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Cycling to support

The Bike Tour, organized by Doctors of the World Belgium, is coming soon! From 21st to 23rd September I will again take up the challenge, this time to connect the 340km from Kortrijk to London via Calais. In our “2gether4vision” group we will pedal with a blind friend, a way to remind ourselves that together we can live our dream of a full and happy life.

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We will cycle to support Doctors of the World, one of the few voices that still supports migrants in their quest for a dignified life. During these three days, we will remind ourselves that many migrants died because they wanted to join their family or simply to pursue their dream. It will be our way to say no to the unworthy measures taken by European governments, which are so quick to denounce human rights violations when it comes to others!

Faced with this situation, our three days’ trip seems very derisory. But at least we express our support to our fellow human beings, who like us, just follow their dream. In “What makes us human?” I recount how Fatou, a Malian immigration officer paid from her own money my visa to her country. I also tell how Hakim, the dean of the Faculty of Biology of the Hassan II University in Casablanca, proposes to write a universal declaration on the right to dream. This is my way to say thank you to all of the immigration officers in Africa and Asia, who welcomed me with grace, and to support those, who just follow their purpose in life. Please send your support via this link or to the account BE26 0000 0000 2929 Médecins du Monde mentioning “Bike Tour 2017 2gether4vision JLL”. Please help me to exceed the minimum contribution of 1000 € per rider.

A little story to celebrate Saint George!

Picture1On Tuesday, March 20, Father Robin and Sebastian from the Marian College gave me a wonderful chance to learn from the people of Tekkemela and Palurkava, two communities situated in the beautiful hills of Kerala. The views were stunning and nature luxuriant. The setting would hardly make me think of my own Grez-Doiceau. Yet, I was determined to learn from my visit to offer back home whatever strengths I would discover. Besides that, I had no preset agenda.

2Along the road, Saint George gave me a little wink as he happens to be the saint patron of both Tekkemela and of my village, Grez-Doiceau.

 

 

 

 

 

Soon Jose welcomes us to a small shop along the road. This is a shop of the local cooperative of 15 farmers. All of them commit to produce organic food only and
3contribute a monthly fee of less than one euro. Their priority is to sell their produce to each other. The remainder goes to the shop for sale. That shop is selling 500 to 800 eggs per day, many items such as gourds, ginger, ladies finger, ivy gourd, yams, mangoes, papayas as well as honey, coconut oil and various spices. Jose invites us to visit the nursery situated on the shop’s roof. There, all sorts of seedlings are available to the co-operators who wish toreplant chili, egg plants, papaya, all sorts of tubers, mango, drum sticks, Cambodge or Malabar tamarind, orchids….  Does the scheme work? Well, every Sunday a truck used to come from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. It does not come any more…

 

4We left the shop to visit Varkey’s farm. Varkey used to dedicate all his land to the monoculture of rubber trees. Now he has turned about one hectare into an integrated farm that combines poultry, fish, and Stingless Honey Bees also known as Dwarf Honey Bees, along with the richest combination of fruits, spices and vegetables I have ever seen. Everything is organic.

Does it work? “Before we used to rely on the rubber market for revenue and had to buy our food, he says. Now my family is fully autonomous for food and we have the revenues from the sales of our produce for other expenditures”.

Time to hop on a jeep and climb to a house higher up where we meet a women’s group led by the former Panchayat, the village leader. We explore the women’s dreams. Employment, water, energy, roads: all areas where local action could be stimulated…

5The women radiate good health and self-confidence. What do they do when a family member is sick? Oh, we have our plants here. But most of all we are in good health. We eat well, the air is clean! You don’t go to the local clinic? Only when our local medicine does not work! It reminds me that before the visit of the cooperative shop, we had met another women’s group in Tekkemela. There, among other products they showed us the baby food and medicines they produce from the ubiquitous jackfruit.

On our way back to Marion college, Jose asked my friend Rafique what we were up to. We came to stimulate local action, not as donors or as promotors of a specific project, Rafique explained. Is that so? Jose replied. When we started our cooperative, we didn’t ask anything from government but government came to us to offer support 5 years later! He then shared a dream of his own: organize farm tourism in the region where visitors would appreciate farmers’ way of life.  We left each other in great spirits. The ground is fertile for further local action. The School of Social Work is just a few miles away. With the appropriate mindset, its students might encourage the communities to formulate their dreams and to act to reach it. As for me, I’ll share my visit with my friends in Grez-Doiceau at an upcoming Agora Café, where we freely exchange ideas to progress to our shared dream. I don’t know what will come out of our discussions. But somehow, I am sure that the story will resonate with our experience in Grez-Doiceau. No doubt, something good will come out of it….

Jean-Louis Lamboray

SALT and the unexpected

When Arthur and Edward from Health Nest Uganda (HENU) picked me up at my hotel the day after our SALT visit to Katabi (see Ubuntu on the bus) they had exciting news. Both had independently started their day with the yoga exercises I had shared with the Katabi group! This was so encouraging that we repeated these exercises during the next SALT visit to the Kitubulu community. The exercises were met with the same enthusiasm as on the previous day.  That enthusiasm became euphoria when we started some laughter therapy: we were making so much noise that people crossed the busy highway to Kampala to see what was going on!

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Here, I should express my deep gratitude to Laurence, a pioneer of the Constellation Global Support team, who later fulfilled her dream to become a teacher of yoga teachers. I am thankful to her for two reasons.  First, Laurence had offered me two yoga sessions in November 2016 when I was in Chiang Mai. Since then, I practice my daily routine with a few exceptions due to my intensive travel – try yoga on an Indian Rail sleeper coach! I am far from doing the exercises with perfection. But I felt compelled to share my routine with the community which for at least a few moments had become mine.

There is a second reason for my gratitude to Laurence: she created a powerful illustration of how life competence spreads. In Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of Kasai Oriental, a support team of three people trained 44 facilitators from 20 communities to facilitate the development of AIDS competence. Determined to share the approach with more communities beyond their own, they did not stop there.  Six months later, these communities in turn were sharing the approach with a third set of communities, leading to a total of 120 communities influenced by the approach, rather than the 20 originally planned. We had not expected that result. Laurence took the time to document it. When I saw the practice of yoga spread unexpectedly in communities I thought of this illustration.

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Later during our reflections with the HENU team, we hatched a dream. What if HENU offered a basic training to health volunteers so that they could offer daily yoga exercises to the old and young? No doubt, the practice would go viral!

When we practice SALT to connect with people in the present moment, expectations melt away and the unexpected can happen!

Jean-Louis Lambory

Before the Frog Boils

Text by Jean-Louis Lamboray

Do we, Europeans, behave like the legendary frog? You know the story: the frog was living in a pond whose water was heating so slowly that it noticed nothing until it died in the boiling water. Is our fixation on “the economy” so strong that we pay no attention to the fate of the fellow human beings? Are we so mesmerised by the current US excesses that we leave unnoticed the gradual abandonment of our own values? Not long ago, I was proud to belong to Europe, a beacon of human rights. Now, I am ashamed: we let people die while they knock on our door as they flee the bombs we throw on them. Where did the fundamental values of Europe go? Not long ago, I was a proud Belgian, not just because of our beer and football, but because Belgium was a free and a safe country. Now I feel betrayed by a government that disrespects court orders. I feel insecure when an administrative official can decide without court judgement to deport foreign citizens born in Belgium if they break the law. Who will be next? Where will this dangerous skidding stop?

Is there anything else to do but to vent my anger? Should I shout at politicians who slowly but surely chip away at our basic rights? With this question in the back of my mind, I left for East Africa to launch “What makes us human?” as part of our  #letsreconnect campaign,  feeling angry and powerless.

Nairobi. Wangu Kanja has every reason to be angry. After she was raped some years ago, she decided to turn her experience for the good: she founded the Wangu Kanja Foundation dedicated to a society that is safe and free from all forms of violence. I asked Wangu how she saw the advocacy role of her foundation. Would it consist in shouting outrage about rapists? Or about disparaging politicians, who ignore the rights of victims and survivors of sexual violence? The key sentence in her response was: “You have to understand the process.” There was no trace of anger in her response. Just the determination to build shared understanding.

Entebbe. Hosted by Health Nest Uganda (HENU), the book launch exemplified the remarkable collaboration between civil society, government and HENU. I asked my host Arthur Namara from HENU how such collaboration came about. “True, older persons’ rights are not yet a priority in Uganda. Many older persons are abandoned as traditional family ties loosen. Health services designed to serve children and primarily deal with infectious diseases, are not equipped to take care of older persons’ needs. But when they met with the President, they did not shout for their rights. They adopted as starting point that the President cared. And when he understood their plight, he gave immediate instructions for government to help older persons to address their challenges.”

 

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Kigali. Father Aloys Guillaume teaches dogmatics at the Grand Séminaire in Butare. We met when I checked in at the Centre Saint Paul. “Your book is relevant for us in Rwanda. How can we fully recover our humanity after having reached the bottom of inhumanity during the 1994 genocide? ” He went ahead and contributed greatly to the organization of the Kigali book launch which took place at the Sainte Famille church. More than 700 people perished in that church during the 1994. The shoah, the Balkans, Rwanda, …. What shall we do to stop the seemingly unavoidable tailspin towards the next round of horrors? During our breakfast conversation Father Aloys mentions umudugudu and tuseme. In Rwanda, the government stimulates local discussion and  reflection for collective action by umudugudus, the country’s  basic administrative structure. In some umudugudus, victims and actors of the genocide reconstruct their lives together. Some schools organize “Tuseme“ or Let us Speak Out clubs, an Africa-wide initiative by FAWE, the forum of African Women Educationists, which improve gender relations.

Now in Mauritius, after stops in Nairobi, Entebbe and Kigali, my anger is subsiding. It is being replaced by a determination to act. The practice of SALT is putting me on the right path. Appreciation without judgment is at the core of SALT practice. Because with SALT we do not separate people into categories of sinners and saints, we open our minds to understand ourselves and others. Because we seek strengths without preconceived ideas, we leverage the positive energy that is harbored in each person. That energy is available for local action. What will I do differently when I return to Belgium? When politicians act to reduce our human rights, I will not let anger take hold of me. Rather I will seek to let them know my point of view with the basic belief that they care. I’ll work with even more determination at weaving local links for action starting in my own village. That may be a modest start in view of the daunting challenge in front of us in Europe. But that I can do, and I am not alone on that path.

I have always used happiness as my inner compass, and I conclude this note peaceful and happy.

 

“I am because you are” – Africa through JL’s eyes

Ubuntu on the bus!

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The story starts on Monday, February 13, a few minutes after I take this selfie at the Busia border compound.

As we were waiting for the remaining passengers going through immigration, I wanted to board the bus to take a rest. I was denied boarding as some official had to inspect the bus. I waited outside, noticing a heaviness in the mood. No official showed up, and after we departed a passenger gave me the explanation. A thief had disembarked with the bag of a lady passenger at one of the few nightly stops. The lady was in tears as she had lost everything….

While we were proceeding towards Kampala, a young man took the floor and proposed to collect some money for our fellow passenger. A few moments later, he had collected 5000 Kenyan Shillings, 220000 Uganda Shillings and some Tanzanian shillings as well, the total amounting to more than 100 USD.

I told the story on Tuesday at the opening of my speech at the launch. What seemed natural to my audience was a great demonstration of a basic tenet of bantu culture: Ubuntu, a concept that seems so hard to grasp by the Western mind and is probably best translated as “I am because you are”. My co-travellers had acted naturally in solidarity with the lady. They were practicing Ubuntu.

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On Wednesday Arthur Namara and the Health Nest Uganda (HENU) team took me to a group of older persons in Katabi near Entebbe. A lady who had attended the launch told the bus story to the group and how I had appreciated the gesture of solidarity. She then told another story that was shared at the launch. In Jinja, an elderly group which had benefitted from a microcredit did so well that the group became a lender to the microcredit institution! It all boils down to trust, she said, challenging the group with a question: “Are we trusting each other enough?”

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Spontaneously, a lady takes a note of Uganda shillings and puts it in a basket. People open their wallet and contribute. To my amazement their first expenditure is to purchase “What makes us human?” Then they decided to open an account at Postbank to keep the rest of the money. Health Nest Uganda will help them in the process. And maybe they will be able to mobilize some government money in support of their activities….

This all happened in a few minutes. Time had come to get to the main agenda: do some exercise to keep all the old people in good health!

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As Frederic Laloux stated about the book: “Trust makes ordinary people do extraordinary things!”