Archive for the ‘Argentina’ Tag

Gen Y leadership on social change is more crucial than ever

It has become blatantly clear that Millennials have a lot of responsibility at their feet for cleaning up the current mess that the world is in. It certainly is not everyday that you see almost daily failures of financial institutions that have been around for over 100 years. While these major headlines are shocking, it is the changes at the local level where the human impact is most apparent and greatest: the failure of small business and families’ decisions to cut back on medical care.

If you are looking at my hometown of Houston, the economic depression is compounded by the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike. You would think that we would have learned from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina: safer mandatory evacuations, rapid restoration of critical services, and faster disaster recovery to get affected families back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, many of the victims of Hurricane Ike have found themselves ignored by the very institutions that are supposed to assist them. Maybe Generation Y is right to be suspicious of institutions’ ability to effect social change.

Optimists may prefer to make social change the focus of their career, electing to work within established institutions to change them from the inside outward. Others try to find their own way to be the change they want to see in the world whether through digital media or the next great idea to help the most people.


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 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.

Traveling without knowing the destination

One of my favorite parts about traveling, especially if I am staying for more than a few days, is that inevitable moment when you realize some daily practice or activity is missing or is profoundly different in the country you are in. Let’s call it a Well, Duh moment. I’m not thinking of something as obvious as language or what side of the road to drive one.

Walking in downtown Maputo is like being in an obstacle course; the pavement disappears sometimes for several blocks and you walk on the red earth instead. Except the red earth is covered with all sorts of litter. Worn-away sidewalks are understandable; Mozambique has other more urgent budget priorities. However, that Well, Duh moment arrived when I had a Coca Cola bottle I wanted to throw away while I was walking. Only I realized that there were NO trashcans. The reason the street was full of trash among other things is that there were no public trashcans and very few dumpsters. Trash is not just an aesthetic problem. It attracts insects like mosquitoes that carry malaria and attracts rodents which carry lots of other diseases.

Just last week while walking to work, I wound my way through the maze of parked cars at every intersection. Double parking is virtually a requirement as there are far too many cars in this city, especially considering the size of the streets. The Well Duh moment arrived when I realized there are no parking meters in La Plata nor are there any painted lines or signs defining when and how to park. Parking tickets are a minor annoyance in most American cities but they are also a source of revenue for the city. Given the admittedly pathetic budget of the municipal health department, I do not think anyone would disagree with more city revenue.

I saw this TEDTalk with Hans Rosling that is just one big Well Duh moment.

Why does the developed world expect the developing world to accomplish in 50 years what took the developed world 100 years to achieve? Is the end goal of international development that all countries are like those of the developed world? The development model in this respect may be too linear and rigid to account for the history of countries like Mozambique and Argentina. Developing countries are not “there” yet but their destination may look different than that of a developed country.

Thoughts on race and life abroad

Living abroad challenges your cultural perceptions as much as the cultural perceptions of the people you meet. I have traveled to locations varied enough to both appear to be from the country that I was in and appear to be a foreigner. More often than not, reactions and comments, positive and otherwise, are spurred by race. In China, I was perceived as a oddity; families asked me to pose in their vacation photographs. In Brazil, people I met assumed that I was Brazilian and did not believe me when I told them otherwise. Policies may actually discriminate against certain nationalities or races.

Race remains an issue in social interactions; the concept of colorblindness is debatable. Political correctness is a cultural phenomenon that changes, depending on location as much as context. Part of being in a foreign country is learning to adjust your sensitivity to racially tinged comments.

1. Ask about what you hear.

In Argentina, it’s common to use the word negro or negra like a term of endearment. In most other contexts, the word is used to describe something or someone who is black. The first time I heard someone call me negra, I thought it was odd they were being so forward. Asking about it made sure there was no misunderstanding due to the language barrier. It also prevented from me being upset about something that is perceived as harmless.

2. Definitely ask if you are thinking about correcting a misconception.

During my first week here, I had lunch with the staff at a local drug rehabilitation center. After a nice lunch conversation, one of the women who worked there asked me if I could sing. I asked her why wanted to know. She told me that once she had heard a black woman sang and she really enjoyed it, therefore implying that because I am black, it is likely that I am a good singer as well. I made a joke about how I sing in the shower (poorly), but told her that I am sure that she enjoyed the performance because the woman was talented. Correcting misconceptions is usually not about lectures and angry reactions.

3. All else fails, consider the experience as a part of travel.

I meet new people, especially patients at the clinic, all the time while I am in La Plata. Not one person I have met has guessed that I am American even though there are several American students here. The perception is prevalent that Americans are white. Of course, there are some benefits to not appearing American, but it is also odd and vaguely frustrating to explain to people that I am not Brazilian or Dominican.

This does not mean that you have to spend time with people who insult you. There are ignorant people all over the world; feel free to ignore them just as you would ignorant people in the country you live in.