Dear Supporters and Friends of VOW
Already the first quarter of 2010 is over, and we hope that it has been a peaceful time for you all. There is so much turmoil in our world that it is comforting to enjoy harmony in our homes.
We love having this opportunity in our Newsletter (developed and designed by Board Director Pamela S. Perkins) to share with you the activities and actions of our organization, and the Board.
We were delighted to welcome 90 of you to our first Beyond Borders Benefit on October 17, 2009 at Athens Market, at which we honored Marisa Ugarte of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition. The event was chaired by Board Director Dr. Virginia Loh, who coordinated an excellent evening that included an auction, musical entertainment, a speech from Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, and the celebration of women. We were especially pleased that two of the Women Peacemakers who were in residence at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice were with us for the evening. We were featured in San Diego Magazine's Charity Events!
Please mark your calendars for October 16, 2010 when we will hold our second Beyond Borders Benefit at which we will honor an artist who is working for justice and human rights.
Board Director Christie Edwards left us to move with her husband to Washington DC last year. As a law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Christie provided insights into the laws for women, especially CEDAW and UN Security Council Resolution 1325. We also bid farewell to Board Director Anne Hoiberg who continues her tireless efforts for women and girls in our global community.
We were delighted to welcome Nancy Casey, a PR specialist, to the Board. Nancy is responsible for writing our press releases and for guiding us through the public relations process. She is a true professional, and we are very fortunate to have her with us! Dr.Susan Baer also joined the Board. She is an avid community activist and brings depth to our ideas and functions.
Board Treasurer Carol Clarke continues to make Baby Beanies for newborns in global poverty-stricken areas. She has involved dozens of others in this venture and together they have shipped hundreds of the Beanies.
We held a stimulating annual retreat for the VOW Board Directors and one of the results (of many!) was a rewriting of our Mission Statement. We believe the new mission more clearly represents our focus and future. It is now reviewable on the website. We hope you like it too.
Board Director Karla Alvarez planned and hosted our first event of 2010 which many of you attended at the IPJ. We were delighted to bring together three fine speakers, Jennifer Freeman, Dilkhwaz Ahmed and Bagira Girukwayo who addressed violence against women from Congo to Iraq to San Diego. Sadly there is still much to be done to solve this continuing crisis.
It has been more than a month since VOW Board President Jenni Prisk and Bob Rast (husband of Board Director Anne Rast) joined Esther Taylor of Samaritan's Hand on a fact-finding trip to Uganda in February. You can read more about this trip in this newsletter.
Karla and I attended the 54th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in the first week of March, together with others from San Diego, and a total of 5,000 women from around the world. The Commission this year marked the 15th anniversary since the Beijing Women's Conference and we were able to learn where progress has been made and where it is still needed.
Anne Rast heads the nominating committee of the Peacemakers Event of the National Conflict Resolution Center who this year honored Major General Michael Lehnert for his humanitarian approach to the detainees in the first 100 days of Guantanamo. Also honored was a group of 16 Carlsbad High School Broadcasting students who developed a compelling documentary about the Holocaust entitled We Must Remember. I was honored to emcee this prestigious event.
In January, I moderated a panel at the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Mingei International Museum to celebrate Stories of Indian Women: Resistance, Resilience and Transcendence. Parminder Randhawa was one of panelists, and we are thrilled to welcome her to the VOW Board. Parminder is currently studying for a Masters Degree in Peace & Justice at USD. You will be able to read more about her soon under “Meet Our Board” on the website.
We are very happy to have Vivian Townes with us to handle our fiscal responsibilities and the sending of our invitations and newsletters. While Vivian is not a Board Director, already she has more than proved her value to our organization by keeping us on track in many areas. Vivian Black of Blacks Design continues to update and monitor our website for which we are forever grateful.
We are delighted to have begun a partnership with refugee women from East Africa who are now living in San Diego. We are in the process of determining their specific needs, which so far include business and professional skills, and we will keep you apprized of developments as they occur. Lastly, you may enjoy reading my contribution to SDNN about Women’s History Month.
Yes, it has been a very busy few months! That's it from me for now. As always, we would love to have you join us if you are interested in learning more! Thank you to all of you who believe in the Voices of Women, and support and join us in our constant quest for human rights. We wish you peace in your lives.
Jenni Prisk, President
By Nancy J. Casey
Hard-working, dedicated, focused, motivated. These are just a few adjectives that come to mind when you meet Karla Alvarez and learn about all the good works in which she’s involved. A member of VOW since September 2008, Karla was drawn to this organization because of our unique educational programs, many of which use a theatrical-style approach. “I loved VOW from the beginning,” says Karla. “I found it a wonderful way to engage with audiences using the theatre concept as a vehicle to amplify women’s voices on global issues.”
Born and raised in Port Chester, New York until age nine, Karla was the first of three daughters. Her father worked there for many years as a computer engineer, but her parents longed to return to Mexico to be closer to their families. “Moving to the state of Guanajuato when I was nine years old was the beginning of me finally understanding my roots. I was able to get to know my hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, experience a new culture, and learn a new education system in a new language. I spoke very little Spanish and did not read Spanish at all prior to moving there.” Karla also recalls learning early in life about the importance of family. “Family is at the core of what I value - my parents have always instilled that in me. Throughout my childhood, we had dinner as a family every night of the week – a tradition I intend to keep when I have my own family someday. To this day, Spanish is the only language allowed among us, even when we talk on the phone. My parents don’t want us to forget it.”
Citing her mother and father as having the most influence on her life, Karla believes the most important value they taught her was the power of education. “Education has always been very important to my family. We’ve always known that it is the key to success and my parents were incredibly supportive of that, driving me to study groups and extracurricular activities at all times throughout the day. As the oldest daughter, I was expected to set the standard for my younger sisters so I worked very hard in school and at part-time jobs throughout my teenage years. I’ve always been very independent and goal-driven. Once I set my mind to something, I work hard until I accomplish it.”
That drive has served Karla well. She graduated cum laude from the University of San Diego in 2007 with a degree in International Relations. Although she was busiest in her senior year while juggling a full-time job and part-time volunteer work along with the demands of her classes, she racked up her best grades ever, straight A’s. “I just didn’t sleep much!”
Today, Karla is a Program Officer for WorldLink, a program of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Working for WorldLink has given Karla the perfect opportunity to put the theory she learned in college into practice. Her passion for peace building has fueled various outreach efforts primarily among young people both in the US and abroad. She plans to travel soon to Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines to interview local youth leaders engaged in resolving the conflict there through peaceful methods. Karla also plans to make a short documentary of the youths she’ll meet in Mindanao, capturing on film her conversations with youth leaders from the Muslim, indigenous, and Christian communities there. Look for a report from her in future VOW newsletters.
Whether here in the US or elsewhere in the world, Karla firmly believes that young people have a major role to play in peace-building. “Many adults assume young people are cynical or apathetic when really they are frustrated or disillusioned because they do not feel their voices are valued. Oftentimes these young people will turn to violence to demand that attention. In Mindanao, my goal is to engage them in dialog about what inspires young people, what motivates them, and what they hope to do to stop the conflict. Because they are already actively engaged, I want to recognize their important contributions.”
When she’s not traveling or working, Karla cherishes her leisure time with friends, trying new restaurants, sampling fine wines and planning her next international adventure. She also loves to cook, finding it to be extremely therapeutic, even though she wishes she had more time to do it.
Truly, Voices of Women is privileged to have the youthful spirit and drive of Karla Alvarez on our Board.
The Awards and Recognition Committee of VOW is pleased to announce our Second Annual VOICE AWARD. Many VOW supporters attended our 1st Annual Beyond Borders Benefit in October, 2009 where we introduced the VOICE AWARD. The sold-out event was a stellar success! Marisa Ugarte of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition was the recipient of the 2009 Voice Award for Service. This year, we will be honoring Artistic Works. We are looking for works of theatrical significance and/or an artistic production, including films and documentaries. The work must reflect VOW’s message and mission. Please review our website for criteria, deadlines, and application.
Award recipient will be awarded $1000 to be given to a non-profit organization designated by the recipient subject to VOW Board approval. The recipient will be awarded and be our honored guest at our Beyond Borders Benefit scheduled for October 16, 2010. We strongly encourage all qualifying individuals or entities to send in your applications and submissions so that we may continue to support your efforts to inform, motivate and stimulate your audiences to greater awareness and action!
By, Jenni Prisk
It has been more than a month since VOW Board Member Jenni Prisk and Bob Rast (husband of Board Director Anne Rast) returned from Uganda, yet the memories and images of the country and people remain vivid.
Esther Taylor of Samaritan’s Hand in San Diego afforded us the opportunity to visit her native country. The three of us, with the help of advisors, including Carol Clarke of Voices of Women, met for 10 months to plan the work we hoped to undertake while there. Our contact in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, was Pastor Stephen Mugisha who runs a notable church on the edge of the city. Esther formed a partnership with Stephen several years ago through the work they have been doing together rescuing abandoned children.
We were fortunate to stay with Esther’s family who introduced us to (privileged) Ugandan life. The poverty around the city was hard to witness, yet even in the most abject areas, the people were contented with family and community life. We visited a junior school on our first day, where 100 smiling children surrounded us. In their burgundy-colored uniforms, they begged to have their photos taken. The parents of these children work, and are able to pay for school fees. The children who live in poverty may never see the inside of a classroom.
The primary focus of our visit to was to work with needy women and teenage girls to provide skills that would benefit them. It surprised me to learn at our first meeting that one of the most sought after skills was public speaking! Consequently, we taught a two-hour workshop right away! Their enthusiasm and participation was overwhelming.
The following day, we returned to the church and met with 30 women to discuss business ideas they had been nurturing. First, we brainstormed the strategies required to start a business. It was no surprise to learn that the first factor was financial capital. Many of these women are so very poor that they live with their children in rooms the size of broom closets. We discussed the concepts of collaboration and cooperation and how these methods combine the women’s strengths and resources, so they can achieve more with less.
The women then formed three groups centered on their business choices - farming, wedding planning and shop-keeping. The excitement in the room was palpable. After almost an hour, a woman from each group reported their discoveries and plans. Together we brainstormed the steps, starting with pooled resources and how they would manage them.
The following day, 40 men joined us for almost two hours. These men were very interested in the strategies the women had learned and wanted to know how and where they could assist, as well as learn some of the strategies themselves. This was a surprise to Esther as there is a tendency in Uganda for the men to be “hands-off” concerning women’s affairs. Again we discussed the power of cooperation and suggested a “working bee” at the orphanage the next day, to which they heartily agreed.
The following morning, we brought together some tools and met at the orphanage. The ground was covered in rocks, weeds and rubble. Together 18 of us, men, women and girls, dug and cleared for four hours in the intense, humid heat. We shared lunch in the shade, talked non-stop, and when we left the ground was ready for planting. All of the people agreed that the collaboration was meaningful.
Since our return to San Diego, we have stayed in touch with as many of the people as possible, given the internet and phone restrictions due to regular power outages. There will be a second trip to Uganda in the near future. We hope that some of you may be interested in joining us. There is so much more to be done. We consider this to be VOW’s first field mission, but definitely not the last!
This Month VOW pays poetic tribute to two very divergent but analogous events that have touched the hearts and minds of millions as the world continues to turn and we continue to evolve both as our brother’s keeper and the master’s of our own fate!
In continued solidarity with the families of Haiti:
Once fertile valleys of magnificent mahogany surrounded by curvaceous mountains lying beyond vast oceans of darkness; Haiti your beauty belies the tragedy of plunder torn asunder by exploitation and greed.
Rising like the phoenix out of ruins of corrupt conquests of conquistadors to claim your rightful place among humanity deciding its fate; no more auction block for thee!
A testimony to the price of self-determination levied on the scarred backs of brave warriors witnessing to the world; African and Arawak (now deceased) leading righteous revolts.
“Unity makes Strength, L'Union Fait La Force”, your cry of endurance never broken as they toss guilt-ridden tokens of admission and denial at your mud caked feet; all the while interfering in your sovereignty.
And now the weight of nature brings forth its waves, shakes and tremors of release felt deep in every soul; women and men of the African Diaspora, once again fortitude calls you forth.
Hold tight your resilience, your spiritual strength. Hearken! Your recompense is nigh; for the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Hold on Haiti, Hold on! The Promised Land is near!
Authored by PS Perkins
In tribute to the women in government governing from heart & mind:
Heels on the Hill
Clicking loudly down the halls of
Change bringing forth the names
deserving a voice
behind darkened double doors.
Heels on the Hill…
the countless voices tangled
Within the mangled masses of messages.
New voices echo on the Hill
Awakening the minds to
compassion, camaraderie and
co-opetition on a mission to heal the nation.
Michelle, Hillary, Nancy, and the rest
provide the true litmus test of
democracy designed for all.
Audacious voices, powerful voices, willing voices,
Heels on the Hill
By Karla Alvarez
True to VOW’s mission, Karla Alvarez, VOW Board Director, was selected for a 10-day study tour of Northern Ireland’s Peace Process. She joined 23 young professionals from across the country to travel to Belfast, Londonderry and Dublin in late August 2009. The Washington Ireland Program (WIP) and Cooperation Ireland led the pilot program, which was funded by the U.S. Department of State.
As the inaugural WIP Emerging American Leaders cohort, the participants assessed the region’s internal dynamics and processes since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, with special attention to the role of civil society. They met with various politicians, grassroots community groups, academics and peace and reconciliation practitioners.
The range of first-hand experiences led to deep and intense discussions about the challenges of conflict resolution, peace building and social transformation, with one participant stating, “I feel like I have gained extremely valuable insights on the Northern Ireland conflict which are quite useful as a mechanism of comparison toward my focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also gained a real sense of practical, on the ground understanding of a peace-building society as it evolves.”
The study tour provided a unique and valuable opportunity for the participants, whose backgrounds ranged from doctoral candidates to experienced professionals in both non-profit and for-profit organizations. “More than 10 years after the peace agreement was signed, the conflict is still deeply entrenched – perhaps more than ever. While I had previously studied peace building theory, this study tour showed me the reality on the ground and the serious challenges that remain in the restoration of their community,” reflected Alvarez.
The participants are currently compiling a document which details their experiences during the Washington Ireland Program study tour and how it relates to their own particular area of work or field of study.
To learn more, http://www.wiprogram.org/emergingleaders.cfm