Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Here's how I wear MY Melinda Maria charm... on a silver necklace (on loan from my daughter) and with my great-grandmother's wedding ring (circa June of 1912).
I've gotten a spate of compliments on this particular piece of jewelry recently, so I thought I'd remind you all that you, too, can wear one (in your own way, of course).
Melinda Maria designed this just for Cura and donates a percentage of the purchase price; you can get yours at
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
This is what a hand-dug hole for a septic tank looks like! The work is well under way, and Will tells us that the major hold up in the process has been securing materials at a pace that matches that of the workers and their plans. The secondary school is beginning to actually look like one, though, and there is lots of reason to celebrate....
Which is exactly what has begun:
This is what will be the administration office, being christened with a goat-roast. I'm usually a vegetarian, but I make an exception for nyama choma... I wish I could have been there!
Many thanks to Will for these updates and photos -- and to Henry for keeping Will on his toes!
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Friday, May 11, 2012
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Please contact volunteer-extraordinaire, Norman Golightly at firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase one of the incredible prints he's made through his Kenya Spare a Camera project in Cura. Some of the photographs are his, others were taken by the children, and all will provide much needed funding for the Home.
I own "Ghost Dress"... There's got to be one you'll love, too!
Monday, May 7, 2012
The mission of Leadership Snohomish County, a non-profit group located just north of Seattle, WA, is to educate and mentor local leaders so that our county can cultivate its own generations of problem-solvers and social justice workers. I graduated from the program last year, and I guess I had too much fun during my one minute at the podium, theatrically declaring my gratitude, because the group asked me back as this year's keynote speaker.
The invitation was ostensibly so that I could share some of my observations about leadership as a result of the work I do in Cura... but as I reflected on what I might have to pass along as accumulated "wisdom" all had its roots in a remarkable safari I took 22 years ago.
Could it be possible that "everything I really needed to know about non-profit work, I learned when I was 21?" Astoundingly, I think it might be true.
In 1990, 14 of us -- teenagers from all over the world -- founded, planned, funded and executed a charitable road-trip from Nairobi to a refugee camp in southern Malawi. We were following the lead of our charismatic, adventuresome, compassionate friend, Dan Eldon, and he deemed us, collectively, "Student Transport Aid."
STA, or sometimes otherwise known as "Team Deziree," after Dan's beloved Land Rover, operated like this:
We raised money in our various home locations, converged in East Africa, and crammed ourselves into two vehicles: the aforementioned Deziree, and her sister, Arabella Mentirosa, a Land Cruiser we purchased for the trip. We headed, overland, to see for ourselves the devastating effects of the civil war in Mozambique.
Many mishaps threatened our progress, but neither allergies nor near-arrests nor internal romantic strife could deter us. Almost miraculously, we arrived intact, and we got the distinct pleasure of personally selecting and supervising the direction of the funds we had raised: to build two wells, purchase blankets for a children's hospital, and donate Arabella (and money for maintenance) to Save the Children [Malawi].
Some of the dramas and mis-adventures of our safari are already well-documented in Jennifer New's two books based on Dan's life:
But what strikes me now -- after many years of far more sedate non-profit work -- is just how much we got right. Dan got us started, with valuable "guiding principles" like:
“Select your team with care. When in doubt, take on some new crew and give them a chance, but avoid at all costs fluctuations of sincerity with your best people.”
“There is little difference between being lost and exploring.”
“Look for solutions, not problems.”
And, perhaps most importantly for team morale,
“It is foolish and hazardous not to dance in Africa.”
There is youthful posturing and cheekiness in these mock "codes of conduct," but there’s truth, too, and the rules we implemented while out on safari still apply as I and others face the inevitable interpersonal, political, mechanical, and financial challenges that arise in non-profit work.
Partnering now with members of Dan's family, the work I do with Cura Orphanage -- to care for AIDS-affected children and to assist in meaningful, internally-driven community development -- I notice that Dan's admonitions for good "Safari as a Way of Life" conduct still apply:
We have selected a team whose sincerity is above reproach -- individual volunteers, other non-profit organizations, and donors, to a person, are genuinely interested in the well-being of each child and the extended community.
We have worked together to find solutions instead of problems, and to approach each challenge with a sense of adventure, remembering that being “lost” for a while often allows us to arrive at our destination having learned more about each other and seeing our journey in a new, creative way.
And, of course, we find it incredibly foolish not to dance once in a while.
We didn't know it then, and probably Dan, at age 19, didn't know either, that sound-byte proclamations about expectations and mission are cornerstones of organizational governance -- the vision and purpose against which all other decisions are measured. The mission/vision sessions I've been involved with since haven't been quite so enervating, but the similarities nevertheless exist.
Dan didn't write any pithy statements about how to raise or manage donor funds, though he was savvy enough to recognize that creating brand recognition (achieved through t-shirts and posters), being fearless about "the ask" (whole weekends of selling bracelets to roller-blading strangers in Venice Beach, CA, wasn't nearly as glamorous as it sounds), and using every resource (the tax-exempt status available by becoming an official student club at Pasadena City College, for example) were all essential.
As was keeping a close eye on the donated funds (Eiji was in charge of protecting the $15,000 we raised from being frittered away in bribes to border guards or in late-night disco binges along the way), and assessing our successes -- and mistakes.
Since those long-ago days, I've attended pricey seminars at respected academic institutions and read voraciously about development, governance, non-profit work, and leadership. This continuing education about the work I'm involved in has been challenging and illuminating, without question, but I can't help but consistently turn back to those other principles, written into my conscience so long ago and enacted along the banks of Lake Malawi.