Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Update: I'm On My Way Back to Liberia!

Later today, Paula and I leave Colorado to fly East for Christmas with her family in New Jersey.  Then on January 9th, I fly out of NYC for Liberia.  Paula will be returning to Colorado, since she is still receiving physical therapy following the two surgeries she had on her wrist in October.

I expect to be in Liberia for the remainder of the dry season, working with PROJECT BUCHANAN.  We are especially looking forward to Gordon Tiner returning in mid-February with a building team from New Jersey.  They hope to start putting the roof on the first new school building!

I will not have access to high-speed internet in Liberia, so uploading pictures may be difficult.  But I'll try.  Continue to follow this blog for regular written updates, at least.

If all goes as planned, I will be returning to the States on May 11.  Hopefully by that time Paula will be able to return to Liberia with me.

P.S.  Just this past Sunday, Jeff Henderson was the speaker at North Point.  In the sidebar at the right, there's a link to his "pre-Christmas message."  You won't want to miss hearing him tell about how God has been present during his own recent "silent nights."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 in Southern California

Before I get started on this post... This is the holiday season, and soon it will be Christmas!  Take a quick look down the sidebar at the right.  I know you're plenty busy at this time of year, but if you have a few minutes, come back and watch Andy, as he "uncomplicates" Christmas!  He's an exceptionally good speaker, and you'll be glad you took the time.  I guarantee it!

Okay... about 3 weeks ago, Paula and I borrowed our son's car and drove from Colorado to the West Coast to visit our youngest daughter, Andrea, who lives with her husband, Anthony, in Lomita (just south of Los Angeles).  They were married here in Colorado more than a year ago, but this was our first opportunity to visit them in California.  The weather was absolutely perfect for the 1050-mile drive out, and was just as good for the trip back.  No rain, no snow, anywhere along the way!

But it was more than just a holiday weekend for us.  Believe it or not, there is a PROJECT BUCHANAN connection in this "trip report"!  So please read on...

Paula loves going to the ocean, where she likes to get the sand between her toes and dip her feet in the water.  So Andrea took us down to the beach a couple of times.

Now me... I'd rather keep my shoes on, and scan the water for birds we don't normally encounter in Colorado--like wintering grebes and loons, or a Brown Pelican flying overhead!...
...or just watch the variety of west-coast gulls and terns that have gathered on the shore to soak up their share of the California sunshine!

One definite highlight of our trip to California was the opportunity to visit with Deuk Hyun, a foreign student who a few years ago lived in our home here in Colorado while he was attending the high school where I taught science.  He took me to Koreatown in LA where we enjoyed dinner at a Korean BBQ, and then we went to a coffee shop to chat some more!  He is now in his 2nd year of college in LA.

One afternoon Andrea and Anthony took us to the Samuel Oschin  Pavilion at the California Science Center in Los Angeles to see the recently retired space shuttle Endeavour.

Of course we had to pose with Andrea next to this model of a rover that was sent to explored the surface of Mars.  But most of the memorabilia in this fabulous exposition have to do with the era of the NASA space shuttles.

Finally... we entered the hangar that had been specially built for the 122-ft Endeavour.  (By the way, this is the only space shuttle to have received its name, as the result of a competition among elementary and secondary students.  It was named after Captain James Cook's ship HMS Endeavour that, in 1768, embarked on a voyage for scientific research and discovery in the South Pacific.  Hence, the British spelling of the orbiter's name!) The Endeavour's first flight was in May of 1992.  Altogether it successfully completed 25 missions into space, orbiting the Earth 4,651 times and flying a total of 122,883,151 miles!  Endeavour's final mission was in May of 2011.

The 139 astronauts that flew on the Endeavour during its 19 years of service included the first African-American female astronaut (Mae Jemison), the first Japanese astronaut with the shuttle program (Mamoru Mohri), and the first married couple to fly on the same space mission (Mark Lee and Jan Davis).  The Endeavour was also the first shuttle to service the Hubble Space Telescope.  On that mission in December of 1993, astronauts were able to make the technically challenging corrections in the telescope that would allow us finally to get crisp images of the galaxies in deep space.

On the runway, the Endeavour stood 57 feet tall!
No fewer than 23,000 ceramic tiles cover the surface of the Endeavour, especially on its underside.

These tiles protected the Endeavour from the temperature extremes to which the shuttle was exposed in space, and especially the searing heat (about 3000 degrees F!) that it experienced as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound (18,000 mph)!
Manufactured by the Rockwell International Corporation in Palmdale, California, the Endeavour has now returned to it's home state for a well-deserved retirement.  [If you're ever in LA, be sure to visit the California Science Center.  Admission to see the Endeavour is free, but you need to reserve a time slot for entering the exhibit!]
Thanks, Andrea and Anthony, for such a great experience!

Andrea loves her two cats!  (Notice her sweater!)  She is holding 'Madea;' her other cat is 'Archimedes!'  You guessed it--she follows the movies and she's a math teacher!  (Or do you need to go online to research these names?)  Besides taking time out for her cats, Andrea must also spend a lot of time at home on her laptop, preparing math lessons.

Before we left town on Monday, Andrea wanted me to come to her school in LA and talk to her students about PROJECT BUCHANAN in Liberia and what Paula and I are doing there to provide education for kids in a post-war country.  What a great time we had in her classroom that day!  In my presentations, I used some PowerPoint, and then we went online to have a look at this blog (!) and to use Google Maps to zoom in on the actual project site in Buchanan.  In the satellite photos, you can actually see the sand pile next to the first building that is still under construction!

So... to you guys in Mrs. Van Dunk's classes... just in case you're checking out my blog, here are a few picture that your teacher took while I was speaking.  Maybe you can find "you", or a few of your friends, in these photos!  You guys were the best!

"Buchanan is a small city on Liberia's Atlantic coast," I told the students.  "In this town of 34,000 people, there are 15,000 kids under the age of 15.  We are building a brand new school where they will be able to get a quality education and so be able to follow their dreams.

"Not every Liberian kid has the chance to go to school, but every one of them has a 'computer' behind those eyes.  Every kid has the potential to 'download information' and then grow up to make a positive difference in the world.  Every one of these children should have the opportunity to go to school and be well-educated.

"Here's your chance to make a difference," I told the students in LA.  "Most of you guys can speak Spanish.  This means that you, too, could chose a career in education and then go somewhere to change the world of an underprivileged kid--anywhere from here in California, all the way to the tip of South America!

"To quote Andy Stanley: 'My life is too small a thing to give my life for!'

"It's one opportunity at a time...  For example, on one of our recent visits to Liberia, there was this kid next door, whose name was Timothy.  He wanted to go down to the marsh with me, hoping that I would let him look at a few birds through my telescope.

"Of course, I let him tag along.  And then there was Timothy's moment of discovery... as his eye adjusted for the first time to the crystal-clear, close-up view of a bird through my 'scope!

"'Yes, Timothy, that's for real!  That's an African Pygmy-Goose!'

"'And those are White-Faced Whistling-Ducks!'
"You could tell, by the look on his face, what he was thinking: 'Wow!  This is so cool!  I could really get used to this!'  You just never know when you're making a difference... This may have been a life-changer for Timothy, the moment when a future career in scientific research began!"
Timothy speaks English, Liberia's national language, and he goes to school in English; but his African language is Bassa, which is tonal.  On this page from the Bassa New Testament is John 3:16--the verse that in just a few well-chosen words "uncomplicates" Christmas!

What a great week in California it was!  From a little relaxation at the beach...  To renewing acquaintance with a friend...  To Thanksgiving dinner with Andrea and Anthony at a Peruvian diner...  To encouraging students, who live in a small inner-city world, to find their places of service in the bigger picture--the picture that really matters.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Photo Report #6: Video Tour of the School

In my last report, I showed you pictures of the first PROJECT BUCHANAN classroom building, which is still under construction.  In this report, I would like to roll a short video clip, so that you can walk through the building with me.

The small city of Buchanan, where the new school campus is being developed,  is located on Liberia's Atlantic coast and is just 5 degrees above the equator.  As you can imagine, the temperatures and the humidity there are fairly high most of the year.  Therefore, when we were planning this building, every effort was made to design classrooms that would be as comfortable as possible for the students.  (And just so you know... air conditioning was not one of our options!)
Fortunately the school is located on high ground overlooking the Benson River, and just a mile and a half to the south is the ocean (to the right, in this photo).  Since the building lies in an east-west direction, the prevailing sea breeze will provide maximum airflow through every classroom.  The walls are 12 feet high, and each of the four classrooms has 6 large windows

In this brief report, I would like to take you on a short walking tour through PROJECT BUCHANAN's first school building.  Of course, at this point, only the walls are up, but that's OK... without the roof, there will be lots of natural "sky-light" for the video!

So come with me now, and let's get started on the tour!  It'll only take 3 or 4 minutes...

To start the video, just click the "Play" button in the middle of the screen...  After the video starts, for the best quality picture, click the "Change quality" (cogwheel) button in the taskbar at the bottom of the picture and select "480p"... To make the picture bigger, click the "Full screen" button (bottom right)...  You may need to turn up the volume on the video (the red slider in the taskbar) or the volume on your computer!

In February (2013), Gordon Tiner is planning to take another work team to Liberia.  This time his plan is to get the roof on this first PROJECT BUCHANAN school building!  The dry season is already returning to Liberia, which means that over the next few months we will need to purchase (and truck in) the timber, the sheets of roofing, and the other materials needed for this construction job.   Then, when Gordon arrives in mid-February, he and his team will be able to get right to work!

Monday, October 22, 2012

2012 Photo Report #5: Campus & Classrooms

NOTE: You can left-click on any picture to enlarge it and/or view all the photos as a slideshow.  (Most definitely you will want to enlarge the pictures of the GIANT SPIDER I found while out walking the property!)

We are all looking forward to the day when the first PROJECT BUCHANAN school building is completed, so that classes can begin here on the new campus--perhaps as early as next school year!

This is what can be seen of the PROJECT BUCHANAN property from a hill not far away.  The building off to the left is not on our land, but the blue roof is a giveaway--that's the house where the New Jersey team worked so hard this summer, putting in windows and ceilings.

Since this is a clear sunny day--which is not that common in the middle of the rainy season--, let's go for a short walk along the water's edge on the PROJECT BUCHANAN property.

The tropical morning air is humid and still, and the Benson River on the south shore is quiet and peaceful.  This view down an overgrown trail is particularly beautiful.

From higher ground on the rounded ridge of the peninsula, the view down to the water and across to the other side is pristine.  Rarely is a day in the humid tropics as clear as this!

Suddenly I notice something suspended motionless between the branches of the trees.  Wow!  That must be one of the largest spiders I have ever seen!  We will have to come here later to check this out!

Well finally... here I am in one of these many report pictures!  Actually, this is a flashback to 2010, when Paula and I were in Liberia for the summer.  So she must have taken this shot...

...and now I guess I have the camera back!  On this overcast afternoon, Paula and I were having a look at the footings that had just been cast for the first PROJECT BUCHANAN school building.

We were already excited!  From that 100-ft X 30-ft concrete rectangle in the ground would rise the walls of the first classrooms on the new campus...

...and now, two years later, here are those walls!  When we arrived in Buchanan this summer, Flomo was just finishing this work!

This is the west end of the school, with the front of the building (right) overlooking the river down the slope.

This photo, and the next two, pan the front of the school (from left to right).  Each of the four classrooms in this building is about 30 ft X 24 ft, and each one can be entered from the 6-ft-wide "porch corridor" that runs along the front of the building, between the two end classrooms.

At the center of the building, between the two middle classrooms, there is a breezeway (right half of photo) going from the front porch to the back of the school.

The two classrooms at the east end of the building are pretty much a mirror image of the two classrooms at the west end.

The view here is from the east-end classroom, out the door and down the front porch to the west-end classroom door.  (In temperate parts of the US, schools typically have an inside hallway, or corridor, with classrooms on both sides; but that design does not work well in a warm humid climate, where continuous airflow through the classrooms is an absolute 'must'.)

Because the building is only one classroom wide and there is a breezeway between the two middle classrooms, it was possible for each classroom to have (essentially) 3 exterior walls and no less than 6 large windows!  Only one wall in each classroom--the wall that will be at the 'front' of the room--has no windows or door.  This, of course, is where the blackboards will be mounted, and they will be well-lit by the windows on the other three walls.

Let's take a look out one of these windows at the building's east end...

...Recognize that area?  That's the lavatory building where the New Jersey team was installing drain pipes earlier (see my last post).  In October, when the heavy rains start to taper off, Flomo will be casting the floor slab out there.

"Wait a minute!  Isn't that spider out there somewhere among those trees?"...

..."Thanks for reminding me!  Let's go find it again!  I think biology field trips are going to create themselves around here...starting now!"

"Look up... there it is!"

"Wow!  That thing's as big as my hand!"

"Isn't that amazing?  Beautiful, even!  Looks like one of those relatively common golden silk orb-weaver spiders!"

A week or so later, on a very overcast day, I found that the spider was still thereWell, where did I think it would go?  In this sheltered spot between the trees, the days are not too hot and the nights are never cold.  It rains almost every day, so there's no danger of dehydration.  And since she doesn't move around a whole lot--yes, it's a 'she', because the males of this genus are much smaller!--, she really doesn't need much food.  In fact, to conserve energy, these spiders eat their damaged webs and in this way recycle the materials needed to make new strands of silk.  So time is on her side, but sooner or later some hapless flying thing--maybe even a small bird!--will blunder into her golden trap, and then she will be able to nourish those eggs inside her.  When the time is right, she will descend to the ground to lay them in the leaf litter.  Eventually she will die, but by then her offspring will be climbing up into these same trees to repeat the complex, instinctive behaviors of their parents.

In general, golden silk orb-weavers (genus Nephila) tend to mind their own business and are relatively harmless to humans.  Besides helping to keep insect populations in check, perhaps part of their "purpose" is to give science teachers like me something to marvel at.  In this case I got to take a few pictures, which now I have somehow managed to work into the storyline of a missions report!

Now then... back to the other part of the real world!  Next February (2013), when Gordon Tiner brings another work team over from New Jersey, he is hoping to put the roof on this building.  After that, there will be walls to plaster, ceilings to put up, windows to put in, and floors to put down!  There's really still a lot of work to be done!
Hey, before I let you go... Would you like to watch a short, one-minute tutorial on how to get your car started when all else fails and you know the battery is just about gone?  Here's my friend Prince to give you a few pointers that he's picked up along the way!  While we were in Buchanan, he used this method several times, and it always worked!  Your off-camera, play-by-play commentator will be Jason Young...

To start the video, just click the "Play" button (bottom left)...  To make the picture bigger, click the "Full screen" button (bottom right)...  You may need to turn up the volume on your computer!