Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fight for your right....to party!

Recipe for teaching kids about children's rights:
4 weeks of previous workshops around the theme of children's rights
72 hats with the different rights written on them
Enough balloons to decorate the whole room
1 clown
1 gigantic piñata
20 liters of refresco (lemonade)
72 hyper 7 to 11 year olds

Let it all come to a boil in a two hour gathering of games and fun, and... voila!

Carmen (in pink) overwhelmed (in a good way) by the high energy level!

The rights of the children in Belén are ignored and violated on a daily basis. Abuse, lack of access to healthcare, long hours of work from a young age, discrimination based on skincolor or socioeconomic status, and lack of access to education are just some of the problems they face on a regular basis. Teaching them that they indeed have rights, and the power to claim them was therefore quite the challenge. But I think it got through to them eventually, and we ended the topic with gathering the three groups that we work with, throwing one big party!

The kids screaming, practicing their right to use their voice!

F.L.: Rosa, Damaris, Alexandra, Marcos (a canadian volunteer dressed up as a clown), and Linda.

Confession: I want to bring these girls home with me! Deborah and Linda are the cutest..

It was a beautiful sight seeing canoes full of confident, colorful, and content kids, returning home after the party.

One of the boys was picked up by his mom who normally runs a small corner store. During the rainy season, as the water rises, she packs her canoe full with all her merchandise and paddles from door to door!

Tired and happy after a long afternoon..

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where is Julia?

A few years ago I went on a mission trip to Juárez, the industrial Mexican city right across the border from El Paso, Texas. There I met Julia (see picture below), a young girl with the most beautifully curious expression on her face. Tonight her face was brought back to my memory as I saw the film Bordertown, based on the real story of the countless raped and murdered women of Juárez. Though conservative numbers affairm the deaths of 600 women, some estimate that up to 5000 women have been brutally killed, mutilated, tortured, or raped. The majority of the victims are workers in the maquiladoras, the massive factories that produce cheap electronics with the help of minimally paid Mexican labourers. Neither the factories, nor the companies buying their products have taken responsibility for the safety of their workers in this lawless town. Click on the picture of the movie to see a trailer, or click HERE to read more about the female homocides in Juárez.

Recalling the face of Julia and other memories from Juárez, I remembered that one of the momements that made the biggest impression on me during that trip was a visit with a catholic priest and a nun who had been living and working together in Latin America all of their lives. Reflecting the horrifying truths portrayed in the film, they told us about the frequent kidnapping, raping, and murdering of women, sometimes even during bright daylight. The nun told us that not long ago, she had been walking down the street in the afternoon, when a young girl came up from behind her, grabbed her arm, and said: "Walk with me, I'm being followed". In their neighborhood there was frequent instances of violence, and though they didn't emphasize it themselves it was clear that they were and had been putting their lives at risk protecting those most vulnerable.

Take a look at Julia's face again. She must be around 15 years old right now. Where is she? Maybe she too is working long hours for little pay in one the maquiladoras supplying Americans with cheap electronics. Maybe she too is putting her life at risk as she returns home late at night without protection. I pray she will not be another one of the women whose disappearance or death will silently be swept under the rug.

As long as we consumers care more about the bottom line than the conditions of the workers who have produced the products we buy, the owners of the maquliadoras will continue to neglect the safety of their workers. We have the power to change that.
Of course, the factories alone are not to blame for this violence. This article from June 2008 highlights the connections between the warlords of the cocain industry and the ongoing merciless violence in Juárez. Yet, by placing international pressure on the factories neglecting to provide for the safety of their workers, the local government, the factories and those who demand their products, as well as the perpetrators will be forced to confront this brutal reality.

Though there are many ways to confront this issue, one of the first steps can be using our consumer power to choose to be part of the solution. One suggestion is taking a few minutes to look at the Ethical Consumer website, a UK based organization with lots of great guidance for those of us on the path to becoming more informed consumers.
From there, the rest is up to you. Think critically. Shop wisely.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Lice Lesson

So I was visiting a family in Belen the other day, talking with the parents to get the information neccessary to register one of their daughters (and a participant in our workshop) in the national registary. As of this moment, she does not have a birthcertificate, and thus in the eyes of the government, she does not exist. It's a little scary to see how many of these kids do not have birtcertificates, and almost equally disturbing how many parents have no idea when their children (or themselves) were born!

Anyway, as we were making one of these visits, one of my girls from the workshop started playing with my hair. I was just enjoying the feeleing, when suddenly I started noticing that she was pulling something out of my hair and then eating it! What IS that? I asked her. She just smiled, pulled out a small little insect (also known as lice), and put it in her mouth.

That day I learned two important things:
1. Children eat lice. I guess that's normal here.
2. Lice love me. This is the third time I've gotten them. (Either that, or the lice cures are not very effective.. Maybe I'll just chose to believe the latter explanation).

Saturday, March 7, 2009


The originally Brazilian festival of carnaval has taken in a life of its own here in Iquitos. After about a month of water balloon fights in the streets on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the time finally came for the big celebration two weeks ago. On Saturday, lots and lots of neighbors got together to dance, throw water at each other, and put up their humisha (a palm tree that they decorate with food, balloons, and gifts, and then place in the middle of the street). The day after, Sunday, is the biggest celebration. It basically consists of dancing, getting dirty (covering each other in mud, paint, and natural tints), and getting clean again (with water balloons and buckets of water being thrown over you ever other minute or so). It is definitely one of the best parties I have been to in my life -- children and adults all playing together, everyone dancing, and everybody (and especially adults) getting to act like children. Here's some photos from the two days.

Elin and I, and our friend Carmen, covered in mud.

A radio station was hosting a party in the street, and that is where we spent most of the day Sunday. Incredibly liberating and fun having mud/water-fights with strangers, while dancing and enjoying the live music.

I was up on the stage for a little bit for a dance contest..

A girl covered in blue, ready to attack with her water-balloon.

Pretty dirty by the end of the day... From the left: Willy, Elin, Carmen, I, and Chichi.

Putting up the humisha was a beautifully chaotic sight. The palm tree was huge, so it took lots of people and ladders and screams to get it to stand upright and secured in the street.

After the humisha was up, the some of the women grabben us by the hand and got us to dance with them around the pole.

Elin attacking me color..

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What will you suffer for?

Since we are in a time of lent and sacrifice, I thought this beautiful Parker Palmer quote would be appropriate to share:

I believe that the God who gave me life wants me to live life fully and well. Now, is that going to take me to places where I suffer because I am standing for something or I am committed to something or I am passionate about something that gets resisted and rejected by the society? Absolutely. But anyone who's ever suffered that way knows that it's a life-giving way to suffer — that if it's your truth, you can't not do it. And that knowledge carries you through.

What are you willing to suffer for?