Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Swarming like Bees

Cars and matatus overwhelm the streets of Nairobi and create traffic back ups which last for hours.  Upon leaving the chaos of the city, we immediately exhaled and slowed down. In the Masai Mara, cattle roam and large pastures of land stretch endlessly. After stopping for an afternoon meal of nyoma choma of goat and chicken, along with sides of ugali, spinach, tomatoes, and mokimo, we arrived at the rehabilitation and educational center whose motto is to "to become the best institution for academic and spiritual excellence". Although shy to greet us, approximately 75 boys and girls dressed in gingham uniforms began to swarm like bees, and within minutes attached themselves to us.

"What is your name?" "Where are you from?" "Where is your husband?" We were bombarded with questions, hand holding, and warm welcomes. Some of the students were able to speak English fluently, while others could not respond to our simple questions but shared a blank face.  All were anxious to interact in whatever manner they could and we immediately made a lot of new friends and inherited several daughters. To transition into accomplishing our goal of stimulating minds through artistic expression, we invited the children to participate in a variety of drama activities.

Unsurprisingly, the non-verbal drama activities gathered a huge audience with high levels of participation. After repeated efforts to try to create small groups of only 10 students, we always ended up with at least 25; a flowing sea of colorful sweaters, big smiles, shaved heads, huge white teeth, an equal number of brown teeth, and shoes bursting at the seams. The eagerness and joy in being involved in new challenges was intoxicating.  The verbal activities attracted a huge audience as well, but only some could participate while the rest hung around the periphery, eager to be a part of the excitement.  As time passed, it was apparent that students would smile and act as if they understood what we were asking of them, but realistically they could not respond independently to verbal directions, at least not until a physical example was shown.

The groups worked through the games and activities in a small patch of dried grass near the hanging laundry. Sadly, the lack of clothespins encouraged the free flow of the clean clothing to land on the ground.  The youngest students were challenged with a group activity to count rhythmically from #1-10 and from #10-1.  Three groups emerged: those who could accomplish the task easily, those who struggled with the counting, and those who were simply in attendance.  Peals of laughter occurred in response to students trying to count backwards from #1-10, but even without stating the proper numbers, rhythm was kept. The concept of eye contact was introduced into the activity. Participants had permission to verbally respond only to the person who made the non verbal connection with his eyes. The student leaders caught onto the concept and explained the idea in Swahili so everyone could comprehend. The entire group had smiles pasted on their faces all afternoon. For the final activity, students were asked to choose 2-3 words to describe themselves in being a good person within their community.  "I'm a good person because I like to help my friends." "Help is your word." "I'm a good person because I say my prayers for everyone." "Prayers is your word." These special words accumulated and were then added to the original counting challenge.

Meanwhile, the older female students who had worked with NA during previous visits completed written responses to questions asking why they like and what they have learned from drama. Their answers, although thoughtful, included non-grammatical statements like "I learned how have confident".  The girls gathered outside in a tight circle near the fallen laundry, where they were asked to define the words "global" and "citizen".  No one knew the meaning of the word global, nor did they have any reference to the word globe, though they had greater success with the word citizen; "a citizen is a person living", "where they are from".  The students were asked to think how the words global, citizen and community relate, and what made each girl a good person in her community.  The thinking taking place was obvious in the face of the girl with the grey sweater who finally asked, "Naima, are you talking about what makes us a good person in our culture?"

With further prompting, the girls were asked if it is a peaceful community where they live because it certainly looks peaceful.  The girl in the grey sweater adamantly replied, "No, it is not peaceful for girls. When a girl turns 9 in my community, she has to get married.  A girl's life is not peaceful." Another young girl contradicted this by stating "It is peaceful!"  Since the students disagreed, they were asked to create images with their bodies, no words allowed, to demonstrate peace and non-peace. They accomplished this first in pairs, and then in groups of four. Finally, the group was asked to share a true story to share how a nine year old girl does not live in peace. The girls had a private conversation in Swahili and then shared the following. "The wife lose the sheep and the husband come home and (mimics beating)." The girls were able to act a tableau of the story with the sweetest of the group crouched on the ground acting as sheep.  The conversation tried to raise an awareness that the girls are part of a community, of Kijiado, of Kenya, of Africa, and of the whole world.

These students have faced great struggles in their lives, including traumatic experiences that no one should ever have to, especially not a young child.  NA attempts to reach the unreachable children coming from multilingual and multicultural backgrounds. This workshop was dynamic, and the students proved the need for such work through their interest, excitement and success. NA is committed to reaching its students, especially those at primary school level because with such a foundation of understanding, they will influence and create the change needed for their generation.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

"I thank Him because He promised she will come back, and she came back!"

Our J.E.H.O Family
Miriam, a widowed mother caring for 43 orphans, lives in a 3 bedroom flat located above the church. She shares her tiny bedroom with Grace, found in a field near the airport by the pastor of the church on Easter morning one year ago, abandoned within the first 24 hours of her life. The front bedroom holds 12 sets of bunk beds for the girls, while the identical back bedroom houses the boys.  Firewood continues to smoke from the kitchen where warm porridge has just been served to the youngest children, while fresh chapatti is being prepared in the stairwell for tonight's supper.

The Social Setting of Our Outreach Beneficiaries
Upon entering Pipeline via a rough and dusty road, one is overwhelmed by the colors and sounds emerging from the plethora of tenement buildings also known as "vertical semi-slums".  Laundry is hanging outside every balcony, while silent wishes are expressed that the clothing not fall, for it is known the item of clothing would never be recuperated.  Trash dresses every bumpy, muddy rut with colorful plastic bags in red, blue and yellow as its accessories.  The street level is full of entrepreneurs selling everything from fresh tomatoes to phone cards, working along side a herd of roaming cattle.  Despite the harsh reality of living in Pipeline, the doors of JEHO were opened widely and lovingly, inviting us into the warmth of the church and home.

The Psychological Setting of Our Outreach Beneficiaries
The harsh and dark physical environment in which one enters the home is a complete juxtaposition to the smiles, warm greetings, and laughter that emanates from the children who are standing on each step and behind every curve of the dimly lit hallway. The family survives with the barest essentials; yet even with just one set of clothing, and no books or toys for stimulation, it is no wonder that these children grow and thrive due to the abundance of care that Miriam offers, along with a strong spirit of respect and dignity.  Each child, with a name of Gift, Faith, Blessing, or Grace, has access to a small Bible which appears to be the only tangible tool for learning literacy within the home. The young girls recite Bible verses verbatim and the boys sing and dance with full devotion to the music played by them, on the electric keyboard that is used for the church services.  The presence of God lives in the house and within each member of its extended family.

Our PsychoSocial Work
Today, we presented Necessary Arts' (NA) third series of humanitarian arts workshops to the children. In an attempt to look for understanding, we began the session by asking the students to write down their favorite learning memories from the previous workshops. The students commented on the activities in which they participated, highlighting the acting, singing and dancing.  Several students spoke fondly of singing "Mary Had a Little Lamp".  In addition, they shared what life lessons they learned: "we should have confidence", "behave in a good manner", and "respect our elders".

Their students' written work ended with messages of:  "May you continue with the spirit of helping orphans", "Our love to you shall never end", "May the good Lord bless you", and "May God reward you abundantly".  The children's' faith and love is genuine and present in their every word and action, and these learned behaviors have roots right here at Jeho, transferred directly from Miriam's heart and soul to the children.  It is apparent that 43 children go to sleep each night knowing they are loved.  By growing up on a home full of goodness, imagine the positive impact they will make upon community, society, and humanity.

NA is operating as an educational humanitarian organization with the motto to stimulate minds through artistic expression, to empower students to reach their full potential, and to become confident, productive, innovative contributors. The Reach the Unreachable project focuses on the singular objective to foster global citizenship among today's youth from multicultural and multilingual backgrounds. Through the theatre arts, we promote personal development through creative expression.  Students demonstrate this to us through their words, songs, dances, and overall eagerness to participate.  Through literacy development, we promote successful communication in the English language. Students demonstrate this to us through their word choice and tidy penmanship.

NA has been working with this group of children for one year, and while I cannot yet confirm the students are able to exhibit strong leadership, critical thinking, and innovation, while making positive contributions to a global society, it is evident that based upon their positive upbringing, along with NA enhancing their life skills, learning is most definitely taking place.  These could in fact be the small steps that allow the children the opportunity to grow and develop into global citizens.  No matter one's background, upbringing, language, culture, spiritual beliefs, and so on, we are all connected, and it is through this connectedness th
at our global society will thrive.

Think Globally; Act Locally

Returning to Kenya  - Building Global Families

Humanity is the buzz word of  my ocean's ride. With the highs and lows, the ins and outs, the ebbs and flows, it is clear to me that we are always exactly where we are meant to be. Returning to the J.E.H.O family as I affectionately call them, allowed us to ascertain where we are in delivering our service to them.  I, for one, am of the belief that humanity underpins and drives development if there is to be any sustainability of our global society. This theme echoed through the DIHAD conference last week and now that I am here, on the ground in Pipeline, I root myself even deeper in this truth.

In the end, I suppose if enough of us walked in the tracks of compassion, dignity, responsibility, tolerance, diversity, good temperance and the like, we would show up for each other, ready to overcome life's challenges through a collective mindedness. Our Pipeline students benefit from the opportunity to think globally, while acting locally. They are ambassadors for their generation, and will develop into dynamic global citizens who truly make a difference.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Statistics of Shame

Statistics of shame
  • One year of global failure resulted in 23,969 cases and 9,807 deaths from the Ebola virus.
  • Only 15-20% of the monies donated to Somalia are actually received by the beneficiary.
  • Although Gaza is overcrowded and becoming more and more unlivable, 7,000 new students enroll in the schools annually.
  • Tens of millions of people around the globe have been forcibly displaced by conflict, natural disaster, or persecution.

Although the data is staggering, a person cannot become just a statistic.  Each individual deserves help, treatment and service, in addition to dignity and respect.  Necessary Arts is trying to reach such individuals by providing theatre arts workshops which focus on one's psychosocial development: the building, or perhaps the rebuilding, of one's psychological development in and with a social environment.

Necessary Arts has a vision in mind. If the end result of the Reach the Unreachable project looks similar to what we expect or anticipate, have we truly succeeded? Wouldn’t it be better to see how the project could develop naturally, based upon the shared communication among the donor organization, the humanitarian actors, and the affected communities?  It was suggested at DIHAD today that we do NOT give fish to those in need, NOR do we teach them to fish.  Instead, we tap into their innovation and creativity.

Necessary Arts doesn’t just seek change; we are committed to change.  Let us all be part of the momentum!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

How does one morally quantify poverty?

As we were walking around the DIHAD exhibition hall today, I saw a poster defining the group as “an international, humanitarian organization dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty.”  I immediately wondered how one could possibly differentiate poverty versus extreme poverty.  And more importantly, how does such differentiation exist in our world today?  

The United Nations defined the phrase extreme poverty as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.”  Currently, extreme poverty refers to earning below the international poverty line of a $1.25/day.

Take a moment to estimate approximately how much money you typically live on per day.  And then try to visualize your life with such a reduction of earnings.  Humbling, isn’t it?

DIHAD 2015 “Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability”

Our recently formed book club has chosen “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz as our first read. She begins her novel by reminiscing that once upon a time, she had hoped that her nudging of the world with good intentions and philanthropic efforts would make a difference, though she quickly realized nudging wasn’t enough. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase drastically, dangerously. For the first time since WWII, the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes exceeds 50 million; hence the desperate need for humanitarian responses.  Humanitarian actors continually respond to such suffering from perpetual crises; yet we cannot allow this to become “the norm”.  I might argue that the solution is assistance and relief, while you might suggest opportunities for development as the essential component.  Yet realistically, the most sustainable response is humanitarianism; the motivation behind what we do, based upon our own values and ethics.

Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, and South Sudan are four of the United Nation’s highest emergency level crises that arose simultaneously.  Immediately, a barrage of negative thoughts comes to mind:  blockades and occupation, food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty, armed conflict, breaches of international humanitarian law, targeting of aid workers, inconsistent education, and human trafficking.  These conflicts and challenges require dignified, coordinated, and sustainable humanitarian responses, which can only arise by the actors working collectively beyond borders, beyond cultures.  And then one day, when those four countries are mentioned, perhaps a positive response would come to mind instead.

As we walk around the DIHAD exhibition area, we are overwhelmed by the positives: portable solar power solutions, safe drinking water systems, emergency food and shelters, medical and rescue equipment, opportunities for formal education and vocational training, armored transport vehicles, emergency responders, microfinance opportunities, disaster management, female empowerment, migration management, mosquito nets, fleece blankets, and healing the wounds of war. The solutions exist, but must be put into action. The need to protect refugees, resolve refugee problems, and help find durable solutions to allow them to rebuild their lives in dignity and peace must be prioritized.  There is no other option.

Networking at DIHAD

Today was a first for NA. Suzzanne Pautler and I represented Necessary Arts at the DIHAD conference as "participants" - not to be mistaken with "trade visitor" if you want to gain entry to varied speaker presentations. Needless to say , I of course ended up with a yellow badge initially and did not realize my error until I tried to take a peek into the main speakers' hall and was blocked by security. We promptly headed to the the correct registration desk where I was given the green stripped badge for access to the speakers in the conference hall.
Green stripe.jpg
We spoke to several agencies and learned so much about the different aspects of supporting desperate refugees. We learned how compressed and nutritious food is packaged  and distributed to refugees. We stood inside a refugee housing shelter - big-eye opener was that IKEA makes the temporary housing shelters for UNHCR refugees - and saw all the types of utensils and supplies provided for the refugees. Some of the agencies displayed at the conference are UNHCR, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Arab Ready Meals. 
UNHCR Shelter Facilities
We had an amazing discussion with Sherin from International Humanitarian City (IHC) and finally grasped the "how to" procedures for registering an NGO in the UAE. Now, after ten months of swirling around an abyss of misinformation we can finally join the many NGO'S registered here in Dubai. And thanks to  Penelope Spencer who has maintained the operations of NA in Trinidad, we can boast of having a "headquarter company" to branch out from, spread our wings and continue our humanitarian work in this region.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Reach the Unreachable fuh true!

Traveling through Kenya revealed really how hard life is for some.

Women walking their timber-like frames while carrying the soul of a tribal warrior.
Children walking for what could be miles.
Always in tattered and dirty dress.
By any means necessary they get from Point A to Point B with whatever the load.
It certainly provides a glimpse of what life could have been many years ago in Trinidad and Tobago.
Just out of toddlerhood 
They march with a mean sense of purpose and rhythm 
Children working in the fields  Yuh could run but yuh can’t hide.

On an African compound for the first time.
The brown earth
Houses all around
The car that was
The single standpipe
Toilets outside
Clothes on the line
Modern vs. traditional
Old vs. new

The thick white blanket of clouds covered the village where I stayed.
The quiet, the serenity

Going to the outhouse
Got easier to approach as long as I was armed with my tea tree soap

The children are absolutely phenomenal.
The values in this community are instilled through expectations from elders.

The African village
My African village
Our African village

The mud caked houses are quite ingenious and aesthetically soothing.
What does your country look like?
Very much like this, in many ways., I have a picture in my phone.
I leave the stoop and retrieve my phone
“Oh noooo” as I examined the pictures, then realized I could not access them.
Oh noooo” I repeated. We need the Internet to access the pictures.
When one’s basic needs are not met
and connection to the Internet is the furthest on that list of needs
I begin to realize what  a true disadvantage it is in the competitive global community.
Do you have any games, Naima?”
Only one.  Look, I’ll show you.”
I hand her my iPad and guided her to Scrabble.
We have this board game.”
Ok. Great. Then you can play.”
They play for a bit then revert to the much more interesting option of watching their videos taken in the workshop earlier.
By 4:00 PM, the younger group were seated together and fully concentrated on learning. “Mary had a little lamb.” I continue to be impressed with the level of eloquence in their English. The learning going on can easily be found in their discipline (to learning) and attitude towards learning. Though many have an option for now, NA has eight primary age and seven high school age students.
They performed their scene for the improv unit with intent and focus independently. I look forward to today’s performances.
My bath after the first ever home cooked dinner meal in my new Kenyan family relaxes me for the night. Finally, I was stooping at the compound stand pipe which was opened for me by one of the boys. I brushed my teeth with the audience and wished them a good night.  “Charlene, you can hold onto the iPad tonight.”
Waking and heading to the “shower” in this African compound, very refreshing. The process of living here is so simple and effective.

Raymond is up and already washing the clothing. He reminds me of my brother Ken. The morning routine on the compound includes the sounds of the cocoyea broom sweeping the earth, the clinging of the handle on the stand pipe as water is released only as needed.  Children are up and busy at various chores.
Raymond is clearly “the man” of the compound this morning. He is not a lazy child. None of them seem to be.  “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I asked him after he told me he is fourteen. “You’ll be twenty four then, so what do you see yourself doing?” “I want to be a narrator” he says with conviction. “A narrator?” I exclaimed. “Yes. I like telling stories and writing.” “Well then, Raymond, you shall be a narrator because you want to.”
Yesterday I took a walk away from the family as they reunited with Maggie in Swahili and their mother tongue. As I stood in my spot, a young girl held a stone in her hand and walked briskly away from an older man. I had seen that older man earlier as we drove in. He was hanging onto a tree with his right shirt sleeve looking wet compared to the rest of the dry, torn, and dirty garment. I wondered if he was drunk then and now I wondered the same thing. They both spoke in their mother tongue so I could understand nothing. Their body language told it all though. Clearly she meant to throw this rock at the older man if he continued doing whatever he was doing. It struck me just then, this image contradicts the respect between the ages I thought existed here. Or maybe she was justified.
So many children and yet without them, would this compound be so lively? Breakfast was simple and again effective.  Boiled eggs and four slices of whole wheat bread. Mama was very surprised that I do not take milk in my tea. It is the custom to serve this to guests. I hope I did not offend her or put her out too much. As I was almost finished, a plate of kale “vegetables” came out. I could not have any.  I was full or so I thought until the “fried bake” came out, "mandazi" as they call it. And, of course, I am delighted from the first bite which tastes so much like my childhood.  I ate both.
I learnt that the mud caked houses are called bombers. This morning we took a drive through Lake Victoria in the Bukoma community.  The locals were “pulling in the nets” as they dragged in their sustenance. Raymond explained the process to me, like a proud tour guide.
The Kulokuma compound is located in the “town” centre. Reggae music is blasting from the main road on this Good Friday. This Easter weekend brings music blasting from the village “discotheque”. I fall asleep thinking about the similarities of this village and my sweet summer retreat village of Lambeau in Tobago.