Thursday, July 18, 2019

Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere

Dr. Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is currently the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu – a commercial and industrial center of the country. He is the son of a Pentacostal pastor. Accompanying his father while he visited sick members of his community made a lasting impression on the young boy. This experience undoubtedly influenced Mukengere to choose medicine as his profession; the Swedish Pentacostal mission provided support while he pursued this career. He decided upon gynecology and obstetrics as his specialties noting that female patients at Lemera Hospital did not have adequate medical care and, as a consequence, suffered unnecessary complications during their deliveries. He also realized that many of the women patients also suffered profoundly from the effects of sexually-induced violence.

He founded Panzi Hospital in 1999 specializing as a clinic for gynecological and obstetric care. Since the hospital’s inception, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have helped to care for more than 50,000 survivors of sexual trauma. In addition to providing the necessary medical care, the hospital also provides legal, and psycho-social services to its patients. No patient is ever turned away for lack of sufficient financial resources.

Dr. Mukwege has been fearless in his efforts to increase protections for women and to insist that those responsible for sexual violence be brought to justice, including members of the Congolese government and militia groups laying siege to eastern DRC.

In October 2012, Dr. Mukwege was violently attacked, and his family was held at gunpoint at his home in an assassination attempt. Joseph Bizimana, his trusted friend and security guard, was killed. The attack came several weeks after Dr. Mukwege denounced the country’s 16-year-long conflict and called for those responsible to be brought to justice during a speech at the United Nations. After this attack, Dr. Mukwege and his family fled the country for his safety, but his many Congolese patients and colleagues urged him to resume his life-saving work at Panzi Hospital. He returned to the hospital in January 2013 and was celebrated by crowds of people ecstatic to have him home. During this difficult period, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) worked in close coordination with Dr. Mukwege and colleagues at risk in DRC to mobilize a global campaign to advocate for and protect individuals working on the front lines helping survivors of mass atrocities and prosecuting perpetrators of these mass crimes.

Dr. Mukwege is also on the advisory committee for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. He has been the recipient of numerous awards worldwide, including the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, for his advocacy against sexual violence as a weapon of war and for his outstanding services to survivors of rape.

The following is the full text of Mukengere’s nobel prize acceptance speech awarded on December 10, 2018

“In the tragic night of 6 October 1996, rebels attacked our hospital in Lemera, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). More than thirty people were killed. Patients were slaughtered in their beds point blank. Unable to flee, the staff were killed in cold blood. I could not have imagined that it was only the beginning. Forced to leave Lemera in 1999, we set up the Panzi hospital in Bukavu where I still work as an obstetrician-gynecologist today.

The first patient admitted was a rape victim who had been shot in her genitals. The macabre violence knew no limit. Sadly, this violence has never stopped.

“One day like any other, the hospital received a phone call.

At the other end of the line, a colleague in tears implored: “Please send us an ambulance fast. Please hurry”

So we sent an ambulance, as we normally do. Two hours later, the ambulance returned.

Inside was a little girl about eighteen months old. She was bleeding profusely and was immediately taken to the operating room. When I arrived, all the nurses were sobbing. The baby’s bladder, genitals and rectum were severely injured. By the penetration of an adult. We prayed in silence: my God, tell us what we are seeing isn’t true. Tell us it’s a bad dream. Tell us when we wake up, everything will be alright. But it was not a bad dream. It was the reality. It has become our new reality in the DRC.

“When another baby arrived, I realized that the problem could not be solved in the operating room, but that we had to combat the root causes of these atrocities. I decided to travel to the village of Kavumu to talk to the men: why don’t you protect your babies, your daughters, your wives? And where are the authorities? To my surprise, the villagers knew the suspect. Everyone was afraid of him, since he was a member of the provincial Parliament and enjoyed absolute power over the population. For several months, his militia has been terrorizing the whole village. It had instilled fear by killing a human rights defender who had had the courage to report the facts. The deputy got away with no consequences. His parliamentary immunity enabled him to abuse with impunity.

The two babies were followed by several dozens of other raped children When the forty-eighth victim arrived, we were desperate. With other human rights defenders, we went to a military court. At last, the rapes were prosecuted and judged as crimes against humanity. The rapes of babies in Kavumu stopped. And so did the calls to Panzi hospital. But these babies’ psychological, sexual and reproductive health is severely impaired.

“What happened in Kavumu and what is still going on in many other places in Congo, such as the rapes and massacres in Béni and Kasaï, was made possible by the absence of the rule of law, the collapse of traditional values and the reign of impunity, particularly for those in power. Rape, massacres, torture, widespread insecurity and a flagrant lack of education create a spiral of unprecedented violence.

“The human cost of this perverted, organized chaos has been hundreds of thousands of women raped, over 4 million people displaced within the country and the loss of 6 million human lives. Imagine, the equivalent of the entire population of Denmark decimated.

United Nations peacekeepers and experts have not been spared, either. Several of them have been killed on duty. Today, the United Nations Mission is still in the DRC to prevent the situation from degenerating further. We are grateful to them.

However, despite their efforts, this human tragedy will continue if those responsible are not prosecuted. Only the fight against impunity can break the spiral of violence.We all have the power to change the course of history when the beliefs we are fighting for are right.

“Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Distinguished members of the Nobel Committee, dear Madam Nadia Murad, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace, It is in the name of the Congolese people that I accept the Nobel Peace Prize. It is to all victims of sexual violence across the world that I dedicate this prize. It is with humility that I come before you to raise the voice of the victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts and the hopes of my compatriots. I take this opportunity to thank everyone who, over the years, has supported our battle. I am thinking, in particular, of the organizations and institutions of friendly countries, my colleagues, my family and my dear wife Madeleine.

“My name is Denis Mukwege. I come from one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet the people of my country are among the poorest of the world. The troubling reality is that the abundance of our natural resources – gold, coltan, cobalt and other strategic minerals – is the root cause of war, extreme violence and abject poverty. We love nice cars, jewelry and gadgets. I have a smartphone myself. These items contain minerals found in our country. Often mined in inhuman conditions by young children, victims of intimidation and sexual violence. When you drive your electric car; when you use your smart phone or admire your jewelry, take a minute to reflect on the human cost of manufacturing these objects. As consumers, let us at least insist that these products are manufactured with respect for human dignity. Turning a blind eye to this tragedy is being complicit. It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes, it is also those who choose to look the other way.

“My country is being systematically looted with the complicity of people claiming to be our leaders. Looted for their power, their wealth and their glory. Looted at the expense of millions of innocent men, women and children abandoned in extreme poverty. While the profits from our minerals end up in the pockets of a predatory oligarchy.

“For twenty years now, day after day, at Panzi hospital, I have seen the harrowing consequences of the country’s gross mismanagement. Babies, girls, young women, mothers, grandmothers, and also men and boys, cruelly raped, often publicly and collectively, by inserting burning plastic or sharp objects in their genitals. I’ll spare you the details. The Congolese people have been humiliated, abused and massacred for more than two decades in plain sight of the international community. Today, with access to the most powerful communication technology ever, no one can say: “I didn’t know”.

“With this Nobel Peace Prize, I call on the world to be a witness and I urge you to join us in order to put an end to this suffering that shames our common humanity.

The people of my country desperately need peace.


How to build peace on mass graves?

How to build peace without truth nor reconciliation?

How to build peace without justice nor reparation?

As I speak to you, a report is gathering mold in an office drawer in New York. It was drafted following a professional investigation into war crimes and human rights violations perpetrated in Congo. This investigation explicitly names the victims, the places and the dates, but leaves the perpetrators nameless.

This Mapping Report by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights describes no fewer than 617 war crimes and crimes against humanity and perhaps even crimes of genocide.

“What is the world waiting for before taking this into account? There is no lasting peace without justice. Yet, justice in not negotiable. Let us have the courage to take a critical and impartial look at what has been going on for too long in the Great Lakes Region. Let us have the courage to reveal the names of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity to prevent them from continuing to plague the region. Let us have the courage to recognize our past mistakesLet us have the courage to tell the truth, to remember and commemorate. Dear Congolese compatriots, let us have the courage to take our destiny in our own hands. Let us build peace, build our country’s future, and together build a better future for Africa. No one else will do it for us.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace, The picture I have painted for you depicts a dark reality.

But let me tell you Sarah’s story Sarah was referred to the hospital in critical condition. An armed group had attacked her village, massacred her whole family, and had left her alone. Sarah was taken to the forest as a hostage, and tied to a tree. Naked. Sarah was gang-raped every day until she lost consciousness.

“The aim of these rapes used as a weapon of war is to destroy the victim, her family and her community. In short, to destroy the social fabric. When she arrived at the hospital, Sarah could not walk or even stand on her feet. She could not control her bladder nor her bowels. Because of the seriousness of her genital, urinary and digestive injuries coupled with an infection, no one could imagine her one day being able to get back on her feet. Yet, with each passing day, the desire to continue to live sparkled in Sarah’s eyes. Every passing day, it was she who encouraged the medical staff not to lose hope. Today, Sarah is a beautiful, smiling, strong and charming woman. Sarah has committed herself to helping people who have survived a history like hers.

Sarah received fifty US dollars, a grant our Dorcas transit house gives to women who are ready to rebuild their lives socio-economically.

“Today, Sarah runs her small business. She has bought a plot of land. The Panzi Foundation has helped her with sheeting to make a roof. She has built a little house. She is independent and proud.

Her experience shows that, no matter how difficult and hopeless the situation, with determination there is always hope at the end of the tunnel. If a woman like Sarah does not give up, who are we to do so? This is Sarah’s story. Sarah is Congolese. But there are Sarahs in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Bosnia, Myanmar, Iraq and many other conflict-riven countries in the world.

“At Panzi, our holistic care programme – which includes medical, psychological, socio-economic and legal support – shows that even if the road to recovery is long and difficult, victims have the potential to turn their suffering into power. They can become agents of positive change in society. This is the case already at City of Joy, our rehabilitation centre in Bukavu where women receive support to regain control of their destiny. However, they cannot succeed on their own and our role is to listen to them, as today we listen to Madam Nadia Murad. Dear Nadia, your courage, your audacity, your ability to give us hope, are a source of inspiration for the entire world and for me personally.

“The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to us today will be of value only if it leads to concrete change in the lives of victims of sexual violence all over the world and the restoration of peace in our countries. So, what can we do? What can you do? First, it is incumbent upon all of us to act in this direction. Taking action is a choice. It is a choice:

– whether or not we stop violence against women,

– whether or not we create a positive masculinity which promotes gender equality, in times of peace and in times of war.

It is a choice:

- whether or not to support a woman,

– whether or not to protect her,

– whether or not to defend her rights,

– whether or not to fight on her side in countries ravaged by conflict.

It is a choice: whether or not to build peace in the countries in conflict.

“Taking action means saying ‘no’ to indifference.

If there is a war to be waged, it is the war against the indifference which is eating away at our societies. Second, we are all indebted to these women and their loved-ones and we must all take ownership of this fight; including states by ceasing to welcome leaders who have tolerated, or worse, used sexual violence to take power. States must stop welcoming them by rolling out the red carpet, and instead draw a red line against the use of rape as a weapon of war. This red line would consist of imposing economic and political sanctions on these leaders and taking them to court. Doing the right thing is not hard. It is a matter of political will. Third, we must acknowledge the suffering of the survivors of all acts of violence against women in armed conflicts and support their holistic recovery process.

“I insist on reparations: the measures that give survivors compensation and satisfaction and enable them to start a new life. It is a human right. I call on States to support the initiative to create a Global Fund for reparations for victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts. Fourth, on behalf of all widows, all widowers and orphans of the massacres committed in the DRC and all Congolese in love with peace, I call on the international community to finally consider the “Mapping Project report” and its recommendations. May justice prevail.

“This would allow the Congolese people to weep for their loved-ones, to mourn their dead, to forgive their torturers, to overcome their suffering and finally to project themselves into a serene future. Finally, after twenty years of bloodshed, rape and massive population displacements, the Congolese people are desperately awaiting implementation of the responsibility to protect the civilian population when their government cannot or does not want to do so. The people are waiting to explore the path to a lasting peace. To achieve peace, there has to be adherence to the principle of free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections.

“People of the Congo, let us get to work!” Let’s build a State at the heart of Africa where the government serves its people. A State under the rule of law, capable of bringing lasting and harmonious development not just of the DRC but of the whole of Africa, where all political, economic and social actions will be based on a people-centred approach to restore human dignity of all citizens.

“Your Majesties, Distinguished Members of the Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of peace, The challenge is clear. It is within our reach. For all Sarahs, for all women, for all men and children of Congo, I call upon you not only to award this Nobel Peace Prize to my country’s people, but to stand up and together say loudly: The violence in the DRC, it’s enough! Enough is enough! Peace, now!”

Thank you.

The story of Dr. Mukengere’s response to the human atrocities he witnessed as a caring and compassionate physician is one of remarkable tenacity and courage in the face of formidable odds at considerable risk to his own personal safety. The message he conveyed in the body of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to his listeners was filled with remarkable moral clarity and integrity.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Oscar Arias Sanchez

Oscar Arias Sanchez, born September 13, 1940 in Costa Rica, was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. He studied law and economics at the University of Costa Rica in the nation’s capital, San Jose. He became involved in politics and joined the National Labor Party. On completion of this degree, he completed his post-graduate work in the UK with a doctorate – his graduate thesis was entitled, Who Rules Costa Rica. He was also a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. He also was also the author of a number of books including, The Significance of the Student Movement in Costa Rica.

During the 1970’s he joined the Social Democratic party and entered public office in that era. He ultimately was elected to the presidency in 1986 when political torment and disorder plagued the region of Central American including a deadly civil war that was raging in Nicaragua – a situation that was further exacerbated by the involvement of the United States seeking to maintain its global hegemony.

Sanchez sought to find a peaceful resolution to the turmoil that engulfed the region. As a consequence of his efforts, he designed a plan in 1978 that was ultimately approved by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The goal of the strategy outlined in the plan was the implementation of free and fair elections, appropriate and verifiable safeguards for human rights and an end to foreign interference in the signatory countries internal affairs – this latter aspect of the agreement was particularly aimed at the United States government. In the process of formulating this agreement, Sanchez pushed back at the American government’s attempt to alter the peace plan that was signed in 1987. He also refused to grant permission to allow the United States to use Costa Rican territory to provide logistical support to the Contras.

The following is Oscar Arias Sánchez’s Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1987

“When you decided to honour me with this prize, you decided to honour a country of peace, you decided to honour Costa Rica. When in this year, 1987, you carried out the will of Alfred E. Nobel to encourage peace efforts in the world, you decided to encourage the efforts to secure peace in Central America. I am grateful for the recognition of our search for peace. We are all grateful in Central America.

“Nobody knows better than the honourable members of this Committee, that this prize is a sign to let the world know that you want to foster the Central American peace initiative. With your decision you are enhancing the possibilities of success. You are declaring how well you know the search for peace can never end, and how it is a permanent cause, always in need of true support from real friends, from people with courage to promote change in favour of peace, even against all odds.

“Peace is not a matter of prizes or trophies. It is not the product of a victory or command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement.

“Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together.

“Peace is not only a matter of noble words and Nobel lectures. We have ample words, glorious words, inscribed in the charters of the United Nations, the World Court, the Organization of American States and a network of international treaties and laws. We need deeds that will respect those words, honour those commitments, abide by those laws. We need to strengthen our institutions of peace like the United Nations, making certain they are fully used by the weak as well as the strong.

“I pay no attention to those doubters and detractors unwilling to believe that a lasting peace can be genuinely embraced by those who march under a different ideological banner or those who are more accustomed to cannons of war than to councils of peace.

“We seek in Central America not peace alone, not peace to be followed someday by political progress, but peace and democracy, together, indivisible, an end to the shedding of human blood, which is inseparable from an end to the suppression of human rights. We do not judge, much less condemn, any other nation’s political or ideological system, freely chosen and never exported. We cannot require sovereign states to conform to patterns of government not of their own choosing. But we can and do insist that every government respect those universal rights of man that have meaning beyond national boundaries and ideological labels. We believe that justice and peace can only thrive together, never apart. A nation that mistreats its own citizens is more likely to mistreat its neighbours.

“To receive this Nobel prize on the 10th of December is for me a marvelous coincidence. My son Oscar Felipe, here present, is eight years old today. I say to him, and through him to all the children of my country, that we shall never resort to violence, we shall never support military solutions to the problems of Central America. It is for the new generation that we must understand more than ever that peace can only be achieved through its own instruments: dialogue and understanding; tolerance and forgiveness; freedom and democracy.

“I know well you share what we say to all members of the international community, and particularly to those in the East and the West, with far greater power and resources than my small nation could never hope to possess, I say to them, with the utmost urgency: let Central Americans decide the future of Central America. Leave the interpretation and implementation of our peace plan to us. Support the efforts for peace instead of the forces of war in our region. Send our people ploughshares instead of swords, pruning hooks instead of spears. If they, for their own purposes, cannot refrain from amassing the weapons of war, then, in the name of God, at least they should leave us in peace.

“I say here to His Majesty and to the honourable members of the Nobel Peace Committee, to the wonderful people of Norway, that I accept this prize because I know how passionately you share our quest for peace, our eagerness for success. If, in the years to come peace prevails, and violence and war are thus avoided; a large part of that peace will be due to the faith of the people of Norway, and will be theirs forever.”

As a testament to Sanchez’s effort towards peace, Costa Rica remains to this day a model for the transition to a peaceful and stable society.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A World We Need to Imagine

Since the dawn of human civilization, the state of humanity has been a reflection of the contradictory forces that are an integral part of the nature of individual existence. As sentient beings, we have the capacity for enlightened thinking, creative imagination, surprising inventiveness and a remarkable capacity to understand the forces in the universe that shape our existence and propel us forward. Using these innate capabilities as tools for human development, much progress has been made to improve the human condition.

However, bundled along with these qualities of our collective consciousness, are those aspects of our nature that have a decidedly opposite effect. These include our capacity for violence; our tendency to fear that which we do not fully understand; our tribal inclination to be in community with those who are like ourselves and to treat with suspicion those who are different and, most importantly, to allow the “darker” emotions to shape our behavior.

The end result of these contradictory forces has produced an historic record of human existence on this remarkable planet filled with periods filled with wondrous achievements and astounding progress and those overshadowed by utter darkness and despair. It seems that at times, the human capacity for unimaginable hatred, brutality, violence and cruelty seems to know no bounds. The historic record, in this regard, speaks for itself.

In spite of the collective impact of these often-conflicting influences, human civilization has managed to endure and to move forward. In the twenty-first century, as humans, we are approaching two very divergent paths towards the future. What currently seems to be the most likely of these possibilities is being shaped by a number of forces. Due to our remarkable strides in understanding of our own biology and the nature of the world around us, humans have come to be the dominant species on planet earth and our numbers are constantly increasing. Together with this reality, modern humans have come to expect a level of comfort, convenience and personal individual fulfillment that may, if not reasonably constrained, impact the earthly environment that sustains us to the extent that the future of the species may be endangered. Together with this trend, there is another force at work. Many nations that are currently held together by a sense of belonging to a larger community of individuals of similar beliefs, values, ethnicity and expectations are being challenged by an influx of those considered foreign and, therefore, treated with suspicion and fear. The prospect of the possible loss of national identity has unleashed a deleterious movement towards fascism. Recent human history has demonstrated just how dangerous this proclivity can be.

In my judgment, it is time for each of us as members of our species to begin to avert this collective movement towards a future that can imperil all human prospects by embracing an entirely different approach to living. It may have to begin by imagining a new way. The beginning of this process resides in an introspective assessment of self. First, we must determine what actually motivates our behavior; what moves us forward in life and what is the source of our values. This takes effort and concentration but is an essential ingredient for change. It requires a commitment to be courageous, honest and true to ourselves.

Once this initial work is accomplished, the next step would be to determine that which we truly value. I believe that at the core of this evaluation would be a world filled with peace; a future for the coming generations in a sustainable environment with a diversity of living beings on this beautiful and remarkable planet and a world where each person regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, place of origin and system of beliefs is valued and appreciated as our equals.

If this possible future is what we truly desire, the first steps towards its actualization is shattering the invisible yet potent barriers that prevent us from encompassing those who are apparently different from ourselves. The most effective means to accomplish this is through the beauty of human communication – to disrupt the isolation that so profoundly reinforces suspicion and fear. We are, after all, members of the same species with the same characteristics, the same architecture of the brain, the same biology, the same drives, emotions, yearnings and desires. It is through real human communication that we would naturally come to appreciate the value of our differences.

Once, humans truly embrace one another as equals, then, and only then, can we collectively move forward to shape the future to meet our fondest desires and ensure a sustainable environment for the species.

Alternatively, succumbing to our tendency to tribal affiliation will not save us. Quite the opposite, it would enhance our isolation, exacerbate our fears and lead us on a path to further disruption and ultimately to social disintegration as history has repeatedly shown. We do have the capacity to finally and ultimately shatter the cycle of violence and retribution that has been such a recurrent theme throughout the human journey.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Fervent Desire

The results of the midterm elections are welcomed in that they remind us of the dynamic power and potential of the democratic process. However, the results also demonstrate the degree to which our country has become polarized and has seriously handicapped our collective ability to move forward as a people.

For this reason, I put forth the following -

Humanity remains beset by seemingly intractable problems including war, disease, famine and the unconscionable living conditions endured by hundreds of millions of individuals throughout the world. The wondrous wealth of natural resources that exist on this very fragile planet continues to be ruthlessly exploited and the growing reality of the enormity of climate change is becoming ever more apparent.

In spite of these daunting realities, there is no visible concerted effort on the part of the community of nations to correct these frightful wrongs. The nagging and haunting question remains as to why so many human beings continue to endure such extreme and needless suffering while the remedies to their plight are so readily available. There are many possible explanations for why so many live under such terrible conditions in both the undeveloped and developed nations. These reasons include the following –
• The continued unabated growth of the human population that exerts a significant strain on natural resources
• The pursuit of national self-interest by so many nation states in a way that exacerbates international tensions and often leads to conflict
• The dramatically inequitable distribution of economic wealth and resources that results in a rather small population of haves in comparison to the have-nots who represent the overwhelming majority of humans on the planet
• The enormous gap that exists between the advances made by science especially in regard to climate change and the effective application of this knowledge to prevent the ultimate catastrophe for humanity that looms on the horizon.

These considerations contribute to the overall understanding of the current state of humanity; however, I believe that the fundamental and underlying reason is that individuals have not yet evolved sufficiently to accept the essential reality that all members of the human race are rightful members of the human family and worthy of the same respect, compassion, care and concern that we gladly extend to our own immediate families.

Humanity has not yet encompassed the necessity to find non-violent and equitable solutions to conflict. Humans are, in many ways, mired in essentially tribal relationships and have inherited a culturally accepted and narrowly-focused mentality. This kind of highly constrained and constricted outlook may have proved efficacious when human populations were much smaller, more isolated and independent; this worldview is no longer viable in the modern era. The widespread issues of poverty, hunger, disease, political turmoil, conflict and the ineluctable degradation of the natural environment - that sustains all of life - require reasoned cooperation and collective action on the part of all nations.

In spite of these disheartening realities, there has, nonetheless, been considerable progress made in quite the opposite direction. There is, in reality, a significant movement by many within diverse organizations that seek to shatter the restrictive boundaries between people that retard real human progress. Any hope for a more equitable and sustainable future for all of humanity is not yet moribund. It is up to us and our collective endeavor to use that hope to inspire concerted action in order to mold this dream into a tangible reality.This is my fervent desire.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Thought Dream

With the mid-term elections so close and this nation so deeply polarized as it is, I offer up the following -
A Thought Dream
There is so much needless suffering in this pathetic world that humans have created for themselves. There is a great and wondrous wealth of imagination, ingenuity, intelligence, generosity and potential that is bound up in the lives of billions of humans whose lives are unnecessarily cut short or diminished by poverty, disease, conflict, war and scarcity – all of which that are wholly preventable. In response to this madness, this is my wish list -
If that cumulative potential were only released; if war was only made obsolete; if the untold wealth diverted to weapons and instruments of death was only redirected to human progress, what a different world we would have. If we who have been taught to look elsewhere for salvation would only look around ourselves for answers, what a different world we would have. If only all of us would find peace within ourselves and reflect on the well spring of our own behavior, what a different world we would have. If only humanity would speak the word love and truly mean it and accept the implications of this kind of surrender, what a different world we would have. If only we could more fully comprehend the emptiness of greed, prejudice and mindless acquisition, what a different world we would have. If only we could remove the blinders that obstruct our minds and see the beauty inherent in diversity, the universality and interdependence of all of life, what a different world we would have. If only, we could bridge our differences by really listening and have a meaningful dialog for the purpose of finding common ground, what a different and far more peaceful and saner future could we engender. This is my fondest desire.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Elouise P Cobell

Eloise Pepion Cobell (1945 – 2011) was a Native American tribal elder in the Niitsitapi Blackfoot Confederacy.  She was also known as the Yellow Bird Woman.  In addition to her prestigious role in the tribe, she led an active and engaging life as a banker and rancher.
The Niisitapi (Blackfoot) people lived in the Northern Plains that occupied territory in the region that is now parts of Canada and the United States.  Their history in the region is a long and involved (see images below). 

The Blackfoot Confederacy represents a conglomerate of four so-called, “First Nations” - Siksika (Northern Blackfoot), Kainah (Blood), South Pikuni (Piegan, located in Montana), and North Pikuni (Peigan, located in Alberta).  All of these nations share a common language and heritage. Traditionally, they had a way of life centered around buffalo hunting. 
The South Pikuni reside in Montana and the North Pikuni reside in Alberta, Canada.  Tragically, there was a fifth group called the Small Robes that is no longer extant – the members of this group were wiped out by the smallpox epidemic of the 1830s.
The Blackfoot culture was rich in spirituality.  According to the elders of the tribe ( -
Plains Indian culture was steeped in religion and ceremony. The world was an uncertain place, and people needed the help of supernatural powers.
Help was obtained from the spirit world in the form of visions and dreams. In these dreams people were instructed in the use of sacred objects, songs and rituals. These objects and rituals became part of the sacred Medicine Bundles.
Medicine Bundles were the most powerful religious possession in Plains Indian culture. They were owned by individuals but could bring power, luck or health to anyone who honoured them. Ownership of a bundle brought long life, success and social prestige.
Cobell was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.  She had eight siblings and was the middle child.  Her great grandmother was Mountain Chief one of the esteemed leaders of the Blackfeet Nation.  She grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in harsh conditions without the benefit of electricity or running water.
In spite of the poverty of her upbringing, she attended Montana State University but had to curtail her education to care for her dying mother.  Following her mother’s passing, she moved to Seattle where she met and married Alvin Cobell a kinsman.  They had one son, Turk Cobell.  Ultimately, she returned to the reservation to assist with the management of the family ranch.  She soon became treasurer for the Blackfeet Nation.
Cobell founded the Blackfeet National Bank – the first such bank on an Indian reservation.  For her efforts and remarkable accomplishment, she won a McArthur genius award.  Ultimately, twenty other tribes joined the bank to form the Native American Bank.  Cobell became the Executive Director of a non-profit called, the “Native American Community Development Corporation.”
On account her business and bookkeeping expertise, in 1996 Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a law suit against the federal government that challenged the country’s mismanagement of the trust fund that involved half a million Native Americans.  She pursued this suit that effectively demanded the government account for its distribution of fees from Indian-held resource leases.  This class-action suit was referred to as, “Cobell v. Salazar.”
This suit stems from the General Allotment Act of 1887 mandating that Indian reservations be divided into parcels for individual rather than collective ownership.  The government than determined that many allottees were not capable of managing their own lands.  As a consequence, the Department of the Interior (DOI) held these lands in trust, resulting in leasing the allotments for agricultural or mining activities.  The revenues from these leases and royalties were supposed to the placed into individual Indian money accounts (IIMs) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be paid to individual land owners.  It is the management of this distribution that was effectively challenged in the suit.
Finally, the suit was successful and a settlement was reached with the government.  In response to this settlement, Cobell said that, “"Although we have reached a settlement totaling more than $3.4 billion, there is little doubt this is significantly less than the full accounting to which individual Indians are entitled. Yes, we could prolong our struggle and fight longer, and perhaps one day we would know, down to the penny, how much individual Indians are owed. Perhaps we could even litigate long enough to increase the settlement amount. But we are compelled to settle now by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each year, each month and every day, as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation."

Without Cobell’s unrelenting determination to right a grievous wrong done to her people, the injustice may have never been recognized and finally corrected.

The End

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Rose Mapendo

Rose Mapendo was born in Mulenge within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1963.  She was a member of the Banyamulenge Tutsi tribe.  Mapendo grew up in a Christian household.  As is customary for women in her culture, she was married at the young age of sixteen years.  In 1994, she moved to the city of Mbuji-Mayi where her husband could successfully pursue his career as a butcher her children could go to school.

These plans, however, were severely disrupted with the outbreak of genocide against the Tutsi people that began in neighboring Rwanda.  On April 7, 1994 members of the Rwandan army murdered ten Belgian peacekeepers as part of strategy to eliminate the Tutsi people from Rwanda.  In three short months, the Hutu- led government of Rwanda, killed an estimated one-half to a million innocent civilian Tutsis.  This madness ultimately spread to the DRC.  Mapendo and her family attempted to hide from the invading troops but were eventually found and captured.  They were taken to a prison camp on the night of September 23, 1998

She remained in that camp for sixteen months.  Her existence there is hard to imagine.  The government ordered the extra-judicial killing of all the men; Mapendo’s husband was among them.  The camp lacked sanitation, medical care and the food provided was woefully inadequate.  During this time, Mapendo was pregnant with twins.  In order to save her own life, she was coerced into giving her seventeen-year-old daughter to a soldier for sex.  Mapendo managed to give birth under abysmal conditions and tied and cut the umbilical chords with a piece of wood.  She wisely named her newborns after two of the camp’s commanders.  This strategy ultimately saved her life: for, when orders from the government came to have the prisoners executed, one of the commanders had her and her family were transferred to another prison facility in Kinshasa, capital of the DRC.  Within weeks they were delivered to a human rights center and ultimately to a Red Cross center in Cameroon through an American effort to resettle Tutsi refugees.
Finally, in 2000 Mapendo and her children received refugee status and settled in the United States.  In 2007, she received word that her eleven-year old, daughter was alive, and Nangabire ultimately rejoined her family in the U.S. 

Once securing the safety of herself and family, Mapendo could certainly have chosen to quietly pursue her new life.  However, this is not what she chose to do.  Instead, she chose the path of forgiveness and women’s empowerment.  She was compelled to tell her story.  As a result, a PBS documentary entitled, Pushing the Elephant was released that describes Mapendo’s mission and experiences culminating in the reunion with her daughter.
The following is an audio excerpts from that film (hosted by Michel Martin) –

“And now we meet a remarkable woman. Her name is Rose Mapendo. She was the 2009 United Nations Humanitarian of the Year. She is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is an advocate for global health and women's empowerment and a mother to 10 children. But those words don't really capture her story, which is both remarkable and all too common. That story is told in a new documentary called "Pushing the Elephant." It premiered this week as part of the PBS series "Independent Lens."
And, again, I have to say that this conversation does touch on the issue of sexual violence and thus might not be suitable for all listeners. With that being said, Rose Mapendo is with us from Tempe, Arizona. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. ROSE MAPENDO (2009 United Nations Humanitarian of the Year): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: The documentary tells your story of surviving the violence that your family encountered doing what many people call the African world war. Certainly, living through those events had to have been incredibly painful. I must tell you that watching the film is painful. But recounting those events time and again must also be painful. And I wanted to ask why you were willing to do it.
Ms. MAPENDO: First of all, it is to raise the awareness and to tell a story of the innocent people. And I truly believe I just survive for reason. It was a choice for me to be a voice even though I knew nobody will change my past. Because I think the people can learn from the past to fix the present.
MARTIN: Just to some of the things that you lived through, which are recounted in the documentary, at the time that your community was invaded, your husband was killed, you were captured with how many children at the time? Seven, at that time. Correct?
MARTIN: You were separated from one child. And while you were imprisoned in, really, what can only be called a death camp, women and children were really just kept there to die with terrible conditions. You found that you were pregnant with twins and this presented a terrible dilemma, not just because the conditions that you were suffering were so terrible, the children were very sick. There were no conditions.
But, also, that if you revealed that you were sick in any way, you would be taken away. And many people who were ill, understood to be ill, were taken away and never seen again and it was assumed that they were killed. You talk about how at times you did pray that you would not survive this, that you just could not take any more. And I did want to ask, how did you find the strength?
Ms. MAPENDO: The strength, I believe, is the strength from God, because first of all, I grew up in a Christian house, but I was rejected that, like, resentful, according for what I have been through, but it was a pregnancy situation. Because in my belly, it was - the skin was came off because sleep on the cement. The lice was everywhere.
And of course I still hungry. Like, when you feel hungry, when the baby's inside, you feel like baby is look like he want to jump - to pass through your mouth. And I became weak and my body changed to yellow. And when I stood and I would feel dizzy, and I fell sometimes, down. And I thought my life was really freezing, stopped, and I thought I cannot pass. And I said, no matter what, there is a God - creation.
I came from somewhere and that God always give people choice. I believe in a God who put them in that situation. God can use people. And I made a decision to forgive the people who thought I am their enemy. And when I changed that, when I made the decision to forgive them, I became free from angry.
MARTIN: You made the truly remarkable, what many people consider the truly remarkable decision, to name your newborn twins after two of the prison guards.
MARTIN: Why did you do that?
Ms. MAPENDO: When you name somebody mean you love the person. But the decision to name the commanders who killed my husband, it was the way I try to think I can save my children's' life. And that way to try to tell them I am not your enemy. I know nobody understood, but I do that because I forgive you no matter what. I am one of your people.
MARTIN: One of the most difficult things, I think, for any parent, though, is to see a child suffer. And your son, John, was beaten every day that you were in the camps. And your daughter, Amy, essentially saved his life. And what happened is that you made the decision to essentially give Amy to a soldier for a sex partner.
MARTIN: And I'd like to ask you if she has forgiven you.
Ms. MAPENDO: Yes. My daughter - I didn't - first of all, I love my daughter. I did - she knew I did not do because I hate her. She understood exactly the situation. And this is not - sometimes I think this is not our shame. It is not my shame either. It's not my daughter's either. It is the government's shame. I love my children. This is not my shame. And my daughter, I believe my daughter, she's forgiven. And we talked. I told my daughter before, I said, my mom, I will not left you behind, because even though my daughter, she survived, but she pay a lot price. And I believe one day she's going to tell her own story -it will be in the public.
MARTIN: Well, as I said, it is a remarkable story and we do appreciate you being willing to talk about these very difficult things. As we are speaking now, there are many parts of the world which are in conflict, as you know. In the Ivory Coast is in the midst of a terrible, you know, political conflict, which has already led to the loss of life. There are a number of places around the world which are in conflict. What do you feel - what do you think we can draw from your story?
Ms. MAPENDO: I believe it's everybody's responsibility to take the action to save these people's life. There is many thousands of people who are seeking for life, who need my help, who need my voice, who need your voice, who need the world's attention to save their life. If I forgive somebody, if I united by myself with somebody who kill my last husband, or somebody who tortured my life, somebody who kill my own people, you can try the best to unite with that person.
It's not to change the past, it's to change the future for your family, for your neighbor, for your friend. That's change your family. You know, be better, let our children pursue the happiness like everybody because the past is gone.”

It is stories like these that need to be told regardless of how uncomfortable it might make the reader feel.  Otherwise, to remain in ignorance, is to allow this colossal inhumanity to continue.  There is, in fact, a powerful women’s movement arising in all of Africa and it needs the world’s encouragement and support.