Monday, August 29, 2011

Come Get Your Free Market Bags!! Each One Comes with an Amazing Story!!


What a successful day on a beautiful Saturday morning in downtown Detroit!! The Hand Up 4 East Africa team gave away 150 re-usable bags in only 3 hours time.  It's never easy setting up in a public space and trying to get the attention of passers by...hollering about giving away something for free. Soliciting attention with the promise of a free gift is often cause for question, but given the short time the bags were in our possession, it seemed to work. Our first location was just off the main entrance of Shed 2.  However, to be closer to foot traffic, we moved our location to the parking lot across the street. This way people would have to go out of their way to avoid us.

The word "free" seems to carry a certain harmonic to it, as people will turn on a dime to see what is being given out. Saturday was no exception, but we certainly had our skeptics.  However, for those who's eyes caught our beautiful banner (Thanks, Jessica!!!) or ears tuned to the sweet sound of complimentary goodies, they stopped, most sometimes dead in their tracks. They were sincerely interested in what was going on, who we are, and what we were doing at the market. Almost as if the "free" bag didn't matter anymore.

This was a truly humbling experience for the Hand Up 4 East Africa team. Of course we gave our spiel, our 10 second version of our story recounting why we decided to walk, and why we were visiting the market.  This interaction, albeit brief, aimed to spread the word to those who share the same level of social awareness. We had people that were genuinely intrigued that such a project existed, and they wanted to know more.  People were sharing stories of their own, getting us motivated. You could see the amazement in some peoples eyes and many wanted to help. Whether a small donation, signing up for our email list, or even making a promise to spread the word around Eastern Market, each made a meaningful contribution to our efforts.

The Hand Up 4 East Africa team wants to thank everybody who took a moment out of their busy day to listen to our story.  We reached out and you received us. Our message was heard, and that's all we could ask for.  We even gave our last bag to Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, helping him pile in his freshly bought produce in the middle of traffic on Winder Street.  We finished the day truly fulfilled, leaving a good impression that was evident in the many smiling faces, wishing us good luck on our walk.

                                                     HAND UP 4 EAST AFRICA!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Relief, Recovery and Renewal

A few weekends ago, in the northwestern corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula, I stood atop the 450 ft drop of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes gazing down at the shores of Lake Michigan. I had just finished the grueling climb. Breathing deep to catch my breath, I watched the sun’s reflections dance across the breaking waves of a vast supply of fresh water.
Excited by adrenaline and a sense of physical triumph, I felt a thrill that masked my exhaustion. My heart pulsed proudly. The rest of my weekend would be filled with long bike rides and trail runs, one physically strenuous activity after another.
I relish physical challenge. I push my body through sweat and pain for pleasure. The accomplishment of the finish feels almost like the success of survival.
I paused as I panted for a moment of gratitude. I felt a sense of thankfulness that I was able choose to exhaust my body to it bones. I reflected on the current conditions in East Africa that are wearing on individuals in ways I could never imagine, ways I would never desire for myself. I don’t have to walk across Michigan to survive, but I walk for those who are doing so to outlive drought.
Benti and her family walked for more than 30 days to reach the displacement camp in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, where they now live in this makeshift shelter alongside thousands of others. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
The concerns that I have are far from desperate. My worries are meager, and seem less and less substantial held up against those of pastoralists, herders, husbands, mothers, children, business owners, and the like, all confronting drought with every last bit of their body’s energy and emotional stamina.
In just a few short weeks, we’ll walk. We’ll exert our energy—challenging ourselves emotionally, mentally, and physically. But drought won’t make us do it, and drought won’t be working against us. We will be making a small sacrifice for a region and its people enduring grave conditions and walking to survive. Our walk is symbolic, yet minimally so.
The situation in East Africa has been termed a humanitarian and human rights crisis. A vulnerable people are confronting hunger and displacement with a staying spirit. Somalis face merciless militants which confiscate their crop, their herds, and even their children. The humanitarian and human rights crisis is now burgeoning into a health crisis as crowded camps and medical sites are prime conditions for the spread of disease.
Disease spreads through tightly packed camps. Benti's  five-year-old son, Mohammad Duk has the measles. His sister, Crokina, coughs beside him, a tell-tale sign that infection is spreading.
As Mercy Corps (the recipient of our fundraising efforts) responds to the crisis, they do so in a way that preserves the dignity of these people, reinforces their capacity to provide for themselves and their families even in a time of difficulty. To salvage their self-worth and restore confidence in their own ability to survive, Mercy Corps is implementing programs and strategies to empower individuals and families with opportunities for self-generated recovery.

Among other things, cash-for-work programs are employed to provide vital income that not only keeps families fed, but helps sustain the pride in providing for one’s kin. Further, Mercy Corps is implementing strategies to support the hard hit herding economy. Traders are given credit to purchase animals that cannot survive, and the meat is subsequently used to feed the hungry. As education and development efforts accompany relief and aid, pressing needs are addressed while long term challenges are attended to at their root. Aid is transient, education and empowerment is lasting.
Though many challenges exist, the story of pain and relentless drought can turn to relief, recovery and renewal. We walk for a just and sustainable recovery.

Help Mercy Corps continue their work for justice, stability, and resilience in East African communities. The time is critical, and the opportunity is ours to respond.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Focusing on the meaning of the steps, rather than the owners of the feet

The first week since launching the Hand Up 4 East Africa project was a fast paced and powerful week. We have received an out pouring of support and encouragement from so many people. We also had some major accomplishments towards our mission of raising awareness and funds for the victims of the drought in East Africa:
  1. Thanks to all of your support, in less than a week you helped Hand Up 4 East Africa blow past $5,000 in funds raised for the victims of the drought in East Africa
  2. Again thanks to you, people are finding their way to our Twitter and Facebook page. There they are getting vital information about the affects of the drought, and learning about our walk in solidarity with the victims 
  3. Hand Up 4 East Africa had several photos snapped by (more about this below) 
  4. Hand Up 4 East Africa recorded and almost finished editing an informational video about the challenges in East Africa, the critical need for aid, the walk we will embark on and the hope that can be achieved with your support 
  5. Finally, Hand Up 4 East Africa talked with many supportive Detroit-based establishments (Cass Cafe, Woodbridge Pub, International Institute, MoCAD, Eastern Market and many more), a plethora of uber supportive Detroiters and one news outlet,, who featured a story about our walk
The photos we took were meant to keep some anonymity of the Hand Up 4 East Africa team because the walk isn't about us, it is about victims of drought. The journey we will take from Holland to Detroit is meant to be symbolic, a demonstration of the trek that starving women and children are forced to take to survive. Jenny Whalen, editor of the Macomb Twp., put it best when she explained, "It is because of this focus on the meaning of the steps, rather than the owners of the feet, that the project's publicity photos are faceless."

You can help! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. There you will find vital information about the challenges in East Africa, updates on our preparation, and reports from our journey across Michigan in solidarity.
We walk for East Africa!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why 'Hand Up 4 East Africa'?

Why 'Hand Up 4 East Africa'?
Having lived and worked in Kenya, and traveled throughout Ethiopia last year I have been especially moved by the devastating famine in East Africa.  Moved to find a way to raise awareness and the much needed funds for the victims, the starving women and children forced to walk countless miles in search of food and aid.  

How can we Help?
My emotional reaction to the images being reported on a few news outlets generated thoughts about how we can help.  I contacted my sister, and then Brian, and we threw ideas at each other.  We had a clear mission to raise awareness about the victims of the famine, and decided to make it more real to us and those around us by embarking on something that ONLY represented the struggle the East Africans were enduring.  After several ideas and discussions, we decided that since starving women and children are trekking countless miles in search of food and aid, walking would be the best representation of the current crisis.  And since their trek is arduous we needed to do something arduous.  We decide on crossing Michigan from Holland (on the west side of the state, nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan) to Detroit (the city that moved the world, on the eastern edge of the mitten shaped state).  

The Route
The needs are now, so we needed to act with urgency. To begin our project, we needed to come up with a theme and campaign that friends, family and new friends could support and learn from. Since I was working in St. Louis, Jessica in Detroit, MI and Brian in Ann Arbor, MI, we used a new collaboration tool Google + hangout along with Google Docs to have a three way video conference and document/update ideas in real time.  The question was: Are we committed? The quick answer was.....YES!  The next thing to consider was, what should our campaign be called.   As Michiganders we always carry the map of our home state wherever we go...our hand.  The state of Michigan (at least the lower offense, Yoopers) looks like a mitten so we always refer to our hand to show where we are from in Michigan.  It thus came naturally, since we were walking across the state, that we would call the fundraising campaign "Hand Up 4 East Africa". That way we'd always have a map to inform friends of our route.

So we will walk....traversing Michigan...roughly 168 miles starting September 8, 2011 in the hope that we can raise awareness of the famine's victims and to raise funds to provide the urgent and critical aid.  Please follow our journey and please share information about the famine with your friends and family. This way, united we can support those in East Africa affected by the worst drought in 60 years.  

We walk as one people

Hand Up 4 East Africa Team

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Walking for Action

Actions speak louder than words.  A phrase I've heard since I was little, but maybe could never put into context, now bears weight it hadn't before.  We're not unaware of crisis: Katrina, the earthquakes in Argentina and Haiti, floods in Pakistan, and I'm sure most of us remember the recently devastating tsunami that ravaged the Japanese coast.  I donated to all, knowing my resourses were needed more by others.  I wanted to leave and go volunteer.  I applied for habitat for humanity relief in Haiti and only recently I received an e-mail indicating that they were accepting volunteers, but with limitations.  I spent 2.5yrs living in Japan, the first place I have ever lived abroad, and after the tsunami, with images and videos burned in my memory, I thought about how I could help.

I've been fortunate to travel to the Horn of Africa; Ethiopia in particular.  It's one of the most untouched places on the planet, making it one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever traveled.  Over a span of 1.5wks Matt and I trekked though Addis, Bahir Dar, Gondar, and through the Simien Mountains.  There were days that I went without showering.  Nights spent wrapped like a mummy in my blanket to keep the mosquitoes away. All my daily routines became a struggle but still nothing compared to what the people of the Horn of Africa deal with everyday and what they are facing now.  Due to the worse drought in 60yrs, the displaced Somalian refugees that have flooded Kenya and Ethiopia will threaten to strain current conditions that were at a critical state beforehand.  I know that our trek across Michigan will not even come close to what some of the Somalian refugees experienced. Days without basic necessities, terrible heat; I even read one story of a women who walked 22 days and gave birth after arriving to a refugee camp (

Matt and I were once told an old Ethiopian proverb during our trek through the Simien Mountainns. "The foot that is restless, will tread on a turd", said our tour guide.  Walking with a purpose seems an appropriate loose translation.  This may sound funny to a country where the majority of us are dependent on cars and have access to adequate transit, but walking is a way of life in Africa, often the only means of transportation.  This time, however, our walk has a purpose  - to support their walk, one they didn't choose...

Brian -
Hand Up 4 East Africa!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Decided to Walk

I got a call. I picked up, and the first thing to spill into my ear was, “I have an idea.” The next thing I knew a small group of us felt the energy escalating. We met by video chat, talking fast and building on a budding project.
Our hearts were stirred as we read updates from folks on the ground reporting on a dry and dismal land filled with sick and hurting people. With each update, the situation grew ever more grim. Personal stories were getting lost in the numbers as the pains of drought became the common experience of one East African after another.
As I swallowed a gulp of cool, clean water, I thought about the many struggling for hydration only to find sources that are turbid and sparse. I felt the disconnect—of my experience from theirs—and desired deeply and genuinely to identify with their situation, though knowing I never truly could.  
Leaving their wives and families, men depart with their livestock (their livelihood) in a desperate measure to save their dwindling herd. The family suffers separation. Women trek unimaginable distances with children in tow. The Children, their vulnerable little bodies, are malnourished and sick from dirty water. Conditions remain dry and hurt persists. We asked: What could we do to help?
In response, we decided to walk. Though recognizing ours could not compare, we decided to make a journey, to walk in solidarity with those who have no other choice than to leave land that is providing little more than hunger pains.  We walk for relief, but we also walk for lasting change in a region that needs more than respite. Help us help East African communities emerge from the current crisis with the tools and resources necessary to triumphantly confront rainless seasons to come.

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About Hand Up 4 E. Africa

My photo
We're a group of friends who need your help. Moved by the devastating conditions East Africans are facing, we decided to walk in solidarity with those walking in search of relief. We have a big goal of raising $10k for those facing the perils of drought. Funds raised will go to the relief and development work of Mercy Corps, an international agency working to build secure, productive, and just communities. As we walk 168 mile across Michigan, your support is vital to our success. Share our story, like us on Facebook, spread the word, donate a dollar, do what you can! The need is great, and we are thankful for your participation.