What Did I Do in 2012?

With 2012 flying by so fast, I wanted to document some of its highlights. For me it was a big year with a lot of growing and changing to work toward the person I’m trying to be. I’m often good at being too hard on myself trying to figure the world out immediately, that I forget that it takes time to learn and to realize what I’ve already accomplished.

I rang in 2013 with some of my favorite New Yorkers including Sarabeth, Elle, Brad, and of course my boyfriend Jon. We started off the evening at McSorleys before heading into Williamsburg to feel classy at a jazz bar. Even with living in NYC, I will never have any desire to go anywhere near Time Square.

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Jon and I at McSorleys

February brought my 4th Jack’s Mannequin concert. I’ve seen him in Cleveland twice, Columbus once, and now NYC. Sadly, he announced that the band was ending in November of this year.

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Andrew McMahon at Irving Plaza

In honor of Valentine’s Day, and as a part of Young Professionals of Amnesty International, we put on our “Make A Date with YPAI” event. At Lolita in downtown Manhattan we held the event to take action for LGBT rights including issues such as DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We had speakers who were professors, heads of organizations including In The Life Media, and ended the night with 2 transgender comedians and spoken word artist Athens Boys Choir.

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Myself speaking at our YPAI event at Lolita

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Athens Boys Choir performing at our YPAI event

In March, I was fortunate enough to attend two of my favorite opportunities that I had the entire year. First was the Amnesty International Secret Policeman Ball. A night of comedy and music to bring attention to the organization and some of the current urgent human rights abuses that were going on at that time. Radio City filled up with the help of a wide range of celebrities such as Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, just to name a few.

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Alex and I front row for Amnesty’s Secret Policeman Ball

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Cold Play performing

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Me, Steph, Emily, and Alex outside the event

A week later I was in Lincoln Center for three of the most inspiring days of my life as I covered the Women In The World Summit for Girls Who Rock. Jam packed with individuals who have been through the unimaginable and accomplished the incredible, I learned so much and never felt so motivated to keep working toward creating change. The summit ended with a speech by one of my favorite people, Hillary Clinton.

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

Tina Brown, Merryl Streep, Hillary Clinton

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Girls Who Rock Team

I ended March seeing Nick Kristof speak, which unfortunately I have no photos of, but you can read more here. April was filled with visitors. Both Jon’s family and mine made trips into the city along with college friends and a couple of guys from Germany. I began May with a trip to Ohio to spend my birthday in Athens, my favorite place in the world, and for our friends Mike and Mariah’s wedding. As I came back, my sister made a big move from NYC to Florida. Finally, it was time for the Girls Who Rock concert. As a digital engagement officer (the Twitter account was named most influential by Internet Week NY) for Girls Who Rock I had been helping plan and promote this event which would raise money for She’s The First to send girls to school at Shanti Bhavan in India.

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The performers and Girls Who Rock team after the concert at Gramercy

In June I found out I was accepted to take on a huge life goal of mine and travel to Ghana with The Humanity Exchange to work summer camps at multiple schools in the Western Region. The next month was filled with organizing paperwork and getting shots in preparation. The experience was as life changing and amazing as anyone could expect. If i begin talking about it I will never stop, so if you want to hear more you can see what I wrote during my time with these amazing kids.

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The rest of summer included playing kickball with She’s The First, holding a rooftop happy hour for Young Professionals of Amnesty International where we took action on the Arms Trade Treaty, speaking at the Amnesty office about conflict minerals in the Congo and other solutions to Kony 2012, and moving. After 2 subleases and squeezing 4 people into a 3 bedroom in Williamsburg, Jon and I finally signed a lease for the first apartment that was actually ours in Astoria, Queens. We also celebrated our 3 year anniversary on July 1st. As fall came around, we joined the Ohio University alums for a cruise on the Hudson River. I went on my first ever business trip for work to Greensboro, NC to represent Blue Outdoor at the Tanger Outlets Conference. Finally, I was made of honor in my best friend Rachel’s wedding.

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The bridal party

After spending the summer reading Half The Sky by Nick Kristof, the documentary was finally airing on PBS. I anxiously went to a few screenings ahead of time of course, one which included Nick, Sheryl WuDunn, and Olivia Wilde as speakers. I also spent a Saturday volunteering at the Global Citizens Festival, a massive concert in Central Park put on by the Global Poverty Project to raise money for some of the poorest areas of the world.

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Central Park Global Citizens Festival

At the end of October we made it through Hurricane Sandy only losing cable and internet, extremely fortunate compared to others in the NYC area. We walked outside to find our neighborhood damaged, but overall everyone in Astoria seemed to stay safe.

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Day after Hurricane Sandy in Astoria, Queens

I accepted a volunteer position as a Researcher for She’s The First for their schools in Uganda and South Sudan which I cannot wait to get started on! After much excitement and drama over the past year, we watched anxiously until 2 a.m. for Obama to win the election. Well, some of us made it the whole time anyways.

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Jon, Jacquie, and Chris on election night

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents coming to our apartment in the city. We held our final event of the year as the Young Professionals of Amnesty International on Guantanamo and stopping NDAA (which Obama recently passed unfortunately). The holiday season brought a delicious work dinner and bowling party, Lion King on Broadway for a night of fun with a few coworkers, and a trip to Ohio to celebrate Christmas, Jon’s birthday, and the New Year with friends and family.

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Eric, Erin, Jon, me, Rachel, Josh

This year brought so much inspiration, love, accomplishments, and learning. It flew by faster than I could ever imagine. So what will 2013 bring for me? So far I have resolutions including eating healthier and joining a gym (pretty normal). I’m also hoping to write more, maybe take the GRE and consider grad school more closely, narrow down a focus of what issues in the world I’d like to focus most on changing, get started with my role in She’s The First, try new things, and find some me time to relax. As most people are, I’m often hard on myself for not doing enough. But thanks to this blog, for me, I was able to see all of the things I did accomplish this year, and they were pretty awesome. Here’s to a positive and even more fun filled 2013!

It Doesn’t All Have to be Black or White

Gun control? Mental illness? Less gun control? Religion? Media? In the wake of a tragedy, there seems to me arguing than coming together and appreciating anyone. It is infuriating. No matter what the opinion is, we’re all really trying to get to the same solution-less violent and tragic deaths. That seems like a pretty good thing to want, right? So why are we all fighting with everyone else who really just wants the same thing? 

Has it occurred to people, that perhaps there is more than one solution? And that fighting over which is better, we can actually discuss how to compromise and combine to make an even better end result than any one could ever have? In my personal opinion, I believe our country desperately needs stricter gun laws, better mental health education, and the media has got to get ahold of themselves. Here is why:

  • Gun control-There is absolutely no need for people to just have semi-automatic weapons. I mean really, why? These are weapons that are only used in war for the most part, why would you ever need one in your house? You don’t. Most of the mass shootings across the country have happened by people who have  obtained guns legally. It’s terrifying.
  • Mental Health Education-Our society doesn’t seem still to handle people who have health issues that aren’t worn on their sleeve. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you grow up with a mental illness, your environment can truly affect how you react to it. You might be bullied, taunted, ignored, etc. The more people understand about mental illness, hopefully the better society can react, and the lives of those who must live with this can be better overall. As someone who has anxieties of my own, it can be truly inhibiting and also embarrassing to talk about. But why? It’s not embarrassing if you broke your leg, or have cancer. This is also something out of your control. We need better programs for those who have the illness, and education for those who don’t as well.
  • Media-What is wrong with the picture of forcing a microphone down the throat of a 5 year old in the most traumatic moments of their life? Is it really worth it to get the story? Is that what’s most important? And, do people really believe it’s a coincidence that once these tragedies occur more and more stories like them come out of the woodwork. Already they had threats in Oklahoma, Indiana, and even a church in Newtown, CT. If you make the suspects famous, it puts ideas into the heads of others. If they are already delusional, here’s a way they can go out with everyone knowing who they are. I spoke with a friend in Canada who said that their media refuses to report the name of the person who commits these crimes. Therefore, less people will try to copy the action with the idea of seeing their name become famous in all the headlines. All the media seems to care about is being the most successful in reporting. How about showing a human side and maybe even making a difference?

I do not believe less gun control is the answer, nor do i think religion is. Here’s why.

  • Less gun control-I have seen tweets saying that the solution would be to have 5 year olds carrying weapons. What? I personally would never want a gun, and as someone living in NYC, I would be terrified every single day knowing the millions around me have them. One argument for this solution is that if good people had guns, they could stop the bad people. The flaw? Not everyone wants to carry guns. For this theory to even have a chance of working, it’s almost like you would have to make a law obligating everyone to have to carry guns. Second, a gunman has never been stopped during a mass murder by someone with a gun to date…so why would it start now? Third, people panic.  I think that more people would be shot by racially profiling, missing the target, or jumping the gun (no pun intended) in a year than the amount of people who actually die in these tragedies to begin with. I also don’t think I would even trust my child’s teachers to have guns in the classroom. Accidents happen, kids get a hold of things, and teachers are people, some people make bad decisions.
  • Religion-I keep seeing posts saying that the reason this is happening is because we have taken God out of our classrooms and out of our laws, therefore letting evil in. These things have always happened. And if there is a God, I would surely hope that he would not cause harm to innocent people and children just to prove a point. That would make me very angry with him. 

Those are my personal thoughts. I think there are many things we can do to make a difference. Instead of arguing “gun control must change” “no mental health must be addressed”, why not both? Not everything is black and white, but our country has become so partisan that even during a crisis when we all really want what’s best for people, we are still viciously attacking each other. Can anyone have a rational conversation? And how do we look at Congress and get angry with them, when our country is doing the exact same thing: irrationally arguing and fighting wasting all our energy on negativity, and in the end coming up with nothing good so that we keep dealing with the same problems over and over.

I’ve seen it on my page. I am so sensitive to other people and all I want is to create a better world, a more fair world, for everyone. Yet on the way friends and family viciously attack what I post you would think that I was trying to actually make the world turn for the worse. I accept different opinions, and I even take time to think and consider them. But I do not accept rude attacks, especially at a time when we are all feeling sad and have the best intentions.  How can we expect to make a more peaceful world and country, when we are all so vicious with our words toward each other, especially when people just want to make things better, that will only discourage everyone. And what kind of example is that?

I even saw one post saying that “Liberals have no right to be sad about these deaths because they are fine with death through abortion.” How can we label people like that? We are all people. And maybe someone, like me, who is Liberal, only feels comfortable with abortion as a well-thought solution. You never know what is going on with people and why they decide what they do. Isn’t judgment supposed to be the worst sin? So why are people using religion as a means to judge everyone, including people like me who may have beliefs different from theirs, but still wants what’s best for everyone and even take their words into consideration. That is incredibly hateful and hurtful, how is that getting us anywhere?

Politics have become black and white, but they shouldn’t be. Not everyone who identifies with a party is exactly the same as everyone in that party. It has gotten ridiculous, and I think these past few days have really brought this to light. Learn to educate yourself, learn to listen, learn to discuss instead of argue, and please, respect people no matter what their opinion. We are all hurting during these difficult times. Being cruel to each other will not help anything.

The Fine Line Between Self Defense & War Crimes

Throughout the last several years most of my studies have focused on issues going on around Sub-Saharan Africa. However, becoming more involved with Amnesty International in the city and meeting people from around the world I became anxious to learn about more and more cultures around the world. The Israel-Palestine conflict has never been one that I personally have been as informed on as I would like, and it still is not. However, I do know the difference between right and wrong and after spending the last week researching it as much as I could I have very mixed feelings.

I know the history is extremely complex. However, within recent months the casualties of Palestinians have been extremely high and the Israeli government seems relentless. After seeing media report after report come out with higher numbers of children and civilian casualties I cannot grasp how people through social media and even President Obama are so heavily backing the government of Israel. Both sides, meaning the Israeli government and Hamas should be held accountable. I understand that Israel is an ally to the U.S., but I also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is known for committing war crimes and standing behind atrocities in the Gaza Strip where people are basically refugees in their own land with no freedoms or human rights granted to them at all. I don’t understand how people in the world or the U.S. can look at them getting murdered with more plans coming out to increase the violence and not want to help them. I agree, the extremist groups like Hamas are also killing Israelis, and those should be condemned as well. People seem to not understand that there are families, children, husbands and wives that are not in these militia type groups that can not have the world turn their back on them so that Israel can murder them in self defense to Hamas. I read today that 44% of Gaza is under the age of 15. That’s nearly half, and explains why the child causality rate is so high. How is this right and how can people not care?

I also understand that because of the complexities that Israel may be on the defensive in feeling that if they back down that the violence will switch. So where does it end? Will it always be whoever is the weaker will be the victim of the defensive attacks of the other and so forth? It’s been going on for years–what is the solution? All I know is I do not agree with the U.S. standing so firmly behind Israel. Allies or not, they are murdering people and planning a ground attack that will increase these numbers even further. I feel concerned for what will happen in the coming days for these people. It amazes me, as usual, that this much suffering and fear is going on for other humans and so many people can easily go about their daily lives and the news reports spend a total of 3 minutes reporting anything. I feel strong emotions knowing that at this moment that is going on. I’m continuing to learn more so if you have any resources or things you think would be good to know I am open for discussion.

As I was typing this, I saw protestors on the news that are currently in Time Square. They were orthodox Jews that were protesting in support to end the suffering for the people of Gaza. Gave me a little bit of hope to see interfaith work in action for good to go to sleep with. Reminded me of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization I’ve been following very closely lately and I strongly recommend. It’s been a rough weekend. Between this conflict and the M23 rebels approaching Goma in DRC makes me feel very fired up again to do something to help and try to find a way to change. A friend of mine posted this today, and it fit in pretty well.

UN Declares Contraception Universal Human Right-What Does This Mean for The World?

Yesterday, the United Nations declared access to contraception and family planning a universal human right stating:

“Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

This is a huge step for so much of the world. I don’t consider myself a major “feminist” by any means, however, it is just common sense that women make up roughly half the world. Therefore, if half the world is left behind or oppressed there is no way that the rest of society can effectively move forward. The unfortunate part remains that people immediate associate contraception to mean sex and irresponsibility. It is completely the opposite, well, the irresponsible party anyways. First of all, women have the right to choose their lifestyle. So even if it is solely to protect themselves for sexual reasons, they are being safe. Then there are those who are in committed relationships or married. Having this lifestyle should not mean that having sex with your partner could always lead to the possibility of a child. By planning in your relationship how many children and when you will have children allows the woman to pursue her career and achieve leadership positions that will benefit society. This also benefits the children that the couple will have since they will be in a healthier environment.

In developing countries, there are unfortunately circumstances that come up against women where contraception is needed to avoid the results that danger and violence can often cause. Many girls must travel great distances to get to school which often makes them targets of abduction and rape. Whether rape as a weapon of war, forced into child marriage, sex slavery/trafficking, etc., these crimes are often focused primarily on women and girls. Access to contraception can help them keep some power and control over their lives. When I was in Ghana, I saw first hand that many schools had no bathrooms, making it difficult for girls to come to school during that time of month. Contraception provides an opportunity to regulate this and control symptoms that may otherwise keep them home, eventually causing them to be so far behind that they drop out. Mothers in developing countries who have multiple children would now be given the chance to control the spacing between children. Therefore, delaying pregnancy, finishing school, succeeding in jobs, saving money, and lifting themselves and their family out of poverty.

In the U.S., Obama’s affordable care act is known to have access to free contraceptives. Many people are disturbed by this thinking that the government is forcing to pay for something that may not believe in. However, there is no way everyone’s tax dollars will go 100% where they agree. It’s not possible to make everyone happy. Secondly, if your concern is your religion, religion is personal. Religion is not the law, and not everyone has the same beliefs as you. Therefore, you can not harm the health and quality of lives to others because you believe in something that works for you. I’m still unsure why religion has so much control over laws and policy when it should be a personal relationship. There are so many different religions in the United States. Law must focus on the well-being of people overall and not give in to a few religions that may hinder others. Another issue in the U.S. that is extremely popular to argue on is the economy. But it has been proven that by having money go into providing family planning services for women will gain revenue as an end result. The money that is put in then goes back into society as these women succeed into leadership postions and careers that allow them to establish and support themselves, rather than not finishing school or moving ahead in work causing them to sink into poverty relying on government assistance programs. Again, if you leave behind half of your society because they are women and therefore have reproductive health issues that must be addressed, there is no way to move forward. Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition, and should not be treated as such. Men certainly aren’t going to stop wanting sex, and neither will women. So the fault should not fall on women who are trying to be responsible so they don’t fall behind by using methods that are much less reliable.

I will never forget the 14 year old girl we met in Ghana, who was so intelligent and inspiring to speak with. On the last day we found out she was pregnant, would have to quit school, and work to support her family instead. That was her life. No responsibility was even considered to be put on the boy. It was heartbreaking. These are things that could so easily be avoided. People often put a stigma on the issue that causes it to slow down rather than moving forward and succeeding. It is a shame, and I am thrilled to see the United Nations take this important step forward to push the world to take action in supporting women and therefore supporting the world.

To learn more, the UNFPA released a full report here: http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/swp/2012/EN-SWP2012_Report.pdf

The Battle of Helping Others While Remaining Sane Yourself

I have always been someone who feels extremely sensitive to what others are feeling and going through. That is one trait that caused me to dive so far into human rights topics. For me, it stays with me all the time that people are suffering, being treated unequally, or going through some type of injustice that is just hard to make sense out of. It seems that many people involved in international affairs and politics in general are lead primarily by wanting to get to the top, that power, or just pure intelligence that sometimes lacks feeling. The more I care the more I want to learn, but the more I learn the more I care. The problem I have, is I can’t just learn and disconnect myself. Maybe I’ll read a book on child trafficking and become informed and filled with motivation and ideas for ways to solve it. I put down the book and then maybe I have plans to get drinks with friends and enjoy a night out. The problem is I can’t. I have no on and off switch. The topic stays on my mind as my brain constantly runs in circles thinking and rethinking of ways to possibly solve the problem, help these people, and just not getting past the fact that it’s happening right now. Right this second, as I enjoy my honey jack and coke (drink of choice, when I can afford it) and listen to conversations at the bar that seem pretty unnecessary to even spend energy on, right during every sip someone is suffering, feeling pain, and hurt.

It might be good that I feel this connection to people I don’t know, but I’ve also found it can be extremely inhibiting. It’s hard to find a focused problem to solve, which causes me to spread myself to thin and not effectively help anyone. I just don’t see any problem as more important than any other, but I know to make an impact I have to find a place to start. I also recently read a post on Tiny Buddha (one of my go to inspiration blogs) that hit right on after a weekend of no productivity because of overactive brain work.

It was a Friday evening in the midst of a four day weekend. I was excited for the long weekend to finally have a chance to process my thoughts from Ghana. My recent trip made the sensitivity to other people much more intense than those I read about, which is already very strong. Now that I had seen some characteristics of a developing country first hand, they were constantly on my mind. I recently wrote about the happiness and positivity that the country of Ghana contained. That is all very true. But it didn’t take away the extreme poverty, hunger, illness/death, and lack of running water or even electricity that remained. Knowing that Ghana is one of the stronger democracies in the developing world, it also put into perspective those countries that are even further behind on those issues along with more violent situations that Ghana sees less of. It made me remember what Nick Kristof said when I heard him speak in the spring. “Everyone in this room has won the lottery of life.” The majority of the world is suffering and lacking these luxuries we take for granted. The MAJORITY, meaning MOST of this world. People in first world countries like the United States who are even middle or in some cases low income citizens, they have still won the lottery of life compared to MOST of the people in this world.

So on this particular Friday night, as I wanted so badly to be productive in figuring out my life, I found myself stuck. My brain was moving so fast that it in fact was accomplishing nothing because all of my energy was burned out on negativity. Sadness for those I couldn’t reach. Anger to those in the U.S. and other countries who just didn’t realize how lucky they were and still have ridiculous luxuries while others don’t have the basic necessities to live.  I felt frustrated as I came back to the height of the upcoming election and seeing energy being wasted on attacking, conspiracy theories, and just stupid games rather than helping others which these people in power actually have the capability to do. I also felt uneasy with myself. The day I got back from Ghana I found out I had to move and switch apartments. This meant buying furniture and stressing out over the cost of beds. It seemed silly to me since entire countries just sleep wherever they land. These little things that we need, they don’t have at all, so what’s the point of having them? Why can some people live comfortable, when others suffer? Shouldn’t there be a way to just even it out? And how do some people just simply not care? I had a hard time going about my regular life, knowing that I had so much and feeling guilty, like if I were comfortable I should give to someone else so that the comfort can even out. It might sound crazy to some, but how can some things that don’t involve helping others matter so much with the insane things that are going on in this world? It just does not make sense, and I don’t see any excuse for people not to help or ESPECIALLY for corporations to use the extra energy and money to do the right things to make things better rather than worse.

This rant that just turned into a gigantic paragraph is literally what is going on in my head 24/7, all the time, always, never ending. I know they say that you can’t help others unless you help yourself. I never really liked that. I know I’m not perfect, but I know I am more fortunate so I should be able to help people who are far less fortunate than my current status. One thing that did make sense to me, however, is the fact that I still need to make myself happy. Because without positivity in my mind, the negativity takes over and causes me to accomplish nothing. Where as if I remain positive, I have more energy to learn and act and spread that attitude onto others. So that’s what I’m working on now. How can I make a large impact, but be in a mind set that is actually productive. Right now I’m finding interest in Corporate Social Responsbility (CSR) but we will see. This world would be so much easier to tackle if people would just do the right thing and put it some effort if and when they can. And the journey of trying to help people and create a better world continues. I know my feelings toward it, and I imagine I’m not alone, so I felt it was important to finally get some of these into writing. Not only for my own sanity, but for others to relate to as well.

“There Is Always A Way”

Being back in the U.S. after traveling to Ghana has been interesting. I’ve been more annoyed than ever with the daily stresses in life that in the grand scheme of things just aren’t important and should not take up so much of my frustration. The minute I landed in Newark I was bombarded with rude and unhelpful attitudes of airport and transit employees. I missed the laid back and friendly culture I had left where you would never see such negative attitudes over anything in life. Now that I’m back, it almost seems like my trip was a dream. I can’t believe that I went and that it was over. Then, I’m awaken as my phone rings and I hear my kids’ voices on my voicemail as a lump forms in my throat. I’m never good with endings, and this one was hard especially because I felt that our time together was too short and we could have had more together than we did, even though it was enough for us both to learn from each other.

It’s frustrating to me because when I tell people where I have traveled I get a lot of pity expressions. People feel sorry those who are living in any African country without even really knowing about it, and it’s sad that our society is morphed into that thinking without looking further. I also feel extremely awkward when people try to tell me how good it is that I went over to help them, to help “these poor people”. However, when I left I didn’t really feel sad or worried about the wellbeing of any of the children I left. And by no means did any of them need to be “saved”. In fact, I’ve come to think even more than I have before that maybe they are the lucky ones. Sure they don’t have a lot. The kids that I worked with mostly lived in shacks, had torn clothes, and minimal toys to play with. However, they were so appreciative and respectful. They enjoyed learning, they found fun in simple games that didn’t involve a television screen or gaming system. Sure, we waited 3 hours for our dinner sometimes, but in Ghana, why stress? What is the point in stressing over these day to day things? Here we are in a developed country with our health problems caused from stress or from not getting enough exercise and eating processed or fast food. Our children aren’t sweeping dirt to make their school look as nice as they can because they are proud to show you, they aren’t carrying chairs over for their new guests. We have so much more here in a materialistic ways, but our schools are filled with kids who turn to drugs, bullying, suicide, etc. It’s like we create these problems for ourselves.

I guess it frustrates me most because I feel I learned just as much from them as I’m sure they learned from me if not more. If ever an issue, the motto rang through “there is always a way”. Don’t worry, there is always a way to get something done if it needs to get done. So what’s better? Is it better to have the money, the things, the technology, the high-tech games? Or is it better to live simply, appreciate your family, friends and community, be a little dirty, a little poor, but be an overall friendlier and more positive person? Laid back with less stress to allow yourself to enjoy life? Who has the better quality of life? It’s true that developing countries can learn to further themselves in areas that the western world is excelling, but do they want to? I think that teaching about job creation is extremely important and showing them what else is out there and creating positive cultural exchange experiences. However, I think it’s equally as important for those in the western world to realize, they might not be the best off. And as much as we are teaching the world, take a minute and let other cultures teach you and open your mind to how they are living. It might be more important for someone to learn patience, life skills, survival instincts, love, respect, and appreciation of what you do have than to learn the competitive fast paced nature of the western world. So, never think “oh those poor people in Africa, how good it is for you to help them” because really, I think we might be the poor people that need help to become rich in other ways than money, power, tech, and business in the long run. If I had the people in my life that mean the most, I think that I could very much live in Ghana or a similar culture for more long term.

Smiles all around at Nkroful

Junior showing off my sunglasses

Vida and a friend after practicing our Azonto

My beautiful girls, always filled with smiles

Not only were they always smiling, but even though they don’t have a lot, they are so quick to give. Especially on the last days everyone wanted to give things to me so badly in fear that if they didn’t I would forget them. One group asked what I washed with. When I told them soap, they were in complete shock that someone with my color skin could use the same thing that they use to wash. They didn’t understand. Before I knew what was going on, a group ran to their home to get soap and bring it back for me to take. They are very obsessed with complexion as well. They think that white skin is better and they think hair type like mine is better than their’s. It was frustrating to me, they would say “your hair is so nice!” and they I would reply “YOUR hair is so nice, it is beautiful!”. But they are very quick to think that white is better and more dominant. Which leads me to my next blog I hope to write about empowerment as an area to focus on. If anything, I hope I left them feeling more special than anything. I wanted them to know that I was saying was truly what I thought. It was hard to tell if it went in one ear and out the other, or really helped them stay motivated to keep working hard, studying, and focusing on what they were so good at. I had the most amazing artists, runners, high jumpers, kids that could list tons of countries from every letter of the alphabet, and who could write the most creative and interesting stories/poems. I hope they don’t lose that. Though roadblocks come along the way such as kids who are forced to work instead of go to school, death, illness, and pregnancy. One school had a 14 year old girl who was pregnant. We did not know until the end and it was hard because she had one of the greatest personalities and was so easy and interesting to talk to. Of course, the fact that the boy have any responsibility wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind. I was so frustrated that someone with so much potential would not have the opportunities. I hope the world will transition to understand what a difference focusing on women and girls can make in situations like that. Where someone so special could have a large hand in helping their community build itself up, but instead will fall back into the cycle of life that is hard to dig out of. Not just in Africa or a developing country, but very much so in the U.S. as well. Which, my plug, is why women’s reproductive health is so important. It took the U.S. too long to make it a priority, as a powerful country we should be setting an example to make the change worldwide that could make a large impact. I got very much off topic, it’s so easy to do! My mind is constantly flooded with thoughts and side stories from the trip. I thought going would clear up for me what I wanted from life, but honestly, I’ve never been more confused. There is a lot to process, but I’ll try to share along the way.

Sometimes People Are In Your Life For A Short Time, But The Impact Lasts A Lifetime

Due to the lack of internet, I’ve been trying to jot down my thoughts in a notebook to compose at a later time. However, now they are becoming a little scattered to compile into a blog. We had our first day off on Friday and travelled to Busua for the day. It made for a perfect break. Someone in our group had been staying there the week before and knew a few of the locals. We met with Ebaneser (who owns an NGO there and will be getting on a plane for his first time to San Fransisco this winter), Teddy (who owns an internet café and drums), and Kofi (who teaches surf lessons). I loved the village, there were volunteer opportunities, but also a great chance to spend time with and get to know people who live there locally to really immerse in the culture. We did some shopping and enjoyed the beach.

The second camp, Anwia, was quite a bit different from the first. The kids seemed a lot more calm, but they understood less English because it was a public school. They also didn’t hit as much, but the teachers seemed to hit more. I felt extremely connected with a few of my students. One girl, Vida, was so amazing. Full of energy and fun. She was constantly teaching me dances, it was so hard to say good-bye to her. Before I left, I wrote them all cards with advice on them hoping that they would see themselves as special.

Another difference with this group was boys and girls did NOT want to work together. Though I made them anyways, it was not an easy feat to overcome. During one of the games where they were working together I asked them to list as many countries as they could in 2 minutes. The age group I had was 12-15 and they only wrote down villages. It was frustrating at first, as we pulled out the map and found that they didn’t know as much as the other school for their age. Finally, I put the map away, drew a compass on the board, and taught continents. By the end of the hour they were naming countries that were in each continent and when I asked them to list them again they came up with over a dozen. It felt great to see something click, because once it does they are so happy and remember very well.

All of the kids try to teach the new dance Azoto, which began in Ghana but with the Olympics going on is spreading around the world. It is NOT easy. I want to have it down by the end of the trip. They also taught me La Pass which was a blast to play. This group was more apt to teach me games, songs, and dances from their culture than the last and I loved learning from them. I also liked working with the older age group because in any culture that age can be tough and awkward. I think in the future I would like to spend more time in that area working on empowerment.

I was also sick yesterday and had to stay home. I think it was a mixture of the heat and something I ate. I wasn’t drinking very much water because we try to use the bathrooms as little as possible since they are only holes in the ground and filled with mosquitos. But I guess it’s better to deal with that than get sick.

Tomorrow we have a day off, then only 2 more days of camp at Nkroful left and we are finished. Since the internet doesn’t work well I have been keeping a written journal of different ideas that are more in depth thinking than how my blog has been just day to day life. I’m using the blog to update friends and family when I can, but when I get home I’m hoping to use my journal to then blog about the deeper issues and thoughts that are spinning in my head throughout this journey. In other words stay tuned!

Camp 1 Salman

I have not had a chance to blog because of the internet. I am actually trying to type this as fast as possible just in case it goes out again. I am unable to post photos for now until I have a better internet connection. Starting out in Ghana was much harder than I expected. I was frustrated with myself with feeling so homesick, though not having luggage for almost a week because the airport sent it to Memphis instead certainly didn’t help. Total nightmare. I’ve been wearing and sharing clothes that are so dirty, we basically roll around in dirt with the kids all day long. At the first hotel I tossed and turned most of the night with the thought in my head of “Oh my god I am so far away from my comfort zone, what am I doing??? I slept very little, but once I met the rest of the team I started to ease in. We woke up the next morning to drive to Cape Coast. As we pulled in we randomly met a girl who is photographed in a tour book we had. She is 19 and her name is Prudence. She stayed with us all day as we toured a slave castle. Her mother passed away and she dropped out of school, which was sad as now she just sells a certain kind of chips in the market each day until she has enough money to buy food and then she goes home. It’s tough to see someone so young and so sweet who without education will not get to experience too much else in life. They slave castle was very interesting. It set in how much the colonization of Africa was horrific and messed things up for their future to which they are still trying to come back from. The tour guide was so great and at the end even mentioned how slavery should never happen again and emphasized the current issue of trafficking in the world and that it needs to stop. The living conditions for the slaves in the castle were just unimaginable.

We started camp and I was very nervous. As we pulled up I got chills as the children ran and smiled and clapped and bowed for us. From studying Africa the last several years I was always concerned that the local people saw westerners as intruding and looked negatively upon them. However, the principal immediately welcomed us and offered us everything she could because she wanted us to know how much she appreciated us being there to help. Thus begun the start of my week which included hokey pokey, happy and you know it, puppet making, card making, story writing, water color, pastels, hang man, jump rope (my entire right side is now sore from swinging a jump rope for 3 hours straight), football, capture the flag, relays, and down by the meadow (which turned out to be their favorite as they had me write it on the board the last day so they could copy it and remember it for when I wasn’t around). 

I struggled at first. I had a group of 25 kids ages 10-13, most of which who were boys. They were very rambunctious. As a volunteer I was in the mindset of helping them and making them feel good, but quickly learned that discipline was necessary. They would not listen, would not sit, be quiet, and were constantly pushing and hitting each other. As my frustration grew I suddenly realized why some of the teachers I had growing up who I thought were mean had gotten that way. As time went on I learned what worked and what didn’t to calm them down, even though we still had many moments of insanity. I learned quickly that it was okay to punish them because no matter how much trouble they got in, even the head trouble makers were hanging all over me to hug and hold my arm before every single meal, break, and end of the day. 

They are all so talented. Their drawings so intricate, their stories long and detailed. They are extremely fast (I learned this after playing duck duck goose and being constantly picked and unable to outrun them). The week was fun. I had never been so dirty, and it involved peeing in a bathroom that was only a hole in the ground covered in bugs, but every morning I rolled out of bed at 5:30am excited to get to the school to see them. 

Today was the last day and it was not easy. My kids made me cards that completely melted my heart. They also ran home to collect things to give me as gifts. I refused to take them, as it is hard for them to purchase anything with their money, but they didn’t care about not having much, they wanted so badly to give me something. They were so afraid I would forget them. I found that the toughest boys in class who gave the most trouble were the ones who cried when we said good-bye and begged me to come back. My heart broke as I held my breath and fought back tears as I told them I never would and they had taught me so much and given me memories which was better than anything. They asked for my phone number, which I did give but insisted they didn’t need to waste their money to call. I got in the van as over 150 children stood huddled outside waving us good bye, some sitting on the ground crying. I didn’t feel the connection or the emotion all week, I didn’t think I would cry, but at that point I found it impossible not to.

I also took the time the last day to explain my life. I told them about NYC, my apartment, boyfriend, and family, They asked my parents names and if they were still alive as many of their parents had passed away they said. I showed them photos of NYC from my camera. They immediately picked out the World Trade Center and told me that was the building that was hit by the plane. I explained the day to them and told them this was a new building, but was so glad that they knew so much. They asked me why Obama killed Suddam Hussein and Osama Bin Landen. They asked me if Obama helped to kill Gadafi. I explained that sometimes people cause harm to many people and it is wrong. However, I told them that I believed someone in return causing harm to that bad person is not the answer as it only is showing an example of what was wrong in the first place. (I was hoping they would pick up on this message and stop hitting each other, no such luck). Everyone in Ghana really likes Obama, the kids talk about seeing him all the time on televisions or in papers. They want to know where he lives and more about him. Their knowledge on these issues impressed me so much. They could never sit still or quietly..but when they began asking about these issues they were completely silent and filled with a million questions.

I tried to tell them how smart they were..how creative, talented, beautiful, special, funny. It was hard as one older boy wrote a card about how much he was happy to meet me and hoped that I did not think he was a monster. He is one I will never forget, and I hope he knows. They are just so happy. They have a simple life, are very poor, but just so happy and constantly writing “I love my life”. They also gave me soap as a gift because they are fascinated with skin color. They looked at my skin and asked “what do you use to wash?” When i told them soap they could not get over it because they used soap too and could not fathom how someone with black skin and white skin use the same thing to wash. 

I have other details to fill in but for now I am beyond exhaustion and probably close to out of internet. We have a day off tomorrow and then a new camp to start on Saturday. Time is going by much faster now and my first week is almost over. I hope to post pictures when I can, but it may wait until I come back to the U.S.

Made It To London! Part 1 of The Journey.

I left for Ghana yesterday, and so far it has been more of a rolle coaster of emotions than I thought. I feel like I am overly prepared for everything and anything that could happen thanks to a ton of organization. However, there still is not quite a way to prepare for the unknown. Jon took some time off work and helped me get ready and rode with me to the airport. I’m only gone for two weeks, so it’s strange, but saying good-bye to him was the hardest part and more difficult than I imagined. I was a weepy mess, a combination of stress, fear, excitement, and leaving extremely outside of my comfort zone. I sat at the airport trying to pull it together on and off. It wasn’t easy, mainly because I just felt like the travel part was never going to end and the destination was a million miles away. Now that the first 6 1/2 hour flight is over, I feel more like it’s right around the corner.

The flight was really great, I can’t believe I’m saying that. I like to sit in the aisle because I feel less claustrophobic. Well, the plain had seats for over 400 people and basically all of them were empty. So I had a row of three seats completely to myself. I spread out, got comfortable, and felt ready to go. I found 21 Jump Street in the movies, which was awesome! We had a dinner and breakfast, so that was a plus. Every flight I’ve been on it’s like $7 for the alcohol so it was to my extreme happiness that the flight attendant gave free wine (though I asked him how much it was and I’m pretty sure he thought I was completely stupid) totally worth it. They give you 2 little bottles so I was able to relax and eventually fall asleep. The flight was even shorter than it was supposed to be. All major pluses. 

When I walked into Heathrow Airport in London I felt a bit overwhelmed all over again. First, it’s huge. Then I started thinking too much about how far  I was from anything. But I bought some Fanta (a reminder of my last Europe trip) and a sandwich from Starbucks, and took my malaria medicine, ipod in, and dozed off here and there. Also, they have really weird toilets here and there’s like no toilet seat to sit on? I don’t really get it.

My flight for Accra departs in a little over 2 hours now. I’m hoping for the same thing as the last flight, though that may be too much luck. I’m just imagining flying into Africa in general, I think that feeling will be amazing and change my feelings. I also think that airport will overwhelm me even more! But, at least that will be the end of it. Then it’s a 2 hour car ride and finally at the hotel by around 11pm to hopefully pass out and start fresh in Ghana tomorrow morning! I have no idea how the internet will work there, but they do have an internet cafe where I”m staying so hopefully all will be well. I also have a plug to use to fit it into the sockets there, but I cannot find an adaptor for the voltage ANYWHERE. They are all just the plug shapes! I’m a little afraid of blowing up my electronics. Hopefully I’ll get that straightened out soon!

One Day On Earth

Last week I went with Anita to the Quad Theatre to see One Day On Earth. The movie was filmed in every single country of the world on the same day. The film makers took all of this footage, edited and compiled for an insane amount of hours, to show the world what was going on in each country on October 10, 2012 (10-10-10). I truly wish everyone could watch this movie. To see and be reminded that everyone on Earth is living, and often struggling at the same time as you might be leading a more comfortable life. It’s a reminder just how many people are in this world, but yet how we are all similar in many ways, but living a wide range of different lives. Through the footage, there were certain themes captured along the way:

  • Love/Marriage
  • Death
  • Trash and Waste
  • Birthdays
  • War
  • Animals/Species
  • Extinction
  • Imprisonment
  • Education Religion

These were themes that occurred in some way in basically every country. It was very emotional to watch for me in a number of ways. One, was in the way that it showed how love is universal and all the different but still beautiful ways people feel and express it. Another was struggle, and how unfair it is what some people have to live through just by the pure chance of where and what they were born into. Though there are different cultures and practices, these themes often come through to many of us. The media often portrays a certain group of people in the same light over and over again. Eventually we assume that for example, everyone in Africa lives in shacks, everyone in the Middle East has terrorist tendencies, that certain religions are better or more “right” than others. I enjoyed this movie because it didn’t stay on track with the media’s agenda. It showed the world in a way that covered a lot of average people. I think if people saw it, those in the U.S. that only watch the news might be surprised that in countries they know less about, people are living similarly to them. Therefore, instead of dehumanizing a situation where human rights abuses are occurring, they may be reminded that people just like them are being hurt or sometimes killed, that it is real, and that it is just as painful even if it’s happening far away and not right in front of their eyes.

Now, even though I think it’s important, sustainability and the “green movement” has not been an area I have focused on or studied as much as human rights. However, this film really caught my attention. One quote that was used, which I think will always stick with me is “we [humans] need nature, nature doesn’t need us.” Which is absolutely true. There aren’t really plants or species out there that rely on humans to survive, but without those things, humans in turn would not be able to live and grow. It made me think of it in a way that needs to be more appreciated. There was even an organization highlighted, and a representative spoke after the film, that takes trash and turns it into novelties. For example, furniture that could still very much be used and there are many out there who are in need. There are billions of people in the world, what we throw away is insane and the amount of landfills is one of those topics that is painful to think about so we often block it out of our minds.

Another area that I know should always be remembered, but often forgotten in day to day life is the importance of living life to the fullest and doing what you enjoy and what makes you happy. I remember when I saw Nick Kristof speak and he mentioned that those of us in that room won the lottery of life. I’ve thought about that more than ever. Sure, everyone has their struggles and their problems. But the atrocities that millions and millions of people face in this world makes being a middle (or in some cases even low) income, average American makes you in the minority of the world who are lucky enough to have such a privileged life. But, anything could happen in a moment’s time, and so no matter what society things (as long as you aren’t harming yourself or anyone else) don’t let the thoughts of other’s run your life. You have to make it yours, or you truly will never be able to enjoy it the way you should be.

There will be another film that was created on 11-11-11 coming out. One Day On Earth is also an organization as well which I encourage you to take a look at. They also have many partner organizations that have helped them through their journey. I know Anita and I laughed, cried, and got goose bumps multiple times through the 1 hour and 30 minute film. Please check it out.