A Dream So Big

When I was in high school at Rift Valley Academy (a boarding school in central Kenya), I remember our college counselor, Steve Peifer, starting a free lunch program for kids in rural schools in the area. It was a simple idea, but really significant, since a lot of these kids came from very poor families and probably only had one meal a day, in the evening. Since then, this program has expanded to 35 schools, feeding over 20,000 Kenyan school children. A few years after he began the lunch program, Steve also started establishing solar-powered computer labs, also in rural schools. Now there are 20 schools where kids have regular access to a kind of technology many had only ever dreamed of learning to use. Incredible!

Steve has recently written a book telling his story of how the death of his son led to his family’s move to Kenya, and how what they experienced there brought them to invest so much into the lives of thousands of Kenyan kids.

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Today is the release date of his book, A Dream So Big: Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger. So if you have a few minutes, check it out on Amazon, and if you have some spare change, consider buying a copy! So much of our life is taken up with hearing about tragedy and sadness (take any given day of world news headlines as an example) – here is a story that reminds us of the many beautiful things in life, and how even tragedy can ultimately lead to something far greater than we could have ever imagined.

Preacher on the bus

(Jan 1, 2013)

We bought tickets for the 7:30 am bus to Kapiri Mposhi, but it’s the kind of bus that doesn’t leave until it’s full. So while it was sitting in the station, waiting to fill the last of its seats, a young man walked on board and started to preach. Tall, thin, wearing black satin trousers and a white sports coat, and of course, carrying a large bible with a black leather zip cover.

I was twice surprised by this. First, I wondered if he was supposed to be there, and was half expecting the bus driver to appear at any moment to ask him to please leave. But when nothing happened, I realized this must be an accepted practice, on this bus at least.

Second, I assumed, based on experiences in the US, that he was the Zambian equivalent of a street evangelist, and I prepared myself to hear the usual gospel message of repentance and salvation. But instead, he turned out to be more of a traveling preacher – he told the passengers he would just take a few minutes of their time to share a message with them for the new year. He was obviously assuming that most of his listeners were already Christian and didn’t need to hear the basics.

Walking up and down the aisle, he challenged the passengers to commit their lives to the Lord in this new year of 2013. And he kept to his word – after about 10 minutes (that’s short for a sermon in Africa), he wrapped up his message with a prayer. Apparently he had some listeners, because at the conclusion of his prayer, I heard more than a few ‘amens,’ some of which were quite loud and responsive.

After this, he walked down the aisle one last time, holding out a large white envelope, apparently for donations. I was again surprised to see that almost everyone in front of me dropped something into the envelope.

This blending of religion and public identity, I think, is far more common in the African way of life than it is in the West. People are much more comfortable operating out of a religious context, regardless of the religion. They are generally unapolagetic about their beliefs, and though they may challenge expressions of faith other than their own, they aren’t usually offended by them. In fact, I have found it is much easier, in this part of the world, to have a lively discourse about religion without causing offense, than it would be to have a similar discussion in the US.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 97.5% of Zambians call themselves Christian. With numbers like that, one could almost say that Christianity has grown to become a national identity – to be Zambian is to be Christian. And that’s exactly how it felt on the bus that morning. Christianity was a given, the accepted norm out of which the passengers were operating. So it didn’t come as a shock then, when we finally pulled out of the station, to hear Zambian praise and worship music piping out of the bus speakers. It accompanied our entire journey, and no one objected.

The Dume Challenge

While Steve and I were standing in line at Tanesco (Tanzanian Energy Supply Company) to pay our electricity bill, we noticed a reality-type game show playing on the TV in the corner. It looked like any other reality show – an attractive host, beautiful beach scenes, some participants battling out the challenges for the ultimate prize… And it looked to be a Tanzanian show, with a very high production quality. Since I’m already interested in the state of video/television production in Tanzania, I was intrigued.

At the end of the next commercial break, as the show was starting up again, we noticed that it was sponsored by a product… Dume… but we couldn’t figure out what the product was. Of course, we asked the young Tanzanian man in front of us what this product was, and after fumbling with his words for a few seconds, he told us “condom.”

It was then that I noticed that the game show participants were all wearing t-shirts and caps with the Dume logo emblazoned across them. How odd to us from the US, to see an entire reality show very boldly sponsored by a brand of condoms!

At first I assumed this was just one of those ‘cultural differences’ between Africa and the US. But after a little bit of searching online, I came across a few things that make me think this is more than just your typical Tanzanian game show.

The first is this article,
http://allafrica.com/stories/201209010390.html
which is about Tanzania’s continued efforts against HIV/AIDS transmission, and which mentions this reality show in the last paragraph, as part of that effort. The Dume Challenge.

And then I looked up the organization that is behind the reality show, T-MARC.
http://www.tmarc.or.tz/index.php?id=39
A local, Tanzanian-run social marketing organization, with partners like USAID, the CDC, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose purpose is “to develop and expand consumer markets for a broad range of health products” in Tanzania.

Turns out the Dume Challenge game show is part of a larger AIDS awareness/education campaign funded by USAID, in coordination with PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). On their website, PEPFAR has stated that some of their current goals are to create ‘country-owned and country-driven’ projects and to ‘address HIV/AIDS within a broader health and development context.’ It is interesting and encouraging to see these goals unfolding on this end, with local players addressing local issues. My sleuthing only got me so far, however. What I’d really like to know is who came up with this HIV/AIDS campaign idea in the first place?

On that note, let me leave you with the intro to The Dume Challenge, which I found on YouTube.