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Digging Deeper into VAW with Tropicana Community Services

Simple & Clear

Simple & Clear

Although we have the Canadian and World Stats on Violence Against Women…I felt it was important to dig a little deeper to find out more about the issue in the Communities the #NoMeansStop Journey to Kilimanjaro is meant to serve. I recently met with the phenomenal team of Tropicana Community Organizations VAW Services who answered some of my questions regarding their work…

1.      Which Communities do you serve?

The Culturally Appropriate Counseling program of Tropicana Community Services provides services to youth and their families, particularly from the Black/Caribbean communities.  A significant portion of work is with women and children impacted by domestic violence.

2.      The Canadian Women’s Foundation states on its site that 1 in 2 women in Canada have faced some sort of sexual or physical violence since the age of 16. 

a.      How true is this statistic in the communities you serve?

This statistic seems to be an accurate depiction of the community which we serve; however, front line staff note that this might be conservative given the feedback of the community.

b.      Is Violence against Women a major concern in the communities you serve?

As workers in the VAW sector, this issue is a major concern.  Workers see women and children negatively impacted and strive to educate them about the issue while securing necessary resources.  At the same time however, workers are unsure about the extent to which it is a priority as, in many ways, the abuse of women and children is seemingly tolerated by ineffective laws and insufficient funding for preventative services.

3.      What are some of the most common instances of abuse and violence that appear in the communities you serve? (Verbal, Physical, Sexual etc.)

Amongst the youth community which TCS serves, verbal abuse seems to be the most predominant but eventually this verbal abuse, translates itself into emotional and mental abuse. Amongst women in the community, physical abuse is the most common instance of abuse and sexual is the least reported.  Emotional and financial abuse is also existent within the community, but often time people do not recognize this as a form of abuse.

4.      On average what is the age group of the clients you serve?

On average, amongst various counselors, the age group of clients served ranges from as young as 15 years of age to about 45 years of age.

5.      In most cases who are the perpetrators of the abuse?

Often times, the most common perpetrators of abuse are the parents, especially the mother of a client – but at the same time, partners of females also are a significant perpetrator.

a.      How prevalent is intimate partner abuse?

Intimate partner abuse is very prevalent amongst the community, with contributing factors like language barriers, economic status, educational achievement, social class, access to/lack of resources and knowledge – especially for immigrants.

b.      Most abusive relationships do not begin that way. What are some early signs Women and Girls Should be aware of in their relationships to determine if they are in a potentially abusive situation?

Some early sign that women and girls should be aware of in their relationships to determine if they are in a potentially abusive situation include:   inexplicable changes in a person’s behavior (moody, withdrawal, anger), controlling behaviour (jealousy, making decisions for her), isolation (keeping her away from friends and/or family, monitoring of a person’s phone, calling her 24/7 and always wanting to know her whereabouts).

6.      From what you have seen how does this violence impact our communities, families, society?

This violence impacts our communities, families and society because it breaks up families and relationships. When seemingly condoned, it erroneously demonstrates that this behaviour is acceptable.  It stifles the victims’ ability to reach their fullest potential.  At the same time, it puts a strain on the current resources available within our community for prevention services.

7.      What are some reasons why women stay in situations of abuse?

Some reasons why women stay in situations of abuse include financial/economic factors as they may not have any other means of support.  They may stay for the children’s sake, eroded self-esteem giving them a feeling like they deserve no better or fear of what people might say about them (cultural shame and stigmas) and perhaps times when the abuser demonstrates care and affection which lead women to minimize the occurrences of abuse.

a.      What advice would you give someone who may be facing abuse?

Awareness and education about abuse is vital as well as emotional support, safety planning and connections to community resources. Education should not be limited to females but should also include males in terms of their perception of females, gender relationships/ roles and privileges to name a few.

8.      Why do you feel Violence against Women continues in the communities you serve?

Violence against women continues in the communities served by TCS because it is condoned on many levels. There is also silence about what abuse actually is, leaving some people with the impression that certain things are not abuse and is normal. Depending on a person’s family of origin and/or religion abuse may be normalized. Attitudes regarding child rearing, discipline and physical punishment also create ideas around the morality of abuse. Media contributes to influence what is considered to be abusive while the judicial system and government are not doing enough to sanction perpetrators of abuse.

a.      What strategies do you feel can be put in place to help stop it?

Strategies that can be put in place to help stop violence includes starting a conversation about abuse and keeping it going, similar to the campaign Bell started around mental health. The education and resources surrounding this topic is minimal so it is important to begin getting everyone involved.  Encourage the mind-set that abuse must not be tolerated.

b.      How can we empower boys and young men to help stop Violence against Women?

Empowerment for boys and young men to help stop violence against women can start with teaching males to begin discussing and expressing feelings rather than internalizing them.  Educate males about the importance of respect and start the path to eliminating gender roles, stereotypes and love.  Model positive behaviours to boys and girls to demonstrate that healthy relationships cane exist in all aspects of society.

9.      What type of assistance does Tropicana’s VAW Services provide to potential clients?

Tropicana’s VAW services provides potential clients with safety and transitional planning, counselling, education, advocacy and referrals to priority housing

10.  How does someone find Tropicana Community Services if they require assistance?

If someone is interested in finding Tropicana Community Services, they are able to do so by calling 211 for the directory of community and social services.  TCS is also noted in the Black/Caribbean newspapers.   I am thankful to the following women who took time out of their very busy schedules to spend some time with me to dig deeper into Violence against Women in the Tropicana Services Community..

I’d like to send out a BIG THANK YOU to the ladies of VAW Team at Tropicana Community Services for spending some time with me and answering my questions. Unfortunately I took a photo of these remarkable women only to get home and realize that due to an overloaded memory the pic did not come out. Needless to say they were passionate and compassionate power women

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Journey to Kilimanjaro- Conversations on Consent- Young Men Talking

The first Conversations On Consent with the young men of Scarborough Youth Center’s Man Up Group was scheduled for the Monday just before Christmas Wednesday. Given that Toronto was reeling from the effects of a brutal ice-storm there was uncertainty as to whether this talk would actually happen. I placed a phone call beforehand to the Man Up Group Facilitator Richard to check-in. Initially he was unsure if we should go ahead but then expressed a definite desire to have the talk with his group regardless of whether it was today or in the new year. After some further conversation and sharing about how important he felt this topic was we decided to push ahead and have the scheduled session with a promise for more in the new year.

When I arrived at the Scarborough Youth Center there were only about 3 young men hanging around and Richard explained when I got there that he thought there would have been more young men by this time but he was concerned that we may not get much of a turn out because of the holidays. For my part it did not matter I was prepared to talk to the 3 young men who were already there. Thankfully though more came trickling in and we were a healthy group enough to start the conversation.

20131223_201554 Like with the ladies I started the conversation speaking to the young men about my journey to Kilimanjaro. I told them about what happened to my friend’s daughter and why I wanted to have this conversation with them about Sexual Consent. They took in the information and after asking for their consent to publish what we spoke about with no names attached and confirm that it would be ok to take pics with them we got started.

My first question, ‘what is consent?’ always general, was met with a straightforward answer -‘to give permission’-. That was easy enough so I dove right in and followed up with what is sexual consent. There were some smiles and reaction to this one and then I got the roundabout answer that Sexual Consent has to do with giving permission to have sex. I asked them to go a little deeper to talk about what consent actually looks like, so as to get clear, and they shared that the eyes are a powerful tool in giving consent and as well as paying attention to how someone is reacting in the situation to ensure that they are ok with it because consent is an ongoing conversation.

20131223_201547Some very interesting moments showed up in my discussion with the young men. We explored the concept of ‘passionate’ relationships. One of the young men suggested that based on what he had seen in films and on TV, relationships where couples get very angry even to the point of  aggression or hitting, could mean that their love is very ‘passionate’ or strong because most times in those ‘tv’ scenarios they end up making love in the end.  I was happy to note that this opened up a very lively conversation, with a number of the young men suggesting that anytime you have to get violent or so angry in the relationship it can’t be good. Many suggested that instead of a passionate love-making scene at the end as is suggested in the movies, situations like this could lead to much more deadly circumstances.  This was a key moment for me as though I know the media’s influence I was smacked in the face with how powerful it truly is as I listened and watched this young man defend this concept – of  ‘passionate’ relationships- very convincingly until the group and myself were eventually able to sway him with reasoned discussion.

Interestingly many of the young men also felt strongly that there is quite a bit of violence against men that is not talked about. The young men felt that in some cases many girls who are their contemporaries were more violent than their male counterparts. In that moment I will admit to feeling a bit of panic as I wanted to honor their position but at the same time not deflect attention away from the high occurring incidences of Violence against young women and Intimate Partner Violence that disproportionately affects females at a much higher rate. I challenged one of the young men to find me the stats that also support this claim,  and I thoroughly loved how he got out his phone and whipped up an article from the web complete with stats that proved violence against men is a growing concern. With this unexpected twist we spent some time exploring violence against men.

20131223_201914They shared stories of lived experiences in which friends and even themselves sometimes faced difficult scenarios of bullying at the hands of girls/ girlfriends and sometimes in the home. We spent some time here fielding suggestions of positive ways for young men to deal with these situations. Here I was really moved by the support system that the young men provided for each other. Some of the ideas that came across were  anonymously speaking to someone in authority, to deal with bullies. Finding a supportive friend with whom they can share and in extreme situations seeking help from a guidance counsellor, anonymous Phone Help Lines and lastly the police. For the young men it was important to not come across as looking weak and so anonymously seeking help and support resonated as a stronger strategy.

We then went on to explore strategies to deal with challenges that may come up in intimate situations, where they may find themselves getting angry or having to deal to uncomfortable feelings of rejection. Walking away from the situation rang out as the best strategy. Some suggested locking themselves in a room if needed but most importantly to get away from the situation. In a scenario where a young woman says no in the middle of  an intimate experience- again here the boys stressed on walking away especially when it’s hardest to do so, just get out of the situation as quickly as possible. At clubs or dances where they want t to dance with a girl – the best ways to approach and what to do when the girl says NO is simple just STOP.

20131223_200707We talked about finding healthy ways to release negative energy like getting involved in martial arts or other healthy physical activity. The influence of friendships and how supporting each other with positive feedback and right information was important. We spoke about  them becoming conscious and aware of their own personal triggers, especially in relationships. Getting to know themselves well enough to understand what types of scenarios and situations may cause them to get upset or put them in harm’s way; and to determine in advance how to deal with them. In the end I stressed the importance of having in mind a vision for their lives and in every moment determining whether a particular action or decision gets them closer or further from that vision.

I thoroughly enjoyed and was overwhelmed by the sensitivity and wisdom coming from this group of young men, Their honesty and willingness to be open about these issues was a truly pleasant surprise. I was nervous going in as I did not know what to expect and unsure of my approach; however things turned out very well and in the moment of conversations and beyond I felt connected with them.  They asked questions, challenged ideas, dug deep and supported each other. The balanced view from the young men is also very much reflected in the calm and passionate leader of the group Richard. So I must give special Shout OUTS to Richard for being a wonderful guide and mentor for these young men!

Thank you again to Tropicana Community Services for allowing me to reach out to these brilliant young men. I give you KUDOS for providing a space like the Scarborough Youth Center and the Man UP Group to help young men in our community become their best selves!

Raising It Up!

I am officially 6.5 weeks away from the Summit! so I clearly need to ramp my fundraising efforts right the way up! Support the NO MEANS STOP! Campaign. We are raising funds to Support Tropicana Community Services Violence Against Women Programs and to build programs that are specifically designed to educate and empower Boys & Young Men around issues of Sexual Consent.

Let's Empower Our Young Men!

Together We Can Empower Our Young Men!

If you’d like to support online don’t hesitate to click here —> GO FUND ME Widget or scroll up to the right of the page  and hit the Go Fund Me Button there.  You can also  send me a note in the comments below if you’d prefer donate or lend your support in another way! I am happy to come to your Social Gathering, Business group, school or event to talk about this Journey! Share the Image Below with a link to this blog so others can learn more about this journey!

I have attached the Official Press Release —> Kilimanjaro Climb to Raise Awareness PR Jan2014, in case you require some easy background to Share with your Network!

Thank you for reading and Thank you for your Support! Together we CAN be the Change we want to see in this world!

Yours As Always

A Traveling Black Chick!

LH

P.S. This one was long in coming I know…so I apologize for the delay!

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Conversations on Consent- Ladies on Assault

HAPPY HAPPY NEW YEAR Fellow Travellers and Life Livers!!! It’s been a while since I have written. You are still owed a report on my first Conversations on Consent with the Young Men…it is coming, for some reason I am finding it hard to just spit that one out.

I realize that my need to tell every part of the story can sometimes get in the way of just getting the story told. So I am working on an easier format for myself that allows me to just get things posted and out quicker.

That being said…yesterday I had the 1st Conversations on Consent for 2014 and the 2nd one with the Sister to Sister young ladies of Tropicana Community’s Scarborough Youth Center. My second topic on the Conversations in Consent is Assault. As the universe would have it a powerfully moving documentary called the Invisible War, played on PBS the night before and I happened to catch it. It is a heart-wrenching account of stories of Women in the US Military who have faced all KINDS of Sexual Assault while serving in what is supposed to be the most powerful army in the world. What turned out to be worse for me watching this was the complete failing of the US Military Organization where this issue is concerned. A trailer for the doc is below….It’s a MUST WATCH!

I spent some time speaking to the young women about this documentary and it turned out to be the perfect lead as we walked into the dark and destructive world of assault. As usual we started with general definitions and then went specifically into Sexual Assault definitions. I tend to leave the conversations as unscripted as possible so we get to dive deep and wide into our topic. This turns out to be effective as what I learned from these conversations is how much talks like this are important for creating clarity.

The young ladies shared lived experiences, some of which they were unclear as to whether they should be defined as assault or violations. In most of the cases it turned out they were being at the very least harassed  and even threatened,  so being able to provide them with an understanding of what is defined as assault and what they can do about it proved valuable.

In addition they raised deeper questions around why Women are treated differently which allowed us to explore concepts as big as patriarchy and gender power politics in our own and other cultures and institutions. You can imagine that the time is never enough to truly dig deep enough into these complicated topics.

I therefore tried to keep them focused on the power that lies within their own person. The ability to SPEAK up loudly and firmly to resist any suggestion of violation or assault. The fact that they should expect when they Say NO it should be firmly and clearly stated so that STOP is the only meaning understood. Also The power that comes from standing up and supporting each other when they see others being violated and/ or assaulted.

The importance of safe action i.e gathering as much information as possible and taking it to authority as opposed to trying to confront the situation solely on their own. Using technology to aid them where possible to capture images or video of violations to strengthen their positions and use as evidence when or if required.

Syrcme[1]Before we knew it my time with the ladies was up and we had to barrel out of the room to make way for the Man Up Group who meet right after. Hence the lack of photo’s from yesterday’s session. But here is one of me and one of the most active participants in our discussions!

Every time I meet with my young participants I am empowered and emboldened in this quest to raise awareness and to push harder to accomplish this goal.

I want to always thank Tropicana Community Services specifically the staff at the Scarborough Youth Resource Center for the opportunity to converse with these amazing young people!

Raising It Up!

I am officially 6.5 weeks away from the Summit! so I clearly need to ramp my fundraising efforts right the way up! Support the NO MEANS STOP! Campaign. We are raising funds to Support Tropicana Community Services Violence Against Women Programs and to build programs that are specifically designed to educate and empower Boys & Young Men around issues of Consent.

Major Thanks to My Caribbean Posse for Putting their Dollars up for NO MEANS STOP!

Major Thanks to My Caribbean Posse for Putting their Dollars up for NO MEANS STOP!

If you’d like to support online don’t hesitate to hit click here —> GO FUND ME Widget or scroll up to the right of the page  and hit the Go Fund Me Button there.  You can also  send me a note in the comments below if you’d prefer donate or lend your support in another way! I am happy to come to your Social Gathering, Business group or event to talk about this Journey! Share the Image Below.

I have attached the Official Press Release —> Kilimanjaro Climb to Raise Awareness PR Jan2014, in case you require some easy background to Share with your Network!

Simple & Clear

Simple & Clear

Help Get Me to The TOP! Together we CAN be the Change we all want to see in this world!

As Always I am yours

A Traveling Black Chick!

LH

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Journey to Kilimanjaro- Conversations on Consent- Ladies Speak

SyrcA little nervous, feeling not as prepared as I wanted to be but it had to be done, so I got on the eastbound train and headed to the Scarborough Youth Resource Center to have my first Conversations on Consent with the young ladies of the Sister to Sister Women’s Group. When first asked to speak to the young women I knew immediately that for me it was more important to hear their thoughts on the topic at least initially instead of bombarding them with stats and how things should be. I want to walk with them where they are and discover with them uncensored how they truly feel about issues around consent. The Young ladies of the Sister to Sister Group were thankfully a balanced bunch so none too shy but not overly boisterous in a manner that would take over the conversation.  I had met most of them before on a prior occasion (a talk on Career Paths) so this made walking into the room and breaking the ice a little easier. After my introduction by contributor to this blog and Program Facilitator Kay-Ann Ward we were off to the races.

I initially had prepared the presentation as a series of questions/information spanning the whole spectrum along the journey from consent to violence against women. However thankfully on my train ride to the center I realised that in order to have a more meaningful conversation I should tackle the topic in smaller bits and bites and use the information gleaned from each conversation to inform future discussions.

To start I prefaced the conversation with a short blurb about my decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro -cue eyes popping out of sockets accompanied by a chorus of “Really?!!!” -gonna have to get used to this reaction, lolol. Then I went on to share with  them a little bit about why I was climbing and the story of my young relation who got violated while walking down the street. This allowed for a somewhat natural segue into a deeper discussion about their thoughts on consent.

My first question was general- What is Consent? As in all groups thankfully there is always at least one person who will always eagerly put up their hands to answer questions. In her answer this young woman gave the example of giving consent within the context of an agreement or legal document- as in ‘by signing this document I give consent or agree to abc or d’. The room agreed so I followed this question immediately with ‘so what do we think is Sexual Consent?” There were no other takers yet so I was thankful again for our eager beaver who correctly expounded on consent within intimate relationships and interactions.

We explored the various ways in which we give sexual consent to which the young ladies offered verbal communication as the main way. I challenged them to dig a little further for additional ways that we give consent by thinking about real life or even movie scenarios. Upon further exploration we determined that the eyes are a pretty powerful tool along other types of body language cues like leaning in and a relaxed and open facial and body expressions.

My next question centered around the age of consent. There were various answers to that question ranging in answers from 12 to 19. That the age of consent was 16 was something of a surprise to some but relatively accepted by most. The question of age opened up the floor for a discourse on “consent’ in cultural context, with one of the young ladies asking about cultures where girls as young as 12 and 13 were being forced into marriage.   Her question allowed us to spend some time on how consent and a girl’s right to her body is a particular human rights issue that is being tackled in other parts of the world. We spoke about the difficulty and opposition that those working towards the change face given that this behaviour is strongly a part of their cultural traditions.  In writing this post I now see how our discussions could have gone even further.

The Young Ladies working through discussions on Healthy Relationships...

The Young Ladies working through discussions on Healthy Relationships…

We then moved on to questions of actioning Consent. How do girls deal with issues of consent in intimate relationships and what challenges do they face in trying to do so. I was happy to note that all the young women felt very strongly they had a right to say NO at any stage of an intimate encounter.  Their questions came up around dealing with objections that may arise like “if you love me you would do it” or “how do you say no and not risk losing the relationship”. Some powerful answers to these questions came from the young women themselves; with one stating “you just keep saying NO” and another stating that the partner should be told  “if you loved me then you would STOP when I say NO”.  I thought that was a brilliant response and gave me a wonderful opportunity to share the campaign slogan NO Means STOP. I was able to explain that the action word STOP is important as it provides a clear instruction to a partner on what should happen when we say NO.

I asked if they thought that any partner should be or is generally more dominant in a relationship. The answers here varied with one stating that power should be equally shared while others thought it depended on the personalities in the relationship. Interestingly there was a thought that power had less to do with gender and more to do with personality so in effect a woman could also be the dominant figure in a relationship. Interestingly enough there was also some cultural discussions here as well, where it was suggested that men from some cultures felt it was their right to be dominant in relationships. Here I feel that I missed an opportunity to spend some time talking about the appalling statistics that show abuse and sexual violence of women is usually inflicted most notably by intimate partners. Something I will definitely explore in upcoming conversations.

We spent a little time on sexual consent within the context of families. It was easily agreed that there is no time that a girl should have to give consent within a family context and any situation like this falls squarely under Sexual Abuse and is against the law. This opened up discussions about how to be support systems for each other and paying attention to the signs of abuse. The young ladies were right on in identifying changes in behaviour (i.e acting out or extreme withdrawal) as a strong sign that something could be wrong.  An important question about how to offer support especially if this person is not a close friend came up. I suggested that the young women could offer assistance either by reaching out directly with a non-judgemental question or speaking to a school counsellor or advisor in confidence if they believe that something could be wrong.

I had exactly one hour with these beautiful and smart young women and I feel it was a valuable one. My hour was followed immediately by another presenter from a local organization called Black CAP a remarkable organization whose work centers reducing HIV/AIDS in Toronto’s Black, African and Caribbean communities and enhance the quality of life of Black people living with or aff­ected by HIV/AIDS. Mary’s session was centered around the same topics but dug a little deeper into the context of Healthy Relationships. Where in my conversation the ladies and I sat down in a circle and chatted; Mary did an excellent job of getting the  young ladies moving about and exploring further their thoughts and ideas on how particular scenarios and generally held opinions should play out in healthy relationships! I learned a lot from her session with the ladies!

All in all I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my first Conversations on Consent. It turned out not to be as scary as I thought and I was blessed to have a receptive and open group of young ladies to learn from and discuss this important topic with. I am thankful to Kay-Ann Ward for allowing me access to the young ladies in Sister to Sister and to Cameal, Manager of the SYRC for immediately supporting this project. Major thanks also goes out to Tropicana Community Services the charitable organization who has officially come on board to endorse the climb and whose programs will benefit from funds raised by the NO Means STOP Campaign.

Fantastic Group of Ladies

Fantastic Group of Ladies

My next Conversations on Consent will happen next week with the young men of the Scarborough Youth Center’s Man Up Young Men’s Group, definitely looking forward to the dynamics of that conversation! The Conversations on Consent forms part of my Journey to Kilimanjaro to help Raise Awareness about Sexual Consent and Violence Against Women.

I am excited about how this journey continues to grow. I am working towards increasing the content around this topic by speaking to many more on the frontline of this issue so stay tuned.

Till then I am yours always

A Traveling Black Chick…

LH

Simple & Clear

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For Immediate Release- Kilimanjaro Climb Supported by Tropicana Community Services

Toronto, ON December 17th 2013. Lead writer and creator of Traveling Black Chicks Blog Lucy Hamlet, is headed on an adventure of a lifetime to raise awareness for Violence Against Women and a Girl’s Right to Consent. The No Means Stop! Climb to Kilimanjaro is being undertaken as part of her Blog’s Journeys for Change initiative.

lucybackpackFor the former arts producer and now CEO of the Black Chick Group the initial decision to do the climb was a personal challenge to defy her own limits. According to Hamlet, “I felt stuck and needed to challenge my life. The opportunity arose to take a trip to Tanzania so I thought that while there I’ll just climb this mountain.” That was of course before she knew how high Kilimanjaro actually was! Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, is Africa’s highest peak standing an impressive 19,430ft above sea level. It is one of the official Seven Summits and is also known as the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. Once she did find out Kilimanjaro’s actual height however, Hamlet became further determined to scale the ‘beast’ as she now refers to it.

The Traveling Black Chicks blog shares stories of Black Women’s life and travel journeys. The Blog’s tag line and mission reads, See the World. Be the Change and so posits that the climb would be used to raise awareness for an issue or charity organization. Finding out that the 16-year-old daughter of a close friend was recently violated by a young man, while walking to her doctor’s office in broad daylight, crystallized the cause for Lucy. She states, “I feel that awareness and education about consent are strong precursors to help stem violence against women. For me it makes sense to focus on educating boys and young men at an early age.”

Tropicana Logo Orangetranssmall borderTropicana Community Services has officially endorsed and will lend support to the No Means Stop! Climb to Kilimanjaro.  “Raising awareness for Violence Against Women is a cause dear to Tropicana Community Services,” says Executive Director Sharon Shelton “Lucy’s climb and the intent behind it is in perfect alignment with the work Tropicana already does in the community to help prevent and deal with similar issues. We look forward to supporting Lucy in her bid to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day 2014.”  Tropicana Community Services, a Toronto-based multi-service organization, provides all youth, newcomers, people of Black and Caribbean heritage and others in need with opportunities and alternatives that lead to success and positive life choices.

The climb to the ‘Roof of Africa’ (as Kilimanjaro is affectionately named) has been described as manageable but grueling by seasoned climbers. For her part, Hamlet has started a physical and nutritional training regimen using the Herbal Life family of products and trainers to prepare mentally and physically for the climb.  The plan is to Summit Kilimanjaro on March 8th, 2014 in celebration of International Women’s Day.

A Go Fund Me page (online), as well as plans to tap into offline fundraising mini projects will help finance her climb and raise funds for awareness raising projects. An official No Means Stop T-shirt will be created. Funds from the sale of the T-shirt will go directly towards helping to support Tropicana’s Violence against Women programs  and developing innovative ways to educate youth especially boys and young men about Consent.

The Traveling Black Chicks Journeys for Change Initiative is designed to encourage travel that illuminates issues and helps make a difference in the world. On the journey to Kilimanjaro Lucy will meet with and interview as many people involved in and affected by the conversation about Consent and Violence against Women, including young men and women of Tropicana’s Sister to Sister Women’s Group and Man Up Men’s Group.

Lucy’s climb to Kilimanjaro is being documented on the Travelingblackchicks.wordpress.com blog as well as on Facebook.com/travelingblackchicks and on twitter @trblackchks

-##-

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AMANDLA! NGAWETHU! – Thank You Madiba!

Power to the People

Power to the People

My first conscious awareness of South Africa is the strong thrust of a fist pumped into the air accompanied by a passionate shout of the word AMANDLA! Followed by a sonorously loud and equally passionate response from large and swarming crowds screaming ‘NGAWETHU!’ I did not know what those words meant at the time when I first became conscious of Apartheid in South Africa.  However I knew instinctively they were powerful. Now I know that the Zulu/ Xhosa word  AMANDLA, translates to ‘Power’ and ‘Ngawethu’ or ‘Awethu’ ‘translates to ‘To Us’ and can be read as Power to the People.

I may not at the time, have known the exact meaning of the words but the images streaming on my black and white tv while coming of age in Dominica resonated deep within. Watching the masses of Black people running together in syncopated rhythm fascinated me. Discovering that they were fighting for their right to exist on their own lands infuriated me. Those images I have no doubt helped to forge a fierce spirit for equality within me.

Today is the day after Madiba –Nelson Mandela– has passed and I reflect. I, like many others am and forever will be fascinated, empowered, inspired and emboldened by his life. It takes courage to walk the road of your convictions and be willing to fight to the death for your cause and your people.

It takes even greater courage to forgive. To be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who persecute you and to choose to forgive. To move a people who were wronged to the core enough, that they listen when you ask them to dream a bigger dream for their nation. To inspire in them the vision of  forgiveness  and the choice to build their country, instead of the destruction that their justified revenge would yield.

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It is the measure in length and breadth of a man who has lived a life in full, that you could walk through the fire as a  prisoner then walk with dignity as a king among presidents. Inspiring generations of people from every nation to reach for our highest ideals. It is through the length and breadth of your humility and wisdom that we all see our own potential for goodness, even greatness. You are a powerful example to me of what living fully and completely is.

Rightly we stood small at his feet! (TBCs  at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg)

Rightly we stood small at his feet! (TBCs at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg)

I am infinitely blessed to have lived in this lifetime and witnessed the example of your life; to have touched the soil you toiled; and to have walked on some of the same pathways you may have walked in Soweto and Pretoria when I visited your beautiful country.

I believe we are more strongly blessed now that you have joined the realms of the ancestors. There you can continue to guide our journeys here on earth. I know that your message, will forever remain a beacon to the world. Thank you Madiba for all that you have blessed us with…thank you for your passion,  for your indelible spirit and your smile that literally lit up the world! We are all dancing with you on your journey home…

AMANDLA! Ngawethu!

In tribute to Madiba from a Traveling Black Chick

LH

An Excellent Way to Enjoy the Spirit of South Africa!

An Excellent Way to Enjoy the Spirit of South Africa!

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An Awesome Journey in a Paradise of Injustice

I am somewhat embarrassed and ashamed that this is only my second post on this blog.  In a way though, it is appropriate since my first post featured Haiti – the other half of the land mass that many do not realise is also called Hispaniola. As I ponder what I am going to write, I am conflicted by my feelings of blissful admiration for the aesthetic beauty of the Dominican Republic, and the contrasting feelings of disdain for the things that  create  a conspicuous yet  oftentimes deliberately unacknowledged scar on  that country’s beautiful body and soul.

Lounging Poolside was amazing!

Lounging Poolside was amazing!

Two weeks ago, along with almost 240 other driven, ambitious and creative people who wish to “change the world,” I excitedly packed my bags and headed for Punta Cana, for an event called Awesomeness Fest. As a citizen of the world born, raised, and living in the Caribbean, sun sand and sea can be less than exciting.  It’s sad to admit that for some “island people” palm trees and beach chairs lose their magnetism when they are seen on an almost daily basis. We seem not to be able to appreciate the beauty and allure of our islands until we are in North America or Europe and are faced with grey lakes, skies , water and freezing temperatures  that are so unlike our sublime visions of azure, sky blue, emerald and crystal clear water, with  gentle Caribbean breezes. Luckily I am not like most island people as I LOVE all things beach and river related.

Me & Manuel

Me & Manuel

I admit, due to the purpose of my visit and accompanying activities, I was not able to see much of the country outside of the hotel and its environs, but I saw and spoke to the people. In them, I hoped to find some deeper understanding of who they are.  Yet, let’s agree that paying for a five star hotel comes with the assumption that the service and the staff will be chosen, trained and operating at a five star level.   Whether voluntarily or otherwise, the staff was way beyond reproach and treated each guest, including yours truly as their favourite and best guest. At one point, some staff even came to feel like long lost friends. Manuel, the butler who accompanied the upgrade of one friend’s room comes to mind.

That said, even the most idyllic and pristine of settings cannot prevent the informed world observer who is also a heart centered individual from noticing the elephant in the room. Camouflaged though it may be under the beauty of miles of white sand, lovely smiles, sumptuous food and fun relaxing times, being in Punta Cana only served to lay aside temporarily, in the name of a greater personal good, the fact that the Dominican Republic  is now a poster child for inhumanity and prejudice of the highest order.

puntaelephant

An Elephant in Paradise

“Ethnic cleansing?” Inhumanity? Racism? Call it what you will but call it WRONG!  To enact a law that strips individuals of citizenship despite being born in the country is despicable.  To make that law retroactive to 1929!!!!!!!!!! Is beyond comprehension. Many of us will never know what it is like to be stateless but I can only imagine that for the person who is in that position, it must be like asking the question “If a country says I do not exist, do I exist?” Further, it’s not just the question of whether or not the person exists, it is HOW does a person live when their existence is not recognized.  Seriously, I said 1929!   As a Prime Minister in the region puts it…

This is the 21st century in our hemisphere, and we are having this kind of ethnic barbarism. It’s absurd, and unacceptable among civilized people.

I won’t speak about his political manoeuvres at home, but in this instance I hail the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the GrenadinesRalph Gonsalves, who is never afraid to take a stand for justice.  Go Ralphie!!

The world is full of travelers, re-locators, migrants, immigrants, and when a neighbor who should be like family continues to be the worst type of enemy, it is difficult to embrace and love anything that neighbour stands for.

Figaro- Haitian of Dominican Displacement

Figaro- Haitian of Dominican Displacement

So as my mind returns time and again to hours lounging in a majestic pool, chats on the beach, mind bending talks,  excellent and friendly service, it also returns to my evening chats with Figaro –the Haitian hustler who told me of his tribulations on foreign soil, of being denied opportunities simply because he is Haitian even after several years of residing in that country; of girlfriends with whom he forged relationships for months only to be told later – “mis padres no les gusta a los Haitianos” (my Parents do not like the Haitians). It returns to my long wait at the airport where the people were decidedly not as friendly and their cool stares said more than a practiced smile ever could.  Juxtaposed,  Manuel and Figaro one a Dominican and the other Haitian, are facing identical life struggles, yet one is taught to fear, dislike, distrust and hate the other simply because of their origin. The irony of this, and a fact of which many are unaware is that the Dominican Republic in fact was birthed from Haiti.

The struggle is real?  THAT is an understatement. Reverb, reverb, reverb, around the Caribbean and around the world where both Dominicans and Haitians reside.  As governments manoeuvre, talk of sanctions (yeah …sure) discuss, meet, debate and essentially waste time, all manner of evil continues to take place in full view of an apathetic public. (See links)  Let’s see if this proposition will really be allowed to go forward.

Over and over and over again, the world says that to be Haitian is a crime.   By virtue of my marriage to a Haitian, and as proudly as they do, I will also raise the Haitian flag since I too feel their pain.  My dollar may be paltry, but I can assure you that unless absolutely unavoidable, no additional pesos will be leaving these hands unless sensible and sensitive actions prevail.

For sure, this piece does not and cannot tell the whole story.  It does not speak of the many Dominicans who undoubtedly are in disagreement with this law or how some embrace their Haitian neighbours.  It does not speak of the other social injustices that the nation’s government co-signs.  It does not show how political officials act in self-interest instead of in the country’s interest. It does not show how Dominicans themselves face a host of problems that are the result of their government’s policies. It does not show the ways that Haitians may indeed abuse their host country, nor does it show how they have made positive contributions.  To go into those additional areas would require an examination of every nation where immigrants reside.

Humans all over the world persist in their decision to forget that we are ALL human beings simply seeking joy and love in this temporary physical walk on earth.  As long as we consistently and continually seek to view another as OTHER and as long as people continue to assign human beings to places of “lower than”, “less than” or “not worthy enough” to be treated with respect, consideration and love there will always be disharmony and disunity.

Scan 3

Impressions from Awesomeness Fest- Artwork by Orling Dominguez
Click Photo to Link to a Fantastic Tedx Talk on Rethinking Unpopular by Erika Nepoletano

In conclusion, I confess that I wrote this post with a certain degree of anguish.  While I hate the policies of the country and its treatment of Haitians in particular, and people with darker complexions in general, I have met absolutely fantastic Dominicans.  Many like my nephew’s baby sitter Jaida reside here in Antigua, (and are allowed to become citizens should they so choose). Orling Dominguez is an amazing artist and teacher with soulfulness and sincerity, and Yira Vermenton is a powerhouse of positive energy.  They are my everlasting reminders of Dominicans I met on this journey. May their love and light filter through them and touch every person they meet. In the meantime, I guess we wait and see.

The following links offer more insight into this horrendous situation…

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/25/3779393/caribbean-leaders-consider-sanction.html

http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/caricom-chastises-dominican-republic-deportations/

http://www.bookmanlit.com/occupationmyth.html

http://www.sentinel.ht/news/articles/community/5213-haitian-man-slaughtered-live-in-the-dominican-republic

Author: Marcella A. André-Georges is a Communications Specialist, Transformational Leader and CEO of Nia Comms. She blogs at http://marcellaandre.wordpress.com

Editor’s Note
Copyright images and content. Images and content are the property of Traveling Black Chick Blog writers and can’t be used without their expressed permission

 

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