My Life’s Work

I received some sad news this morning.

Africa’s Children-Africa’s Future (AC-AF.com), an organization in Tanzania I visited the past two years, announced it will cease operations at the end of the year. I am heartbroken to think of the loss this will mean to the young students, many of whom are orphaned by HIV/AIDS, in Dar es Salaam.

They learned and laughed with Phil, a Swahili-speaking American from Boston, and others, and enjoyed the programs and services sponsored by the organization.

phil dar

It is only by the grace of God that I have all the advantages over the poor and unfortunate in the world. I sit here in the wealthiest land the world has ever known. Today, like many other days since my return in September, I weep over a lifetime of failures to serve others. I think of the beautiful, innocent faces of all ages I met this year throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. I see them suffer in silence, without complaint. Africa has had a profound impact on me.

I ask, no, plead, that Mukama (God) return me to Africa to be in fellowship with my brothers and sisters there.

pat dar kids

I have taken steps to help them but I need others with empathy and a commitment to make a difference. A new charity, teaminfaith.org, is under my direction. With it, I will raise funds to support education and health care projects that will lift the lives of many in Uganda, DRCongo and South Sudan. Please help me.

I will return to Africa next year. I will redouble my efforts.

This is my life’s work.

The Gift of Education

Volunteers who visit Hope and Resurrection Secondary School, in Atiaba, South Sudan, are sometimes pressed into duties outside their typical routine. Tom Valiquett is a pharmaceutical scientist who joined a team from Virginia on a mission trip in 2012. He found himself at the head of a classroom, but had the credentials to make it work.

Learn how you can help educate a child, educate a nation

Worlds apart: an uneven place

From my western perspective, the world is not such a big place. You can travel anywhere in a matter of hours, then get instant communications with loved ones half way around the world. Time and space on the globe get compressed. News travels fast, but not all of us are on the same page.

I recently flew 10,000 miles to spend a couple of weeks in the Sub-Saharan Africa wilderness of South Sudan. It was my first opportunity to see life across the Atlantic Ocean. There were no flat screens, flush toilets, or books, which are pillars of life back home. Nevertheless, at the compound at which we stayed, we had niceties, such as electricity and filtered water. Yes, I managed well without air conditioning, thank you.

Because of the video production I was doing, I brought equipment with me. It wasn’t lost on me or the Dinka tribespeople with whom we resided that I came from the land of plenty. In typical western excess, I had seven cameras at my disposal. All of us on our team had phones.

Here in the remote savannah, legions lack the simplest things: water, electricity, books. Life is simpler and slower, which made it kind of attractive to this visitor. People are welcoming, they smile, they’re joyous. Relationships are the key here. People want to know about you and your family, not your status or checkbook balance. There’s something to be said for simplicity.

Students at the Hope and Resurrection Secondary School in Atiaba are determined in their studies. They want to learn. They’ll walk 90 minutes or more each way to get to school. But when they go home, there are no lights, desks or computers. They manage as best they can, in between chores, with lanterns and endurance. Tomorrow brings another day and a step closer to a trained mind. The challenges are bigger. Existence is on the line.

In the middle of this place, remote and beautiful, the world is bigger.

South Sudan Diary May 31-June 5: The Last Days

THURSDAY

Drove to Abundant Life Primary School in the morning to meet with Abraham Maker, a former Hope & Resurrection student, now teaching young students. Received a warm welcome from headmaster and staff. Abraham presented me with with my Dinka name: Patrick Majok, named for a black and white steer or cow, a prized possession.

Shot video of Abraham in classroom with young students learning multiplication tables. Very eager students under his care.

Returned to clinic to pick up Elizabeth and head to Atiaba. She will stay the night at the school with Marcellina. Packed up my mosquito net, as I now have several beds with nets from which to choose for sleep.

Another rugged ride to school, in time to have interview with Marcellina and lunch with the chicken Jennifer we enjoyed the past few days. Broth and meat were nice additions to the rice. Vultures and a couple of brown eagles were aware of the food and were loitering in the area. With teacher Dennis’ help, we prepared a plate with a piece of chicken, placed it on the ground. Within seconds the vultures crept closer, but we shoo’ed then away. Then the eagle flew in and snatched the treat with ease. Got it on camera.

Think often of where I am–in the middle of Africa. Usually when I travel a long ways, there is opportunity for recreation. I’ve jumped rope with Dr. Clarke several days. But not much time is spent rejuvenating; no time is spent poolside. There are absolutely no creature comforts in South Sudan. It’s not like a getaway trip to do a little 9-5 church work. You are “all in” here, make or break, 24/7. There is no cooling off place in these parts. Jennifer comments constantly about her grumpiness or pressure she feels. Yet there is no intentional effort to diffuse it.

Recreation must be what you make of it: a nap, a book, a conversation. I remember the garden setting of Tamambo in Nairobi, a beautiful, oasis in the huge Kenyan city. It reminds me, again, of a previous Caribbean holiday with Dad and Tom.
I know my time is growing short here and that a reunion with Rob in London beckons. I know that I will miss this school and the clinic and the faraway place it has taken my heart. Life will again envelope me and my feelings will begin to fade for South Sudan and this  adventure.

SATURDAY

Said our goodbyes at Akot Medical Clinic and set out for the school at Atiaba. Taped a few standups with Jennifer. Drove off to Rumbek, which took barely an hour. First stop,was Governor’s House, where we met with governor of Lakes State. Jennifer led conversation and told him about the progress at the school, and made several requests, including access to top students in the region, a storage container and other items.

From there we went to Pan Door, a catholic Guest House run by Italian missionaries, one of which was from Lake Maggiore. Facility had restaurant, private rooms with flush toilets. Met Arnold of the staff, who engaged me by speaking in French.
Ran errands with Cleous, including trip for a battery in Rumbek’s market area. Stood at corner with Jen and EB for 15-20 minutes. Was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We really stood out, but tried not to, as some amazing characters passed back and front before us. Reminded me of a Star Wars bar scene.

For dinner we went to Akot’s Tukul compound. He was joined by Ben G, another government associate. Had beverages and dinner (finger food) served to us. Akot’s father later showed up, who stayed with Jen in Virginia several years ago. I was anxious to leave when wind whipped up, threatening rain, some made hasty departure.
A cold Tusker beer was enjoyed before bed

SUNDAY

Arose for breakfast and worship with Loreto Catholic Secondary School for girls. Wonderful service, deacon from Cameroon was great homilist. Afterwards met with charming students.

Left Pan Door for African Expeditions, or Afex, and safari-like setting. Disappointed with trash on my porch, but otherwise OK. Received visit from Akot, Priscilla, Deborah and a former student named Daniel who arrived wearing a blue Oakridge shirt. Took picture and was really amazed.

Had nice buffet supper with pork chops, greens. Had a couple of fine Bells Ugandan beers with the ladies before bed.

MONDAY

Slept OK, but up early. Listened to music. Met for breakfast and were visited again by Akot and another friend/associate. Checked out of room and waited at ALS room for flight to arrive.

Walked 40 yards to airport to begin bag check, boarding process. Went smoothly for us. An inbound student from Virginia, Joel, who will join Clarke at Akot clinic, arrived from Nairobi. He was hung up with immigration officer attempting to extort another $100, just as we experienced. Jen tried to help but to no avail. He paid a “tax” of $50 and we said our farewells.

Flights on Beechcraft plane back to Nairobi were pleasant enough. Took photos of cumulonimbus and terrain. Met at airport by driver Patrick, Maker and Angelina at about 5:30. Decision made to go directly to Kenyatta Airport for supper and flight to London.

Checked my duffel bag with tripods, along with laptop and camera to Virginia with the ladies. Felt relieved and unencumbered. On escalator to departure level, I saw profile of man. I got off, walked around and asked, “Jock Boyer?” It was he! Had a great conversation and photos with he and his wife, Kimberly. It was an incredible moment for me, another example of God’s presence in my heart. I was truly excited. Later, when we went to coffee shop for dinner, took photos with several Team Rwanda cyclists.

Bought a few African souvenirs, put them in camera bag with Jen for safe keeping. Boarded 777 to London and set off on time. Impossible to sleep despite two Ambien. Maybe got 2 hrs.

TUESDAY

Took photos of France’s Mediterranean coastline under darkness, which was cool. Arrived early. Got to a fork in the road, where connecting flights went one direction and passport control, customs went another. More photos, prayers, hugs and kisses with Jennifer and Elizabeth and our final goodbyes.

Sailed through security and customs quite quickly. Got to airport waiting entrance, where Immediately spied Matt “Today Show” Lauer arriving. Intercepted him briefly for a photo. Great get!

I waited for a bit, then called Rob’s cell and left a message that I was ready for pickup. He arrived about 90 minutes later, saying my instructions said “5:55 p.m.” DOH!
Made some tourist rounds, saw refurbished Wembly Stadium, took photo crossing Abbey Road. Met Frances, daughters Emily, Anna and Isobel. Picked up a few things and visited nearby friend for some snacks, wine, pleasantries. It was fun. Watched French Open match between Tsonga-Djokovic. Back home, called Virginia et all for 20 minutes, declined dinner and went to bed. Asleep quickly.

South Sudan Diary May 26-30: Dynamic Changes

SATURDAY

A relaxed day today with a later start to H&R school. School not in session so the only ones present were Anthony, the headmaster, and the Ugandan teachers. Shot a Dinka language lesson with Fr. Paul, a tour introduction with Anthony. Helped Tom with classroom cleanup and rearranging pavilion seating. Lunch of rice, beans and goat meat. Skies threatened in early afternoon.

By departure at 3:30 p.m. winds picked up. Four of us in the back of truck when skies opened. Quite a thrill, reminding me of an earlier Caribbean vacation with my father and brother in 1972. Everything drenched–needed to wash shirt, pants, socks anyway.

Darryl allowed me to use his phone to call home. Talked with Virginia who updated me on her security plans. She had not heard from Dan on the occasion of his birthday. Ugandan teachers joined me on phone with birthday song for Dan. Interesting time back at the clinic, meeting Billy White, retired Army now evangelizing in Africa. Clarke, the resident doctor from Charleston, quite engaging as well.

SUNDAY

Lengthy worship at Akot cathedral. Bishop Isaac presiding over worship service. Ran 2.5 hours. Singing, clapping, drums, preaching in Dinka and English. Youth entered from rear of church. Afterwards, some socializing. Took photos of kids, swarmed by them when displaying shots. Rest day at clinic. Most of team went to full immersion baptism.

WEDNESDAY

Said goodbye to five of our team who left for home. Paul+, Tom, Darryl, Karen and Emily all provided warm friendship and encouragement for me. Tom did several stints as a teacher and was a “jack of all trades.” I will surely miss him and the others. The dynamic changes as the team is reduced to three.

Walked to Atiaba market (1/2 mile) with student Elizabeth. Visited her Tukul, members of extended family. Will walk with her on Friday. Jennifer and EB shopped for some items from each of three vendors, spending about 20 South Sudanese pounds. After lunch, students performed a celebratory dance, with pounding drums. Very good to videotape.

After school there was a soccer match at the nearby pitch. Start of game was held up because ball was caught in a tree. Lulu Trees are not cut because they produce a fruit which is ground into a cosmetic paste, so there are living impediments on the field–and they are in play. Before match, all players and the referee came to greet EB and me. Somewhat hard to shoot a game while standing on sideline. Missed first goal, left shortly thereafter. Drove back to clinic, surviving the rough road. With five members of team having left, there were fewer “backseat drivers” critiquing my efforts.

South Sudan Diary May 23-25: On the Ground

WEDNESDAY
Left Nairobi early Wednesday morning, after a day touring parts of the city. Went to an elephant orphanage, enjoyed a fabulous lunch on a former coffee plantation. Reminded me of a outdoor garden restaurant like you would find in the Caribbean.

Leaving Kenya wasn’t as difficult as I feared. While there was plenty of “hurry up and wait,” we made a successful passage. Arriving in Rumbek, South Sudan, after a refueling stop in Lokichoggio, we were hustled by local gendarmes. They attempted to extort another 160 pounds each for our visas, despite the fact that all fees were paid in DC.

We were greeted with wonderful warm welcome when we arrived at the Hope & Resurrection School in Atiaba. Took video of song-filled ceremony.

THURSDAY
Thursday was a long day. After breakfast of oatmeal and powdered milk, we went to the school for chapel. Everywhere we go we get seats up front and are treated like special guests. Lots of video shot at the school. We had a late morning tea in the teacher’s lounge. After lunch, school was dismissed to attend funeral for local soldier in Sudan Civil War.

Once again we got the best seats in the house, before a crowd of 2000+. We were allowed to see and photograph the casket. Then we sat through a dozen or more speakers, who used mostly Dinka to communicate to their brothers and sisters. Only when a plate offering was collected from us were we able to buy our way back to the school.

It was warmer today, and I jumped rope when we got back to school. Rope is about finished as I untangled it constantly, sweating profusely. Recharged batteries before and after dinner. Shared meal with Baptist group serving at another school. Combined our evening worship with song and reflection.

FRIDAY
Woke up to damp bedding. Very humid overnight and this morning. Perspired greatly but had plenty of electrolyte drink and felt good throughout. Another long day at the school. We had tire trouble early and arrived at the school late so we missed morning devotion.

Shot one interview with Abraham using the iPhone. Turned out well, I think. Got lots of video from the classroom, with the Ugandan staff teachers and Tom Valiquett from our team.

Thunder was in the distance in the morning. After lunch, lightning, thunder and downpours interrupted afternoon classes. Allowed for restful moments. Worked with Darryl to resolve power generator issue, at least temporarily.

Learned today that when Darryl leaves with first group next week, I, as the remaining male, will be responsible for driving to and from school. It may be challenging, with right-hand drive and very difficult roads.

Today is son Dan’s 21st birthday. Called his cell to sing “Happy Birthday,” joined by enthusiastic Ugandan teachers…