ABOUT EAST AFRICA
By Laurie Germeraad Kagay
Based on an Interview with Gregg D. Garner
August 14, 2014
This interview was recorded in 2014, 16 years into our development work began in East Africa,
with Gregg D. Garner, founder and president of G.O.D. International.
Where Do You Work in east africa? Do You Have a Hub?
The East African Community is officially, and politically, known as the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, though there are talks of incorporating a few other border countries. Our "hub" location is in Uganda, but we still have programs in Kenya. We also work with refugees from Rwanda, and the DRC, both of which have populations of refugees in Uganda.
Though a strategic location is important, a hub has less to do with the geographical land plot and more to do with the relationships we have cultivated. Similarly, the nature of our organization has less to do with resources and goods channeled to people (though we do some of that), and more to do with the human resource. Our human resources in East Africa include both a team of specialists that move between here and the country, and cooperatives on the ground in Kenya and Uganda (pictured at left).
When it came to picking an actual property location (which we did in 2012), we knew it had to be a place where we could demonstrate what we teach. Human beings are most often driven by what they have always known, or what they have already seen. In a land full of pain and suffering, however, there needs to be something new to see. Having a land plot is important because it gives us the opportunity to showcase something new, a model that could be implemented by others. One of the ways we model newness is in the very way we cultivate and construct the physical space that God has given us.
A land plot allows us to demonstrate what it is we teach. For example, if we encourage people to attain a diversity of diet in order to experience nutritional health, we also need to be able to produce of a diversity of edibles for our own nutrition, and even some extra to share. If we simply went grocery shopping at the city grocery stores, we would not share in the experiences of rural farmers, and our solutions would be much less viable to them. But because food production and nutrition are important aspects of what we teach (essential lessons in an area of hunger), we needed acreage to farm. We try to help people capture the greatest use of their land through bio-intensive methods, showing that they do not need a lot of land to produce more than enough food.
Living outside of the capital city, Uganda’s rural people have a lot of reasons for distrust. The capital city experiences development through the deprivation of natural resources and unfair market values for produce they take from the rural farmers at a very low price. Choosing a location that would put us in proximity to impoverished people who need education was a necessity. Our land plot is near people in need, and because of that, our solutions can be visible, tangible, and open for their participation. We become an alternative way of doing things, in contrast to the ways they've always known, city included.
One of the major benefits of our location is that it borders a government primary school. Part of our missiological paradigm is to not send our children to expensive, private boarding schools, as is often the case with foreigners in developing nations. Instead, we participate with the local school(s) in improving their educational system, making it a place suitable for even our own children. This keeps us accountable. If what we do isn’t good enough for our own children, then it shouldn't be good enough for anyone’s kids, right? In the summer of 2014, we formed a formal partnership with [St. John's] school. Within the first few month of the partnership, we doubled their teaching staff, performed health assessments on all 350 of their students, resolved long-standing water catchment issues, and devised a plan of action for how to make this school (which had been one of the worst schools in the nation, according to locals), one of the best places for children to learn.
Are you concerned with Relief or Development in the region?
We do both relief and development work, but we are primarily concerned with development. In regards to relief, we have provided food for families in crisis in Kenya and Uganda, as well as distributed clothing and necessary supplies yearly. We’ve assisted in a number of medical emergencies. We were involved in the relocation of internally displaced persons in Kenya following the violent election revolts of 2007-2008. This is linked to our responsibility to be peacemakers, bringing conflict resolution to troubled areas. In doing this, we bridge opportunities for development. Regarding development, we work to develop human beings.
What are some things that make your work distinctive?
We have been involved in East Africa since 1998. Over the years, our presence has benefitted individuals most notably through their development as critical thinkers. Because of poverty, situations they face put them in a position of desperation. They are often overworked because of accepted systems of injustice, so they look for shortcuts and a way out. In our experience, these “quick fixes” leave them more vulnerable and impoverished than before. We try to empower people to think critically, so that they no longer take things at face value, but instead, examine whether or not a situation is truly beneficial. This helps them to no longer be ‘tossed by the waves' of media trends, or political solutions, and allows them to make better, empowered decisions.
Alleviating Dependence on the West
Despite the growing trend among many nonprofits, employing Africans to make jewelry to sell in the U.S. will never be an effort of our organization. We know families who have fallen victim to this scheme, believing that it would help them. They stopped planting crops, and focused all of their energy and efforts on jewelry making. They wore their fingers down to the bone from rolling beads, and used the limited space in their home to store a room full of bracelets. In the end, they did not get the return they were promised. Without income and produce, children became sick, school fees went unpaid, and further malnourishment complicated their already difficult lives.
In contrast, our development approach does not foster dependence on the West. Instead, interdependence amongst people within their local community and independence from foreign economics is the goal; so that their release from poverty won't be dependent upon the West's economic well-being. Instead of exporting their goods, we want to see people in East Africa producing quality products for their own local community, so that their local market can be enhanced. In doing this, the current migration to major cities, resulting in uncultivated land and familial division, among other issues, will be circumvented. In turn, this would correct paternal absence, increase education and nutrition, and at the same time, improve the commerce sector. It is for this reason that we are involved with business development. We offer insight and skill for producing and enhancing businesses that can contribute to real needs within the local area, while also offering necessary services, fair pricing, and quality employment.
Solidarity and Commitment.
The people of East Africa appreciate our efforts to both speak the language, and understand the culture. Instead of taking an approach of power with a dominant perspective that orders others to “do it this way,” we engage in conversation and dialogue with our cooperatives on the ground. We are not coming in as rescuers from the West, but instead entering their world with a deep sense of solidarity and commitment.
Spiritual and Moral Development.
Because many people in East Africa come from superstitious backgrounds, their interpretations of the bible can be magical and even harmful. We educate people to understand that God’s word is a spiritual Word with moral implications. They learn that studying the Word of God will make them better spouses, parents, neighbors, and friends. Rather than just religious men and women of power (which in East Africa, often equates one with being wealthy and influential through media), we help people to understand that service, not power, and humility, not strength, are the goals of learning God’s Word.
We have offered countless bible seminars throughout East Africa, and our cooperatives have been involved in a formalized distance education program through the Institute for G.O.D. Int'l since 2006. In August of 2014, we launched our formal post-secondary (college) biblical education program at the Institute for G.O.D., East Africa.
What are some examples of ways in which individuals you have worked with have benefited, or grown, from your presence in the region?
The most profound testimony of our presence in East Africa is from our families from Kenya and Uganda with whom we have had longstanding relationships. They are dear friends to us, and have been empowered through our education--foremost in the Bible, and then also in agriculture, preventative health care, sustainable building, water-well repair and more. Our cooperatives from Kenya and Uganda live on our land plot with us—showing that unity is not just possible with Americans, but with East Africans, regardless of race and class distinctions.
Establishing a land plot has given us the opportunity to introduce a lot of new innovations that people haven’t seen before. The first time we built a multi-purpose center (2002), we wanted to build it with the consensus of the locals. This proved quite challenging, however, when we found that their ideas about the “most advanced technologies” were actually nothing more than the most expensive options, which they had seen on city billboards. Most people (even their ‘experts’) had very little understanding about how to build a large structure versus a small house, or the safety and security necessary to construct such a building.
By 2013, our cooperatives had grown in their practical skills to such a degree that they were the foremen in the construction of an innovative, alternative method structure on our land. The triplex, pictured at right, serves as a transitional housing structure for development agents, as they build their own houses on the land. This of course includes our East African families as they transition on to the land. Our cooperatives have continually retrofitted their homes with eco-toilets, smokeless stoves, sanitation techniques and water catchment systems. We have certified and trained individuals in technologies that are appropriate to their areas (technologies they weren’t formerly aware of), such as Interlocking Stabilized Soil Block, eco-toilets, lime-washing, and borehole repair. In working with us, our cooperatives and several other apprentices have had to learn new methods, causing them to draw upon critical thinking and creative innovations rather than merely tradition.
What Needs Do You Meet?
Systemic issues that plague East Africans are broad. We are limited as to which ones we can deal with by our team’s capacity to meet those needs. In that case, our team is currently able to focus our efforts in five areas: 1) Public Health, 2) Sustainable Development (including shelter, water, and food production) 3) Maternal and Infant Health, 4) Education and 5) Social Reintegration of Victims (often prisoners).
Though everyone knows that malaria is a problem in Africa, what most people don’t know is how often malaria is misdiagnosed. If someone has the very common symptoms of a fever and chills, a pharmacist (often with no medical education) will almost always prescribe malaria tablets. The malaria treatments are extremely hard on the body, especially on undernourished children. Often, it is cheaper to prescribe antimalarials than to perform a blood test to determine if malaria is in the bloodstream or not.
Because of this, we have often witnessed parents giving their children antimalarial tablets as soon as a fever sets in. As antimalarials are misused and overused, the parasite actually becomes resistant to them, so that they become obsolete within a number of years. Our organization doesn’t have pharmaceutical interests, but rather, the intent to change the environment in order to have dominion (Gen. 1:26-28) over swarming things (Lev. 11) (here mosquitoes)—again, requiring hard work, discipline, and a willingness to try something new.
The cure for malaria exists (the US once had malaria and eradicated it, ), but having that cure accessible to the poorest people, or in time to save their lives is difficult to do. A friend’s son had malaria when he was very young. The disease began affecting his brain vessels (called cerebral malaria, which is commonly fatal), and they were not able to control it fast enough. Now, approaching his teenage years, he is an invalid. This didn’t have to happen, and we want to prevent it from happening again.
We educate people on malaria, along with other common culprits to ill health. In regards to malaria, prevention is more than bodily preparation (wearing long sleeves, sleeping under a net), but also environmental (planting specific plants that repel mosquitoes, ensuring that grasses are cut short, standing water is eliminated, etc.).
Our medical approach is not just clinical (though that is a necessary part), but more so a public health service—educating people to have dominion over their environment and transform the way they make considerations for health is paramount.
We’ve been in communities where people think they will die if they take a shower at 4pm. It is part of the propaganda of the city to make sure that when they shut the water off in the afternoon, no one complains. But because of superstition and a lack of critical thinking, farm hands who work with animals come home and eat dinner without cleaning up. Discovering issues like this and coming up with solutions that alleviate health problems through education is a major part of our work. Based on education on environmental concerns and basic hygiene practices alone given in Kenya, the families we educated were completely free from illness for an entire year--a major feat in East Africa. We hope for this to be the case for more and more families.
Infant and Maternal Health
We have a midwife, as well as two others in training, along with labor assistants and childbirth educators, who can help women have better birth outcomes. In Africa, a better birth means one in which the mother and baby survive. In facilitating seminars for women about childbirth, we have been faced with questions about how to keep the malnourished mother conscious through a labor, or what to do when a child is stillborn.
Fear in childbirth is a major issue in East Africa because so many women are undergoing cesarean sections if they do not birth fast enough. Women are expected to bring all of their supplies (gloves, sheets, scissors, along with food and water) with them to the hospital, and will be turned away if they do not have the funds to pay for the services. It is a rare occasion that a clinic would allow a woman to have a baby without a C-section, which is a dangerous surgery. Local midwives also have extreme practices (like slapping a woman during labor so that she will stop screaming ), likely developed because of the sheer number of births and so few attendants equipped to handle them. Contributing towards the dire need for birth workers is the primary way in which we are helping. This will eventually be coupled with training birth workers from the local area.
There is a phenomenon in East Africa: very few people finish their homes. It is common to find a grandiose blueprint that they paid an architect in the city to draw, and hear about their plans for the multiple phases. The blueprints will incorporate garages, when the families do not currently even have windows. They will sometimes spend 20 years with no front door in hopes of finishing the second phase of such a project.
The families we have been working with have been learning about space. We taught them that they could let go of their plans for the 4,000 square foot dream home. Instead, they could be content with an 800 square foot home, finish it, and their families would sleep better at night. We are not only concerned with adequate housing, but adequate innovations (like screened windows and doors, flooring that doesn't hurt a woman's body, and kitchens that are safe).
For example, it is common to find young girls distributing buckets outside of their home when it rains. The buckets fill and they run to retrieve them, emptying them into a storage tank. They run in flip-flops, carrying buckets too heavy for their small bodies, to return to a home without dryers for their clothes, not knowing the connection between wet clothing and being sick (especially with an already weak immune system). There are other dangers, too. A young girl we knew died from a fall after hitting her head on a rock while she was out in the rain collecting water. We build structures with water catchment tanks distributing water away from the house and into receptacles. We recognize that structures can contribute to their health, and we want to show them that it is possible (even with limited budgets and local resources) to ensure safe and adequate structures that are conducive to life.
Issues of food production, particularly with regard to creating a nutritious variety, is a major issue. Though most East Africans have been farming their whole lives, most of them only grow what they have always grown, in the way they have always seen it grown. Often, if they decide to do something different, it usually involves getting bigger machinery and more land (unrealistic solutions for a common farmer in Africa).
Instead, we focus less on big land solutions and more on solutions for farmers with small amounts of land. Our team has specialists in food production and distribution, including men who know how markets work, and can implement more than just a market system that depends on major cities, but can incorporate local efforts for diversity and low prices. Our cooperative Rueben Ndwiga, from Kenya, has already provided services for over 100 families who wanted help growing food more effectively on their plots. It worked.
Education is a part of everything we do, but we also focus on education in and of itself. Education encompasses everything from primary to adult education. Teaching an adult to count keeps them from being taken advantage of in everyday activities, like selling items in the market. Focusing on education means not only teaching children, but also training teachers with more veritable methods for long-term success.
Social Reintegration of Victims
We are involved with re-integrating outcasts and victims back into social health. We have a strong relationship with a prison that houses criminals from the largest and most populated district in Uganda.
In Uganda, those suspected of a crime are guilty until proven innocent, and are thrown into prison until they get a trial (which could be years). We have helped a few get released from prison through advocacy work, and also partner with the prison to help them re-integrate prisoners back into society with a healthy mindset. This kind of social reintegration is necessary not only for prisoners, but also soldiers (especially when they were forced into combat as children), as well as sex slaves--two demographics present in Uganda.
 Center for Disease Control, "Elimination of Malaria in the United States [1947-51]. Global Health - Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, last updated: Feb. 8, 2010. https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.html
 Okafor, Judd-Leonard, "Women wins suit against nurses who slapped, abused her during delivery," Daily Trust, Published March 31, 2018. https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/woman-wins-suit-against-nurses-who-slapped-abused-her-during-delivery.html