Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On the same page...

Have you ever been part of a team where not everyone is "on the same page"?  Someone is going left -when they should be going right-others don't even know where they are going or why...It can be very frustrating!  It can be even more frustrating if this happens at work-no one knows really where the company is going-or no one has explained to them how they fit into the bigger picture.  Being on "the same page" is vital in our work-although this blog entry may not be as exciting or have my usual nuggets of motivation (I like to think I have nuggets in my blog:), I feel it is very important to explain what being "on the same page" means in our work.

If we are not on the same page-things can get messy!

Last week Jodi Blackham-from our SP Uganda office came to help us improve our project planning to be sure we are on the same page.  Jodi (from the UK) and her husband Chris (CD of SP Uganda) have been with SP for 6 years.  Jodi is the technical advisor for our project management-and did a great job of guiding us through the process of project planning.  She goes to different SP field offices making sure that what we say we want to do, we are doing, how we are doing it and in the end we can see what we done...makes sense right?!

Let me give you a small small example.  Here in Liberia there is a need for sanitation facilities (aka latrines), statistics tell us that disease is spreading because there are no latrines.  So- Taya puts together a proposal to a donor and receives money (resources) to build 50 latrines (activities) and then 50 latrines are built (activities completed). Sounds simple right, BUT-what impact are these 50 latrines making in the community?  How do we measure that impact?  Ahhhhhh yes, this is where the rubber meets the road my people-this is where you as a donor have the right to ask -"so you built 50 latrines-so what?"

Sam, our Latrine technician-lining things up for a new latrine.

Now- for us in the field the "so what?" is answered in many different ways-here are a few: people have been using the latrines and we have seen a decrease in open defecation (basically, no more poop on the ground in the community), we have seen a decrease in sickness caused by open defecation, we have seen more people washing their hands after using the latrine, we have seen people's behavior CHANGE with the introduction to latrines and health education.  Lives are being saved. Those are the answers to the "so what".

This is very important to me-and it should be to you as a supporter of any organization, not just SP.  If I am a donor-I want to know how my gift is being used-I want to know that activities are taking place to help with the change.  As a donor I want to know the impact that is being made.  As a donor I don't need to know the nitty gritty of the everyday work-however, if a donor wanted to know we at SP Liberia would be able to tell them. How?  By our staff all being on the same page.  Taya and the WASH staff know what they have to do -right down to the supplies to purchase, the staff to be hired, the communities to work in, the target group-everything.  We want to be good stewards with what God has given us-and having a plan and being on the same page does this.

SP WASH staff-meeting with community members-making sure we are all on the same page!

But it's more than that-we are here for the people of Liberia.  They deserve projects that are well thought out-that include them in the planning process and in every step along the way. They deserve projects that are accountable to them-after all it is their lives that we are helping.  I love being able to sit and talk with community members about the dreams they have for their community or for their families-I love seeing our staff out in villages living with people we are working with-helping us plan better for future projects.  Even as I type this-Alisa and Taya are back in Foya working with their staff to make sure we are on the same page and using the resources to get done what we said we would.  Joni is in Bokomu visiting our new CLP  literacy programs to make sure that what has been planned for the women in this area is taking place-one important step at a time.

It is my commitment to everyone who has and will support me during the London 2012 marathon -you will be on the 'same page' as us here on the ground, making sure that we are being good stewards, working hard, supporting our staff and most of all transforming the lives of those Liberians who have suffered so much.  They, most of all, deserve that ALL of us are on the 'same page'...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Content Joy...

I just finished reading a book by the world class runner/marathoner Ryan Hall. Some of you may recognize the name-he is the American half-marathon record holder with a time of 59:43...amazing-13.1 miles in under an hour!!  His book is called "Running with Joy" and follows his daily journal of the 14 weeks before the Boston marathon in 2010.  Ryan is a believer in Jesus Christ-and it was encouraging to read his world view and how he finds joy in the competitive arena of professional running.  What stood out the most in his book was this never ending quest for being content with the amazing talent God has given him-instead of being a slave to it-and not content if things did not go as he would have liked, like winning every race!  He struggled to not get caught up in his times or what other racers were doing-comparing himself-or if he had a bad training run...I can't even imagine how hard that is when your job is running!

In our projects we meet people in both camps-those who amazingly are content despite suffering, loss and living in poverty.  We also meet people that are never content with what has been given them-they want more and at times are even rude about it!  If we were honest we would have to say that when things are going well and we have everything we want- we are content-but what about those times when nothing seems to be going right?  When you are sick? When it seems like your project is going backwards instead of forward!  Or...

you are stuck!

Twice in the same day!

Yes, these two pictures are from the same day-not to mention I had some sort of stomach bug doing the backstroke in my gut which sent me into the bush on numerous occasions-and a spiking fever with chills...I was NOT content.  Our contentment usually correlates with what is happening around us, or what we are experiencing at that moment, or what we have.  Sad really-that our contentment would be all about us. 

I was reading the other day in Philippians 4 when Paul is talking about being content no matter if he has a lot or very little -whether his stomach is full or empty.  So what was his secret? Well, much like Ryan Hall-Paul found his strength and joy in Christ.  Instead of seeing a stuck truck and getting upset-being thankful that someone gave money to get us a truck so that we could reach the kids in Porkpata with a very important message:  God Loves You. 

If I am honest I find it hard to be content.  I either let things bother me and steal my joy or I put to much pressure on myself to do more and don't just enjoy the moments I have been given to just be content in what I have done.  In Ryan Hall's book - he really wanted to win the 2010 Boston marathon-but he didn't.  He finished fourth-outside the medals-but he was content in his performance-actually he was more than that-he experienced pure joy running regardless of his finish-it was more about the journey and realizing that whether you win or loose-God created him to have a personal relationship with him that was more important than the race.

As I head further into my training-I have not been content...I have  nagging back pain that is bothering me.  I am worried about it getting worse and turning into a full blown-'cannot run'- injury.  I am concerned about raising enough money for our projects-that I will disappoint everyone-I am trying really hard not to concern myself with nailing a certain time-or improving from last year.  I must admit at times it has taken the 'joy' out of training!  However, after I read "Running with Joy"-I was reminded that no matter what happens-God has created me to do what I am doing right now-run and support the amazing people and our projects in Liberia.  Not only am I content knowing this-I consider pure joy to do so!  I have met so many people in our projects that have found the secret of being content-whether they lost everything and now are struggling to get back on their feet or if they have HIV/AIDS or if they are 76 and learning to spell their name for the first time-they are content in God's love-and what a joy they possess.  Another good reminder for me to be content in ALL circumstances. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Time waits for no one...

Time. We can't avoid its march forward.  No matter how much we wish it would stop or that we could go back in 'time'-we can't-It is part of life that moves at all times-not caring what we do with it-not stopping to wait for us-it just keeps on going.  How many times have you said, "where did time go?" or "Well, that was a waste of time!"  Time and I have a love/hate relationship...I wear a watch all the TIME-I arrive to things on TIME-I hand in reports, PhD whatever it may be, on TIME.  When I run I always watch my TIME (see past blog on 'all about the numbers').  This aspect of time I like...

Time is not my friend when I wake up one morning and realize that I am 40.  Yes, two weeks ago along with the rest of the class of '89, I turned 40-I could have swore just yesterday I was walking from my house in Dawson City, YT to my Grandma's store on front street for some chocolate cake.  Or that I was just lacing up my skates to play hockey on Askews Shopping hockey team...or in the BC triple A basketball finals...Where did time go?  And how can I get it back! 

As I thought of this blog I started to think about the 14 years of war that robbed all Liberians of precious time in their lives.  Time that they could have been going to is Hauwa, also 40 in a CLP class learning to read and write-for the first TIME:

Hauwa reading out the lesson

My favorite part of the lesson-when she read the bottom line...

I am the same age as Hauwa-40, she is learning how to read and write for the first time, I just handed in my PhD thesis...I complain about time making me older-Hauwa lost 14 years...14 YEARS! To a war that she did not start, 14 years lost with no opportunity for learning...I need to stop complaining...

Time was lost on farms-for 14 years people were forced to abandon their farms and flee for their lives.  Their livelihood lost.  No rice to eat or sell...

Making up for lost time! (photo -joni byker)

But-the worst part of loosing 14 years to war was the time families lost with each other.  Husbands and wives separated not knowing if one or the other was even alive.  Children separated from their parents-time lost being loved, taught, cared for by their mother and father.  I can't imagine Isaac and Felix being taken away from me for 14 years-or having to spend 14 years in an IDP camp with my 2 small boys-with no opportunity to go to school, nevermind not knowing where my husband was, my family or friends...

Living life together for the rest of time! (photo joni byker)

I wish that I could give the people of Liberia 14 free years-no one would age-everyone would have the opportunity to make up for lost time during the war. But it's not possible.  In Liberia there is a saying "God's timing is best"-and I believe that with all my heart-even though I don't know why God allowed Liberia and it's people to loose 14 years to war and suffering-I know His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts-He is God!

I do believe that God has allowed SP to be here for this critical time in Liberian history.  Although we started small -God's timing has been best-and SP has had the opportunity to 'make up for lost time' for many Liberians involved in our projects.  We can't give them back 14 years of their lives, but we can help them now, at this moment to make the most of their time, to make the most of their lives.  Over time we have seen women learn to read and write, fish ponds being built, rice planted, access to clean water and sanitation, people suffering from HIV/AIDS getting help, health lessons taught and we have seen people know the amazingness of God's love that knows no time-it has always been and always will be.

Time.  You can't escape it. So the questions remains-what do you do with your time?  Here is a great quote I found on time and how when not used for a purpose can rob us of opportunities.

" There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: TIME."-Napoleon I-1815

People often ask me how I find time (which is funny as time can not be "found"-it's always there!) to work, mother, run, study, cook, blah, blah...I tell them I manage my time very carefully!  If I have free time I make sure I am making good use of it-even if that means going to bed a little earlier and spending more time resting so I can face the next day ready for all that it will throw at me.  I can't imagine loosing 14 years of time to something I had no control over...something that robbed me of my safety, my job, my education, my family...

I am thankful that God has chosen this time for me to be in Liberia-once again this has forced me to take my eyes off myself-and not worry about the time I loose or that fact that I am 40...ugh.  Instead it has forced me to look around at those who lost so much-but most of all who lost so much time to live a normal life.  As my training increases I am more and more aware of time-not so much on the time of my runs-but the time I have here in Liberia- to spend time with those that time did not wait for- for 14 long, terrible years...

Monday, October 10, 2011


For those of us who have watched the movie Braveheart-I am sure an image of William Wallace (Mel Gibson) yelling-with his face painted blue-sword waving above his head as he prepares himself and his Scottish armies for battle against Longshanks-is floating through your head...Well, I am not really talking about the 'fight' for freedom in this blog entry-but more about living in Freedom...

Like most of you reading this-I grew up in an amazing country where I was free.  As a woman I was free to go to school, not just up to high school either-University!  I was free to get my driver's licence, I was free to play sports and eventually I was free to vote, get a job, believe in Jesus Christ and even choose my own husband. However, as we know that is not always the case for other women in the World.

In Liberia I am constantly amazed of the resilience and strength of the women of this country.  Liberia is a free country, however, for many women they are not free. Freedom-I believe is closely linked to opportunity. If you live in a country where opportunities for women are limited, your freedom is also limited. Many women in Liberia do not have the opportunity to go to school or to participate in sustainable income generation activities.  Instead they are dependent on others to read the directions on a pill bottle or they are dependent on hand to mouth farming-never being able to have a little extra food or money to save for an emergency.

When I was in Foya with the SPUK team I was able to visit some projects that are giving women opportunities to change their lives.  You have read a lot about the CLP literacy classes and how we link that with a livelihood project for the participants. 
CLP participant with her new bunnies!

In this blog I have also mentioned our fishponds and how they are used to assist vulnerable women in communities-to give them the opportunity to earn some income.  We also have a USAID project that is primarily focused on income generating projects to also give women the opportunity to farm swamp rice and raise pigs. 

Some of the women in the program planting swamp rice.

The chairwoman of the project keeping a watchfall eye over the planting!

If you want to see much better photos about this program including on of the piggery check out Joni's blog:
These projects are giving women new opportunities to gain freedom-freedom to further their education, freedom to earn more money to send their kids to school!

Tomorrow the people of Liberia will be practicing their right of freely voting for government leaders. The opportunities that our projects have given women will play a role in tomorrow's voting-thanks to CLP women will be able to read who they are voting for not just look at the political party's logo!  Please pray and remember Liberia tomorrow - that people will be free to vote for who they want.

As it is Canadian Thanksgiving today-take time (whether you are American, British etc.) to give thanks for your freedom-especially us women.  No other time in history do women in developed nations have the opportunities and freedoms than now.  Remember and pray for those women still living in oppression-who are still dependent on others for everything to survive.  Freedom is one of those things that you don't realize how powerful it is until it is taken away from you.

As I prepare to run I take time to thank God that I can run-that I, as a woman am free to run.  I run for all of our projects that give women the opportunity to gain freedom-and tomorrow as Liberians go to the polls to vote-I will go for run-praying that through free elections -peace will be the main winner.

*The views on this post are strictly my personal views and not that of my employer.*

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

8 Brits, 1 Yank and a Canuck...

One of the coolest things about living and working overseas is how many people you meet from all over the World.  Last week a team from our SP UK office came to see and participate in our WASH projects.  So I got the tea ready plenty of biscuits and prepared for the 10 hour road trip to Foya and beyond!  Now the Brits have a certain way of talking-and I am not talking about their unique accent-I am talking about the words they say that didn't make the trip across the ocean when the first 'red coats' touched down on US and Canadian soil...I am going to try an attempt to slip these little sayings and words in this blog entry to make it a little more culturally sensitive ;)

When we all arrived in Foya the whole lot of us were completely knackered (tired) from the long trip.  The next morning after getting out of our jam-jam's (p.j's) and with one last visit to the loo (toilet) we headed out towards the Guinea border-to Yengbemee, a community that we have been working in since early this year.  We had a shed load (lots) of tents, bags, food and supplies for the next 2 nights and days-but we all felt brilliant as we arrived. 

For the next two days the group built filters and latrines along side of our amazing WASH staff.  I was gobsmacked (amazed) at how hard they were working-the people of Yengbemee had never had white people sleep in their village-never mind also work!  The team took their bucket baths under the African sky as the nightly storms rolled in-slept in tents (some for the first time!) and had an all around cracking time.

It was great for our supporters to see and experience first hand the WASH solutions that SP are implementing here in Liberia.  I have talked a lot about the water and sanitation needs here in Liberia-and how many people suffer from water borne and sanitation spread diseases.  I was so chuffed (happy) to once again see what our staff are doing in partnership with the community to bring clean water and access to proper sanitation to the people of Liberia.  Here are some pictures of our time in Yengbemee it was the bees knees! (fantastic!)
Our welcome when we first arrived.

Ruth getting 'stuck in' to building her filter!

Mary making sure everything is 'spot on'

 Andrew and staff building BSF               Time to build latrines!!!

We helped build the first 4 layers then the owner builds the rest

Adam adding the 'country cement' aka mud...

Getting ready to de-mould

Jo and Mary turning their filter over to de-mould

SP WASH staff and the SPUK WASH team and their filters!

Everyone's filters turned out great (well, except joni's had a little nose crack!) and everyone loved the experience.  I hauled Joni's camera around and Jo built filters and latrines-it was a nice switch-but I am no way as good as Jo in taking pictures!  In Yengbemee we will have 64 filters and 16 latrines built by our WASH staff, the community members and 8 Brits, a Yank and a Canuck...

The SPUK team!

Having teams here is always a blessing and encouragement to our staff and our beneficiaries.  To have people take the time out of their work, travel on terrible roads for 10-11 hours, sleep in tents, eat rice everyday, bucket bath, get attacked by driver ants (in the shower!), get muddy, sweaty, and just be way out of their comfort zone-takes a special person.  They have huge hearts that were broken, touched, and overfilled during their 10 days here. These members also volunteer their time for SP during our shoebox season-spending countless hours speaking at schools and churches, collecting boxes, coordinating other volunteers and doing it every year!  Without people like this-we could not do what we do here in Liberia- so THANK YOU you were all brilliant (or as they say in Liverpool 'dead sound'!).

Thanks to the SPUK office for supporting us in our SP Projects here in Liberia-the SPUK office has allowed me to run again in the London marathon and you will be reading more about the projects you can support through my marathon running.