Friday, November 14, 2008

Cabo Verde in October Part I

We spent the last week of September in Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) evaluating the humanitarian needs of the islands. Our first stop was Mindelo, Sao Vicente. It is one of the more organized villages of Cape Verde, with a main street, island market place and a small university. Cape Verde earned its independence from Portugal in the late 1970s, but didn’t have the finances available to maintain a stable infrastructure. During the last 20-30 years, many buildings, schools and streets have gone unattended. It is now in its first generation of genuine improvements. Social and government leaders hope to make the necessary upgrades that will attract more tourism, while bringing jobs to the islands.
Mindelo lies along the coastline. There the ocean is clear and blue, but the beaches are filled with old Cape Verdean practices and attitudes. In some ways this adds to the charm of the island, but it also prevents sunbathing and swimming. Citizens fish and clean their catch along shore. Drinking water is unsanitary. We were warned not to eat uncooked food, including fruit and vegetables. And drink only bottled water. The average monthly income is less than $100 a month. A large number of young people do not enter high school until their twenties and the drop-out rate is extremely high.
One of the main sources of income is selling fruit, vegetables and penny candy at the market place or along side the road—usually by women. A common scene in Cape Verde is the beautiful women with their babies tided to them with a scarf, while selling their goods. It’s also a scene you learn to love and appreciate as part of Cape Verdean culture. They’re friendly people, doing what they can to feed their families. While the women sell their goods, the men catch and clean fish along the shoreline. Fishing is the main industry of the Islands, and the major attraction for avid fishermen.

We had the opportunity to visit several NGOs while in Mindelo.
We took school kits to two schools on the outskirts of town. A five to ten minute drive took us through miles of unfinished houses—a common scene in Cape Verde.
Among rows of unfinished buildings is a quaint little school with about 400 students. We visited this school twice. On our first visit, we passed out bags
with pencils, crayons, pads and other goodies to the third grade class. These few items will last the students a full school year. Most children in this community come from some level of poverty. So, we leave it to the principal and parent’s organization to decide the children who are in the greatest need of school kits. However, we soon found ourselves wishing we had 400 kits—one for every child.
As we prepared to leave, the principal approached us and asked if we could bring 50 more bags the next day. James Tavares, the local Ashby Foundation manager and LDS partner, told them we could, and made plans for our return.
As we approached the school the next day, we saw a crowd of children and parents anxiously waiting for us. We could never imagine such excitement over school supplies. They gathered around our boxes like children around a Christmas tree—eyes and smiles as wide as could be.

This is the view outside the school gate.

A few years ago, the Ashby-Bingham family, members of the LDS Church, introduced the Ashby Foundation to Cape Verde.

They wanted to help members of the Church on the Islands with education and other work skills. This organization has partnered with the LDS Church Humanitarian Services in other projects in the community—reaching out to non-LDS with wheelchairs, school kits, food-production projects and clothes. While we were in Cape Verde, we visited two projects that Ashby and the Church are partnering. One is a Work Skills Training program to educate young adults in hiring and employment skills. For developed nations, many of the principles taught in this class may seem elementary. But, the teachers and authors of the program soon learned that most of these young people knew nothing about goal setting, teamwork and following an employer’s instructions. Most had never been employed nor had seen their parents employed. They had few examples in their lives of employments skills. The workshop is a train-the-trainer program. Those who attend the class earn a certificate that qualifies them to teach another group of young adults. The program developers hoped to limit the classes to 15 students, but in Mindelo, 19 young adults anxiously attended the week long class. The first workshop was held in the
local LDS Church building. Games and role play were among the many teaching tools used to present work skill principles.
Every student received a certificate qualifying them to teach another group of young adults.
The LDS Church just finished two new buildings in Mindelo, Cape Verde—this one was completed in 2007. Though the Church is in its first generation in the islands—introduced in the 1980s—there are more than 6,000 members. There are three branches that meet in this building, and three that meet in another building outside of town. The members are very proud and protective of their building. In Mindelo, most members of the community have great respect for the church and are aware of the service and education it offers to their community. The Cape Verdean people call it the “Elder’s Church” because of the missionary name badges.

Cabo Verde in October Part II

We left Mindelo for Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde, on the island of Santiago.
Our hotel--and, the beach across the street—and, Kennedy,
(we call him Mr. President) one of the nicest young men you could ever meet. Kennedy served his mission for the LDS Church in Praia two years ago. He had just finished the Work Skills Workshop and hopes to help other young people prepare for employment. One of the trials young people like Kennedy face in Cape Verde is lack of employment. Hopefully, the workshop will help these young people stand apart from “all the rest” as they seek the few jobs available on the Islands. Another advantage is speaking English. Ashby and the Church also offer English classes for young adults who wish to learn.

The LDS Chapel in downtown Praia is not the most attractive building around, but it is one of the most interesting. Upstairs, above the 2nd floor meeting house for two Branches, is the “Fishermen’s Association.” (There just may be some irony in that title.)
And, just pass the entrance ---in the lower level-- is a gymnasium. OK, this may not be one of the most attractive church buildings, but once inside, it is everything the members need. But things are about to change. Just ten minutes away is a new building, almost completed. The members hope to move in at the end of October. A third building is scheduled to begin in 2009 about 30 minutes outside of Praia. A fourth and fifth building are about an hour away, near the center of the island.

In Praia, people line up for miles to sell their fruit and vegetables. Many sell clothes shipped to them in barrels from a family member in Europe or the U.S. Venders out number buyers fifty-to-one. Actually, we saw only a hand full of people who were buying anything. But, this is the way of life here. Venders sit all day, waiting for one or two customers.
This lady, a member of the LDS Church, mends used clothes on her antique, peddle Singer Sewing machine, to sell at the market. She receives clothes from a family member in the U.S., mends them, and displays them on a blanket around her.
An important marketing skill in Praia is finding the right location.
There are “prized” stalls and spots in the many rows of displayed goods. A good business person will save enough money to rent a more prized stall.

In Mindelo, Ashby Foundation has developed a project to ship containers of used clothes from the U.S. for women to buy at a minimal price. This room in Mindelo shows the clothes that are available-- waiting to be purchased and prepared to sell. Ashby’s goal is to provide a space within this small apartment for two sewing machines and laundry facilities, so a selected group of women can mend, clean and iron clothes in preparation for the market. They plan to select women with little or no income, to use the facilities and machines to start their own businesses. Ashby hopes to teach these women business skills, while helping them learn to save money and care for their families. The young woman above runs the facility and teaches other women business skills. Ashby hopes to take this idea to Praia. This project is sensitive to the culture of the islands and designed to help women develop their own small businesses while learning skills to help provide for their families. That’s why we like it. It teaches self-reliance practices that fits their culture.
In Praia, we visited and chatted with older members of the community. Elder Durrance won the hearts of these three women while I took pictures of our friends below. They called me the “magic lady” when they saw their faces on my small digital camera.
We visited three more schools to pass out school kits to some of the cutest children on earth--almost as cute as our grandchildren.
Sister Neves, the Mission President’s wife, and Elder & Sister Lopes—helped present another 130 kits.
To everyone who contributes to the Humanitarian Program, “Thank you.” You’re the heroes who made all this possible.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We just wanted to let you all know that we're fine and well in Cape Verde.

We've had a hard time getting the internet, so we haven't been able to write. We spent 3 days in Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicenta. We visited a couple of schools to pass out school kits. That was a mixture of good and bad experiences. The good part is always the beautiful children who can hardly wait for their bag of school goodies. With so much poverty, a few pencils, 1-2 notebooks and a box of crayons is a treasure--and must last a whole school year.

We attended a Works Skills Training that's being piloted here by an organization out of SLC called the Ashby Foundation as one of our Area Projects. Approx. 20 young adults attended the workshop to learn how to get and keep employment. The unemployment rate is about 30% on the island. The average annual income is about $2000. Most of the young people who attended the workshops are members of the church--a few are return missionaries. It is what we call a Train-the-Trainer program. The idea is to teach these young people to help themselves, while also going out into the community and teach additional workshops. It’s a great way to multiply employment concepts and help the community.

We left Sao Vicenta last night for the capital city of Praia--and see much of the same poverty we saw in Mindelo--accept the city is quite ugly. There's nothing here to attract much tourism, except fishing. There is very little tourism and industry on the islands, so jobs are few and in high demand. There is a huge clean-water problem. We kept a water bottle with us at all times and eat nothing that is not cooked. But, they're just like every other country in the world. They have plenty of Coca Cola and love french fries. The church was introduced to the islands about 1991, and now have about 6000 members. (The total population of the Cape Islands is about 400,000).

Many of the missionaries stay and serve locally on another island from their home. And the members are enjoying their first in-country Mission President. They're very proud of "our" Pres. Neves. We meet with him on Tues. to see if he wants us to ask for Humanitarian Missionaries for the islands. Though there is much poverty, the people are good and humble, crime is low, the ocean scenery is beautiful. There has to be a change of attitude, however, for the country to move forward. Hopefully, our young people can help make a difference for the future of these islands. We've fallen in love with many of the young adults, and have been spending quite a bit of time with them. Several either work for or volunteer at the Ashby Foundation, so they have helped us with much of the activity of the week. They're great kids. There’s so much good that can be done here, while also emphasizing self-reliance—and that is the big key. They need to feel they have accomplished and made a difference.

We look forward to sharing, in detail, some of the projects that the church is involved with. We leave on Wed. for Lisbon for three days, then back to Frankfurt Sunday night (Oct. 5). We'll write more later. We love you all. Keep us in your prayers. We need it. And, give each other a hug from us. We keep you close to our hearts. ---Happy B-Day Scott, Nelly and Jayna. Hope you got our e-mail cards.
Love always, Mom and Dad, Joe and Dee

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Along the Way...

Hi everyone, We finally had time to stop and e-mail to let you know we're doing well. We're in Athens, Greece waiting for tomorrow's flight to Romania. Our visit with the missionaries in Egypt and Jordan was supportive to them and educational for us. So many times Joe and I looked at each other and said, "Are we really sitting in the living room of an Egyptian or Jordanian family drinking cinnamon tea?" We visiting the leprosaurim in Egypt, took a wheelchair to a crippled Muslim woman (I'll never forget her beautiful, excited eyes), checked on a clean-water project in Jordan, a school for Street Children in Cairo and sat in the Minister of Health's office in a city in Jordan to receive approval for a container delivery. We've made memories we hope to never forget. We found the people wonderfully friendly--wanting to help in every way they could. The Jordanians are especially kind and good people. Both countries are extremely poor--especially Egypt. It would break your heart to see the children gather filthy water from the river or the Nile to drink--where animals gather and garbage and sewage is dumped. What you see on TV is a fact. We didn't need to go searching for it.

We took a few hours every couple of days to visit historical sites. Our favorite was having dinner (with the Mayor of 5 villages) overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We sat on the balcony of a Resturant at an ancient Roman ruins near the corner of the Golan Heights, Syria, and Jordan, and watched the sun set over the Sea of Galilee while watching the evening lights of Israel begin to glow. In the midst of one of the most tense spots on earth we found the greatest peace. We waded in the Dead Sea, and sang "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," on the grounds where Jesus walked and in the language He spoke. No question, we have been blessed to be a part of His great work in the lands that He loved so much.
We leave tomorrow for Romania. We'll be there for a few days before heading back to the office in Frankfurt and back to paperwork.
We love you all. We thank you so much for your love and support. There are no words to express the love we have for our family, especially our babies. Please take care of yourselves and give each other a big hug. May the Lord bless and be with you all.

Mom & Dad, Joe & Coni Dee

Special Post for Tanner Tallman

Near our apartment, we answered a special request from our war-scholar grandson, Tanner, who asked for “anything war-like.” We took pictures of several monuments in the cemetery across the street. Especially for you Tan-Man.
This is a monument to the lost German soldiers of war. It rests inside the building shown in the distance in the picture below. Just like American fields, tombstones run for acres in long narrow row. Behind rows of crosses for lost German soldiers are the monument and the graves of hundreds of Jews who lost their lives in the name of medical research during Hitler’s “reign.

We're In Egypt

This is to let everyone know that we are safe-and-sound in Cairo, Egypt. We arrived about 3 hours ago and were met at the airport by our missionaries here. We picked up a wheelchair and some newborn and hygiene kits on the way from the airport to deliver tomorrow. And, we've already seen some of the problems that arise in this work--mostly, translation. Elder Lindsay asked for 66 boxes of each kits and got 6 of each from the organization where they are stored. So, we will need to return another day for the other 120 boxes. They're kept behind locked doors by the organization we ordered them for.

The Lindsays are from Minnesota originally, and moved to Utah about the same time we did. Sister Lindsay has never been out of the US, so this is an experience of a lifetime for them both. They've already made friends here in the Embassey and with the local people. The nicest part of our trip is seeing them in action. They're doing a great job monitoring the humanitarian work here. They also have our three day visit all booked up -- activities with the members (tonight we're taking a boat ride down the Nile with the Branch members), going to meet the organization heads they work with, Saturday to the Lepard colony, and Sunday they plan for us to take a camel ride to the Sphinx. They wanted us to enjoy the culture while we're here, which is great for us. We may never return.

Friday is the Muslim Sabbath here in Egypt and the church honors that, so we will be going to church tomorrow. We really look forward to meeting with their small branch and feeling their spirit and unity.


Mom and Dad-Joe and Dee

Update as of July 15

This past week we spent a lot of time reading and helping our Humanitarian Missionaries prepare Project Proposals. We’re the first step to approval and our job is to screen any problems that may develop. Since the Church’s primary goal—outside of helping the needy—is to teach self-reliance, one of our responsibilities is to be sure that when the Church leaves we have actually helped and not enabled. We also want to help the community learn how to rally around these organizations and help strengthen them. It’s really fun to watch how well our missionaries work with small charities to help offer care to the poor, disabled and aged—while attempting to develop a sense of self-reliance and networking. We do this by contacting organizations that are already established in the community, and help them become more viable and stronger--more capable of serving their people. As our friends, Bill & Kathy Clark who are serving in Mongolia as Humanitarian Country Directors said, “most people think we’re just out here passing out toothbrushes. They have no idea the service we do.”

That is so true. This past week we helped approve ten projects. As you can guess, one of the best parts of our day is to e-mail or call our missionaries and say, “your project has been approved.”

Romania: The Church provided furniture for an education/counseling room for children leaving orphanages. The goal is to help these children merge into society and find employment. We helped to repair a van to transport disabled and abandoned children to/from an education center and homecare. We provided tables with cabinets for a small pediatric hospital that care for malnourished babies/toddlers. They had no tables to do medical treatments on, so they used cribs. One of our favorite projects is the one that give the most for the least amount of money. Romania has hundreds-of-thousand Street Children, and there are organizations that do nothing more than provide a hot meal a day and a place to wash the one set of clothes they own. This week we provided a washing machine to an organization that offers these children a place to get a hug, a meal and have their clothes washed. 3000+ children were aided through these projects.

Croatia: Our humanitarian missionaries in Croatia have been asked to help in the Mission Office there, but they were so excited when they found the opportunity to help a school for blind children. We provided a Braille Printer for the school so that children can learn to read in Braille. 200+ children
Moldova: Moldova is an entirely new country for us. It is south of Russia and was once part of the USSR. Today its people work hard to develop a Democratic Society. Our missionaries there found a small organization that had purchased a building a few years ago that needed a lot of repair. Over the last 5 years we have tried to help them renovate the building for the use of caring for the aged and disabled of all ages. Community volunteers offered to help re-roof the building if we provided the materials. With the willingness to take care of their own, how could anyone say “No”? The home provides living, training and care for a 1000 persons.
We also approved a clean-water project for Moldova which will provide water to a small community of about 4500.

Slovakia: In this very poor country, physically & mentally disabled children are often completely abandoned. Parents have little or no means to care for their children, and so they “give” them away. Like Romania, small organizations take these children in and offer care, food and a home. Our missionaries there found two such centers, both needed play-ground equipment for physical activity for these children. One had a fenced yard with nothing for disabled children to play on. The other had two attached garages in the city where no play area is available. Our missionaries asked for playground equipment to help these small children use their bodies in constructive, physical ways. Can you imagine the smiles on these precious little faces as they play on a swing or monkey-Jim for the first time in their lives? 500 children

Jordan: Jordan has two couple missionaries working hard on Humanitarian projects as well as helping to establish LDS Charities at the Amman Center. One of our couples works primarily on projects. They have a clean-water project that is helping to supply water to villages and schools for close to 100 thousand people. This week we approved a container of 100 wheelchairs, blankets, hygiene kits, school kits and newborn kits. This one project will provide needed items for more than 7000 people.

Lebanon: Our missionaries in Lebanon have helped a group of Catholic Nuns care for 50orphaned children. Last year we help them develop a garden with vegetable plants and fruit trees to help feed these children. They asked if we could help them with a small water system so the Nuns did not have to walk to the well to water their garden and trees. The community offered to pay 1/3 the cost, so we agreed to help with the rest. Their willingness to take some responsibility showed their desire to be more self-reliant and willing to take care of themselves as much as possible.
These projects may seem small to us in the United States, but it means everything to developing nations, where so few have even the necessities of life. We continue to love this work and feel so much gratitude to our Heavenly Father for the opportunity to serve His children. We feel His love and help every day. There have been times when we have felt overwhelmed and unqualified for what we do. When this happens, we close our office door and ask Heavenly Father for His help and guidance. He is always there to show us the way and give us answers to our questions.
We are losing three of our couples this year and need replacements desperately. It saddens us to think that these countries, Albania, Croatia and Moldova, will lose their missionaries. We already feel a stewardship over these people and feel Heavenly Father’s love for them through this work.

Thursday, we leave for the Middle East to visit our missionaries there and see the projects they are working on. We will visit Jordan and Egypt, and then back up to Romania, where we have a new missionary couple working night and day to bring light into the lives of Heavenly Father’s children.

We look forward to telling you all about it next week.

Love always, Joe and Coni Dee

Newsletter #3

We finally took time to enjoy our host country.
Well, part of Germany that is. We decided that it was time to go castle hopping, so we spent Saturday driving up, across and back down the Rein River. Along the drive are at least a dozen old castles.
Some castles were a thousand years old. Most were badly damaged by the Medieval Wars, by the French. But a few still remain active.
In just 6 hours we saw hundreds of years of history pass before us, and a dozen castles. Some of them were rebuilt by the Prussian King. And, almost all of them are nestled on the hillside in the midst of grape vineyards.
The small villages along the Rein are enchanting. We stopped for lunch and again for dinner, just so we’d have an excuse to “mingle” with the natives. We really enjoy the German people. They always try to speak English, and that’s good because our
Germany is “nicht guten.”

We love the “Ginger-bread” houses in these small villages. This building is more than a Hansel & Gretel house. It’s a small restaurant/home in the center of a quant village. We just had to take a quick picture of a German dream home near a quiet market square. The village of Bacharach in tightly nestled between the Rein River and the mountainside. It quickly became one of our favorite villages. A large castle lingers over it, now used as a youth hostel.
The village is about an hour outside of Frankfurt, and a really pleasant place to return for a quiet dinner at a friendly garden restaurant on a narrow stone street. We look forward to doing just that! Wanna join us?

On the opposite side of the river is this beautiful view and another castle. It’s interesting how the French attacked and destroyed a castle on one side of the river and left the one on the opposite side nearly untouched

OK. Utah. This is what we mean by trees!
And we didn’t even need to go high into the mountains to find them. We had a nice stroll through the park to reach the top of the hillside and enjoy the view below. No snow, no rain—just a beautiful sunny day in Deutschland.

Behind and below, are the Rheine River and a line of small villages along the river, and vineyards running up the hillside. Way-y-y in the distance is Frankfurt.
We had a leisured Saturday and a nice break from work.

Then on Monday, back to work we go. This is Elder Durrance, better known as Papa Joe, sitting at his desk talking to our new friend in Amman, Jordan. Through the window—if you look
really hard—is our apartment building. You can almost see the windows to our apartment. Our office is just a step away from home. All we need do is walk through the parking lot and we’re home or at work. That makes going home for lunch very convenient. And, we’re never late for work, but somehow we’re always late going home. You can honestly say that we really put in a full day’s work. Today, we work for 12 hours straight. Though sometimes it’s a long day, we love the affects of our efforts.

Friday, July 4, 2008

2nd Newsletter from Frankfort, Germany

Frankfurt is the financial center of Germany, much like New York City is for the United States. Joe just had to get his pictures taken with the “Bull & Bear” of the German Stock Market.

This is the “old center” of Frankfurt, though many of the buildings here have been refurbished. Much of the older section of Frankfurt was destroyed during WWII and had to be rebuilt. Some of the buildings dated back hundreds of years, but most buildings in this square were rebuilt during the 1940s in an attempt to bring back the old charm of Frankfurt. The smaller building in the center is original to Frankfurt.

About a block from our apartment is a huge cemetery--the largest we’ve ever seen. It’s full of large, gorgeous trees of every kind. It looks like someone came in and started adding tombstones throughout a huge forest. Germany has a rather “interesting” burial practice. You rent your cemetery plot here for 20-25 years at a time. If the plot is not maintained to standard, or if the rental period runs out, they put a sticker on your tombstone as a warning that you must “pay up or get dug up.”
Often, family members are buried on top of each other in one plot the size of a twin/double-bed. In the plot shown here is buried a couple- together. NOTE: the green tag in front. They have one month to “pay up or get dug up.” It was surprising to see how many plots had warning stamps on them, ready to be invaded by the dreaded grounds-keeper.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Durrance Newsletter from Frankfort, Germany

We had the opportunity to meet again with President Glen L. Rudd, formerly the Mission President of the Florida Mission. President Rudd had interviewed us 41 years ago for our temple recommends when we married in 1967. Months later, he called Joe as the Branch President in Cross City, Florida (1967-68). President Rudd has served in the Welfare Program of the Church since its earliest days during the Great Depression. He was asked by the First Presidency to write the history of the Church Welfare Program, which has become the hallmark of the Program. His book is entitled, Pure Religion. A small pamphlet by the same name is distributed throughout the Church to inform members and non-LDS members of this inspired program.

Before leaving for Frankfurt, we had the opportunity to visit with President Rudd once more at a luncheon for the Welfare-missionary couples as we prepared to leave for our assigned destinations. Elder Rudd reminded us in a talk that the Lord’s Work will move forward to every nation of the world, and that the Welfare/Humanitarian efforts of its members will open doors to nations we could enter no other way. Standing with President Rudd is Brother Walker, administrator of the Church’s Vision Initiatives. At present, we have Vision Programs in many third-world nations. We are presently sponsoring one in our Area in Lebanon. Through this program the Church is able to send physicians into under-developed nations for eye exams, surgeries, taking technology where none exist.

Though the Middle-East nations; Lebanon, Jordon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt will formally fall under Salt Lake City’s immediate direction, the humanitarian work for these nations may remain under us here in Frankfurt. That is still yet to be decided. We should know by the end of the year.
This week we ordered another $500,000 in goods to be sent to Myanmar to aid in their relief efforts there. This is in addition to the 150,000 lbs. of goods already sent in conjunction with UPS Charities in Apr/May.

Can you tell that we are sooooooooo excited about this work? The best part of being located where we are is that we get to see so much of what is going on throughout Europe and parts of the Middle-East.

These boxes are ready to send out to countries throughout the world. When we visited Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, there were about 2000 square feet of goods, stacked and ready to be ship to the World, including the United States.

Donated clothes waiting to be sent throughout the world. Employees from all over the world, many refugees from endangered nations, help sort through clothes and other items for shipment.

Flags hang on the walls at Welfare Square, showing the nations that are represented by employees.

Joe plays with puppets from the Health Fair Kits sent to Third-World nations. These kits are used to help children, and their parents, understand the harmful effects of smoking, alchole, and drug use, as well as the benefits of healthy foods and hiegiene.

Joe and I have a wheelchair race at the Missionary Training Center.

More will be added later!