Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Daily Herald | Elgin

Found this in google's cache of the daily herald. I am posting it for illustration.

Traveling road of good deeds

Elgin residents combine unique expeditions with charitable works, inspire others as well

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Monday, February 06, 2006

Off a dusty dirt road on the outskirts of Nairobi, in what Americans might call a slum but Kenyans call a village, there is a school called Ngong Forest Primary.

Inside, 62 seventh-graders dressed in plaid collared shirts and green sweaters sit elbow-to-elbow on benches crammed into a 16-by-25 foot classroom.

Many have walked miles from home as temperatures outside, which are no different from temperatures inside, hover in the mid-80s.

They listen intently when spoken to. They answer questions when told. And they leaf through battered English reading books containing some 60 pages of lessons, half of which are dog-eared and worn.

Enthusiasm, these kids have. School supplies, not so much.

And that’s where David Olson thought he could help.

Olson, an emergency dispatcher for the City of Elgin, took 100 pounds of school supplies to Ngong Forest when he and his wife, Kim, vacationed in Africa just over a year ago.

“It was almost like they’d never seen it before,” said Olson, who bought some of the supplies himself and had text books donated by a library closing at St. Mary Catholic School in Elgin.

“They were amazed someone would have the foresight to do this,” he said. “It was like we were bringing semi after semi after semi of supplies.”

The pencils, erasers, sharpeners and text books were so well-received - and so badly needed - that Olson, 47, has made sure other Africa travelers don’t go empty-handed.

When his parents board a plane today bound for Kenya, all 23 members of their tour group will be carting supplies for Ngong Forest. The group expects to deliver about 600 pounds once the 22-hour flight is done.

The travelers - all part of the Lifestyle Advantage Club from MidAmerica Bank, which offers activities to eligible bank customers aged 50 and up – will be weighed down mostly by the 500 pounds of nearly new text books that an anonymous sponsor donated to the trip.

Many also bought school supplies themselves, and Olson’s mother, Darlene “Snooks” Olson, had the friends she meets with each day at Spring Hill Mall donate 200 pencils.

The 76-year-old Elgin woman said she sneaked in some balloons and a puzzle as well, because “my son said they didn’t know what a puzzle was.” Another traveler pulled “Lady and the Tramp” from her granddaughter’s book collection and another is taking a basketball, Snooks said, to give an extra something special.

The elephants, leopards and zebras certainly have their allure as Snooks and her husband, Harley, 75, embark on their two-week African adventure, but Snooks said she’s most excited for the group’s visit to the school on Wednesday.

“(My son) said they have so little and need so much,” she said.

Hungry to learn

Olson, an avid off-the-beaten-path traveler who has witnessed plenty of destitution throughout Central American and the Caribbean, said his first trip to Africa that fall of 2004 showed him “poverty beyond the extreme.”

Few children make it past the eighth grade, as secondary school is optional, costs money, and is limited to students with high grades, Olson said.

Yet despite the hardship, the Africans he met were “truly the nicest people we’ve met anywhere in the world,” Olson said.

“We visited a tribe in Uganda who couldn’t feed their own families and they invited us for dinner,” he said.

And the hunger for education seemed to overwhelm the formidable challenges to obtaining it.

“You have kids who have nothing who want to learn everything,” Olson said.

The children at Ngong Forest hung on every word as Olson tried to explain what it meant to be cold. Living in an equatorial town where temperatures don’t budge from hot and electricity is a rare luxury, the kids had no concept of snow, ice or the chill of winter.

They were also taken by the blond hair of their American visitors. Olson said his favorite photograph from the vacation was of a shy boy peering out from behind a water tank in the school yard to look curiously at his blond wife. He’s sending a copy of the picture back with his parents to give as a gift to the boy, along with other photos for the school to keep.

The enthusiasm at the Kenyan school stood in contrast with school assemblies Olson has spoken at in the Elgin area, where “a third of the students are interested, a third don’t mind one way or another, and a third couldn’t care less that you’re there.”

That’s frustrating, Olson said, because “here you have kids in schools packed with everything you could possibly need or want.”

Since returning from the trip in October 2004, the Olsons got a handwritten thank you letter from the school’s headmaster, who Olson knows only as Mr. Mwangi. That’s no small thing when it has to travel 8,000 miles.

“To receive an actual posted letter is really nice,” Olson said.

While the Olsons’ mission to deliver school supplies was deliberate, they stumbled upon 1,000-student Ngong Forest quite by accident.

Upon arriving in their small hotel outside Nairobi, they asked the owners to recommend a school that could use their cargo. One of the owners, Charity Kent, happened to be a retired school teacher at Ngong Forest, and she giddily showed them the way, Olson said.

Kent and her husband, Trevor, will now be paramount in getting the new, bigger import of school supplies to Ngong Forest. They will meet the tour group at the Nairobi airport and truck the supplies themselves to the school. The couple also helped clear the project with the consulate and the finance ministry, a length Olson didn’t go to on his initial trip because he was hauling a lighter load.

Olson heaped heavy praise on the team of people helping to funnel the school supplies to Ngong Forest, including the Kents, Lifestyle Advantage, the travelers themselves and their tour company, Collette Tours.

Collette bent their rules to increase the weight-load for each traveler, and even provided special bags bearing their logo to carry the school supplies in.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Olson said.

Olson had actually never really done this before.

More than a vacation

The idea to incorporate charity in his six-week jaunt through Africa was born in Costa Rica, where Olson and his wife spent three weeks three years ago.

While there, the couple donated money to a butterfly farm in Arenal that worked hard to educate the local population about conserving the island’s natural resources to attract tourists, the idea being to dissuade deforestation by teaching that tourist dollars can sustain the country in the long haul.

“We made the decision at that time that instead of just taking a vacation, we should help people,” Olson said.

In Africa, the couple was inspired to help even more than they initially bargained for.

In addition to unloading school supplies in Kenya, the Olsons picked up the education expenses of a couple of kids in Tanzania.

The children, 9-year-old Margreti and 6-year-old Elias, belong to a tour guide, Goodluck Msemo (so-named because he was the first son after four daughters), who used a generous tip from the Olsons to enroll his children in a private parochial school.

So touched by Msemo’s concern about his kids’ education, the Olsons agreed to fund the pair at the private school through high school. Olson expects the 12-year commitment to cost him about $125 per month.

The African trip wasn’t all charity, however. The couple bounded between Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Madagascar, enjoying whales, lemurs and mountain gorillas. Olson surprised Kim, his wife of 25 years, with a balloon ride over the Serengeti for her birthday.

Olson, a former Elgin firefighter/paramedic who retired on disability after a sound blast from an air horn hurt his hearing, is looking forward now to the next adventure, which will likely take him to Southeast Asia. Already he’s begun his research, leafing through a book on Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Borneo.

The couple would like to return to Africa one day.

“We’ve talked about buying a drilling truck to drill for water for several months at a time,” he said.

“Isn’t that impossible?” a less ambitious might ask.

Olson paused.

“It is if you don’t try,” he finally said. “People might say, is it possible to get 600 pounds of school supplies to Kenya?

Blatantly copied from google cache of the Daily Herald Website

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Onion article on Sparrow collision

I don't read the Onion often, but sometimes they have clever articles.

Sparrow Aviation Administration Blames Collision On Failure To Detect Pane Of Glass

The Onion

Sparrow Aviation Administration Blames Collision On Failure To Detect Pane Of Glass

PIERRE, SD—The 2-year-old bird is the latest of billions who have succumbed to the mysterious phenomenon.