Category Archives: Africa


Tall Skinny Kiwi (Andrew Jones) draws attention to the organization Kiva today.

If you are not yet familiar with Kiva, please check out their website (the “about” tab has lots of information). While I know there are some people who question the micro-finance system as a whole (see the first comment on Andrew’s post), I think some people can easily dismiss a very good opportunity in the name of trying to prevent supporting those few who tarnish a system.

I think Kiva is great, in fact they’ve recently won the ThinkSocial Award. I’m personally very happy to support Kiva.

Here’s how it works: Kiva administers micro-loans (in increments of $25) from people around the world like you and me. They work with local groups (verified for their reputation) to identify individuals who want a loan to help their business. Small descriptions of the currently identified loan opportunities are posted on the Kiva website. You pick who you want to loan your money to. Then the benefit of technology comes into play. You make your loan to Kiva and then you get updates about how the loan is being repaid. I know exactly who has my money, what they are trying to do, how long it takes them to repay (it is common for me to get an email that says something like “$2.09 of your loan to xxx has been repaid.” I get to be a “cheerleader” of sorts when I post a note for the entrepreneur (which gets passed on to the loan recipient). And here’s the best part: once the loan is repaid, I GET TO LOAN IT AGAIN!! Right now I have loans out to people in South Sudan, Kenya, and Ghana. Loans to folks in Peru, Ghana, Kenya, Togo, and South Sudan have already been repaid and I reloaned the money.

Here’s a video that shows the process and what Kiva is about.

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Loan from Kieran Ball on Vimeo.

This video is from Frontline:

“Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” makes Amazon Top 10 Editors’ Pick list

Last month, I wrote about William Kamkwamba on my blog here and here.

I was thrilled to see that his book is #10 on the Amazon Editors’ Pick list. I highly recommend the book. He describes his family and life in Malawi with detail and affection.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
The description of how his family survived a famine and the story of how he continued to push himself to learn even when unable to go to school are inspiring. Here’s a young man who took a book from a library, taught himself how to harness wind power to generate electricity, and built a windmill with scrapyard parts (and tools that he had to make himself). Buy the book (because it helps support his efforts to support development of leadership in Africa), read it, and then pass the book along to someone else. The co-author of the book (Bryan Mealer), a journalist who for years had only horrific news to report from Africa, finally gets to bring a story of hope and inspiration back home.

Hebrew Without Whining

Dr. Ellen Davis (Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity) has been spearheading a partnership with Renk Theological College in Southern Sudan.

Listen to her describe what the Sudanese prioritized for their theological training, and why:

A FEW YEARS AGO, when I asked the head of Renk Theological College in Southern Sudan to name his top priority for the school’s faculty and curriculum, he said without hesitation: “We need biblical language teachers.”

I work at persuading American students just to give Hebrew a try, so I was surprised to hear that it was the seminary’s first choice. Moreover, crossing the ocean to teach Hebrew in short spurts seemed like a pedagogical stretch.

The leaders of the college held firm, however, and they were unanimous in their reasoning: “We live in the Old Testament. Ours is a tribal culture, like Israel’s. We are pastoralists and farmers, like the Israelites. And like them, we have suffered terribly in war and exile, and from oppressive imperial regimes. The Bible is our story, and our people must have it in their own languages. Why should we read it in English and Arabic, the languages of colonialism? Why should we translate it from those languages and not from the original? We all speak several languages; we know how much difference a translation makes.”

Read her full article, “Hebrew Without Whining,” here.

William Kamkwamba: Watch his TED talk

Definitely worth the six minutes to watch William Kamkwamba’s TED talk. This July 2009 video is worth a million words.

You can also see his original 2007 TED talk about his first windmill from their archive here.

TED also has an expanded bio and other links here.

From those links (definitely watch the short documentary):

A short documentary about Kamkwamba, called Moving Windmills, won several awards last year; Kamkwamba and friends are now working on a full-length film. You can read the ongoing details on his blog (which he keeps with help from his mentor), and support his work and other young inventors at

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

We support a young man in Malawi so that he can attend school, etc. I was thrilled, then, to hear about William Kamkwamba.

William Kamkwamba

Check out his website and the just-released book about his incredible project. We need to hear more stories like this.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, Africa, a country plagued by AIDS and poverty. Like most people in his village, his family subsisted on the meager crops they could grow, living without the luxuries—consider necessities in the West—of electricity or running water. Already living on the edge, the situation became dire when, in 2002, Malawi experienced the worst famine in 50 years. Struggling to survive, 14-year-old William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the $80-a-year tuition.

Though he was not in a classroom, William continued to think, learn—and dream. Armed with curiosity, determination, and a library book he discovered in a nearby library, he embarked on a daring plan—to build a windmill that could bring his family the electricity only two percent of Malawians could afford. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and blue-gum trees, William forged a crude yet working windmill, an unlikely hand-built contraption that would successfully power four light bulbs and two radios in his family’s compound. Soon, news of his invention spread, attracting interest and offers of help from around the world. Not only did William return to school but he and was offered the opportunity to visit wind farms in the United States, much like the ones he hopes to build across Africa.

A moving tale of one boy’s struggle to create a better life, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is William’s amazing story—a journey that offers hope for the lives of other Africans—and the whole world, irrefutably demonstrating that one individual can make a difference.

UPDATE: Listen to Diane Rehm (NPR) interview William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer on her show (aired Oct 1, 2009). William is now a student at the Pan-African Leadership Academy in South Africa and a 2007 TED Global Fellow.

Challenges facing African theologians

Ben Byerly’s blog Confluence has started an important conversation about the challenges facing African theologians.

Ben Byerly: Confluence

Ben is a PhD candidate at NEGST (Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology) in Kenya. He was born in Switzerland, but raised in Congo and Liberia and has lived in Africa about half his life. He seems (at least to me) to have a life-situation that gives him an important lens to view this situation. Start here and then read this. Once you are hooked, poke around his blog for some more of his thoughts. He’s identified some key issues and has some keen insights (and his African friends have contributed some interesting feedback). I look forward to seeing more of his posts on this topic.

From where I sit, I think that one small part of the difficulty in the West appreciating, accepting, and engaging African theological thought is the way that Africa is continually characterized in the West (even in our churches). Many times we see photos in churches, the news media, and online of Africa that only portray poverty, despair, ugliness, sin, war, or the West coming to the rescue. These photos are all quite professional and captivating. They are meant to elicit a response of caring by showing the stark difference between our lives and the lives of these people halfway around the world. However, if this is the imagery that is always used to depict Africa and African Christianity, then it is easy to see how the West does not even think there is anything good, wise, and beneficial that could come OUT of Africa.

Where are the photos of beauty, creativity, entrepreneurial success, family, tradition, pursuit of excellence? I am, of course, keenly aware that there are difficult images in Africa and I am not trying to minimize the need to be aware of those situations or the response that we should participate in. However, I think we are out of balance and I believe this contributes to how Western Christianity views Africans and African Christianity.

Want to hear about good things in Africa (aside from Ben’s blog)? Then you should follow @whiteafrican on Twitter. You should also regularly check in with the blog which is inspiring and amazing. If more people appreciated this kind of imagery of Africa, then maybe we would be ready to listen to the theology too.

Travel Tips for Africa (and other places)

White African blog

Erik Hersman, who grew up in Kenya and Sudan, is the White African, and his blog is a great read.

This week he posts 15 tips for traveling to Africa. His suggestions are great, but be sure to read the comments as they are just as useful.

You should also trek on over to his other (group) blog, AfriGadget. The blog describes itself this way:

AfriGadget is a website dedicated to showcasing African ingenuity. A team of bloggers and readers contribute their pictures, videos and stories from around the continent. The stories of innovation are inspiring. It is a testament to Africans bending the little they have to their will, using creativity to overcome life’s challenges.

For example, with old clothes, a plastic bag, condoms, and some rope you can make a football (soccer ball)!

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