I recently had dinner with my friends Robert Reed, founder/president of Ergo Research, and Ergo vice president Marlene Wagner. We were talking about President Clinton and the wonderful work his foundation is doing for AIDS in Africa, and then Robert told me about Oprah's December 2004 "Christmas Kindness" project. If you aren't familiar with this, Oprah and her staff went to Africa to bring the needy children there basic things that most of us take for granted, like schoolbooks, clothes and shoes, which these children never see. Robert and Marlene were so moved by this that it triggered in them the desire to learn more about Africa and what they could do to help. Their passion and dedication led them to a unique ministry, ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries), which empowers widows and young people with the life skills and tools they need for economic development.
Some of the teaching programs ALARM has developed include tailoring and computer skills, carpentry and metalwork, soap and lotion making, pig farming and beekeeping, in Rwanda and Uganda. There's also a youth barbershop and hairdressing program in Burundi and Congo, as well as an ongoing project to build the Institute of Women Excellence in Rwanda, where young women can take intensive courses in hairdressing, tailoring, computer and secretarial skills.
Carpentry and metalworking are two of the many skills ALARM is seeking to teach in Africa.
Robert and Marlene have decided to take a small team to Kenya and Rwanda in December 2006. Their objectives are to learn about the needs and opportunities by meeting with the ALARM staff and the people who need their help, and to actually participate in the ministry to help teach people the basic skills and tools for the job. "We will be taking 50 young adults from each of the communities and introducing them to the beauty of our industry, leaving them with the basic hairdressing skills of hairshaping, haircutting, scalp diagnosis and basic skincare," says Robert. "Then we'll ask them to provide these basic services and tools to others in their communities over the course of the next year. You don't have to be rich to contribute to humanity. We are already wealthy in what we know. Giving the gift of knowledge is the best gift of all."
For more information on how you can join Robert and Marlene or set up a similar program in your own community, e-mail [email protected].