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.