Monday June 28th, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
Monday June 28th, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I happen to be currently listening to a book-on-tape called THE INVISIBLE GORILLA, which is about a famous phsycology experiment in which people are asked to watch a video and count how many times a basketball gets passed around. In all the commotion, someone in a gorillas suite walks straight through the screen, stops, and pounds her chest, then walks off. About half of the people watching the video are so focused on counting basketballs that they do not notice the "invisible" gorilla. Upon watching the video a second time, most people can hardly believed they could have missed it.
This story is not about an invisible gorilla.
Yesterday, I began a workshop at the Mugunga Primary School outside of Goma, DR Congo with 28 Grade 5 students. Pappy Shamavu from Wildlife Conservation Society kindly arranged for a troupe of three actors to come teach the kids about gorillas through a play. The first actor stood in front of the class, telling the kids all about gorillas and then got them singing and dancing, which is easy to do in DRC. Like counting the basketballs, this distracted the kids in order for a gorillas to arrive on the scene. But nobody missed this gorilla
One of the actors came charging into the room, totally unexpected, in a full gorilla costume, pounding his chest and grunting as loud as he could! The room erupted in smiles and laughter and screaming and kids running all over the room. Even the teachers were going crazy! The kids loved it!
The actors then performed a wonderful play featuring a gorilla, a poacher, and a village chief. The play was both educational and entertaining and really got the kids engaged in this workshop. It was a memorable experience for all!
On Thursday, we will be bringing the kids to the headquarters of a national park where two orphan gorillas are being raised. As with the field trip in Bangladesh, the teachers don't want to miss out on this and asked if they could all join!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Saturday June 19, 2010
I arrived in Goma, DRC this week. Yesterday, I spent the day touring HEAL Africa’s facilities and learning about their programs. Among many other things, they run a pediatric HIV/AIDS program that helps 971 children, they run a program called HEALing Arts that assists victims of Gender Based Sexual Violence in recovering psychologically while providing them a means for earning an income, they treat women suffering from fistulas (see: www.endfistula.org ), allowing them to lead healthy and productive lives, and they provide an education to children who are staying at the hospital as well as a number of orphans, children displaced by violent conflict, and Pygmies (an ethnic group that has suffered significantly in DRC).
Since arriving in Goma, I have heard the same sort of stories that led me to come to DRC in 2007: a nine year old girl raped by her neighbor or young boys imprisoned for rape explaining that “they saw something they wanted and decided to just take it – they know plenty of people who have done the same.” While it is discouraging to hear these stories, it is impossible to resist being inspired by the hard-working staff at HEAL Africa. They are treating victims’ wounds—physical and psychological, they are helping them earn an income, they are providing them with legal counsel in order to prosecute perpetrators, and they are helping to care for the victims’ children. It is this holistic approach that has earned HEAL Africa visits and support from organizations and dignitaries from around the world, including Hillary Clinton, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs (Kouchner), Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn through Half the Sky, and Oprah, through her For All Women Registry.
I also met with Papy Shamavu from Wildlife Conservation Society. If HEAL Africa can be said to be operating in one of the most challenging environments for a humanitarian organization, the same can be said about Papy and the rest of the team at Wildlife Conservation Society. They are combating illegal fishing that is done with illegal nets (holes are too small), poison, or dynamite. They are combating the lucrative and illegal timber trade. They are combating poachers. And they are doing all of this while armed militias roam the wilderness areas they are trying to protect. Not only that, they are doing it in a way that is sensitive to the fact that illegal deforestation and illegal fishing are both means for generating an income in a region where extreme poverty is rampant and people need to be able to care for themselves before they will be able to care for the environment. It is because of people like Papy and organizations like WCS that Mountain Gorillas have survived decades or conflict in the Virunga Landscape of Central Africa.
Next week I will begin a workshop with 28 students at the school HEAL Africa supports, plus perhaps another 10 children or so at the hospital. More to come on the workshop later!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
During the last week of May, I conducted a creative writing workshop with members of BRAC’s Social Organization for the Empowerment of Adolescents (SOFEA) program. I was struck by how motivated and confident the 22 young women in the workshop were. They had big dreams for the future and I have no doubt that is because of the encouraging atmosphere created by BRAC’s community centers that provide safe spaces and role models for young women across Bangladesh (and now around the world). BRAC is a wonderful example of an organization that is successfully empowering women and girls around the world. By don’t take my word for it. Here are a few excerpts from essays written by the participants:
Noorbanu: My parents and I have the same dream which is for me to become a lawyer. I hope that I am able to give myself a beautiful life. I want to study and do big things. I hope when I am grown up I am able to take care of my parents.
Anjuman: When I grow up, I want to be independent I want to be a doctor. I want to spend my life helping others. I want to stand by them in their times of need. I want to help people with something with which they can earn a living.
Rehka: I want to be a doctor. But I don’t just want to be a doctor, I want to be a poet too. I will practice medicine and alongside I will write poetry. That is my biggest dream.
Bokul: What I hate the most is when differences between boys and girls are highlighted. I’m not sad that I am a girl, but many people in this society to make me feel bad about it. They keep thinking girls are weak, helpless. This belittling attitude towards girls I find very hurtful. . I want to finish my education and be independent. My father wants the same. That’s why he never says no to anything. In fact, he encourages me.