Working in Sao Tome & Principe, Africa
Good fortune gave us the chance to work in the western African gulf area. Long, difficult tasks involving tower and building construction, equipment installation, and training for the local agencies. Great opportunity for important work. Collaterally, local folks welcomed us and let us be part of their world. That was the best part of it, not surprisingly. It was life-changing for us all. Most of the photos here were taken in the between times when we were not eyebrow deep in our work.
As I made my way along the path, these fine young men (pictured above, left) met me with smiles and polite conversation. We were working in São Tomé and Principe, a small African country in the Gulf of Guinea. After almost a dozen work trips to the region, and after making friends in the community, I begin to grasp the world these fellows live in. It bears little resemblance to mine except for its magnificent humanity.
This brother and sister (pictured right) are carrying laundry to the river which you can see in the rainy-day background. I gave them a ride the last couple of miles, something that they appreciated; it's a long walk from their home. Bright, engaging, we chatted about kid things , as much as my rudimentary Portuguese would allow.
Public schooling is mandatory through the 6th grade, but the path is a difficult one for the children and their families. São Tomé and Principe is a young country, independent since the '70's and struggling economically, having recently emerged from the influence of the Communist bloc. Funding for public education (teachers) is just now beginning to stabilize. Schools are crowded. Most if not all hold two sessions from early morning to late afternoon. A school that seats around 300 has 540 enrolled. Teachers work long days and the children receive only the basics.
In an informal meeting with IMF team members ('08), funding for public school was described as 'not yet adequately addressed' by the government's budget process. Children had few supplies and fewer books, perhaps none for their grade level through '09. Workbooks have appeared this year (2010) for the classes and teachers to use.
Seen here on Children's Day '08 (left), students from Almas Elementary School celebrate with their teachers and families; it's a special day in most African countries, they tell me. Folks were surprised that we don't do the same in the U.S.
The children seem well balanced, confident, family oriented, and community aware. The country's small size keeps relatives in close proximity, and family ties are naturally strong. Everyone in a community will know pretty much everyone else by name and family and history.
The social climate reminds me of my childhood years in a small town. People are involved in each other's lives, they know their neighbors and seem to care about them. Children seem to recognize adults as overseers of their lives. A former Portuguese colony, the folks are generally Christian, with both Catholic and Protestant churches in evidence in the communities and in the culture. There is little violence and little crime. Everybody works hard.
Laundry at the river is a day-long event. I struck up a conversation with this lady (right) and her young children as they took a lunch break; I asked her what she was eating. “It's fish and vegetables and mangoes; want some?” It wasn't bad.
I arrived in Africa for the first time in June '07; the picture (right) is from my second or third day in country. I was surprised to have my world view challenged so dramatically. My wife and daughter and I were fortunate enough to live overseas as part of my first career; Spain and Europe, Japan and the western Pacific, Cuba, all shaped our thinking to some degree. In Africa for the first time, though, and I'm woefully ignorant. Narratives that follow (listed in the history sidebars) are each encounters with folks in Africa along with our changing understanding.
Precious friends from a dozen trips
to their country.
So what are we going to do with what we know?
Tell the rich folks to quit being so full of themselves and so impressed with their own possessions, which are here today and gone tomorrow. It's not their merit that made them wealthy and others less so. Tell them to go after God who is generous to us all - and tell them to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasure that will last, gaining life that is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19