Monday, February 24, 2014

February's KIVA Loan

Our KIVA loan this month goes to Sharifa, a 34 year-old married woman with four children. She and her family live in a sector in Jordan called Wihdat. Several years ago her husband was called to serve in the Jordanian military, which put a great financial pressure on the family.

Sharifa decided to try and help solve the financial crisis she and her husband were facing by opening her own business. She decided to start a small food market in front of her house, where she now has been selling food products for two years.

She now needs to buy a larger quantity and variety of products to expand her business and earn more profit in order to improve the family's living conditions and to provide her children with a good education. But she didn't have enough money to expand her business, so she has applied for a loan from Jordan's National Microfinance Bank, which is funded by KIVA.

Jordan is a small country located in the heart of the Middle East’s Levant region. Regional instability has caused Jordan to be excluded from global investments for decades. Additionally, a lack of natural resources—including water and energy—places tremendous strain on the Jordanian economy, over 80% of which consists of small one and two person businesses, largely in the service industry. Despite their importance in the economy, many of these businesses are excluded from the banking sector because of their size.

Microfinance institutions like National Microfinance Bank offer their clients an opportunity to enhance and expand their businesses. NMB also offers its services to other underprivileged peoples in Jordan, providing them with loans to pursue educational goals and improve their homes and livelihoods.

We are so fortunate to be able to help hardworking mothers and fathers provide for their children. Please consider becoming a KIVA partner! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gold, Silver or Bronze?

Here I am, made disconsolate by the piles upon piles of snow we've had this winter and the never-ending minus minus cold with plus plus 90 mile an hour winds straight off the North Pole. It is warmer there than here and except for a trip by taxi to the mall and a shopping trip with elder son who picked me up at the front door in his big 4 x 4 tundra-capable vehicle I haven't left the condo since Jan 10th.  Oh I lie. We had a condo board meeting at a restaurant last week. I rode along with another member. So I have been out three times since Jan 10th! All three times I walked down the cleared sidewalk to the curb.
The reason I am in, rather than out, is because I am afraid to cross the parking lot to get to our little red car. That parking lot is slicker than the speed skating surface at Sochi which I just wish for God's sake the CBC would shut up about. Yes, I know Canadians are totally enamoured with skiing and hockey and speed-skating and bobsledding and the whole winter sport thing, but the CBC seems to think there's nothing else going on in the world except the Olympics.

Here's an actual transcript of this morning's newscast:

"28 killed in Kyiv protests overnight, and CANADA picked up THREE more gold medals at Sochi. Now, from London, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, downtown Burbank, St. John's Newfoundland, Paris, Mogadishu, Saskatoon, a remote village in the Amazon Basin, from atop a pile of burning tires in Kyiv, the summit of Everest, the Marianas Trench, AND Putin Square in Sochi - our reporters are here to tell you  at agonizing length 17 different versions of how their childhoods affected their reactions to the women's bobsled team winning gold, and their psychological trauma at our skaters only winning silver medals in figure skating…" 

Commercial break …. for funeral insurance, pills that give 12 hour relief from arthritic pain or make your pecker stand at attention, and for walk-in-tubs for the elderly and disabled. (Commercials vary by time slot - as you may guess, 10:00 am is aimed at the retired crowd.)

Sochi coverage recommences: More of what we said before, yada, blah, blah....  

Meanwhile the crawler at the bottom of the screen recounts the number of dead in volcanic eruptions, genocide and revolution in several countries, the discovery that the groundwater of entire states is now contaminated by fracking, floods are devastating England, a drought is threatening food production and drinking water in California, several politicians are convicted of crimes against humanity, it's snowing in St. Petersburg FLORIDA and 78 degrees F in St. Petersburg RUSSIA.

And yes, I get crabby like this every time the Olympics come around. I know the athletes work hard to be able to accomplish these feats of skill and strength, and I am not critical of the athletes themselves, but if we put the money and effort that goes into the Olympics into the world's energy, health and food crises we could solve those problems.
Every host city has turfed the poor and vulnerable from their homes, built the hugely overpriced buildings on the site and then robbed their citizens blind through increased taxes for 20 years to build Olympic venues and turn them into armed camps. Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976, and just paid the last bill for it last year! That's 37 years to pay for two weeks of chest-thumping.  One hopes Montrealers are still warmed at the hearth of Olympic memory.  (As an aside: Has no one else noticed that the Olympic Flame in Putin Square looks like a huge erection with a flame spurting from it or all we all pretending we don't see that? I never know what to think in these situations, but I know it's not polite to mention so I probably won't say anything.) 

What I really want to ask is - Why not a "We Have to Live On This Earth" Olympics?  Let countries compete for gold, silver and bronze medals for developing solutions to the pressing problems of humanity rather than pouring billions of scarce dollars into arenas where people can skate really fast, or do flips in the air.  Of course we all know this is crazy talk, but you've read this far. Might as well finish the page.  

There could be a "competition cycle" of 12 years, with three divisions. All strategies would be public domain open-source, so they could be used, expanded, built on, manipulated, refined, etc.

Year 1 of the cycle)  Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies to produce commercially viable sources of clean, renewable energy.

Year 4 of the cycle) Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies to grow healthy food for people within 100-200 miles of where they live.

Year 8) Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies which communities could use/adapt to insure that the health, education, nutritional  needs of all its citizens are met. 

Year 12) The cycle repeats: Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies to produce commercially viable sources of clean, renewable energy.

Sport has value. It provides motivation for physical activity, is a binding force and an outlet for competitiveness. It provides a lot of joy, but when the glorification of sport takes precedence over  providing the necessities of life for a country's citizens and becomes a financial burden on its most vulnerable then it's time to reassess what is truly important.

I'm done. I've had it with the CBC until the Olympics are over. Good luck to the Canadian athletes, they've worked hard and I am genuinely moved when I see how much of themselves even those who do not qualify for a final try at the medals have invested. Many of them are wonderful examples for our children, but it's now time to also do our best for the world we live in, not for profit, but simply for the love of doing good, and for the love of all humankind.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Silver Tiger

Does the above feline, sprawled in blissful abandon on the silk sofa, look like a trained guard dog? Well, don't be fooled. While he'd let a burglar walk in and steal the family silver (two unmatched tablespoons from a long departed great-grandmother's set and only silver plate at that) he is a mother tiger when it comes to his kitten baby.

Kitten baby, now 16 months old and taller by almost two inches at the shoulder than his "big" brother weighs 10 pounds and is perfectly capable of defending himself should push come to shove. But Smokey still considers himself to be the kitten-protector, which is charming and sweet in a way, but the pits at times. Any time we have to clip Hobbes' nails or do anything he objects to we have to put Smokey in the bedroom and close the door, because he won't tolerate anyone hurting (or even upsetting) his baby, though he will corner Hobbes and beat the crap out of him when he's tired of being teased by the young devil. 

Last night Tony walked down the hallway, right by Hobbes, who was in a "popcorn" mood. He was being silly, bouncing off the walls and yodelling like a Swiss goatherd. Tony got halfway across the kitchen when Hobbes launched himself under Tony's feet and Tony's foot came down on Hobbes' tail.

Hobbes yelped and ran under the rocking chair to hide. Tony got down on his hands and knees looking for Hobbes, to make sure he hadn't actually hurt him.

Smokey was sitting on the cat tree. He saw the entire incident and apparently was displeased that his kitten had been hurt and worse, was concerned Tony was going to hurt Hobbes again. Since Tony was in his pajamas, he didn't have socks on. Smokey ran up behind Tony and sank his teeth in the back of his leg, just above his ankle.

Off to the bathroom. It bled quite profusely, which we encouraged. We slathered it with alcohol-based sanitizer and then poured peroxide on it, wiped it down with antibiotic cloths and decided he was probably okay, and didn't need to go to the ER for antibiotics. Both times we've had problems with cat bites they didn't bleed at all. This time blood ran in rivulets down his leg. So, it looked fine this morning, and seems to be healing without infection. Tony had a tetanus shot in Nov of 2012 when he fell down the stairs at the hospital and needed to be sewn back together, so we won't worry about that.

But who ever heard of an adult male cat being protective of another male cat? Tony wouldn't scold him, as he said he acts out of love for the kitten, not out of anger, and he's right. Smokey is never aggressive otherwise. He's a perfect gentleman, he just won't stand by and see his kitten hurt! 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Purple Runner

Today's post was written by my older son, Ian, and posted to his Facebook page. I repost it with his permission. 


"Excuse me sir, do you have 50 cents?"

She didn't really look at me, just noticed that my boots had stopped next to her. Something stationary in the flow of bodies stepping around her and her wheelchair.

"...just 50 cents more and I can buy a sandwich."

Her request was quiet, if I hadn't stopped I wouldn't have even have heard her.

She didn't know what my answer would be but I did. See, I had already walked by her once.

I was transferring between buses and from a distance I saw her; a lump in a wheelchair, covered in blankets with one leg stuck straight out. As I drew closer two things stuck out to me; one, how desperately thin her one leg was and two, the bright purple Converse running shoe perched out on her foot like a flag. Who would wear bright purple runners when they aren't able to walk?

As I turned the corner I stopped a brief moment and looked back at her. She was old, frail looking and far too thin, her gnarled hands carefully counting the change inside a ratty-looking change purse. The contrast to the purple shoe was a strong one but in that moment I felt that I understood. She could see the bright, young looking shoe and it made her happy.

I walked on to my bus stop; #3 bus in nine minutes.

I looked back down the block where I could still see her one leg sticking out with that bright Converse shoe.

#3 bus in eight minutes.

Like many I often debate whether to give money to people on the street presenting themselves as in need. I've given money to an apparently homeless man and watched from my rear view mirror as he handed over his collection of cash to a drug dealer. It just seems simpler to not give money and support homeless shelters and charities that work for the homeless. After all, one doesn't want to support an addict's drug habit, right?

#3 bus in seven minutes.

That shoe was still out there like a flag and in a moment I made a decision. I didn't care what that woman chose to spend her money on. She was suffering and even if I only brought her a short respite from it, I intended to give her that. I reached in my pocket. I had a ten and a five, agonized briefly and folded the five crisply, small so it fit inside my hand.

She was waiting for my answer but her gaze didn't rise to meet mine. I finally replied.

"Sorry, don't have 50 cents, but here's five bucks." I smiled and pressed the folded bill into her hand.

Her gaze snapped up to mine and she stared at me in amazement. "Oh THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" she said, her face breaking into a gigantic crooked smile.

I turned away because suddenly I felt ashamed I hadn't given her the ten instead.

I walked back to my bus stop and waited. The purple Converse bounced and came wheeling around the corner and she lurched herself into a Tim Horton's [coffee and sandwich shop] that I hadn't noticed.

Five minutes later she was back out, a bag in her lap and another friendly stranger pushing her wheelchair across the busy intersection. She turned to see me, waved, and when I waved back she blew me kisses. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. I still felt ashamed I hadn't given her enough for two or three sandwiches.

So here's the question and why I wrote all this. In this case it's easy to say I did a good thing... but if she had bought a bottle of vodka with the money would I have done a bad thing? As citizens of this world is it our responsibility to judge or control how someone relieves their suffering? Or is it our responsibility to help reduce their pain, in any way we can?