Archive for the ‘employment’ Category

A powerful story told by a gifted writer, National Public Radio’s John Burnett.

Life is cheap where hope is scarce. And here in Nairobi’s Huruma slum you have to look hard to find any hope. So much is discarded here; bottles, cans, tires, plastic but mostly people.

John Kangara Mucheru
Project Manager Zakale Creations

42 year-old John Kangara Mucheru knows this. He’s lived in Huruma all his life. But Mucheru looks for use in everything. The word Zakale means “re-use” in Swahili, the cultural language of Kenya. And that’s exactly what he’s done with bottles, cans, tires, plastic but mostly people.

People like 28 year-old Milton Obote. Ten years ago, Milton was playing pick-up soccer, smoking marijuana and burglarizing homes. Until he met John Mucheru. While watching a Humura pick-up soccer game Milton and his friends were playing, Mucheru noticed the artistry with which Milton played the game. “Futbol (soccer) is what I eat”, says Obote. But John Mucheru didn’t like the company Obote kept. He saw something special in the teenager that everyone else had overlooked. If they even looked at all.

Milton Obote – Zakale Creations

The two started talking. John challenged Milton to do something with that artistic side. He gave the teen a piece of wire and asked him to “design something.” Obote brought back a beautifully created hand. Soon, John invited Milton to work for him at Zakale Creations, based right here in Huruma. He knew Milton and didn’t like to see boys like him waste their lives. Perhaps he saw a little bit of himself.

John used to be involved in gangs, petty theft, some robbery. “It wasn’t my wish”, says Mechuro. “I had no alternative.” In a place like Huruma you do anything to survive. Something happens to a person when you’re packed into a place of extreme poverty with 60,000 others. The word Huruma in Swahili (one of Kenya’s official languages) means, sympathy. Some who live here think Huruma is just another word for “madhouse”.

Huruma, Nairobi

Mucheru doesn’t remember anything good about Christmas as a child. No fond memories. “I never got a Christmas present. I was orphaned when both my parents died when I was three.” Today, John Mucheru is turning that around. Today, the ornaments his young men and women at Zakale Creations make are sold to a company called Heavenly Treasures. That company in turn, sells them to World Vision where they are offered in the charity’s Gift Catalog.

Ornament Set
World Vision Gift Catalog

Now each Christmas, John Kangara Mucheru throws a big party for hundreds of his neighbors in Huruma. “Christmas is time for sharing what you have with those who have nothing,” says Mucheru. His young men and women welcome visitors with a ceremonial dance.

They are energetic, happy and appear full of hope. And today, Milton Obote is married with a young daughter and hopeful he can land more design work.

“Zakale Creations,” Mucheru says, “is about creating new life.” What better time of year to find that new life in the discarded bottles, can, tires, plastic but mostly people. Here in the maddening heart of despair, John Mucheru has found a way to deliver a tiny piece of hope.

Zakale Creations employees welcome visitors in song and dance

Zakale Creations employees
welcome visitors in song and dance


This is what a humanitarian looks like.

Lopez Lomong (right) Rob Rogers (left)


This Saturday, December 1st,  former Lost Boy and U.S. Olympian Lopez Lomong will be awarded the Visa Humanitarian of the Year Award in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The last time I saw Lopez was a few weeks ago in Auburn, Washington when he spoke to more than a thousand in attendance at World Vision’s Day of Prayer. Lopez was recounting all that had happened this year. I remember one night in particular, the night before the biggest race of his life. And he was smiling.

The race was the men’s 5,000 meters on Saturday at the Summer Games in London. He was surrounded by some of the most important people in the world to him, his girlfriend, Brittany Morreale and his mother and father, Barbara and Rob Rogers from Upstate New York. Barbara kept quietly repeating, “I’m so proud of him.”

In 2001, she and Rob brought Lopez over to America from a refugee camp in Kenya. At the age of six, Lopez was abducted by Sudanese rebels and taken to a holding facility where he was prepped as a child soldier. It was determined he was too small. Chances were that he would have been left to starve to death but three fellow captives, his “angels” as he describes them, helped him escape. After three days and nights Lopez was captured by Kenyan soldiers taken to that refugee camp where he lived for ten years, until the Rogers adopted him.

Soon they discovered he was the fastest kid in school, then the state and one of the fastest in the nation. He qualified for the US track and field team in 2008 and was the flag bearer for the Beijing Summer Games. Four years later, Lopez Lomong is at his second Olympics. Rob Rogers says in 2008, “It was like a dream.” But this time his dad says, “he’s here to win a gold medal.”

Michael Chitwood (Team World Vision) on left

That’s what his family and Team World Vision friends including Josh Cox prayed for.

Josh Cox (left) Michael Chitwood Team World Vision (right)

Cox is a long-distance runner, the American record-holder in the 50K and a four time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. Team World Vision is a fundraising program of international Christian charity World Vision that equips individuals to raise money for World Vision projects. Lomong’s 4South Sudan is a World Vision partner committed to finding clean water, health care, education and nutrition for kids back home in South Sudan.

me (on left) with Lopez

I was in London with Cox, Team World Vision National Director Michael Chitwood and Team World Vision’s Steve Spear. We were all there to cheer Lopez on. The next night he ended up finishing tenth in the race after leading as he headed into the last lap. A disappointing finish but not a demoralizing one. “I’ll be back,” he told me after the race. “I learned a lot this time around. I’ll be back.”

I thought about that response when I heard that Lomong had been honored as Visa’s 2012 Humanitarian of the Year. And I thought about the commitment Lomong has made to helping children back home and here in the States through his work with Team World Vision.

Something tells me he will be back. But then – something tells me he’s never left.

Thursday, December 6th, Lomong will travel to the Bay Area where he’ll run with at-risk youth in Oakland. That weekend, he’ll run in a half-marathon in Walnut Creek, California for Team World Vision.

Lomong’s new book is called “Running For My Life” (Thomas Nelson Publishing)

Johnny Depp makes it look easy, effortless …charming.

In Pirates of the Caribbean, the movie star smiles through his lines with ease and grace. Captain Jack Sparrow manages to elude Her Majesty’s Navy and various evil doers on the 19th Century high seas. Captain Jack made the Pirates of the Caribbean movies a billion dollar empire. The pirate is romantic and charming.

But video and audio pirates today are far less romantic as they elude authorities. And the damage they do to artists is anything but charming. Pirates take without remorse because sites like Pirate Bay and Bit Torrent make it easy. Pirates rarely if ever think about stealing. Besides, everyone does it.

U2’s frontman, Bono recently wrote a column in the New York Times. “A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators — in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us,” he wrote, listing his top 10 desires for the next decade.

Monday night in COM 583 we discussed the issue and it was clear that piracy is mainly troubling to those of us over 40. Too bad. It reminds me of shoplifters I knew when I was growing up who routinely stole record albums. I’d hear all the time about the profit margins of retailers and record companies. It’s ok (the argument went) for you to rip off the record in the store because if you bought it – you were getting ripped off by greedy storeowners and a bloated record industry.

Unfortunately, piracy today has many victims. It’s hard to say what may have to happen to protect their rights. But we ought to at least consider that someone had to create Pirates of The Caribbean. It all started as a Disneyland ride.

Didn’t Disney have to be paid for the rights to the screenplay, the movie, the soundtrack and the DVD that Johnny Depp made famous?

And when asked where he got the inspiration for Captain Jack, Johnny Depp admitted he stole liberally from the manerisms of Rolling stone guitarist Keith Richards.

But producers made that right by offering Richards a supporting role as Captain Jack’s father in one of the Pirates sequels. Ammends were made. Credit was given. Richards was paid.

Even today’s symbol of piracy comes with a price.


Monday night, new media guru Drew Keller discussed the ideas of “Norms of Reciprocity” in the digital world. Graduate students in the Master of Communication Digital Media program on the University of Washington campus like me always take something valuable away from open and free discussions that Keller initiates.

But this topic hit close to home. Simply stated it’s give, then take.

And that seems to be the operative norm alive in new media today. Having an agenda is fine as long as you put others first. Sharing is the key word today. “Publish then filter” is what Clay Shirkey writes in “Here Comes Everybody.” Put it out there and see what happens. It’s the discussion that matters.

Keller told us if you “do something nice for a human being” they tend to feel gratitude and that drives the desire to reciprocate. This is much like “it’s better to give than receive” motto that Christians try to practice as well. We think about it but all too often fail to practice it at Christmas. Still, it’s a good rule of thumb in today’s every-changing and technologically complex world.

On Monday, I posted a blog about Lee Schneider, a new media documentary producer and blogger for the Huffington Post  I write about people like Schneider because they give back. Schneider is using his skills as a storyteller to actually help get things built. His upcoming documentary project will be targeted to community activists and architects (and you) in an effort to build consensus and hopefully … buildings, the foundation of shelter in Haiti (and perhaps domestically in a city like Detroit).

Not ironically, Schneider’s project is called “Shelter”. Check it out It’s a journalist giving back as he builds consensus and a growing viewership. Schneider will get people to watch because he’s a gifted national storyteller with network news credentials. But his giving spirit just might get you to give.

Given then take. Reciprocity.

They see, they feel, they shoot, they share.  

Michael Strangelove writes in “Watching You Tube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People” (University of Toronto Press, 2010) that, “what was once a simple situation of common patterns, local realities, closed audiences and naive epistemologies is now a complex field of globalized cultural production.”

He was contrasting that which went on during the era of the home movie with that which goes on today in the You Tube era.

Without knowing it, Strangelove was referring to the nieces of a good friend of mine. She talks about them all the time. They are three girls, aged 11, 8 and 6 and they produce home-made videos almost weekly. If they’re inspired by a a movie trailer for “Hunger Games” for example, they’ll shoot a video about it (assuming characters in the film) on an i-phone, edit separate pieces together and share it with family. Call it an “instant home movie”.

You can see this kind of stuff on Facebook and You Tube every day.

Thirty years ago, if you had a home movie camera and you were struck with an idea and shot it on a Super 8mm film, it was a long process. By today’s standards it moved at a glacial pace. If you don’t remember that era you may remember Steven Spielberg’s recent nostalgic thriller “Super 8”. In that movie, the main character shoots his movie on a 8mm film and has to wait almost a week for the film to be “rush” developed.

That slow process (the old homogeneous patterns of traditional home movie making) effected the nature of the content. It took more time to tell the story. Back then, you had to wait. The process could often take weeks from initial idea to screening. And then you needed a projector and a screen.

With the advent of the home VHS (or Beta), after you shot something you could watch the “home movie” if you sat down around the TV. It was linear. It wasn’t edited. It was family. It was archival. It was personal.

Today’s home movie makers can share their work with a bigger “family” (You Tube viewers). The content doesn’t have to be linear. It can be edited. It may or may not be family. It most certainly will be archival. But I wonder, given the ubiquity and reach of You Tube – just how personal it is.

Maybe I’m old school but the emerging norms herald a different mindset. I’m not sure for example, if I’d want to share i-phone video of a child’s birth with the “whole world” seconds after it happens. Too personal. I need more time to contemplate. And I’m not sure anyone would care how I choose to relate to “The Hunger Games”…

But don’t tell that to my friend’s nieces. They see. They feel. They shoot. They share. Now. And for them it is personal and a whole lot of fun. Rumor has it they’re shooting another one …


You can celebrate the advent of citizen journalism in social media all you want but at the end of the day – someone still needs to decide where the story lives and more importantly – what a story is. Otherwise it’s just fragments of a story, remnants, slices.

In discussing Michael Strangelove’s “Watching You Tube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People”, I’m struck with the fact that the line is blurred between producers of video and consumers of video. And to prove the point I have to look no further than my own career.

Once upon a time (when I worked in news) a tour was a big deal. Visitors would love to see the high-priced professional cameras we used. It used to be standard for video gear to run $60,000. Last week, I just bought a Canon XF100 for $3,000.

The bar for entering the video club is a lot lower than it used to be.  My hope is that the quality of content isn’t cheapened. My hope is that I’ll always set my own bar and that it’ll always be higher.

Stay tuned.

Sometimes less is more. In fact, when you sit down to write – it’s always more. Wise words from the front thanks to KGO’s Wayne Freedman in San Francisco.

A Re-Purposed Journalist comes home and brings back video. This just in from KING 5’s Margaret Larson and her recent trip to Africa.

KING 5’s Margaret Larson is home again.

Larson has just returned from Africa and says, she’s “very excited about the progress of our on-the-ground partners.” Larson tells me what she saw over in Africa was “very moving and enlightening” as she learned more from families there about what cancer is like in their world, especially for children.

The New Day Northwest host has a simple question, “How much would you spend to save one African child’s life?” Larson has found the simple answer – around $450.

Samuel, a boy in the Burkitt’s ward at a hospital in Kisumu, Kenya 2009.

Larson says cancer kills more people worldwide than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, adding that it’s not just an African problem. “It’s a global issue”, she says. But Africa is where her new non-profit volunteer work for Burkitt’s Lymphoma Fund for Africa (BLFA)

Margaret Larson with Burkitt’s patient, Rosemary and her aunt – March, 2012 – Kisumu, Kenya is taking place. It’s also where a journalist like Larson, 54, has found a new purpose.

“The problem”, says Dr. Corey Casper, of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, (referring to Africa) is that cancer is still perceived as too expensive to treat. Some childhood cancers, such as Burkitt’s lymphoma, cost as little as around $500 to cure, with success rates of 95%. It costs $300 per month for life to keep someone on ARVs (the drugs used for HIV), so a one-off, $500 to treat a child seems like money well-spent.” Larson says the international community also dictates the agenda to a certain extent. Uganda receives $200 million annually from the United States for HIV treatment, but less than a $1 million for cancer. The Hutch is an active partner with BLFA.

Margaret Larson has hosted New Day Northwest on KING 5, since March, 2010. Seattle is the nation’s 13th-largest media market.

From 1992 to 1993, Larson hosted NBC’s Today Show and worked as a correspondent for NBC Dateline. She also anchored at Seattle’s KIRO TV from 1994 to 1997.

Larson has been doing non-profit work since 2004 when she served as VP of Communications for Portland-based Mercy Corps’s also done work for Federal Way-based World Vision, Seattle’s PATH and Global Partnerships But she says, “I’ve always been speaking for someone else.”

At BLFA, where she serves as a member of the Board of Directors, she says, “This is the first time I’ve had a chance to vote on decisions about mission, finances and accountability as opposed to simply being a freelancer who’s consulting or creating a video. It’s about saving the lives of little kids.” Larson says 100 percent of what people give goes to program, to funding treatment.Larson says the other BLFA board directors are business executives, medical experts, financial minds, “and me, a communicator.”

BLFA started after a PATH trip to Kenya in 2009. Larson visited a hospital commissioned by former U.S. Senator Barrack Obama, in Kisumu, Kenya, near Obama’s father’s hometown. At the hospital, Margaret saw “dramatic” tumors, the result of Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer very rare in the United States. Symptoms are tumors in the head and jaw area and sometimes in the abdomen. It’s the most common form of childhood cancer found in Africa. “The thing that stunned us all”, recalls Larson, “is that we were told that all the kids we saw would die, every one of them, in a matter of weeks. And yet it’s completely treatable.

Her inspiration in this venture, Seattle’s Miriam Sevy, who was also in the hospital that day. Sevy is the creator and now President of Burkitt’s Lymphoma Fund for Africa,, and a high-level financial consultant. “Miriam just thought of her own son, Adam and that was that.”

“Burkitt’s Lymphoma Fund for Africa is about educating physicians and caregivers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, funding treatment and removing barriers to family’s seeking ” says Larson. She’s over there in sub-Saharan Africa right now, checking on how money’s being spent and how well goals are being met.
BFLA member Miriam Sevy with young friend, Nairobi 2009

Larson with Erica Sessle from Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Uganda, March 2012. Hutch program received a grant from BLFA

“Sometimes it feels like you’re pushing a rock up a hill when you think about the challenges in the world. You see these problems are so big but this project represents something I can do.” Now, she says, “I have a sense of ownership that I hope will last the rest of my life.”

Larson with recent guest, World Vision’s Michele Tvedt from 30 Hour Famine.

“At my core, I’m a foreign correspondent,” says the former NBC Nightly News and NBC Dateline correspondent.“It’s what I wanted to do when I was little,” says Margaret. “As a journalist,” she says, “it matters to us what’s true. But often we fail to apply it to ourselves. When I was in news, Larson says, “My inside and my outside didn’t always match.” Doing this work with BLFA is, “me matching my inside and my outside.”

Larson says there are probably two ways to grow the organization; major gifts and grants or donations (like Girl Scouts or PTA’s). So far Larson says they’ve gone after major gifts. But Larson is also using the popularity of KING 5’s New Day Northwest, Margaret explains the simple ‘ask’. “Send us a hand towel and a bar of soap and we’ll make sure someone gets it.” Viewers wrote notes to African children living with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. “The goal was to give viewers something they could do. It was a ‘my hand to your hand’, thing.” That, she says, “was crucial in creating a meaningful connection.”

Larson is posting from the New Day Northwest’s Facebook page and sending back video from Africa. KING 5, she says has ‘bought in’. The time to take the trip was written into her KING 5 contract. “I didn’t want to give international volunteer work up,” says Larson. She adds, “management gets that.”

Larson says BLFA is an exhilarating project. As for being a “re-purposed” journalist? Margaret Larson says “Re-purposing isn’t recycling. I’m finding my new purpose. And I feel a lot smarter today.”

Margaret Larson New-Day

Margaret Larson’s Tips for Re-purposing Yourself as a Journalist:

1. Find out what you really care about.

2. Find something that has permanence.

3. Don’t underestimate your skills like critical thinking.