Wednesday 23 February 2011

Rubber stamping applications

In the work we do, where crossing country boundaries is a regular occurrence, you get to see your fair share of consulates and embassies and all their various guises.

When you deal with any government office, you do get the feeling that once you walk through the door, you go from being a unique individual with thoughts, feelings, ideas and ideals to being a number. Sometimes, you are literally given a number, other times its just an attitude that states a lesser importance to anyone on the 'public' side of the desk.

The poet, Emily Dickinson once wrote, if you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. As I waited the 45 minutes from when the official took my paperwork to the point of returning with a fumbled "not ready yet" answer, I had the opportunity to watch the goings on behind the desks of this consular office. I noticed that they had two staplers, two rubber stamps, three pens and one box of paper clips. But there were four officers on duty, all needing to staple, stamp and clip papers together. As I watched one person pick up a stapler from one table, they put it back on top of a filing cabinet. Then another officer took the box of paper clips from one desk, used a clip and placed it on another desk. This went on and it was like a game to watch where each item ended up.

What was most interesting to me was the sheer amount any one officer spent looking for one of these or other items that had just 'vanished'. I counted at least 5 times over this period where one officer would say to the other "do you have..." or "have you seen the...". It gave me a picture of what potentially happens to my application form as it weans its way from one official department to the other.

For this particular application, I now have four different reference numbers, some interchangeable, some not. They haven't yet admitted losing my paperwork, but the latest news I have had from this office is that if I were to re-apply, it would "help speed things up". I'm not sure how re-submitting paperwork would speed things up, unless of course, someone has filed my application in the bin.

Needless to say, patience is called for in such circumstance; it doesn't 'do' to lose your cool. Yet the self-appointed authority that these establishments give themselves and their officials can drive you to distraction!

Now, of course, I've been told that they can't process the re-submitted application until it has been rubber-stamped from the office in town. What joy tomorrow will be as I return to this office with more forms to be rubber stamped (or not, depending on where they've left their stamp).

Tuesday 22 February 2011

YWAM AfriCom: AfriCom goes to Sudan

YWAM AfriCom: AfriCom goes to Sudan: "AfriCom exists to serve YWAM in locations all around Africa and our next exciting opportunity to connect with YWAM in the field is coming u..."

Monday 21 February 2011

A weekend of false starts

Everyone who's gone through the process of having a baby will know of the feelings you have in the days building up to the 'event'. Becky and I aren't there yet. After twinges, aches and general discomfort, topped with the coming and going of contractions, getting ever regular (every 15 minutes at one point) both of us felt at several different times over the weekend that 'this is the time, he's coming'.

Just as we started to time contractions and put the hospital bag by the door 'ready' for the trip to hospital, all stopped. The most recent was last night, when I was psyching myself up (Pete) for a long night of supporting my wife through this amazing process of labour, the contractions stopped completely. To bed. Back to work on Monday
morning to think about developing a sustainable advertising campaign for our YWAM Africa magazine and do some testing on the database. But my mind is somewhat elsewhere and concentration is hard. Please pray for me.

I've been assured that, as twinges and contractions have started, things will be underway soon. I hope so for both our sakes!

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Taking steps towards the goal

Yesterday I (Pete) spoke to my colleague, Anne, in Nigeria and Charles in Uganda. This three-way conversation - conference call if you like - is nothing new in the western world where virtual meetings are becoming ever-more the norm. Yet in an African context where electricity is often sporadic and internet connections are prohibitively slow, such a way of communicating is unheard of in most parts.

Virtual communications won't replace face-to-face contact. In fact we are increasing the amount of visits we make to our volunteers across the continent of Africa as we develop the communications structure. We are looking to develop a combination of roving reporters, who meet with YWAM teams in remote areas, gather information about their work and then feed it into regional 'hubs' for it to be collected and broadcast and passed on to the relevant parties.

With over 100 training locations and 1,000's of outreach initiatives happening across this continent, it is impossible to expect every one to just 'email' us the news. We are becoming ever more pro-active and
going to where the work is happening, encouraging those in isolated circumstances and advocating the work to a wider audience.

Speaking with Charles yesterday, his passion for communications is wonderful. With little resources to hand (their team has just one computer, one printer and a slow, expensive dial-up internet connection) yet he is passionate about putting East Africa and the work in the countries there on the map. Lydia, my colleague, will be travelling up to Uganda to meet with him in just over three weeks and then from there they'll take a trip up to Sudan to meet with volunteers there and find out what is happening on the ground.

Meantime, Anne is passionate about developing a stronger presence of the already good work done in West Africa. Based in Jos in the middle of Nigeria, her work entails meeting with and encouraging those across a vast region with many hundreds of tribes and tongues.

I'm really excited about the future of AfriCom and how we have a mandate to meet those in mission/volunteer work, encourage them and report the great things that they are doing. We are pioneering new ways of communicating, mixing the essential face-to-face contact needed in Africa with the cutting edge technology which means we can collect video interviews and publicise them online from some of the remotest areas.

**Mini Advert**
As always, we welcome support from friends who want to join us - think/pray about how you can be involved. We are in need at the moment of a web-editor who can help us further develop our website and manage it on a daily basis. If you're interested contact me -

Friday 11 February 2011

Communication in Africa

Working in a communications team for a Christian missions movement in Africa is an exciting and ever-changing place. In the peaceful environment of the comms office, it's hard to imagine what friends in Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia or the DRC are going through right now. Yet we have the privilege of getting much closer to the action than most. And I yes I do mean privilege!

Sometimes that manifests itself in a visit to a region to report on the 'action', other times that might mean welcoming people here who have fled persecution or war. Next month we will be sending a reporter up to Sudan to gather data on how the recent referrendum on the separation into two states will affect the people on the ground. I wish I could go too, but as Becky gets closer to giving birth, I think it may not be the best timing!

The passion that the AfriCom team has to discover what is happening across this continent goes much deeper than what stories make headlines on the 6 O'Clock news. We have friends posted in some of the most remote areas of this continent, serving communities in whatever way they can. These friends email and text us updates for prayer regularly. So, when we sit down to pray, we have on our hearts what great things a nation can achieve and we remember our friends who are out there, serving with humble hearts.

It also raises lots of questions when you're reading through personal accounts of a crisis, like the one in Egypt, from our contacts and friends and then contrast that to the very westernised and, sometimes sensationalised perspectives of the BBC or CNN. Of course friends accounts are subjective and limited to their own experiences, but it does give a flavour and a insight that these big media agencies don't always get it right when it comes to accurately portraying the situation on the ground. And it's limited to bad news, because bad news sells newspapers.

Africa is a very diverse and beautiful continent. Its problems and issues aren't small (but whose are?). It's also such a vast place that while one community can be ravaged by war and hatred, another can be living in peace. As we travelled through Angola last year, we met communities who had never experienced war, yet on the road and in the large cities, the evidence of the destructive nature of war was everywhere to be seen.

As we build our communications network, YWAM AfriCom's vision is to support volunteer teams who want to live with and serve communities whatever each village/city is experiencing at the moment. We want to hear and tell others their stories. We will mourn with them at their loss and rejoice with them in their victory.

But we don't want to be sensationalist. Thankfully in our communications team, we are dependant on donations, so we don't have to rely on selling newsapaper/tv advertising to survive. In a media environment that is a great blessing. Our responsibility changes from making headlines that sell to having integrity to use supporters money wisely - and that means we are judged by our ability to be obedient to what we've been called to do: listen, report and serve those working in mission work across this continent. And the result of that is: most of the work of this organisation is carried out under the radar of big media headlines and journalistic spin. AfriCom is practically unheard of outside of YWAM, which is no bad thing. We pride ourselves in being obedient to our vision and valuing those who need our support. If by-standers don't know about us, then so be it.

Some friends will work in areas for their entire lives to see how they can serve, and walk with communities as they are transformed by God's love. That's not a catchy headline, yet it penetrates so much deeper than a sound bite from a president who says something stupid.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Taking the NHS for granted

It might be true to say that you only really understand the true value of something good when you have to live without it.

Moving to South Africa, we were aware that we would be using a different health care system and that we would be responsible for the costs incurred if we needed to see a doctor or go to hospital. As a requirement for our visas, we needed Medical Aid, which is the South African model for health insurance.

What we didn't realise is that there are lots of hidden charges and squirming ways in which medical aid providers try not to pay up or communicate what they are willing to pay for. Also, we didn't know that hospitals, doctors and other medical services are very unclear on their funding structures.

In fact, the other day a midwife told us "Often it's not until you get the bill that you'll know who is going to pay for what!"

We have had an acute experience of this system moving here right at the time when we are expecting our first baby. In the UK, as tax payers and British citizens, we had no idea how easy we had it. Attending check-ups with the midwife, booking into hospital, having scans, getting prescription drugs and all the other medical services used were all '"FREE". Of course we knew that these costs were covered by our taxes under the National Insurance tax system. But the beauty of the system is the focus: health care first and foremost.

It seems somehow wrong to be given choices, based on healthcare, like you were choosing a hotel room, or a bottle of wine. We have had to make some tough choices on where to give birth, how to give birth (water birth, home birth etc) and pain relief, not based on Becky's well being and future health of her and the baby, but on what we can afford. This makes it clear who has money and who hasn't. What's bizarre is that those with wealth, aren't necessarily given the best choices. Private hospitals in this area encourage those with money and good insurance to opt for a c-section. Why? Because of the safety of the mother/baby? No! Because of fear of litigation, if things in a vaginal birth go wrong. Choices are made, not based on the long-term health and well being of the patient, rather on what will enable the hospital or surgery to reduce the likelyhood of being sued!

We are embracing the life here in South Africa. We have made so many friends from many walks of life who also bemoan the system here. As visitors, we're not inclined to just complain about how 'different' things are here. This is more of a reflection and thanks for the services we received through the NHS.

The very idea of a health system, whatever country you're in, that works for greedy insurance companies and is in constant fear of law suits will never be as good as those that work for the good of the patient. Oh yes, you might get friendly service and a hotel-like environment when you check in, but is that a worthy compromise for behind the scenes decisions made on your behalf? I think that it's is our moral duty to look after the people that surround us and ensure that healthcare provision is based on need and not social status.

For all its faults and difficulties, I love the NHS and I wish that many other countries adopted its model. Never again will I take the services I received from this age-old institution for granted. Thank you NHS!