whatever socks I wanted, I could buy, and I could buy them very cheaply. Wal*mart stocks a lot of socks.

I need socks. Some things fall in priority when you get a new job and move to Rwanda, so I left America with old socks that have holes in them (not to mention the smell). Part of my problem now is that I don't know where to go to get the cheapest socks of the best quality. The other part of my problem is that, relatively, America is richer than Rwanda. Sometimes richer means more options for cheap goods at low transaction costs.

Please send socks.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Money don’t last forever

I've heard before that the world's poor has trouble saving. Well, there're lots of reasons for that. But sometimes money just doesn't last. Sometimes moth and rust destroy, thieves break in and steal. Sometimes money withers away.

Here, below, is cent francs. 100 RWF. It's worth about 18 cents USD. They also have 100 RWF in coin version, and this we prefer. We spend these bills as fast as we get them because they feel like they are about to disintegrate in our pockets. Danielle wants me to say something about the velocity of money, MV = PQ, quantity theory of money, but basically small bills get worn out.

Things we buy

Danielle and I decided to go ahead and pick up some Rwandan things as we see them and enjoy them here and now. Here's some local products:

Vase, 5000 RWF, $8.94 USD

Bowl, 4000 RWF, $7.33 USD

Baskets, 2000 RWF, $3.67 USD (each)

Feel free to place your order with us online. I'll be honest, though, shipping and handling is where we get you.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Poverty triangle

Most of the world is not rich. You may have heard this before. Most of the world, however, is also not destitute. There are people in the world who rely on bilateral transfers: donated food, water, clothing, and more. Think natural disasters, refugee camps, post-conflict zones, droughts and famine. We are philanthropically called to answer those needs.

How can we best answer the needs of the economically active poor? This is most of the world.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) provide services and products that target specific groups of economically active poor clients, just as commercial banks segment the services and products they provide. In the illustration above, the small tip of the triangle is the world's rich (probably you) and the bottom base is the destitute poor. In between these grayed out zones are three very broad segments of economically active poor.

The upper segment of poor clients (purple) generally demands small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) loans. These SME loans range from $5,000 to $50,000 – think dentist's office in Romania. Have you heard that in America, it is harder to get a loan these days? In Romania, it can be very hard to get a loan, especially something bigger than $500.

The middle segment of poor clients (blue) typically demands small business loans in the range of $50 to $5,000. This range is where most MFIs do their business, including HOPE International. Do you know what the minimum loan size is for Citigroup in Congo? I'll check, but I think it's about $1m. That small "m" stands for million. It's hard to jump from poor to million dollar business renovations overnight.

The lower segment of poor clients (light blue) is not ready to take out a $50 loan, or maybe they are too remote to access an MFI. This group may not have any experience handling money or making business decisions; may want to work, may not have the opportunities. Here is an opportunity for a savings and credit association (SCA). A group of widows in Rwanda start saving about $0.10 a week, six years later these women are leveraging their savings to buy a couple of used cars to resell for profit. Instead of being a microfinance "provider", the SCA organization becomes a microfinance "promoter." That's what I do. We empower the poor to use their own savings – along with our education, materials, support – and build financial independence from where they are. That's good outreach. That's bootstraps economics … and the thing is, that's what works, too. They own their own successes, keep their capital in their communities, build social networks and self-confidence, and one day they'll be taking out the business loan from some MFI and they'll be hiring employees from the community.

We're eventually trying to make that little gray triangle on top get bigger.

[The triangle concept and stories are borrowed from Jesse Casler, but the Rwanda story is local, that's from Marie Jeanne.]