Monday, October 17, 2011

Those who don't wait lead: thoughts on the loss of three leaders

"They" say these things come in threes and "they," whoever they are, are right. It has been a tough few weeks for working through the loss of three major leaders. I know there are more, but right now I am talking about three huge losses; Frank Kameny, Steve Jobs and Wangari Maathai. While I never had the honor of knowing these leaders in person, I mourn their loss because they helped craft what I consider cornerstones for who I am: respect for human dignity, creativity and peace.

Frank Kameny 86 (May 21, 1925-October 11, 2011)
Gay Rights Activist
While his death is marked by impeccable timing (he apparently died on national coming out day), Kameny's passing is mourned not only by those in the LGBT community, but also those who believe in the basic human right and Jesuit tradition of respect for human dignity. Kameny's work transcended the gay rights movement and presented a new paradigm of tolerance and respect for humanity. Kameny is credited with the slogan "Gay is good" and for bravely fighting against second-class citizenry of the gay and ultimately LGBT community. Kameny who has been referred to as an authentic hero of American culture, is a true leader. While Kameny was not always liked, and didn't always win, he persevered. His tenacious spirit will always be remembered.

Steve Jobs 56  (February 24, 1955 - October 5, 2011)
Inventor and Entrepreneur
The outpouring of emotion upon gaining the knowledge of Steve Jobs death was amazing. Our generation lost not only a genius, but a friend. Such a familiar face and voice of inspiration. Imagine the world without Apple as we know it today. Can you fathom no iPod? No iPhone? Apple was not Jobs' only company. Jobs can take credit for the success of several corporations including Pixar, NeXT and Lucasfilms LTD.  In addition to these innovative companies, jobs was just a downright inspirational human. I cried the first time I watched this TED speech from 2005. Watching it now I have a hard time determining whether it is because he is gone, or because it is so inspiring or both. I think both. The loss of Steve Jobs is a reminder of the unbridled power creativity can bring.

Wangari Maathai 71 (April 1, 1940 - September 25, 2011)
Activist, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
Wangari Maathai was an environmental activist who was also the first African woman to be awarded the prize. Perhaps her most known movement is the Green Belt Movement, but she was the incarnation of her commitment to make the world a better place. Ms. Maathai fought on the front lines to end poverty and stop environmental degradation and was often met with struggle and violence for her commitment truth. Her commitment to leadership and realization that "Leaders can't quit," is a clear example of what it means to be a leader. Ms. Maathai was set to speak at Gonzaga University just a few days before her death. Her voice and passion will not be silenced.

Imagine, how our world would look without these leaders. Imagine what a loss it would be if they didn't rise up to lead us down a road that might be scary because of the truth it is paved with. At some point those we follow made the decision to lead. Now, imagine you are the one with the potential to lead. This doesn't mean protests, gigantic corporations or global movements. But, it starts with fundamental beliefs and standing up for them. And then having the strength to persevere. The world is waiting for more leaders.    

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lost Boys found?

Finally, after decades of fighting with the north, Southern Sudan has seceded from the north. As the newest nation in the world, and Africa's 54th state, this victory has been a long time coming. Millions of Sudanese have been walking toward this goal for decades since the end of its post-colonial era.

What does independence mean? This milestone goal is igniting a slew of uprisings throughout Africa and the Middle East. It is almost as though independence has transcended ideology to become a physical destination. Yet, what happens after this line is crossed?

Famine, disease, draught and rape still plague these nations. Those who have left their native country and gone on to seek refugee status, such as the Lost Boys of Sudan, have lost more than their freedom. They've been denied their right to a cultural identity.

Yet, as default participants in globalization, these wondering angels and those like them, have spearheaded a new cultural identity: tolerance. Tolerance of struggle, journey, pain, love etc. Each state, country and so on has the right to defend its cultural heritage. But as the world becomes smaller, country of origin doesn't necessarily coincide with one's cultural identity. What if, as citizens of the world, we shared the concept of tolerance. There is independence to be found within the scope of tolerance. Let's link to independence to tolerance and envision tolerance as a physical destination rather than a fiat actualized ideology.

As South Sudan's narrative changes by becoming Africa's 54th state, let's move forward with the actualization of tolerance and curiosity to find ourselves in the same world.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The freedom of "I don't know."

Do you ever wonder where your tax dollars are actually being spent? I can tell you where roughly $24 million of those dollars are being spent; Moldova.(It is a country, for those of you unfamiliar with it you should check it out, they also have amazing wine. Who knew?)
Our group had the opportunity to travel to Chisinau, Moldova, and work with the U.S. Embassy. The project we were observing is part of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). We were hosted by the John Wilson, the Deputy Resident Country Director, Moldova.
The  MCC was created by the U.S. congress with the goal of creating a clearer vision for U.S. foreign aid. It should be noted that it had overwhelming bi-partisan support. Basically, the MCC allocates funds for a 5-year grant in extremely impoverished countries that are resolute in their commitment to
  • Good governance
  • Economic freedom
  • Investments of their citizens
The goal of the MCC is to leave each project run by the local population, while at the same time tackling issues which plague developing nations, namely; corruption and poverty. Coincidentally, the two main reasons wars are fought. So, it makes sense to try and alleviate this from the inside out. International teams are brought in as contractors, in addition to top-level advisers from major U.S. corporations; Boeing, Microsoft etc. who act as consultants. Essentially, the MCC is fostering a business start-up. Of course there are all the issues which come from creating a new company. Yet, this isn't something Wilson gets caught up in, "There is great freedom in being a beginner," he says. The liberation that comes with being able to say "I don't know" is indeed freeing.

Those of you who know me personally know that I am often skeptical of the motives for U.S. diplomacy. I have voiced concern for the seemingly impulsiveness my country utilizes in becoming involved in matters which on the surface, seems inappropriate. However, surveying the road project and learning the details of the water project gave me a strong sense of pride. It feels good to be part of something bigger, and to see how it is impacting the lives of real people in real time. The U.S. is a very generous country, and the innovation behind the MCC is inspiring. Will it create world peace? I don't know–see how freeing that is?! However, countries rarely invade countries of similar ideology. Sharing in the vision of an end to corruption and poverty with Moldova offers at the very least, a forum for change. And with change comes hope. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sounds of Freedom

We took the Eritreans to their respective houses of worship on the 22. In this group the majority are Orthodox Christians, and there are 6 Muslims. It is amazing to watch them interact seamlessly as brothers and sisters, rather than divided by faith.  I asked a man named David about this he answered with a giant grin, "In our country, we are Muslims, Christians, Baptists and so on. . . This is the way we are working together. It is our culture." Perhaps their problems transcend the superficiality of religion. To survive they must cultivate faith in life, rather than belief in difference.
The next evening we took the Orthodox Christians to an Easter Vigil. After lighting our candles by the flames of those next to us, we then shared our flame with those next to us, and so on. Once we had a flame, we left the church and walked around the church 3 times. Once we were on our private bus home, the Eritreans sang an Easter blessing song in Tigre. Due to the confidential nature of their files, I am unable to show the video as it would compromise the safety of their families and friends still in prison. However, my friend and colleague, the very tech savy Brittany Taylor, created an MP3. To have been here was a privilege, and I would love for you to be able to see for yourself how special these shared moments were. So close your eyes, imagine you are on a city bus in Romania surrounded by 18 Eritreans who have been in prison for doing nothing wrong. The smell is of candle wax,  muskiness before rain and faintly of sweat. It is dark except for the few candles from the vigil that are still lit. These brave men and women arrived in Romania two days before, where they are staying until they continue on to a new life in America. They were able to speak to their families after many years of being unable to do so. Here is where we see faith and hope. Please enjoy the sounds of freedom.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Eritreans have arrived!!!

Finally, our accompaniment portion of the course has commenced. It goes without saying that it is a good thing refugees have gone directly to there placement countries rather than waiting in the ETC. However, the opportunity to interact and take part in the journey of these brave people is something that will not only benefit us, but also those at home.  (Read more from the UNHCR coverage of the Eritreans)
The group of around 30 is the first group of refugees to have fled the Libyan crisis being resettled by the Romanian ETC. In addition to the humanitarian aspect, this type of story warrants the press. We had every major outlet including the Associated Press and CNN in attendance for the arrival of our group as well as that of Romanian diplomats. The refugees took all this in stride and seemed to feel somewhat touched to find there are those interested in the hardship they have experienced.
Many of these men have not seen their families for several years. Eritrean people (both men and women) have a forced military enlistment. (Read more the plight of the Eritrean people here!) If this mandatory military service is not completed, the individual is denied a passport. This is of course accented by the phrase, "voluntary enlistment," which evens out to anything but voluntary. On paper the commitment is for 16 months, and military age ranges from 18-40. However, this is rarely the case. The service obligation is typically indefinite, living conditions are at best destitute, and those enlisted often suffer extreme human rights violations.
From Libya, our group transited through Tunisia where they were temporarily transferred to the Shousha Transit Camp. Their arrival here was a great relief  not only to the workers here, but also to the Eritreans, who all but one, will eventually be resettled in the United States.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Here and now!

We had an awesome panel discussion with one of the local Universities(a more in depth blog will come-wait for it, wait for it!) yesterday we set out for Transylvania via bus (the bus, had 20-21 seat snugly carted 25+and a mouse for 8 1/2 hours. We arrived in the rain, ate a fabulous dinner and woke up to snow. How do you say "layers" in Romanian? It might be reminiscent of the Eskimo word for snow. And we're back.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On the subject of time travel

Oh, the lessons learned while traveling are invaluable tools for self growth.  In our case, we recently learned we have been operating an hour behind the local time in Timisoara since our arrival. Cue the self growth. After arriving in Budapest, we assumed (yes, I know what they say...) the time in Budapest, Hungary was the same as that in Timisoara, Romania. Thus, we have been an hour + late to every event, dinner and  meeting scheduled on our behalf. Awesome.

Sure, there were signs that we were operating on a slightly different time schedule; the anxious rushing of food at breakfast, the panicked expressions of those picking us up for appointments literally, tracking us down on the side of the road as we were leisurely walking home from the ETC, and countless other details which I now make me shudder in embarrassment.
In all fairness we had absolutely no clue that we were late. See, we were trying to show up on "Romanian time" which is about 20 minutes or so after the time agreed, plus with the whole hour off thing, we've been excessively late.  Our hosts, out of politeness, weren't direct enough to ask why we have have been an hour + late to everything. And had we not missed our train to Budapest we still might be an hour behind the rest of Timisoara.
Initially, we just figured there was some kind of tricky daylight savings time that had taken place to destroy the travel plans of tourists. Clearly, this couldn't be on us. I mean, could it? Da. I don't remember the exact moment it dawned on us, however with this new knowledge that we have been living in the past for the better part of a week we realized how even outright mistakes could be viewed as cultural norms. Now that we have returned to the future, we are presently making history with our apologies.