Interview with Bernard & Danielle from BorderJumpers.org.
At Beers and Beans we like to highlight what is good in the world. We love to feature people who are working hard to make a difference and trying to change things. We maintain a really great volunteering list on this site for that purpose. The list is great but it is just a list. It can’t take the place of being able to chat & talk to people who are actually changing the world, one country at a time.
In this case, it’s Bernard Pollack & Danielle Nierenberg of BorderJumpers.org.
They contacted me due to the similarities of our blog content and I was completely blown away after I did some poking around on their site. They are amazing people!
Danielle & Bernard make the world a better place.
If you haven’t seen their website you should definitely check it out. They are currently in the middle of traveling through Africa and at every stop they are meeting with farmers, community organizers, labor activists/leaders, unions, non-governmental organization (NGOs), the funding and donor communities, and local press.
Why are they doing this?
Their goal is to bring stories of hope from across the region to as large an audience as possible. They tell the stories that aren’t being told—from oil workers fighting to have a union in Nigeria to innovative ways farmers and pastoralists are coping with climate change.
Their blog is fantastic with updates every day on a variety of topics – including videos & photos of meeting with local farmers & community leaders, hotel reviews and local African music reviews. If you head over to their site you will be thoroughly impressed with their knowledge on community issues & food sustainability. While traveling Danielle also currently works as the Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute. She also maintains a blog there and several writing columns as well. Bernard is also a travel writer that has been featured in several different publications.
They are a pretty awesome team and they’re doing some really incredible things. It was an honor to interview them and pick their brains a bit about their massive undertaking. The interview is really interesting and hopefully if you are considering volunteering or getting off the backpacker trail to do a bit more community service on your next trip, reading about Danielle & Bernard can help you overcome any hesitation or fears you might have.
Without further ado, here is Bernard & Danielle in their own words:
You are traveling to almost every country in Africa on a mission. Why Africa?
Why almost every country in Africa and is there a reason you are leaving some off the list?
D: Thanks Bethany for the opportunity to join you on Beers and Beans. We’re hitting countries where we’ve made contact with NGOs, farmers groups, workers, and policy makers who are working on different projects to help alleviate hunger and poverty. And, unfortunately, there are some countries which are too dangerous for us to visit right now, including Sudan and Somalia. But we hope to visit them in the future.
B: Also, we are tired with all the misconceptions about Africa. All we hear in the media is about conflict, HIV/AIDS, famine and disease. You almost never hear anything positive, and as a result people think the situation is hopeless. That’s why everywhere we go we are looking at African-led innovations and sharing those stories, in hopes of reaching the funding and policy making community so they can get scaled up or replicated, but also to challenge misconceptions that things in Africa are “beyond repair.” After sixteen countries and 130 projects visited so far, we’ve really seen firsthand how much incredible work is happening on the ground here and I’ve never felt so much hope.
You left for Africa in October 2009 – how long do you plan to travel?
D: The trip will last through the end of 2010, about fifteen months in total, taking us across Eastern, Southern, Western, and Northern Africa.
What are your goals when meeting with the area leaders, farmers, etc?
D: We want to be able to tell their stories about the agricultural innovations that they’re working with to help alleviate hunger and poverty. We’re interested in not only how their practices increase yields, but in how they reduce labor or increase on-farm biodiversity or help increase income or send more children to school.
Has it been difficult getting access to some of the people you want to meet?
D: People have been extremely welcoming and interested in having us learn more about their work. Because we’re not just highlighting famine, conflict, HIV/AIDS or the other “bad news” coming out of Africa, but also highlighting the good news from the continent, people are especially excited about our work. There is incredible progress being made in Africa and it needs to be highlighted so that it can get more attention and investment.
B: People are surprisingly willing to open up and we get a really warm response when they hear that we are here to highlight stories of hope and success. People are often working as volunteers in thankless roles under the most difficult of circumstances, so a little bit of recognition goes a long way. Also, a lot of these projects don’t have any way to reach beyond their communities, no website, no funding for self-promotion or materials, so they can use our write-up to develop grants, showcase their work to potential funders, and use as a tool for sharing their work with other stakeholders and policymakers.
Danielle, I see that you spent two years in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corp volunteer. How would you say that has prepared you for this trip?
D: Being a Peace Corps volunteer taught me a lot: how to live and work in sometimes difficult situations, including without running water and electricity, but it also taught me how much I don’t know. I learn so much from the farmers groups and womens cooperatives and policymakers I meet. It’s was an experience that has helped prepare me for my travels throughout Africa.
If you could tell the readers one thing about preparing for a trip similar to yours what would it be?
B: I would tell people that Africa is totally not what you expect. People are often afraid to take a risk here, so they plan very packaged vacations for things like the World Cup or a safari. We couldn’t imagine a more friendly, or welcoming place to travel. People treat us like family, opening their homes to us, introducing us to their friends, and sharing their homes and their dreams. Traveling here is easier than we thought it would be, even on a shoe-string budget.
What country in Africa have you visited that you would recommend to everyone?
B: Go to Madagascar! Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city, was a place we fell in love with. The narrow streets, alleyways, cobblestone roads, and historic buildings remind you, at times, of parts of Western Europe. At the same time the markets, the noise, the traffic, the energy, the goats and livestock walking along the highways, were all quintessentially African.
We didn’t see a lot of tourists and the country’s economy is hurting as a result. Empty bars, restaurants, and markets were everywhere we went. But with that said, the people were not only friendly and welcoming, but extraordinarily kind, going out of their way to help us, share their culture, and practice their English (while we practiced our pathetic French).
And we spent Danielle’s birthday trekking in the rain forest in search of lemurs in the national rain forest of Antanarivo. It’s a truly magical place!
Have you met anyone on your travels that has had a direct effect on you and your view of the world?
D: That’s a tough question because so many people have touched our lives forever. During our visit to Uganda, and as part of our research for the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project, we spent time with Edward Mukiibi and Roger Serunjogi, coordinators of the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project. Both Eddie and Roger are in their early twenties and started the project as a way to teach school children about food traditions, nutrition, and the environment. They’ve established gardens in more than a dozen schools outside of Kampala.
We visited several schools with them, including a preschool called Sunrise, where they were teaching children how to grow amaranth, spiderweed, and other indigenous vegetables amd it’s just so amazing to see how all their students are excited about farming and no longer see agriculture as an option of last resort, but rather as a way to make money, help their communities, and preserve biodiversity.
Are you partaking in any tourist activities while on the road? Watching gorillas? Doing any Wine Tasting in South Africa?
B: We definitely try to take breaks — some highlights included a weekend trip to Zanzibar in Tanzania, long days swimming in the Indian ocean in Mauritius, treking lemurs in Madagascar, visiting wildlife refuges and preservers in Malawi, the genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda, spending time in Africa’s slums of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya and in Soweto in Jburg, South Africa; and so much more.
What do you hope to accomplish through your travels & blog?
D: We’ve made a point during this trip to focus on stories of hope and success in agriculture. Most of what Americans hear about Africa is famine, conflict and HIV/AIDS, and we wanted to highlight the things that are going well on the continent. There’s a lot of hope out here – a lot of individuals and organizations doing terrific work – but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them receiving resources or funding.
We hope to create a roadmap for funders and the donor community and shine a big spotlight on the projects and innovations that seem to be working, so that they can be scaled up or replicated in other places. Please check out our site and sign up for our weekly newsletter — and if you know anyone or project we should visit on the continent, please email me at email@example.com.
You do a lot of hostel/hotel reviews. What has been your favorite African accommodation thus far?
B: What we look for in a budget hostel pretty much goes in this order: (1) clean (2) centrally located with security (3) less than $30.00 USD a night for a double private room (4) free wifi (5) the ability to cook our own food (6) hot water (7) air-conditioning. We found several budget hostels, B&B’s or hotels that have most if not all of these qualities (places we highly recommend — most you will not find in Lonely Planet) including Kingz Plaza in Dakar, Senegal; Aponye Hotel in Kampala, Uganda; Mighty Victory hotel in Cape Coast, Ghana; Sunbury B&B in Jburg, South Africa; Small World Backpackers in Harare, Zimbabwe; Mufasa Lodge in Lilongwe, Malawi; KuOmboko Hostel in Lusaka, Zambia; Sakamanga Hotel in Antanarivo, Madagascar; the Grand Bay Beach Tourist Residence in Grand Bay, Mauritius, and others.
Here’s also a quick video from Bernard & Danielle which gives a brief glimpse their adventure and what’s it’s been like to visit 15 African countries in 5 months. I have tried to upload it and for some reason it won’t work, so if you click the link below – you can view it.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this interview. Please let me know if you would like to be interviewed or if you can think of anyone else that would be interested.
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