Aid is Not the Answer to poverty. Why I hate big N.G.O’s?

I have lost respect for the aid industry. The international organizations are corrupt, disrespects Africans, and treats them like children who always need to be fed with a silver spoon in their mouth.

2018-02-02 10.19.28
This picture was taken by me this February 2018 on my way to Munich, Germany. In a public bathroom at a gas station. Poverty pornography in my face ( bathroom door). I have seen these type of ads on TV, but never in bathrooms. What a shame!     This is how big NGO play with your emotions to get you to donate.  Poster is in German, so let me translate.                                           “Aktion Deutschland” is a coordinator of many German Charity Organizations. They claim to help people of Africa fighting against hunger. They urge people to DONATE NOW!

I was born and raised in Rwanda.

In 1994, the country was destroyed by a genocide and a civil war.

I lived for 3 years in refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At refugee camps, we were depended on aid to survive. So, I grew up adoring the work the aid organizations were doing. The UNHCR, UNICEF, Red Cross and many others.

Since I was a little boy, I always dreamt of working for these type of organizations. At refugee camps, if it was not for them, I would not be where I am today, honestly. I would have been dead. The nurses and doctors from Doctors without Borders saved my life when pneumonia and malaria got hold of me as a child. Bottom line is they saved many people’s lives during those times.

Fast forward, after high school, I moved to the States for college and grad school. I was an engineering student. There, I specialized in a special branch called for “ engineering for developing countries”.

At the moment, 90% of the new research focuses on the developed world. That’s why you people in the West are trying to go to Mars, flying jets, and self-driving cars when the developing world is still trying to get access to basic needs such as electricity and water.

As an African, I am very shocked that this is what these N.G.O. call “development”? Would you want your child, little brother/sister to pose for a picture like this? All in the name of soliciting donations for your selfish interests? These tactics are so commonly used by NGOs that there is a term for them, poverty porn

Its negative effects on the image of Africa cannot be quantified in monetary values. Lots of loss in revenues from tourism and foreign direct investment because the majority of the world still think that Africa is all about animals in the jungle, poverty, tribal/ethnic conflicts, etc.

Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa ( Economist, Dambisa Moyo).

Back to the story!

Anyway, I really thought I was going to make a difference. You know, the silliness coupled with optimism and lack of experience of a young grad student.

I chose to go into this specialty designed to help and figure out how to get the poor out of poverty. My thesis project was based on this. So, for three years, I spent lots of time studying, reading, and analyzing, and questioning why it was so hard to get people out of poverty. I thought I was smart enough to solve that puzzle. It is not like it was rocket science! U know?

I used to be poor and grew up very poor. So, I thought I was going to be the next Mohammed Yunus from Bangladesh, with regards to the African people. Haha!

Man, was I so wrong, naive, and ignorant!

For 25 years, I thought we just needed more money to aid the poor. I thought the aid organizations were doing a good job but had little resources. My perspective changed when I started going to conferences and talking with people at these organizations. The staff and workers from the UN, World Bank, and others.

I was shocked when I found out that most of the money they received was going to them ( and not the poor). Higher administrative costs, big salaries, and bonuses, exotic meetings at resorts and islands. You name it.

I followed up with the industry and the more I learn, the more I noticed that their primary goal was never to help the poor. Their goal was to keep people poor so that they can enrich themselves on the back of the poor people.

I can a write a whole book about my disappointments. But I will keep it simple and leave you with some reading if you are interested. Needless to say, my career was cut short. As soon as I finish grad school, I did quit the industry. I could not stand their hypocrisy, greed, and lack of morality.

I had already started talking to some of them about job opportunities. I would have been making lots of money, but my conscience got to me.

Simply put, they did not meet my ethical standards. They operate like the Mafias, the drug cartels with money, power, political and financial influence. That’s why at any scandal you see, whether it is Red Cross or Oxfam in Haiti, nobody goes to jail. They are untouchable. They have strong lobbying power in Washington, in London, in Berlin, in Paris, and everywhere.

They self-inspect and don’t answer to nobody; the poor or their donors. They don’t allow any independent audits by outside professionals or anything. Meanwhile, you see scandals after scandals in Africa, Haiti ( recent cases with the Earthquake), abuse of young girls and women ( Haiti), you name it. They have done it and nobody got punished for it.

This is the most recent case of OXFAM, a British based NGO. Both of these incidences happened in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake in 2010.

Oxfam sexual abuse scandal is built on the aid industry’s white savior mentality | Afua Hirsch

In this other case, Oxfam staff and workers abused young girls and women in Haiti. In times when they were facing difficulties, these criminals took advantage of them. Oxfam was notified but ignored allegations and tried to hide scandals under the rug. Just last month, the public is starting to learn this whole thing.

Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog.

Oxfam was told of aid workers raping and sexually exploiting children in Haiti in 2008

Long story short, the people I grew up adoring ( or should I say worshipping), who saved my life in a way, I can’t stand them today. They disgust me today. They have lost all my respect. Every quarter, I see scandals after scandals. I cannot stand them, big Mafia NGOs. I don’t think the situation is ever going to change anytime soon. So, I have to move on, but I never want to be associated with them in any way. They are the worst of the worst. I used to have so much respect for them. Today, I have none.

I have detailed my experiences with specific details in other answers. I also gathered many testimonials from fellow Quorans who have worked with them one way or another. Feel free to check them out if you are interested. The level of corruption, poverty porn through shaming and humiliating Africans, sex scandals, and other nasty and humiliating incidences disgust me.

What is worse is how they have gotten away with it. For every incidence, nobody goes to jail or punished. It has been 8 years since the earthquake in Haiti, but after $ 13 billion dollars in donations, Haiti is still not rebuilt. Sex scandals after sex scandals with Oxfam, but not a single staff or worker was punished for it.

Have you ever wondered where the money we donate to the poor go?

Like the $13 Billion dollars we donated to Haiti but 8 years later? Haiti is still not rebuilt?

What Does Haiti Have to Show for $13 Billion in Earthquake Aid?

Or the $ 500 million dollars that Red Cross was supposed to use in rebuilding 130,000 houses, but 4 years later they managed to build only 6 make shift houses?

Red Cross Built Exactly 6 Homes For Haiti With Nearly Half A Billion Dollars In Donations

Some Testimonials from fellow Quorans with similar experiences. Wherever these N.G.Os work, they are all the same. Africa, Asia, and so on.

Abdul Ngoko ( Tanzania, East-Africa)

I have worked with these type of organizations on the ground and what you’re saying is true. All the money is spent on expat’s salaries, buying brand new four-by-four vehicles and having fun in general. I’ve never met lazy people like you find in the aid organizations and they are paid really well.

Didier Champion ( East-Africa and West-Africa)

What you say is the 100% true! I have seen it all. I say this with pain and shame in my heart. I decided to leave the industry after I discovered what it was all about. I have been to conferences where we were discussing and studying poverty issues with many stakeholders about how to help those who live under the poverty line. Those living on less than $1.25–$2.00 a day were no where in the room. Their opinions did not even matter.

Meanwhile, folks were staying in $500-$1,000 hotel rooms a night and had $100 per diem in West-Africa. In Accra, Ghana or Lagos, Nigeria, you can get 3-decent meals all day for $20 a day. For weeks, months, and years, I observed folks at the top claim to help the poor. But they were really helping themselves. Filling up their pockets.

By the time I finished grad school, I was disgusted. I could not see myself work for these hypocrites. I have seen the treatment they get from African governments. They get treated like kings and queens just because of the money they bring to corrupt politicians.

I have seen folks go out and get drunk every night and only to come to meetings the next day to sit in meetings and barely staying awake. I have seen it with the World Bank, the UN employees, and others. This industry is so dirty that you won’t stay clean working in it regardless of your intentions.

In a coal mine, you cannot keep your white shirt clean. It can never be done. It is impossible! After having had enough, I had to quit the industry. Today, I can’t stand them nomore.

Jaydeep Vekariya ( India)

I remembered in 2013, I had visited meeting of NGO in Delhi (India) for help of African people. Needless to say more than 50% of total donation might have been spend on Event expense itself (resort charges, accommodation, food, liquor etc).

Logan Webb ( Liberia, West-Africa)

I agree 100%. As a fellow African (Senegal) I dreamed of working in the NGO sector. Until I saw them in full action in the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Of the $1 billion spent, none was allocated to give Liberian front line workers a raise, or to give training/scholarships abroad to build local epidemic control capacity. By the time they brought in the “experts”, we had 5–10x as much case experience as they did. In all, the money was blown on $500–1,000/day consultants, inflated hotels, and endless unproductive meetings. We’ve come to similar conclusions and I also moved to entrepreneurship to develop Africa.

A big earthquake hits Haiti. Destroys most of the capital of Haiti in 2010. Kills 200,000 people, 250,000 homes destroyed and 30,000 commercial buildings. We watch it on the news and the catastrophy go down. We see children crying. Like any humans, we feel sad, sorry for them. We ask ourselves. What can we do?

The Mafia NGO comes in and tells us they are on the ground to help. Our emotions run high. We happily donate. We cannot go to Haiti to help, so donating some money makes us feel good. We don’t want people to suffer this much. The Mafia NGO tells us they will use our donations to get the people of Haiti back on their feet. Okay, the deal is done! A few weeks later, we move on with our daily lives. This is what this aid industry does with regards to poverty and helping the poor.

  • Show us a big problem that deserves our attention.
  • Collect donations and thank people for their donations.
  • Promise them that their money is going to help those in needs.
  • Show up at the sites where the tragedy happened. Show off with big banners to market yourself more on TV and everywhere.
  • Get money ( donations ) from other private companies.
  • Wait for the situation to die down in the media ( 6–12 months) depending on the catastrophic event.
  • Once things settle and tragedies are not in the media anymore, collect the money and go to the beach. Organize a series of “ useless” meetings as an excuse to spend the money. Fly business class, luxury hotels, bonuses, expensive parties, enjoy life and so on.
  • Wait for another tragedy to strike again, and repeat the cycle.

It is not just in the developing world, they are the same everywhere. Anybody remember American Red Cross with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or Harvey in Houston? They use same tactics. Their scandals don’t surprise me any longer, sadly. This is what they do whenever there are any catastrophic events.

Benjamin Bussard ( Houston, Texas)

We went through hurricane Harvey and saw all of this firsthand. Donations to Red Cross are wasted on banners and trucks with their name boldly displayed. Several donations of hot meals to them were turned down or thrown away so they could hand out tiny prepared meals of crappy sandwiches. Our local churches and community partnered with Samaritans purse and they are still here helping rebuild the city! Red Cross disgusted everyone in Houston who was part of actually getting the city back its feet.

The world we live in is a crazy place. Everybody is in it for their own interest.

The best way to help the poor is to empower them.

Learn how to truly help and empower the poor through tourism, business, and entrepreneurship. This Ted Talk has all the ingredients to develop those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Giving them the tools to “ fish for themselves” through trades and skill training, among many other things.

The same way, other countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and many others have gotten out of poverty. Who have you seen rose out of poverty by receiving handouts (aka donations)?

Posting African children pictures all over the place; treating them like second-class human beings. The poor are as human as we are. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Don’t you people think?

Thanks for your time and attention. Hope you learned something new.

Didier Champion

 

References: Further reading for those who are interested.

Heather Stewart: Is aid a $2.3 trillion failure? ( Economist, William Easterly).

Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa ( Economist, Dambisa Moyo).

A trillion dollars of wasted aid?

Books if you are interested in International Development field of study.

  • White Man Burden by William Easterly ( Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have done so much ill and so little good ( Best book and my favorite).
  • Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo ( Why Aid is not Working and How there is a better way for Africa). ( Short, concise for Math and Econ Buffs).
  • Why Nations Fail ( The origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty) by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. ( Vacation Book when you got time).

 

Some parts of this text were originally published on Quora. Check them out if interested.

Didier M. Champion’s answer to Have you ever had an elephant in the room moment?

Didier M. Champion’s answer to What is something that needs to be said?

 

 

 

Summary of A Message to Garcia: Elbert Hubbard 1899: Be a “Rowan” at your job.

Background information

  • This Story was written during the Spanish-American War
  • Main personalities
    • Garcia, a general in Cuba, who is familiar with the Spaniard combat tactics. He could possibly help with some valuable details on how to win against Spain.
    • Rowan, an American trusted to go to Cuba and find Garcia. At this time, no telephone or any means of communication available to contact Garcia.
    • Rowan has to deliver the letter to Garcia, in person. Once delivered, Rowan has to inform his boss that he has accomplished the task. At the time, Garcia’s location is unknown, and Rowan has to do all the work by himself. Pack up the bags and go to a new country, looking for an individual he is never met. He took up the task and delivered the letter, just in time. His courage and sacrifice are amazing.
    • Whatever your job or profession, strive to be the ” Rowan”.
      • Can your employer trust you to do the job? especially during “crunch time”.
      • Are you reliable and dependable that your supervisor can give you impossible tasks, knowing that you will achieve the desired results?Garcia 2018

        This text describes a story of a man named Rowan who was trusted by his supervisor as the only person who was qualified enough to get the message to Garcia. The letter addressed to Garcia himself had to be delivered to him in person. Rowan had to inform his supervisor that he had accomplished the mission. The only problem was that no one knew where Garcia was at the time, and the message was urgent enough that it had to get to him in a timely manner before it was too late. This was during the Spanish-American war and it was important to communicate with Cuba, as Spain had lots of influence in Cuba at during those times.

The important lesson learned from this text is that we have to be like Rowan in our service as soldiers. We need to be as focused as Rowan was, along with concentration, determination, and perseverance to be excellent soldiers. These qualities will definitely help us when we are on and off duty in the military or civilian life. When Rowan was given the letter, he did not complain and give excuses for why he might not be able to get the letter to Garcia. He simply took it and went to Cuba looking and searching for Garcia until he delivered the letter. As soldiers, we have to adapt and be flexible enough so that whatever tasks that need to get done have to get finished without excuses and complaints. We, as individual soldiers in our respective MOSs, must work together so that our units excel in our jobs. That way we can be trusted by our NCOs and commanders to perform difficult tasks and accomplish the mission in our [insert your Battalion name] and [insert your brigade ] in general.

SPC DD

I have been told to summarize this essay by my NCOs for the 3rd time now in less than two years of my career. I am not sure if this is the only essay the military has available, but it is a powerful essay. I am sharing this summary for folks out there who might need some help. The original text is kind of confusing first. You will have to read it twice to understand it because it is written in some archaic English. If you decide to use my summary, make sure to give me credit and do not just copy and paste. Hopefully, you find it helpful. Cheers!

 

Message to Garcia summary!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Message_to_Garcia

 

 

 

 

The 2017 Proposal of the Year; How to pull off the best Proposal to your Valentine

The proposal in action. At the top of Bisoke Volcano with crater late at 12, 200ft of altitude.

A little over two months ago, I proposed to my then girlfriend and she responded me a BIG YES. This is valentine’s day is our first valentine’s day as an engaged couple. It was one of the greatest emotion I have ever had for sure. I was very relieved to get that ” YES”.  After all, there is no greater feeling knowing than getting that “Yes, I will marry you” response. It was one of the best memorable moments of my life. The whole process and preparation were not easy, but I was very relieved and satisfied in the end. My efforts did really pay off big time. My fiancee and I are very grateful. Ever since we met, we fell in love with each other. We are very thankful that each one of us found their soulmate, their better half. No greater feeling than that.

I had been planning this engagement for 3–4 months. We both like to go on crazy adventures and are very big on outdoor activities. So, when I was thinking about proposing to her, I thought about something that would blow her mind and at the same time make me very happy.

We live on two different sides of the world, so we don’t see each other as often as we would like to. We love each other very much and have been dating for years now. We had been talking about marriage, and other related stuff! So I knew it was time to propose to her, but I wanted to impress and surprise her in the best way possible I could! She loves surprises!

Proposing to her on top of a volcano with an amazing view was very hard to pull off.  I was very fortunate that everything went well. 

  1. Top of the Bisoke Volcano in our home country of Rwanda at 3,711 meters ( 12, 200 ft).
  • We are both physically fit, but I was not sure if she was going to make it to the top. Even though, I have climbed a few other mountains in Colorado; for her, this was her very first one. If either one of us could not make it, there is no way, it would have happened. I would have had to settle for Plan B. We had been planning this hike for some time, but of course, she had no idea that I was planning something more.
Bisoke Volcano in Volcano National Park, Rwanda
  1. Ring Size ( Fit perfectly)
    This past summer I asked her about her ring size. But the measurement they gave her back home in Rwanda was a bit different as I had to order her ring on American and UK website. It took me a good week to finally match her size, cross-referencing different measurement techniques and standards from different countries.

3. Toughest Hike ever

Before starting the hike, our tour guide gave us a lengthy safety briefing about all of the precautions. We were told that many people do not make to the top. That they get tired and give up. We were also told that a few people have lost their lives, lacking oxygen and breath, from various health issues. We got lucky the weather was very nice to us and it did not rain. Otherwise, it would have been even terrible. On a typical good day, the hike takes 2.5–3 hours to get to the top, and another 2–3 hours depending on the physical fitness of hikers.

However, we were determined to make it and did not back out. Three quarters through the hike, I started thinking about plan B just in case one of us could not make it. I was going to propose wherever we were going to stop our hike. I was very happy I did not need plan B. We both made it to the peak of the volcano at 3, 711 meters (12, 200 ft ) and got to see the crater lake that we both wanted to see so bad. Long story short, it took us 3 hours to get to the top, one hour to rest, eat, and relax at the top and another 3 hours to come back down.

My photo after finishing a 6-hour total hike up and down the mountain. 

The greatest feeling was that everything went well, from A to Z.

  1. She said YES. We made it to the top and back, in record time.
  2. The ring fits her well and she loves it. And now, we are happily engaged. My Friends, I have had some good feelings, but nothing comes close to finally knowing that you are going to live with your best friend forever.

Happy Valentine everybody! 

For my fellow men out there, I wish you the best proposing to your partner someday. It is one of the best feelings you ever going to have in your life. Make it count and don’t settle for the easiest proposal idea. It does not have to be expensive, but make it creative and interesting. Surprise and give her one of the stories she is ever going to tell to her friends. It is so worth it, trust me. Best of luck.

Lots of love and respect,

Cheers!

Didier Champion

 

 

 

Life is not supposed to be Fair: Suck it up and rise up to your challenges.

This year, I am turning 28 years old. Born and raised in Rwanda, a beautiful country in the East-African region. Every year, I do find myself reflecting on my life. During my time here on earth, I lived and survived harsh life in refugee camps. The majority of my teenage years, for 7–10 years total, I survived living on less than one dollar a day. The truth is I never thought I would make it this far. Life can be very unpredictable. From the beginning, I missed out on the so-called “lottery of birth”. Being born in Rwanda, in early 1990’s was not a good time a young kid would have chosen to be born.

At 4 years old, there was a terrible genocide in my country that claimed 1 in every 7 people in the country. My family escaped and lived in DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) for 3-years.  At 7 years old, at the peak of the war in my country, my dad was shot dead in front of me and my siblings. From there on, my life became tough, but I hustled and rose my way out of extreme poverty together with my family ( Mom, brother, and sister); thanks to education, hard work, luck, and determination.

This is my family photo in 1998. The only one we have left together as a family ( Myself on the right, brother, sister, and mom). All other souvenirs prior to that were lost during the turmoil period in my country.

Our only family photo prior to the year 1998.

Fast forward this December 2017, this is our family photo this past Sunday in the peaceful new Rwanda! We decided to take the same photo as we did 20 years ago. We are very thankful for our lives. I am an engineer, my sister and brother are both registered nurses, saving people’s lives and taking care of our mom, co-founder, and CEO of our family.

Today, we have no complaints. Life is so much better than it is used to be back then.

My country is peaceful, prosperous, and I am so proud to be Rwandan.

Hometown pride, Kigali, Rwanda

Kacyiru2016
Rwanda Today. This is my hometown and the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali.

Below are my best Lessons Learned so far:

  1. Life is NOT and will never be fair.
    Whatever life situations you find yourself in, do your best to rise upon your challenges without making too many excuses. It starts with where you are born. The so-called lottery of birth. Do you think it is fair to be born in Aleppo, Syria right now with missiles and bombs flying around your head? or Some kid getting born from wealthy parents versus others from poor families?
  2. Depend on and trust yourself only.
    Never rely ( heavily) on your friends or family too much. In every aspect of your life, you can control yourself and yourself only. Friends and family might and will change over time. If you want to control your destiny, you will have to rely on yourself, and not others.
  3. Love and cherish your life. Life is a gift.
    At any time, you can die. Accidents, diseases, wars, and conflicts take people’s lives every day. Never take your life for granted. Cherish every moment you have with your family and friends. Once you are gone, they will mourn your life for a few weeks, maybe months, but after some time, they will all move on by their busy lives. Few will still remember you after a year.
  4. Always be thankful for what you have. No matter how much little you have, there is always somebody wishing they had what you have. No matter how bad your situation, there is always somebody in worse conditions than you.
  5. Never complain or make excuses. Complaining is a recipe for a disaster and personal mediocrity. Be accountable for your actions.
  6. Professionally, nobody is interested in your personal issues/problems.
    That’s what close friends and family are there for. Your employer or customers are only interested in the value you bring to them. ” The marketplace is not interested in your needs, it is only interested in your seeds”. Jim Rohn. Do not bring your needs to the marketplace, rather bring your seeds. Nothing else. Use your issues/problems to instill the spirit of hard work and determination to achieve your personal goals. That’s what I have done and it has worked for me.

    • When you start complaining, all of the sudden, you have reasons not to wake up in the morning and get to work.
    • When you start complaining, all of the sudden, you start to worry about things that are out of your control. You get depressed and start feeling like a loser and a failure.

    7. Do not be poor; it sucks!
    If you are born poor, work your tail off and do not die poor. Being poor is oftentimes not about being lazy. Life circumstances just happen. Your family background, where you were born and raised, and many other unfortunate living conditions. The bad seasons will come. One day, you have a good job and next time you notice you are out of work. All of the sudden, you cannot make your mortgage payments, student loans can’t be paid, etc. Whatever your condition is in any country. Not affording your basic needs will stress you out. I still remember when we could not afford lunch or dinner. We would go to bed and wake up the next day ready to get to work. Those days were tough, my friends.

    8. Whatever happens in your life, never complain or feel like a victim.
    Even when you think you have a reason to complain or feel like a victim, never feel like somebody else owes you something. I don’t know where I got this skill from, but most likely from my mom. She found ways to make sure that we never complained. My siblings and I learned by example. Through it all, we kept working day and night. Mixing school and labor work until we made our breakthrough.

    9. Bad times will come, what matters is how you react during those hard times. From all the life circumstances, “20% is about what happens to you and 80% is determined by how you react to it”. This quote used to confuse the heck out of me, but now, I truly believe in it. Sometimes, life will come at you like a high-speed train and hit you hard. You will fall down, but whatever circumstances, try to get back up again. Never feel like a victim, you are better than that. You are special than that.

    10. Never quit, never settle! I truly believe that!

Cheers!

Didier Champion

 

How to realistically achieve your goals in 2018

What I used to do and why It was not working

I used to be so bad at making New Year’s resolution, but after multiple years of trial and error, I finally find a system that works for me. Like a majority of the people, I used to make a list of them every year. However, in the middle of the year, I would lose track of them, ignore them, and get discouraged to keep up. Finally, I would give up and go by my business, “freestyling my way into the year”. Below are the reasons I used to fail.

  1. Making a big list without separating them into categories.
  2. Overestimating what I could do, which made me feel bad for not achieving many things on the list.
  3. Sometimes, I did not even write them and went by what was in my mind. Big mistake. Learn to think on paper. Write them down.
  4. Lack of constant evaluation throughout the whole year. If you want to lose 20 lbs in 12 months. But in June, you have not lost a pound, you are lying to yourself. Evaluate monthly or quarterly and make adjustments.

I have learned to divide my goals into categories. It makes it easier for me to track them throughout the year. I have about 5 categories:

Professional goals

I want to get better at work.

Be more efficient and effective.

Be more valuable to the marketplace ( my employer and my clients).

Finance goals

Staying on on top of my finances.

Pay my bills and debts on time.

Spend moderately. Save and invest the surplus.

Family ( Relationship ) goals

I am engaged now. So, I wanna be the best partner that my fiancee can ever have. Constantly learning about her “love language(s)” and doing what makes her happy and avoiding what makes her angry at all cost.

Fitness goals ( physical and mental health)

Making sure I stay physically and mentally strong.

Live a well-balanced life with less stress.

Extra-Curricular goals ( Adventures)

These are usually my traveling goals. Places I wanted to visit. This year, I have got Croatia, Switzerland, Seychelles, and Morocco.

Keep learning by reading, writing and blogging along with other stuff that makes me happy as a person. Mentoring other young people and helping out in my community.

How To have a good chance at achieving your goals;

  1. Make your goals be SMART. S-specific; M-Measured; A-Attainable; R-Realistic, and T-Timely.
    1. These goals have to be your own goals ( ownership). They cannot your brothers or sisters, or even your wife’s. If they are family goals, everybody has to make them their own and do their part.
    2. They have to be in writing. If they are not written down, it will make it hard to remember and evaluate them on a regular basis.
    3. Make them measured, specific, and have a time limit.
      1. I want to lose weight this year: FALSE. Specify how much weight, in what time, and make a solid plan.
      2. I want to lose 20 lbs in one year. This means that you can strive to lose about 2.0 lbs each month or 5.0 lbs in a quarter. Go step by step.

Making your goals “SMART” and staying accountable along the way will help you achieve them. You have to stay engaged and constantly evaluating as weeks and months go by.

Best of luck!

Below is a good summary of some of my 2018 goals: Going #beastmode.

1. Focus-Focus-Focus: on my goals and purpose in life. Avoid distractions at all cost.
2. Keep learning by reading and writing.
3. Provide the best content to my friends and followers.
4. Provide more value to my clients than I get paid for.
5. Make small improvements every day.
6. Self-evaluation about my progress ( monthly and quarterly).
7. Stay on top of my finances ( Weekly assessment of my cash flow).
8. Reach out to more people: provide quality advice and ask for help when I need some.
9. Reach one million views on my #Quora answers.
Focusing on quality and not quantity.
Grow my network on my personal website and medium .
10. Be a good leader: Inspire, motivate, and lead by example.

Hope this helps. Wish me luck!

Didier Champion

 

How many days can survive without food and water? My near-death experiences with starvation.

As I reflect upon my life, I am very thankful that I am still alive today. I don’t take any day for granted anymore. I grew up in one of the most difficult times in my nation’s history. As everybody rushed to seek refuge, many people did not make it. I was very young and despite what was going on, what I remember the most was not having something available to eat.  Regardless of your situation, not having something to eat sucks. It is an experience that I would not wish on anybody. The younger you are, the worse it feels. Please, bear with me as I share my story for the first time. I hope you have plenty to eat whenever you are hungry.

  1. War and famine in refugee camps

Between 1994 and 1997, there was a big genocide in my home country of Rwanda, followed by a civil war and some conflicts between two government regimes. Around mid-1994, my family decided to escape to DRC (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) because the situation was getting worse and there was no peace. I was 5-years old at the time. My family had to gather up a few belongings ( small amount of food, a few clothes, etc) together and took the road to the Congo. We could not take our car in the middle of a war with bullets and military roadblocks everywhere. We had to walk for what I believe what was about 2-weeks. I was too young to remember, but it was a long journey to refugee camps in the Congo.

Rwandan refugees on their way to neighboring countries. This is what the scene looks like when you have no choice but to leave your home country searching for peace

 

During the war, food is scarce and gets very expensive. Obviously, for small developing nation who depended on agriculture, nobody was digging the fields or harvesting what they had planted. I remember somewhere along the journey, we would run out of food. People would share what they had until everything is finished. The old would give their meals to the young. Lots of children did not make it to the refugee camps in the Congo. They died of hunger and their corpses were simply left behind along the way. Even though it is 20 years or so after, I still remember a few gruesome scenes at the time. Honestly, I cannot count how many times I went seriously hungry from Early, 1995 to end of 1997. It is way too many. But Let me share one near-death experience at a refugee camp around 1996, probably.

Kids, waiting to get porridge in the morning at a refugee camp. (Photo Credit: Save the Children).

 

At the refugee camps, we were 100% depended on UNHCR and other international charities for food. However, this one time, rebel groups had prevented food trucks to get to the camps. The war was at its peak and it was simply too dangerous for any food to get to the camps. We waited for like 3–4 days without food or clean water, which meant total starvation. We all drank dirty water from lakes and other dirty sources. I don’t remember how many days I went without food but it was a couple days or so. This is how it goes when you have no food.

*First day*: You can survive your first day without food, no problem. It still hurts, but you can manage.

*Second day*: Depending on your resilience, many people’s body starts to give up. No matter how strong or resilient you are, you will start to suffer. Eating whatever you can get. Many people will even start to throw up the small amount of water they drink or anything in their digestive system. Your throat becomes very dry, you get headaches, your belly will hurt badly. But for the most part, you will survive the second day too.

*Third day*: Your whole system will get weaker and weaker. Many people cannot make it to this day. It is tough, terrible, and most kids do die on this day if they don’t get food, unfortunately. If I did not get food on this day, I would not be sharing this story with you today. I would have been dead, long time ago! Thank goodness, I am here today. Now, I have plenty of food and water and cannot miss any meal.

*Forth day*: If you can make it to this day at all. You would have to be a champ. At this point, you can only sit or lay down. If you stand up or attempt to walk, you will faint. Your eyes get all blurry and your body is in total disarray. It is a “no bueno” situation. You are very fucked up and better die at this point! I am sorry to say. It is very sad but true!

*Fifth day*: You are a dead body! Nobody makes it to this day, without food. Hopefully, your corpse gets disposed of properly. And your soul makes it to heaven or whatever safe/happy place that your faith (belief system) tells you.

Anyway, if you have spent at least two days without any food, you have to be careful when you finally get some food. You have to take it easy on your throat. You just cannot eat anything right away. You have to start with soft stuff. Juices, porridges, and other soft drinks or food. Whenever you swallow, it is going to hurt as if you have a serious sore throat. It is not comfortable at all. Then, you slowly start eating regular food such as rice, beans, and whatever, but it will take you at least 6–12 hours for your throat to heal ( if not more).

Whatever the circumstances, not having something to eat is very bad. I am not talking about forgetting to buy some food or snacks at the grocery store. I am talking about not having resources to buy or to get food that your body needs. It is not a pleasant experience. It feels bad and I would not honestly want to know what it feels like. It simply sucks!

2. Poverty ( and the Christian practice of fasting)

Fast forward from the life in refugee camps, after the war ended, my family came back to Rwanda. But unfortunately, my dad, who was the primary supporter of our family passed away. Now, my mom had to assume the responsibility of raising 3 children on her own. It was a very tough life. You can read more about it as I have shared a detailed story on another post on Quora.

Anyway, my mom did her best to raise us. Sending us to good schools, putting food on the table, and clothes on our backs. But, sometimes, we did not have food to eat. My mom would get sick and she would spend all her savings until we had simply nothing. My siblings and I went to bed hungry several times. My mom is a devout Christian. So, sometimes she would trick us and schedule “fasting” for our entire family. We would pray for prosperity and that God provides for our family with food to eat and intelligence in schools. However, looking back at those fasting schedules, I think she knew when the money was about to run out so she would tell us ahead of time that fasting was on the way.

At this time, I was a teenager probably between 14–16 years old. I loved to eat and whenever food was available, we ate plenty. I hated “fasting” so much. As I grew up, I would ask myself why this crazy Lord had to make people suffer so that he can answer their prayers. The whole thing was a mystery to me. To this day, I do not understand it.

I love food. I love to eat. And if God can’t help me when my belly is full and healthy, I am honestly out. I don’t want anything to do with such deity. My common sense seems to help me live a very satisfied healthy life at this point.

Anyway, today, I am in a much better living conditions. My family and I are doing very well. We have plenty of food and a healthy family. My country, Rwanda, is one of the most peaceful, organized, and prosperous countries, not just in Africa, but also in the world. Check out the photo below of my home city of Kigali, Rwanda.

Check out my recent meals a few weeks ago in my hometown of Kigali. I am very grateful for the life I have. I do not take having plenty of food (on the table) for granted.

Roasted potatoes, beer, and Brochettes! Any bar you go to in Rwanda, they will have these 3-items. It is a good combination, drinking, and eating.

 

This is a Rwandan buffet. All you can eat for $ 6–7 dollars. Very cheap, but yummy as hell! It is a combination of rice, beans, fresh french fries, sweet potatoes, soup, spaghetti, meat ( fish, beef or chicken) and other local spicy ingredients. When I am hungry, I can easily finish two of such plates with drinks.

 

I love food from everywhere. This is a Vietnamese dish that I love to eat at a local restaurant every Sunday nearby my home. It cost me about $ 22- $ 25 dollars with a beer.

 

Thank you so much for reading! Hope you will have plenty of food to eat! A roof over your head and clothes on your back. Peace!

Lots of love and respect.

Didier Champion

 

Bonus articles:

I have shared more stories about my life and my country today. Feel free to check them out! It is a miracle how one’s life and a country can change so much for the better in a very short time.

  1. 10 Amazing facts about Rwanda and reasons to visit in 2018 ( Rwanda Today, 24 years after genocide).

  2. My experience with poverty, how I got out and changed my family financial tree for good. ( Article on medium)

Subscribe to my blog if you want to get a notification whenever I publish a new article. I pride myself to bring you good quality content. 

 

10 Amazing facts about Rwanda and Reasons to visit in 2018

2018 is an exciting year for my beautiful nation, Rwanda, and for travelers around the world. As a proud Rwandan, I am very happy that we are finally starting to get the recognition we deserve by many international tourism agencies around the World.

As we start this year, Rwanda has been featured as one of the best places to travel to in 2018. This article will give you a brief introduction to Rwanda and explain why we have been recognized highly. Hope you add Rwanda to your wish list.

RWANDA is a beautiful country in the East African Region. It is a landlocked country situated between DRC ( Democratic Republic of Congo) in the West, Uganda in the north, Tanzania in the East and Burundi in the south.

Rwanda Map 2018
Rwandan Map and its neighboring countries ( DRC, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi)

Despite its horrible past history of 1994 genocide against Tutsi, Rwanda is moving forward together, stronger and faster than anybody envisioned. Today, 24 years after 1994, Rwanda is definitely nothing like the movie “Hotel-Rwanda” or ” Sometimes in April”. We are a peaceful, developing country, with the ambition to change the course of its history for the better.

This is why international travel agencies such as CNN Travel, New York Times, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, the Vogue, and many others have featured Rwanda among the “must see”  locations for 2018. Bear with me as I introduce you to my beautiful home country of Rwanda.

Rwandan Flag
  1. Kigali: The capital city of RWANDA

Kigali has been voted as the cleanest and one of the most organized cities in Africa. In 2017, The United Nations nominated Kigali as the most beautiful city in Africa.

The beauty of Kigali combined in one! It is also a major tourist attraction
Public roundabout nearby the Kigali Convention Center

2. Environmental Sustainability The first country to ban plastic bags in the World)

Green city! Public Park in Kigali

The use of plastic bags was banned in 2008. Literally, no plastic bag is allowed to enter Rwanda. Even at the airport, you give up your plastic bags, and they give you biodegradable or reusable paper bag. It is amazing! Check out this British journalist story at the Rwandan Airport ( Credit: The Guardian UK).

Snapshot a British journalist story in the Guardian article

3. Monthly Community Service in the whole country

It’s called Umuganda in the local language, which means “ working together”. The last Saturday of the month, each community delegates a place to meet up and do something positive to the community. Usually, activities involve cleaning up, planting out trees, building a house for the poor, infrastructure ( a local school, hospital), or something of that nature. The idea is to work together for the betterment of the community and the Rwandan society at large.

The President getting to work at Umuganda

See this man in the photo above? Yes, he is the president of Rwanda. He does the Umuganda too. In fact, every month, he goes to different locations around the country to do Umuganda with the people.

4. Paul Kagame, the best president in Africa, right now.

I can’t think of any other president who has transformed his/her country, literally from being hopeless to hopeful, from a disaster to an economic recovery, from literally nothing to something. Perhaps, most importantly, he has inspired and motivated the next generation of young leaders, like myself. He leads by example. He does talk less, but he does so much. A complete opposite of many African leaders. The man of action, himself! He just got elected to another 7-year term.

Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda

5. The most number of women in the parliament in the World.

64% of the members of the Rwandan parliament in both chambers ( Senate and deputy) are women. No wonder why the country is doing well. Regulations mandates that at least 30% of all government institutions have to be women. From top-level ministers level to low-level leaders in the communities. You talk about women’s rights, equality and all that? In Rwanda, we don’t just preach equality. We are doers. The population is 50% men, 50% women, so it makes sense to include women at all levels of decision making in the government. Doesn’t it?

64% of Rwandan parliament members are women.

See this photo below? All women flight crew, Captain and her co-pilot of the RwandAir, the national air carrier and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Very rare to see elsewhere, but not in Rwanda.

Captain and her co-pilot, posing for a photo opportunity with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

6. Tea and Coffee ( Some of the best coffee in the World)

Rwandan coffee beans

Every year, Rwandan coffee wins some of the best international awards for best quality coffee. You can order you some here if you are interested. Let me know if you have had any other coffee that competes with ours.

One of the best coffees in the world

I am a coffee stud myself. So, I would be interested to know who are our competitors!

7. Kigali Convention Center ( The most expensive building on the African continent). It cost about 300 million USD.

Kigali Convention Center in Kigali, Rwanda

It is a masterpiece of architecture combining arts, culture, and modern design together. it is a major venue for big national and international meetings and assemblies. It has hosted African Union meetings, the World Economic forums, and many more.

8. Regardless of your nationality, you do not need a visa to come to RWANDA.

 

Visa upon arrival to the citizens of the world, Rwandan Immigration Services

Starting January 2018, you don’t need to apply for a visa to come to RWANDA. Want to come to Rwanda? No problem. You will get a 90-day visa at all Rwandan borders and airports if you are African; and 30–60 days if you are from other continents. Other countries are closing, tightening up their borders, we are opening them and welcoming the world. I love it.

9. Beautiful Mountain Gorilla and amazing Safaris Experience

Mountain Gorillas at Virunga National Park

Rwanda has 50% of all the mountain gorillas in the world. They are endangered species, so Rwanda does a great job at preserving these treasures. You will have the best experience touring and visiting the amazing creatures.This is my cousin photo last time we were there. Amazing experience!

My cousin, posing nearby ( 1 meter away) a gorilla and her two babies in the back at Virunga National Park.

Also, if you want to see all sorts of animals ( Hippos, Lions, Zebras, etc) at their natural habitat, Rwanda has all you need. Akagera National Park and Nyungwe National Park are the main ones. Forget about the zoos, come to Rwanda. We will take you where they live.

Giraffes at Akagera National Park
Zebras and other animals in the Akagera National Park

10. Rich culture and Traditions (Amazing hospitality, great and friendly people. ):

Rwanda is a very welcoming country. We have a rich culture of dance, music, arts and all that. There is nothing we enjoy more than sharing our culture with others. If you come visit us, we will be happy to share it with you. Below are a few photos of our sisters showcasing our amazing culture through dance and music.

Traditional Rwandan dance
Rich culture and tradition

That’s all for now. I hope you learned something new about my country, Rwanda. Obviously, there are many facts about RWANDA, but this is a good introduction. If I get more likes, I will make another post. I will expand on arts, fashion, sports, economy, and other interesting facts about RWANDA.

If you travel quite a bit, I hope I can convince you to add Rwanda to your wish list. Remember, no visa application! At your arrival, it costs $ 30 and takes between 3 to 5 minutes. CNN Travel just named Rwanda number 11 out of 18 best places to travel in 2018, so don’t miss out.

Help me spread the word about what Rwanda is Today!

Unfortunately, 8 out of 10 people I meet in the United States and Europe seem to assume that still 1994-RWANDA they watched the movie about the Rwandan genocide. They ask me: Have you seen the movie, “Hotel Rwanda”? Is that real? How is the country right now? Is your family safe/okay? Over the years, these kinds of questions get repetitive and annoying.

This is why I am writing this piece to shed some light on false assumptions and stereotypes that seem to not go away despite all the progress that Rwandans have been making for the past 23 years. Help me spread the word and share this article with your friends.

Let’s educate and inform the world about the new Rwanda by sharing one post at a time.

Cheers! Thank you!

Didier Champion

Bonus pictures:

Public Transportation Bus station in Kigali, Rwanda
Downtown Kigali-Rwanda

Credit to Rwanda, the heart of Africa, facebook page for allowing me to use their pictures. For more pictures, check them out!

Subscribe to my blog if you want to get a notification whenever I publish a new article. I pride myself to bring you good quality content. 

 

How does it feel to be a US immigrant from one of the countries that Trump called a “shithole”?

I am from Rwanda, a beautiful country in the East African region. According to Trump’s statement, my country would be considered a “shithole” too!

Rwandan Flag

Honestly, I was very offended. I wondered how do we have such president in the oval office. Out of 330 million Americans, how did we end up with this stupid-crazy and racist dude?

A friend of mine was flying from Rwanda to the United States today. We talked about our feelings and was telling him how I was very angry and hurt. Then, he said: U know, the best way to fight racism, arrogance, and ignorance is, by love, compassion, and kindness. It is Martin Luther King weekend, remember!

I continued to think about it, and finally, I made a conscious decision. If I get offended by every one of Trump’s racist statements, I will always be disappointed.

So, I decided that it was in my best interests to stay HIGH every time he goes LOW. In the end, I laughed it off and moved on.

How is Rwanda exactly today! We are NOT a shithole.

My country is beautiful. People are very friendly and nice. We are peaceful, developing, hard-working and looking forward to a better future. If that’s what President Trump calls “shithole”, fuck it, I will take that any day.

Allow me to introduce you to Rwanda. Believe it or not, we have so much to offer to the world.

The beauty of Rwandan cities on one.
  1. Best coffee and Tea in the world

If you drink coffee every morning, you probably drink some of ours more often than you think. Every year, Rwandan coffee wins some of the best international awards for best quality coffee. So, we supply you with the best coffee.

Rwandan coffee, the best in the world.

2. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

Our capital city, Kigali, is one of the cleanest and the most organized cities in the world. In 2017, The United Nations nominated Kigali as the most beautiful city in Africa.

One of the popular roundabouts in Kigali Rwanda
Downtown Kigali, Rwanda

3. Environmental Sustainability

We are very green and friendly to the environment. Our country was the first nation in the world to ban plastic bags. Yes, since 2008, plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda. We like to maintain the greenness of our beautiful landscape.

Public Park in Kigali, Rwanda

When you come to visit us, at your arrival to the airport, we replace your plastic bags with bio-degradable reusable paper bags. It is amazing! Check out this British journalist story at the Rwandan Airport ( Credit: The Guardian UK).

British journalist experience with plastic bags

4. Most welcoming nation in the world.

Regardless of your nationality, you do not need prior visa application to come to our country. If you want to come to Rwanda tomorrow, pack your bags and come.

Rwandan Immigration and Emigration Services Poster of 2018, inviting everybody to come to Rwanda

We will issue it to you at your arrival with no hustle; 90-day visa at all Rwandan borders and airports if you are African; and 30–60 days if you are from other continents. It costs $ 30 dollars and takes only 3–5 minutes.

In times where many countries are closing and tightening up their borders, we are opening ours to the world, and leading the way and showing the world how it should be done.

5. Best vacation spot in the world and definitely best Safari Experience

In this 2018 year alone, Rwanda was ranked number 11 out of 18 best places to visit in 2018 by various international tourism agencies ( Vogue, New York Times, The Telegraph, CNN Travel, Huffington Post).

If you want to visit the rare Mountain gorilla in their natural habitat, we have all you will ever need for an amazing experience. Check out my cousin’s photos the last time we were there.

My cousin photo with mother gorilla and her twin babies in the back

Rwanda has 50% of all the mountain gorillas in the world. They are endangered species, so we do a great job at preserving these treasures. You will have the best experience touring and visiting the amazing creatures.

My Photo posing in front of a 500 lb silverback gorilla

We have many well-known national and international parks for all sorts of animals. Akagera National Park, and Nyungwe National Park, being the most popular.

Zebras at the Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park

Whatever you need to relax, we probably have it. Whether you want to do some water sports related activities, chill by the lake shores, sipping on the beer and good food on a beautiful sunny day, we will satisfy your vacation needs for sure.

Canopy Walk 300 ft at the top of the largest tropical forest in Africa. Nyungwe National Park
Brochette, potatoes and beer. My favorite combination at the bars!
Amazing landscape and scenery at Lake Burera overseeing the Volcanoes in the Northern Province

6. Gender Equality and Respect for women

The key reason for Rwandan success ( after 1994 genocide) is attributed to promoting gender equality. Giving men and women equal opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge. Women have not only embraced the opportunities, they have taken it to another level in all sectors of the economy in both private and public sector.

Like many countries around the world, we used to be a very patriarchal society before 1994. But the government decided to change that in order to integrate everybody into the new Rwandan economy. The population is 50% men, 50% women, so it made perfect sense to include women at all levels of decision making both in government and business.

Women are very respected in my country. They deserve respect and appreciation for what they have done for our country. Today, Rwanda is the first nation in the world have to have a higher representation of women in the parliament; 64%!

Oh, one last thing! Unlike President Trump, Rwandan men don’t go around harassing women and grabbing their genitals! Who does that?

The list can go on and on. I have used my country, Rwanda, as an example, but every single nation of Africa has so much to offer to the world.

Now, put yourself in my shoes and imagine what is it like to be told that your country is a “shithole” by the president of another country; the so-called leader of the free world. Meanwhile, you get to enjoy this luxury every day, week, month, and all year long. Hey, I will take it!

I can only hope people have learned their lesson and won’t vote for him in 2020.

Anyway, for more about my home country of Rwanda, I have written two posts in the past describing more about more interesting facts and details. Check them out below!

10 Amazing facts about Rwanda and reasons to visit in 2018 ( Medium Post)

Dear World, Rwanda Today is NOTHING like the movie Hotel-Rwanda ( Quora Post)

Thank you so much for reading my reflection on the President’s dubious remarks about African countries. When haters go LOW, you have to go HIGH, killing them with love, kindness, and compassion.

If you liked this article and would like to get notifications whenever I publish a new article, subscribe to my blog.  It would help me to grow my audience and allow me to reach more people around the world. As always,  I pride myself on bringing you the best quality content. Quality over quantity!!

Peace!

Didier Champion

Bonus Pictures:

Aerial Photo of the most expensive building in Africa! The Kigali Convention Center
All women flight crew, Captain and her co-pilot of the RwandAir, the national air carrier and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Very rare to see elsewhere, but not in Rwanda.

My personal story on how I overcame anxiety and depression in Graduate School.

This happened to me when I was doing my Ph.D. studies in graduate school. In general, I am a very strong dude, emotionally and physically. I had my fair share of tough times in my childhood. I grew up very poor, selling sugar canes in the street of Kigali and doing many other odd jobs to survive the harsh life. Never could I have imagined that after I broke my way out of poverty, and was living and enjoying the good life, that I could have other issues. Despite all the poverty and other challenges early in my life, I had never gotten depressed before. Honestly, I did not believe that It could ever happen to me. The only time depression got hold of me was this incidence I am about to share with you. I was in my third year of my graduate work. It could have been worse but I am very fortunate I acted upon it quickly in the early stages. My life could have been miserable by now.

Admitting to yourself that you are depressed is a big Challenge

Acknowledging to yourself that you are stressed out or depressed is not very easy. It is extremely tough. In my case, if I did not have my girlfriend to constantly tell me that I was changing negatively, acting hostile, and all other stuff, I would not have come to terms with it. I was so proud of myself. I thought I was a tough nerd and could not even begin to comprehend why I had early symptoms of depression. The most difficult thing about depression is:

  • Admitting to yourself that you are depressed.
  • Explaining to your family and close friends why you are depressed.

Now, deciding to seek help is even a bigger challenge. You ask yourself different questions:

  • Do I really have time for a counseling session? I am already busy with my work.
  • You keep telling yourself to relax a bit and maybe wait for the feeling to go away after some time.
  • You talk to fellow grad students and you get the feeling that everybody is just as worried about their work as you are. In the end, many people ignore the feeling, get over the feelings or they get crashed.

Depression is a big issue in graduate schools. The most recent 2017 statistics show that 1 in 2 Ph.D. students experience at least 4 symptoms related to some level of psychological distress during their career. The numbers are worse in science and engineering graduate programs both in the United States and Europe. As a graduate student, I encourage you to take care of your mental and physical health. At the end of the day, your wellness and health come before anything else. If you have any of these symptoms on a regular basis, talk to somebody and seek help immediately.

 

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The ugly truth is that unless you have evaluated yourself, find out the cause of the feelings, and come to terms with the consequences, it is very hard to make any meaningful progress towards your mental health. That is why depression is a big problem in graduate schools; especially in the STEM fields. As a graduate student, life can be lonely. Work gets busy. You find yourself teaching courses, doing research, presenting your work, writing papers, and little time for your personal life stuff.

This is why I am openly sharing my story for the first time today. Maybe you are in the same situation or know somebody who needs help. The most important thing is to know that you are not alone; that you are not weird; and that there is a way to get back to your full wellness and health. Anyway, this is my story. Hope you find it educational.

After finishing my bachelor’s degree in Physics, I got admitted into a Ph.D. program in Mechanical Engineering. I am not a genius, but I was a good student. Self-motivated, strong work ethic, and many other qualities of an above average student.

  1. In my first year of graduate school, I was on a teaching assistantship, which is very common at my university. Taking my coursework, teaching sophomore level courses in our department. By the end of the first semester, I had found a research professor to work with and was starting to learn about the research I was going to do. The first year went well. I struggled a bit in class, got a 3.0 GPA ( lowest I had ever gotten), but it was very manageable. Got put on academic probation, but in the 2nd semester, my GPA jumped to 3.70, and I was back on track.
  2. In my second year, I was both on 50% TA and 50% research. I immersed myself in the research. Loved what our lab was doing. Loved the colleagues I was working with, and for the most part, it was just fine. The workload was intense, combining my grad school coursework, teaching an undergrad course, as a teaching assistant every semester, grading homework, tests, and exams; the regular busy life of a Ph.D. student. During this year, I passed my preliminary exams, both written and oral, which was a huge confidence booster for me.
Lab work at University ( don’t laugh at my pink lab coat please, haha)

During the summers, I worked hard to catch up on my research. In any holidays, I would go to West-Africa, which is where our air quality measurements research work was based. I would travel about 3–4 times to Ghana and back in the States; collecting data; training our field team back in Ghana, and staying in touch with them to resolve any field issues and all that.

Above that, I still found time to enjoy Colorado, taking advantage of the amazing landscape and scenery around the state. I am very big on outdoor activities such as climbing mountains, skiing, hiking, water sports activities and many other sorts of stuff.

My real passion: Outdoor activities on top of 14,000 ft mountain in Colorado, Stand up water paddling in CO, and canopy walk at the largest tropical forest in Rwanda, Africa.

Financially, I was living just like any other Ph.D. students. Living from paycheck to paycheck earning about $ 1,800 during the school year, and $3,500 during the summers, working full-time. I was very satisfied with that. No problem!

My research advisor was a great advisor, the best one any Ph.D. student could hope for. Very helpful, understanding, extremely intelligent, hardworking and overall a wonderful advisor to have. Whenever I was hanging out with other Ph.D. students, they used to tell me how lucky I was to have my advisor. Honestly, hearing their stories with their “so-called advisors” made me appreciate what a wonderful advisor I had. We had two major fundings from the EPA and NSF, so I was not worried about not having the funding or any financial issue for my work. He was already “tenured”, which is a big deal in academia.

Somewhere along my second year, I noticed that the research world was not a life I would enjoy living for the rest of my professional career. I projected my life, 5–10 years, after earning my Ph.D., my prospects to secure a research position at a good university, working my tail off to secure a tenure-track position, writing proposals every semester, competing with professors for fundings, and all that. Research professors are some of busiest people I have ever met. That kind of lifestyle did not look attractive to me. I oftentimes remember emailing my advisor at like 3: 00 am in the morning and he would get back to me right away at 3:05 am, what?

 I always wonder how he did it. I oftentimes would reflect on his hard work. I know this is urgent, but you could have waited until the morning, right? But it did not matter as he loved his work. Loved what he did. No matter how busy he was, he just worked quite hard. At one point, he had 5-PhD students with different projects, 2-masters students, and a few undergraduates he was supervising. My advisor was a champ. 

What I noticed was that my advisor had found his real passion; teaching students and doing environmental science and engineering research work. So, I knew deep down that I had to find something that I was really passionate about. I know myself that if I like and am passionate about something, I will put my efforts into it. Unfortunately, halfway through the program, P.h.D work did not seem as a good fit for me. So, I knew that it was time for me to reflect hard and think about what career was going to be next for me.

I told myself that although life as a professor was not for me, out of respect for my advisor, I would finish the Ph.D. program, but then branch out to industry first to make lots of $$. Then, maybe later in my 50’s, find some university to teach at, giving students a hands-on and practical experience from the private sector points of view. It was a solid plan, and I decided to stick to it.

Beginning my third year, work got busier and busier. We had just published our first paper of the project, of which, I was a contributing author. I was also working on my second paper, as the primary author, shuffling between presenting our work to conferences, traveling to Ghana for work, and much other related work stuff.

At the same time, outside of work, I was trying to date, starting off a brand new “long-distance” relationship, traveling and exploring Colorado/Ghana whenever I could, doing fun activities I enjoy doing.

Petting a crocodile in Ghana, West-Africa. This pond has about 200 crocodiles in it

The bottom line was that to my regular friends, life was going well. I seemed to be having too much fun. I used to post all my travel updates and adventures on Facebook and my friends would email me asking how I was doing all these stuff back to back. However, inside of me, I was not happy overall. My work life had taken over. I was probably pulling in between 12–15 hours of work each day from Monday to Friday. All in the name of finish up my graduate work, and not “disappointing” my advisor, who had invested so much in me for two years. Thank goodness, I would take it easy on weekends though! to relax a bit and enjoy life.

Remember, once your plan is to go work in the industry, you do not really need a Ph.D. If you are a good student with an independent/strong work ethic, a masters degree would set you apart to a good start, in any R&D areas, whether you want to go to national labs or private companies.

At the peak of my depression, I felt under-achieved. That I was not doing enough. At some point, I would even feel like a loser. No matter how hard I worked, work never seemed to slow down. Each week/month, there was a new presentation to prepare for, new collaborators to meet up with, new major update/progress report to give to my two advisors. All that workload piled up inside of me, without a good reason to stay on course. And then came the ego; the worst of it all;

  1. What would my peers say If I drop out? that I am a quitter!?  fuck that, I am no quitter.
  2. What about my advisor, and friends? All that nonsense and worrying about other people’s perceptions of me piled up and made my life much more miserable inside.
  3. My relationship was terrible: I was “ verbally” very hostile to my girlfriend.
    1. Accusing her to want too much affection/time from me, and to waste some of my time. Although all she wanted was just 30 min to one hour per day to talk and to stay connected.
    2. She would tell me to that I was being too hard on myself. Trying to do too much, but I did not listen. She was the only person who knew what I was going through really! She would tell me to leave the lab by midnight, but I stayed longer than that on several occasions. ( P.S.: I am very effective and efficient when nobody is around, so I work late at night very often).
    3. We were on the verge of breaking up, which would have been terrible. She is just a sweetheart. Recently, we just got engaged! She stuck with me and wanted to help me out, but I was terrible at receiving help.
    4. She would tell me to go seek help, talk to somebody, but I would tell her that it was a grad school thing, very common for every Ph.D. student.

Then, it finally hit me that the only reason I had decided to stay was really to not disappoint my advisor, who had helped me quite a bit. How stupid, right? Here I was busting my ass off for the wrong reasons as far I could tell. I gave it a good month or two to think about it, planned out a good exit strategy, and waited for a good stopping point to leave and allow another Ph.D. student take the rest of the work. Below were my decisions and conclusions;

  1. Get your masters degree. I got it! I even went to graduation in the middle of winter in December. In my program, it was totally okay to get your masters degree along the way as long as you had completed all the necessary coursework.
  2. Finish off your work and publish your paper. This process took me longer than anticipated, but publishing in the best journal in your field is not an easy process. But I finally did. I am a published author, or should I say, primary author.
  3. Tell my advisor ahead of time, to allow enough time to hire another student. I also did that! Although he would have wanted more time, I made sure that the work I was already working was going to get published. In addition, I offered to stay in touch whenever they need something from me. It was the best I could do, and I kept my word, thankfully!

Finally, One day in November 2015 ( after coming back from a conference in Ghana), I decided that it was time to tell my advisor. We were finishing up the fall semester ( 5th semester in grad school), about to go to Christmas break. At our weekly, one on one meetings, I told him that I wanted to take the next spring semester off. I explained the whole situation that I wanted to be off-grid for some time, doing some soul searching and was possibly contemplating a possible career change.

Luckily, after a while, he noticed I was very serious and committed. He noticed that I had given it some serious thoughts and there was no point to convince me to stay. That November 2015, I told him that I will take the spring semester off. We agreed that I will give him a call informing him my final decision by March/April 2016. That way, he has two months to look for another student, by summer 2016, in case I was not coming back. Having a lot of experience in academia, he told me that it was highly unlikely that I was coming back. He facilitated and approved “my leave of absence” for the Spring 2016 semester.

I promise him that this was very personal and I had to be away from the research world for a bit. That December 2015, he allowed me to even go to the graduation ceremony for my master’s degree. Had fun for a few hours and came back to the lab same day to finish off the paper I was writing. Most of the data analysis was done, and literature review of my citation sources was finished, so I was writing the first draft of my paper.

My not-so-exciting graduation picture in the middle of winter!

Fast forward in April 2016, after securing another new adventure for myself, I made the toughest call I have ever made. The toughest decision I have ever made in my life so far. Telling my “ soon to be” former boss that I had found another opportunity and was not coming back. He wished me the best of luck. We talked about how I was going to facilitate the new Ph.D. student coming in. Finished off my paper and getting it published. Handing over all the raw data from our measurements, and being available whenever I was needed. It was tough to make that call, but boy, I was very relieved afterward!

This past summer of 2017, the paper finally got published with the help of a former co-worker. We are co-primary authors along with many other researchers in the group. The best thing is that the paper has been such a great hit, got published in the Environmental Science &Technology ( ES& T) journal, the best one in our field. My co-author took the analysis to another level, with better math lab plots and graphics, which honestly made the paper better than it would have been if I was the only primary author. Today, the paper is making a lot of buzz among our peers, in our research area.

 

Grad School Paper 2018
My last paper in ES&T. My last published paper in grad school & probably the last.

Myself, I am as happy as I have ever been. My work is going great! A month ago,  I just got engaged to the then-girlfriend, who has been with me through thick and thin, from the beginning. My life is just going fantasticI am now thinking of a possible career change as a motivational speaker, combining engineering and finance. I am very grateful for my fiancee and the decision I took to leave the research world and prioritize my overall mental and physical health first.

My heartfelt message to all the Graduate Students in similar situations!

Fellow grad students,

  1. Deciding to quit something you already started is very difficult. I have been in those shoes. I know how it feels. Even today, sometimes, despite how good all things turned out, the thoughts of waiting and finishing up the program crosses my mind way too often than I would like to admit. Can you believe it?
  2. There is nothing wrong deciding to change directions or to take another path when you notice that you are are in the wrong one. You are not a quitter. You just discovered another path. Get over it, honestly!
  3. Whenever you decide to change directions, have a plan. Think about it carefully, analyze it and execute on it if it fits your future goals and plans.
  4. Grad schools are not going anywhere. If you are really passionate, you can go back anytime and complete your studies. Of course, you might have to start over, but it is totally fine.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t compare yourself to your peers, too much!
  6. Remember, you are not a loser. After all, you are in the top echelon of the most educated people the world has to offer. You are in the top 1%, probably. In my programs for example, when we were admitted into the Ph.D. program, only 23 students were given admission in the Ph.D. program out of 230 applicants. Obviously, you cannot make the cut if you are not smart, hardworking, and motivated.
  7. Whenever you are struggling, talk to somebody. Once a month, we used to gather up all the students at some local pub, and bitch about how the Ph.D. student life was tough. People would talk their advisors and the issues they were having in their line of work, and much other bullshit. In a way, it was very liberating to hear that we were all in the same boat, riding the wave together. Haha! It really did help a bit.
  8. Seek help early. I am glad that I discovered my issues quite early. Had a caring girlfriend, willing to hear/help me out. That made me act very quickly before it was too late. I think I was still in early stages, but it could have gone worse, definitely.
  9. If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth it. I have tried to apply this motto everywhere in everything I do. I love to have fun in whatever I am doing. It has worked wonders for me.

Best of luck to all the Ph.D. students out there,

I have so much respect for you. Peace!

Sincerely,

Didier Champion

References

How Academia made me the most depressed I have ever been ( Dailydot.com, Jan. 2016)

Half of UC Berkeley STEM graduate students depressed ( The Science Mag, May 2015)

This is your mind on grad school ( Berkeley Science Review, 2012)

Grad school fosters depression; How to fight it ( Scienceblogs.com, Feb. 2009)

 

One-Way Trip to colonize Mars? How realistic is the Mars-One Project?

 

Mars One project 2017
Mars One Ambitious Timeline and missions to MARS

 

  • Mars One (Official Website) is a non-profit private organization HQ’ed in Haarlem, Holland (CEO and founder, Bans Lanslop & CTO, chief technical officer, Arno Wielders). Their plan is to organize a one-way trip of humans to Mars by 2027. As of 2017, they have selected about 100 finalists from a pool of 20,000 applicants, who will be potential explorers on MARS.
  • They estimate that MARS ONE project will require a budget of $ 6.0 Billion dollars and they plan to raise the funds from investments, sponsorship, and broadcasting rights.  This project is comprised of a wonderful group of people with a big drive for space exploration, an essential part of human survival over the years. Throughout our existence, exploration has been an important part of how humans have survived and maintained life on Earth.

Testing, Planning, and Timeline 

  • Testing will be done in Iceland to mimic the conditions of Mars. Iceland is the best place that comes close to Mars conditions especially the topography and soil content in the country. They plan to get there by using Space X, Falcon Heavy, which is scheduled to land on Mars surface by 2026. From leaving the Earth to Mars surface, it will take about 7-months to make it to MARS. Mars one Project plans to travel in 2027. This means that it will have to depend on Space X’s Falcon Heavy, to even come close to traveling to Mars.
  • Critics from the Experts:
    • NASA scientists and engineers are very skeptical about the timeline and how qualified Mars One Project can accomplish their mission. Mostly, NASA thinks that they are and will not ready at all by 2027.
    • NASA thinks that there should be a choice to come back should explorers want to at some point of their exploration. However, the CEO and the CTO of Mars One Project objects to that idea that it would simply add costs and be counterproductive. Their project aim is to colonize Mars by allowing first settlers to explore and live on Mars forever. They are simply not backing up from their projects.
    • According to the management of the project, the most important thing is to explain and give all the details to the finalists describing all the risks associated with the project so that they can make final decisions about a one-way trip to Mars.

Challenges ahead of this ambitious project

 

Space Mission to Mars 2017
Conditions on Planet Mars

 

  • Conditions on Mars: 
    • MARS has no known water location (as of October 2017), no food, extremely lower temperature ( -63 degrees Fahrenheit average ), low gravity (half of earth’s gravity) and extremely low pressures. Explorers will have to find a way to deal with all these conditions and right now there is not enough knowledge and technology to deal with all the above obstacles. Settling on Mars is going to be a tough challenge because of high levels of U. V. radiations, which can cause cancer to first settlers and shorten their lifetime there.
    • Key to survival: Access to water to sustain life. There is also no oxygen for breathing and they would have to find water so that they can decompose H2O into O2 molecules for breathing. All of these important essentials are still missing and unknown even though the project is 10-years away from launching supposedly.
    • In order to live on Mars, we would need huge advancement in planetary science and genetic engineering to sustain life on Mars. They would also need to warm up Mars to make it habitable.
      • Nuclear option (pump lots of CO2 into Mars atmosphere and wait for it to warm up from -80 degrees Fahrenheit to -25 degrees Fahrenheit).
      • Create a thick atmosphere of CO2 to block UV radiations from the sun and find some form of H2O.

 

Mars One Project Set up 2017
Setting up a human colony on Mars by the Mars One Project

 

  • Overall Assessment (As of October 2017): 
    • This is a very ambitious project and will require lots of funds, technology, and lots of stakeholders to take this project from a dream to a reality.
    • Funding: This project has to raise about $ 6.0 Billion USD, and they have to come up with funding sources. Can Investors, sponsors, and TV broadcasting rights fill the $ 6.00 Billion dollar gap? I don’t think they will.
    • Relying on Space X: Mars One will need Falcon Heavy ( Space X rocket) to transport humans and their gears to Mars. Without Space X, no travel to Mars. Space X plans to have Falcon Heavy ready to land to Mars surface in 2026. Can they achieve this? and even if they did,  will Mars One have enough resources to go the year after? At this point, it does not look like they will have them.
    • One-way mission: The project leaders are quite fanatic and honestly a bit absurd. Why send humans first without an opportunity to return? Why not start with robots and let them do preliminary work such as finding water sources and locations. That way, humans who follow can have a higher probability of succeeding? Do Robotic exploring first and then humans later.
  • NASA Mars Mission 2017
    NASA’s realistic approach and timeline to MARS Exploration mission
    • NASA Skepticism: NASA is the only institution that has successfully landed on Mars Surface with “Curiosity Rover”. Mars One should listen more if NASA tells them that they are not ready from a logical, ethical, and practical standpoint. Mars-One targets to have 8-colonists by 2030. Is this a suicide mission as NASA predicts? We can only count on the future to see how Mars One project goes.
    • From my point of view, this is an extremely ambitious project and they are NOT ready yet. They are very fanatic and don’t seem to have all the needs nailed down to turn this “dream project” into a reality. Maybe they have some serious inspiration, but I highly doubt they will ever make it. If they do a good job, they will send robots there. You would have to be quite #dumb to go on a one-way mission to Mars without a choice of returning. Mars-One 100 finalists seem to have (partially) decided to take on this challenge, but I do not think that they know what they are doing. Lot of them are not even astronauts. They will have to learn and train to be astronauts. As one finalist says, their pride to be “first settlers on Mars” will override any pain. Essentially, claiming that we have one life and it seems to them that it is worth it to use it in order to make this world a better place.
    • For more information about Mars One Project, see their official website and connects with their social media to follow up on their updates. The Guardian published a good article about Mars one Project.
  • For more excellent information on Space Explorations and NASA missions to Mars, check sources below.