Friday, September 30, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Obama's podcasts and Clinton's version of Slamdance

I found another cool podcast today--by Barack Obama! You can download it straight from the iTunes Music Store, listen to it on his site or subscribe through his site and listen to it though a podcasting application (iTunes, Odeo, iPodder, iPodderX, Doppler, NetNewsWire).

I post these kinds of things because it gives me hope that there are a few lone voices in powerful positions advocating for the future of all Americans, not just rich white ones, and for our environment. Looks like he just started podcasting so he just has a few:

• Hurricane Relief Efforts
• Katrina Relief Spending Accountability and Securing Our Energy Future
• Poverty in America and Opposing a Photo ID Requirement for Voting

The podcast about the photo ID requirement for voting was interesting and inspired me to email my Representative and Senator. Maybe you already know about this, but I can only bear to hear bits of the news so it was new to me that on September 19th the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform released its recommendations for improving the electoral process and they recommended a photo ID requirement to vote. Obama points out that many poor and elderly people don't have the money, transportation or proper documentation (i.e. birth certificate) to get a photo ID. He writes on his Web site, "In the last election, many Americans stood for hours and hours just to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. . . .We should be making this easier, not more difficult. And we should be figuring it out how to make it easier for all Americans - not just those with a car, or the extra cash to pay for voter ID card."

Yay, Obama!

My mom turned me on to some interesting work Clinton did this month holding his own version of Slamdance (the alternative to the Sundance Film Festival) shortly after the UN Summit this month, the Clinton Global Initiative. Tina Brown wrote a great piece about it in the Washington Post on September 22nd.

Basically, Clinton got out his rolodex and asked heads of state, business leaders, academics, and NGO leaders to come up with practical solutions to issues surrounding poverty, religious conflict, climate change and "governance, enterprise and investment" in international development. The cool part about the conference was that each person who attended had to make a specific commitment about how they would take action towards one of the solutions discussed. When the next summit is held, each person will report on the status of his or her commitment.

I find this particularly appealing because when I facilitate group career transition workshops, I find that the most powerful part of the workshop is when each person announces at the end of class the steps he or she will take towards his or her goal. At the beginning of the next workshop they report what they were able to accomplish and the group provides advice and resources to help them work through any obstacles that they encountered during the week so that they could make progress in the weeks ahead.

Accountability to a group, access to group members' multiple ways of thinking and resources, and inclusion in a community are an extremely powerful threesome. It is exciting to see it used in a global context.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How cool is UNICEF now?

What do you think of when you think of UNICEF? If you grew up in the 70's or 80's like I did, you probably think of two things:

1. Those annoying orange boxes you had to carry around with you on Halloween that no one gave you more than a few pennies to put in, and if you had a prop you had to carry with your costume and your treat bag and the orange box, it was totally annoying.

2. Ugly Christmas cards. I know its not PC to admit, but come on now, did you ever buy those Christmas cards more than once, if at all. Some faded watercolor of children standing around the globe--and that was the good one.

Well, recently, my husband gave me my first iPod (a nano!!) for our one-year anniversary (lucky me!!) which I LOVE and I have become obsessed with podcasts. In my search for interesting podcasts I came across UNICEF's podcasts, and they are totally cool and give a whole new, real, dramatic face, at least for me, to UNICEF's work.

What is so powerful about the podcasts is the ability to hear interviews with young people about issues such as landmines in Cambodia, the inequity of access to education for girls internationally and the experience of children who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Many of the interviews and stories are uplifting and inspiring such as a report about how a photography class helped survivors of the Beslan school hostage crisis process what happened to them, or how through different conferences and studies UNICEF is listening more to young people's opinions and needs when shaping policy.

They even had a C8 Forum in Scotland in July of 2005 to have a young person's version of the G8. Young people from 8 of the world's poorest countries met with young people from the G8 countries to create recommendations for the adult leaders of the G8.

So anyway, check out UNICEF's podcasts, they are inspiring and informative and make commuting zoom by.

Also, the cards are looking a bit better too. They have some beautiful looking handmade notecards from Bangladesh, a card based on Indonesian batiks and another based on Indian brocades.

And even the orange boxes are cuter. I wish they had told us these facts when they handed them out back in the day:

30¢ provides antibiotics for a child with pneumonia.
$1 immunizes a child against the measles.
$2.50 buys basic school supplies for one child.
$10 provides enough high-protein biscuits to feed three hungry children for one month.
$150 pays for a small well to provide clean water for an entire village.

And now you can dump your coins into a Coinstar machine, enter a code to designate you want to donate to UNICEF and the Coinstar machine prints a receipt for the full amount of the tax-deductible contribution. Pretty cool stuff.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bay Area (and Beyond) Volunteer & Philanthropic Opportunities

Ok, so after all that philosophical reflection on volunteering, here are some concrete volunteer (and philanthropic) opportunities in the Bay Area:

Through the power of storytelling, Streetside Stories values and cultivates young people's voices, fostering educational equity and building community, literacy and arts skills. Streetside always need volunteers during the school year to help SFUSD middle school students to write autobiographical stories in their Storytelling Exchange Program and after school programs and to create digital stories in their Tech Tales program.

Urban Sprouts is a school garden program that teaches SFUSD youth to grow, harvest, prepare and eat vegetables from the school garden, in order to help them become more engaged in school, eat better, exercise more, and connect with the environment and each other. They need volunteers to work one on one with students during class, help plan and staff events and do special projects (like design and build a tool shed and worm box).

People's Grocery is a community-based organization working to find creative solutions to the food needs of the residents of West Oakland by building a local food system and local economy. They also need volunteers to work in their community gardens.

Kick Start promotes sustainable economic growth and employment creation in Kenya and other countries by developing and promoting technologies that can be used by dynamic entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises. Right now they need volunteers to help them with filing and database work in their San Francisco office.

One Brick is a non-profit volunteer organization that brings volunteers together to support other local non-profit organizations and creates a friendly and social atmosphere around volunteering, and after each volunteer event -- which typically lasts only 3 to 4 hours. They invite volunteers to gather at a local restaurant or café where they can get to know one another in a relaxed social setting. They have branches in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.
Contact: Check out each city's Web page link above for contact information.

SAALT (South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow) will be having their annual Be the Change day, Formerly known as the National Gandhi Day of Service, on October 1, 2005. They will have service opportunities in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York City, Edison, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Palo Alto and San Francisco.
Contact: Check out Web site link above to register in your city.

Hands On Bay Area also organizes group volunteer projects and Saturday, October 15th is their Hands on Bay Area Day when they have many group volunteer projects happening at once.
Contact: Check out the Web site link above for different program's contact information.

September 24th the band Crowsong will be hosting a benefit for The Tibetan Children's Fund at the Noe Valley Ministry (1021 Sanchez in San Francisco) at 8 PM. The Tibetan Children's Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives and preserving the culture of exiled Tibetan refugees in India, Nepal and Bhutan. The proceeds from the entire evening will provide hepatitis vaccines for the entire student body of Kalimpong.

I did end up watching The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Jeffrey Sachs in Africa and was amazed at the difference an anti-malarial bednet ($10), school lunch ($25), rechargeable lantern ($50) could make. You can donate money for one or more of those things through Millennium Promise.

Finally here are some grassroots organizations I've come across that seem like they will be providing aid to the people in Louisiana who need it the most:

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
Send a check to the
FFLIC Hurricane Relief Fund
920 Platt Street
Sulphur, Louisiana, 70663.
For more information: Email them at all four addresses due to tech challenges:

Southern Partners Justice Fund
Southern Partners Fund is a public foundation created to serve Southern Communities and organizations seeking social, economic, and environmental justice by providing them with financial resources, technical assistance and training, and access to systems of information and power.

Twenty-First Century Foundation
The mission of The Twenty-First Century Foundation (21CF) is to advance strategic black philanthropy. Relief Fund
The funds raised by the Relief Fund will go to individual
families who have opened their homes to families displaced by Hurricane Katrina,
to supplement their personal households as the recovery efforts continue.

I found most of these links through The Praxis Project.

Volunteering: Motivation and Reflection

I started volunteering with Streetside Stories in 1997 when the internship I had hoped would turn into job didn't, and the relationship I'd hoped would last forever, tanked.

Although I was still depressed about my failed relationship and lack of interesting work, when I went to help San Francisco public middle school students write autobiographical stories each morning, I felt happy and excited to get up and help out the next day.

Years later, as the Program Director for Streetside Stories, I would meet other people who wanted to volunteer who were in some kind of transition: they had moved, left their job, broken up with someone, started thinking about graduate school or dropped their last child off at college. I remember one man who, when I asked why he wanted to volunteer, explained that he was going through a divorce and he just wanted, "to be of help to someone else."

According to Imagine magazine's article, "Help Others--And Yourself," a number of US and British studies have shown that volunteering is good for your health and sense of well-being. My newly divorced volunteer started volunteering in the winter and when I saw him in the spring at one of Streetside's public events, he was smiling and laughing--and with a date.

If volunteering feels so good, why aren't more people volunteering?

A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that about 64.5 million people did volunteer work at least once from September 2003 to September 2004 and that the percentage of the U.S. population who volunteered was 28.8 percent. Using some of the Bureau's statistics, the Points of Light Foundation developed estimates of state volunteering rates in 2003. Utah was the state with the highest percentage of volunteers (49.9%) and Nevada was the lowest (21.3%). I was sad to see that my state, California, came in 44th with 25%.

But that may change with the recent outreach efforts for Katrina. As Arthur Blaustein states in a recent Mother Jones article, "The disaster in New Orleans makes at least one thing clear -- the importance of serving our communities and being there for one another."

But if a surge of volunteering should arise, especially to help the poor, mostly African Americans, in New Orleans, it serves all people interested in volunteering to examine their motives and the solutions being offered.

During a speech in 1968 to the Conference on InterAmerican Student Projects (CIASP) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Ivan Illich said:

The idea that every American has something to give, and at all times may, can and
should give it, explains why it occurred to students that they could help Mexican
peasants "develop" by spending a few months in their villages. . . .
Next to money and guns,the third largest North American export is the U.S.
idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer,
the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the
vacationing do-gooders. Ideally, these people define their role as
service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money
and weapons, or "seducing" the "underdeveloped" to the benefits of the world of
affluence and achievement. . . . Not only is there a gulf between what you have
and what others have which is much greater than the one existing between you and
the poor in your own country, but there is also a gulf between what you feel and
what the Mexican people feel that is incomparably greater.

Given that the same Bureau of Labor Statistics study mentioned earlier showed that in 2004 white people volunteered at a higher rate (30.5 percent) than did black people (20.8 percent) or other people of color, it behooves white people to think about their role as volunteers. For example, as plans are made to help the people of New Orleans and rebuild their city, will the agencies and organizations involved ask the poor, African American people of New Orleans what aid they need and how they want their city to be rebuilt or will it be determined only by wealthier white people?

I am still a HUGE proponent of volunteering, but just as New Orleans is an opportunity to rebuild the city it is also an opportunity to reflect on how volunteers serve. Particularly if you are a white volunteer, whenever you choose a volunteer opportunity, ask yourself:

Why does the problem I am hoping to help solve exist?
How do I think the work I am doing will help?
Are the solutions offered by the organization generated by the people being served and if not, who generated them?
What do I want to gain out of this volunteer experience?
If I am working with people of color (and I am a white person) am I aware of the privileges that I come to my volunteer work with?

Monday, September 12, 2005

One More Bit About Jolie's Journals

Finished Angelina Jolie's Notes from Travels this weekend while visiting my parents in New Mexico and really haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

In particular, when she visits Tuul Sleng, the Genocide Museum in Cambodia, and sees photos of mothers being killed as they hold their babies on their laps.

And how no matter where she goes, when she asks children what they want the most, it is education.

Why is a good education such an elusive commodity in this world?

I was so engrossed by her accounts of the refugee conditions in Africa, Cambodia, Pakistan and Ecuador, I downloaded her journals from her trips to Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Jordan and Russia from the USA for UNHCR web site. Although they need some serious copyediting, I found them equally compelling, particularly her entries about Russia where I was suprised to hear how bad the situation is there in some areas.

I'm not saying that Angelina Jolie is the political pundit of our times, but I do appreciate the accessibility of her writing in what are very complex topics and her depiction of many people whose lives rarely reach the radar of everyday Americans.

I will be interested to see how The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa will compare.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Heroes & Celebrities

I found the sweetest Web site today, called My Hero Project. It is a nonprofit educational web project that archives stories of "heroes" from around the world. The site features stories of heroes from the Associated Press, resources for teachers, a searchable hero directory and tools for young people (and adults) to create a, "My Hero Webpage".

I came across the Web site while surfing for information about the book I am reading right now, Notes from My Travels by Angelina Jolie. Several young women had created Hero Webpages about her. I'm only a quarter of the way through the book, but so far, I am enjoying it. Jolie isn't a fantastic writer, which she admits, but she records what she sees on her travels in 2001-02 with the UN Refugee Agency through Africa, Cambodia, Pakistan and Ecuador in a straightforward, simple way.

I particularly liked one little bit where she admits that she is surprised to hear that there are still problems in Ethiopia, but reminds herself, "these problems do not disappear just because we do not hear about them. And in that thought--there is so much more happening around the world than what is communicated to us about the top stories we do hear.

We all need to look deeper and discover for ourselves . . .
What is the problem?
Where is it?
How can we help solve it?"

On another celebrity note, I was also given Bono on Bono by Michka Assayas for my birthday this year. (It is called Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas in the States, but my version came from a friend in Dublin). Bono has always kind of gotten on my nerves with his blue sunglasses and black leather jacket, but I finished the book and had more respect for him.

He tells one wonderful story that Harry Belafonte, who is one of his heroes, told him about Martin Luther King. I'm posting an excerpt of it here because I think it is a good lesson for these times, when it is so easy to hate the people who we don't agree with:

"Bobby [Kennedy] at that time was famously not interested in the civil rights movement. We knew we were in deep trouble. We were crestfallen, in despair, talking to Martin, moaning and groaning about the turn of events, when Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the bitchin': 'Enough of this,' he said. 'Is there nobody here who's got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?' We said: 'Martin, that's what we're telling ya! There is no one. There is nothing good to say about him. The guy's an Irish Catholic conservative badass, he's bad news.' To which Martin replied: 'Well, then, let's call this meeting to a close. We will re-adjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that my friends is the door through which our movement will pass.' So he stopped the meeting and he made them all go home. He wouldn't hear any more negativity about Bobby Kennedy. He knew there must be something positive. And if it was there, somebody could find it. . . .

. . . that was a great lesson for me, because what Dr. King was saying was: Don't respond to caricature--the Left, the Right, the Progressives, the Reactionary. Don't take people on rumor. Find the light in them, because that will further your cause."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Finally, a Politician Telling It Like It Is

Here is an audio clip from the WWL-AM interview by Garland Robinette with Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina Katrina

Today Common Dreams published a great column by Molly Ivins where she points out that what is happening in New Orleans because of hurricane Katrina exemplifies how "government policies have real consequences in people's lives." She calls it a column for everyone who has ever said, "'I'm sorry, I'm just not interested in politics' or 'There's nothing I can do about it' or 'Eh, they're all crooks anyway.'" I know I often fit into the last category.

She talks about the disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast that had been a buffer between the city and the ocean, about Bush's removing the protections on those wetlands, about his allowing developers to drain them and about his 44% cut from the New Orleans corps of engineers' budget this past June that had been earmarked for hurricane and flood protection. She adds that 35% of Louisiana's National Guard is now serving in Iraq and that many of the State's high-water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators have been sent to Iraq as well.

New Orleans puts an impossible to ignore face on the Bush administration's bad decisions and many Americans' laissez faire attitude towards national politics.

The social, economic and environmental problems facing the States today are pretty overwhelming, which is why many Americans often feel, "There is nothing I can do about it." Sometimes it helps to start by focusing on the issues that you are the most passionate about.

Ask yourself what issues are the most important to you:

Children & Youth
Community Building and Renewal
Community Service and Volunteering
Computers and Technology
Consumer Protection
Crime and Safety
Disability Issues
Disaster Relief
Economic Development
Energy Conservation
Family & Parenting
Farming & Agriculture
Foundations & Fundraising
Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans Issues
Government Oversight and Reform
Housing and Homelessness
Human Rights and Civil Liberties
Legal Assistance
Men's Issues
Mental Health
Peace and Conflict Issues
Poverty and Hunger
Prison Reform
Race and Ethnicity
Recovery, Addiction and Abuse
Rural Issues
Seniors and Retirement Issues
Spiritual and Metaphysical Issues
Veterans of War
Voting and Democracy
Wildlife and Animal Welfare
Women's Issues
Workplace Issues

Did you pick one or two? If you aren't sure which ones to pick, notice what newspaper and magazine articles you are interested in and what news stories catch your interest the most. OK, now pick 2-3 skills that you have:

Accounting and finance
Activism and organizing
Clerical and data entry
Computing and Internet
Customer service
Database management
Direct social service
Editing and writing
Education & training
Employment and human resources
Event planning
Food service
Fundraising and development
Grants administration
Graphic design
Health and medicine
Library sciences
Maintenance and janitorial
Project management
Public relations

Now brainstorm three ways that you could use your skills to make a difference for an issue that is important to you. Idealist has databases of volunteer opportunities and job opportunities that you can search through (in fact, that is where these categories come from).

In addition to Idealist, if you are interested in volunteer opportunities, there are a number of national volunteer referral Web sites to check out:

Volunteer Match
Just Volunteers
Network for Good

And if you want to do work specific to New Orleans and the surrounding areas, Network for Good has a pretty good list up right now.