28 September 2011

Le Sigh: Recycled Soap to Uganda

More evidence if you ever needed any that Africa is a bizarre theme park for good intentions:

Told by CNN no less, and in its CNN Heroes section: The heartwarming tale of Derreck Kayongo, a Ugandan living in the US, who was shocked by the waste from hotel soaps – every visitor gets a new piece of soap, every day, and the barely used soap is being thrown out. "Are we really throwing away that much soap at the expense of other people who don't have anything? It just doesn't sound right. … My dad said people in America can afford to throw it away. But I just started to think, 'What if we took some of this soap and recycled it, made brand new soap from it and then sent it home to people who couldn't afford soap?'”

The CNN article cites statistics that every year, more than 2 million children die from diarrheal illness in developing countries. Simply washing hands with soap could be a first line of defence. Mr Kayango argues that the problem is not the availability of soap, but its cost: for people on the mythical dollar a day, a soap bar is simply too expensive to purchase when there are many more pressing priorities such as food and medication. Fair enough.

Mr Kayongo sets up what is now the Global Soap Project. Here’s CNN’s description:

“So far, 300 hotels nationwide have joined the collection effort, generating 100 tons of soap. Some participating hotels even donate high-end soaps such as Bvlgari, which retails up to $27 for a single bar. Volunteers across the U.S. collect the hotel soaps and ship them to the group's warehouse in Atlanta. On Saturdays, Atlanta volunteers assemble there to clean, reprocess and package the bars.

"We do not mix the soaps because they come with different pH systems, different characters, smells and colors," Kayongo said. "We sanitize them first, then heat them at very high temperatures, chill them and cut them into final bars. It's a very simple process, but a lot of work."

A batch of soap bars is only released for shipment once one of its samples has been tested for pathogens and deemed safe by a third-party laboratory. The Global Soap Project then works with partner organizations to ship and distribute the soap directly to people who need it -- for free.”

Rethink this for a second: The Global Soap Project requires managing the participating hotels and the collecting volunteers. The volunteers pay for shipping. The soap people need to buy machinery, pay for space, do lots of sorting-producing-heating-sanitising-testing type things ('a lot of work', as they say), pay for shipping ... to get soap to Uganda.

Here's the thing: Uganda has shops. Many. Even supermarket chains. Uganda also has soap manufacturers. When I lived in Uganda ten years ago, you were given those long soap bars for free at the petrol station if you purchased a certain minimum amount of petrol. I have heard of recent fuel and sugar shortages, but no soap shortages have hit the headlines.

If you think distributing free soap to Ugandans who can’t afford it is a good thing, then this is probably single-handedly the least efficient way of doing it. It is also latently ignorant and patronising: Send US rubbish to the ever grateful Ugandans.

How about sending some cash to Uganda to buy the soap there and then have it distributed by the local partner organisations?

Brains, people. Use them.

But heartwarming, hey?

23 September 2011

A Touch of Vagina

In last Saturday's column, I wrote about my suspicion that the new Kenya log as proposed by Brand Kenya suggested a female genital. Once you see it, it's difficult to unsee.

Check it out:

I can't imagine that I'm the only one who spots this, so I think this might actually be useful feedback.

Brand Kenya didn't think so. I'll post the link to their reply in today's Star as soon as they put it online.

19 September 2011

Homophobia Smackdown 101

1. It’s unbiblical: That may or may not be true – there are lots of people who argue that the bible is at least inconsistent on this issue, and that Jesus wasn’t much bothered. I don’t care. I’m not a Christian, and Christianity is not state religion, and I don’t care what the bible says. If you follow the bible, that’s your choice. But you can’t selectively turn biblical bits into secular law.

2. If we let the gays do their thing, we also need to let rapists and pedophiles do their thing: Err, no. Come on, use your brain: There’s a substantial difference between a situation of consenting adults and a situation where one is the aggressor and the other is the victim. If you don’t understand those basic concepts, you shouldn’t be out and about here in cyberspace.

3. If we let gays do their thing, MANKIND WILL DIE OUT: Nope. You can’t catch the gay. You are the best example for that: you foam at the mouth rather than get all hot and bothered in a nice way when you think about two guys kissing, right? See. There’ll always be a gay minority. It’s a minority. Look up the concept of the bell curve. And bear in mind: gay people have reproductive organs. Many use them.

4. Even animals have more common sense and won’t do this: Not true. Plenty of evidence from wildlife that they do do it. And gaily so.

5. But you can’t compare humans to animals: I didn’t – you started that line of argument.

6. It’s unAfrican: Me, I don’t know. I’m not African. I think all the African gay men and women might have a thing or five to say about this. And they can perfectly well speak for themselves.

7. What if the children see it? Yeah, then what? Nothing.

8. Anal sex is wrong – the anus wasn’t made for this: If you think anal sex is wrong, then don’t have it. Not all gay people have anal sex, and there are plenty of straight guys (and women) who get all bright eyed and bushy tailed about it.

9. It’s a lifestyle choice: Hardly (never mind that if I chose it, what difference would it make?). The foam-at-the-mouth hysteria in Uganda, ‘corrective rape’ and other such charitable, love-your-neighbour activities are the best example. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone would choose that kind of hatred and threat of violence just for kicks.

10. I have no issues with gay people as long as they don't chat me up - then I'll hit them: Easy, my friend. If that happens, be civilised and say 'thanks, no, but thanks'. If I hit everyone who chatted me up and who I'm not interested in, there'd be lots of black eyes, and I'm not Marilyn Monroe by any stretch of imagination. I say 'thanksbutnothanks'. To all those good Christian married guys, too.

11. Gay guys are sick, but lesbians are kinda cool: You're not talking about lesbians, you're talking about two straight women getting it on with each other for the sake of a straight man. As with the vast majority of couples, two lesbians won't be very keen on having you drool away when they get it on with each other. Pretty much like you won't slap your best buddy on the shoulder and ask whether you can watch while he's doing his wife.


12. I don't understand it/I find it disgusting: That may well be the case, and you're of course entitled to think so, but that's irrelevant. I don't understand how people can spend every Saturday watching football, and I may find people chewing with their mouth open disgusting. My problem to deal with.

13. ... but don't rub it in our faces/force it down our throats: Most people actually don't - as one gay Nigerian blogger said, she never wanted to talk about her sex and love live in public because she thought it was private. But since so many other people were talking about her private sex and love life, she decided to speak out. Also: It's perfectly ok for a heterosexual man to post a picture of his wife with, say, a mention that he thinks his wife is cute. Normal behavior, right? The equivalent from a gay man, however, is suddenly 'rubbing it in our faces'.

More importantly, perhaps, the legal situation in Uganda now longer allows the option of 'as long as they do whatever they do behind closed doors, we'll all be fine'. Because even what people do behind closed doors is no longer legal, and can land them in prison for many years.

14. But they are recruiting people! This argument is, funnily enough, usually brought up by people with the most vociferous disgust of homosexuality. So you're so incredibly disgusted and repulsed - but you argue that not-gay people can be 'recruited'? EDITED TO ADD (7 July 2015): I will NOT publish any comments that make the same dumb statements that I have already refuted above('But we will all die out!', 'Can I now marry my dog?'). So save yourself the energy.

01 September 2011

Upstanding Sudanese Citizens (North and South)

I'm reading Sudan news.

Thankfully there are occasionally some good news. Very pleased for the citizen (and, possibly, the sheep, although I suspect that Eid might have ended their lives prematurely):

'Citizens in Abu Hamra (South Darfur) recovered over 50 sheep belonging to citizen Haroon Ishaq al-Bakhit from three armed horsemen on Sunday.'

And more upstanding citizens in the South:

'Bul Community in Diaspora Challenge the Wisdom of Abysmal SPLM Leadership in Unity State [press release]
Unity State (Bentiu) is the underwriter for the South Sudan nation in term of wealth and manpower, the oil-rich Bentiu accounts for 90 percent of South Sudan's daily oil production of 490,000 barrels and the sons and daughters of Bentiu are well known for their courageous and determination, they will always willfully takes risks if they observed injustice and unfair play.'

One should always challenge the wisdom of abysmal leadership with courageous.

One of my favouritest Southern Sudan articles ever was a news report on cattle wrestling. Regrettably, I don't have the link anymore. Also, I fear I'm getting a bit carried away here.