Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Listening is essential; so is speaking

I call my grandmother every week and talk about how things are going. Yesterday, we were talking about el crisis de julio. I told her about the meeting that I went to with a group of patients to meet with the authorities from the department of health. The meeting was supposed to be an opportunity for the authorities to explain to the patients rationally why they wanted to pursue the chosen course of action. One official in particular continually lied about the clinic and the staff that worked there. His comments had crossed the line of simple political posturing, so I called them what they were to his face: lies.

My grandmother told me that it’s best to be diplomatic in situations like the one I found myself in.  I told her that diplomacy is great but sometimes you need to point out that the emperor has no clothes on. No amount of euphemisms does anyone good. For a current example, look at how mainstream media is struggling to deal with the blatant and continued lies of the McCain/Palin campaign.

Any article or author that addresses social media almost certainly emphasizes the importance of listening, which is a really critical skill for taking advantage of the power of social media. There are countless tools to use to stay involved in conversations that concern your personal and organizational interests.

There does come a point where you should speak up. The circumstances may create that perfect storm of awareness, dedication, and resources that enable major changes. It may be a question of addressing injustice or moving the general public from complacency to action. You could put a spotlight on global poverty as an election year issue or highlight the human impact of living on one dollar a day. Knowing when and how to make yourself heard is a critical skill for moving from ideas to action.

You don’t need passion to cause social change

At first, I thought it was more Generation Y navel gazing. But having come across a couple of articles questioning where is the passion in the lives of Millennials, I thought it was time to say something.

So many people spend their adult lives looking for that “one thing” that causes them to light up. The one thing that makes them jump out of bed in the morning. That one passion that we are all supposed to find and pursue.

This sounds great until you realize that we are human: multifaceted beings with the ability to discern among the many choices available. Trying to find that one passion in life is like looking for your soulmate: it might be out there, but while you are looking for this supposed ideal, what else are you missing? It’s perfectly acceptable to “date” other interests; why should you commit to just one?

Passion feels great but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for good things to be done. What matters is follow through rather than a strong emotional attachment to the work you are doing. I really like working in public health, but I am interested in other topics such as quality education and empowerment of women that I support. My lack of passion for a particular cause does not diminish my ability to do good.

If that one passion is what drives your work, what happens when the thrill is gone and it fades? You can look at the baby boomers and see how their passion for free love for the world has primarily turned into love of money.

Having a lot of choices is a good thing. The decision paralysis causes us to evaluate our priorities which in turn stirs us to action. After all, the actions matter the most.

Human trafficking in Argentina and the world

I love living in Argentina; perhaps even more so because my time is coming to an end. Who wouldn’t love a living in a beautiful country with warm people who enjoy lively conversations over meals of steak and red wine? I do have to point out that I have no love for the way that some of the people exoticize and even demean me sometimes as they assume that that outward ethnic appearance means that I am a prostitute.

A fellow BC blogger wanted to know if the experience would prompt me to write about racism in Latin America. While racism may be partly to blame, I think that people associate my racial appearance with the rampant human trafficking that brings thousands of Dominicans, Brazilians and people of other nationalities, often to work as prostitutes. Unfortunately for many here, being of African descent and female is associated with prostitution and sexual slavery.

Argentina does not have specific laws addressing human trafficking. While the human trafficking circles do treat Argentina as a destination, there are also trafficking rings that move people within the country, totaling an estimated 2.4 million people traded for labor and sexual exploitation. Women and girls from economically depressed regions are either kidnapped or enticed by too-good-to-be-true job offers. Awareness has been elevated to a popular culture level. One of the most popular evening telenovelas here, Vidas Robadas, centers on internal human trafficking in Argentina.

The dedicated passion of activists such as Susana Trimarco de Veron have helped to bring the issue front and center on Argentina’s national agenda. A campaign called “No to Human Trafficking, No to Modern-day Slavery” started last year recruited Uruguayan singer and actress Natalie Oreiro to be an advocate for raising awareness and sparking further action to end human trafficking in Argentina.

Thanks to Social Butterfly, I learned about a documentary that premiered late this summer called Call+Response that attempted to raise awareness about modern-day slavery and abolitionist efforts. Knowing that lack of economic opportunities leaves already vulnerable members of society subject to people that prey on them, poverty reduction is sure to be a key goal for eliminate human trafficking and sexual slavery. Women will have other options to earn incomes to support their families rather than relying on promises to take them away from a life of poverty.

Here are some organizations that I found via change.org that work to end human trafficking:

Equality Now
Polaris Project
Barnaba Institute
The SAGE Project

My digital pensieve and hopefully a clean slate

It literally feels as though my head is too full of concerns and anger over some things that I have not felt the desire to blog. I truly miss writing but when my fingers hit the keyboard, no words appear on the screen. So I took a cue from a fellow BC blogger, and I decided to share what is on my mind so that I can start with a clean slate. Here are a few of the most pressing worries and frustrations.

*Extra cool points for those who understand the title reference. If not, read about it here.

1) Hurricane Ike

As some of you may know, I’m from Texas, north of Houston specifically. My eyes have been glued to every online storm tracker and news article about this storm for the last few days. I have spoken with my family and they feel they are prepared. But it is hard to be out of the country and feeling helpless to do anything. Although this is most pressing worry at the moment, I will feel better once the storm passes this weekend with hopefully everything being alright.

2) Leaving Argentina

I am leaving Argentina to return to the States at the end of this month. Due to the remaining effects of the events of July, I abandoned my initial project idea for this new idea of creating a council of patients to leverage their self-mobilization efforts. The largest problem is finding a way to institutionalize their meetings given all the challenges that each of the patients faces in their daily lives: work, transportation costs and time. I am trying to find way to ensure the sustainability of the group, but with the time crunch and the logistical challenges, I am not sure how it will end.

3) Nervousness about returning to the States

As much as I was scared to admit it to myself, I am a bit nervous about returning to the States. Aside from the reverse culture shock, which I have been through before without wallowing in it, this will be my return to the “real world” aka full-time work. I have loved volunteering this last year, both for seeing first hand the impact of my work as well as the freedom that I have to put my ideas into action. That will certainly change when heading back to the workplace, but I am trying hard to find a compromise.

4) Frustrations with the government’s response to a flailing economy

Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to bail out dysfunctional, incompetent, and borderline unethical companies? Another major investment bank in need of the federal government to broker a bailout? However, no help for the consumers who have lost their homes due to corporations that preyed on the poor to turn a quick profit with specious financial instruments. I can’t wait for this administration to leave office.

5) Mainstream media’s inability to actually provide balanced and substantive coverage of the campaigns

If I see the phrase “lipstick on a pig” or on any other animal, I might scream. Why is mainstream media apparently incapable of covering issues of substance rather than stories covered to raise ratings and readership? Why is John Stewart better at fact checking candidates and their surrogates? Why, when a presidential campaign decides to silo their vice presidential candidate, does the media not cry foul play?

I feel better already after writing this down.

A small confession

Hello. My name is Vanessa and I am an addict to community service.

It started so long ago and built up so slowly that before I knew it, I had to have service opportunities whenever I could. It didn’t matter if I did it with friends or if I was alone. The more I did, the more I wanted.

My first service experience was singing in a nursing home when I was 6. The first time was no fun; I went because I caved into peer pressure. After the first couple of tries, I was hooked on the stuff. Food and clothing drives and fundraising for pennies with UNICEF boxes was just the beginning. Through Girl Scouts, I found just how powerful service could be. From there, I moved on to more serious stuff with Habitat for Humanity and leading organizations in college. I even started traveling looking for service. First to Mexico, and then later Mozambique and now Argentina.

Now that my personal supply of service will run out in a month, I am looking for more, but I think I will stick to the States this time, possibly with AmeriCorps. I have heard that Service Nation is trying to get millions hooked. With the presidential election on the horizon, you can’t escape discussion of service. Apparently, service is pretty addictive for others because now people are using social media to find more of it. I know that I should warn them so they don’t get caught in the same trap, but somehow it doesn’t feel right. I have never felt better than when I indulge this addiction. Perhaps you would like to try?