June 2009

Meet the Board

By Jenni Prisk, President/Founder

Pama Shekinah Perkins, VOW Board Member
Pamela Shekinah Perkins

When you meet Pamela Shekinah Perkins, you are immediately aware of her warmth and intelligence. It is no surprise to learn that she has committed her life to helping people discover the power of their communication. In Pamela's own words, "I want to bring an awareness of healthy and empowering communication to the table."

Pamela grew up in Durham, North Carolina, the second oldest of six children (four girls and two boys.) Her parents were both musicians and her mother was also a writer. Her father graduated from the Historically Black College Fisk University majoring in music and received his graduate degree in English at Columbia University. Pamela grew up in the Baptist church, and her father was minister of music at their Church.

Pamela recalls the household being busy and committed to their community. They belonged to numerous organizations and entertained frequently. Her mother still belongs to a 50-year Pinochle club called the Jolly Dozen. Pamela relates that it was this dynamic community that gave her a healthy sense of self. Pamela was highly encouraged by her mother and father to pursue interests in music, acting, and dance, as well as service to her community. At 15 years of age, Pamela's father died. Her mother was only 37. Pamela fondly remembers her spontaneous and fun-loving father being a good Samaritan who inspired her to venture into community work, which she continues to this day.

At the age of 10, she was bused to a white school in a white suburb and she says, "Before that, my world was very homogenous and self-affirming." She experienced the prejudice of pre-civil rights and the lack of equity and justice everywhere has been a constant awakening in Pamela's life. It is this strong desire for justice that bought her to VOW.

She attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill where she received a BA in Speech Communications/Drama/Dance and then went on to NYU where she obtained her MA with an emphasis in Oral Interpretation of Literature and Intercultural Communication.

The performing arts continued to be her first love and she followed her dreams "north" to study and perform with such high profile groups as Arthur Hall African American Dance Ensemble, Chuck Davis, Alvin Ailey, the Negro Ensemble and other New York based institutions of the Arts. During this time, she began her 25-year career as an instructor in Higher Education teaching Speech Communication, English, and Drama for colleges and Universities throughout the U.S. Her teaching resume includes Bunker Hill Community College, Boston, MA, Clark Atlanta University, UCSD Extension and recently retired early from the San Diego Community College District - City/Mesa Colleges.

Pamela is currently Founder and CEO of the Human Communication Institute, LLC working alongside her life and business partner, NJ Mitchell, dedicated to bringing communication effectiveness training to individuals, groups and organizations.

Pamela's book The Art and Science of Communication published by Wiley & Sons in 2008 is becoming a seminal text on how communication works within the organization and our lives. She is a contributor to several books on communication and a frequent contributor to Personal Development Magazine. She loves to inspire women to wake up to their health, wealth, love, and happiness quotients. So what does happiness mean to Pamela? "Happiness is service, loving interpersonal relationships, writing, cooking, and music." Then some things must make her mad? "Yes, injustice, ignorance, unmerited entitlement."

Pamela is committed to service and the causes she supports bear testimony to that. She is passionate about children's rights (she is a member of several organizations supporting children) and women's rights. Pamela joined the board of directors of Voices of Women because our mission meets her personal goals.

What does the future hold for this multi-talented, gracious, and dedicated woman? "I want to incite people to understand the power of their communication and help them to become the voice of reason wherever it is needed -- be it in personal problem solving or social ills. I dream of Human Communication Institutes throughout the globe. Effective communication is a gift to me, and I want it to bring my gift to others."

Voices of Women is grateful to have the gift of Pamela Shekinah Perkins.



Cambio Club Event

By Stacey Blanchet, Board Director and
Karla Alvarez, Board Director

Voices of Women (VOW), in keeping with our 2009 theme of highlighting poverty, education and women's empowerment, held this year's second supporter event to benefit the Cambio Club at High Tech High International (HTHI). In recognition of multiple youth-led projects in San Diego County, VOW selected the Cambio Club because of its commitment to build schools in South America for young girls.

The Cambio Club, a participating member of the O Ambassadors program, has several events throughout the year to sell their student-made re- usable grocery bags. VOW partnered with the Cambio Club in order to help them reach their fundraising goal while creating an opportunity for our supporters to be active with a project and learn a new skill. Supporters were paired at several sewing stations and worked with Cambio Club advisor Melissa Agudelo while students went from station to station assisting participants throughout the entire tote-making process.

Along with helping build the school, event participants will contribute to saving the environment through their subsequent use of the re- usable grocery bags. All for $7.00 a bag! VOW was pleased to welcome, Jill Bennett. Judy Carol, Marie Hutchinson. Ellen Jacobs, Charlotte Lantz, Laura Marshall, Jeanette Rigopoulos, Mary Ann Paul, Claire Marie Mallory and her daughter Annabelle, all who made 2 bags each under the direction of teacher Melissa Agudelo, and her three students Rishika Daryanani, Andrea Salvani and Lamont Weir. We would also like to thank Leigh Fenly, Giovanna Rauchbach-Gorman, Penny Arenson, Sue Bourdon and Heidi Herrin who could not participate but came to the Pt. Loma Library, where the event was held, to purchase bags from the Cambio Club.

It was a pleasure for Voices of Women to help such a worthy youth project and share in conversation with our dedicated supporters who encouraged VOW to continue offering such opportunities that not only make a difference but also allow supporters to spend time with other VOW supporters and directors.



Film Review

The Forgotten Woman, 2007, 2008
Dilip Mehta

By Pamela S. Perkins, Board Director

I consider myself an Independent/Foreign film buff. In other words, I like movies with subtitles. I tend to especially enjoy movies from the Asian Continent, especially Chinese and East Indian. On a typical Friday evening, flipping channels, I peruse the IFC, Bravo, and Sundance Channels to see if there was any film calling my name, and there it was "The Forgotten Woman." Now you already know, I am very into the voices of women, and as I read the movie guide, I was intrigued about the "20 million plus widows of India." The movie was an experience I will never release. Indeed, the Voices of Women are crying out!

Internationally renowned photographer Dilip Mehta, was inspired to film the documentary about the growing number of widows in India after the success of his sister's (Deepa Mehta) Oscar-nominated movie "Water", about the marginalization of widows in India. His sister's film was set in the 1930's about the plight of 40 million widows of India and Dilip was shocked to find their plight pretty much unchanged to this day. The Forgotten Woman estimates about 20 million widows have been neglected, abused, forgotten and many subjected to spiritual and physical exploitation.

I was saddened to witness the number of mothers that were turned out by their sons once their husbands died and the son wanted the property rights of the mother, especially if the son was married. Many of the widows were put out on the street. Some widows would sign over their property rights and allow their sons to take and leave them in the ancient temple city of Vrindavan. It is believed by those living there that to give up all worldly possessions and live there serving the temple in singing and providing other "services," the widow would be able to be released from the burden of being reborn again upon her death, and thus go straight to "heaven." The temples receive alms and support from various resources and they provide minimal sustenance to the widows that barely survive on their "charity." The movie travels to several provinces and visits with widows in the streets who beg daily for their survival competing with other street animals and children. Obviously, the pervasiveness of the caste system played a role as to how well a widow survives and the difference is stark between the higher and lower castes just as it has always been.

When asked where their sons and family were, they repeatedly replied, "They have abandoned us." When Mehta interviewed young women and men contrasting the poverty and squalor of the widows with the upwardly mobile young couples' lives, their refusal to comment, place blame on the widows, or chalk their plight up to "fate," was deafening! Now in case you think these were women well past their prime, there were many young widows who lost their husbands due to war. When they spoke of the abuse of their deceased husband's families while away at war and after their deaths, I could not help but be filled with anguish. Many were treated worse than any slave labor you could imagine and often beaten and starved mercilessly. It was difficult to watch the reality these widows live with, all of whom dedicated their lives to their families no matter the costs to their own body, mind, and soul. I was hurt and ashamed at the lack of humanity and degree of exploitation. Mehta uses his photographer's eye to capture and share the stark and stunning images of grace, beauty, neglect and duty worn thread thin.

There were some seeds of hope being spread by different women's organizations springing up to fight for the defense of the widows and help some, a few, gain back their property rights and independence. I wondered as I watched the beautiful, posh, young women that were interviewed, if they had any thoughts of their own widowhood to come, and would their sons be as callous as their husbands were when they turned their mothers out into the streets.

The Forgotten Woman is a haunting documentary of just how far we have not come in honoring the elders within our midst. It is a documentary showing us that from birth to death, a woman's life is less valuable than livestock in many parts of the world. It is a story about great sacrifice in the hope that one day they will not be forgotten. It is a story that reveals that Voices of Woman have a long way to go before being heard. Cry Out!



The AjA Project

By Stacey Blanchet, Board Director

Since 2002 The AjA Project has run Journey, an after-school participatory photography program in San Diego that has engaged and empowered over 700 refugee and immigrant youth in the visual storytelling process. Students use photography to reflect upon, process, and share their experiences of migration; increase their self-esteem; and strengthen their ability to think critically about their identities and cultural communities. The work created by AjA students helps to create awareness around the refugee resettlement experience and to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue among refugees, their American peers and the larger San Diego community.

During my conversation with Sandra Ainslie, Executive Director, of the AjA project, I learned that the AjA Project is not an arts program but rather a three year photography-based youth development program for refugee kids who have experienced forced displacement and often struggle with issues surrounding cultural identity. The main focus of this program is to help kids process trauma, find their voice and help them with their identity building in order for them to become effective leaders for their communities. I asked Sandra several questions that I felt would sum up the program and what they need the public to know.

1) Who does the AjA Project serve?

The AjA Project serves approximately 100 middle and high school students per semester, ages 12 to 19, at three sites: Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Gompers Charter Middle School in Southeast San Diego and Crawford High School in City Heights. The students represent 19 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines, Jordan, Thailand, Rwanda, Syria, Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Burma, Kenya, Somalia and Burundi.

2) What do you hope to bring to the lives of the kids in your programs?

I would like to give them self-confidence, advocacy, strong sense of identity, positive change, along with tools to be successful participants in society.

3) Where are the areas that you would like to expand the AjA project to?

I would like to see national expansion. There are many areas with high concentrations of refugee populations that are in need of this type of programming.

4) What does the AjA project need from the public?

Financial support! The agency's budget is $300,000 thousand per year. We serve 100 kids per school year at a cost 1,500 per student per semester. While we receive the majority of our funding through grants we still need to raise $100,000 through individual and corporate contributions.

5) Why is the AjA project important?

Refugee youth, because of the myriad of issues they experience associated with forced displacement, life in refugee camps, and acculturating to a new way of life, are at great risk of engaging in behaviors harmful to themselves, their families, and their communities. According to a 2003 comprehensive white paper report from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Refugee Trauma Task Force, refugee youth are at particularly high risk for mental health problems and tend to experience anxiety, depression, relationship problems, behavioral problems, academic difficulties, and other issues caused by migration and loss of the familiar, trauma, and stresses. The confluence of mental health issues, poverty, cultural and language unfamiliarity, and diverse racial and ethnic identities make refugee and immigrant youth particularly vulnerable to dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, suicide, substance abuse, and gang activities.

The AjA Project recently underwent a program evaluation funded by the California Endowment and Alliance Healthcare, which found that The AjA Project's programming plays a significant role in alleviating despair, loss, and alienation among refugee and immigrant youth who are acculturating to life in America. In response to the evaluation, and with the support of Weingart-Price Fund at the San Diego Foundation, The AjA Project began collaborating with expert educators, evaluators, artists and mental health professionals to refine the curriculum and incorporate lessons to more effectively guide students in the process of self- reflection. The refined curriculum, which was implemented this spring, includes modules on psychosocial issues, visual literacy and language acquisition skills. These additions, in particular the language acquisition skills module, will help provide a stronger foundation for refugee youth to articulate their thoughts and gain the confidence they need.

6) What else would you like people to know?

Integral to AjA's mission of supporting self- sufficiency is the development of comprehensive programs that transform students into community leaders. AjA's Youth Advisory Council (YAC) comprises Journey graduates who have demonstrated exceptional leadership potential. They meet monthly and participate in a yearlong curriculum that focuses on leadership development, advanced photography and media studies, and individual portfolio projects. YAC members hone their skills through public speaking engagements in their capacity as AjA's youth ambassadors, and have spoken at The United Nations in New York City, and at World Refugee Day in Washington, DC. They have represented AjA on KFMB Channel 8 News and KPBS San Diego.

The AjA Project is very proud to be the recipient of the Coming Up Taller Presidential award for excellence in youth programming. Last November long time AjA Project student Nargis Alizada from Afghanistan and Sandra Ainslie travelled to DC for a special reception at the White House.

You really can't under estimate the importance of an organization like the AjA project. The process of helping these young children, who come to this country to become productive citizens, is in everyone's interest as a compassionate society, as Sandra puts it "to become ambassadors for their communities". The curriculum that is created specifically for this organization handles so many issues that these youth face and gives them a voice that is universal for everyone to understand. At this time in our history as a nation we are faced with more and more diverse cultures coming to America and only when we understand and grow together as people, do we achieve a successful society.

Voices of Women believes that the AjA project is a valuable organization not only in San Diego but worldwide. It is very important that these young kids realize that they bring so much to the world around them with their drive and ideas that they are an inspiration to everyone that they meet. We hope that you will learn more about the AjA project and get involved any way that you can.



Talk the Walk

By Jenni Prisk, President/Founder

At this mid-point of 2009, the VOW board of directors thought you would appreciate an update of where we've been and where we plan to go, especially as it is your support and generosity that allows us to grow.

This year in October, Voices of Women will be eight years old. We remain committed to our mission of educating ourselves and others on US and foreign policy, seeking non-military solutions for global conflicts, and empowering women at peace and decision-making tables.

In the years since 2001, we have presented 50 educational programs, ranging from theatrical productions that have highlighted the futility of war, to panel discussions that have opened our minds to the effects of political unrest and poverty endured by women and children. Our WITWIGO programs (What In The World Is Going On?) have proved very popular, when we address current global issues in a timely manner.

Through the excellence of Blacks Design, VOW maintains a first-class website which is updated regularly to keep you up-to-date with global affairs. We highlight the work of young people in our community who are working towards peace and justice in the global community. For three years, we have supported the Afghan Women's Educational Center with donations from you that have allowed women and street children in Kabul and beyond, to return to school. And we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Sponsors and Underwriters who financially support our organization.

So, what's next for VOW? Here's the list (check website for details):

  1. A WITWIGO on June 24 covering North and South Korea.
  2. September 26, in collaboration with the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, VOW will co- sponsor readings from five plays by acclaimed playwright Catherine Filloux (Lemkin's House.)
  3. October 17, we will stage VOW's first Awards and Fundraising Event, where we will honor Marisa Ugarte of the BSCC (Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition) for her outstanding work with sex trafficking victims.

We also have many ideas in the "hopper" waiting to be harvested. These are:

  1. The first trip for VOWagers is currently in the planning stages as we look toward a visit to Kampala, Uganda at the end of January 2010. VOW will be guided by Ugandan native, Esther Taylor, through her work with Samaritan's Hand, the organization she established to rescue homeless infants and children. The VOWagers' role will be to provide education for the children, assist with the building of a school/home and tend to other needs as necessary. Please contact Jenni Prisk at if you would like further information. We will keep you apprised as plans are formalized.
  2. We will continue our educational programs; we are researching another global organization to support (similar to AWEC). We want to be recognized as a vital, useful organization.

What we would like from you:

  1. Please contact us if you have ideas for programs, support areas, research, representation or questions! Bring global issues to our attention. One of us is not as good as the sum of us!
  2. Let us know if you would like to serve on a committee (and perhaps ultimately on the board of directors) and in what capacity.
  3. Invite your friends, neighbors, family, colleagues and the young women in your life to join Voices of Women.
  4. Send us donations, we will be forever grateful. We exist on a small budget and could do so much more with more!
  5. Talk us up! The best and cheapest advertising is word of mouth.
  6. Stay with us! We are grateful to you for your support.

In closing, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Board of Directors. Without their tireless commitment and dedication to our organization we would not have moved forward as we have. They are an invaluable group of passionate women with whom it is my honor to serve.

We are sad to bid farewell to two of our directors. Stacey Blanchet, who developed this newsletter, is leaving us at the end of May to pursue other exciting ventures. Christie Edwards will be leaving us in August to move to Washington DC where she will enroll in an International Human Rights Law LL.M. program at American University.

And that's it for this issue. We look forward to hearing from you! Thank you, and keep fighting for peace and justice!


Voices of Women