Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Togo: Dagninou

Splish Splash and Going Nowhere Fast!

The heavens opened as we pulled away from home base today and we drove for hours in a moderate to heavy rain. The depth of the pools of water in the clay roads was difficult to gauge, but our driver did a fabulous job of avoiding problems until we plowed into a mystery hole that blew out our tire. It was replaced in record time and we drove into the school not too far behind schedule.

We were greeted by some very energetic children who did not let the rain dampen their enthusiasm. There were drums beating and several women who welcomed us with dance.

We set up for pictures in one of the classrooms because the rain was still coming down as we started the distribution. About 20 minutes later we were able to move outdoors when the weather cleared. For the first time, the temperature was moderate and we were lucky enough to have continuous breezes. What a treat!

Our trip back to Lome was more than a little exciting. The road was closed because the President of Togo was visiting a building to honor its opening. We were directed to a detour that headed directly into a stand of trees with the skinniest road possible down the middle. We bumped down to the end of the road and turned right … and realized we were the last in a very long line of cars that was going nowhere. As it turns out, two lanes of traffic were trying to traverse a single-lane road, which was decorated on either side with deep trenches. We inched our way along, thanks to some masterful traffic cop maneuvers by Dan and the boys.

On our way to today’s distribution -- our last -- we discussed our mixed feelings as we approached the school. We were happy to complete our task (the delivery of 5,000 bedkits!!!), but sad to see the story end. Each one of us has had the amazing opportunity to step out of our conventional lives (student, scientist, computer guy, attorney, and retiree) and take on the role of caretaker to those in need. It is amazing to consider that we have brought comfort to 5,000 children and have, by virtue of the mosquito net in the bedkit, reduced by one=third the chance that those children will be infected with malaria (8 hours of sleeping in a 24 hour day).

Including the 5,000 bedkits delivered by
the Togo team this year, our total is
now 1,221,130 bedkits since Sleeping
Children began in 1970.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the generosity of the donors to SCAW. We are indeed grateful that you gave us the tools to do some good here in Togo. And we could never have been as efficient and successful as we were without the amazing coordination of Laurent and his AED team. Thank you, Laurent, for your partnership and guidance. Thank you also to Dosseh, Segnon and Messenh, who never let us out of their sight for one minute and to Bill, who prepared wonderful meals for us and negotiated vigorously for each of us in the marketplace. (You have not experienced life until you have sat in a van with a ‘money changer’ and watched the back and forth on the exchange rate first hand!).

Most of all, thank you, Togo, for being so friendly and receptive to strangers in your midst.

Eleanor Uddo for
The 2012 Togolese Rock Stars

p.s.: Stock up on Tide … we are heading home!

Click here to see the photos in the Togo 2012 Photo Album.
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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Togo: Mission Tove

My, oh my, how time flies when working together with like-minded individuals geared towards a common cause. At this point, with just one delivery to go, the team continues to function like a Swiss watch and did not miss a beat despite this being the hottest day to date.

This morning started with a relatively short (45km) drive but the earthen road was washboard like for 2/3 of the way which reduced our speed significantly. However, our tremendous driver Messah got us to Mission Tove safe and sound. He is indeed a master at his craft.

Upon arrival in Mission Tove we were literally swarmed by 500 children clad in a rainbow's hue of bright color calling out "Bonjour et Bien Venu!" (Good day and welcome!). Wow, what a personal welcome. As with any large group of young boys and girls, they were a boisterous lot indeed; however, with the support of the local team, all was in place and under control quickly as we prepared for our first picture: 100 children which is the largest taken to date in the five years of SCAW Togo activity. Not easy to get 100 kids to smile at once! The kids were very patient though during set-up and, needless to say, under the astute camera work of Bob, a wonderful picture was created.

Due to the relative proximity of Mission Tove, and the smooth working of the SCAW delivery team, we were back at the at home base by noon and all made a bee-line to their showers. Hot Day. with 102.6 degrees measured locally. Lunch was served: a great spaghetti meal which was wolfed down in no time flat. For anyone thinking that the SCAW team would loose weight in Africa, forget it ... and our great cook Bill would comment to the contrary! Merci, Bill!

With only one delivery left, we are looking forward to yet another of Freddy's end-of-delivery balloon chases which has become a favorite of the SCAW team and the children. One has to see to appreciate the joy of watching Freddy being chased by approximately 200 kids while he holds an inflated balloon aloft ready for a threatened release at any second. Drive the kids into a joyous rampage and is a great spectacle. Run, Freddy, Run! ! ! !

In closing, it is funny that, despite the early starts, long bumpy rides, heat, humidity, dust, fatigue, and being away from family and friends; we have all looked each other in the eye and within ourselves and have felt the pangs of sadness knowing tomorrow is the last day we will interact with the beautiful and precious young girls and boys of this great and proud people.

As they say here: "à demain" (till tomorrow!)


Dan Chiasson
for Team Togo 2012

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Monday, 23 April 2012

Togo: Gadjagan

Team Togo went to Gadjagan today, two hours north west of Lomé.

The roads were good, and our insides were thankful! Our driver can maneuver around the potholes, so we arrived with our gluteus maximi not numb!

A group of 80 children were waiting to entertain with singing and dancing. Imagine our delight when they began to sing to the tune Jingle bells, throwing tiny pieces of paper to represent snow! A group playing the music from this area were fantastic, we were all boogeying.

The children who were receiving bedkits were all excited and there were roars of delight when the bedkit contents were demonstrated by Dan the man.
Photography went well; it was amazing to see happy children walking away holding the bedkit, with their mattress balanced on their heads.

At the end of the distribution, Freddy ran around the field with a balloon, with dozens of kids shrieking, trying to catch it. Many of them fell screaming with laughter, a wonderful sight.

Our AED team took us to the village, a short walk through the fields, and we visited two homes where the children had received bedkits today. The families welcomed us, and we could enter their homes where the bedkits will stay.

Our return to Lomé was peaceful, the team relaxing; however, no snores were heard.

After a stop for showers and lunch the team went downtown to the markets and bought more essential groceries.

Margaret Crossling
for Team Togo 2012

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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Togo: Kpessou

If you see a fork in the road – take it!

We started out early again today for a two-plus hour trek to Kpessou, a village Northeast of home base Lomé.

We encountered not one but two forks in the road and our driver had to flag down passing mopeds to ask for directions. After some misinformation from a geographically challenged traveler, we pointed the van in the correct direction and bumped our way over predominately clay roads to our destination.

Once again, we were greeted by a throng of children in a rainbow assortment of SCAW shirts and grinning parents – all of whom acted like we were rock stars. We are all, unfortunately, getting used to being treated that way!!!

We were quite fortunate today, since the king of the local tribe was in attendance. That was an honor for us and he greeted us warmly, dressed in beautiful garments. We were treated to some wonderful dancing by a dance troupe dressed in matching costumes and a rather sizable group of drummers. The drummers actually continued to play the entire two hours that we were at the site. Talk about energy!

The distribution went well, mostly because Monsieur Robert mapped out, in advance and in detail, the methodology for photographing 43 little people in one frame. It looked great!

The distribution part of our day ended with an exciting spot check by the local gendarmes, who required our driver to show his papers and open the back of the van for a quick look. Our poor driver has had quite the day.

We capped off the day with a visit to an orphanage. We planned on staying for 15 minutes but ended up visiting for two hours. The children put on a wonderful dancing demonstration of authentic traditional Togolese dance. The drumming was absolutely beautiful!

Tomorrow is a much-needed day off. We plan to shop, do some visiting, and attend another lovely evening church service. We hope to recharge our batteries so that Monday’s distribution is once again full of energy and smiles.

Eleanor Uddo
for Team Togo 2012

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Friday, 20 April 2012

Togo: Traffic jam

From Togo 2012
Today we had a rough, bumpy ride to the distribution site, but we felt like superstars as we stepped out of our van and were instantly surrounded by cheering children in their brightly-coloured t-shirts.

They all wanted the chance to shake our hands. Soon after arriving, the beating of drums began and everyone stated dancing. One by one they pulled each of us into the center of the crowd to show off our wonderful dancing skills. The children seemed to be more exuberant than ever in this village, but they all fell into line quickly to have their photos taken. All was going smoothly with the distribution until one little girl ran away from big scary Dan! She was soon reunited with her mother, however, and we were back on track, handing out a total of 500 bedkits.

After our distribution we visited Lake Togo and dipped our toes into the warm water. We then continued to the large shipping port, but saw more trucks and cars than boats because we ended up in the middle of a huge traffic jam! There was construction and there were broken-down trucks in the middle of the road.

There was chaos all around us, with people yelling and honking and no traffic cops to guide the flow of vehicles. Our van was also slowly heating up because the AC did not work well when we were stationary. However, thanks to our wonderful driver, we managed to break free and return home for our much needed showers.

for Team Togo 2012

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Togo: Kpele Attime

From Togo 2012
We have now reached the halfway mark of our trip - 2,500 bedkits. Our fifth distribution site was a village north of Lomé. We drove past forested mountains and fields with towering palm trees to reach our destination in less than three hours.

Banging drummers and shimmying dancers greeted and surrounded us, and the crowds gave big cheers when we displayed the bedkit contents, especially for the school backpack.

Music kept playing as we distributed the bedkits to the children in the hot African sun. We interviewed some families who expressed their unbounded gratitude as these incredibly practical and precious offerings are simply unaffordable for them. They insisted that the items will help in improving their health and scholastic development.

They were very thankful for every single item in the bedkit. And the children especially like the backpack.

We enjoyed our trip home as we visited the local artisan shops and a small waterfall. The waterfall was located in what seemed like a “mini” rain forest.

for Team Togo 2012

PS: We are having difficulties sending pictures over a slow Internet connection.

PPS: The chickens are no longer with us ...

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Philippines: The other side of the fence

From Philippines 2012
I can't help but look beyond the chaos of the distribution to the anxiously awaiting mothers on the other side of the fence. They are women just like me, they are mothers just like me.

Their children have been selected to receive bedkits and today is the big day. The process that started months before our arrival has finally come to an end, I can only describe it to you as Christmas morning. A Christmas morning that only happens once in a lifetime.

Four months prior to this day a group of volunteers attend the local elementary schools where they interviewed teachers and tribal elders to determine the most needy families in the area. The child chosen must be between 6 and 12 years of age and only one child per family is selected. When most families have between 5 and 6 children you can only imagine the need.
From Philippines 2012

The need to provide often as a single mother. No wonder they cling to the fence longingly looking inside.

Kelly Stewart
for Team Philippines 2012

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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Togo: Glekondji

From Togo 2012
Today we visited Glekondji, a village about an hour and a half from our Lomé home base. The children were ecstatic when we showed them each piece of the bedkit ~- each item elicited more cheers than the last.

The air was cool and thanks to our partners at AED, the line went smoothly. As usual, the kids were nervous as they sat down to have their pictures taken, but soon loosened up as our team made funny faces and asked them to smile! The expressions on their faces as they received their mattress and school bag stuffed full of wonderful gifts were beautiful to see and made each one of us very happy to be here and to be a part of the team.

We left the school after having met the principal and giving him gifts of toys, balloons, paper to be used in the classroom and a beautiful book with pictures of people from all over the world.

After tomorrow we are halfway through our distribution. Time has passed quickly … what a beautiful country, a beautiful people, and a beautiful experience.

PS: The chickens are still alive … but not for long!

Eleanor Uddo
for Team Togo 2012

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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Togo: Amoussime & Asso

From Togo 2012

A day of firsts in Togo:

On our third day of distributions we awoke to torrential rains. It did abate when we left for Amoussime, a two-hour drive on a good day. The roads got more and more exciting until we were on dirt roads with the biggest potholes we have ever seen -- lots of dodging necessary. There was a great singing welcome from the children when we arrived. Thankfully the rain had stopped.

All went well. We were always a source of interest -- especially when we took photos. Today we interviewed some parents and their children about the bedkit and they were very happy with the contents.

After leaving we took more very muddy dirt roads to the village of Asso where bedkits were distributed last year. The village chief, elders, school principal, teachers, and parents gave us a great welcome. Another Canadian charity will build more school rooms and a principal's office and storage room. They gave us a tour through a typical rural village. Adobe, thatched-roof homes with chickens and goats everywhere. The two wells for the village were very deep. One of them was 110 feet. Water was pulled up in plastic jugs on ropes. We met three children who are using the bedkits that were distributed last year. We also met a young girl who showed us how to make soup wih palm nuts and beans.

The second first was that we were given two live chickens for supper. I think we are having them tomorrow. This is especially generous from such a poor village.

The third first was a flat tire with a loud bang. Fortunately our OVO partner had a mechanic who was a volunteer. The wheel was changed and after much cheering we were on our way.

The road back to Lomé was very muddy and the team was also very muddy. Supper and showers were greatly appreciated.

We feel so fortunate to have experienced such a day with the amazing chidren and people in Togo.

Best wishes from Margaret
for Team Togo 2012

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Philippines: Local industries

From Philippines 2012
The focus of Sleeping Children, not surprisingly is on children; however, there is a second overseas group that also benefits from the distributions - the suppliers. As the 100% charity, Sleeping Children purchases all bedkit items in the destination country thus eliminating transportation costs while helping local cottage industries.

Each bedkit in the Philippines contains three pairs of shorts: thus 18,000 pairs of shorts are needed in this distribution of 6,000 bedkits. The team visited the village in which the shorts were produced. Seventeen seamstresses and two cutters worked for two months fulfilling this contract, in a garage-like facility. The cost to Sleeping children is $1 per pair. (Photo above.)

This process is repeated for other bedkit items such that, not only will 6,000 children benefit from the distribution, but tens of others will receive needed employment.

Team Philippines 2012

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Monday, 16 April 2012

Togo: Game

From Togo 2012

Today was a hot one!

The distribution in Game went smoothly; we handed out the 500 bedkits in 2 hours.

The children greeted us with handshakes, smiles and loud cheers. They were especially excited when Margaret displayed the bedkit items. Eleanor entertained the kids waiting in line (and us) with her fantastic headwear. We had great help from the local volunteer group (AED) who managed in the heat a little better than us. It was a pleasure to meet more of the kids and Togolese volunteers on yet another successful day.

After lunch, we also visited schools with newly-built classrooms, wells, and latrines that were provided by other Canadian organizations. One of the schools houses the bedkits that we distribute, and we were able to observe the local volunteers loading the truck for tomorrow's delivery.

Megan & Freddy
for Team Togo 2012

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Philippines: Arayat

From Philippines 2012

The Most Valuable Gift of All From a Bedkit ...

Sharlene Tayag (shown in the photo at right with Tom Chudleigh) received a Sleeping Children bedkit in 1998 when she was 7 years old. Included in the bedkit were pens, pencils, and books. She recalls being the only student in her grade to have them. With these tools, she discovered that she loved to write. Sharlene remembers smiling in delight when using her school supplies and so the spark of confidence and curiosity was ignited.

Thirteen years later, in the village of Arayat, Sharlene returned to a Sleeping Children distribution site as a volunteer with the Kiwanis group. Identified as a previous recipient, I was elated to meet her. She told me that she has completed her fourth year of a College Agricultural program and will enrol in an Animal Science program in June. Sharlene has been attending school on a full scholarship. I asked how well she did in school? Top of your class? 1, 2, or 3? She was rather humble in admitting that she finished second in most of her classes. We can all imagine as a parent how proud we would be to have a child finish top of her class. As a SCAW team member we shared in being proud of Sharlene's success and felt we may have played a small roll in allowing her to find her talent.

As we reflected upon Sharlene's presence at the distribution in Arayat, we wondered how many other children were about to embark upon the most valuable gift of all from a bedkit ... the inspiration to be all that you can be.

Maryann Vernooy
for Team Philippines 2012

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Saturday, 14 April 2012

Togo: Agbessia

From Togo 2012
Hello from Lomé Togo!

Well today was our first distribution day and what a day it was with 500 bedkits delivered without a hitch! - not bad for "newbies" ;-)

We were treated to much enjoyable dancing and music by a wonderful welcoming group comprised of literally hundreds of children, parents, and of course our gracious Togelese partners.

From Togo 2012
As expected it is very warm and humid but not complaining from the weather back home. The only setback to date was a terrible exploding event with the ketchup bottle. Although Eleanor was actively involved she was not injured. Tomorrow is our first day off (code word for shopping, sleeping in and a church service). Today's drive to Agbessia was quite a long one -- about two hours from Lomé -- however, all eyes were wide open and impressed by the vegetation, and various sights. So strange but wonderful.

Needless to say, the kids are beautiful and absolutely great -- superbly well behaved and quick to smile!

From Togo 2012
Bye for now!

Dan Chiasson
for the Togo 2012 Team

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Philippines: Fire and Flood

For over 100 families living in one of the congested area of Tatalon, in Manilla, the unimaginable happened shortly before the distribution of 6,000 bedkits was scheduled to occur in their country. A raging fire broke out and, in an instant, makeshift homes and all belongings were lost. Incredibly, injuries were few and no lives were lost. Families are temporarily housed in two community halls with communal living and no privacy for anyone. Our able Overseas Volunteer Organization (OVO) responded to this emergency by directing over 100 bedkits to some of the most needy of these children. The children's smiles were overwhelming as the picture attests.

On day two, we entered the fishing community of Hagonoy that had been carefully selected for an early morning distribution as this area is virtually flooded once everyday and every two weeks as the tides reach their high point. As we worked against the encroaching water, it was obvious that while the bedkit distribution would be welcome by needy families, the community was working together to solve the problem of flooding im a permanent way. "Canals" are being built everywhere to ease the flood waters away from homes, roads and schools. Health issues from standing water will be greatly diminished through industrious management and the community will soon have a new school building which will not flood and quickly become uninhabitable. We raced against time to complete the 350 bedkit distribution and as the van drove through the ever incoming tide waters, we marvelled at the seaside home dwellers, their persistence to better their lives and the support of our OVO to work with them allowed us the privilege of meeting families, especially the children who will have the opportunity of a good night's rest under a treated mosquito net. We watched as tiny minnows who had been washed in on the last tide waters be returned to the sea so one day they might provide the staple meal in this area, the fish.

Resiliance and perseverance in the two "acts of nature," fire and flood, gave the Philippine Sleeping Children team pause to reflect on the purpose our founder Murray Dryden had in mind when he too visited the Philippines many years ago and worked hand in hand with the same OVO we have the honour of working in partnership with them to deliver the donor bedkits to with the full knowledge that the recipients were appropriate and their thanks to you, the donors, was clearly seen in the shining faces of the children as they received their precious gift of a bedkit.

Leslie Banner
for Team Philippines 2012

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Friday, 13 April 2012

Togo: The team has arrived

We have arrived and have spent the day acclimatizing and visited a lovely school out in the country.

The children are adorable and it is a handsome country. It was an experience we will remember forever.

The Three Muskateers have been by our side the entire time we have been here and have guided us with smiles and humor (we are mostly the point of the humour).

Now that Megan and Freddie are here ~ our team is complete.

We are looking forward to our first day of distribution tomorrow. More children, more smiles and more warm feelings in the heart!

Dan Chiasson
for the Togo 2012 Team

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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Philippines: Plaridel

From Philippines 2012
Today we visited the village of Plaridel where the children are poor but rich in hope.

These two girls spoke little English and seemed hesitant to approach the picture area ... and so to comfort each other they held hands. We felt it was an obvious sign of comfort and clearly depicts what we were hoping to deliver to these children; a comfortable sleep. They left with a comprehensive bedkit filled with all of the necessities to provide a good night's sleep and we felt we had accomplished our task.

The team was so touched by the gesture that it was only natural to accept those children that approached and posed hand in hand.

Team Philippines 2012

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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Togo: Half the team leaves home

From Togo 2012

Half of the Togo 2012 team left for Togo from Pearson Airport in Toronto today. Pictured above are (Left to right) Margaret Crossling, Eleanor Uddo, and Robert Barclay (Team Leader). They will be meeting the other half of the team in Brussels on the way to Lomé, Togo for a distribution of 5,000 bedkits to children there.

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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Philippines: The team prepares

This year's team that will be distributing 6,000 bedkits in the Philippines met at Sleeping Children headquarters, 28 Pinehurst Crescent, last weekend to get ready for their trip this weekend.

Shown in the photo are (Left to right): Tom Chudleigh (Team Leader), Kelly Stewart, Maryann Vernooy, Richard Belcastro, Alan Ingram and Leslie Banner.

Watch for more reports after they arrive in the Philippines.

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