Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No longer a statistic

Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of a million persons is a statistic.” As an American citizen, the tragedies of the world can often seem like just another news story. A lost plane in Malaysia with almost 300 passengers, conflict in Ukraine that may lead to a terrible war, or millions of children dying from curable malaria, these are all stories that flood my Internet home screen every time I get on the computer, but are these statistics or people? When the stories and oppression of these people are confined to a screen, it is easy to become numb to their suffering. Their tears do not land on my shoulder, their fearful faces do not send me look of desperation, and as easy as that, they fade into the back of my mind.  I, like many other consumed Americans, take a moment of silence, recognize that something is gravely wrong in this world, but with an over-whelming and unsettling feeling in my gut, move on with my daily schedule.
                  After spending two months in the Dominican Republic, I have realized the horrific consequences of this submissive and uninformed lifestyle. Every cheek I turn, every blind eye, allows injustice to spread, grow, and conquer. This does not mean, however, that I am expected to end terrorism and world hunger, or that we as Americans are solely responsible for the suffering in the world. It does, however, give us the opportunity to become informed citizens of the world who make conscious decisions to fight injustice. The stories of hijacked planes and terrible wars, although unjust and unacceptable, are not the only cruel realties that are often under acknowledged. Basic human rights such as access to water, and fair wages are also statistics that many people struggle to understand and relate to in a deeper way. The smallest decision, however, like what candy bar you buy at the supermarket, can be a choice between a just or corrupt world, and can forever change the life of one of the “nameless sufferers.”

                  Meet Santos Constanzo (Niño). He is a local cocoa farmer in the Dominican Republic. Every time that a consumer chooses to buy a fairly traded cocoa product his life is greatly improved, but how is this possible? Niño is one of the many lucky farmers who are involved in the CONACADO Fair Trade Cocoa Co-Operative. The goal of CONACADO is to significantly improve the small-scale cocoa producers’ income, and consequently, the living conditions of the farmers and their families. Through the fair trade, the Co-Op farmers are guaranteed a certain trade price, even if the international market drops, so they have a stable and just income at all times. The blocks, or designated work areas, are composed of farmers that work together to make a quota. Along with receiving their just pay, they also receive some funding bonuses that they use together to better their communities. These bonuses have been used to improve the infrastructures at local schools and build meeting halls where the community works on strengthening their relationships with CONACADO and the fair trade industry.
                  COCACADO not only works hard to insure just wages, but they also make sure that all of their farmers use environmentally sustainable farming techniques. Their products and farming methods are organically certified (Biosuisse and NOP certification) and in accordance with the fair/alternative market prices (FLO).  This also means that their farming practices are safe, and ban dangerous child labor.
                  The simple message I hope to get across is that conscious consumers can make a larger impact on this world than one might think. Hearing tragedy after tragedy on the news, it is easy to become overwhelmed and numb to all the people suffering in the world. Especially when there is no face to put with the struggle and pain, oppression can become a distant and un-relatable emotion. Now that you have heard an individual story, I hope Michael Himes’ words ring true, “Now they are not the abstract “people”; they are “those people,” and so we mobilize to assist them.” Something as simple as buying fairly traded chocolate bars instead of a Hershey’s bar, can mean three warm meals a day for Niño and his family instead of one. So look for this symbol when you are shopping for groceries. It may not solve world hunger, or stop the spread of disease in the world, but every act of kindness makes a difference in someone’s life and brings us one step closer to a just world.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dominican Lovin’
By: Madeline Pilney
While studying in the Dominican Republic for the past four months, the love that the ILAC workers and my campo family/community have given to me has had the biggest impact on me. Every morning at ILAC, I would wake up and as I got ready, all I had on my mind was making it down to breakfast as quickly as I could to receive and give my daily hugs and kisses. This is the first thing that impacted me while living here. The love I felt every time I walked into a room was overwhelming and showed me how such a small gesture can make a huge impact. Every time I passed by a worker in ILAC they greeted me and often we would chat and catch up about our lives. This is something that I find hard to find back at home; people stopping and talking to me because they truly want to know about my life.
            Then as I was welcomed into my campo home, I was quickly introduced to my three siblings and parents. My parents were adamant on giving me their bed to sleep in because it was more comfortable and I would have more privacy. On top of that, I was showered with affection and after every time I left the campo to go back to the city, my dad would continue to ask me not to leave and stay with him. He would cry every time because I was leaving, even though all those times he always knew when I would return next. One of my fondest memories of the campo is the love I felt after my first time returning to the campo over my Fall Break. As we were driving up to my house, many members of my family and the community were sitting at “my” colmado (a mini store) and they began to yell and scream because they were so excited to see us again. They all ran up to the truck and greeted us as if they hadn’t seen as for ages and that they had known us their whole lives.
            Little things such as the love I was shown here is something that has impacted me the most. I will always remember how spending those few extra minutes to check in on someone can have such a huge impact on a person. That the extra effort to smile at someone can put someone in a better mood and change their day. These little things are the things that I hope I am able to pass on upon returning to the states. I want to be able to love others as they have loved me.
                                                            My beautiful siblings and I :)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Los Angeles de CONANI

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
(John 14:18)

This entire experience so far has been absolutely mind blowing. Every emotion has been expressed from annoyance and anger all the way to excitement and happiness. The few months spent assimilating into Dominican culture has been a genuine continuation of achieving enlightenment. I have spent 123 days exhausting in the entanglement of La Republica Domincano in which I have obtained a new, individually unique experience that has allowed my soul to grow and prosper in unimaginable and enlightening ways.

More importantly, there has been one place that has had such a grand impact on me that my heart has grown fonder and more affectionately for others. That place is Los Angeles de CONANI in Santiago.

CONANI is an amazing service site that I am very blessed to have chosen. Prior to making my final decision, I contemplated my options, fully weighing the pro and cons for each. In the end, I decided to serve my community from within the walls of this orphanage. Much tension has arisen from questions regarding the quality of life for the children, but after experiencing everything CONANI has to offer and full-heartedly becoming a member of its community, I can say with all confidence that it is an institution to be admired. 

Serving here brings a sense of bitter-sweet euphoria. There are days when you walk out of the gates feeling distraught; as if your efforts and affections are meaningless. However, there are more in which love conquers this sense of desolation and you know in your heart that you’ve made a difference for these kids at CONANI. I am absolutely, downright empowered to have the opportunity to embrace their loving arms and experience their tender loving hearts enthrall my being. Each child deserves affection and attention, equally and individually. I am torn with knowing and understanding the neglect these children seem to receive. However, I admire these children for the ways they interact without neither arrogance nor subjectivity influence their relationships with one another. The kids are genuinely free spirited and love with an extensive amount of curiosity. It allows me to grow in ways I have been fearfully avoiding. Love can possess both attributes on either end of a spectrum containing greatness and sadness. Above all, the effect that these children have on me is immeasurable; each day I discover a depth of love for these individuals that I never knew I could achieve. This is in some way a work of art, reaching out to inspire, question and enlighten me. My journey here and my first encounter with the true underprivileged and marginalized members of society, will forever shape and direct the path of my life.  

            And if I could offer one piece of advice it would be to never let the fear of desolation prevent you from feeling the impact of another person.

~ Ashley Hottman, Comunidad 16