Friday, May 02, 2014

In November, December and also in February, the above pictures were my view on a daily basis.  Five days/week, I’d do a brisk 20 minute walk at around 8:20 in the morning so I could catch a bus to take me down via Gregorio VII (it’s always just referred to as “Gregorio Settimo”) towards the Vatican.  Shortly before the bus reached my school, the road curved and the above view of the Vatican loomed ahead.  I’d get down from the bus before it reached the Vatican, which was just another few minutes, or a 10 minute walk from the school. 

I just received an email from a long-time friend who had supervised me almost 30 years ago when I was getting my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work.  I volunteered in a program that did some small group counseling/therapy sessions (the Deferred Prosecution Program), and she was the Director.  (Actually, on a side-note, I apologize to many of you who probably received a request from me about LinkedIn – ooops.  I signed up for LinkedIn so I could stay a little in-tune with things in Occupational Therapy, and maybe international work, etc., and didn’t realize that an email would be sent to anyone I had ever emailed.  The plus side is that a few people have been back in touch with me since then.)  She received that LinkedIn invite and wrote back, mentioning that it must be humbling to be surrounded by the huge monuments reflecting so much history here.  And mostly it’s true - - but, actually I fluctuate between feeling humbled, and not even noticing.  Like the above view of the Vatican – some days I thought how incredible it was that this was my daily view.  Other days I walked along whistling, “ho hum ho hum, it’s off to class I go”, excited about going to class, and forgetting to pay attention to the rest of the experience. 

It’s kind of like when I was in Africa -- there were moments where I’d be in awe of where I was and grateful and amazed to be in Africa, doing work that I cared about and felt fulfilled to be doing, and other days when I’d think, “ho hum ho hum, it’s just another day.

Actually, I think I like that.  I don’t know if I want to be amazed in that way every day.  I don’t know that I want to feel humbled in that way every day.  I also don’t want every day to be ho hum ho hum.  I like the mix.  I remember in the past when I visited Rome that within a day or two I’d be thinking, “OK, enough of the archaeological sites; enough of the broken down buildings; enough of these huge monuments. Let me get some ice-cream.”  Maybe it was too much – I don’t know.  This time around, though, while living here, I haven’t had that feeling of “enough” --  but I have had the feeling of “let me get some ice-cream.

Anyway….in January I was fortunate to go back to Ghana to make a site/support visit to Joe, who I wrote about in my last entry.  And, of course, I took some vacation time while there to also see some of my former colleagues and my friends.  I also mentioned in my last blog entry that I would again write about some of the people I know since, no surprise, there are still some who hope for school or small business assistance, etc.  And, hmmm, again no surprise, there are a few people I would love to help.  At the same time, several months ago I still made the decision to stay in SMA, which resulted in me still, frustratingly, not being able to actually help too much on my own.  When small emergencies here and there come up, it’s manageable, but school fees? small business development? – not so manageable. 

I’ll start with the lightest one and a familiar person who I’ve written about in the past.  I first wrote about Thomas back in October, 2010, when I was writing about some of the people I was working with on the refugee camp, but I wrote more specifically about just him and shared his story in January, 2011.  In response to that blog post, someone helped him to be able to pay for the exams he needed to take so as to complete his degree in shipping.  He’s still on the camp now, still helping Elizabeth at the Harmony Center, and I think it was finally last year that he was able to complete all the exams needed.  Now, though, there’s a class he hopes to take which will give him one more important and useful skill for when he returns to Liberia.  The class costs a little under $250 - - and I think it’s about 1 ½ - 2 months long.  He is hoping to return to Liberia before the end of the year.  If anyone wants to help him out, let me know.

Meanwhile, for the past few weeks, Rome has been filling up.  A couple of weeks ago was Easter – many many people were here for that. 

Easter at St. Peter's Square

More Easter at the Vatican


Last week Sunday was the biggest shindig that has taken place here in many years.  I heard 3 million visitors were expected.  Popes John Paul II and John XXIII were canonized on Sunday, 27 April.  The city was packed.  The house we live in was full, too – and it was nice to see some familiar faces and to have some variety tossed into the standard group that’s usually around.  At the same time that it was nice to see a few familiar faces from the years in Africa and to have the variety, I ran from the house and the city and have escaped all for a few days.  May and June are promising to be busy and it's nice to have a quick break before the intensity starts up.  However, even if I hadn't run from Rome on the morning of the canonization, I still wouldn't have any pictures to put here - I had planned to stay home and watch it on TV - which is the same I ended up doing anyway.  Imagine the above pictures having been taken from further away, with even more people --- and with rain and umbrellas -- and then you'll have an idea of how my experience at the canonization would have been for me if I'd gone.  Anyway... it was a special day for the Catholic Church, and, as with many things, mixed with a little controversy.  However, all that aside, Pope Francis continues to inspire me and give me hope - he's simple, unencumbered by, even just puts aside, a lot of the usual protocols, and gets close to people.  Even on the long day of the canonization, which followed a couple of long weeks with Lenten and Easter celebrations, in spite of probably being tired out, he still lived what he spoke, got down, and mixed with people who were in the crowds.  He got close to people,touching them, being touched, looking them in their eyes, and letting them know he cared and felt for them.  The highest guy in the Catholic Church is doing what he can to live what everyone is always preaching.  It's a little sad to think that this is revolutionary.        

Sunday, February 16, 2014

During the past couple of years I never updated my blog much.  I don’t think I was the best match for the life I was living.  I love – like family – the people I was with, but … I was also missing my friends and family in Ghana.  I missed being busy; I missed having responsibility; I missed being trusted to actually do stuff, make decisions and see them through, even if it goes another direction from how things have been done.  I missed having to think, being challenged in ways where the outcome actually matters.  I missed also living and working in an environment where I could play an active role in making decisions for things that seemed important, where it felt my input mattered and I played a role and had responsibility towards the outcome – whichever direction that might go.

I also suddenly had wifi service and needed to learn how to manage unlimited internet browsing.  It was amazing how much more I could do when I turned on my laptop to do some work while in Africa and that was the only option I had – to do some work.  Suddenly, I could turn on my laptop and every time (well, most of the time, since the wifi wasn’t always working), headlines would appear!  Latest, breaking and oh-so-important news was right before my eyes – who wore what to the Oscars!! How big was that snake living under the house in Florida?  Who said what?  I’m still working on controlling this --- the most inane stuff suddenly becomes fascinating and takes up valuable blog-writing time (how much time did I just spend finding and watching the video of the cat jumping that a friend just told me about? And then links that came from it – and I’m not even a cat person!).

Anyway --- there were definitely some high points.  Aside from being closer to family and some friends in the US (definitely the best part of the past couple of years), one of the next best parts was when I did the field visits to our lay missionaries in West Africa about a year and a half ago.  I was actually trusted to have time with them, talk with them, observe how it’s going for them and for their mission assignments, their community life, their adjustment to African life, and for some, their preparations to leave all that and return to the US, seeing what’s next, etc.  I got to listen, be engaged, be responsible, and play a role with no micro-management going on over me.  Another high point was last year in April/May when I came to Rome for 4 weeks of meetings (yes, meetings were a high-point – can’t believe I say that).  All the SMA lay groups internationally were asked to submit a name of one of their lay missionaries to go to our General Assembly, where the heads of SMA meet every 6 years to vote for the leaders and the priorities for the next 6 years.  From the names submitted, the leaders in Rome at that time chose me to come represent all the lay missionaries at the Assembly.
St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, from the cupola of St. Peter's

me, on the cupola, after our meetings finished (pictures from the meeting wouldn't be interesting to show here)

Another high-point was our training from Jan-March last year.  I was the “tracker” for Jean, meaning that I met with her weekly to discuss how it’s going from her perspective and also from the perspective of the lay program.  It helped that she was from Wisconsin, so of course she had to be good (heh heh).  I enjoyed our tracking times – the exchange of honest communication and feedback.  And now she’s been in Tanzania for a year, and I love reading her blog updates – she’s a beautiful woman.

And then, there was "riding the pines" with Dan, Joe (more on him below) and Kyle - doing what's most important in life: just spending time with people you care about.

Back in June, last year, I got a call from our newly elected General Superior (can anyone believe it’s common to still use words like “superior” to refer to someone in a leadership position?  Anyway …. I guess that makes the rest of us … inferior – heh heh).  He asked if I’d be willing to come to Rome for the next 3 years and be the English Secretary to the General Council – or, the Anglophone Secretary to the Top Dogs – or, as someone said I should call myself, “SMA’s Secretary General”.   I had a week to think about it, and daily went back and forth on the decision.  “Live in Rome for 3 years!!! Hell yeah!!”; “Go be a secretary for 3 years …. uh …. what? Really? Am I really thinking about doing that? That’s crazy – my mind doesn’t stay awake in meetings.”  So, after the week of thinking about it, I told the General Superior that I didn’t know if it would be a good idea since I enjoy being “in the field” and working with people and I’ve never done this kind of work before – if I suck at it, then they’re stuck with me for 3 years (of course, there would be ways out, I’m sure), and if I don’t like it, then I’m stuck for 3 years (and I wouldn’t necessarily feel free to take a way out).  He suggested we could try it for a year, see how it goes, and take it from there.  I wasn’t used to a “superior” like this – who listened to my feedback and actually considered it, reflected on it, and came up with a reasonable suggestion.  Wow.  (And he doesn’t even know I have a blog, so it’s not like I’m sucking up at this moment.)  But, hearing his response encouraged me to accept this position (Secretary General – heh heh) – I’d be working with someone who takes input and feedback and actually thinks about it and comes up with some sort of option outside the box.  I liked the idea.

So – I moved to Rome at the end of September.

soon after arriving in Rome; 
with Joanna and Arie who were visiting.  It turns out these were not the Spanish Steps -heh heh 

And I’ve found it kind of amazing that I love it; I’m enjoying the challenge of a completely different role.  I enjoy translating from French to English – it’s like this puzzle, not just word-for-word, but trying to get the spirit and intentions of those words (who knows if I’ve been as successful with this as I hope I have been).  I’ve enjoyed (mostly) being focused in meetings and trying to get the key points out of all the rest of the talk that goes on.  And I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere of Rome, meeting the range of people who pass through the SMA house and the Italians I’ve met since being here.  I’ve enjoyed the attempts to learn Italian beyond being able to request pizza and bierra, or pasta and vino rosso. 

I also was given the opportunity to do another field visit to our lay missionary in Ghana.  He’s also amazing – he had returned to Ghana for his second commitment to working with the Liberian refugees, especially children with disabilities and malnutrition.  I was there 3 years ago when he first arrived and had his first 6 months in Ghana, then visited him a little over a year into his commitment for the field support visit I mentioned above, and saw him again last year in the US when he was back on leave.  Now, to see him in action again – he’s such a natural part of the life, and his heart is with the children and people where he is living and working.    
Joe, with one of his beautiful kids -- Sharon

All around – it was a good, inspiring and motivating visit for me.  Of course I took some vacation time to see my friends and the projects where I had been over the years:

me with Jethro, who I've written about, at Harmony Center

- -and (of course) there will soon be a blog entry about the visit, because (of course) there are a few people I’m still hoping to help with education and have no idea where to turn (as usual).

I’m a little envious of people in the US with this spectacular winter they’re having.  Wow.  Here, on 16 February, I sit on the floor, bare feet and window open.  Yesterday I had a picnic on a shore of a lake just outside of Rome.  It’s an unusually warm winter here.  My big decisions this winter have been, “hmm, how wide should I leave my window open today?”  I love the wintery winters of Wisconsin (OK, spring-like winter in Rome is also OK, but ….), where you run the risk of your nose freezing and falling off your face within 6 minutes of stepping outside.  It’s like how I remember winter from growing up, but…my memories could be off – maybe it was just a few days every year that were like that, and those wintery, blustery days stand out and override all the other days.  Anyway …. Enjoy.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


We always talk about the importance of education, of completing high school (at the very least) and of moving onto higher education, if possible.  Most people value education, not just in the US, but around the world.  Throughout the 15 years I lived and worked in W. Africa, in a variety of settings (very much in the countryside, in small towns, and in larger cities), education is a concern many people came to talk with me about.  They worried how they’d pay school fees for their kids, they worried about completing their own high school education, they wanted to take some technical classes (computer/anything to give them additional knowledge and skills), they wanted vocational training (sewing, shoe making, etc.) - - they wanted to learn!  They wanted opportunities!  And, as in the US, it’s expensive and not easy to meet those expenses.  Elementary school requires uniforms and other hidden fees; high school also has uniforms, books, other supplies and exam fees; university – where to start?; vocational training – an entire list of supplies that are needed.

I’ve been back in the US for a year and a half, and there are still a handful of people who, with some help that came through me thanks to friends, family and other donors, started school while I was there.  We started a process, and their dream (and my dream) is to finish that process.  But, it’s a struggle.  Every few months, I get reminders that fees are due.  I feel the weight of these dreams – but I’m thinking dreams should lift us up and carry us away.  I’m feeling not just weighted down, but sinking.  Where and how will I find what’s needed this time?  In addition, over the past few years there have been a handful of other people who have asked about going on with school, one who even has started to follow this dream - - - but, I’ve told them there’s nothing I can do.  I’m totally jammed with the handful of people who are finishing.  Anyway . . . these are the dreams – to be able to take care of their kids, fulfill their potential, and live their lives with dignity.

I could give several specific stories of people who dream of bringing their lives forward through education – and some are ones I’ve written about before – but I’ll only give two examples – familiar examples (if you’ve read the blog before).

Benedict, about whom I’ve written a few times, is the guy I mention above who has started to pursue his education with money he had in savings and a donation I’d received.  But, that’s gotten him through one semester, and the beginning of semester 2.  And now he’s jammed.  He’s getting to the time when they’re putting people out of the school for not paying the balance of the tuition, and at the same time confronting them with exam fees. Then there’s Jethro, who I’ve also written about before – and he’s been doing some amazing things with the education he’s received so far – yet, he still has a couple more payments to come up with before he finishes.  

I also want to give an update and education example about Samuel – someone I have known for 20 years.  He was a refugee in Cote d’Ivoire when I met him, and then also in Ghana when trouble came to Cote d’Ivoire.  His dream was to complete high school – and we were able to help him to do that.  It wasn’t easy for him – he definitely pulled his weight in earning his own upkeep and other education-related expenses.  When we were once again together a decade later in Ghana, his dream was to complete University.  He’d started it on his own while employed at the embassy and living in Cote d’Ivoire, but that dream crashed down when he had to flee due to the turmoil in Cote d’Ivoire.  I wrote about him in my blog, and a friend responded, helping him to go onto university in Ghana and complete his education. 
This picture was taken with his wife last year, when I was doing a field visit to our lay missionaries in Liberia.  Samuel and his wife moved back to Liberia when he completed his university education.  He found a job in a development agency and with his salary was able to pay for his wife to complete her university education in Liberia.  The agency he works with helps women in development, giving small business loans.  His wife is a social worker, focusing on abused and orphaned children.  This is what education does.  It allows people to build up their country and to touch lives and make a difference.

benedict info

Benedict had been helping the Dutch lay missionaries when I arrived in Ghana in 2004.  He had been working in Colinda’s house – she’s the one I took over from and also inherited the house from when I moved there.   When Colinda left for Accra, I didn’t want Benedict to be out of a job, so he helped to clean the house, do laundry, make sure the polytank had water in it and that there were buckets of water in the house for showering and flushing toilet.  He came by the house 2 or 3 days a week – I rarely saw him since I left early and came home after he was gone, but he helped a lot and made it possible for me to do things I did because I didn’t need to take time for cleaning the house, washing clothes, even doing some of the marketing. 

Colinda ended up finding that she wasn’t satisfied with helpers who were available in Accra, so Benedict ended up going a couple of days a week to help her.  Then another Dutch came to the same village I was in, and Benedict ended up helping her with a few things, as well.  Anyway, over the years he continued to help the lay missionaries in that way.  He was always trustworthy, hardworking, and dedicated.

When I moved back to Accra and Hope for Life in 2009, it was time that Colinda and the other Dutch lay missionary were leaving, so Benedict was out of a job.  He began to help out at Hope for Life with things I wanted to get done – like the vegetable garden, maintenance on the house, laundry, etc.

Over all these years of helping out the lay missionaries, he’s never had the chance to go to school and further his education.  He’s been able to save up some money and also make a few connections, and this past year he started school to study oil and gas processing.  At this point he’s a little jammed for completing the school fees needed for this term.  He has part of it, but there still remains $1,175 that he needs to pay, as soon as possible so he can take the upcoming exams.

Then there are 3 more years left to the course.  Each year is two terms, with each term costing $750 – so, $1,500 each school-year (this term is higher because of exams.  He’s been a help and dedicated to the lay missionaries he’s been involved with over the years, and is hoping now to have the opportunity to go back to Liberia with a degree and the knowledge to start work in a growing field.  I would love to be able to help him towards achieving this goal.