Peace, Art, Faith and the inspiring Mary Button

September 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes you do something and it inspires someone else to do something great.  Usually we do not get so lucky, but that is because there is only one Mary Button.

I posted in the blog before about the youth peace summit I organized in Kenya last year in response to the post election violence in 2008, and what a powerful experience it was.   Well artist Mary Button (and theology student) was an important part of that summit, and she created art about the experience.  An interview was published about it today in Religion Dispatches.  I am posting a big chunk of the interview cause I love it.  You can see the entire series  from Kenya here and read about the peace summit in a previous post I wrote here.

JS: How did your faith or the faith of other people play a role in this series?

MB: During The Peace Summit, interfaith dialog was a real priority and so the youth participants were not only from a number of different countries—Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kenya—they also came from a wide variety of faith backgrounds.

One of the things that I became very quickly aware of was how unsure and self-conscious I was about talking about my own faith. I was totally blown away by the openness and ease with which so many of these young people talked about what their faith meant to them. Bear in mind, now, that I am a thoroughly churched woman. Daughter of a Lutheran minister. Sunday School teacher. And about to enter my first year of seminary. And suddenly I felt like I had never really considered what my faith meant to me.

The Hymnbook Project focused on cultures [in the Southern US] with which you are intimately familiar. What challenges did working in Kenya bring?

It was a real challenge. My friend Maria Murewa, who’s an artist from Rwanda, and I volunteered to lead the workshop where we made banners and signs with the youth for the peace march planned for the last day of the summit. We ended up camping out with a revolving group of youth, and we all made really beautiful signs. We cut out doves and painted them really bright colors. We had some neon green cardboard and made signs in the shape of Africa. And we ran through hundreds of pieces of pastel poster board. There was such a feeling of urgency, and it was so tied up in their faith.

Earlier in the summit, the youth drew these really amazing life maps where they drew out these circuitous paths dotted with people and churches and told these amazing stories about how they came to be at the peace summit. And when we sat down to write out messages for our peace march, the messages they wrote overwhelming were about God’s love. Continue Reading Peace, Art, Faith and the inspiring Mary Button…


“The power of mobile money” – new report from The Economist hints of development revolution

October 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

In 1791, Thomas Edison started a project– to build a worldwide network for people talk to each other.  And according to experts interviewed last week’s report in The Economist, we can expect to see this project finished in our lifetime—100 per cent global teledensity is expected within the next ten years.  Of course, 100 per cent does not mean absolutely everyone, since some people own several headsets and sim cards, but it comes pretty darn close.

These days it seems everyone has a story about how a cell phone has changed a person living in poverty’s life, but the in-depth research of exactly how mobile telecommunications is spurring economic growth is still being written. That’s why this special report is so exciting; it compares telecom across emerging markets, stringing both anecdotes and research together, and pulling out the trends.

Some of the facts:

  • 3 out of the 4 billion mobile phones worldwide are being used by people in the developing countries.
  • Studies show that adding ten phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts income per person by 8-10 percent.
  • India leads the way with adding 128 million new subscribers in the last year, 89 million were added in China and 96 million across Africa.  Indonesia, Vietnam and Brazil are not far behind.
  • Despite average customer spending $6.50 per month and .02cent calls, Indian operators still have a 40% profit margin, similar to Western operators.

While the article touches on nearly every region in the world, M-Pesa in Kenya has had the most success with using mobile phones for banking.  Here’s how it works: once a user is signed up using a mobile phone and an ID card, he or she pays cash to a vendor who then credits it to the phone account and gives the consumer a special code.  The code can be used to withdraw cash later or passed along to someone else. Around $2 million is transferred through the system every day, with an average transaction of $20.

There are many benefits to mobile banking–  no more carrying cash on long trips, keeping wealth in only livestock or jewelry, or risking losing the stash kept under the bed to a natural disaster.   Adoption of mobile banking in Kenya was aided by an unexpected cause, the 2008 post-election violence.  People that trapped in their homes in the slums during the violence used the system to send and receive money.  Some banks also lost the public’s trust because they were seen as taking sides in the ethnic conflict.

Many are studying M-Pesa in Kenya– so far there is no other country with such high rates of mobile banking adoption.  It seems only a matter of time before others reproduce the model; in many places the power of mobile brands are much stronger than that of the banks.

There’s much more to say – and hopefully more reports from The Economist to come —  but you should read the article for yourself!

The Youth conference checklist

April 25, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , ,
  • youth march for peace at Kenyan Youth Peace Summit

    youth march for peace at Kenyan Youth Peace Summit

    I am trying as hard to stay in Kenya in my head for as long as possible (going on 5 days now).  First thing at hand was working out a nasty computer virus that attacked my laptop.  With the youth media team swapping flash drives faster than 17 year-old girls change outfits all the computers stopped working after a few days.   A few working methods I plan to take with me to what I hope will be many more youth peace summits in Africa:

    • wear the flash drive around my neck so I don’t lose it, and bring 5 to share
    • upload any important files to an internet site in case flash drive goes missing
    • travel with anti-virus software and learn how it works in extreme rescue situations
    • travel with sound cables to hook up the laptop to anything with speakers
    • disallow workshop presenters from using powerpoint because 1) they don’t use it correctly and only put up their talking notes 2) for goodness sakes this is a youth conference 3) I need to use my stressed out moments for human-related problems
    • when an American wants to come, I will say yes only if they have IT  skills including the ability to take a projector apart and put it back together in 20 minutes
    • when an American wants to come, they must first pass a comprehensive  “go with the flow” test (sorry type A’s).
    • must have on hand “the Kenyan big sister” – she deals with women issues including counseling and telling any women acting up to get it together, and likewise “the Kenyan big brother” to keep the boys in line. (obviously nationality to change in case of conference)
    • as lovely as a youth videography team is, if we want this thing captured properly we need a professional
    • build in hours of flexible time into the schedule so we can adjust as chaos demands
    • fight like hell to have time before and after the conference in country to do follow-up and prep.

Youth Uprising in Kenya

April 11, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

George told me why we are holding the peacesummit next week, I mean I had ideas, but this story spells it out.  During the violence after Kenya’s election last year,  a member of parliament asked a group of 10 youth if they would go disrupt the opposition’s rally. The MP paid the group 500 shillings and they went and caused fear and chaos and stopped the opposition’s event. Afterwards, the politician gave all the money to one youth, and the others wanted it so bad they almost killed him to get it.  When the total was divided up it was 50 shillings per youth — less than one dollar.   And here these youth risked their lives and could have been arrested.    This made them so angry and bitter that they went and smoked weed and then took women and raped them.

Uprising Youth Club House

Uprising Youth Club House

He told this story to a group of youth we visited in the Machako Slums in East Naiobi called Uprising Youth to illustrate why we are holding this peace summit, because youth can be manipulated by politicians.  Uprising Youth is a group of young men that are brought together by a love of football, and their team is in one of the premier leagues.  In order to support the costs of the team, like uniforms, registration and transport to games, they have several businesses to generate income.  A few years ago there was a big trash dump right in the middle of the slum, so they cleaned it up and negotiated with the city to have the space where they built a club house, which they use for almost daily meetings  to plan their game strategy and business ventures.  Their first project was to manage the public toilets installed by city hall, which they still do.  But the toilets were not bring in enough money, so they got a small loan and built a shower next door, where people pay 20 shillings for a hot shower.  Business is thriving, and children play in the hot soapy water that pours out of the doors into the open sewer.

The group also manages 6 rental houses, but their pride and joy is a car wash.  They are the only ones in the area with a power washer, and this means they can charge more than the others for their services.  One month money was short right before a big soccer tournament, and the group pawned the powerwasher to the nearby NGO  for a loan in order to get the boys to the game.   It took them about a month to repay the the 7,000 shillings they borrowed (about $100) all in coins.



Several of them told me, “before I joined Uprising Youth I was a jailbird, a hustler.  I just wanted to be a criminal, and now I want to be the best soccer player in Kenya.”  A couple of the young men, holding babies said, we do this for our children, so they will have better chances than us.    Uprising Youth has also  accessed the National Youth Fund in Kenya, which is hard to do for all the bureaucracy involved, and got a loan of 47,000 shillings  (about $450).  They used the money to buy a PlayStation2, which they charged admission from kids to play, but parents started complaining so they temporarily suspended business until school is out.  They have almost paid the money back to the government.

soccer coach for Uprising Youth

soccer coach for Uprising Youth on right

This group of young men live in one of the most violent slums in Nairobi, but all they talk about is soccer and what their next business plan will be.   Dreaming big has paid off, after 7 years of asking, someone has given them a matatu (a van).  They will use it  to drive to their games, and on the other days they will operate it as a bus. Uprising is such a great example of what young people can do with a little support.  But what sticks with me is despite their difficult circumstances, these young men had passion and drive, and that can’t be bought.

A Communion of Care, a sermon for World AIDS Day

December 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,


I was asked to preach today for World AIDS Day at Advent Lutheran Church.

I woke up this morning on World AIDS Day with many emails in my inbox from around the world.   WAD is a time of social networks, and we celebrate it in many ways – we post liturgy on websites, email, worship, remember, give money, wear ribbons.  Today is the day that we do these things all at once, all over the world.  By sitting here in these pews we are part of a chain of reflection and action.

AIDS is with us in the US, but from my work at the Lutheran Office for World Community, an office representing the ELCA and LWF at the United Nations, I have seen the immense and tragic effects of AIDS’s in countries that are poorer than ours.  Having traveled to far off places, I feel I must tell you what I have seen, that among suffering I have felt awe.  This witness is what I am going to talk about today.

When I visited Kenya last year, I sat with a group of women at Jerusalem Parrish in Nairobi.  These women meet weekly for a widows support group. In Kenya, widowed women are considered outcasts, and face discrimination.  After the husband dies, it is part of the culture for his family to take his land and his house, in the worst cases forcing the woman out on the street with nothing.  One of the women told me: “As you mourn death of your husband, someone from his family is in Nairobi filing the paperwork.”  I can’t imagine, on top of such a loss, having to fight for your home at the same time as you grieve.

Continue Reading A Communion of Care, a sermon for World AIDS Day…

joy to the world, Barack Obama has won

November 6, 2008 at 1:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,
change we can believe in

change we can believe in

On historic days, the things we say to each other have more weight.  My mother: I wish your father could have seen this. My friend Christine via text: He made it, can’t describe the feeling.  As a Kenyan I do not take peace and democracy for granted.   Gaylord: I was in a hotel room in South Africa crying my eyeballs out. Me, I was home watching the returns on TV, no street partying here, but text messages brought my family and friends together.   I need to get a new phone, the picture text from my sister of her Barack Obama cupcakes did not turn out.  Even my friends in Zimbabwe have forgot their problems for today.

The Kenyans declared it a national holiday, and they are dancing in the streets– even better that we get to see it on television.  There were 6 babies born in one Kenyan hospital Nov. 4;  4 boys were named Barack, and two girls were named Michelle.   Kenya is celebrating and waiting for its ‘Obama bonus’ in imporved bilateral realtions. At work everyone was sleepy, but saying:  even though it is raining today, the sun is shining in New York. I hear they are selling copies of todays NYTimes on e-bay. I bought one from a hawker on the street corner, old style NYC.

The campaign was a genius in communications, it was all about core values – respect, honesty, family, hope, equality, dignity, unity.  On top of these timeless messages it layered technology,  good old fashioned community organizing and new social networking.   Some of the media I liked on election day: a BBC site printing text messages from anxious citizens & a NYT page where you click on the emotions you feel at the time — anxious and hope were the winning words on Nov. 4.   Today the emotion is joy, a word we don’t use that much, barring Christmas cards, and rarely so universally.   So much love all around, like the people who live in Obama, Japan chanting “Yes we can” in their thick accents.

In worship this morning, one prayer was offered from El Salvador for Obama and America, it was that we could:  “Learn how not to be the owners of the world.” Amen to that.

some closing reflections on the Rwanda youth gathering and the digital divide

April 7, 2008 at 1:43 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

I am back in the US and missing Africa, what an amazing experience. This was my trip across the digital divide, which really ended up reinforcing how strong it still is.

I came back with one less suitcase, leaving behind a used lap top, a flash drive, two Flip videos, two digital recorders and a printer/scanner/copier. I am convinced that technology is what we rich country folks should lug over in our suitcases. I would have brought a bluetooth headset for Pastor John if I had known how much work he does on the phone while driving around the country in his green truck. His office is in his cell phone.

I shared my hotel with a bunch of Americans from Rick Warren’s Saddle Back Church, an evangelical mega-church in Southern California. After training 300 pastors, they were in town to officially certify that Rwanda is a “Purpose-driven Country”. Warren’s best-seller, A Purpose Driven Life is translated into Kinyarwandan and a lot of Rwandans have read the book. Anyhow, all the gung-ho Saddlebackers had brought a ton of soccer balls and Christian books.

The conference youth media team was earnest, an but as genius as they were, they faced a lot of obstacles. They watched me take notes on my lap top with amazement as my fingers flew over the keys… most of them type one finger at a time. I watched two of them work for thirty minutes on a paragraph for their blog to see the internet connection reload and lose their content. But they have made a cool photo diary.

A journalist from New Times, the Rwandan English paper, came to see what we were up to. He did several interviews, then went on his way. I asked him if he had an email address so we could send him our press updates, and he said he didn’t have one.

Finally on my last day in Kenya, I showed George, our media team leader this blog, and it literally took his computer 10 minutes to load it! This makes me really sad, because George is so tech-savvy, and he is going to edit all our video, but how can he do this with such a slow internet speed? He says he has a faster connection at home, especially at night when people are not using it. I have not posted pictures yet because even though the internet seemed pretty quick, uploading photos in Africa overwhelmed the internet connection even at my muzungu guest house.

So, my conclusion about communication for development is that it still must happen face to face. The Rwandan youth conference was a success because when you bring young people together, they have a good time. And what better way to build bridges across ethnic, geographic, economic and other divisions, then by spending a few days together singing, praying, talking about your country and learning from each other?

After spending a few days in Kenya before flying back, I have become convinced the young people of Kenya need their own summit. Like the rest of Kenya, I am afraid the power share of President Kibaki and Odinga is just too fragile — and there is so much at stake for this nation of 40 million people. The post-election violence in Kenya after Christmas was done largely by young men and broke along tribal lines. Now when I talk to Kenyans they mention their tribes in a way like I never heard before. These divisions are dangerous if they are allowed to settle. If I can round up $25,000 USD I will be planning a Kenyan youth peace summit and we will invite youth from across the country from different tribes…

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.