Director’s Blog: Chaos

Chaos. Can we avoid it? Should we try to?  Should we run from it or do we belong in the middle of it?

I recently spent a week in a small remote community where one of our Villages of Hope is situated. The area is rich with natural beauty and has the most stunning view and the people are warm and welcoming.  This region, however, is extremely impoverished and living conditions are harsh. The town is run down with only one multi-storey building existing as the only sign of modern development. One should not be fooled by the exterior of this building, however – its interior has been neglected for decades.

Other than the main road coming in from the west and exiting to the south, the roads show serous signs of deterioration. One must be careful driving and parking as the drop off on the shoulder is often as high as a meter. Most buildings are in desperate need of a paint job and shopping is very limited – there is one main grocery store, which, during the week that I was there, was not able to bake bread because the mixer was broken. Apparently this is not unusual; I was told that a couple weeks earlier no yeast was available for the bakeries to make their bread.

During the week that I was there, I was struck with the sense of chaos that seemed to be present everywhere I went. The administrator of the Village of Hope and I visited several government offices and I was amazed at how difficult it was to get appointments with the government officials as some had gone to the capital city so appointments were made for when they were due to return, but not kept because the individual had not returned as planned.

When we entered the offices of the officials, we were overwhelmed by the stacks of files on their desks; no filing cabinets were available to them. The officials we did meet with were doing their best with the limited resources available to them and it amazed me what they were able to accomplish in such conditions. Yet, from my western point of view, it all seemed so chaotic.

Villages of Hope – Africa cares for vulnerable children and in Africa today there is no shortage of children.  In the countries where VOH- Africa is working the majority of the population in each country is under the age of 18. You can imagine the potential for chaos when you have that many children to care for in your nation. I was conducting a Child Protection seminar one morning and two babies from one of the children’s homes were in the meeting because with the house mother and other staff all at the seminar there was no one else available to care for them while the meeting was taking place. It was great to have them there, but, as you can imagine, it did make for a more challenging time during training and interaction.

That same week, I had a group of Canadian visitors with me who came to help at the Village – a real blessing for sure – but on top of doing Village of Hope business, we needed to ensure that things were in order for these visitors.  Part of what made that week exciting and yet still feeling chaotic, was the fact that in the mix we had African, Canadian, South African and Irish all working together in one location, each bringing their own cultures and worldviews. I’m sure you can imagine what communication was like with everyone speaking English, but each with a different accent and a different worldview.

Chaos is defined as a state of utter confusion, and this is how I would have defined my week at the time. On my return trip to Lusaka with the Canadian visitors, we stopped at a lodge in a national park for the night. The next morning the group decided to get up early and go on a safari drive. I chose to stay at the lodge and enjoy peace and tranquility sitting next to a beautiful African river. The water was perfectly still and the reflection on the other side provided a perfect mirror image of the trees and shrubs. As the birds sang and went about their daily business, I enjoyed the peace (it was a nice change!). However, as much as I was enjoying the moment, I was reminded that chaos is where we need to be, for where there is chaos there are people; in fact, the more people the higher the chaos. Yet this is where we need to be. It is fine to retreat at times to rest and re-energize, but if we want to make a difference we need to place ourselves in the midst of chaos.

I salute the many workers at all our villages, those who place themselves in the midst of chaos every day in order to care for vulnerable children. Many of them have left the comforts of home, peaceful environments, and family to work and live among the vulnerable. I am so thankful for each and every one of them, from Village Directors to Administrators, to house mothers, teachers, and security guards and all the others who work to care for the vulnerable children in our care. Their work is not easy but very much needed and appreciated!  Thank you to all!

Until next time,

Sergio Bersaglio

Executive Director – Villages of Hope-Africa

 

Director’s Blog: What we can learn from the elephants

Recently I read an article on the BBC News website about a research team that monitored the reactions of herds of African elephants when they heard the sound of lions roaring. The report stated that “Groups of animals with older female leaders, or matriarchs, very quickly organised themselves into a defensive “bunch” when they heard a male lion.”

According to the study, matriarchs can differentiate between the roar of the male

lion and the female. According to Dr. McComb, it is the male lion that poses the greatest threat to elephants. He says, “[Male lions] can be successful in bringing down a calf even when alone. Female lions are unlikely to attack unless they are in a large group.”

The study also shows that younger female elephants do not react the same as the older matriarchs. Dr. McCombs explains the strange finding. He says, “We think it’s because they hadn’t had sufficient exposure to that threat; lions don’t [attack elephants] that often.” However with years of experience the mature female elephants were learned to distinguish the roar of the male lions from the female, even though according to Dr. McComb “The differences are very subtle, it’s very difficult for us to tell them apart.” However, for the sake of the herd these female elephants learned to distinguish the roars.

At the end of the article Dr. McComb added that the study had demonstrated the need to conserve and protect these older animals. “These older individuals clearly have a vital role in how well elephants function in their social groups,” He says.

The Village of Hope has long known the value of mature women when it comes to the care of Africa’s vulnerable children. Placing orphans in a home setting with a house mother is something we have been doing from the beginning. Experienced mothers know the dangers the children face. They are able to sense real danger and gather her chicks under her protective wings. Vulnerable children face many dangers and it takes a well experienced mother to sense the danger and warn the child. We have among our house mothers those that are young and with limited experience, but they learn from the more senior and experienced house mothers. We also invest in training programs for the mothers. It is not long until they learn to

House Mothers from VOH-Kitwe

sense where the real danger to their children comes from.

So just like the mature matriarchs of the elephant herds, the house mothers of Village of Hope play a vital role in the well being of the children we care for. We are grateful for the many dedicated women who care for the children we care for at our

various villages.

Until next time,

Sergio Bersaglio

Executive Director – Villages of Hope-Africa

Link to the story on BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9425000/9425590.stm

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