Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Beginnings; Rising Hope

Several more days in the islands of Cape Verde, full of new experiences, inspiring individuals and beautiful sights.  This photo is from a national park of "Fogo", where we visited an active volcano.

By the sign which says "Welcome to the Natural Park of Fogo".  Fogo or "Fire" is the name of  one of the islands.  This Park has the volcanic remains from some of the active eruptions of the  volcano which is behind us in the photo.
We started our week with meetings with some of the other senior missionary couples that are serving in Praia, Cape Verde.  This includes the Humanitarian Services missionary couple and the Assistant Auditor couple.  He also serves as a counselor in the Mission Presidency.  These meetings are enjoyable as we can share successes and challenges of each of our mission experiences.  

The Humanitarian couple, Elder and Sister Carnell, are doing  some Local self-reliance projects to bless some of the members.  This includes introducing some chicken farming.  Several families will receive 20 laying hens, a chicken coop and 3 months of chicken feed.  This is a attempt to help many of them to become more self-reliant.  To qualify for this opportunity, they must participate in one of our Starting and Growing My Own Business groups which began the previous week.  The Carnells also mentioned an interest in Mindelo to start a local car wash group.  There members can use their skills with a very small start up supply kit to wash cars and become more self-reliant.  We believe that with creative thinking, we can find many ways to work productively with Humanitarian Services.

Elder Alvarez is serving as the mission counselor responsible for the district in Sal.  Although we will not be visiting Sal on this trip, we still need to work together with our manager in Mindelo to best serve this small district.  Elder Alvarez also worked as a Church employee and has been a good friend to our family while we lived in Brazil.  We were able to share updates about people that we both have known.  In 1991 while on a home leave in Salt Lake City, Elder Alvarez was kind enough to help us return a Church motor pool van. He went with us to the airport for our return trip to Brazil.  This was before the days of tight airport security.  That particular time we parked the van and he went with us to the gate to help board our five young children (ages 1 and 2 and the time).  While he was helping us get settled on the plane, they started closing the doors.  He almost ended up going with us to Brazil that day.  This is one of our favorite memories that we share.

After spending the morning with these missionary couples, we went with our SRS manager, Mendonça, to visit the district of Assomada on the other side of the island.  The only other time that we had visited Assomada was in August of 2015 when the rainy season was beginning.  That is when they were planting their seeds all over the land, including on the sides of the mountains.  This time we were 3 months later in the year and we were able to see crops growing everywhere.  Generally, they plant seeds of corn, beans and sometimes squash all together in the same  mound.  Then they wait for their rainy season to come and help their crops to grow.  The rain continues for a month or two and that is the window of opportunity.  From this time of the year until next August, there is almost no rain on these islands.  We were told that this year they were short a little rain and many of the plants are not fully producing.  These crops are the staple of their diets for the rest of the year.  The following show many of the crops that we saw on this trip:
Large fields of corn and beans on the steep sides of the road, just outside of the city of Assomada
Corn and other crops planted in available space near buildings and the street.  We see these literally everywhere.

In front of an overview of the land before arriving in Assomada.  You can see why this was called Cape Verde (Green)

When we arrived at Assomada we visited with the District President.  Right now the district president is short some counselors and the district is struggling in many ways.  We encouraged him to get his committee working again and to get Self-Reliance groups going with at least one branch.  He himself is just finishing his degree and is now looking for better work.

After visiting the district president we were able to visit several successful small business.  All three that we visited were participants in the Starting and Growing My Business groups that were held a year ago.  Even though the economic realities are difficult in this area, these prove that Self-Reliance efforts can bring results, especially with small businesses.

With a successful owner of a small copy and office supplies shop.  He also offers consulting and accounting services to other small businesses.  His business has grown considerably in the past year.

Owner (with his wife) of a manicure, pedicure and massage  business.  We couldn't visit much with his wife as she had clients to serve.  They also attended the SR group a year ago and are now doing very well.

Danilo, the branch president and "baker" of the neighborhood.  He is growing his bakery business and succeeding very well.  We ate our dinner that night from his baked goods.  He keeps three sellers on the streets as well as his store.  He also has partnered with another member of the Church who provides video games to pay for play in the back of his store.

After visiting these successful businesses, we returned to Praia. On the way back  we stopped at a reservoir that is storing the precious water for this region.  The country just started building reservoirs and they will certainly bless the infrastructure of this country.

Reservoir in the middle of this beautiful country.

In front of the reservoir

 We finally arrived at our hotel for a short nights rest.  The next morning we arose at 4:00 am to be ready to leave for the airport at 5:00 am.  We then took a flight to the island of Fogo for a one day visit. This is just a short 30 minute flight, but much better than the 4 hour "fast ferry" option.  The photo below is of the small airplane that took us to Fogo.

There we would meet with the new stake president, the stake self-reliance committee and some of the Perpetual Education Fund participants.  Our first appointment was with the stake president at noon, so we went to visit the volcano on the island first.   The roads were mostly cobble stone and very windy, so we had a little jarring in the back seat, but it was worth it.  This volcano last erupted just two years ago. There have been even bigger eruptions in the past century.  The name of the volcano is "Chã das Caldeiras" or "Tea Boiler".

Photo from the base of the volcano, entering into a national park area
We loved this little hut at the base of the volcano.  They even had some beautiful flowers growing in pots outside of the hut.

Near the base of the volcano we found grape vines growing in the only spot that was not covered with lava.
View from the side of the volcano.  The last eruption occurred in 2014 our of the side of the volcano.  All of the back ground is covering that came from that eruption.

Some of the lava remains from the last eruption.
Finding lava rocks to take as souvenirs
Finding my souvenir
As we left the volcano site we drove past this city below.  Some of the houses were destroyed in the recent volcano eruption.  Through help from the Church humanitarian funds many new houses were built. 

We heard from the bishop that he would be delayed working on his farm and our meeting was postponed until 2:00 pm.  This gave us time to have lunch in his city and take a few more photos.

Church house in this little city.  Probably the nicest building in town.  The Church has become one of the major religions in these rural areas.

Black lava rock is the prime landscaping used in most areas, certainly in the landscaping of the Church  meeting house.

Once again, crops are planted everywhere.  This is some of the corn, beans and  pumpkin growing together on the side of the meeting house.

 After lunch we picked the stake president up and visited with him in the ward building.  He was recently called in May of this year and has had some serious issues to deal with .  He was just finally released as bishop in his ward.  His counselor is still waiting to be released as a bishop and he has another bishop position that is waiting for approval.  Next month in the stake conference he should also have a second counselor called.  As we visited with him, I had a deep feeling of respect and admiration for this man.  He loves his island and he loves to work the land.  He also loves the members of his stake and wants the very best for them.  They have many self-reliance issues.  There is no university on the island, so many of his returned missionaries leave to other islands to go to school.  Work opportunities are limited in the rural areas creating more reason for the young members to move.  We talked about the many options that are available, small businesses, limited jobs in the rural areas and more jobs in the primary city on the island.  Unfortunately, it is hard to retain good members in agricultural areas where opportunities are limited. We felt that the meeting with President Pires was a great success.  His organizational challenges are coming to an end and his Spirit is strong. He is anxious to help his members to become more self-reliant.
With President Pires.  His brother is the stake presidency counselor in Praia.  They come from a strong family.

We had other appointments along the way back to Såo Filipe, the primary city on this island.  There we would meet with the Stake Self-Reliance Committee that evening.  Along the way we had a few visits scheduled with PEF loan participants.  While traveling back we followed the coast line and were able to see beautiful sites of this island.  All along the beach the sand is black, caused by the volcano activity.  It gives a beautiful look that is different than what we are used to.

Beautiful coast line

More coast line lined with black beaches and surroundings

Black beaches along the way
Along the way we visited with a person who has been approved for a PEF Loan and Mendonça was able to give assistance to her.  She gave us hope for this area.  She has been teaching for 13 years and barely makes enough to survive as a single mother with a 14 year old son.  We learned that as she finishes her teaching certificate she will be able to double her salary.  The PEF loan will assist her for the next few years and she will become self-reliant.  As we talked, we could see that she had very little diposable income to take care of her family after paying a house payment.   I thought how can she be "temple worthy" to participate in the PEF loan program unless she pays tithing and her limited funds did  not seem to allow her enough to do that.  I felt prompted to share my testimony to her of tithing and that the Lord would provide for her.  As I shared this, she reaffirmed to us that she does pay her tithing each month and has been blessed.  We left inspired by her faith!  We were also encouraged that school teachers can earn sufficient to be self-reliant.  This is another option for these rural areas.

With the visits and the drive, we did not arrive back to the Sake Center in time to visit one of the other participants.  However, we were early for the Self-Reliance Committee meeting.  Since there is no stake counselor at this time, the committee meeting this evening was just the stake specialist and a counselor in the stake relief society presidency and one of their facilitators.  However, they made arrangements for an upcoming devotional in that city.  They also reported with enthusiasm on a SR group that had begun in a small branch on a neighboring island.  They have four facilitators trained and several of them also spend time in the Stake Self-Reliance resource center.    We were impressed with their understanding and enthusiasm.  We are also hopeful that a new stake presidency counselor will give additional strength to this committee.  We feel very comfortable with he self-reliance initiative in this stake!

Meeting with the stake specialist, RS counselor and facilitator

We stayed the night on Fogo and returned the next morning (Thursday) on another early flight.  We then spent time working with our super volunteer in the stake self-reliance center that morning.  The rest of the day was spent catching up on emails and other matters before we went to the airport that evening to go to the Island of São Vicente.

Sister Barros and Mendonça helping one of the members
This finished our time with this district and stake.  These are the more rural parts of Cape Verde.  We loved our time with them.  The photo below shows some of the goats that we encountered on the road.  Life is simple and challenging but at the same time wonderful for these faithful saints.

We are stopping our blog at this point to publish these experiences.  We are currently on the island of São Vicente and having more incredible experiences.  Stay tune for Part 3 of our trip to the islands of Cape Verde!