Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Three Cakes

Today's blog contributed by Russell Myers, VP of Development for Cheetah

The village of Ilambilole in Tanzania Africa was waiting for the arrival of the visitors. The singers and children were in their places ready to greet them and lead them to the first of three meeting places.

The visitors arrived a couple of hours late but that does not matter to the villagers. They will wait until you come. I later find out that it is not unusual to wait for someone to show up but my DNA says do not be late for an appointment. We could not have arrived earlier because of the travel delays. I was hoping that the village would not be disappointed with our tardiness and depart. And no, they did not leave. They were waiting patiently for the arrival.

The vehicles turn onto the main road of the village and the people start the dancing and singing and as the vehicles get closer you can hear the welcoming song. The vehicles stop and the people step out in front and lead them to the first meeting place. Slowly we proceed behind the group singing and dancing down the street.

We arrive at the location a few minutes later as the crowd surrounds the vehicles singing and dancing. The visitors get out of the vehicles and some of us are overcome to the point of tears by the welcome and the feeling of being unworthy of such a welcome. We had just come to attend some meetings and see the village – not anything special in our own eyes. We did not know the culture or the importance of the moment for the village.

The visitors enter into the home of the local pastor and wait for the arrival of some of the village leaders. The singing continues outside for around a half-hour they started resting for what was next to come. A few of the leaders find their way to the home and we are off to the town center meeting.

The walk to the town center is about two of our city blocks in length but before we start the adults and children line up in two rows single file in front of the visitors and leaders. The villagers start the procession singing and walking in a slow rhythm to the city center. I asked myself why are they doing this? – not knowing the importance of this occasion. I am going along and very impressed but still have no idea the importance but I am soon to find out.

When we arrive at the town center it looks like the whole village has arrived. Several hundred people are there waiting to hear from the leader of the visitors group – a man that has been in the village many times and is the reason this is such an important meeting time today. Almost all of the villagers are singing and many are dancing as we prepare for the meeting. Chairs are lined up for the leaders of the village and the seats of honor are for the visitors. The singing and dancing slowly subsides as the meeting is about to start.

The community leader, the pastor, starts the introductions. All of the leaders of the village and surrounding area are introduced and then the visitors have their opportunity to introduce themselves. Our leader, Ray Menard, stands to introduce the visitors. There are two doctors, an elder from a church in the USA and me a business man. Each of us has an opportunity to share and express our gratitude for the warm welcome of the village. The meeting continues for a couple of hours and then it is time to separate from the villagers and meet with just the leaders at the church.

The village meeting has ended and we are headed to the church for the leaders meeting. The singing starts again and the children run to the visitors to escort them to the church. There is a child on each hand and other holding their hand stretching across the road all singing along the way. We arrive at the church and the children instantly fill half of the room. The children gather for the next meeting. But they are not the leaders so they will have to go. But before they go they perform a song for us all and then they are escorted out. The singing outside the church continues as we start the meeting. There is not much day time left and this village has no electricity. So it is going to be a short meeting so everyone can get home before dark, I thought. That was a bad assumption because there was a small fluorescent light on a battery that hung over the table at the center of the room where Ray, an interpreter and the pastor sat. The remaining the visitors were in seats of honor up front. The meeting went on for a couple of hours and it is dark inside and out except for the small light that is shining on the center table of the three men.

The meeting ends and we go to the home of the pastor which has been built with some extra rooms for visitors to come and stay. We arrive at the home for our dinner and bed after all of the hand-shaking and visiting but there is more to come unbeknown to us.

The ladies had been cooking for several hours to prepare the meal and it was delicious. A couple of the visitors thought it was time to go to bed but there was another event that was about to take place. The ceremony of the Three Cakes. The living room area was cleared of dishes after the meal and people gathered around the room. The room is about 12 x 15 with some big furniture and a coffee table. There are about 20 villagers attending this ceremony. This Mzungu (White Man) did not know what was about to take place.

Cake is not a regular item on the menu in fact it is only made on very special occasions. This was one of those occasions designated by the village. The Three Cakes were made to demonstrate the unity between the village and a person or group on a very special occasion. The leader of the visitors, Ray, the heart of our organization is the person being honored with the ceremony because of the respect and love that the villagers have developed for him.

Each cake is about a 10” round yellow wheat flour cake. Wheat flour is one ingredient that is not readily available. The ceremony starts as the ladies’ leader comes into the room carrying all three cakes. She slowly makes her way to the coffee table as she moves to the singing of the villagers. She slowly bends at the knees and sets the platter of cakes on the table and the singing gets softer and softer until it stops. The three cakes are now on the end of the coffee table in front of Ray. The lady explains about the procedures for the three cake ceremony. Cake number one is for Ray to break into pieces and give every villager that is attending a piece. This is to show the willingness to join with the village in all endeavors. The second cake is taken by the pastor and divided among the visitors to show the unity between the village and the visitors. Ray and the pastor take the third cake together each breaking off a piece and feed it to the other person, similar to our wedding ceremony; this demonstrates the unity in thought between the leaders of both groups. The ceremony ends with singing, laughing, and lots of hugging and tears of joy.

The whole day was quite an experience and one that will not be forgotten and as we say in America “that takes the cake.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bomalang'ombe an Anomaly

Today’s Blog Contributed by Russ Myers, VP of Development for Cheetah

There are about nine thousand villages throughout Tanzania. The village of Bomalangonbe (Boma) sits in the mountains in the south central part of the country. There are about 13,000 people that reside in this area and all but one is a farmer.

They farm potatoes on the sides of the mountains where many seemed to be too steep to walk down but there are terraced rows of crops that are being worked. There is a road, if you want to call it that, connecting Boma to the town of Iringa. Iringa is a city of about 120,000 people, the largest in this area of the country.

The road between Boma and Iringa is a difficult road to drive. It passes through some beautiful country and a variety of climates as you try to maintain your sanity over the bumps of the road. There are some 38 separate climates in the world and there are 34 different climates represented in Tanzania. You pass through several on the way to Boma. There are eucalyptus trees that are a hundred feet tall and then there are pine trees and when you turn back you are in desert conditions and have cactus next to the road.

On this day there are eight of us traveling to Boma from Iringa: the driver, five visitors, the district pastor and a pastor for interpreting. The five visitors include Ray Menard, Russ Myers, Dr. Mark Ereth, Dr. Chris Marrs and Randy Haglund. We are traveling in an eight passenger Toyota Land-Cruiser which is really for five people comfortably. They claim a back seat for three but don’t believe a word of it. Today I am riding in the back seat with two other men. Your feet are at your bottom and your knees are against the seat in front of you. You feel every rock in the road for a while until your rear end is numb. You hold on to the hand rail to keep yourself from hitting the roof of the vehicle on every bump. Soon the small bumps don’t matter and you stop complaining because you know the trip is only two and one half hours long.

When you arrive you realize it was worth the trip. The first thing you notice is street lights. That’s right street lights in a village. For that matter there are few street lights in the largest city of Dar es Salaam. There is electricity to run the lights and electricity for the village. There is a cell phone tower next to the church. Cell phone coverage in within Tanzania is incredible with the latest technology of bandwidth available. The calls coming into the country are something else all together but in country you have better coverage than Verizon claims. Sorry, back to the electricity: so why does Boma have this electricity when other villages and towns struggle without it?

There is this six kilometer road off of the main road that I described earlier. This road takes meaning of rough to a new level. Once you get to the end of the road that winds around mountains and then takes many hair-pen switchbacks you arrive at the anomaly. There is a hydro-electric plant on a dammed up mountain stream. This small lake sits several hundred feet above the generating plant. The views of the lake are incredibly beautiful. The stream of water that is flowing out of the overflow of the lake as it comes down past the plant is breath-taking. The stream runs down where two mountains meet so the vistas of both make one realize that only God can make things this beautiful.

The Boma village is an anomaly sitting on top of the mountains in south central Tanzania with street lights and electricity enough for all of the residents.

Oh yes, the trip back was three and one-half hours with the side trip to the hydro-electric plant. I am okay and the blood has returned to circulating in my bottom.

(Pictured: Russ looking happy as he gets out of a bumpy airplane ride...everything seems to be a bit bumpy!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wow---You Gotta Go to Tanzania!

(Today's blog by Dr. Mark Ereth of the Mayo Clinic, a Board Member and friend of Cheetah Development.)

Nine days, 9 time zones, 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and 9,000 miles…

That's the distance between where I am today, and where I was a short time ago. Those are the degrees of separation between Minnesota and the villages of Ilambilole, Bomalang'ombe, and the city of Iringa, all in South Central Tanzania. It’s the distance between a malaria free zone, and an endemic malaria zone. It’s the distance between excessive caloric intake and malnourishment.  It’s the distance between so much and so little….

Crossing these distances was one of the most rewarding trips I ever experienced. What I experienced were some of the most joyous, welcoming, and Christian people I’ve ever met….some of the most ingenious and hardworking…some of the most deserving.

Each day the economic disparity between these worlds is increasing.  Disparity in investment, in small business, and in mentored entrepreneurs. Disparity in the value chain from production to consumption. Disparity in transportation, markets, and the businesses of agriculture, manufacturing, and trade.

Cheetah Development is working to bridge these economic development disparities.

Bridging this gap is Ray Menard, the visionary, the founder, the mover, the shaker (you should see him dance with the villagers)…

Bridging the gap is Russ Meyers.....our volunteer Director of Development…who has enthusiastically joined Ray for three weeks…gathering the data and stories to share with our benefactors and investors.

Bridging this gap is Randy Haglund...our volunteer Director of Photography who captured the digital images of so very much to share with all of us…of these villages that do so very much…with so very little…

Bridging the gap is Dr. Chris Marrs…who has worked in the third world for much of the past decade…who is bringing his skill, compassion, energy, and incredible dedication to join with us at Cheetah…in these villages for two months in early 2010 to help build up anti-malarial and anti-HIV-AIDS efforts.

Check out Dr. Chris at ht

Cheetah Development is delivering a new model of support, not handouts, but we are investing time and money in people who can grow their own small businesses…who can employ others…who can create markets… and empower whole villages.

In a very short time Cheetah has done an incredible job, crossing cultures, building trust, and delivering on every front.  As such, I encourage you to lend extraordinary support to this extraordinary mission.  Please schedule a trip, grab your checkbook, and get your family and friends to do the same.  It’s all about leverage…a little here delivers a big impact there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Choosing a Second Village – Part 2

After the survey work was complete and we met with the leaders of each village and we heard their passionate speeches – then we had to make a decision. It was harder than I expected. First, we wanted to help them all. Second, they were all deserving. Third, how do you say, 'no'?

We shared this decision with leaders from the University of Tumaini. We need them to work with us. We couldn't commit for them. Rev. Dr. Lubawa (the Deputy Provost and one of the people I respect most in this world) and the Dean of the Business School and other leaders joined to decide. It took a week of discussion.

One of the four villages has a reputation as hard workers but they are known as laborers, not farmers. Their agricultural output is limited mostly to their own use. Therefore it's hard to invest in a for profit business when there is nothing being sold. A second specialized in tomatoes and that has more complexity and more competition so we considered it risky. That left Ihemi and Bomalang'ombe. They both made the bulk of their profits on potatoes and so that took us away from the cash crops of Ilambilole. Although we were looking for a different climate, we weren't necessarily looking for diversity in crops at this stage. But this was an interesting revelation. Areas with more rainfall took advantage of that to produce higher value products than corn. Consider, bags of potatoes are selling for twice as much or more than corn and they are growing up to 10 times the amount per acre. That's 20X the profit or more. So, the decision to move to a new climate naturally meant different crops.

I didn't want to go back to Boma' because the terrible road left me in pain. Now Ihemi, that's right on a tarred road. Seemed obvious right?

University leadership said, 'but wait'. It will be more difficult to control corruption (farmers that bypass their coop agreement and sell direct) because they are right on the paved road. Also, Ihemi is climactically and geographically closer to Ilambilole so there is a higher risk of simultaneous drought. Not only that, there is another organization working to support potato farming in the Boma' area. If we worked with Ihemi, we would be their market competitor. If we chose Boma' we could partner and strengthen the overall results.

Boma' became the choice. Ouch!

But it is so beautiful!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Choosing a Second Village

The work we are beginning in villages is incredibly exciting. Modest investments show the potential to change thousands of lives. And we are addressing the problems of hunger and poverty at its root. We are interested in value chain development and agricultural investment. But what makes our program really unique is that we ask people what they want to do. We don't tell them. Most of my time on this trip has been related to this effort.

We have already chosen the village of Ilambilole to work with. This was where our church had been engaging for more than a decade. After a review with local people, there was strong agreement that it was a great place to start. It was hard working, highly productive, and has a pastor that has stood up to corruption.

(Pictured, corn fields near Ilambilole)

There is a risk in starting with only one village. For example, a drought could delay or cause a failure in the project. Local leaders argued that we should start with three villages to assure the ability to demonstrate success. But there is risk in being too aggressive, as well. The first time you do anything is the hardest. We have things to learn. So we compromised on two.

We needed to choose a second village.

It would be handy if it was near the first one, but then it could suffer drought at the same time. So it needed to be geographically at some distance. As we talked about it, we thought we should find a different climactic area altogether.

(Pictured, a typical meeting with village leaders)

Tanzania is quite remarkable this way. There are numerous micro-climates. At times you find yourself in a new climate every 20 miles. (Because of the poor roads you might be going only 20 miles an hour, too.) We decided to go to a really different climate. Ilambilole is flat and tends to be very dry half of the year. We decided to find a wet region that was also in the same district. We consulted with local and American agricultural experts. Then we talked to local people that could talk about the 'character' of villages. There were about 75 to choose from. Finally, we narrowed it down to four.

Then we spent a half day in each village meeting with leaders and surveying the local outputs. It was a wonderful experience. We posted the results at our website, including the original survey of Ilambilole. They are really interesting:

Here are some highlights and impressions:
  1. Ilambilole is a stand-out and was a great first choice.
  2. There is a strong distinction between villages that are truly subsistence (they eat all they grow) and those that have begun to sell some of their crops. The latter are thinking about markets, profit, and quality.
  3. The terrain is amazing and beautiful.
  4. The people were all passionate and hard working. Every meeting ended with speeches by local people. They carefully made their case for why they were the best village to work with.
  5. I was amazed to see that farmer cooperatives are nearly inevitable. If you ask people how they will solve their problems, they already know that they need to work together. Please realize that in Tanzania farmer cooperatives have been models for stealing from the poor for about 40 years so this is not an answer that I expected.
  6. People don't want handouts, they want opportunity. They are looking for a way to succeed with dignity.
  7. I wanted to choose every village I was in.
Well, except for Bomalang'ombe. The road was so bad. The springs on the truck were cracked and so there was no rear suspension (a later failure was coming). Three hours later I literally arrived in pain. I thought to myself, 'I never want to come back here again.'

I felt the Spirit move in my heart as I thought this…'You might be surprised.'

(Pictured: the fields around Bomalang'ombe - CLICK ON THIS ONE!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tanzania 2009 #20

I've landed in London & checked into hotel. Looking forward to a little dinner, hot shower, and sleep.
This has been an amazing trip for all the reasons listed in previous entries and more.
I spent a lot of the flight today sorting images and trying to begin to organize them; lots to do. The flight seemed pretty surreal as it did last year. As I look out the window today I saw places again that I've read about and/or seen in photos; the Sahara Desert, north coast of Africa, Sicily, the boot of Italy, the Alps, the English Channel.
It is currently 4:00AM local time here in London and 7:00AM local time in Tanzania. I can tell I am going to be struggling w/ major jetlag this time. My mind is already gearing up for all that awaits me upon my return. I passed out about 8:30 London time and slept soundly til about 1:45. I just finally got up and will try to get some work done before breakfast. Besides, I just discovered a coffee pot and some Walker's Butter Shortbread in the closet. That's all the excuse I need for some coffee, even decaf.
Pray for me that I would not lose the impact from this trip to the busyness of my routine as I return. Each time I have returned the idea of "Spiritual Tourism" bothers me more and more. I want, I need it to be more than that or it would be a waste of resources for me. There has to be an impact in my life and those I have opportunity to influence. If not it would be better to stay home and invest the money in the areas directly.
I can't wait to get home and begin to share my experiences. I do need to be careful though to pace all of us, especially myself, so I don't lose sight of keeping balance for me and my family.
Thank you all again for sharing this with me in this way.
I look forward to continuing to share images and specifics stories/needs in the weeks to come.
Blessings on you all.
Because of Him,

(Sent from my Verizon Wireless CrackBerry)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tanzania 2009 #19

As I got up this morning I felt inclined to share reading from a devotional I read. It is from "My Utmost For His Highest." July 28.
After Obedience -- What?
"And straightway He constrained His disciples to get into the ship, and go to the other side..." Mark 6:45
We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God's purpose for us. His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident.
What is my dream of God's purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm & unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working toward a particular finish; His end is the process--that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that all is right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.
God's training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterwards. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.
God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is Precious.

My new brother, Ray, from Cheetah asked me to post this on the Blog. It has been a reminder to me again this trip that I need to be more open to what God wants to so in me than what I think He wants me to do For Him.
Blessings on you all.

Because of Him,

(Sent from my Verizon Wireless CrackBerry)

Tanzania 2009 #18

As my last day in country winds down I want to humbly thank those of you that have followed these rambling thoughts and shared this experience with me. Your prayers have been huge and more meaningful than you will ever know.
The hostel we have stayed in the last two nights has wi-fi so I have been able to download Picasa on the netbook and begin to edit my photos.
Ray and Russ, two of my traveling companions; two new brothers, are taking a nap and I put on my headphones and turned on the I-pod. The song that came on has become the theme song for me for this trip. Hillsong's "One Desire" expresses my heart's desire as I have traveled this incredible country these last 18 days. To be where He is and where He wants me is the desire of my heart, wherever that is each and every day, from Monroe to Mwanza, from Iringa to Ilambilole and Bomalang'ombe.
As I think of beginning my journey home in the morning I am undone at God's blessing on me and my family as we begin this new adventure in His Mansion. I don't begin to understand why I have been given so much and some have so little. Sometimes it all seems relative but it will continue to be a question that will follow me all the days of my life in more intense ways than I will ever begin to understand after this trip.
One thing about being out of one's comfort zone is that we tend to be more in tune with our own inadequacy and finiteness, if you will. I have been way out of mine these last two plus weeks, farther then I had imagined. I did not place a lot of expectations on this trip because of much of my last experience here last year. But, just like God, more and different than I could have ever thought. For those of you that have read through these entries I hope you have seen that.
My desire for you as you have shared this adventure with me is that you would see that no matter what you have been given in this world there are so many with so much less. The over arching desire for Shirley and I at PepperCorn and now at the Mansion has been to always remember that God owns it all and that we are just the mangers. As we strive to be good stewards of what He provides it comes with a responsibility to manage it well. Whether it is money or relationships, we have so many more blessings than most people in the world will ever have. Appreciate what you have, appreciate those that are around you, and tell them. Think beyond the moment to what and who is really important.
I will be posting photos when I get home with image specific info so please keep coming back over the next weeks & months to come. You will also begin to see info related to our teams next trip next summer. Because of Him,
Because of Him,

(Sent from my Verizon Wireless CrackBerry)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tanzania 2009 #17

One correction from last Blog. The freezer at the clinic used propane not Liquid Oxygen.

Last couple days have been very busy. Yesterday we drove the 6-7 hours from Iringa to Dar es Salaam. (250 miles) When we arrived we hit the market for a while to collect a few souvenirs. Then it was off to the CEFA hostel to quickly freshen up as well as we could and it was off to a dinner meeting with the group that will be running the bicycle factory. These are an amazing group of men.
Up early this morning to have a meeting with a young man converting vegetable oil into Bio-Diesel. Then it was off to the airport to pick a bag that was lost and then it was found. Then we visited a textile mill which was a step into the past.
After a busy morning we were entertained at lunch by Dr. Mariam Nchimbi, Director of the University of Dar es Salaam Entrepreneur Centre and Dr. M.D. Baisi, Associate Dean of Postgraduate Studies.
Then it was a cultural tour of the local Shoprite where we found a few local treats. Then it was back to the hostel to relax a little before dinner.

Because of Him,

(Sent from my Verizon Wireless CrackBerry)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Economic Develoment and Health Care

Ray asked me to blog for him today...
Because of Him,

Yesterday we drove over 2 hours into the mountains to a village where Cheetah will be involved on project #2. The Village of Bomalang'ombe is a very remote village of about 5000 people. Cheetah will be working again with food value chain issues but with different products and in slightly different ways than in Ilambilole where Project #1 will be taking place. Both are highly productive villages as a whole, as well as very proud villages. This was very evident in the way they took care of themselves, their homes, shops, & village.
There are two Doctors on our team. One is an Anesthesiologist at Mayo Clinic. The other worked with the first for 10 years at Mayo and now operates a consulting business. He also operates a clinic in the remote mountains of SW Kenya west of Nairobi. I have visited two dispensaries in these two villages with the doctors to photograph and record their visit. As we have visited these remote mini-clinic the Doctors have discussed HIV-AIDS education, they have looked at everything from the number if instruments to patient protocol to try and discover how they best assist the clinics. We were amazed at the quality of the first which even had a liquid oxygen cooled freezer that had a very good supply of vaccines.
We were also amazed at the second clinic, but for very different reasons. Being so very remote and difficult to get to makes for its own sets of challenges.
Yesterday as we spoke with the nurse in Bomalang'ombe one doctor asked her how many of the mothers that deliver babies each month are infected with HIV-AIDS. She said of he 15-20 she sees deliver each month, 70-80%! She shared with us that they have discovered that often times the middlemen that come to town to buy products pay for sex and are to cause for much of the spreading of this disease. I later discovered from Ray as we discussed the day that the going rate is in the village is about 500TSH. (Tanzanian Schillings) that works out to about $.35! Yes, that is 35 CENTS. The decimal point is correct. It was very interesting discussion that developed as we began to work through the issues of economic development when the workforce could possibly not be viable within a short period of time.
This expanded into confirmation of why our church is supporting Cheetah in the first place. It is. Not about all the "Benjamins". It is a holistic approach to adding value with what is ready in place from the perspective of the village. It must be a perceived value on the part of the people generated by the ideas of the villagers themselves.
I am being reminded of the intertwined complexity of the issues. Please pray for wisdom for all involved.
This fact alone spoke volumes to me of the fact that this is
Because of Him,

(Sent from my Verizon Wireless CrackBerry)