Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Margaret Matinde: A Nuru International Story of A Changed Life

As I mentioned in a post last week, Nuru has put together an online interactive annual report that includes two videos. Last week, I shared a video that told the story of Elias Sinda and how his life had changed as a result of Nuru’s work. 

This week I wanted to post a second video that tells a different story, the story of Margaret Matinde. Margaret’s story is not all that uncommon in Kuria. She lives in a home made from mud and thatch, and works hard to take care of her family. Because noone had ever quipped her with the tools and knowledge necessary to learn to save, her family rarely had money to help meet basic needs, and couldn’t afford to send her children to school

When Nuru came into the community, Margaret (and many, many others) participated in savings clubs. In these savings clubs they learned to save, budget, and invest their resources wisely. As a result of Margaret’s diligence and discipline in saving, she qualified for a small loan from Nuru and she used this money to start a business—a restaurant. Now, it’s not what people in the west are accustomed to when it comes to a ‘restaurant’ but it is an incredible example of local business and local entrepreneurship helping to meet needs in a community.

As a result of Margaret’s successful business, she can now afford to send her children to school, which in turn means that her children will have even more opportunities for a better life. Margaret learned how to do business, and she learned how to save and plan for her family’s future.

I love the fact that we have stories like Margaret’s and Elias’ that we can share. And there are many more people in Kuria who, just like them, are experiencing hope, choices, and opportunities that they would have never dreamed of before Nuru. If you have been volunteering, fundraising, or donating to Nuru, you have been playing a key role in helping Margaret, Elias, and thousands of other people to write these stories, and to have a new outlook for their future.

Our work is just beginning, but together we are making a difference in the world as we work to create a world where people in extreme poverty have choices and hope where there was once desperation and despair. Together, we are ending extreme poverty, one community at a time!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Squash Blossom 2011

One of the most beautiful flowers I believe I have ever seen is the squash blossom. My ancestors thought so much of this flower that it was incorporated into clothing, footwear, jewelry, and accessories for hundreds of years. The squash blossom in its simple beauty also served as a reminder that some of the bounty of the early harvest was coming soon. It was a portent of the late harvest to come as well.

It was and is a symbol of beauty and fragility too. For the last four years, I have kept a garden at my house, and every year I write a post as I see the squash blossom open early in the morning to sunbathe it’s delicate saffron petals. I feel like skills like growing food are becoming quickly forgotten in the West. In my family, we have always grown food, and we have had a longstanding tradition of sharing our harvest with friends and neighbors, and canning some of our harvest to store for the winter months as well.

I realized that I was missing a great deal by not having a garden. I was missing an understanding of where food comes from. I was missing an awareness of what it means to labor for my food. I was missing the joy that comes at harvest time when there is food to eat and grand celebration. My family is Shawnee, and many of my tribe’s ancient ceremonies are intricately tied to planting and harvest.

This year, I have had the distinct joy of planting together with my wife. It is the first time in her life she has planted any crop. And it is exciting to watch her eyes light up as well when she sees the seeds that she planted earlier this year provide food for our new life together and food that we can share with others.

There is an unexplainable sense of gratitude I feel to the Creator of the universe that I experience uniquely when I taste and see the harvest coming. All I did was prepare the soil and drop a seed in the ground, and then amazingly that seed becomes a plant and that plant produces food. Around the world and throughout the history of humanity, I believe that farmers around the world experience that wonderful mixture of gratitude and joy that happens when they see the growth of their crop and they prepare for the harvest and celebration of food to eat for their families.

And for me and my wife this year, we look at the beautiful bouquet of squash blossoms erupting from our garden as an indicator of the harvest to come, and we are thankful.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My Dad: 70 And Going Stronger Than Ever

My dad is amazing. I could probably leave this post at that statement, but I won’t. He just turned 70 on June 1st (he also shares that birthday with my wife’s dad), and he works out 304 times each week at the Parkersburg YMCA. He rides an exercise bike, hops on a treadmill, and even does the elliptical machine during his two hour workouts.

In 2009 he had a heart attack, and at that time he was walking 12 miles a day. In fall 2008, he and I went on a bike ride that included four miles of an eight percent incline—thankfully he didn’t have a heart attack then, because we were in a remote area. We have made a tradition of journeying at least once each year to the top of Seneca Rocks over the last several years, and we took Jamie along for her first trek this past July.  When dad had the heart attack we wondered if he would be able to keep going like he has in the past. Honestly, he is amazingly fit. I venture to say he is more fit than the majority of people who are half his age.

Earlier this spring, my brother and nephew got a healthy dose of my dad’s fitness as he took them on 25 and 30 mile bike rides averaging 15mph+ in between his workout days.

For the last year, my dad hasn’t been able to walk longer distances because of some inflammation in his plantar fascia, but he has been continuing to exercise and push himself in areas where he can get good cardio work in.

Where many of us would see our setbacks my dad makes adjustments and keeps going strong. Last weekend he and I road our bikes around the course of the Parkersburg half-marathon so we could cheer on our family and friends who were competing. There was never a time I was waiting for my dad; in fact sometimes it was quite the opposite. He is a daily inspiration to me to always be pushing the envelope to be the best I can be in whatever I do.

We all encounter setbacks, injuries, and challenges in this life, but a big part of our the outcome of our life is how we respond to those challenges. My dad has lost his life-long best friend (my mom) to breast cancer, and suffered a massive heart-attack within two years of each other. But he perseveres. He gets up each day, and does his best to make the most of it. He doesn’t see it in himself, but if you spend much time around him, and observe the way he lives, he is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet.

None of us truly know the number of our days, but while we live and breathe on this earth, we have an opportunity to make the most of this time. I’ve heard it said that the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. May we find examples in our life who push us, and encourage us by the way they go about their days, and may we imulate the disciplined way of living that allows us to truly blossom, so that if we live to be 70 like my dad, we will also be going stronger than ever!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parkersburg Half Marathon: 25 Years

I remember when I was in junior high and I was running the one mile race in the wood county track meet, when I first started hearing about the Parkersburg Half Marathon. I had aspirations of one day running this race (in fact, it was one of my goals unrealized for 2011).  My friend Dan Van Valey and I would joke about me getting out there and running with world class athletes for about a hundred yards before I slowed to my mere mortal pace. This year was the 25th annual Parkersburg Half-Marathon, and while it is no longer the site for the US Men’s National Championship, runners still come from all over the world to compete.

Although I didn’t run the race this year (foot injury), my sister, my brother-in-law, and my wife all three did run it. For my wife it was her second half-marathon. For my sister and her husband, it was their first. Each of them finished with respectable times. Jamie ran a 2:16 (she had a knee flare up around mile 8), Ray ran a 1:55, and Becky ran an incredible 1:47, and placed second in her age group.

I was proud of all three of them for the races they ran. Jamie ran hers with very little training, but focused on following through on the commitment she made. (It would be easy to have quit or just not run, but she is not a quitter!) Ray has had surgery on both of his ankles in recent years and has lost 80 lbs over the last two years. He just turned 58, and he is probably in the best physical shape of his adult life. He is living proof that if you are disciplined about your habits, you can turn around your physical health pretty significantly. I’m super proud of he and Becky for their commitment to their health.

But the runner I was most impressed with is my sister. I can remember telling her (for years!) that if she ever got serious about running, she could be a really good runner. She would laugh at me sometimes when I said it, but I think Saturday she proved something to her self that I already knew. She has what it takes to be a great runner! She ran her race effortlessly, and had energy to spare at the end of the race. She picked up her pace during the last mile and I personally watched her pass six runners during the moments I saw her near the finish line. If ever my sister has doubts about herself, I hope she will remember Saturday and her confidence will return.

I’m super proud of all of the folks who got out there and walked, ran, and wheelchaired their way thirteen miles through the town of Parkersburg. Some were competing with other runners, but the wise ones were competing with their number one competitor—themselves. No one can push you harder than yourself, no one knows better when you are slacking than yourself. And at the end of the day, the other runners probably won’t be going home with you and talking about your performance.

Whatever race you are running today, whether it is a footrace, or a part of the ‘daily grind’ may you run in such a way to win and be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nuru International 2010 Annual Report: Stories Of Changed Lives

Elias Sinda's Story from Nuru International on Vimeo.

Earlier this month, Nuru released it’s annual report in a really different format. Some organizations send out a brief financial statement to donors; others send a more extensive printed annual report (Nuru did this last year). This year, we thought we would do something really different. We posted our annual report online in a really cool interactive format. I highly recommend you take some time to check it out here.

In the meantime, I thought you would enjoy watching this video of Elias Sinda and hearing about how Nuru’s work in his community has equipped him with the tools and knowledge to help his family lift itself out of extreme poverty. Elias’ story is one of hundreds being written in what is the second poorest district in all of Kenya. With Nuru’s help, the people of Kuria are turning desperate conditions into a world of opportunities. They are learning how to prevent waterborne illness. They are growing enough food to feed themselves,. They are insuring their children are enrolled in school because now they have income that will allow them to pay the nominal school fees. It’s truly wonderful to see.

In spite of the drought that has wreaked havoc across the Horn of Africa, Nuru farmers are thriving. It is truly a joy to know that lives are changing in Kuria, and that you and I get the opportunity to be part of it. Thanks for watching, and thanks for being involved. And if you haven’t gotten involved yet, now is a great time to start.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not Your Mother's Casseroles

As mentioned in a previous post, my friend Faith Durand just had a cookbook dedicated to the art of casseroles published, and she gave me an autographed copy; It's called, Not Your Mother's Casseroles. As has been my unofficial policy, when I have a friend who publishes a book, I buy a copy, and I try to review it and share it with others.

With Faith, the nature of the review has to be a bit different. For the last few years, she has been writing regularly on a blog as she experiments with recipes, foods and flavors, and in some ways this book is a focused extension of her blog work. She is managing editor for a blog at and also tweets @thekitchn.

I’m no expert on writing cookbooks, but I will say that my wife has been preparing a few of Faith’s recipes in recent times, and every thing I’ve had so far has been incredibly delicious.  In fact, one of the most bizarre recipes she tried was composed of carrots, mint, and feta cheese.  As strange as this combination might sound, I have to tell you that it was absolutely amazing!

If you like to cook, or know someone else who does, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Faith’s cookbook and giving it a whirl.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jeni’s Ice Cream and Northstar Café

Recently, I was in Columbus, Ohio for a few days to visit with my best friend in the whole world, Willie, for Jamie to attend a baby shower for one of her closest friends, Ally, and to meet with a few Nuru supporters in the area. While I was there, Willie and some other friends made it a point to introduce me to a couple of their favorite Columbus businesses.

The first on the list has to be Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Bexley. Jeni is a local Columbus business woman who has developed an array of gourmet and specialty ice creams with flavors including Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese With Red Cherries,  and Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries. The eclectic mix of flavors is brought about through natural ingredients, including local organic milk from grassfed cattle. If you are in Columbus, I highly recommend giving Jeni’s Ice Cream a try. My personal favorite is the Brown Butter Almond Brittle, but I must confess that I usually sample four to six different flavors when I visit.

I also had the privilege of visiting the Northstar Café in the Easton Town Center. My friends Faith and Mike introduced Jamie and me to this great local restaurant. The food was incredible and incredibly healthy. They charge a little bit more for their food, but they have set up their café so that tips aren’t part of the protocol, and, much like Jeni’s Ice Cream, they choose locally grown and natural ingredients. From what I’ve been able to gather, they even thought through the long term impact of the materials they choose for building out their restaurant space.

I probably could have dedicated separate entries for each of these businesses, but I thought I would lump them together for their similar philosophies. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to visit both spaces with friends and experience a bit of the local flavor of Columbus. Interestingly, while Jamie was at Ally’s baby shower, I randomly walked into a bookstore where Jeni was signing copies of her new book

While I didn’t get in line for an autograph, I did get an autographed copy of my friend Faith’s book, Not Your Mother’s Casseroles but I’ll have to save my comments on her book for another delicious post.

What are some of the local businesses in your neck of the woods that you would recommend?

Monday, August 15, 2011

U2 360 Tour Heinz Field Pittsburgh

On my brother's birthday, July 26th, Jamie and I went to our first concert together as a married couple (I know, it was such a thoughtful and selfless gift for Chuck). We were able to get two tickets to see U2 at their last show in the United States on their current tour, and I would have to say that it was the best concert I have ever seen. It was absolutely incredible!

There are so many aspects I'd like to write about, but I'm going to limit myself to just a few. First, I loved the way they interacted with the crowd all night. The band could remember their first show in Pittsburgh. It was in a small club in 1981. They have been returning to Pittsburgh for years (I had seen them with three of my friends during their last tour in 2005). They referenced cultural icons and built a rapport with folks in the Burgh quickly. Beyond this, they built a sense of community and togetherness with the fans in attendance. It was really something to experience.

For instance, as Bono started singing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," a song that was written as a modern hymn by the band, he stepped away from the microphone and the entire crowd in Heinz Field sang the first verse and chorus together. Bono picked it back up for the second verse, but it became one of many powerful moments for the concert attendees.

Beyond the feeling of camaraderie among the attendees, there was something special about the band themselves. They weren't just a group of musicians, they were a team of lifelong friends. They have been playing music together since 1976, and they have been able to bridge the gap of multiple generations. There were young and old alike in the crowd singing along to songs that spanned many years of their career. These guys have fun playing music together, and have been creating unique moments for concert goers for decades.

Beyond all of this, I think I appreciated most of all the sense of a long, persistent faithfulness to social causes and social justice. Sometimes, I think Bono is looked at as some rock star who just recently became an advocate for social causes, but the band has been serving as advocates for others for most of their career. In fact, two years ago, I saw U2 perform in Washington DC, and during the concert they made a focused push for freeing Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kii. They encouraged fans to write letters and use their voices as advocates for freeing Aung San Suu Kii. In November 2010 she was freed, and during the concert in Pittsburgh, she addressed the crowd by video and encouraged them to use their voices to fight for justice and to serve those who are in need.

As Jamie and I took in the sights and sounds of an incredible evening in Pittsburgh, I was reminded of the importance of perseverance and faithfulness, and I felt a renewed energy for approaching the causes I am passionate about with an even greater zeal. I hope that twenty years from now, I will be able to look back and see the impact that comes from longstanding faithfulness and tenacity.

May we each emulate these rockers from Ireland in the way that they work toward creating community, beauty, and seeking the good of others all the days of our lives. And, if you have an opportunity to see U2 on a future tour, take advantage of the opportunity. You won't regret it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Night Of Hope

I thought that getting back into the groove with my blog would be much easier than it has been. I had every intention of getting back into a regular flow, but I've found myself much slower in the process than I would like. I'm hoping to change that this week, and I'm starting with an event I attended last night.

It was called Night of Hope. My friend Eric Baldwin invited me, Jamie, and my best friend in the whole world, Willie, to attend this evening highlighting the issue of human trafficking both in the state of Ohio and internationally.  The event was hosted by Veritas Community Church in downtown Columbus. As my friend Eric was telling us about the event, I was excited to find out that an organization started by a friend who used to be on staff with GCM with me was among the groups who would be sharing, Doma International.

Doma along with representatives from three other groups shared some of their work on the issue of human trafficking.  One group, C.A.T.C.H. (I couldn't find a URL), works specifically to rehabilitate women who had been trafficked as youth and have since been caught-up in a cycle of prostitution. During the evening we were able to hear some of these women share how they had been abducted and forced into a life of prostitution during a young age, and how the CATCH program had helped them to leave a life of drugs and crime, develop job skills, get an education, and work toward reconciliation with their families.

Two other groups, As Our Own and Grace Haven shared even more stories of redemptive work in Columbus and in India as they work to rescue young girls from the world of prostitution. The stories were heartbreaking, and hearing them has made me even more fervent in pursuit of justice. I'm grateful to know that so many are laboring to make a difference in this world, and hopeful that many more will join with these and other organizations for more than a night of hope; we each need to start somewhere, and may we keep running until our part to play in building a better world is finished.