And Now for Something Completely Different...

I don't normally make this kind of post here, because I try to keep this site technical in nature, but over the course of some recent conversations, both at RailsConf and elsewhere, I found it surprising just how many people seemed genuinely interested in this aspect of my life. So I am going to break form, just this once, to share a bit of personal information and ask for your help, should you feel so inclined.

Background

Besides being a software developer, I'm also a counselor. I have volunteered as such at my church for around 4 years now. Growing up, I was always one of those guys who people just sort of opened up with. Always the friend, never the boyfriend. At the time, I found it bothersome, but now I see it as a blessing. When I had the opportunity to join the "care ministry" at my church, I took it, even though it meant going through many hours of training before I was allowed to actually work with folks who were in crisis. As it turns out, I met my wife while attending those classes, so there was some upside for me, as well. :)

I don't talk about this very often, at least not with my peers, for two reasons:

  1. I don't volunteer to bring attention to myself.
  2. Working in our industry, I find that openly admitting my active involvement in my faith tends to bring mixed reaction. Many "Christians" (in the US, especially) have done a really phenomenal job of stigmatizing the word as synonymous with ignorance or, worse, hate -- the very absence of the one attribute we (all of humankind) should be endeavoring to exemplify. In the tech field, one so dominated by logic and reason, it's a bit odd to say, but I sometimes feel like a minority. This discourages me from speaking out.

Why say anything now?

I'm breaking with my normal routine because a few of my friends and peers in this space have surprised me with their willingness to both accept me and to help with something I feel really strongly about doing this summer. I figure if there are a few people out there like them, there may be more, so I wanted to reach out to those of you whom I may have helped at one point or another to see if you can now help me with this goal.

I've signed up to go to Kenya for 10 days in August on a medical and counseling "mission trip." Specifically, I will be working with local church and community leaders to help train volunteer counselors, the way I received training, to better equip them to help those in their community.

Why is this important?

The group I'll be traveling to Kenya with is called LIA, and they are an African-founded organization that is not focused on handouts, but on helping people make real, sustainable changes to improve their quality of life. They work with local leadership to determine the most significant needs, then train, support, and work alongside those leaders to meet those needs well into the future.

Despite having a mental health program, with a focus on community mental health care, Kenya spends only 0.01% of the funds allocated to health programs on mental health.

There is only one psychiatrist for every half-million people, and only a third of these psychiatrists work in the public sector. The rest only take on private clients.

This, quite simply, means that Kenyans who are suffering from mental illness or even simply in need of counseling are most likely to receive front-line support from a volunteer. It's important that these local volunteers be equipped to effectively help those who need it and recognize signs that indicate an individual may need to be referred to a clinic (again, often manned by volunteers).

With more than half of Kenyans living below the poverty line, it's easy to overlook non-material needs. I know I did, until I started doing the research. There are many areas in which help is needed, and apart from writing a check to support those needs, I felt powerless to really help in any way. Since then, I've learned that bodies on the ground are much more valuable, and I'm encouraged to find a way that I can actually help.

So, what's the problem?

I've already placed a deposit of my own money, and will be footing the bill for incidental expenses while I'm there and the cost of the (many) immunizations required. The problem is that as of right now, I'm well short of the funding to actually get me to Kenya. I'm not even at the halfway point, yet, and I've only got a couple more weeks to get there.

So, this is what I'm asking:

If I've ever made any kind of positive impact on your life or work, whether it be through open source, writing, or otherwise, and you believe even a little bit in the mission I want to undertake, would you consider helping me get there?

Donations are tax-deductible. Please make checks (Yes, checks. Ick, I know. But it's for a good cause!) payable to "Southeast Christian Church" and write "Ernie Miller, Kenya Medical & Counseling" in the memo field or in an included note and send to:

International Missions
Southeast Christian Church
920 Blankenbaker Parkway
Louisville, KY 40243-1845

If you can't afford to help, but still believe in what I'm trying to do, would you consider sharing this post via your social network(s) of choice?

I apologize for this interruption of my usual content, and I promise this is the last such post I'll make. Since I'm not sure how this post will be received by the majority of my peers, I've decided to close comments on the post. I'm reachable via Twitter, if you'd like to weigh in, however.

Thanks for reading.