Tuesday, March 31, 2009

OVC Presentation

Hi everyone, I recently put together a presentation for my Beyond Borders class on Orphaned and Vulnerable Youth in Botswana. I've uploaded it for you guys to view. Also, on the pages with quotations, please see below for the full quotation. They were all taken from Stephen Lewis's Race Against Time. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask or email me, I'd love to talk more about this issue with you!

Ps: 26 more days!!! AHHH!

Slide 4: “I can’t emphasize strongly enough the extreme emotional turmoil of children orphaned by AIDS. What the world fails to recognize is that these children don’t become orphans when their parents die, they become orphans while their parents are dying, and this is especially true in the case of the death of the mother. ... I enter a hut, where the bleakness and gloom are palpable. On the floor of the hut lies a young woman in her twenties or thirties, so wan and emaciated as to be unable to life either hand or head. I bend down, painfully inadequate to the circumstance, and touch her brow, uttering some pointless banality which is intended to sooth, and then as I step back, looking around me, I see her children, all her children, standing in the darkened shadows, watching their mother die. How do they recover? The death is long, agonizing and filled with indignity. The children wash their mother, they clean her when she’s incontinent (an experience of excruciating embarrassment for both mother and children), they search everywhere for an aspirin to relieve the pain of some opportunistic infection, and then, horrified, gaping, they stand in the darkened shadows and watch their mother die.”

Slide 7: “ Graca and I were taken to see one of those sibling families with five children: three girls; 14, 12 and 10, and two boys; 11 and 8. ... Graca turned to the two older girls, and in a most gentle, reassuring voice asked, ‘Have you started to menstruate yet?’. The two girls, clearly startled, replied in those shy, barely audible whispered voices so characteristic of African children, ‘Yes’. Graca continued to ask a number of other personal questions regarding the meaning of this and if there are people in the community that are available to talk to. The atmosphere was intense, the little girls, now fully embraced in Graca’s arms, seemed to have suspended breathing and I suddenly understood that I was witness to the first act of ‘mothering’ that these girls had ever received about on the most transfiguring experiences of a young girl’s life. ... and that is what’s happening right across the continent: the transfer of love and knowledge and values and experience from one generation to the next is gone, and with it goes the confidence and security and sense of place which children normally take for granted. Children, already traumatized by the death of their parents, are left reeling as they confront the void in the aftermath.”

Slide 10: The state of the health of the women in the villages was ghastly. Household income was ransacked, and time once spent on walking to distant fields and growing a variety of foods had been given over to caring for the sick. AIDS leads to hunger; hunger exacerbates AIDS. It’s a merciless interaction. The numbers of orphan children are beyond belief, in fact, so beyond belief that when we drafted our reports, we actually said “The situation of orphans represents a humanitarian catastrophe and a violation of the rights of children. The inability of the United Nations system and the international community to adequately support national governments in their response to the needs of the huge numbers of orphans in the region is unacceptable”. That’s UN-speak for saying, “You’ve failed lamentably: for God’s sake get your act together”.

Slide 14: “As I’ve moved from country to country over the last four years, it’s been clear, inescapably clear, that as the pandemic evolves, children orphaned by AIDS are becoming the single most intractable and painful legacy. There are no equivalent precedents. Nothing in historical experience has prepared us for two generations of children rendered desperate, lonely, sad and bewildered by sheer circumstance.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

You Can't Give Up

I don't know if any of you have ever seen the website: http://explodingdog.com/. If not, it's worth giving a browse... there are some pretty interesting and funny pictures (and some weird and random ones too!)

Anyways, my sister sent me this one this morning and it made me think of Beyond Borders... I guess just the fact that we have all become such a team in this project and how, personally, I really appreciate all your support and efforts - and more than anything, no matter how frustrated you might get, don't give up, because someone (most likely me) needs your help!

Be the Change You Want to See

After looking back on some of my blogs, I feel that I have been a little negative this term - my entries have often concentrated on all of the problems that I see, yet I left little room for what we can do about it. I think this is mainly because until a few weeks ago, I really had no answers! Moreover, everyone in the class has at one point or other asked "but how do I get other's to act responsibly?!" Well here's my two cents:

After much time and thought, I think what it comes down to is leading by example. Personally, I find this "solution" to feel only satisfactory... I was hoping that I would find a BIG IDEA, some real grand, large scale program that we could implement and have it touch people, motivating them to do great things... but I don't think that's realistic. The fact of the matter is that as humans, we have the ability to chose selfishness and laziness and turn a blind eye. Some people will choose this path, and point blank, we aren't going to change this in everyone. BUT, what we can do is show people that selfishness and laziness aren't there only options - in fact there is a multitude of options just waiting to be chosen!

I feel like this solution is beautiful in it's simplicity, but that's often why it is overlooked. How can something so obvious have any impact? I mean "lead by example" isn't something new... We've all been taught this since we were young, so how can it make a difference now?

I've picked up on a few similar comments Joanne has made since the beginning of term regarding this issue. I think where it hit me was while we were meeting at The Working Centre. Kate was talking about how many of her friends truly admire her for being a part of the Beyond Borders program, but (and sorry Kate, if I mess up your words, let me know!) "they would NEVER think about doing something like this!". Joanne's response was "well now they have thought about doing something like this", simply because they are friends with Kate. That is, Kate's choice to be a part of the Beyond Borders program is a having a ripple effect - each person she knows is now being touched by her choice. The same goes for the rest of us - while some may look around the world and throw their hands up in frustration and ask "what's the point", they can now look at us and see that ordinary students can make a difference. Instead of asking "what's the point", maybe they will begin to ask "Well why can't I make a difference too!"

When you look at it this way, I feel it sheds an optimistic light on the situation. For me, it's no longer a matter of questioning why people aren't getting involved... it's more about how can I demonstrate to others that it's not hard to be a global citizen, how can I engage in this dialogue that moves people to action. And again, the simple answer is be the change you want to see.

This has already happened in my own life this term. As most of you know, the problem with orphaned and vulnerable children/youth has become my main project of the term... I have done an abundance of research and can't wait to get to Mochudi and be a part of their lives. I would like to think that I have also began a ripple in the circle of family and friends that I belong. Hopefully, people have looked at me and thought "if this young math student who is always on the go between his many jobs and volunteer work can do this, why can't I?"

So be the change you want to see; Others will learn from you, many will follow you, and some undeniably won't do anything... but what matters is that others will learn from you and many will follow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

News from Stepping Stones International!

Over the past week or two, I have been emailing my supervisor, Lisa Jamu, in Mochudi, Botswana. This morning I recieved another, and I probably couldn't be more excited to go! Obviously one of my main duties while there will be tutoring in math, however, Lisa has also mentioned the need for fresh and new ways of teaching math. As it operates currently, math is something that is almost strictly memorized by students in Mochudi, with little room for analysis. An idea that Lisa suggested to me is to begin brainstorming about some tips for teachers to use in teaching math and science... then I could hold a mini workshop aimed for the teachers on how kids can best learn math; example, teach the kids to rap math formulas in order to understand them better. I will be meeting with a professor of mine later this week who is active in holding workshops for Ontario math teachers in better teaching practices to see if I can take some ideas with me.

In addition, math resources are extremily limited. Anybody who has had to take a math class knows the only way to learn it is to practice it, but the youth in Mochudi don't have the tools or books to practice with. I am going to work hard to exhaust my contacts within the Faculty of Math at the Universtiy of Waterloo to see what I can do about getting calculators, old text books, flashcards and any other resources donated to SSI.

This placement is turning out to be a more perfect fit for me every day! This is exactly what I was hoping I was going to be able to do - help kids get excited about math, science, learning and their future! The added bonus of volunteering weekly in the local highschool, helping form a tighter relationship between the highschool and SSI, and the possibility of holding a workshop with teachers to pass on some cool ways to teach is AMAZING.

Ahh only 41 more days until the craziness begins!!!!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Cookie Jar

To anyone who knows even a little about me will probably know that music plays a HUGE part in my life. While I can't sing or dance (and sorry to those people who have had to listen or watch me do either of those two things), I can't help but become lost in music. I have a pretty wide selection too... everything from Keith Urban to Eminem (who has a new CD coming out soon... WHAT!) to Jason Mraz to Pink Floyd and more. My favourite artist, however, is probably Jack Johnson - his music is relaxing, interesting AND his lyrics have a point!

The other day I was listening to the song Cookie Jar, by Jack (we're on a first name basis). I encourage you to check out the song:

On the front, the song is about a boy who shoots someone. They question from the boy to the father to the media, who all have an excuse about why the boy's actions cannot be blamed on them.

I truly believe that this is a trend that everyone continues. As I suggested in an earlier post, there are so many negative and destructive things that happen every day, and how easy it is for all of us say "well it's not my fault" and continue with our lives.
What is it that is keeping us from taking action? By taking action we are admitting to ourselves that there is a serious problem, and some people find that hard to admit? Or do we feel that if we stand up to fight, we are taking all the blame and will become the target of criticism? Are we driven by forces that make it personally better if the destruction occurs? Or are we all just lazy?

I think it is a combination of these 4 things. Going back to the song, take any one of the people that have been put up for blame, and consider their position. If the media man was to take the blame, he would be admitting to himself that there is a severe problem, he would be giving "media" a shameful connotation, he would be losing a great story to headline the news with, and lastly, taking the blame would require a lot of work on his part - you can't just take the blame and not do anything about it.

We see this attitude everyday in society... we are constantly placing the blame elsewhere because it is convenient. "I got a bad test mark because the teacher couldn't set a fair test", "I got a speeding ticket because the cop was in a bad mood", "the bum on the street is homeless because he is lazy", "the boy shot the gun because Eminem raps about guns". We reason with ourselves that all of these horrible things around us are not our own fault, but someone else's fault. This takes away our guilt, our personal connection, and lastly (and most importantly) our reason to do anything about it.

It's easy to do this, so I'm not writing this blog to condemn or insult people, more just to make them aware of this phenomenon that occurs... the matter of the fact is that I have done this many times as well. However, through my volunteer time with The Working Centre, I have begun to understand the necessity of accepting responsibility for the way our community operates. Through this acceptance, it has made each visit back to WASL feel more important and meaningful.

At the end of the day, someone (it doesn't matter who it is) has to stop the finger pointing and not just accept that there is a problem, but accept that they are a part of the problem - hence preparing them for a road to solving the problem. I hope I am able to delicately bring this idea to the youth at Stepping Stones International to help them take charge of their future!

Thanks for listening,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lessons from Worth A Second Look

After a number of times volunteering at WASL, I've began to notice some important aspects of the project, as well as learn a couple things about myself.
  1. In last term's course, we talked a lot about the economy. I really didn't understand at the time how the economy was coming into play in our ethics course, and to be honest, I didn't really take much from it out of the classroom. However, during my last shift at WASL, some things really started clicking for me.
    Scott discussed how in today's world, we go "out there" to do economics with people we don't know. We have these high-level, superficial relationships with the person working the till and at most, may learn their name from their name-tag. Moreover, businesses operate for one reason: to produce a commodity for the purpose of making a profit.
    This is not the way in which WASL works. Over 50% of the customers that walk through the store doors are known by name; they have built real relationships with the workers at WASL and there time spent in the store is equally divided between shopping and talking with the workers.
    Secondly, nothing in the store is priced to make a profit. They are priced to keep the store operating at bare minimum. They are not out to make big bucks - instead, one reason is to be an outlet for people in the community to feel a part of the rest of the world by providing them with purchasing power. In an earlier post, I wrote about a man buying a fish net. After much thought, time spent at WASL and a talk with Joanne, I think I finally get it. Many people have the luxury of being able to drive to the mall, browse through the shops and leave with $250 worth of clothes and items and not think much of it. We have the money to, with some restrictions, purchase more or less what we want when we want. But not everyone in the world is afforded such luxuries... so the ability for that man to walk into WASL and buy a fish net gave him the feeling of being able to casually walk into a store and buy something he wants. This action, which seemed so insignificant to me, was helping him feel like he had purchasing power and made him a part of the society that feels that on a regular basis.

  2. The second thing I've learned is that I need to stop being so critical and instead, try to understand where others are coming from. The need for this has come up in class a number of times and it was a part of the website Jen showed us. Again, the man with the fish net is a perfect example... I was quick to piece together his clothing, his speech and his purchase choice to form a conclusion about his personality, habits, intellect, etc. This is a huge flaw of mine and I have to say, WASL is helping me with this more than I could imagine.
    I'm beginning to wonder, though, if I'll ever be able to fulfill the 'understand' part. Can I really imagine what it is like to live paycheck-to-paycheck?-or to not have a permanent house to sleep in? And if not, will this affect the amount of support and help I will be able to provide?
  3. Lastly, after the first few shifts at WASL I was left without much to say, which frustrated me beyond belief. I have now learned that not everything I participate in has to have important significance or involve a life changing moment. I should be open to the idea that I am performing a service which helps the community and that's it! -Any lessons that I end up learning are extra. The things that will have lasting impressions on me are the things that came to me as I was casually going about my duties at WASL... not when I was sitting down telling myself "Come on Matt... you must have learned something today!"

Anyways, sorry as always for the long post! I just can never seem to get my thoughts together in a short amount of space.

Peace Out!