John Francis: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. You: ??

18 09 2011

Your environmental footprint. Ever think about it? Care at all about the earth and your  contribution to keeping it healthy and vibrant? John Francis is an environmentalist and author of two books: Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. and The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.

John Francis – Credit: Art Rogers, Pt. Reyes

In 1971, he was living in the San Francisco area and witnessed a devastating oil spill in the Bay. He decided to lessen his own demand for oil by giving up riding in motor vehicles, which he did from 1972 to 1994. In 1973 he also decided to be silent and didn’t speak again until 1990.

He walked across the country (and across South America) during his years of silence, getting first an undergraduate degree, then a Masters, and culminating in a Ph.D. in land management with a focus on oil spills.

Everywhere he went, playing the banjo in towns to earn money, people were drawn to this silent ambassador for the environment. He learned what it was to really listen to people instead of constantly waiting for them to stop talking so he could say something. Today, John is married, the father of two children, founder and director of the nonprofit environmental education organization Planetwalk, and a National Geographic Society Education Fellow.

I just finished reading both of his books. I find this man really inspirational…to take such drastic measures because you care about the environment. So what are you doing to reduce your impact on the environment? Anything at all? Consider these facts from About.com:

  • “According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well.
  • A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year. A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less than the average American diet. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car!”

There is a big movement to encourage people to not eat meat on Mondays (it could be any day) to help reduce their impact on the earth. The website meatlessmonday.com provides this information:

  • “REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.
  • MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
  • HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.”

MSN Autos says that 41% of your ecological impact on the earth is due to driving a car. They say that estimates attribute 77 percent of a car’s footprint to the CO2 released from burning gasoline. And statistics show that 40% of trips people make in cars are a distance of two miles or less. What if they just walked or rode a bike instead?

There are many other things you can do to reduce your negative impact on the environment. I sold my car almost two years ago and I walk or take public transportation. I wrote a blog post about this called A Year of Living Carless, which was featured on the front page of WordPress. I have been a vegetarian for almost a year. I take cloth bags to the grocery store (which I walk to) instead of using paper or plastic bags. The walking and eating vegetarian have health benefits, too.

So what are you doing? You don’t have to give up riding in cars for 22 years or stop talking for 17 years to make an impact. Eating one meal a week vegetarian or walking or riding your bike instead of taking the car even one time help. I haven’t owned a car since December, 2009 and eat vegetarian (with a rare piece of fish).

As John Francis says, “How we treat each other is how we treat the environment.” Are you treating your neighbors and mother earth well with your habits?

Here is John talking about his journey in a TED talk:






Hip-Hop, Yoga, and Being Super Rich

30 07 2011

Think of the “godfather of hip-hop” Russell Simmons and you definitely think RICH. He founded the music label Def Jam as well as clothing lines such as Phat Farm and American Classics. With a net worth estimate of $340 million, he is the third richest figure in hip-hop, only behind artists Diddy and Jay-Z. But do you also think of yoga and spirituality when you think of Russell Simmons?

Simmons is the author (along with Chris Morrow) of Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. His business website www.rushcommunications.com relates his many business successes, which “have spanned music, film, television, fashion, video games, online and financial services” and his activism, which “has encompassed all of the areas touched by his businesses, including poverty, education, social justice and inclusion.”

It’s easy to daydream about being incredibly rich, but Simmons is more than just about having a lot of money. He grew up in a lower-middle class African-American community in Queens and recently was named one of the 25 most influential people of the last 25 years by USA Today. He has two beautiful daughters he adores (and a beautiful, well-known, and accomplished ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons). Not only does he practice yoga, meditation, and philanthropy, he also eats no meat. He believes that there is a connection between his spiritual practices and his worldly success.

The title of his book Super Rich might make you think it’s all about accumulating money, but to Simmons that term means “the state of needing nothing.” That’s powerful! THE STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING. Imagine being in that state. Surely, you’d feel super rich. But how do you achieve that state? Simmons says that we have to “clear out the clutter and quiet the noise” that keeps us from “hearing” or connecting with the happiness…or the richness…that is already inside of us.

He says that we attract the world to us by giving until the world can’t live without what you have to offer. Huh? To get rich, you just give away what you have? YES! He quotes yogis: “You never lose what you have given” and says that if you “just show the world a fraction of the sweetness and honesty that’s in your heart, it’s going to come running after you.”

What else can you do to attain the STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING?

  • Access stillness…that “quiet, peaceful mental state that allows you to be completely present in life.” Then you can become “totally connected with the inspiration and imagination that’s inside [you].”
  • “Stay focused on your work without any expectations for, or concern with, the fruit of your labor” and “operate out of a zone of pure focus and clarity” like Michael Jordan did on the basketball court.
  • Be a business yogi and “only do shit you believe in. Period!” Vegan Simmons, for example, says he would never invest in a restaurant that serves meat. If you are a yogi, you won’t do work that creates instability or suffering in the world. Let go of the results…and watch what happens!
  • “Be reborn every day.” Simmons went from being a drug dealer to a mega-rich businessman, yogi, author (he previously penned the New York Times best seller Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success), and humanitarian. How did he do that? He “began moving away from [his] unconscious state and toward enlightenment.” He says it is important to “get open”…to be fluid and creative and never rigid.
  • Build bridges…with people of other races, religions, beliefs, etc…that will bring people together. Recognize that we are all connected.
  • Practice and realize the power of acceptance and love of others and what is.
  • Enjoy and be grateful for the material things, but don’t become burdened by or attached to what you have. Instead, achieve balance in life.
  • “Make a real commitment to being conscious and compassionate.”  He quotes the story of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna’s final words to Lord Krishna: “Through your kind conversation, I’ve woken up and am conscious of who I really am.” Simmons says that even if you fall short in all the above things, if you are conscious and compassionate, you will…like Arjuna…become more awake, which is “central to all your success.”

Simmons says that, armed with the knowledge in the book, we can be like Arjuna and:

To fight not for what you can get for yourself, but what you can give to others.

To fight not for your own abundance, but for the abundance of others.

To fight not for your own security, but for the peace and safety of others.

To fight not for your own joy, but for the happiness of others.

To fight not for your own upliftment, but for the enlightenment of others.

Russell Simmons, hip-hop, fashion, and multi-business mogul, yogi, father, UN Goodwill Ambassador, vegan, and philanthropist, ends the book by saying:

When you are devoted to fighting for these things with a smile on your face and love radiating out of your heart, then all these things will be yours. You will have it all. You will be Super Rich.

How refreshing to see someone who truly is super rich in every way practice what he says. Thanks, Russell Simmons.

NOTE: This post also appears at http://project-prosperity.com/2011/07/30/hip-hop-yoga-and-being-super-rich.




A Holocaust Survivor and a Kenyan Boy

20 07 2010

Director Jennifer Arnold, Chris Mburu, Hilde Back, Jane Wanjiru Muigai during the Sundance Film Festival - Credit: Matt Carr, Getty Images

For Chris Mburu, a young, rural Kenyan student, the opportunity to make something out of his life would’ve ended if not for a small act of kindness.

Hilde Back was a young girl and a Jew who was helped by a stranger to escape from Nazi Germany to Sweden. She never saw her parents (who did not survive the Holocaust) again after leaving. She never forgot the kindness of that stranger and of the people who helped her once she got to Sweden. Hilde eventually became a school teacher on a modest salary, but sponsored…for about $15 a month…a young Kenyan student.

Because she paid his fees to go to secondary school, which his parents could not afford, that student…Chris Mburu…went on to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and become a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. Inspired by Hilde’s generosity, in 2001 he decided to start a scholarship program to help other bright Kenyan students who can’t afford school fees and to name the scholarship program after her. With help, he tracked Hilde Back down and the two are now fast friends. She never knew that her small gift each month made such a difference in the life of one boy…and is now making a difference in the lives of countless other children.

Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline - Credit: http://asmallact.blogspot.com/

HBO is now airing an incredibly moving and important documentary film entitled A Small Act about this story and “the ripple effect one small act can have.” The world premiere of the movie was in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. Jennifer Arnold wrote, directed, and produced this film.

It features three students…Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline…who are the top students in their school and who all have no hope of progressing in school due to the lack of ability to pay the $40 per month fees unless they get one of the coveted Hilde Back Education Fund scholarships.

I mostly subscribe to  HBO because of their documentaries. They are thoughtful, well done, and carry powerful messages. The message is easy to see in this one. So many of us think we don’t have the ability to make a difference in the life of another person so why bother? We may think we are barely scraping by ourselves and what little we could give just isn’t enough. This story shows that a small donation made monthly totally changed the life of Chris, who has gone on to change the lives of Kimani, Ruth, Caroline and so many more and they have all pledged to change the lives of students who come after them.

A few other ripple effects and how you can learn more:

Watch the trailer for the movie, and if you have HBO or if the film is being screened near you, watch the entire film. It will move you…hopefully to make your own small act.





Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators

19 10 2009

What was rolling farm land in east Tennessee, the city now known as Oak Ridge was quickly transformed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 to become one of the four places that worked on the Manhattan Project and birthed the atomic bomb. Because of the plentiful and cheap hydroelectric power provided through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge was the place where uranium was enriched. At one point, the Oak Ridge plants consumed one-sixth of the electricity in the entire United States…more than New York City.

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility, part of the Manhattan Project. (Photo: Life)

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility (Photo: Life)

What workers were doing in Oak Ridge was so secretive that not even the governor of the state knew it. The city was not on a map and was referred to as the Clinton Engineering Works.

Today three of the four major facilities used for wartime bomb production are still in use and owned by the Department of Energy. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the DOE’s largest science and energy lab in the country. It is home to over 4,300 scientists and staff, 3,000 guest researchers annually, a $1.4 billion budget, two of the most advanced neutron scattering research facilities in the world, and the most powerful scientific supercomputer in the world.

They do research there in the fields of nanosciences, biological systems, energy, advanced materials, national security, chemical sciences, electron microscopy, nuclear medicine, and physics.

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

According to the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), “the Oak Ridge research community may be taking on its grandest, and most important, challenge since the legendary World War II Manhattan Project.” Oak Ridge scientists, led by ORNL Applied Software Engineering Group Leader Dr. Tom Potok, and Y-12 (one of the remaining Oak Ridge facilities) National Security Complex’s Steve Payne, are partnering with the Knoxville Police Department, PROTECT, and PROTECT development director and actor David Keith to develop software to help track and prosecute child molesters and pedophiles who traffic in child pornography.

An example of how efficient and effective this software is? An estimated 10,000 Tennesseans traffic in child pornography. Manually sifting through just one of those 10,000 computers takes 40 hours of work. The software developed by Dr. Potok’s team does it in just one hour. Knoxville Police Department is in a pilot program with this software now; if the program is successful, it could become a national law enforcement standard per WBIR.com, a Knoxville news station site.

PROTECT Executive Director Grier Weeks says that the Protect Our Children Act of 2008 was a major step forward that the federal government made, but technology has not been forthcoming. He said:

There’s been a government-wide disconnect, where it is understood that cyber-security and economic crimes require serious resources, but it’s somehow assumed that volunteers and micro grants are enough to drive child rescue technology. Our hope is that when Washington sees the inspiration and passion for rescuing children coming out of one of America’s finest scientific research centers, a light will go on for many people. We can really do this, and this is the way.

I wrote a blog post about the need for technology to stop human trafficking on 6/5/09 entitled Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking? As a member of PROTECT, I received an email on 8/14/09 about what is now being done with technology to stop predators and that’s how I heard about the ORNL project.

I am so impressed with the work that David Keith is doing. He is using his celebrity as an actor…in An Officer and a Gentleman, The Rose, The Great Santini, Firestarter, and many more movies…to bring awareness to sexual abuse and the trafficking of children, and to rescue children from the hands of sexual predators.

David Keith

David Keith

He speaks to groups to enlist help in his quest and tells them how there are 750,000 traffickers of child pornography in the U.S., child pornography is a multi-billion dollar global industry, 50% of the worldwide market for child porn comes from the U.S., 96% of cases of child sex abuse are committed by a member of the child’s family or a trusted acquaintance, and how child molesters assault 27 children on average.

PROTECT operates on only a $400,000 annual budget. So much more is needed. Consider joining PROTECT at http://www.protect.org and donating to help them do this very important work. Here is PROTECT’s mission from their website:

PROTECT is a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association. We are founded on the belief that our first and most sacred obligation as parents, citizens, and members of the human species is the protection of children from harm. We are committed to building a powerful, nonpartisan force for the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and neglect. We believe that this must be done through a determined single-issue focus, a meaningful mainstream agenda and the use of proven modern political strategies.

I have a personal connection with this story. David’s father is a neighbor of my mother and sings in the men’s chorus she accompanies and leads. I met David’s father at one of their chorus performances recently and he told me that he’s most proud of his son (even more than his acting) David for his work to stop child predators and rescue children in their throes. I am from east Tennessee and lived in Oak Ridge for five years and even wrote a weekly business column for a year for the local Oak Ridger newspaper.

To commemorate the 50th birthday of the city of Oak Ridge…the city that was created to develop the atomic bomb…dedicated on May 3, 1996 a Japanese bell (also called the International Friendship Bell) to exemplify theOak Ridge Peace Bell theme of the celebration of Oak Ridge’s birth: “born of war, living for peace, growing through science.” I was privileged to play piano for the chorus that sang at this prestigious dedication, which was attended by many dignitaries and also by representatives from Oak Ridge’s sister city Naka, Ibaraki, Japan. It was a moving experience.

Oak Ridge is a town that was quickly and secretly assembled to build the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 6, 1945 and on Hiroshima, Japan on August 9, 1945, facilitating the end of World War II. The very labs where such destructive power was created is now creating the means to rescue children from the destructive power of child predators and to stop them from ruining any more children’s lives. The peace bell is a fitting symbol…a place, people, facilities, technology, and tremendous brain power are now being used to create peace in the world and stop those who would use their own horrendous power against innocent children and devastate their lives and the lives of people who love them.





AARP Wants All You Cool Hip Peeps (and You Don’t Have to Be 50)

23 09 2009

At the cool, hip age of 50, no one thinks they are old enough to be invited to be part of an organization that was formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons. But it is a rite of passage…AARP finds you, offers you some cool benefits, articles, and information and for a few measly bucks, you cast your pride aside and join. Now AARP is doing soEthel Percy Andrus - AARP Foundermething else really cool.

Their new venture is inspired by AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus (1884-1967). The first woman high school principal in California, Dr. Andrus founded the National Retired Teachers Association in 1947 and AARP in 1958. Her motto, which is still the motto of AARP, is “To serve, not to be served.” Her life of service inspires the new Create the Good program:

Her belief in collective voice and action is at the heart of Create The Good. She believed that anyone, anywhere, anytime could make a difference.

When you visit www.CreateTheGood.org, you can:

  1. Find Good Things to Do by entering in your zipcode
  2. Use DIY (Do-It-Yourself) toolkits or your own ideas to do something good
  3. Post an Opportunity to do good

Some examples of the 629 opportunities in Austin are:

  • Be a tax-aide volunteer
  • Offer clerical assistance to a hospice
  • Help out with programs to empower girls in math, science, engineering, and technology
  • Help clean up a park

Check it out! You can be a part of the AARP program and contribute to creating good where you live…even if you’re way too young in years (or at heart) to join AARP!





NBA Star Tracy McGrady Creates a Darfur Dream Team

7 09 2009
Tracy McGrady Houston Mansion

Tracy McGrady's Houston Mansion

30-year-old NBA Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who makes an estimated $21.1 million a year, is an unlikely advocate for refugees in Darfur. He could just live a cushy life in his 35,000 square foot mansion with his four children and wife. Instead, he heard about the plight of Chad and Sudan refugees in Darfur, wanted to see for himself, thought that surely there was something he could do, and traveled there with John Prendergast and Omer Ismail from the Enough project, which bills itself as “the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Tracy grew up in a rough neighborhood in Auburndale, Florida where he witnessed shooting, robbing, and dealing drugs. He said that when he got aTracy McGrady - Credit NBA website well-paying job, he wanted to have nice things, but said that “…those things don’t really mean anything to me anymore.” Before he went to Darfur, in the western region of Sudan and bordering Chad, in the summer of 2007, he said he had no idea what genocide was and was nervous about what he would see…and he saw a lot.

His trip resulted in the documentary 3 Points, which has just been released and can be seen on Hulu. Tracy is so passionate about the film and his work that he has changed his jersey number to 3 to remind people of the three goals for the Darfuris: peace, protection, and punishment (of those who have harmed them).

Tracy goes there with a big heart and a lot to learn. He…like most of us…has no idea what the life of the refugees…all 2.2 million of them…is like…that the women are being raped, the men are being killed, and their villages have been burned down. He sees children running and wants to build them a soccer field (which would cost just $1,000) and an indoor swimming pool (which would be considered extravagant), but learns that these children have more basic needs such as clean water, food, safety, and schools and supplies. There are no secondary schools (high schools). The people tell them that they have nothing…NOTHING.

He sleeps in a tent for the first time and displays a lot of naivete, but a willingness to learn about the Darfuris. He learns that children and families walked 200 miles to be in the camps, that the women choose to go out to get firewood because they will only be raped; if their husbands go out, they will be killed. Refugees are bombed by planes that look like United Nations planes, are surrounded by land mines, and eat once a day if they are lucky. People are attacked, killed execution-style, and even buried alive by Sudan’s military and Janjaweed, the government-backed militia. Children watch their parents being killed and are instantly orphaned and traumatized. Even small babies being carried on their mothers’ backs are shot.

Tracy asks questions that reveal a lot about the refugees:

  • “Who is protecting you?” No one
  • “What did you [young children] do when your village was attacked?” We ran, hid in the bush for a month, and walked for 10 days to get to a refugee camp.
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 3 boys: I want to be a teacher. A girl:” I want to run my country.
  • “What kind of help do you need?” We have nothing. Everything was burned.

These are brave people, courageous people, strong people, survivors. They have seen unspeakable atrocities and injustice…the worst from their own government. Tracy reflects…

Tracy McGrady with Darfuri Children - Credit Darfur Dream Team

Just imagine that this could be us. What if the roles were reversed? What if the dice were rolled another way? This is not a joke…it’s not a game…this is real. This is our people we’re talking about. I guess that I am beginning to feel that I was put on this earth to really like help people. There’s more to me than just playing basketball, doing Adidas commercials. This is who I am and who I’m going to be. This is the beginning stages that we’re in. There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done.

After returning from Darfur, Tracy visited with the State Department with his teammate Dikembe Mutombo and got input about how he can make a difference in Darfur. He recruited several other NBA stars to help in this effort as well as other non-profit organizations. He started a Darfur Dream Team Sister School program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and universities with students in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Tracy also visited his alma mater high school in that rough neighborhood of Auburndale, Florida with his Enough project allies who told the students that by being passive and nothing, they help evil triumph. Omer Ismail, the human rights activist from Darfur who joined Tracy on his travels there, said this to the students:

One day somebody is going to look you in the eyes and ask you “When Darfur was declared genocide, what have you done? I want you to look them in the eyes and say “I knew about it then and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve done something about it.”

Here’s a trailer about the 3 Points movie. Watch it. It will touch you. If it moves you, consider donating to the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister School program. Refugees in Darfur need all the heroes…like Tracy McGrady and you and me…they can get to help lift them up and into a better life.





Truth Be Told by Women in a Texas Prison

5 09 2009

I went to prison on Thursday. Through a friendship with co-founder Nathalie Sorrell, I  had the opportunity to participate in the non-profit Truth Be Told program at the Lockhart, Texas prison. The mission of Truth Be Told is to provide:

…transformational tools for women behind and beyond bars. [Their] programs provide respectful listening and creative tools for personal and spiritual growth for incarcerated women. [They] encourage in them a deeper sense of personal responsibility and help them face the truth of their pasts and embrace the hope of their futures.

The program I attended is modeled on Toastmasters, which I attended for 13 years. In this group were ten women, whose ages ranged from around 22 to 59 and whose crimes ranged from drug dealing to violent crimes. I served as the evaluator for the speeches of five women, who told the stories of their lives and what led them to prison.

PrisonAs I listened, I was struck by how these women could have been any of us…and how any of them could have been living lives of freedom if they had been blessed with emotionally healthier parents, gotten a good education, had not been so desperate for love from the wrong men, and had made better choices. Each woman gave me permission to tell her story…they want others to understand the consequences of bad choices. I promised to change their names. Here goes.

DulcineaHispanic, 35 years old, a beautiful, easy smile, corn rows on top of her head and remaining hair upswept in a bun – Dulcinea’s father beat her mother. Dulcinea had an abortion at age 18, gave birth to two children by age 28, and her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was 28. That crushed her and she began doing cocaine. From ages 29 to 35 she did prostitution and was in and out of prison. She has now discovered that God is the real “man” she needed and that he has rescued her.

CarolBlack, daughter of a Marine father and Filipino mother, 35 years old, trim, shoulder-length straight hair, serene countenance – Carol’s parents divorced when she was five years old. From ages 7 – 13 she was sexually abused by her stepfather and felt hatred toward him, her mother, and herself. Her mother, who was on drugs, blamed her and left her to take care of herself and her little sisters. At age 14, she met an older man, believed she loved him, and sold drugs for him. She was put in prison for the first time at age 17, which led to two “good things”…getting her GED (Graduate Equivalency Degree) and “giving [her] life to the Lord.” After getting out, she became pregnant by a new man, he left her, and she sold drugs again to support herself and her child. She had two daughters by a third man who sold drugs and went to prison. She took her children to her mom’s, lived on the streets, sold drugs, and met another man who she hated. She had multiple suicide attempts, he kidnapped her and raped her repeatedly, she became pregnant with her fourth child, and was sent to prison again…this time for eight years. She was released from prison in 2007, tried dating women, and was still hurt. She had her fifth child by yet another man. She wrote a bad check and wound up back in prison.

CarlottaBlack, 33 years old, curly hair, full-figured, friendly face – When she was seven years old, Carlotta’s mother ran away, her father was incarcerated, and Carlotta was sent to live with her grandmother, who was very religious and strict. Carlotta felt bitter. Looking for love, she became pregnant by a 14-year-old and went to a special school for teen mothers. Despite the separation, when her mother died when she was just 17 and her father when she was 20, she wanted to die too. She lived a life then of sexing, stealing, and clubbing. At age 23, a high-speed chase led to her arrest for shoplifting; she went to prison for a few months and received 10 years probation. She reconnected with a childhood friend, became pregnant, and suffered postpartum depression. While still on probation, she went on the run for 15 months, was caught, and was put back in prison in 2005. Now she is taking back her life.

Rosemaria Hispanic, around 23 years old, innocent looking, smiling – Rosemaria’s mother left her and her siblings in an orphanage when she was just seven years old, which led her to feel rage and hatred. At age 13 she became part of a gang. At age 15 she became pregnant, had three children by age 18, and four by age 21. She said that while in the gang, she didn’t “…feel bad about fighting. We didn’t hurt children or anyone who was innocent.  But now I see that we were hurting innocent children when we hurt their mothers, fathers, uncles….” She said that being in prison is the “biggest test of [her] life” and she now understands that what she did was wrong. She says she is still a “G“…this time God’s child.

NancyWhite, 59 years old, graying hair messily swept back in a bun, peering over granny glasses, thin – Nancy stated out right that she was not like the others. She said that both of her parents were lawyers and Ph.D.s and her mother told her over and over that she was a “loved baby.” She said that she led a charmed life until she came to prison, but didn’t know it. Her parents were in Europe, but her mother “waited to have her” until they came back to the U.S. so that Nancy could possibly be president one day. She watched prison movies and read a lot from the Bible and was determined she would never go to prison and would be the best Christian she could be. Although she says she took extraordinary measures to insure that she was indeed the owner of a house that was deeded to her, she says that her lawyer was crooked and she wound up in prison. Nancy was apparently imprisoned for real estate fraud, but even when challenged about the veracity of her story and what her part was that led to her being imprisoned, still said she is innocent and will one day see her story made into a Lifetime network movie.

Each woman in the group gave me hugs and thanked me for coming. I felt a Truth Be Told Logoreal sense of joy of being with these women who…though they have made real mistakes …are now trying to better their lives. Truth Be Told has several programs that help women build a sense of community, come to grips with the decisions they made that led them to prison, and learn to better communicate with each other respectfully and caringly.

I felt joyful from start to finish the day I went to prison. Through the efforts of volunteers like Nathalie Sorrell (co-founder), Carol Waid (co-founder), Katie, Peggy, Natalie, Suzanne, Julie, Mary, and executive director Shannon Holtzendorf, programs like Truth Be Told begin to bring some joy into the lives of women who have led hard lives and experienced little joy before coming to prison.

I’m going back to prison for their graduation in three weeks. Truth be told? I can’t wait.

Read my blog post about going to the Truth be Told graduation in the Lockhart prison

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.





Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:





Somaly Mam: One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and a Real Hero

5 05 2009

She was raped and tortured for five years in a horrendous brothel. Her parents and then her grandmother had disappeared. She was left to fend for herself. A “grandfather” (really a stranger) said he’d help. He raped her at age 10 or 12, made her be his personal slave, and then sold her at age 14 into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She escaped in 1993 and returned to help others living through the same nightmare. Somaly Mam is a true and courageous hero(ine).

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

In 1996 she founded a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, which is French for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) to help law enforcement rescue trafficked women and children from brothels and bring them back into society. One of every 40 Cambodian girls is sold into sexual slavery; some are as young as five years old.

So far, she has helped more than 4,000 women escape a life of sexual slavery. Somaly has suffered enormously for the stand she has taken and the work she has done. She has received death threats and assaults, had her house burned down, and endured the horrific kidnapping, drugging, and raping of her 14-year-old daughter in 2006. She courageously continues the work.

She details her experience in the September 2008-released book The Road of Lost Innocence. She offers vision and leadership to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending slavery.

In November 2008 she was the first recipient of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award “in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery” from the new human rights and Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation. The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) she received to continue her work is almost exactly the amount awarded to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has won several other prestigious awards.

Somaly Mam was named this week one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and was lauded with the others named tonight at the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Angelina Jolie, who with her partner Brad Pitt adopted their son Maddox from Cambodia, wrote the TIME article about Somaly Mam. She is an Oscar-winning actress, goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Somaly Mam suffered tremendously in the first part of her life. She not only lifted herself up, but so many others with her decision to help those who lived the horrors she did. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands of trafficked young women and has given a face and voice to human trafficking throughout the world.

Stand up and applaud. This woman is a true hero.

Here are Somaly Mam and Somaly Mam Foundation board member and actress Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks show.





Three Cups of Tea’s Greg Mortenson: An Unlikely Hero, A Builder of Schools

24 04 2009
Greg Mortenson didn’t set out to be a hero, but life pushed him into it. His sister Christa, a lifelong epileptic, died and he decided to honor her memory in 1993 by climbing Pakistan’s K2, the second highest mountain in the world and possibly the most difficult to climb. After 78 days, he did not reach the summit and stumbled into the village of Korphe…ill, worn out, exhausted.

The people there nursed him back to health. He visited the local school and saw 84 children writing their lessons in the dirt. They so desired an education, but poverty prevented them from having what they needed to learn. He promised the people he would come back and build them a school.

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

That promise led Greg to build 78 schools…and counting… in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 28,000 students so far have gotten an education because of Greg’s promise and passion.

The thing that is remarkable about Greg is that he had no money when he returned to the U.S. He lived in his car for a while. But he was determined to keep that promise. He wrote letters to 580 prominent people. He said he could build a school for $12,000 and finally Jean Hoerni, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, sent him a check.

Greg had no experience fundraising or building schools, but he had a strong will to help the children get an education and he continually found the way to make it happen. On Hoerni’s death, he endowed the Central Asia Institute with $1 million and named Greg the director. It gave Greg the funds to build more schools and eventually more people were brought on board to help in the efforts, both in the U.S. and in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg has given tirelessly of himself in the last 16 years and has had tremendous support from his wife and two children. He spends part of each year in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and the other part in the U.S. giving fund-raising speeches. He is a current nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and has won numerous awards.

This post just cannot do justice to the miracles that Greg Mortenson has brought into reality through his tenacity and passion. He has withstood personal danger, financial hardship, long separations from his family, and much more to make an education a reality for children…especially girls…who would otherwise have no future.

Greg has found that educating a girl does three important things:

  1. Significantly decreases the population explosion over a generation or two
  2. Reduces infant mortality dramatically in a decade or two
  3. Significantly improves the basic quality of health and life itself

Greg’s efforts have also helped build bridges, pipes to provide clean water, women’s centers, and other structures necessary to make it possible for children to attend school.

three-cups-of-tea-book-coverGreg is a testament to what one person can do…an unlikely hero, but a hero still. Read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg and David Oliver Relin about Greg’s journey. It is captivating. You can read more about Greg on the www.threecupsoftea.com website.

You can also learn more about the Central Asia Institute and make a donation to help build more schools. Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute that educates children about the world outside their experience and encourages them to make an impact globally by contributing pennies.

It only costs $1 a month to educate a child and $1 a day to pay a teacher’s salary. Consider giving. Your money will go a long way to making a huge difference in a child’s life.

Bravo, Greg Mortenson! You are my hero!

UPDATE 11/28/09: In a 11/25 letter from the Central Asia Institute, they say that they established 21 new schools in 2009 in Afghanistan. They also “started two dozen more women’s literacy centers, scholarship programs for hundreds of eager students and a new maternal health-training program in northern Pakistan.” Their Pennies for Peace program grew from 250 to over 4,600 schools in 2009. The program brought in the equivalent of 160 million pennies to help students all over the world. Greg’ new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being released 12/1.





Human Rights Activists on Twitter

8 04 2009

Here are some Human Rights activists I follow on Twitter. I am so twitterappreciative of the work they do and what I learn from them. You might want to check them out too if you’re a Twitter fan.

GENERAL

http://twitter.com/HumanRightsNews – News headlines on human rights

http://twitter.com/hrcberkeley – Human Rights Center UC Berkeley

http://twitter.com/susanneure – Web editor for Amnesty Intl in Canada

http://twitter.com/AmnestyIntl – Amnesty Intl

http://twitter.com/AmnestyUK – Amnesty Intl in UK

http://twitter.com/AmnestyOnline – International Secretariat of Amnesty International

http://twitter.com/phrTweets – Physicians for Human Rights

http://twitter.com/The_Advocates – The Advocates for Human Rights

http://twitter.com/ladu – human rights activist

http://twitter.com/rtsadvocate – human rights activist

HOMELESS/REFUGEES

http://twitter.com/MLFNOW – helping the homeless

http://twitter.com/wrcommission – Women’s Refugee Commission working to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee women and children.

http://twitter.com/theIRC – The International Rescue Committee goes to crisis zones to rescue and rebuild. We lead refugees from harm to home.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

http://twitter.com/HumanFolly – editor of Change.org Women’s Rights blog

GENDER VIOLENCE

http://twitter.com/sinbysilence – documentary on stopping violence against women

http://twitter.com/FGFoundation – working to end gender violence

http://twitter.com/WRC_DOD – White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

http://twitter.com/childrensrights – working to reform child welfare systems

TORTURE
http://twitter.com/notorture – healing torture survivors

http://twitter.com/IStandVsTorture – an umbrella campaign for a U.S. Commission to Investigate Torture

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

http://twitter.com/StopConflict – working to stop conflict in the Congo

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

http://twitter.com/AaronCohen777 – rescuing victims of child trafficking

http://twitter.com/TheA21Campaign – abolishing the injustice of human trafficking in the 21st century

 

http://twitter.com/VisionAbolition – dedicated to prevention, rescue, and restoration of sexually exploited and trafficked children

http://twitter.com/RichLeger – human trafficking activist with Abolish Slavery Coalition

http://twitter.com/slaverymap – online repository of human trafficking incidences

http://twitter.com/EBain – author of Season of Light blog on child trafficking

http://twitter.com/BuckUpCampaign – building shelters for sex trafficking victims by asking people to donate $1

http://twitter.com/endingslavery – writer of One Voice to End Slavery blog

http://twitter.com/FredDouglassSon – Frederick Douglas Family Foundation fighting modern day slavery

Here are additional abolitionists (people who fight slavery and human trafficking) from Diana Scimone:

@Freeallslaves
@freedomday
@IJMcampaigns
@IJMHQ
@ijminstitute
@innocentjustice
@Justicecrazy
@lovejustice
@nowhere2hide

@nosilencenow

@Polaris_Project

@advancnonprofit

@AmberGlattSmith

@antitrafficking

@BeverlyHogue
@brandedphx

@cfpdx
@charlestlee

@cortneyr
@dhepburn

@ElCuso12

@fisher_david

@just4one
@LaLaLives
@lwood15
@MaeSotShane

@maryhooke
@mathewhulbert
@MatthewBarnett

@mgjack

@missdeneen
@monicabrand

@mrskutcher
@NatalieGrant
@northernchick
@NYTimesKristof
@respres

@sethjohnson78

@ProjectExodus
@RedLightCC
@ROBLOVE146

@RunForFreedom
@socialheart
@thesoldproject

@Traffickfree
@trafficksucks

In addition to the above, this is a wonderful list from Emily at the Season of Light blog on ending child trafficking on people who twitter on human trafficking:

Individuals:

Diana Scimone, Born2Fly: @DianaScimone

Brandi, Social Heart Blog: @socialheart

Carol Fenton:@cfpdx

Greg Darley: @gregdarley

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times reporter: @nytimeskristof

Somaly Mam, The Somaly Mam Foundation: @somalymam

Seth Johnson, Transitions Global: @sethjohnson78

Stef, Nowhere2Hide: @nowhere2hide

Laura: @LaLaLives

Mae Potter: @maepotter

Amanda Kloer, Change.org blog: @endhumantraffic

Organizations

ECPATUSA: @ecpatUSA

FreeChains: @freechains

IJM: @IJMHQ

Not for Sale: @not_for_sale

Redlight Children: @redlightcc

SheDances: @shedances

The SOLD Project: @thesoldproject

Transitions Global: @transitions_g





Heroes Helping Child Sex Trafficking Victims

8 01 2009

Imagine selling all you have to move to India to help child victims of the sex trade. That’s what Stephanie Pollaro did. Fresh from getting a Masters degree in counseling, she had an “ah-ha” moment after reading a women’s magazine article on human trafficking…and knew she had to do something. She met Wendy Hicks on a two-week church trip to India to feed the poor. They stayed in touch and after Stephanie went back…this time to Mumbai…they forged a plan to help these sex trade victims.

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie got in touch with the director of a rescue operation that pulled girls out of forced prostitution and torture and relocated them in a safehouse. Stephanie proposed a plan to teach the girls how to make jewelry and it was agreed. Wendy manages the non-profit organization back in the U.S. and sells the jewelry the girls make. The profit from the sales is then given to the girls and they are able to save money and begin to make a living.

Wendy read my post on children being trafficked and contacted me. I am so impressed with their very simple concept that makes such a difference in the lives of so many. Wendy and Stephanie are true heroes.

Another hero is John Curtis of The Grey Man organization in Brisbane, Australia. He, too, contacted me after reading my post. His non-profit organization focuses its efforts on Southeast Asia and works to eradicate the trafficking and exploitation of children. They rescue children and also educate potential victims of the sex trade.

These people and their organizations are helping children, who were living a nightmare of starvation, light deprivation, being locked in a room, being beaten, and being prostituted by pimps, to have new lives. Stephanie, Wendy, and John would make Teddy Roosevelt proud. Here’s an excerpt from an April 23, 1910 speech he gave at the Sorbonne in Paris:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

To learn more about what Stephanie and Wendy are doing through their organization International Sanctuary, read their blog at http://isanctuary.wordpress.com or visit their organization’s website at http://isanctuary.org.

To learn more about what John and The Grey Man organization are doing, visit http://www.thegreyman.org.

Thanks to these heroes and to the many others in the world helping women and children who are victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

UPDATE 6/16/09: The Grey Man organization was featured on ABC in Australia on 6/15. You can read a transcript of their interview.





Mike Farrell: From B.J. on M*A*S*H to Caring Activist

10 11 2008

Mike Farrell was B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H from 1975 to 1983. The series, which gave us insight into the difficulties of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War and how the surgeons and nurses used humor to deal with the grim realities, premiered on 9/17/72 and ended 2/28/83.

CLICK HERE to keep reading