Sunday, February 27, 2011

Somewhere between the sports & the weather is a face.

I finally got a chance to watch Blood Diamond last night. Wow! What a powerful flick. While it had all the intrigues of a standard Hollywood flick, it also had so much more.

When I know a movie is based on a true story, I generally pay a bit more attention. It will often go through my mind while I’m watching – that Wow! This actually took place. I found this movie a bit more challenging though because as I was watching it, I realized Wow! This is actually the status quo in parts of Africa.

Of course Hollywood took its liberties. Leonardo was there as the leading man and once you got past his horrific rendition of a South African accent, he did pretty well (I’m not at all biased b/c I am not generally a huge fan of his). Other big cast names include Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) etc etc. The story is action packed and tense and of course, Leo does the right thing in the end and justice is served. (This story provides a lead in to the actual implementation of the Kimberley Process established in 2003). But of course for people actually living in the midst of the African conflict, their story doesn’t wrap up nearly so tidy.

I found there to be many memorable moments in the movie, but I think one of the more powerful ones arose as Leo, Jenn & Djimon’s characters get out of a helicopter close to a refugee camp. As they are looking across at the incredible numbers of makeshift tents & shelters, Jennifer’s character says “Africa’s second largest refugee camp – This is what 1 million displaced people look like. A population the size of a country, left homeless because of this war”

A moment later she says “At home you might see something about it on the news, for maybe a minute – somewhere in between sports and the weather”.

I thought that was a powerful thing to say. It is so true. In North America, there is so much going on in the news, world issues such as this blend into the programmed mind as just another part of a world with problems. We sit in front of the tube; eat our evening snack & surf channels – catching bits of the news, but nothing practical enough to really allow us to consider the scope of what we are seeing.

Right around the time we moved to Alberta, we caught a news broadcast expressing concern in Calgary about the lack of concern people had for other people in crisis. This came up as there had been a number of major traffic incidents along some major roadways there and while people were sitting in or lying injured beside their vehicles, traffic was continuing on as always. No one stopped to help. No one called emergency numbers. People have died as other people just drive by, continuing about their business. The question came up “How can people just ignore these individuals in crisis?”

I don’t think too many people would intentionally pass by if they knew the real situation. Would any of us not offer to help if we knew someone was in trouble? Could we turn a blind eye if we knew of a crisis nearby in our neighbourhood?

The world is a pretty big place. Africa is quite far away. Many people have said it is not our battle, therefore, why do we care? They are neatly contained on their own continent, far across the ocean. But in a global sense, are they not our neighbours too?

I remember years ago, when that little girl – Jessica, fell down the well. People prayed, people rallied, people sent letters & cards and a nation stayed glued to the news until word came that she was safe. Again, miners in Chili garnered the same attention. Innately, people care. But sociologists and humanitarians agree that people have a more difficult time giving energy to caring about something that hasn’t been given a face and made real. In a sense, the media holds the power to pick & choose what we will care about. It is more touching to put a face to the name of Jessica – the sweet baby in a well. 1 million displaced people are just too great to comprehend.

Hollywood worked to make this story real by having us follow 1 family. Torn apart by the war, this family faces grief most of us thankfully will never have to know. This family all managed to survive and was even reunited at the end. Hollywood likes to do that.

If I can focus on 1 family in the midst of those millions, I will think on C. My Congolese sister I have been paired with through Women for Women international. I still have not heard back from her, but I wonder about her. This movie brought further insight into what her reality may be. She is just 1 of the millions of affected peoples. But if a million is too overwhelming, then please just focus on 1.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Treasured Princess

I’m sitting cozy in my office. Freshly showered, 2 kids freshly bathed (I even cut one’s hair!) and I don’t even have a headache (a rarity for me – especially as I had a crummy sleep).

The agenda for today involves multiple loads of laundry, packing 2 boys & myself for an overnight adventure at the zoo with their scouting group and tidying up for a babysitter tomorrow evening (please tell me I’m not the only one to clean for a sitter?).

I was plotting my route to the zoo (we need to be there right as rush hour is ending – fab! A normally 20 minute drive would take over an hour by the most direct route – so I’m searching a less direct route. Not knowing the city that well, it could get interesting. In between this, I’m busy working on my teaching application and checking friend’s status updates on facebook. A pretty typical day.

This morning I noticed on my fb a new article from War Child Canada. It described the situation of child warriors and that when people think of child soldiers, it is more so the boys that get the attention. This article focused on the girls. A sobering picture.

My peaceful, task oriented morning has now been flooded with thoughts about these sweet princesses and what THEIR daily routine might entail. My own sweet princess is currently wearing a flouncy blue princess dress - her agenda for today was to watch Ariel and she prepped herself by having a nice bath, enduring a haircut & picking out her Ariel undies to wear.

My heart broke as I read the article and I am SO GLAD it popped up on my screen. My biggest fear is that while I am compassionately moved by world issues, especially the current state of affairs in Africa, I know my day quickly gets swallowed up by my own routines. And so easily the things that break my heart one moment are forgotten in the next. I don’t want to forget.

I have 2 big boys and a little girl (who often reminds me she’s big). They are 8, 5 & 3. Both my boys at about age 2 or 3 started acknowledging that there were a few anatomical differences between them and me. The most obvious, of course, is a penis. I recall their concern for me and one of them even vowed to find a way that he could get one for me. This was a huge deal to them. (and very amusing to us)

My daughter, at 3, has also recognized these differences, but rather than asking what she is missing, she recognizes what a treasure it is to be a girl. She has generated for her and I, this special little club that only WE get to be a part of. She’ll look at the boys and almost sadly say, “You and daddy are boys” (boo hoo) “But ME & Mommy! We are GIRLS!!” I call her my princess and she calls me her princess. I kinda like being part of her club.

I think of these girls who are rightfully princesses. They are each uniquely and beautifully created by God who treasures each and every one dearly. I am thankful for groups that are in the midst of the conflict and are working hard to support these children and bring awareness to the rest of the world.

I have to get back to my laundry now (and The Little Mermaid is about done). My daily routine will continue, but I know my thoughts will be with these children many times today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Sometimes it is hard to know how to balance things. I think of these French classes I’m taking. Really, while I enjoy French, I’d much rather get a job teaching Math or Science, but that is not needed right now. So, I’m paying money to take French in order to make myself more marketable to get a teaching job to make more money. Make sense?

I see it as being prepared.

We also pay money to put our kids in gymnastics & swimming lessons. Do I think they will become mega-athletes & join the Olympic ranks? Not really, but swimming is a necessary life skill. I was thrown from a boat about 12 years ago and even lost consciousness for a moment – had I not been a strong swimmer, my hubby would have been widowed before our first anniversary. Considering the currents in that river system, a non-swimmer would have gone down, but after years of lessons – I was prepared. (note to any boaters out there – a life jacket would have been useful and, of course, I wasn’t wearing one – I always do now!!)

As I consider what to do regarding the information I’ve been learning about the state of affairs in Africa, I definitely feel underequipped. I really don’t understand the ins & outs of the conflict. And I REALLY don’t understand how people can act the way they do towards each other. So, how do I prepare to respond??

Starting a blog of thoughts was easy (well, actually, it wasn’t since I’m not too savvy in this dept – a good friend walked me through the beginning steps). But that is one way to get the word out. From here on? I’m still preparing – although I don’t fully know what for.

I read a blog this morning by a long time friend – I believe we’re close to hitting 25 years! She, to me, always seems prepared. As a musician, she practices way more hours than I ever had patience for and as a believer, she gives focus to her faith. I admire that.

Her post today was reflective and it made me think more on centering my own focus. I have been praying long & hard about what to do with this information I’ve been discovering. Mostly, it just reminds me of how little I do know. Then the voices (the conscience type, not the slightly loopy type) start reminding me of how insignificant I really am and WHY do I think I can make a difference??

But I need to remind myself of the bigger picture –my focus, my centering. By reflecting in, I want to suck up the courage to focus out. Bit by bit.

So, I will continue to learn. To prepare myself for I’m not sure what. I’ve been tossing some ideas, but apart from bouncing them off a few close friends, I’ve not said much. My fear is putting myself out there and being accused of trying to be the expert, which I’m not. No matter how much I do prepare, someone will always know more, but I need to remember that this is not about me. This is about speaking up for those who have no voice in this whole big mess. I’m just going to push forward and keep on trying to figure it out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pick One!

When my kids were gearing up for Christmas and they were each so excited about the potential goodies Santa (and Mom & Dad) were planning on getting them, they kept asking me what I wanted. I am one of those horrible people who never knows what they want (my poor family) so since I could come up with nothing better, I kept responding saying “World Peace”. If nothing else – always revert to Miss USA answers. Very PC and might earn you points! (and even a sparkly crown!)

Little did I know I would read a book that would cause me to read more & learn more and thus make that patsy little answer ring ironically true!

I started searching local amnesty groups to find out WHAT was going on. Congo was my primary thought, but common sense should have made me realize that is only one of many hurting countries in our world. My heart broke as I read of the child sex trade, slavery, women oppression and a limitless gamut of other horrific realities for people. People are hungry, ill, living life in fear of what tomorrow may bring. Realities I’ve just never had to face in my tiny little corner of the globe.

Again, I did not just crawl out from under a rock, I have been aware of the ugliness our world contains, but generally I just have chosen to focus on the happy stuff. Wishing I could share the innocence of my own kids in their ignorance of wanting the latest cool toy for Christmas. Also, when I thought about it, my thoughts would always drift over to thinking what difference could I really make anyway? Tsk tsk, it is all so sad, isn’t it?

So, as my heart was breaking, I had a massive sense of overwhelming sadness. How can I help? There is so much? What can anyone really do?

I am someone who prays. And along my life journey, I tend to consult a higher power especially when I am uncertain or confused. I have been praying for an opportunity to be used. Not just doing the local little things to support my local church (not knocking that, just not wanting to stop there). And I do know every excuse to not do anything at all! Believe me, I’m full of them!

Before our big move to the big city this past fall, I was part of a little church with a dynamic minister. The 4 years I was there, he would go on and on about social justice. That the calling of Christ is in essence to go out and love people who need love. Care for people who need care. Stand up for people who cannot stand up for themselves. This is what Jesus did, right?

As I was considering all the different needs I was reading about and all the great organizations already in existence working hard – yet so often they are so underequipped to really do it well. I realized I am not going to save the world today. I am not able to solve world hunger, take in every hurting orphan or rescue every person who has been knocked down. But I’m not going to feel bad about that. If I do, it will consume me and I will become completely useless.

This same pastor used to say “Take a look around and see where God is already at work, then join up!” Makes sense, right?
So, I picked 1 little corner of the world – far away from my own. I am trying to learn what I can learn and working to do what I can do to make a difference for that place.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Congo: The Malnutrition That Shouldn't Be

A little more background knowledge - link

When I first read Lisa Shannon's book and knew I wanted to do more than just be a passive observer of solid literature, I wasn't quite sure what form my involvement would take. I still really don't know. I opted to blog as a way of informing others what's going on. I figured if I was so in the dark, likely others are too. I do have plans for doing more - stay tuned, I hope to share more on that. But I do know a little blog only goes so far. Especially if I know the readers are primarily friends who will love & support me no matter what I write! I intend to leave the safety net eventually. Until then, I am continuing my reading and will continue to share what I learn.

 I did a quick google on Panzi Hospital - this is a hospital in the DRC that does many repairing surgeries for rape victims. The article (link I'll attach here - if I'm allowed - I'm new (and ignorant) to this blogging thing). It describes a bit of the history to the struggles and why rape issues have become so significant. Please take the time to read. It was written a few years ago, but is every bit as relevant to today's situation (I think it was written in 2003 - that's not really that old I guess). 

You may have to copy & paste the link.

I've pulled this back up to edit & add a link to the Panzi Hospital. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Letting Go – Having a Spirit of Generosity

I do believe much of our personal views in this area may have something to do with the values that were instilled in us as children. I grew up being taught that if I was to borrow something from someone, I should return it in the same (if not better) condition as I got it. Naturally, I grew to expect the same from others if I was to lend something out. After a few disappointments, I just became reluctant to lend anything out – or even borrow, as I was paranoid something might happen to the item.

My husband on the other hand was instilled with the thought that if you lend something out, be ready to let it go and never see it again. So, if things were returned (and even better, if they were in pristine condition), it was a bonus!

I see pros to both approaches. If something doesn’t belong to us, we need to care for it, but on the flip – if something belongs to us, we need to put it in perspective and be ready to let it go – because it never really belonged to us in the first place.(The saying "You can't take it with you" comes to mind).

I watch my children with interest. I have 1 who has a very difficult time letting go of things and another who would give the shirt off his back if asked. The third is just an opportunist who takes treasures from all of us and tucks them away in the back of her closet – which she has dubbed her secret laboratory. We’re still working on that one.

I want my kids to be able to witness generosity and hopefully walk away later in life with hearts that are willing to share what they have. Their world is so sheltered (I’m not begrudging this), but when I compare to what kids their age may live through in other parts of the world, I know we are blessed with so much. Our kid’s every need is met (even a number of wants).

As I’ve been working at learning more about the DRC, I’ve been trying to communicate this to my kids. Not in any sense filling them in about the horrors kids their age face, my kids still believe in Santa Claus, I will not mess with their innocence. But I don’t believe it is too early to tell them that there are people fighting over stuff and many families are being hurt by this. My kids understand this. They know this is happening way far away from them, but they know kids their age are hurting.This makes them sad.

When I married my husband, I went through a massive learning curve in the department of generosity. I still practice taking huge care of anything that doesn’t belong to me (and I’m working on that with my kids too), but my posture of letting go has changed. We have definitely found ourselves “out” an item or 2 along the way, but letting go to help when someone has a particular need for something feels pretty fantastic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!!!!!

Today is the day, historically, that people put aside to celebrate love & affection. As I took a moment to look up what it really is about, I learned, in fact, that there was more than one Saint Valentine Christian martyr! I learned the day itself became established in 496 A.D. however, it did not gain it's romantic association until about the 14th century.

Each of us, now, have our own special traditions that we may like to uphold on V-day. Be it chocolate! Cards, flowers etc. This is the day for warm fuzzies, right? Thankfully, neither my husband or myself hold to any high expectations for this day. Phew - pressure's off! Why limit your love to one day, eh? ;)  My kids dutifully made a valentine for each of their classmates & I dutifully helped them affix a foil wrapped chocolate heart to each one. (Which I very carefully removed later that night as I realized the chocolates were not made in a nut free facility - drat!). Now what do I do with them??

 One of the hugely popular gifts every Valentine's is jewelery. And often that means the type that involves diamonds - the precious stone associated with L'Amour.

I was directed, this morning, to a movie I've not seen (but now have on hold). It's called 'Blood Diamond' and stars our dear friend Leonardo D. While the story itself is fictional, it is one of those bits that is based on enough of a factual setting that it can really count as sort of an educational flick. Many aspects of the conflict in the DRC DO boil down to it's natural resources. 30% of the world's diamond resources exist in this country in Africa and things ARE ugly as different groups each want to benefit by tapping this resource.

The UN is not unaware of the diamond acquisition process that exists in some parts of the world and a certification called "The Kimberley Process"  was established in 2003 to prevent diamond sales through rebellious movements. The certification aims at preventing blood diamonds from entering the main market. It was set up to assure consumers that by purchasing diamonds they were not financing war and abuse to humans.

In 2004, the Republic of Congo had certification removed because it was found unable to prove the origin of its gems, most of which were believed to have come from the neighboring DRC. And while it was reinstated in 2007, opinions hold that the Kimberley Process is unable to enforce their own rules and hold countries accountable. Things like the process are a start, consumer awareness is a critical next step.

 So I look down at the ring on my left hand. I do wish I knew then what I know now. I didn't though and I'm not going to beat myself up over it, nor am I going to remove my ring (actually, I don't think I could if I tried - 3 kids later, I think it is stuck). But my goal is to take what I'm learning and apply it to how I chose to move forward. So, now I know!

Friday, February 11, 2011

What about the Men??

What about the men you may ask? The husbands of rape victims, the fathers of children who are dying or recruited into militia? Men are most certainly there and part of the picture. The story doesn't get much better for them though.

 Many men in the DRC are good fathers, good men who long to be able to defend their family and defend their role as husband, father and provider. Unfortunately the law is set by he who holds the biggest machete. There are a few possible outcomes.

 Firstly, recruitment of young men/boys is common. They're small - easy to hide, don't eat much and at some levels are dispensable to the various armies. At ages of 9 or 10, they are forced to join these groups. Forced? Some people think there is always a choice - and of course, in some sense, there is. One recruitment tactic is for a militia group to descend on a school full of children and at gun point ask the children who will join. Classmates will watch their fellow students be tortured and killed and then be given the option. Join your friends who have died, or join the militia. Is that a choice? Both girls and boys are taken, however the girls are generally taken for the purpose of becoming "soldier wives" or essentially sex slaves. Some of these boys are able to leave the army by the time they are in their late teens. Their accounts and tellings are available to read/view online. Many of them recount the horrors they were party to, the women they were forced to rape (again you may ask, forced? But if you hear many of their accounts, yes. It was force). These young men will never reintegrate back into their communities. They are broken and hardened by the brutalities they have experienced.

 For men who are older and have families, they really have less of a choice. They may be present as their wives and daughters are brutalized and any sign of resistance might often mean death for them. The number of widows in the Congo is incredibly high. My sister C is a widow. I can't imagine the circumstances that may have led to that.

 Thirdly, the men are caught up in a culture of honour and at times when a wife is sexually violated, they feel the need to abandon her. I have read accounts and watched video tellings of women describing how their husbands felt they had somehow brought their rape upon themselves. So, not only is the woman dealing with the emotional and physical repercussions of the rape, she must now work to care for  herself and her children without the support of a husband.

There are groups working in the congo to provide for child soldiers who have escaped or who have managed to earn their freedom as an older teen. There is so much need here. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cultural Silence

As I mentioned in my last post, I have learned who my Congolese sister is. I'm not sure what all I am allowed to share publicly so I'll just refer to her by her first initial here - C. I have very limited information about C at this point, but I do know she is a mother to 8 children and she is a widow. I have written her a letter although I know it may be days before she sees it if she is from a more remote village. The cool thing is that I got to write my letter via email, so it has already arrived where it needs to be! It will be translated and given to C - someone will read it to her if she cannot read. In Lisa Shannon's book, she described how so many of the women treasure any letters sent by their sponsor. I really hope she is able to write back!

In many senses, I really wasn't sure what to say to C. I mean, what do you say to a lady you've not met, who lives in a war torn country, has 8 kids and a husband who likely died in a violent manner? What do you say?

 We live in a culture that doesn't know how to respond when things get ugly. We don't often know what to say when someone dies, is ill or is dealing with an otherwise tragic situation.

 I will be the first to admit, I never knew the best way to respond when someone was dealing with something crushing - many times I still don't, but I have learned that keeping silent can be worse.

 When my oldest son was 1, my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness and for a time, we thought we were going to lose him in the near immediate future. I was crushed, trying to keep things going for my son while trying to plan for the future - not certain if my husband would get to be a part of it. We needed the love & support from family & friends around us. I learned it was okay (to certain people) to admit I was not okay when asked (other people, you quickly learn) don't want to really hear that you're having a bad day. They get quite uncomfortable if your brave front slips even just a bit.

 The most frustrating, I found, was when I would visit the church I had grown up attending. Peers I had known my whole life suddenly were avoiding me. One actually said to me "Well, we all have our issues". So while I generally say silence is worse, there ARE wrong things to say. Another one is "You must not be praying correctly - there must be some sin in your life". In those cases, silence might have been better, but generally, even if someone didn't know exactly what to say, the fact that they would talk to me and acknowledge my hurt and my fear was huge. I appreciated their effort and felt their care - even if their words were awkward & unsure.

I know I don't want to just be a supporter from far away. Someone sending money for C, but nothing else. So, I wrote the letter. I told her my name and where I live. I told her it is cold here and that there is snow on the ground. I told her I have been learning about her country and that what I have been learning makes me sad. I told her I will be telling other people about what is going on in her country and I hoped that perhaps some of them will want to help too. I asked about her children and told her I have 3. I told her I am very pleased to be able to be her sister and I am glad to know her.

 I felt a bit dumb, but I reminded myself that silence often speaks louder and I want her to know I care.


Have you ever been told to put things in perspective? Or you find yourself thinking one way until you get one more bit of information, then your entire view changes? So the case for me!

 After reading Lisa Shannon's book (A Thousand Sisters) and looking into the organization set up to provide the sponsorship program for women in the Congo, a few things became clear. 

 $30  ($27 in the US), assists a Congolese woman for a month. She receives medical & psychological care (many of these rapes are extremely violent and cause much damage needing medical treatment and often surgery to repair). It also helps her feed her family as well as contributes towards training to allow her to become sufficiently independent to continue to care for her family after the sponsorship year has passed.

I find now when I'm looking to spend a few bucks on something frivolous in my world, a new thought pops into my mind. It costs $35 to feed my family supper at McDonalds - which we did rarely before and even less frequently now that this keeps popping to mind. I paid $40 for a sitter last night so I could go to a class I'm taking (French, if you're wondering). A few days ago, I spent $20 at a home party for something I likely didn't really need (in fact, I know I didn't need it!). Now my brain wants to do the mental math & remind me that could have helped 3 ladies for 1 month or give 3 more months to 1 lady. Perspective!

 I don't want to work the angle of leading everyone down the road of guilt, but moreso share my own journey of thinking a little deeper before I plunk my loose change down for a coffee or something else that I don't really need. We are all always looking to improve our quality of life, are we not? That coffee would certainly improve the quality for a few minutes, but really putting that again into perspective might make me think again.

 My house is small, but I have a house!! We may not be eating steak & lobster, but I know I'm not going hungry any time soon. It's not always my idea of fun to walk my kids to school, but they can go TO school and I can walk there without fearing for my dignity or my life. Perspective.

I received an email yesterday informing me who my Congolese sister is. This woman is a bit older than me, she has 8 children and she is a widow. Considering the state of the country and the fate that leads many of these women to become widows, I think it is safe to assume that her husband did not die peacefully of natural causes. That thought was sobering to me as again, more perspective came to light and I am humbled.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More about the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is a complicated subject. Trying to figure out exactly what's going on becomes an endless search as one thing seems to trigger another and there is no definitive way to exactly explain it. Checking into various articles on UN involved countries points of view, the general consensus is that it is just a mess and no one really knows how to respond to make it better.

 Historically speaking, DRC has had bouts of conflict intertwined throughout it's entire known history. This is the 3rd largest country in Africa, the 12 largest in the world with a population of nearly 71 million. There is no simple fix to the strife and aid groups are working hard to bring awareness to this part of the world while they are there, trying to pick up pieces.

 One thing I did not know, was that much of the current conflict is as a direct result of the Rwandan genocide of the '90's. They share a border and the group responsible fled into the Congo at that time. They belong to 1 cultural group who has made it their mission to eradicate another group. Since then, other rebel militia groups have sprung up to create a civil war unlike any other. Throw in the actual Congolese army (who sadly are not necessarily the good guys) and a few radical religious militia and now it is a full blown war - civilians caught in the middle.

 Interestingly, the Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world, HOWEVER the untapped resources themselves (minerals such as diamonds, gold & zinc etc and COLTAN) are estimated at an excess of  US$24 trillion. Unreal! This now involves all of us as each of us has benefited from mining in this country. Another point of interest is that while the Congo appears to be doing very poorly economically in terms of export, Rwanda seems to be doing pretty fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that they manage to globally export more minerals than their country even possesses. I DID mention they share a border, eh?

 *Disclaimer - I am not an economist, historian or anything of the like. I have been reading tons on the subject - some are factual pieces, others opinion pieces. If I've gotten something wrong, please leave a comment & correct me. Do your own research as well! This topic goes on forever and there is so much corruption, it is so difficult to know what is really going on.

So now comes to the real victims of this whole deal. Women & children (lots of men have it pretty bad too, don't get me wrong - I will write more on that soon).

The deaths as a result of this war are in the millions (some estimates go as high as 8 or 9 million). They figure 45,000 people are dying each MONTH. It is thought that upwards of HALF of that number are children ages 5 and under. I have a 5 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. Stuff like this hits hard. I also have an 8 year old son (he would not be off the hook either - more on that later).

 In this war, rape has become a weapon of choice. Cripple a woman through humiliation and submission, and you have her family and her whole community at ransom. If only they'd leave it there. The repercussions are devastating as these people are left broken & abandoned. Now bring in 5 (and more) various groups working this same angle?

 This bit only barely touches the minimalist part of this issue. The horrors are boundless and I won't include graphic details here, but a simple search would quickly tell you more. The crazy sad thing is the scale. Women from ENTIRE VILLAGES might be raped by a militia group over the course of a few days. Violence escalates in mass proportion and phenomenal numbers are affected. It is time to put faces to these stories. We may not know what to do to stop it, but there are ways to help support and care for the people of DRC.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

So what's with this book?

I love reading. I was one of those early reading geeks that really thought the world revolved around Lucy Maud & The Bobbsey Twins. In 30+ years, I'm not sure how many books I've read, I wouldn't even know how to generate a reasonable estimation. I generally have a few different books going at any given time, representing different genres so that I can pick up whatever my mood may reflect.

 I've recently moved to a larger city with quite a fantastic library system. I find myself there at minimum once a week. I stock up myself  and my oldest son, whom I am proud to say is also a bit of a worm, and I'm good for the week.

 It was on one of these library jaunts that I saw "A Thousand Sisters". It was on a rack of new books and I happened to walk by and it happened to catch my eye. The cover is very unassuming, yet drew me to pick it up and glance at the back. I don't even precisely recall what was said there, but I thought "Hmmm, humanitarian" and, expecting some sort of feel good la la, plant a tree story, I checked it out to read if I got to it in my week.

 Well, I got to it. And then it got to me. The writing is from the first person perspective of a lady whose life was changed after watching an episode of Oprah (I'm sure many of us can say that to some degree!). The episode (which I unfortunately did not see) described the issues going on in the Congo and told about the horrors facing the innocent civilians caught up in the midst of this conflict. The unspeakable sadness as the greatest victims of this war are women & children and the appalling fact that one of the main weapons of this war is rape.
 The author of this book felt inspired to do something. In fact, perhaps it is more accurate to say she felt she could not NOT do something. The book describes the rocky start of a new vision for helping the women & children who are suffering due to war crimes in the DRC. As time passes through the telling of her experiences, the author travels to the Congo and the book continues with her describing her time there, the people she met and many of their stories. I cannot do it justice to describe the book fully here, but I do recommend you pick it up.

 Many books, both fictitious & non have influenced me. However this book cannot sit in the same category as the other influential reads. Those other books caused me to look inward and reflect upon my inner character and allow me to silently pick & choose things I might need to tweak here & there. This book  however has made me look outward to the world. What I choose to do about it is up to me, but this issue goes way beyond me. I'm not entirely certain what this process will look like.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rocking MY world on the way to changing HERS

Who am I?

 Good question! I'm often not entirely sure who I am because I feel like my identity is wrapped up in so many things that don't really feel ME!  I know I'm a mom, the proof is upstairs in bed, 3 times over! I know I'm a teacher, I have a couple degrees (in a file drawer somewhere - oops!) I know I'm a wife - I can hear said counterpart playing a game in the next room. But who am I? Really, I'm just some Canadian nobody who recently read a book that made me ask my next question.

 Who is she?

 Actually, I can't even answer that yet! While the struggle in her part of the world is rampant for soooo many women, I'm, in fact, waiting to hear about 1 in particular. I already know various details about her, although her name and face are still unknown. She lives in the Congo, she has likely been raped and lives with physical & emotional scars. She may also be living with rejection (from her husband, family or community), or major loss (a child, a spouse). She may be broken in ways I could never imagine.

 I have signed up to be her sister for a year.

 I already have a sister. She's older than me, shorter than me, blonder than me - really, we look nothing alike, but we are bonded as sisters. My new sister also does not look like me. She is still my sister.

 I hope to share more as I get to know her. I already wonder so much about her. As I go through my day, I process what it is I am doing and what (if anything), might be the comparable activity for a woman my age in the Congo. I know I'm not hungry. I know my children are safe and my husband is nearby. I also know that if an emergency arose, I have a telephone with 3 handy digits to dial and aid would rush to my side. I cannot imagine living in fear. I cannot imagine the lengths she may have to go through to feed her family and the decisions she must have to make in order to try to keep them as safe as possible. All the while knowing that in her country, safety is an illusion and no one is immune to the horrors.

 I feel blessed, yet guilty at the same time. And all the while, a part of me wants to put my fingers back in my ears and keep humming.

Are you my neighbour?

There's a video my kids sometimes watch with characters Bob the tomato & Larry the cucumber. In the midst of the silliness, one episode asks the question - "Are you my neighbour?" 

I live on a street, in a community, in my city. Truly, that's enough to keep track of. I'm aware I'm part of a global community, but that's a bit of a larger thing that I can choose to ignore or acknowledge as I care to at the moment. Generally I pride myself in not watching the local news even. I keep my neighbourhood neat & tidy, close to home. I have my world of online friends - and yes, they span continents even, but since I access them in my cozy office, they too belong close to home.

I read a book a couple months ago (there's a nice library close to home, so I've generally got a few on the go). It was one of those types of books that you could read, acknowledge as a good read, then put down and carry on with life OR you could read it and realize wow! The world is so much larger than I had imagined!

Now, I didn't just crawl out from  under a rock. I'm aware of various struggles going on globally. I didn't just read this book and suddenly realize there was hurt beyond my geographic realm. But I do think it is fair to liken it to plugging your ears and humming while trying to avoid eye contact with someone you really don't want to acknowledge. Once you see them (and they see you seeing them) there's no turning back to continuing the avoidance game.

That book put things right in front of my nose - things I think I was just avoiding recognizing before. If I don't really tune in, I can pretend it's not happening, right?

Well, my neighbourhood has expanded. I'm a touch on the side of freaked in that I am making a conscious decision NOT to just put it to the side as a good read. My fingers are out of my ears, my humming has stopped.

How big is your neighbourhood?