Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Published Book!

This post will be short and sweet. I've gotten a lot of requests throughout the years to publish a book. I have gotten these requests in reference to my many updates from the ground here in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. I wrote 29 posts on the La Vida Idealist blog on Idealist.org but it was shut down about two years ago. I finally was able to retrieve my posts and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to publish!



I have set the e-book for free for 3 days (as of yesterday). My only request is that people who receive it for free write a review, which can help me sell more. Here is the link to the e-book. 

Here is the link to the paperback. 

In a few weeks, both should be available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and more. I am excited and have many more ideas for more books to publish in the future! Thank you! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Understanding Restavek

The other day I ran into a young man selling sugar cane out of a wheelbarrow on the street in Puerto Plata. As I passed him, we made eye contact, and I then recognized his face. We both stopped, smiled at each other, and then broke into dialogue. A few seconds of reflection and I remembered his name: Jamile. He was one of the first boys living as a "restavek" we ever sent back to family in Haiti. This was in January 2007.

"I don't know where you live," he said. "That's why I haven't come to see you. I wanted to come thank you because what you did for me was a really big thing." He said this several times. I'm not saying that to brag, but am just telling the story as it happened. If you don't know, restavek is a name for a Haitian child slave or really a system of child slavery in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic among Haitians. Most Haitians are descendants of West Africans who were enslaved by the French who used to run the country. In 1804, the slaves revolted and gained independence. But when you examine the country, or at least when I do, I can't help but to think, "Well you didn't like it when they did that to you, why are you doing it to others??" But maybe it was just a way of life that was learned and a different way of life has been difficult to adapt to?


Anyway, I have the most insight on the situation here in the Puerto Plata. We both are quite poor. Let's say I'm your neighbor in Cap Haitien but I move to the Dominican Republic. I see that selling sweets on the streets in the DR can make some income, and if I can have 5 people working for me, I could have a little operation going. So I go back and ask you if you would like me to take your 12 year old son with me to the Dominican Republic. I promise that he will eat better and go to school. To the child, I make him believe that he will find bikes and radios on the ground and things will be fun. You entrust me with your child and we make the journey to the Dominican Republic. Two others entrust me with their children as well, and I convince two street kids two come with me too.

Then once we get there, I use the same tactics that are used on slaves anywhere to get them to work. I treat them bad.. and maybe the ways of doing that very from person to person. They are little and have lost contact with their parents in Haiti. This can go on for years. This is what was going on with Jamile and his two other housemates. And this is why we sent them back to their mothers in Haiti, against the will and despite threats of their "owner". I had seen their previous "owner" around town since and he, like many others in the neighborhood where he lived and where we first began supporting a school, stopped doing this, or at least did it a lot less.

"Ronald (fake name) was making me suffer and you took me out of that," Jamile said.

"Do you see him nowadays?" I asked.

"We live right by each other," he answered.

"But he hasn't done anything to you since then?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

So this was 7 years ago that we had sent him. He eventually made his way back to the Dominican Republic to search for work and ended up living nearby "Ronald" since they have a common circle of acquaintances, being from the same area in Haiti. And the slave and slaveholder relationship is a thing of the past. Did we do things as we should have? I'm not exactly sure. I believe God's hand was over the situation and it seems to have turned out better than it was when it began. But I have formed lots of thoughts over how such situations should be intervened in, because I don't want to be an example of an American who came in and intervened in someone's home without having the authority or the experience to do so. Now I do have the experience. At that time, I don't know that me and the others who were behind that did have the experience. But we did at least speak Creole, and I think the language barriers and assumptions in communication are sometimes the biggest things to get people in trouble!

If you look up restavek through organizations such as this one or this one, you can read that the scenario is typically a little different in Haiti, but this is how I have seen it play out time and time again here in Puerto Plata. Here is a testimony of one young man who has been with us for 7 years now.

A few months ago I was contacted by a woman who was, along with her daughter, working on setting up an orphanage in a town in Haiti. They were attempting to rescue a group of kids from an orphanage that they deemed to be a restavek operation. She asked for insight as far as setting up a non-profit and the paperwork involved with that, but also thoughts on the situation. I was grateful to be able to share a lot of what I learned with her, and now will share with you. Below is what I shared with this woman.

I do have thoughts about this and am happy to share. Forgive me if I offend you in any way since I am ignorant as to everything other than what you have shared in this e-mail and you may have excellent replies to my concerns of which I am happy to read. Here are some things I strongly believe and stand behind. 

First, working with kids at this level is largely about working with adults...and even more so when the financer (you all) is in a separate country than the kids. I know how disturbing it can be to discover kids in restavek situations.. but I have come to see things very differently after living here for 7 years than I did when I first came and witnessed this. This is so very much due to cultural differences and judgments that we can't help but to make coming from a compleeetely different world. I have come to see the people who force or have forced kids to work in very different ways than I did initially.  Sometimes these people are heartless child abusers, that's for sure. But sometimes they are ignorant, are doing what they know, are doing what they think is best, and actually do care for the kids much more than it would seem, and are very open to change. There is one family that used to have several kids living with them and working for them, treating them very differently than they treat their own kids, sending the kids out to sell on the streets all day, every day, never giving them days off, etc. They were definitely restavek kids. We took one in and he is now a leader of our group home and a star among others in the program. He said that they never hit him and he didn't experience other abuse, maybe some verbal, but they hit other kids sometimes who were less obedient. This family has changed a lot over the years in reference to housing kids and forcing them to work, as have others who used to do this in the community where we work, because of the attention that it received. No one was prosecuted, but the kids were definitely liberated and the people doing this were looked down upon. 

But this family still had one boy living with them. I knew that this boy's mom had visited the area the year before. She knew where he was living and how he lived. She asked him to return to Haiti with her when she left and he chose to stay with this family rather than go back with her. He did help the mother of the household out significantly with food she made and sold, but he also went to our school, and had a large amount of freedom. He is now sixteen. A group that recently began working in the community were told about this situation and quickly made the decision to remove him from the home. I stepped in and had a lot to share, and honestly was undecided as to which would be better for this boy - the life he was living with the family where he did do a significant amount of work, or the life he would live after they removed him from the home. One, I knew that the people who had brought this to their attention had their own motives for doing so, and I didn't believe their motives were pure. They ended up renting an apartment and this is supposed to be an apartment for him, as well as paying someone to give him extra lessons, but the group funding this are not here permanently, plan on visiting quarterly, but do lack the language and cultural skills. I have more insight into what is going on and to me it looks like these men have gotten the group to rent an apartment and are benefiting from it and now instead of being in more of a family setting, he is staying with fairly young men and lacks real guardian figures as far as a family structure is concerned. Hired men as caregivers in the past have done things such as frequented prostitutes and come back to tell boys in the home about this, and just give other poor advice and examples. So which home will turn this young man into a more productive member of society? 

Another thing I strongly stand by and I think it's proven is that the best environment to provide orphans or kids estranged from their families is.. a family. The closer to a family structure, the better. And the closer relationship and loyalty between the caregivers and the financers, the better, because that is more realistic to a family. Sometimes paid caregivers can just view their role as a job and not respect the funds that are being spent, etc. We now have a system where boys who have grown up in the program are leaders of younger boys and have no paid caregivers. Their motives have to be in the right place or it just doesn't work and money just gets in the way of that, whereas if you provide someone with meals or a food stipend, housing, schooling, and a family relationship, and they have a responsibility within their family to care for the younger family members, that is very different than money. I also see that this boy that has been removed from the home, well at least at first, I'm not sure about now, the financers thought he was staying in this new apartment whereas he was really staying with the family who had him working, and it was because he was comfortable there...and we have seen this a lot in the past.

Another thing I will say is, restavek is really a spectrum..the exact conditions vary from case to case, the amount of work the child does, the age of the child, the amount of liberties the child has, the amount of emotional connection there is between the child and the authority in the house, between the restavek child and the biological children of the authority, as well as other restavek children in the house, whether or not the child goes to school, the amount and type of abuse inflicted on the child, etc. But I will say for a child's development, there are arguably worse situations for an orphaned or abandoned child in Haiti or a Haitian child in the DR who is forced to work a lot and kept under strict discipline, and removing children from one home can put them in danger of falling into worse situations. In my opinion, kids who grow up in the streets are often worse off development-wise than a restavek child, but that may also depend on the amount and type of abuse a restavek child undergoes. The reason why I say this is because from my observations through housing, schooling, and working with kids from the streets and from restavek situations mixed in a group home setting beginning in 2006 is that kids who grow up in restavek situations turn out to be more obedient, respectful, and honest than kids from the streets. Kids from the streets often have serious problems with authority as well as attitudes that really inhibit them in life and I have seen far too many end up in prison, whereas I have seen many kids with a restavek background succeed, commit themselves to their schooling, and respect people who are willing to help them. There is also a large difference between restavek kids who are forced to work in the streets and restavek kids who work in the home. Kids forced to work in the streets are still exposed to the dangers of the streets, one of which we have seen here in Puerto Plata is pedophilia, whereas kids working in a home are more protected from that, assuming they don't experience such abuse in the home.

Now, you might say that you in no way intend that kids who are removed from the orphanage in Haiti end up in the streets and of course that is not your intention and I don't know if there is a very big street kid population in that area but Port-au-Prince is not far away and I know there is a very large street kid population there, even girls which I haven't heard of anywhere else. I have seen many times where kids who get to pre-teen or teenage years are not kept on a tight reign or are not occupied with enough activity throughout the day and they end up in the streets. We have made many attempts to locate and upon locating him, force a son of someone in our community to come home and stay with his family, and he always refuses and runs away. They have tried chaining him several times. It's very sad and it has now been over a year since they have seen him. This is so even if food and shelter is provided for them at their home, and it seems to be an extra large phenomenon in Haiti. Parents go looking for their kids and the kids run and hide from them as they come to enjoy the street life. Kids spend years doing this and seem to realize their stupidity in their older teenage years, generally, but have already been exposed to so much and estranged from their families for so long. It does seem to happen the most where the parents may have a drug problem, violence in the home, extreme poverty, single moms, lots of kids, so anything where the kid lacks attention, but really, first, at least one of these conditions fit most families in Haiti, I'm sure, and also, an orphanage is a very difficult place for a kid to receive attention as well, and as far as an orphanage that can occupy 17 kids all day long...well that's a large monthly budget. I have seen people give kids lots of chores to keep them occupied to keep them out of trouble, and without the financial means to pay for extra curricular activities, it's the lesser of two evils.

So these are just some things to consider. I am curious as to how it was determined that the current orphanage was a restavek operation, what the social services that are intervening plan to do with the kids once they are removed from the home, since it sounds like you all are not yet prepared for that, the sources of information for you all, etc. I think that is all that I felt the need to share. Again, I hope it does not come off as offensive as there is obviously a lot more to the story that I have not heard, but this is my two cents from doing similar work. If you can take a child who is used to working, not receiving school, and being abused, out of the home and put him or her in a home where they are nurtured, schooled, and their already developed work ethic celebrated and rewarded, then wow, of course that is a life transformation and a new life altogether. But if the new home is not yet prepared, I think it's important to be aware of some potentially unpredictable side effects of removing a child from such a home, and some potentially wasted attempts as well. 

Also, one more thought, collaboration is key in this line of work. My initial thought was that you all first try to collaborate with the current leaders of the orphanage rather than separate from them altogether. They must already have resources they are devoting to this, and could potentially be doing the best that they can with those resources and with their life's experiences. It has taken some working with the young man I mention who is now a group home leader so that he doesn't treat younger boys the same way he was treated when he was their age. But he has learned and changed. I would like to think that the same is true with the leaders of the current home. This can be done by attempting to lay down certain rules such as at what age a child can start doing chores, and what a healthy daily schedule would be. A financer has the right to enforce such changes for the better of the orphanage. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

About the School Shootings in Connecticut



I feel compelled to write about this, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took place on Friday morning. Many people on Facebook are wondering why this has happened and why it keeps on happening and people have been posting great thoughts and articles written by people like Maya Angelou and Morgan Freeman. I have been interested to read all such discussions and have developed my own thoughts and opinions as well, which I want to share. I don’t know if I will be able to share in a complete paragraph form… I feel like in some parts I may just list off thoughts.

So obviously many people are pleaing for more gun control. Others are saying that it’s not the issue of gun control but of mental health. Could we not agree that both probably need attention? Someone who would do this was obviously mentally sick, but will it be the end of the world for people who like to use guns if guns are harder to come by? I think it is a sacrifice people can make. I think both issues should be worked on, for sure, but I wonder how more attention on mental health would go… and I know that I don’t agree with some of the ways that it could go.

I enjoyed Morgan Freeman’s thoughts about the way that the media sensationalizes people when they do such things but don’t like the line where he says, “You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem.” Because what research really needs to be done? Nothing that would demand much money, I don’t think. I feel like it is just a matter of executing what already works.

Okay, again, I don’t know how to organize these thoughts but will share a little bit about myself. I was a very sensitive kid. My family can tell you about this. I was pretty composed at school and sports. I got along well with other kids, did well at school, etc. But at home where I had less limits, I would get upset often. Things just set me off and I felt unable to control myself. My family can attest to me doing things like beating my head against the window in the car and telling my mom that she was making me do it. My mom used to tell me often that I was too sensitive. I had strong emotions and I didn’t always know how to control them.

Around middle school, I believe, I started doing obsessive compulsive sorts of things and my mom would try to break me of them. After learning to type, I typed everything said in conversations on my hands, without a keyboard in sight. I would have issues about standing on the same floor as the toilet when it flushed, the same floor as the microwave when it beeped, and certain things like that. But again, my mom kept me in check so it didn’t get too out of control and I eventually stopped. I could go on, but my point is that if I hadn’t grown up in the environment that I did, or under different circumstances, I’m sure I could’ve been diagnosed with something at some point. Also, if my father didn’t give us the counseling and wisdom from the wrong paths he took with drugs and alcohol, then I would’ve likely gone down that path as well to alter my state of mind as I often found myself burdened by my emotions.

Now, in college a lot changed. In a TED talk I recently gave at Virginia Tech, I talk a bit about my Freshman year of college and how I found a plan to read the Bible in a year, which I followed. During this time, I searched my heart and laid it all before God, which if you are reading this and don’t have a relationship with God and weren’t brought up that way or haven’t been in a crowd that talks this way, then that may sound foreign to you, but please don’t judge the foreign or different and just consider. I laid my heart before God as it was broken because everything I had done to try to fill it with the joy that only comes from him had failed me. He showed me that it had guilt and self-hatred harbored in there. He showed me that neither of these came from him. How did he show me? Through his word…through learning his character in the Bible, and through prayerful revelations which again, if someone has not done this then they may not understand, but don’t judge or write off. One of the things I hated about myself was that I was so sensitive. When God shone his light on this harbored self-hatred, he turned it right around.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I read about how I was made in God’s image. And I read about how God was good and God was love. I realized that he had made me very sensitive. He had made people other ways that also reflected his image but he had made me sensitive… and I just didn’t know how to handle that because I hadn’t asked him how. He was the manual and the maker. And he would show me how.

Around this time is when I started dreaming about what would become Project Esperanza and it was all over from there. This organization has been my way to use my sensitivity to serve God and to serve humanity.

Let me go back. When I was a Junior in high school, a tragedy happened that completely floored me. This was two years after the Columbine shootings, which I watched on TV as a Freshman in complete confusion. I was sick that day and caught it on TV as it happened. This was when I believe this craziness began?

Well, it was Easter break. I finished track practice and as I was leaving, ran into a friend and his brother on a practice soccer field. This friend and I went to school together up through high school graduation and had the same group of friends. We were good friends. We kicked the ball around together a bit and talked. His brother went off on his own. As we kicked the ball around, he talked to me about his brother and expressed his concern for him. He said that he often wonders what it will be like when his brother is in prison because he knows he will end up there. He just does crazy things, etc.

A week later, someone told me on instant messenger that my friend’s brother had murdered someone. I didn’t believe it. Our friends had just had a get together that evening and although I hadn’t gone, I had heard that my friend was there. I called to confirm and they said that he was, although he had left by the time I called. So this wasn’t true. He wouldn’t go to a get together if his brother had just committed murder. I went to track practice the next morning, as we were not yet back in school and continued hearing the rumor but was determined that it was not true. When we left, I passed by the soccer field to see if my friend’s brother was there. When I saw that he was not, although my friend was, if I remember correctly, I broke down. I accepted that the rumor was true. I went home and it was in the newspapers. I just remember feeling uncontrollably upset and sick. I couldn’t stop crying. I spoke to other friends who were surprised, but no one was crying uncontrollably. What was wrong with me? I don’t want to go intotoo many details, but it was a horrific murder where he just went into a neighbors house and stabbed him and his wife, although his wife lived. They later diagnosed him as schitzophrenic.

The week went by. My friend was at school, normal as ever, trying to not let what his brother did, what he couldn’t control, what he knew from before it happened that he couldn’t control..he was trying to not let that affect his life too much, apparently. He wasn’t this calm, cool, and collected forever, and we did see him deal with it later on, but at this time, he was not dealing with it at all. I, on the otherhand, felt like I couldn’t get through the week.

So I have some other stories I could share but this was the most heartbreaking thing for me where I felt like I looked Satan straight in the eyes. Among the other incidents I observed following this were the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. I was tutoring in the stadium, maybe 200 meters from the first building where there were shootings, and on the other side of campus where most shootings took place. So I was not in the same building but was on lock down on campus. I think that we have to realize that Satan is responsible for this and we have to look at these things this way. We have to recognize Satan’s existence and that he is the enemy. A friend used to have a quote on his IM profile:

“The biggest trick Satan ever played was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”

I don’t know if he came up with it or who did but I’ll let him contact me if he would like credit. J And the quote is true. I am married to a Haitian man and have lived with Haitians in the Dominican Republic for about five years now. Haitians view what Americans would call mental disorders very differently. Many Haitians view them as demon possessions. In 2007 there was a boy involved in our program who..well you can read about what he did in this post. A few volunteers took him to the doctors where they said he had epilepsy, but the Haitian pastor and church we worked with at the time to run a school said that we were wasting our money at the hospital. He needed prayer. I helped out with him one night when he was having a fit.. not a seizure, a fit. And we took him to the hospital to get a tranquilizer shot which was supposed to knock him out.

We brought him back to the house and it seemed to have no effect. He was biting sheets and trying to bite people. We held him down and prayed and prayed and prayed. At one point he called the name of the man next to me praying and told him that he had a demon walking around in his head. When he said this, a gust of wind blew my face to the side and as I looked to the side, the man whose name he had called looked back at me, his face having been blown to the side as well. These afflictions were something that this boy had gone through for as long as he could remember. After this night, he has not had one. He went back to Haiti for awhile and returned to the Dominican Republic, reporting to have never had that happen again. I spoke to him a few months ago.

This is not the only time I have seen this happen here. Something similar went on with a neighbor girl a few months ago. So there is some free research for those who want to invest in mental health research.

Many boys in the program we run would’ve likely been diagnosed with a mental disorder, had we taken them to a psychiatrist. Many would’ve been/would be diagnosed with ADHD, for sure. I have always felt the utmost empathy for these boys when they have emotional fits and have taken joy in showing them that I will not laugh at them or get annoyed at them but will talk to them and deal with them the way that I wanted someone to talk to me when I used to react in such ways. And I’ll admit that being around this has been a little therapeutic for me, letting me know that I was not the only one who felt this way at times! We have really only intervened with attempts to provide the best discipline, example, prayer, counseling, and biblical teaching, as possible, although it is, of couse, a work in progress. And here there is an easier way to punish where you can sanction someone from the housing and meals you provide and they go through a time of reflection and punishment without being, say, put in jail. But sometimes this is tricky as well because it does cause them to join up with other criminals and be further negatively influenced. 

Let me change gears for a minute. I believe it was my Sophomore year of college. I was home for Christmas break and I was upset. I needed to learn more about love. I prayed for God to send someone to teach me, because I felt dark. Things were going on around me that I didn’t understand. I remember a pastor and his wife and the warm way that they hugged me and looked in my eyes whenever I went to their church. I called them up and asked if we could meet. They told me a time to come by their house and gave me directions.

Now, as I pulled into the driveway, an idea popped strongly into my mind. “They are going to tell you that you are a prophet.” Okay. It was just as I pulled into their driveway that I thought/heard this. I didn’t have time to think about it but parked, got out, and went to their door. But while reading the Bible, I had felt that I had a lot in common with the prophets.

I also did a class that the church I attended at Tech offered. It was called e4 and was seminary integrated into your college life. They had us look closely at this verse:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 11, 12)

We talked a little about the qualities of these five, typically, discovering which you are, and talked about how one can also have qualities of all five, etc. We didn’t really have to figure out which one we were, but the verse was introduced and discussed a little. So it’s a different way to look at people and personality differences. God made each person differently for a purpose and different roles work together to form his body.

So, I sat down and talked to the pastor and his wife. I tried to explain what was upsetting me and told them what I was looking for. I cried as I told them different things going on. They saw how sensitive I was. Not long into the conversation, they looked at each other and mentioned to one another that I seemed like a prophet. They talked to me a bit about different prophets and their qualities. By the end of the conversation they were declaring to me that I was a prophet. I, of course, had not told them about my strong thought in the car.

So I am not going to write that I am a prophet, but will just say that I once sought counseling from a pastor and wife, had a strong thought while going in that they would tell me that I am a prophet, and then they did indeed tell me that I was a prophet. I will also admit that I often have visions pertaining to next steps for Project Esperanza. As our organization has moved to different rented houses, as well as our family, I often envision the house and then search for it. This has happened three times that I can think of and we have found what I had envisioned, without knowing it was there beforehand. I also sometimes have felt so stronglt that I have to write a letter to someone that I can’t eat or function properly until I write it. After I write it, there is immediate relief.

Now please no one think that I am claiming anything more than I should. I have learned to be very humble in things I say because even if someone may have a prophetic gift, you are a part of a body and your gift is not necessarily any more important than the apostle’s or evangelist’s, and your mind is still a battlefield which can cause you to say wrong things and appear crazy. I think developing our gifts is a life long process. Again, if you are not used to studying the Bible in this way, etc., then this all sounds foreign to you. Please don’t judge, but consider.

So I have just given a few examples to make the point that I grew up very burdened by an extra-sensitive nature which others, I know, have as well, but when I found my purpose and calling from my maker, I learned to use this extra-sensitive nature in a good and healthy way. Sort of like X-Men! And I think this may be the case for many others.

I have a good friend from high school who went through depression her Sophomore year of college. We spent lots of time together over Christmas break that year and she was not in a good state. She had, like me, tried to find joy in things other than God and found herself, like me, heartbroken. She was also, like me, very sensitive. We had many similarities, in fact, with the ways we had felt growing up, but of course, were different as well. We prayed and prayed together. I shared with her a lot of what I had learned through Bible study, etc.

At the end of our time together that break, she was thinking a lot about the time that she had spent with me and others in the Dominican Republic the summer before. She had felt very settled there and relieved from some burdens she felt in the US and at school. We did some researching together and she ended up spending the next semester in Costa Rica. Well, after that, she was, like me, not often in the US, but always in Latin America, and often doing service. We haven’t kept in touch as much as we should, but I do believe that she, like me, found her calling and found a positive use for her extra-sensitivity.

So here are my thoughts after witnessing this ridiculous school shooting. I do not mean that the lives of anyone involved were ridiculous in any way. What I mean by ridiculous is that the US has turned into one big tower of Babel and I say all of this out of love. What is ridiculous is that something or lots of things are obviously wrong because the country tries so hard to protect itself and takes such great measures, but this was an atrocity in what should be a completely safe and innocent place. This is quite a wake up call, if the past incidents haven’t been enough. And I see that lots of people are trying to define what exactly the cause is so that we can work on a solution. Someone at a church I shared with in Winchester in November, a few weeks after the TED talk, gave me a few wonderful new Children picture Bibles in English and Haitian Creole! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them in both languages with kids here and the kids have enjoyed it to. Here is a quote from the tower of Babel chapter:

“ Yes! they said. We’ll say, ´Look at us up here!´ And everyone will look up at us. And we’ll look down on them. And then we’ll know we are something. We’ll be like God. We’ll be famous and safe and happy and everything will be all right.”

“But God wasn’t pleased with them. God could see what they were doing. They were trying to live without him, but God knew that wouldn’t make them happy or safe or anything. If they kept on like this, they would only destroy themselves, and God loved them too much to let that happen. So he stopped their plans.”

I will say “we” even though I don’t currently live in the US. We think that we are God!!! We think that we can control everything!! We think that money is security!! We think that jobs are security. This incident seems to be a culmination of incidents that proves those thoughts wrong. We think that we know what our hearts long for when we really don’t. We think that we can judge criminals justfully, but how many innocent people have DNA tests shown were convicted and punished harshly? But we feel better to have convicted someone and hurt someone else and another family, nonetheless, rather than feel as though we lack control when we don’t actually know, or leaving the judgment in God´s hands. We are concerned a lot about global warning, something that may have effects in the future, but not concerned enough in my opinion about children who die often from very preventable things. In researching causes of global warning, we can probably learn a lot about a lot, true, but what about the simple things that affect and kill our fellow humans on this earth right now.

The solutions are simple, it just takes some investment. Not just money, we know that if we throw money at problems, it often gets mismanaged and the problems continue. But it takes being present, careful, and consistent, as any loving parent would. This is what I do. People who want to save the lives of kids can invest in Project Esperanza. Here are 10 reviews from people involved who attest to the value of the organization. Or you yourself can go to another area and do what I do. Or you can find someone else who has been proven trustworthy, who is doing what I do, like this girl and her organization, or this woman and hers, and invest...if the death of children burdens you. I don’t mean to be smart there as I know that what is so upsetting about this event is more than the death of children but the violence, the place it occurred, the unexpectedness, etc. But there is a point to be made that we should be equally burdened about the lives and deaths of children around the world.

I actually think that a large part of this craziness has to do with a lack of balance globally, and we know that balance coincides with health. In this article, a mother pleas for help for her 13-year-old son who is a gifted child, but has started showing signs of violence and mental illness. Mothers here in the Dominican Republic plea for help often because they don’t have the means to get proper shoes for their kids to go to school. They can’t properly feed their children. They don’t often say this but I observe that that they have no yard for their kids to play. I have seen some recent Facebook posts about video games..the violent ones where you have a gun and kill everything that moves. I know from high school and college that they are extremely popular among young males. The mother in this article mentions punishing her son from video games after he acted violently toward her. What if all of the money spent by US parents on brain wasting video games was responsibly transfered to the mothers who have trouble paying for the basic needs of their children. This is much easier said than done, but we are smart, developed people and we can figure it out with repeated effort. Would this, by chance, help both mothers? And both families? I think it actually would. Without video games and computers games, family relationships would be stronger or just more existent and kids would do more natural outdoor activities...they would be more alive. They would be healthier.

I actualy stood in line for several cold hours outside of Toys R Us in 2005 when a new X-Box came out. I had planned on purchasing one and then selling it on e-bay, as there was a limited supply. I would make a few hundred bucks, I was sure. Well, I was the 9th in line and there were 8 of them available, so I was not successful. But I did write a letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times afterwards, sharing the comments I had heard and the irony of it all as I realized that the woman in front of me, for example, was purchasing this for her 6-year-old grandson who already had every other system she saw on the wall, she let me know. I was trying to make a few hundred bucks to support our efforts in the Dominican Republic, where the kids lacked such basic necessities, and did not own even one system. Anyway, it was not published in the newspaper and I have not been able to find a copy of the letter I wrote. But I am just sharing this to say, I’ve been trying to channel video game money to serve underpriviledged children for a long time!! J

Let me also say that if I were to talk to the woman who wrote this article, I would say more than “use all of your video game money to serve kids who need their basic needs met”. That was a broad point. I would say to her – “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7) Seek God. God is love. (1 John 4:8) There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear. (1 John 4:18) I believe that God is the only one who can truly help you with this situation. Seek him 100%. Don’t give up. Maybe Satan is attacking your son because he is threatened by him, knowing a wealth of potential he possesses to do God’s work and therefore foil his own plans of death and destruction.”

Back to the issue of video games and one mother losing while the other gains to create a healthier balance, I have always been a lover of sheep, as my family raised sheep and I learned much from them. I also love the fact that Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and refers to people as his flock. (John 10) I observed on a few occasions when sheep got into a bag of corn that was mistakenly put in a place where they could reach it. My father used to give them a limited amount each day, especially in the winter. But the bag was not to be left where they could reach it. Both times I remember it being left in the wrong spot, we found a dying sheep the next day. They are unable to stop themselves from eating and literally eat themselves to death. The shepherd has to protect them from this. Jesus is the good shepherd and we are the sheep. I pray that he protects us from the excessiveness that actually harms us. And I pray that we seek wisdom that teaches us to think like the shepherd, rather than sheep...who are really quite dumb.

Now I will list a few thoughts that I can’t seem to weave in in paragraphs and I really want to post this and move on to doing some other stuff.

1.                              I saw someone mention and think I have heard the idea in the past of giving teachers guns??? Wow.. I definitely don’t think that is a good idea. A teacher having a gun in her drawer with her stapler and stickers? This is why I used the word ridiculous previously. Now guns would be accessible to students in every classroom! I think that more parents maybe should consider homeschooling. Or the whole institution of school should be a bit questioned. Is it a safe place? I feel very protective over my kids and have always been aprehensive about leaving them. I have only really done so when I feel I have built a strong trust with the people and place that I am leaving them. Do we have too much assumed trust in the public schools and the faculty? I do not mean to blame the family of this young man who did this.. but... well did the mothers of the students really know the teacher and the family? We trust the institution because it is government run... why do we trust the government so much? Why don’t we trust ourselves more? And why don’t we make more effort ourselves rather than putting all of the responsibility on the government?

2. I said this to a friend about two years back and she got really angry. So maybe you will too. I’ve said it to a few other people who have agreed. I have noticed large differences between the use of media here and in the United States. The media doesn’t have such a large power and influence over people here. I have always been disgusted by the destruction of lives of people growing up in the media. I think one main reason why the influence and presence of the media is stronger in the US is because of the size of the country. I think the country is actually an unhealthy size. I wrote about this some in this post as well. I think that this also causes many Americans to be irresponsible, ungrateful, and unhealthy. I think they are this way because they simply don’t have enough responsibility over their lives and society. Too much power lies in the hands of too few people. I think that a solution would be the country dividing into several smaller countries. This would allow for many more people to be leaders and would allow for much more originality rather than uniformity. Unity is good, I agree, but uniformity, I don’t think is always the right solution. It doesn’t respect natural and healthy differences. Countries can have unity without being the same country. I think it may be healthier that way. And I did hear that after the election, many states signed a petition to secede from the Union. I don’t actually think that would be a bad idea or should be viewed as a failure.

3. This will also likely make people made. And I say it out of love. I love people to the point that I don’t care if they get mad at me if I believe I am saying something that is good for them and us all and I appreciate others who do the same with me when the time is right. I believe that this surge of homosexuality that seems to be going on in the US is another lack of balance. I believe that people who are living as homosexuals, even those who are Christians and have tried to be obedient to what they have learned in the Bible and abandon homosexuality but have been unsuccessful in doing so, do feel a very strong lack of control over the issue. And I believe that this is due, at least in part, to an unbalanced world in general. I think homosexuality is outside of God’s will and unhealthy therefore in the long run, whether or not we have good evidence of that shared often currently. I have more so seen arguments that homosexuality is healthy and unharmful, etc. I have not seen evidence that it is harmful posted on Facebook or anything like that. And I am a bit disadvantaged in the argument since you see so little of it here in the Dominican Republic. The way I have observed it here has been pretty much always a pedophile male homosexual relationship, so that is most definitely unhealthy. But as far as the norm in the US – long term, same sex, sometimes married couples, I have little observation there because of my time away. Some may say that this is a stretch to link homosexuality to a global unbalance and call it unhealthy, but I think that the same people who would find it to be a stretch are the same people who can’t understand how something that happens in one part of the world or country affects something in another part, and they don’t understand much God talk in general. This is because they are ignoring the spiritual world and looking only at the physical. But I think anyone who ever has dreams while they are sleeping or has an imagination has to realize that the world is not just physical, and that there is a lot that we can’t necessarily see...and it is a stretch to write too much off as we understand it through brain activity, sensory activity, etc. That being the sole explanation is us wanting to be in control, and we are not, actually, in control.  

4. I think some or many people who face mental illness such as the young men who commit these horrible murders are estranged by a life that is actually meaningless and lacking challenges, and they likely are also wallowing in self pity. I think more focus in schools and society in general on international development and life or death challenges faced in developing countries would give everyone more meaning and challenge. And it would cause those who are wallowing in self-pity to get over themselves or to be stronger in overcoming. I think open talk about the existence of God and Satan would also teach people to blame Satan for certain afflictions rather than their parents, society, or whoever they blame. Not that people and society aren’t to blame as well, but I do think it is important to recognize the mastermind and people and society should see that there are two competing forces and use this as a base to judge which of these forces their actions are in line with – knowing that the will of one is life and the will of the other is death. Again, this is something that people who don’t believe in or pay attention to God and the spiritual world in general will disagree with, but I think it is very important.

5. I feel like there was one more thing I wanted to say but I can’t remember. So I’ll just close with this. We better get radical. Satan has been getting radical so those of us who are on God’s side better get radical too. Sure, lots of discussion over God, didn’t mean to open up another door there too. But let’s just put the discussion aside and seek him together by serving those in most need in the world – not just our country - and being grateful rather than viewing our excession as anything other than what it is – lacking absolutely nothing and having too much. Here is a song I like along the lines of being a radical and I didn’t mean to bring up Jesus right after saying let’s leave the discussion about God aside, but this is my blog and obviously I am a Christian and serve because Jesus served but just meant, let’s not let our differences about God keep us from serving together. Let’s just focus on a loving God first. So this is a song I like and I can’t find the artist but may edit it later to give credit:

Two thousand years ago
The greatest radical
Walked the earth and said we are forgiven souls
Have we forgotten him
And made religion king
When love and grace is what we should be offering
You know this is serious
We’re forgetting things we’ve done
You must be delirious
Thinking it’s new under the sun

Do ya wanna be a part of the solution?

So it is important that we recognize the existance of Satan and define him as the ultimate enemy but it is also important that we envision the kingdom of God...and collectively ask for his will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. (Matthew 6:10) May your kingdom come. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Invisible Children, A Stalker, and a School in Uganda

I first learned about Invisible Children about a year ago when a friend and great Project Esperanza volunteer wrote to me about them. She expressed frustration at the fad that the Kony 2012 movement had become and shared critiques she had heard about the organization. The heads of the organization paid or perhaps still pay themselves very large salaries, an arguably small amount of the money fundraised actually goes to develop Uganda, there was discussion over whether or not the man they led people to join together to bring down was even alive, etc.

I looked up the website to inform myself a bit. I could only find an orange background site that said "Kony 2012" and asked you to sign a pledge. The next day I did the same search and with the same web address, found a site extremely different from the orange one. This site had a black background and many, many informative links with great pictures and videos. I enjoyed looking through it comparing and contrasting what I saw to the work that we do here, although realizing that little can really be known from a website. It takes being on the ground and being a part of an organization to really learn about what goes on daily and the impact that is made. I watched the video and was of course heartbroken over the abuse of the children who were victims of this man Joseph Kony and his group.

What was ironic was that someone then posted a Kony 2012 link on my facebook page and another friend wrote to me asking if I knew of the organization, asking my thoughts, and suggesting that I write a blog post about it. Something I knew nothing of before was now all over my radar. My friend then sent me a link to critiques of Invisible Children. One blog post was very insightful and linked to a photo of the three founders (I believe) of the organization holding guns alongside the Ugandan military. I looked up the website again and was amazed to find that the background was now again orange and it featured that same picture. The main point of the website now seemed to be to defend the organization against critiques. Obviously they had a lot going on and obviously they had a staff on the ball who could do some website work quickly and frequently.

Now, I couldn't help but to compare Project Esperanza to this organization a bit. For starters, we have no paid American staff. We have a few positions here in the Dominican where American volunteers can earn small stipends to help them to be able to stay and serve longer, and we just began doing this. Both these positions create income from within the community, (or will at least when they are fully executed and followed through with), which is how we are able to pay these stipends. But in general, we have always focused on paying local teachers and staff.. people who don't have job opportunities otherwise, and working with volunteers from the developed world, as opposed to paid staff from the developed world. We from the developed world can usually take care of our basic needs in many ways and have many opportunities to create income, so it had never seemed right to pay staff to those of us from this background, but seemed right for us to do the work voluntarily, as much as we can, while still providing for ourselves in other ways. Through the life of Project Esperanza, I have found the suggestion of paying American or developed world staff salaries a bit frustrating and insulting because I feel like it is... well taking away from the work on the ground. Money earned to pay oneself is taken away from money to pay others, correct? Well, honestly, after seeing Invisible Children who tours colleges and makes hundreds of times more money than we do each year, I have definitely questioned the choice to not pay American staff...as it could improve things for everyone... and we may have to change that in the future. At the same time, I don't regret having done it this way, because in no other way would I personally have been able to live in true solidarity with those we serve and truly understand them in order to truly serve them, and neither would others who have followed this lead, even if for shorter time periods, been able to do the same. That is priceless. And I do believe that our organization is truly relationship based and the relationships that we have with locals are truly focused on the work and not on money. Money is a side factor and not a focus. And I believe that this is where true change can occur.

I won't go on forever about this. The other main thing that the video and the investigation of Invisible Children provoked in me were thoughts and memories of boys from the streets we have served here who gave accounts of being children soldiers for the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I had the most insight into the one boy who spent the most time in our group home. While he showed flashes of brilliance, he was indeed, messed up. He had gone through so much abuse and had such problematic behavior that I found him very hard to deal with. If he had been adopted by a very patient couple, then that would've been ideal, but that was not in his cards. He left the home after spending a few years in it, when he took part in a large theft toward someone who had loved and cared for him much, never returning to apologize. He is, of course, older now, he still lives in the city and actually consistently lives in an apartment, rather than in the streets. He does not get into trouble but plays computer games as much as possible. He ignores me whenever he sees me and I try to do the same to him. :) But in conclusion, he doesn't seem to be so messed up anymore. And that, to me, is a success. I do believe he is learning some things and we'll see if he maintains a job as an adult, but I have not heard of any trouble from him.

When he was little and throwing lots of tantrums and doing unspeakable things, it was very clear that he had been through a lot. One could suspect that without hearing his history. I remember one day in 2007 when something happened...and I don't know if I ever learned what exactly had happened, but I remember that the group of boys participating were all having fun and taking things lightly, and then this boy flipped out. He became completely outraged, out of control, and ran into a room to grab something. He looked like he was about to be destructive to himself, others, and the house, and my intution told me to shut him in the room that he had run into, as I happened to be nearby. I slipped in and sat in front of the door so that he could not leave. He was yelling at me to move and began attacking me. My intuition told me to let him beat me up but don't let him go out the door. I remember thinking that he could possibly break my neck as he pulled on my head and beat me with shoes, but I held my ground. After several minutes of this, he gave up and calmed down. I remember telling him something like, "You see? You don't have to hold that in. You can get it out of your system everyday." Then that was over.

A few days later I remember being overwhelmed with a situation..I don't remember exactly what it was but I'm sure it had to do with the fact that we were running a home with about fifty street kids coming each day, 18 living there, staff who weren't trained for this, I was not officially trained for it, nor was the other founder, and a we had a group of volunteers who had unclear roles, some whom were helping out enjoying doing so and others who were getting frustrated. Neighbors were surprised by the effort we were taking to serve this population of street kids but were not appreciative of their presence in their neighborhood, we were getting threats to be kicked out or Immigration Control sent to send these kids back to Haiti where they were from, etc. It was overwhelming and yes, we were a bit crazy to have ever gotten into it. But this, as well, I do not regret for a second. Feeling completely overwhelmed, I went and sat somewhere and cried. This boy who had beat me up a few days earlier came to me with a little pocket bible, threw it on my lap, and said, "You can get that out of you system everyday." That was one of his flashes of brilliance.

If you would like to help us maintain and improve this program we have for boys on the streets who have come from Haiti to the Dominican Republic under varying circumstances but always "in search of life", then you can do so by purchasing one of these t-shirts. Explanation of the word "grapiyay" can be found on the online store where we sell the shirts. This will help us fundraise and help spread the word as people who see you in the short will undoubtedly say, "What does `grapiyay´mean?"

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Now, Uganda. I have never been there, nor have I been anywhere in Africa. I have actually only been to the US where I am from, to Mexico on a family vacation almost 10 yers ago, and here, the Dominican Republic, as well as across the border to Haiti. I felt very comfortable here on this island when I first came and I also felt as though a work started should be a work finished... or at least advanced as far as possible. So I ended up staying here. However, Uganda came to my attention a bit in 2009 when I was contacted by a young lady from Montreal who said that she was coming to the area (Puerto Plata, DR, not Uganda) on family vacation. There were many Haitians where she lived and she felt for them. She had looked through Project Esperanza's website and would love to visit a Haitian school on her visit. I told her that she could visit and later on by phone, we ended up setting a time and place to meet. Through e-mail prior to her trip, she also mentioned that she was involved with a school in Uganda and sent me the website. I was interested, having not traveled to the country or the continent myself but feeling for the people after learning the bit that I did learn. I had many questions about the school, the lives of the people, and she answered some. As I waited for her to show up at the time and place we had decided upon, she called and told me that she couldn't make it.

We stayed in touch some through e-mail and she let me know that she was returning in the beginning of 2010. She still hoped to visit the schools and would contact me. (This was early on in the life of the orgnaization but at this point I don't know that I would just agree to taking someone to visit the schools if that person was not a sponsor or not seriously looking to become one.) She never did contact me but wound up scoping out both neighborhoods where the schools are, and are clearly marked on our website. She also told me that she was in the process of registering a non-profit to run a sponsorship program in Uganda and she wanted to run the same program in one of our schools. So I inquired more about how her efforts worked in Uganda. She didn't answer much, but seemed to want the freedom to go in, take pictures of kids, and ask for funds, having not served at all with our organization and having no real established organization of her own, it seemed. This rubbed me the wrong way but I didn't want to jump to false conclusions prematurely and gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Additionally, she let me know later that she befriended some boys in Padre Granero and was going to help get them into school. I later found out who these boys were when someone else who was in contact with her visited. Both of these boys had been involved in our program for street kids and both were, at the time, students in our grassroots school in the community of Padre Granero. After finding out which boys she was referring to, I wrote to her to let her know that these boys were in our school since she had brought it up and asked if we had a school there. But from that point on, boy did the competition and  deception begin.

As I continued to have e-mail conversation with this girl, I found her to be a pathological liar and to be extremely sneaky and manipulative. She really planned out her e-mails in ways that attacked me and elicited a response, only to then play the victim, as though I were mean and out of line. I think the whole thing was really a training session in politics, leadership, keeping your cool, and not biting at bait mean to draw you into something. I will admit, however, when I would see an e-mail from her, my stomach would jump into my throat, scared of what subtle attacks and strategic lies or half truths I would find and the unsettled feeling I would feel after reading it.

She now mentioned several times her Haitian boyfriend in Montreal and his mother and sisters who were mambos, which are voodoo priestesses more or less. You can read more about this topic in this post. After several mentions of this, I said something along the lines of, "You aren't involved in voodoo, are you?"

She said, "Not really. I just go to feasts and things with my boyfriend." I wrote back telling her that I had learned that voodoo was no joke and someone shouldn't play around with it. I gave her some horrific examples. That ended our e-mail conversation.

She then returned to Puerto Plata that summer, 2010. She and her friend rented a place and right away had young Haitian boys stay there with them. I didn't hear much about them at first, but after a bit, people started reporting disturbing things - not that I asked but they obviously found her out of the ordinary compared to other young foreigners they had met, such as our volunteers. The conversation would always start by someone asking me if I knew her, then they began reporting things. I was told that she bought alcohol for this group of boys on a regular basis. I realize to some readers, one might think that that is often done in the US or other similar countries, but I was absolutely appalled. She tried to pretend as though she came to help people but was getting drunk with 15 and 16 year olds who had little to no security in their shelter, food, employment, family, or much, really. I was told of a 7-year-old boy who lives with his family and has been involved in our school that spent the night at her place as well and later saw pictures on facebook of her and her friend cuddling with him, etc. This was extremely strange. I was highly offended as everything I do through Project Esperanza works to empower people, to give them opportunity, and to encourage a healthy lifestyle. There are others who seek out the most vulnerable people to toy with them and do things that they aren't allowed to do back in their country.

I was also told that she had voodoo music on her phone that she would make others listen to. She told them of things such as her engaging in a practice where a demon apparently enters into one's mind, leading the person to dance. She also told of her ability to approach people in a crowded place, such as a disco, and steal the person's money without the person knowing. This is all voodoo behavior (although the stealing could be common pick pocketing but people do talk about a power one can obtain to become invisible and steal, or pull money, etc.) and again, I wrote about it in this blog post.

One young man became her boyfriend. She used him as her tool to stalk me and to meddle in my family life and into everything involved with Project Esperanza. Even when she was not in the country, a friend observed that she often posted posts on her facebook wall that were unspecifically yet always coincidentally in line with events in my life. When she mentioned several of these comments to me after realizing that there seemed to be more than a coincidence in the way that they coincided with my life, I was very disturbed. Had we both been in a developed country, I would've gotten a restraining order in a minute, but was used to the absence of the law on many things here in the Dominican Republic. I did, however, talk to the police about it and they said that if she threatens me, then they could set up a restraining order.

I tried to ignore her but time and time again, she came up. She sought out boys in Project Esperanza's group home and unsuccessfully tried to draw them to herself in some way. One boy they offered to take on a road trip to another part of the country. She obviously had no respect for the program they are a part of, the rules involved, and the transformational role that the program has played in their lives. It seemed as though she did everything with this complete lack of respect and with a thief mindset.

Through all of this, I always felt bad for the actual person in Uganda who was on the ground, running the school that shew as helping. I concluded that her fundraising for this school gave her an unbalanced sense of entitlement and authority. When she spoke about the school in Uganda, she spoke as though she were fully in charge, despite the fact that she was never present.

At one point in 2011, I contacted the Canadian consulate in the area because her boyfriend sent me a message, telling me to leave her and her friend alone and that I had been looking for trouble with her, attacking her, etc. When I talked to him about this, telling him it was just the opposite, he repeatedly said that he would always protect her and her friend. I realized that he was extremely deceived and influenced by her, and felt that with a situation such as this, he could be convinced to do something violent if she asked him to.

During the summer of 2011, she continued with the attacks, so I visited her apartment and just told her that I wasn't interested in playinhg any games and if she did anything else, I would go to the police and get a court date set. She dramatically ran into her apartment acting like a victim and her boyfriend dramatically protected her as she ran in. A few months later, she was not in the area and she did something else via the internet. About an hour beforehand, I had opened an e-mail that I had received months before. It was from someone else that was involved with the same school in Uganda. It had links to videos, one which the school's founder and director was in. Under this video was a link to the blog that she used to raise support for the school. After quickly checking out the blog, I noticed the followers were visible along the bottom. I thought, if she does anything else then I could contact these people with a summary of what this girl has been doing for the past few years, hoping that the right people would receive it. So when she did her latest attack about an hour later, I decided that this is what I should do. When I had time within the next few days, I would write an honest e-mail explaning my experiences with her, and ask that it be forwarded to the founder and director of the school in Uganda that she claimed as her own. I did not want to harm the school's funding, but I strongly felt that this woman in Uganda should know what she had been doing. Others and I kept pondering as well... how does she get this money to come down here, rent houses, supply alcohol for many, rent vehicles, etc? She was a college student.

How ironic it was that the next time I checked the blog to begin contacting its followers, they had been removed! Then my firend who once sponsored a student at the school in Uganda let me know that she had received an e-mail stating that the sponsorship program was ending. This same information was also posted on the blog. What timing! So I searched around for some contacts, got some leads, and sent my e-mail. People replied, letting me know that she had raised large sums of money (thousands of dollars) to apparently purchase a plot of land for the school in Uganda, but that never happened. She blamed this on the school's director, claiming that she had sent it, but the time that this several thousand dollars went missing aparently coincided with her first summer in the Dominican Republic where she rented a place, etc. I was also forwarded more recent e-mails where there was discussion over more recently missing funds, which she claimed were frozen in a PayPal account. However, this again coincided with her 2011 summer in Puerto Plata. It was at this point that she was being questioned about the missing funds that she abandoned the school altogether. She blamed the frozen account on the fact that her efforts and the school were not a registered non-profit, and belittled and condescended the school's director for that, while many involved reported that she had claimed that the non-profit status was achieved long ago.  She had told me years before when she wanted to run a sponsorship program in one of our grassroots schools that her organization was in the processing of registering as a non-profit.

Now I felt much better having seen the other side of things, having shared my truth with people involved in Uganda, and then them having shared their truth with me. And it all did add up. I soon saw that, although the fundraiser was a crook, the true leader and the school were beautiful, worthy of support, and had been through a whole lot. The team of supporters had been scattered and tired of being taken advantage of, but many seemed to still love the school and to have the will to support, should it get reorganized. One woman had even started a separate blog and sponsorship program as many sponsors had lost trust in the person I have been writing about. However, this had not really taken off but was a bit stagnant. So after staying in contact with the folks I talked to and realizing that the school truly was abandoned, I worked with others to add the school as a Grassroots Schools Global Affiliate, which is a site I created, with help, after being contacted by so many aspiring schools to try to give them a chance at finding a team of sponsors and to remain in communication and transparency with their sponsors. The site and program also serves sponsors who wish to support such schools but often find this too foreign of a task when they cannot be on the ground to oversee things. So now this school in Kampala, Uganda, the Christian Upliftment School, run by Hellen Owani, is beginning to receive funds again!

Here in the Dominican Republic, the woman who has been stalking me has rented a building and has opened a school. Her building is just a long rock's throw from the building that we have used for our school in Padre Granero since January 2010, although we just changed to a new spot that may be two or three rock throws away if thrown by the average arm. This school has been functioning since September 2006 and there were no such schools in the area previously. The man that she has working as her director went around visiting houses of children who have been in our school for years, ranting about the super school that will be opening soon. On the sites used to fundraise for this school, there are pictures of several children who go to our school. She writes by their pictures things like, "Help take this little girl off the streets and put her into school." Oh Lord, when will these ridiculous games end? She also apparently offered one of our teachers 3x what we pay him to work at her school which, I'm sure, she is not able to hold up and he ended up sticking with us, but she, of course, found success in messing with his mind for awhile there.

Why does helping people have to be so dramatic? If someone seeking to help people in the area does not wish to support and partner with an already functioning group that is serving an area, then why not simply move to a different underserved area? Why create division and competition among a community living in extreme poverty? Haven't these people been through enough? Do they really need the added drama of people who are supposed to be helping them creating division among them? What they need are people who can work together selflessly to lead them. I have never had a problem working together with others and quite enjoy doing so. The only thing I ask is that people coming in new respect what has already been done and acknwoledge the history and serve humbly without seeking self glorification, or any sort of political power. This is how I seek to serve as well. I also don't like it when people lack faith, think that certain things cannot be done, and try to convince you that they cannot be done. I add this in because this is the only thing that may frustrate me about working with others, although I do like to be made aware of potential challenges that could come up.

I hope and pray that more people who wish to serve together will continue coming into the picture and those who have other motives will go away and/or stay away. Glory be to God through his son Jesus Christ who is the ultimate example of a servant. Amen.

Oh, let me just quickly add that GreatNonprofits named Project Esperanza as a Top-Rated Non-Profit for 2012 after we received 10 positive reviews. Check out the reviews!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Occupy Wall Street: A Thirst for Balance

What are the protests all about?

The Occupy Wall Street protests have been going on since September 17, 2011. The protests began in New York City but spread to over 100 cities in the United States and over 1,500 cities worldwide. I first heard of them from a friend and Project Esperanza volunteer named Adam. In an e-mail conversation about a web project we were working on, Adam let me know that he had been busy with his job, school, and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Here in the Dominican Republic I admit I am out of touch with current events. So I looked up the protests after his mention of being involved. Adam then sent me more explanation, a video, and a document written to explain the purpose of the protests.

“Though the name implies a somewhat focused group that we are protesting, it is merely meant to represent the discontent many people feel with the way our current political and financial system works and the lack of a voice that we have in changing that. Given that the discourse in the country, even within popular media outlets, has gone from making fun of the protests to actually discussing the income disparity in the US, I would say that the movement is definitely having an effect. Unfortunately, since a lot of those popular media outlets are influenced by many of the large corporations themselves, a lot of coverage of the protests still remains somewhat condescending. Often the movement is portrayed as a bunch of dirty hippies who are lazy or young students who are spoiled. It most assuredly is not and represents a huge cross section of those within our society who feel the same discontent and are finally standing up. Two things for further background - a quick video on how the decision process in the movement works (it's really pretty cool). And here is the first official release from the movement, a declaration.”

I reviewed the video, read the declaration, and from all of this, I understand that people are thirsting for balance to an extent. Yes, they are frustrated that with this economic recession things have become more difficult and inconvenient for them personally, but they also seem to be frustrated with an imbalance of power that has gotten out of hand. There seems to be a theme in sociology where when things get too far out of balance, something happens to bring back the balance. I remember first learning about Karl Marx in social studies class...although I forget which grade level he was first introduced. However, I clearly remember the information we were to memorize about him was that he saw society divided into a working class and an upper class who holds the power which he referred to as the bourgeoisie. I also remember his theory that the imbalance caused here would always eventually end in a bloody revolution where the working class basically overthrows the bourgeoisie. I see this as essentially a natural reaction that brings back the balance. To me, the Occupy Wall Street protests mirror this, although things are not violent, there is strong opposition from the working class toward the bourgeoisie.


The Problem: Lack of Balance

One major complaint I understand that protestors have is that there are too many large corporations, too much power and control, they fund political campaigns, thus causing there to not be a real democracy. Along these lines, I have to mention something that was brought to my attention during my last visit to the U.S. While visiting with my uncle, he filled me in on research he has done for many years now. His research surrounds a conspiracy theory, secret societies, and issues that go along with that. Namely, he spoke about the Masons, the Illuminatis, the New World Order, and more. It was quite disturbing but educational for me as well. He told me about documents and videos he has investigated that reveal lots of unsettling things about American political leaders and entertainment figures. I listened but really only had his word to go on until he brought out a book written by a woman named Brice Taylor who claimed to have spent the younger years of her life as a sex slave under the leadership of Bob Hope. She specifically told about the mind control that she was put under, the method that she was brought under the mind control, and the missions that she was sent on by Bob. She wrote specific accounts about her encounters with many big names - political leaders and entertainment figures. She was sent to deliver messages from Bob and also to perform sexual acts in conjunction with that. Some leaders accepted the offer and others refused. Later in life, she escaped this life and now seeks to lead others trapped in the same situation to reverse their mind control.

My uncle explained that this woman, who was raised within this group for this purpose and basically adopted at a young age so she had no family to account of her, would've likely been killed to be kept quiet. Actually, that explanation may not be entirely correct as I now read in this heartbreaking summary of the book that her father was involved in turning her into a robot. The point is that she was raised for this purpose and had no one who would've truly protested her death or taken the risk to do so. However, in writing this book, which is not a best-seller by any means, she drew attention to herself. You would think it would anger her abusers and cause them to retaliate but my uncle explained that if they were to harm her at this point, that would only draw more attention to her book and her claims. Their best bet is to just ignore her and know that not many people will read the book. Interesting... Here is a blog I just found when searching for the book which gives a little more insight.

After reviewing a few of her disturbing accounts in the book, I reflected on the effect that an imbalance of power has on the people in the position of power. Some thoughts that came to mind are no accountability, too much freedom, and a lack of self-control. How much of the control that we possess comes from our societal constraints. What would human beings do if actions were not restricted by societal norms and the consequences that go along with those norms, namely, embarrassment, gossip, etc.? What would human beings do if they knew that no one would find out or knew that those who would find out had no voice?

Here in the Dominican Republic, visiting tourists find quite a large range of freedom. It is said to be one of the leading countries in the prostitution industry. Many tourists come here to spend time on the beautiful beaches, others come and do some volunteer work, but sadly, many choose this country, at least in part, because of the sex industry. I have lived here for the past five years as a local, not a tourist, and pretty removed from the expat population altogether. I have seen the effects that this has on families which are the most basic structure of society. I think of them as the atom with individuals serving as the electrons, protons, and neutrons. If families aren't healthy, societies can't be healthy. How can families be healthy when perhaps the highest paying job for a mother is prostitution? It seems as though in many cases, fathers estrange themselves first perhaps in some cases to protect themselves to the possibility that their wives go and prostitute themselves and they sit at home caring. So living in infidelity first and teaching themselves not to care protects them from that pain and humiliation.

I enter into this example with the Dominican Republic to make the point that expats hold a lot of power here. Where one is middle class, average in their home country, they come here and are in a position of power. Many people do things that they wouldn't do at home where there is more accountability. Situations such as this are most definitely a test of character, but also a large imbalance that seems unhealthy and tempting to many. Rather than allowing such a situation of imbalance to remain so that we can observe who will do what, I would rather the temptation be removed and there be healthy balance. There is value in a time where I leave objects within my toddler's reach and teach him not to touch and there is also value in times when I simply remove objects that are dangerous so that he cannot reach them. I believe the same is true with the figures in the U.S. and other countries who are in positions without accountability. Somehow, balance should be reached. Balance should be the goal.


Solutions

So my question for the Occupy Wall Street protestors is, what are the proposed solutions? What is the course of action? Do they plan on targetting some corporations and requesting dialogue with their leaders? Or has this been done yet? Excuse me for my ignorance if any of these suggested solutions are already being executed. Would they ask if these leaders would be willing to relinquish their power in order to create true democracy. Would they propose a productive plan and ask for their support. Are any organized boycotts being executed? I know individuals who have boycotted Wal-Mart for quite awhile because they oppose the effect that it has on small businesses.

One thought I have had brewing for a year or two is that the US could potentially split up into a few different countries. This would put many more people in leadership positions and less in the position of follower. I think more leaders with less power is key in achieving balance. I think more followers learning the responsibility of leaders also has many benefits. I can't say that the US being such a collected world power has been a negative thing, necessarily up until this point, or who knows? Undoubtedly great things have happened because it was such a large and collected force. But it may be time to think about splitting up somehwat, again, for the purpose of balance and health. When I ran this idea by my parents, they nodded in agreement to my chain of thoughts, and then added that a similar solution would be giving the states more power and removing some of the federal power. However, I think if such a large and developed body should stay united under one government, it will always be difficult for the one government to have the oversight necessary to govern the entire body with all of it's unique variations.

I thought this when I heard countless teachers complain about the new Standards of Learning put in place by the No Child Left Behind initiative. I thought, well of course that would be frustrating. How can one test or list of standards be put in place as requirements for such a large amount of schools. This sort of leadership and authority is so completely impersonal. If you can't physically visit each of the schools, should you be able to pass a requirement for all of them? They all have their different situations and deserve consideration from leaders who have more time and ability to give them individual attention. Running schools in this way is like running an orphanage with 100 children. The kids receive no individual attention and their unique variations are not taken into play in their upbringing at all. Those who work in the field discovered long ago that the family structure is a much more healthy way for children to be raised. I am not opposing the intention behind George Bush's initiative, which was to improve the performance in schools and make sure that kids weren't passing through the system without meeting certain standards, but the execution of it I think is unrealistic and incomplete if one is to truly desire the improved standards. More individual attention is required, not just overarching rules that do not consider individual schools.

Protestors could battle large corporations by working together to build their own large corporation which would give them the power to make change and have influence. Of course a million issues would come up when executing this idea. What would the corporation do? What would it market? When it does gain the power to make change and have influence, what changes would it implement?

Protestors could work together to develop third world nations, not so that they would have power to be enemies against their mother country, the US, but so that they would be a healthier litter mate. I think a healthy litter mate is the best antidote for a bully, along with wise and loving parents to oversee the interactions between litter mates. I think that anyone or anything that possesses strength, if not kept in check, is at risk of becoming a bully, even if inadvertently in ways that he or she is unaware of.


A New Clothing Brand Doing Just That!

Along the lines of these last two suggested solutions, I have to introduce a new clothing brand created and run by Adam, the same man who brought the Occupy Wall Street protests to my attention in the first place. Robin is an empowerment brand that encourages socially conscientious and adventurous individuals to engage in their community and support positive change in the world. How? By giving away free apparel for good deeds and sponsoring children’s education programs. I encourage you to check out the website and make a purchase!


Final Thoughts

I think that protestors should reflect on ways that they or those before them allowed this lack of balance to come about as a way of keeping it from repeating itself or furthering. People should not sit back and allow others to achieve, others to improve themselves, others to create.. and just live off of the creation and achievements of others without creating and achieving as well. When one sees a successful company, one should not think to get a job within that company for security purposes. In doing so, one is feeding the imbalance – because you are – I'm sorry to say – too dependent, too trusting, and perhaps in some situations, too lazy to allow someone else to control your destiny. At the same time, I think piggy-backing and copy-catting are stupid and am not suggestion that people start companies with the exact same purpose of existing companies, only to create competition. I'm suggesting that people think outside of the box, use creativity, and not necessarily “trust the experts” as if they are always correct, but question the experts. Again, I am not suggesting that people question the experts in an annoying way where the main goal is to play the devil's advocate and engage in endless discussion that leads to no productive action, but just to keep the experts in check and take responsibility over such important matters.

I think that it's also important that people remember history. In the field of health, for example, the practice of hydropathy used to be quite common with several centers devoted to this practice of simply using water as a healing agent. It was quite successful. If it was successful, then why did it die away? Why does everyone go to the hospital when they are sick and trust Western medicine so? Is a successful practice from the past worth bringing back? Yes, midwifery has made a come back, but if more people understood the history of the transition from home births to hospital births, and how it was driven by economic manipulation, perhaps even more people would do home births. Did hospital births become the norm because they were the safer and healthier option or because midwives were bullied by the new doctors. I think this is another situation where balance is needed... this situation being somewhat linked to gender as well. The U.S. is so highly organized..perhaps too organized in my opinion to the point that most forget to consider anything outside of the box/outside of the norm, and accept the norm as the only way. We become afraid of outside of the box, which only gives more power to those leading the institutions that are deemed normal..which, as we have seen, backfires.

What about kids who spend 8 of their 16 awake hours at school and two more at sports practice, also at school, five days a week. Sure, school is a fairly safe place, but such a routine sure does give one place a whole lot of influence over your children. It's something to be aware of, at the least. There are definitely benefits to school in an institution rather than home schooling as far as socialization and the fact that some parents wouldn't make the best of teachers, but at the same time, perhaps there is some sort of an alternative solution that allows for more time at home?

Financially speaking, why has everyone been trusting loans that seemed so easy? Would you ever ride around in a remote control car, driven by someone else who is not inside..who will not be hurt or killed should the car crash? Wouldn't you rather drive your own car and take the safety of your family and yourself in you own hands? Shouldn't banks be left as banks and not given power that they do not actually possess? If they claim to possess it, shouldn't we call them out on it or simply ignore them? I thought that the purpose of banks were to provide a safe place for people to store money as opposed to piggy banks and sock drawers, as well as to loan a little money to get someone out of a pinch, with consequences if they don't pay back. They aren't meant to make all your dreams come true. And when they do... when you don't feel the weight of your pennies earned... well... I think something has to be off somewhere. Excuse my ignorance here again if I misunderstand something with the financial system as I do not have experience with taking out loans in the U.S.

Sometimes comfortable can be dangerous. Sometimes we have to fight against the comfort of our warm bed and hop out into the cold barefoot in order to be alert and therefore wise. Frodo was comfortable in the beautiful Shire but if he stayed there, the discomfort in the other parts of Middle Earth would've ended up destroying the Shire. It is good to listen to advice or at least consider it, but every person should trust in him/herself as well. Every person should be a critical thinker and a problem solver. I am not promoting arrogance and argumentativeness for the sake of having a voice.. that is stupid. Brainstorming and a group submitting to a logically best decision is necessary.. I am just stating that more people need to actively do that, rather than leaving all the problem solving in the hands of few. Everyone needs to take more responsibility over that process and everything that affects their own lives.

Amen.