Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bradley: American African

When I first met Bradley it was the fall of 2005 and he was a freshman in my Introduction to Engineering class at Baylor. I liked him from the beginning. As I have told him on several occasions, he has a maturity beyond his years. Perhaps it was this "like", or perhaps it was Providence, or perhaps those two cannot be meaningfully separated. At any rate, I decided he would be a good member of a student team I was assembling to go to Kenya in May, 2006.

Brad later wrote to me, "...I have been asked frequently how I was drawn to travel to Kenya my freshman year... I look back and always immediately recall a cold December afternoon in 2005 when you chased me down as I was leaving Rogers to urge me to go to Kenya. I was so touched by that and would later come to realize that God was transforming my life through you by that simple personal invitation."

(Bradley with Rwandan gorillas, stolen from his facebook page and brazenly used without permission!)

He did go to Kenya in 2006, and then he went to Rwanda twice in 2009 and 2010. He now considers "missions... especially in Africa, to be a passion that I hope to pursue long into the future..." Each time he went he was engaged in some service project, usually for children, and usually involving giving them access to clean water, so he really is giving a cup of cold water to the least of these. In all those times, however, I never got to travel with him as his team leader. Even when we were in Kenya at the same time, he was on a different team, unfortunately for me.

Brad has the unusual gift of being an encouraging person. At least to me, he always has an uplifting word or two for my soul, and this makes me want to keep investing in the lives of students. The returns are tremendous. It makes me want to pour myself out on their behalf. His words, and others like them from different students, confirm to me that I am where God has placed me, and that feels great.

Thanks Brad.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Now That I Can Finally Spell "Entrepreneur"...

After a half dozen trips into the developing world to implement small scale energy projects for impoverished people, one of my students (Ryan) and I decided the best way to increase our impact both in numbers of people and lifetime of the project was to turn our efforts into creating a financially self-sustaining social venture. That makes us social entrepreneurs. We are launching small energy companies in remote rural villages where people live without any power (and not much hope).

Regular readers (hi Mom) will recall that last November we entered and won a contest sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank to bring energy access to those without it in rural parts of Latin America. Over 1000 groups entered the contest and yet, somehow, we won one of the 21 prizes for $200,000!! The only problem is, we can't use the money to pay salaries for expatriates or to buy a vehicle. These are two things we need with some urgency.

Along the way we picked up Brent, also a Baylor graduate and entrepreneur, as he came back from a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru. In February, Ryan and Brent moved to La Ceiba, Honduras to start the Honduran company EnergĂ­a Para Aldeas (which means Energy for Villages).

When I was in Honduras in May with another team of students, I got to meet with Brent and Ryan and also Sergio, our only full-time Honduran employee and good friend. In the pictures above: I'm the old guy, Brent is the good-looking one, Sergio is the brownest, and Ryan is the one who has gone native and now wears the Central American style hat and never shaves!

So where are we? We are struggling and a little bit discouraged. We are finding that, despite our experience working in Honduras, everything still takes longer than we expected. Everything. It's worse because the guys have to use the bus/taxi system to get around; we still haven't had adequate donations/investments to purchase a vehicle. They guys are renting a house that also serves as their office, and neither has air conditioning. When they need to get to a village they ride the bus out to the nearest point along the highway. Then they get off and walk the rocky roads up into the hills to where the villages are. Sergio has lost 40 pounds working with us! But they always have to watch the clock so that they leave in time to walk back and catch the last bus to the city. Either that or they have to come prepared to spend the night.

No one said this was going to be easy. And we aren't giving up. But we may have to make some changes soon. Stay tuned...