Monday, November 24, 2008

Why I Need Africa

I'm taking a break from our regularly schedule Question Me Good programming to bring you a post that I hope touches and inspires you.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned about Mocha Club, a community-based website where members can start a team and invite friends to join them in giving $7 a month – the cost of 2 mochas – to support a project of their choice in Africa. Mocha Club's vision is to provide a way for people who don't have hundreds or thousands of dollars to make a difference in Africa. To help get the word out about Mocha Club and their mission, I was asked to write a post about why ‘I need Africa more than Africa needs me.’

The answer to this question has been bubbling up in my spirit for a years. For as long as I can remember I've had a special place in my heart for Africa. There's something about this vast continent that excites me and terrifies me just the same. It's a land of countries, people and natural beauty so varied and wonderful that I can barely wrap my mind around the idea of it. Despite the turmoil that we are accustomed to hearing about, I believe that Africa is filled with people and places, with passion and purpose, that would leave even the most jaded of us in awe were we to experience it.

One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Lemen, proved that my vision of Africa was true when she began writing about her friend Odette. After a series of events only God could orchestrate, Jen ended up in Rwanda spreading love and hope, and discovering that it would be reflected back to her and multiplied exponentially. Her experience reminded me that Africa has so much to offer.

Then, last week, as I was sweating it out on the elliptical machine at the gym, I flipped the page of my current Oprah magazine to an article about Leymah Gbowee. After witnessing violence and atrocities that no one should have to see much less experience, Gbowee led a group of Liberian women from various faith backgrounds in protests against the 14-year civil war and the dictatorship that had allowed it.

In 2003, Gbowee and the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) handed then President Charles Taylor a signed resolution petitioning for peace in Liberia. Gbowee and WIPNET protested fearlessly until that peace was realized and Taylor was exiled. Since then, Gbowee has founded the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN) and with financial support from a variety of donors, this organization "has been able to export peace-building programs to war-torn zones in Sierra Leone and the Niger Delta."

It's because of the experiences of women like Jen Lemen, her friend Odette and Odette's family, and Leymah Gbowee that I need Africa more than it needs me. Jen, Odette, and Leymah are just a few of the women who set powerful examples of the influence we can have over our communities, our countries and our world when we find a cause that speaks to our hearts and we fight for it with every ounce of our being--despite our fear, our pain, our discomfort. That cause will not be the same for all of us, and we won't be able to do it alone. But we have others who have gone before us that we can learn from and emulate--perfectly human women who are both powerful and humble, fearless and frightened, strong and weak, boisterous and softspoken, wild and subdued. Without Africa and the women who fight in big and small ways to make their communities and nations stronger and more secure, where would we be?

I have always believed that I will visit Africa one day. The one opportunity I had has become the one major regret of my life: I allowed course scheduling and my own fear keep me from taking a semester in Kenya in college. Since then, I've considered missions trips, the Peace Corp, and many other paths to get me there, but so far none have panned out for me. Jen's experience has opened my heart to the possibility that there's still room in my dreams for Africa. I can only pray that my opportunity to visit there will be returned to me at the exact moment when I am ready to take full advantage of it.

How does Africa make you feel? Do you believe that you need Africa as much as, if not more than, it needs you? Share your thoughts in my comments, and even blog about it yourself. Join in the worthwhile cause of recasting the damaging images that force pity over partnership. Come back Dec 1st to see what Mocha Club is doing about reforming that image.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Wow. What an awesome mission and vocation to take on. Group's lucky to have you. :)

Crabby McSlacker said...

I sure learned a lot from this post, thanks so much for all the info!

The sad answer to the question is that I tend not to think about Africa nearly as often as I should. We in the U.S. lead such insulated lives.

Melanie said...

Amazing women, all - including you.

Ami said...

Angie - I really like what they're doing. I don't know to what extent I'll end up getting involved, but I'm certainly going to try to get a group together to donate.

Crabby - So nice to see you here! You're welcome for the info, and you're right, we do lead very insulated lives.

Reluctant - They are amazing women, aren't they? You're too kind. And anyone who raises children and runs a household is amazing in her own right, so take credit where credit is due. :)

Anonymous said...

What a great cause, Ami. Keep us updated on how this project goes-- and what the money ends up going towards.

Ami said...

Tiffany - I will!

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