by Chris Miller, guest contributor
As a social media nerd and a nonprofit worker with a heart for Africa, the past month has been fascinating. In that time we have witnessed the rise of the “KONY 2012” campaign and the fall of the mastermind behind it, Jason Russell.
On March 5th, an organization named Invisible Children launched an online movement to make Joseph Kony, a Ugandan war criminal and rebel leader known for his use of child soldiers, famous. The goal was to bring so much attention to him that governments would work together to bring about his arrest. Invisible Children produced a sleek thirty-minute video presenting this idea. The video went viral, racking up more than 86 million views.
However, not everyone thought the video was a good idea. (Myself included.) The Internet had a bipolar reaction. Many supported the campaign, posting links on Facebook and Twitter. Many others criticized the movement and the organization behind it.
The video featured Jason Russell, a co-founder of Invisible Children. Because of this, he came under personal attack. Sadly, the burden of this criticism was too much to bear. Suffering from ”exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition,” he had a nervous breakdown. Ten days later, he was detained outside of his home, where he was found nude, pounding his fists into the pavement and yelling profanities at the devil.
The Internet was quick to respond. He was mocked in every possible way. In fact, many of the top tweets were so offensive I do not feel comfortable sharing them here. To make it even worse, TMZ.com obtained a thirty-second video of his breakdown and posted it on their website. It went viral.Comments
by Jay Michael O. Jaboneta, guest contributor
On January 20, 2012, I was invited to speak at TEDxMontpellier in southern France. There, I shared my experience in using social media to bring about social change in the Philippines — particularly about my experience in building up the Philippine Funds for Little Kids (or as it is popularly known, the Yellow Boat Project).
It’s been an exciting journey for us over the last 16 months since I first found out about the story of the kids who have to swim just to be able to get to school in the mangrove village of Layag-Layag in Zamboanga City. We gave the first yellow boat last March, and we have since expanded into three communities, namely Layag-Layag, Bgy Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City; Isla Mababoy, Bgy Guinhadap, Monreal, Masbate; and Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur.
We’ve also given three big motorized yellow boats and 120 smaller yellow boats to these communities.
It was not a journey without failures and mistakes. We learned a lot during the last year, especially about the real essence of volunteerism and about the challenges our country faces in education. But we continue to face these challenges. The Yellow Boat Project became more than just a dream to help these kids get to school safe and dry; it’s become a national movement dedicated to helping communities become empowered agents of economic and social change.
When we were in the first months of the project, I wrote about how we are harnessing Filipino “people power” online and about how the project is leveraging the power of Facebook, social media, and volunteers from all across the nation and even the globe. We have volunteers in the United States who continue to raise funds for our projects, we have partners in the business community who continue to support us, and we have so many volunteers on the ground who mentor and shape decisions together with the three communities we are currently helping.
Early on, I emphasized the importance of using “people power” and volunteerism not just during elections but also during the governing period, when it is most important. And that is what we are trying to do.
At TEDxMontpellier, I also shared the four key lessons I learned from the project, and, fortunately, they are easy to remember: HOPE. And it’s precisely because the Yellow Boat Project has become a symbol of hope.
H is about harnessing one’s potential. It is about finding your passion in life. I personally feel, even after 15 months into the project, that I have found my life’s mission and it is to help children who struggle to go to school.
And more than that, it is to help bring communities in the Philippines the resources they need to get a better chance in life. Without discovering what you are passionate about in life, it is very hard to stay focused on a mission, on a project. You’ve got to find what you love to do.
O is about opening one’s mind and one’s heart. When I first heard about the story, I couldn’t shake it off. I didn’t know what to do then. I shared it on Facebook, not thinking that it would transform into a thriving national movement helping children in three communities around the Philippines.
P is about perspiration. You cannot help people without getting both your hands and your feet dirty. When we want to help people, we should act on it. Only in doing so can we gain insights into how our efforts and operations can be made better. Perspiration is very good for the body and the soul too, as it cleanses our system. Personally, I have become thinner as a result of my involvement in the project.
E is about empowering others. And this is for me, where the challenge really lies, even when you think of our national leadership. In order to succeed sustainably, we must equip and empower more leaders to take on the challenges in education and the other challenges our country is facing.
In the Yellow Boat Project, we continually seek out community leaders who can help us manage things. We are also now looking at sustainable models of social entrepreneurship so that the families we are helping can earn more income and become fully empowered citizens.
I used to have a vague idea of what hope is. It’s now very clear to me. Hope is actionable. Hope is not just a symbol, it is an idea waiting to be executed and shared. So please come and jump on board our Yellow Boat (Project) and together let’s make it a better world for children!
Jay Jaboneta is cofounder and chief storyteller of the Philippine Funds for Little Kids, more popularly known as the Yellow Boat Project. He is also a regular speaker on social media, digital technology, and youth leadership. You can read his blog at Social Media for Social Change.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through ourFirst Person Outreach page.Comments
by Sarah J. Hart, guest contributor
My last two years in Brooklyn I felt fortunate to have the view I did. My windows faced east, and, although the blank wall of another building loomed large directly in front, to the right grew a luscious tree and above was an unobstructed view of sky. I often woke at dawn and would stand on the fire escape and soak in the morning, while it still felt clear and clean.
Over the five years I lived in “the city” I learned to train my eyes away from a lot of what was around me: trash exploded from vandalized garbage bags; the grey on brown on dingy grey of sidewalk, street, and dirty buildings; tawdry advertisements; glaring lights. Instead I’d glue my gaze on any scrap of nature available: a leaf splattered on the curb; weeds flourishing in an empty lot; wheeling pigeons, making the sky sparkle with their sunlit wings. By the end of my five years in NYC I felt I struggled endlessly to find enough beauty that I might endure the ugly. “This is absurd,” I thought. “Clearly the city is the wrong environment for me.”
In January of this year I had the opportunity to move out and, with great relief, I did.
Now I live in the woods. There are no other houses in sight. I am on 40 acres, embraced in a bear hug of state land. When I look out my window, I see only beauty: layers of hemlock, bright clusters of beech leaves, spindly maples with slender branches that shatter the sky.
Whether it’s a sun-soaked day that impels me to shut my computer and go out for a walk (or at least to do something useful, like fill the wood box) or an overcast one with a moody sky and pinches of sleet, I see that there is always a perfect harmony in the colors and textures around me. In the woods I am humbled — in that way that’s also elating — with the reminder of all the living and dying and churning forth of ephemeral beauty that is happening around me all the time, whether I am paying attention or not.
Living in such an environment induces a certain shrinking down to size, and a correlating peace with one’s place in this world. Red squirrels and red maples do not seem to fret over the “good enough-ness” of their lives, and it starts to feel a bit out of line to do so myself. I see their perfection — the kind that is inherent rather than measurable — and find it easier to see that same quality in myself as well, ongoing toils notwithstanding.
But of course, I could have felt this in the city. Strictly speaking, the city is no less a natural environment than the one up here. It too evolved from the tumble of cause and effect of living things trying to survive. It is certainly no less vibrant an ecosystem. True, in an urban landscape the parameters of opportunity and constraint are mostly man-made, but they yield an abundance of variety equivalent to that in a woodland environment. There’s differentiation, specialization, and the endless burgeoning of micro-complexity within the larger landscape.
Indeed, there was a time when the city inspired in me similar feelings as the woods do now. I moved there at a time in my life of greedy growth, too hungry for the tidy flower box of a town I lived in. New York City had the appeal of wilderness — an expanse of unknown, potential, and gritty reality.
To love the city is to feel a great compassion for the swarms of other people around you. All those lives, all that urgent self preservation, the palpable vulnerability and ferocity. The beauty of it can break your heart.
“A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes that of another,” an insightful person is said to have said. This observation is true. And it also applies to our descriptions of the world around us. What we see in the landscape outside the window is, truly, a window onto the landscape inside.
New York City lost its beauty not because it changed (if anything it has become thrillingly greener in the years since I moved there, what with the urban agriculture movement, the roof top farms, and so on) but because I lost my ability to see it. My dissatisfaction with the city increased in direct correlation with my dissatisfaction with my life and dissatisfaction with myself for failing to improve that life. The fewer hopes and ambitions I managed to fulfill, the fewer opportunities the city seemed to provide for peace, contentment, and happiness. I condemned it as a place of harsh judgment and didn’t notice that I was the harshest judge.
I moved to the woods to gain a reprieve from the city, but what I really gained is a reprieve from myself. Of course, the change of view outside my window is very real, and one I appreciate intensely, but I know the significant change is actually in my point of view. Bickering at the corner deli used to make me groan, but squabbles of the same order at the birdfeeder make me giggle. I wince at lurid colors in plastic, but delight in the same hues when discovered in lichen. Although I’m a bit of an oddity in the small town I now call home, I feel thoroughly comfortable, as I never managed to feel when in the midst of thousands of peers.
I know there have been times in my life when I could not have appreciated this environment as I do now. And who knows, perhaps I’ll be ill content again someday. But I hope I do not forget that beauty is not a quality to seek, only to see.
Sarah Jean Heart is a writer, editor, and reporter living in Boonville, New York. You can read more of her writing and view more of her photography at The Perspective Project.
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by Barbara A. Stachowski, guest contributor
Grace Lee Boggs speaks at Hull-House in Chicago. (photo: David Schalliol)
This past summer, I drove to Chicago with Grace Boggs and Myrtle Thompson of Feedom Freedom Growers for some book-signing events and radio interviews. During the four- to five-hour drive from Detroit, Myrtle and I shared stories about raising our children. Grace didn’t say much.
But, in her speech the next day at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, she told a very responsive audience that Mom solutions are at the heart of the next American revolution. What comes naturally to Moms in raising our children, she said, is an example of what all of us can be doing in our communities to make our country a force for good in the world.
Visionary Buckminster Fuller once observed that “Geniuses are just people who had good mothers.” These geniuses are everywhere in our communities.
Moms are the ones who can grow the souls of our children. Moms are the ones who can provide them with the spiritually safe environments so that they can make the choices that help them discover their talents, passions, and values. Moms are the ones who empower them to go beyond being mere cogs in the capitalist system to become creators of what Dr. King called the beloved community. Moms are the ones who nurture emotionally intelligent global citizens. Moms are the leaders we’ve been looking for.
Vandana Shiva, the internationally acclaimed physicist/feminist/activist, recalls that at age 13 she asked her mother for a nylon dress so that she could keep up with her friends’ fashion trends. Her mother, who had supported Gandhi’s struggle against British colonialism and wore clothing of homespun cotton, replied, “If that is what you want, you can have it. But remember, your nylon frock will help a rich man buy a bigger car while the cotton dress you wear will buy a poor family at least one meal.”
“Of course, I did not get the frock,” Shiva recalls. “I kept thinking of some poor family starving because of my dress. My mother had given me the information necessary for me to make a socially just decision by thinking for myself and at the same time thinking of the global community.”
Loving our children unconditionally does not mean enabling them to act out self-serving behavior. We must commit to the consistency and constancy necessary to grow compassionate souls. We acknowledge our young people when they do well, but we are also there for their mistakes and disappointments. We are there to say, “I love you. It’s okay. Let’s try again.”
This maternal labor of love is a lifelong struggle — the kind of protracted struggle that Hegel called “the labor, patience and suffering of the negative.” Linda Wooten explains, “Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
Moms are true bodhisattvas, nurturing without watching the clock, not expecting compensation, not putting our needs before the needs of those we compassionately love into authentic existence.
Our Mom skills seem so simple. Unconditional love, compassion, patience, and listening. But having acquired these skills in raising my children, I find myself using them with the souls I encounter in my daily life and in my community organizing: with family members, neighbors, comrades, mayors, chiefs of police, refugees and victims of violence. We all want and need to be nurtured.
My Mom memories of holding my children when they were sick with fever bring home to me the fragility of our precious work.
During the drive, Myrtle recalled how fragile she felt during those early days of mothering her children. Embracing our own fragility is transformative because it reminds us of the wondrous girl-child inside ourselves that must be birthed along the way of revolution.
This maternal instinct is not restricted to biological mothers. All women (and men) who nurture are modeling sustainable activism in the 21st century.
Barbara Stachowski is a social justice consultant and member of the Board of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. She lives in Clinton Township, Michigan.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on this blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Jenny Ward McDonald, guest contributor
Last fall the idea to visit the family graveyard came to mind for the first time in ages. Día de Los Muertos seemed like the perfect excuse to make the journey. I allowed life and distance to keep me away, however, and I never went.
I am not Latina, but I did develop a strong appreciation for Mexican culture while studying midwifery on the Texas/Mexico border. When I moved home to Georgia, I kept a piece of Mexico in my heart. Since the first idea to celebrate my ancestors Mexican-style entered my mind last year, the urge had only grown stronger. So as November approached this year, I resolved to do it. I invited my two sisters. One said she’d bake a casserole and we planned to picnic at the cemetery. On October 31st, they both cancelled on me. I was determined, however, and went anyway.