This morning Colleen texted me the following message from Zambia: “We just finished a visit to the Kenyama slum of Lusaka. It is the end of the rainy season and everything is flooded and the roads nearly impassable. Garbage floating everywhere. Worse than anything I have seen. And in the midst of it is a Nazarene community school serving 500 children. I paid for firewood to cook their meals for 3 months. I love you!” I responded, “Of course you did, that is why I love you.” Now moving beyond the sweet sentimentalities of of our exchange, I laughed out loud that she paid for three months of firewood that will be used for cooking. Her action and communication illustrates the tension we face in our work in Africa – it is the tension between charity and development.
Reforestation is a major goal of the environmental component of the Millennium Development Goals. The use of firewood for cooking and heating has created a huge environmental crisis in most of Africa. Demographers divide Africa into three categories: Africa 1 are the wealthy 1 percent of the continent; Africa 2 is the growing and emerging middle class, about 20 percent of the population and Africa 3 are the vast majority of an impoverished content comprising about 79 percent of the population. In the past 50 years Africa 3 has contributed to deforestation by consuming or using 70 percent of the available forests for heat, huts and cooking.
Looking for alternative fuels such as solar or wind will help efforts to reforest Africa. While at any given moment we may be inspired or motivated to buy three months of firewood for a school in the slums of Lusaka or to share in Colleens complicity, the numerous projects we both have supported in Rwanda, Kenya and Swaziland, we must not stop there. Charity is good for the moment – development is good for a life time. We must help that school to see the value of using newly developed solar cookers and batteries being used in Kenyan slums. They are inexpensive and they use renewable energy. Educating school leadership and the children in that school in altenative and less expensive energy will help fuel the emerging economic engine found in Africa.
Our hearts will always drive us to charitable actions – our minds must move us to development and our souls must find the right balance between charity and development.
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