Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breathing in the Creation

This past Sunday, Jamie and I decided we would attempt a little change of pace. Many weekends, we get the privilege of entertaining guests and connecting with friends both old and new, but this Sunday was different. We decided to take a trip to a nearby forest--Cooper's Rock.

In the past, I can remember going rock climbing with my buddy Steve in this park. We probably climbed at least four days each week. As soon as I was out of work at Mylan, we were in the woods. I also have many memories of hiking along a multitude of trails at Coopers Rock with my dad as well as with many of my friends.

Picnics, hiking trips, rock climbing, and just hanging out on an overlook have become a semi-annual tradition for me, and a wonderful part of the Morgantown area that I love to share with visitors.

This sunday was different for me. I haven't been out in the woods that much this year, and I think that time in the creation is something that we all need in our life. Otherwise, we miss out on so many smells, sights, and sounds, and find our only connection to nature is through video or some other media. I love photographs (as you can see above), but a photograph is no substitute for watching sunbeams break through the canopy and illuminate fiddlehead ferns along the forest floor.

I don't know if your work, your school, or your daily routine find you breathing in the beauty and peace of wilderness often, but it is my hope that we can all take some time to enjoy this wonderful world in which we live.

And as an added bonus, if you live in my part of the country, you get the joy of autumn bursts of color and the sound of leaves crunching under your feet real soon.

Wherever you are, may you find time to unplug, unwind, and make your way into the wilderness. Enjoy the fall, and maybe a little sunshine too!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nuru International Celebrates It’s Third Birthday

It’s really hard to believe it has been three years since Jake, Doug, Janine, and Nicole left the United States and flew for two days to arrive in Nairobi. From there, they hopped in a matatu (bus), and began the eight hour journey toward one of the most remote corners of Kenya, and the nation’s second poorest district (county), Kuria.

I remember when Nuru was just an idea that my friends Jake and John had started contemplating late at night over many cups of coffee. I remember talking with John as Jake was finishing up his first year of grad school at Stanford. His goal, to develop a holistic, sustainable, scalable model to help people who live on less than a dollar a day to lift themselves out of that condition. He wanted the organization to be results oriented with a clear exit strategy, and long term going into some of the most desperate places on earth.

Some ideas are good, but they never get legs and they stay on the drawing board. But Nuru has been different. Virtually everyone we have been able to talk to 'gets' what we are doing, and they want to be part of it. They know that the solution isn’t handouts or isolated interventions. They know from their own experience that when they have been equipped with tools and knowledge, they have been able to do amazing things, and the story has the potential to develop in the same way anywhere in the world.

Three years ago, there were a handful of people in Kenya who were willing to trust and collaborate together with Jake, Nicole, Janine, and later others. And now, there are over 10,000 people who have been able to experience lasting positive change in their community as a result of their own community’s leadership and willingness to work together to forge a better future for people in their own community and beyond.

And back here in the States, there has existed a small skeleton of staff, and a growing number of volunteers, advocates, investors, and supporters who see the condition of our global neighbors and have been inspired to act. Again, I remember when Nuru’s grassroots movement was composed of a handful of activist in the hills of Appalachia who believed together that we could change the world and make a significant impact in ending extreme poverty, together, one community at a time.

Now, there are literally thousands of people who have joined Nuru’s work. They follow us on twitter, friend us on facebook, tell their friends and neighbors, and invest their time and money into inspiring others to confront the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation—extreme poverty. Together, we have taken Nuru’s story to other organizations, to schools, churches, and to our workplaces. We’ve reminded people that there is hope, and they have an incredible opportunity to join with us in this work. And, they have joined us, and together, we are becoming a movement, an unstoppable force, a revolution, as we work to make a lasting impact in the world.

As Nuru celebrates its third birthday, I am grateful for the opportunity to work together with so many. I’m grateful that we have a panoply of significant and incremental successes that we can celebrate. But more than this, I’m excited for the future. We have learned so much over these last three years. We have become more focused in our efforts, and we have had a steadily increasing impact in our work. Together, I believe we can change the world.

As Jake so often says, may we continue to ‘stay in the fight’ and see even more of our global neighbors have lives filled with opportunity and choice instead of desperation. Together, we are ending extreme poverty, one community at a time. Thanks for being Nuru together with us wherever you are in the world. Your contribution is more significant than you know!

And as a small gesture, I want to make a birthday wish request of you. Will you share this video with at least three of your friends, and let them see some of what we have been able to accomplish together over the last three years?

Thanks for being Nuru!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nuru International and Hunger In East Africa

It’s kind of hard to get our minds around a drought and what it means for people living in extreme poverty when we live in the United States. I think it’s hard because many of us have lost the connection between the weather and our food. It’s hard for us to imagine arrival at a supermarket and finding the shelves empty because food isn’t being produced. Imagine, walking through the produce section and seeing people fighting over the last small bag of potatoes, because nobody is sure when or if there will be another shipment arriving soon.

For 70% of the world’s extreme poor, they live in remote rural areas. There are no supermarkets insuring that there won’t be a shortage of food to eat. Instead, they rely on the land and work to the best of their ability to insure that their families have food to eat. And right now, there are millions in the Horn of Africa who are starving because of a drought, and because before the drought they lacked access to life-changing tools and knowledge.

Even in Kuria, Kenya where Nuru works, farmers have been affected by the drought. My friend Jake recently shared about a walk he took with a Nuru Agricultural Field Manager, James about the impact of the drought in Kuria. Nuru farmers have seen a decrease in yield of 20-30% on average, but thankfully, they still have enough food to feed their families and pay back the loan of seed and fertilizer they received at the beginning of the season. 

Other farmers did not fair so well. On the same walk, Jake and James came across a Nuru farmer’s fields and they were filled with maize that stood ten feet high.  Next to this field was a field with maize that stood 2-3 feet high and many of the plants didn’t have maize on them at all. James commented to Jake, “The drought has come again to Kenya. There will be hunger here. There will be so many this season.” James eyes grew more and more sad as he and Jake talked next to these fields.

The World Food Programme has noted that about 13 million people will be affected by drought in Somalia alone. This famine is absolutely overwhelming. It’s utterly heartbreaking, and yet, it is so difficult to imagine that in today’s world there are people who are literally starving to death.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As I mentioned before, over 10,000 people who are participating in Nuru’s agricultural programs are beginning to turn the tide.  They were trained in best practices for growing maize, took out Nuru agricultural loans, and have enough to feed their families and pay back their loans.  Programs like Nuru’s are allowing our neighbors who are living in extreme poverty to bring about lasting change through simple, scalable and sustainable ideas that can literally save lives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Nuru International Board Visits Kuria, Kenya

After many hours of journeying from various points around the globe, Nuru board members John Hancox, Trey Dunham, and Don Faul arrived in Kuria, Kenya during late August for a one week visit to Nuru's project there. They have been part of the strategy and direction of Nuru since it’s inception, but this trip, slightly before the third birthday of Nuru, marked the first time they have witnessed with their own eyes, and heard with their own ears directly from the people Nuru has been involved with since 2008.

John, Trey, and Don (along with orginal board member Andy Cogar and new board member Kim Keating who were unable to join on this journey) have been involved with Nuru from times before it was even incorporated. They have provided wisdom and guidance from their various disciplines to help Nuru become what it is today.

And as they walked the dusty roads of Kuria, and shake hands with individuals whose lives have been forever changed because of access to tools and knowledge that have allowed them to lead their communities out of extreme poverty, they were also preparing for a return to the states with an even greater fire and passion for the work for which they have volunteered so many hours of their time.

If you know any of these individuals, now that they are back in the states, you should stop them and ask them about their experiences on the ground—I know they will be anxious to share! In fact, you should hop over to read John's recent blog post of reflections from his journey. Just click here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I woke up this morning, and I felt an overwhelming compulsion to write. Yesterday, I attended the WVU football game, and mixed throughout the game were a variety of points for reflection, for singing, for remembering, and for grieving the events that changed our country and the world on September 11, 2001.

I remember so vividly ten years ago. I was working as an analytical chemist at what was then the world's largest generic drug manufacturer in the world, Mylan Pharmaceuticals. We were listening to a small radio when the music was interrupted with an announcement that brought our work to a temporary halt. A plane had just flown into the top of one of the towers at the world trade center. We all continued working as discovery after discovery was made. A second plane flew into the other tower. We then were confirmed that this was not an accident, but a deliberate attack on a symbol of our nation's financial wealth. An attack that took thousands of lives.

And as the day progressed, we all continued our work in the lab, and were shocked as more and more news came over the radio. Four planes in total. The third flew into the pentagon, and the fourth landed in a field about an hour away from us. As the work day ended, I invited all of my coworkers who wanted to come to join me in our break room for a short time of prayer. None of us were sure what exactly had happened, but we all felt a desire to cry out for answers, and to intercede and help, the best we knew how, on behalf of the people who had lost their loved ones, and on behalf of those who were first responders across our world.

I had planned on giving my two weeks notice on September 12th, 2001. I was starting a new career in ministry, but I couldn't leave just yet. Mylan was giving away a proprietary burn ointment to victims in need in the aftermath, and it just happened to be among the drugs I was working to test. I felt that it was my contribution to help in the aftermath.

Our country has gone through a series of changes in the aftermath. I remember flying for the first time as I was starting my new job, and no longer could one go sit at the gates of the airport with family and friends. I miss those days. I have some very special and emotionally loaded memories with being greeted or saying goodbye at my plane's gate. But much more changed for me beyond that.

I feel like I became more keenly aware of issues around the world. My eyes were opened in a far greater way to the hurts of the world, from slavery, to human trafficking, and from political injustice to extreme poverty, I began to see the world through a different lens. Actually, I think many of us did. No longer were problems of the world seen as far away, and not our concern, but rather we began looking for ways to help our neighbors around the globe.

Years later, I made another career change to begin working with my friends at Nuru International.  I was reminded by my friend Jake's Story (in the video above) of just how connected everything is. During his times of service in Force Recon, he saw a connection between terrorism, insurgency, and extreme poverty. He also came face to face with suffering and desperation to which most of us living in the west have no comparison. Those unshakeable visuals have led him and many others to begin working to serve others by equipping them with the tools and resources they need to lead their communities out of the desperate conditions of extreme poverty.

And so, as I remember the events of September 11, 2001, I feel a myriad of emotions. Even yesterday, while attending the football game, I felt a little disoriented. I wanted to be in the moment of celebrating a Mountaineer victory, and then I wanted to be in the moment of grieving and remembering as we took time as a crowd to spend a moment in silence, and allow the memories to flood in. But as I've had time to process it a bit more, I feel overwhelmed by hope.

Why hope? I believe that as much as our world has changed since September 11, 2001, collectively, we have become more caring about our world. Over the last ten years, I have met several people who have been willing to leave lucrative careers in an effort to dedicate their lives to the service of others. I have also seen more and more people become generous with their hard-earned income in a challenging economy, because they see the needs of others, and they want to help their neighbors, whether locally or globally.

Our eyes have shed many tears since that fateful day, and they have been opened to tragedy after tragedy, but they have also been opened to hope and dream of a better world, and to put forth the effort to change those dreams into reality. As you and I remember the events of 2001, may we be filled with the desire and the discipline to be part of creating a better world.