Sunday, April 3, 2022

Amazing people and: to the Poland/Ukraine Border (An ALL NIGHTER!)

 I can’t even see straight I am so exhausted, literally. But I wanted to get some ‘visual’ pics out there to bring into the awareness of today and the profound experience it was for me; albeit working with refugees and IDP’s for over 14 years now- this was different- so very different.


                        

                                                      I didn’t see one angry person, I only saw smiling faces of those that were helping. I met two women who are African American from Spain, they FLEW to Poland/Ukraine border to help/assist any and all African Americans that may have been in Ukraine (for work, students etc.) and therefore unable to #1. Join combat or #2 seek refuge!          

Nothing better than being with my babies and, if I can’t be with them, at least we can FaceTime each other from one side of the world to the other! I Love you Rocco and Kingsley <3 


Jonathon who NEVER takes pics, has no idea #1 that I posted this and #2 (and #3-infinity) how much he has contributed to The REEL Project and not JUST because he is an amazing friend but also sits on the Board of Directors for the REEL Project (he’s a talented writer AND is pretty funny too!)

Who does that? ……………….A lot of people. 

SO many people from around the world have come together as people, as communities as HUMAN BEINGS. The ‘walk’ out of Ukraine and into Poland at the MEDYKA shelter (largest and most busy for those crossing by foot- majority women and children. A lot wait till right before curfew as they travel all day just getting close enough to the border to then cross). I have so soooo much to say, share, tell and questions. I want to highlight the amazing organizations that are there on the ground that are exhausted but smiling, happy and even those that are risking their lives to get the utmost needs to hospitals, clinics and children’s hospitals INSIDE Ukraine. 

I will update on my flight home tomorrow as now I need to pack, eat something and close my eyes since they’ve been open for over 24 hours straight!!!!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

It has been a whirlwind of days, weeks- months. But here I find myself, in Amsterdam, on my way to Poland to not only deliver and distribute but, I GET TO experience the joy of this, seeing the faces of those on the receiving end. 

People often ‘commend’ me for the humanitarian work I do and, I find that my response has been and is always the same, which is: I am the one who is thankful. 

LAX-WARSAW
I realize, especially now, that the stamina I had back when I started my humanitarian work, is no longer on par with what I can withstand today. But, the world (and my kids!) has kept me on my toes and I am reminded that the passion that drives each  and everyone of us always pushes past the mental block or, capacity that we [only] think we can not go on. 

Plan is, once arrived in Warsaw, head across the city to retrieve another car. We will settle in (for all of a couple of hours ha), then depart at 1am local time, and head to the border in the van full of humanitarian aid. The drive should take 4-6 hours, once we arrive there we will document what we can (as well as along the way) and en route back to Warsaw, visit a few shelters along the way.

#thankful
-krista

 


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Poland/UKRAINE


                            Poland/Ukraine

  On the 1st of April I will be leaving Los Angeles for Warsaw, Poland. Arriving on the 2nd of April, my colleague and I will deliver 6+ suitcases full of donations for the Ukrainian refugees that fled Ukraine, most of whom are women and children. It is my hope that we can follow the donations and document where they go and who they are helping. Some will be at orphanages, shelters, homes and hospitals. For the donations that will be sent across the border to support those that are fighting on the front lines in Ukraine, we hope to follow at least halfway to the border for our own safety we can't go to the border  

I will be posting here as often as I can documenting my trip

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ndola-Joburg, again.




Today marks 12 days being away from my littles. I've never in all of their (and my) lives been apart from them this long and it is excruciating. I cannot, I repeat CANNOT wait to hold them and love them to pieces.

And, to even begin to describe the excitement Malela and I have with The REEL Projects upcoming endeavors would be impossible. Words clearly do not and cannot suffice. It will be a long road ahead as there is a ton of work, planning, fundraising etc... but it will be done with passion and integrity.

Meanwhile, back home in California- my land is burning. My friends are displaced and some, have even lost their homes. These are tough times, times of reflection and appreciation for what is- and what was. Sending love and strength to endure through these difficult days and days ahead.

I am grateful, thankful and learning to be more a little more patient with time.

With love from South Africa,
krista

Friday, November 9, 2018

Busy day in Ndola! Then adventured into town...walked like 5km

Papa Isaac arrived last night and what a treat it was to have him as our guest! We spent hours reminiscing about Kala camp (Isaac was the Refugee officer working with UNHCR in 2007), sharing stories both old and new- I made a delicious homemade vegetable curry then we all ate together and began to discuss our REEL Project future endeavors. It was another inspirational evening, to only continue this morning after an early breakfast followed by a full day of kazi kazi!

 Isaac has been working in Organic Agriculture for years now, he even took a three year course and is certified. He has been working with a local doctor in Lusaka and has conducted multiple trainings over the course of the past few years.  We discussed the importance of composting and organic farming and how we can incorporate this into an Income Generating Activity (IGA) in Kalemie. Together we came up with: The REEL Organic Community Garden.

Thus far Malela and I have come up with an exciting amount of project ideas- so many that we had to take a few deep breathes and a number of steps back! Based on the current situation, the feedback that we have received and how to move forward- The REEL Project's next project initiative will be the following:

  • A REEL: 
    • Educational Initiative
      • Continue in our efforts in supporting the education of vulnerable children
    • Workspace Initiative
      • Similar to any "workspace" around the world, TRP will provide a space for students and locals access to a work space, internet, research material, a printer, a conference room etc...
    • Humanitarian film Initiative
      • As 'film' is HUGE in the DRC, providing the opportunity to show a film once a week (or bi-monthly), TRP will produce a multitude of informational 1-2 minute shorts that will be mandatory in showing prior.  These films will follow the WaSH program, educate in the most sensitive and culturally relevant of ways. We will work alongside in collaboration with our coordinating partners to deliver the best and most direct messages.  
    • Organic Community Garden
      • Malela will be meeting with multiple organizations that are currently working in the agriculture sector in the DRC (Kalemie specifically). TRP will find the best ngo to partner with for our community garden and we will bring Isaac Ndala in to start a 6 week training program. Additionally, we will work within the community to share in the labor and care of the garden in exchange for the plentiful goods it produces!
Ok- Papa Isaac is almost (safely)home, and it is officially....oh dear, only 6:30pm here haaaa. I am so ready for bed! 
Until later? -Inspiring work is exhausting.
-krista

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ndola, House of Mwaiseni


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It is 4:30pm here, 6:30am in Los Angeles and it has been A LONG Productive DAY! Malela or, Christian- people think he is not one but three different people, let me explain…kaka means “brother” in Swahili and, Christian Mbuta Malela is kaka’s full name. So Malela arrived late last night, he had too many difficulties crossing both the DRC and the Zambian border. Surprise surprise! First they asked him for his “new” passport, then a yellow-fever card, then they took the only chitenge (he was bringing for a gift) and said he was going to sell it in Zambia, so they must confiscate. JUST to cross from the DRC to Zambia, Malela had to pay: $5 for taxes, $10 for a 'Go' pass, $25 more to the DGM (director general migration), $50 for his Zambian Visa (then another $30 because it was his very FIRST visa!????), oh and because he didn't have a yellow fever card, another $50. This however is not the crazy part- the absolutely INSANE part about all of this is, last night at 10:30pm (local time) I received an email from the embassy of the DRC granting me my visa...yes, they said: You have been granted your visa, please overnight your passport so that we may process your visa accordingly. Ummmmmmmm, WHAT? Malela and I literally were so taken aback (and completely MAD- especially based on all he had to go through to cross over here to Zambia). So clearly, it is not meant to be because there is no way to overnight anything from where we are right now. Ha! Ugh. Sigh.
Then comes the sad news from California, about the shooter- 12 dead. What is happening in our world? I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am living where I live which, wasn't a choice- but nonetheless. I am reminded of Love and Freedom, of the governmental safety nets that are in place in the United States to prevent us from falling down too deep...I constantly remind myself to feel grateful and humble for what I have and not stress on what I do not. For being able to provide for my children what I can and not on what could be but isn't. To be in a place so desperate 

Often times I am criticized by fellow Americans for not dong good work in America, and 'why not help 'our' people first'. What those fail to ask or care to know is that I have. I have dedicated multiple holidays downtown on Skid-row, produced events to raise money and facilitated toy drives for kids that are less fortunate. I have spent not hours but dedicated entire semesters at UCLA volunteering my time as a translator to primary  ESL students and it felt great. Helping others always feels great. However, after visiting these refugee and IDP camps both here in Zambia and the DRC, things changed for me.

The children I met walking around with nothing but scraps of clothing, make-shift toys made out of pieces of discarded 'trash' I couldn't help but wonder.  And maybe it was just that- my wonderment that encouraged me to take a step further, a closer look into what a refugee was, is and how one ends up 'like this'. 

Of course this curiosity led to making friends, wonderful dear friends that I cannot even begin to brag about. Friends turned into long lasting decade long friendships that we have been able to so fortunately maintain over the years. And all because of what? The 'wonderment' or 'curiosity' of helping others.


Ok- I have been so inundated with writing and visiting with Papa Isaac and Malela; sharing stories of the field, of our past 10+ years of working IN the field and here we are! It's now late- I'm going on a 12 hour day and musttttt put the computer to sleep (myself as well). I'll finish my story tomorrow at some point.

Lala salama.
 ................... pics of my little monsters face-timing with kaka, then dinner I prepared (veggie curry) and a (horrible pic of me) and Papa Isaac!...........................



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Refugees and our "home" at Mwaiseni, Itawa Extension


As I was searching and searching for a place to stay for the remainder of the week, I finally found this guest house about 20 kilometers from town. It is definitely 'not convenient' however it is self-contained. In preparation, I went to the market and bought essentials to have at the house. I got here, settled in, unpacked, did some work, washed (by hand) some laundry and now I am preparing dinner.

Malela has still not reached Ndola, he called from Kasumbalesa (border-crossing of DR Congo and Zambia) about
5 1/2 hours ago and mentioned the long list of difficulties he had just getting into Zambia (on the DRC side....of course). First it was, "you need to pay more money because you have an old passport and not a new one" to another fee for....??????? who knows what. Then the struggle of getting to the main town of Ndola via public transport, not entirely reliable, to finding this little gem which is outside of town! Christian will for sure be hungry!
En route to the house I took a few photos of the 'streets' of Ndola. There are still quite a number of functional and operational railways, they run across the country though not on any schedule in particular. What I have noticed different here is the amount of advertisements! There are billboards every 100 feet (of course none pictured here....ha). There are great artists throughout eastern Africa and utilizing this craft seems nothing short of appropriate.
As we are in one of the largest known mining hubs of Africa, the Copperbelt of Africa, it seems there are as many expats as cars (not a lot but definitely more than a handful). Every local that I have engaged in conversation with thus far works with a mining company or is related to work with a mining company- it's crazy.
Ok, as for the current DRC-Zambia situation with regards to the influx of refugees; here are some statistics- do keep in mind, elections are to be held on the 23rd of December 2018:

Summary Points:
JOINT OPERATIONAL RESPONSE COORDINATION MEETING MINUTES DRC REFUGEE EMERGENCY 21 SEPTEMBER 2018 
UNHCR CONFERENCE ROOM, LUSAKA

 A total 14,053 refugees are now residing in Nchelenge – 10,858 in Mantapala and 3,195 in self-settled in surrounding villages
 Mulwe road (the short road to Mantapala) is being worked on by RDA. RO and MoA are looking at other places were farm plots could be demarcated as some areas in Mantapala 2 are not adequate for farming. COR to provide more information next week
 UNICEF to share report on flood prone areas in Mantapala and recommendations on the way forward, especially in Blocks 8, 11 and 14.
 The Apostolic church is interested in doing WASH in Mantapala and Lusaka. Further details to be shared by COR.
 ADRA is interested in supporting shelter, and potentially other sectors. More details to be shared by COR/UNHCR.
 MoGE has not assigned teachers to Mantapala yet. COR to follow up. There have been reports in the media that a certain cassava disease is affecting crops in Luapula and refugees are being mentioned as a possible cause for this. COR and UNHCR to follow up.
 UNHCR will revise the estimated population figures for 2019-2020 and share with partners.
 In line with the Country Refugee Response Plan (CRRP), COR is undertaking a needs assessment in all field locations (Meheba, MYK, Mantapala). The results will be shared by early October and will be used for CRRP planning. UNHCR to call a meeting for this shortly.
(https://data2.unhcr.org/ar/documents/download/65990)

This is a coordinated effort by both initiating and operating partners of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) addressing the most urgent of needs for the recent influx of Refugees. 
Moreover, with the most recent influx of Congolese refugees in Zambia, Angola has been "relieved" of over 300, 000 Congolese as they have returned back to the DRC. (https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/democratic-republic-congo-mass-return-angola-dg-echo-un-national).

Why does this pose as odd? Well, if thousands of refugees are fleeing the DRC (for Zambia) yet hundreds of thousands have left Angola and have returned back to the DRC, ummmmm, what? Let me explain, let me try to explain...
  • Angola MADE the Congolese refugees leave- they gave them an ultimatum: "Angolan authorities had set an ultimatum to all persons with an irregular migrant status to leave the country within 15 days, classifying the operation as targeting illegal immigration and illegal exploitation of informal mines."
    • This was the case in Zambia while I was here back in 2007- the authorities would drive through the Kawambwa refugee camp with a bullhorn telling the refugees to "go home, go back to your country". There were other 'incentives' and threats as well, but I'd rather not mention now.
  • Why is this not only dangerous but also a serious human rights violation? The areas of return for the majority of those coming from Angola are limited to certain provinces, and those are the same provinces and neighboring, where there is unrest and danger. 
  •  Furthermore, with a number THAT high, it is hard to provide for: shelter, food, water etc... the most basic of needs are already scarce. And let's not forget, when a refugee returns home, they are returning with less than the basics.
Lastly, here is a map (for anyone even reading any of this) to help with identifying the geography of above provinces:
preview

Ok folks- I'm going to sign off for now. It's dinner time and I have to track down Malela...it's officially dark (6:20pm) and still no sign!? Until tomorrow- be well.
krista