Category Archives: tolerance

the hijab and its purpose, part 2 by mariyah rehmani

director’s note: In the second installment of  Mariyah’s ebook, The Hijab and Its Purpose, the hijab is presented in many forms and through the eyes of various people. As we open our minds to various cultures and belief systems, it is important to remember that there are REASONS people believe what they do and it is only through really listening that we can come to understand our differences. It is our hope that these blog posts will spark meaningful dialogues and a better understanding of what makes up all the colors of the world. Imagine!


“Coarse talk does not come into anything without disgracing it and modesty does not come into anything without adorning it.” — Al-Tirmidhi, 4854

Different Types of Veils Worn

There is a variety of different types of veils worn all around the world. Muslim women wear these different types depending on multiple factors including the country they live in, the culture they are a part of, the occasion, or for some; even the weather. But most of all, the woman herself decides what she is most comfortable wearing, and makes her choices accordingly. One must remember that the Hijab or veils come in different sizes, types, materials and colours, and can even be worn differently under each broad category. As it is visually apparent, they provide varying amounts of coverage of the Woman’s body.

Why Some Women Choose Not To Wear It

Many people are not aware of this, but there exist a number of Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab at all. Just like those who wear the veil, women who choose not to have their own personal reasons. Some claim that the Qur’an does not explicitly talk about covering one’s body through a veil such as the hijab. They feel as though wearing the hijab is more of a cultural interpretation of the words written in the Holy Book. Some claim that it is too hot where they live, and they would not be able to bear the heat. Some say they aren’t ready for the commitment or the responsibility of wearing the veil every day in public. Oftentimes, women who wear the hijab in the public world receive a lot of social stigma, and things like stares and uncomfortable glances become a daily phenomenon.

Why She Doesn’t Believe In the Veil- Mrs. Sajeda Jamal 

“Mrs. Jamal has more than 15 years of experience in the early childhood learning space and was raised in Dubai where she completed her B. Ed and Certificate in ECCE. She has worked as a kindergarten teacher, curriculum designer and app developer”.

What is your view on the Hijab? Do you think it is necessary for a Muslim Woman to wear it?

No it’s not necessary. I feel it is more to do with the culture than with religion. Of what I have read in the Qur’an, the word used is Khimar which means “cover” and in the broad sense it could mean anything, like a bed covering or a sheet. Although the Quran does ask the woman to cover her bosom. But nowhere does it say to cover the hair or face. It does talk about cover the beauty, the word being used “Zinat”. Personally speaking, I feel like a modest dressing is more important. It is important for a girl to dress not to lure men in any way. Revealing dressing to me is improper dressing. I don’t see harm in wearing the Indian Shalwar Kameez (Traditional dress worn mostly in India and Pakistan), and do not see the need to wear any extra scarf over the head. I do not see why you would say that the entire beauty lies in the hair. That is stupidity.

Mr. Jamal (Mrs. Sajeda’s Husband): Firstly, the Qur’an is the only indisputable book, the word of God. It does not say “cover your hair”, it only says “khimar”. God is not short of words, and could have specifically mentioned “hair” or head. In Indian culture and Arab culture etc. women are expected to cover their heads. It is merely cultural. Additionally, you face is your identity, it is part of who you are, why do you throw that away?

What Is the Purpose of the Hijab?

To better understand the purpose and meaning behind the Islamic veil, what better way to do this than to read verses directly from the Holy Islamic Book: The Qur’an. In Chapter 24 titled an-Nur (meaning: The Light), in verse 30, Allah commands Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) as follows:

Translated, it means: “Say to the believing men that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste). This is better for them.” (

This message commands all Muslim men to glance downwards i.e. to not look at any other women lustfully (apart from their own wives) so as to avoid the possibility of temptation. This is often referred to as “Hijab of the eyes”.

In the succeeding verse, Allah commands the Prophet (s.a.w) to address the women of Islam:

Meaning: “Say to the believing women that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste) …” (“The Qur’an and Hijab.”)

This is a very similar commandment as that which was given to the men in the previous verse, dealing with “The hijab of the eyes”. It also states that women should “Guard their private parts”, doing so by being chaste. (

The teaching of “hijab of the eyes” is very similar to the biblical teachings as well. In The Gospel of Matthew, chap. 5, verses 27-28, Jesus (as) says: “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Keeping this in mind, if you ever see a Muslim talking with the opposite sex and looking downwards, it is not because of a lack of confidence, but rather it is him/her abiding by the Qur’anic as well as Biblical teachings. Subsequently came the verse that describes the Islamic dress code for Women:

“…and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their khumur over their bosoms…” (

What does “Khumur” mean in this verse? the , ِخ َما ر is plural of khimar ُخ ُم ر Khumur veil covering the head. Check any Arabic dictionary like Lisanu ’l- ‘Arab, Majma ‘u ’l-Bahrayn or al-Munjid for further clarifications. Al-Munjid, which is the most popular dictionary in the Arab world, defines alkhimar as “something with which a woman conceals her head.”

Fakhru ’d-Din al-Turayhi in Majma ‘u ’lBahrayn (which is a dictionary for words specifically from the Qur’an and hadith) defines al-khimar as “scarf, and it is known as such because the head is covered with it.” (“The Qur’an and Hijab.”)

So the word khimar, by definition, means a piece of cloth that covers the head.

Click here to watch the wonderful Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan discuss the meaning of the Khimar: YouTube Preview Image

So what does the phrase “Place their Khumur over their bosoms” mean? Let us dive into a little Islamic History: According to various commentators of the Qur’an, the women of Medina in the pre-Islamic era used to put their khumur over the head with the two ends tucked behind and tied at the back of the neck, in the process exposing their ears and neck. By commanding women to “place the Khumur over their bosoms, Almighty Allah ordered the women to let the tied ends of their scarf loose, subsequently extending onto their bosoms so that they may cover their ears, neck and chest area. (“The Qur’an and Hijab.”) Our understanding of these verses was then confirmed by the reaction of the Muslim Women to this commandment of God. The Sunni source quotes Ummu ’l-mu’minin ‘A’isha, the Prophet’s wife, saying:

However, it is crucial to note and to understand that different women interpret the Qur’an’s words differently. Many women simply believe that wearing the Hijab is a cultural translation of the words from the Holy book and do not think that Khumur is something that covers the head, but rather just the bosom. (As it is not stated explicitly in the Qur’an but that most people agree that the definition of the Khimar is a cloth that covers the head.) Finally, the verse goes on to give the list of the mahram – male family members in whose presence the hijab is not required, such as the husband, the father, the father-in-law, the son(s), and others. This verse ends with a list of the mahram, i.e. the people in presence of which the veil is not required, for e.g. the Husband, the father, the grandfather, sons(s) and so on and so forth. There also exists another verse in the Qur’an that talks about wearing a loose garment Jalabib (sing. Jilbab) around themselves as to not attract attention towards their figure. In essence, the purpose of the hijab is to promote modesty, and in turn, safeguard women from the lustful stares of men (and vice versa) and to ensure that both women and men do not commit illicit acts. It is about empowering women, and giving them a medium through which they are no longer objectified by society, but liberated from it. They are much more likely to be judged by their personality and intellect rather than their body and their sexuality. It is important to keep in mind that the religion of Islam is a lot about prevention rather than cure. A lot of the commandments by God restrict any acts that may lead to unlawful behaviour.

A brilliant video that really opened my eyes about the effect of wearing a burqa/hijab in the streets (Must see): YouTube Preview Image

The Science Behind the Hijab

You may be surprised to know that the hijab is not merely a baseless practice, it too has a science behind it. All of what is in the Qur’an is scientifically accurate knowledge. Let’s look at the ways in which the brain works, and how the hijab may help a woman. The brain is one of the most fundamental organs of the human Body. It receives inputs from sensory modalities, i.e. feeling, smelling, seeing and testing etc. The stimuli that is received from various parts of the body is then stored and processed in the brain. It connects different ideas together, forms new ones, and makes decisions upon what actions should be taken in response to the given information. The brain builds the bridge from input to output.

Therefore, the conclusion that controlling sensory information coming from the eyes can largely impact the working of and further tasks such as memory, analysis of stored information, processing thoughts, learning, recognition, and several social and emotional facets relating to fed stimuli is most definitely a logical one. Neurons in the brain have the task of processing all this oncoming information, and distributing it to various parts of the brain for timely retrieval in the future. Lastly, the output of this processed information is relayed back to our brain or corresponding muscles in the form of words, actions and thoughts. Thus, it is safe to conclude that if wrong or incorrect sensory stimuli is fed to the brain, the neurons processing and storing that kind of information will in turn result in the imparting of bad ideas, thoughts and finally, bad actions and words. A simple diagram of the same information is given below:

It is then crucial to understand the fact that when a person is exposed to an environment with large amounts of provocative stimuli, especially coming from the eyes and the visual system, it leads to relevant and similar kind of aggressive and provocative words, actions and thoughts. Younger, more susceptible individuals with minds that are easily affected by such stimuli, lacking a resolute enough self control will quickly get affected by the kind of stimuli that is provided to them. They are highly likely to think, act and say things that directly correlate with what they hear, smell, taste, but especially see around them. This is why kids that play violent video games or games with similar themes are often drawn to behave in the same aggressive manner.  With the advent of ever-advancing science and technology, in a world where all kinds of resources and all kinds of stimuli are at the tips of your fingers, it is even easier to get exposed to obscene or inappropriate themes. Not only this, with social gatherings, events, parties, universities etc. there is a lot of interactions between males and females. I am not claiming that this is wrong, but rather stating that there is higher tendency of receiving provocative stimuli in these kinds of social situations.

Moreover, both males and females can dress modestly, wearing loose, unprovocative clothing that stops an indecent kind of sensory stimuli from entering people’s minds. Everyone must also maintain a certain level of modesty in the way they carry themselves, the way they talk and the words they use and in their actions and converse with other with people. This could essentially help minimise or even prevent “unwanted emotional or social consequences”. (Haydari)

Once again, it is essential to enforce the idea of prevention before cure. Both women and men must do their part in acting, talking and dressing in a decent manner so as to avoid the wrong kind of sensory stimuli from entering one’s minds. Another very important aspect of ‘purdah’ or veiling that is outlined in the Qur’an is the lowering of the gaze.

The Health Benefits of the Hijab

“In Chinese medical texts, in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine, it was stated that wind can cause sudden changes within the body and will upset the body’s equilibrium thus, creating bad health.” (“Science Behind the Hijab”)

It has been written that ailments such as the common cold and flu are related to wind elements that disturb the body’s equilibrium when they enter the body, and cause symptoms such as a running nose or sneezing. “In the traditional Islamic medical texts of Al-Jawziyya, there are numerous references to the “four elements” of fire, water, air and earth and how these affect the body in adverse ways. In particular, we are advised to stay away from drafts and protect our heads in wind, breezes, drafts and cold weather.” (“Science Behind the Hijab”) Also, covering the head is important for a variety of health reasons in the warm weather. V.G. Rocine, a prominent brain research specialist, discovered that phosphorus found in the brain begins to melt at 108 has found that brain Phosphorus melts at 108 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a temperature that can easily be achieved if one stays under the sun for a short period of time without a head covering. When this takes place, a temperature that can be easily reached if one stays under the hot sun for any length of time without a head covering. When this happens, irreparable damage to the brain is done, including memory loss and loss of a few brain functions. “Although this example is extreme, Brain damage can still be measured in small degrees from frequent exposure to and overheating of the head.” (“Science Behind the Hijab”)

Bernard Jensen, noted chiropractor and neuropath claims that this is due to the fact that the  brain “runs on the mineral phosphorus” (“Science Behind the Hijab”), which is easily affected by heat.

In the end, the Islamic dress code is meant for and in the interest of Women’s safety and well-being, rather than her subjugation or oppression, as media often portrays it as.

Next week: the hijab does not keep you from doing what you want






the hijab and its purpose by mariyah rehmani


director’s note:  Mariyah is a dynamic, fun-loving, artistic, bright and compassionate 15 year old from Pune, India. When she arrived at camp 2 summers ago in NYC she appeared confident and completely at ease wearing her hijab around the city.  Some of her thinkpeace sisters had questions and even judgments, and she addressed them all graciously and with determination to educate them.  As our society becomes more xenophobic and fearful of anything associated with Islam, we think Mariyah’s study on the purpose of the hijab is more important than ever. We encourage you to learn about differences– racial, gender, religious, sexual, economic– and see that differences don’t have to separate us. In fact they can be the beginning of meaningful dialogue that can open our hearts and minds, bringing us together and truly creating peace. It starts with listening and respecting… Please join us as we journey into discovering more about differences every week in our thoughtful thursdays posts… Today we begin with Mariyah’s choice to wear a hijab. We will be posting sections from her ebook over the next few weeks.


The Hijab and Its Purpose

This eBook is intended for the purpose of helping the reader understand what the hijab really is, and what it stands for.  It has come to my understanding that the people around me, and those not around me too, have a very hazy perception of the hijab.  Many people ask me about why I wear it, and even if my dad forced me to wear it.  This inspired me to write about the hijab, and why it is close to the hearts of millions of women worldwide.
Inside, you will find everything you need to know about the hijab; everything from its origin, to its purpose, its message, its types, and even the science behind it! This will give you a holistic idea of what it is all about.  Understanding the hijab, and even Islam is very important in this age.  Islam is one of the fastest growing religions worldwide (“The Fastest Growing Religion in the World Is … –”).  Unfortunately, it is often portrayed in a bad light by the media, and ongoing violence and terrorism is almost always attributed to our peaceful religion. The hijab too has been shunned by many as being “oppressive” and “restrictive”, even though thousands worldwide can testify to it being exactly the opposite. My aim is to help clear misconceptions and preconceptions about the Islamic veil and dress code in general.  Along with this, you will find out more about the concept of modesty and about successful women who wear the hijab with pride.  At the end you will discover a gallery of pictures showcasing how different cultures affect hijab styles and the variation in the hijabs themselves, country to country. Finally, there also awaits a LookBook that portrays just how modern trends are seamlessly integrated with the hijab creating a whole new category of ‘Hijabi Fashion’.  So please do not hesitate, and flip through to find out more about this beautiful concept of the hijab.

hi-jab, (hĭ-jäb′) n.

1. Any of several cloth head coverings worn by Muslim women.

2. The veiling of women in some Islamic societies, customarily practiced in order to maintain standards of modesty.
[Arabic ḥijāb, cover, curtain, veil, from ḥajaba, to cover] (“hijab”)
Many use the following verses from the Holy Qur’an to help describe the requirements for a Muslim women’s dress:

Although this is not commonly known, there are also dress codes for Muslim men to abide and they include covering of the body from at least the navel to the knees and not wearing excessively tight, sheer, or flashy clothing. (  Most rules regarding the Islamic dress code and the verses from the Qur’an that they have been derived from have been interpreted differently by different people. This is why that there is a diverse world of
views and opinions on whether women should wear the hijab or not, or to what extent. This will be touched upon in further detail later in this book.

 Modesty can be defined as “regard for decency of behaviour, speech, dress, etc.” or even “the lack of vanity” ( Contrary to popular belief, modesty is not about “how much skin is too much?” or “How much can I leave uncovered until I get into trouble?”  It is certainly much more than what you wear or how you look.  Modesty means acting towards others in a way that is humble and compassionate. Modesty means avoiding vanity and striving to be pure in your thoughts, in your words and in your actions. It means dressing yourself in a way that not only makes you comfortable, but protects you from unwanted catcalls and lustful stares.  Of course, it is not a women’s sole responsibility for what goes on inside a man’s head, but she can certainly make a big impact through the way she dresses, speaks, and carries herself.  Men are accountable for their own thoughts and actions, and they too are expected to practice modesty in all spheres of life.  Ask yourself: “What impact do I want my personality and my appearance to have? What message am I trying to convey to everyone around me?” It is through the very concept of modesty that the hijab tries to make a positive change in society.

Why wear it?

The first important thing to understand about why women wear the hijab is that there is not one universal reason behind choosing to veil oneself. There can be multiple reasons for different people based on what they choose to believe or interpret. Some say the verses in the Qur’an indicate that they are obligated to cover their heads and chests. Others believe that practicing wearing the hijab is the best way to exercise modesty. Some wear it in order to stand as a symbol of their religion, to stand out from a crowd. A lot of people wear the hijab because it makes them feel more confident. Many claim that while wearing the hijab, the feel they aren’t being judged for their looks and rather for their manners, personality or intellect. Most of all, women wear the hijab because they like it, and they want to wear it. The bottom line is; women use the hijab and wear it for a multitude of reasons, each helping a woman grow and succeed in a different way. An article from UK’s Telegraph Newspaper that reads “Feminism, fashion and religion: Why Muslim women choose to wear the veil” beautifully illustrates the point I am trying to make. In the article, numerous women share their reasons for practicing the hijab on Reddit, a popular social media platform: A user named ‘Captain Monkee’ writes:  “I like to use it to promote feminism, however it is very hard to express it because of how people view it. There ARE a lot of women who are forced to wear it, and I think that’s really wrong, no matter how religious or what country. The hijab is forced in some places in the world, or by certain people – especially men in many cases. I will not deny this. This is not feminism. I want to take this hijab and make it my own. First choose if I even want to cover or not. Define WHY and HOW. I will choose what colours I will wear. What materials. Not just black and white.”

This highlights the freedom that a woman has when she is wearing the hijab. She decides what she wants to do with it. After all, it is HER body, HER head, and HER choice. No one should be forced to do something they do not want to. The user ‘Pharmersmarket’ writes: “I genuinely like wearing it. It makes me feel put together and confident in a weird way. Maybe because it does take a certain level of courage to visibly separate yourself from normal society. To start wearing a hijab I had to stop caring about what other people thought and now I can be proud of that. (6) 10 “It definitely doesn’t stop street harassment, but men do treat you with a bit more respect. I don’t think it’s right to treat a girl differently because of how she’s dressed but it does happen.

She focuses more on what she believes defines being Muslim, or rather helps send a message to others around her. She also emphasises that in the end of the day, it’s a choice; you do it if you want to, or don’t do it. Another user ‘Boggle_leged’, who states she is a lawyer, begins:

“I, as well as most Muslims I know in the West, am not fond of the burka or niqab here, because it could expose an individual to unnecessary harm and harassment. Since there are strong religious opinions that permit just the hijab without covering the face, I personally feel that it is a better choice. (7) 11 In the end, however, as long as that individual has made the decision independently and knows why she is doing something, I respect her decision.” An important thing to note is that the only reason that she is not in favour of other women wearing the burka or niqab is that she feels it causes unnecessary “harm and harassment” to women. I believe that this is something that should be changed. Everyone has a choice to wear what they feel like and express themselves in whatever way they choose, so long as they do not cause any form of harm or hurt to anyone around them. Yet another user, possessing the screen name ‘474064’, says: “Personally, I love wearing the hijab. Nobody could pay me enough to take it off. It honestly liberates me because I get to choose how much of myself I reveal to the public. It’s awesome. I have drawers full of a variety of vibrant colours and prints. I match them with my outfits and wear a different style every day. It’s kind of like a beautiful, religious fashion statement.” These are some of the many reasons behind why different women from different parts of the world feel the need to wear the hijab. I hope they not only help in understanding the concept behind the veil better, but also serve to inspire and enlighten.

 next week: different types of veils



It’s TakeActionTuesday– and the beginning of #16days of Activism against Gender Violence. During this time we ask you to join with us, and 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!


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 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
 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.





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


on feeling it deep in our bones


by Kelly Himsl Arthur and Remy Arthur

The One Million Bones challenge mobilized students worldwide to make bones as a symbol of solidarity with victims and survivors of ongoing conflict in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia. Every handmade bone generated $1 from the Bezos Family Foundation for CARE’s work in these regions, up to $500,000! On June, 8,  2013, one million handmade bones – made by students, educators and artists – covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as part of a massive art installation and visual petition against humanitarian crises.

For nearly 2 years thinkpeace girls from California to New York and DC to Germany learned and talked about past and present genocides and other mass crimes against humanity. We made bones at club meetings, camps, weekend workshops, and at home, contributing nearly 5000 clay, plaster, and recycled paper bones to the One Million Bones Project. We embraced every chance we had to share this project and cause with others and encourage them to join us. We talked with people in parks, at churches, at the Museum of Tolerance, at schools and online… educating, creating dialogue, and providing space for reflection. We thought we had our heads kind of wrapped around the enormity of the deaths and atrocities as we laid our bones with others in a state installation last April. In reality… that was nothing compared to what lay ahead.

In June a few of us thinkpeace girls packed up our books to study for final exams on the road to Washington, DC, worried about getting swept away in Tropical Storm Andrea, yet determined to be a part of the installation the next day on the National Mall. Eager to represent the thinkpeace community, we donned our white clothes and headed over to the Mall. On the way we listened to the message Desmond Tutu sent to the participants. We were so moved by his words: “It is my hope that these bones will transform us to a place of greater understanding and compassion and inspire us to act.” They had certainly done that for us.

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One of our German thinkpeace sisters, Serah, was so deeply affected when she created a baby’s rib cage from clay. With each rib she sculpted she felt the heaviness deeper and deeper in her heart. She knew that she needed to do something, to take action. She returned from camp eager to get involved in her school’s Amnesty International Club. Genocide awareness became her passion to share. Another thinkpeace girl, Chantel, was inspired to take action at her school, too, bringing the issue of genocide to the Model United Nations program. Wherever we talk about genocide, we are met with such shock and disbelief. We find that most people we talk to have no idea that it is still going on! We are often met with comments like, “yes, we learned a lot from World War II– that’ll never happen again.” or “No, that kind of thing ended a long, long time ago.” or “That’s how those countries are… there’s nothing we can do about it.”

We can bear witness! We can demand action from our governments and theirs. We can use our voices and our hands, our words and our actions to create real change. We must. For if not we, then who? We believe in ‘Ubuntu’- That each individual’s humanity is inextricably linked to one another’s. As Desmond Tutu said, “Your joy is my joy; your sorrow is my sorrow. We must raise each other up lest we all sink down.”

Together with UPS workers (who volunteered their time for this!), teachers, artists, religious scholars, children, mothers and more, we laid thousands and thousands of bones that Saturday in June, feeling the weight deeper in our own bones. We had talked often about how underneath our differences (skin color, religious or political beliefs, gender, sexuality, etc.) we are all made up of the same stuff and what is left behind are bones. And they all look pretty much the same.  Seeing them in giant piles lining the National Mall was painful. The piles looked like mass graves. There were so many bones. So many.  One by one we placed a bone on the grass in front of the United States Capitol. The most beautiful, yet haunting music was being played by Amy Ziff, that sounded like soft cries. It rained, then it was hot and very humid. We weren’t making a dent in the piles. It just seemed endless. And it hit us… the realization that it isn’t ending. That more real bones are being thrown onto piles, encountered along dusty hot roads in far away places, with no real thought as to whose bones they are– is it a child’s? A mother’s? A son’s? A grandfather’s? A teacher’s? Who is being killed today and left behind to become nothing but bones? Every bone is not only “the evidence of a unique individual journey” but also “the evidence of a collective journey– a story shared of the human experience.” (Tutu) Our human experience should be full of possibility and hope, peace and understanding. Once we are bones it is too late. We must come together now.

One million bones is just a number. It’s not anywhere close to the number of actual deaths by genocide in the last 70 years. Estimates range anywhere from 30 to 70 million people who have died in genocides around the world, from World War II to present day. Yes, present day. When we packed up the thinkpeace contribution for the One Million Bones installation (thank you UPS for picking them up and calling when they arrived!) we thought we had a lot of bones. When we started laying them on the National Mall, we thought, Wow! So many bones! A million! And then… when we took a step back to take it all in we were overwhelmed. Remy couldn’t breathe for a moment… the emotions hit hard. Imagining 30-70 times as many bones just wasn’t something she could wrap her head around. The tears fell softly and the hurt was felt deeply. To have created this symbolic mass grave, understanding that it represents a mere fraction of the victims of hatred and intolerance in this world has left us aching. And wanting to keep doing the work.  Using our voices and our hands, our own courage, compassion and wisdom. We stood for a long moment arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, absorbing the bones on the Mall. We are a global family. Together we stand. We feel it, deeply.

on being wholehearted 3: joyfulness

“Joy comes to us in moments– ordinary moments.  We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.” -Brene Brown

I was on a business call today when the person I was speaking with told me about a recent conversation she had with an old acquaintance.  She said, “It was one of the best hours of my life!”  I think I stopped breathing for a moment.  What was I feeling?  I was taken aback by this thought that one of the best moments of someone’s life was… a conversation!  I loved it.  She’s accomplished much in her life, is well-respected and has an important job. She’s a mom, a daughter, a wife, a humanitarian.  And one of her best hours was simply a connection shared with another.

What brings us joy or a true sense of peace isn’t in the big showcase moments of our lives. Those are fleeting moments.  Joy is that thing that washes over you when you least expect it that makes you feel warm, lit from within, and hopeful.  As my friend Jeanne says, “What matters is crying until your eyes are clear enough to see goodness… everywhere.” Practicing compassion, feeling worthy, and being connected are components of wholehearted living,  which gives you a sense of joyfulness, even in the darkest times.  I was having a really bad day recently, the kind that makes you just want to go back to bed, curled up in a ball or engaged in some numbing behavior… the kind that makes you oblivious to ordinary joys.  Yet somehow, in the midst of my sad moment, I looked out the window and saw the sun light up a golden-leaved tree and the wind give her movement that was truly a celebration dance.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was such a vision of life– of warmth and expression, grace and light.  An ordinary moment made extraordinary.  And I realized that I felt joy.  I felt a surge of self-compassion and an overwhelming connection with the Earth, and I saw the goodness.

Another kind of darkness was revealed this week following the re-election of President Obama.  I have found it hard to handle the negative energy swirling around this country.  It seems that people are either really happy or really angry.  Personally I cannot feel joyful when the very vocal bitterness I have witnessed seems so absolute and determined.  How can we move forward as a country committed to peace when we are at war with one another?  I don’t believe that the ‘war against women’ or marriage equality or affordable healthcare can be worked through without a true coming together, or wholeheartedness fully expressed.  The issues we face must be faced together, with respect and courage, vulnerability and compassion, and a real willingness to think not just of ourselves, but of each other as well.  Celebrating our commonalities and understanding our differences with acceptance is truly the only way through the darkness.  Is it possible?  What will it take?  It will take peace, love, and understanding.  It will take a commitment to listen and to speak and to value each other.  It will take seeing the goodness.  It will take connection.

Oh, I just got a good feeling!  It feels like… joyfulness.  It’s not about chasing the extraordinary.  It’s about slowing down for an ordinary conversation, with the whole heart; a conversation and connection that fills us up and gives us ‘the best hour’ of our lives. There is infinite power in the light within each of us that comes from joyfulness.  This is the real strength, real power, that will effect change.  The change the world needs to see.   It starts with you.  And me.




on being wholehearted

I sat down last weekend to write this post on being wholehearted.  As I started writing, more and more things came up for me that sent me an an emotional roller coaster.  Ups, downs, twists and turns, and those always fun corkscrews had a hold of me and I had to stop writing and just be.  As a result of spending time riding what I refer to as The Gut Crusher (aka The HeartBreaker or The Doom Bringer), I’ve decided to write about wholeheartedness in three sections:  Compassion, Imperfection, and Joyfulness. It’s all about peace…

“Be yourself.”  Teenage girls, in particular, seem to be given these words of advice daily.  There are probably temporary tattoos that say these words, as well as t-shirts and jewelry.  Teen magazines toss it out like it’s the sagest wisdom and the answer to all your problems.  There’s just one thing.  Do you know yourself?  How do you learn who you are when your days are filled with classes and homework, sports, theatre and dance and your image on facebook is about as much as most people really know about you.  If you’re like most teenage girls, you’re struggling sometimes with your mom, worried about your body, and thinking that today matters more than tomorrow.  No one has taught you how to know yourself.  Your family, and perhaps your religion, have taught you values.  But who YOU are is your own creation, based on your experiences, fears, hopes, actions, reactions and so much more.  Who you are and who you are trying to become is a journey, a road taken with no destination in sight, because as human beings, we are constantly changing.  And so, I think, that more important than being yourself is loving yourself.

Do you have insecurities and worries?  When you walk into a room full of people that you don’t know, does it feel like everyone is looking at you, judging you?  Do you have those moments when you just don’t feel good enough?  Guess what?  You are not alone.  You are gloriously imperfect.  So am I.  I worry about what people think of me.  I really need to lose 20 lbs.  I’m not sleeping well and it shows.  My house is drowning in clutter.  I’m frequently late.  I forget things all the time and can never find my glasses or my car keys.  I don’t work hard enough and I also work too hard.  I cry probably more than I laugh.  I worry about everything from the election and women’s rights to what the ER doctor would say if I were wheeled in with all the holes in my socks showing.  All these things make me imperfect.  What will people say if they see my imperfection?  Will I be unworthy of their love, their friendship, their respect?  What if… I Am Unworthy?

The more that we believe that we are unworthy, the less capable we are of fully connecting with ourselves and others.  That makes loving ourselves pretty darn hard.  This is where I hit when my roller coaster ride went from that fabulous place of the sweet, slow uphill climb to the sudden plummet into the darkness.  I started reading a lot about the importance of self-compassion.  I even took an online quiz.  Omg, I have issues. (unworthy)  Before writing this post I believed in this definition of compassion:

Noun: Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Others…  what about the self?  What does it mean to practice (verb) self-compassion?  How do you care for yourself when you feel like running instead?  When you shut down or think about hurting yourself are you thinking about your suffering or about numbing it or wishing it away?  There are so many ways we continue to beat ourselves up:  overeating, undereating, drugs, alcohol, cutting, sex, shopping, overworking, zoning out online…  As we all know, none of these “fixes” make things really right.  We can’t ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. When we practice self-compassion, we have to acknowledge the darkness.  The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes:  “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”  In other words, all that stuff that’s telling you that you aren’t good enough is being experienced by others too.  We are ALL in this together and if we can connect and share our darkness, we will be able to also feel and celebrate the lightness.

When you feel compassion for someone else, it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of our shared human experience.  Self-compassion means being able to say to yourself, “I’m having a really hard time right now, how can I care for myself in this moment?” It means that you are kind and understanding to yourself.  You may try to change in ways that let you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are unworthy or unacceptable. Having compassion for yourself means that you accept yourself as is, a work in progress. Things won’t always go the way you want them to. You’ll screw up, say or do the “wrong” thing, and fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us.

Here’s a hard thing for me.  “Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings aren’t suppressed or exaggerated.”  By observing our thoughts and emotions with openness and a non-judgmental perspective, we can see them as they really are.  Personally I have a tendency to go downhill hard and fast where I suddenly find myself convinced that my problems are the biggest, baddest ever!  That’s the roller coaster effect.  Life in the extreme.  But what if… I shared my story?  What if by telling someone else about my suffering, I gave them the opportunity to tell me I’m really not alone on the ride, with the biggest, baddest issues!

Here’s my suggestion to you (and to me) the next time you feel that stomach-churning drop from the tippy-top of your roller coaster:  find a safe place to land and tell your story.  Find someone who will truly embrace you for your strengths and your struggles.  Now, the hard part.  It has to be the right person.  Facebook and twitter just aren’t the places to seek compassion.  If we’re truly looking for connection, the kind that will go to that vulnerable place with us, with no need to fix it or judge it, we have to find that person who will make sure we feel seen, heard, and valued.  Trust me when I tell you:  YOU WILL NOT FIND THAT ONLINE.  Reach out.  Practice compassion, for yourself as well as others.  Give and receive with an open heart.  A whole heart.


on being a thinkpeace boy

After watching “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” last spring I found myself feeling a lot of bitterness towards men. Over and over again I was being bombarded by stories of men at war, men in power struggles, men inflicting violence against women, men denying basic human rights to girls, men unwilling to sit at the peace table.  I was beginning to wonder… what would it take for a feminine wave to crash over the world, turning centuries of patriarchal ways upside down… and out?  The answer came to me from a boy child.  A boy saying loud and clear: “I want to be a part of the solution too. See the future in me!”  And, with that, I was on a mission to find some role models for my son, dudes who were, as photographer and GirlUp activist Nigel Barker would say, truly “manning up” for girls and women.  “Girls, girls, girls… that’s all you ever talk about.”  “What about boys?”  We hear this kind of thing a lot at thinkpeace workshop for girls.  Some people blatantly roll their eyes.  Some say, “A girl in this country is lucky. She can do anything.”  Some say, “Boys have it harder.”  We say,  FACT:  worldwide, historically and currently, girls’ voices are not heard.  Girls are not given the same opportunities as boys.  Girls are too often the casualties and victims of male-created wars. We say, IT’S TIME:  for a new way of thinking, a new way of understanding, a new way of communicating, and new way of sharing. We say, JOIN US.

In late Spring my son decided that he wanted his 10th birthday party to be a benefit for GirlUp, a United Nations Foundation campaign which raises awareness and funds for programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.  With the help of his sisters and their friends, he threw an amazing party where 30 kids traveled around the world, learning about the issues facing girls in developing countries. After the party one friend wrote a blog post about it.  His is a voice of hope for the future: 

“The party was a lot of fun and it felt good to learn new things and also be part of the solution. This party really made me think and thinking is the start.

I like the vision of Girl Up . . .

Girl Up envisions a world where all girls around the world, have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted and positioned to be the next generation of leaders.

I am glad I “Boy’d Up” for Girl Up and I would love to see all children of this world have the same basic opportunities.  Thanks B for opening my eyes!”

Hm, I thought… boys care. But who, besides the obvious (Desmond Tutu, Bono, George Clooney) can show my son and his friends that caring about girls and women is not only important, but also kinda cool?  Enter Justin Reeves, Director of NGO Partnerships,

Justin’s experience working in development in Latin America has been refined working as a journalist and humanitarian throughout Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. Most recently, he has focused his humanitarian work on women and children living with HIV/AIDS and his production work on women marginalized by mental illness in Chile. Joining forces with 10×10 aligns with his vision that empowering and educating girls and women is the key to a more harmonious world. 

Justin and I met at a GirlUp event in NYC last year and I immediately knew that he was one of the good guys.  As he slipped a ring on my finger and asked me to say “I do… take a stand against child marriage” I smiled.  There really are incredible men out there standing up for women and girls.  Regular men.  Not just actors, activists, and politicians.  Justin is a really cool dude with compassion flowing through his veins.  I asked him for advice on educating boys and I can’t wait to go there with a posse of young hopefuls! Justin is an amazing role model for boys!

While I was flying high from connecting with Justin, another hero came along.  Meet Gavin Weston, author of the book, Harmattan.  Gavin and I quickly became “twitter friends” with like-minded goals, especially for ending the practice of child marriage.  I asked him to share his journey with me and my son:

“As a former aid worker (with Africare) I have had a strong interest in humanitarian issues for as long as I can remember, particularly in relation to Niger. When my children were very young it struck me that ‘sponsoring’ a child through an NGO would be an effective way of both doing something constructive and ensuring that my children gained some understanding of the huge disparities that life can throw up.

Over the next few years we communicated regularly with my ‘sponsored daughter’ (as six year-old Ramatou referred to herself) and, perhaps naively, I assumed that we would maintain contact. It was, then, a great shock – especially to my daughter – when we discovered that Ramatou had been married off by her family, just before her twelfth birthday. We never heard from her again. My daughter had just turned thirteen and was particularly upset by the development. I suggested that she write about it for a school project, little realising quite how much it was niggling away inside me too.

One evening (at a meeting of my Writer’s Club) an American writer made the sweeping statement, ‘men can’t write as women’. I disagreed with her strongly and soon afterwards sat down to attempt to write something from a solely female perspective, initially perhaps just to prove her wrong. When I read out what became the prologue to ‘Harmattan’, and listened to people’s responses, I soon realised that I had started something that had to be completed. I realised that writing a novel from a first person perspective might be an opportunity to ‘give voice’ to the millions of underage girls who are married off every year, a problem that many people find just too difficult to read about in fact sheets or newspapers. I was well aware that this might be perceived as arrogance, on several levels, (not least in terms of culture, race and gender). How could a middle-aged European man express the feelings and experiences of a twelve year-old West African girl? To achieve any kind of success I knew that I had to really try to ‘inhabit’ my character, Haoua. Hardly surprising, then, that over the next five years I frequently dreamt about both her and her family as if they were real people whom I actually knew.

When I began my research in earnest there was not a lot of information readily available on child marriage. However, thankfully there are now quite a few organisations and individuals working diligently to bring about an end to this disturbing practice. I am bolstered to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu declaring that ‘We can end child marriage now!’ and that addressing the issue is as important to him as apartheid was. However, I think that there is a long way to go before we can convince not just governments, but village elders and even women (in some areas) that education for girls is much more beneficial than early marriage and servitude.

So far, I have been surprised at how positively my book has been received, although by its nature there is still resistance to it. (It is not a ‘sexy’ topic and ‘Harmattan’ is clearly neither easy reading or a coffee table book.) I am discovering that most men simply don’t wish to acknowledge the subject. Many of my male friends have been supportive in terms of buying the book and slapping me on the back for my achievement, but few are willing to actually engage in an in depth conversation about how we can bring about real change on a global and societal scale. This saddens me, because although I can write and articulate certain aspects of these horrors, I am lacking in other skills (political, business skills etc.) that are, I feel, essential in terms of mustering a global ‘movement’ that dovetails with what other organisations are doing. I intend to continue campaigning to end child marriage in whatever way I can.”

I encourage you all to read this book and join us on our mission to end the practice of child marriage. 

So now my son had a couple of heros to look up to who were ‘manning up’ for women and girls.  He was feeling empowered.  He realized that there was a community of males out there wanting to be a part of the solution too.  Go ahead, ask him to tell you about a young man named Andrew.  Pull up a chair…


“Andrew is proof that guys know why Girl Up matters.  At a health clinic in Blantyre, Malawi, 21-year-old Andrew is a volunteer youth health counselor. He’s got a busy schedule because he’s the only youth counselor at the clinic. The clinic helps hundreds of girls get the information they need for all of their general health needs.

It’s his passion for helping others that brings Andrew to the clinic in his spare time. Andrew feels a responsibility to his community and an interest in promoting good health, especially for young people. As the only youth counselor — and a young man — it took some time for Andrew to gain the trust of the girls coming to the clinic. But as he has guided the girls over time, they have in turn spread the word that Andrew is trustworthy and that he can help them live healthier lives. Now he has many clients — both girls and boys — and there are more that need help.

Andrew thinks his respect for girls is due to having a strong mother who raised him and his sister by herself. He sees that he can support girls by speaking honestly with them about their health, showing them that they have great potential, and talking to his friends about how they deal with their girl peers. Andrew is inspirational — he demonstrates how boys are girl champions, too. His mother must be very proud!”

Glimmers of hope abound!  This summer my son and I watched some of the Democratic National Convention together.  There was someone I wanted him to hear. Thinkpeace co-director Liz had met him this summer at the marriage of her close friends Corey and Jason.  Corey Smith, by the way, just happens to be a great role model for boys and men as well!  Afterall, he chose a WOMAN (Liz) to stand up with him as his Best Person! He’s also Senior Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Best Buy and a Board Member of the Human Rights Campaign.  When I asked Corey what makes him do what he does, he responded with:

“Personally, my driving force is knowing one day everyone will be considered equal, not the same, but equal. In my work at Best Buy and with the Human Rights Campaign, my constant goal is to create relevant ways for people to learn how to move toward acceptance of others.”

He also consciously connects with people, creating a circle of friends who propel him on his journey.  Among them, Zach Wahls.  Zach spoke at the DNC and left me and my son feeling like standing up for equality is a pretty cool thing.

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I can’t wait to collaborate with Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle, Inc. His organization “celebrates community and the concept of one person, one community reaching out to another in a cycle of giving. Through interconnectedness, interdependence, and the expanded power and possibility created by love, support, compassion, and cooperation, they make a difference in the quality of people’s lives.”  The Giving Circle was initially founded in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and has since expanded its efforts working locally with the underserved in New York.  The rehabilitation efforts in the Gulf Coast continue and internationally (in partnership with a team of Ugandans) The Giving Circle Africa ( NGO) has built an orphanage  and school in Wairaka, Uganda.  It’s an all volunteer non-profit organization with a mission to connect communities in need with those with the resources to help.  Mark actively encourages youth involvement.  He’s a total dude with a supersensitive heart. “It’s not about giving a hand out; it’s about providing a hand up.”   To him that means rolling up the sleeves and placing your hand in the dirt right alongside someone in need.  Awesome! What a role model for boys!

Two men I know are bringing their visions into schools and teaching boys (and girls) that the bottom line is respect and tolerance.  Coach Rich Johns started a program in New York called, Act With Respect Always.

The purpose of Act With Respect Always! is to spread the importance of respect in athletics, academics, and daily life. Through “ambassadors” of respect, person to person, team to team, school to school, and to the community at large–students and athletes will be empowered to be good citizens in all walks of life.  Act With Respect Always gives everyone the opportunity to make the most important statement in today’s society.”

Coach Johns is out there every day, talking to kids from elementary school through college about living life practicing respect towards all.  Important stuff!  And then there is Hiroshi Imase,  co-founder of Feelosopher’s Path, an afterschool enrichment program for kids.  Sensei Hiroshi describes himself with this word:  虚心坦懐(Kyoshintankai).  Kyoshin: Open mind, empty mind, no prejudgement, ready to accept as is.  Tankai: Calmness.  I feel better about humanity just thinking about Kyoshintankai!  Hiroshi believes that the world will live in peace when we use our emotional intelligence for the good of all.  Recently he left his position as Dean of Students and teacher at a middle school for gifted children to start Feelosopher’s Path.  It’s an amazing concept. 

What is a Feelosopher?  A Feelosopher is someone who knows him or herself well enough to connect positively with others. Feelosophers enjoy everyone’s similarities and celebrate everyone’s differences. A Feelosopher focuses on “feeling successful” instead of just “being a success.” Feelosophers are excited for the future, find their passions and explore the unknown with friends.

Hiroshi’s feelosophers value relationships, communicate with others, enjoy diversity, feel compassion, and practice kindness.  They think globally and act positively.  They feel and they think… and they act.  I want to be a feelosopher, and so does my son.  It’s all coming together, do you see it?

It’s taken me all summer to swim around in a pool of positive, forward-thinking, concerned, respectful men and boys to see that we’re on this journey together, not separately.  Yes, girls need lots of encouragement and training to use their voices for change.  They need to be convinced that they will be heard, valued and safe.  Boys and men need to step up to the plate and hit a home run for the girls and women in their lives.  As they round the bases, they need to embrace their abilities to listen, empathize and stand in solidarity with their sisters, mothers and wives. I want to believe we can truly win the World Series, with boys and girls on the same team, humanity’s team.  And men and women in the stands, supporting, nurturing and cheering them on to greatness!   At thinkpeace we often say, “we are all in this together.” It really is “wonderful to walk with arms wide open to catch the wonderful” as Sarah Kay says.  Happily what my son and I have caught is a bunch of involved, passionate, nurturing, dynamic, warrior boys and men who want to join with us on this journey to heal the world and make it a better place for girls, women, boys and men. Thank you to all the boys and men out there helping us hold up our half of the sky.  Through peace, love and understanding, we will get there together.  As together we will think it, create it, and share it. 



what life is showing you

There’s this sappy song that’s been playing in my head all week that goes like this, “Do you know where you’re going to… do you like the things that life is showing you?”  Most of the time I feel fortunate to have an idea where I’m going to and I feel pretty privileged when I see what life is showing me.  “Do you get what you’re hoping for, when you look behind you there’s no open doors… what are you hoping for, do you know?”  I hope for a world where all girls have a right to an education, choice, safety, health, and opportunity.   I envision a world where women come together as peacemakers and create cohesive communities where all people are valued, counted, and heard.  I hope that fear and ignorance will be replaced by tolerance and acceptance.

Sometimes, though, when I look out into the world, I don’t like what it’s showing me after all.  When I read about the ongoing atrocities around the world, especially against women and children, it’s hard for me to hold onto where I thought I was going to… this work with girls, raising awareness and global sensitivity feels like a mere drop in the bucket at times.  Girls are still being forced into child marriages, poisoned, mutilated, or raped when they try to go to school or stand up for themselves.  Women are still not being valued in many parts of the world.  It’s easy to wonder:  am I making a difference?   When I do not get what I’m hoping for, I look to the kids around me for strength.  I am never disappointed.

A girl refocused me today.  Her name is Hadia.  She’s a 14 year old from Afghanistan.  A year ago she knew where she was going:  to New York to study, learn and become.  The arrangements were made; her bags were packed.  Her visa was denied.  Her dreams were shaken.  And when she looked around her all she saw were closed doors.  Unwilling to stop hoping and stop pursuing her future, Hadia determined to study harder, learn deeper, and become more.  We chatted online today and I found myself completely uplifted and inspired by this young woman and her true grit.

Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”  Hadia has this in spades!  Despite living every day with the uncertainty of the future of her country, she carries on.  She walks to school wondering whether or not today might be the last day she will freely do so.  She worries about girls in her country who are being poisoned at their schools by those who believe that girls have no right to an education.  She thinks about the possible return of the Taliban and what that means for girls and women in Afghanistan.  Life is showing her that each day is a golden opportunity that must be seized.  Life is showing her that she must remain strong, focused, and passionate about her goals.

Hadia showed me where I am going.  I am going back to work.  I hear her voice, value her goals, and support her commitment.  She is studying today,  learning about the world, and becoming a global girl.   Thinkpeace Workshop advocates for girls around the world so that all girls have the right to be counted, safe, educated, valued, and healthy.  I’m watching my daughter study for exams, thinking about Hadia, and realizing once again that we are all connected, all in this together, and oh so capable of being the change we wish to see.  Do I know where I’m going to, do I like the things that life is showing me, do I get what I’m hoping for…?  Only if I stay as full of grit as my dear Hadia.

What is life showing you?

bearing witness

we care

On this last day of Genocide Awareness month, we are reflecting.  It’s been a busy month for thinkpeace girls as they worked hard to raise awareness and funds with StudentsRebuild and One Million Bones for CARE.  We made bones at our club meetings, at school, at a mother/daughter event, in our neighborhoods and at a community event.  With every bone a dollar was raised to go towards the efforts of CARE to help victims and survivors of displacement in the Sudan, Burma, Somalia and the DRC.  Through the efforts of thinkpeace girls we’ve contributed about $1000.  More importantly, we’ve learned about the ongoing atrocities in these countries and have raised awareness among our families, friends, and in our communities.  Most importantly, we have felt the responsibility to bear witness and take a stand for peace.  One girl, one voice, one bone… matters.

Last week we listened as Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel introduced President Obama (at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum) with this hard question:  “Given the possibilities of power and the suffering of children… what is it about the human psyche that can allow humans to become inhuman?”  To which the President responded with “We all love, hope and dream.  How can this have happened? We must teach our children that awareness without action changes nothing.”  He went on to discuss the need to mobilize peoples’ consciences.  This past month, thinkpeace workshops have focused our efforts on trying to do just that.  We’ve talked a lot about how humans become inhuman, enough to murder people they once thought of as friends or worse, who were their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.  We know that when the flames of fear are fanned, people react.  We know that when babies are hungry and there is no hope of a cup of grain in sight, people react.  We know that when dynamic leaders make promises of a better future, people react.  We are wired to protect ourselves and our children, but at what cost?  What is the solution?

If we believe in the fundamental right to live in peace then we must not turn our backs to the suffering that continues today around the world.  Together we can raise our voices and say, “Never again!”  And then, the hard work begins.  We have to know what’s happening in the world and connect our voices with those of the people in Sudan, Burma, Somalia, the DRC, Afghanistan, Cambodia and elsewhere who are saying, “Hear us!”  Together we can calm fears through education and safety measures within communities.  Together we can create sustainable living so that no one is hungry.  Together we can learn to listen and share, creating dialogue between all people.  What connects us all is our humanity.  No matter where we live or how well we live, we are all connected.  President Obama said, “Preventing genocide and atrocities are at the core of our National security and are in the moral interest of the United States.”  We have to do everything we can to prevent genocide and to help those who have suffered.

We must bear witness.  Which means that we will take a stand.  thinkpeace girls have been making bones as a part of a national art statement illustrating the deaths and destruction of genocide.  At our state installation in New York, we laced the pathway of bones with sprigs of baby’s breath, signifying a breath of hope– that a new generation will not know this kind of suffering firsthand.  Elie Wiesel said, “Memory is our sacred duty.”  Let’s hope that generations to come will only know the memories.  Let’s work together to ensure that.  Let’s bear witness.  Let’s use our voices, our hands, our brains, and our hearts to heal the world.

We want to share with you a poem that a friend and peacebuilder wrote specifically for thinkpeace girls to recite on the National Day of Action.  From New York to California, these words were spoken and felt, deep in our bones and in our hearts:

Prayers for Peace                                                                                                                  by Ann Keeler Evans, M.Div. ©2012

I.  When I said that I would work for Peace                                                                             It seemed as if it were                                                                                                          The natural place                                                                                                                   To go to work.                                                                                                                           I believe in Peace… it’s the right thing to do.

There was so much I learned                                                                                                As I started this journey —                                                                                                  That although the precepts behind Peace                                                                           Are so very simple                                                                                                               The work of Peace can be quite complicated.

And was I naïve to believe                                                                                                  That everyone wanted Peace?                                                                                       Maybe I was…                                                                                                                   There certainly seem to be many                                                                                   Grown-ups                                                                                                                   Working against it…

Okay…                                                                                                                                      I may not know                                                                                                                   How Peace will work everywhere                                                                                        But I can be part of how it starts.                                                                                          It’s not a lot, but it’s a step                                                                                                        I can take for Peace.

I will accept Peace as my goal                                                                                            And I will bear witness                                                                                                           Both when it works                                                                                                             And when it doesn’t.

I will bear witness…

II.  When I said that I would work for Peace                                                                      What I didn’t understand                                                                                                   Was that all the world didn’t value                                                                                    Each and every girl.                                                                                                                  I believe in Peace… it’s the right thing to do.

It makes me mad when I think                                                                                            That some people don’t think                                                                                            Girls should go to school                                                                                                       Or grow up and get a job                                                                                                      Or become an astronaut                                                                                                       Or a President                                                                                                                       Or a Peacemaker.

It frightens me when I hear                                                                                                       That girls                                                                                                                                   Just like me                                                                                                                           Are being hurt                                                                                                                      And bought and sold.                                                                                                         Why don’t people know                                                                                                     How precious they are?                                                                                                     Why don’t they care?

I will not stand in silence.                                                                                                          I will help to make them visible                                                                                                 I will learn at least one girl’s name                                                                                      And what is important to her.                                                                                                It’s not a lot, but it’s a step                                                                                                        I can take for Peace.

I will accept Peace as my goal                                                                                            And I will bear witness                                                                                                       Both when it works                                                                                                             And when it doesn’t.

I will bear witness…                                                                                                                1. I will bear witness…

III.  When I said I would work for Peace                                                                                    I believed that the world                                                                                               Wanted to live without war.                                                                                                      I believe in Peace… It’s the right thing to do.

And then I read about lives                                                                                              Being destroyed                                                                                                                  And houses and villages and countries                                                                           Being leveled                                                                                                               Because someone                                                                                                             Must win!

People are killing one another.                                                                                          They are torturing one another.                                                                                         They are hardening their hearts                                                                                     Against their neighbors.

It breaks my heart.                                                                                                                   It scares me.                                                                                                                             I don’t know what to do.                                                                                                      But I won’t sit around and do nothing.

I will speak out.                                                                                                                         I will put out petitions.                                                                                                               I will send supplies as I am able.                                                                                          It’s not a lot, but it’s a step                                                                                                        I can take for Peace.

I will accept Peace as my goal                                                                                            And I will bear witness                                                                                                       Both when it works                                                                                                             And when it doesn’t.

I will bear witness…                                                                                                                1.  I will bear witness.                                                                                                             2.  I will bear witness.

IV.  When I said that I would work for Peace                                                                            I didn’t realize that                                                                                                              Entire countries were invested                                                                                               In the failure of other countries                                                                                              To live in peace.                                                                                                                        I believe in Peace… It’s the right thing to do.

That war was as much or more                                                                                       About money                                                                                                                     Than it was about                                                                                                           Tribes.

That people depended upon                                                                                              Our not knowing that                                                                                                             So that they could                                                                                                       Continue to pursue their own needs.

Well, I’m going to learn about money.                                                                                  I’m going to learn about politics.                                                                                           I’m not going to be                                                                                                      Someone you catch in your swirl                                                                                           Of Lies.                                                                                                                                  It’s not a lot, but it’s a step                                                                                                        I can take for Peace.

I will accept Peace as my goal                                                                                            And I will bear witness                                                                                                       Both when it works                                                                                                             And when it doesn’t.

I will bear witness…                                                                                                                1.  I will bear witness                                                                                                              2.  I will bear witness                                                                                                              3.  I will bear witness

V.  When I said that I would work for Peace                                                                             I had no idea how unprepared I was.                                                                                   But now I’m learning what it is                                                                                                  I need to know.                                                                                                                   This much I do know:                                                                                                                I believe in Peace… it’s the right thing to do.

So I’m setting myself some goals.                                                                                    There is some part of peace about which                                                                                I will care passionately.                                                                                                         I’m going to learn all I can about it.                                                                                       I’m going to learn how I can impact it.                                                                                  I’m going to apply what I learn.                                                                                             I’m going to share what I learn.                                                                                             I’m going to find as many girls as I can                                                                      Wherever they are in the world                                                                                          Who also care about Peace.

There are skills that I have that not everyone has.                                                              The world needs my skills, so I’m going to develop them.                                                   I’m going to practice them.                                                                                                   I’m going to teach them to other people who need them.                                                  And then I’m going to put them to work in the service of Peace.

And in the meantime, I’ll keep growing up                                                                      Strong and Lovely                                                                                                                Full of art and play and laughter and friendships.                                                                 I’ll reach out to whoever wants to work for peace.                                                          These are the steps, I can take for Peace.                                                                         And they’re worth a lot to someone!

I will accept Peace as my goal                                                                                            And I will bear witness                                                                                                       Both when it works                                                                                                             And when it doesn’t.

I will bear witness…                                                                                                                1.  I will bear witness                                                                                                              2.  I will bear witness                                                                                                              3.  I will bear witness                                                                                                              4.  I will bear witness

VI:  When we said we wanted to work for Peace                                                                We didn’t realize how complicated it was.                                                                        Now that we know, we believe even more strongly                                                        Peace is the right thing to do.

We’re going to learn.                                                                                                       We’re going to make friends.                                                                                          We’re going to help.                                                                                                        We’re going to make a difference.                                                                                  We’re going to make a global village                                                                                     Of people who care again.

When things don’t work, we’ll try again.                                                                          When things are hard, we’ll encourage each other.                                                        When things are ugly, we won’t look away.                                                                     When things are wounding, we’ll care for one another.                                                  When things are needed, we’ll find a way to help.                                                             And when things are beautiful,                                                                                            We will dance and celebrate and share food                                                                    And Dreams                                                                                                                        And Wonder                                                                                                                        And Laughter.

And then we’ll get back to work.                                                                                     There will always be more work to do.                                                                            There will always be more connections to make.                                                            There will always be more truths to tell.                                                                           There will always be those who need us                                                                               To stand with them

                                                                                                                                             But you know what?

Peace…                                                                                                                                It’s our goal.                                                                                                                           It’s what we believe in.                                                                                                          It’s what we do.                                                                                                                     It’s how we live.