An opportunity to give: The Slum Library

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Douglas is a taxi driver who lives in the Mathare Valley slum where most kids grow up without books in their homes. So he decided to turn his home into a library. At first, he wasn’t sure how he would fill it with books, but they just started showing up courtesy of his neighbors. Now the library has 3,000 books. He covers 50% of the monthly costs himself and the other 50% comes from community members. Members don’t pay anything but each of them brings in newspapers to sell to the recycling center. No matter where you live in the world or what you do, you can make a big impact.

When I first posted about the library on Instagram and Facebook many folks said they…

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Someone lives in the middle of nowhere

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By road from Mbeya, Tanzania, to Mbala, Zambia

Bags of charcoal as high as a 10-year old are stacked on the side of the road. Someone put them there.

A woman with a child strapped to her back, as is the fashion accessory for most women during their child rearing years, is walking over a barren ridge before stopping to wave.

A little boy sits on an empty feedbag pulled on the ground by an older boy. Dust plumes swirl in their wake.

Houses on the side of the road are made from locally-sourced mud and branch and grass. In Kenya, I met a man who lived in such a house. He called it a “temporary house.”  Temporary house, but he wanted the property to…

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What being a (privileged) minority abroad has taught me about race

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Could I be any more of a mzungu?

“Mzungu! Mzungu! How are you?” The Kenyan kids holler. Or they just stare.

Other kids yell, “Chinese!” Yes, that’s right, they mistake blond-haired, blue-eyed me as a Chinese person. This has also happened to me in Central America several times, which speaks to China’s expanding reach and influence.

This week a new friend told me that I was the first white person he’d ever had a conversation with.

I’ve spent 60 of the last 90 days traveling in Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia and years of my traveling life as a minority. Not only am I majorly a minority in many of the places I travel, I’m a novelty. Sometimes I…

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Burning tires are the voice of the unheard

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They felt like their vote didn’t matter.

Their leader said the election was rigged.

Maybe it was. So they grabbed a tire threw it into the middle of the road and lit it. Many had no agenda, but others thought it would bring the attention of their leaders.

But their burning tire, their noxious scream, was one of hundreds if not thousands. Even the media, perhaps afraid of escalating violence, barely covered the protests to Kenya’s 2017 presidential election.

In Kenya, as it is everywhere, democracy is a story in which the people must believe if it’s to work.

A few anecdotes of why folks I’ve met in Kenya doubt the story:

Voters are paid for their vote.

This doesn’t happen everywhere, but people can list the counties where…

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The Makers of Muncie’s MadJax

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I work in a factory in Muncie, Indiana. Not many people can say that these days.

In fact, many believe that Muncie’s best days–our factory days–are behind us. Our schools are going through budget and transportation issues and a third of our citizens live in poverty.  There’s a lack of hope that we can’t be more than our struggles. That we can’t thrive without factories.

I don’t work on a factory line, but I do make things. I create stories.

For the last ten years I’ve traveled around the world to meet the people who produce many of the things in our lives that we take for granted. I’ve worked alongside coffee farmers…

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Election Day in Kenya

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(My friends James and Thomas)

“Hello, whiteman,” the bush said.

I looked around, but couldn’t see anyone. I wondered if this was how Moses felt?

I thought I must’ve been hearing things, so I kept walking toward the fancy café in Nairobi’s Westlands area. It was closed. Everything was closed today.

It’s election day in Kenya.

Christmas or apocalypse?

When I left my hotel the guard—a woman in a black suit with a red tie— had asked me where I was going. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the few days I’ve been in Nairobi. Yesterday when I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, she nearly insisted that I go back to my room and get my sweatshirt.

I had told her I was walking…

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A bird crapped on me from 33,000 feet, this is what it says about my life

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It felt like someone had chucked a marble, hitting me in the shoulder. It stung. But it also stunk because it wasn’t a marble; it was bird shit.

Now I’m no expert in physics, but given the velocity of the bird poop, the bird must’ve been somewhere in the stratosphere, which starts at 33,000′.

I was hobbling down Main Street from my breakfast date at the Downtown Farm Stand with Annie after our morning CrossFit work out. Since I’ve been traveling for my latest book, it has essentially been a month since I did a workout of much significance, hence the hobbling. It doesn’t hurt to sit or lie in one place and not move. But if Rick Grimes saw me walking down the…

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The hope of America in India

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When you grow up in a slum in India, it can be hard to imagine a world beyond the high rises where your family members work as staff for wealthy families.

I sat in the back of the sauna-hot room and watched young leaders of the OSCAR Foundation, a program that uses soccer as a vehicle to get kids into school and consider a life and world beyond their community, as they listened to an Indian soccer player who played for a U.S. college.

Suddenly the world must’ve looked a little larger to them, opportunities a bit more possible.

Kean Lewis played at Farleigh Dickinson and got an education in sports management. Now he plays for a team in India and in the off-season works…

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10 Years: Reconnecting with Nari & Ai

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I was 28.  I got engaged and bought a home and left the country to meet the people who made my clothes. I had a few small assignments that would pay me hundreds of dollars for three-months of reporting that would cost me thousands.

Nari was 25. She was living with 7 other young women in a room that was maybe 100 square feet. She worked in a garment factory making Levi’s. She paid a $50 bribe to get her job, which paid her $50 per month. She sent half of her money home to support her family in her village. She wasn’t shy.

Ai was 24 and shy. She was one of Nari’s 7 roommates. She missed working in the fields at…

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