A desperate family tableau

I’m a self-confessed travel addict but no matter how much one enjoys the experience of visiting new places (or revisiting “old” ones), travel does come with its ups and downs…in the case of the Paris metro, there’s lots of ups and downs in the ubiquitous stairs, especially when carrying luggage.

However some experiences reach deep into our hearts and minds.

As we walked up the hill from our wonderful hotel in Istanbul, we were confronted by a 2014 “holy family” tableau which has seared itself into my mind. “Syria, Syria, food, food” he said, waving a pre-printed sign in a plastic sleeve. His face was gaunt and his eyes desperate. Beside him his wife sat with a blank gaze, traumatised by lack of food or the things she’s seen in their country’s conflict. Their daughter, a toddler, sat docilely on her mother’s lap. Everything about them spoke of hunger, trauma and desperation.

Inured to rounds of importuning beggars we initially walked past them but this little family group was different. Their hopelessness spoke volumes and the next thing I was sobbing in tears. We turned back, giving them a donation with the universal sign of food and eating.

On our return a few hours later, they were in the same place, but now the toddler sat on the footpath, looking more animated and nibbling on a simit, a kind of Turkish roll available from mobile stalls for about 1 Turkish lira or 50 cents. Once again we turned back and gave them another donation.

We’re great believers in Kiva and have been part of Genealogists for Families since it was set up by Judy Webster. It makes a difference to those who’ve made steps towards independence and helps them protect the most valuable thing in all our lives – our families.

But how does a family like this one of Syrian refugees ever get to that stage of semi-independence? They are probably among those sleeping rough under the bushes and trees near the waterfront. Most likely they were in the only clothes they owned. You can’t fake the desperation in their eyes and faces…I have no doubt in my mind their circumstances were drastic. How will they ever break loose from this cycle of homelessness and despair? Even a basic job like collecting recyclables from the rubbish bins requires a large bag and trolley in which to carry them. And there we were, having spent what to them was a life’s fortune on a five week trip, buying gifts for our own family and complaining about the amount of luggage we had.

That tableau will remain in my memory for a very long time to come: the impact of war and conflict on the ordinary person.

This post is dedicated to my blogging friend Catherine Crout-Habel from the Seeing Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family blog. Catherine passed on to the land of her ancestors around the time we returned home. I’d never met her in person but felt I knew her from her intelligent and humorous posts. She was a woman who cared deeply for the underprivileged and I’m confident this experience of ours would have resonated with her.

Kenya and Kiva

Image purchased from Shutterstock.

Image purchased from Shutterstock.

Have wondering where I’d vanished to? We have been adventuring in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, spending time with two of our daughters, one of whom lives in Nairobi, and seeing all sorts of wonderful animals from A to Z. We had a great time of it but must admit to being a little weary after the adventures.

We found the Kenyan people so friendly and engaging, and also very keen to better their lot in life. We who are used to conventional shops for all our necessities, or even our wants, were amazed by the sheer variety of products available on the roadside, each little stall or activity run by an enterprising individual. Admittedly we had flash-backs in part to visits to Bali over the road-side furniture manufacturing and stalls, but there were still significant differences. Whole stretches of footpaths had become garden pot sales areas, or mini (or not-so-mini) plant nurseries.

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Two dozen roses for about $5 is a good deal.

The abundance of roadside flower stalls with utterly magnificent roses and all manner of cut flowers was such a temptation, and while as a tourist one can’t usually take advantage of such things unless staying put for a few days, we were spoiled by seeing great arrays of them in our daughter’s home, and for a ridiculously cheap cost. Did you know that many of the flowers you see on display in Europe’s hotels and restaurants come from Kenya, especially near Lake Naivasha where the poly-tunnels are huge? Neither did I until the impact of the Nairobi airport fire made it clear.

The airport fire occurred about a month before we were due to arrive. It was certainly different to be processed by immigration in a marquee, though by the time we returned from Zanzibar, the newly built multi-story car park had been transformed into a very efficient arrivals hall. Having checked in, cleared immigration, and with “no guns beyond this point, on our outgoing flights, we headed for our departure lounge, which for each flight remained in a marquee or large tent, rather making me wish I’d dressed more casually given the heat in the confined space. We were taken by the inspirational signage near the baggage bays saying things like “every bag you lift raises Kenya up”. Not sure the men who unloaded the bags the first day were quite “on the page” with that one though <smile>. Kiva1

Business is done in all sorts of places, with little grocery and clothes shops everywhere. I saw quite a few micro-finance lenders’ offices which of course reminded me of Kiva. I’ve previously been reluctant to provide loans to those simply on-selling goods, but now I realise just how critical this is for people’s economic survival. I’ve also wondered from time to time why teachers might be applying for loans when they already had good jobs. That question was answered for me by a friend who is working as a teacher’s aide in Uganda. The monthly salary is an absurdly low amount and much lower than other career options. A gardener in a unit complex might have a reliable job, but his wages are very low and any medical expense, or the cost of a family funeral, will play havoc with the family’s budget and savings.

The impact of Jomo Kenyatta airport's fire.

The impact of Jomo Kenyatta airport’s fire.

And so, with a fair bit of credit in my Kiva account from repaid loans, I’ve made several loans to hard-working Kenyans. If you feel motivated to join Kiva, you don’t have to support Kenyan loans, but do have a look at the Genealogists for Families Team to see just what great work has been done, in a very short period of time. Full credit to Judy Webster for setting up this team in honour of her father.

Another reason for providing our support for Kenyans on Kiva right now, is that they will be doing it tough as the economic impact of the Westside mall terrorist attack hits home. Sadly it’s likely that it will also impact tourism numbers to the country and ordinary Kenyans, working hard to provide for their families, will suffer. We were in Nairobi, staying less than 500 metres away, when the assault took place so it was very much “there but for the Grace of God” for us. Sadly 67, or more, people were not so fortunate. The knock-on effect will be huge as people curtail their trips to the shops and stay out for shorter times. Everyday Kenyans rallied to support those injured in the attack, or the families of those who were killed, with their prayers, support and blood donations, irrespective of their religious affiliations.

Mr Cassmob and one of our Samburu guides, Anthony.

Mr Cassmob and one of our Samburu guides, Anthony.

Our final safari, to Samburu, overlapped with the final days of the siege and the guides were already concerned about the impact on their livelihood. We can honestly say that the siege did not ruin our enjoyment of Kenya and all it has to offer.

Ordinary Kenyans were so inspiring with their commitment to learning more (languages, skills etc) and improving their lives. We would visit again tomorrow – after we catch up on our sleep.

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So if you’re on Kiva, or if you’ve been thinking about joining, why not provide your support to Kenya at this difficult time and show the people the world is thinking of them. The image on my sidebar will take you to Genealogists for Families.

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting photos and stories from our Kenyan travel on my other blog, Tropical Territory and Travels, and you’ll soon see why we absolutely loved this amazing experience.

Genealogists for Families on Kiva – making a difference world-wide.

Since its inception in September 2011, the brainchild of Judy Webster in Queensland, the Genealogists for Families (GFF) team on Kiva has achieved:

  1. A growth to 168 team members lending money to help other families grow economically strong.
  2. 553 loans of $25 or more have been made
  3. A total of over $15,000 has been lent
  4. GFF won the 2011 GeneaBlog Award for ‘Best New Community Project’

It’s worth knowing that this is an entirely virtual community of genealogists and their friends or families, who have teamed up to make a difference.  Some of us know each other in the real world, some know each other through social media, others have never met.

This is where we’ve lent our money (click to enlarge):

 

So what’s so special about Kiva?

  1. Funds are lent to individuals or collaborative groups who are trying to establish themselves economically and support their family: this is grassroots assistance and really makes a difference.
  2. These are LOANS not donations, so when they’re repaid you can choose to relend or get your money back. I suspect most supporters would relend, so your money keeps on doing good, year after year, without you doing another thing, or potentially giving another $.
  3. These are loans through organisations which work to overcome poverty, establish savings plans, support entrepreneurial activity, and assist women and children to a better life.
  4. The repayment timelines vary depending on the business or industry (agriculture has longer timelines), so you can choose whether you want your loan to rollover quickly or slowly.
  5. You can choose whether to top up repayments as they come in and make new loans.
  6. $25 per lender is combined with $25 from other lenders to reach the borrower’s goal amount. Repayments are pro-rata at each payment point until the loan is fully repaid.
  7. There is a minimal default rate: these are people who really want to succeed. Very occasionally the payment might be a little late. We have made the decision that even if an occasional loan defaults, we can absorb that level of risk.
  8. You, the lender, gets to choose who you want to support, what type of business, in which country or region.
  9. You also get to feel a sense of ownership and a “feel good” glow!

How do people raise their loans:

  1. Nearly every lender seems to have a different strategy. Some are doing online marketing surveys to bring in money to support their lending.
  2. Others time their loans for significant family or family-history events eg birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries etc.
  3. Others tuck away their small coins until they reach $25.
  4. GFF gatherings donate a small amount per person and this goes to another loan.
  5. You can learn a little more about our lending team and why different team members have got behind the project on the Genealogists for Families blog page. While you’re there have a look at why Judy set up this team.

Please join us on Genealogists for Families, we’d love your company and we’re proud that our loans are making such a big difference to other families.

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 1: Blogs to inspire.

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has kicked off 2012 with a new series of weekly blogging prompts themed as 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy.  Week 1 is Blogs: Blogging is a great way for genealogists to share information with family members, potential cousins and each other. For which blog are you most thankful? Is it one of the earliest blogs you read, or a current one? What is special about the blog and why should others read it?

After some deliberation I decided that Judy Webster’s series of blogs are most deserving of my #1 Vote. In 2011, Judy set up the Genealogists for Families blog with the motto: We care about families (past, present and future). Judy inspired many of us to join her and make microloans through Kiva. By doing this we can have a great impact on the lives of families around the world who are struggling for economic and family independence.

However, Judy Webster has also been a force in Queensland (Australia) genealogy for many years. Her blog Queensland Genealogy builds on her earlier webpage in which she offers free indexes to a large number of resources held by the Queensland State Archives and tips us off on which ones are valuable to use. Anyone with family history interests in Queensland would benefit from following her blog or reading her book Tips for Queensland Research. She also hosts other blogs but for me, the Queensland Genealogy blog is leader of the stable.

The topic called for one blogger to be nominated but as the topic is Abundant Genealogy I can’t omit Geniaus who is a lynch-pin for Aussie genealogists providing linkages, pertinent posts and geneamemes and is “our” RootsTech blogger. I’m also thankful to Geniaus and Carole Riley for their supportive comments on my own blog during its infancy, which encouraged me to keep going.

And abundantly, those many bloggers whose stories I follow regularly, some of whom are listed here.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 50: Gift giving, Secret Santa and Kiva

The topic for Week 50 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Holiday gifts. Describe any memorable Christmas gifts you received as a child. As I was travelling I missed posting on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories on 10th December when the topic was Christmas Gifts: What were your favourite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors? As these topics dovetail neatly I’m going to combine them.

My bride doll Mary on display.

There are two Christmas gifts that stand out from my childhood – the beautiful bride doll I received when I was about seven I think. Then there was the year that I nagged my parents fairly remorselessly for a particular book published by the Readers Digest. It was all about animals and the natural world. Of course I received it and was very thrilled.

A good Christmas is always one with a book in the gift collection. I think most years I got a book of some sort from friends or family, some of which I have to this day despite the many moves of house and home. Within our own family, gifts almost always include good books: some years are more book-focused than others. One year my husband got a whole repertoire of books relevant to his family history: Argyll, Easdale, Lismore. Isn’t it a shame that I also have Argyll ancestry, but to be fair none from the Isles ;-) I’ve put in a request this year for How to write history that people want to read: a friend has lent it to me and it’s full of great tips and strategies. I do hope Santa’s got good links with the online bookstores.

The other gift-of-choice over the years has been music: LPs then CDs. Many is the year that we have almost bought the same book or CD for each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually doubled up…just come close.

One year our family looked at the pile of gifts under the tree and were somewhat dismayed by our indulgence, even though we’ve never been really extravagant with gifts. We decided there and then to simplify our Christmas in terms of expense, time and commercialism. Each family household has a Secret Santa of another household and we limit the price. We can nominate a handful of “things” we’d like, then it’s up to the gift-giving household to do the shopping and selection. We also do a silly secret Santa of low value for each individual. This year I messed up the name draw by putting our street suburb as well as our post office suburb…a neat strategy to get more presents? Well no, as it happens this year our nominated Secret Santa is to be put towards Genealogists for Families Kiva donations, as anyone on the Kiva lists needs a Christmas treat more than we do, and we get to feel good about what we’ve done. However having discovered the name-draw mix-up, the missing household has been sorted out – lucky they were leaving town before Xmas and it came to light before the shops shut! Lucky too that they didn’t want to take the gift away with them!

The littlies of course are exempt from this tradition and continue to get their own presents but not over-the-top. We also encourage them to be involved in making and giving the presents so they understand it’s about sharing and not all about them.