Category Archives: The World at Large

Sunitha Krishnan

“My biggest strength has been realizing that in this whole effort, I am not a savior, but just a facilitator.” – Sunitha Krishnan

That said, this woman has been facilitating since she was eight as a teacher to mentally challenged children.  At twelve she worked with the underprivileged children in schools.  Again at fifteen she made her mark working in low caste communities.  As retaliation for her efforts, she was gang-raped by a group of eight men.  Anger fueled her decision to obtain  a degree in social work and work bringing child and women victims of sex trafficking to freedom.  In the past 26 years she has brought more than 12,000 victims to a better life and a chance for a future.   

The largest anti-trafficking organization in the world, her prevention program, Prajwala, consists of three shelters.  The organization has five objectives:  prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and advocacy.  Prajwala provides moral, financial, legal and social support for women and children entering the program.   For the children of prostituted women, 17 transition centers work to prevent thousands of these children from entering prostitution themselves.  Vocational programs give necessary skills to lead economically feasible lives outside prostitution.

Krishnan also drafts policy recommendations and works with the government in the fields of prevention and advocacy.  She is well aware that meaningful change can not take place without the support of government and NGOs. To date, seven states are following her policy recommendations.  Her influence has even spread to the United States where she has met with auditoriums full of students to discuss prevention and activism.

She has made well received films on the subject of prostitution and prevention.  Krishnan has had to sell her personal belongings to further her work.  Programs are not cheap and although she  takes no income from Prajwala, there are over 200 employees to pay as well as services and expenses.  Her livelihood is supported by her films and books.

Sunitha has been arrested and imprisoned for her activism.  She has been physically assaulted 14 times.  Death Threats are an ongoing concern. Her rickshaw was hit by a van yet she escaped serious injury.  She survived a poison attempt.  Acid was once flung at her.  These attempts have only strengthened her resolve.

Sunitha has received many awards including the Outstanding Woman Award in 2013 by the National Commission for Women, Padma Shri in the field of Social Work in 2016, Inagral Sri Sathya Sai Award for Human Excellence in 2016, Mother Theresa Award for Social Justice in 2014, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice International Leadership Award given in New York in 2011.  Every year has brought a host of awards. 

Sunitha was born with the heart of an activist and the drive to do good in this world.  Her indomitable spirit has brought forth formidable results.  Out of spirit and trauma, the focus of her attention was honed in on the women and children of sexual exploitation.  She is indeed a vision of inspiration.

Traumas Abundant

Our world is such an aching wound.  No matter where you look, the mistakes of humans are making themselves manifest.  In our country alone, immigrants find their children are spirited away possibly forever.  The components of genocide fit.  We are destroying innocent people, especially the children.  I couldn’t imagine losing my children now much less when they were little.  I don’t think many of us could.  The sacrifices illegal aliens take to try to find a safe haven are astounding.

Nor are we alone in our wrongdoing.  The genocide ISIS has done to the Yezidi people is heartbreaking.  Women and children are raped, mutilated, tortured, and enslaved.  Men are outright killed.  The Rohingya Muslims are being denied their land, their birthright, their possessions again, for religious purposes.  It doesn’t make sense why other countries aren’t stepping up to help those people who are losing everything they hold dear, everything that defines them.

Yemen’s people are starving and being killed by U.S. bombs.  The ethnic troubles of Burundi are catastrophic.  Syria is one colossal mess and once again, it is the common people who pay. Sexism and racism seem to define our society even as we have a president that regularly spews hatred and arrogance upon those different than himself.

Maybe I’m just tired today but the troubles of the world are weighing heavy.  I think it is also the neverendingness of the world’s strife.  We repeat the same mistakes again and again.  How can the regular person help stem the tide of violence and atrocity?  I want to do more than lament the misfortunes and traumas of others, I want to know that in some way my voice is heard, my actions matter.  Maybe if we each did a little, together we could accomplish a lot.

Same old tune

Been hearing that same
old story
one too many times
over and over again

It’s okay.
They’re not bad as stories go –
far off places,
interesting people

You tell of your wife
her adventure in life
said before Alzheimer’s
took her words away

Different times
a generation on its way
to passing beyond
leaving new stories
to take the fold

Tell your stories
your wife can’t process
and I’ll listen
so you can be heard

Achieving Women Against the Odds

There are so many valiant women in the world and most go through their days with no recognition.  Many have gone through traumatic experiences and have lived to tell the tale.  However, telling the tale is not as important as doing the work and achieving against all odds.

One woman I recently read about was sexually trafficked by her mother starting at age 9.  This continued for three years but was halted by Child Protective Services,  Her mother wouldn’t give up her rights to the girl as she was a source of income and needed to support a rampant drug addiction.  Later, she fell into the hands of pimps.  Not knowing another way of life, prostitution continued into her 30’s when her own drug addiction finally came to its end.

She developed a program where young prostitutes could come for shelter and be given the resources to make life changes from prostitution.  To this date, she has assisted more than 300 girls.

I read about women who have gone through incredible suffering in civil wars, by terrorists, revolutionaries, and often loosing loved ones and their homes in the process.  They were given the opportunity for micro-grants, often a cow or a sewing machine, the means to support themselves and their families.  In spite of their traumas, they succeeded in the hard-bitten life they were given.  Greatness is fluid and relative.

My mother was one of those who achieved despite the odds.  As a child she lived with two alcoholics, one of whom was a raging, sexually and physically abusive drunk.  At age eleven, she took her one year old sister and left their apartment, never to return.  She worked in her aunt’s boarding home to pay her way.  Becoming a nurse, she worked very hard to support our family.  She ended up developing three businesses in the home health field.  When she chose to, she sold one for $250K.  She was generous, caring, and though she had a wicked temper at times, she made life easier for many people, even when she didn’t have financial resources for herself.  She removed herself so far from the squalor of her childhood, she was truly great.

Most women are touchstones of love and dedication.  They share from their hearts and give even in the tough times.  Some rise beyond the levels lived by the majority.  They become great.  They are the women I want to know.

Margueritte “Maggie” Barankitse

I came across another fabulous woman yesterday.  The Burundi President has referred to Margueritte “Maggie” Baransitke as the Mother of Burundi and she certainly lives up to that reputation.  Likened to Mother Theresa, which she dismisses, she has adopted at least 30,000 children since October 25, 1993. She calls herself an inventor of solutions. 

In the midst of an extremely violent ethnic war between the Hutus and Tutsis where 100,000s of people were killed, Maggie and her adopted seven children went to the Bishop’s home for security because some of her children were Hutus. Seventy two, people were already gathered. She hid the 25 children there in cupboards in the Church sanctuary.  The Tutsi invaders demanded she tell them where the children were and when she wouldn’t disclose their whereabouts, she was tied up, stripped naked, and one by one all 72 people, including the Bishop, nuns, and others who had come for safety, were executed in front of her, the last, the head of her best friend,thrown in her lap. 

Upon releasing herself, she buried all of those people in the days following.  She begged and borrowed food and supplies to care for the 25 children, then 50, then 100 and on.  On May, 1994, Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Nduhirubuse donated an old school to be made into a shelter.  But Maggie was not content.  Always following the path laid out by her God, she built a school because she knew education was the key to getting out of Burundi’s grinding poverty, where the average person earns the equivalent of one dollar a day.  She developed shelters and homes for small groups of children in other cities throughout Burundi.

The children are treated with love and respect. When people were ill, and 16 women died in childbirth in one day, she talked the military into building a hospital.  When she had troubles with the bank, and was robbed, she opened a bank to service the needs of Maison Shalom, the organization she founded.  During the time when she had saved and adopted 20,000 kids, among them child soldiers, garbage dwelling children, Single mothers, Mothers and children with Aids, incarcerated children, she had to flee Burundi under death threats.  Many of the children went with her to externally displaced camps.

When able, she and the children returned. The children of Maison Shalom have become extraordinary in their own rights according to the people of Burundi.  Many have gone to college, some internationally, then returned to lend their skills to the community as doctors, lawyers, and business entrepreneurs.  Maggie gives micro grants to single mothers and women to set up businesses.  The loving life of Maison Shalom continues to flourish.

International praise started coming in, recognition for both her achievements and the love which flavored every action she took.  In June 2009, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg visited Burundi, stopping to see Maison Shalom for herself.  Impressed, she invited Maggie to Luxembourg in October 2011 for a photo exhibition of the Maison Shalom project and has subsequently proffered additional support.  In November of 2011 Kofi Annan gave her the Prize for Conflict Resolution.  And on April 24, 2016, Maggie was awarded 1.1 million dollars through the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, an award given in memory of the Armenian genocide and presented by Humanitarian George Clooney.  Other awards have followed.

Travesty and the Lack of Succor at the Borders and Within Our Lives

Believe me, I think it is heinous what is happening at the Mexican border.  That nursing and Down’s syndrome children, or any others, should be ripped away from their parents’ arms is an atrocity.  And for a Bible passage (Romans 13: 1-14) to be used for justification of such activities is unconscionable, and incorrectly used as justification.  What happened to, accept the huddled masses?

Now we have withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Commission saying Israel is not being treated fairly.  What hypocrites!  And the fact that we don’t seem to have any alternatives to shredding families apart and causing permanent psychological and perhaps physical harm to the children, and parents, is infinitely sad.  I feel nauseous when I hear President Trump or the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Neilsen.

But human rights violations have been going on in our country since its inception.  Our “Enlightened” society has been prejudiced against each immigrant group that has come to our shores or were already on them. These past few decades alone have been filled with discrimination:  LGBQT, Blacks, Women, Native Americans, Latinos, Puerto Ricans, the list goes on.  It behooves us to have a psychological change in our interpretation of social order and justice.  Sometimes there doesn’t seem to have enough pure air to breathe.  Arians, Bigots, Thoughtless people who may not even know their actions are prejudiced are making me feel claustrophobic. I’m not saying I am without fault, the fault lies within all of us.

But the plight of the people trying to cross our borders is heartbreaking. Yes there are those who come with the intent to do harm and we need to prevent that.  But the vast majority are people just like us who have been ostracized, had their lives threatened, or lived amid civil unrest. They deserve succor even if they are not allowed to stay.  They don’t deserve to find their illusions of safety shattered, their children taken to be put in cages, in internal Guatanamo Bay for kids.  They don’t deserve the massive stress of separation, not knowing where their children are taken, and the trauma of possibly not seeing their kids again.

I don’t know what the solution is – only that what is going on right now has to stop.  Restitution needs to be considered.  These people are not cattle.  They don’t deserve what they have to content with.  Their lives matter as much as our own and we would never stand idlely by while our own children were taken, or those we knew already in the nation’s borders.

This is feeling more and more  like a police state with an almighty ruler sanctifying adversity and trauma. We need to take action. Day by day our rights are being threatened, the country we took for granted two years ago is being devastatingly ruined. We must act for the children and parents coming to our southern border. It could well be us down the road.  Maybe I seem reactionary but I feel helply watching as innocent people are herded into concentration camps.  We are doing exactly what we did to the American Japanese in World War II.   Didn’t we say, never again when that happened?

The Immigrant Situation

I am by no means an expert in this area, but we have to raise our voices against the horrible conditions illegal immigrants are facing in this country.  I hardly recognize the United States anymore.  It is no longer the place of hope and dreams.  It is becoming a military state, and those in government are not working to improve conditions.  They are letting this President become a despot and semi-dictator without stepping in to stop him.

Donald Trump is a man even his wife doesn’t want to be near.  He throws away people as much as he throws away the last vestiges of the greatness that made this country the best in the world.  The laws and rules of society, the manners of decency and goodness, don’t seem part of his constitutional make-up. Our representative leadership is not doing their jobs and not acting in their constituents best interests.  Sadly, we can no longer lay claim to being the greatest country in the world, and each day seems to bring us further down into the trenches.

One of the greatest issues facing this administration and the peoples of this country is that of immigration.  Illegal Immigrants face hardship and trauma.  My own grandmother was an illegal alien.  She lived under the fist of an abusive man who threatened to turn her in and take away her children if she didn’t behave as he dictated.  She lost her life because of him. She didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. She lived in fear.

Illegal aliens always live under a blanket of fear.  People who have been working, productive members of society, who have given of their lives to this country are being herded up like cattle and shoved back to the countries they no longer know and probably not safe to return to.  They are separated from their spouses, children, friends – often with no notice. They have become members of this society, and have earned the right to stay.  They are bound by not getting their green card, for whatever reason, many times valid.

But just as bad is what is going on at our borders.  Children are being separated from their parents, decimating families, held in concentration camp style settings.  They are isolated from those they love, and even if they are allowed to return to their countries, they run the risk of not finding their parents.  I’m not sure why this is even happening.  It looks like they are being kidnapped.  What is the purpose of holding these children?  We have a large military, we aren’t trying to turn them into soldiers or child brides. It is mean-spirited and malicious. And pointless.

I understand the need to tighten our borders even if I don’t agree with all the reasons why.  There is a problem with illegal aliens entering the U.S. But these are largely people who are escaping terrible circumstances in their lives.  They need understanding and to be given to opportunity to be led through the process of legality.  They have value.  They are not animals.  And their children are not commodities.

This is indicative of the broadening trampling of American values and the lack of rational leadership.  One man, Donald Trump, is dictating egregious atrocities in many areas of government.  We need to hold him accountable and retract the harmful, short-term or long-term, acts he has done.  And we need to hold him accountable for the lawbreaking he has done himself.   Our country’s future depends on it, as do the lives of these children.

Conference Findings

This past weekend I went to the United Methodist New York Annual Conference in Garden City, NY. Why they can’t call it the New York and Connecticut Conference I am questioning, but that’s another whole topic.  This writing is about the issue of gays and transsexuals in the church.

This is my first conference.  A lot of legislative activities go on during the course of the weekend.  I was shocked to find out there is a profound division in the Church.  It is hanging precariously on a thread regarding the LGBQ issue.  The Biblical conservatives in the Church are demanding that LGBQ and other sexually different people, should not be allowed in the Church – whether it be marriage, ministers, or even in congregations.  The Church might divide into two seperate denominations because of these matters.

The other, more Liberal persuasion believe we are all God’s children and everyone has the right to live their lives as they are meant to.  Even the issue of whether Women should be pastors has been a loaded one in many denominations.  The Catholics are also struggling to find their Center.  Everything goes back to Leviticus and the apostle Paul.  Two plus centuries ago.

This issue has come up in my own family, with my children believing conservatively and I believing a more liberal, inclusive approach to Christianity.  This may rattle many cages, but I believe the LGBQ group brings more openness and diversity, obviously.  But they also can bring fresh interpretations and vital ideas to congregations.

This may prevent me from getting into Heaven but I believe all have the right to worship openly.  Jesus had all kinds of people, most being the underappreciated, displaced, rejected members of society, in his circle of influence and accomodation. Not once did I read in the Bible where someone was rejected.  And Jesus had one whom he loved more than all of the rest….what does That even mean?

At the Conference, I saw quite a few gay and lesbian people.  A couple were Pastors.  Depending on the status of the vote in St. Louis in the Fall, what could that potentially mean for them.  “Hey sorry, but you no longer are a minister, don’t have a job, and aren’t welcome to attend Church. ”  What is that?  How can you take people who are actively sharing their Faith and leading their congregations toward a more open, accepting view of the World, and throw them out like yesterday’s garbage?

My children do not consider me to be a true Christian.  I’m not going to Heaven unless I radically change my belief system and values.  I believe God is more accepting…that love is more important than orientation…that the most important thing you can do is Believe in Jesus Christ and the Trinity.  I might not get to Heaven because I question sometimes whether Jesus was the son of God but I wouldn’t really want to be in a Heaven that draws lines, makes distinctions, rejects people because of who they are from the moment they are born.

I pray the Church remains whole in its entirety and those believing diversely get the opportunity to believe in diversity and inclusiveness, no matter the sex or orientation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

School shootings

“There have been at least 288 school shootings in the US since 1/1/09, 57 times more than the other six G7 countries combined.”   –CNN

These numbers are, unfortunately, no surprise to me. Our culture has been steadily shifting to one of violence and our young people are caught in the crosshairs.  The rhetoric perpetuates, spinning round and round as the NRA spins the mental health issue and our politicians take their sides without paying much attention to what their constituents feel. And here I am, spinning my own rhetoric.

What I can’t wrap my head around is how this perpetuates in such a vacuum.  Parents don’t know what is going on in the minds of their children, don’t check their internet pages, don’t look at those others their sons hang out with, or whether they have friends at all, don’t know if they have guns and don’t secure guns in locked safes.

I don’t mean to be ragging on the parents.  Sometimes their sons externalize very differently than what they internalize, but certainly, parents can determine if their children are depressed or angry or manifesting signs of mental illness.  Perhaps one problem is they don’t know what to look for.  Mental illness isn’t covered in most parenting books, that is if they read those books.

Schools are also part of the problem as are the communities.  The “not in our town”, mentality is a pervasive glitch in our psyche.  There aren’t enough instructors to demonstrate what to look for and how to prepare for it.  Police departments are also not involved enough, although in many towns there just aren’t enough police officers and perhaps not enough budgeted funds to train them adequately, particularly in small towns.

But, I think the greatest problem is that there is a lack of Hope in these young people, and in those who perpetrate mass shootings at concerts and movie theaters, or wherever crowds merge. They lack the foresight to see there are better ways to handle their feelings, that going out in a blaze of rage is not the answer. They are, too often, left to their own devices.  Nobody is wondering why a person is acting strangely or if it’s their responsibility to do something about the warning signs they see.  And young people who see what is emerging in another classmate keep that tight-lipped stalemate of not acting in protection of one of their own, even one who no one wants to be near.

I had a dear friend who had an arsenal of over 200 weapons, including cannons he had built himself.  Everyone looked on it as a quirky obsession and hobby.  He grew depressed and was so hateful to his family that they avoided dealings with him – left him to his devices.  I can’t blame them, dealing with his rage and depression filled them with despair. I talked with his wife about the possibility of therapy but he wouldn’t hear of it.  In the end, he blew his brains out. In front of a son. The guns are his sons’ legacy.  It makes me crazy thinking about it.  They should be sold and the money’s used to start their adult lives with.  I mentioned it to my friend, but that is where my advice ended.  Guns are just part of her reality even though she doesn’t touch them.

Hope is strangely lacking in so many of our lives.  We huddle in masses of despair.  Those who have church may find comfort there; therapy is a God-send to many. But to those who have no real support in their lives, whose lifestyle and decisions seem to have no awareness in those around them hope is just 4 letters strung together.  And they are already strung too tight.  And we stand by, hands dangling at our sides, vacant expressions on our faces, saving “Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa.”

 

 

 

Sticks and Stones

A child lies screaming in an improvised tent in a refugee compound. Her arms and legs are sticks, the femur and tibia bones on display for any to see.  The skin on her head is etched to her skull, no cheeks or even flesh on the lips, dysentery, and measles having stolen away her health.  She cries for food, her mother attempts to feed her from shrunken breasts.  The child was healthy once, flesh full.  Her mother says she thinks the worst is over.  The girl has stopped loosing weight. Perhaps there is hope, but it seems unlikely.

In Gaza, Palestinians look like makeshift Davids, slingshotting stones at the Goliath Israeli troops with powerful weapons.  Hurling their bodies at the border wall, thinking themselves as heroes trying to take back land they haven’t owned since 1948.  Even in mass, they haven’t a chance to overwhelm such well armed and trained enemies. The Israelis’ tenaciously holding on to land bequeathed them after the Holocaust.

In Syria, the White Hats cast rubble aside looking for survivors and bodies in the remains of what was once homes and shops.  Their heroism speaks for itself.  They sacrifice for the sake of others, bright spots of hope in the ruins of war.

The Middle East is by no means isolated in their violence.  It spreads throughout the World, sometimes insidiously, sometimes with brutal force. Our own country is filled with terrorist activities – our school children bearing the brunt of wounded souls’ rage.  I know God gave us free will but what type of World is this when the mightiest beings are intent on destroying both their own races and what others might call lesser beings.

The child’s screams echo in my ears, warning me that war and horror can be lurking close by.