Fix your Conflicts

You can listen to my first ever radio interview here – had I known this would be completely unedited, I would have probably been better prepared. Nonetheless, it was a great experience, and the host, Doug Noll, lawyer turned peacemaker, is a very interesting guy – I hope I get invited back!
In any case here it is: Penelope Chester on Fix your Conflicts, June 16th 2008

(scroll down the content library, it’s the first item in the archive)

Expanding Niapele’s Reach

In an attempt to broaden our base of friends and supporters, The Niapele Project has just launched a brand new blog, which we will use to keep our growing audience abreast of the latest Niapele news.

I encourage you to subscribe to the feed, or by email – seriously! We’re continually striving to improve our communication with you, and we welcome your feedback and comments.

Getting the Word Out

Surprisingly, the hardest thing about running a nonprofit is not to come up with strategy, to work efficiently with partners, to make “executive” decisions with my co-director, to deal with the daily administrative chores… No, the hardest part is to get people to be interested in what you’re doing.
Obviously, to me, anyone who doesn’t think that The Niapele Project is a cool organization that deserves to be supported is clearly a misguided individual. But there are SO many organizations out there – some doing fabulous work (Doctors Without Borders), and others ruining international NGOs reputations (Zoe’s Ark – a real life horror story about humanitarianism gone wrong: BBC Profile on Zoe’s Ark.)

Not only that, but for a novice to the world of NGOs, it’s hard to differentiate between organizations, to decide if you want to support, and which one, which KIND of organization you should support, depending on your sensibility….

There are at least two major categories of nonprofits out there, and perhaps this nomenclature will be helpful to some of you, in order to navigate the complicated world of charity work:

– International NGOs (non-governmental organizations): Within this category, you find orgs. such as The Niapele Project (tiny) and Doctors Without Borders (huge). Their missions vary – humanitarianism, development work, private-public partnerships…. the list goes on. One thing they all share: they operate independently from governments and States.

Well, at least in theory. Because a lot of INGOs receive funding from governments and are thus subject to certain guidelines and standards. Furthermore, when an INGO has a high profile (ie. Save the Children), it can’t always say or do what it wants – their public funding does not come with no strings attached.

In any case, a lot of people around the world support this type of organization with private contributions (depending on the country you live in, these contributions may or may not be tax deductible), and these organizations work really contribute to alleviating suffering, poverty, disease, etc….. It seems to me that there is an NGO out there for everyone’s sensibility, and, as the notion of global consciousness is taking root, it’s our duty to share some of our privileges with those less fortunate.

Oh sure, I sound patronizing, don’t I?

I know these words can sound very hollow – but seriously, there are thousands of NGOs out there, doing work ranging from helping unemployed mothers in your neighborhood start a business to feeding the downtrodden in far flung corners of the earth – there really is something for everyone to support.

People always complain that their taxes never contribute to ameliorating anything – well why not pay less taxes, and choose where you want that money to go? For example, towards a cause that you feel strongly about?

Also, the vitality of NGOs contribute to the overall strength of civil society – which is the bedrock of functioning democracies. Also, interestingly, consider that international NGOs, which garner support from around the world, are helping the “global consciousness” we always hear about become a reality – no longer just a hazy concept, “global consciousness” relates to the notion that we are all part of the same human family, and that, as such, there are transnational issues that transcend particular interests (perfect example: climate change)

Anyway, I’ll post about the other category of nonprofits tomorrow – I’m trying not to bore you too much, faithful readers (Hi Mom)

Check out what Bill Clinton has to say about YouTube NonProfit Initiative:

Why a School Feeding Program?

Why is The Niapele Project investing in a school feeding program? Perhaps the reasons are intuitive: feeding hungry children is a worthwhile enterprise to finance, particularly in a refugee setting. It seems to me, though, that it’s important to highlight the more complex reality that lead The Niapele Project to push very hard for the creation and implementation of a School Feeding Program at the Carolyn A. Miller School.

Below is a short account of why I believe an SFP is of paramount importance – I wrote this while in Buduburam the first time around, when I was the health coordinator at the Carolyn A. Miller School, before the SFP began. It’s not necessarily the most well-written piece I’ve ever produced, but I think (hope!) it helps shed light on why this program is of paramount importance:

“Surely, the Carolyn A. Miller School is a strikingly different environment than the one most of us grew up in. Cultural, social and environmental differences aside, one of the things that strike international volunteers the most is the issue of malnutrition among CAMES students. Often, one will teach a class where a number of students are asleep on their desks. While in our countries this would be unacceptable behavior, teachers and staff quietly accept this situations – comments are rarely made, and children are rarely woken. This implicit acceptance is linked to a recognition that this lack of energy is due to a lack of food – too often, students will come to school on an empty stomach, having not eaten for perhaps 48 hours.

While this problem is pervasive throughout the Buduburam community, it is worryingly prevalent at CAMES. Most students are unaccompanied minors, whose guardians already have too many mouths to feed; or perhaps the students’ household is headed by an unemployed widow, who struggles with little to no resources. While the school struggles to make ends meet and certainly faces structural and cyclical issues, the issue of student malnutrition is high on their list of priorities. Teachers and staff are concerned that their efforts to provide education to these children will come to no avail if students, weak from hunger, are unable to benefit from what

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that there is a severe problem which calls for action. Most of the students as CAMES see education as their salvation, as their means to achieve a fulfilling life. But when one has little to no food or drink to subsist on, it is difficult – if not impossible – for these children to achieve the level of academic excellence that they are striving for.”

Teaching Sex Ed to Teenagers, my life calling?

This is an excerpt of an email I wrote while I was in Buduburam the first time, which was almost exactly a year ago. Below you will find a brief account of my first sexual health class at the Carolyn A. Miller School…. Enjoy !
im teaching health to grades 4, 5 and 6, and ive also just started a
sexual health class for grade 6. the kids in 6th grade are anywhere
between 12 and 18, and no one has ever told them anything about sexual
health, sex or anything related to that. with the prevalence of STDs,
gender based violence, rape and HIV, these kids really need to be
given proper information so that they know whats going on. its taboo
at home, and most of the kids at school dont live with their families
– they have foster parents, legal guardians or live with their
aunties/grandmas/cousins. so last week was the first class, which
ended up lasting 2 hours, instead of 30 minutes, because some teachers
were absent, and they told me to just stay in there to keep teaching.
well, let me tell you, that was the most interesting/weird thing ive
done in a long time. since this was the introductory session, we just
let the kids ask us anything they wanted (i teach with a liberian
woman, who is training to become a nurse – im getting her involved so
that the kids still have a health teacher once i leave).
sample questions:
” is it true that when boys look at pictures of naked ladies, they
have “warm feelings inside”?”
( i let the boys in the class answer that one)
” is it true that if a boy has “warm feelings inside” and there is no
girl to satisfy him , he uses soap?
(again i let the boys answer this – and i was surprised by the honesty
of their answers….) actually, at that point, their Religious and
Moral Education teacher came in to sit in on the class, and gave a
VERY detailed answer.
“how do lesbians have sex?”
” is it true that people can have sex in the anus?”
” what is semen? where does it come from?”
” if a man has sex in the anus, will he get his period?”
most of them did not know about the concept of oral sex, and they
wanted me to explain it to them…… seriously……
you get the picture – this lasted for 2 hours. this week, im gearing
the discussion towards relationships, responsibility, self-respect and
all that BS. i never thought in my wildest dreams that i would have to
talk about sperm to teen age boys.”