Wednesday, 9 June 2010

New Dawn

Jennie and Don Waterman live in La Teulière in an old stone house surrounded by roses. Don is totally passionate about roses and their garden has so many that there is hardly room for anything else. They sell their roses as cut flowers to support the charity that Jennie and Don started which is called New Dawn after one of the roses. On 24th May they ran a fund raising event.

Jennie was teaching in Uganda in 2002 and was appalled by the devastating plight resulting from AIDS of the widows and orphans that she witnessed there. With Don she started to raise money and made more trips to the region. In 2004 they registered “New Dawn” as a charitable association in France.
After working with a project in Uganda they focussed their support on another orphanage and teaching project in Kisumu where they met Nancy and Jonas Okoth. Jennie and Don came to know them well whilst they were working closely together in December 2006 and saw in them both a remarkable young couple, who were totally dedicating their lives to helping orphans and “street” children.
The orphanage was started by Nancy and Jonas in January 2007 to provide care and support to the orphans, street children and widows of the Kisumu area. Nancy used to work for the Imperial Hotel in Kisumu but left her career behind, bought some land about 4km north of Kisumu in the hills overlooking Lake Victoria and together with Jonas and their three children set up the “Arise and Shine” Kogony Orphanage and Community Project. We met Nancy last year at a social event hosted by Marie-Ange and Jean-Louis Dreyer whose daughter Julie has spent three months at Kogony. I did not know about Nancy's work then but I was struck by her self assurance and sense of humour. Others have used the word charisma.
They now have twenty four resident orphans and run a nursery school on the site. Often children in the community are left in the care of aged grandmothers or sick mothers. With the intention of improving the quality of life and the life expectancy of these widows, Nancy and Jonas have reached out to the local community by arranging nine empowerment groups for the many women left widowed by AIDS. They have encouraged these groups to start mini businesses, which sell locally made soap and high protein meal. Other plans are underway which include selling articles made by the tailoring group and vegetables grown on the orphanage land. In April 2009 they asked the community to select twenty widows most in need of help and started the “Desperate Widows Group”. Each member receives monthly food packs, regular home visits and other articles such as mosquito nets, extra blankets etc.

When Jennie told us all Janet’s story I was very moved;
“On another visit we found Janet very sick with AIDS and we thought she was going to die. It was decided to bring her back to the orphanage, and with the assistance of the staff, resident children and our American friends, Mary Lynn and Wayne McLemore, part of the cowshed was joyfully transformed into a clean hut for her. After six weeks of medical treatment, good food and loving care, Janet made a wonderful recovery, put on 11kgs, increased her white blood cell count enormously and to everyone’s amazement was able to return home.”
It has since been decided to create a small hospice on the site where people can come, to be treated and cared for or, if they are not as fortunate as Janet, to die in peaceful surroundings.

In 2009 the “Arise and Shine” orphanage hosted a Medical Camp in which 440 people were treated and about two-thirds of them were tested for HIV and received counselling. This was so successful that the orphanage was chosen to host an Eye Camp during which over 500 people from the local bush community were examined and 48 people including five of the ”Desperate Widows”, had cataract operations done by the team of five visiting doctors in the local hospital.
Jennie emphasises that all of this was made possible by a local Indian team “The Bhagini Samaj”, the Dutch aid group “the Klara Foundation”, the Kisumu “Ladies in Action” and Lions Club International.

The New Dawn Association is entirely responsible for the running costs of the “Arise and Shine” project and relies on donations mostly from individuals in France, Switzerland and the UK. You can learn more about it on their website.
The “Arise and Shine” project is still in need of additional buildings and facilities, an improved water supply and an electrical supply.
In 2009 Edinburgh Direct Aid has made valuable contributions to specific infrastructure projects and in particular they filled a container with much needed items to equip the orphanage. You can see more pictures and read about their involvement on their website.
A generous contribution from Rotary de Levaux, Switzerland has enabled improvements to buildings, toilets and washing facilities, rainwater collection and storage and will also allow lighting to be installed.

At a time of my life when, I am ashamed to admit, I find myself more and more tending to doze off over a book after lunch, I admire Jenny and Don’s energy and determination. But then, as Jennie said last night, “Each time we go to Kogony, and work with Nancy and Jonas, the children and the widows we come back re-energised and feeling that we get back more than we give”! “It’s just as well, otherwise we wouldn’t do it”!
And of course it is impossible to adequately express my admiration for Nancy and Jonas in a few words. They are truly an example for us all!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Israel and the Aid Flotilla

So this time Israel has finally provoked an international outcry as a result of its incompetent handling of the interception of the Aid Flotilla. For a while I thought that the incident had been so badly handled, and so badly timed, that it must be a politically motivated conspiracy to undermine Nettanyahu. The defence minister, Ehud Barak who ordered it, is after all a political rival. But on further reflection I think that it is a tragic mistake rather than a conspiracy. Sadly Israeli mistakes usually cost other people’s lives.
If you send highly trained killers to undertake a police action and they meet resistance they will kill. It’s what their training is all about. So that was the first mistake. Next you have to ask why Israel launched the assault in international waters leaving them open to be accused of piracy and of disregarding international law. That was their second mistake. But Israel has been so protected from criticism by their international supporters over the years that I suppose they thought that aspect was unimportant and, as Gideon Levy said yesterday in a television interview on the BBC about his article in Haaretz, “Israel considers itself above the law”.
Israel never fails to miss opportunities for peace. They go through the motions usually without any real intention of ever resolving the Palestinian issue. They seem to like living under the siege mentality that the resistance to their persistent occupation of Palestinian land engenders. Or is it that the only way to unite the country, which is so politically diverse and fractious, is to have an external enemy?
Every time a rocket is fired from Gaza it is a propaganda opportunity for the Israeli government, who are very well organised on that front. Labelling Hamas a terrorist organisation and persuading western governments not to recognize a legitimately elected government was masterly.
Of course their supporters in the diaspora are well placed to label any criticism of Israel in the West as anti-Semitic and few in Europe or the States dare to criticise Israel directly. It is not anti-Semitic to criticise a government capable of launching a war against the population of Gaza and killing over 1,300 Palestinians principally in an attempt to get themselves re-elected. (Winter 2008-2009). The Israeli casualty count in that three week conflict was 13 of which 10 were defence force personnel. A 100 to 1 casualty ratio is not untypical for Palestinian Israeli conflicts, a grotesque extension of the biblical “an eye for an eye” doctrine, which seems to be considered acceptable in Israel and in the West.
I have great difficulty in understanding how a state, founded on the ashes and corpses of 6 million Jews and brought into being after a Zionist terrorist campaign in Palestine, can behave so inhumanely to the citizens of the land which it continues to occupy illegally. The oppressed have become the oppressors and they have persuaded the West to accept that what they do is legitimate.
If the outcry over the Flotilla incident hardens into a loss of patience with Israel perhaps 9 more people will not have died in vain. Egypt has lifted the blockade of Gaza and must put an end to it for good. Western governments should openly criticise Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and demand that they negotiate a real peace. The initiative is with Obama but he is just the last of a long line of Presidents scared of the Jewish lobby in the States and, although he has now called for the blockade to be lifted, will he actually do anything?
Meanwhile individuals should boycott Israeli produce until some results begin to come from peace talks. In the UK I boycotted Israeli produce for many years. In France there is very little on sale so I am forced to resort to blogging instead.