Category Archives: human rights

i named her remington, he named her malala

director’s note: please join thinkpeace girls and watch the commercial-free television premier of He Named Me Malala on the National Geographic channel, Monday, February 29th at 8pm/7C. We’ll be live tweeting about actions you can take to stand up for girls worldwide. #imagine

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On July 12, 1997 I looked into my daughter’s eyes for the first time and was filled with a love deeper than I had ever known and so much hope for her future. I named her Remington, a strong Scottish family name that I knew suited her. It wasn’t super feminine or decisively masculine. To me she was a gladiator, determined at birth to fight for what is right and to protect others. I just knew. 7,748 miles away on the same day another gladiator was born. Her father looked into her eyes and felt the same rush of love and hope. He named her Malala, after another girl who had dared to speak out. My daughter was a blue-eyed blonde, his was a brown-eyed brunette. Both were born in popular locations, Remington in the San Francisco Bay Area of California and Malala in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. As parents, we all looked forward to the same things: first words, first steps, first days of school. We wanted our girls to grow up happy and healthy, smart and capable, warriors ready to do their part to make the world a better place.

Their worlds, however, were vastly different. Remington had the privilege of attending wonderful public schools where the greatest danger to her was crossing the street in a heavily trafficked neighborhood or, worse-case scenario in Northern California, an earthquake. Meanwhile, Malala’s country was being taken over by the Taliban who insisted that girls be denied access to education. For her educator father, this was not to be. She attended his school, despite the threats against him. He was adamant that all children, boys and girls, had the right to an education. True to her namesake, Malala began to speak out. The result, as you know, was a bullet to her head and the shooting of her classmates as well. As the world rallied around these girls, praying for their survival and outraged at this act of violence, my daughter became more determined to use her voice her way. Malala went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and speak before the United Nations and at events like the Global Citizen Concert. Her voice is strong and her message constant: all children have the basic human right to an education. Meanwhile Remington is a quiet activist, doing her part to educate others about the issues facing girls worldwide and actions they can take to be a part of the solution. Both are continuing their educations and are actively pursuing peace and tolerance in their own way. Hopefully Remington will never know the fear and anxiety that are an every day part of Malala’s life, though certainly she has her own. Hopefully Malala’s message of “Books not Bullets” will be heard. Hopefully Remington’s message of “listen, don’t judge” will be heard. Malala asks us to stand together. Together they are doing their part to spread their messages and advocate for girls’ rights.

What are you doing? You are each gladiators stepping into your own arenas, whether that’s the stage and the podium or the dorm room late at night– the battle is still being waged. Your voices must be heard. Your differences should be celebrated. Your opinions, thoughts and feelings MATTER. You are a girl and you matter. At thinkpeace we encourage you to step into your arena ready to listen, understand, question, and support knowing that you have all of us standing with you. Just as we all stand #withMalala.

Reasons Why We Still Need Feminism by Sarah Connolly

Director’s Note:  Recently thinkpeace girl Sarah Connolly wrote this article for her school’s newspaper.  Sadly, it was met with ridicule by some of her classmates.  Perhaps the reactions that Sarah received were a result of discomfort over the issues she raised in her article, but it is precisely because it sparked a reaction that we need to continue the dialogue about gender equality.  At thinkpeace we believe that boys are equally a part of the solutions to the issues facing girls worldwide. We believe that we are IN IT TOGETHER. Recognizing the importance in us all working together to create the change we know needs to happen, the United Nations has launched a program called HeForShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all. We encourage you all to keep talking to the boys and men in your life about what feminism really means and how they can stand with us for equality. Being a feminist means that you only need to be on board with one idea: All humans, male and female, should have equal political, economic and social rights.  To the critics of Sarah’s article: we ask you to think before reacting. We ask you to look around at the amazing girls and women in your lives.  We ask you to acknowledge their worth and to embrace equality.  We ask you to take the HeForShe commitment and stand WITH us. Imagine!

Why women fighting for their rights is still as relevant as ever

By Sarah Connolly, Editor in Chief

Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”So why do so many people shy away from this word? On July 4, 1776, our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, stating “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Before you say that the Constitution only states that “all men are created equal,” remember that in the 1700s, men was a universal term used to define all people. A feminist is not a girl who thinks she is superior to all men. The idea is about the real issues and obstacles that women are forced to face domestically and globally. A feminist is someone who fights for equality and human rights. Lately, I have heard a lot of people say that feminism should be renamed. People claim that if feminism is really about equality, then it should be called “humanism.” However, it would be completely ineffective to call the “gay rights movement” the “human rights movement.” Feminism is called feminism because the name addresses the problem at hand. So why is feminism so prevalent in today’s society? In America, women have the right to vote. They can have virtually any job they are qualified for and attend school to get a great education. Feminism is essential if women and men are ever going to be perceived as equals. Before you argue that women and men are in fact equal, consider these six injustices that women face:

  1. Around the world, women are treated as lesser human beings. In developing countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan, women are not allowed to attend school. If they chose to attend, they risk being shot by terrorist organizations or having acid thrown in their faces. The few women that do attend school are not allowed to do so with boys.
  2. In the United States alone, a woman is raped every two minutes. Twenty-five percent of girls are sexually assaulted before they turn eighteen. Sexual abuse goes far beyond the United States. It is perhaps even more prevalent in developing countries where women are poor and uneducated.
  3. Approximately 15 million girls around the world are forced into marriage before they turn eighteen. Some girls are married when they are as young as seven or eight years old to men they barely know. These young girls are neither physically or emotionally ready for such a commitment. Child marriages are a primary source of domestic violence, and younger girls are more likely to have complications in childbirth and contract HIV.
  4. Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM, as it is more commonly known, is a destructive operation where girls’ genitals are removed or injured to stop sexual feeling. Operations are most commonly performed on girls before they hit puberty. It primarily takes place in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. FGM operations are extremely painful and can be fatal. FGM is commonly operated without a girl’s consent.
  5. In some countries, the majority of families desire to have a male child. Women are not as valued in their societies, and poor families need male children to get jobs to make money. Sadly, baby girls become a waste of money and resources, and some families kill or abandon their female children in order to save themselves from feeding an extra mouth
  6. Feminism is needed just as much domestically as it is internationally. If a woman and a man have the exact same credentials and work the exact same job, a woman is still likely to earn eighteen percent less money. Sure, we have female doctors, lawyers and politicians, but American society undervalues female workers. Therefore, they are paid less, and there is no reason for this. If a woman and a man have identical qualifications and work the same job, then they should have the exact same salary.

Cheris Kramarae once said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” Feminism is something that needs to be addressed on a large, global scale, we still have a long way to go before everyone, regardless of gender, is seen as equals around the world. However, in the past decade, society has made giant steps toward this goal.

#orangeURhood

#orangeurhood

It’s TakeActionTuesday– and the beginning of #16days of Activism against Gender Violence. During this time we ask you to join with us, UNwomen.org and SayNoToViolence.org as we raise awareness and call for the elimination of violence against women and girls around the world.  Last year, the UNiTE campaign launched a global call for action to “Orange the World in 16 Days.”  The initiative aimed to create the symbolic image of a world free from violence against women and girls. The color orange is a uniting theme for all the events surrounding the UNiTE campaign, and is a bright and optimistic color, representative of a world free from violence against women and girls. At thinkpeace workshop for girls, orange represents many things, especially during this month of World Kindness, Tolerance and the campaign to stop gender-based violence.  Please put your orange on for the next #16days and make your statement!

#TheCall

Over the next 16 days we will be posting on facebook actions that you can take in your community. Today’s actions are:

Organize a walk with local government officials to mark the 16 Days of Activism. Wear orange t-shirts and carry orange banners, posters and balloons. Use the opportunity to engage members of your local community and raise awareness of violence against women and girls.
Share information about violence against women and girls with your local community and invite them to pledge to support the UNiTE campaign.
 ☮ Turn your profile picture orange for the duration of the 16 Days! Whether you’re on Twitter or on Facebook, it’s easy for you to turn your current profile picture orange.  Check out the overlay design on Twibbon. Go to http://twibbon.com/search and type in “#Orangeurhood in #16days”.
 ☮ Turn your emails orange! Write your emails in orange text, and put the following line on the bottom:  Wonder why this email is orange? Because it’s the International Day to End Violence against Women. Find out more at http://unwomen.org.
 As we orange our hood in New York, #orangeurhood by photoshopping landmarks from your neighborhood orange, and share them on social media via the hashtags #orangeurhood and #16days.

At thinkpeace workshop for girls we believe that violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights and a serious global issue that is preventable.  It is NOT okay that 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries.  The UN has stated that “Violence against women and girls impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combatting HIV and AIDS, and peace and security.  Violence against women and girls has enormous social and economic costs for individuals, families, communities and societies and has a significant impact on development and the realization of sustainable development goals.”  Together we can Say No to Violence. Start today.

Imagine.

 

 

 

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.

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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

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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.

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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 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.

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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?