Thursday, October 28, 2010

People Are Awesome

A compilation of awesome people doing incredible things.

Music: Mecha Love by Hadouken, out now on iTunes:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy

This past weekend I have been fortunate enough to be able to see The Mourners, a special exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art.

"The Mourners from the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy are deeply affecting works of art. Beyond their evident visual and narrative qualities, we cannot help but be struck by the emotion they convey as they follow the funeral procession, weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought, giving vent to their grief, or consoling their neighbor. Mourning, they remind us, is a collective experience, common to all people and all moments in history."
                                                  Sophie Jugie, Director, Musée des Beaux-Arts. Dijon

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois dukes of Burgundy ruled over extensive territories in present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands from their capital in Dijon, which during their reign became a major center of artistic patronage.

Their court's sculpture workshop, presided over by Claus Sluter and his followers, produced some of the most profound and original art of the period. The tombs of the first and second Burgundian Dukes, Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, are among the summits of their achievement. Each tomb includes in its lower register an elaborate arcade in the flamboyant gothic style, populated by a solemn processional of alabaster figures of monks and clerics that appear to circulate around the tomb as if it were a cloister. These sculptures, known as the mourners, are small-scale embodiments of late medieval devotion. Though part of a larger monument, each sculpture is a masterpiece in its own right, and each mourner is carefully individualized. While some of the figures are shown wringing their hands or drying their tears, others appear lost in solemn contemplation, while still others hide their faces in the deeply carved folds of their robes.

The ongoing expansion and renovation of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon has created the opportunity for these exceptional works to travel together to the United States. The tombs of the first and second dukes of Burgundy have been displayed since the early 19th century within the dukes' medieval palace, which now forms part of the Museum. These galleries will be renovated between 2010 and 2012, providing a first and only opportunity to present the full suite of mourners independent of the architectural framework of the tomb itself, allowing the sculptures to be viewed and appreciated as discrete works of art. While the mourners from the tomb of Philip the Bold will remain on view in another portion of the museum, those from the tomb of John the Fearless are making an unprecedented tour.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Peace Through Music

Friday night, during the Playing for Change concert in Dallas, I fell in love!

I fell in love with a 65 year old blind, black man from New Orleans and my life will never be the same again!

Grandpa Elliott and Clarence Bekker in action at the House of Blues in Dallas ( Photo - Keel)

Grandpa Elliott, born Elliot Small in 1945, also known as Uncle Remus, is a street-musician in New Orleans, Louisiana. He plays the harmonica, sings, and has been a New Orleans street icon for decades. His music and comforting presence have touched countless hearts throughout the years. When you think of the French Quarter you think of Grandpa. Many locals and frequent visitors to the Quarter consider Grandpa the saving grace and passionate force behind the revitalization of the city since Hurricane Katrina. His voice reminds us all that music can help the soul persevere through many hardships.

With a voice that tickles the soul and a harmonica that lifts the spirit, Grandpa continues to dazzle audiences from street corners to stages across the country.

He has also been on The Tonight Show and The Colbert Report. He has been a street icon on Royal Street in the French Quarter and Jackson Square in New Orleans since moving from New York City back to his place of birth in the 60's.

He performed to a crowd of more than 40,000 at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, on June 30, 2009, playing the Star Spangled Banner on harmonica and singing God Bless America. Watch it HERE. His debut solo album, Sugar Sweet, was released November 3, 2009.

The Playing For Change Band is a group of musicians from different cultures uniting together for the common purpose of peace through music is a powerful statement. 
The Playing for Change Band
Their 2010 fall tour is highlighted by the addition of famed Senegalese guitarist Ilon Ba (Baaba Maal) to the stellar Playing For Change band which includes percussionist Mohammed Alidu (Northern Ghana), vocalist Clarence Bekker (Netherlands/Suriname), vocals/harmonica Grandpa Elliott (New Orleans), vocals/percussionist Mermans Kenkosenki (DRC Congo), guitarist Jason Tamba (Kinshasa, the capital of DRC Congo) and vocalist Titi Tsira (Gugulethu, South Africa). Watch them sing Felangaye HERE

The Playing For Change Foundation (PFCF) is dedicated to connecting the world through music by providing resources (including, but not limited to facilities, supplies, and educational programs) to musicians and their communities around the world.

Source: Wikipedia and the Playing For Change Website

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day at the Zoo!

So, who knew that I would actually enjoy going to the zoo in Tyler, Texas! Right downtown is Caldwell Zoo and boy, is it well kept!

First opened in 1953 as the Caldwell Children's Zoo, the zoo was a development of the Child Development Laboratory, operated by the Hogg Foundation and the American Association of University Women of Tyler. It was run by Mr. and Mrs. David King Caldwell, who had brought in many animals for the enjoyment of the children and eventually established into an official zoo.

David King CaldwellBy 1967 the zoo featured over 500 animals from 87 different species. In 1970, the zoo was broken into, and several animals were killed. This prompted the children of the area to collect money to help restore things. Enough money was raised for the zoo to acquire an African elephant and was the catalyst to modernize the entire zoo. The city granted them 40 acres (160,000 m2) of more land in 1976, and a large, long-term expansion project was undertaken. A new elephant enclosure was built, and giraffes were added in 1978. In 1983 a 15-acre (61,000 m2) native Texas area was opened, and in 1984 reptile and aquarium sections were opened. In 1987 major reconstruction of the African exhibits was completed, creating large pasture areas and an overlook. Throughout the 90s, more improvements were added. In 2002 a new veterinary hospital was completed, along with brooding areas, and a quarantine facility. The zoo now houses a "Wild Bird Walkabout" featuring over 400 parakeets and cockatiels. Bird, otter and penguin presentations have also expanded, allowing for the further education of the public.

Plans are also in action to expand into the unused land surrounding the current zoo, including a new glass-enclosed aviary and improved habitats for animals. There will be several new animal additions accompanying these expansions including a colony of meerkats.

The Caldwell Zoo also houses the largest African elephant in North America.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dawn of a New Day

'The Dawn of a New Day' is a documentary by Marie-Vérité Films, directed by Ryley Grunenwald. A South African plastic surgeon gives up his private practice to provide free specialized surgeries on a hospital ship in West Africa - but at great personal cost. The film follows the surgeon, his wife in South Africa who he sees three months a year and three Beninese who want a surgery appointment along with thousands of others.

Mercy Ships Food for Life Program Celebrates World Food Day

World Food Day, celebrated on October 16th, is a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed year-round action to alleviate hunger. The Mercy Ships Food for Life program is also focusing on alleviating hunger by improving nutrition in some of the poorest countries in West Africa.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life program partnered with the internationally recognized non-government organization, Bethesda, to train farmers in Benin, West Africa, in organic farming methods in efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Representatives from other non-governmental organizations in other West African countries have also been trained so that they can take the knowledge to the farmers in their countries, thus creating a regional network of like-minded agriculturalists. More efficient farming methods and the selection of nutritious plants – including the moringa tree – will greatly improve health in West African communities.

The moringa tree, which is native to West Africa, is sometimes called the “miracle tree.” Thousands of years ago in India, the special qualities of the moringa tree were discovered and put to use. It may grow as much as 20 feet in one year! The leaves, seeds and flowers are edible and nutritious, and they can be used in a variety of forms, including a wonderful tea. The leaf powder has seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, four times the vitamin A in carrots, three times the iron in spinach, four times the calcium of milk, and three times the potassium of bananas. The powdered leaves – loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein – make a wonderful food supplement. Nursing mothers in Africa use it to increase milk production. In short, it is possible to survive by eating only from the moringa tree.

Research on different crops is conducted at the Mercy Ships International Operations Center in Texas. The climate there is similar to West Africa, thus providing a suitable environment to “test” crops. However, because the moringa tree can only be grown during the summer months, not enough powder could be produced to supply the needs onboard the ship. The additional supply, therefore, comes from the Centre for Ecological Development in Togo, West Africa. This is one of three private organizations partnering with the Mercy Ships Food for Life training program.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life program has been growing moringa trees for the past six or seven years and promoting its use in West African communities. Nutritionist Kelly Dahl and Agriculture Program Administrator Ken Winebark have been working together to use the health-giving moringa powder in the infant Feeding Program, and they have seen remarkable results. One infant from Liberia could not nurse properly due to a cleft lip and palate. As a result, he weighed only 6.7 pounds at 4 ½ months. His skin hung loosely over his tiny body. He and his mother were admitted to the hospital ward on the Africa Mercy. Since he was not strong enough for surgery, he became the first child to be given the moringa powder in the Infant Feeding Program. The highly nutritious moringa diet combined with loving care from volunteer nurses nurtured him to a healthy 10.5 pounds in just 3 weeks. This allowed him to have a successful surgery onboard the hospital ship to correct his cleft lip and palate…and to give him a normal life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mercy Ships Shares the Right to Sight on a Global Scale

World Sight Day celebrates a blessing that we often taken for granted – the gift of sight. This year the focus is on eye health and equal access to care. Mercy Ships uses its state-of-the-art hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, to deliver world-class health care to some of the poorest countries in the world. Their services include Mercy Vision, an eye care program that includes land-based eye clinics as well as eye surgeries done onboard the ship.

Statistics from the World Health Organization show that most of the world’s blindness is preventable. But in many poor countries, eye care is simply not available or not accessible. For example, the West African country of Togo has a population of 6.4 million people … and only 2 hospitals. The fact that the majority of the population lives on less than $2 per day further complicates access to health care.

Komlavi, a local artist in Togo, West Africa, simply described his dilemma, saying, “I am a sculptor and a carpenter – a wood artist. I was having this eye problem for a long time, but I was unable to go to the hospital.” He needed a miracle. And, one day, that miracle literally walked into his shop.

Catherine and Marty Schwebel, volunteer Chaplains onboard the Africa Mercy, met Komlavi while they were browsing through the market. They liked him and his wooden sculptures so much that they referred all of their Mercy Ships friends to him for purchases!

A few days later, some other Mercy Ships volunteers visited Komlavi’s shop. He mentioned that he couldn't see well out of his right eye. Alana Abernathy, a member of the eye team, recalls, “I took him over into the shade where I could see into his pupil better. Sure enough, I saw one of those dense, white cataracts.” Alana knew this was a problem that Mercy Ships could definitely solve. She wrote down the location of the eye care screening and told Komlavi to come to the screening very soon.

A few days later, Marty and Catherine saw Komlavi walking up to the ship. He showed them the note that Alana had written. The Schwebels jumped into a Mercy Ships vehicle and drove Komlavi to the eye screening site. By the end of the day, he was cleared for the surgery that would restore his sight.

Komlavi’s story is encouraging, but there are many more people who desperately need eye care. According to Vision 2020, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, and 80% of blindness is treatable, curable or preventable (Vision 2020). Simple and effective strategies could address this inequity, claims Dr. Glenn Strauss. He gave up his eye practice in the US to serve fulltime with Mercy Ships as Chief of Ophthalmology and as the Vice President of Health Care Initiatives.

Since 2004, Dr. Strauss has fine-tuned a procedure for cataract removal called MSICS (Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery). The technique, which has been developed in Nepal, India, and onboard the Africa Mercy, requires no sutures. It is also cost-effective and efficient, allowing for a high-volume turnover of patients. Dr. Strauss can serve approximately 40 patients per day by using this procedure.

During a recent Mercy Ships Field Service in West Africa, over 700 patients a day lined up outside the Eye Center. To address this need, Mercy Ships also trains local doctors in the MSICS technique. For the last three years, Alcon, a faithful corporate supporter of Mercy Ships, has sponsored a fellowship program. One recipient is Dr. Abram Wodome, a native of West Africa. He and Dr. Strauss trained five additional surgeons at two hospitals in Benin. As a result, the amount of surgeries went from 320 (all 5 combined) surgeries per year to 2,000 (all five combined) surgeries per year. That’s an increase of 525%!

Gifts from faithful donors have rescued many patients like Komlavi from a world of darkness, and they have provided training for physicians like Dr. Wodome to offer hope and healing to his countrymen. Even small donations have long-lasting, and often life-transforming, effects in countries like Togo.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mercy Ships Celebrates World Mental Health Day

Dr Lyn Westman heads up the program.
 World Mental Health Day, promoted by The World Health Organization (WHO), is designed to raise public awareness about mental health issues. This special day promotes more open discussion of mental disorders, as well as investments in prevention and treatment services. The treatment gap for mental, neurological and substance use disorders is formidable … especially in resource-poor countries.

Mercy Ships is a global charity that operates the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, to deliver world-class health care to some of the world’s poorest countries. The organization has a thriving Mental Health Program that is trying to close the treatment gap by educating people in West Africa.

Mental health is defined as how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. The Mercy Ships Mental Health Program aims to restore hope and bring healing by providing basic counseling skills to health care workers, church leaders, teachers, social workers, corrections officers and many other community leaders. Teaching those skills will increase the availability of mental health resources and address issues of mental illness, epilepsy and trauma.

Dr. Lyn Westman, the Program Administrator, spends most of her time in the field teaching and coaching community leaders in the countries served by Mercy Ships. Mental Health is a problem that is rarely addressed in the developing world. The education provided by Dr. Westman is extremely useful and hard to find locally.

During the Mercy Ships Field Service to Togo, the Mental Health Team conducted a five-day camp for orphans and abused children. Before the camp began, a day of training was held to give an overview of the program to parents, teachers and caregivers.

Under the supervision of Dr. Westman, 31 children, ages 9-15, enjoyed a carefree week on the campus of L'Institution Privee La Prosperite, a Christian school near Lomè. All of the children who participated in the camp were either orphaned, abused, or from single-parent homes.

Working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity, the team placed the children into four groups, with three adult supervisors per group. Each day the children had two lessons to complete in addition to songs, games and Bible stories.

To help these traumatized children deal with the difficulties in their lives, the team leaders talked with them about Biblical principles – explaining that all children are special and that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. They all seemed to thrive on the loving attention they were getting.

All of the children were allowed to tell the stories of their lives, which helped them to alleviate stress. The campers were also taught how to protect themselves from abuse and how to set boundaries in their lives.

This particular outreach was funded by one of the Mercy Ships national offices in Europe. When the ship performs its Field Service in Sierra Leone next year, the team will operate a very similar children’s camp.

The kids’ camp was an excellent way for the Mercy Ships Mental Health Program to impact young people who are experiencing unique challenges. In everything they do, the Mental Health team strives to fulfill its mission of improving the availability of mental health resources to positively impact those who have lived through traumatic experiences.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

2 weeks till the 'Playing for Change' concert

and boy, am I excited! There is a whole group of us going to Dallas to see some of my heroes in action.

If you don't know who 'Playing for Change' is... they are a small NGO that started a few years ago, when a small group of filmmakers set out with a dream to make a documentary film about street musicians from around the world. That dream has grown not only into a reality, but into a global sensation called Playing For Change, and has touched the lives of millions of people.

While traveling to around the world to film and record these musicians, the crew became intimately involved with the music and people of each community they visited. Many of these people lived very modestly in communities with limited resources; nevertheless, they were full of generosity, warmth, and above all they were connected to each other by a common thread: music. In an effort to ensure that anyone with the desire to receive a music education would have the opportunity to do so, the Playing For Change Foundation was born. The Playing For Change Foundation (PFCF) is dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music.

For more info visit them at

Monday, October 4, 2010

World Teacher’s Day 2010: P.E. Teacher Educates Youth on the High Seas

Teachers have one of the most critical and challenging jobs in the world – educating young minds and laying the groundwork for children to become adults. Most teachers choose that line of work because they want to give children the knowledge and skills needed to live happily and productively in our world. It is a huge undertaking as teachers often find themselves working at local schools with minimal resources and maximum classroom capacity.

In a spin on a traditional teaching job, Ben Calvert decided to take his teaching career to the high seas. He currently volunteers as a Physical Education teacher in Africa on the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.

Calvert is the son of missionaries and has a heart for missions. After graduating with a degree in education, he completed a one-year internship, teaching gymnastics to students at the Sports Academy of The Hague University in The Netherlands.

At that point, Calvert was ready to make a change in his life. He was considering doing development work locally, but he came across an advertisement for a Specialist PE teacher with Mercy Ships on their ship, the Africa Mercy. This floating hospital is staffed by a 400-person volunteer crew and provides free health care to the forgotten poor of West Africa. Some volunteers have their families onboard, and approximately 55 children attend the accredited Academy onboard the ship. Calvert says stumbling upon the advertisement for the PE position “was too much of a coincidence to ignore,” so he decided to revise his plans. “It was easy for me to make the decision because I wasn't leaving a long-term teaching contract behind,” he added.

He was, however, leaving a comfortable life behind. Working on a hospital ship in Western Africa was a drastic change, but Calvert was excited about the opportunity. “I knew I would feel a real connection with the kids onboard since I am a missionary’s kid myself – not to the extremes that these kids are, but it did allow me to have some insight into their distinctive world.”

Calvert saw the job with Mercy Ships as a very unique opportunity to combine teaching and missionary work. Teachers typically do not get a chance to contribute directly to missions, but the Mercy Ships Academy allowed Calvert to play his part in supporting mission work. “I didn’t work directly for the locals in the host nation,” he says, “but I allowed the parents of my students to honor their decision to be volunteers on the ship without worrying about their children’s education.” For Calvert, the bottom line was honoring the decision and faithfulness of the parents.

One of Calvert’s most memorable moments came one day during the 2009 Field Service in Benin. It was the beginning of the high school PE class. That morning Africa Mercy Captain Tim Tretheway posted a notice in the reception area saying that there was an infant in ICU on the hospital ward who was in a life-threatening situation. As the class began, Calvert noticed an overwhelming silence from the typically rowdy teenagers. One girl broke the silence by asking if they could pray for the desperately ill infant.

“I was astounded,” Calvert said. “This was my first time to teach at a Christian school, and for the kids to start with this request humbled me to no end.”

That day confirmed Calvert’s decision to become a teacher on a hospital ship with Mercy Ships. It made him fully realize that the kids, just as much as the parents and the teachers, are an integrated part of the wider community – and the mission – that is the Africa Mercy. As the class came together in prayer to lift up the people they serve, it was a powerful moment in Calvert’s eyes.

Of course, there are notable differences in his teaching environment. Calvert identifies the biggest difference between teaching on the Africa Mercy and teaching in The Netherlands as the unique advantages of being in a small Christian School environment. He has the opportunity to know each of his students personally and to form a relationship with them as people, not just as students. The class is able to share their personal beliefs, and Calvert has the opportunity to help the students grow in their relationship with Christ. That is a luxury not allowed in public schools in other settings. The freedom to incorporate faith into education allows his students to grow in their beliefs, while strengthening Calvert’s faith at the same time.

He is also teaching in a truly international school. With volunteers on the ship representing 35 countries, his students come from a diverse background. English is the official language on the ship, but it is a second language for many of the students. He enjoys experiencing a fusion of different cultures in one classroom.
Calvert’s teaching job at a Christian Academy onboard a floating hospital is an extremely unique position. He feels blessed and thankful that he has been given this outstanding opportunity. He is one of thousands of teachers across the world who should be honored today on World Teacher’s Day. Each teacher is working diligently to shape the minds of the world’s youth. Calvert’s experience demonstrates that not all teaching environments are the same, and it takes all kinds of teachers to educate the leaders of tomorrow.

Written by Clair Bufe, photos by John Roland