Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whats Up? (some photos)

Just some photos from the past couple weeks.

This guy can play some seriously great music
(he made the guitar from carving a tree and using bicycle spokes for frets)

Matimba - climbing the truck.

Some of our retail packaging. (see website for more -

Two reasons why Forest Fruits is succesful - awesome team culture & management

Trying to get this bicycle engine to work.

Couldn't do it without some help from my friends.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Guest Blog from Chris Nawej

Today I’m happy to introduce my first guest writer on my blog, his name is Chris Nawej and he is the Operations Manager for Forest Fruits Zambia, he grew up in the DRC and  has now worked in Zambia for 7 years.    I work closely with Chris and was lucky enough to have EWB host him at a conference in Toronto just two months ago.  Chris has put some of thoughts down to share with you.    Below are some photos from the trip.

   - Mark


Among the things I learned in Canada (other than what it’s like to shovel snow, and how expensive everything is) I have never known that telling someone that they’re fat is such a problem, or even an insult because in Africa we are used to people coming and saying “Chris you have become so fat”.  Surely being fat is not something I want to do, I want to reduce it.  On my trip to Canada I met Kristy and I don’t know if I told her she was fat or how it came about, but she said “Chris, shut up.  You shouldn’t say that - here we don’t say that”.  It was good to learn about the culture.  So something that I’ve been using for the past 30 years in my vocabulary, now I can’t use it.  Imagine a world where when I say to someone that they are fat - it means they are eating well – but now I’ve learned that in Canada someone getting fat, it’s like they are lazy.  Yet they are the same world.  It was good to have people around me who understood me and where I was coming from.

My biggest impression from my trip was to find people with so much energy and passion.  Passion for things that are not personal, such as clothes, movies personal careers etc, but a passion to see another part of the world to develop.  Why was this impression so big?  Because I live in a world where people are self centered , they think of themselves so much.  Even though people claim to work for other people (NGO, gov’t or business) they are using their resources to advantage themselves more than the people they say they’re serving.

At  the EWB conference.  Through being with Mark, I learn that yes, EWB was about really finding out what the issues are.  But I was really impressed and touched – not so much from the presentations given by big NGOs, these I’ve seen in Zambia through my 7 years at FFZ – their language is full of sweet talk, but because when I looked around in the room during the conference and listened to the questions people were asking, they really wanted to know about the effect and the results of all the interventions and decisions that are made.  That really opened my mind to see that people were really interested to see results, people wanted to know how have the lives of people been changed. 

Another thing was – what I can call – the approach of EWB.  In the past it was more on technology that could change the lives of people.  Throughout the conference I discovered that EWB is at the level where it wants to invest in the development of people, I could see that it’s more about people rather than just the technology that they are using.  I believe in this approach because for me, I believe the good way of helping Africa is to help Africa develop themselves.  Africa has all the resources, Africa is rich, but many people in Africa haven’t  seen that they can change their lives with what they have.  This was also supported by what I got through the conference where one of the guests said “the development of Africa has to come from African’s themselves”.

It’s time for young Africans to change their mindset, to change their belief to learn that they have to work to develop themselves… not to expect people from outside to change it.  We have seen it, a lot of people have come from outside, but it’s like we are still at a receiving point rather than to work hard. 

A story that touched me was the story of untying aid.  I didn’t expect to hear that story.  After being around 600 EWB members, I can say I’m no longer surprised, but when I first heard it I felt it was a big signal.  For me I knew that something needed to be done, because … for example, for the UN, it is said a lot that more than 70% of the expenditures remains in the western countries.  They believe that when you want to give help to Africa you need to spend on things to give to Africa, and also to spend on wages of expatriates. This story showed to me the love that people in Canada have for Africa, that people want to see that Africa is being helped in a good way – not in a way where the help is hiding something behind.  I have to say thank you to EWB, this is a good effort. 

I can also say that I have never spent time to think about the work I’m doing and the way I’m changing the lives of people, until I had this trip and to see the place that Forest Fruits had to have during this conference.  I felt that many people were happy with the work we do, before I thought “yes we’re providing a market to people”, but I’ve never spent time to really think about it.  This gave me an opportunity to get feedback from people and it encourages me to continue the work I’m doing, maybe not always with Forest Fruits, but wherever I am, my work has to have a positive impact on other people.

One surprising thing at the conference was to see the lack of African students involved with EWB.  I was both a bit surprised but also a bit happy.  I felt embarrassed when people asked “are there not African engineers who can do the same thing that EWB is doing the same” – the answer is yes,  there are many in Canada, but the truth is maybe we don’t have these people with such spirit.  This is why I encouraged three Zambians I met to stay with EWB and to meet and discuss with other African students to become members.  I didn’t feel good to see so many others getting so concerned, but this is a movement I’ve seen that is strong and with young people who really want to help. 

To close, I met really good people.  The way I was greeted and with some people like Kristy and Liz, we could interact as if we were knowing each other for a long time.  And if that is the spirit in EWB, then I have found the right people to share with.  I can say that I would be happy to become a member of EWB and I will even send my $40 this month end.

I would like to thank all the EWB staff, starting with George and Parker – we had some good discussions - and special thanks to Mark my colleague who taught me about this conference, to Robin who helped organizing me to get to Toronto and to everyone who contributed.  I won’t close this without thanks to my two new good friends I met, Liz and Kristy.

Here we are - at a jazz bar, in Toronto.

Chris gave a presentation on his vision of Forest Friuts at the EWB conference.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Videos

As promised, before I left the land of high speed internet (Canada) these videos were put onto youtube.

I didnt realize how poor the quality of a youtube video was until now.

Oh well, enjoy.

Me on the back of a motorbike with Chiko - we're entering the town of Kabompo

The neighbour's little boy is dancing up a storm one morning.

Here we get stuck on a desert plain on our way to visit some beekeepers.

Chiko and I are preparing to cross the kabompo river - I find out I'm getting in with the bike.

Evans and Seleyi are standing in the middle of swarming bees at the factory.

All is well in Mwinilunga.  The rains are heavy and the honey season is almost over.

My guest blogger will be writing very soon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Highest Potential

An article I received

This articles ends like this - “children anxious to learn, anxious to help, itching to be and become, he would see what every traveller with time on his hands sees: the tremendous, untapped genius and energy of youth in Africa. And he might ask, as I ask: where does it go? What happens to them? What is it that keeps killing hope in Africa?”

What I’ve seen in Jasford and Patel

Last July I started working with a young guy named Jasford, he had worked hard at Forest Fruits for 6 months to save about $150.  He managed to save by living at home and commuting from his village to save on rent and food, and he also avoided alcohol and splurging on nice clothes.  When the honey season ended, he worked with his brother, they started one of the millions of informal businesses in Zambia. Jasford wanted to go to college to learn how to be a mechanic, he needed $2000 to pay for tuition.  With his brother they bought and sold gasoline from the nearest fuel pump which is 300km away.  After 6 more months passed, he had almost $500 saved.  Someone suggested he buy a cow and sell it when prices would go up for Christmas.  He spent the $250 on the cow, unfortunately it died and he only got $50 from the carcass. 

There goes some hope.

But he was far from giving up.  We met and went over the numbers, he kept repeating how important profits were, not revenues.  We found that he could make the most money by working at Forest Fruits and going to buy gasoline on weekends, then his brother could sit by the road and sell the fuel while he was at work.  He was on his way, it was going to take two years, but that was alright.

Jasford then asked me to help him with mathematics so he could pass his entrance exam.  I asked him to bring his final high school exam, and we’d start there.  We sat for a good 6 hours trying to get through the first question, and it became obvious that somehow he had passed grade 12 without ever knowing what a variable was – for example, in the equation “x + 5 = 21”, he wasn’t taught how to solve for the variable x, or even the concept.

The government high school had failed him…there goes some more hope.

His friend Patel is another example of a young guy who works so hard I can’t help but dream a better future for him.  This guy is the ultimate handyman and he’s only 20 years old.

But.  Just today his relatives came and asked the boss if he could be excused from work today to attend a funeral.  How does this effect his approach to planning for the future?  His hope?



I work with another amazing guy named Evans, and I would love to have him as a guest on my blog one day as well.  He is in the second highest position in the company, and yet you can find him without a dollar to splurge on a cold drink.  For months his nephews and cousins were staying at his house and eating for free.  They would sit around while he worked over 40 hours a week and studied another 20 hours for business management degree via distance education.  They just sat.

Even though Evans has found a way to make a good life for his wife and kids, he is part of a system that can pull him back.  Why should anyone work as hard as Evans when they see that he doesn’t even get to keep the rewards?


“Where does it all go?“

 In some ways it may not be all that different from Canada, we get older, more cynical and sometimes more humble.  It reminds me of something Ralph Nader said last year at the EWB conference: our 20’s are beautiful because we don’t know what isn’t possible.

Here in Zambia its just more severe and systemic, things we (in Canada) take for granted such as health care, education, law enforcement… just don’t work well in Zambia.  Everyone starts out with a truckload of hope and potential, but as the years go by, as most attempts become failures due to circumstances beyond control, then the natural result is a sincere life of living within your means.  You become modest and VERY risk adverse.

This is why I strongly believe the highest potential and the biggest rewards will come from empowering Zambians who are in their 20's.

(3 weeks ago Jasford started studying to do electrical work at a college in Kitwe, his church has sponsored him for the part of the tuition)