Christmas in USA

Yesterday I went to Houston, TX… a quick 24 hour trip but in many ways it was like a trip to a another planet.

Don’t take me wrong, it is not that Texas is such a far off place. Texas is part of the Union and for all it’s eccentrics there are plenty of nice folks there.

Let me explain…


Two worlds in one place

I was visiting Muslim friends from Pakistan who fled to China for their lives… while there, they waited for almost seven years to be accepted by any country… the USA opened wide their generous arms and they were resettled in Houston, Texas!

My friends now live in a large complex mostly inhabited by Pakistanis. I spent the night with friends north of the metro area, they  are Texans of many years and told me how Houston has changed. I was not quite prepared for what I was about to see. As I drove towards my Pakistani friends home, I passed blocks and blocks of Chinese signs, a truly confusing experience. According to Rice University, Houston has become the most racially diverse megalopolis in the US! Who would have thought…

When I arrived, there were three ladies visiting, as I walked in they covered their heads with their scarves and I was escorted to a bedroom. I was not allowed to be in the same room with them.

After they left, I was offered a scrumptious Pakistani meal. I enjoyed their cooking, Pakistani food is amazing! As I ate my friends told me about life in the USA… hard work, taxes, busy and busier… they also shared how they fondly remember their lives in back in a village… a long gone experience.

As I took all this in, I thought… only in America… only in America. Thank God for this generous land which welcomed me and still today welcomes so many.

Christmas is about the greatest gift ever given, the King of King who came in a manger to bring life to all creation.

This King said… when we welcome the stranger we welcome Him.

Merry Christmas!

Our first graduating class


The business women of Pertiwi

These 14 ladies have worked hard, been careful how they manage their resources, and been faithful in paying back their first $100 loan, then their $200 loan, and now after a good year of effort they are receiving their third and final loan of $300. Their achievement is quite special and sets them apart as models of entrepreneurship among our community of 1,138 members.

For this special occasion, we had with us Sacha Huijsman a Micro Lending expert from the Netherlands who pointed out that a MicroLoan enterprise such as ours is usually developed by institutions and not individuals. She encouraged us by affirming our best practices procedures.
It is all about people who truly care for others. Our founder Ibu Sora cared enough to reach out to those who were different than her, yet shared a common need to live in dignity and raise their children to be people that do good.
I had the privilege of meeting Ibu Marcona of Desa Katang Rejo. She decided to use her first loan to support her husband’s vegetable

IMG_3979 - Version 2

Ibu Marcona to my left with the black hijab

business. It was a good investment and she was able to pay her loan on time.

While working with him, she noticed that there was an opportunity for making Tempeh, a healthy soy bean snack that everyone loves. She started selling it to resellers who loved her product. She applied for and received a second loan of $200. The additional cash enabled her to make about 1 kilo per day. Her Tempeh was so good that soon, she had demand for up to 6 kilos per day!
She now has received her third loan of $300 and she will continue to grow her business, employing a couple more ladies to increase her production. Ibu Marcona is but one example of the 14 stories these ladies lives represent. Her two children are going to school and have the blessing of eating well and living healthy.
Our dream is to see our current clients grow and fully develop their skills and business acumen. In doing so, their families gain dignity and respect for themselves as they are lifted from the endless poverty cycle. In turn, they enhance the quality of life and the economy of their communities, creating a more just existence for all.
We have 1,000 new ladies ready to start this process. Each one of them needs $100 to start their business and change their lives.
We aim to raise $100,000 to make this happen. Will you join us and give through Next Step? Your gift will be solely used for the ladies of Medan.

Jakarta gets new leader

For the first time in 50 years the people of Jakarta have installed a new Governor rejecting discrimination on the basis of religion and instad focusing on proven effectiveness.

Those who thrive in hate and discrimination are always a minority. The citizens of Jakarta have choosen the better way.

A better model

As the new President of Indonesia establishes his style and moves forward with his agenda for the nation, a new awareness is emerging that the country has a unique role to play in todays emerging nations.

As the largest Muslim nation, democracy has taken root in Indonesia and President Jokowi who comes from the working class is showing that good governance is indeed possible.

This recent piece by the editorial team of the New York Times makes the case from the perspective of the US.

21st Century Leadership

[dropcap] C [/dropcap]ongratulations to Pak Joko Widodo (53), newly installed as President of Indonesia!


I first went to Indonesia in 1998 a few days after Suharto, dictator for 31 years, was deposed. The city of Jakarta was in shambles as many were killed in the confrontation between the military and the civilians who wanted democratic change.

Since then, four presidents have sought to bring prosperity and change to the nation with varying degrees of success. These well meaning leaders have all helped the established interests of those who have profited from political connections and corruption. Their interests have mostly ignored the poor and have severely limited the development of the nation.

In the meantime, a man coming from among the common people was emerging as a leader interested in efficiency, honesty and real change for the nation.


The first day of a new Indonesia

Enter Jokowi, a man of unparalleled contrasts. A furniture salesman who was impressed with the social justice he saw in Europe and wanted the same for his people. He decided to enter politics without the support of any of the existing political parties and became the mayor of his hometown Solo in Central Java. After a very successful tenure, he decided to run for leadership of the capital city Jakarta.

He surprised everyone by choosing as his running mate Ahok, a Chinese Christian. He won the elections and their leadership has positively changed Jakarta in unprecedented ways.

Today (yesterday in Indonesia) starts a new day for the nation. Jokowi faces significant economic, social and political challenges but he faces them with the calm assurance that as long as people understand the issues they will work with him to improve the lives of 260 million Indonesians.

He has offered to set up a one-stop shop for investors to speed up business permits within six months, gradually cut fuel subsidies within three years, move tax collection online and prioritize maritime logistics and mass public transportation.

Internet for the Village

As President elect Joko Widodo awaits his inauguration next October 20 he has been laying out the ground rules for his administration. In his usual style, he is talking to the common people in the villages, street markets, sports halls as well as diplomatic representatives and visiting business leaders.

Jokowi and Mark FB

Jokowi took Mark to Tanah Abang a traditional market. There, he got him pair of pants.

Yesterday, Mark Zukerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook was in Jakarta for the Internet Developers Summit.

Indonesians are hooked on Facebook. There are 69 million Facebook users out of a population of 251 million (estimate 2014). Making the country the fourth largest FB user in the world, 1 in 4 locals are FB active!

Jokowi, as the new President is affectionally known, wants to empower all Indonesians through education and sustainable business practices and he is convinced that the Internet plays a key role in that process.

Zukerberg’s initiative has been specifically designed to make that possible. He describes it as a global partnership dedicated to making affordable internet access available to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected by making information available to more people everywhere and by providing more affordable devices, Mark’s initiative is at the forefront of empowering the people in the village at every level.

Out of the mouths of children

Once again young people are making their voices heard at the global stage.

While the implications of the youth led Arab Spring Movement are still being sorted in several nations, young people in Hong Kong are standing up to challenge the seemingly absolute power of Beijing.

Joshua Wong

Joshua Wong speaks persuasively in favor of democracy for Hong Kong

Joshua Wong, who turned 18 yesterday has emerged as one the iconic faces of the Hong Kong Occupy Movement. The skinny young man started his leadership career a couple of years ago when new rules were drafted to teach a new form of Patriotism. He disagreed with the decision and launched the Scholastics Movement designed to oppose changes to the curriculum. The government rescinded it’s plans and Joshua and his friends when back to their classrooms. 

This time, however the stakes are much higher for the protests are directed at decisions made at the highest levels of government of both Hong Kong and China. Joshua was arrested for 40 hours and his detention stirred a response which has brought tens of thousands blocking traffic in one of the worlds most important financial hubs.

However, Joshua is just but one of the unprecedented number of people who have taken peacefully and in remarkable order to the streets demanding that the leaders of the nation live up to the commitments made when Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997… the year Joshua was born.

In reality the chances of their success seem quite limited, after all soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are standing nearby ready to follow orders and fully capable to eliminating any dissent.

To understand the reckless behavior of the normally obedient and compliant young people of Hong Kong one must realize that they are standing up for the democratic process promised under the ideal of “One nation, two systems”. This was a solemn agreement signed by the highest representatives of both China and Great Britain. 

Secondly, it is important to recognize that in a very small nation with one of the highest population densities only the full freedoms of a democratic process would afford equal opportunities to the majority. Besides, even if they were allowed to vote for their chosen candidates, China would retain all power as Hong Kong can not make foreign policy decisions and does not have an army.

Thirdly and perhaps of equal importance is the faith which drives Joshua and his friends. As followers of the way of Jesus, they look to the future full of hope and expectation. Furthermore they are clearly motivated by a unparalleled commitment to love their neighbors as they love themselves. This is what explains their rejection of violence as a tool and their unwavering respect for authority.

At a time of increasing political apathy these youthful protestors of Hong Kong are presenting us with a great challenge and a practical model to let our voices be heard.

The question are, are we listening? And will we take steps to also respond to the injustices in our communities?

Hope for Greece

PhilemonPhilemon is driven by a passion to see his native Greece functioning again as a nation where people live in harmony and support each other towards a common well being.

However, the nation faces staggering challenges, for example the unemployment rate stands at 27% percent while 65% of young people ages 15-24 did not find work this summer. 

Greece is currently one of the main gates to “freedom” from the turmoils created by the crisis in Syrian and ISIL. The official number of foreigners living in Greece is 800,000 but this number does not include the estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants

A response to the crisis is embodied by Golden Dome, a neo-Nazi party which is increasingly making itself known as it gains representation in Greek politics and the European Parliament. 

The crowded community of Kypseli, Athens

The crowded community of Kypseli, Athens

In spite of severe limitation of people and money, Philemon and his Streetlights team endeavor to meet these challenges by making their presence known in the Kypseli district of Athens, also known as one of the most densely populated communities in Europe.

The squares of  Kypseli are the stage where Streetlights connect with young people and create spaces where their creativity and talents can be harnessed for the benefit of the community. As people tell their stories, they encourage tolerance and acceptance.

They also run a used clothes shop which has become an income generating center as well as a place to help their customers understand what they are doing to bring a positive message. 

Philemon and his team are passionate to open new avenues of service. They have explored many possibilities but found the best ideas as they meet neighbors and ask them questions seeking to identify solutions to their own problems. An innovative solution was found in Hydroponics. Philemon says “there are lots of empty floor spaces in so many buildings and these can be used to grow food!”. The team has started growing food and they plan to make Hydroponics a regular practice in the community.

Philemon is one friend who understands that dealing with the root issues in society start right people are at, in their local “village”.

Join Philemon and help Streetlights bring life to Greece.

The truth isn’t “sexy”*

Terrorism, sex trafficking, water availability and poverty are the most pressing issues of our day. The impact they have in our daily lives boggles the mind.

A lot of time and money has been invested to deal with these issues yet they remain and continue to get worse.

Is there anything anyone can really do? Are there real solutions?

While at the 21st FICA conference in Columbus, Ohio, I met with a group of Indonesian university students who spent three full days discussing the Development of Small Manufacturing in Indonesia.

As we looked deeply into the issues it became apparent to me that the urgent conditions that have arrested our attention are but symptoms of a much greater problem. The root issue goes deeper and it starts in the village.

While the urban sector represents the majority of the global population, the rural sector still contains 47% of the total population (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs).

Every day large numbers leave their villages and flock to cities looking for a better future. In these cities, a few find employment but must live in deplorable conditions, while most simply languish, adding daily to the explosive growth of slums. I have been in slums from Jakarta to Cairo and the conditions are very similar. Most would like to return “home” but with no jobs, there is little incentive to return.

Langkat, a fisherman village north of Medan

Langkat, a fisherman village north of Medan

Last May, I visited Jentera, Karang Rejo and Langkat, three villages around Medan in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. I went with Ibu Sora who lives in Medan and for the last year has been running a Micro Loan scheme which she started with her own funds. She now has 1,000 women as her clients!

Each one of these ladies borrowed $100 with a commitment to pay it back in six months, $5 each week. They now run thriving consumable business, assisting their husbands in the support of their families. They are living examples that life in the village can work and work well!

By developing small industries that emerge from within the context and values of the local people, a world of positive and sustainable change can come, creating opportunities for honest employment and development.

A few friends have come to similar conclusions and are focusing their efforts towards sustainable development at the “village” level.

FICA and the Indonesian students in the USA are pursuing opportunities which can change the direction of a generation of people.

I’m joining them and encourage you to look deeper and support efforts which focus on the deeper issues.

*I first heard of “The truth isn’t sexy” from Shannon Hopkins, a fellow warrior investing her life serving people in London

[author title=”Author” author_id=””][share title=”Share” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true” reddit=”true” email=”true”]

Jokowi for President

DSC02119Joko “Jokowi” Widodo represents the ultimate “dark horse” of any presidential election. Last year he was repeatedly asked if he wanted to run for president but he always said, “my job is to serve Jakarta and that is all I think about every day.”

In the two years since Jokowi became Governor of Jakarta, his reputation for efficiency and care for the city and it’s people has broken all records for popularity. From his barefoot walks in the flooded streets and slums to his sponsoring of bike riding and street festivals in the most important avenues of the city, almost everyone is thrilled to have a leader that has broken the mold of local politicians and has made a palpable difference in the lives of all. From the poorest to the wealthiest, everyone has been impacted and the majority approve of his leadership.

Therefore, it was no surprise when Mrs. Sukarnoputri, leader of the PDI-P party and daughter of the
father of Indonesian democracy, asked Jokowi to be the party’s presidential candidate.

The impact has been felt all over the archipelago and Jokowi is poised to win the contest next July 9th.

Last night, I interviewed a couple of university students in Medan, 1,288 miles from Jakarta. They explained their preference for Jokowi by saying that he represents the future. The other candidates, they clarified,  represent the old way of politics but Jokowi surrounds himself with younger people who are eager to improve the lives of the 250 million inhabitants of this 4th most populous nation in the world.

One of the most exciting prospects for Indonesia is that as a nation it has sought to defiDSC02120ne itself by itself. Instead of falling into the North-South or East-West definitions of the last century, this nation has sought to carve an identity of its own. With Jokowi as president, Indonesia has the potential to lead the world by caring for the poor first and thus caring for the well-being and health of the nation.