Posts Tagged ‘Friends Unite’

Kibera Kids Teach Lesson On Happiness

August 20th, 2010
posted by at 7:18 pm

Guest Post by: Rachel Prather (daughter, Pam Prather, Bashyam Shah )

 When I stepped out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the smell.  We had driven through streets that were mostly unpaved and past homes and shops that were made of wood with tin roofs.  I noticed all of these things on the way to Kibera, Africa, but the first thing that struck me when I stepped out of the car was the smell. 

I thought to myself, “How can these people live here?”  That question lingered for the rest of the morning.

We walked through the streets of the slum, on our way to a new health clinic.  I was wearing a skirt, as we were advised that it would be culturally insensitive for the women to wear pants or shorts.  I was also wearing flip-flops. 

We were not prepared for what awaited us on the fifteen minute walk to the clinic. I held my skirt up and paid attention to each step as I walked over the visible waste that was part of our path. I watched in shock as I saw residents dumping waste from buckets into the crowded street/sewage system.  I had never seen anything like this.

Some people ignored us, some people greeted us, some shook our hands, others just stared.  It was as if we were walking down a street back home, but it was also very different at the same time.

I felt sure that the only pale-skinned people they had encountered had been what are known as “do-gooders,” either trying to bring the message of God or telling them how to live a cleaner life.

We were doing neither. 

We were there to observe, to learn and absorb the current state there. 

 As soon as the kids spotted us, they shouted loudly and often – “How are you?  How are you?”  If we answered them, “I am fine!” they would laugh; delighted to hear English spoken from a native English-speaker.

It was the children who changed the course of my morning.  They were happy, and smiling.  It was hard for me to believe that children in this type of squalor would be able to smile.  And yet, here they were, as polite as can be, greeting strangers into their neighborhood.

The children in the slums were all smiles.  But, how?  Perhaps, because they are alive, most of them probably have parents, they probably have a place to live, and they just enough food to survive.

It could also be because they don’t know any better. We could attribute their happiness to the innocence of the child’s mind. They are not yet aware of the “reality” in Kibera.

What is that reality?

Although 1.5 million people live in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, the largest slum in Africa, Kenya’s government does not acknowledge its existence. The government contends that the massive population is illegally squatting on government land, and thus refuses to provide infrastructure: schools, hospitals, or sanitation. Women are left especially devastated in Kibera as men control existing scarce resources. In Kenya, 33% of women trade sex to survive by 16; in Kibera, 66% of girls trade sex for food as early as 6. Women in Kibera contract HIV at a rate 5 times their male counterparts: Kibera has one of the world’s highest HIV rates. Only 8% of women ever attend school. 1 of 5 children do not live to see a 5th birthday. 7 of 10 women will experience violence. No statistic ultimately captures the severity of Kibera’s human crisis. 

There are many members of my generation and younger that take many things for granted.  When their iPod breaks, they get very upset.  It could possibly mean the end of the world – until they get a new one. Maybe, just maybe, if they spent a day with happy children, children who have less “stuff” but just as many things to be happy about, they would get a little tug on their heartstrings.  Maybe it would put things into perspective. Maybe.

I can’t say that my life has turned upside down after visiting the slums of Kibera.  However, I can say that my life has changed in many seemingly insignificant ways. 

This month, I start my first year as a high school teacher, and I have already written lesson plans that revolve around my experience in Kibera. 

I am grateful that my mom, Pam Prather, and her boss, Murali Bashyam, let us tag along on their trip to Africa. I have told others of my experience, in the hopes that they will be inspired to visit.  I have started looking at children differently – where does consumerism begin and creativity end?  The most important end I hope to achieve is the education of my students; education about other cultures and other people. 

That is something that we all need to be aware of.

You Can Never Outgrow Your Need For Purpose

August 13th, 2010
posted by at 4:47 pm

As you get older, it sometimes seems that there are fewer things to learn. No more school. You know your job like the back of your hand. You play the same games on the computer.

Well, I recently had an opportunity that taught me much about life outside the United States. And it opened my eyes to the reality that there is SO much I still don’t know.

Murali and I recently returned from a trip to Kenya. Besides the safari – which was absolutely fantastic – we spent some time visiting with people involved in projects we’ve partnered with as part of the non-profit that we built, Friends Unite.

We went to Kibera, outside Nairobi, which is one of the largest slums in the world. There we met with officials from Carolina for Kibera. This UNC Global initiative, is a non-profit organization that has set an exemplary model for how just a few people can create astounding change for those in need.

They showed us some of their youth programs, and then took us to the medical center they started. It has since been taken over somewhat by a larger non-profit, but that is exactly what we’d like to do – start programs that are so successful they become self-sustaining. The building itself is a clean, sturdy, shining beacon in the midst of overwhelming poverty. The people, dedicated professionals with optimism beyond compare.

We also drove out to Kilisa, a small village a few hours east of Nairobi (in the US, it wouldn’t have taken a few hours, but we’ll talk about Kenyan highways some other time!) to meet with the Kilisa Village Development Community (“KVDC”). What they’ve accomplished already, and what they’ve planned for the future, is remarkable. With so few resources, they’ve managed to redirect their path from one of stagnant poverty which would be expected in an area like this. Instead, they are now on one with the potential for education, enterprise, and sustainable growth.

So what did I learn? Sometimes community-based change does not have to take a government, or years of political negotiating. Water can be found and harnessed from underneath a dry riverbed. A school full of children with a desire to learn does not need a playground, projectors, or even many books. And…. we are very lucky to live in a country with natural resources that allow us to concentrate on more than just survival.

Check out the video of our trip to a school in Kilisa, that our colleague Jessica Coscia produced.

Asante sana!

Remember, No Man is a Failure Who Has Friends

June 6th, 2010
posted by at 8:32 pm

The title of this post is line from the popular 1940’s movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.  That line, along with my strong belief that people have the capacity to use and share wisdom through friendships and relationships, inspired me to form a non-profit with my friends last year.

Appropriately called Friends Unite, the mission of our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is to provide the support necessary for people and communities to help themselves. Our goal is to provide support for the advancement of education, health services and other basic necessities, such as food, water and shelter to people and communities around the world.  Of course, in doing so, we hope to form partnerships and friendships that will last a lifetime.

I’ve always felt that what makes our immigration law firm so special is that we believe in good relationships.  Not just with our clients, but with each other as well.   As a result, many of us have been together for quite a while.  For example, our Senior Counsel has been with our law firm for close to 5 years.  Our Senior Paralegals have been with us for over 4 years.  And our Client Relations Manager, who is also the Vice President of Friends Unite, celebrates her 10th anniversary with the firm this year!

I consider all of them my friends.

Through Friends Unite, we have already created great relationships with people and organizations around the world.   One such relationship is with Abraham Lueth, founder of the Southern Sudan Fellowship (SSF).  This organization built a school for children in Southern Sudan, and is about to break ground on an all-girls High School in a city called Akot.

Southern Sudan was involved in a brutal civil war for over two decades.  During the war, close to two million Sudanese were killed and roughly four million were forced to leave their homes.  Many who suffered during the war were children.  For those of you who want to learn more about the war, and its terrible impact on families and children in Southern Sudan, there is an excellent book I am reading titled ‘What is the What’ by Dave Eggers.  The book tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys from the Sudanese civil war.   Mr. Deng also gives back to the children of Southern Sudan through his Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.

Some of our other partners include WSAID, Brahmi, and the Africa Economic Foundation.  The projects weare working on with them include an educational project on the Visceral Leishmanaisis Disease, a solar power project for a school in India, and a food security and microfinance project in a village called Kilisa in Kenya.  We are excited about the relationships we are forming with our partners, as well as the work we are and will be doing together.

Feel free to visit the website of Friends Unite to learn more about our mission, vision, projects and partners.   If you want to get involved with Friends Unite, please contact us.  We welcome your participation and look forward to getting to know you.

To follow Friends Unite, visit us on Facebook and Twitter.