Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Historic City Series: Sumbe

On the South coast of Angola, a few miles from Luanda, is located the splendorous city of Sumbe, capital of the Kwanza-South province.  Sumbe comes from the word, in the national language kimbundo, “Kussumba”, which in Portuguese means “Buy”.

Historians indicate that the location of the city of Sumbe was significant as the city was always a central trade hub. Regular trade items between the peoples of the interior and the coast occured in the trade of salt and fish, as well as the fabrics brought by the Europeans have long served to feed the supply chain.  Significantly, historians note that Sumbe was a major trade port involved in the transfer and sale of black slaves. 

The importance of the place led the Portuguese colonial authorities to think about the founding of a city, also motivated by the “necessity of defense against incursions of English and French pirates and the link between the realms of Luanda and Benguela, as well as the copper mines”.  It was in this region, more precisely in Kicombo, that the Portuguese-Brazilian Salvador Corrêa de Sá e Benevides first anchored his fleet of caravels from Brazil, in 1648, and prepared the expedition which was to expel the Dutch who occupied Luanda.

According to historical data, the foundation of the city beganon January 7, 1768, when Governor Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho commanded a brigade of engineers to make the choice of where they should establish a prison under the name of Novo Redondo. Its development took place from 1785 with the construction of the first stone fortress; the first church was built in 1811, while the first health services emerged in 1872 through the doctor Francisco Joaquim Vieira.

According to History, Novo Redondo was the first Angolan place to have home lighting, supplied by the hydroelectric dam of Cambongo’s River, later expanded and improved with the current treatment station for 50 years.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Angolan Pageant That Seeks to Empower Women

Unlike most beauty pageants, these Angolan contestants wear their prosthetic limbs.  For this is Miss Landmine, a beauty pageant with a unique manifesto that aims to promote female and disabled pride and empowerment.

The event also aims to get people to re-examine established concepts of physical perfection, raise landmine awareness, and challenge inferiority and guilt complexes that hinder creativity in the historical, cultural, social and personal spheres. 

“Miss Landmine ultimately celebrates true beauty, and replaces the passive term of victim with the active term of survivor,” Miss Landmine director and creator Morten Traavik, a Norwegian artist.
Traavik’s unusual project came about in 2003 when he frequently visited war-torn Angola’s capital, Luanda, with his then-girlfriend who had an Angolan father. They could not travel much because of the thousands of landmines littering the countryside that claim countless lives each year. Angola is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries.

“It has been my objective all along that Miss Landmine would have a political or humanitarian impact. We only had one main criterion, that any woman or girl can participate as long as they wanted to. The women taking part are not being regarded as victims to be pitied. Rather, they are just like any other contemporary Angolan woman.”

In 2008, Traavik’s idea became a reality. He collaborated with local and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to disseminate information on the pageant that was open to women who had survived landmine explosions.

Miss Landmine was funded by the Norwegian Arts Council and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, which had played a pivotal role in the global ban against unexploded ordnance (UXO) in December 2008 in Oslo. The pageant was co-funded by the Angolan government and the European Union Mission to Angola.

Angola’s First Lady Ana Pauyla dos Santos crowned Augusta Hurica, 31, representing the province of Luanda, the first Miss Landmine Angola. Hurica won a specially designed and customised prosthesis worth US$15,000 (RM45,000) from one of Norway’s leading orthopaedic clinic.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Legacy of a Missionary Doctor

Throughout the centuries of past medical ministry, missionary doctors have sacrificed much to serve the needy with vital medical care.   One great example of this commitment and service is Dr. Robert Livingstone Foster.  Dr. Foster was a pioneering missionary doctor in western Zambia and Angola and in conjunction with his son, Dr. Steve Foster, they worked to establish the CEML Hospital in Lubango.

Now in his retirement years, Dr. Foster tells his story about his past work and passion for medical ministry in Africa.  It is truly an enthralling and compelling story as told in his biography 'The Sword and the Scalpel' penned by author Lorry Lutz.  Please see the accompanying video highlighting his life work.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Furnishing Angolan Schools with Unused Resources

Perched high on Angola’s central plateau, the city of Huambo is home to a fledgling furniture industry now playing a key role in furnishing local schools. Taking advantage of ample supplies of eucalyptus trees, a non-profit NGO is now operating a small-scale furniture factory to produce high-quality desks, chairs and other wooden fittings to meet the needs of the country’s expanding school system.

Angola’s eucalyptus forests stretch along its railroads and were originally created to supply wood to power steam locomotives in the absence of other local fuels. Steam trains along the Benguela Railway crossing Huambo and central Angola ceased to run in the 1970s, effectively ending mass timber consumption. A revamped Benguela line will reopen in late 2012, but the wood-guzzling locomotives have been replaced by modern diesel engines.

Meanwhile, the abandoned eucalyptus trees, left untended, have grown higher and gained greater girths, enhancing their suitability for furniture-making.  Angola has 148,000 hectares of nonnative tree plantations, mainly eucalyptus, with over a third of the total belonging to the Benguela Railway Company.

Around 80% of Huambo’s schools along with their equipment and furniture were destroyed during the country’s long civil war, but since peace returned in 2002 there has been an exciting rebirth in educational provision with pupil numbers rocketing, handing HabiTec a huge and urgent market for its products.

The furniture factory is run by HabiTec Social Enterprise which has 45 Angolan employees, including seven administrative staff. Manual jobs include sawing-machine operators, mechanics and maintenance teams  in seeking to serve Angola’s educational sector. Habitec's aim is to improve productive capacity, focusing on school furniture as the government has established targets to improve the quality of teaching and reduce illiteracy. In order to do this, there needs to be physical school infrastructure – and quality school furniture is the basis of this program.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Battling Malnutrition Problems

(ANGOP May 12)   The UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Fund) representative in Angola, Koenraad Vanormelingen, released current research results that show that 8.2% of Angolan children under 5 years old, a total in the order of 300,000 children, suffer from acute malnutrition.

According to representative Vanormelingen, these country totals are the major cause of morbidity and mortality in Angolan children under five years of age.  These research reflect that in other lessor levels of malnutrition; some 15.6% or one million children suffer from the basic level of malnutrition, while some 500,000 children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

The representative proclaimed that these statistics illustrate a problem of a lack of complete nutrition, not simply the problem of the lack of access to macro nutrients such as protein and sugar.

UNICEF defines acute malnutrition as the nutritional deficiencies that produce reduced Weight to Height anthropometric indicators; producing very physically lean or skeletal appearing body frames. Chronic malnutrition is defined as reduced Height to Weight indicators which will produce stunted growth and other physically limiting conditions such as mental development.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Angola Canoeing: Beginning 'Paddles' to Success

Despite the difficulties of starting a “new activity” like canoeing in Angola, the sport has already taken the name of the country far beyond the sea that laps the western side of the capital city Luanda.  In just ten years, the national high-level athletes have won 23 medals in African championships (six gold, eight silver and nine bronze).

There is not much information about the origin of Canoeing in Angola. The most ancient records mention “canoe competitions among the fishermen of the island during Luanda’s and Dande’s festivals”, says professor Francisco Freire. The winner of these sporadic competitions, dating back to colonial times, “won a case of beer”, recalls the chairman of the Technical Council of the Angolan Federation of Water Sports (FADEN).

The period that followed the colonial times, where water sports were basically sailing and rowing, the sport of canoeing was almost nonexistent.  Canoeing would have to wait almost 25 years to shake again the Bay of Luanda, now in a more serious way.

The sport is gaining greater visibility during festivals of the Nautical Club (February), the Naval Club (May) and Navy (June). Despite the growing interest, FADEN controls only 20  canoeing athletes (to which we add 100 sailing athletes and five of rowing). Of these, 15 practice at high level, despite the “lack of proper support structures”, according to Freire.

But the highlight of the initial activity was the Olympic qualification of Fortunato Pacavira for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, in which the athlete reached the semi-finals in the 1000 meters men race. The islander athlete, who has also participated in three tournaments in Africa and two in the world, has also won first place in Africa's championships of Cote d'Ivoire in 2009.  In 2008, he represented the national colors on the Olympic Games in Beijing. “I got the minimum qualifying result acceptable, and ended up reaching the semifinals, where I was seventh”.  It is of the opinion that Pacavira may already have company in the next Olympics where the goal of the Federation is to take two athletes to London next year.

In the opinion of  Freire, the results show an undeniable reality: “although we have not inherited canoeing from the colonial era, today it has already overtaken in terms of results, all other sports with more tradition and even modalities in which people invest more in Angola.  Of the 23 medals we won in only a decade of activity, 14 were achieved all at once at the last African Championship, in Côte d'Ivoire. This alone shows that this sport has much potential, though it is not highly valued in the country”.

Along with the African championships, the national canoeists are already looking forward for the London Olympics in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The perspectives of qualifying more Angolans for the most important international competition proves that “the competitive level of Angolan athletes is also increasing”. (excerpts from TAAG Austral Magazine)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wiping Out Sleeping Sickness

The incidence of sleeping disease, trypanossomiasis (try saying that quickly!) is decreasing in the most contaminated areas of Angola, most notably the seven endemic provinces: Malanje, Kwanza Norte, Kwanza Sul, Uíge, Zaire, Bengo and Luanda. Sleeping sickness threatens one third of the Angolan population and recent screenings carried out revealed a sharp decrease in positive cases. 

The disease is mostly transmitted through the bite of an infected tsetse fly but there are other ways in which people are infected with sleeping sickness; mother-to-child infection through the placenta and through mechanical transmission through other blood sucking insects,

In the first stage, the trypanosomes multiply in subcutaneous tissues, blood and lymph. This is known as a haemolymphatic phase, which entails bouts of fever, headaches, joint pains and itching.

In the second stage the parasites cross the blood-brain barrier to infect the central nervous system. This is known as the neurological phase. In general this is when more obvious signs and symptoms of the disease appear: changes of behaviour, confusion, sensory disturbances and poor coordination. Disturbance of the sleep cycle, which gives the disease its name, is an important feature of the second stage of the disease. Without treatment, sleeping sickness is considered fatal.

Sleeping sickness threatens millions of people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the affected populations live in remote areas with limited access to adequate health services, which hampers the surveillance and therefore the diagnosis and treatment of cases. In addition, displacement of populations, war and poverty are important factors leading to increased transmission and this alters the distribution of the disease due to weakened or non-existent health systems. In 2009, after continued control efforts, the number of cases reported has dropped below 10,000 (9878) for first time in 50 years. The estimated number of actual cases in sub-Saharan Africa is currently 30,000. (WHO Report 2011)