Hope for Venezuela

Growing up in Venezuela I was accustomed to abundance. Caracas, the capital city had everything one could want. This prosperity, unfortunately resulted on general “careless” mindset. There were abuses at every level and at the highest levels of governments the abuses were greater. Everything has changed in the last 40 years.

The resulting abuses and injustice created a space that President Hugo Chavez decisively filled in 1999. He defined his leadership as a rally point for the poor to demand what was unjustly taken from them. Chavez became the undisputed leader of the country winning with overwhelming majorities the elections three times. He changed the constitution and even the name of the country.

 In 2008, the last time I was in Venezuela, I saw a lot of progress and could sense that real positive social change had taken place at many levels. People were generally happy and a sense of prosperity was palpable everywhere.

Chavez then, began to project his message beyond the borders of Venezuela becoming a messenger of justice and a “savior” to the poor everywhere. He began by providing badly needed oil to Cuba and other poor Caribbean islands. He even provided cheap oil for the poor in the USA through one of Venezuela companies in the country.

Step by step he changed his role as a solution bearer to one of confrontation against “imperialism”. He weaponized the country purchasing sophisticated arms from Russia. His message began to be diluted as he became obsessed protecting his new found image and  maintaining his grip on power.

His dreams were cut short as he contracted cancer eventually passing away in 2013. In his place, he left Nicolas Maduro, an inexperienced crony who has mismanaged the national resources and has alienated even those who supported Chavez.
Life in Venezuela today, is one of the worst in the whole world. However due to governments information restrictions there is no accurate data since 2016. Last year the Health Minister released an update on the nations health and he was promptly sacked and today is living in exile.

These statistics for 2016 showed infant mortality, or deaths of children aged 0-1, climbed 30.12% to 11,466 cases last year. The report cited neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, respiratory distress syndrome, and prematurity as the main causes.

Maternal mortality, or death while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of a pregnancy, was also up, rising 65.79% to 756 deaths, the report said.
There were also 240,613 cases of malaria last year, up 76.4% compared with 2015, with most cases of the mosquito-borne disease reported in Bolivar state.

Cases of Zika rose to 59,348 from 71 in 2015, reflecting the spread of the mosquito-borne virus around Latin America last year. There was no data for likely Zika-linked microcephaly, in which babies are born with small heads, although doctors say there have been at least several dozen cases.

Inflation is at 652.67% (compared to last year) making it one of the highest rates in the world. This means that the average monthly salary, of those who have a job, can only buy food for a family of 4 for one week.

Venezuela’s inflation

Government restrictions have made assistance to Venezuelans an impossible feat. Corruption at all levels has made individual approaches very complicated.

How can Venezuela be saved?
My heart is sick watching the tragedy that has come upon Venezuela. I have been searching for answers and after many conversations found some keys. 
First of all,  we are convinced that the solution must come from the inside through local people who truly care for their communities regardless of their political inclinations.
Secondly, hunger and health must be the first priorities areas where strategic investment must be made. The focus must first be in rehabilitating the rich lands that lay fallow in order to grow nutritious fast growing crops that will feed people quickly. 
New approaches must be implemented in order to stop the speed of insect borne deceases. Children and adults must be protected from bites thus stopping the spread of Malaria, Dengue, Zika and other deadly illness. 
Finally, partnerships must be established between people outside Venezuela and trusted locals that would enable practical solutions to be implemented. 

Currently, we are working with local leaders who truly care for the well being of the people. Through Next Step, we raised $15,000 to purchase 3 hectares of land which are now being used to grow potatoes and black beans; produce that provides basic but important nutrients. 
Last September 400 kilos of potatoes were planted and three months later, early this December 1,500 kilos were harvested. The Back Beans did not produced as expected due to heavy rains during the same time. The produce is being sold locally at a price that covers the costs and allows for new crops to be planted again. Their prices are 20% cheaper that market prices.
They have also planted herbs both medicinals and for food as well as long term crops like Avocados.

We are now also working in partnership with LivFul in order to distribute a product that will provide protection from insect bites. LivFul 100% organic product provides an unprecedented 15 hours of protection per application. We need to raise $40,000 to cover the costs of the first phase providing 200 participants protection for 150 days. After a second phase costing another $40,000, we hope to start producing locally in a for profit venture.

The situation in the country is bleak but the the possibilities are endless. The people of Venezuela are ready for a new start and these local initiatives are ideal to stimulate a fresh entrepreneur mindset in the country.

If your heart is broken like mine is join us and make a lasting difference. You can either help us plant food or help us protect people from insect borne disease. 

Sewing for Life

Last July while visiting our partners in Denpasar, Bali, I met three ladies who had been infected by HIV-AIDS through their husbands; they found themselves ostracized and with no way to care for themselves or their children.

Andy and Chika and Missy

Fortunately, they met Andy and his wife Chika who run Gerasa, a community serving people in need. They offered the women and their children food and a place to sleep. The ladies went through the training program and now serve others who find themselves in similar predicaments. We have worked with Andy and Chika for the last 9 years, we know the special love and care they give these women,

Together with Andy, we developed several initiatives to help these women and others like them to stand on their own feet while encouraging others to find dignity, freedom and peace. Some of those initiatives included cleaning motorcycles, laundry services, selling food and coffee, and even making and selling organic soaps. However, they were not able to find sustainable success in any of these.

A couple of months ago, my colleague Andrew Jones (from New Zealand) introduced us to Nicole Voelkel (from USA). She is a fellow sojourner from everywhere. She is a Missional Fashion Designer and has worked in projects in Mexico, Mozambique, Colombia and will now partner with us in Bali.

Nicole will be in Denpasar on December 10 and will invest a month to train the minds, hearts and spirits of the women of Gerasa. She will enhance their sewing skills and prepare them to sew her designs using local fabrics. Nicole will then sell their products in the USA and Europe, investing back into the ladies in Bali, empowering them to sustain their lifestyles and continue to serve others.

We have an opportunity to be part of this exciting process by buying 10 sewing machines to get the ladies of Gerasa started. You can help us buy a new machine for $350 which will enable these women to sew items that Nicole will sell in USA and Europe and in turn support herself, her

The Gerasa sewing ladies… Iluh in blue; Putu Yudani in the middle and Juli in red.

children and the work of Gerasa.

Your gift is fully tax deductible (in the USA) and you will be helping sustain not only the ladies sewing but the entirety of the Gerasa community.

You can donate to this project here.

Beyond the volcano

As Mount Agung in Bali rumbles, 91,000 villagers living in the vicinity of the mountain have been displaced leaving their homes and their simple belongings under the threat of imminent destruction.

The famous island of Bali, located right on the “ring of fire” is an idilic place and the most visited tourist destination in 2017 according to Trip Advisor. I have visited Bali dozens of times and have enjoyed it’s balmy weather, amazing hospitality, delicious food and beautiful sites, it truly is a place to cherish.

Some of my best friends are locals who love this island and serve those who are negatively impacted by the dark side of tourism. Illegal drugs and sex trade which are also part of the “attractions” offered here, victimize Indonesians that are caught in the vortex of insatiable pleasure. Local people end up as the hidden victims of sex trade and drug abuse, ranking Bali among the highest HIV-AIDS affected communities in Indonesia.

These days, people like Andy and Frans are turning their attention to serve the displaced in the makeshift camps set up by the local authorities. Together with teams of volunteers they are providing basic services to encourage those who are now fearing for their lives.

Children, are among the ones that need a great deal of attention as they are easily bored and can quickly get in to mischief.

Barbers in The Way are committed to serving the community

Frans together with his wife Lydia run The Way, a barber shop in the Uluwatu area. Here they offer great haircuts at affordable  prices while training local barbers to offer excellent service and customer care. Last Tuesday (September 26) Frans and Lydia brought 25 orphans, who live in the region of the volcano to their shop providing haircuts and then taking these kids to the beach.

Andy and his team at one of the temporary camps

Andy and his wife Chika, run Gerasa Bali, a rehabilitation and community development center for victims of drug abuse and HIV-AIDS. Together with their team, Andy and Chika  have gone into the displaced people camps in order to bring a little joy and fun helping them experience care at deeper levels.

Please join us in praying that the volcano’s activity will not bring further chaos and destruction to Bali.


Activities for the children are critical during this uncertain time

You can also join us in financially supporting our friends who are serving there right now. You can donate your financial gift to Next Step and all funds will be sent directly to Bali.

Papuans in USA

From the most remote regions of Indonesia, they have come to the USA to prepare themselves to bring change to their communities.
Populated by tribal groups, Papua is home to around 312 different tribes, including some un-contacted peoples. The ancient cultures of Papua have remained disconnected from all forms of modern progress. This isolation has given them a sense of identity and autonomy which would be challenged at every level as outsiders began to approach them. Under the jurisdiction of Indonesia since 1969, Papua lies hundreds of miles to the east of Jakarta. It is the last in the string of Indonesian islands.

In recent years a new generation of Papuans has emerged who are committed to their people and land and preparing themselves to bring 21st century leadership to their communities.

Veronica grew up in Sentani. She lost her father at a very early age and her Mom worked very hard to support her and her other five siblings. She worked at an airfield and began to learn about airplanes and airport management. Today, she is studying Business Management and wants to continue to study Aviation Administration management for a masters degree and dreams of providing air transport to remote areas of the vast island.

Anis comes from the remote Highlands, an area surrounded by 3,000 meter high mountains: the only place where one can find snow in Indonesia. He is studying Aviation and Political Sciences and dreams of creating transportation systems that will ease commerce lowering the prices of goods and services.

These two, among the 14 other Papuan students, are preparing themselves to make a difference in their communities. The enthusiasm and commitment to their people is evident in the way their plans were explained.

FICA (Fellowship of Indonesian Christians in America) in an organization dedicated to bring students, in this case – Papuans and mostly Chinese-Indonesians – to work together represents a major step forward in forging a better future for the nation.

The people of Papua feel colonized by Indonesia. The political and economic injustices that have ensued as a result of being ruled by outsiders have nurtured anger and resentment. The attempts by the central government to be of assistance and encourage development have constantly been marred by the corruption that is endemic in all governmental endeavors.

In the mean time, socially, Papua is unraveling. People coming to the urbanized centers from their remote villages experience such clash of civilizations that it overwhelms them. The rates of HIV-AIDS, drug abuse, and promiscuity among young people are among the highest of the nation. A whole generation of young people is being lost. Unfortunately, the traditional safety nets no longer hold society together.

In these uncharted waters there are no road maps that can assure a stable and prosperous future for the people of Papua.

This 24th annual FICA gathering represents a fresh wind of hope for the people of Papua. By bringing together Indonesians from diverse backgrounds FICA is laying a great foundation for the future. I experienced this firsthand as students interacted with each other, both in discussion groups as well as simply sightseeing at night in downtown Chicago.

The plans being crafted between students in the USA will define working partnerships that could last a lifetime, representing real hope for unity and progress.