Thank you!

And we're here...at the end of 2011. This will be my last post here. I don't think I would have believed how much blogging would become part of my life when I started in 2008. I'm taking away from it many lessons, discoveries and friends gained. 

Wherever you may, I hope that 2012 brings you a lot of happiness and positive experiences. 

Thank you for reading, for commenting and for letting me learn from you. 

Happy 2012!

Images courtesy of: jcbonbon, scrapbit

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An African Thanksgiving in America

I had this great idea. I thought that it would be fun to give you a glimpse of what a (West) African Thanksgiving looks like in America, since Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the U.S. Then, I changed my mind. Then, I changed it back again. That's usually how my writing process goes.

Disclaimer: This post is (somewhat heavily) laden with a considerable amount of Sarcasm. Any attempt to take everything seriously will lead to frustration  and/or eye roll at the writer. It's best enjoyed after a tryptophan-induced nap. 

Continue reading

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5 Ways To Make a (real) Concrete Difference

I thought a discussion about making a difference would be a perfect follow-up to a post on Documentaries and Tough Issues. Most people leave documentaries going "now what?". Here are 5 ways to kick Helplessness feelings to the curb. 

1. Go Micro

Chances are there is an organization (or more) working on that issue that you just learned about. If not, there is someone out there working on a related issue in your community. Small non-profits often not only welcome monetary donations, but your time and talents as well. Do Something.org is an excellent organization that can help you identify local organizations and ways in which you can make a difference at the micro-level. Google works too. 

2. Put Pressure on Elected Officials (with the power of the pen...or the keyboard)

Some issues require changes at the policy level. This one may not feel as concrete as the first, but is effective, especially when your voice is added to a multitude of others. ONE is a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that encourages its members to write to elected officials to get laws changed or put into place. You can see here what they've already accomplished through putting pressure on elected officials. 

3. Encourage Economic Growth by giving an entrepreneur a loan

In a way, this is also a micro-change. You may not be changing a country, but you will be changing the destiny of one family, one community, one region. Learn about Kiva

4. Get Your Hands dirty

Help build a house for a family in the United States. Check out Habitat for Humanity. Go help a non-profit with your talents outside of the United States. Check out Idealist.org.

5. Help someone turn their creative dream into a reality

Crowdfunding. Less red tape. Supporting people in whom you believe. Kickstarter. Check it. Sponsume. Spend time there.

These are 5 ways in which you can make a real, concrete difference. 

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The Sensitive Person’s Guide to Watching (Tough) Documentaries…and Hard Things

Before I start, I want to take a second to say hi to the newest readers. Hi, Lorie, Brianna and Daniel!

Okay, let's start.

Picture the scene. It's 10:00 p.m. I'm lying in bed, with the lights turned off and the door slightly ajar. I'm clutching a box of Kleenex and around me are strewn wet,  pathetic pieces of tissue. My roommate walks in and turns the light on.

Her: Why are you in here with the lights off? Are you alright? Did something happen to your family?

Me: No, no, sniff...I'm fine. We watched this documentary in my Global Health class today on Child Soldiers. There's just...sniff sniff...there's just so much injustice in the world, you know?

Her: O...kay. You want me to bring you anything?

You've just watched in your mind a dramatization of what happens when I watch a tough documentary. Though I don't really cry myself to sleep about the injustices in the world, I do have a hard time sitting down to watch and talk about them. I am a sensitive soul with an over-reactive imagination. When I watch something dark and depressing, my mind creates an uber-version of it, making the scene more and more elaborate every night. I often won't be able to sleep for weeks.

I also get angry and sad and angry and sad again. How did you feel after reading The Diary of Anne Frank? I wanted to scream and punch someone in the face. I was a feisty 10-year old.

I realized that I wasn't alone in this avoidance of the "tough stuff" when one of my friends proudly told me that she no longer watched the news because they "just can't seem to know how to tell good news". It dawned on me that there might just be other people like us out there who wouldn't go near the hard stuff with a ten-foot pole.

Yet, we must watch the hard stuff. We must be aware of what's happening in the world around us. Ignorance is sadly not bliss. If you can relate, this is for you or the sensitive person in your life whom you have to bribe every time you want them to watch a documentary with you.

What should I bring?

Other than a pack of tissues, you should bring a notebook and a pen. I'll explain why in a second.

What should I expect?

Not every documentary is hard to watch. Some will even make you cheer at the end. If you are watching a tough one though, and you get to a hard-to-watch scene, It's okay to bow your head for a minute , to take a breath or say a silent prayer. If you just can't handle it, it's also okay to step out for a minute to compose yourself before coming back in. If you know you might be stepping out for a bit, sit in the back, near the door or in an aisle chair. You don't want to be stuck in a middle of the auditorium, feeling trapped.

How can I get out of my own head and make the most out of the documentary?

Remember the notebook and pen that we talked about? Take it out. Time to answer some questions.

1. What is the issue? Every documentary covers an issue or a problem. It's usually laid out at the beginning with lots of facts, stats and dates. Write it down in 1 sentence.

2. What does the filmmaker say is the cause? Documentaries also cover the "why" along with the "what" of an issue. This will probably be the "history lesson" portion of the documentary. It may be in the form of old, black and white footage or interviews of experts on the subject or eyewitnesses. This is also, in many cases, the tough part of the documentary. It's the filmmaker's goal to convince you that the issue just didn't happen by itself.

3. Are there solutions being suggested? If so, what are they? Most documentaries seek to provide viewers with ways to get involved and take action. Others might not.  If they do, write down their suggestions as bullet points. They usually are tied to a website or direct viewers to a site with more information. Write it down as well.

Now that the documentary is over, I've cried/punched a wall/kicked a cat/let out a few expletives and I'm a little depressed. What now? 

Time to do some research on your own.

1. Find the filmmaker's bias. We all have it. Our environment, upbringing and ideological frames of reference impact the way we view the world. The filmmaker's bias will reveal itself in the words that are used. How many times are words like "alleged", "accused" "supposedly" used? How many members of the Government vs. Civil Society members  are interviewed? How many men vs women are interviewed? Do some digging on the filmmaker. What is their cultural heritage? What school did they go to? What did they say was their motivation for making this documentary?

2. Time to fill in the gaps. Has anyone else written on this same subject? Has any university done research on this issue? Do they agree with the filmmaker's point of view? Why or why not?

Okay, now what do I do with all this information?

Well, here are a couple of responses you may have to this documentary. You can check which one applies to you:

1. Now, I know. 

2. Now, I know and I want to host a viewing party so that my family and friends can know too. 

3. Now, I know and I want to donate money to this organization 

4. Now, I know and I want to volunteer with an organization that works on a similar issue in my community. 

5. Now, I know and I want to act differently. 

I realized that the reason why many of us would rather do anything else than sit to watch something tough is because of the feeling of helplessness that we feel afterwards. There is plenty to be done but sometimes, there is nothing that you as an individual can do.

I love the recent GoogleTalks interview with Anderson Cooper. He had this to say about his work: "A lot of compelling stories in the world aren’t being told, and the fact that people don’t know about them compounds the suffering. To me, there is value in bearing witness to what is happening to people who are living their lives with great dignity in the face of horror." 

Bearing Witness. The dictionary calls it "Attestation". Standing as a witness for someone or something. I think, as we bear witness, we validate the existence of others who may feel invisible and non-existent in our world.

Even if for now all that we can do is bear witness for the existence of a fellow human in his or her plight, we are doing something worthwhile.

Photo courtesy of :Salihan

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What to wear to an all-day conference/event

This is the post in which I attempt to be a fashion blogger. Let's see how I do.

The first thing any self-respecting stylist/advice columnist/fashion blogger will tell you when you ask about what to wear to a conference is, "Comfort is key". I would agree with them. If you're already nervous because you're going to have to put your networking face on and/or sit all day, you need to be comfortable. Tugging and pulling just doesn't convey Confidence.

Since I can only speak from personal experience, I'm going to talk about what I wore to the TEDx conference and what I learned from that. Here is a visual of what I wore (substract glasses, add a scarf)

Can't you see what you're doing to me.

Let's go from the outside in:

1. The Trench coat: Fall weather is often hard to predict. It might be sunny and warm one second, rainy and wet the next second. It was sunny, rainy and snowy during the same day we were at the conference. An outer layer  that protects against the elements is essential. Plus, it needs to be light enough to be carried around all day. It's never 100% guaranteed that your event will provide a coat check service.

2. The Light Sweater: You will be hot. You will be cold. You will be hot again. You will sit in cramped spaces (probably). You'll need a layer that you can easily put on and take off. Nothing itchy.

3. The Collared Shirt: I don't know, there's something about a collared shirt that just  makes me feel like I'm ready for business...or at least that I have enough confidence to handle any business that might come my way.

4. The light short-sleeve tee: (not pictured in this visual...should've picked a better visual). A cold day might require a light base like a black cotton short-sleeve t-shirt. Anti-wardrobe malfunction guaranteed. If it gets so hot that you need to take off your collared shirt (quite improbable), you're covered...unless your black shirt is see-through. Check before you leave.

5. Flats: Some girls are comfortable and feel confident in heels. I'm not one of them. I walk fast. I wear flats.

6. A scarf: Such a multi-purpose clothing instrument. Make it a colorful one and keep it on. It becomes a subject of conversation. Did you just make a new friend by talking about your scarf? I think you just did. It's cold? Keep it on. It's too hot? Take it off. Forgot your gloves? Loop it on and put your hands in the loops. There are no more chairs and you can't eat lunch standing up? Lay it down and sit on it. Play with it while you're waiting for someone to come talk to you (that's for you, fellow introverts).

And that is my take on Fashion Blogging and what to wear to an all-day event. Inspiring, no?

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5 things about my TEDx MidAtlantic experience

This post is long overdue. On October 29th, I spent a cold, rainy (and eventually slightly snowy) Saturday in D.C with people who are inspired by ideas.  I was at TEDxMidAtlantic. It was the first place I've been since college where it was cool to be a nerd (about something). Since one of my professors introduced me to TED, it's been a dream of mine to attend such a gathering. I knew no one and for a while felt like a freshman on the first day of college orientation. Here are some of the things I got out of the deal, besides lots and lots of coffee and Georgetown Cupcake cupcakes.

1. Institutions, by nature, are set up to keep the Status Quo. Expect backlash when you try to do things in a new way. That should, however, never keep you from trying something new. Even if you have to keep trying again and again.- Courtesy of Dr. Jay Parkinson, founder of Hello Health.

2. I was so...umm...excited...chuffed...thrilled...elated to hear Ping Chong speak about his work. i knew nothing about him before this conference. Mr. Chong uses theater to explore a favorite subject of mine: The formation of self-identity for immigrant  children and immigrant communities. This "otherness", tip-toeing between 2 worlds and never quite fitting into either. Himself a son of Chinese immigrants to the United States, he talked about how much he struggled with this dual identity until he decided to accept both of them and work with the un-comfortable-ness that goes with the complexities of belonging to both. 

I couldn't help but smile the whole way through his entire presentation. He has quite a commending presence. 

3. In my position, working with high school students, I'm always thinking of ways to include more student voice into the program. Rebecca Renard works in the DC Public Library. Her talk was on her work with the Summer Youth Employment Program, working alongside  youth who often feel overlooked by the community to create resources for teens by teens. I loved her energy on stage. 

4. Danielle Brian from POGO brought her perspective from working with both the Democratic and Republican parties to the table. She reminded the audience that partisan lines are drawn thick by the media and other entities who benefit from party divisions. In reality, more would get done if viewers, every day people realized that, if they were to tune out the mud-slinging and the inflamatory portrayal of the "other" party, they would find a lot in common with the person on the other side of the picket line, the aisle or the fence. 


5. I close with notes on a fellow Cornell alum (woot!). Duncan Watts is an Engineer turned Sociologist turned Computer Scientist. Ah, to see the brain of this guy. If there's one thing I remember from his talk, it's his "debunking" of the idea that everything is easier than Rocket Science, hence the saying "Come on, it's not Rocket Science". He posits that  Social Science might just be harder than Aerospace Engineering. In Engineering, there is more precision than Social Science. You can never predict how people will behave (no matter how hard economists try).

 Overall, the intellectual stimulation, the energy and the sense of you-never-know-who-you-might-meet was worth spending a rainy Saturday with a bunch of strangers :) Can't wait to do it again. 

All photos courtesy of TEDxMidAtlantic

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Hello!

Hi! That's me shyly saying hello to you wherever you may be. I've been away to take care of some things, on the spiritual side of things. It was a nice (and purposeful) break and I'm glad to be back in the swing of things. Thank you for checking back on here and reading and commenting and stuff. You're all awesome. 

If the plan is to wrap the blog up at the end of December, it means that I have about a month left to write about all those things I've been *cough* procrastinating *cough* on for a while. There's nothing like getting a clear deadline though to make me get my butt in gear, though.

 While I've been away, I had a chance to attend TEDx MidAtlantic and got my socks repeatedly blown off (I'm pretty sure I just mangled that American expression). Expect some future posts about my experience, some things on Social Change, a couple of Courageous conversations/series/profiles. 

In the meantime, please check out something I wrote about charity:water on my Tumblr page

Photo courtesy of hellojenuine

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Open Letter to Wangari Maathai

Professor Maathai,

It was during my second year in college when I first heard of your name. It was probably the answer to a trivia question. "Who was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize?" I didn't know the answer, but it meant that I had to do more research for myself when the response was finally revealed. Wangari Maathai. Environment. Green Belt Movement. Trees. Kenya. Women. Sustainability. Death threats. The words floated from the screen, creating scenes in my mind. Scenes of places I'd never been, people I'd never seen.

Then, your name reappeared a few weeks ago, on the radio. And more words were used this time like "Remembering" and "Cancer". And your voice came on. Vibrant. Full of conviction, talking about how you planted a tree when you heard you were awarded the Nobel prize. If I had a chance to ask you a question, I would have asked about what got you started and kept you going. I'm sure, though, that you would have said something along the lines of "just doing what you saw was the right thing".

It's women like you who inspire girls and young women like me. Not necessarily to plant 1,000 trees, but to stay true to ourselves, to pursue our convictions and to respond to the needs around us. They say that creative people, whether they be painters, writers, singers, when they die are never really dead. Their creations carve a place for them in the present and propel them into the future. Though the world loses a giant, he or she still lives on through their work. I believe the same is true for you too. Your efforts, the trees that you've planted, the lives that you've invested in continue on as your legacies.

Thank you for your message. Thank you for legacy, and I hope that you'll allow me to say this,

Stupid Cancer!

More about The Green Belt Movement.

Picture courtesy of Charley Gallay via NPR

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Almost there.

I started blogging when I was in my second year in college. First on Blogger, then on WordPress. Most of my posts were (and still are quite) random. Some were more personal and conversational than the others. Some were short, others were broken up into parts. There were single posts and series. Interviews, guest posts and commentaries. From it all, I learned about Commitment, Discipline, Creativity and having a voice. It allowed me to connect with many different types of people and sub-cultures and to finally have something that I could say I was passionate about. It also allowed me to bend the rules of grammar sometimes while still developing an eye for structure.

All good things must, however, come to an end. I decided to stop writing here at the end of this year. There's no particular reason why I'm choosing to do so. It's just my intuition raising its voice (actually, shouting at this point) that it's time to land this plane.

That means I have about 3 months to push this blog to its limits and to see how much I can do with this platform. In a way, that energizes me. As soon as it clicked in my mind, my brain started roaming and I felt a surge of Creativity :)

So, this isn't the end of the line. It's just the last bell before the train reaches the terminal.

Picture courtesy of Phil W Shirley

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The Money Question

This week's question is about money. More specifically, what you would do if you had more money than you could ever think of. As the first- and second-generation children of immigrants grow older along with the rise of Social Entrepreneurship, there is more talk about the African Diaspora's contribution to the development of the  African continent.

So, here's the question. If you were given more money than you could ever think of with only one string attached: spend it all to help people in your native or your parents' country or to progress the development of the African continent as a whole, how you would you spend the money?

There are so many choices. Would you create a fund that would provide incentives in the forms of jobs and pensions for heads of states to encourage them to only serve the term specified in the constitution? Would you make sure that there is a school in every town, every city, every village? Would you fund a business competition for entrepreneurs on a national or regional level? Would you pay for the training and the placement of birth attendants in every village?

How would you spend the money?

Picture courtesy of julianrod

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