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Posts from the “Causes” Category

A New Online Shop For Our Water Project in Kenya

Posted on December 20, 2013

During our last trip to Kenya at the end of 2012, we set out to find products in Nairobi’s markets that would interest people back home. Most of the souvenirs that you find would be interesting primarily to tourists who’ve visited the region. Our hope was to find products that people would buy because they wanted them, rather than just because they wanted to help our cause.

With the help of some local advice and Rebekah’s excellent taste, we found tea, bracelets, handmade bags and fabric to make additional products. We nearly sold out of everything at our first event, the Flood Church Christmas Shoppe in 2012. This year a friend traveled back to Kenya and brought us two boxes of goods.

Our products received another great response at this year’s Christmas Collective. We made sure to have more than we needed this year so that we could post the rest of our products online. Today we are excited to launch our new Yadumu Project Online Shop. 100% of the profits from our products will go toward the water project in Rakwaro, Kenya. We also have a new donate page so if you want to contribute but aren’t interested in purchasing any products, you can donate here.

Our products are a combination of items that we found in Kenya and collaborations with businesses that we admire like A Well Traveled Brand, Fait la Force, Leaf & Kettle and Coffee & Tea Collective. We hope you find something that you love. Thank you for supporting our efforts to bring clean water to Rakwaro!

Visit Our Online Shop

The Christmas Collective 2013

Posted on December 6, 2013

We are grateful to be participating in the the Christmas Collective this Sunday, December 8th, at the Convention Center in downtown San Diego. This event put on by Flood Church combines a Christmas concert with a marketplace for people to buy gifts that make an impact around the world. Each of the vendors represent causes, sharing their work and selling products to support their efforts.

Our current cause at the Yadumu Project is a water project for the community of Rakwaro in Western Kenya. 100% of our profits are going directly toward drilling a well in an area that has long needed access to clean water. We are aiming to raise money for the first phase of this project, drilling and installing a water pump, by receiving donations and selling Kenyan-themed products.

Last year we returned from Kenya with tea, bracelets and handmade bags. The demand at the Christmas Collective was greater than our supply so thanks to the help of a friend traveling to Kenya, we are bringing more products this year. We’ve also worked with partners to provide additional premium products. Rebekah from A Well Traveled Brand used fabrics she selected in Kenya to create beautiful bags and crayon rollers for children. She has also worked with Haitian Creations to create a leather luggage tag that reminds us to “Travel Well”.

Marcus Nafziger designed and built rustic wooden coasters that he gave us as a gift. We liked them so much that we asked him to make more for the Christmas Collective. Coffee and Tea Collective, one of San Diego’s finest roasters, graciously agreed to roast and package premium Kenyan coffee for us to purchase and resell. We are also working with a local purveyor of tea to source loose-leaf Kenyan tea to sell in addition to the tea we brought back from Kenya.

This year’s Christmas Collective should be the largest yet and we are prepared with our best product lineup to date. We believe that this will allow us to take a significant step toward raising the $15k needed to bring clean water to Rakwaro. If you are anywhere near San Diego on December 8th, make sure you check out the Christmas Collective. We look forward to seeing you there!

Handmade bags from Kenya that we will be selling at the Christmas Collective.

Handmade bags from Kenya that we will be selling at the Christmas Collective.

A Life Changing Question [Water Project Part 1]

Posted on January 22, 2013

It was a simple enough question. Under ordinary circumstances this interaction between strangers might have produced a simple “no” and a polite but brief discussion.

These were not ordinary circumstances. I had arrived in Kenya only a few days earlier as part of a team attempting to do documentary work on good causes in East Africa. Learning that the World Social Forum was taking place in Nairobi, I stayed behind to network while most of my team went on to Uganda. With my camera draped over my shoulder, I wandered around the stadium looking for interesting people and causes to engage. This is when I received a life changing question.

“Excuse me, are you a journalist?” a man asked. “No” I answered. “I do some documentary work with photography and video but I am not a journalist.” Undaunted, he asked “Can I tell you about a project I am working on for my hometown village?” It is not uncommon to be approached by strangers in East Africa with requests for help. This question intrigued me, however, so I stopped to listen to the man’s story.
Henry explained to me how his village in Western Kenya had needed water for many years yet lacked the resources to build a well. Moved by the situation he described I agreed to call him before my return trip from Uganda when I would be passing through the area.

Two weeks later we stepped off the bus in the middle of the night in a small town called Awasi. Ben, my traveling companion, asked “how well do we know these people again?” “I’ve only met them once I answered” suddenly realizing the risks in this scenario. Henry showed up a few minutes later with several companions and we hiked into the darkness while trying to keep our footing through rain drenched fields.

I woke up the next morning in a place that felt about as remote as I ever experienced. We spent the next two days interviewing locals, learning about their stories and sharing life through meals and conversation. Making it a special point not to promise anything, I told Henry that all that I could promise is that I would endeavor to tell their story.

Long after returning home I could not forget the people and the stories I had encountered in Rakwaro. A lack of access to clean water was costing the community their health and in too many cases their lives.

Three years later I returned to Kenya with a plan to help Rakwaro get water. I had contacted a number of charitable organizations that work on water projects and received the same answer from all but one. They all had their own sources for figuring out where to build their wells and were not open to suggestions, even when I offered to raise the funds. One organization agreed to help so I worked with Henry to get them all the information they needed from Rakwaro during my trip. Then I quit hearing from them, learning months later that they had found their drilling partners in Kenya to be unreliable. This experience made two things clear, finding reliable help in Kenya can be difficult and I wasn’t going to be able to rely on help from non-profit organizations.

A few years later I decided to try another approach. Contacting Moses, one of my Kenyan friends from Nairobi, I asked him if he would help me coordinate the project. Moses is from a village near Lake Victoria and passes by Rakwaro periodically. Having an interest in rural development himself, Moses agreed and within weeks we had a geological survey and several quotes from Kenyan drilling companies.

The next challenge became how to choose a drilling company that we could truly rely on to get the job done. During the summer of last year I attended a workshop that helped refine my approach to the water project. The concept of ending poverty by developing people motivated me to seek for ways to help Rakwaro that empower its people to pursue their own development in the future.

I received a call last summer asking me if I could capture an orphanage in Sudan with photography and video. This afforded a perfect opportunity to get back to East Africa and to revisit Kenya at the end of the trip to setup the water project. Much to my surprise, my sister decided to join me for the Kenya part of the trip. At the point where we will resume this story, Rebekah and I will have arrived in Nairobi after 13 hours in a bus from Kampala.

The Story Behind the Yadumu Project

Posted on December 14, 2012

We were young, energetic and ready to change the world. Combining our love for photography, video, travel and serving causes that matter we set out to find worthy projects in East Africa needing support. We aimed to tell their stories through well-designed visual communications. As aspiring creative professionals we wanted to use our skills for projects that would make a difference in the world.

This upcoming series of posts transitions from my time in South Sudan into discussing our ongoing projects elsewhere in East Africa. Sharing the background story here will reveal the context behind these projects. “Yadumu” is the Swahili word for “long life” identifying with our desire to support life-saving causes in East Africa.

Our initial idea was to create a documentary on how organizations were addressing the AIDS crisis in East Africa. If people in the West could see a message of hope, rather than dire statistics, it would more likely inspire them to contribute to solutions. Traveling through Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan, we found project after project addressing the needs of society in their own ways. Every one of them impacted the AIDS situation not by specializing in one particular issue but by caring for the vulnerable.

During this trip three projects captured my ongoing attention. The first was a much needed water project for the village of Rakwaro in Western Kenya. A Kenyan by the name of Henry approached me one day asking if I was a journalist. He wanted to show me his village and to allow me to see first hand how a lack of water impacted the community. I have never forgotten that visit. With the groundwork and strategic planning finally in place, we are now launching a fund-raising initiative to raise money to start this project.

The second was an orphanage in the Nairobi-area founded by a Kenyan pastor and his wife to care for vulnerable children. I have supported El-Shaddai Hope Centre and maintained a relationship with them for the past few years. We are working together on figuring out ways to help make their children’s home more financially sustainable.

The third project was an organization called Aid Child, dedicated to caring for children with HIV/AIDS who live without the support of extended family. The afternoon that we spent with Nathaniel Dunigan, Aid Child’s founder, was the most informative on our entire first trip. Although we are not currently involved in a specific project to support Aid Child they continue to be our best example of sustainable human development. Nathaniel is currently conducting Ph.D. research at the University of San Diego.This close proximity has allowed us to learn much from his experience.

Yadumu is the Swahili word for “long life” identifying with our desire to support life-saving causes in East Africa.

Since that first trip to East Africa we have been back twice. It has taken a lot of prayer, research, advice and consideration to figure out how we wanted to approach these projects. A conference called Ending Poverty by Developing People significantly influenced our approach this past Summer. Upon our return to East Africa in the Fall of 2012 we began exploring alongside the people we are working with in Kenya how their efforts and ideas could lead the way forward toward their own development. We believe that we have landed on the approach that we should take for our first major project, a well for Rakwaro.

We never did make that documentary, deciding instead that we needed to focus on working directly with causes to help tell their stories. At this point the Yadumu Project is not a 501©3 but a collaborative effort to empower the people of East to live longer and healthier lives. We are a work in progress and learning how to empower sustainable human development as we go. Your prayer, support and ideas are most welcome. Thank you for listening to our story.

Click here to learn more about the Yadumu Project.

Playing a Game Called Dababa

Posted on November 17, 2012

You can learn much about a society by watching children play. The games and activities that they embrace can be instructive about the society in which they are raised. The children at Cornerstone Children’s Home in South Sudan played a that game that seemed impossible for us visitors to figure out. Aside from football (what we call soccer) it seemed to be their favorite game to play.

After trying in vain to figure out how the game worked I decided one evening to join in. Ohwilo, one of the boys from the children’s home, saw that I didn’t know what I was doing and grabbed my hand to try to walk me through it.

I found that they had created a grid by using their feet to make faint marks in the dirt. One team had to stay on the grid lines and try to touch any member of the other team which aimed to make it across the grid and back without getting tapped. If any of the players made it across before their teammates were touched, their team received a point. If somebody on their team got touched first by the children on the grid, the teams switched roles so that the other team got a chance to score points.

Two things stood out to me about this game. First, when I was watching them play I thought everybody was on their own. In the developing world people seem to more heartily embrace games like soccer where the mutual efforts of the community are central to the game. This was certainly true of this game and I chuckled when I figured out how far my individualistic perceptions were from reality.

Second, when I asked the children what the game was called it sounded like they said “Dababa.” For a minute I thought it was a poor pronunciation of “The Robber.” When I asked one of the staff members about the game I learned that it actually was called “Dababa.” The reason for the name is that during three decades of civil war in South Sudan, people referred to tanks as “dababa.”

This made so much sense because that team that was dababa could only run on the lines and the rest of the children could run anywhere within the grid to get past them. A popular children’s game based on the reality of war within their society demonstrates just how important is the peace that has finally come to South Sudan. I pray that the themes of war will fade into history as these precious children experience a new era of peace.

I Want to See the Photos

Posted on November 11, 2012

Children everywhere love to see photos. On my first day in Southern Sudan I met a little girl named Dorothy at the Cornerstone Children’s Home. Most of those who know her call her by her nickname, Nyonyo. I was carrying my camera at the time so she pleaded, “I want to see the photos.”

After showing her some of the pictures she approached me later on asking to see the photos on my phone. Every time I saw her for the first couple days I was there she repeated in the same begging voice, “I want to see the photos.”

One evening I saw her and jokingly said the same thing to her using her tone of voice. She promptly disappeared and then returned with a small photo album. I sat down on the concrete with her as she told me about the people in her photos.

This was a moving moment for me. Here’s a girl who has lost her parents but because there are people loving on her, she has pictures of a past that she can look back on with joy. I understood better than ever why she wanted to see my pictures.

Looking through Dorothy’s pictures helped me to appreciate the power of photos to connect people with their past. I have captured many images over the past few years but few of them are printed or in a format that can help others remember their experiences unless they are in front of my computer. I think I need to do something about this.

My East Africa Journey

Posted on October 15, 2012

I have embarked upon my third journey to East Africa. Stepping off the plane this morning in Uganda I looked out over Lake Victoria and it felt wonderful to be back in this region. I feel more at home in East Africa than anywhere else outside of my home country in the United States.

The story of why I am here starts about six years ago when I co-founded a project called Mission Focus. Our intent was to provide creative communication services, such as web, video, photography and writing, for those engaged with critical causes around the globe. We have since changed the name to Bridge Cause because we build a bridge between causes and the creatives who can help them reach supporters.

The other co-founder, Brian Denton, runs Incendia Creative, a creative agency in Monterey, California. A local group approached him over the summer to help them build a web-presence for their project to support the Cornerstone Orphanage in Nimule, Southern Sudan.

Realizing that they would need to some quality photography and video footage, they asked who they could take on their upcoming trip and Brian volunteered me. This provided a wonderful opportunity to help support this vital cause and also to return to East Africa where I also have other projects in progress.

I will spend the first week and a half at the Cornerstone Orphanage in Nimule, documenting the work that takes place there. The aim is to not only connect with the children but also to tell the story of They Are One, the group from Monterey that is supporting them.

When the rest of the group flies back to California, my sister Rebekah will join me and we will spend an additional two weeks in Kenya. Meeting with the people of a village called Rakwaro we will be working with them on how to build a well for their community. The goal is to figure out a way that they can be empowered to change their future by participating in their own development.

I also look forward to revisiting the El-Shaddai Hope Centre for Orphans in the Nairobi area. The final item on our agenda is a safari since it is Rebekah’s first trip to Africa. This is why I have returned to East Africa and there will be much more to write about in the weeks to come.

The Best Gift

Posted on September 18, 2012

I thought long and hard about what to give Bethany, my girlfriend, for her birthday this year. I wanted the gift to be a creative way to remember some of our best moments together. Working my way through many iterations of this potential gift I finally landed on an idea that seemed to have potential.

I found a bulletin board with a natural wood frame and a surface that resembled canvas. Realizing that it was not only Bethany’s style but also a great way remember our adventures, I knew that I had finally uncovered the right gift.

There was no shortage of ideas for how I could arrange mementos and inspiration on this board for her wall. The problem was that even though I like to think of myself as creative she is much more artistic. I wanted to choose the best art and memories and to arrange them in the most aesthetically pleasing way.

A few days before giving Bethany the gift I finally made my discovery. The best gift that I could give her was to empower her to use her creativity to enrich her own life. Instead of doing something else for the day and adding the gift into the mix, making the board together could actually be our celebration.

Energized by this newfound inspiration, I traveled around to art stores looking for artistic additions for our board and even found some old nautical charts at a marine supply shop. Combining these discoveries with the treasures that we had already saved from the past gave plenty of material to add to her board.

The day that I gave Bethany her gift and helped her put it together was one of our best times together yet. Going through our old memories and future inspirations raised engaging conversations. Rather than being a passive recipient, Bethany came alive as an active participant, using her creativity with joyous energy.

I learned something important from this situation. The best gift is not merely to give things to people but to stimulate them to use their creativity to enrich their own lives.

This is making me think about the work that I am trying to do in Africa right now. For the last several years I have been trying to figure out how to help develop a community in central Kenya by helping them secure a much-needed well. Most of the time my thought has been that if the job is going to be done I will have to provide the funds to make it happen.

The best gift is not merely to give things to people but to stimulate them to use their creativity to enrich their own lives.

I attended a conference recently called Ending Poverty Together where Cory Glazier helped me to rethink my approach. The idea that he helped instill into my thinking is that the best gift you can give a community is to help empower them to solve their own problems.

When development is human-centered and the community goes from being recipients to participants, they can discover that they have the capacity to change their own situation for the better. I felt unsettled about my old approach anyway so now I’m rethinking how to give the best gift that I can to my friends in Kenya.


Posted on November 3, 2009

Joyce, a little girl I met last time whose beautiful smile is unforgettable.

Strolling through the gate camera in hand, I was delighted to finally be back at the orphanage I have long hoped to revisit. Pausing for a moment to take a picture in the middle of the courtyard, a little boy suddenly came running with arms outstretched and wrapped himself around my legs. Reaching down I picked him up and took him into my arms. Here a little boy who has no idea who I am yet feels the confidence that if I am there, allowed into his space, I must be safe and welcome. This is what happens when children who have lost everything are welcomed into a community of hope.

El-Shaddai Hope Center for Orphans is all of these things. It is a place of refuge, as indicated by the Hebrew name for God that is used “El Shaddai”. It is a place where hope is built in children who without this home come from hopeless situations. It is a center dedicated to orphans. The place is all about them and Stephen and Beatrice Njau, along with their children and a few staff members, are giving their lives for these children.

One of the little ones leaning against her crib at the El-Shaddai Hope Centre for Orphans.

One of the little ones leaning against her crib at the El-Shaddai Hope Centre for Orphans.

The home has grown considerably since my last visit. What was once their one facility is now a boys dormitory and they have two others, one for girls and another for infants. The three homes are all within walking distance and the children usually come together in the evenings at the main center that also serves as the girls’ dormitory. Visiting each one of these, I had the opportunity to see 1st graders and the “nursery school” children in class. They sang beautifully, complete with hand motions and even some English songs. Some of the children in the nursery school class requested to touch my hair so I knelt down in the middle of the room and got mobbed by outstretched hands reaching for my soft muzungu hair.

Stopping next at the home for babies, we saw some standing in their cribs and others sitting quietly and staring at their new visitors. One seemed frightened while others were eager to interact. When one of the caretakers lifted little John out of his crib and he began to walk toward me, my heart melted. I wrote more about John and his story in a previous post. He is HIV positive, has lost both his parents. Since coming to the home, his health has stabilized and his tiny body has begun to grow. John is a walking picture of how badly orphaned children need loving care.

The little ones being washed up

The little ones being washed up

When the children had finished school, they gathered at the main home. Some engaged in their evening chores, others sat in line waiting to be washed, and many swarmed around the camera to see their pictures. I enjoyed spotting the familiar faces from my visit several years ago. Gathering the children into a large room, I set up my laptop and showed them a slideshow of pictures that I captured last time I was with them. They shouted with joy at each new picture and called out the names of the familiar faces of their friends.

A moment I will never forget came when I showed them a picture of Stephen, the man who started the orphanage and who the children affectionately know as “Baba”. They screamed with delight, calling out his name, and asking him to come from the trip that he had recently taken and not yet returned. It moved me to see how much he and his wife meant to these children as they saw the pictures and expressed their appreciation with loud cheers. Imagine what it must be like to be loved and relied upon by 160 children! I have so much respect for Stephen and Beatrice for what they do out love for these children.

The children shout for joy as they see pictures of each other but especially when they see "Baba" and "Mama."

The children shout for joy as they see pictures of each other but especially when they see "Baba" and "Mama."

As we were walking away I commented about how much the children seemed to enjoy seeing the pictures from my last visit. David, my host, responded that showing them pictures was the best thing I had done because although the children did not know me, once they saw the picures, they realized that I had remembered them and come back. “By doing this you have become an uncle to them,” he explained. What a wonderful thought. An uncle to so many beautiful children. May the Lord give grace to handle this position with care.


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