Thursday, October 28, 2010
Needless to say, I am in a very exciting, positive, and progressive place in my life right now. I can only take very partial credit for my fortunate circumstance, as there are numerous people who have enabled me to get here, through generosity of wealth and spirit, strong faith in good intentions, and unbending friendship. My mother Susan Morris is first and foremost for each of these attributes and, along with my father James Leflar, allowing me to never grow up as a cynic and to pursue learning as an endless progress. I would not so well situated here in California without the love and support of Johanna Cohen and her family, especially her daughter Stephanie and her roomates in Berkeley who have let me into their lives and with whom I look forward to many great times. Sara Leflar Wood-Kraft and John Kraft have also been extremely generous in taking me in at Rockridge and also allowing me the use of their car, for which I am endlessly grateful. I promise to make pizzas for all of you out here!
My aunt Maggie and my uncle Chuck in Brooklyn put me up and put me to work this summer, helping my transition back into American life by tossing me right in the deep end, which is how I like it!
My brothers Elliot and Jim have been constant confidants and I gain immeasurable strength from their support. Along with my father and myself, the four of us Leflar men often have very profound and probing email exchanges about our existential natures and how to use our gifted minds to their greatest potentials.
I was blessed to join almost all of my paternal cousins for Jess' wedding in March, and my maternal side is about to be blessed with the first member of a new generation, the news coming out today that it's to be a little Bentson boy!
I have friends from high school, friends from Sewanee, friends from Prague, and friends from Malawi with whom I will never lose touch, as we have shared and continue to share such glorious life-affirming times together. We are all destined for greatness.
For your love, your laughter, and the strokes of brilliance possessed by each and every one of you, thank you.
Monday, August 10, 2009
So in more news of the boNGO persuasion, we are still collecting funds and materials in preparation for our annual two week Early Childhood Development teacher-training. We've been involved in an ongoing discourse with UNICEF Malawi to the purpose of forming a partnership to support our teacher-training program for the long-term. The Malawian country director for UNICEF has been very positive with her feedback, and we are confident (albeit patient!) that this will be the beginning of a sustainable future in quality education for Malawi's teachers and children.
Within our partner community Tiyende Pamodzi, the platform for internalized and self-initiated development continues to strengthen. In their early childhood development programs, the main challenge they still face is a lack of proper structures to house school lessons. boNGO is still awaiting feedback from the U.S. Ambassador to Malawi's Self-help Fund, to whom we submitted a proposal for funds to build a new model preschool center with this community. We submitted this proposal in April of this year and are waiting for the U.S. Congress to pass its aid budget for Africa so that the U.S. Embassy in Malawi can issue its grants. In the meantime, Tiyende Pamdodzi community members are very eager to begin construction of the center and have organized tons of sand, quarry stone, building stones, and are wanting to mold and burn bricks to have everything completely ready.
In spite of this challenge, the recent successes at their preschool centers have been the provision of food to all children in the centers, quality training provided for the teachers, continuing monitoring and evaluation, support from the parents and the committee, and a good working relationship between partners. As well, the maize mill business which we helped this community to initiate has been one of the most successful programs the community has ever seen. Even though the mill has had its troubles with breakdowns and maintenance, the profits from the business have allowed the teachers at the community childcare centers to earn financial appreciation for the first time and for food to be purchased to feed the schoolchildren. The mill has been in operation for two years now, completely managed, operated, and maintained by the community itself.
The newest addition to our preschool teacher-training program is Mwaiwathu CBCC set up by the Fisherman's Rest Trust. The trust has supported the CBCC in identifying teachers, establishing an Executive Committee and training them in governance and management. They now want to set up an income generating activity of their own in order to secure the financial future of their school, so they are currently researching potential businesses to determine which may be most viable.
At the Umodzi-Mbame Community, host of boNGO's model preschool and teacher-training center, the Executive Committee is organizing materials to build new toilets for the center. With approval and a design from the Social Welfare Office, they are now consulting the Glass House for permaculture advice towards using and designing eco-friendly toilets.
Our after school youth program at Umodzi-Mbame, the Children's Corner, has been having some very interesting discussions amongst themselves and with their teacher-assistants. The topics of these discussions have ranged from which is better: to live in town or in the village, to be a man or a woman, to be black or white, to be educated or not, and more. These discussions are always lively and thought-provoking for the kids and spectators alike, I'll soon be sharing more details from these debates with you all.
I must here say how truly lucky we are at boNGO to have our Malawi Program Director Justin Namizinga. He is the hardest working and most sincerely and generously ambitious man I have perhaps ever met. He is the person responsible for keeping boNGO alive and growing these past years, so I feel like announcing to the world what a gem he is. Thank you Justin!
Thank you as well to all our friends out there who keep in touch with our efforts here in Malawi and around the world. boNGO is now registered in Switzerland and in the Czech Republic, so please click on the links to find out how you can get involved in these countries.
Love to you all,
Sunday, August 9, 2009
When I last wrote, I mentioned John Perkins' book about the history of the modern American global empire. However sinister the intentions of the empire, I don't want to advocate anti-Americanism. Just the opposite, to be sure. As more and more information is now surfacing which exposes the truth about our recent wars and foreign trade deals, Americans are now, more than ever, reflecting on our bad practices and taking action to right our past wrongs. I see the USA as being a very large part of the driving force which carries human innovation and technology forward, for better and for worse. It is now the most dynamic time in the States since the '60's, with Obama in office and his grassroots movement for change being practiced all over the country. I have never been prouder to be an American since last year's election and the months that let up to it. The times they are a changin', that is for sure, and what a glorious time to be alive it is!
Sunday, August 2, 2009
August 2nd, 2009
Soooooo, the first post was boNGO speaking and I'd like this one to actually be me, dave, speaking. I've sent twenty notices throughout my friends and family on facebook about this blog, so i hope that perchance some of you will be reading this :-) Rather than write pompous assertions in a stuffy tone, it would feel much better to speak with each of you directly, as if we are all together around a fireplace or a campfire. Here in Malawi we host the 'Open boNGO Development Forum', which is for people from all over the world, from all walks of life to get together and discuss what works and especially what doesn't work in development practices here and abroad. I would love to see any feedback to what I share here, and to open up a platform for discussion and even action on behalf of any progress we make. This of course requires your participation, so in advance: thank you for sharing!
I have not been doing a proper job of sharing stories and experiences from our work with boNGO, so this blog/newsletter/platform can also be a great way to broadcast everything we have going on the ground here in Malawi as well as to hear from you fellow explorers of progress what's going on in your corner of the globe. I will post links to all the good news and interesting information I come across and want to share, and please you all help yourselves if you have relevant and non-vulgar material to post.
I'll start by mentioning some books I've been poring over lately:
Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. Autobiography detailing his involvement in manipulating governments around the world, via overestimated economic forecasts, military coups and assassinations, into immeasurable debts, which are then repaid in natural resources. Valuable insight for Americans into how the US's foreign policy is presented and perceived at home versus abroad.
The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams. The premise of this book is that we are only human in contact and conviviality with that which is not human. By separating ourselves from the natural world in favor of a more isolated and synthetic human existence, we are losing our ability to communicate at a more synaesthetic, sensuous level. Even our writing system has detached us from the undercurrent of life that goes on around us, focusing on words as ideas rather than the fountain of inspiration that has always existed in nature.
Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. The hardest book I've ever read. This is the third time I've tried reading it now, as for me it demands very sincere intentions, actions, and words in its practice, and as I'm far from perfect it's a mighty challenge! Still, it's one of those things I want to learn the hard way.
The next three books I gave to my friend Katie for nursing me through my malaria. She told me she wishes she read more, so to help her get back into it at the local second-hand bookshop I found the three books I remember most from my childhood:
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. Perhaps the first book my parents ever read to me. Follows young Harold as he follows the moon, inventing his landscape and his journey using his purple crayon.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia. Possibly the second book my parents ever read to me. The life of a leaf in the park as he experiences the changes of the seasons. Brilliant for understanding loss and change.
Something Under the Bed is Drooling by Bill Waterson. Any explanation needed here? If you haven't yet read any Calvin & Hobbes I recommend you find some soon soon and remember what it's like to be a devious kid.
Feel free to share any thoughts y'all may have on these books and to share any good reads you have as well!
To share some personal experience with you, after spending the other week recovering from malaria, I've unfortunately been laid out on the floor all this past week having pinched a nerve in my back and lost the feeling in my legs. I'm now up and about and getting the feeling back, my gait somewhere between that of a baby and that of an old man, which I guess is right about where I am in life right now.
Meanwhile, our Malawi Program Director Justin Namizinga (his surname translates to 'BOOM!') has been very busy closing the school term and getting ready for our upcoming big annual teacher-training. Let me be honest here with you folks, we've been financially surviving on very little here in our operations. This is of course made easier by our community-centered approach, which allows much of the initiative to be supplied at the grassroots level, more sustainably so as well as fiscally responsible. For over a year and a half now much of our running costs have been supplied by our friend Antoine, and I'd like to take a moment here to thank him immensely for keeping us afloat and helping to expand our partner communities and the reach of children we can educate. Another million thank you's to everyone else who has contributed to the progress of our work here in Malawi and around the world! And please, if anyone is feeling generous today, we can certainly use help preparing to train 50+ new teachers in holistic, localized early childhood development. Please click here to make a donation!
Life, Love, and Learning,
Saturday, August 1, 2009
July 31st, 2009
Hello to all our friends and family of boNGO out there across the globe and floating up there in outer space! This is boNGO Director David Leflar here to tell you about some real down-to-earth grassroots efforts going on here in Malawi.
Just this past week at the Umodzi-Mbame Community Based Organization our Model Preschool finished its final term of the year. The closing ceremony was very well attended by 78 parents representing the 80 registered schoolchildren, as well as members of the CBO Executive Committee and the School Committee, and our friend and partner Duncan from DAPP. The community support at the preschool has been consistently increasing over the years and we were pleased to hear in a speech from special guest and local village headman Amfumu Juma. 'This is not my structure or somebody’s, but its for all of us and its our own development here and am so happy to see you all here while our children are closing school today and be available for any development activity to take place here and support it.' This is very good news to hear from Amfumu Juma as this school started out with land-ownership issues within the local village and, after inviting Blantyre District Commissioner Charles Mkhanga to hear the case last November, in this village the development is one step closer to being in the hands and minds of its community. As we continue our partnership with this community, the host of boNGO's Model Preschool and Teacher-Training Center, we rely on our friends and family around the world to help us and all our partner communities to pursue a vision of a sustainable world full of joy. Click here for some ways in which you can help support!
The kids may be on school break but its time for 50 teachers to participate in our annual Early Childhood Development (ECD) Training in partnership with UNICEF and the Office of Social Welfare in Malawi. As we are working hard to gain financial support from UNICEF Malawi for this training and it's follow-up Monitoring and Evaluation, our Program Director Justin Namizinga and I are busy organizing all the necessary materials to make this training our biggest and most expansive yet. For the fourth consecutive year, this two-week training will bring the fundamental principles of Early Childhood Development to active community teachers and childcare givers, all of whom have full classes of children but no formal training. These teachers come from our ever-expanding catchment area of Community Based Childcare Centers stretching out from the Umodzi-Mbame Model Childcare Center, now including teachers from two new districts outside of Blantyre! The training is based on boNGO's ECD Manual which is throughout the year consistently revised and practiced by our corps of active trained teachers as well as being further adapted to local culture and available materials. This training has long been made possible through the financial support of our initial grant to come to Malawi, though for the past year boNGO has viably been operating from the support of the international donor community: the people around the world who recognize the inequalities of human life on earth, and the true disadvantages imposed by the 'have's' upon the 'have-not's': this is of course you, our friends and family in every corner of the globe, who is working to resolve this injustice in our lives through honest words and genuine deeds. Please click here to make a financial contribution to boNGO!
To be sure, development begins in your own home, in your own community. Set an example, be a good role-model. Help those who are suffering needlessly, so that they may be able to help themselves. Look deeper into how your life, your family, your community, and your country are governed and maintained. If you don't like what you see, get involved and help make a difference!