Sunday, September 24, 2006

A month goes by....

So a month has gone by since I returned. The leaves are beginning to turn, and the nights are getting chilly. Life goes on – my double life here – a good one, of course, with people I love and cherish – but a double one nonetheless.

So much has happened in only a month. Aliyah has gone off for a year in Italy, where she is happily ensconced in Florence, and learned to deal with Florentine accents! She plans to be in touch with all our LAFTI friends in Italy, once she gets the rest of her life in order.

So, what’s the news?
• Grupo 1%, based in Sestola, has agreed to fund the purchase of the new boys’ hostel in Valivalam. It is a beautiful old house, right next door to the best high school in the district (and only 300 yards or so from the girls’ hostel on the other side of the street.) There is also a wonderful cowshed, which we plan to fill! They’ve even asked what is required to furnish it. We expect the new hostel can house up to 70-75 boys, and will be an important addition in ensuring a decent education for many for a generation or two to come. Thank you Grupo 1% and Vittorio Merlini!
• The land distribution of land for 1,061 families came through! In addition, tthe government did indeed provide an exemption to all the stamp duties. And the local collector is helping arrange for seeds, the first plowing, and agricultural inputs. Maybe in two months…5,000 more families?
• Building is taking place in Pappakovil – 20 houses will soon be completed, with thanks to Overseas. A tailoring unit is starting up. And, Krishnammal has arranged for land for 33 women (I don’t know exactly where the land would be, so I’ll have to ask.)
• I met a Microsoft executive on the plane home, who is promising software as needed for the computer training programs, and Windows in Tamil when it comes out next year.
• A French supporter of LAFTI has nominated Krishnammal as one of the “21 Women for the 21st Century”.
• The serial publication of “Color of Freedom” in Tamil will begin on October 2nd, fittingly on Gandhi’s birthday.
• I raised some funds for the training of the first Dalit woman carpenter, mason, or electrician, and funds are coming for in goats.

Actually, this last point is almost by happenstance. Even before leaving for India, I agreed to raise funds for 27 goats for a widow’s cooperative in Burundi through my Quaker Meeting. Well, to make a long story short (because you’ll get it below), I put forward plans for a “Goat Sunday” to take place on October 1st. But $952 of the required $1,161 came in before the event, so we agreed to extend Goat Sunday to purchase goats for women at LAFTI as well. If you are interested in doing a Goat Sunday event in your own community, please let me know how I can help.

I am learning Tamil, of sorts. I’ve got a computer program, and I can now count to 20, no longer get elbow mixed up with okra, and at this rate, I might be able to hold a conversation in 25 years. I take the program on planes when I am invited to homeschooling speaking gigs – and the kids in Dallas LOVED the pictures of Ganesha! Actually, I use the counting at the gym which I’ve joined – number of reps as I’m huffing and puffing. I promised Aliyah (and myself) that when I come to Italy in December, I will be able to climb Giotto’s Tower (the Campanile), something I certainly couldn’t do in my current state of physical (un)fitness. If I die climbing, at least I’ll be in good shape.

Not expecting to go anytime soon, though. I’ve got so much more work to do. Goat Sunday below.

* * *

I wrote this description of “Goat Sunday” for the Quaker Homeschooling Circle, which I moderate (you are welcome to join us – just go to Google Groups and look for the Quaker-Homeschooling-Circle), but thought that many of you might find it relevant in your own homeschooling adventures, and maybe, just maybe, there will be an explosion of Goat Sundays around the country. That part, dear friends, is totally up to you.

* * * * *

At Friends General Conference (a national meeting of liberal Quakers which just met for the first time in 100 years on the West Coast), there were no fewer than 15 homeschooling families represented, one from as far away as Perth, Australia. Since virtually none were already part of the 150-member Quaker Homeschooling Circle, I suspect there are far, far more of us than any of us have previously imagined. We spent time sharing about the connection between our homeschooling lives and our lives as Friends.

While I was there, I was asked to write an article for the bulletin of the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI – www.aglionoline.org ) AGLI arose in the aftermath of the Rwanda-Burundi genocide, where the world stood by as more than a million people were slaughtered. AGLI, which is associated with Quakers, has been organizing Trauma Healing and Reconciliation programs. As those from the two communities, including those who are leaving the refugee camps, have to return to their homes and live with each other, their former enemies, AGLI has been running three-day programs, with 10 men and women from each community, 20 in all, to speak their truths and begin the long process of rebuilding trust. The results thus far have been nothing short of breathtaking. (There are opportunities for older teens and adults from North America to be trained in assisting in this work, or in Alternatives to Violence Projects in the U.S.; contact AGLI for details.) Here, the lion will lie down with the lamb, although it is soon discovered that, when it comes to people, it is not always clear which is lamb and which lion.

Our family became very familiar with the work of AGLI as a result of our friendship with Adrien Niyengabo, a Quaker, and one of the program’s chief organizers in Burundi. He has visited our Friends Meeting twice at our request, and our younger daughter Meera, who especially befriended Adrien, played two piano benefit recitals, one in Olympia, Washington, and one in Philadelphia, to raise funds for the program. In addition, our Meeting has a fund called “Right Sharing of World Resources”, whereby 1% of all contributions to the Meeting are disbursed to small micro-economic projects worldwide. The Meeting contribution are very small (typically three $100 grants per year), but the expectation is that members will more than match them. Often the children in the Meeting get involved in fundraisers for the projects. Most important of all, it keeps us aware of our connection with people around the world.

At any rate, when I returned home, a request was relayed to me through Adrien from the Mutaho Widows’ Cooperative (by way of the AGLI office in St. Louis.) The Widows’ Cooperative, made up of 54 former wives of genocide victims and their children who were now leaving the refugee camps, was trying to rebuild some form of subsistence agriculture. But they returned home with virtually nothing. So they wanted money for 12 goats. The main purpose of the goats is not milk (though much appreciated) nor the occasional meat. Rather, applying goat manure to their bean plants -- beans being the major food staple -- triples the yield. Each goat costs $30, plus $13 for deworming and medicine, for a total of $43.

I wrote back to the St. Louis office, asking why only 12 goats for a cooperative of 54 families? They responded that the request was probably too modest, but the women thought it would be unfair for the entire cooperative to have goats when there were so many people who didn’t have anything. Hmm. Anyhow, we settled on raising funds for 27 ($1,161), with an understanding that the women receiving goats will give the first-born female offspring to other families until they all have one. Goats and goat manure for all!

Our Meeting Children’s Committee and Right Sharing program is co-sponsoring a “Goat Sunday” on October 1st. We will have goat art projects and songs for the children’s program. We’ve downloaded maps and pictures of Burundi, so that everyone would know where the goats are going. We are planning “goat hospitality” – the Meeting bakers made goat cheese cannoli and other goat cheese specialties for sale (and distributed recipes). Then there will be goat storytelling sessions for both children and adults – virtually every culture has goat stories to share; I told several from the Yiddish and Asian Indian traditions. And a special secret four-legged guest is going to make a cameo appearance. By the end of the day, we will have raised the funds for the 27 goats, with a little left over for agricultural implements.

The “Goat Sunday” idea is now spreading through the Quaker Homeschooling Circle, and I would like to see it spread among other homeschoolers as well. This could be a terrific project for a church, or for local homeschooling groups. I am sure the AGLI office can put you in touch with other communities where goats are needed. And if you or the kids simply want to support the project with a small donation, simply make a check out to Friends Peace Teams/African Great Lakes Initiative, write “goats” in the comment line, and send it to me at:

Skylark Sings
1717 18th Court NE
Olympia, WA 98506

I just gave two goats as a wedding present to friends who, in the global scheme of things, already have absolutely everything else. And if you’d like to talk to me about Goat Sunday (or anything else on your mind), e-mail me at shantinik@earthlink.net, or feel free to call me using the number on my website – www.skylarksings.com

P.S. The LAFTI goats are a little cheaper - $28 per! Please consider sponsoring a pair!

2 Comments:

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12:45 AM, April 19, 2007  
Blogger Mohit Kumar said...

nice work man keep it up...
its really worth spending a moment here ..

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12:47 AM, April 19, 2007  

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