Archive for ‘World’

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.

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February 14, 2011

The World’s newest Country facing new problems

On January 9, 3.8 million Sudanese turned out to vote on a referendum. The issue at stake was the fate of the people to the South of the country. Much of the nation’s resources, with oil being king, is found in the South. In spite of this, the region has largely remained poor and underdeveloped as the government in the North diverted most of the benefits to their own ends.  In 2003, this friction between the Northern based administration and the Southerners boiled over into war in Darfur. This war has been very controversial with much of the casualty unclear and Human Rights Groups calling it a genocide.  It ended with a cease fire in 2010, about seven years after it had begun.

The aforementioned referendum was to determine whether Southern Sudan should secede from the rest of Sudan. According to the results, 99% of the voters were in favor of the South being its own country. Surprisingly, the Sudanese government accepted the results and Southern Sudan was born. However, the Global Post reports that this new nation is facing some health issues. Hopefully, the United Nations and the rest of the West can come to their aid.

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 18, 2010

Adversity Wrapped in Hope

The past few days, we had some pretty atrocious weather here in Chillán. At night, I would lay in bed bundled up in my sleeping bag and with the wind howling at the window beside me and the rain rattling the roof above me, I found myself thinking about the families, who lost their homes in the earthquake and now live in temporary shelters, referred to by Chileans as “mediaguas.” I thought about my complaints of being cold or inconvenienced during our time here and suddenly it all paled in comparison to the plight of these people.

Angry clouds promising the threat of rain rolled in on Sunday, while I stood over a pot of boiling hot chocolate. After stirring the hot chocolate to perfection, we poured it into thermoses to deliver to families in mediaguas along with the chocolate chip cookies and brownies that we had spent baking and packaging the day before.

Rain tapped on my hood as I stood at the front door of the first home. We knocked on the front door and suddenly every insecurity that I’d been intentionally ignoring rushed to the front of my mind like the cold wind blowing at my back. “What would they think of these gringas showing up at their door? Would they understand my Spanish? Would they be blessed by our gift or would they find it impractical and possibly even insulting- the door opened and we were immediately invited in to take shelter from the weather.

I stepped into their home and all my fears melted away with the warmth of their greeting. Like typical Chileans, they proceeded to offer us food and drink. I couldn’t help laughing at the irony. The plan was to bless them, not the other way around. Overall, everyone seemed to be receptive. Most families were pretty open about their circumstances. One family in particular, a single mom with her aging mother and ten year old daughter, touched our hearts though.

With every family, the children were always eager to immediately try a chocolate chip cookie or brownie, but despite repeated encouragement, this little girl continued to decline. I could see it in her eyes. She didn’t want some sweet that would soon leave her yet again in want. She wanted something more.

As her mom was sharing about the hardships of caring for her family, while having no job for the past few months, the little girl began to cry. Feeling the weight of the burden this family was carrying, tears streamed down my cheeks. Trying hard to keep from sobbing, I wondered, “What am I doing here? Who am I kidding? We can’t fix these people’s problems.”

One of our friends, who came with us, circled everyone around the three of them and began to pray. I’ve been wrestling with God a lot these days and lately I’ve been finding prayer with other people to be a bit strange and often uncomfortable, but in this moment it couldn’t have felt more right. When our friend finished praying, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Though the burden was still there, it now felt lighter and a sense of peace was greater.

At that moment, I realized what this little girl wanted and every one of these families we visited are in need of is hope. I wish I could rescue them from their problems, but I can’t even rescue myself from my own. I think I know someone else, who can though. Someone, who often for reasons I never seem to understand, doesn’t always rescue us from our troubles. Yet I can’t deny the grace I’ve always seen given in the midst of those troubles or the times that I or others have clearly been rescued from unwanted circumstances. Some days it’s harder than others to believe that Jesus Christ is our only hope, but I guess it wouldn’t be faith if it was easy.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” Hebrews 10:23 (Holy Bible, English Standard Version).

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.

August 13, 2010

Rio 2010 Homeless World Cup

Jacked from Homeless World Cup site

I love soccer. It is one of my favorite things to watch and I thoroughly enjoy watching the World Cup. The idea that every four years, people around the world get together, plop down in front of a television set and watch the same spectacle always amazes me. There is truly nothing like the World Cup. Battles have actually come to a stand still as warring factions agree to take a break to go watch a match or two. That’s how powerful soccer can be and that power is now being turned towards fighting homelessness?

Yes, you read that right. Doing some reading, I stumbled upon this article on former College soccer star Lisa Wrightsman, who is now homeless. She had succumbed to addiction and ended up finding herself in a very bad place. She checked into a shelter to find a job and get her life back together but was also recruited to play for the soccer team there.

While I was excited to read about the positive changes she was making, what caught my attention was the tournament she was playing in; The Street Soccer USA Cup.

This was not the style of free-form street soccer played in many places around the world. Instead, it was an Americanized version, a fast-paced four-on-four game with referees ensuring adherence to rules and walls confining play on a 52-by-72-foot field, the goals being 12 feet wide and 4 feet high.

Apparently, “About 200 players came from teen shelters, refugee resource centers and recovery houses from across the country, as well as one team from St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russian team won the title, beating a team from San Francisco in the final, 6-1.” I also couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw there was indeed a World Cup which would be going down in September in Rio. 64 nations will be participating and I for one will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings. More to come but for now I’ll leave you with this….

August 12, 2010

La belleza de la humanidad

It’s been a week since we arrived here in Chile and I still can’t seem to believe that I’m actually here.  Memories flood my mind with every familiar sight, smell, and sound.  Friendly faces greet me with warm hugs and kisses asking, “Te acuerdas de mí?  Me acuerdo de ti!”  (Do you remember me?  I remember you!)  To be honest, there are some individuals that I don’t remember, but I have never forgotten the Chilean people as a whole.

Anyone, who knows me today, knows that I have a border-line obnoxious love for Latinos.  However, this wasn’t always the case.  In fact, the first time I came to Chile, I didn’t really want to be here – for many reasons that would take far too much time and detail to explain, but my heart just wasn’t here.  I didn’t completely hate my experience, but I clearly remember counting down the days until we finally got to leave.

Sitting in the Santiago airport waiting to board our flight back to the US, I remember staring out at the massive Andes before me wondering whether I had squandered my time.  In that moment, as clear as the marvelous view before me, I heard God say, “Yes, this is a sight to remember, but you will soon behold it again.”

Ever since my feet left the land of Chile in 2005, my growing passion for the country has confirmed the common saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Never in a million years, would I have wished the devastation of the February earthquake on my dear brothers and sisters, but in a way, I’m thankful that it motivated me to return.  My love for Chileans is so strong that I can’t help, but let it overflow.

When I was asked to contribute to the roundtable during my time here, I wondered, “What could I possibly have to contribute?  I’m just a crazy white girl with an unexplainable infatuation with Latinos.”  However, in the presence of my Chilean friends these last few days, I’ve been humbled by both their strength and contentment despite the many adversities of this year.  In only a few days, I’ve already been challenged to consider what really matters in life.

I am reminded of a quote from Mark Twain, which is my mission statement for traveling. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  For those of you, who may never make it to this beautiful country and those, who still may, it is with this new perspective during this experience that I intend to share my thoughts with you – thoughts not merely about Chileans, but about the beauty of humanity.

August 6, 2010

The Vision redux

It has been over two years now since this blog was started based on an idea. My plan was to have the blog and my idea evolve over time. What has happened though is that I have evolved and the idea hasn’t grown much. This was made clear to me last weekend. I was talking to a friend of mine about her passion and she was struggling to put it into words. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what it was, she absolutely knew and understood. It was just that important to her that she wanted to do it justice in explaining it. Like all intelligent people, she turned around and asked me about my passion and it was time for me to struggle. The issue wasn’t only that I struggled to articulate my thoughts. I just realized that I was still trying to tell it from a two year old perspective.

As previously mentioned, I have evolved since then. I spent a lot of the time getting my feet under me. I couldn’t handle carrying this along as well. I started to wonder if this wasn’t just a naive, fantastic dream. Then recently, I had a renaissance of sorts. I was discussing things with another friend and I realized that the fire still burned inside me. I had gotten involved in various other things that ended up turning out successful. As a result, I was re-energized and believing again.

I am still trying to gather a group of dedicated, intelligent people who will come alongside me. This is important to me because my perspective isn’t broad enough. I have issues that I feel strongly about and other equally important ones that I don’t. By having them with me, I always seem to catch their passion like a fever. Also, more of us can do more together than we can do by ourselves. So two years later, the idea remains, find people who feel strongly about things and are willing to do something about it. Then partner with them and see where it leads.

July 27, 2010

Handcuffed by skepticism

Skepticism is a dreamer’s worst enemy. It lies awake with you at night, reminding you that you’re just one man. It tells you to “be real, get real, you can’t possibly acheive that. Resize your dreams to fit in this smaller box. You can’t possibly be expected to change the world and who are you to think that you can?”

That’s a great question actually. Who am I to tell people to do things differently than they have? What are my qualifications? Am I some expert whose life is all together and complete, lacking nothing? If some dude like me walked into your living room and asked you to stand for some cause, why should you listen?

You should listen because that’s the point of life. I believe that our purpose on this globe is to leave it better than we found it and not worse. I firmly believe that world hunger is curable and that poverty can take huge casualties with the right people in place. I strongly believe that is what God wants from us. I don’t forsee this world ever being devoid of problems, it’s not heaven. However, we can keep moving forward and not backwards.

That has always been the point of this blog and two years later, I’m still here. Still recruiting, still gently reminding myself and others to be the best they can be. We’ve lost sight of all the good around us. Skepticism continues to rear its ugly head as we believe that everyone has an angle and is out to get us. Nothing can be further from the truth. Good isn’t losing the battle to evil. Take a second look and join in the fight. We shall overcome.