stay here, please (a repost)

Director’s note:   We chose to repost this blog from our Program Intern, GARMIN, following the news of actor Robin Williams’ death. Today was supposed to be the beginning of a new series on our blog called #TakeActionTuesdays.  There are many important things that you can do with your life, but helping someone else believe in their significance, their value…  supporting someone in need of finding reasons to LIVE… that is truly invaluable. Too many people we know suffer from depression. If you, or someone you care about, are feeling empty or hopeless, please reach out. No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. In the U.S., call 1-800-TALK (8255) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org . Internationally, go to www.iasp.info and click on HELP. You matter, you really do. We are so glad you’re here. Check this out http://stayherewithme.com/  and…thank you for living! A dear friend of ours  posted this quote today: “ I pledge to love all living things, just love them, help care for them have compassion for them. As long as anything living thing draws breath may I remain to ease their suffering.”  Peace.

YouTube Preview Image

About a year and a half ago I heard a poet say “if you’re not writing the things you need to write then it’s a waste.” Those words clung to my soul and I have consciously tried to live them each day since and yet last week when I sat down to write this post, the words stopped at my finger tips and refused to come out. I know why. I know why, I have fought myself on this many times– putting thoughts or feelings to paper makes them real, it gives them life, it creates proof either for or against you and the part I often forget- it liberates you.

Like Ash Beckham {in the TedX talk above}, I have lots of closets. There have been plenty I have come out of and I could tell you about any number of them- the big ones and the small ones; the queer one, the dyslexic one, the artist one, the chronic disease one, the autistic brother one, and so on and so forth. And yet, there is one closet that I have stepped out of only partially. I say partially because my immediate family and friends know and yet, it’s not a thing I talk about, mention, bring up, or advocate for blatantly. It’s a thing that still sits behind a clear sliding glass door.

Two weeks ago I celebrated my one year anniversary of living. I know what you’re probably thinking: “GARMIN, aren’t you twenty-one, how can you be living for only one year?” Just hang tight. Not long before the time of Halloween and Hurricane Sandy last year I found myself standing about ready to jump out of my fourth floor bedroom window out on to the busy East 29th Street in New York City. Fear, undealt with events, trauma, flashbacks, and masked depression had brought me there. As I stepped one foot up to the ledge, my phone rang. It was my friend. She said “Hey there buddy, what’s up?” Frantically not knowing what to do I said, “I’m standing on the ledge of my bedroom about ready to jump out. I’m done.” Slowly, calmly and gracefully she talked me down from the ledge, and back into my bed and then put me on hold while she called our mutual friend who could help me. The next day I managed to get myself out of bed and went to a support meeting. A week later I found myself home at the kitchen table sobbing and recounting what had happened to my parents who had no idea. And there it was: suicide. Attempted suicide. One more breath and I could have been dead.

Just like that I had another closet- a closet of a past suicide attempt. When people asked why I was late to studio or why I randomly went home on the weekends, I would make up something instead of saying “oh, I had to see my therapist or I was having a hard time getting out of bed because I was sad.” And then not long before my one year anniversary of living I decided I was done- this time done in a different way. I was done hiding. Hiding that I had once attempted suicide or that I am on anti-depressants or that I still go to therapy to help undo all that crap that led me to that ledge. I decided that the next time mental illness, depression, suicide, or any related topics came up I was going to say something. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long. In one of my classes this fall, upon talking about bullying and suicide in the art classroom, a girl said “well, it’s the person’s fault if they get to that point of committing suicide.” I interrupted her and I said, “IT WILL NEVER BE MY FAULT THAT I WAS STANDING ON THAT LEDGE.” I continued on to support my statement and the room fell silent. There I was. Stepping out of my closet and choosing to ‘throw my grenade’, as Ash describes it.

I wish I could tell you that I was met with “Can I have a pancake?” like Ash. Alas, unfortunately it’s not always like that.  And that’s ok. The point is the fact that you have the guts, grit, bravery, and courage to throw your grenade, to put it out into the universe, to go liberate your heart, and to live into your authenticity. It’s not easy. In fact anyone who tells you that coming out of any closet is easy is lying. There is a reason we have stayed in our closets for far too long- it’s a scary world out there. It took me three months to tell my best friend I am queer and nearly a year to tell my parents, and these are people who I knew without a doubt in my mind would continue to support and love me.

While I personally love, love, love this video for all its content and ideas, I think she glosses over the moment in which you do actually step out of the closet. It’s liberating. Seriously, liberating. The only way I can describe that feeling is like flying through the Mexican jungle on a zip line with your arms wide open, smiling, and giggling, combined with the anticipation of Christmas and your birthday, winning a million dollars, and crossing the finish line of a marathon.  Seriously. Open your arms, take that step, PowerGirl, and hurl that grenade as hard as you possibly can. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Another Note from the Director of thinkpeace workshop:  I first met GARMIN not too long after the event she describes. We were participants at a workshop on white privilege, power, and social change. I was captivated by how honest and open, curious and supportive, focused and determined she was, with her self and with others. We spent 2 1/2 days together, learning and discussing and holding each other accountable. On the last day of the workshop we all faced each other and told each other what we appreciated about the person across from us. When I got to GARMIN it was just so easy: I appreciated her integrity and grit that was so beautifully blended with a giant, warm, sensitive heart. It was clear that she  was going to reach out, help others, share of herself, and live authentically. When she asked if she could intern with thinkpeace, I was delighted to look into her friendly, mischievous and highly alert eyes and say, YES. I am so glad that she is here, alive and ready to live a great big life as a thinkpeace powerGirl!

Wonder Woman Wednesday: Shannon Galpin

Director’s note:  This is the first post in a new thinkpeace series about girls and women doing some pretty amazing things with their lives. At thinkpeace workshop summer camp 2014, thinkpeace girls met with women from a variety of organizations. They talked about how their journey, from childhood dreams to what they studied in college combined with personal life experiences, has led to the work they are doing now and the visions they have for the future. We were inspired and motivated by these women– and others we’ve connected with– and would like to share some of these stories with you. Most of these posts will be written by thinkpeace girls who were literally energized by these Wonder Women!

Mountain Mover, Shannon Galpin                                                                                                                                by Reese Arthur

Shannon Galpin is one of the bravest women I have ever met. Not because she took her life savings, sold her home, quit her job and invested every bit of herself into giving a voice to girls and women halfway around the world… not because she got on her mountain bike and pedaled across a country where women were not allowed to ride bikes… not because she refused to be a victim to gender violence… to me Shannon Galpin is brave because every day she gets up determined to try harder, give more, and push through the obstacles. She works endlessly to help Afghan women and girls get an education and have opportunities for a better life.  Shannon gives of herself every moment in every way.

I could tell you Shannon’s story, but I encourage you to buy her book next month [you can pre-order it now AND contribute to the thinkpeace scholarship fund at http://smile.amazon.com/Mountain-Journey-Adventure-Activism-Afghanistan] and read her personal story. What I want to tell you about is how she inspires me. Before attending thinkpeace camp in 2010, we were asked to bring with us some information about a cause or issue that was important to us. I have always been interested in women’s rights and had seen Shannon interviewed on Dateline.

 http://www.nbcnews.com/video/dateline/30793743#30793743

I was 11 years old and I thought Shannon was really cool! In 3rd grade I did a biography report on Gloria Steinem and became aware of problems facing women and believed that there was still injustice towards girls, despite Ms. Steinem’s work.  When I learned about Shannon’s work, I felt I’d found another Gloria. She was passionate about changing the world too, in a pretty dangerous place. When Shannon responded to reporter Ann Curry’s question of why she was doing what she was doing with, “If not me, who?” I thought, I can do that too! So I emailed her and she got back to me right away saying that yes, I COULD do something to make a difference! I could organize a community bike ride with my friends to raise awareness about girls’ rights in Afghanistan. In upstate New York this was quite a challenge! That first year of what we called the Panjshir Tour, I was lucky to get my neighborhood friends to ride with me in solidarity.

YouTube Preview Image

Over the next few years our ride has grown to include rides in California and India! Whenever I get a chance to talk about basic human freedoms such as riding a bike and going to school, I talk about Shannon and her work at Mountain2Mountain. I currently serve as the youth advisor for Mountain2Mountain and am eager to participate in this year’s Global Solidarity Ride with Shannon and other cyclists around the world. Shannon believes in the encouraging people to use their bikes “as a vehicle for social change and justice to support a country where women don’t have the right to ride a bike.” It’s cool that we have so many boys participating now in our local rides, joining us in our determination to ensure girls rights to an education around the world. The Global Solidarity Ride is scheduled for August 30th and if you want to organize  a ride in your community, let me know!  Just as Shannon has supported me, I’ll support you!

Shannon’s dedication has made such a difference. In just a few years Afghanistan has gone from being a country with no females on bicycles to a country with a National Women’s Cycling Team! It’s so exciting! Check out their beginnings at http://www.afghancycles.com/. Things are looking up for women and girls in Afghanistan, but it’s always a precarious situation. The Taliban is still present and the women who ride are always at risk of being attacked or shut down. Now, more than ever, we need to stand with them in solidarity– to RIDE with them in solidarity– and send a message to the world that girls and women matter. Five years ago I met a real life hero, a wonder woman, who made me more aware, who made me feel  more deeply, who made me believe that every drop in the bucket counts– who told an 11 year old American girl that she could make a difference for a girl on the other side of the world. Now I’m asking you to join us– together we can pedal a revolution!

 

on forgiveness

http://filmraise.com/beyond-right-and-wrong

Sometimes the difference between right and wrong seems so clear. Passionate beliefs often cause us to not be able to see the gray area between black and white.  And even if we could see it, believing in something means taking a side, right? Taking a side sometimes requires us to take extreme steps to protect our values.  The problem is that between my right and your right, wrong happens– wrong that neither of us wanted. There are victims and irreversible damage.  In our determination to be right we hurt others.  We convince ourselves that there is no one person we’re hurting– that we are going after fixing the wrong, no matter what the cost.  The cost has no face.  So what if someday we encounter the person who we hurt, or their loved ones and we listen to their story and they ask us to tell ours. Is it possible for there to reach an understanding or for there to be forgiveness? Is it possible that once we forgive, we can heal in ways that create real peace?  Imagine.

Recently we watched the incredibly moving documentary, “Beyond Right and Wrong”, which explores what happens to the victims from three different conflicts from recent history. For years, killing and hurting each other has been the way to take a stand for what we believe in.  At what point can we instead come together in a room and see each other as human beings? Jo’s father was killed by Pat in Northern Ireland.  Beata’s five children were killed by Emmanuel in Rwanda.  Bassam and Rami, a Palestinian and an Israeli, learned to see each other as human after losing their daughters.  As adult men, neither had actually had a conversation with someone from “the other side” before.  Their common grief brought them together. As they all heard each other’s story, they realized something pretty profound.

“Beyond Right and Wrong” shows what happens after the conflict, after the violence, when survivors and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives. Is it possible to balance a need for justice with the desire to forgive?  Survivors of conflicts often see themselves as prisoners.  Elie Wiesel wrote in his memoir about the atrocities he faced in concentration camps during World War II, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”  He stated that while he was able to survive the concentration camps he was held prisoner in, he simply could not see himself as truly alive. The experiences he faced, the horrors he witnessed, and the terrors he lived killed him on the inside. Even though he survived physically, he no longer recognized himself. Still, Elie Wiesel has dedicated his life to speaking up for victims of genocide and oppression with a steadfast faith in humanity.  The only way for him to do this has been for him to forgive, yet never forget. So we ask… what does it take to be able to forgive?

Can whole societies recover from devastating conflict? Can survivors actually live with, talk to, smile and laugh with someone who hurt them, raped them, killed their parents, or slaughtered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? The Director of “Beyond Right and Wrong” didn’t really know what to expect when she started this film. Lekha Singh wrote, “When I visited Rwanda several years ago, I did not expect to find more healing than horror. I witnessed the resilience of people living in unimaginable circumstances: How was a mother whose children were killed able to sit with the man who murdered them – even able to converse with and smile at him? As I saw more interactions between victims and the ones who wronged them, such questions became more pressing. How could any person in that situation forgive the person responsible? Seeing the entire society move towards forgiveness was even more staggering.”

She was deeply affected. “I had so many questions about these efforts to cope with trauma. Why do some victims take the path of revenge, while others work towards forgiveness? Can forgiveness get in the way of justice? Is forgiveness a requirement for healing or moving on?”  She was compelled to explore these questions through the stories of survivors in Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, and Northern Ireland. The survivors share their personal stories that show that there are alternatives to blaming.  As the survivors and the perpetrators share their stories in person, a face is put on the conflict.  Faces change everything.  Each person’s story matters and gives us hope that there is another solution to conflict other than violence and hatred. This is the beginning of the transformative role of forgiveness and, ultimately, peace.

Yes, imagine.

 

one million bones-one year later

Today marks the one year anniversary of an experience many of our thinkpeace girls will never forget: the laying of one million bones on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  The One Million Bones project was a large-scale social arts practice to raise awareness of ongoing genocides and mass atrocities in places like Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Burma. The installation was a collaborative work to honor victims and survivors, and serve as a visual petition against ongoing conflicts and a resounding call for much needed and long overdue action.

For nearly two years thinkpeace girls handcrafted bones at our camp, at club meetings, at community events, and at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. We held state installations in Sacramento, California and Albany, New York.  All together we contributed over 5000 bones for the installation. The One Million Bones project is truly one of the most moving and significant experiences thinkpeace girls have participated in. One year later, they are still talking about it– not only the experience but also about ongoing genocides and the work that remains for us all to do.

One of the most important aspects of this project was about raising awareness– talking about genocide to as many people as we possibly could reach.  We were surprised by how many people we met who only had a vague idea of what genocide is, and how many more had no idea that it’s happening today.  After World War II we took a global oath: “NEVER AGAIN.”  It was amazing to us that so many people believed that was the last genocide.  And so we talked and talked, and created bones together, and talked some more.  The One Million Bones project taught us that “while we must remember and honor those lost to unimaginable horrors throughout history, we must focus on the current crimes against humanity that require immediate attention and action.”

This week, as we remember our experience with this incredible project, we will be reflecting on what we learned and felt and will share those thoughts with you on our Facebook page and on twitter. These will be thoughts from the thinkpeace girls who took part in this effort and who remain committed to raising awareness and being a part of the solution.  After nearly a year of making bones, thinkpeace girl Jenna, from New York, was with us in DC (along with her mom). She was deeply effected by the sheer volume of the bones. “Participating in the One Million Bones project was a huge eye opener for me and my mom.  I knew that genocide was still around, but crafting the bones and laying them on the National Mall gave me goose bumps… seeing what people go through every day…”  Like her thinkpeace sisters, Jenna continues to talk with others in her community about ongoing genocides and urges her peers to take action.  We encourage you to watch this short film from One Million Bones and to learn more about what continues to be a global human rights issue. Together we really can make a difference– and must.

give me the facts sista’: water

Director’s note: Second in her series about the issues facing girls (and the world) today, GARMIN talks water. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation  kill more people each year than all forms of violence combined, including war. thinkpeace workshop has just contributed 10,000 paper beads made for the Students Rebuild water challenge, in partnership with charity:water. That translates into a contribution from the Bezos Family Foundation of water for 500 people in Tanzania.  Water truly effects everything– education, health, poverty and opportunity. Imagine.

 

charity: water

When my doctor tells me I need to drink more water in order to get healthier faster, I groan. Hearing that I need to drink more water is last on my list of priorities, however for many girls, women, and children in developing countries water is the first on their list. Access to clean and drinkable water is one of top global health crises today, in fact so much that it effects 1 billion people. Yes, you read that right. 1 billion people. The facts are clear.

Check out this video by one of the organizations helping to bring clean drinking water to those without it, charity:water

YouTube Preview Image

I’ve watched this video a number of times and what gets me every time is the fact that water affects every aspect of life. In most cases girls and women are the ones who are collecting the water for their families. Having to collect water puts their education on the back burner and often times forces them to drop out of school. Last week we talked about the importance of education and how it changes the quality of life for girls and women. That change can’t happen if girls are focused on obtaining water. When the strain of collecting water is diminished, two HUGE things happen for those communities: food supply increases and gender equality is now an option. Fresh water is needed to grow crops and for many families having enough water to grow their own small garden increases their food supply. Secondly, when girls are no longer burdened with collecting water they can either go to school or have the option of pursuing work. Either of those two options helps their own families and then their communities. Engaging women in work increases the GDP of a country and helps an area become more economically stable. While obtaining the funds to build systems to provide clean drinking water is not cheap there is a solution.

Later this summer at camp we will talk about ways to engage you in being part of the solution!

46 days until camp!!!

give me the facts sista’: education

At thinkpeace workshop we believe it is our duty as global citizens to be informed and educated on the challenges facing girls around the world. The next couple of weeks here on the blog will focus on some hard core facts of some of these challenging global problems with the intention of encouraging you to develop a critical lens aimed toward finding a solution. Naturally, these posts will not be fully comprehensive because many of these issues are large, complicated, and without simple straight forward solutions. Understanding the basic core of each challenge is the first step in finding a solution. 

This week we will take up the intersection of gender and education.

In this past Sunday’s New York Times, journalist Nick Kristof takes up this issue, “Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.” I think he’s spot on with this.  It’s why Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Afghan Taliban, it’s why Boko Haram took nearly 300 girls from school, and it’s one of the core contributors towards girl-specific violence. Quite simply the equation is this: girls + education = change

If you haven’t yet seen the video The Girl Effect, it’s time.

YouTube Preview Image

So why would extremist groups and people in general be threatened by educated girls? Some facts followed by an explanation:

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.

Fewer children means less people in the workforce which means less hands to be able to work the fields and help around the home. It means that girls gain control of their reproduction which gives them more power to create change. 

  • An extra year of primary school education boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10-20%.  An extra year of secondary school adds 15-25%.

More money for women means that the global poverty rate will go down. A woman will work to address problems in her community, and her children will be given a greater chance of survival. 

  • Women in 32 countries who remained in school after primary school were five times more likely to know basic facts about HIV than illiterate women.

Education decreases a girl’s or woman’s risk for contracting HIV or transmitting HIV to her baby. Knowing how to prevent contraction or transmission means that the global HIV/AIDS rate will go down. 

While we know educated girls are the key to global change, the rate in which girls are attending school has not caught up. Day of the Girl and Girl Rising, both organizations devoted to raising awareness on girls issues gives us the facts:

66 million girls are out of school globally.

 Only 30% of all girls worldwide are enrolled in secondary school. 

The average sub-Saharan African girl from a low income, rural household gets less than two years of school and never learns to read and write, to add and subtract, as opposed to the average sub- Saharan African boy who fully completes primary education.  

There are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school. 

If India enrolled 1 % more girls in secondary school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. 

So if all of these facts are true, why don’t we just cut to the chase and enroll girls in school? You see, it’s not that easy. School in other countries is not always free, it isn’t always available, and families don’t always want educated girls for a variety of reasons. Educated girls will create change, plain and simple. Change is not always easy.

Knowing the facts is the first step in creating change. Girls + education = change. How are you going to change the course of this global challenge?

Send me your thoughts, questions, concerns. garmin@thinkpeaceworkshop.org

what you resist persists

Director’s note:  At thinkpeace workshop we encourage girls to embrace their truths: those qualities about themselves that are fundamental to feeling good about themselves. Sometimes it’s easy to let other voices get inside and create self-doubt. Holding onto our truths is important to standing in our own strength in the face of pushbacks from others. Lately, intern GARMIN has realized the power of knowing and owning her truths. It’s an ongoing process for each of us. 

“What you resist persists” by GARMIN

During my last yoga teacher training weekend we had a grueling 2-hour hip-opening practice. Our teacher kept saying, “What you resist persists” meaning that whatever we kept holding back from would continue to be there.

In her acceptance speech for the John Steinbeck Award, MSNBC host, activist, PowerGirl, (and my big girl crush) Rachel Maddow, said this about being out as queer,

As a general rule, if you can be out, you really ought to be out because, A) you will be happier, being closeted is a sad thing to be. It also makes you vulnerable. When you are closeted people can always have something to use against you and so you are never actually operating from a position of strength even if you feel like coming out is something that would make you vulnerable in the world, being closeted is a much more vulnerable thing to be. You can never speak from a position of strength unless you are speaking from a position of honesty.

While this is the speech that pushed me over that metaphorical edge to come out to my parents, Maddow’s last line, “You can never speak from position of strength unless you are speaking from a position of honesty” is the line that popped up again for me last week.  These past two weeks have been hard for me. I installed my thesis and then it has been one event after the next: openings, meet the artist, showcases, and more events– literally non-stop. While there have been happy, exciting, and liberating moments, there have been just as many frustrating and annoying times. Our class of 11 is disconnected, and consumed with what we call in yoga teacher training, “a concern for looking good,” which basically means they will do whatever they can to make themselves look good and everyone else look bad by playing the “ame” game- shame, blame, and complain.  I decided that it wasn’t worth my energy to continue to be around people that brought me down. You see, I value myself, my power, and my strength and when I was putting myself in a position of powerlessness by being around people who didn’t value me I was taking myself out of my life. I wasn’t speaking from my position of strength because I wasn’t in my full honesty and truth of myself.

In typical GARMIN fashion, I walked right up to my thesis teacher and said, “I’m not coming to the group meeting of the class anymore because it’s bad for my mojo. I value myself, my strength, and my power.” She said, “OK. Have a great day!”

And just like that I was standing back in my full power.

However, just like the hip-opening practice “what you resist persists”– I had been resisting initiating this conversation with my thesis teacher. I had been frustrated for some time and it had to get to a point of me realizing its persistence to do something about it. When I surrendered to what was put on offer (the hip opening practice), initiating the conversation, it wasn’t so hard. Holding back was actually harder.

I think we as young women hold ourselves back ALL the time. From my experience, we hold back for a variety of reasons: we play small so others can play big, we don’t think we are worthy, we are operating out of fear, etc. In this past week’s U.S. version of TIME magazine, the cover highlighted Beyoncé, pop mogul, mom and PowerGirl. In the closing paragraph, writer and Facebook VP Sheryl Sandberg wrote,

In the past year, Beyoncé has sold out the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour while being a full-time mother. Her secret: hard work, honesty and authenticity. And her answer to the question, What would you do if you weren’t afraid? appears to be “Watch me. I’m about to do it.” Then she adds, “You can, too.”

Step into your greatness PowerGirl!

what do we mean: ‘never again’?

It has been 20 years since the 1994 Rwanda genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a 100-day rampage.   Following our work with One Million Bones, Students Rebuild, and CARE over the past two years, on raising awareness about ongoing genocides, the thinkpeace community is deep in thought and conversation about what happened in Rwanda, is still happening in Sudan, Somalia, Burma, Syria and the DRC, and what lessons have really been learned that can help prevent future atrocities. Since World War II, the international community has said “never again,” a yet our failure to act has continued to cost lives.

YouTube Preview Image
Memorials across Rwanda are constant reminders of the brutality that destroyed the nation. In the United States there seems to be little coverage regarding this anniversary– and even less discussion. Last night, on Facebook, I saw that a friend had changed his profile picture to the Rwandan flag, in honor of the victims and  survivors of the genocide. He has spent time there for his work, and loves the people and the land. No one knew what his picture was for– what it meant to him, personally, to celebrate a rebuilding Rwanda. And yet, to the children born during or after this time in Rwandan history, awareness about genocide is vital. “Never again” must stand for something. We must know what happened and why… and see that it’s not over and we must not stand by again.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged the international community to learn from its failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and to take stronger action to confront current crises, like the conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic. “The international community,” he said, “cannot claim to care about atrocity crimes and then shrink from the commitment of resources and will required to actually prevent them.” The UN was not effective in preventing the Rwanda genocide, much less in stopping it.  The international community’s silence was wrong. Much more could and should have been done–  instead, peacekeeping troops were withdrawn when they were most needed.  “The world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, its moral blind spots,” he said, citing the atrocities that occurred in Srebrenica in 1995, and the current conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic. ”There is a truth to the human condition that is as alarming today as it was 20 years ago; the fragility of our civility. The bonds that hold us together can swiftly disappear.”

So here’s the question: when we say “never again” what do we really mean? What can we do to end genocide? How can we strengthen the “bonds that hold us together” in a world that seems full of anger, righteousness and extremism? What role can you play? When you see or hear about any human being (actually, any living creature) in need or distress, SPEAK UP!  Celebrate diversity in your every day life. Failure to act is not acceptable. When we say “never again” it means that each and every one of us takes a stand. As we laid bones on the National Mall last summer as a visual petition against genocide, we felt it– the connection to others who had been brutally killed because they were different. We asked ourselves: underneath it all, aren’t we the same? Looking out at the Mall covered in one million symbolic bones, we cried for the blood spilled, the lives lost, and the damage done to future generations. There is another way. And together we must find it. Never again, means that we must be accountable to each other and to promoting peace, love and understanding.

“We really do belong to each other.” -Naomi Natale

 

shake, rattle and roll into Spring by GARMIN

I am constantly surprised how a small thing, comment, or act can change something or someone for the better.

On Wednesdays, there is a ceramics class in the studio during the time that I have my thesis class. In the class is a boy who is, from what I understand, high-functioning autistic. He reminds me a lot of my brother- he paces, flaps his hands, talks to himself, yet unlike my brother, he is an incredibly fine artist. He rarely speaks in general, and when he does it is absolutely mind blowing. In the throes of my thesis he came up to me while I was throwing my cups and stood next to me and waited until I took out my noise-canceling headphones. He simply said two words, “wheel sculpture” and walked away. My mind was absolutely blown– you see, as an artist who has struggled to find the middle ground between my sculptural work and my wheel thrown functional work, it hadn’t occurred to me that wheel throwing could in fact be sculpture. The boy, as I later came to find out, didn’t see things in terms of functionality, he saw them in terms of their physical shape; as they were.

Dasani, 12

Likewise, this past December a HUGE New York Times multi-part article came out exposing (and that’s putting it lightly) the decrepit New York City homeless shelter system for families. It featured a little girl, Dasani- a girl just trying to put one foot in front of another and trying her hardest to keep her family together and functioning. I can count on one hand the number of times the quality and content of news reporting has brought me to tears and this is certainly one of them. Andrea Elliot, the NYT writer, was troubled by the lack of regular reporting emerging about this topic and the fact that thousands of New Yorkers live in squalor and with such regular anguish of cockroaches, the threat of sexual assault, and overall insecurity. (If you haven’t read the article it is seriously worth the read. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1)

In a few short months, thinkpeace will take to New York City for our annual summer camp. While we are busy getting ready for our girls to become change-makers-in-residence, the city is making its own change! I love NYC politics and culture, and I could talk about them all day. As we prepare to take to the streets of the Big Apple I think it’s important to continue to stay informed about the issues that are affecting the area in which we will be doing our work. For twelve years, former Mayor Bloomberg’s office policies about homelessness and shelters flip-flopped, going from at one point giving families priority in receiving long-term housing, to being replaced with short-term subsidy-based housing meaning that the homeless rate bounced back up to 52,000– the highest in city history. While Bloomberg excelled in many other areas in running the city, this proved not to be one of them. On January 1st, 2014 when new Mayor Bill DeBlasio stepped up to the podium to take his oath of office, next to him stood little Dasani from the NYT article. DeBlasio, much of whose election was won on Bloomberg’s short-comings, advocated for reversing the previous administration’s policy and vowed to lower the city’s homeless rate. In a follow up article on Truth-out.org (http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22758-how-a-twelve-year-old-homeless-girl-helped-more-than-400-children-find-safer-shelter), it was announced that the homeless shelter that Dasani lived in would soon no longer function as a homeless shelter for families due to its unsafe physical structure. Come June, all families will be moved into safer, healthier, and overall better facilities and it’s all because of one little girl. A girl who believed in better.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Desmond Tutu

While credit should be given to Dasani for the change in the shelter situation, we cannot fail to recognize Elliot who equally believed that Dasani’s story should be told. She realized that in knowing the truth of the situation, the story must be told– for if she didn’t she would continue to be a part of the problem; knowing it and not advocating for change and therefore continuing the circle of oppression. When we choose to not take action when we see injustice we may as well sign up to be the oppressor- the one creating the wrong. It is people like both Elliot and Dasani who create change, they are at their core change-makers.

Whether you know it or not yet, PowerGirl, you are a changemaker as well. Changemakers live well in their places, expose the truth of situations, and then take action. They are action-takers, evolution-starters, protest-initiators, flash-dance-mob-organizers, conversation-starters, and active listeners. And so I urge you to start this new spring season with a sense of urgency, a sense of taking notes and observing the places you will change. Where will you step into your Dasani-ness and shake and rattle things up?

meet a wannabe thinkpeace girl

I have a dream… that someday any girl who longs to connect with the global girl community and learn what she can do to help heal the world will be able to come to thinkpeace workshop summer camp.  This year, in particular, I have been touched by the stories of two girls who have reached out to share a little of  why they want to be thinkpeace girls. One is a brave and bright girl from Afghanistan whose family left behind the difficulties in their home country to start a new life in Michigan and the other, who is a compassionate and concerned 15 year old from Indonesia. In forty-five days we will see if the efforts of our US thinkpeace girls to raise funds will cover the trip for one of these girls… It’s not easy to be a grassroots organization full of teen girls with hearts of gold  but limited resources. Still, we will try. Because Grisella and Hadia need to be heard.  They have voices that can tell stories of things other girls can’t imagine.  Voices that can open minds and hearts to new perspectives and possibilities. We’ll be talking about our fundraising campaign on facebook, twitter, instagram and here… hoping that not only my dream can come true, but perhaps theirs as well.  Imagine!
Today I’d like you to meet Grisella. Grisella contacted thinkpeace via twitter after seeing a tweet about our summer camp in NYC.
Dear Kelly,
Sorry to bother you
My name is Grisella and i am from Indonesia
I want to ask some things about the summer camp
Is the Summer camp held yearly ? i wish it is because i can not join the camp this year because of the flight fare is too expensive and i have not saved my money for it and oh how much is the camp fees ?
That is all. Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best Wishes,
Grisella

I wrote her back and told her all about camp and asked her about what she cared about, thought about, and told her a little about my kids.  She got right back to me:

Yeaaah! I’m so incredibly excited for the summer camp next year oh my God! Hahaha. I’m going to be 15 this year and i’m in my last year on junior high. Well, i can say i care for a lot of things -not to brag or anything. Since, i live in Indonesia i started to think there’re a lot of things to be fixed. People here are barely well educated. They can’t afford for school fees. That’s why Indonesia stays the same.  They don’t make any better change and even worse they seem like they don’t care. And there’s health problems. This one really hurting. Bunch of people from small area come to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, looking for job and because of a lot of them didn’t get good education it’s difficult for them to have a well-paid job. Then, because the bills are more expensive than the wage, they can’t afford to buy a house but they still need a place to stay right? To solve it they build houses in the river banks, they use the river’s not-so-clean water for their daily needs such as bath, laundry, and even to cook and drink. I am also concerned about global warming. Why don’t we start to plant trees ? Like one or two trees are already helping the environment right ? Well, that’s about the conditions around me. Globally, i am really concern about bullying. Bullying is almost happening in every school all around the world. The bullies usually are not aware that they are hurting someone else. They are not aware of their words, their actions. They might think that by bullying someone it is proof that they’re strong or they are really envious because other person can enjoy life while they can’t. They might had a bad/dark past. That’s why i think every bullies should not be judged or punished. We must talk to them softly and tell them that what they’re doing is totally wrong and what they do can make the person they bullied commit a suicide. I also support noh8 campaign. Well i guess everybody should support this one because love is all we need. Why need to hate while you can love someone ? I’m 100% sure this world will be a so much better place if we do that. And there’s child labour. I think this is the worst problem ever! Children are supposed to be at school, learning things and socialising with their friends and not to work like adults. They usually do hard jobs which is really really bad for children. I don’t really know how i can solve this because this usually happen in Africa right ? And yeah I’m still under my parents guidance and it seems impossible to solve this by myself though. One last thing i want to stop is racism. Everyone is precious in every skin complexion just don’t judge everyone only by their looks.

But still i really want to stop bullying and child labour.
Well thank you so much for the information. Sorry if my english are terrible. You know, it’s not my language so yeah..
While we may not be able to get Grisella here in time for this year’s camp, we are determined to find a way– for next year. So stay tuned for more information on how to help a girl like Grisella or Hadia realize her goal, to be a thinkpeace girl! They see and feel the issues facing girls globally (and boys too, actually). Together, girls are such a big part of the solution. Global girl voices, and hearts, and hands, working together might just be able to CHANGE THE WORLD. Imagine!