Archive for ‘Education’

May 5, 2011

Do something

Via Google

Since I was a child, my mother always told me to change the world. Alright, maybe she didn’t quite put it that way. Instead, she would always say: “if you don’t like it, then do something about it.” Well mom, it stuck. I heard you all those years ago and I still hear you now. Loud and clear. And you thought I wasn’t listening. You thought I threw your advice out like the stale milk you used to pour down the sink. You should never ever have worried. I know it’s what mothers do but come on now……I’m your son.

No one understands that fact better than you. When I started keeping a blog about how we all could make the world a better place, I was channeling you. When I tell any of my students to stand up for what is right, it is your voice that I hear. The recycling idea, the Catalyst idea, soccer for the kids at Minnie Street……you, you and yup……you. Perhaps it was the fact that you were always so generous, thinking of everyone else and yourself last. Or that you single-handedly fought to bring our family to the United States, all five of us. It definitely could have been that you never let failure define you. You achieved a Ph.D. with 4 kids and a husband, kept trying your hand in entrepreneurship despite some false starts and rebounded from tragedy after tragedy.

With mothers’ day quickly approaching, you’re on my mind. Then again like I already pointed out, you’ve been on my mind all along. I am going to do something thoughtful for you on Sunday but my biggest way of paying you the respect you deserve is by continuing to take your advice and “do something” about what’s wrong. After all, I am your son.

March 2, 2011

Inspired by Solutions

In the media. From my friends. A random conversation I just happen to hear while passing by. Often, I hear comments about “those” immigrants in our communities.

Why don’t they want to learn English?
Don’t they know they’re in America?
If I lived in another country I’d learn the language!

We have a serious problem here, and it’s not that immigrants don’t speak English. The problem is with our attitude. First, it is void of any true experience with the group that is being stereotyped. Every single immigrant has a name, a story, and a struggle that, more often than not, dispels the myths our society has constructed about these communities. And even more, we’re complaining about a situation and doing nothing to be a part of the solution.

This year I signed up to volunteer as an English instructor at a local community center down the street from my house. I was feeling guilty. Hundreds in my community do not speak English, yet I had never lent a helping hand. Worse, I’d been galavanting around the world trying to help those in need abroad without giving the needs of my neighbors a second thought.

While training to become an instructor, I met a man named Bill who has committed his life to helping immigrants in our communities learn English. He doesn’t call it ESL or TEFL or TESOL or even just simply “Teaching English”. Rather, he is committed to challenging the English speaking population to SHARE their English. His classes have a ratio of one English speaker to one English learner. They are wild, funny, enjoyable, dynamic. He has an army of volunteers who are willing to put aside their stereotypes to be a part of the solution instead of just complaining. And people learn English because of it!

More than giving back to the community, more than helping people create a better life for themselves by giving them the skill of speaking English, Bill is helping every day Americans set aside their stereotypes by giving them opportunities to interact with REAL communities, REAL situations, and REAL lives.

I want to live like that!

Bill’s example of a life dedicated to change makes me ask myself a difficult question: How can I be a solution to the problems I complain about?

February 28, 2011

Deconstructing the American Dream

Image via Google

The American Dream is a term that is very common in American culture. Turn on the news on any given night and you might see a politician or three relying on it to drum up support for their policies. On the other hand, it has also been used as a way to attack opponents or political rivals. For example, Mitt Romney, a prominent Republican in an upcoming book accuses current President Barack Obama of trying to stifle the American Dream. He claims that the president’s policies will lead to the death of the dream. But what exactly does this mean? What is the American Dream?

According to Arnold Schwarzneggar, the former governor of California, the American dream is that “a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the president of the United States”. Yet David Abrahansen felt that “the American Dream is in part, responsible for a great deal of crime and violence because people feel that the country owes them not only a living but a good living.” Obviously, this simple phrase has taken on a complex meaning. However, for the man who coined the phrase, it’s meaning was much simpler.

In his book, The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams wrote that the American dream is a

dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Simply put, the American Dream was intended to mean equality and opportunity for all.

This idea that America is a land of opportunity often brings immigrants into the country. These people come with the hope that they can make something of themselves by taking advantage of the resources that are available. Instead, they find that this notion is just a dream.

Perhaps, it never existed the way that Adams pictured. For one, America is not a land of equality. Back when Mr. Adams was coming up with the phrase in 1931, Black Americans could not even vote. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement helped secure that right. And even in the 1960s, the dream still didn’t exist. Martin Luther King Jr., the most prominent Civil Rights activist of that era had a dream that “one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'”. His use of “one day” implies that in those days, America had not risen to those heights.

That day never came in the 1960s and it still hasn’t come today. The American dream is a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist in the real world and the fact that it is pursued keeps the American public hostage. As Florence King once said; “people are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be that they’re all asleep at the switch. Consequently, we are living in the Age of Human Error.”

February 17, 2011

Learning to Listen

xcd.com via Google

One of the best things you can do for anyone is to listen to them. By so doing, you are affirming them, confirming that they are alive and that they do exist. Think about it. Without a voice, you do not leave a mark or a dent. Our voices are the ripples that we make in the pond of humanity. And with no one listening, these ripples go unseen. Yet, we do not listen to others. Taking things a step further, we do not know how to listen. There is a lot of vitriol, angst and pain around the world today and I believe that what we need are more ears.

It begins by asking the right questions and then doing more than just hearing an answer. You see, listening is more than just hearing what someone has to say. Listening is active while hearing is passive. To hear what a person says, all you have to do is receive the sound waves out of their mouth. Listening on the other hand, involves dropping all of your preconceived notions and ideas, and engaging a person with the goal of understanding them. Dropping our own perceptions, notions and ideas is the hardest part. Every time we talk to people, their voice is distorted by the soundtrack we have playing in our heads. To listen we have to turn off our music or take off our headphones and then we can hear the speaker’s song. When we do this, then they feel like they exist and are understood.This is most important when the person doing the talking is underrepresented in society. These are the people whose voices are the faintest. To continue with the analogy of music, their songs are almost inaudible and we need to turn up the volume.

But the underrepresented are not the only ones that should be listened to. Everyone should be listened to. Questions like; “How do you feel about…….?” or “Why did you do what you did…..” are very powerful. They give the person a chance to respond and be heard. We don’t have to agree with them, consensus can almost never be reached, but compromise can be achieved and that is more than enough. For example, I was in favor of the Health Care Bill that President Barack Obama’s administration passed. To me it was a no brainer that we needed a way to stop “pre-existing conditions” from being a part of Health Care conditions. But then I heard a parent of one of my students talk about the issue. He was losing a lot of work because of the new law and his family was being negatively impacted. I listened to him, not so I could formulate a response but to understand his story. He didn’t exactly cause me to change my stance but he did force me to re-examine how I saw things. Now when I meet someone who is anti Obamacare, I don’t automatically get defensive. I just wonder where they are coming from because of my new understanding. I probably won’t ever reach a consensus with them but I can definitely strike a compromise.

The current protests in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., present a wonderful opportunity for those of us in the United States. The people there want to be free from tyranny and we can definitely relate to that. But we haven’t always done that. According to Nicholas Kristoff in this article, American Foreign Policy has always seemed to revolve around our own selfish interests. We’ve made alliances with dictators in exchange for stability in the Middle East. This has caused us to appear to be anti democracy in the region. It was also responsible for the current Administration’s hesitancy to jump into the fray during the protest in Egypt. However, we can learn from this experience by listening to the people. Some of the Egyptian demonstrators kept saying that they wanted “freedom like there was in America”. This is great news for American interests and I think the Egyptians will work with us as long as we allow them to direct their country’s future. People will always tell you what they want and sometimes what they need if you’re listening.

September 13, 2010

Tired of all the hate

One thing that bothers me more than most things is close mindedness. It gets my blood boiling and I find myself taking it almost personally. There is something inherently wrong about it, something unfair and unjust. So let me just say that I have been very angry of late.

This anger stems from the current discourse surrounding muslims in this country. It has been very ridiculous, totally irrational, yet amazingly mainstream.

The idea that muslims living in America do not deserve the same rights afforded other Americans is flat out unAmerican. This is precisely why people come to this country, to have an opportunity to succeed. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…” Does this sound familiar?

I do agree that building a mosque at ground zero would be insensitive. However, most of the people opposing the mosque don’t come up with an alternative solution (The Imam has offered to move it). This is because they don’t care about that. There just appears to be a concerted effort to turn this into a political issue in an election year. Never mind that it is not even a mosque or at ground zero. Or that muslims already go to that spot to pray for the 9/11 victims.

Let’s also remember that some of the people that died on that awful day, were muslims. There was a prayer room on the 17th floor of the South tower. If you’re keeping count at home, terrorism is a disease that afflicts muslims, christians, atheists etc. No one is immune and to find a cure, we must all work together.

Lady Liberty

Image by Don Sullivan via Flickr

August 27, 2010

To Reblog or not to reblog

ALIM2603

Image by Scuola Yoga Camerino

It is 3:39 am so I cannot be held responsible if this comes out incoherent and full of mistakes. I figure I’d start out with that disclaimer so you can’t say that you weren’t warned.

For those of you that use wordpress as your blogging platform, you might have heard of the “new reblog” feature. This feature allows you to repost something that you found on another person’s blog, with your own comments to boot. Personally, I thought this was a great idea and have reblogged a post before. However, not everyone agrees.

I read through her post (and most of the comments) and I decided that I agreed with her. WordPress has not given people the option of “opting out” of these reblog posts leaving them at the mercy of others. I may not mind being reblogged or reblogging others but what about those that do? So I decided to stick to the old school way of just linking posts I liked.

Why am I writing about this now? I’m glad you asked (just play along). I started this blog over two years ago. I cared about my idea then but I wasn’t as focused as I should have been. Recently, I had a renaissance of sorts and attacked this with new enthusiasm.

Part of doing that involves getting the word out and learning from blogs that get a lot of traffic. I have been enjoying reading the “freshly pressed” blogs daily on wordpress. That was where I found this post that I simply had to share. I can relate to it because that is what I am trying to do everyday. I find encouragement in seeing other people trying to do the same.

August 24, 2010

At the mercy of the system

Glenn Beck

This man likes pie (Image via Wikipedia)

This morning, I went to court to take care of some traffic issues. I knew I was guilty and I pled the same, yet when my punishment was handed down, I felt like it was unfair. After all, I hadn’t meant to break the law so that had to be taken into account right? This got me thinking; what exactly do I deserve? And while we are at it, what do you deserve?

Glenn Beck’s answer; “I want all of my pie.” I can understand that philosophy. I mean it is his pie. I am sure though that Mrs. Beck probably taught little Glenn, just like my mother taught me, to share. No word on whether little Glenn yelled “socialist!!!” at her. Anyway, I digress.

I spent the first 15 years of my life in Africa. People there work just as hard for a lot less than we do here. A pie is definitely out of the question there. However, Africa is a world away. Here in the United States, there are lots of people who cannot catch a break. They work hard, they put in their time, what do they deserve?

According to the founding fathers, we all deserve “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Herein lies their genius. They created a system which although flawed, could be corrected from the inside out. It remains our place to keep the system honest, to challenge it and by challenging it to force it to grow. When nothing is done, we run the risk of having the system start to decay and come apart at the seams. Everything else is a privilege that we ought to be grateful for. Things like the running water, electricity, indoor plumbing etc. And when we remember to think this way, it’s easier to help others less fortunate than ourselves.Flash back to this morning. I thought about all the times I had broken other traffic laws and hadn’t gotten caught. I didn’t immediately drive over to the nearest Police station to turn myself in.  I thought about how lucky I was to even have a job and be able to pay for my car. I thought about all the people in the world who would kill to trade places with me. And I reached my hand into my pocket……

August 22, 2010

The “N” Word and Dr. Laura

Earlier this week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced that she will not be renewing her contract. This means that she is effectively ending her radio show. Dr. Laura, as she is more famously known, said that she is ending her show so as to regain her First Amendment rights. This comes on the heels of an incident two weeks ago, where she used the n-word 11 times in a five minute span. A black woman who was involved in an interracial marriage, called her for advice on how to deal with the occasional use of the word by her husband’s relatives. Instead, Dr. Laura went off on her own personal tangent.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not listen to Dr. Laura. Therefore I believe that this disqualifies me from making general statements on whether she is racist or not. What I am going to do is respond to some of the issues she raised.

Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n****r, n****r, n****r. I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.

I agree that this is very confusing. The black community is not united on how to deal with this word. There are people like me who will not use it but I have friends who do use it. A lot of comedians and rappers use it for various reasons. Some feel that by using it, they’re taking what was a negative and turning it into a positive. This is something we’re still wrestling with. Dr. Laura is allowed to comment on this but could have done so without uttering the offending word. It is not her place to figure out how black people should deal with the n-word.

My dear, the point I am trying to make … we’ve got a black man as president and we’ve got more complaining about racism than ever. I think that’s hilarious.

The premise here is very faulty. The issue of racism has nothing to do with a black president and is definitely not hilarious. Dr. Laura here is showing a lack of understanding that considering her job, scares me a little. She should have known better but frankly, she doesn’t. To be fair, this train of thought did not originate from her. I’ve seen it used elsewhere and it was also wrong then.

It really is simple Dr. Laura, black people want respect just like everybody else. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. When you use that word the way you did, you aren’t being respectful.

August 18, 2010

Things on my mind

1. “Combat troops” leave Iraq

Crossing the Iraqi desert


“Operation Iraqi Freedom” is officially over. President Barack Obama stuck to his timetable of August 31 and today, the last 14,000 U.S. combat forces crossed the Iraqi border into Kuwait. This effectively brings the 71/2 year war to an end. There are about 50,000 troops left in Iraq but their job description lists them as “advisors” and trainers for the Iraqi police and military. It is definitely a historic day but with the Iraqi democracy in shambles and sectarian violence always a threat, time will tell what is to come.

2. The flood disaster in Pakistan

An example of the devastation


“The flooding in Pakistan has been of epic proportions: 20 million people affected; more than 1,400 dead; 900,000 homes damaged; 3.5 million children at risk of waterborne diseases. More people have been affected than in the 2004 South Asia tsunami, the 2005 South Asia earthquake, and the Haiti earthquake combined” However, aid has been slow to come in despite the fact that the United Nations is asking donors and countries for half the aid that they asked for in Haiti. Please find an organization and donate to the efforts.

3. My friends helping in Chile

Temporary shelter in Chile


As recently as February, there was a massive earthquake in Chile. The amount of destruction caused by the 8.8 quake was tremendous. Yet, Chileans remain as warm and loving as ever. I have two friends who are currently in Chile doing what they can to help. One of them has agreed to write about her time in Chile. Keep coming back to be a part of the experience.

August 17, 2010

Uganda and the Invisible Children

You may have noticed by the banner to the right of this page that we support Invisible Children Inc. I had assumed that everyone knew exactly who they are but it has dawned on me that this might not be true. Who am I to determine where you’ve been or what you have experienced? So, let’s start from the beginning shall we?

There was a civil war in Northern Uganda from the early 80’s to about 2008. It started as a rebellion against the Ugandan government in 1987, when a rebel group was formed; The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). No one is sure exactly what the LRA’s motives are since they seem to change from month to month. On one hand, they claim that their beef is with the Ugandan government and that they’re seeking to remove dictatorship and end the oppression of the Ugandan people. In reality, most of their atrocities were visited on the Ugandan people. The leader of this group, Joseph Kony is as mystical and mysterious as the group itself. He has been described as everything from demon possessed to Christian to Muslim. One thing he is though is cruel, heartless, evil personified etc.

The LRA has made a habit of using children as soldiers. Their modus operandi is to raid villages, killing adults and kidnapping children to be forced into battle. Along the way, they’ve raped, maimed, pillaged and so on. Their rationale is that children can easily be replaced by more raids on schools, villages etc. This is where the Invisible Children comes in.

In the spring of 2003, three young filmmakers traveled to Africa in search of a story. What started out as a filmmaking adventure transformed into much more when these boys from Southern California discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them, a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims.

After returning to the States, they created the documentary “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” a film that exposes the tragic realities of northern Uganda.s night commuters and child soldiers.

The film was originally shown to friends and family, but has now been seen by millions of people. The overwhelming response has been, “How can I help?” To answer this question, the non-profit Invisible Children, Inc. was created, giving compassionate individuals an effective way to respond to the situation.

Joseph Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda but have moved on to neighboring areas such as Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The movie “Blood Diamond” shows an accurate picture of the kind of horror this group has inflicted and is inflicting. The good news is that the Ugandan Army, the Republic of Congo’s Army and the Sudanese Army are hot on their trail. Meanwhile, in Uganda, the Invisible Children Inc. is part of the healing process. You can find more information on how to help here.

Social Vibe has also made it easy to help. By clicking on the badge to the right of this page, you can do a few quick easy activities to help raise money for the cause.