Sunday, October 2, 2011

Third Month in New York City--Occupy Wall Street: the next generation

Change is in the wind.  Young people have set up camp at a park in downtown New York to present the message that the problem is Wall Street.  It become personal last night when our niece went to see what it was about;  there was a march of over 1000 headed for the Brooklyn Bridge--they were led onto the bridge and then surrounded and arrested for being on the bridge.  It was an orderly march where people thought they were following the rules;  I got to spend until 2 AM last night at a remote Brooklyn Precinct where 100 of them including our niece were being "processed."  Above is my sister-in-law, her friend and me; and then our niece as she was finally "let out." You can see from one picture, even the cops there were having a good time and were quite annoyed by such a waste of police resources when real crime on a Saturday night needs their attention.  My experience was extraordinary waiting with this group of kids who reminded me very much of my Peace Corps under 30 crowd.  These are the best and the brightest--no job prospects, huge student loans and they see Wall Street making more profits than ever.  John and I will be joining the protest this week for sure -- although it is clear that this generation is taking on the struggle.  The National Lawyers Guild was there to provide pro bono legal representation. On October 7, 2011, Walkabout Clearwater Chorus sang labor and peace songs with the crowd at Zuccotti Park.   Later this month I leave for Honduras for an accompaniment project that is part of the same struggle. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Second Month in New York City

Life in New York has been good;  re-connecting with family and old friends and planning for a return to Central America for shorter, solidarity projects.  More to follow on that.  Weather has been glorious all summer and Tropical Storm Irene had minimal effect in NYC, although most of the Northeast was heavily hit and within 20 miles people are still without water and electricity.

Today, however, on a lovely day, right near home in the Hudson River I undertook a kayaking jaunt (the young girl in the back will now be applying for the Peace Corps, as will the young Mexican-American bank officer I spoke with this week, and several others for whom jobs are not what they want--not meaningful or non-existent).  Aside from swimming and a little cave tubing, I didn't do much outdoor water activity in Belize--guess I had to come home for that.  This photo was taken by John with his iPhone.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Month in New York City

I have spent this month getting myself resettled and a bit organized; catching up with family and old friends; seeing lots of movies (not really possible in Belize); and planning for what is next.  I am looking to return to Central America or perhaps South America working for a non-profit organization for briefer consultations.  I am following the news there (when I can get away from the insanity of partisan political "news" here.)  This video of the actions of the Honduras National Police acting with U.S. support leads me to think about the need for solidarity work; sadly it looks like it is the 80s all over again.  This is a link to the story:  It is interesting especially having just spent 15 months in Belize, where so many rural villages are made up of refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and although their legal status is in question, they are able to farm the land and sell in the market.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Leaving Cayo District, Belize, Central America for now

My Peace Corps work is done in Cayo District, Belize, as of June 30, 2011. On June 18, 2011, I left for vacation and Walkabout Clearwater Chorus' long awaited performance at the Pressefest 2011 Dortmund, Germany, Festival. The highlight of the weekend of many performances was my husband John's song "I Choose" led by a friend who is gay and proud -- that is John, 2nd from the right on the Cuba Stage. (I am hoping that Walkabout will sing in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua one day soon. They sang "I Choose" first on the day New York State finally passed the Gay Marriage Bill. For anyone who wants to hear the song and others go to youtube and search "Pressefest 2011 Walkabout."

I had an incredible experience in Belize, especially because of the wonderful welcome I received, friendships I have formed, and a general although not thorough understanding of a country where so many cultures live in harmony. Peace Corps has been there for just under 50 years and my personal view is that it is time to move on; the country does very well in comparison to neighboring Central American countries--as a people to people exchange PC is great; as grass roots organizers less so. I was fortunate that a lovely young couple wanted to rent my house (and thus much that was in it) so it made leaving easy. I hope to return in the winter for visits. I will miss the Belizean people, the Book Club we started of Belizeans and ex-pats, the NGO organizers especially my counterpart at Rural Community Development, warm friendships at Cornerstone Foundation, the Cayo AIDS Committe, and the wonderful farm fresh life of San Ignacio and its surrounding villages especially San Antonio where I have truly made life-long friends.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Community Control

Following last week's workshop for community water committees, we held a workshop for the Village Council leaders on Saturday. Belize has a unique system of community leadership that is very tied up with its two main political parties, a system that tends to divide rather than unite. This workshop was designed to help villages set their own priorities, although it became clear that political differences often prevail. Note the T shirt of the Mayan woman from a Village called Billy White (don't ask--no one knows the source of its name!)--the shirt says "dreams of New York." She struggles to represent her community in the face of politics, sexism, and religious differences. I am awestruck by the energy and enthusiasm in the wake of overwhelming odds. They truly represent "another world is possible."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Today we visited the village of Bomba in Belize District (4 hour drive!) where a small solar power project is underway. I have found a potential US funder for a village of 13 families the Cayo District. Bomba is a village of 20 families that has received support for solar power on a small scale; so one would expect a solar light so the children can do homework at night but I didn't expect solar powered iPods. The children were quitely watching movies in a village without electricity. The sad part of the visit is that the village has power lines going right through to provide energy to the resort island of San Pedro (to quote one resident: "where the money is.") The electric company says it would cost $65 millionBZ to drop lines into the small villages (a total of less than 100 families) and they don't have it--the government has been asked to fund it and they don't "have it" either. One woman wondered outloud as to where the profits go and even she felt the government should pay for the private company to get more profits. We had some great talks on community organizing and while they wait patiently (which they do) they have solar powered iPods, MP3 recorders and a light bulb here and there. One of the issues with solar power is maintenance and upkeep; this village makes money through crafts that are sold to tourists and to funders in the U.S. that sell them at fund raising events. After a session on how to make the Village more visible to supporters, they honored me with the gift of a rosewood bowl that money couldn't buy! The two little girls are cousins; one (age 4) showed me how her mother reads to her at night with solar light--was a little upset with me because I didn't give her my undivided attention of reading a book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Community Control of Water

On Saturday, I was asked to run a workshop on project design and management for community water boards in the Cayo District. It was well-attended, although it became a serious discussion of the problems with community control. Such issue as how to deal with people that do not pay water bills, what to do when people want money for projects that might not benefit the community, and strategic planning were the hot topics. There was discussion about how if communities don't manage water the private companies will take over and then revenue goes to profit rather than community services. When I was in Nicaragua in January, we met with the national commission that is focused ona new law dedicated to keeping profit out of water. During this workshop and all I do in Belize, language becomes an interesting issue in a country where commonly spoken languages are English, Kriol, Spanish, and various Maya languages: I was asked to run the session in Spanish with one person translating for a small group into English; suddenly the Spanish group is speaking English and the English group is speaking Kriol. My head was spinning but I think communication went well. Our goal is to help villages with community development.