The Brick Project Conversations, Part Eighteen: Karim and Carly, Charlotte, Blanche, Lucia, Shannon
Is it possible to encourage peace in Africa?
All five of us have learned to encourage peace in Africa as Pencils for Africa (PFA) Assistant Editors (click here for the PFA team).
My favorite part of PFA is the opportunity to reach out to people and places in Africa while learning about Africa and it’s people in the process. It is so inspiring to me that just a small group like PFA can change an opinion, make a difference, mend relationships, and be of service to others. PFA has changed my narrative about Africa for the better and offered me opportunities to learn about different cultures.
Pencils for Africa is a celebration of diverse cultures and viewpoints.
All viewpoints are respected in our community and united by a common purpose, a higher purpose, of understanding and respecting the people and cultures of Africa.
What are you doing to encourage peace in Africa?
We are doing three activities to encourage peace in Africa: understanding, serving and communicating.
Pencils for Africa (PFA), has helped us to understand the African continent better.
Through the process of researching different humanitarian projects in Africa and subsequently interviewing the social entrepreneurs and leaders of these projects, we have strengthened our understanding. Much of this understanding is based upon a better knowledge of the challenges facing the African continent, as well as a better connection with the people on the ground in Africa who are making a positive difference. Our strengthened understanding through extensive research and interaction has enabled us to make a selection of five specific NGO’s working in Africa.
These five NGO’s, with whom we interact regularly, comprise the five donation points for Portfolio PFA (click here for Portfolio PFA website). Portfolio PFA is one of the service elements of Pencils for Africa.
PFA really dismantles all the limitations upon students my age and allows us the freedom to explore the African continent through many diverse perspectives. One of the most satisfying parts of PFA is seeing the impact that our service work makes on each other and on people in Africa.
By understanding the needs of Africa better we are able to serve the needs of Africa better.
This includes having hot chocolate and lemonade fundraisers at our school to raise money for Portfolio PFA. We have also had pencil drives and book drives and sent pencils and books to some of the remotest parts of Africa. We have sent pencils to children in recent war zones in the Congo and in South Sudan. We have sent books for children of the nomadic and pastoral Samburu tribe in Kenya.
In addition to understanding and service, we are now adding a third dimension toward encouraging peace in Africa: communication.
Film is an effective way to communicate the historic, tribal, cultural and storytelling traditions of the Africa, as well as to tell modern stories of pioneering social entrepreneurs working in Africa today.
We have been inspired by the example of the Managing Editor of African Peace Journal, Ms Rutendo Urenje, who screened the movie, A Small Act, at the university she attends in Sweden, Lund University (click here to read about this movie screening).
It is because of this inspiring example, that the five of us have decided to found the PFA Film Festival.
PFA Film Festival will screen films about Africa once a year, most likely in late Spring or early Summer.
For me, PFA represents the power of a strong community, lifting each other up and giving each other a hand up rather than a handout.
We generously share our strengths within this caring community of many diverse cultures and ethnicities.
We also have a strong work ethic of service and that makes our learning process practical and impactful.
An important feature of PFA Film Festival will be video footage (most likely shot on GoPro cameras) of our partner projects working in the African continent such as the partners featured in Portfolio PFA.
One of these partners, Bicycles Against Poverty (click here for the website) provides bicycles for people such as a woman in a rural area in Uganda, who needs transportation to get the vegetables she has harvested in her small plot of land, to the local market so she can sell the vegetables. Our PFA Film Festival would love to provide a GoPro camera for this woman in rural Uganda.
We would like to have the GoPro camera mounted on this woman’s bicycle so that we can get a visceral sense of what it means for this rural Ugandan resident to get her vegetables to the city market.
With our growing interest in learning more about Africa we feel that having more a visceral experience would be helpful. It would be valuable to have a visual view of the bumpy red ochre gravel road she rides her bicycle on, the people she sees on the way; fruit and sugarcane vendors, farmers, children walking to school; as well as the bustling atmosphere of the local market when she arrives at this destination to sell her homegrown vegetables.
We see the PFA Film Festival as a responsible use of technology which will not only be educational for us but also to the movie audiences we screen this footage for at our annual PFA Film Festival.
What can others do to encourage peace in Africa?
As a global community around the world we can all do a lot to encourage peace in Africa. In our work as members of the PFA Editorial Team we have learned that it is vital to be persistent and perseverant in pursuing peaceful solutions for Africa.
This is an innovative and progressive minded community that looks to the best of all people and wants the best for all people.
We are a nurturing community who see every participant as equal and who encourage everyone to bring their talents and skills together for the higher purpose of transforming the narrative of Africa towards the positive direction of what is accurate, authentic and respectful.
If we did all the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves.
— Thomas Alva Edison
At Pencils for Africa, we follow the Edisonian Approach of tinkering and experimenting with many new and different ideas for peace in Africa. We do make occassional missteps along the way, but we learn from those miscalculations by improving our approach on how to effect peace in Africa.
For example, just over a year ago, we had a guest speaker visit our PFA team meeting who had grown up as a street child in the Congo.
This Congolese gentleman was now working with street children who had seen or suffered violent war and conflict in the Congo. We were all so moved by this speaker that we, as the PFA team, had a follow-up meeting and decided to have a pencil drive for these children in the Congo. We wanted to reach out to these children our age, even if it was in a modest way. All our parents, teachers, classmates and friends jumped upon the bandwagon and we collected a lot of used pencils to send to these children in the Congo.
PFA follows the Edisonian Approach by tinkering with new ideas for peace in Africa.
— The PFA Team
One aspect we forgot to factor in is that sending these pencils cost over $300 in DHL costs because these Congolese children were in a remote community in Congo and near an active war zone. In a subsequent meeting of the PFA team, we discussed this oversight. We agreed that we had made a ‘miscalculation’ by not factoring in these DHL sea shipping, land transportation and hand delivery costs into our idea.
That was over a year ago.
Today, we are wiser and smarter about how to be more effective in encouraging peace in Africa.
For example, in our recent hot chocolate fundraiser for Portfolio PFA, we raised $100 for Fambul Tok, a peace-building program that is connected to Catalyst for Peace, founded by Libby Hoffman, one of our PFA Advisory Board members. As Ms Hoffman wrote in this thank you note excerpt to us recently:
Dear Pencils for Africa Team,
Your donation will go directly to the communities in Sierra Leone as they courageously work to rebuild after the devastating 11-year civil war. Thank you for your support of this work, and for joining Catalyst for Peace in its commitment to nurturing the good that is ready to blossom even in the places most devastated by war.
— Libby Hoffman, President, Catalyst for Peace
When we made our on-year assessment of how much we had learned and grown in our understanding of encouraging peace in Africa this lesson was very instructive. A year ago, we had spent $300 in DHL costs to send used pencils to children after a civil war in the Congo. Just one month ago, we raised $100 for the peace-building of Fambul Tok after a civil war in Sierra Leone. When the PFA team faced the sober reality of comparing these two initiatives we learned the following lesson:
It is wiser and smarter to be strategic rather than to be sentimental when encouraging peace in Africa.
It is wiser for PFA to support an effective peace-building NGO like Fambul Tok International, than to reinvent a new program.
Based on lessons such as these we initiated the idea of Portfolio PFA to support programs like Fambul Tok. As we researched in more depth the remarkable work that Fambul Tok was doing, we decided that the Fambul Tok movie should be communicated to our local community here in Marin County, California. This is one of the reasons we have now initiated the idea of the PFA Film Festival.
This has been a learning and refining process for us as it will be for anyone desiring to encourage peace in Africa.
As a global community, all of us around the world can be inspired and vigilant as we work toward peace in Africa.
We are all in this together.