Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | December 11, 2016

Mastaki Family Update 2016

In spite of shaky immigrant news around the world, the Mastaki family has had the good fortune in 2016! Thanks to many friends, family, and associates of mine that stepped in to help the Mastaki family both in Goma and in Nairobi, donating the funds to the Mastaki Family Fund over the past five or six years.

About six months ago, Riziki’s sister Mandola and her husband and ten children were finally granted entry to Houston, TX as political refugees. Both she and her husband are employed and her school-aged children in are attending school. Her mother, Josephine, arrived in Charlotte on Monday, November 7 to be reunited with her husband after four and half years and her daughter after over ten years— just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving together in their new country!

If you have any further questions about the Mastaki family, please feel free to contact me via email at 2robinedgar@gmail.com.

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Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | December 22, 2013

More on the Mastaki Family’s Journey to Safety

Riziki and her dad on the first day if arrivalThe Mastaki family is making great progress! Riziki’s father, Dominique, finally arrived as a legal US immigrant in May. The total cost was about $4,500!He immediately got the proper ID to look for work and to go to school to learn English. He is currently living with Riziki and working at a temporary position in Charlotte, NC. Although he turns 65 this month, all of his retirement savings were drained trying to survive two rebel uprisings and the recent earthquake, so whatever he can, he sends to his family in Goma to pay bills to keep the utilities on and food on the table.

Thanks to generous donations from many friends and neighbors, we held another successful garage sale and raised enough money to start the legal process and pay for the initial paperwork for Riziki’s mother, Josephine. Hopefully, we have learned about some pitfalls to avoid and the process will not be as expensive or take as long as for her father.

Riziki’s brother, Moses, continues to attend college in France, while living with their sister, Kibibi, her husband and newborn baby. Her sister, Mandala and her husband and 12 children are the only ones who remain in Kenya. They continue to work out ways to stay afloat as they wait for an immigration opportunity. Fortunately, the Village Cooperative continues to provide funds from donations and receipts from sales of scarves by Knit Together in Peace to help to sustain them during this waiting period.

Many thanks again to all of you for your prayers, donations, and support!

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | April 20, 2013

The things your mother never told you about immigration

In the wake of all the discussion about illegal immigration, it is perhaps important to understand the onerous process to become a legal immigrant. I have had an eye-opening experience walking alongside my friend Riziki Mastaki, a political refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as she goes through the “proper channels” to bring her father over as a legal immigrant. Her story adds color and humanity to the black and white facts as it illustrates the daunting bureaucratic roadblocks and debilitating lack of support for those attempting to immigrate legally.

I met Riziki in 2005 and was immediately taken with her optimism, in spite of experiencing near-death and violence in her home town of Goma and nearby Rwanda. She was so happy to be able to live and work in America and went to a community college at night to learn English and I was there to celebrate when she was sworn in as a US citizen in 2007 in order to get a passport to visit her family after a ten-year separation.

 Unfortunately, any hope of visiting her family was crushed when her village became embroiled in yet another conflict that threw her family into daily economic and physical jeopardy. Although her father was able to afford to put all of his children to school and to save for retirement, he lost all financial resources when his home and computer repair business were destroyed by war and the earthquake.

One of her siblings, who had previously been kidnapped and forced to be a child soldier in the previous war was chased by rebels and shot in the leg. Another brother was strangled in his bed and another sister and her husband were shot when they tried to thwart rebels from raping her. Although some of Riziki’s siblings have successfully found refuge in France, in the wake of the recent uprisings, many have fled for safety as refugees to Kenya.

 Since one sister died from the deplorable health conditions in the refugee camp there, they chose to eke by an existence in Nairobi. As refugees, they are not allowed to legally work to support themselves and depend, in part, on the help from their family and on donations to the Mastaki Family Fund and the sales of hand made scarves from Knit Together in Peace. Although there are organizations that help refugees once they arrive in America, there is little or no support for refugees, other than overcrowded camps, while they wait for their paperwork to be processed. This May, it will be a year that Riziki’s family members have been in Nairobi and they are still waiting.

 In addition to helping to support her siblings in Kenya, she has also been working with an immigration lawyer to bring her parents here as a legal immigrant since October 2010. Saving money (sometimes from working two or three minimum wage jobs), she has spent over $4,500 in legal fees, postage, applications for passport and visa, affidavit of support, birth certificates, medical exams, shots, DNA testing, and a green card for just her father. All of this was in addition to supporting herself.

 All of this paperwork takes time and has to be mailed back and forth to Africa, sometimes getting lost in the mail along the way. Once they had all of the required paperwork, Riziki paid $600 to fly her father to the capitol city, Kinsasha, on January 9, 2013 to meet with immigration authorities for the final approval for his visa. Each time he showed up for his Thursdays-only appointment, he was given another hurdle to scale until he finally received his visa on April 2, 2013.

 Fortunately, her father was able to stay with cousins while he was in Kinshasa so Riziki was able to save her earnings and donations for his $1,300 plane fare. She has moved into a two-bedroom apartment and has been lining up job interviews for when her father arrives on April 28, over 2 ½ years since they started the process!

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | December 18, 2012

The Mastaki Family and the Village Experience

I have wonderful news! In spite of set backs with the recent rebel violence in Goma, Riziki’s father is now able to travel to the capitol and has an appointment on January 9. 2013 to present the final paperwork for him to get the go ahead to immigrate legally to the U.S. where he will join his daughter in Charlotte, NC.

Riziki’s brother, Moses, has started school in France, where he is living with his other sister. The Mastaki family in Kenya have been assigned their immigrant numbers and continue to wait for appointments to meet with clerks at the UNCR to move forward with their immigration to other countries. Your donations along with sales from scarves with Knit Together in Peace help to sustain them during this waiting period.

The Village Experience and the Village Cooperative have now been operating for 5 years, and have been very generous to help us to support the Mastaki family in Kenya. If you like, you can about the different aspects of their mission of “moving forward by giving back” via this link:

http://www.experiencethevillage.com/video-resource-page/

Many thanks to all of you have lent a helping hand to support Riziki as she tries to bring her family to safety!

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | October 28, 2012

Mastaki Family Update

I have good news! Although the Mastaki family still faces many obstacles, through the generous support of many people, we are making progress towards our goals to help them find a safe place to live and work.

With the ongoing and increased danger and poor economic conditions in Goma, my friend, Riziki Mastaki, has been working with an immigration lawyer to bring her parents over as legal immigrants. After many set backs with lost mail and stolen items, her father now has his passport and the paperwork has been submitted for his visa to come to the United States. Along with friends, co-workers, and others who have heard about her plight, she has raised over $1,500 of the $2,000 needed for his travel to Kishasa and his plane fare to the US. Our hope is that the paperwork goes through in time for her father to arrive by the New Year!

Once he comes to the States, Riziki has lined up some potential job opportunities for her father to help her raise money to bring her mother to the states and to continue to provide aide to the rest of her family members who remain in Goma as well as the two sisters, two brothers, a brother-in-law and several nieces and nephews that have had to flee for their lives to Nairobi, Kenya.

Many of the Mastaki family in Kenya have finally been able to receive refugee paperwork and can therefore stand in line at the refugee camp each day for a bowl of rice and beans. However, they are still not permitted to work for pay, and rely on Riziki to send them $200 each month for simple housing while they wait for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process their immigration as refugees to another country.

The Village Cooperative, a non-profit organization dedicated to uplifting impoverished communities in the developing world, set up a special fund earmarked to receive tax exempt donations for the Mastaki family members living in Kenya. The founder of The Village Cooperative brought those donations designated for the Mastaki family to them this July and will do so again in December. Her colleagues are also working on providing housing for some of them as soon as there is an opening in one of their communities.

Please join me in helping the Mastaki family find a safe place to live and work. Checks can be made out to
The Village Cooperative, (be sure to put “Mastaki Family Fund” in the memo) and sent to:
6055 N College Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46220

You can also donate by credit card online at http://www.experiencethevillage.com. Click the “donate” button in the top right corner. That will take you to their online donation through PayPal. Again, be sure to note that the donation is for the Mastaki Family Fund. As these donations come in, they will record the donor information and send out a tax exempt letter at the end of the year.

If you do not desire tax-exemptions for your donations or wish to help her family that still remains in the Congo, you may contact Riziki directly at rachelmastaki@yahoo.com.

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | April 2, 2012

The Mastaki Family Needs Your Help

Mastaki Family Fund

In 2005, I met a lovely 26 year-old woman who was political refugee from the Congo. She introduced herself saying, “My name is Riziki, but you can call me Rachel.” Intrigued by her story about how she came to America, I wrote two articles about her for the Charlotte Observer, one about how thankful she was to be here and the other about her journey to become a US citizen so she could visit her family after over a ten-year separation.

As I learned about the horrors she has overcome and what a special person she is, we become close friends. She recently came to me for help because, with the recent uprisings in the Congo, her family lives in daily economic and physical jeopardy. I have joined her in her quest to bring them to safety. Here is her story:

Born in Goma, Congo in 1978, Riziki grew up in a “middle class” family. Her father, Dominique Mastaki, owned a thriving computer repair shop and had managed to save money for retirement and to send his 12 children elementary and secondary school. After the war, the family business and was destroyed and her father, with no other source of income, has had to use all of his savings to provide food and repair the family home for his extended family.

In 1999, Riziki was forced to flee Goma and became a political refugee in Kenya (she had been raped at 14 years-old and required by tradition to marry a man who had worked for the former dictator). Leaving her parents and siblings behind, she was relocated to North Carolina. After a year and a half of living with her abusive husband without her family’s protection, she went to a battered woman’s shelter and obtained a divorce. Since she only spoke Swahili and French, she attended classes at CPCC to learn English so she could get a job. To support herself and send money home to her family, she worked three jobs at a time when necessary.

You may marvel at her fortitude, but Riziki is a woman who endures. Visiting friends in Rwanda the day the Hutu Genocide began in 1994, she took a bus back to Goma when they called for an evacuation. Her bus was stopped at the border by the Hutu and she was forced to lie face down on the floor and listen as others were questioned and then shot in the head if they were thought to be Tutsi. When it was her turn, the guards said she did not look Tutsi so they spared her life. When the rebel forces invaded the Congo to overthrow Mobutu Seseseko, they went from house to house in Goma, killing and raping the inhabitants. She and her family stood outside their home, to face the aggressors, but by some miracle, they passed them by.

Because of the ongoing danger and poor economic conditions in Goma, which is close to the Rwanda border, other Mastaki family members have tried to leave, but it has not been easy for them. After her husband was shot, one sister fled Goma is now relocated in France. A younger brother has received paperwork to attend college in France. Things did not go so well for another sister who died at 19-year old in 2005 due to the unsanitary conditions while was staying in the refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya for four years.

Another brother, who had been kidnapped to be a child soldier at 15 years-old during the first uprising was with her when she died, but left the camp to return home. A trained videographer, the 30 year-old was working for a Goma news station and living with another brother who was killed in his bed in Goma in January 2012. Recently chased by rebels while going to the market in Goma, he was shot in the leg. Fearing that he would endanger other family members, he fled to Nairobi with their 22 year-old sister to try, once again, to seek refuge in America or another country. Although they show up at 5:00 am and wait in line until closing time at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they have yet to even get through the door, let alone be assigned to a UN case worker to find them a safe place to go as refugees.

Rather than risk having her brother and sister stay in the unsanitary conditions at the refugee camp while they wait, Riziki sends them money (about $200 a month) to live in a one-room apartment in Nairobi. Although they can remain there legally, they are not permitted to work for pay and rely on Riziki to send them funds for food and housing.

Their 36 year-old sister, a pastor who was shot during an attempted rape last year, recently joined them when the rebels tried to break into their house in Goma again.  She came with her husband, a high school teacher and pastor who was shot trying to protect her from the rebels, and three of their children. Their 24 year-old brother came with them, too.

Now that she is a U.S. citizen, Riziki is able to bring her parents over as immigrants. She has already paid an immigration lawyer over $900 to arrange a visa and passport to bring her 64 year-old father to the United States. She still needs to raise about $2,000 to pay for his travel to the airport in Kishasa and his plane fare to the US. A fellow African who manages a warehouse in Charlotte arranged a job interview for her father so he can support himself and help to raise funds for his wife, Josephine, to come over as an immigrant. Then they can bring the other six children who are under 21 (three of whom were adopted when their parents were killed).

These funds, as well as money that she sends to feed and house her family that remains in Goma, come from what Riziki can spare from her wages and from any support from her friends. Please join our efforts to provide food and housing for the Mastaki family members in the Congo and those living in Kenya and going through the refugee process of getting permission to come to the US or another safe country.

My 99 year-old friend often reminds me, “It can’t be so bad that it can’t be worse for someone else.” Although you may have had to tighten your belt during this recent economic downturn, please join me in helping the Mastaki family find a safe place to live.

Please contact Riziki if you can help at rachelmastaki@yahoo.com.

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | April 9, 2011

The Gift of Forgiveness for Mother’s and Father’s Day

 For many, the Mother’s and Father’s Day tradition is a welcome way to celebrate the meaningful lessons your parents taught you by deed or example. For those who are estranged from parents, this can be a time of tension and unhappiness. It can also hinder the grief process when someone harbors unresolved issues with someone they have lost.

 Facilitating Love and Forgiveness Conversations for the Fetzer Institute, I saw time and again the far-reaching impact of the ability, or inability, to forgive. Fred Luskin, PhD, author of Forgive for Love, states, “If you are in a relationship that needs healing, the first thing you need to understand is what forgiveness is and why common misconceptions of forgiveness get in the way of truly practicing it.”

Luskin further explains that the act of forgiveness does not mean forgetting or giving up your right to be angry about a hurtful situation. It is actually taking responsibility for how you feel. Forgiveness is the choice to regain control over your feelings. It enables you to “rewrite” the story of being the victim to being the hero who forgives.

 In my Healing Power of Reminiscence workshops, I often witness how unhappy memories can shape a person’s sense of who they are and what they can accomplish. Whether it is an unresolved issue or scars from emotional or physical abuse, when an individual is able to forgive, they are able to move on and feel better about themselves. Instead of attempting blanket forgiveness, this should be done in small bites. One of the most effective ways to do this is to look for the lesson.

 Take for instance, Estelle (fictitious name), an elderly woman in one of my life-writing workshops in Ohio. As an ice breaker in the first session, I asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves and talk about where we grew up. Everyone shared happy memories until it was Estelle’s turn. With arms folded across her ample bosom, she grumbled, “I have no happy memories about my childhood. My mother was a task master and I got married at 16 to the first man that asked me just to get out from under her roof.” 

 Estelle’s story resonated with me and the situation in my own family. Although I shared wonderful memories of my mother in my book, In My Mother’s Kitchen, my older sister’s perspective about many of the same incidents was quite different. Where I saw myself as a recipient of my mother’s love, my sister always saw herself s a victim of her disregard. How did that happen?

 In his book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Memory, Dr. Daniel Schachter, states that our memories do not, like Polaroid snapshots, record a moment in time. Not only do we fail to recall events accurately, we also tend to change how we remember the way things happened according to how we presently feel about that person or event.

 In order to deal with unpleasant events, children will often explain away any hurt or blame by creating a different story about what happened. The more they repeat that version to themselves and others, the more they believe that it actually occurred that way. By not letting go of that childhood story as adults, we can harm ourselves and our ability to have healthy relationships with those involved as well as with others.

 With that in mind, I encouraged Estelle to tell me about her mother. She explained that her mother grew up in an orphanage where she sewed denim work jeans that were sold to support the institution. A farm family eventually took her in, but she was treated more like an indentured servant than a part of the family. Working on the farm during the day, she did not share a bed with the other children but slept alone on the floor by the kitchen stove. Marrying one of the farm hands her mother raised a family and worked a small section of the land as tenant farmers.

 “Things got really tough during the Great Depression and Daddy just lost his mind,” Essie said, finally raising her eyes to meet those in the group. “I remember the day they came to take my father away to the insane asylum. We all had to pitch in with the weeding and planting and all the household chores. I hated the weeding most of all.”

 As she told her mother’s story from an adult perspective, Essie’s arms slowly unfolded and her face became more expressive. She finally said, “Now that I talk about it, I realize all my mother ever knew was work, from the time she was a little girl. No wonder she expected us kids to pitch in and help when Daddy left.”

 With one foot in the door of forgiveness, I gently nudged Estelle a little further and asked if she had learned any lessons from her unhappy memories. Her whole demeanor brightened as she related proudly to the group about how she had raised her sons differently. “I taught them everything they needed to know to take care of themselves, from chopping wood to sewing buttons on their clothes, but I always made sure to have fun with them, too,” she grinned.

 Noting how proud she was of teaching her sons how to take care of themselves, I asked her if there was anything that her mother taught her how to do that she really treasures. Blinking as if to clear away the pages of the old story she had been telling herself for so long she said, “Well, I never thought about it until just now, but my mother did teach me how to sew. You see, I do not have a standard built body so it is hard for me to find clothes to fit right off the rack or from a catalog so I’ve always made my own clothes. All my life, I’ve received compliments on those dresses. I guess I have my mother to thank for that!” 

 The whole group let out a collective sigh as the last bit of tension left the room and Estelle was finally able to not only forgive her mother but to value something about her. It’s just too bad that it took her 93 years!

 In another workshop thousands of miles away in New Zealand, I encountered a much younger woman named Rita, who was struggling with memories of her abusive, alcoholic father. I read my story to the group called “Learning to Walk” in which I shared how my mother decided to correct my severely pigeon-toed feet. Making me walk on the outside edges of the linoleum squares in our apartment, whenever my toes strayed into the square, she would slap me on my back and say, “Walk the right way!” Rita wrote me a letter about how that story inspired her to forgive her father.

 Since meeting you and listening to you talk, life has changed somewhat for me. My father passed away 8 years ago, and my memories of him are painful, as he was very cruel to my mother and brothers. With your advice, I am working my way through the awful memories and finding the good in them instead of just the pain. I have reread your chapter, “Look for the Lesson,” and your story about learning to walk is not unlike mine having to change from a natural left hander to a right hander. If my father caught me using my left hand, it ultimately ended in a surprise good hard hit on the back to make me use my right hand.

 As Rita looked back on those unhappy childhood memories with adult eyes, she saw her father’s left hand in her mind’s eye, gnarled and missing two and half fingers from accidents caused by using to farm with machinery made for right-handed people. She then recognized how it was out of his love for her that he did not want her to suffer as he did.

 I was able to find the lesson in that story quite easily. In fact, in a matter of hours I was able to go back over dozens of childhood traumas, remembering things I saw my father do, and get the same result as the left hand memory.  Absolutely amazing!

 Although her father may have been very hard on this left hand business, Rita says she has him to thank for the ability to use all of life’s instruments, including those that are made for right-handers. She is proud of her beautiful handwriting and the ability to be ambidextrous. An even bigger bonus is that her son, who is also left-handed, did not have to suffer as she did as a child to learn how to use his right hand. Instead of buying him a special mouse, she learned from her experience to gently encourage him to become ambidextrous by playing computer games with the right-handed mouse. 

As you can see from these two stories, one of the most powerful keys to forgiveness can be to look for the lesson. Finding a way to be thankful for what that negative event has taught you can help you to recognize that they did indeed love you. Ultimately, it may help you to feel better about yourself and to establish healthier relationships with others. It may also brighten an otherwise unhappy Mother’s or Father’s Day.

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | November 27, 2010

Recipes for Finding Joy for the Holiday Season

 

            As the holiday season nears, families make plans to get together for good food, good times, and good memories — or maybe not. Holiday gatherings can be times of sadness if a family is separated from or has lost a loved one. Celebrating the special times you had with them can ease that pain. In addition to filling your table with delectable treats, use the following recipe to feed your soul with happy memories and to find joy during the holidays.

Ingredients to Trigger Memories of Your Loved One:

  • Smells like cinnamon, perfume, or burning wood
  • Sounds like a slamming screen door, a train whistle, or old songs
  • Favorite foods your loved one made for you or loved to eat themselves                                                                                              
  • Objects like jewelry, an article of clothing, an ornament, or piece of furniture
  • Old photos of special places like the back porch or where you went on vacation

 

Optional Ingredients:

 

Not all memories are happy ones. In a separate bowl stir in a cup of funny stories or a handful of things your loved one taught you by deed or example such as:

  • An embarrassing moment that you both shared
  • A certain way they did something that used to drive you crazy
  • Something your loved one taught you like how to fish or bake bread
  • Traditions about celebrating holidays like family recipes or ways to decorate

 

Add a pinch of details like where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing as you write down or talk about whatever comes to mind,. If you cannot remember specifics, ask a relative or childhood friend to add some spices of their own. Once you have shared your memories, you will find personal rituals to celebrate your loved one as you enjoy the holidays.

This recipe is adapted from the exercises in the book, In My Mother’s Kitchen: An Introduction to the Healing Power of Reminiscence by Robin A. Edgar (Tree House Enterprises) and cannot be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | July 30, 2010

I’ve been thinking….

Although some recent “parties” are getting a lot of attention, I am glad I was not invited. Instead of coming up with constructive, compassionate solutions to help people in need, they are mostly stirring up unrest. That got me thinking about concrete solutions that we, the people, can actually do to alleviate our growing concerns.

After interviewing 100 people who survived the Great Depression in Charlotte, North Carolina for a multi-media project called “Personal Legacies: Surviving the Great Depression,” I learned one of the most effective keys to survival lies within the strength of the community. To make it through the hard times, families moved in with one another, neighbors shared what they had and looked out for one another. Recognizing that they were all in the same boat, people of all cultures and backgrounds worked together.

Another example of a peaceful community-based solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem came from my friend, Patricia Moore. A member of Charlotte’s United Religions Initiative (URI), an organization whose purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the earth and all living beings, Pat sent me an article from the New York Times Magazine called The Integrationist, written by Russell Shorto. It described how one of Amsterdam’s former mayors, Job Cohen, eased tensions after the unfortunate hate crime was committed by a Muslim against one of Van Gogh’s relatives. Rather than attacking the Muslim community, Cohen encouraged his leadership to take the time to have tea with the Muslim people in their mosques. Unlike the right-wing, anti-immigrant actions of the Freedom Party, whose founder Geert Wilders  is currently facing trial in a Dutch court for inciting hatred, this simple act of communicating with the Muslims on their ground led the community toward a successful, compassionate solution.

As a participant and facilitator in the Fetzer Institute’s Campaign for Love & Forgiveness for the past four years, I have become keenly aware of how interrelated love and forgiveness are with compassion. The Institute believes that “the critical issues in the world can best be served by integrating the inner life of the mind and spirit with the outer life of action and service to the world.”  That reminds me of the old-fashioned custom of barn raising.

In early rural America, community barn raisings were part of a social framework based on interdependence. In response to individual or community need, neighbors would help newcomers construct the frame and rafters for a barn or volunteer to rebuild those structures destroyed by fire or other disasters. Although it is still practiced in Amish and Mennonite cultures here today, the similar concepts have roots in several cultures around the world:

In the Finnish custom, talkoot, a group of volunteers work together in villages or on rural farms for the common community good, like repairing a church, or assisting elderly neighbors or relatives. In urban areas, a talkoot may even be called to help friends move.

In Norway, the dugnader is practiced in rural areas as neighbors participate in house or garage building. In urban areas dugnad activities such as outdoor spring cleaning and gardening are practiced in housing co-operatives.

The Irish word for work group, meitheal, was traditionally used to describe neighbors in rural areas that worked with one another on farm tasks such as preparing hay or gathering the harvest. This spirit of community, where neighbors respond to the needs of each other, is carried over in modern times and a meitheal might be called for a gathering of neighbors and friends to decorate a house in exchange for refreshments.

In modern Philippine culture, the term bayanihan refers to local efforts to resolve a national problem. Based on the root word bayani meaning “hero” the term, bayanihan, is best illustrated in the classic Filipino tradition of carrying a house. As each man carries a portion of the weight, he becomes a hero as he lightens the load for others.

Found in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, Gotong royong, refers to one of the core tenets of Indonesian philosophy, the cooperation among many toward a shared goal. Since volunteerism is a significant cultural value, in Javanese culture there is a greater respect for those who contribute to the general village welfare than for those who accumulate material wealth.

Naffīr is the Arabic word used in parts of Sudan and the Middle East to describe the gathering of family members and neighbors for a particular task such as building a house or providing help during the harvest in the village. Once the project is accomplished, the group disbands. 

The Cherokee word, ga-du-gi, means working together toward a common goal to benefit all of the Cherokee People, such as building the community council house or participating in the traditional annual green corn harvest ceremony. Still practiced today, ga-du-gi means volunteer community service.

It makes sense that individuals around the world who are in need should be able to turn to their neighbors and community for help and compassion. As in the situation in Amsterdam, our government and community leaders can proactively meet those needs by being in touch with the diverse individuals in their community. Instead of holding rallies that tear down trust, we can hold work parties that meet immediate needs and build pathways for understanding and compassion.

What can I do you ask? Why not adopt my father’s favorite saying, “I kept saying somebody should do something and then I realized that I was somebody!” In my own neighborhood of about 100 homes, for instance, we started a list of able-bodies residents to call upon whenever an elderly resident in our small community needs assistance. The members of “Hands Helping Hands” volunteer to help with small household tasks that seniors cannot do themselves, like picking up prescriptions when they are ill or replacing light bulbs in ceilings.

Even just one person can make a difference. Take Willie Coleman’s example. I met this dynamic woman in the Charlotte community when I interviewed her for the Personal Legacies project. She not only actively participated in a community garden at the Wilmore Community Center, she also personally “adopted” young African-American girls and made sure they graduated high school. Others might do well to adopt Willie’s single-handed “child-raising” effort and mentor students in their underserved communities, especially during the current financial crisis.

Ah, but you say that strength is in numbers. That brings me to the http://www.350.org movement. On October 10, 2010, individuals in communities around the world will participate in modern-day “barn-raisings” or “work parties” for solutions to our energy crisis. Under the slogan, “Get To Work”, the non-profit is organizing work parties to put up solar panels, insulate homes and schools, erect windmills, plant trees, develop community gardens and more. They hope their actions will send a simple message to our government and community leaders:  “We’re working–what about you?” 

That brings me to another community “work party” opportunity. In conjunction with 350.org, the members of the URI Project committee elected to raise funds and donations in order to plant native fruit and shade trees on the premises of homes built by Habitat for Humanity. Working together toward a common goal that benefits all of the people of Charlotte, URI hopes this example of cooperation among many toward will lighten the load for others. The trees will eventually shade these residences and thereby reduce energy consumption as they contribute to cleaner air and provide nourishment to homeowners and the environment.

As our former President, John F. Kennedy, once urged, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Know any barns that need raising in your neck of the woods?

For more information go to: http://www.uri.org; http://www.350.org/oct10; or http://www.fetzer.org

Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | June 1, 2010

Red Bench of Love in Charlotte’s Garden of Love & Forgiveness

The Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in 1954, but it took three years for Southern states to comply-sort of. In Charlotte, dozens of black children volunteered to attend white schools but the school board rejected all but four. On Sept. 4, 1957, Dorothy Counts (Dot Counts-Scoggins today) walked down the hill to Harding High School.

 Approaching a wall of screaming and spitting white students, she thought of what her father, Herman Counts, always told his family–“Hold your head high.” The wall parted to let her pass.

 Woody Cooper was in the crowd. A good student, he was already accepted to The Citadel and his dad, a Charlotte policeman, told him, “Don’t get involved.” So Woody just stood and watched Dot come down the hill, walking right past him while his classmates cursed at her and called her names.

 The photo that Don Sturkey took of that day for the Observer was eventually seen around the world. Over the years, when Woody looked at the picture, he realized that failing to help Dot that day was the same thing as hurling insults at her.

In 2006, after Woody’s Sunday School lesson about sins of omission, he told his class that he felt he had failed to do right by Dorothy Counts. The very next day, the Observer ran a story about Dorothy and Woody sent an e-mail to the reporter. The reporter forwarded it to Dot.

 Dot and Woody, who are now friends, will be the guests of honor at the dedication of the Red Bench of Love in Charlotte’s Garden of Love and Forgiveness on June 10, 2010. We invited them to be the first to sit on this symbol from our four-year Campaign for Love & Forgiveness. We hope others will visit our Bench and Garden and take the time to find love and forgiveness in their hearts and lives as well.

To learn more go to  http://www.fetzer.org/loveandforgive/blog

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