Empowerment for Sustainability

If you are not already following “Humans of New York,” my recommendation is to start today. The blog was started by a guy named Brandon in the summer of 2010. Brandon left his job in finance in New York City and started creating a unique and comprehensive “catalogue”of the inhabitants of New York City. His original mission was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and document their stories on a map. Along the way he began to ask his subjects questions about their lives along with documenting their stories through photography. He would include short quotes from them with their pictures. The result is an incredible social media site that gives glimpses into the trials and triumphs of everyday people like you and me. It is incredible the result that comes from asking your neighbor a few questions about themselves. The blog now has over nine million followers and in the words of Brandon, gives “worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City.” Check out Humans of New York on the blog website and Facebook.

The blog has now teamed up with the United Nations to launch the Humans of New York World Tour. From August-September 2014 the website will be documenting experiences of people around the world. Check out the Website to learn about unique stories from places like Kampala, Uganda.

I recently came across one HONY entry that struck me, and I think hits home for the development world.

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“We don’t like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don’t want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”

(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo) View original post here.

There are different and often conflicting models in the development world, but the majority of successful models seem to cross at the all-important idea of empowerment. I was deconstructing this notion to bring it to the most bare-boned structure possible, and here is what I have come up with.

A service-oriented life is fulfilling, that is saying that one who donate their time to others receives a “feel good” sensation. Volunteerism, and particularly international volunteerism is often criticized for this fact– that is gives the volunteer (often a person from a Western society) a good feeling for a few days/weeks/months, then they can return to their 50-gallons-of-fresh-water-a-day lifestyle. At its core, I do not think this piece of volunteerism deserves criticism. In my opinion (and the opinion of numerous psychological studies), the Western mind has some room for happiness and inner peace. As Simon Anholt speaks about in his TED talk, “Which Country Does the Most Good for the World?” many industrialized nations are very internally-focused and thus lack (as he calls it), the “good factor.” The countries that have the highest rank of “good” on the “The Good Country Index” are those that think externally before they think internally, meaning they put the well-being of other countries on par with that of their own. Countries such as Ireland, Sweden, and Kenya, are among the top ranked, if you are interested. Simon discusses that the countries who have higher “good” also have higher psychological well-being.

So if thinking externally, and volunteering, or living a service-oriented life is not bad, then where does the criticism of this lifestyle or philanthropic/ non-profit organizations come from? This is what I love about this HONY entry. Service goes awry when the recipient of the service does not have the opportunity to receive the same level of self-fulfillment as the volunteer/ non-profit employee/ donator/ giver receives. This man from the Democratic Republic of Congo is expressing that the people of his country need to feel empowered, they need to feel dignified, and respected.

In the development world we often talk about programmatic sustainability and empowerment– two things that coincide closely. Particularly in programs that focus on the well-being of humans, the program must have a model that will make the partners feel empowered, thus the program will be sustainable. As the person who is featured in this photo says, “Yes, [Congo has] a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”

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Hey! You’ve Got Something in Your Eye…

My godson, Owen Daniel was born on August 23rd, just as I was stepping off the plane into South Korea. I held him for the first time when he was about six hours old, as soon as I arrived at the hospital on the Yongson US Army Base.

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99.9% of the reason I came to South Korea

Cultural standards for eye contact vary across the world. In the United States, we are quite forward with our mannerisms according to other cultures. In many countries I have visited including Spain, Dominican republic, Greece, and others, intense eye contact can signify other emotions that can offend or cause unwanted problems. I think the exception for this is when you are looking into the eyes of a newborn baby or a small child. When I hold my godson and look into his eyes, he looks right back at me and seemingly into my soul. There are no cultural barriers, there are no differences, just two beings and a whole lot of love.

Yesterday I went adventuring to the Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace. I walked through the palaces constructed in 1405 and 1395, and felt the history of each dynasty that lived through those walls. I drank cold plum tea sweetened with honey, from the modern cafe that has been recently built in the courtyard of Changdeokgung Palace. I analyzed the intricate designs that colored the outside of the royal buildings and I imagined the king being carried around within the walls of the palaces- the king was seen as an extension of the heavens, so he never walked directly on the ground (Jiwoo Song, 2013).

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Annie outside of Changdeokgung Palace

Later, as I toured the Secret Garden behind the palace, I learned of all the stories of the king who built the castle. In front of his library were three doors- one large part in the middle and two small doors on the side. The middle door was for the King, and the side doors were for his servants. But above the door is a Korean inscription that describes the relationship between a fish and water because the king understood that his relationship with his servants was similar- a fish cannot live but a few moments without water, and likewise the king could not live without his servants.*

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Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace.

Also in the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace were a few beautiful ponds, but one in particular that stuck in my mind. This pond was built to symbolize the relationship between the universe and the earth. The water represented all that is the universe, all-welcoming and all-encompassing. The little patch of land in the center of the pond represents the earth.*

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My favorite pond in the Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace.

I wandered with the tour through the Secret Garden for hours, lost in the sounds of the acacias and flowing streams. When I finished the tour I was exhausted, but had somehow rediscovered a sense of optimism for the world we live in. Understanding history and connecting it with the present has a way of doing that- reconfiguring the mind to see the light and life of this planet. That’s another reason I love to travel, it allows me to literally and figuratively touch history.

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Annie being a happy girl sitting in Changdeokgung Palace.

When I finished with my historical ramblings, I hopped on the subway (that’s putting it lightly, more like “got lost six or seven times on the subway”) and eventually arrived back at the home of my friends, and the house of my baby godson. After showering to get the yucky subway off my clothing and body, I picked up that little ball of future, light, connection, hope, serenity, and I looked into those eyes that shined with the new life of an eight day-old. It was at that moment that the experience of my day came full circle. I was content to be standing with that baby in my arms and the soles of my feet pressed firmly into the ground, ready to remain a constant in this child’s life. I was ready to relay the experiences of my life to him in the most open and affirming way possible- to allow him to explore this world without fear, but with a critical eye. I hope to be a friend and to show him that he is also mine. But the most important thing I hope to tell him is that the way those eyes view the world in intricately connected with the way he will make an impact on it. I will continue to remind him (as I have already written it in his first book) that I hope for him to see the beauty in this world so he will emphasize that and help it to grow.

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This tree is 1,100 years old and is protected as a national monument in South Korea. It is inside the Changdeokgung palace.

I will tell him with my eyes until I can tell him with my words, that he is the light and the beauty in this world and I can’t wait to see the footprints he makes on this earth.

*Facts from my tour guide at Changdeokgung Palace, I have not confirmed in my own research.

Heart and Seoul

Please excuse the cheesy title, I am sure I am not the first to take advantage of the play on words.

I’m in South Korea! I arrived in Seoul on Friday afternoon and as soon as I stepped off the plane I received notification that my God Son had been born a few hours earlier. It was a lovely surprise to land in the country and know that I had a new little light to add to my life.

I haven’t experienced too much of the culture yet because newborns don’t like Kimchi (I can’t tell you if I agree or not yet). For the last two days I have been in the house with the family of my God Son. They have two other kids, who are one and two years-old. I used to be in the Girl Scouts with the mom of the family, but more importantly we were amazing childhood friends.

A few years ago my friend and her husband got married and he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later with two kiddos and one more on the way, they were sent to Seoul, South Korea. I’m a sucker for kids in general, but I’m head over heels in love with these three children.

I wrote a thesis in one of my courses- Children and Youth in a Global Context at Colorado State University last term about  communication between adults and children, and how it has been thought cross-culturally, that a smaller mind must occupy the smaller beings and thus their minds must function at a slower rate than those of adults. In fact, the brain of a newborn child has more brain cells than at any other point in life (Rebecca Shore, Citations upon request). The paper went on to examine adult to child interaction across four cultures- German, Chinese, Dominican, and US American. It was quite interesting to explore this concept, and at the end of the paper I came to the conclusion that adults have much to learn from children.

On a much less academic thought, while kids do involve the occasional “hitting of another child on the head with a book” syndrome, the heart of the child is incredibly pure. I’m a firm believer in the idea that spontaneous giving, which is so frequently talked about in my writing, originated in the mind of the child. You can catch glimpses of this love that children emit in their everyday actions. Making the decision that they don’t need the rest of their lunch, so they give it to their friend who forgot theirs, or voluntarily giving up their toy to another child just because they wanted to. I think we often forget these type of actions (in adult form) by the time we reach adulthood.

Along with the intelligence and love that I adore so much in children, I also love their sense of exploration. Kids have a keen desire to explore every nook and cranny of this world. Today, that meant sticking ice cubes in our mouths for as long as we can to see what happens (cool experiment for a two year-old to think of!). It’s like every single child is an exploratory scientist. Imagine if all the adults were still that curious… would we still have 870 million people starving in the world (WorldFactBook, 2013)– or rapidly melting polar ice caps?

So, to sum up my state of mind right now- I’m here on the opposite end of the world from where I call home, with three little balls of light and curiosity, and I feel like I must be the luckiest girl in the world. Now maybe I should go try some Kimchi.

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Sunlight

Sunshine

It’s the end of the semester here in the college world, which means there are ten million things I need to do today. Of course I am overwhelmed, as many of my college readers might also be at this moment. Just remember my friends, keep your face to the sun and know that you are amazing.

That’s your Two Hands Tuesday this week (sorry, no mission… I have given all my brain power to Finals).

 

 

It’s Random Act of Kindness Day! Participate?

Opportunities to help our brothers and sisters present themselves constantly in life. Someone leaves their phone on the counter at your work, do you run after them? A stranger drops a dollar bill and continues walking, do tell them or pocket the new-found money? Here is an example of a recent opportunity I encountered to share some kindness.

Yesterday I was driving across a busy bridge that crosses a highway and river in my hometown. My car was nearly to the end of the bridge and I was about to enter a large and busy intersection at the end of the bridge. Something to my left caught my eye and I looked over to see a blind man feeling his way slowly onto the bridge into oncoming traffic. I looked around to assess the potential harm in the situation. Traffic in the direction which the man was headed saw him, but the red light that was holding the traffic in place was about to tell them to proceed. Without anymore thought, I stopped my car in the middle of the bridge, turned on my warning lights, got out of the car, ran into the oncoming traffic and approached the man.

After walking the man to the side of the road, I asked him where he was headed. He then told me that he had accidentally wandered off the route he was following. I then helped the man find his path again and ran back to my car (still paused, holding up a rather large line of cars).

I have heard many stories of people risking their lives for complete strangers, and have always attempted to imagine myself in these situations. The truth is, it is more than difficult to picture what your reaction will be to an opportunity for kindness because the human mind is incredibly unpredictable. The best we can do is walk through life practicing kindness in the smallest ways; running after that stranger to return her cell-phone, stopping that man to give him the dollar bill he dropped. Acts of kindness- pure, without expectation of reward, provide a feeling of utter serenity. This feeling is indescribable.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. -Saint Basil

It’s Love That Surrounds Us!

It’s love that surrounds us every day.

It’s love that lives so simply without care.

It’s love that educates the young minds of this world.

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It’s love that fights for our freedom. 

A Heartbreaking Goodbye

It’s love that saves our lives and cures our illness.

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It’s love that unites a world so filled with conflict.

UN Peacekeeper

It’s love that emphasizes equality.

It’s love that warms our toes and snuggles our noses.

It’s love that takes our breath away, and sends it right back with the warm wind.

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It’s love that surrounds us on days like today.

It’s love, that is all around us.

Happy Valentines Day, you wonderful people!!!

I hope your day is filled with much love.

The Happiness Bubble

The Happiness Bubble visits every-so-often in moments of excruciating bliss.

My Happiness Bubble visits when I see a tree that looks as if it were painted directly by hands from above.
It visits when my nose lingers for a moment too long before the first sip of my morning coffee, and my face is suddenly covered with steam.
Closing my eyes in the direction of the sunshine and feeling the warm wind brush against my skin, the Happiness Bubble fills my body from head to toe.

The Happiness Bubble is a balloon that fills my stomach and forces a smile to spread  across my face.

It sends waves across every inch of my body, connecting my toes to the earth and my skin to the air.

When the Happiness Bubble visits I must remind myself to breath, because that moment has taken my breath away.

The Happiness Bubble is highly contagious. Take care around a person who is experiencing effects of this bubble, for you will likely soon be filled with pure joy.

Mato at the park, speading a Happiness Bubble from me to you

Don’t Try to Move Mountains

I stumbled upon this wonderful interview with John Paul Lederach on Speaking of Faith on American Public Radio. In the interview, Lederach speaks about his life experience with what Krista Tipit calls, “a lived commitment to peace building” as well as global peace mediation. I must also recommend the book by Lederach and his daughter Angela, titled “When Blood and Bones Cry Out.”

Here is the link to the interview, which I strongly urge you to listen to. (I sat and made bracelets while I listened, it’s amazing the amount of things you get done when you multi-task!)

http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2010/art-of-peace/

At the very end of the interview, Lederach discusses some of his Haiku describing peace-building. Here is one that touched my heart.

Don’t ask a mountain to move
Just take a pebble
Every time you you visit
-John Paul Lederach
I encourage you to listen to the interview, or check out http://www.speakingoffaith.org where you can find more of his haiku. Find one that you enjoy and leave your favorite in a comment below, I would love to hear what words move your soul!

Thanks for reading, you wonderful people!

Peace

My Two Hands in March

AAAHHHHH!!! I am way too excited for words. I just booked my plane tickets back to the Dominican Republic for March. I get to spend a week with my favorite people in the world! My two hands will be teaching English and helping the children write letters to their pen-pals here in the United States through my Coloring Countries program. What a beautiful world we live in!!

If you would like to donate to the program, or support us by purchasing a piece of art work, please visit http://www.coloringcountries.org.The proceeds help purchase shoes, vitamins, and books for the children.

Please, please, please contact me if you are interested in the program, want to learn more, or have any comments about the program! afreysch@rams.colostate.edu

Thanks for reading, my wonderful followers (and new readers)!!


Christmas Giving

If you only have a few minutes, read the first part of this post.. you will be happy you did.

(A story I found on a random internet browse.)

“Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.”

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”.

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.”

Re-defines “giving,” doesn’t it? What if we all could be this selfless?

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