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Belize Trip

Well, that was a long break. This blog post covers my trip to Belize with my wonderful girlfriend Amanda. She is a new addition to the blog, (and the reason for its delay). We’ve got some more awesome trips planned ahead, and so everyone should mention how beautiful she is so that maybe we can do a couple’s blog of our travels in the future. Then, I won’t be responsible for writing all of them, and we’re unlikely to have a three month break between posts.

This blog has transitioned from being about Africa, to being about my travels, and I think that is a fair transition to make. There are only so many things about Africa you can talk about, and one day I’ll leave this continent and my travels will take me elsewhere.

Belize was my first Latin American trip in a long time (Costa Rica 2006), and it really is a beautiful part of the world. Belize itself is nice, English speaking, and relatively developed, but much more expensive than it should with it being a third world country. Amanda and I had a great time with all of our adventures in Belize.

We were able to do a lot of things on the coast and in the jungle. Some of the more notable experiences were:

  • Beachfront hotel room
  • Repelling down the Bocawina Waterfall
  • Jungle canopy zip lining
  • Snorkeling around the Barrier Reef
  • Dirt biking
  • Watching a native Garifuna dancing ritual and trying their cuisine
  • Ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal
  • Close up encounters with animals at the Belize Zoo. Pumas, monkeys, Toucans, crocodiles, etc.

Welcome to the blog Amanda!

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Hanging out at the hotel, I went and got the coconuts myself.

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Dinner in Belize at one of our hotels

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This orange was more yellow than orange, but it was probably the best one I’ve ever had in my life.

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This is the same backdrop as for the original Star Wars movie. When the X-wings fly out of the hanger, the temples in the background is this city, Tikal!

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The Royal throne in Tikal

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Here Amanda is sacrificing me on the altar at Tikal. Right after this one of our couple friends tried to do the same thing and got chewed out by this angry Spanish man. On the other side of the stone it says “do not touch the monuments.” Whoops, didn’t see that one…

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One of the two main temples of Tikal. If you look closely, there are people at the bottom left for reference of size.

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Amanda and I on the way to go snorkeling.

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We didn’t get to see much, but it was still a really cool experience. Belize is famous for its scuba diving/snorkeling. Neither of us scuba dive, but this was a good alternative for us.

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At the Belize Zoo. The Toucan enjoyed nibbling on our fingers!

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We really enjoyed waterfall repelling. The pictures of the bottom of the waterfall are below.

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I’m already looking forward to our next trip together. The next blog will be about my last couple of months here at Kibali. Then, this blog will transition from my time in Africa, to future trips. Hopefully, even if I am not living on the other side of the world, I’ll still get to go to some cool places.

Hopefully this summer we’ll do some camping, Disney World, Caribbean cruise (maybe), and Sweden (maybe).

Until then,

Preston

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Mountain Biking, Community Development Center and Commuting by Boat

 

Once again, it has been a while since my last post, but this time my excuse is that it has been no-shave November, and so I would prefer if most pictures of me from last month never see the light of day. If you really want to see what vagabond me looks like, then ask and I’ll show you in person, where there will be no evidence….

New things since last blog post:

  • I went in on a mountain bike with a friend. Pictures below. I go about the same speed as an old man with a breathing problem. It’s quite embarrassing.
  • Moved into a new room that is twice the size of my old one. Moving up in the world!
  • Had Thanksgiving on site.
  • We started having poker games again.
  • We’re expanding the auction project.
  • Began moving into our new community development center.

Apparently in South Africa Mountain biking is very popular. So, giving in to peer pressure and all, I decided to get one so I could go with all of my South African friends, and I’ve actually used it! Hopefully I’ll stop being dead last out of the group, and can start enjoying the beautiful scenery, but until then it’s still nice to go ride around with some friends. One of said friends actually got into an accident in the community, and because I was there and knew some Lingala, we were able to sort it out without any problems. It was really cool, and nice to show the other guys on site what I do every day.

I moved into a new place which is great, and now I’m not so cramped. I have some great neighbors, and we grill out quite a bit. Life is a lot more fun now out here, and that makes things easier when away from home for as long as I’ve been. Having more friends out here makes it nice, and not just because we started playing poker again. I’ve won 3, got 2nd twice, and lost once. I love Texas hold’em. Last year I spent Thanksgiving by myself, and it was easily the most depressing day I had in Africa all year. However, this year the kitchen staff went out of their way and we had a Thanksgiving feast for about 20 people who came to hang out with me on our American holiday. It was a lot of fun, and I am thankful for my new friends abroad, and my friends back home.

As far as work goes, if you aren’t familiar with the tied-financing project I instituted, then continue on reading earlier posts. It’s a new form of micro-financing where we provide the item directly to the person, instead of cash, and they pay us back using the item. So far, we’ve lend to 220+ families, helping over 1,500 people. The repayments are slow, especially now that our relocation is finished, and all of those jobs that were lost as a consequence. The bright spot though, is that out of the $10,000 from the department, we’ve lent out $18,000+, and only around $500 has been lost for sure. This is important to note because even with the huge learning curve we have, we have relatively small losses, and a lot of those losses I can easily prevent from happening again. If you read my earlier posts about the project, you’ll see just how difficult it has been to teach people the value of money and lending, and so for our losses to be so small, is very significant.

Thankfully, it seems like my superiors agree, and so I believe we’re going to start expanding to other parts of the community. Currently we only lend to people who were moved in order to build the mine. Starting next month though, I believe we will expand and so we’re going to try something new with those people. We’re going to have a co-sign system whereby in order to win an item at the auction, 2 other people have to sign with you, and if you don’t pay us back, those two people aren’t eligible either. The borrower finds the two people, and we won’t go after the co-signers if we don’t get paid back, but at least this way we can spread the responsibility, and weed out the bad borrowers more easily.

In six months I think we can help another 500 households (3,000-4,000 people), and provide hundreds of new items, and jobs, to the community. In addition to this, we just cleaned up our new Community Development Center. This is 22 acres of land that our construction department used to own, but now I run and manage. Here we will have ducks, chickens, guinea fowl, pigs, planting equipment, fish farms, a large tree nursery, vocational classes, and offices for my staff and our cooperatives. If I am able to do everything I want to here, I should be able to provide a 100+ jobs here alone, and it could fund our other development projects.

A few of the guys I rode the Southern Bypass road with. It’s just shy of 20 miles up and down hills and on dirt roads. It was hell at the end, but beautiful throughout.

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I look like a real cyclist don’t I?

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This is a monkey that I’ve never seen before, and haven’t found anyone who can tell me what it is. If you know, post in the comment section and tell me what it is.

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My buddies Darren and Justin from South Africa, who are also some of our consultants, came up to do some surveys and to get to where we need to go we had to take a boat. It’s pretty cool to see that people still travel like this.

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Long post, few pictures, but thanks for reading.

My Trip to South Africa

I hate that I’m only posting what I do on vacation, but I’m really busy at work, and it’s hard to find time to post regularly. I’ll try to do better though. There are some exciting things happening here, and with our relocation finally ending (thank god), I get to start devoting more time to my development projects. I’ll have more on that later though.

Since I wanted to go home for three weeks for Christmas, and since I already went home in August, my leave schedule only allowed for a week. If I went home, I would just make people mad for not getting to see everyone, and I’d spend half my time in the plane. So, I decided to go to South Africa for a week since it is close, I have friends there, and I hadn’t been yet. However, some very good family friends of mine invited me out to their game farm the week after I was going to leave, and so I actually stayed for two weeks anyways. Oh well, it was completely worth it.

I met some incredible people, and really enjoyed traveling around the country with my good friend Brianna who I grew up with. We had decided to start in Cape Town, drive to Port Elizabeth, and do what they call “The Garden Route.” We went at the beginning of their Spring, so the weather was nice and there were no other tourists yet. It was an incredible trip. The people are great, it was relatively cheap (this was with the Rand-dollar value going down 20-25% over the past year), and there is so much to do.

Things that we did in South Africa:

  • Saw the Cape of Good Hope
  • Saw penguins in the wild
  • Went to the top of Table Mountain
  • Toured some awesome vineyards
  • Walked with cheetahs
  • Went cage-diving with sharks
  • Walked with lions
  • Saw a rhino, meaning I am a leopard away from seeing the African big 5, a black impala, and all sorts of other things
  • Went bungee jumping off Bloukraans, the highest bungee jump in the world

When Brianna left, I went back to Cape Town and hung out with a good friend John whom I met at our mutual friend’s wedding in August. John was a great host; he gave me keys to his place, his couch, and even lent me his car for the 4 days I was there. While I didn’t “do” much while I was there, it was just as good for me because I needed a break from the week before, and John and his friends were so great to have around, it was a nice reprieve. It made me feel like I was back home.

Everything I did could be a blog post on its own, but I will spare you the agony of reading 10 posts, and just show you pictures. Each picture should be another reason to visit. 

 

This is the top of Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town. This has just been added to my list of places I would want to live for a long time (Istanbul, Austin, and Dubrovnick are the other three).

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This is the Cape of Good Hope.

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These are the vineyards of Stellenbosch, just outside of Capetown.

 

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Brianna and I did a cheetah walk on the beach, which was awesome. It was much larger than I had thought it would be, and a lot more skittish. This is in Sommerset West, northeast of Cape Town.

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After the cheetahs we drove to Gaansbai and went cage diving with the sharks. The pictures of us in the water are not very flattering, and so instead of possibly making Brianna mad, I think I’ll omit them.

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After Gaansbai we drove to Botlierskop inbetween Mossel Bay and George. It was a four hour drive, which, after wine tasting the day before, walking with cheetahs in the morning, and driving to Gaansbai, cage-diving etc. we were exhausted. However, Botlierskop was a short drive from our hotel in Mossel Bay, and completely worth it.

 

I finally saw my first African rhino! 
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We stayed another day and hung out with lions

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And cubs

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Makes you want to adopt one doesn’t it

 

 

 


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The next day we drove to Knysner, and to Bloukraans, the highest bungee jump in the world. The jump itself was actually a lot of fun, but the dangling there by a rope was one of the scariest moments of my life. Never doing it again, but I’m glad I did it.

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The guy to my immediate right was our helper, and the guy next to Brianna was a guy who jumped before me.

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John and Kate, my incredible Capetown hosts. Also, I don’t have a picture, but a big thanks Thank you to Elizabeth for showing me around, Kate, Hannah, Raymond, and Chris for making me feel at home in Capetown.

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After Capetown I went hunting in Grahamstown with my friend’s family, and shot an impala. My first real animal I’ve ever shot, and it was a lot of fun. When I left Grahamstown I went off to Johannesbourg to hang out with some friends from work. They took me out in downtown Joburg, ate bunny chow in the Indian part of town, saw Mandela’s house, and some graffiti art around town.  This is a few of us downtown, with the people I stayed with on the right, and some friends of ours from work in the middle.

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I had an incredible time on this trip, and I’m glad this blog will allow me to relive this experience years from now. A sincere thanks to Brianna for being my travel buddy, I hope I didn’t drive you too crazy, thanks to John for letting me stay with him (and Grant for introducing us), and Darren for letting me stay with him in Joburg.

 

My next blog will be about some of my projects out here, and life on site post resettlement.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Preston

Pygmies, Rafting the Nile, Istanbul and Boston

It has been a busy time since I wrote last.  Because of this, I’m just going to post the highlights, and some pictures of the past couple of months.

Highlights:

  • Saw pygmies that had only recently came out from living in the bush
  • Randgold hosted a party for my one year anniversary on site
  • Went white water rafting on the Nile River with three of my volunteers
  • Spent two days in Istanbul during Ramadan with one volunteer, and a good friend from school
  • Was in the middle of riots/protests in Istanbul’s Tahrir Square
  • Spent four days in Austin, and four days in Dallas seeing family, friends, and attending a wedding of what is likely my favorite couple
  • Went to Florida to see one of my best friends who is getting his pilot license in the Navy
  • Went to Boston to speak with someone at MIT about my development project, and saw some good friends there as well
  • Hung out with friends in Austin and Dallas
  • Spent a day in Toronto as a part of my layover on my way back to the mine, crossing another country off my list
  • Celebrated my 24th birthday on site.

Our visit with the pygmies. George, Setareh, Eric, Lauren, Caroline, myself, and Corbin all in the back (we do stand out a bit).

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This is actually quite sad. The locals keep monkeys as pets, and this one was held at a nearby church (which makes it even more sad). It was incredible to see a chimp this close up, and to even be able to touch it, but I do wish it were in the wild, and we made it a point to not give any money to anyone with a monkey.

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Most people go white water rafting downstream, we like to make it look like we’re going upstream… In all seriousness though, this was pretty terrifying as I thought we were going to flip over backwards.

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This is inside the Haggia Sophia Museum. It started out as a church when Istanbul was still Constantinople, and then became a mosque when the Muslims took over. However, they didn’t destroy many of the Christian symbols, just covered them up. So now, you have this fascinating contrast of Christian Religion side by side with Islam, and it makes for an incredible experience.
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This is the Haggia Sophia from the outside. I came with one of my volunteers, Chloe, and met up with another friend Derin.
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I was lucky enough to see my good friend Derin while in Istanbul. She is Turkish and was in town visiting family while on summer break from teaching in San Antonio. It was great not only seeing her again, but her cousin turned out to be an incredible guide and took as all over the city. The view behind us was where we had tea and hookah, and this was just a bit of what they showed us.

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This is the Spice Market within the Grand Bazaar. I wish I knew more about spices, because this was cool enough, knowing what I was doing would have been even better.

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This was one of my favorite memories of Istanbul. We came during Ramadan and in many Muslim countries you are not allowed to eat, and people may be quite hostile if you eat anyways. However, no one cared in Istanbul when we ate during the day, and at night you had large crowds gathered in front of the mosques with many Muslims preparing food for the sunset (when they are allowed to eat) sitting side by side with secularists snacking away. It was amazing in its subtlety in that we only hear about the extremists or the bad experiences, but at the end of the day, most of these people are just like us.

It reminded me of 4th of July celebrations years ago with my family on the lawn of the Fort Worth Botanical garden. Eating there, waiting for the fireworks. This was quite similar, and I absolutely loved Istanbul for it. The people were nice, the city was beautiful, and the culture was fascinating. I look forward to going back.

Lawn in front of the Mosque

That night, Chloe and I went out to eat and met up with some other vacationers. One was from Texas ironically enough, and the other three were from Australia. They were awesome people, and we got along really well. It was nice to be with other young professionals with whom I could share interesting stories with, and who enjoyed being adventurous. This did though lead us to some interesting situations.

As most of you know, there were a number of protests in Istanbul a few weeks ago, due to their government possibly stepping out of its mandate (for example, more journalists are imprisoned here than any other country in the world), but the people we met up with were staying in Tahrir Square, and had had no problems. So, we went looking for a bar and stopped when we heard the protests. We had seen the police, but they were just sitting around hanging out, and so we had assumed the protest was already over. Not long after we found out the protests were just starting and below is a picture of the crowd that lit trash on fire, destroyed ATM machines and threw rocks at police. That said, 95% of the protestors were very civil, and many people were actively trying to keep my friends and I safe. It was something I will never forget, and I am very grateful to their community there that let me witness a small piece of their long history.
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This shows you how close we were to the action. At one point I was standing here and they started firing rubber bullets overhead. That was really the only time I got nervous, but they were firing well over me, and had no intention of hitting me.

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You can’t see it so well, but these are a few of the friends I met up with in Austin. We had quite a crowd earlier in the night, but it was great seeing so many people even though I wasn’t home for long.

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My last time seeing friends while on leave was on my trip to Boston. Katie and Molly on the right were two of the three girls I met on my cruise with some of the family. They live in Boston and so I got to see them again two months after we met in Barcelona. Cyndi on the left, and Kyndal in the front, both went to UT with me. Cyndi goes to Boston College and Kyndal works for a city council candidate. Having friends to see halfway across the country was great, but having them put in so much effort to see me was even better.

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It is getting harder and harder to write this blog on a regular basis (this is probably quite obvious to you), but I know I will be grateful for it when I move back home and want to relive these experiences. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to travel, do what I love, and see so many good friends along the way.

This week we are finishing our relocation at work. Over 16,000 people moved in two years, nearly 4,000 houses built, thousands of kilometers worth of road, and millions of dollars pumped into a community that has known almost nothing but poverty, war, and disease. My next update will hopefully be related to this in the coming weeks, and after that I will be traveling to South Africa for two weeks, for the first time.  So, I’ll have a post about that as well.

In the meantime, thanks for reading.

-Preston

Volunteers on Site & My One Year at Kibali

I’ve officially done it. A year and one day ago, I landed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the first time, and not only satisfied an inner desire for adventure, but I faced my fears of being alone, head on. I knew no one in this part of the world, much less this country, and yet I have been welcomed with open arms. There were many times when I didn’t think I could make it for an entire year, where I wanted to come home (or stay home, if I was on leave), but because of so many people supporting me,  I was able to stick it out, and I am very grateful for that.

In the past year, people have put me in a position to accomplish more than I ever thought possible.  A dear friend and his family gave me the opportunity to come out here in the first place, the company I work for gave my untested idea a chance and all the resources necessary to try it, and my friends and family have made every effort to see me when I am home, and talk to me when I am not.  I’ve visited every person in the Humanities class I graduated with, surprised my Dad and step mom with an unexpected visit home, and developed a micro-financing project that could (if it works) open up doors for many of the world’s poorest people.

A list of some of my favorite things from this year:

  • I’ve been to 13 countries, 9 of which were new
  • Went to the Middle East, Asia (technically), Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Indian Ocean for the first time
  • I now have over 4,800 pictures from this year
  • My project has helped approximately 150 borrowers, and nearly 1,000 of their dependents
  • I have completed my first year at a full-time job (sounds insignificant, but it is important to me)
  • I still made it to the TX/OU game
  • Got to speak to the Archer Program as an alumni

To add to it, I now have 6 American volunteers on site, who either already were, or have now become, very good friends of mine. It has been an incredible experience being out here with other Americans, familiar faces, and people my age. What’s really ironic though is that their being here has actually shown me not how alone I was without them, but how I was already a big part of the community on site. Since their arrival, many of my co-workers have told me how they will look out for the volunteers with me, because we’re a family here. Therefore, by extension, if I am to look after these volunteers, they will too.

We had an incredible 4th of July celebration on site, people are still talking about it, and this weekend we will be going to see some local pygmies. We were going to Garamba National Park, but our security suggested that right now would not be a good idea because of recent LRA activity. So, we’re playing it safe and going to see some pygmies down the road.

The governor of Oriental was in town for a meeting with the Social Department, and so I grabbed Caroline for a picture with Congo’s finest.

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The volunteers

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My co-workers: From right to left, Eric, Cyrille, Steve, and Tam. Cyrille is my supervisor, Eric and Steve are co-workers, and Tam is one of our head mining engineers.

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Making burgers for the fourth of July.

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My auction project in action, this was a new location, and could have gone better, but it still went okay. It was nice to show the volunteers what I do.

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This is my assistant, and friend, Viktor. I stole him from another department because I liked his work so much, and he has become an essential part of my doing work here. He’s essentially the coordinator for my development project, and I am lucky to be his supervisor.

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My volunteers and I at the auction.

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Last night we had a big party to celebrate my one year on site, and it was very humbling to see so many people from all over site coming out to see me (well, and the girls I’m sure had something to do with it). The Aussies were there, the South Africans, my co-workers, and then of course my Americans. They even wrote a card for me thanking me, and got my co-workers to write one where they congratulated me on my one year in Africa, both in French and English.

So much has happened this year, and yet it seems like I just flew in. I’m excited to see where I end up a year from now, and I appreciate so many of you following me along the way. It’s nice to know that even in the middle of Africa, I have people to rely, and now I have two places to call home.

Thanks,

Preston

Project Update/Cruise with the Family — Barcelona, Marseilles, Tuscany, Capri, Sicily, Dubrovnik, and Venice

Another post before I go back to the mine site, and thus back to real work. For the past couple of days I have been at a management strategy session for my department, and the heads of the social department for all of our mines in Mali and the Ivory Coast. It was an incredible experience, and I never thought I would legitimately enjoy a meeting! We talked about all of the things I am interested in: poverty alleviation, community relations, economic development, etc. It was interesting, engaging, and has huge implications for the tens of thousands of people who are effected by our mines.

To add to my excitement, I actually got to present my project to the directors of various departments, and they all liked it. It helped too that I wasn’t the only one defending it, everyone from my mine was able to explain the project, and I was incredibly humbled that everyone from my mine not only knew how it worked, but believed in it enough to defend it.

The Senior Executive of my department liked it so much in fact, that he said it was just the out of the box thinking we needed, and if it works at our mine, that the company could send me to our other mines to implement it, which is exactly what I have been hoping for! If this happens, my project could be in three of the poorest countries on earth (Mali, The Congo, and the Ivory Coast), in multiple locations, and could help thousands of people. We’ve already helped around 500 people so far (that’s including the dependents of the borrowers), and that is at a pilot phase. I can’t imagine what sort of impact we will have if we can show that it works.

 

Here are the heads of all of the Social/Environment departments for the company.

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The rest of this post is dedicated to my amazing trip from Barcelona to Venice, and various cities in-between.  I was so lucky that my Dad and Cheryl decided to take me along, and I had a great time with Jessica and Drew. I’m really lucky to have them as siblings, and it was a great time. Sad it’s over. I have a bunch of pictures from it though, and so I hope you get a sense of how much fun I had.

I couldn’t get the pictures from my cruise to go in order, so it is going to be completely random, but I live in Africa, so just assume my internet is terrible (which it is).

 

 

Some of the best beer I’ve ever had, it was great. I might just be comparing it to Africa beer, but I think it would be good on any continent.

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Dad and Cheryl sleeping on the plane, courtesy of Jessica, I stole it from her because I liked it so much.

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You know, chilling having lunch in Rome…

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Drew and I bonding in Rome.

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Dubrovnik, I could definitely move here.

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This bridge may not look like much, but it was hell. Venice was hot, there were a lot of steps, and it was a decent distance from our hotel to the bus stop.

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This was a pretty proud moment. All of this stuff weighs over 100lbs, and I climbed up this thing like a champ, all my myself.

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I bought beer/wine/absinthe from this lady like 3 times, and she liked me so much she even let me check myself out from her register. It helped that she didn’t really know how to use her credit card machine and I did, haha.

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Some of the Americans we met. I paid for half of their dinner, and so while I didn’t pay 100% of it, I still think it should count as 5 dates…

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Dad and I in Dubrovnik repping the horns. Love my dad, but I especially love him when he supports the only Longhorn in the family, very cool when he does that.

 

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I have pictures of me and everyone else on the trip but Cheryl! We got a good one of the two of us, but I forgot whose camera it was! It was an awesome trip, and such a nice break from work. I went from working 80-100 hours per week, to hanging out on a cruise ship with some amazing family, and met some great people.

 

Now, while it is back to the grind, and long days, I have some incredible volunteers coming to teach English, and so it will be great having 5-6 volunteers on site for me to hang out with. I’m really excited about the next 6 weeks, and am so happy to with everything in my life right now.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Preston

Development Project – Round Two

It has been 3 months since my last auction, and so this post will be devoted to what happened between then and now, and the results of our second auction.

Background of the Idea:

Essentially, we are providing items to the community in exchange for debt. Think of a car loan, you don’t get cash in hand for the car, you get a car, and then you owe the bank for that car. We are doing the same, but we are providing things like goats, sugar, soft drinks etc. Another thing we are doing though, and the most innovative thing, is we are deciding the interest based on an auction system. So, whoever is willing to go into the most debt gets the item. That way, they choose the “winners and losers,” we don’t have to give them cash, the highest bidder is thus deciding his own interest rate, and we don’t overcharge or undercharge their interest compared to the local market. If they pay us back successfully, and in the right amount of time, then they are eligible for a phase 2 item, which is worth more (IE, phase 1 might be a goat, but phase 2 could be a power generator, and phase 3 would be a motorcycle). If they pay us back, but are late,  then they get to borrow again, but only for phase 1. This way we don’t reward them for being late, but there is still an incentive to pay, even late.

The First Auction:

After the first auction, what we spent minus what we received was about a 20% loss, and then when all of the money was collected and done with at the end of the repayment period, we had received another 25% less than we were supposed to, making for a total loss of nearly 50%. A big reason for this was that the price of the items varied wildly. A $50 can of petrol, would auction off for $1, and a $50 box of soap would go for $120. If you asked them why they wouldn’t just buy the petrol and sell it for soap, they would say “oh, I’m not a merchant.” It was fascinating to see what many of us take for granted as just being rational thought, being so foreign to them. It also meant that many of the items we had just bought in the local market the day before were being sold off for much less. This was pretty disheartening, and if we aren’t sustainable the company will likely scrap the project, but thankfully they were willing to give it 3 tries regardless, and so we got to do our second auction.

The Second Auction:

For our second auction, we auctioned off 10 more goods in total, 5 phase 2 items, and nearly a third of all of our items were agriculturally related, meaning that they should create sustainable employment for whoever gets them. We had two auctioneers at once this time, about 6 volunteers who helped get the borrowers to fill out their lending agreements, and my assistant, Viktor, checked to make sure that the people bidding were eligible. It was a huge success! Nearly every item went for more than what we paid for it, but none of the items seemed to go for astronomical amounts, people had already started learning about the importance of value, and even people who had borrowed last time and successfully paid us back were content to just walk away from it and wait until next time, instead of bidding too much.

What this means:

Of course, we still need to be paid back, but our overall interest rate came out to about 60% on an annual return basis, which, while high by our standards, is actually quite average for micro-lending outfits around the world. This means that not only have we ensured that people get loans in exchange for productive items (not beer), but we are able to provide items to people without them getting mad at us for picking one person over another, and it’s completely transparent (which is essential in a country like the DRC). Now, if we can just get a higher repayment rate than last time, by getting people to pay us back so they can borrow a more expensive item, we could get rid of the group-lending model that other micro-financing outfits use. This would be a good thing because group-lending often means that the best borrowers don’t want to participate, because then they are stuck paying for someone who is not as responsible. By proving that it is possible to do micro-financing to individuals, we could open up a whole new avenue for credit to get to the poor, and subsequently revolutionize how micro-financing is done.

From my understanding, about 5% of the world’s poor (less than $1.25/day defines poor) have access to micro-finance, and if we could increase that number by even a percentage point, it means millions of people having access to resources that can make a profound difference in their lives. To start though, I need to convince the company I work for that it is a good idea to get behind, and if I can do that, then my next stop will be Mali and the Ivory Coast to implement programs there.

Next Auction:

Our next auction will hopefully be June 28th, and so in 3 weeks we will see if anyone has paid us back in the meantime (which would be 6 weeks early), if there are even more people at this auction than the last one, and how our repayment rate compares to last time. Also, I will have some very good friends here teaching English to the local community, and so I will hopefully be able to have them around to witness the auction as well. It will be great having some friends here, and I’m glad I will be able to show them one of these auctions in person.

Conclusion:

It’s very exciting to see this project taking shape, and to be a part of it is incredible. Everyone here is so supportive and they simply want to see it succeed. We created at least 20 jobs for people on Friday, next time I hope to create another 40, and it was all done for 60% interest, a rate that they chose, and one that is MUCH better than they pay in the community.

Here we are writing down the names of what items are up for auction. My friend Eric is in the vest, and my assistant Viktor is behind him with the name tag; those two, and my other co-workers, were amazing, and just really took this and ran with it. I’m so grateful to have them all helping me with this.

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The items and the crowd, watching other people bidding on phase two items.

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This is our list of items on the left (top left is phase 2), the price we paid in the market, for them to use as a reference, and on the right we have the people eligible for phase 2 (top right) and those who never paid us back and were not eligible for anything (bottom right).

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One auctioneer at this end, and the other was on the other side. Both sides were packed, and there are many people you can’t see in-between, and on the sides.

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Here, they are holding up their identity cards to show that they’re bidding. They call out the price they’re willing to pay over 10 weeks, and the person willing to pay the most gets the item.

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Between this project and my other duties, I have been pulling 80-95 hour weeks and now I am leaving for vacation with some of the family in Europe. It’ll be so nice to get away and relax a bit, but man, this is an exciting time to be in the DRC.

I’m sure many of you don’t find this near as fascinating as I do, but if you do find it interesting, then feel free to come out and see it in person. I’d be happy to have you.

Thanks for reading.

Preston

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