Changing the perception of Africa one blog at a time

One of the many reasons that I committed to doing this blog was to not only keep my family and friends updated on my life and adventures in Africa but it was also to change people’s very outdated perceptions of this glorious continent.

Many of those who I spoke to about my journey were all under similar illusions that this is a war torn, poverty, drought-stricken land filled with people dying of famine. While this is a perception that has been true at time, it has been mainly conjured by the media, governments and even development projects such as I am involved with. There is entirely different prospective that people are not seeing and understanding. Africa is not the Third World continent that it was  and still is portrayed as in the Western World’s media.

And please note that it Africa is a continent….not just one country but 54! Granted this number changes on what seems like almost a monthly basis as new boundaries are defined by either war or democratic efforts. Yet, all of the 54 countries that currently make up the continent of Africa are still growing and developing systems and infrastructures equivalent to those found in the Western hemisphere. There are many schools of thought on how best that this development should take place. Some are strong proponents for the assistance provided through foreign aid; while others argue the success of African countries who have done it on their own without the complications and patronizing attitudes of the west. Many of the volunteers that I know agree with me that the current system of development aid simply doesn’t work or have the intended results. But that is an issue for another blog.

Back to the topic at hand, Africa is an amazing, beautiful continent filled with 54 countries that are so unique in landscape, culture and life. Please stop thinking about it as only a land of famine, poverty and war. Change your perspective, it is the best thing that you can do for those who are in more vulnerable situations. Use the internet to search and learn about the unique beauty of landscape and people that are just waiting for you to discover. The following post which I found on the on-line version of the Toronto Star features an article about Oxfam’s campaign to change perspectives as well.

Oxfam ad campaign ‘reimagines’ Africa, draws criticism

Oxfam2Africa is starvation, hunger and poverty. That’s how the vast majority of British residents answered when they were asked about how they view Africa in a survey commissioned by the influential charity Oxfam. So Oxfam figured it was time for the continent to be re-imagined, in a manner of speaking, and help locals in Britain see Africa through a different lens. To that end, Oxfam kicked off 2013 with a new ad campaign highlighting Africa’s beautiful scenery. The ads depict lovely waterfalls, fruit markets and lush landscapes. At the time, Oxfam’s then-chief executive, Dame Barbara Stocking, told BBC News, “We want to make sure people have a really better balanced picture of what’s happening in Africa. Of course we have to show what the reality is in the situations in those countries. But we also need to show the other places where things are actually changing, where things are different.” “Let’s Make Africa Famous for Its Epic Landscapes, Not Hunger,” one ads reads. Another: “Let’s Make Africa Famous for Its Food Markets. Not Its Food Shortages.” Oxfam1 Oxfam3Oxfam official Nick Futcher said in a phone interview from London that the campaign was meant to coincide with this month’s G8 meeting in the U.K. Oxfam, which has an annual marketing budget of $6 million, spent about $1.2 million on the campaign, Futcher said. Futcher said preliminary surveys of about 1,000 respondents suggest the campaign was a success. “The percentage of people who believe that the global poverty problem can be solved has gone up from 60 per cent in our survey to 75 per cent,” he said. The local press in the U.K. covered the unorthodox ad campaign, and reader reaction was mixed. “I think it’s a great campaign, but what I found a bit upsetting and annoying is that Oxfam is one of the organisations that has spent a great part of its history creating the very stereotype that it is now criticising,” said one reader on The Guardian’s website. “Fair enough they have changed their mind but I would like to see just a touch of humility and acceptance of responsibility on their part for the image that they had a hand in creating in the first place.” I read Oxfam’s Futcher that comment. “It would be hypocritical to say that we’ll never show people in need again, but I think this campaign really succeeded in convincing people to look at Africa differently,” Futcher said. “You have certain ads for certain jobs. I think you’d have to go pretty far back in Oxfam’s history to find images that show people without dignity or children in hopeless situations.” Nigeria-based journalist and Huffington Post contributor Tolu Ogunlesi has offered stronger criticism. “Am I alone in thinking Oxfam’s lamentations suggest a British public that is at the mercy of what they are fed. Helpless Brits who somehow cannot – despite all their efforts – rise beyond the bombardment of pity-evoking images of Africa. One might as well rephrase Dame Stocking as follows: ‘Oh poor helpless people of Britain, all they’re being fed is harrowing, unhelpful images of Africa. We need to stop that. We need to feed them something different. We need to change their diet.'” If Futcher could do the ad campaign again, he’d do things slightly differently. “What was missing for donors was, ‘what do I do next?'” he said.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

Zimbabwe here I come!

As my friend and former Veterans Affairs Canada work colleague Andrew McAulay would say, someone had better warn Zimbabwe that Cheryl is about to land because it is never going to be the same ever again!

The presents are bought, money exchanged, all I have to do is finishing packing (Tanyala is helping me chose suitable clothing) and wait for Lawrence to pick me up early this afternoon then we hit the road. i have been told by Lawrence that I will actually get to have my turn driving the Mercedes. Even Buche was jealous! He figured that I would make good time driving in that nice machine as he calls it. Plus if I am driving I can stop where ever I want to, poor Lawrence has so much to learn about women but I am teaching him slowly but surely. By the time I am finished with him some lovely Zimbabwean beauty going to have the perfect man, right Lawrence?

Of course, I am unbelievably excited about the trip for many reasons. However, I am not sure that the Dingwa household will ever be the same again. We will see after the weekend if they will ever open their doors to a crazy woman from Canada ever again 🙂 Thankfully I got most of my misbehaving out of my system last weekend. I should be able to practice some decorum and control but no doubt I will have my moments too. Hopefully they will be out of sight and hearing of the Dingwas. 

We are booked for the day at Antelope Park on Sunday so that I can play with the lions and accompany them on a bush walk, yippee! Hopefully I won’t get eaten or if I do that Lawrence will remain calm and take some great photos. There would be no better way for me to go! But alas, I have promised Buche that I would back so being eating by a lion is not an option for this trip. Perhaps another time.

So everyone have a great weekend! I promise that I will return next week with wonderful stories to tell.




The Saint continues to surprise me

Buche has once again surprised me! Just further proof that there is always something new to learn about people.

This morning after finishing a meeting, I asked him to take to me to a fabric store where I could make a purchase of a specialty fabric which I wanted to get as a present to take to Lawrence’s mother. The particular fabric that I was intent on purchasing is a traditional cotton fabric known as ‘German Print’ or  ‘Shweshwe’. This fabric is used to create traditional dresses worn for weddings, traditional ceremonies, important occasions and even every day wear.

It originally came in an indigo blue color and was brought to Africa by Europeans in the 1800’s with it’s manufacturing taken place in Germany, thus the name ‘German Print’. The introduction of blue print to South Africa was with the German settlers in 1858 / 9 who settled in the Eastern Cape and Natal. The demand from the German Settler woman prompted traders to import this fabric from Europe, thus during the nineteenth century the Xhosa women gradually replaced their animal skin garments with newly available cotton ones. The “school” woman, who were educated at mission stations, started to dress in European style dresses to cover their bodies, enjoying the blue hue the indigo gave their skin.

The fabric is still incredibly popular and I had it on very good advice that it would be a perfect gift to take Mma Dingwa. So off Buche and I went to purchase it. Once we arrived at the fabric store recommended by Jetske, Buche surprised me by coming into the store with me! I never expected him to join me on my shopping expedition. I was further surprised once in side of the vast store of his knowledge of the fabrics. He quickly got someone to assist us and we immediately headed to a large table which contained the tradition fabric in the now traditional colors of blue, red and chocolate brown.

It was like I died and went to heaven. I love fabrics and textiles! Having a table full of to select from was incredibly. With Buche’s assistance I selected what we both agreed was a perfect pattern in indigo blue. See for yourself:


Like the true gentleman that he is he even carried my purchase for me which also included some for my mother as well. And as we were exiting the parking lot, he further astounded me by telling me that the fabric needs to be hand washed before working with so the final product comes out beautiful and supple.

You see, the original Shweshwe is very stiff when new because in the history of the fabric it had to endure the long sea voyage from the UK to South Africa, so starch was used to preserve the fabric from the elements and gave it a characteristic stiffness. After washing, the stiffness disappears to leave behind a beautiful soft cotton fabric. 

So once again he simply proved what an amazing man that he is and how lucky I am to have both him and Lawrence in my life. Both of them take such fantastic care of me including helping me navigate the unfamiliar cultural landscape and treating me like the ‘Princess’ that I am always being referred to since coming here. I am one incredibly lucky woman.

On another note, I also paid a visit to Liquorama to purchase a bottle of whiskey for Lawrence’s dad. Once again I proved that I simply can dance any where and anytime with out even realizing it. I was the only customer in the store at the time and incredible African music was playing while I was being assisted with selecting my purchase. To be honest with you I didn’t even realize like that I was bopping along to the beat until I was at the cash register and realized that all eyes were on me. Everyone was grinning and the manager even said to me that it was very obvious that I was loving the music. The lovely young man who had assisted me with my selection and purchase carried my bag to the door for me and told me that the song was from the DRC and being sung by a Motswana. Obviously they were very pleased to see me so enthusiastically enjoying local music. What can I say! I am in the land of great music and enjoying every minute of it.




The connection between food and HIV survival

The connection between food and HIV survival (this article originally appeared on the Toronto Star website

Three decades after HIV first emerged, the virus is no longer a death sentence. Thanks to antiretroviral therapy drugs, a newly-diagnosed 20-year-old can now expect to live for 50 more years.

But a new study by researchers in British Columbia underscores the fact that treating HIV has to do with more than just giving patients drugs — ensuring they are well fed matters too.

The study looked at the connection between food security and HIV survival rates, tracking 254 injection drug users across British Columbia over 13 years.

Roughly 71 per cent of those patients reported being food insecure when they first began their HIV treatments — and the study found that those patients were twice as likely to die.

“The introduction of life-saving antiretroviral therapy has significantly reduced HIV-related morbidity and mortality,” said senior author Robert Hogg in a press release. “However, the impact of insufficient access to food, particularly quality food, on the mortality of HIV-positive injection drug users is alarming.”

HIV/AIDS and food insecurity are “intertwined in a vicious cycle that heightens vulnerability to, and worsens the severity, of each condition,” according to this 2009 study.

There are many ways in which food insecurity can increase one’s risk of contracting HIV in the first place, the 2009 study notes. Surveys in Swaziland and Botswana have found that food insecure women are 80 per cent more likely to enter the sex trade and 70 per cent more likely to have unprotected sex. Food insecurity also leads to malnutrition, which can make people more susceptible to HIV infections by compromising their immune systems and “gut and genital mucosal integrity.” Otherstudies have also suggested that malnourished mothers are more likely to transmit HIV to their babies.

Food insecurity has also been linked with poorer drug effectiveness and lower adherence rates to treatment regimens. One paper cited in the 2009 study noted that HIV patients in Uganda receiving free drugs were still forced to choose between spending their money on transportation to clinics and using their limited funds towards feeding their children.

The 2009 study concluded that there is a growing recognition of how food insecurity impacts HIV survival rates but much more research is still needed to better understand the link.

Hogg notes that his study is only the first to examine the impact of food insecurity on HIV survival rates amongst injection drug users.

“The research points to the urgent need to further investigate the impact of food insecurity on the health outcomes of people living with HIV/AIDS,” he said in the press release.

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

The Perfect Winter Afternoon

The conclusion to a wonderful weekend and a perfect winter afternoon for me today was a poolside brunch with my girlfriends Erin and Sheila. As the temperature rose to 30 degrees, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch of homemade waffles, maple syrup, fruit salad, omelettes and banana chocolate chip muffins. As you can see from the pictures below not a lot was left over! And following stuffing ourselves we lounged poolside reading the newspaper, magazines and talking until the sun went down shortly after 5 pm. Truly a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon 🙂  and not at all like you would do in Canada in the wintertime.

Sheila and Erin
Sheila and Erin in very serious discussion


Keeping hydrated

Meanwhile it is actually winter in other parts of Southern Africa. This morning there was snow at Sutherland Observatory in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Glad I am in Botswana
Glad I am in Botswana