Beyond Slactivism

I have never held back tears for an hour and as I left the building, my legs were wobbly as I descended the stairs. This film physically affected me. While I have seen about 5 documentaries on human/sex trafficking, and although this one had a unique slant to it, the message was essentially the same. We can do something. We should do something. There is hope amidst this blight facing our world. Those most affected may not see the hope yet, but those of us paying attention as outsiders see the hope and know that we bring can end to this illegal practice, one that affects 30 million people a year. I don’t know why this film created so much emotion for me, but reflecting on it, it was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. A film that focused on children. Maybe it was because of the story of a photographer who had traveled the world without realizing slavery was all around her. Probably all of the above. I have been to a lot of countries, mostly in the global south, but looking back, I feel like I was blind during that time. I was too busy having fun, trying to accomplish tasks at hand, and photographing the beauty that surrounded me. I wonder if I ever came into contact with slaves or if I ever contributed to the practice in any way. Looking back, it’s unlikely that I am spotless. All I can do to apologize for this is to plead ignorance and claim that the attention to slavery and trafficking has been relatively recent, and that much of my travel took place before we really knew. I am not sure if this is actually true, but I must hope and pray that I did not ignore something that was so obvious. But I saw the world with Western eyes and those eyes are often rose colored and perhaps too optimistic. Too optimistic that the world is better than it is. That everyone has the privileges that we do. But I know better than this.

I feel like I am a crossroads where I must decide whether this is compelling enough for me to sacrifice for or whether it’s something I will continue to educate myself about without really doing something tangible. Being a slactivist. Someone that draws attention but does not put in the skin needed to make a difference. I hope that this night is the beginning of something different, of going from a slactivist to a passionate advocate that can one day look back and be truly satisfied with what she accomplished. Every time I go to one of these events, I do wonder what I can really do. This time, I bought a brown box with a pretty pink bow on top, one filled with fair trade items and a promise of the downloads of the film Stand With Me. This documentary, along with other many excellent ones on related topics, including 58 and Nefarious, are trying to paint the picture of reality for millions of people around the world. But it’s hard for us to jump into the film and really get it. I think sometimes it takes breathing the dusty sweltering air, going down those bone-jarring roads and seeing the bloated bellies of malnourished children up close. It takes seeing and talking to the young girls who have been forced into a life they don’t want for us to let it sink it. Otherwise, they are just photos and even film that we pretend are not reality. We convince ourselves that the world is ok and that leaving well enough alone is the best course of action. We have our own lives, our own families, children, parents, etc. Even if these stories are true, how can we really engage, participate, make a difference? Miles and corruption are barriers, we tell ourselves. The world is coming to an end soon, anyway. The poor will always be with us. Sound familiar?

I have been an amateur for a long time. An amateur writer, activist and photographer. But something changed in me tonight. My experiences, though amateur, can be used for good and must be used for good. God gave me a wonderful education, incredible experiences and the opportunity to meet people all over the world for a reason. He ended a long-term relationship a few weeks ago for a reason. He kept me living in the US these last 10 years for a reason. It’s been difficult to know why things have turned out the way they have but I have to believe that our good God has a big plan for me. One that will take an amateur into someone who is changing the world, like the young girl, Vivienne, in the film I saw tonight.

This blog is not about me, nor is it about any one documentary. It’s much bigger. It’s about bringing an end to poverty and the end to human trafficking. It’s about justice and mercy. It’s about skin in the game. I am grateful for a few compadres who believe in this cause. But I want more who will stand with me, with others who are passionate and optimistic. I believe that if given the chance to learn, many more will jump in and do something. For some, it will mean educating your children to the realities in our world. For others, it will mean using your skills to contribute. For those of us who pray, it means praying for unity between those that are working in this arena, that efforts may unite so we can be better together. For many, it should mean contributing to organizations working to bring an end to poverty, not just putting a band aid on it. I will have access to this film in about 6 weeks, and I would love for others to see it. I also have others to watch, including 58, which is a Christian production about bringing and end to poverty. While not entertaining films, they are essential in being an informed citizen of this world. Let’s vow to do all that we can to give hope to the millions affected by human trafficking and the billion plus living on less than $2 a day. What an incredible gift to humanity this would be.

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i have been told that i am not the sharpest tool in the shed. perhaps true. when it comes to social media and having the wits to know how to navigate and manage it, definitely true.
i got off of facebook several weeks ago because i wanted some peace in my life. and it seems logical that facebook is not the place to find peace. being off facebook keeps me out of the mess of people’s lives and focused more on own, which i though was in order these days. but in the weeks of not being on facebook, i have felt terribly disconnected. more than i thought. i lost touch with incredible people from around the globe. people i have prayed with and shared my life with. people i have sat next to in a cube for years, people i have hiked with, biked with and cried with. people that have changed my life. i thought i was a bit of a shy introvert and probably want to be that way but instead i am a times extroverted and outgoing, wanting to keep in touch with everyone i have met in my lifetime. after living in 3 states, uganda twice and traveling copiously, i have met a boatload of people. and i want to be in touch with about 99%. so forgive me for my indecision and erratic behavior on facebook, but it hit me hard tonight that those i have met along the way were met for a reason. God brings people in our lives for a reason and though i may never see some of you again, that does not take away our ability to interact. i continue to be amazed at what God is orchestrating in my life. i stand in awe of how He is using me, despite my inadequacies and insufficiencies. he has given me the chance to interact with all of you at some point, and i think this is all for good. i am sure most of us have heard the analogy about a quilt. the front is organized and neatly planned, but behind the scenes om the back side,the web of connections between the patches is quite chaotic. that is what our lives are like. never doubt what God can do in your life if you let him. the back side may be a mess but it’s a beautiful mess that produces order and something of beauty on the other side. if we allow it, every day, God can use us for amazing things if we allow him. wake up tomorrow knowing that if you allow God to take control, He is orchestrating your life to produce a beautiful melody.

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One of my heroes, Arnab, the Health Specialist for Compassion East India. This was on a visit to a school in Jharkhand, a part of India still quite a bit behind in health and facing so many challenges, including malaria and dengue fever. Colleagues like Arnab are making a difference in the MDGs.

A health worker at a child survival project in Wamena, Indonesia. She is giving of herself so selflessly to teach these children and bring them out of the poverty they were born into. This project is being supported by Compassion International.

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Good news from the 2012 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report:

***Extreme poverty is falling in every region****

For the first time since poverty trends began to be monitored, the number of people living in extreme poverty and poverty rates fell in every developing region—including in sub- Saharan Africa, where rates are highest. The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 % in 1990 to 24 % in 2008—a reduction from over 2 billion to less than 1.4 billion.

**** Child survival progress is gaining momentum****
Despite population growth, the number of under-five deaths worldwide fell from more than 12.0 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. And progress in the developing world as a whole has accelerated. Sub-Saharan Africa—the region with the highest level of under-five mortality—has doubled its average rate of reduction, from 1.2 % a year over 1990-2000 to 2.4 % during 2000-2010.

BUT our work is not yet finished. Let’s keep up efforts to give ALL people, everywhere, no matter where they live, what they have done in the past, no matter how educated or uneducated they are…the right to live the life they have been called to. God does not want anyone to live a life less worthy of His calling….. this is our legacy to the world.

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thoughts on new HIV/AIDS strategies

Was feet away from Sen Mark Udall this a.m. and was hoping to meet him at the HIV/AIDS briefing at the Capitol but he got out before I could get to the back of the room. I am encouraged that he is interested in those beyond CO and US borders.  Dr. Brian Williams and his test and treat strategy for those living with HIV could really change the trajectory of the epidemic if we had the political will to make it happen. HIV crosses borders and if we don’t invest enough now..and invest it in the right  programs, I am afraid we won’t see the decline that we need to make HIV and AIDS history. Will we be saying years from now “What were we thinking? It was so obvious.”  I think we tend to make money the obstacle when it might be more political will than anything.   To make this happen, we need a diverse funding stream to include countries across the globe as well as each of us…through investing in organizations that will get progressive about how they use their funds, and those that use the church to get to where the government cannot reach.  Let’s not become blase about HIV/AIDS because we have heard so much about it. It is still a global threat with 32 million people infected. These people have hearts that beat like ours every moment of every day. They have husbands, wives, children, brothers and sisters. And they are facing a relentless disease that can’t be considered just another chronic disease. With the International AIDS Conference next month, some of the brightest minds will be converging on our nation’s capitol to talk about HIV and AIDS from every angle. Pray for wisdom, creative thinking and harmony needed to bring about an end to a disease which has taken far too many far too soon.

*If you want to learn more about test and treat strategy, send me a message. Sen Udall’s office just sent me a pdf on it.

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Mother, grandmother and twins in Mpeefu, Uganda 2003

Mother, grandmother and twins in Mpeefu, Uganda 2003

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Twins born in Mpeefu health centre

Twins born in Mpeeful health centre

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Maternal Health and Family Planning Will Save Lives

In January 2007, I met a woman named Ami, an HIV positive single mom raising an eight-year-old HIV positive daughter. This Mother’s Day, I can’t help wondering if Ami and her daughter are still alive, as AIDS can take a life well before its time.

I met Ami on a trip to Burkina Faso.  Though I have met hundreds of mothers while working in international health, Ami stood out, not just because of our common name, but because of the hope she had for a better life while a look in her eyes revealed she was weary from caring for her infected daughter as well as herself. She was tired but not defeated. In a country where clean water does not flow from every tap and malaria is rampant, HIV is just one of the obstacles she faces daily. Ami dreamed of becoming a regional trader, selling her wares across West Africa. She dreamed of her daughter overcoming the odds of an HIV infection and prayed for a miracle that would take away their infections. I don’t know where Ami and her daughter are today, but I hope and pray that her dreams and prayers have come true.

This Mother’s Day is a day to not only honor our own mothers, but to uplift and stand in solidarity with mothers around the world, from Burkina Faso to Bolivia, Tanzania to Thailand. Women around the world face obstacles that we in the United States can hardly begin to fathom. While working in Uganda near the border with Lake Albert and Congo to the west, I lived with a midwife named Florence. Florence had few supplies and a decrepit scale to monitor the weight of the pregnant women that came for checkups. She did not have a regular supply of multivitamins for the pregnant women and the best she could do is just educate them on their pregnancy and how to make it a healthy one.

A few times, I helped her deliver babies in the small building next to where we stayed. Though almost 10 years ago, I can still quickly envision the dirty, scant room and nauseating smell of blood that came from the birth of twins and the scarce water in an area just up the escarpment from Lake Albert, a place not as verdant as other parts of that beautiful country.  Fortunately, this woman survived the birth and delivered two healthy babies, but I consider it almost a miracle after how much blood she lost and because we were practically in the middle of Africa, a forgotten part of Uganda where tourist don’t roam. I lived in a place called Mpeefu and would travel to a nearby bigger town (though still very small) called Muhororo, and I don’t recall a time that the mode of transport would not break down between these two places. And to get to a hospital, one would have to travel to Muhororo and beyond for many hours. In this part of Uganda, I don’t think there were more than maybe 2 private cars and many cars that in the United States would have been destined for the junk yard. The majority get around on foot and those who are really lucky have a bicycle to ride around on the dusty roads. All to say, this was not a place to be in case of an emergency, though that certainly did not keep the emergencies from coming.

As I left Uganda, I raised some funds to get solar panels installed so that at least Florence and the health centre would have some light in those dark nights, and we got gutters to collect rainfall to go into the big cistern that was defunct to that point, but Florence needed more than water and electricity. She needed contraceptives and materials to teach family planning. She needed pain medicine and disinfectant to sterilize the rooms properly. She needed a safe delivery kit to include a clean blade, a piece of string, soap and a piece of plastic to serve as the delivery surface. She got these things occasionally, but she learned to be creative in making these things stretch, though this was not the time or place to be frugal. But it was her only strategy to make it work to do what she could to keep the women and their babies alive.

Lack of access to family planning leaves mothers in developing countries with no easy way to control the size of their families, and in the end, robs both the mother and her children of a better life, one that enables each to eat enough nourishing food and pursue the education that lifts communities out of poverty. Women around the world are speaking out to gain access to information and supplies needed to have a desirable family size, but not all are hearing their message.

When a woman in the developing world has an unintended pregnancy, she puts herself and the life of her child at risk, like the women in Mpeefu who delivered safely only by the grace of God. What many people don’t realize is that family planning actually prevents abortion and helps families to space their children in a way that will facilitate optimal health for both mother and child. Based on research conducted around the world, the World Health Organization recommends women wait two years after the birth of a child to become pregnant to protect herself, the baby, and her other children. Spacing pregnancies benefits the mother, child, family, and the community at large. In areas where family planning methods are being used by the greatest number of women, abortion rates are much lower than in those areas where only a small proportion of women have access to family planning methods. Empowering women and families to avoid abortion should be a priority for us all.

As an active member of Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) and a Project Manager for the organization, I am joining CCIH in an effort to inform the U.S. public and our policy makers about the importance of family planning services in protecting the lives of mothers, children, and families. CCIH’s membership consists of people and organizations from protestant, Catholic, evangelical, and mainline denominations, who are all dedicated to a vision of a world where all have access to basic health services, including family planning.

CCIH membership strongly supports family planning where it is understood to mean voluntary prevention of pregnancy, not including abortion. CCIH promotes family planning services consistent with a family’s faith along with other health services, as they recognize it reduces abortion and is crucial in protecting the health of women and children. I urge policy makers to support programs to enable couples to safely plan the births of their children.  Your support can make a difference to women around the world, women like Ami who surmount each day and have hope for a better tomorrow. Learn more, pray for women like Ami and Florence, and stop to count your blessings for being born in a place where water, soap, clean sheets and necessary medicines come standard at birth.

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