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The B Factor

posted in: 2009, Indonesia - No Comments

IND-Palu Program StaffWhen I first arrived in Indonesia, I was warned that in certain places I would feel like a rock-star. Children would call out to me, “Hey Mister!” and others would ask to take my picture. I was told that I would generally be the center of attention most places I went. I listened to the warning and thanked the messenger, but then I quickly dismissed it. Why would anyone want to take my picture? What could possibly make me interesting to strangers on the street? At that time, I could not have imagined being on stage at a televised dangdut concert three weeks later. (Dangdut is a type of Indonesian music heavily inspired by music from India.) I had no idea how real the warning of rock-star treatment was actually going to be! READ MORE

Hallelujah: Here in Mozambique

posted in: 2009, Mozambique - No Comments

MOZ-2BoysSmile_horz4x6Thus far, the song of the summer has been Brandi Carlile’s Janis-Joplin-style-bellow of “Hallelujah.” Considering that Aquarius is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard, I play it repeatedly in the truck in hopes that he will get the message and sing along. A few weeks ago, my plan started showing results: Aquarius told me he liked the tune. [Insert conniving laugh here.] Now, I’m proud to say that I’ve played the song so many times that it’s come close to hypnotizing my traveling buddy, making it so he only requests one song when we are on our way to the field: Hallelujah. READ MORE

Big Revelations in Female Condoms

posted in: 2009, Mozambique - No Comments

MOZ-MariaPicture1 041-2womenAs a U2 devotee, I believe that the lyrics to the band’s songs are close to Gospel, spreading messages around the world that need to be heard. One of their most recent releases off their new album, “No Line On the Horizon,” is no different. In “Get On Your Boots,” Bono bellows: “Women are the future hold the big revelations,” just as The Edge provides a guitar riff that’s sure to let listeners know that these lyrics demand to be heard. As I listen to the tune via the wonders of my iPod, I’m astounded by the relevance of the band’s message when it’s applied to my context here in Mozambique. READ MORE

World Refugee Day 2009 in Tbilisi

posted in: 2009, Republic of Georgia - 1 Comment

The Wishing TreeThe United Nations has designated June 20 as “World Refugee Day.” This past Thursday, folks from our office here in Tbilisi attended “Real People, Real Needs,” the official opening of World Refugee Day by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-Georgia. The event took place at Mtasminda Amusement Park (Wish Tree Square), a perfect choice to give just a few (300) of the many displaced children here in Georgia a chance to experience what most American kids take for granted: park rides and treat or two. There was also a bazaar where IDP and refugee families sold handmade clothes, jewelry, handicrafts and home-produced honey. Although there are different ethnicities and national identities involved, one commonality for all of the displaced families is an unquenchable spirit to survive today’s hardships, to sometimes look backward with both deep grief and happy memories, and to always look forward with hope—and skepticism. READ MORE

A Source of Healing

posted in: 2009, Mozambique - No Comments

Luke 5:17

And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.

For the past two weeks we have been visiting community-based organizations (CBO) throughout the Inhambane province of Mozambique. We have taken extremely long trips—some up to four hours away—to sit down with the leadership and members of each association to get from them a firsthand encounter of their successes, concerns and the challenges that they are facing. For the past two weeks this scripture has been with me as we visited each CBO. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a passion for those who are afflicted with disease—any disease—and my passion is working with those who face the daily battle of HIV/AIDS. READ MORE

Lost in Translation

posted in: 2009, Republic of Georgia - 3 Comments

You know, I can’t read a word of Georgian.

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

There are some fourteen unique alphabets in the world, and Georgian is one of them. Unfortunately, I can’t even make out a single letter of it. You can stick my two favorite words in front of me, gamahrjobat (transliteration, meaning “hello”) and didi modloba (trans: “thank you very much”)—words I repeat frequently as they represent the extent of my Georgian vocabulary—and tell me that it was my street address and I wouldn’t know any better. I am completely illiterate! And it is frustrating to no end!

Struggling with this, I realized that one of my normal coping strategies while traveling abroad is to look for cognates and transliterations whenever possible. In France, for example, I just sounded out the words. In India, the Hindi signs were usually subtitled with English transliterations. Good stuff, real helpful…unfortunately, signs here are subtitled with Russian transliterations. And my Russian is even worse than my Georgian! READ MORE


posted in: 2009, Indonesia - 1 Comment

Kerr Ramsay and Gretchen Van Ess outside the SERASI office

Kerr Ramsay and Gretchen Van Ess outside the SERASI office

The people of Indonesia are some of the kindest and warmest that I’ve met anywhere in all of my travels. They live in a country full of diversity, life and beauty. This overwhelming kindness and natural beauty make it hard to believe that our work for the last two weeks in Central Sulawesi with SERASI has focused on conflict mitigation in the aftermath of devastating religious conflicts over the last ten years. Much of the conflict in this region occurred around the city of Poso. For many years Poso was a peaceful city located on the Tomini Bay whose residents were almost evenly split between Christian and Muslim. Although there are a variety of stories from the locals about why the conflict started, the results of the conflict have left the most lasting impression.

Driving through Poso there are still entire neighborhoods where only the charred foundations remain of houses once occupied by their Christian owners. READ MORE

Communication is essential and believe it or not…decreases violence.

posted in: 2009, Indonesia - No Comments

IND-GVEsuccess story1A
It seems like the topic of conversation this week has been communication. All of the Candler interns are realizing the difficulties associated with not understanding the native language. As an intern plopped in a foreign country or as a refugee seeking a new life and livelihood in a neighboring country or island, each has difficulties with communication. Kerr and I have run into roadblocks in communication when trying to speak with our Indonesia colleagues, ordering food, and even expressing ideas to each other. Yesterday afternoon as I chatted with three women about their IRD sponsored project, I realized that good communication not only helps you express ideas and order the right food, but that communication can be a tool for decreasing violence.

For the past 6 years KPKP-ST, a local group advocating for women’s equality in Central Sulawesi, has been working on mitigating violence against women in the Poso district. They have hosted hundreds of community discussions allowing women to articulate their concerns and together formulate solutions. The women of KPKP-ST recognized the importance of communication in problem solving, especially in an area recovering from conflict. I can’t imagine a more constructive way to ease tension, communicating and understanding one another’s views, opinions and beliefs.

Over the last three months KPKP-ST has been disseminating information in more than 30 villages to increase awareness and skills in reporting cases of violence against women and children. KPKP-ST has also opened more than 30 Village Information and Reporting Centers for Victims of Violence against Women and Children. These homes, voluntarily offered by members of the community, serve as safe locations for female victims to receive both legal and communal support following cases of domestic violence. In the few short months this program has been running, KPKP-ST staff has seen a decrease in domestic violence and family fighting in the Poso District. With the program comes an increase in community knowledge and increased family conversation, so there is more protection and awareness.

IND-GVEsuccess story1BAlong with being a safe house, these village reporting centers are heavily used as a resource by both women and men to discuss household concerns. Community members feel comfortable using the centers’ volunteers as mediators, assisting families with issues of communication, child rearing, and increased stress and tension. Community members even refer their friends and neighbors to the center, claiming it is an excellent recourse and place for families. These centers are being utilized by community members as a preventative measure, offering families a place to communicate long before domestic violence occurs.

As I was returning from the visit yesterday, I was reflecting on the impact and success of these reporting centers. Originally designed as a place for women to find assistance in reporting cases of violence, these homes are being used before physical violence transpires. Can you imagine what our communities in America would be like if we had village centers offering free guidance and mediation in household spats? How much better would men, women and children communicate with one another if they were freely given tools and examples of positive communication styles? Would our domestic violence shelters be empty if from the first point of tension, stress or anger, people were given a safe and unbiased forum to discuss their thoughts and concerns? Colossians 4:6 reads “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” I wonder how our churches and zillion small groups could help facilitate this process, communicating, truly listening, and responding to one another.

Simple communication is decreasing violence against women in Central Sulawesi, and I think this method could and probably should be replicated in our own communities.

Selamat Sore, Good Day!

posted in: 2009, Indonesia - No Comments

So I haven’t had internet access in about a week and a half so it is time I caught you all up on two amazing weeks in Central Sulawesi.

Lake Poso

Lake Poso

We are working for a group called SERASI, under the supervision of IRD and USAID. In Indonesian this word, Serasi, means harmony and that is exactly what they are promoting. They are trying to mitigate conflict in hot spots in Indonesia, and Central Sulawesi was one of these places nearly ten years ago. Two towns, Poso and Tentena, are where the majority of the violence happened between 1998 and 2004. There were several reasons for this violence including religious tension, inter-ethnic tension and corruption in—or just complete lack of—government. There was a lot of fighting, entire villages were burned down, political and religious leaders were targeted and killed, and eventually the two towns became segregated. The violence is gone now but the towns are still split; Poso is predominately Muslim and Tentena Christian. SERASI is working on projects in both communities, and several surrounding districts, to reinforce and continue to build peace. READ MORE

Two Experiences of Gori

posted in: 2009, Republic of Georgia - No Comments

This South Ossetia man was displaced by the recent war in the Republic of Georgia. He and his family are now living with his mother-in-law in Gori.

This South Ossetia man was displaced by the recent war in the Republic of Georgia. He and his family are now living with his mother-in-law in Gori.

Our arrival into Georgia happened to coincide with Independence Day here, and the opposition parties planned a day of protests against the incumbent Saakashvili government. While dramatic, these protests, which have been going on for most of the spring, have been relatively peaceful and well organized. Given that the opposition planned an escalation of their ongoing actions for that Tuesday, however, our hosts felt that the best possible thing for us to do was to take the day and spend it as tourists outside of Tbilisi.

Tuesday morning, we were picked up at our flat and whisked off on a whirlwind tour of the historical sites in the communities surrounding Tbilisi, including several ancient Christian churches and the ruins of a town that was carved out of a sandstone cliff. The highlight of the tour READ MORE