Generous People and Amazon Shopping

A while back, before I lived in the non-profit world and realized how truly generous most people are, I decided to ditch the corporate empire of Amazon because it was putting all the independent bookstores out of business. I didn’t need it. I gave this resolution my best effort, but just like trying to buy your file folders at Target, it doesn’t appeal to those of us who are penny-pinching. So I’m full in on Amazon – the prime account, non-profit donation button, the wish list. Let’s talk about that wish list. And let’s talk about generous people.

This past week, I restocked the Rising Village Amazon list with dressmaking scissors, needles, pin cushions, thimbles and other sewing supplies. This involved some research and consultation with people more knowledgeable about these things because, unfortunately, I don’t sew. I grew up with a mother who was a seamstress, so I was immediately moved by the idea of making this list. And I hoped others would be moved by shopping from this list because beginning the first week of June, Rising Village will start a local program called RiSE (Refugee Sewing Enterprise). We have 25 women who want to learn to sew or use their sewing skills to earn income. Our organization has embraced the African proverb that says, When you pray, move your feet. Sometimes, it’s good to pray for needs to be met, but most of the time it’s best to ask yourself if you’re the one who’s supposed to meet that need and then get up off your knees and go meet it. You can pray, but you can also do. So we’re doing. You can learn a little more about the program here, or read our latest newsletter about it here.

As it turns out, there were quite a few people who moved their feet and shopped our list.

 

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And because of that, we’re almost completely stocked with what we need for our start-up. There are still a few items remaining, so if you need to head on over there and finish this post after you’ve shopped, please do!

For the past three days, boxes and big yellow envelopes have appeared on my front porch. If you’ve never shopped an Amazon wishlist, then you might not realize that you have the opportunity to let the recipient know who the gift is from (if you shop the wishlist, please do this). Inside the package is a little slip of paper with your name and a short message, and today I was completely overwhelmed by the names and the messages. 

 

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There is something about having a tribe of people behind you when you do this kind of project. Remember when you were a kid and riding your bike up a hill, and that person who gave you a much-needed push every eight or nine pedals just when you needed it most?  Those pushes were enough to get you a little further up, and reminded you that someone was back there to save you when the wheel started veering around and your legs got shaky. Yeah, it’s like that. So many times, I’ve wondered how we were going to pull off a wild-idea project. And then along comes our bike-pushing, big-hearted tribe to get us a little further up the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

It makes me love Amazon even though I never planned to, but there is no easier way to communicate what we need and then offer people an easy way to shop for it. So I’m a fan on behalf of the women who will enter this sewing program in June. I’m a fan on behalf of their children who will see their mothers learning a skill that helps provide family income and assimilate even further into our culture. I’m a fan because sometimes it’s okay to use big corporate entities on behalf of those who are marginalized and need resources to help them move out of those margins.

If you’re reading this and aren’t a part of what we’re doing yet, we’re looking for volunteers, donations, prayers, communicators, bridge-builders, and networkers. A little something for everyone. Are you in? Want to move your feet? Email me and let’s make something beautiful! lisa@risingvillage.org

 

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Lenten Deep Dive

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My proclamation a few weeks before Lent began –  that I was giving up grumbling for the six weeks – was probably a relief for the people who live in my house. While everyone else was depriving themselves of chocolate and soda, I was going to simply stop whining and groaning about every little winter thing that had been crawling under my skin for the past three months. Cold weather is becoming my cranky catalyst, and it had gotten so bad that even I was tired of listening to myself.

Having settled the question of what would be given up, I was ready for Ash Wednesday. Then, the Sunday before Lent began I ended up at a venue in Oklahoma City with a group of passionate advocates who had gathered to talk about the immigration and refugee crisis. I was tagging along with my husband who was interested in how his law degree could be put to good use on behalf of this particular population. I was happy to take a short road trip on a Sunday afternoon. It would be fun. We’d drive and talk, and after it was over we would find a quaint coffeeshop.

For six years, I’ve had my head, heart, and sometimes my body in Ghana, working to help provide income sustainability and education to marginalized women and children in tiny rural villages spread across the West African country. The issue of immigrants entering and living in our country, and the global refugee crisis was something I had only seen out of the corner of my eye. I began to pay closer attention to it during the presidential campaign as the rhetoric increased, culminating in the president’s travel ban in February, 2017. But still, I was too distracted to realize that something was building.

At the event, we heard from refugees, DACA recipients, advocates, immigrants, and those who were helping to resettle and serve people newly arrived to our country. I was given some facts and statistics, along with a few harsh realities. I got angry and sad. And then, when I realized how little I knew about an issue that was swirling in front of me, I got  motivated.

Also, I won a book. This is significant because this never happens to me. I don’t win stuff. Ever. I’m the one who drops her name into the bucket and it’s never drawn and I’m never surprised. This time my name was called, and I was handed a tote bag with the words “Daring Hope” and a book with the title, Seeking RefugeI took it as a sign. If I had been lucky enough to win this book, then I had better read it. I flew through it in less than 48 hours, but I needed to know more. I decided that for the Lenten season, I should do more than just give up grumbling.  Instead, the six weeks would be spent doing a deep dive into the immigration and refugee crisis.

I immediately began building my own syllabus. It would include books, articles, Google alerts, documentaries, TED talks, historical documents and podcasts. In addition, I would observe ESL classes, meet immigrants and refugees, and listen to their stories. I signed up to receive the UNHCR Morning Brief by email, and researched the countries where conflict was driving people from their homes and into camps along with other forms of displacement. I discovered the Pew Research Center and spent time studying charts, graphs, numbers and statistics.

The Catholic activist Dorothy Day said, “our greatest danger is not our sins, but our indifference,” to which I humbly offer the possibility that our indifference is the sin. This Lenten season I discovered that moving from indifference to informed can be a spiritual experience, and for me it is the prerequisite for any calling that involves doing the work of justice. So is prayer, lament, and meditating, which became more necessary as I read the stories of what people are enduring in conflict areas and refugee camps, and what they are facing daily in our own communities.

At the beginning of Lent, I was given a bookmark with forty verses from the Bible. These verses center around God’s love for immigrants and refugees, and include clear commands on how the Israelites were to treat the “stranger.” Those outsiders who found themselves in the midst of a chosen people were to be treated as if they, too, had been chosen, because they had. Beyond the commands, this is what always moves me toward action: that all people have been been created with dignity and purpose, and all deserve to be treated as such. All are chosen. After six weeks of deep-diving into the issue, I’ve been heartbroken to discover that the radical inclusion that God desires isn’t playing out so well right now. There are fearful, angry voices and harsh action at work. And there is plenty of  indifference. But there are other voices speaking up as well, and these are the welcoming, inclusive ones. I’m joining those voices.

My work in Ghana continues as Rising Village provides resources so people can rise up and out of the margins. But I am also paying attention to what is happening in front of us – in our own community. My Lenten deep dive has moved me to join the courageous voices here, and then, in the spirit of my favorite African proverb, look for ways to “move my feet”.

In case you are curious about the Lenten Deep Dive syllabus I followed, I’m posting it below, acknowledging that it is not a definitive list of resources, or even the best. It did allow me to hear from a wide range of voices and see the issue from varying angles. All are trusted sources and I found them to be incredibly informative. I’m continuing to learn, so if you have resources to suggest, feel free to post them in the comments. 

Books:

Seeking Refuge by Matthew Soerens

The Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence

Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era by Jorge Ramos

Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli

Documentaries/Forums:

The Human Flow (Amazon Prime)

Dadaab: The Documentary (YouTube)

From the Frontlines: The Global Refugee Crisis (YouTube)

Historical and Reference Resources:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Refugee Act of 1980

Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

Pew Research Center  (search immigration/refugee)

The Refugee Brief from UNHCR (weekday morning news brief)

Ted Talks:

David Miliband: “The Refugee Crisis is a Test of Our Character

Alexander Betts: “Our Refugee System is Failing. Here’s How We Can Fix It.”

Luma Mufleh: Don’t Feel Sorry for Refugees, Believe in Them.”

Websites:

worldrelief.org (World Relief)

www.rescue.org (International Rescue Committee)

wewelcomerefugees.com  (We Welcome Refugees)

Blogs:

Living in the Upside Down Kingdom: dlmayfield.com

The Redeemed Intersectionalist: mekdeisha.org

Loving the Stranger: lovingthestrangerblog.com

 

 

What We Have Seen

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

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Sunday Lunch Photos

I’m taking the easy way out and posting photos from our Sunday lunch today with the families in the Rising Village programs. I can’t take credit for these. Chris has been taking photos and doing an incredible job at capturing the personalities of the women in our IG program and sponsored students. Enjoy!

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Day Four: Puff Bread, Bed Nets, and Little Girl Dresses

Today is Friday. We are halfway through our time here in Ghana, which is hard to believe. We visited more families today, and made a stop by Ama’s business to treat the staff to Puff bread. The consensus is that everyone in Ankaase should try Ama’s Puff bread! I really wanted to start marketing for her – brand her shop, get some signage, advertise in the village. But she’ll be responsible for drumming up business, and so far she seems to be doing well. She was thrilled to get some t-shirts from Laken, who has connected with her because of their similar businesses. Laken also sells pastries – Lick Your Lips Mini-Donuts.

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We also visited a family who received bedding from Evergreen Baptist Church in Tulsa. The youngest daughter, Afia, is bright and a good student, but she had been missing many days of school each term because of malarial symptoms. Now that she has a bed and is sleeping under a bed net, she is in school every day and she is thriving.

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And the stitched items are coming along. Jennifer has made incredible progress and is now stitching items that she will send back to the U.S. for purchase. She is so proud of her work. She seems more confident and hopeful. If only we could continually bring items from Ghana to the U.S. so that Abigail and Jennifer can have added income. (That’s a hint for any of you that travel here regularly).

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Tomorrow we will meet with all the orphaned students in our program and bring them letters and gifts from sponsors. We have five new students, so we’re excited to meet and greet!

It’s earlier tonight than when I usually post, so I’m going to enjoy a much-needed phone call home (if the WiFi will cooperate).

So…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Connecting Across the Continents

Today, it felt like Ghana – hot, sunny, and a little humid. No, actually it was very humid. Yesterday, Chris wondered where all that hot weather was that I had promised her, so today Ghana delivered it. Ah, this feels like the Ghana I know and love.

This was a day to catch up with old and new friends and to share greetings from our friends back in the U.S. We brought photo albums for our Income Generation women with postcard greetings, letters, and photos of women in the U.S.  We also brought t-shirts from the churches who raised money this summer during Vacation Bible School. We love connecting women and families in the U.S. with families here. Here are photos to show you how the connections in the U.S. made their way here.

This is Kwadwo and his t-shirt from Fellowship Lutheran Church

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Joyce and Ama looking at her letters and photos from women in the U.S.

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And lanterns that were provided by First Baptist Church, Tulsa

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Never underestimate the value of these connections. On both sides of the ocean, they are a blessing. Joyce and the other Income Generation women know that they have new friends in the U.S. who really do think of them and pray for them.

Today, we talked with a mother of two young boys in Nantan who had just been evicted from her house by her mother-in-law. Her husband has left and she has no idea where he is. It doesn’t seem to be enough to say to her, “We’ll pray for you.” And yet, sometimes our ability to get involved in the lives of others is limited to prayer. Most of you will not travel here and some are unable to give resources, but you can pray. And some of you can write letters and encourage these women. Everyone can do something to make a connection. We promise that we’ll do our part on this end to facilitate the connection.

We’ve just finished a delicious dinner of groundnut soup and rice balls. Chris lost. She didn’t clean her plate. On the other hand, I went in for a second helping. We’ll give her another chance tomorrow night when we introduce her to red-red and fried plantain.

So, we’re getting ready to welcome the staff back for another evening – this time for an official staff meeting. It looks to be another late evening, so I’m finishing this post and turning off my WiFi.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where there is a beautiful full moon this evening!

 

Day Two: It Rains

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We brought the rains – at least that is what Isaac says. I started this post writing in my little Wexford 50-sheet notebook with the rain pounding the window and a muddy red river of flooded road washing beside. We were traveling back from Kumasi, and as I looked out the window, I realize that when it rains in Ghana, life goes on. We passed a soccer field where three groups of boys were continuing their game – jerseys soaked, but splashing through the puddles anyway. So in the spirit of playing – and working in the rain, we’re returning from a day of fabric shopping to meet with the Rising Village seamstress apprentices, Jennifer and Abigail, to plan more items they will be stitching. This is a busy week for them as they sew necklaces (yes, that’s right), aprons, and some items of their choosing to sell in the U.S.

The rains continued after our meeting at Esther’s seamstress shop. We sat with Jennifer at the Mission House and talked about what it means to be a woman who takes pride in her work and is able to care for her children because of the income she earns. As Jennifer’s daughter Betty grows up, she will watch her and will know that her mother wanted a better life for her, and worked to learn her craft so she could give it to her.

“Be proud,” Chris told her. “You are doing something wonderful for your daughter and for yourself.”

The rains continued as Isaac drove around to pick up our Rising Village Ghana staff for dinner. It was the first time we had met Solomon and Victor, and our volunteer staff Charles and Martha. We reunited with Eunice, who has been with our staff since January. It is four and a half hours later and both the U.S. staff and Ghana staff is still sitting around the table talking politics and religion – two popular subjects here. I exited the table a few minutes ago, but I’m listening in as I write and I realize that we have an intelligent, curious, and opinionated staff. This is good.

The power in Ankaase is out, but we have the generator running, music playing, good conversation and I suppose the night is still young. And life goes on – in spite of rain and darkness and all the things that could divide us. But as Victor said just a few minutes ago: “We are one.”

Yes we are.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where inside this house there is light and life.