Of fond dreams and counting beans

For World AIDS Day tomorrow, the Kardashian sisters will head up a long list of celebrities prepared to die just a bit by abstaining from Twitter and Facebook until their followers and friends donate a million dollars. Yes, abstinence can succeed.

And if we grant the same credibility that FoxNation.com does to The Onion, the latter’s mention in “How can we raise awareness in Darfur of how much we are doing for them?” of a celebrity dinner in Darfur should excite us. What’s not to like about the great and good staging an awareness-raising banquet inside a see-through tent, allowing the Darfuris to peer in at the evidence of the countless good works done on their behalf? If I could crash that party I would look for a seat between Justin Timberlake and Usher so that we could work on three-part harmonies. Would I betray my age by requesting “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”? Or might the gray hair clue them in, anyway? I know that even once the food and wine and our singing relaxed Usher enough to provoke his classic shirtless look, my shirt would stay on.

But enough of my fond dreams. Back on Planet Earth, I have more prosaic concerns. For example, some of Dareda Kati Village’s own AIDS sufferers have come down with malaria despite Karimu’s supply of six hundred forty nets to the villagers this past August and September. Since AIDS patients are pretty much the last people we want to see stricken by malaria, the local public health doctor, Sadock Wilson, will talk to them again about the importance of net use.

Meanwhile, Dr. Susan Hughmanick and I continue to try to figure out the best way to get clean-burning, forest-conserving rocket stoves to Dareda Kati. The Ufani Primary School teachers who have used the two stoves we left behind in August like them a lot but say they cook enough food for only three or four people, half the size of a typical family in the village. Susan relayed this to Aprovecho Research Center in Oregon, originator of the rocket stove, and heard back that the stove produces enough heat to cook with very large pots. So the next time Joas Kahembe drives from his home in Babati to Dareda Kati, he can pass the word on to the teachers.

Joas has already visited a factory in Arusha that makes stoves similar to the ones we left. Now he wishes also to speak with Muhammad Kawere, CEO of Ugastove in Kampala, Uganda, to confirm prices—thirteen and fifteen dollars, respectively, for their two sizes, according to my information—and to ask about cooking capacity. If both Ugastove and the factory in Arusha can supply stoves of the right size and with the same virtues as the stoves the teachers have used, Karimu could buy two or three from each place and give them some time for testing in the village. Then we could decide where to buy the one hundred and ninety or so still required based on the evidence, assuming both Kampala and Arusha charge roughly the same price and not much more than what we paid for the two Aprovecho stoves, which would have to ship from China. We need to take our time with this, anyhow, since money to buy the stoves has only trickled in so far. We have a long way to go before Karimu can afford one hundred ninety of them.

This kind of bean-counting, though it can’t claim the glamor of the blessings conferred by the Kardashian sisters and Justin Timberlake and Usher and the rest of the heavenly host, seems more urgent than ever after the appearance of a new report by the World Health Organization. WHO’s observations include the following:

Healthcare systems around the world waste as much as forty percent of their funds.

Perhaps one fourth of government funds allocated to buy drugs simply disappear.

A number of poor countries pay nearly twice as much as they ought to for drugs.

One half or more of the medical equipment found in poor countries is unusable.

Most equipment sent to the Gaza Strip after 2009 gathered dust in warehouses.

Yet WHO argues for increased donations to the cause of healthcare in poor countries—a shocking appeal to some people, who suggest that slashing donations would put those who administer healthcare systems on notice that they must do a better job.

I don’t want to say that I have no sympathy at all for WHO’s position. Karimu had hoped that none of Dareda Kati’s AIDS patients would contract malaria once they owned nets but, despite our disappointment, we’ll continue to look for money to buy more nets because some of the villagers still don’t have them. On the other hand, if we learn that many of the nets we delivered haven’t reached the villagers or now serve as fishing nets or bridal veils, then we may want to think about finding another line of work.—Don Stoll



About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
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