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Thank You, NPR

April 17, 2012

I had done much research (before and after my move to Alaska) to see if there were organizations in Alaska that focused on work in eastern Africa, and my search came up fruitless…until a few weeks ago when I got in my car, turned on the radio, and listened to a gentleman talk about a project in Sudan. I was instantly intrigued. I was on my way to pick up Matt on base (about a 15 minute drive) and I had one of those “oh-my-goodness-I-don’t-recall-any-part-of-the-drive-to-pick-up-Matt” moments as I pulled into the parking lot, because of this radio program on NPR. At the end of the program, I remember the gentleman stating the name of the organization, Alaska Sudan Medical Project. I repeated it out loud about ten times so I could look it up when I returned home. To say I was in shock and surprised would be an understatement. I guess Alaskans do know what’s up! Ha! All kidding aside, this organization provides health centers and water & sanitation systems for remote villages of Sudan. I have mentioned before that I will do my best to bring awareness of organizations who are doing much in terms of bettering the lives of those who do not have access to clean water and I truly believe Alaska Sudan Medical Project is one of those organizations. So, check them out. And, thank you, NPR, for introducing them to me.

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Video: Ethiopia Trip Part II

March 29, 2012

Over one month ago I posted video one of (at the time) a two part series. After much hassle with YouTube and many edits later, I have the Part II video (of a three part series) to debut. I actually have the first one saved on my computer, but unless I want to wait three days for the video to upload on youtube for your viewing pleasure, I have broken up the video into a three part series to make it easier to upload and (hopefully) much easier for you, the viewing audience. I am fully aware that we humans have a short attention span and on that note I will stop typing and post a video. Enjoy!

For more information about Project Ethiopia, please contact me or visit Project Ethiopia’s blog.

Guest Post: Lauren’s Reflections

March 11, 2012

Today is the one year anniversary of an earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan – and my family. I really don’t have words to speak about what I think and what I feel and if I did attempt to say anything it would be, you guessed it, ineloquent. Lauren, my sister-in-law, wrote the most touching reflections on events that have touched her life this past year, to include the tsunami that took her grandmother. I am so thankful for a sister-in-law who keeps everything in perspective. Thank you, Lauren.

Reflections on Ethiopia (and Kesennuma): Forgetting

As we approach the anniversary of the 03/11/11 disaster in Japan, I’ve been thinking about “forgetting.”

It’s almost been one year since my dad’s hometown of Kesennuma was swept away by a tsunami, seven months since Paul and I went with our church to help Samaritan’s Purse clean up the aftermath, and only 5 months since I spent a month in Ethiopia with Jen.

And yet hours, days, and even months can pass without stopping to reflect on these events.

But how is this possible? Could I forget my father breaking down the phone as he told me that Grandma Komatsu was killed? Have I forgotten the quiet tears that slipped down my husband’s face as he showed me an image of a man who had just discovered that his wife and two children were dead? I don’t know if Matt cried; I’ve only seen it once. But I know behind the scary stache/tough guy hard exterior, there is some of mom’s “oh honneeey” sensitivity and empathy. And I don’t care how unemotional you think you are, the tears of a father, brother, or husband will break a girl’s heart in an instant.

What about the everyday, ongoing tragedies of life in a place like Ethiopia? Will I forget the little girl drinking water that made toilet water seem a hundred times cleaner? The babies lying in cribs that were tightly packed together in a dingy smelly orphanage, where the overwhelmed staff couldn’t possibly have the time to pick each one up for the sole purpose of loving and comforting them? Or what about the man in Arba Minch whose untreated malaria drove him insane and caused him to murder his young daughter in the middle of the night?

Of course I won’t forget. These memories are burned on my heart. In fact, just writing these words makes my face all twisty, and I want to pull my shirt over my head like my mom to hide the “ugly” cry.

So not forget, but somehow these things get jostled to the back of the line in my mind. These heavy memories are pushed around by the light, vapid, and constantly changing to-do lists in my brain and on my whiteboard, the imagining and pinning of my fairy tale life on Pinterest, and the obsessing over the I-want-to-make-but-will-probably-NEVER-make-so-just-get-over-it-already curtains!

So what’s a girl supposed to do? I could live on two ends of the spectrum: a distracted, disconnected, in denial life or a pity-party, preachy, stuck in the past life. No thank you to both. What I really need is a recipe for balance: cut back on the Pinterest, and replace with twice the amount of Thanksgiving and Prayer.

For every time I pour myself a glass of water, I want to Thank God for the privilege of having it and Pray for Tom and Teresa’s clean water mission in Ethiopia. Every time I’m on Facebook and see a post by one of my Japanese cousins, I want to Thank God for how many family members he did save from the disaster, and Pray for my loved ones who haven’t accepted the Savior. Every time I run with Motto, I want to Thank God for my working legs, and Pray for my Ethiopian friends Yigermal and his mother whose legs have been crippled by polio. Every time I “mud-out” my house (i.e. attempt to rid my apartment of dog hair), I want to Thank God for Samaritan’s Purse and the work they continue on His behalf, and Pray for Onadera-san in Kesennuma whose home we helped restore but we could not give her back the husband and son she lost.

As believers, we cannot harden our hearts to the tragedies of this world. So go ahead and Remember, Thank, and Pray. Let yourself have a good cry, and Thank God that what breaks His heart, breaks your heart as well.

Wedding photo of Komatsu grandparents

It’s Cool to Care

March 8, 2012

Joseph Kony. Invisible Children. LRA. Facebook. Social Media. Networking. Marketing. Videos. More marketing. More Facebook.

You have just read the words that have been floating around in my head for the past two days. If you haven’t heard of Joseph Kony and Invisible Children, then you must not be on Facebook or have a friend that is aware of who this person and organization are. I first became aware of Invisible Children in 2007. It was also the first year I started to do my research on the LRA. It was around the time I had begin my “quest” to travel to Africa. I was shocked to read about what Joseph Kony was doing to innocent children and women in eastern Africa. I purchased the first film by Invisible Chilrden founders, Jason Russell & Laren Poole to learn more about who they were and what they were doing as an organization. Facebook was still growing and social media sites were not in use like they are today so not very many of my friends were aware of this “cause”. I remember I purchased a shirt for Matt to help sponsor the work they were doing to bring Joseph Kony to justice.

Fast forward five years later with two trips to eastern Africa under my belt along with countless more hours of my own research and reading on the harmful effects of foreign aid, what sustainability look like in regards with foreign aid, and the LRA and I have a different take on Invvisible Children now. I read a fantastic article today that Matty K told me about. I have added this Yale professor’s blog to my bookmarks of favorite reads because what he had to say seemed to succinctly state was on my mind and heart. His name is Chris Blattman and you can read his article here. This is a snippet of what he had to say, “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming. The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long.”

This is when I share my concerns with you in regards to Invisible Children. First, I am a believer that there is definitely a generation of young adults in the US who care more than most other generations in regards to justice, but I also believe the reason is because “it’s cool to care”. Hear me out before you roll your eyes. If there were no genius and creative marketing schemes going on behind the scenes of Invisible Children do you believe #1) You or someone you know would be inclined to read more and take action? and/or #2) if there were the same marketing scheme and only one person were talking about it, would you be the second person?

I really do think that it’s just another form of a popularity contest. While I watched the latest film “Kony 2012”, I wanted to hear more about Joseph Kony and how they (Invisble Children) were going to take Joseph Kony out of power; how Invisible Chilrden was going to ensure that none of Kony’s followers would follow suit and start LRA all over again once Kony is taken out of power and…the list goes on, which leads me to my second point.

I have said it before and I will say it again: We.are.not.saviors. We have voices, but it’s not (and should never) be about us. Too many aid organizations focus on marketing and gaining an audience that they lose site of what they are trying to ultimately accomplish. My point is what in the world does Uganda do (and Invisible Children for that matter) once Joseph Kony is caught?

One word that you want to become familiar with when you think of “aid work” is sustainability.

How is Invisible Children going to assist Uganda in maintaining the sense of peace? How are they going to ensure that the followers of Joseph Kony don’t pick up the pieces and start all over once more?

You see, it’s really no different than me saying that I want a community in Southern Ethiopia to have a water well, but it takes awareness and money to build it. So, I solicit my friends and family on Facebook to donate. I make videos, I post photos of the sick children. I tell them over and over that “they are making a difference”. Then one day, we have raised enough money for a well and we build it. Yay!! We pat ourselves on the back and we take photos of smiling children and we leave.

The well breaks two months later and on one in the community in Southern Ethiopia is trained to fix a well. No one knows where to buy replacement parts and the community is, once more, without a water well but that much more aware that aid work doesn’t always work. This happens all the time.

What happened? Sustainaiblity didn’t happen. There wasn’t a thorough plan and even though there were many supporters of the well, it wasn’t enough to keep it from breaking. So, in regards to Invisible Children how are they going to ensure that the LRA never has an uprise? Who is ensuring that this cause of 2,401,224 likes on Facebook is sustainable?

This brings me to the third and last point. If Invisible Children believes that all it takes is a bit of force (aka “ambassadors” who are comprised of United States Armed Forces) to find and capture Joseph Kony, what happens when these men in uniform leave? Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences and history has shown that it can sometimes do more harm than good. It should be noted that if 2012 is the year that Inivisble Children has deemed “the year”, then I want to know that there has been given enough thought, planning, and implementation *with Ugandan officials* to ensure that this is an appropriate date. If not, then I don’t care what Invisible Children has planned. Action needs to be taken when calculated planning is completed and partnerships with key officials and people are in place.

Invisible Children is getting people’s attention and they should be commended for the work they have done to bring awareness of the LRA, but I want to make sure that people know that it’s much more complicated than a 20 minute film clip. If anything, I believe Blattman is right that there are other experts to consult besides Invisible Children when deciding what to do about Kony. Ask questions and demand answers. So before you click the “like” button on Invisible Children’s Facebook page, be aware that foreign aid needs to be approached by asking questions – lots and lots of questions.

Ineloquent Jen

March 6, 2012

If you know me, then you know I trip over my words. all. the. time. ugh.

Even so, I still write. Why not? I don’t stop “talking” because I stammer and I don’t stop writing because I’m ineloquent.

Join me for everything non-water related on Ineloquent Jen.

See you there…

A Film

February 15, 2012

When I know something will make me uncomfortable; frustrate the heck out of me; will leave me feeling compelled to do more, I will avoid it.

I know you’ve done it, too.

Well, I finally faced the uncomfortable situation of watching the film FLOW, an award winning documentary by Irena Salina. It is completely absurd to think that sitting down in front of a tv and watching this film would be something that I have avoided for about nine months (when I became aware of the film) and I was spot-on when I predicted that I would be frustrated, motivated, inspired and paralyzed.

You see I have thought of a million different ways to introduce the film to you. I have no poignant words to describe the film and to express my opinions in a coherent fashion because my passion for clean water usually leaves me tripping and stumbling over my tongue (or in this case, my keyboard) as I try to explain that clean water for all (to include you and me) has to be understood on such a grand scale. The film goes into what we (yes, all of us) have introduced into this environment has ended up in our water supply (fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, etc. and we wonder why we have so many health issues currently in society, but I digress), but it doesn’t stop there. Water is liquid gold, blue gold…gold! Business savvy people/bankers/multi-million $ organizations have realized this and are profiting from “free water” and then charging those lower on the totem pole to pay astronomical prices for a basic necessity to life. This film touches on many aspects of water that I can’t emphasize enough on how you need to watch this film. Don’t put it off as long as I have. Once you have watched it please leave a comment. Let’s start a discussion; a little movement on the internet that is something worthwhile so I spend less time on Facebook and Pinterest (ha – for real!) and more time debating something I can’t stop thinking about…water.

Here’s the link in case you missed it above:

FLOW the Film

Totally random, but I can’t get enough of the song “Desert Soul” by Rend Collective.

There is so much inspiration and motivation in the forms of music and films. What has inspired you recently? What song in your playlist is on repeat?

Video: Ethiopia Trip Part I

February 11, 2012

I can’t believe it’s taken me 3 months to post (part 1) video of my trip to Ethiopia. As I have gone through the videos, cutting and editing hours worth of video, I have paused to relive many of the moments and I have realized that Lauren really was too gracious to allow me to take countless photos and videos of her doing nothing most of the time. (Thanks Lauren!) I will be sharing Part II next week from our time spent in Arba Minch.

Disclaimer: Videos have a way of making everything seem perfectly awesome. However our lives can’t be edited nor do have music playing loudly each step we take in this real life. I just wanted to throw that out there.

Either way, I hope you enjoy!