Back to Uganda

Beth and I are headed back to Uganda. Crazy!

We have had the honor of getting to know the people and work of Kibo Group up close and personal. I spend a significant amount of my time working for them figuring out how to tell the story of Kibo Group to more people. We have been able to visit Uganda twice. I count it a privilege to get to work with people who are trying to solve big problems around the world.

So, I am taking a little business trip. I will be making videos, taking pictures, having meetings, and learning more about how Kibo fulfills our mission. Beth is coming along to help out. Its a bit surreal actually. The last two times we have gone have been with big groups, one of which we were leading. There was a lot of work to make sure everybody was ready, I had to get shots and buy power adapters, and it was all new. This time we just went on delta.com and booked some tickets. It’s still a really big deal! We are going halfway around the world to a totally different culture and place to learn and bring back a few stories. I am blessed.

If you want to know more about Kibo Group check out www.KiboGroup.org and find us on facebook. 

The True Cost of Clean Water

We usually pay about $50 a month for water. For that fifty dollars we get to take showers or turn on the faucet to get some clean water to drink. Sometimes I water our little vegetable garden. We clean our clothes and make ice. Seems like a really good deal to me.

Our water bill went up a lot in one month, a ridiculous amount in fact. So, i did some checking and sure enough we had a water leak in the pipe that feeds our house. I poked around a bit in the yard and started digging. Our house is 80 years old, so I was not particularly surprised to find an old rusty steel pipe leaking water.

Only one thing to do: call a plumber. We decided to just replace the whole pipe instead of trying to patch it.

A few days later they replaced the pipe. It took a whole day, 4 people working at various times, 2 really expensive pieces of equipment (a mini trackhoe and directional boring machine), 3 shovels, a blowtorch, two pex expanders, a copper pipe cutter, a bucket, concrete, a masonry drill, 2 pex cutters, 3 vans, 2 trailers, and miscellaneous parts. Oh, and a city inspector. All that just to put in a little bit of pipe that ran 50 or 60 feet. It cost me $2100. On a side note, we worked with Mullin Plumbing on this, the guys that were out working let me just sort of hang out with them all day while they worked, I learned a lot and they did a good job, and got it done quickly. I have no idea if that was a good price, but it seemed worth it to be done quickly and well.

This one little job of replacing a small pipe points to a huge infrastructure that we have to provide clean water. I live in Tulsa, a small city with a population of 400,000 people (the metro area is 900,000). Tulsa water treatment plants treat 100 millions gallons of water on an average day. Tulsa’s water system has capacity to treat 220 million gallons per day. Yellow pages lists 430 plumbing companies in the city. The city water department changes out 16,000 water meters a year.

All this infrastructure is kind of expensive. In fiscal year 2014 the City of Tulsa $15,425,000 on water system capital projects. The operating budget for providing water to the city was $112,040,000. That $15,000,000 in capital expenditures were not for big projects. Replacing or relocating water mains and facility improvements are the biggest things on the list.

Big water projects cost a lot of money. Chelssa, MI recently built a water treatment plant that treats .85 million gallons a day for $4,600,000. It would take 117 such plants to supply Tulsa with water on an average day. That is $538,200,000 just to build the plants. Keep in mind that this is Tulsa, a small city (the 45th largest city in the United States). New York City is in the middle of a $6 billion water project which started in 1970 and will not be done until 2020. Twenty three people have died working on the project. This country makes massive investments in water infrastructure, and arguably it is still not enough.

Our investment in water is more than a financial system. We have a culture that values and invests in clean water. When our water pipe broke it did not even cross our mind to not fix it. We did not decide to just go get water from the neighbors. We could have saved some money by just putting a faucet in the yard right next to the water meter and just carrying water into the house every now and then, but we did not consider that ether. In fact in some cities a house will be condemned if it does not have running water. Across the country the vast majority of houses have full plumbing and running water, although not all. Many households without water are from low income or minority groups. Im sure there are a few hippie off the grid types as well

We don’t have a constitutional right to clean water, but we do have an expectation of access to clean water. Tulsa’s water system is run by the city. Some cities have water systems which have been privatized. However, outside of rural settings there are few municipalities that don’t have some provision for providing water to it’s residents. Imagine if one day Tulsa announced that the water system would be shut down, and there was no private industry to take over . Everybody was on their own to find water. In time the market would produce some solution, but imagine the impact, Tulsa would cease to exist in its current form.

A hundred years of investment in infrastructure, culture, regulations, and expectations all come together so that I can pay $50 a month for all the clean water I can possible use, and when one old pipe broke I had massive resources to call on to fix it quickly. We didn’t even miss a shower.

 

 

 

 

 

A guide to watching #firstworldproblems

Today’s popular facebook cause (at least in my feed) seemed to be a first world problems video. First world problems has been around for a while of course (and frankly gotten sort of silly in twitter land), and I have always felt it needed a little bit of a filter. So, here is my guide to watching the first wold problems video:

Remember the danger of the single story.
A story of a place is powerful, so powerful that you might forget there are other stories . In this case there are two single stories. First, that the developing world is just a place of pain and helplessness. There are true problems, true crises and true needs, but those are only part of the story. Not the whole thing. The second single story it tells is that everybody in the developed world is shallow, greedy, impatient and generally selfish. Again, there are people who fit this description, but its not the whole story.

Don’t forget your own poverty.
Lack of things is not the only form of poverty. We all have poverty in our lives. Broken relationships with people and God are two that are easy to pick out. If you peel away some layers in this video you can get to this. It is true that we often consider silly things problems. The question that must be answered is why. What is the poverty in our lives that drives us to lose perspective?

Let this video be a commentary on yourself, not people you don’t know.
I think the way (and the way it is intended) to watch this video is consider it as a reminder to those of us who have more material resources to use that privilege well. If we flip it around and think it is just a reminder of how there are people in need we may gain a little bit from it, but we miss the point that we need change in our lives.

Keep those handy tips in mind as you watch:

now I’m going to get back to trying to reload the operating system on my fancy phone. Which is not a first world problem.

Buy Some Cobbler. It’s tasty

I’m trying to sell ten pans of blackberry cobbler this month. It’s truly good cobbler . It even won second place in a contest. See:

2013-01-04 12.47.41

Here is how it works: There are 10 cobblers available this month. A pan is 9 x 14 or so and costs $25. Just send me an email (ben@poolhouseblue.com). Ill make it fresh the day you want it (schedule permitting of course, we can work that out), and deliver it to you if you live in tulsa. If your outside of the Tulsa area we can figure something out. Pay cash when i deliver it.

There is a reason for this of course. Our church is trying to pay off some debt. A few of us thought it would be interesting to each take $50 and try to multiply it into as much money as possible. So, for this little project im donating the $50, after that I will be paying myself back for the cost of ingredients, but beyond that all the money will be applied to our churches debt, or toward ingredients for a second round in February.

10   3 Cobblers Left in January

A post about Kibo

This is going to show up on the Kibo.org blog in a few weeks, but i thought i would test it out here. -Ben

 

Three years ago my wife and I moved to Tulsa for an internship  at Garnett Church of Christ through GPS Tulsa. We were a bit old for internships, but it seemed like it would be an adventure.
The first day of our internship Bobby and Candice showed up at church, along with some people from Water4 and we started digging a well in the front yard. This is how we were introduced to Kibo Group. Three years, two trips to Jinja, hours of conversation with Greg, Ronald, Bobby, Roy, Candice, Abraham, Rachel and Clint later I’m all in. I believe in what Kibo is doing, and want to be a part of it.

It’s hard to summarize in just a few paragraphs all the elements that draw me to Kibo, but a thread that seems to connect them is that Kibo acknowledges and even embraces complexity. I’m a big fan of simple solutions (I think egg beaters are genious, and I also think this food processor needs one less button), but sometimes we make things too simple. Our simple solutions don’t solve complex problems.

We can look at people in need and think their problems are simple. We see they don’t have money, food, water, shoes, or education. If we are feeling generous it seems easy enough to provide those things. Or, if we are feeling a bit cynical, or a little judgmental we say that person should just get a job, or just buy some shoes, or just go back to school. Both of these responses ignore the complexity of the situation.

Instead we have to let go of our assumptions, ask questions, try to understand how people can solve their own problems, understand what we should not do, understand how we can help, listen to people, and be patient. Perhaps above all be patient and willing to accept slow solutions.

These things are not easy. They force us to think deeply, and to accept that we can’t solve everybody’s problems through the strength of our minds and hands. They make us realize we might not be able to take a quick glance at the world and understand it. And slowly we see the complexity.

I have had the opportunity to observe Kibo, first from the outside and now from the inside, I am convinced that Kibo is trying to understand and embrace the complexity. The process is slow, imperfect, and sometimes boring, but it is also deep, fulfilling, and empowering. For my part I am honored to play a small role in an amazing group of people acting redemptively in the lives of people around them.

Fix Our Streets

I am a true political cynic, but living in Tulsa is changing that a little bit. I am realizing that on a local level there is true opportunity for normal people like me to have a voice, and the local nature seems to make less room for partisanship and dogma. I recently sent an email copied below to the mayor and council about Fix Our Streets. If you live in Tulsa and want to influence the future of transpiration in Tulsa this is one of your chances by letting council and mayor know your vision for transportation in Tulsa. – Ben

The recent debate over Vison2, and the upcoming debate over Fix Our Streets has caused me to think a lot about what type of city I would like to see Tulsa become.

Any individuals vision for a city could take up pages and be very complicated, so I have been trying to think of a concise way to state my vision. In a broad sense PLANiTulsa fits a lot of what I hope happens in Tulsa in the coming years. While I did not live in Tulsa when that document was create, I appreciate and agree with much of what is in it, and I truly hope that it is implemented. It seems that it would be very easy for PLANiTulsa to become a nice thing Tulsa talked about once and never be truly implemented without strong and continued dedication from city leaders.

Here is the summery of my vision: I want Tulsa to be a place that invests in all people.

If this is true then the decisions we make will be driven by a desire to equip people to reach their full potential. This sounds sort of fluffy and abstract, but it has real consequences, even as we look at something like Fix Our Streets and the transportation planning that goes into it.

If in our transportation planning we do not consider the needs of those who do not have cars (or, to a lesser extent would like to use cars less), we basically make the decision that we are only investing in those that have cars. If you don’t have a car then we will not do what we can to help you reach your full potential. When I read “Council Chairman G.T. Bynum spearheaded the request for the study, saying that it’s unlikely the city will ever have enough funding to make the bus system what it should be.” (http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=334&articleid=20121109_11_A1_CUTLIN980670) it is easy to read “we are unwilling to invest in people who ride the bus.” (In fairness to Counselor Bynum that TW article did not even give a true quote of what he said, much less give the context, so I don’t just take it at face value. Further, the article did not say if he was stating his opinion of reality, or his desires for transportation funding. It is not my intention to imply that he is somehow unsupportive of transportation options in Tulsa).

If we look at our transportation system (streets, sidewalks, trails, bus, taxi, etc) and find that it is hindering, or at the very least not helping, people reach their potential (http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=61&articleid=20121026_61_A18_Tulsas783853) then we have an opportunity to invest in people.

Lets invest. PLANiTulsa calls for this investment: “Tulsans will have a wide variety of transportation choices. The system will be designed to provide everyone a variety of modes to choose from, including driving, biking, or riding frequent and reliable bus or rail transit”

I don’t understand the specific procedures, politics, etc around Fix Our Streets and other funding issues. But, I do know that now will always be the best time to start investing in the bus system, sidewalks, bike lanes (http://www.benandbethwest.com/2012/05/biking-in-tulsa/), trail systems, trains, trolleys, bus stops (http://www.benandbethwest.com/2012/04/tulsa-transit-a-marketing-problem/), crosswalks, streets, highways, and planning that will be an investment in all people. There are lots of people working to understand these issues (BPAC, Tulsa Hub, Fast Forward Plan, etc), please involve and listen to them as you plan for Fix Our Streets and other transportation needs in Tulsa.

When it comes specifically to Fix Our Streets I would like to see the BPAC SMART Goals implemented, and a true plan and effort made to sufficiently fund our bus system.

And…here we go…

The house is bought, the bags are (mostly) packed, the final wal-mart run has been made. Its time to go to Uganda.

It has truly been a crazy last few days. We really did buy a house just 4 days ago. I think “house owner” has not really set in yet (partly because really we are just %5 owner…the bank still owns a lot of this house!). It is exciting though to be able to look around know we are here long term, that we can do projects that might take a year or more to finish and know that we will be here to see them through. So…its all exciting, but i have not had time to really process the whole thing. Oh…a huge thank you to all the people who helped us move. You made our lives easy that day and we are really thankful!

In the mean time…we are laving for Uganda in the morning. We talk about Uganda and our involvement with Kibo Group a lot on this blog, so just search through the Uganda category if you want to catch up. As we prepare for this trip there are lots of things going through my mind: I am excited to get to share Jinja and the work that Kibo does with new people who have never been there before. At the same time I am a bit nervous about being the facilitator of this trip, and supposedly the leaders of the group. In the end I want those of us that are going, and those who we will be seeing in Jinja to learn and grow from these next few days, and for God to be glorified through this trip.

We will write a lot more about this when we get back, and we may do some updates while we travel (no promises…), until then we hope that you will pray for our journey.