New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who is one of the great advocates for women and the eradication of extreme poverty in the world, has written an article about BeadforLife and how people can get involved in the fight against global poverty. It is so exciting to have him as part of the bead circle. Hosting a bead party is a wonderful way to make a … Continue reading BeadforLife in New York Times
Many of you have read the story I wrote about a courageous acid attack victim from Kampala, Uganda named Juliette on this blog. HDNet’s World Report aired an “in her own words” piece about Juliette that I produced for the show on April 14. It is a very powerful story and Juliette’s ability to forgive her attacker and move on is inspirational. I hope you are as transformed by Juliette’s … Continue reading Acid Attacks: Juliette’s Story
Many thanks to PBS producer Patti Parson, Associate Producer Rebecca Jacobson and the folks at The Newshour with Jim Lehrer for the wonderful story they did on BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org) on Thursday’s program. Every time the NGO gets national exposure of this kind the phones ring off the hook and more and more people join the fight against global poverty. Together we are making a difference and … Continue reading BeadforLife on The Newshour
Rogean Rodriguez builds castles in the sand. For eleven years he has squatted on a little piece of shoreline across from the fancy hotels on Rio’s famed Copacabana Beach. On this patch of real estate he creates fantasies by hand with sand and water. His exquisite palaces catch the light and eyes of tourists who walk along the boulevard. Sometimes they contribute a few coins and photograph his masterpieces. At night a watchman guards the kingdom while Rodriguez returns to the hillside “favela” where he lives. On the mountain above Copacabana beach is Pavao. The shanty town that Rodriguez calls home is a short distance yet a world away from his fairy tale castles. “Favelas” are the slums. Created by squatters they are home to many of Rio’s six million residents. It is the Rio that locals steer clear of and tourists are warned to avoid. But these cities within a city are hidden and unique cultures worthy of exploration. With the advent of specially guided tours http://www.favelatour.com.br/ visitors can travel safely into the “favelas” for an eye-opening look at the other Rio de Janeiro.
Andres LeJerraga picks me up at the Copacabana Palace, one of the most splendid hotels along its namesake beach. I join a vanload of curious tourists for the ride up to Rocinha, Rio’s most infamous favela. When laying out the itinerary for my visit to Brazil I decided I wanted to personally witness the poverty I had heard so much about. The point of the visit was not to gawk or exploit, but rather to get an authentic view of how people live. I learn that there actually is a name for this kind of tourism. It is called “poorism” and it is a fast growing market taking off in cities like Rio, Bombay, Nairobi and Johannesburg. Part of my interest, I must confess, sprung from a bit of defiance. I grew weary of people telling me how dangerous Rio was. Don’t walk off the main streets, leave any valuables at the hotel, watch out for drug dealers, be careful who you talk to, beware, beware, beware.
The huge sprawling Rocinha can be seen on a hillside on the urban outskirts of Rio long before we arrive. Andres tells us as many as 200,000 people live in the slum. A Formula One racetrack went through here before Rocinha started developing in the 1940’s. Today the main drag through Rocinha is Cowboy Lane, a busy commercial center with 1300 shops and three bus lines. Stone and brick houses with tin roofs are precariously packed and stacked one on top of the other on the hillside. They were built by construction workers on solid rock. Many have stunning views. From a rooftop one can see the line of demarkation between the poor and the rich who live in high rise buildings on the other side of the road in an area called Sao Conrado. Because these settlements were created by squatters, refugees and displaced people, infrastructure was an afterthought. Many gather water in big blue tanks on their rooftops. There is a chaotic tangle of cables and wires crisscrossing the roads for electricity. Samba music plays in the streets. From eye level it looks similar to urban business districts in densely populated graffiti covered cities but there is a lot more going on in the “favelas” than what meets the eye.
“Next year in Jerusalem.” The words at the end of the Passover seder always give me chills. How many Jews over how many generations have longed to celebrate in the Holy Land. This past year, though, I was faced with a dilemma. I wouldn’t be celebrating Passover in Jerusalem or even, as usual, at the festive table of Nancy and Charlie Behrend in suburban Denver. I would be adrift, working half a world away in Kampala, Uganda. The possibility of Passover without family, friends and a seder loomed large.
Three colleagues and I were heading to Kampala to work on a series of videos about a Boulder, Colorado based non-government organization called BeadforLife www.beadforlife.org that is making a big difference in the lives of Ugandans suffering from poverty so extreme that it kills. It is a collaboration of cultures and compassion. Women in Uganda, whose lives have been crushed by the modern day plagues of civil war, HIV/AIDS, hunger and homelessness, make colorful bead jewelry out of recycled magazine pages. Women in North America sell them and the money goes back to Uganda for education, health care and housing. Until two years ago, the only way these women and their families survived was by working in a rock quarry, crushing stones for $1 a day. Each day was spent in the never-ending pursuit of just enough to get families to the next day. Babies were lost to disease or sometimes tossed out, children went to sleep hungry, parents succumbed to AIDS and left children orphaned and alone. Like the night of Passover in biblical times, death was at everyone’s doorstep.
We spent the trip in the slums of Kampala. Witnessing the way more than half of the world lives was life altering. Thousands crowd into the Acholi Quarter which is teeming with refugees from a senseless and brutal 19 year civil war up north. People live in a red dirt world without electricity, running water, sewage systems and in many cases, hope. Children have distended bellies and tattered clothes. Homes are made of sticks and mud that fall apart in the rain. Yet over the course of our stay we witnessed an incredible welling of spirit and generosity. What little there was, was shared. Smiles were warm and abundant. Everyone had light in their eyes. They sang and danced through their suffering. Women like Naiga Mary, Rose Namukasa, Achan Grace, Millie Grace and Jajja Josephine, who refused to be defeated by their poverty, were earning income by making beads and their hard work was blessing entire families and communities.