Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Martin Richard: A Face of Innocence In Troubling Times

The gruesomeness of violence that engulfed the Boston Marathon on  yesterday April 15, 2013  grieved my spirit. I was and still remain saddened and angered by these events. I have prayed, discussed and reflected on "the WHY of it ALL!"  I have questions and I know no one else to ask but God.

Why do we have so MUCH VIOLENCE in our world?
Why was there a sinister illusive plot lurking behind a seemingly innocent event like a marathon?
Why was innocence damaged, children killed and families devastated?
Why are we AGAIN lighting candles, laying symbolic flowers to illustrate peace in such a VIOLENT WORLD?
Why did 176 people get injured and 3 died in a sporting event that allows people to experience victory and so much competitive happiness?
Why did an 8 year old named Martin Richard have to die?

When I was little I was taught not question God! But, since I have grown older and wiser and gaining a greater relationship with God, I now know and realize that God can handle my questions! Question is, can I handle God's answers!!!

I am equally disturbed about 8-year old Martin Richard,

who had just given his father a victory hug as his dad was passing the finish line of the Boston Marathon, who is now dead. Imagine, the entire Richard family started out the morning of April 15th as other runners did with a spirit of anticipation and hope. The hope of their loved one coming in 1st place, or placing or just finishing the race. IMAGINE!!!! Their lives were not marred yet..... but now
a son is dead
a wife is experiencing brain trauma
a daughter having one leg amputated
and another child who did not get physically hurt but will probably be emotionally traumatized
and a father who ran this race and probably experiencing multiple levels of grief that no one should have to encounter.

The last time I wrote my blog, I featured the movie"Trigger" and little Jonylah Watkins 6-months old who was shot 5 times by an unknown assailant as her father changed her diaper.  I want us to remember Jonylah's name because the 6 months of life she had on this earth should not go unnoticed. When I see her face I see joy! Now, when I see this picture of Martin I see hope. Is God saying  to us to have joy or hope in these troubling times? We should all still have hope and joy, but it becomes difficult when innocence is attacked. 
I do not have the answers to the above questions but I do know  God is STILL in CONTROL "The Why of it ALL" may never have the answers to comfort my troubled soul or the souls of the many men and women and children who are suffering now.  But I do believe in the power of prayer. And, in times like these we must come together and pray that bombings, murders, mayhem and death will cease to exist in our world. I do not believe that God wants us to be angry or dismayed by 
past events. But, I do feel that we have got to get the message of LOVE, HOPE and JOY. These tragedies keep happening and I believe we keep missing the message. 

I can not imagine who could have had the unmitigated gall to do such an evil act as to plant two bombs at the Boston Marathon and kill 3 innocence people and injure 174. I am praying that these acts of violence will end and we ALL will embrace God's plan for our lives and live in LOVE, HOPE, JOY and most of ALL PEACE!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Many More Babies Need to be KILLED before THESE ACTS OF VIOLENCE STOPS??? WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!

Praying for the family and friends of little Jonylah Watkins 6-months old victim of gun violence

Last night, while I viewed a screening of Trigger at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and while looking at this film,  I felt immense sadness. Sadness that some in our community feel that violence is a coping mechanism to solve their problems.  I applaud people like David Barnhart the director and others featured in Trigger who are bringing more awareness to the issues of violence and its ripple events.
Trigger is a "documentary film was produced by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA)’s David Barnhart for the NCC, which distributes television programming through the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, a media coalition that includes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It was released to NBC Television stations in mid-November for airing by network affiliate stations". 

After we viewed this documentary film the director David Barnhart opened the floor up for questions. The questions ranged from 
1. Why is this happening?
2. What can we do about it?
3. How can these kinds of acts be happening in our civilized society?
Several issues struck me, but was was a statement made by a middle school boy stated, "it's so much violence on the streets you can't get away from it."

Having lost my cousin, Charles, to gun violence and prior to coming to the Commission on the Status of Women whose them is "The Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls, " I must admit that I had become very desensitized to violence. I had become so accustomed to viewing violence on TV.  Shows like "Criminal Minds, NCIS and CSI and TV news  allowed me seat at a safe distance on the front row to violent acts and seeing a dead body on TV did not disturb me like it used to at one time in my life. And, while I am not blaming these TV programs for the violence in our communities, I feel that I was on violence overload. 

Viewing Trigger allowed me think about the my cousin, other senseless shooting and Virginia Tech shootings.  I can remember that when the shootings happened I called various people that I had met while I attended Virginia Tech. They were not students nor apart of the shooting, but we had gone attended college together there at one time.  I felt the need to reach out and just hear their voices. Violence does have a "ripple" affect. The person just does not shoot one person but entire family and communities are forever changed by these senseless acts. 

Information about TRIGGER and how to view it in your community


It should be noted that Trigger was created prior to the Newtowne shootings to address the violence that existed in the US.  Violence has no place in our civilized society! So I have to ask this question:  ARE WE REALLY CIVILIZED?  MY answer is NO. Because when over 500 people are killed in Chicago,  people killed while viewing a movie, 2o 1st graders in Newtowne are killed and when a 6-month- old little Jonylah Watkins in Chicago is shot 5 times  while her father changed her diaper....  and killed by a person who needs to be put under the jail... how can WE say we live in a CIVILIZED society? 

In order to combat these senseless murders, we can bombard social media, continue to have conversations about this violence, write our senators and congresspersons to change legislation, this can be a start. "In the United States more than 30,000 people are killed every year by gun violence and the disaster caused by gun violence is seen in almost every community"

OUTRAGE does not begin to explain how I am feeling right now. But, I know that people who are reading this blog are already trying to address these issues. I have faith in GOD and I know GOD is in control!  Also, I know if we PRAY, God will answer one way or the other. "If my people who are called name would humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways THEN I will HEAR from heaven, will forgive their sin and HEAL their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14  
We all need healing and we all need hope! 

Let us to continue pray for all people who are victims of violent acts here in the US and around the world.

To Whom Shall We Go?
God of Goodness,
You know that the violence in our community is out of control.
It is taking our helpless and innocent ones, it is taking our children.
And, we confess that beyond the violence in our streets, is the violence in our own hearts.
We contribute to a culture of violence whenever we give in to hatred, fear, indifference, and our own self-satisfaction.
It seems that we are growing numb to the suffering, the loss, the indignity done to our sisters and brothers and to our Earth.
But in our hearts, and in the heart of the community, help us to value life and beauty over instant satisfaction, and to value sharing over greed.

Empower us to acknowledge and affirm our children, our spouses, our neighbors and seek respectful solutions to our conflicts.
Create through us a world where it will be easier to be good.

Your spirit, given to us is not timid.
Therefore, each of us can do something, person by person, family by family, community by community, to realize that we are one – one body, one people, one earth.

Holy One, give us the grace of hope.
Give us the dedication to goodness and truth as we seek to restore our community to wholeness and life. 
Enable us in this way, to take back our city from the violence and crippling fear we find in our midst.

Trusting that your desire for us is peace, not disaster, we pray this in Jesus Name AMEN!
A Prayer to end Violence written by S Comiskey

Please contact senators about ending violence. Please see how your senators stand on violence. Below is a link indicating how each senator voted on violence against women and also other helpful links

Roll CALL on Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act

National Sexual Violence Center

Domestic Violence Resource Center

Children and Violence

Faith Based Community Initiatives

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rape & Murder: The Challenges Women FACE in the Congo

I attended the parallel event "Video Advocacy and Working with Traditional Leaders as Allies in Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence". This event was hosted by Rosalie Nezien from the American Jewish World Service  and Amy Bisno, Program Associate of the American Jewish World Service which  featured two Congolese human rights activists for ending sexual and gender-based violence in eastern Congo. They have been using strategies including and leveraging traditional leaders and men to be allies in the women's rights movement.

In 2011, 6,334 women in the Congo were raped. We viewed  a video where the soldiers forced there way into a young lady's home.  The soldiers raped her and shot her numerous times. Please view this video and hear her story! Her voice needs to be heard!!!!

Please view this video:

There has been armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 20 years. Women and children are impacted greatly and they are treated horribly; however, there is HOPE! Women like Josephine Kavira Malimukono, Program Coordinator, League of Congolese Solidarity(LSC) and Chantal Adjelani Kakozy, Director of Women's Solidarity for the Well-being of Families(SOFIBEF) is on the front lines in their efforts to obtain rights for women in the Congo.  These women have been threatened and have faced intimidation  and gender based violence. But, they continue the fight!!!!

Chantal Kakozy of SOFIBEF explained that another main challenge is that "human rights leaders have a lot of threats." IT IS MORE DANGEROUS TO BE A WOMAN THAN A SOLDIER IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO".  They are using various videos advocacy as a way to promote human rights. The people in the North Kivi area in the Congo are hoping that these videos will promote national and international advocacy. One glimmer of hope that is happening is that there have been ten marriages that were registered. This is important because when a marriage is registered with the traditional leaders empowers the women to gain land rights.

Videos are necessary because these videos provide a voice to those would who would otherwise have no voice or resources to tell their story. Josephine Malimukono of South Kivi shares the videos to raise awareness at the local level. By using the videos allows her group LSC to reach out to many women and gives them a voice.When the women would report what happened in the Congo the officials did not believe them. Working with many allies and using videos brings awareness to human rights abuses.

I applaud these women in their steadfast commitment to combat the gender based violence in the Congo! If you would like to get involved please contact Amy Bisno, Program Associate at the American Jewish World Service at abisno@ajws.org or 212.792.2840 and you can contact Josephine Malimukono at malimukono1@gmail.com

Pictured Amy Bisno (Program Associate American Jewish World Service, Rev.Laetitia Wells (Ecumenical Women and Presbyterian Women, PC(USA), and Josephine Malimukono (Program Coordinator, League of Congolese Solidarity(LSC)  at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations

LSC - League of Congolese Solidarity ----works to tackle the impunity of sexual violence by collecting survivors' testimonials through video and uses it for lobbying for justice and influencing changes in social and cultural attitudes that undermine the rights of women and girls. Please go to witness.org to view the video "Our Voices Matter: Congolese Women Demand Justice and Accountability"

SOGIBEF - Women's Solidarity for the Well-being of Families- works with women urvivors of sexual and gender-based violence. It organizes solidarity groups, provides holistic psychosocial support and legal accompaniment, economic empowerment opportunities, land rights dialogues, and leadership training. It also runs radio ads on gender issues. The organization leverages traditional leaders and men as allies to promote the rights of women and girls in Fizi territory of South Kivu. http://web.onetel.net.uk/~natallya/index.html

Please keep our sisters in the Congo in prayer!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Female Genital Mutilation:The Bloody Brutality of Traditional Practices

Girls in some African countries as well as those in the African Diaspora experience the excruciating pain associated with female gentile mutilation or FGM. I attended a two parallel events on the topic of FGM. The first parallel event was on Female Genital Mutilation, Anti-FGM Legislation in Africa and Local Communities Reactions, which was sponsored by The Women's Front of Norway. All of the speakers were incredible, but one speaker led the pack and her name was Chiku Ali. 

She was from the ethnic group Nyaturu located in Tanzania. Having just traveled to Tanzania in June,  with my sister Marchia and others from Love and Faith Christian Fellowship and Good Shepherd Fellowship, I felt a closeness to Chiku. So when she shouted Jambo, I shouted Jambo back! Jambo means "hello" in Swahili. The only other words in Swahili that I know are
nzuri= good
Habri gani= How are you?
Habri ya asubuhi = Good morning
Asante sana = Thank you
Bwana asifiwe = Praise the Lord
I share this because I want to learn more Swahili and more about the country of Tanzania. 
Chiku was the epitome of the people that I met in Tanzania. She was self assured, brilliant, beautiful and vibrant. Among the people of Nyaturu, Ihongo(meaning rites of passage) is practiced. Initially, Ihongo was celebrated and admired by all and the girls felt proud to go through this rite of passage.

There are several facets to Ihongo
Grand celebration 
FGM- female gentile mutilation
Tooth extraction - the middle bottom tooth
Burning the forehead

         In order to grasp a full understanding of the issue, Chiku provided us with historical references. Chiku explained to us that Tanzania gained their Independence from Britain in 1961 and by 1967 female genital mutilation was banned. However, the Nyatura did not adhere to the ban because in their context it was like another form of colonialism. To provide an analogy, it is like someone coming from off the street walking into your home unannounced and telling you what you should eat and where you should place your furniture. From my Western mindset, the eradication of FGM seemed like a good thing, but I feel we must be sensitive in our understanding of how a tradition regardless how bloody is embedded into the psychological fabric of any culture. 

Chiku continued to explain that in 1970 a larger campaign was launched to end tooth extraction and FGM. However, this time when the people continued to practice this they were "treated roughly, beaten and even jailed." 

After the larger campaign was launched in 1970, the Nyaturu elders (as did many other elders in other countries in Africa) decided that FGM would continue but there would be: 
No celebrations
No discussions surrounding the practice
No acknowledgement
The practice went underground

This is when Lawalawa was invented which means candy in Swahili. She explained the term "lawalawa" which sounded like "lover lover". The people believed  that the interference from the outside authorities caused a "curse" to come from the ancestors. As a result of this curse,  the children developed "swelling and burning in their private areas". It was believed that female gentile mutilation could to alleviate this swelling and burning from the young girls. FGM is typically carried out on girls from a few days old to puberty. It is usually performed without anesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife, razor, or scissors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has offered four classifications of FGM:
Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy);
Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia; and
Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth. Around 85 percent of women who undergo FGM experience Types I and II, and 15 percent Type III, though Type III is the most common procedure in several countries, including Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Several miscellaneous acts are categorized as Type IV. These range from a symbolic pricking or piercing of the clitoris or labia, to cauterization of the clitoris, cutting into the vagina to widen it (gishiri cutting), and introducing corrosive substances to tighten it.

Chiku explained to us that what is believed among the people who live in the village and what is true are two different things.  She explained that lawalawa is really caused by lack of water and poor hygiene. When small children have to urinate etc. they wipe themselves by sliding in the sand. And, older children use leaves. By wiping in the sand, this creates urinary tract infections which creates a burning sensation in the children. However, antibiotics are expensive. The family has to decide whether to buy food or spend the money on antibiotics. Food wins out and  so female gentile mutilation is performed to relieve the swelling and burning by what they believe is a curse from the ancestors or lawalawa.

When Chiku was a young girl she wanted to participate in Ihongo, her father sent her to boarding school. She was exposed to other girls who had not participated in this practice of FGM. When she returned home on summer break, she began to question her grandmother. Unfortunately, there is a lot of miseducation around female body. Her grandmother told her that if you are not circumcised
·      you will not get married and if you do get married
·      your 1st child will die
·      and eventually you will get sick and die

Chiku told us she was confused because the neighbor’s daughter had just died (she bleed to death) as a result of FGM. Chiku’s confusion led her to her father and when he heard that the neighbor’s daughter had died…he stated “no one will go through this process in my household.”

There are some positive tides of change happening regarding FGM. Chiku stated that education about the issue is leading the way towards eradication
·      There are several campaigns and flyers which state: “My wife is not circumcised and I love her still”
·      When girls return from boarding school they are given pamphlets to explain to them that FGM is not a rite of passage.

I went to another event on FGM, which was “Female Genital Mutilation: The African Diaspora, the European Network, FGM and the USA”
Dr. Tobe Levin, who is an associate professor from the W. E. B. Dubois Institute, Harvard U. for African and African American Research, shared with us the story of Khady. Kahady suffered genital mutilation at age 7, then she was forced into marriage at age 13 to a man who was over twice her age. As she got older, Khady experienced domestic violence from her husband and gained the strength to blow the “whistle on an immigrant community that serves men’s interests.” 
She is heavily involved in an courageous battle against FGM. Dr. Tobe Levin had to tell Khady’s story because she could not obtain a visa to come back to the UN. Dr. Levin explained that Khady’s book, Blood Stains: A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights
was a bestseller in France and it was translated in 18 languages; however, English speaking publishers would not translate the book into English. So, Dr. Levin created a publishing company UNCUT VOICES PRESS to allow Khady’s story to be told in English.

I learned that this story needs to be told in English because of the African Diaspora, FGM is done in the United States, Britain and Canada in hidden circles. One of the panelist Agatha Joyce Ogines from the IAC Norway explained to us that it is hard to know how many people are practicing this outside of Africa because it is taboo to discuss it and the lack of discussion is the challenge.

Istarlin Ismail founder of African Sky who is from Somali and living in the Netherlands states that she felt the issue should be addressed African to African because outside NGO’s and well meaning agencies can not properly address the issues of FGM. When she was 11 she begged her mother to circumcise her and she would not… so she went to her aunties and they would not so at 11 years old, Istarlin circumcised herself. She shared with us that by the time she was 15 , she deeply regretted what she had done to herself.

Dr. Peirrette Herzberger explained that Germany is mobilized against FGM. She explained that it is estimated that 4,000 girls are excised through the practice of FGM yearly when they returned home from boarding school. 94% of all Egyptian women in 1994 were excised and the practice continues today. However, there are an increasing number of women would desire to get their mutilated organs repaired and reconstructed.

Dr. Herzberger explained when girls return home on summer vacation they are given a booklet which is stating There is no place for FGM and other educational material. Dr. Herzberger’s group talks with people anonymously and provides funds so that "a woman can get the surgery to repair her organs if she desires."
These are the steps that one must go through to obtain a surgical procedure to get genital organs repaired:
·      The candidate first explains her desire to have the operation with someone from the agency
·      Then the candidate talks with a psychologist
·      Next a discussion is held with the candidate and an advisor
·      Then discussions are held with the family of the candidate, some families say no and encourage the ladies not to have the surgical repair because they fear that the community will ostracize them.

As I stated earlier when dealing with the topic of female genital mutilation we must be sensitive. There are a lot of variables and cultural and religious norms surrounding the subject FGM. But, there are a lot of people who have been bringing awareness to the issue since the 1970’s. I applaud them and there great work because no little girl should have to experience this form of violence.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Partnerships, Prayers and Promise

Yesterday, I attended a parallel event (a parallel event is an event sponsored by an NGO group and not a government group) at 8:30 am at the UN which was "Anti Gender Based Violence Against Women ---- Prevention and Services." The sponsors  of this event were the Taipei/(Taiwan) Economic and Cultural Offices of New York. However, the event planners had scheduled two groups in the same room.... the group from Taipei and the group from the Sudan. The topic of discussion from  the women of the Sudan was "Efforts of Sudanese Women General Union to eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls and Challenges. As you might guess, it was very awkward having two groups scheduled for one space. However, wisdom prevailed and the leader of the Sudanese group stated, "We are all here for women, we can share this space." I thought, wow.... how beautiful! Sharing, caring and loving to eradicate violence. So, since the group from Taiwan had already started the Sudanese group allowed them to continue. 

The group from Taiwan shared the following:
There are 1 million Malaysian migrant workers and 20% being domestic servants who are used in labor trafficking. Many of the refugees suffer from trauma, torture, violence and death. The challenge is there are ZERO case workers in Malaysia to help with the language barrier to help these people who are being exploited and abused. Dr. Nguyem Dinh Thang stated that we are trying to assist people but we have "few trans-national collaborations". His organization Boat People SOS have learned how these "individuals have gotten tricked." Basically, people end up in a "forced labor"  or a "human trafficking" situation because   they need money. The perpetrators tell the people that they are a legitimate business and they have "work" for them. They will even fly the victims there but once they arrive at the destination, the perpetrators take their passport and force them into "forced labor" or "prostitution". 

This is an example of what happened in Malaysia 5 weeks ago....
------ the perpetrators offered to provide work in the restaurant for a young lady
------ when she arrived they forced her into prostitution
------after a week the woman was able to sneak away to call her husband. She did not desire to talk with the police because she knew her captors were in  collusion with the police. 
------thankfully her husband contacted the police. Dr. Thang shared with us that most of the time the husband do not want the wives back after they have been kidnapped.
We took a brief break and the Sudanese women set up their presentation. The women of Sudan had built a center called Women Development Center in Wadbanda. They teach the women to market their crafts and other projects. They also help them gain employment  so that they can empower themselves. The foundation has helped to eradicate illiteracy and focused on education. They also are trying women to stop violence against younger grils through traditional practices of female genital mutilation in some rural areas. 

The Sudanese women's group stressed that EDUCATION IS THE KEY!!!!! They also stated that laws have been modified that deprive women of the rights. So, positive change is happening.  I was disappointed that I was unable to obtain the name of the lady from the Sudan who spoke. But, she was dynamic and I really enjoy it. 
Then, the Vice Board Chair --ECPAT Taiwan, Ingrid Liao stated that under age girls are smuggled from China to Taiwan and most of them were promised legitimate jobs. China and Taiwan are under international pressure to crack down on human trafficking. Unfortunately, the victims of human trafficking are well hidden.
In 2011, 151 persecuted  for human trafficking, but few were sentenced. The challenge is whenever there are experienced district attorneys the court system relocated them when they are familiar with the victim's plight.  The transferring of attorneys creates a vicious legal cycle for the victims. And, the victims have to tell their stories all over again and paper work mysteriously gets lost and the perpetrators are not brought to justice.

At the end of this "combined event".... the Sudan leaders and the leaders from Taiwan stated we are now sisters and we are  in partnership with each other. In God's divine plan, a partnership was established, a friendship was forged, and a promise was made. All I could think was Romans 8:28--- "All things work to the good of them that love the Lord..." 

Good and gracious God we think you for uncomfortable situations. We thank you mistakes and mishaps, because in your Word we know that we should give thanks for all things for it is the will of God through Christ Jesus . So, we give thanks for human errors because though we may think it is an error, it is in YOUR Divine Plan.