Women March in Nairobi

Our partner, Grace Ngotho in Nairobi, Kenya recorded her participation in the Women’s March. Their path took the women through the area reforested by Kenyan professor Wangari Maathi, Ph.D. a Nobel Prize winning woman environmental activist. Grace supported mothers marching with small children and tells us these marches are so important because women in Kenya hold less value than donkeys.

Grace is an activist who has been working for years with women both in and out of prison, desperately poor and with abandoned children, even when she herself needed support. She is quite a woman – she holds an advanced degree even though her tribe that does not allow girls an education. NGOs, like Save the Children, did save Grace because of her keen intelligence, she stood out from others as a candidate to receive an education. Grace is a leader who goes out of her way on all levels to help and empower women. She is selfless and kind with a keen sense of humor which makes our connection meaningful and fun.

Thank you, Grace!  

It’s Never Over– three generations out

By poet novelist and professor, David Mura.

“We raised you to be individuals first and Americans second.  We didn’t really think about being Japanese.”

I think my mother was telling her conscious truth, but I think the whole truth was more complicated.  If you are arrested and imprisoned in an internment camp (WWII) for your race & ethnicity, then after you’re released how do you show you’ve reformed?  The implicit answer is to lose or hide your race and ethnicity and that is the way I was raised.  When a white friend said, “I think of you David as a white person,” I thought, “That’s great, that’s what I want to be.”  I was pretty much in denial about being a Japanese American, Asian American or person of color until my late twenties when I read Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks.  It’s taken me two memoirs, a novel, four books of poetry to explain and explore my own identity and family history and I’m still doing that in my writing.  For me fighting for racial equality involves both outside struggles and continued struggles with my own internalized racism.  And that involves trying to free myself from unconscious constraints by making those constraints conscious through writing about them.

David Mura

A Camp in Ukraine

Interview by Ukrainian Olya Zhugan:

I’m looking at the woman, standing in front of me. Her name is the same as mine, Olia, and sharing this makes me feel closer to her. She is probably just a bit younger than I am, in her early thirties but she definitely looks more exhausted, sad or is it frightened. I can’t quite describe what it is I see in her eyes. She is not wearing any make-up, her hair is not done and her dress is a bit wrinkled.

UkHouseWe are standing on a little verandah outside a tiny wooden house. There are about thirty of them, absolutely identical. The houses are set on the edge of the wood. They are quite old and shabby, but surrounded by ancient tall oaks, which makes me think of a fairy-tale. It is the best she do now; an abandoned children’s camp that was provided to the Displaced by the authorities.

It is only two weeks since Olia together with many other people arrived at this camp. It lacks most of the things they were used to when living in a modern European city. Now they do not have hot water or heating, and only a few crude stoves for a hundred people. Most of them only took absolutely essential things when they were fleeing — money, documents and some clothes. There was no time or possibility to get a van or a truck and bring what they needed. It was too expensive anyway. Transporting people away from the war has become a business for some people.

“So, how are you getting on? – I ask her.

“It is not that bad,” she replies. “Of course, we had to forget about lots of things, which seemed to be just ordinary things in our everyday life. We do not have an iron, a hairdryer or a microwave. But when you start worrying about what to give your children for lunch or how to keep yourself clean, you stop thinking about such trivial things.

People from the community outside bring a lot of things for us here, from tissues to duvets. I do not know what we’d do without their help.”

“Are you here with your family?”

“Yes, I came here with my husband and a 10 year- old son. But my parents decided to stay behind the line. The line — it’s how they call it — an unofficial border in an unofficial state. As soon as you cross it, you can’t be sure of anything. This war is not like a real war. There are no planes, bombs or thousands of troops. But it does look different. But, it is a war.

There are many people wearing camouflage, many military vehicles, too many windowless buildings.”

And what does your husband do?
“Oh, actually he is a mechanic. He is looking for a job now.”

She pauses and smiles sadly. And I know why.

It is nearly impossible for a person who comes from behind “the line” to get a job. People are too suspicious of them.  People are afraid of employing or just dealing with people from Donbass, people who came from behind “the line.”  Many of our locals  consider them traitors and blame them for welcoming the war to the country. And I know that it is true for some but not all. There are still a lot of wonderful people who became prisoners of the situation. I ask Olia.

“What exactly made you leave your home?

“Fear. I couldn’t stand that feeling any more. I was afraid of going outside, of letting my child go to school. Sometimes we spent the night in the bathroom as it was the safest place. It was the only place which could save us from the others. But we left not because we felt fear, because we began to feel the lack of it.

One moment I realized that we were getting used to all of that, staying low and quiet. We became shadows. I do not want my child to live like that. It is hard for us here, but I enjoy lots of things that I never appreciated before.  Oh, it’s not a hair dryer, or the microwave or the stove,” she adds quickly, laughing. “No, it’s about the long walks, relaxed people, quiet mornings.”

Olia is smiling and looks almost happy. I decide that this a good end for our conversation. I wish her good luck and promise to come again.

A Small Tree In Gaza

In Gaza, in my catholic school, the little warmth I had on those cold mornings came only from the powerful loving words of An Arabic Christmas Song, a prayer for peace and normal lives. We used to sing at school during Christmas season. The nuns, always fascinating to me, handed out the song lyrics. This was such an exciting moment, the most favorite of all – receiving the  lyrics and then that magic moment when we were asked to sing. Many of the children thought this was just a boring exercise and didn’t mean much but some did it with big hearts, others had no interest in singing beyond getting through to the next break. I loved it.

najla2These were the few things I looked forward to every morning: the national anthem, Christian hymns and me, bringing flowers from our backyard to decorate the church.

A tape recorder is playing in the background of the classroom, so that we don’t get the tune wrong. And the headmaster is  singing on the microphone. We sing along. These words have a special place in my heart. I am 10 years old.

Laylat Al Milad  Yonmaha Al Boghd   (On Christmas Eve, hatred is erased)

Laylat Al Milad  Tozhir Al Ardu           (On Christmas Eve, earth blossoms)

Laylat Al Milat  Todfan Al Harb          (On Christmas Eve, war is buried)

Laylat Al Milad Yanbotu Al Hobu       (On Christmas Eve, love sprouts)

Twenty years after, I decided to check and see if modern technology held a surprise for me. It did. I found the song in a Lebanese collection of Christmas songs. I didn’t know until then that  it  existed  beyond our old school walls in downtown Gaza.

I don’t put a Christmas tree in my house and neither did my parents. But the loving joyful images and sounds of Christmas have always been present even though in Gaza they mean little to the mostly Muslims. But in my memory, there is always a small tree somewhere in the corner of the classroom.

Note:  Najla is a Muslim women and how, we wondered, did Najla end up in a Catholic school.

Najla: I  went to Catholic school because it was one of 2 or 3 private schools then. Now there are many and this private school was especially important for two reasons;  my parents wanted me to benefit from a good education and learn English. It was the best then and because the school’s students didn’t participate in the almost weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, so it was a protected for me.  And what parent does not want her child safe in her school?

Native Alaska: Trans-generational Toxic Stress

They didn’t talk about it and didn’t want to.  They changed the subject when it was brought up by the young people  — what happened?

Wrangell (7)Silence — a non-response common throughout the world by those who have experienced brutal defeat, genocidal actions, sending Native children to schools, decimating families, preparing the way for segregation and racism.  The shame is nearly unbearable.  So Silence.

Nancy didn’t know the specifics of her people’s pain —  depression, alcoholism, early “accidental” deaths, prison fora  small demeanor, the school dropout rate.  But in high school, Nancy learns that her  people, the Haida of southeast Alaska, had been colonized by Russians, British and even the Spanish starting in the 1700’s and then ultimately the land we know as Alaska is sold to America by Russians — Seward’s Folly. 1867. Continue reading

Calming and Settling Children in Stress

Janet Courtney, Ph.D. is a leader in developmental play therapy and wants to help stressed mothers who may need some new ideas of ways to calm and settle their children.  She is especially interested in adding to the existing cultural traditions of women living in war, war-like conditions and in the aftermath.  We have posted some of her calming activities for children on our ACTIVITIES  page.

She talks about what motivated her to do this work:

When  I was a child, I wouButterflyld hold back and “stuff” down those hard feelings—sadness, anger, fear, guilt, shame. I would not share them but kept my hurts to myself.  I was not encouraged to talk about my feelings nor did anyone teach me how to safely express them. This led to severe migraines and a lot of emotional shutting down. What I learned as I grew older and eventually went into the field of Social Work is that we train ourselves to hold in those painful feelings mostly through breath control – we hold our breath in order to not feel.  For example, when sad, I felt I had to be “strong” and not allow myself to cry often tightening my chest and clenching my stomach to hold back tears. As I later discovered, this is done mostly through the restricting of my breath.  As I learned how to consciously use my breath to rid my body of the stuck energy (which is all that emotions are anyway—energy), I found myself feeling lighter.

When I had children of my own, I would teach them how to express their angry feelings by punching a pillow and at the same time breathing out a long huff of powerful breath—please know, that to hit a pillow while holding in your breath is not helpful.  So it’s important to watch for that and to encourage youngsters (or adults) punching a pillow to include a strong blowing out of the breath as they punch. Ask your child to make a powerful/empowering sound that ensures the release of a big breath —like the roar of a lion.  Also when I taught these activities to my kids, I would sit with them to hold the space of safety and being totally present with them.  As they grew, they had skills and knowledge to take care of their hard feelings in positive ways.

So I hope that this will help expand what you know and be easy to use — through imagination and breath- work to help your children feel better.  Try these activities yourself, they help adults also.

Warm Hugs, Janet

*****      We suggest you also try the free app: Breathe2relax

If any of you, our reader has simple ways to calm children and yourself, please write us: Andrea@ashlar.org

Womens’ Court Initiative

WOmensCourtOver the course of the past few years there have been some very exciting developments for women in the Balkans and as such, for women everywhere. The Women in Black led the Women’s Court Initiative to support women in redefining and achieving justice for their war experiences and creating opportunities for testimony from some of the women. There was a great deal of effort in creating services leading up to the testimony as this is a very dangerous thing for the women to do and the women needed a great deal of preparation and protection. Continue reading

Globalgirl Media

GlobalGirlLogoGlobalgirl Media is dedicated to empowering high school age girls from under-served communities around the world through media, leadership and journalistic training to have a voice in the global media universe and in their own futures.

We at Ashlar Center believe in this IMPORTANT work!  See the video’s witnessing Kosova women.

GlobalGirl Media invests in girls as agents of change by providing concrete skills with which to improve their personal situations.  Continue reading