Phoenix Family Shuns Gang Raped 8-Year-Old Girl

24 07 2009

In Phoenix, four boys from Liberia aged 9, 10, 13, and 14 lured an 8-year-old Liberian girl to a shed on pretense of getting some gum. There they held her down and took turns brutally gang raping her. Police responded to reports of her hysterical screams and saw the four boys running away from the shed.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, according to an Associated Press report today, police Sgt. Andy Hill said the father of the raped girl:

…told the case worker and an officer in her presence that he didn’t want her back. He said “Take her, I don’t want her.”

Liberia has been emerging from 14 years of civil war and a culture of rape, and is one of the few African countries that has outlawed rape (in 2006). Although this is beginning to change, for many years in the Liberian culture, the crime was not as important as the shame to the family of a daughter being raped. The girl is now in state custody to protect her from her own family.

This is truly a tragic story. A little girl’s innocence and trust in people…and these were other children from her own culture…are now broken. Her own father has said he doesn’t want her and has said she has brought shame to the family. She did nothing wrong and yet was victimized by the rapists and her own family.

These young boys possibly saw this as a way to have some fun and yet their selfishness and cruelty has forever impacted this little girl’s life and the life of her family. The 14-year-old who was the ringleader will be tried as an adult with two counts of sexual assault and kidnapping. The other three boys were charged as juveniles with rape and two also with kidnapping…serious charges.

Senseless. Tragic. Horrendous. Life altering. Physically damaging. Emotionally damaging. Shameful. A lifetime of pain. The sexual assault on a child or an adult has real consequences that last a lifetime. And there’s nothing honorable about a family that shuns an 8-year-old little innocent girl who was gang raped. She needs all the love and support she can get after such an horrific experience. When will the African and Muslim families who consider “honor” more important than the welfare and well-being of their own children stop hiding behind that as a so-called religious precept and start standing up for what’s really important…love, kindness, acceptance, and understanding.

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Land Me on the Moon

19 07 2009

July 20, 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and walk. Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words “One small step for man, one giant

Buzz Aldrin on Moon 7/20/69 - NASA Photo by Neil Armstrong

Buzz Aldrin on Moon 7/20/69 - NASA Photo by Neil Armstrong

leap for mankind” as he became the first person ever to set foot on the moon. Buzz Aldrin was right behind him…the second man to walk on the moon. I was out with friends and we rushed home to see what was one of the most exciting things that happened during my childhood.

I cried this morning as I remembered that day. As a nation we had lost our innocence and had been shaken by several traumas: the Vietnam War and the assassinations of President Kennedy in 1963 and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968. We needed hope and something to rally around and feel good about.

At 15, I was out on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee shopping with my mother when we heard about Dr. King’s murder. Even though we were a 7-hour drive from Memphis, we went home immediately because she feared there could be rioting on the streets. I wept profusely as I watched Robert Kennedy’s funeral just about two months after Dr. King’s murder.

Even though I had experienced the collective pain of the nation, my life was relatively untouched personally by trauma at that age. I still had a youthful innocence and boundless energy and the whole world lay before me. In a way, the moon landing restored that kind of unjaded faith and energy to our country.

And now…40 years later…I find myself in personal need of that kind of restoration. Just as at that time our country had gone through many traumas, I…now 40 years later…have gone through many traumas. I long to be that 16-year-old girl again… to have boys chasing me, to be young and beautiful, to have so many opportunities, and to have utter confidence in myself. I…like our country in 1969… want to erase the stories from the past that have caused pain and sadness and heartbreak.

President Kennedy declared on May 25, 1961:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

When will I make such a radical declaration of an ambitious goal? What will that goal be? What steps do I need to take to engineer it? How can I rally others to support me to reach a seemingly unreachable goal? When will I experience a personal moon landing that will restore my enthusiasm and belief that anything is possible? Can you relate?

Happy 40th anniversary in remembrance of a remarkable achievement that lifted a country. As we raise a champagne glass to celebrate, here’s to us each discovering what will personally land us on the moon and lift us up individually and collectively.

Here’s that first moon landing:





Celebrating International Women’s Day March 8 with a 100th Post

7 03 2009

Did you know that 70% of people living under $1 a day are women? In celebration of  International Women’s Day, I am writing my 100th post and providing some important information about women globally. First observed in the United intl-womens-day-logoStates on February 28, 1909, it is now celebrated every year on March 8th. Wikipedia includes this information about it:

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

This year the global United Nations theme, which changes each year, is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Here are some statistics on violence against women from the United Nations website:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability.
  • More than 80 percent of trafficking victims are women.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • 4 out of every 10 births in the world are not attended by a doctor or healthcare professional, resulting in maternal mortality being the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in developing countries.
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

Here are some other interesting facts about women globally. All are sourced from InternationalWomensDay.com.  

  • 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are female and 2/3 of the world’s uneducated children are girls. Educating girls is considered the single most effective strategy for economic growth.
  • Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, but receive only 1/10 of the world’s income.
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of water per day over 6km (3.7 miles). 
  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female. 
  • The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender gap (the disparity in opportunities available for men and women) for 130 countries in four critical areas: economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment, and political empowerment. Here are how some countries ranked, with 100% representing gender equality.
    • Norway, Finland, and Sweden – all around 82%
    • Iceland (80%)
    • New Zealand (79%)
    • Phillippines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K. – 74% – 76%
    • United States (72%) – 27th on the list
    • Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the worst at 47%) at the bottom of the list

We have a long way to go for women to realize the same rights as men, the same freedoms as men, the same education as men, the same freedom from violence as men, the same health care as men, the same pay as men, etc. etc. Take the time to appreciate the women in your life and all over the world.

Here’s a video about gender equality that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put together to celebration International Women’s Day. As the video says, “It begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us.” Take a look.

 





Pure Joy – African Children’s Choir

30 01 2009

Huge smiles on beautiful brown faces. Bright tangerine and purple outfits. Energy for days. Dancing with sheer abandon. Twenty-two children ages 7 to 11 moving in sync and singing with big hearts. A packed crowd, many with small children who were mesmerized to see children their ages performing so beautifully. Sheer glee. An enthusiastic crowd. Wild applause. A non-stop smile so big on my face that it almost hurt.

african-childrens-choir

The African Children’s Choir came to Austin tonight and I was privileged to witness their incredible performance. Formed in 1984 by Ray Barnett, an Irish-born minister who travelled to Uganda during the reign of terror of Idi Amin. He came back afterward and saw homeless children and was so moved, he knew he had to do something. He gave a ride to a small boy who sang during the entire two-hour trip. This was what Ray could do…form a singing group and take them to the U.S. and other countries to raise awareness and funds for the children. Thus the first African Children’s Choir was born.

The choir I heard tonight is the 35th choir. The children are picked from all over Uganda and go to a training center for five months. Following their tour, they are enrolled at the Music for Life Primary School. The school can accommodate 120 students. Currently there are plans to build a new facility that can take 400 children. There is a drive to raise the 1.1 million dollars needed to make this dream a reality. There was no charge to hear them sing, but donations were accepted and people gave freely. How could they (I) not when these precious and talented children so delighted them (me)?

Similar programs are also in place in Sudan, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. This program is changing lives and helping children break the cycle of poverty. Without this opportunity, many of these children would live on the streets with no parents to care for them and no way to care for themselves.

Many students who have participated in the African Children’s Choir and education have gone on to earn degrees and even advanced degrees. It was touching as each student introduced themselves with “Hallo. My name is _________ and I want to be _________ when I grow up.” Their responses varied: teacher, nurse, bus driver, doctor, lawyer, builder…. The light in these childrens’ eyes signified to me that they will realize their dreams.

If you want to know more about this wonderful organization, check them out at http://www.africanchildrenschoir.com. Watch for yourself and I just bet you will start smiling!





Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj

7 12 2008

I lived in Jeddah during the violent 1979 Hajj. I’m reminded of it because the 2008 Hajj began on Friday and ends Wednesday. Muslims are fulfilling their command to do a pilgrimage to the holiest Islamic city of Mecca at least once during a lifetime. Jeddah is about 40-50 miles from Mecca and is the gateway to Mecca. Busloads of  Muslims with meager belongings wrapped in a blanket are transported out of Jeddah to Mecca to participate in the pilgrimage. The traffic at that time of year is just unbelievable with the influx of 3 million people, and there is an increased risk of disease.

hajj1

One can imagine that 3 million people descending into Mecca this year on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai is a concern. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 security people in place during the Hajj to keep it peaceful.

The 1979 Hajj was far from peaceful. On November 20, 1979 the Grand Mosque was seized. The Grand Mosque surrounds the Kaaba, the place that Muslims turn toward as they do their 5-times-a-day prayer, and Muslims consider it the holiest place on Earth. Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times as part of the ritual of the Hajj.

Wikipedia says that the Grand Mosque seizure:

…was an attack and takeover by armed Islamic fundamentalist dissidents of the Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam. The insurgents declared that the Mahdi, or redeemer of Islam, had arrived in the form of one of the insurgents’ leaders, Abdullah Hamid Mohammed Al-Qahtani and called on Muslims to obey him.

The story of what happened would make a good thriller movie. Just as prayers were to start, about 500 insurgents took out guns from under their robes, chained the gates shut, took the 50,000 worshippers hostage, and killed several policemen. They released most of the hostages, but put snipers in the towers and held off attempts by security and the army to retake the Mosque. A special fatwa was issued so that the Ministry of Defense could use deadly force because the Qur’an forbids any violence within the Grand Mosque. The city of Mecca was evacuated.

The insurgents, who were anti-Western, broadcast messages constantly during the siege over the loud speakers and demanded that oil exports to the U.S. be cut off and that all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian peninsula be expelled.

Many attempts were made to storm the insurgents and finally, after two weeks, grenades were launched and the surviving insurgents surrendered.

Wikipedia gives these casualty numbers:

The battle officially left “255 pilgrims, troops and fanatics” killed “another 560 injured … although diplomats suggested the toll was higher.” Military casualties were 127 dead and 451 injured.

A half-brother of Osama bin Laden may have been involved in the siege and may have actually transported the guns in before the siege through trucks being used in the ongoing Mosque renovation.

It was a very tense time. Armed soldiers with machine guns stood guard about every 15 feet on every street in Jeddah. I was the music director for “The Princess and the Pea” and we were in rehearsals at that time. We were stopped while traveling the streets at nights, asked where we were going, and told to get off the streets.

The immediate aftermath of the siege continued to be violent, as described in Wikipedia:

Muslim anti-American demonstrations followed in the Philippines, Turkey, Bangladesh, India, eastern Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emigrates and Pakistan. Anger fueled by these rumors peaked within hours in Islamabad, Pakistan, and on November 21, 1979, the day following the takeover, the U.S. embassy in that city was overrun by a mob, who then burned the embassy to the ground. A week later, this anger swept to the streets of Tripoli, Libya, where a mob attacked and burned the U.S. embassy there on December 2, 1979.

Perhaps the most disturbing development to come out of the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque was the eventual revelation of prime organizer al-Utaibi’s connection to the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

The rebels’ leader, Juhayman, was captured, and he and 67 of his fellow rebels—”all the surviving males”—were tried secretly, convicted and publicly beheaded in the squares of four Saudi cities.

Wikipedia goes on to say that after this attack happened,  Saudi Arabia implemented stricter enforcement of Islamic code. Crackdowns were made on shopkeepers who didn’t close at prayer time, pictures of women in magazines, etc. I got caught in the back of a shop during prayer time when the store closed down. The owner didn’t know I was there and was very upset when he found me. He told me to get, with my children, down on the floor so he wouldn’t be found out. I also remember that if magazines showed a woman with a bare belly, the belly was blacked out with a marker. I could quote many more strict examples.

The Hajj of 1979 was very violent, perhaps the 9/11 for Muslims and Saudi Arabia. We hope for a peaceful pilgrimage this year.





Tis the Season…for Cutting Girls

5 12 2008

This is not a joyful time of year for girls in Kenya. It’s the cutting season.  Girls 10 years old or younger have their clitoris and sometimes their labia removed so they will be “clean” and to prepare them for marriage. This process is called Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

This barbaric practice, considered a human rights violation by the United Nations, is done to girls as young as two years old with no anesthesia and a razor blade, knife, or even broken glass. Besides the initial severe pain, girls often experience lifelong problems and effects such as shock, excessive bleeding, infection, infertility, higher death rate for newborn babies, and even death.

The World Health Organization estimates that 100 – 140 million women and girls have experienced FGC. 2-3 million more are at risk every year, mostly in 28 countries in Africa, some Middle Eastern countries, some ethnic groups in South America, and Indonesia. FGC is a long-practiced custom and it is difficult to convince women to stop having it done to their daughters or granddaughters. In places where it is common, girls who are not cut are often ostracized.

The country where FGM is most prevalent is Egypt, with 78-97% having experienced it, followed by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mali. Egypt passed a law banning FGM in 2007, as have many other countries. The U.S. passed a federal law banning FGM in 1996.

February 6, 2008 marked the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) fifth International Day against Female Genital Mutilation.  The UN has launched a multi-million dollar program to reduce the practice by 40% over the next seven years.

This video features some village women in Lunsar, Sierra Leone talking about the practice of cutting. Amongst their many startling (to our way of thinking) assertions is that if a girl bleeds excessively from being cut, it means that she is a witch.

Many girls in Kenya have recently fled to churches or rescue centers to wait out the November to December cutting season and escape forced genital mutilation. At this time of joy and celebration, if you’d like to do something to help protect the rights of these girls and women all over the world, consider making a donation to Americans for UNFPA.





Remembering 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow from Somalia

13 11 2008

ANOTHER POST ON A POSSIBLE UNJUST STONING: Please read my 7/7/10 post about Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a 42-year-old Iranian mother unjustly accused of adultery who is scheduled to die at any moment by stoning.

While walking to see her grandmother in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was raped by three men. She reported it to the al-Shabab militia, hoping for justice. Instead, she was accused of adultery under Shariah, CLICK HERE to keep reading





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





14 Million New Refugees in 2007 and Refugees United

9 11 2008

BloggersUnite, bloggers who blog for hope, has chosen November 10 to write about Refugees United, the “only online, highly secure and anonymous possibility of refugees to reconnect with family.” 

CLICK HERE to keep reading