SOCIALGOOD: #WhereAreOurGirls?

SOCIALGOOD: #WhereAreOurGirls?

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They sat in the back row of the ONE Campaign’s AYA Summit with me in Washington D.C., keeping to themselves and wearing sunglasses in an already darkened room. A computer on their laps, two teenage girls whispered to one another as together we watched videos and heard speakers talking on all ranges of topics affecting girls and women around the world. Vaccines, education, access to electricity, human trafficking, genocide…it was both a heavy and inspiring range of topics as speakers bounced back and forth between storytelling about problems and discussing solutions. Sitting with them and trying (unsuccessfully) to engage them in friendly conversation during breaks, I had no idea how intimately these topics were affecting their lives…

I sat in the back because back row chairs sit beside outlets and I could recharge my phone easily. They sat in back shadows for a very different reason. Because of uncertainty…a desire for anonymity…maybe even fear. One of the two had more immediate reason for concern than the other. Without our knowledge, she was nervously waiting all day for her turn to speak to us and tell us her story.

Her name was Saa* and seven months ago she was kidnapped by Boko Haram from her school in Nigeria.

Last April, the whole world exploded in outrage demanding for these terrorists to #BringBackOurGirls. And then…we heard nothing. Governments searched. Leaders demanded. Parents wept. And we heard nothing.

Then, as if out of the blue, Saa appeared in our midst ready to speak at the AYA Summit to a group of parents armed with laptops and 45 million social media followers.

This is her story.

On April 14, kidnappers from the terrorist group Boko Haram entered Saa’s school in Chibok with a plan to capture all the girls who studied and slept at her school. At 11:30PM, Saa and her classmates heard terrible noises of violence. Scared, she called her father and asked what she should do. He told her to stay where she was and wait for help.

No help came.

Collecting all the girls to a common area, kidnappers started burning everything from the school. Surrounded by weapons, the girls were told if they shouted or ran away, they would all be killed. Gunmen started demanding information about the location of a local mission, the location of the boys in the school (there were no boys), and where the school kept food. Two girls showed them where the food was and the guards emptied the store of food supplies.

They forced them away from the school and gathered them under a big tree, bringing vehicles including small cars and big trucks. The girls were ordered to enter big, high trucks by climbing up upon a small car and into the truck. “They said if any girl did not want to go into the trucks, she should come out and they would kill her,” Saa told us. After moving to another village, they moved the girls from trucks and started filling the car with the girls sitting on laps. There was not enough room for everyone to sit and three girls were left outside. The men asked the first girl if she was Muslim or Christian. She was Muslim, so they moved on and asked the same of the next girl who – despite being Christian – replied that she was Muslim out of fear for what they might do to her. When the third girl admitted that she was Christian under questioning, one of the kidnappers decided he should kill her right there and let the Muslim girls go. Other kidnappers fortunately intervened and convinced him not to kill her then, and there. Amazingly, those three girls were released for lack of room, but told not to turn back or everyone would be killed. Those girls ran away to the town.

As the vehicles started to travel and moved past one village, a few girls started to jump from the trucks. Saa decided for herself that she would rather jump and die than face the uncertainty of what lay ahead. She told her plan to friend saying, “I would rather that my parents have to bury me in a coffin.” Her friend agreed to jump, too. The truck continued through the middle of a forest in the dark with cars following behind. The girls waited for an opportunity when the following cars were not within sight then leapt from the trucks, Saa first and then her friend. After the jump, Saa discovered her friend had injured her leg and was unable to move very far. She helped her friend into the forest away from the road, so they would not be discovered. They moved as far as they could and slept in that spot until morning.

In the morning – with her friend still unable to travel – Saa sought out help. The first person Saa met was a shepherd. She asked him for help, but he refused out of fear for his own safety. He advised them to wait until 9 or 10 AM when some people may travel that way going to market and possibly help them. Saa argued that not many people would come by because the violence from the night before would make them afraid to come. They must move quickly because the “bad people” may follow that road again. Finally, he agreed to help and carried Saa’s friend on a bicycle.

On the road, they did meet people who were coming to look for their daughters who helped bring the girls back to Chibok. Then, they went back to their hometown. When they arrived home, Saa was reunited with her parents who met her in tears. All of her relatives were weeping because of the ordeal.

Saa didn’t cry as she related her story. She spoke softly and quickly in a matter-of-fact manner. I wondered how many times she had told her story and if sticking just to the facts helped her remain detached enough to get the story out. Even though this was only the second time she had spoken publicly about it, I imagine she must have related it many times to her family and to authorities trying to glean clues to recover her classmates who are still missing.

In the audience, we sat in shock…surprised to be in her presence and horrified by the audacity of Boko Haram to violate their freedom in this way. Most of us were mothers who had a very visceral reaction to the thought of someone stealing our daughters away in the night to be sold, raped, married, or killed.

I thought about that horrible conversation Saa’s father in which he faced a terrible choice of how to advise his daughter over the phone. Would you tell your daughter to run and risk her being shot in the back? Or would you tell her to wait for help, knowing that she might be trafficked and violated if no one comes to help? I thought about the shepherd, afraid for his life. He balked, but did the right thing in the end. I admired Saa’s skillful persuasion in arguing with him to provide aid and her courage to leap from a moving truck in the midst of a forest full of danger from animals and humans.

To my horror, on my Twitter feed that very night as we gathered around Saa to thank her for her courage and her story, I saw 25 more girls had been captured by these monsters. In a video delivered 200 days after Saa’s kidnapping, Boko Haram leaders scoff at the idea at negotiating for release along with ceasefire agreements. The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, flanked by gunman reportedly said, “The issue of the girls is long forgotten because I have long ago married them off…Don’t you know the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls have converted to Islam? They have now memorized two chapters of the Koran.” According to A World At School, Boko Haram claims to be holding 500 women and girls against their will.

I write this blog because the issue of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls is not forgotten. Not by Saa. Not by me. Not by a long shot. Saa told her story and gave us permission to use her picture for a very specific reason…to have us share it with others. If sharing her picture and her story is a way to get people to remember why we stand up for girls’ education and why the U.S. should put pressure on the Nigerian government to stop these atrocities and recover the victims, then that’s what I will do. And that’s what I ask you to do.

1.    Continue to use the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag on Twitter. When you see news about it, tweet it to your networks and your members of Congress
2.    Use Saa’s story and write your own blogs or letters to the editor about it to keep it in the media and social media
3.    Be a champion for global girls’ education. As I said in my World Moms Blog post last may, What Can Americans Do for Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls?, “The welfare of the kidnapped girls rests in someone else’s hands in the short-term, but I advocate against poverty and injustice wth an eye for the long-term. While we wait and we pray for these girls, shouldn’t we be using this anger and anguish to secure a future for all girls?”

I’d like to leave you with a happy thought about Saa’s education. Saa, her friend, and two other escaped Chibok schoolgirls have been brought to the United States where they will be able to study freely alongside other young women who don’t know what it means to live in fear for the right to learn. Her family knows she is safe. Her future is in her own hands. But she continues to fear for her classmates…as do we all. Read her story again. Think on it. Then, act on it.

*”Saa” is a pseudonym she uses for her own protection

This is an original post written by Cindy Levin for World Moms Blog.

Cindy Levin

Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.

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GREECE: Memoirs Of A Naive Brit In Greece

IMG_20141122_161230~2How many of you are experiencing a golden period in your lives with little or no stress? Who is feeling satisfied with their national education and health systems? Well, I hope you are more fortunate than we are in Greece where we have unemployment rates in some demographics of up to 40%! The education system is going from bad to worse and forget going to the state run hospital and expecting satisfactory health care.

Due to all this nationwide negativity and disappointment, I decided to take a humorous look at some Greek customs and habits which have caused smiles and even hilarity over the years. Hey, most of us who live in Greece are in serious need of laughter therapy! So, let me share with you some little gems that I’ve experienced over the last 2 decades and hope some will bring a smile to your face!

I have driven all over Europe and have seen many odd things but I have to take my hat off to a large proportion of Greek drivers. These people seem to have an amazing ability to multitask. I was astounded when I first arrived here to see whole families mounted on little motorbikes, something like the Dalton brothers all in a row! Apart from being stunned at a bunch of road safety regulations which were being broken, I was amazed at how such a small vehicle could be powerful enough to transport a whole clan from point A to B. Thank heavens that such sights have become rare in towns and cities over the past few years since enforcement of safety regulations has become much stricter! I only see such things from time to time in villages and on islands where the traffic police tend to be more tolerant and turn a blind eye. Going back to the point I made about multitasking, imagine that to pull off such an acrobatic feat you need to combine an incredible sense of balance, total concentration on the road and on rainy days the ability to steer holding an umbrella!

I’m British and nobody would dare do such a thing in the UK unless they were an acrobat in a circus!

Another thing which I found a little difficult to get used to is the reduced personal space that most N. Europeans are used to. There is definitely a tendency to  be within touching distance of the person you are chatting to. Most Greeks are a passionate bunch, full of the Mediterranean joy of life. When engaging in conversation, even with perfect strangers, there’s a lot of back slapping and arm waving to punctuate every  sentence.

I was once almost hugged into a coma by a charming taxi driver who was a total stranger.

The reason why? He asked me what my favourite Greek food was and when I replied (in Greek) that I loved spinach pie made by my mother-in-law, he went into a passionate frenzy! He thought that a foreigner speaking Greek was really quaint, but it seems that using the words “mama” and “pie” in the same sentence triggers a deeply rooted Greek male reaction! So be warned, if you should ever travel to lovely Greece, stay at least three paces back from men if you are intending on broaching the subject of mothers and their skills…

I should also warn you about one specific hand gesture which you should avoid at all costs should you ever engage in conversation with a Greek. Let me share a very humiliating story with  you.

When I first arrived in Greece over two decades ago, most correspondence was still done using snail mail. After my first week here, I visited the post office in Ioannina to buy stamps and waited patiently in the huge queue. When it finally got to my turn, I politely asked in English for 5 stamps. The woman behind the counter just looked at me blankly so I tried again. This time she started talking loudly  but it was all just Greek to me then and I didn’t have a clue what she was saying. She seemed to be really agitated, though. At this point everyone in the crowded post office stopped their private conversations and pinned me with their eyes. I gulped, went bright red and made one final  embarrassed effort. This time I tried to help her by using a hand gesture. As I said the word five, I put up my right hand with my palm facing outwards. I repeated several times that I wanted five stamps, whilst waving my outstretched palm in front of her. There were gasps from all around the post office and the office employee went crazy!

A young girl who was standing a few places behind me came up and told me in English that I had just told the woman to go to the devil!

This hand gesture is very rude and apparently if you put your hand up it should be with the palm facing yourself. Well, nobody had warned me about that!

I’ve had many funny and embarrassing experiences in Greece and seen things which you wouldn’t ever see in the UK. I have learnt that before I travel abroad it’s imperative to learn about the do’s and don’ts of the culture and people I will be visiting BEFORE I get there.

Have you ever said or done anything in another country which has caused you to cringe with embarrassment in retrospect? What about things you have seen which would never happen in your own country?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Ann Marie Wraight of Greece. Photo credit to the author.

Ann Marie Wraight

Having lived in 4 different countries, Ann Marie finds it difficult to give a short answer about where she's from. She regards herself: Brit by birth, Aussie by nature, with a sprinkling of Greek and German based on her insatiable appetite for tasty food and chilled beer! This World Mom has been married to her Greek soulmate for 16 years and they are the proud but constantly challenged parents of two overactive teenage boys. (She secretly wonders sometimes if she was given the wrong babies when she left the maternity clinic.) She can't explain the fascination and ability that her 13 and 14 year-olds show in math and physics or that both boys are ranked 1st and 2nd nationally in judo. Ann Marie can only conclude that those years of breastfeeding, eating home cooked meals and home tutoring really DO make a difference in academic and physical performance! The family is keeping its fingers crossed that---with the awful economic crash in Greece---continued excellence in math and/or judo will lead to university scholarships... In addition to writing, enjoying a good glass of wine and movies, Ann Marie also works as a teacher and tends their small, free-range farm in the Greek countryside.

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MASSACHUSETTS, USA: The in-beTWEEN Years

MASSACHUSETTS, USA: The in-beTWEEN Years

wicked witch

The Wicked Witch of the West

Eight years ago I had my first child, a daughter.  Like most new parents, I got all sorts of advice and did a great deal of information gathering; particularly on those uncharted, early stages of infancy and babyhood.

I knew it was possible my child would have colic, GERD, and rashes. I had heard about the “terrible twos” and the “trying threes.” I was fortified for long days and short nights, especially during the early years. And I knew having a child home to entertain and educate for five years would be a whole different challenge from my professional life.

But, I thought I was ready because I knew—at the end of a long, sometimes dark, tunnel—there would be kindergarten, followed by the blissful and innocent days of elementary school to put me back on track. I anticipated that from age 5-11, life would be pretty seamless. Five years of struggle followed by at least six of predictability before the challenges of the teenage years moved in.

So when our daughter entered kindergarten three years ago, my husband and I settled in for the “predictable” parenting years we were expecting.

Sadly—and far too soon—those years are coming to a close…

This past summer, we got glimpses of something we had heard about but weren’t prepared for just yet: moodiness, sassy attitude, changes in speaking style, exploration of identity, greater awareness of appearance and increased self-consciousness.

Now that 3rd-grade is in full-swing, those glimpses are becoming the norm. It’s fairly clear that we are entering a new stage of parenting: we’re entering the TWEENS.

“Tween” is a term we use here in the US to describe the pre-teen stage of life. It’s in-between being a sweet, young kid, who’s dependent on parents and family for every aspect of life, and puberty, when a child morphs into a sassy, experimenting, independent teenager, stomping off toward adulthood.

The Tweens is a stage of life—I think populated almost exclusively by girls—when kids try to propel themselves prematurely into their next growth phase. They test out language they pick up from older kids, through pop-music and from movies and television. They mimic styles they see in the media. They use vernacular such as “like” and “whatever” and “no way!” They gravitate almost exclusively to their own gender groups.

And despite even the best attempts to shield children from pop culture and the negative influences present on TV, they still somehow find their fix at school.

The tweens are a funny, little limbo-land.

Take our daughter for example: She’s still afraid of the dark (in fact, she’s fairly convinced the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz is living in her closet); her favorite Disney character is Sofia the First; she loves kittens and rainbows, unicorns and stuffed animals. But recently, she also has discovered Disney’s High School Musical, and when we go to our  pediatrician’s office, she pours over the book, It’s Perfectly Normal, (she has a lot of questions about both).

These days, she prone to emotional outbursts, demanding “alone” time and spontaneous moments of being shy. Aren’t these teenager behaviors?

Tonight, while my five-year-old was in a martial arts class, my daughter and I sat in the car having a chat. She said she was sad because she felt frustrated and sort of out of control. I found myself explaining puberty to her and talking about hormones and endorphins and lots of other changes in our bodies that made us feel confused and out of sorts…Uh, did I mention she’s only 8?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the onset of puberty in girls now happens as young as 7! OK, so none of my early parenthood prep or information gathering or family planning ever involved needing to have these conversations so soon. Afterall, my youngest just started kindergarten. By my accounts, I had just come out of the trenches. I’m not battle ready. I don’t have my armor on. This is going to be a massacre!

But this is where we are these days…the in-beTWEENS. Wish us luck.

Have you experienced these sorts of changes in your own child(ren)? If so, at what age? Any advice for getting through to the other side?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our managing editor and mother of two (one of whom is entering her tweens), Kyla P’an.

The image used in this post is credited to Karen. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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INDONESIA: The Rise of Women in Politics

INDONESIA: The Rise of Women in Politics

Susi Pudjiastuti

Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Maritime and Fisheries

Big changes are taking place in Indonesia lately with the new President Joko Widodo (or as we Indonesians lovingly call him, Jokowi) taking office last month.

Six days after he took office, Jokowi announced his cabinet lineup to the public. Eight women out of a total of 34 have been elected as ministers. It was the highest number of female cabinet ministers that has ever been elected in our country’s history and demonstrates Jokowi’s courage in giving women an opportunity.

Gender equality opportunity seems to have a brighter future with this cabinet lineup.

One of the women ministers that has been elected is Susi Pudjiastuti. She was elected as Minister of Maritime and Fisheries.

The media have been talking about Susi all of a sudden. She even became a trending topic on Twitter. Her election as a minister created a big controversy here.

She was not someone that came from any political affiliate. She is a bit different compared with some other women in world politics, like Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel; she is a business woman. She smokes, she doesn’t have a PhD or any prestigious titles lined up behind her name – she actually dropped out of high school and unlike some others, she didn’t drop out of school because she was poor, it was actually because she felt she wasn’t happy even when she was reportedly a bright student. She decided to follow her own path at the tender age of 17.

With roughly $75, she started her first entrepreneurship in Pangandaran, Central Java with a fishery business. In 1996 she formed her own company called PT. ASI Pudjiastuti Marine Product. After her business expanded throughout Asia and America, she realized she needed a fast and reliable way to transport the seafood products to the buyers. Then Susi Air was born. She built her own aviation company even obtaining her own pilot license. Her airline now serves publicly in many remote parts of Indonesia.

Sadly, the media coverage she received was not because of her achievements or the many awards she has received over the years. The media coverage arose because she has tattoos, because she smokes, is a social drinker and a single mom, formerly married to Caucasian men twice.

Her detractors started judging her personal life, discrediting her ability to hold her role as a minister while she jumped head first into her new job in the government and making the necessary changes.

Among the negative comments however there also has been a lot of support for Susi. I am one of those big supporters.

In my eyes, I see a strong woman, someone very capable and who seems to have a strong character and is very intelligent despite her lack of a college education. Being a successful, independent single mother will really inspire other single mothers in Indonesia. We now have the first single mother minister in the history of Indonesia.

For the Indonesian patriarchy system, this feels like a big breakthrough and already she is busy working hard to fix the maritime and fisheries industry. Jokowi believes in her and that she has what it takes to get the job done and to create breakthroughs.

Jokowi is leading the way by giving Susi Pudjiastuti and the rest of the women minister an opportunity to take important roles in the government.

I salute all of these women and wish them all the best in their new roles.

There are many women involved in politics worldwide these days. Do any female politicians inspire you? What do you think of the increased number of women’s involved in politics?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer and mother of one in Indonesia, Maureen.

The image used in this post is from Susi Pudjiastuti’s public Facebook page. You can view more images of the politician here.

Maureen

Founder of Single Moms Indonesia, community leader and builder. Deeply passionate about women empowerment.

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NIGERIA: Taking Responsibility

IMG_0758Taking responsibility for our actions is not always easy to do. It is funny how you see someone go on about the enemies in her life, who have denied her the success she so deserves.

People spend more of their time and prayers focused on their enemies than on themselves. They cast and bind those enemies. They go to all lengths to unravel their enemies when all they need do is stand in front of the mirror and recognize the enemy before them. When we blame others, we become our own enemies.

We should learn always to take responsibility for our actions. When we take responsibility for our actions, it means the solution lies within us, but when we blame somebody else, it means that only the other person can find a solution to the issues.

If you fail at anything, accept it; learn from it. If you do not get a promotion, or even lose a job, find out what you did wrong.  Learn from it to help you get the next promotion or to keep the next job. Do not blame your boss, your stepmother, half-brother or sister, the old woman in your village, your neighbor, your in-laws or the most-blamed devil. Just accept responsibility.

If we are not taught to take responsibility as children, we grow into adults who won’t take responsibility.  Most of us struggled to get  where we are today, and we want to protect our kids from the struggles of life–forgetting it was those struggles that helped make us who we are.

As parents, we have to allow our kids to be responsible for their actions. We have to allow them learn from their mistakes. There is no ideal world. They have to learn from the UNIVERSITY OF HARD KNOCKS i.e., LIFE. We cannot protect them from life; we have to allow them to live life.

A friend, whose 2-year-old son had broken his favourite cup, went to great lengths to find him a replacement, even to the extent of meeting the person who had given him the cup as a party favour.

I pointed out to her the need for allowing her child to be responsible for his actions. He breaks his cup, he loses it, and he learns that to keep a cup, he has to be careful with it.

I pointed out that unless there is a place where one can total one’s car and walk in and get a replacement free of charge, then she should let him learn by not providing a replacement.

Failure, they say, is not falling down.  It is staying down.

People who take responsibility for their actions learn from their failures, and you rarely see them complaining. They are the ones who look as if everything goes smoothly for them. They never seem to have any problems.

So, the next time you feel the urge of blaming anyone else or making excuses why something is not going the way you want, just remember when you blame another you take away the power of solution from your hands.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our new writer in Nigeria, Aisha Yesufu.