Friday, November 18, 2011

A Poem: Break Free

This is a poem I wrote at a time (2006) when I was mourning the path that a loved one was going down. It can be about breaking free from many things: addictions, generational curses, peer pressure, societal, cultural, and family pressure, or just the sinful flesh in general.

Break Free

Stand firm on faith

Don't trust your human eyes

Cause everything around you

Is living off of lies

They say love doesn't work

It's weak and ineffective

You've gotta fight for what you want

And leave no room to be rejected

But they're walking on a leash

And they think the guy next to them

Knows where he is headed

But really he's pretending

Just like you

So why are you doing all the things that you're doing?

And who's on the other end of the leash?

And how did the leash get clipped to your collar?

Break free, break free, don't you wanna be free?

So you broke from the leash

And now you're making choices

But you can't help but notice

The sounds of all the voices

Telling which way to go

How can you decide?

You make your decision

And get started on your ride

But as soon as you get going

You see you're facing head on

A stampede of people

By their leashes being drawn

You feel so alone

And you don't want to be seen

So you attempt to blend in

And hide

So why are you doing all the things that you're doing?

And who's tugging on the end of your leash?

And how did you get caught up in all this confusion?

Break free, break free, don't you wanna be free?

They clip a leash on you

And you feel you're moving backward

You fight the other way

But the crowd marches onward

Where are we going?

You finally call out

And you see some folks around you

That seem to share your doubts

Let's break free

You suggest to your neighbors

They say, no we're going this way

As you near the gas chambers

But you see in their eyes

That they wanna turn around

They just lack the strenght to do it

Just like you

So why are you doing all the things that you're doing?

And who's tugging on the end of your leash?

And how far will you go before you step up and fight?

Break free, break free, don't you wanna be free?

So you decide you're gonna fight

And you rip off your collar

You walk against the crowd

Even though you're so much smaller

But your heart is alive

That's the only thing that matters

You fall down but you get up

And now the crowd scatters

Cause they see that you mean business

That you know where you're headed

A few rip off their own collars

As the leashholder has dreaded

And you're no longer alone

Now you're strong and moving forward

With so many roads ahead

You're finally free

So why are you doing all the things that you're doing?

You no longer feel the tugging, you no longer wear a leash.

You stepped up and fought and you made the right decision.

Break free, break free, don't you love to be free?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Past 6 Years...

A friend recently asked me to send him a summary of the last six years of my life in order to use as a reference to write a nomination for me for the Grinnell CollegeYoung Innovator for Social Justice Prize. He nominated me last year as well and obviously I didn't get it. I've spruced it up with some pictures (wish I had more from different times/events), but here is what I sent to him:

Jan. 2005 - went on volunteer trip to Esperanza, DR with organization called Orphanage Outreach. Two other friends came with own funds raised and extra fundraising helped two more to come, totaling us 5.

Winter/Spring 2005 - planned to return June 2005, fundraised together, returned with a group of 10.

Oct. 2005 - Began VT student org. Project Esperanza to facilitate what we were doing and be able to do more.

Fall, Winter 2005, Spring 2006 - Built a team, kept in contact with and planned with Orphanage Outreach staff in DR who ended up leaving OO and moving to Puerto Plata which changed our plans. Led weekly student org. meetings and led several fundraisers.

Summer 2006 - Led 30 volunteers to Puerto Plata. We did the street census, collected information on 140 shoe shine or street vending boys, and learned of their situations. I collected info. from volunteers each day and together we made profiles on my laptop. We also worked with a public school constructing a new building and taught English. After one month we began a day program with boys from the street census with lunch, tutoring, andorganized activities. As the summer/trip ended, I signed the lease to the house on behalf of Project Esperanza. Returned to U.S. and maintained communication with many people in the DR.

Aug./Sept. 2006 - Began meeting with others to form a board of directors, to incorporate Project Esperanza, and to file for non-profit status.

Fall 2006 - Fundraised a lot! Continued weekly meetings.

Nov. 2006 - Returned to PP with mom and Kristin. Rebought everything we had lost/Dale and Marta had taken. Met with many people in the community, boys from the summer visited, ate, etc. We gave them each their own soccer ball. Met Pastor Millien and Wanbert who had started a Haitian school in Padre Granero where most boys lived. They pleaded for payment of teacher salaries at the least.

Dec. 2006 - Graduated from Tech with Bachelor's of Arts - Interdisciplinary Studies: Leadership and Social Change. Pastor Milien called saying teachers were struggling. I sent Christmas money and some savings to pay them that month.. thus beginning our consistent support of that school.

Jan. 2007 - Led a group of 14 VT student
volunteers to Puerto Plata for two weeks. We split into two groups. One group continued with the same street boys program that was begun in the summer of 2006 but extended it to last all day rather than just the afternoon. Many more boys were included and many showed great academic advances in just that week, learning their alphabet and such. Younger, unruly boys also began showing up. The boys did lessons and participated in activities in exchange for points. At the end of each week we set up a little store with donated clothing items and allowed them to use their points to purchase items at the little store. It was a huge hit!

The other group used funds raised to help finish a room on the back of a church we had partnered with in hopes of using the room to serve food to people in need. A few members of the group spent some time visiting clinics.. specifically a clinic that specializes in HIV/AIDS patients. They hoped to volunteer but really just were able to shadow a bit.

At the end of this trip, I stayed a few days longer. Kristin stayed one more day and I stayed three more days I believe. During this trip.. lemme back up.. there were a few boys we began letting sleep at the house as they really pleaded and said they slept on sand in the beach or on people's porches. They were from the smaller unruly group that showed up. We checked it out by letting them sleep on a mattress on the ground in one little room at first and they were so pleased by that. Then we let them sleep every night. There were also three boys who always came very late for their lessons because they would get beat if they didn't sell all of their sweets. They began wanting to run away from the man they lived with and hiding from him. So I was left with the situation of all these boys along with some older helper guys and then one artist man who was a good bit older (36) and really behaved well with this group and was sensitive for them. I was left to figure out what to do with them. He ended up agreeing to stay in the house with those that didn't have a home (without pay) and he took the three running away from the man they lived with to meet their family in Haiti. They all three said that their mothers had been tricked into sending them with this man and they just wanted to return to their mothers. This is how the boys' home began... Who'd a thunk it? haha. My flight left in the middle of the night so I took a taxi to Santiago and the man and three boys went in the same taxi, we then split ways.

So we left the house around.. 1am if I remember correctly. The man who the boys were running away from showed up at our house late that night before we left with another boy that lived with him, the older brother of one of the three, who was more on his side. He tried to take the man back and was very threatening and the boys were very adamant to not go back with him and so was I. He gave up and left but left threatening to harm them with witchcraft, etc.

rest of Jan. to March 2007 - we now had a very excited group at Tech and we did some good fundraising to support the new boys' home.

March 2007 - I went to visit Puerto Plata and six other members of our group came. My brother and a friend came at the beginning for a short visit.. then they left.. then the rest came. I was able to go down a little e

arly as I had already graduated. We brought book bags and supplies for over 30 boys. We gave them to boys who had been going to school regularly and then registered 26 I believe while we were three.. some in public school at night if they were at higher level and the rest at the grassroots school in Padre Granero.. and we gave them a book bag with supplies and tennis shoes after they registered and attended three days of school. They started a soccer team and we had regular practices during that stay. When I left, one volunteer who was not a student stayed for a month.. although he had planned to stay for a year. Things were harder and different than he or we could've expected.

March – May 2007 - I was constantly on the phone with leaders and boys at the boys' home. I did
my best to talk to them all individually, send them gifts individually, encourage them, do conflict resolution, everything from afar. April 16th there were the shootings on campus. I was in the stadium tutoring as that was my job throughout college -to tutor and mentor athletes. The events following that were surreal to me.. I had already mourned evil and such evil events when a friend's brother committed some brutal murders in high school.. then again when a boy I worked at a camp with did the same.. so this wasn't as shocking as my initial encounter with evil in that way.. and I didn't lose anyone close to me.. but the way campus changed, classes ended, etc. was so surreal.. and all of the mourning and the sweets sent from everywhere! But what was so weird is that I was so de
tached.. this whole spring I was so detached.. my body was in Blacksburg but my heart and mind and every other part of me was in Puerto Plata. I was present for that event but felt barely present.

May to Sept. 1st ish 2009 - 29 volunteers came.. boys' home.. grassroots schools.. took on another grassroots school although I did my best to not.. this one in Muñoz.. the people starting it wrote to me often before I went down and then visited the house almost daily looking for support! I helped them talk to volunteers to see if they could help raise funds.. one girl's mom’s church raised funds to pay teachers for three months. After that we were stuck.. and didn't have any trouble financially for some years. The boys' home was a roller coaster.. so many boys... new staff.. started paying staff.. changed homes.. at the end we ended up renting a house with land in the country. Lots of negotiating needed to get it. Oh, June 2007 we got non-profit status.Then I stayed longer than expected to make sure that all started well. At the home in the country we had paid staff to stay, oversee chores, make food, and then teachers. It was really controlled and really great for everyone who was in the program. And at this point I had become best best friends with Jireste who I later married and now have two kids with.

Fall 2007 - that summer had been rocky.. so much had gone on.. I
was not so available for volunteers.. some had gotten upset.. others were more on board than ever.. but we had all seen a lot that summer.. that this was a big and deep problem we were facing and it wouldn't be a quick fix. We continued fundraising and I spent a lot of time organizing finances and trying to organize a non-profit I could leave on the US end and go be in the DR full time.

Oct. 2007 - visited the DR and was so busy and spread thin during the trip. We also started Massie's Learning Center in Blacksburg. This stemmed from my relationship with my little sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters and her extended family and neighbors. Kristin and other PE people started joining me in outreach to them and we arranged with the owner of the trailer park to have a trailer free of rent in order to start a learning center. I wanted to leave something to serve the community as I would be leaving my little sister but their problems would remain. Kristin and her now husband Ken were very crucial in getting this going.

Nov. 2007 - visited the DR (Kristin went too) and was so busy and spread thin during the trip again.

Jan. 2008 - moved to the DR. Kristin had planned to come but as the date became closer decided she was more needed in the US and would maybe come later. She was very important in fundraising US side and in keeping Massie's Learning Center going.

winter/spring 2008 - I began teaching science and then some Spanish, reading, and writing in the boys' home school and taught English in an English school in the afternoons. I also did a lot of outreach to local businesses trying to find jobs/apprenticeships for boys and was able to place a few but the conditions were still difficult. I met with grassroots schools admin often, teachers sometimes, paid them, etc. In March I went home for an emergency fundraising trip which was super successful and raised enough funds to comfortably get us through the end of the summer.

summer 2008 - the boys soccer team continued although it wasn't active during the school year so it started back up and we split into two teams..younger and older. There was no school in the mornings but I still worked at the English school in the afternoons. We had a volunteer program but I was not so involved.. some days I interacted but not every day. Kristin was there during the whole summer pretty much. Moral got down a little at the boys home during the summer.. and it has been a pattern when there is the less structure during vacation. There were some heightened behavior problems and the full time staff member seemed to be burnt out. In August he decided to go back to Haiti and that left us with no one capable and available and trusted to take his spot. Right before he went back to Haiti, I went home for a visit. I tried fundraising but at this point couldn't get much going.

fall 2008 - We started the next school year with boys enrolling in public school and things got tough financially. It became impossible to pay rent on the big house in the country. Teacher payments remained stable but we rented a smaller place closer to town and just put older boys as there was no staff. I moved into an apartment with Jireste and we had two younger boys (young in comparison to others – 12 and 14ish) stay with us - Babi and Chinaider. Two other younger boys ran away into the streets before we moved out and when they wanted to be taken back in.. we had no way to do that. I ended up sending them to Haiti upon their request when they saw they could not be taken back in. We had one same and one different teacher at the new home. Things went well there. Things also went well with us with Babi and Chinaider. Things were tough.. but they went to school and behaved well, etc. My dad visited and Jireste and I talked to him about us getting married. He was overwhelmed for many reasons but still liked Jireste although it was hard for them to connect with language and cultural barriers. He asked us to wait. As the boys went to public school in the mornings, I took a job at a bilingual school here teaching math and art. I became quite overwhelmed after about 1.5 mos. and quit as I couldn't juggle the job and PE. I began teaching English and Spanish to a Russian student at that school 3 times a week.

winter 2008/2009 - Things got tougher financially. I started having more computer access and was able to do more updating and outreach at that point. I started having to pay teachers late or give them partial payments. I sold everything I had and everything PE had and now was not using as we left the big house trying to get through financial troubles. This is also when Etyenn got sick and I spent a lot of time tending to him. My private lessons with the Russian girl ended but I got a job with Channel Forge - a company a guy from CO started.. basically outsourced sales.. I was essentially a sales rep for companies in the US and would make sales calls for them, set
up sales meetings.. got paid by hour and commission for setting up meetings. It paid pretty well and I learned a lot and made some friends from it. I did this for almost a year.. at least 4 hours a day. I also, of course, continued to oversee the boys' home and schools. At this time people from Saman and the ODHS started to seek me out more too and I started helping them to organize their efforts and became a liaison between them and university groups
Dec. 2008 - I went home for my sister Sarah's wedding. This was the last time I would go home in over 2 years. Forgot to say, while I was working for Channel Forge I got to spend a lot of time at his office on the internet and I researched lots of foundations and began working on lots of grant proposals. This is how I found Global Giving and we got on it. I also searched lots of online jobs and began freelance translating and blog writing. It has, however, been a great way of outreach. I haven' t made any income from blog writing but originally started for that purpose. OH, I do get paid though, to write articles on factoidz. But I didn't get into this until Nov. 2010.

summer 2009 - Alison Smith came with Tulane med students and a doctor. I led them around daily for 2 weeks doing day the clinics.. loooots of translating, walking around, etc. 8 mos. pregnant. My parents and four friends came when Ilayas was due. He took 13 days longer than that and all but my mom had returned to the US. He was born Aug. 5, 2009. Jireste's mom came and stayed to help out after the birth and we didn't know she was coming with about 6 other family members. :) All to stay in our one bedroom apartment. Our landlady didn't let them stay though so they went to an aunt's in Santiago and just his mom stayed. At the end of the month of Aug. the boys' home landlord kicked the boys out them out and had them all arrested.. he was trying to frame one of them for stealing and no one believes that he even had anything stolen but just didn't want them there anymore and has police officer brothers so he had power to do corrupt things.They arrested Jireste too who was trying
to defend the boy he was framing. Thisgrew into an ordeal, we went to court a few times, and although the judge said the boys could return to the house for at least a month until the deposit was up, the landlord and family wouldn't allow it and reacted violently. So many back into the streets, many into our apartment with us. :) This lasted for a few months.

fall 2009 - a VT volunteer group came and I led them in doing geography lessons and activities in the Muñoz school.

Dec. 2009 - We had searched and searched for a new house for the boys but it was hard to find someone to rent to us in the same community we had been in, which we wanted to be in. We rented two rooms in a church for school and stored their beds and things in there for the time being. But finally we found a house that rented to us and it was in a location they were scared of.. a small wooden house with
out close neighbors. Many were scared to live there or would live there for a few days and then not want to, etc.

winter/spring 2010 - Jireste, Ilayas, and I went to Haiti a few times. We were very consumed by that and by overseeing the boys' home as it was hard to get started back up well... they needed a lot of support.. and I was at school every night. I had split with the pastor who did the Padre Granero school in Aug. 2009 and then met up with a head teacher who had also split with him and we started the school back up in Jan. 2009. so that needed a lot of TLC to get going too.

march 2010 - new VT PE student org came and started the Muñoz jewelry group and made some initial efforts on the Muñoz internet center. I led them full days during their trip and translated, took care of logistics, etc.

may 2010 - began writing on La Vida Idealist.

summer 2010 - The Tulane med student group came again. 10 days of day clinics in 8 different communities.. full days long.. this time with a 10 month old. Soccer team started
again. We didn't do it during 2009.. first year without the team. It was really fun to get everyone back together and they did really really well. They now participated in the men's league, although our team's age range was 12-29..average age probably 17... but they held their own for sure. The season lasted until Dec. We found a new house to rent for the boys' home in a much better location and they really settled in. Another group of Blacksburg and Northern VA ladies came and worked with the jewelry group, distributed soccer cleats to the boys' team, and visited other PE sites.
Two girls from England came and interned for two sophomores so I oversaw them. They did great. Then two more interns came for three months.. older than the girls.. one from VA and one from... NJ I believe.. a Dartmouth graduate. One did great and the other was a bit of a burden. However, the one that was a burden worked with the jewelry group and we together allowed that to advance. This started a time of having
constant expats here.. either long term or short term.. and this kept me busy. Jireste and I finally got married. It had taken this long because we kept having to jump through
more hoops that cost money that we didn't have so it was step by step on that. We got Ilayas' American birth certificate and passport and applied for a visitor's visa for Jireste to visit the US but they didn't give it to him. They said he would be easier off getting residency but we didn't want to live in the US so they said try again after a year.

fall 2010 - I volunteered a little with Monkey Jungle in hopes of making a connection with another NGO and they gave us the opportunity where over the course of two full days I brought 12 or 13 people (10 or 11 boys and two women) to get some
awesome free dental care. Late Nov. I went home for Thanksgiving and got to be there when my sister Sarah had her baby Blake. I got to see so much of my family and to visit Blacksburg and stay with Kristin and participate in some student org fundraisers. :) Also got to visit good old bank - BB&T, change some people around on the account, etc. Began writing on factoidz. I also began doing private lessons again.. mainly employed by two women in Canada who support 6 kids here.. one supports one family and another supports another. One has a blog for her kids and I send her updates and she puts them on this blog. I call this social mediating and plan on making a blog or website to market it.

winter 2011- two Seeds of Self Reliance volunteers came and stayed in Saman and did some service with us, creating a garden at the boys' home. I worked with them some, took them around some, helped them out some.
Money got so tight. It had been tight before but we had always been able to eventually pay teachers off but at this point it became tight to where we kept getting behind on teacher payments and haven't, to present day, been able to pay them off. My dad started going through chemo and radiation for lung cancer so I went home with Ilayas for almost a month. It was great to spend time with family and friends. I called and visited restaurants to set up monthly restaurant nights for Winchester during this time. In Jan. Jireste and I moved out of the apartment we lived in since Dec. 2009 which was outside of the city about 10 or 15 min. and was fully furnished.. although it still had its vices. .inconsistent electricity and we didn't have a washing machine.. but we first moved into the tiniest of tiny apartments close to the boys' home. It was unbearable and we actually slept in the school some nights rather than in that apartment.. Oh just thinking of it makes me feel queasy partly because the toilet wouldn’t' flush well and there was no real separation between bathroom and bedroom/entire apartment as that was all it was.. plus.. I was getting into a new pregnancy and oh so sick to top it off. After a month we moved into where we are now which is bigger but no running
water and same toilet doesn't flush well problem (with pouring water in the bowl) and it has no furniture. We slept on the floor on mats for months.. until August or late July. We still have no fridge. We had no chairs for months as well.. now we have a kitchen table, and chairs, a bed, and thank the Lord after Maraya was born my parents sent money for a little washing machine. I now have internet and my computer here and there are still improvements that need to be made.. we have a serious mouse problem.. but it is feeling like home sweet home and we are not paying to use someone else's stuff that they will undoubtedly say we ruined even if we didn’t' and not give us back our deposit. We are close to the boys' home and school and always available for them.. and have really built some great relationships with neighbors. Ilayas has some best friends. :)

march 2011 - VT study abroad group volunteered with grassroots schools for 5 days. I led them, organized, translated, etc. I led the Dartmouth group that stayed in Saman around to see PE sites one day. I continued to work at the boys' home school every night. I believe it was this month that we started the movie theater in Muñoz, which I have had to be very present for when I thought I would not have to be and it would be an easy start up.

april 2011- some friends/visitors/volunteers came for a week and we did an Easter event in Padre Granero and I led them around a little more.

may 2011 - VT PE student org group did a week of activities. Kristin came and helped and stayed with the group but I was still spending a lot of my days with them too. Then some consultants from a group called Resortful Arts came and helped out with the art shop. Jireste and I were also their personal chauffeur.

They were here for about a week.. went and came back so it spread over two weeks. The jewelry really improved from their trainings!

june 2011 - visitors from Peaceworks and a university in Atlanta came and did a site visit.. I took them around for a day. Long term volunteer came to help out with the English camp. I spent a lot of time planning for that and working with her to rent a houseand get it set up, purchasing materials and moving beds, etc. And at the same time Alicia came to work in the art shop. When these two women came I was extremely busy as they came to work in two different areas and were both new and needing orientation. Whew! And I forgot to mention that my vehicle got taken away because I took a loan out of it when finances got really tough and ended up losing it not being able to pay it back. I mean.. the car was the.. in order to get the loan they had the title so when I couldn't pay it back.. they got the car. Sad but true.This was a car my dad had sent money for me to purchase after selling my vehicle, which he had also purchased for me, in the U.S., after Ilayas was born in 2009. So I began running around all over the place with a very large stomach and Ilayas in public transportation, which was tough, but we got through it. Ilayas I love him to pieces and would never leave him and go do something without him. The only time I ever really

have is I would leave him at the English camp to run errands nearby around town and left him with Jireste a little to have more uninterrupted time having long talks with volunteers summer 2011. And then when Maraya was born he stayed at home with Jireste two nights when I was in the hospital.. no boys allowed to stay. But he was there during the labor and waited outside with Jireste, Alicia, and Alicia's boyfriend during the c-section. Forgot to mention, I got a new little cheap crappy car after losing the first one but it broke down and I had no more funds to invest in it so it's been sitting here ever since.

summer 2011 - great group of volunteers came for the english camp. I organized the sponsorship of campers and rounding up sponsored campers and bringing them every morning. I came with them every morning and with Ilayas. I was there during the camp but would run errands and come back. It was really an awesome camp that we hope will go on for forever and it was successful in plugging volunteers into a project they can own. Then in the afternoons they served in the grassroots schools communities and got to visit other sites during their stay. We tried to get the english immeresion pre-school we planned to do up and running in the fall but it didn't fly.. need to advertise more in advance. It has great potential though. During the last week before school began Alicia, a woman named Sonia, and I really ran around trying to make this happen... going door to door,
etc. Alicia and a Romanian woman here moved into the house we used for camp and counselor housing and we turned it into a hostel. I still did english lessons there and picked up four new students which I gave lessons to right up to the birth of Maraya. Two weeks before Maraya was born we had teacher training which was awesome... a total moral booster for teachers. They felt fed rather than being the ones always feeeding. But attending this every morning was exhausting as I was so huge and running out of steam. I felt anxious in the last two weeks before giving birth.. staying up soo late at night to work on the website and do computer stuff I feared I wouldnt' have time to do after she was born.. and I was right!

Sept. 10th.. - she was born. :)

Sept. 10th - present - family time, home time.. I've had to go do some stuff but have mainly been at home and people have been coming to me (sigh). During the first few days at home my heart broke as my relationship with

Ilayas changed but we got used to it and my heart broke as I realized how much we had been separated from Jireste in the past few months. When we had the car we did everything together but after the car was taken away I just went with Ilayas and did not see Jireste for many times the whole day.. and when we got home at night we were so tired. Sometimes we barely talked. We often came home and he had made food or cleaned and organized. Now that I was still I realized this and was so overwhelmed with sadness. I've been trying to do what I can from here.. phone calls, e-mails, and internet outreach to get the art shop and hostel going stronger. And I've started doing lessons again

as of Oct. 4th. But from the house. I'll start doing them from the hostel building in Nov. but will do as much as possible from the house.

This covers the main events, not to mention the constant answering of e-mails, recording finances, writing updates, and meeting with teachers and leaders in the organization, etc.