Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cameras for Refugees

Dear Friends,

Of course I can’t do anything normal for my summer vacation! As part of my travels prior to starting grad school at NYU in the fall, I will be volunteering with an organization called Services Civil International in a refugee center in Poland. It has received special permission to organize summer work camps to brighten up the lives of the children living there for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been asked to bring peace building activities for the children. After thinking about this, I feel that photography could be a great way to build peace, as well as be a great educational tool and a lot of fun. My idea is to bring about 10 digital cameras to the camp and to teach the children (and hopefully others in the camp) some basics of photography, and at the same time, to look at the world in a different way. The pictures that the children take will also serve as tools for future lessons to practice writing and thinking about why they took a certain picture, learning vocabulary and grammar, and serving as a record of their existence. And you can help—I am seeking donations of cameras, memory cards, batteries, etc. for this project and would appreciate any used items (as long as they still work). Come on, you know it’s time to upgrade your camera anyway!

About the camp:
There are approximately 5000 asylum seekers seeking refugee status in Poland each year, but only 5-10% actually obtain it. The refugees remain in refugee centers with no right to work while they wait to find out if they have been granted refugee status, and this may take up to 2 years. The particular refugee center I will be going to is Smoszewo, a village about 50 kilometers outside of Warsaw. Approximately 150 refugees live there, and the majority of them are from Chechnya. There are anywhere from 40-80 children living there, and with very limited funding from the government, there aren’t enough resources to provide the children with an education or even paper and crayons to draw.

From the information I received from the camp, they say that the “children suffer in that situation particularly hard... the trauma of having been forced to flee from their homes is doubled by the problems of adapting in the new country. Parents are often in apathy and do not take care of them. As a result, they spend their time in inactivity and not constructively, wandering across the center premises all day long.”

The war in Chechnya, while declared over by the Russian government in 2003, continues to affect the lives of these refugees. Many of them lived through both Chechnyan wars, a brutal battle between the Russian military and terrorists in their region. The civilians were caught in the middle and suffered atrocities at the hands of both groups, such as bombings, brutality, kidnappings, rapes, and a total decay of infrastructure. Schools and hospitals, along with homes and families, remain in chaos, and the country is littered with landmines. The people who managed to escape and are now seeking refugee status have left their homes behind, with essentially no hope of ever returning. Along with losing everything, they have also lost their past and all pictures to remember their home, country and loved ones. With this project, I hope to help them remember their present and future.

Donations needed:
10 Digital cameras (the cameras do not need to be new, just something that still works!)
Memory cards (10 +)
Batteries for cameras (or chargers)
Money to print the pictures (At this time, I do not have estimates on the cost of printing pictures in Poland, but Warsaw is a major city and it will be possible to find a place to print the pictures that the children take)
I will need these items by July 16th, since that is when I will be leaving Utah.

My plan is to leave the cameras at the refugee center so that they will be able to continue taking pictures. Camp workers will be able to take the memory cards to town to have pictures printed from time to time. Since the pictures will be digital, I will also bring back copies and hope to use them to raise awareness about the plight of Chechen refugees. As a donor, after the project I will send you a report on how your donation was used, as well as a CD presentation of the pictures. If this project is successful, I will work on establishing a non-profit organization dedicated to setting up similar projects in refugee centers worldwide, raising awareness, and advocating for more aid to refugees.

These children witnessed terrible things living in Chechnya, one of the most dangerous places in the world. Instead of them turning to a gun as a weapon of war, I want to provide them with a camera as a weapon for peace.

If you can make a donation, please let me know! I'll need everything by July 16th, which is when I leave Salt Lake.

Do it for the kids.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

And this is what I've been up to lately...

Posing in my pretty pretty princess bridesmaid dress.

Ferryboats are what make Seattle amazing.

Feeding some seagulls with the Cap't

I've kissed a lot of pigs in my day...

do we need words for this?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wanna get lucky?

It's true. If you wanna get lucky, just date me. Statistics show that by dating me, your chances of marriage increase dramatically. My last four serious boyfriends have all married the girl that they have dated immediately after me. Which means within a year of us breaking up.

What the f*** is going on? Am I that awful that I drive men immediately out of the dating pool and into the arms of the next woman who comes by? I'm not usually insecure, but today, i've just gotta wonder about it.

Girls should be thanking me.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Using sex to sell just about everything but birth control

Viagra commercials are all over the place. We use sex to sell just about everything, from cell phones to beers to cars to cotton tee-shirts to groceries... to put it mildly, sex is everywhere. But how often in these oversexualized commercials do we see safe sex mentioned or even implied? Trojan Condoms put out a commerical to sell condoms and promite safe(r) sex to prevent diseases and pregnancy. Not a bad idea, right? Well, not according to Fox and CBS. Nope, these commericals are simplyinappropirate for the viewership. Heaven knows, we wouldn't want them to think that we are advocating for condoms to be used as birth control!

Read more about this in the New York Times, Pigs with Cellphones, but no condoms.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Shooting Dogs"

Or, the title of the film as it is called in the United States, "Beyond the Gates".

Why is it that the thought of shooting dogs is so disturbing to us, to the extent that a movie title would have to be changed? This question was posed by a young man from Rwanda, a young man who survived the genocide there in 1994. Why is it that the thought of shooting dogs is unacceptable, but the fact of children being slaughtered by machetes is something that we turn a blind eye to?

Each time i see a film about genocide or child soldiers or war (which is actually rather often, as those of you who know me know), I wonder, how is this possible? How can people turn into such monsters that they would commit such atrocities against one another? And especially, how is this possible right now in the world? Aren't we past that barbaric age? And how is it that we don't do anything to stop it? Each time, I leave with no more answers but rather a gnawing in the pit of my stomach.

This time, as i posed the question to my friends, silent as we left the theater, Heather said that the way to stop it is on an individual level, through our relationships with people. You know, she is right. I see these atrocities around the world (my latest conflict region of study is Chechnya) and wonder how can people turn into monsters and treat others the way that they do. I think that we do have a responsibility to act to stop genocide from happening all over the globe. We need to help in Sudan! But, these atrocities I think stem from the individual treatment of others. RIGHT NOW, I could be kinder to people. I could help more, donate things, take time to listen. I could forgive. I could expand my circle of friends. I could simply love more and buy local and volunteer in the community and adopt animals (while killing humans disturbs me more, i still don't want animals shot either). I can write to my congressmen. Nothing I do will make a big difference for someone in the Sudan. But I hope that it will make me feel a little bit more human, a little bit less hardened, and the world a little bit of a better place.

"Every man is given the key to heaven; the same key opens the door to hell." -Buddhist proverb

As human beings, we have the power to open the doors to suffering or the doors to peace.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Love. Or something like it.

A Disney princess and her prince charming, dancing under glowing orbs.

I went to a wedding in Seattle a few weeks back (yeah, been wanting to write about it for a while but have been slacking...). I fell in love with Seattle, and I think that it was because of the beautiful weather, or maybe the beautiful wedding. No, wait, it was the ferryboats. Definitely the ferryboats. Now, i am not a fan of weddings. I've never wanted one myself, always thinking that I would elope instead. Weddings bore me and people seem so stressed out, and unhappy even. But, my friends Lindsay and Evan really seem to love each other-- I mean they do love each other. And you can tell and that made me happy. Maybe I just love the two of them myself, and that's why the wedding was so good.

I am working on a little audio doc about love (as many of my friends know, since i am constantly pulling out my digital recorder to stick into the face of some poor, unsuspecting person, such as Carl, whose bachelor party we inadvertently joined when his friends meandered over to our campfire). I love asking people about love, especially those people who really seem to have found it because they love talking about it. You know those friends-- they can't wait to share their advice and insights and how-we-met-and-knew stories. Before I've just rolled my eyes, but now I feel like a scientist, gathering specimens to examine closely while I listen to their pontifications on love over and over again, taking note of the breathes they take and pauses as they come up with just the right words to describe how it is they feel for their lover, looking for the right metaphor. I study their words and tones, wondering what to keep for the final project and struggling with things to cut, since it all seems to be part of the answer to the mystery of how this thing called love works-- why we fall in love and how it continues to grow and grow.

And like a scientist, I have my personal reasons for wanting to discover the right formula, since the one I have been sampling this whole time seems to have an ingredient or two missing. Love, that I have found, but the agent that makes it lasting and right somehow has eluded my experimentation. I examine these audio specimen with the hope that some puzzle may be solved, the missing pieces fall into place, the formula developed and patented, and that I can bottle it and drink it and say, ah yes, this is love.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Coming out of the straight closet

So I went to the Utah Pride Festival yesterday to work at a booth for work. This was my first Pride Festival, and a very interesting time. As I sat at the booth, I watched the countless people walking by, noticing in particular a number of good looking men, all of whom, I suspected, were gay. So then, I started noticing the girls-- some of them very cute, and I realized for the first time that some of them might actually be interested in me while the men most certainly weren't. Suddenly, I wondered, what if I am a lesbian? How can you really tell? I pondered this for a few minutes, in a total quandry about how to figure this out and how to tell people if I was. Then I noticed a rather attractive male walk by who glanced my way.... yes... that was definately not a gay guy checking me out. And then I realized I felt very, very different about boys than girls and I am most definately straight. And I have to say, I was rather relieved.

I am still going to the Indigo Girls Concert.