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,

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ndola, House of Mwaiseni


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:

 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.

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. (

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:

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

To ALL of those that have supported The REEL Project

I want to take this time to thank those that have supported The REEL Project, what we do would not be possible without your support. It's hard to believe that $1 or $5 can actually make a difference- it can and it does. You just have to know where your money is actually going. Most NGO's have large overhead budgets that eat up most donations at times, 90% or more. Check this out:
This makes raising money difficult- I am happy to report however that, The REEL Project has less than a 1% overhead :)
Here are those that supported and made this trip in particular possible. I want to thank you here and later, you will all receive word on how your support has contributed to those in need:
$2700 USD raised by only 37 of you wonderful humans!

1.   Robbie Schaeffer
2.   Andrew Alvarez
3.   Nicole Schaeffer
4.   Munawar Hosain
5.   Michael Drews
6.   Shad Davis
7.   Dalhia Shuette
8.   Elizabeth Carey LaBosco
9.   Stephan Alexander
10. Myk Pleet
11. Jack Tracy
12. Phillip Fier
13. Kori Lynn Dolan
14. Jazmin Almario
15. Aqua Yost
16. Steve Rosin
17. Mohammed Dugally
18. Spencer Rose
19. Rick Schuchman
20. Sylvia Abumuhor
21. Jerm Mafnas
22. Carl Chapman
23. Annette Anderson Caton
24. Martin Kratz
25. Michael Abbot
26. Stephanie Chao-Parkes
27. David Maurer
28. Jimmy Laremore
29. Marybeth Beeler Walker
30. Kandis Sulvestri
31. Tom and Andre Frazier
32. Sandra Ruth Den Uijl
33. Mario Alvarez Guiterrez
34. Anna Hecker
35. Kelly Pagni Maestri
36. Nicole Mendez
37. Marcus Hanson

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Joburg-Ndola waiting in the airport for flight...

Here is a little information about Zambia, Ndola in particular and following, my story on 'where it all started':

Ndola, the capital of the Copperbelt Province (and third largest in Zambia), is a prosperous, sprawling city that makes a good spot to break up the journey or spend the night en route to the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage. Once you get off its main thoroughfare, and hit its genteel, well-tended residential streets, there is no real evidence of its industrial base. Interestingly it's only 10km from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An important commercial centre in Zambia, Ndola lies some 320 kilometers north of Lusaka. It is the gateway to the mineral producing region of the country. Like Lusaka, the development of Ndola has been rapid and extensive.

There are many manufacturing industries here, including a major copper refinery. Although copper is still Zambia’s largest foreign exchange earner and the mainstay of the national economy, the city of Ndola has established itself as a commercial and light industrial centre of considerable importance, as well as being the junction and distribution centre for the Copperbelt complex. The oil pipeline from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania ends its 1700 km journey at the Ndola refinery.

Modern factories, offices and shops line the Central Business District A big attraction in Ndola is the annual Zambia International Trade Fair in July. A number of newspapers and journals are printed in the city, two of which serve the country – the Times of Zambia and the Sunday Times.

Kawambwa Refugee camp, Kapdondo asleep on my back 
In between applying for grad school and having just completed my BA in International Development Studies, I was at a crossroads. I knew what I wanted to do but was not sure which path and or direction to go in. I was quickly reminded of my passion for IDS when speaking with my (former) professor, Andrew Apter (current African Studies Director at UCLA). Prof. Apter enlightened me on many things- but most importantly, on Africa. He sent me an application to 'work abroad' with an organization (not worthy of mentioning....). I applied and must say, it was quite tedious. In fact, not many applicants 'got it' and it was even more of an accomplishment- and journey! We spent months in training sessions, getting to know one another (there were 12 of us). It was exhilarating and the anticipation of departure was forever exciting. We raised money individually to cover the cost of our expenses and once on the ground, broke into pairs and were given our 'projects'. Mine was primary education, in the Kawambwa refugee camp (home to over 8,000 Congolese refugees). I knew little about primary education though had a knack for getting things done and, my partner in crime is the kindest softest and most gentle of humans- we were a match made in heaven. 

After meeting our translator, Willy Bonza, we began the daunting task of rehabilitating the primary school with EVERYTHING from; re-thatching the roof, benches and tables to replace the dilapidated 'desks' to hiring artists to paint curriculum around the inside of the walls and, painting the chalkboards accordingly. Daunting I say because working within the walls of a refugee camp limit you/there/THE access to, well, ANYTHING! We were taking trips into "town" to buy loads of lumbar, lacker, paint, all kinds of material. At times, we would get stuck en-route because of the rain, the roads or simple local politics.

The day Kapondo and I reunited
Finally, in record time, we completed our project and had the most beautiful of primary school completely safe and visually EDUCATIONAL. It was an accomplishment that took all of our breaths away. In addition to the proud moment of our project, I also met little 2 year old Kapondo. He is the son of refugees and was born in the camp. I was fortunate to reunite with Kapondo and his family again years later and, still to this day, support his (and siblings) education endeavors. Kapondo is now 12 years old.
I have so many more details that I would like to share but it is time to pack this up and get to my gate. 
Until shortly- krista

Monday, November 5, 2018

Joburg to Ndola, Zambia

Last night it rained and thundered which made for a beautiful rainbow and a gorgeous clear morning. Thanks to time travel (ha), my new wake-up hour is 5am, ON THE DOT! This is actually nice because I get to witness silence and hear birds and it is very serene.
Years of making friends
Looks like a fire ball- but it's a rainbow

Clear (albeit crooked) pic
Getting ready to head out shortly, bags packed and looking forward to landing in Ndola. Reached out to a dear friend who was once the Protection (Refugee) officer with the UNHCR in Kawambwa, Zambia. 'Papa Isaac' will be in Ndola today and we are hopeful to meet! It's nice knowing and keeping in contact with good people- especially those that share the same passion...

Here are a few pics of the rainbow, this morning and some prepping for Zambia, I'll fill in the blanks when I get to the airport and have 3+ hours to kill....ayyyyy.