World AIDS day

Last year, to mark World AIDS Day I posted  a video and made a comment that AIDS was not something that happened only in far away countries and that it affects us all. This year I want to focus on the case of Africa.

In the Fall of 2005 I had the opportunity to hear Stephen Lewis deliver the final of his  Massey Lectures. I confess I hadn’t heard much about Lewis by that point but his passionate speech was enough to get my attention. I’ve since read the other lectures, which have been published as The Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa and I strongly recommend it. And so does Wikipedia, for that matter (the wikipedia article is actually very good). Since then, Stephen Lewis has traveled far and wide to disseminate the message about how critical it is to do something now. Over 6,000 people die every day in Africa because of AIDS. In many towns and villages a whole generation has been wiped out, leaving mostly children and the elderly.

Please, watch the video of Stephen Lewis being interviewed by David Suzuki and then visit Stephen Lewis Foundation page and if you can, give a day to AIDS.

James Orbinski and humanitarianism

James OrbinskiI first met Dr. James Orbinski in 2004, at a special screening of Hotel Rwanda, sponsored by Massey College. All I knew is that he had been president of Medecins sans Frontières (Doctors without borders) and had been in Rwanda when the genocide happened. When stood in front of the movie theatre after the screening, I remember being shocked at how young he looked for someone who had done so much and then deeply moved by his honesty, candour, and outrage of the crimes he witnessed. And he has witnessed many.

Continue reading “James Orbinski and humanitarianism”

Do you want to make a difference?

Through Erin’s blog, I came across this wonderful non-profit organization called Kiva, which connects people like you or I, with as little as 25$ to spend, and small business in poor countries in need of a loan. Erin had spoken many times about Kiva, and the press have also covered them frequently. I also read a blog of two interns at Kiva who go to Africa to follow up locally how the business are using the

Inspired by all of that, I decided to also invest on some of these businesses. I don’t have much money but I figured that if I can spend 65 euros for one night at a hotel, I can loan 25$ to help a woman somewhere get her business off the ground and guarantee a good life for her family. So I decided to start with a 100$, which I split between four businesses, all owned by women:

Tolotea Siaki is a seamstress in Samoa, N’Défa Adry owns a clothing store in Togo, Massan Djitri is a mother of six who owns a grocery store in Togo, and Maria del Socorro Aguirre has had a grocery store in Nicaragua for the past ten years and is looking into expanding her business.

They have 12-18 months to repay their loan. Once they do I’m given the choice to get my money back or simply reinvest in other businesses.

I hope to see these women able to tell stories like this one before the end of the year…

Feeling like investing in someone’s business and making a difference in someone’s life? Check Kiva out.

Moussa ag Assarid

La Vanguardia is a castilian-language newspaper from Catalunya that I often read when having lunch at the bakery near the archives. The backpage always has an interview with some interesting person with a fascinating life. Usually people who make a difference in their communities.  Today’s feature was about Moussa ag Assarid.

MoussaLike his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Moussa was a shepherd in the sahara, part of a nomadic Berber tribe called the Touareg.  One day, when he was a child, the Paris-Dakar rally went through his camp and a book fell out of a French journalist’s bag. Moussa rushed to return the book to her but the journalist gave it to him as a gift and explained what it was about. It was the Little Prince. He vowed one day he would be able to read it himself. Two years later, after his mother died, he convinced his father to let him go to school. He walked 15 km every day until a teacher took pity on him and gave him a bed. A lady in the village fed him. His persistence paid off, he won a scholarship to study in France, has written a book and now studies management at the University of Montpellier. His book, Y’a pas d’embouteillage dans le désert! Chroniques d’un Touareg en France, became a huge hit in France and Moussa uses his new-found popularity to speak in defence of the nomadic pastoral tribes that live in the desert of North Africa.

In Europe, he cried when he saw running water for the first time. Until that day, he says, “every day of my life had been spent in the search and collection of water”. His mother died in a drought when he was twelve. Seeing water run from faucets was too powerful for him.  It still pains him when he sees elaborate water fountains. But what shocked him the most was the materialism of western society, the fast-paced life, our inability to live the here and now. The lack of human contact that lead so many to pay so that specialists can listen to our problems.
Moussa’s life is  one of those inspirational stories that make us think about our own life and sense of priorities. He’s going to be here in Barcelona next monday and we hope to catch his photography exhibit at Baïbars bookstore.

Click here for an interview with Moussa in French.

In Spanish, his book is called En el desierto no hay atascos: un Tuareg en la ciudad

To travel…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. Gilbert K. Chesterton

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries. Aldous Huxley

I’ve just finished reading Javier Reverte’s Vagabundo en África, a mix of travel notes, history of Africa and reflections on the state of Africa at the time Reverte spent two months criss-crossing through that great continent. Highly recommended. It made me wish I was brave enough to travel as he does.

His conclusion on travelling at the closing of his journey through the heart of Africa:

“Viajar prolonga tu vida, la llena de rostros y paisajes. Conoces hombres cobardes que deben vivir una vida valiente, y hombres valientes obligados a vivir como cobardes. “Viajar – escribió Aldoux Huxley – es descubrir que todo el mundo se equivoca. Cuando uno viaja, tus convicciones caen con tanta facilidad como las gafas; sólo que es más difícil volver a ponerlas en su sitio”.

Un largo viaje es también una suspensión en el vacío, por eso crea en ti una sensación de eternidad. Observas, como un “voyeur” impúdico, cuanto sucede a tu alrededor, y a la vez te implicas, te asombras, te estremeces, sientes la ternura de los hombres y también el temor a lo imprevisto. Te observas mientras miras fuera de ti.

Y viajar es también una forma de crear, porque retienes cuanto ves y cuanto oyes, en la memoria y en la retina, para intentar más tarde interpretarlo, como si fueras un artista, un pintor frente a los colores, frente a los rostros y las formas; un músico abierto a los sonidos, a las voces y los ritmos, o quizá y al fín, un poeta. El viaje nos convierte en seres libres; hace posible que nos veamos detenidos en el tiempo mientras el mundo corre a nuestro lado.

Y viajar es bailar, como bien dicen los Chichewas, sordo a todo aquello que no sea el son de una canción ignorada.

Elsewhere he says:

Hay veces, cuando viajas o emprendes una tarea creativa,, en las que te preguntas si el destino existe. Es una cuestión boba que no está de moda en estos tiempos de realidades matemáticas y de hombres seguros de su ciencia. Pero yo creo que existe. Y que es uno quien lo propicia.