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Airdrop Now

August 11, 2014

Airdrop Now.

the famine in the horn (cont’d)

August 15, 2011

Thousands of sacks of food aid for famine victims stolen & sold in Somali markets. (The Globe & Mail)

What? How? Why?!! The sad part is, this comes as no surprise to me.

In my first post on the famine in East Africa, I commented on how corruption was one of the contributing factors to this disaster. In this particular instance, corrupt businessmen are stealing shipments & selling them in the market to make a profit off of this disaster. There is also corruption within the government, which prevents criminals like these from being punished. The awful truth of this is that some of these criminals may be in desperate situations themselves, in terms of trying to support themselves & their families, so they turn to thievery just to earn a livelihood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending this heinous act, but the old adage “desperate times call for desperate measures” really resonates here.

In my last post on this issues, I also identified how important it is for resources (people, money, etc.) to be properly managed to ensure they’re being used effectively. Which brings me to my wide, sweeping declaration of the day: yes, project management CAN help save the world. Who better than people like project managers to do the job of planning & organizing to bring a  disaster like this to an end? You may be thinking, whatever, Karen, it’s just because you’re a PM, and you think everything to do with project management is magical. Why, yes, I say, it really is. What kind of skill sets do you think the people running aid agencies possess? Project management skills, that’s what! They may not possess the title “project manager”, but that’s exactly what they are doing.

PMs are responsible for assigning & allocating resources, which requires an evaluation of the resources to ensure they are capable of completing the job and within the most effective means. In this case, it would mean choosing an aid agency who has the right contacts on the ground to make sure that aid is being effectively distributed to those in need & to manage local resources.

PMs monitor the progress of a project and intervene when issues come up to resolve them. In light of this setback with food being stolen,  officials at the World Food Program (WFP) may explore other ways to distribute food & supplies. It’s also the role of the PM to escalate high issues and their impacts to project sponsors, the people in charge who hold the purse strings. The WFP may decide to solicit help from the US military, as they did in the mid-90’s, to help provide armed protection of food shipments. Important decisions like these need to be ok’d by the people in charge.

PMs communicate to project stakeholders a status on how the project is going. By donating to the aid relief, I am a stakeholder in the WFP’s efforts to provide food & supplies to refugees. The Associated Press acted on their behalf to report on the situation. This helped me find out, from the other side of the world, what’s going on with their distribution activities. This knowledge informs me of the situation, making me aware of this issue and it’s up to me to decide if I want to act further (send more money, find a different way to help) or do nothing further. (The sad reality behind this article is that it may prevent people from sending donations for fear that the money will fall to the wrong hands.)

By adopting effective “project management” processes & techniques, it’s now up to the WFP & other agencies to prevent crimes like these from continuing so that vital food & aid supplies reach the people who need it the most.

the famine in the horn

July 27, 2011

Our national news has recently reported that a famine has been declared in the horn of Africa, specifically, two regions of Southern Somalia.  Opinions are flying here & there in the news & from people around me.  How does one make sense of it all??

I do not declare to be an expert on this & will not be quoting any scientific data or findings, but to my knowledge, here are the critical factors that have contributed to the overall situation:

  • Drought
  • +20 year long conflict in Somalia
  • Overpopulation of refugee camps in Kenya
  • Corrupt governments

This is a heartbreaking tragedy, no question. Yet I am hearing complaints from people left & right, giving excuses about why they refuse to help.

If I make a donation, none of my money will go to the ground.  It’s just going to pay for administration & executive salaries.

Yes, there are charitable organizations out there who use a portion of their proceeds for administration.  However, is it so terrible for these organizations to use some funds to help run things? As a project manager, I know for a fact that money & resources do not manage themselves. You need people to properly allocate & manage resources to make sure they’re being used effectively. The bills need to be paid, salaries need to be provided, office space needs to be maintained. If you have full-time people working to support the activities of any organization, you can’t expect them to work for free.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s the best operating model for a charity or non-profit. Some organizations apply for government grants to help cover operating expenses. This ensures any funds raised go directly to programs and services. Organizations also rely on volunteers to raise funds and to deliver their programs & services.

I volunteered for over 5 years for a non-profit that operated at the grassroots level, i.e., dependent on volunteer support.  We held fundraisers across Canada and volunteered our own time & money. I made the decision to shoulder those expenses myself, however, we were told that if we needed to use money raised to cover some of our costs, to disclose this to donors. Additionally, the organization had paid staff to support our efforts & provide us with the tools & resource we required for our events.

My belief is that if you’re going to donate money, not to do so blindly.  Look in to the practices of an organization you would like to support to see how their dollars are spent and make sure you agree with those practices before sending them your money. And don’t complain if you haven’t done your research.

Why should I help? I don’t know anyone in Africa, and I have a family to support.

Valid. If you don’t like to donate to charities, you don’t have to!

But please bear with me while I step on my soapbox… Today, we live in a global society. Canada is a country that is recognized for the aid & support we provide to other countries around the world; this makes me proud to be a Canadian. It’s my personal opinion that if you are lucky enough to enjoy some level of prosperity in your life, the right thing to do is to give back. What you choose to give back to is your prerogative. Water management, poverty, domestic violence, child soldiers, the environment, your children’s sports… The list goes on. The ways you offer your support is also endless. You can donate money, volunteer your time, be an advocate and share information on the issue with the people around you, start your own non-profit organization, hold a fundraiser, etc.

My thing is Africa. It just is. I was drawn to the situations of war-affected children, became involved with War Child Canada and then the GuluWalk. In learning more about Uganda, Eastern Africa, and African issues in general over the years, this is something I’ve chosen to devote my time to.

But after all is said & done, no, you don’t have to donate to the famine efforts. And you should not feel guilty for making that personal decision.

If they can’t feed their families, why do they keep having babies?

I am no expert on the science behind this, but my understanding is that societies develop their own mechanisms for stability. This region has a high death rate, so to maintain their population, they’ve developed a high birth rate as well.  Poor countries also tend to have higher birth rates than in developed countries. This could be due to lower education & affluence, ineffective birth control methods (& a lack of education on birth control in general), cultural or religious beliefs that promote large families, and many, many other things.

So, no, they can’t just instantly stop having babies, so you implying that as a possible solution is nonsensical.

Why does Canada have to give? Why aren’t other African countries sending money to the region, or the rich Muslim states in the Middle East?

Ideally, yes, this burden would be shouldered by other Muslim states or nations within the African Union.  However, that’s not going to happen, from what I see, so stop using that as an excuse not to give. Someone’s got to step up, and if Canada and its citizens are willing & able, let’s do it!


The sad part of all this is that we’ve heard warnings of the drought all year & the refugee camps in Kenya have existed for decades, but we’re just hearing about them now because of the famine. In addition to providing immediate relief & support for the famine today, we also need to provide support to the people living in these camps. Young adults, who’ve grown up in the camps, which is the only life they know, have less opportunities in the camps so we need sustainable solutions to help them forge successful futures for themselves, their families, and fellow community members.

What will I be doing? Right now, I’ll donate toward the relief efforts to a reliable NGO (like Oxfam, World Food Program, or Doctors Without Borders, to name a few). I will also do my own research to find an organization who has identified tangible solutions for the long-term problems and provide them with whatever support I can provide.

But that’s just me. Will you be doing anything to respond to this crisis, and if so, how?


July 15, 2011

Today was our 2nd last day in Gulu & we were scheduled to visit our new friend Ali at Gusco. After running a few errands in the morning plus an impromptu walking tour of Gulu from Andrea, we hopped in the van to go find the Gusco compound. Gusco has a very nondescript fence with no signage – privacy & confidentiality of the women & children at Gusco is paramount.

Gusco (Gulu Support the Children Organization) is a local, non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides accommodations, social/psychological support & education to women & children who have recently escaped from captivity with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Although the LRA has left Northern Uganda, they are still present in the neighbouring countries of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), South Sudan & the Central African Republic (CAR). When Ugandan soldiers the LRA, they try their best to rescue mothers & their children that are being held in captivity. Sometimes the mothers choose stay in the bush with their soldier husbands and/or any children that have been left behind. Alternatively, the mothers, or even the children, may get caught in the crossfire in the fighting between the LRA and Uganda soldiers. (A few kids we met had siblings in the hospital being treated for gunshot wounds. Some were even recovering from gunshot injuries of their own.) Tragically, some mothers are killed in the gunfire. In either case, the children arrive as “unaccompanied minors” to Gusco.

At Gusco, mothers & children are given a place to stay while social workers provide counseling to help them deal with what everything they’ve had to endure while living in captivity. If children arrive without their mothers, they help to find their grandparents &/or extended families. In doing so, they help prepare them for their new lives by providing the family with a set of bedding, a set of dishes, and other necessities to ensure they are not a burden when they move in. They also offer vocational training to the mothers so they can support themselves; on the day we were there, they had a cake decorating class.

When we met at the Coffee Hut, Ali invited us to meet some of the mothers & children who were staying there & to have lunch with them. Time for more traditional food, yay! This time we were treated to generous servings of beans & posho – the women there had very hearty appetites, so Ali actually had to ask them to make up child-sized portions for us, knowing we wouldn’t be able to handle all that food! I really enjoyed it, I definitely liked posho better than millet, although both are good (& filling!).

With the language barrier, we were able to open up to the kids by playing with them & taking lots of pictures with our digital cameras. Playing & giggling with them under the shade of a big mango tree made the time go by way too fast. That afternoon with the kids of Gusco was definitely a highlight of our trip. One boy had gotten so attached to Sheldon that he started to cry when we left (the boy, not Sheldon)! Their innocence & pure hearts really touched us, making it easy to forget the sad, often tragic stories that brought them there in the first place. But now, thanks to Gusco, their futures couldn’t be brighter.

Recently, I found out that Aringo (the cutie in the yellow, flower print dress) & Ojera (the lil boy in the brown hoodie) have been reunited with their grandmother & maternal family. Thanks to Empowering Africa’s Future (EAF), an organization set-up by Heidi & Ali, children like these are being sponsored to help reunite them with their families and start living a normal life again.


July 13, 2011

On Tuesday, Andrea took us to The Coffee Hut, a popular stop for ex-pat’s & one of her fave places in Gulu to get Western food.  They had wi-fi, so I was trying to get access on my Blackberry, to no avail.  (Note to self: purchase an international data plan!)  We’ve been enjoying really great food in Uganda so far, and breakfast was no exception.  I had a breakfast wrap with fresh guacamole.  It was just the start of avocado & mango season, so that on top of being able to eat all local food made for great dining experiences.

While waiting for our food, we chatted with a fellow Canadian.  (She picked up on our accents right away while were talking about, you guessed it, Facebook.)  Ali, works for a non-profit, Gusco, which is funded by UNICEF and Save the Children.  When we told her what we were doing there in Gulu, she invited us to come have lunch & spend some time with herself & the children over at Gusco.  We quickly accepted after Andrea said we’d have time the next day.  Little did we know at that moment what an impact our visit to Gusco would have on us…

After breakfast, we met up with Simon, the program director for Athletes for Africa (A4A) Uganda, at their office aka Julian`s house.  Simon drove us up to Pabbo, a neighbouring district to Gulu.  On our way in to Pabbo town, we were shown the location of a future youth centre funded by A4A near a football field.  The 2009 campaign for the GuluWalk promoted the building of a youth centre in Gulu, but  A4A found that due to all the youth programming that was already in place in Gulu, they found it would be more beneficial to build youth centres in the rural areas instead to cater to the specific needs of those areas.

Before making our way through the town, we fulfilled the tradition of meeting with sub-county officials to introduce ourselves.  It was eye-opening to hear directly from them how the first gunfire in the conflict against the LRA was fired there.  Pabbo was also the location of the largest internal displacement persons (IDP) camp in the region.  It was really hard to believe that over 600,000 people were living there at one point; that day I saw none of the poverty & despair I knew overwhelmed the people living in the IDP camps during the reign of the LRA. All I saw that day was the beauty, hope & love that the people of Pabbo had to offer us as their guests.  The emotions I felt that day overwhelm me just thinking of it…

We drove in to a small village area where the members of Child Orphans United awaited us.  The first thing I heard was the familiar Ugandan high-pitched “yelp” that girls call out in celebration & greeting.  I can’t describe it let alone re-create it, but if you’ve heard it once, you know what I mean.  The sound evoked a lot of emotion in me and I was glad that I was wearing my sunglasses so no one would see my tears of joy!

This was one of those moments when I could not believe that I had finally made it to Uganda.

With their introductions, the elders of the group made a special plea to us regarding their desparate need for seeds (the country was experience droughts & food shortages) and new costumes & drums for their cultural dance performances.  Sheldon, Heidi & I decided immediately that we could not walk away from this group without giving them a helping hand – the cost to us was so small & would not compare to the intangible great benefits to them.  The bonus behind our contribution for drums meant that they’d save money by purchasing them locally rather than in town where they’re more expensive, and also the opportunity to learn how to make them in the future.

The highlight of our visit was the traditional dance they performed for us.  Even the village elder joined in and danced with the girls!  And could she could really shake it!

Here are a couple of videos for those of you with access to Facebook:

Upon our ride back through the trading centre, we saw that it was market day, & the street was lined with people displaying & selling their produce & wares.  The towns in rural areas are called trading centres since that is where everyone to conduct their business.  Seeing how busy the market was made it really hard to believe that was where the largest IDP camp in the country was once located.

First we were treated to the beauty of traditional dance…  Next?  Time to get messy eating some traditional food, in the traditional way, with our hands!  Here it is, beef & millet with some sweet/sour Krest (it’s like Sprite) to wash it down…

My verdict?  Sooo yummy!  We’ve had such wonderful meals so far, and I couldn’t go without trying some traditional food.  I loved it!  The beef was so tender and the broth was flavourful.  To my pinoy friends: it kind of reminded me of sinigang, but not as bitter.  I couldn’t help but lick my fingers & smack it up eating with my hands that way.  We knew there were kids watching us in the doorway, baffled at the sight of mzungus eating traditional food & with our hands to boot, but we were too busy enjoying the meal to notice or feel self-conscious!


June 26, 2011

We`re finally heading to Gulu – this was the part of the trip I was most anticipating.  The GuluWalk was named after the town of Gulu, where thousands of night commuters would walk to & from every night during the conflict to seek refuge from the LRA.  I could not believe I was finally going there!  Andrea had plans for us to see some of the programs that the GuluWalk helped fund throughout the years.

After arriving & checking in at the Acholi Inn, we relaxed for a bit before having dinner with Julian, the board of directors for Athletes for Africa.  I had pork machomo (bbq`d meat skewer, I`m sure that name is wrong!), which was good but not as good as the beef machomo we had from the street vendors on our way up to Paraa!  Heidi had a whole tilapia – the tilapia in Uganda is so good!  It also takes a long time to receive your food in a Ugandan restaurant, so it makes for some good conversation.

The next day, Andrea took us to a local primary school where the Youth Coalition for Peace hold peace & football training every Sunday.  That day, the mentors spoke to the youth about conflict management & went through scenarios with them, asking how`d they handle different situations.  The peace training took place in Luo, the native tongue of the north, so we only got the gist of what they discussed.  Next up was football!  Sheldon brought along his runners & shinpads, so he was able to join them in a game of football (yes, I mean soccer).  It isn`t hard to spot Sheldon in the pictures below.

paraa safari lodge & murchison falls

June 26, 2011

On Friday afternoon, we headed north to the Paraa Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park. 

On our 3ish hr drive up, we learned an important lesson about taking pictures in Uganda.  Ugandans are very private about having their pictures taken, so you have to remember to ask their permission before snapping away.  We wanted to capture a herd of cattle walking by the side of the road, when one of the young herders got very upset at us & hit our van with a stick!  Our driver extraordinaire, Ronald, got out of the van to show him who’s boss. 

Paraa Lodge is a scenic, colonial-style hotel on the Nile River.  After arriving that first night, we freshened up & met for dinner on the outdoor balcony of the dining room,  overlooking the Nile.  Other than a few bats flying overhead, we had a perfect meal outside!  What a refuge to the situations going on in the capital & in Gulu.

The opposition parties were protesting against the government’s inaction towards food shortages & rising fuel prices, and had started the Walk to Work campaign.  Supporters walked to work twice a week & on the day we left Kampala, pockets of protests had taken over parts of the city.  Watching news stories of violence, burning tires on the street and arrests elsewhere in Kampala had us glad to be leaving for a few days. Thankfully, Ronald was able to make his away around the areas of disruption & pick us up for our weekend escape. (The protests had ended in Gulu by the time we arrived there and the violence had also died down significantly in Kampala, so there wasn`t much to worry about by the time we left Paraa.)

We were fortunate to have an experienced guide, a local from the north, for our safari.  We saw a number of animals in their natural habitat on the savannah, and I was in absolute awe of all the giraffes we saw (hence all the giraffe pictures I took).  We saw the kob & the crane, the two national animals, hippos keeping cool in the water, and mother elephants with their babies.  There were also a lot of other kinds of deerlike animals (including `the stupid ones` who had such bad memories, they`d sometimes forget what they were running from when being chased by predators!) buffalo, warthogs, & birds.  Our guide was able to track the two male lions we encountered, which is a rare opportunity!  They were two brothers, one of whom had lost a leg, so his brother and the rest of the pack worked together to help take of him.

On the boat ride down the Nile towards Murchison Falls, we saw more hippos, and some croccodiles, including a couple of baboons hanging out with a pair of crocs (and I don`t mean the shoes!).  We couldn`t get too close to the falls due to the rushing water, but had a great photo opp on a group of large rocks.

We had an amazing few days up at a Paraa Lodge.  After hearing the countless, ugly, & often horrific stories about the conflict that gripped the region for over twenty years,  I`m so grateful for the opportunity to experience some of the beauty that Uganda has to offer.


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