Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Finals Anthem

...started making a checklist but it got too long...so please enjoy my 
abstractfinaltermpaperfinalpresentation anthem while I figure it out...

it's good to be a 90's kid

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fundraising Friday!

I'm passing the message on from Emily Stanley, Program Director or Edge of Seven, from Heather Mansfield, "the blogger/entrepreneur of Non-profit Tech 2.0."

Heather has committed to donating to one of her favorite causes each Friday in 2012.  You can check out her blog here, and if you decide to donate on a Friday, comment and share your story!

I decided to add 10$ to the fund today to get things rolling, and if you decide to donate to the Phoenix Fund, click here and in the comment section give a shout-out to Fundraising Friday!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Biggest Obstacle

"Vicki, your biggest obstacle is going to be convincing people you're not crazy and that you actually know what you're talking about," Dr. A, my adviser in life, medicine and career (I guess that's just about everyhing, huh?).

Me: "I know"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

As Yuwa Concludes, the Phoenix Fund is Born

This is the final part of my reflection from my time with Yuwa.  This organization reinvigorated my convictions and reminded me of how much a difference one individual can truly make.  Not to mention, the stories of the girls are what inspired this fund and blog.  After reading, please feel free to contact me if you'd like to get involved.  

This week, I dove straight into Yuwa's daily operations and attempted to figure out how exactly this tiny organization has been able to galvanize the community into lifting up the status of girls.  Obviously, the process of transforming the girls' situation has not been an  easy feat, and at times has seemed like an uphill battle met with resistance from brick wall after brick wall.  Even to this day with a national superstar coming from Yuwa and the successes they have had,  moving things along and making progress is still met with obstacles. Changing the culture to truly appreciate girls' potential and capabilities is not as easy as having one accomplishment known by the country; on the contrary, it is met with reluctance to change and opposition at the grassroots level. This was evident on Monday when I went with Franz to practice at 5:30 in the morning in Satu village: the problem village.  The brothers of the girls have a long history of harassing the girls and trying to kick them off the football field. Apparently, the boys are jealous and use intimidation tactics often.  While we had been at TATA during the weekend, a few  of the boys destroyed footballs and threatened the girls at practice.  These threats are common and represent the ongoing struggle for establishing gender equality in the community and for creating the understanding that girls are just as capable and hold equal value as boys.

Although dealing with the daily obstacles can seem draining, the successes seen in other pockets of the community shined through at each practice, each English class in the morning and through small increments of increasing confidence that rippled throughout the community and created change.
An example of this occurred when, Quinn, the English teacher volunteer, and I taught English in the Salidri village. This was without a doubt the highlight of my week.  Leading up to it, Quinn had told me about a girl named Sita, who  longs to be a doctor.  Salidri is an amiable village, as the families have been supportive of the girls and let the children participate in English class before school or before morning chores.  Furthermore, the boys and girls tend to practice together harmoniously, and the kids I got to know were bright and motivated. 

Class took place in a small dusty "living room" where about fifteen kids crowded in and plopped on the floor; they all brought their donated notebooks and pencils they took overwhelming pride in. Quinn led the lesson with compassion and ease, and the kids were all eager to participate.  We decided to turn the second half of class into a Science/English class. I wasn't sure many of these kids had ever been to a doctor so I had decided to bring my stethoscope and ophthalmoscope to see their reaction. Just seeing these tools left the kids in awe.  We started the science portion by having all the kids take their pulse and then listen to each other’s heart and lungs.  I then asked them what sound the heart makes.  They all said simultaneously, “tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk”  with enthusiasm that echoed throughout the room.  It turns out, tuk-tuk translates to lub-dub, lub-dub in English.  I never realized heart sounds were different in other languages! After the stethoscope was put away, I feebly attempted to explain the accommodation reflex with the ophthalmoscope.  These kids are seriously bright! I showed them that as you shine the light on the right pupil, you can see the pupil shrink, and then after briefly taking the light away and replacing it,  you can see the left pupil match the right one.  They were fascinated.  They passed the ophthalmascope around and made each other's pupils change sizes, and as the information passed from one to another, everything was slowly translated into Hindi and I could see all of the children light up (literally) as they began to understand one by one. The last activity we did was to find the uvula! This was a great way to wrap up class as "AAAHhhhhs" reverberated against the mud walls.  The good news was that no one's was deviated.

Oh, and Sita’s eyes were just glistening.

The second day, we brought an atlas of the human body from the Yuwa house, and I had a couple of the kids try and read aloud the paragraph on the cell. It was challenging task - not only to read in English but to comprehend the biology - but with Quinn’s Hinglish skills combined with Sita’s understanding of the cell, the class (I think) began to understood the Golgi apparatus, mitochondria, nucleus, and Endoplasmic reticulum.  Knowing how our own bodies work is such an incredible tool, and it is so empowering.  It opens up numerous doors when you think about it.  It allows you to make educated decisions regarding how you want to treat your body when you’re both sick and healthy and about whether or not you will go to a healthcare provider or choose to suffer because of a belief in karma. This practice along with a general mistrust of healthcare providers occurs in the villages in India and in most of the developing world, so seeing Sita light up when she explained how something in the body worked was incredibly moving. I reminded her to study really really hard.  She just finished 10th grade (although she looks like she could be 12) and she now has college to go and then medical university.  I think it would be one of the most incredible things if she made it to becoming a physician. 

After finishing Poor Economics (Abijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo - highly recommended for anyone interested in fighting poverty),  and after staying at Yuwa for about a week, I was incredibly challenged to contemplate the traditional way 'aid' is given, development is carried out  and health interventions are created.  After racking these issues around my brain with regard to ethical and cost/impact considerations, I have been left, as any humanitarian,  in a complete mental bind.  Here's the thing about development and about figuring out the best way to help.  If you ever think you have figured it out or ever become comfortable with your methods, you're doing it wrong.  Development is a mind-(insert expletive 4 letter word of choice here). There are political and cultural sensitivity issues and serious ethical concerns to consider, and all MUST be considered even if one is merely trying to "help out."  The first rule of thumb is always, just like medicine, to do no harm.  You may think you're providing an education to girl, but maybe you're driving a family into further poverty by taking away an economic asset if you don't compensate the family for allowing the girl to be educated.  

But, there's a second rule of thumb that parallels medicine as well; it is the rule of beneficence, or doing good.  Just because the issue is complex and draining at times, it is not an excuse to do nothing.  

So with this mental bind for doing something but without doing harm came my idealistic and dreamy solution.

Here was my thinking process:

1.) There needs to be more girls.
2.) There needs to be more girls who know their worth and who know they have the untapped potential to be the most powerful person in the world.
3.)  These girls need higher education. This untapped potential needs to be plugged in! They need skills to reinvest back into their communities!
4.) A girl physician arising from a rural village in India or Nepal or anywhere might be one of the greatest assets for the community, for any developing country, and the entire world. 

Often, as westerners observe and judge the social injustices that prevail in developing countries, it is so easy to think of ways it could be better as we compare the situation to our privileged position.  It is easy to become obsessed with the idea of being the rescuer, of being the one to save the day.  But, because we really don’t and really can’t fully grasp the situation at hand, it would be absolutely incredible if someone from the community in need, could rise above and return to intervene and be a leader for their village or larger community.  (One of the most marvelous women who have done this is Somaly Mam, who is responsible for the rescue and advocacy of thousands of girls trafficked in Cambodia.  With the help and support of westerners, it has been able to grow into what it is today.)

Physicians on the other hand, are community leaders by nature of their profession.  Combining the fact that girls from the developing world invest back into their communities 90% of their earnings compared to boys who typically invest 30-40%, with the skills and knowledge physicians have at their disposal along with their respected role within communities has given rise to this idea.  A girl physician coming from regions like Salidri, Hutu, or the Lower Everst region of Nepal, that are typically isolated from traditional development aid might be the best tool the world has for fighting poverty.  This solution doesn't take westerners to come in and save the day, no credit will be given to us, but rather, it grants the opportunity to a girl to be her own community's hero.  Using the infrastructure already there, this girl can have the opportunity to receive all the credit.  Maybe this idea sounds implausible, idealistic and naive, as the odds are stacked up so highly against girls in the developing world, but I truly believe girl physicians who are motivated to make their communities better might be the best ally the humanitarian field could have.  This girl will be able to fully understand the complex nature of health problems in her community and be able to do something, to do the right thing, about them.  That girl will understand why the community makes decisions the way they do, how to change social norms and how to target the social determinants of health.  That girl can be an educator, role model and advocate for her own people.  

Hence, the Phoenix Fund was born. The details are still being worked out.  The idea is still a bit clumsy right now as I balance two degrees and in actuality, I really have no idea how to do this, but with the help and encouragement of the Leap Year Project, LittleWhiteCoats, and friends and family, it's starting to take shape. 

If this sounds like a good idea to you, or if you’d like to get involved, feel free to contact me at victoriala@pcom.edu or Donate here!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Football: Yuwa Part 2/3

Upon arriving, and on thirty minutes of sleep, I plopped my stuff down at the Yuwa HQ house, met a couple of the girls, and got to work in the fields planting ropa.  Ropa, while being a source of income and food, is also the noose choking the girls from opportunity.  To plant it, you basically have to remain at a ninety degree angle bent forward, and plant one seed at a time by hand for acres in straight lines.

The plots of land were outlined by narrow "walkways" of mud. I  reluctantly stepped heel-to-toe to the plot of land the girls were working on where I decided to leap in: into the 1-2 foot deep mud under the Indian sun.  I was so overtired. I had not had thirty seconds to come to grips with what I was doing or where I was.

My trip to Yuwa was pretty impromptu.  I had made the arrangements about three weeks prior while virtually unreachable in the mountains adjacent to Everest. I really had no idea what to expect, who Franz was, or what the organization was like.  I was just a floating semi-expat, who had wandered herself into a small village in the rice fields.  While that may have been the case, there was really nothing to think about. That's the beautiful part about traveling.  I was too tired to think, too tired at that point to care.  I just wanted to jump in the mud and start planting.  There was nothing really to think about - just do, just be.

My lines of rice were certainly not up to par, and the girls were pretty keen on letting me know.  They made planting rice almost look elegant, except that there's nothing elegant about it.  Throughout the week, I witnessed the girls not going to school to plant ropa five-six hours a day while their brothers headed to school, goofed off at school, and returned only to stop and stare at the girls planting.  Ropa, a forced and meager opportunity at livelihood, is just one of the obstacles the girls face.

That first afternoon though, I was informed we were heading out.  About twenty of the girls were given the rare opportunity to take an overnight field trip to the TATA steel football stadium for a match on Sunday. 

Getting twenty girls around in India is not an easy feat.  It begins with arranging about 4 rickshaws and multiple negotiations as to not get ripped off to head to the bus station.  Then there's the cautious bus ride.  Remember, Jharkhand is the state with the most girls trafficked in the country, and Franz is justifiably extremely protective over the girls. 

During the bus ride, Bollywood videos blasted, my hair was braided multiple times, I dozed in and out of sleep, and I had told half the girls that I was indeed not married...only ten more girls to go, I assured myself.

The weekend was similar to a sleep-away camp....except Indian style of course. The girls were restless and excited for the match the following day, they took turns borrowing my camera to take their pictures, and I finally finished letting everyone know I was not married. 

The next morning was game day.  The field was nothing like Yuwa has, which are generally scraps of land in which Franz has tirelessly negotiated to be allowed to use.  The TATA athletic director, a very nice guy who seemed truly dedicated to the cause,  attended with some various self-proclaimed important people promoting corporate social responsibility to greet the girls and show them support.  

The match left me in a trance.  You would absolutely never believe where these girls come from by merely watching them play football.  The raw talent was unbelievable.  The scissor kicks, crossovers, headers, passing, the strategy - just a fantastic game.  The girls ended up losing 4-3, but they still had a fantastic match.   At the time, they needed a little work on anticipating and positioning, but that was something they would continue to work on.  

What left you glowing on the inside was watching Anand, the head coach, so passionately encouraging these girls.  Anand is a twenty something year old guy who, for what I could tell at the time, had no reason other than his passion to dedicate himself to Yuwa.  He was up at HQ at 5:00 AM at the latest to prepare for practice every single morning.  He was always present, always full of vigor, and reliably full of compassion for the girls.  He cheered those girls on at the match with more fervor than I had ever witnessed after playing the game for ten years as a kid in the States.

It was safe to say by the end of the weekend,  I had a decent grasp on the potential for the organization, but more importantly on the organic authenticity of it.  It was critical to understand that if it would grow, it would do so because of the girls, by the girls, and for the girls, and only directed by the game - not by an outside source who would want to take credit for such a social change.  Yes, unfortunately while development and non-profits can hide inside an egg-shell of idealist humanitarian principles, inside the field, it can be just as messy and full of greed as any for-profit sector; except in this case, there's so much more at stake: not financially of course, but  there are real lives on the brink of something great here.  Football as a change agent might be the most powerful of them all, and it's critical to protect its integrity for these girls' sake at minimum.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Yuwa means youth! Part1

Today, I stumbled upon a friend's TED talk in Ranchi, the capital of one of the most deplorable states in India, Jharkhand, to grow up in as a young girl.

Meet Franz Gastler.

I had the privilege to get to know him and the girls at Yuwa-India for about a week and a half this past summer.  His conviction is inspiring, and his practice of humility and patience in order to change the social norms of a society that generally doesn't think twice about the role of girls has stood unwavering while tested against frustration, doubt, and sometimes hostile cultural differences.

I've written about Yuwa before, but this reflection (first of 3 parts) is what I wrote while there, and I think it's critical to share the raw experience that began the Phoenix Fund. Read, check out the site, share the cause, and donate if you're moved. Thanks.

I flew from Kathmandu to Delhi to Mumbai to Ranchi.  Upon arriving in Ranchi, I had been traveling for twenty-four hours, had slept thirty minutes and stood bewildered at the brink of filthy exhaustion. My last flight, from Mumbai to Ranchi, was half empty and filled with Indian business men.  To say I looked out of place may be an understatement.  I was a disheveled white girl with a backpack twice my size. Not to mention, no one goes to Jharkhand.  

Per exiting the plane with my oversized backpack dangling with scarves and a village teapot (my prized collections from Salleri, Nepal) I trudged on to meet my ride.

In the sea of Indian business men inquisitively staring stood a lone white guy in his late twenties, sporting a white motorcycle jacket and who exuded an overall bad ass swagger.

This is Franz Gastler.

Franz got on his motorcycle, I got in a cab, and we took off to Hutub, about thirty minutes outside Ranchi to Yuwa's headquarters.

The first think one should know about Jharkhand is that no one goes there besides business men. It is the leading state in India for sex trafficking and has a literacy rate for women that hovers around 50%. 

Yuwa is a "small" NGO that uses football as a platform for girls' development in the areas of health, education and livelihood. I say it is small as compared to the typical Indian NGO (although there are good ones if you now where to look) that falsely attempt to save the world by hoarding government money.  However, what Yuwa (meaning youth in India) lacks in organizational size and big international organization funding, it more than delivers with social impact and heart that oozes out of the girls it serves and is mostly run by.

There’s virtually zero overhead as Franz, the executive director, and one or two unpaid interns at a time guide the organization.  However, while the interns and Franz run the logistics, the real director of the organization is the game itself.  As someone who has visited rural India and Nepal, one expects to find girls in the fields, and if they even possess the confidence to say hello to a Westerner, it is merely a brief "Namaste" with a small bow of the head and timid smile.  Essentially, it is the “Namaste” of a servant.

Not Yuwa's girls.

On the contrary, timidness, an attitude of servitude, and weakness have been transformed into confidence, bright smiles and strength. And, although they have all the odds in the world stacked against them, you would never know their roots by judging their play on the football field.

Check out the TED talk and stay tuned for Part 2/3 next time!