Friday, June 28, 2013

The Girl Effect

I have recently partnered with The Nike Foundation and The Girl Effect to spur a movement. This movement has the potential to change lives, therefore affecting change across our entire globe.

The Girl Effect believes that our future lies in the young women across the globe. These are the same young women from our neighborhoods to our neighboring countries and beyond. These are women whose rights are bled, who suffer daily and who need hope.

I am a Safe Spaces Ambassador for the Nike Foundation and am on a mission to provide Safe Spaces for girls to grow, learn and find their passion and power. My first project is set to launch in Chisinau, Moldova...but we need YOUR help. Funding for these projects is a necessity. You can be a driving force of change and have a hand in abolishing modern-day slavery....if you are willing.

Learn more about how YOU can get involved in Safe Spaces HERE. Your donation can mean a brand new life for a young girl who just may be the next world changer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Silence is Deadly

      As I sit here enjoying my second cup of mind fuel, I am pouring over the events of this first half of this year. Did that scare you a little? July is coming quick and 1/2 of the year is already lived. Well, it's either lived or simply existed...

    My heart longs for my friends in Chisinau and is excited for those I have yet to meet. At the beginning of July I will embark on an adventure with my 14 year old son to Addis Ababa and Awasa, Ethiopia. And the trips show no sign of stopping there as plans for Uganda, South Africa, Burundi, and Italy are all taking shape. My how life can change in the blink of an eye.

    Just 2 short years ago I was living a contented life. I worked in a field where praise was the daily norm and money was abundant no matter the economy. I had time to simply sit and read or head out for a run. My boat was floating undisturbed along the boring waters of a life lacking challenge. Then, the dark and disturbing truths began to sink in.

     I remember very clearly the first time I heard about sex trafficking. It was also the first time I promptly changed the dial on the stereo. The subject of sex trafficking itself just made me want to vomit. My life was easy and happy...hearing about this ongoing, daily tragedy was throwing me off my groove. There was something there though. Something that words cannot aptly describe. I began to long for justice. Moreso than that, I began to think that even I could possibly do something.

     I have lived my life in deadly silence. I have been content to simply turn away and carry on. That's what life is ultimately about right? The comfort of my family? I have hidden behind my family and my station for far too long. I have used my husband, children and even my career as bunkers for respite from the burning passion in my heart that shouts "DO SOMETHING!". Instead, I have sat in silence. Silence became a way of life. I never stood against wrongs in school and I certainly did not feel like a justice-seeker in life. Over the course of the past few years, life has changed.

     As I sat with the whirling thoughts in my mind (get to know me and you'll realize I always have whirling thoughts), I couldn't stop thinking of the injustice that was allowed every day. I looked at my children who were reading library books and living a contented life when the thought that seized my heart and filled my throat came: "Why not my kids? What stayed God's hands and placed us where we are with all we have?" The answer to that is simple: I have been given much, and much is required of me.

     The world does not lack evil. It is in every nook and cranny. Some of us take it on as pets, reading literature that is ripe with sex, lust and violence. It comes through our computers, televisions and even phone conversation. Evil is palpable. You can touch it, taste it, breathe it in with every seemingly free breath, but we try to "avoid" it as best we can. Christians will spend energy picking fights with other Christians instead of fighting for what we are called to, but that's another post altogether. We are both drawn to evil and silenced by it. We like the evil that serves our selfish desires, but fear the evil that seems to close in on us day by day. This is the problem we face.

     I have learned in the brief time I have been fighting trafficking that this evil lacks in appeal. Sex trafficking and human slavery are not pretty topics. They do not pull at the soft strings of the heart like orphans and natural disasters do. Instead, the thought of trafficking and enslavement is like nails on a chalk board or the very fingers of Satan pulling a rusty bow over an ill tuned violin...there is nothing in this talk that makes us "feel good". We can feel dirty just hearing about it, and we should. Trafficking has evolved because it has been allowed to evolve. Traffickers are highly educated philanthropists, thriving on our silence. There is nothing pretty involved in slavery. There is no quick fix, nor is there an easy button. We do not see the change we desperately want to be tied to, and the truth is we may never see it in our lifetime. And so we choose...we choose other areas to offer help. We choose to give to other callings. We choose to turn the radio off so our children won't hear it. We knowingly choose our own silence while victims bang on the door of our hearts knowing that for them, all hope is lost.

     It's hard to swallow I know. The first few times I tried to study trafficking, the first time I tried to speak with somebody involved, I choked. I couldn't read the statistics or allow myself to be fully present because it hurt on a level I had never experienced. I knew sickness, I knew death, I even knew the loss of a child.....but this, slavery, was a beast that I had no dealings with nor did I desire them.

     There are now more human souls enslaved than there were in the time of Abraham Lincoln. There are young men forced to work heavy labor, dying from malnutrition and sleep deprived accidents. There are young girls forced to be sexually objectified more than 20 times per day. There is no love here, and most are taught to believe they do not deserve any better. These things are happening all around us, yet we stay blinded like a horse drawing a buggy of contentment and comfort. Chisinau, Moldova is one of the largest exporters of human slaves, though it is also one of the smallest countries in Europe. In Ethiopia, girls as young as 8 are sold for sex for as little as 20 cents, American money. DAILY, this disaster is allowed to go on. Those of us who hold our silence have become comfortable with the pain of biting our own tongues.

     There is something I have been given that trafficking victims have had thoughtlessly stripped from them: my voice. I have the choice to not remain silent, no matter how big the enemy may seem. My continued silence does more to keep young women enslaved than their captors. My silence fortifies the thought that they really aren't worth anything. My silence has had its time. My voice must now take a stand. It's not a pretty calling, or a glamorous calling. I certainly don't get free swag or book deals and endorsements...but what I do receive is far greater. Existing in silence is not living. If we choose silence, we choose the same captivity as those who suffer slavery. The choice is ultimately yours. Will you stand? Or will you allow the world around you to simply happen? The choices we make now have no other option but to affect the waters around us. We can empower or we can impede...the choice is yours.


To find out more about Chisinau and the Safe Place we are funding, click HERE.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Partnership, New Opportunities to Serve

I recently had a phone conference with the lovely Elle from the Nike Foundation. The Foundation itself exists to bring awareness and therefore empowerment to young girls everywhere. You can find out more about them HERE.

The Nike Foundation and I partner to spread the word of The Girl Effect. The Girl Effect is a movement to help empower the youth of our world, specifically the girls. Here, a post by Michele Moloney-Kitts, director of Together For Girls that will further explain the efforts we are involved in and the things you can be a part of as well.

How to tackle the root causes of violence against girls


A bit of background
Michele Moloney-Kitts is managing director of Together for Girls, a public-private partnership dedicated to eliminating sexual violence against children. Before joining Together for Girls she was assistant global Aids co-coordinator for the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and foreign service officer with USAid in Cambodia, Morocco and South Africa.
Who's involved

Michele Moloney-Kitts, director of Together For Girls, on why we need better data about violence
In Safety
Girls have the potential to change the world. If we unlock this potential, the cycle of poverty in the developing world can be broken. But this will only be achieved if girls are freed from the threat of violence so many of them currently live under.
The scale of violence against children - especially girls - is enormous. Recent surveys from some countries in Africa show that about one in three girls has an unwanted sexual experience before the age of 18 and about one in four girls' first sexual experience is forced. Young women continue to have the largest percentage of new HIV infections in South Africa and one study estimates that 12 per cent of these infections could be prevented by addressing violence, especially sexual violence, against girls.
The long-term impact can be huge. Girls who experience violence are much more likely to drop out of school, have an unwanted pregnancy and - because pregnancy before the age of 18 is particularly high risk - they are more likely to die during childbirth.

Changing social norms

There are two ways to address violence: prevention and response. Recently, development programmes have tended to focus on response because they've been built on top of health services to provide access to anti-retrovirals, for example to prevent HIV. Making sure victims have access to the services and treatment they need is essential, but we need to do more to prevent violence too.
Prevention is much tougher because it involves changing deeply engrained social norms - in particular the idea that violence is normal and acceptable, or that girls and women deserve violence because they have done something wrong. A husband beating his wife because she burns the dinner, a girl blaming herself for being raped - these things should not be considered normal, but too often they are.
These attitudes permeate whole communities and hold everyone back, creating an unspoken culture of fear that impacts a girl's participation in society at large. Many girls drop out of school, often for safety reasons, leaving themselves isolated and unable to play a role in the social and economic development of their community.

Tackling the root causes

Addressing these social norms and the gender power structures that reinforce them is difficult - but not impossible.
At Together For Girls - a partnership between five UN agencies (including UNICEF and UNAids), the US government and the private sector - we work with governments and local organisations in the developing world to collect qualitative and quantitative data about violence against girls so that governments and communities can tackle these difficult issues in an informed and evidence-based manner.
This data is used by governments to launch national action plans that tackle the root causes of violence, as well as to strengthen systems to better protect both girls and boys. For example, in Tanzania - one of the five countries, including Swaziland, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Haiti, that we have completed surveys in - they are now establishing district-level child protection teams that bring together social services, health, education, police and the courts to protect children identified as vulnerable.

Robust action

There are more surveys in the pipeline in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malawi, Nigeria and the Philippines. It's important to stress that these countries came to us to create a partnership, not the other way round: they recognise there's a problem and they tell us they want support in tackling it.
That's why the governments of the five countries we've already worked with have really seized on the data to mobilise robust action against violence. One of the most stunning examples is in Swaziland, where they drafted two bills in response to the survey results: the Child Welfare Bill, which was signed into law in September 2012, and the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill, which has just passed through both legislative Houses.
These laws will ensure there are child protection teams to assist schools, health services and the police to get to the root causes of violence - as well as respond to it.
Crucially, these laws are designed to enable the government to work with the police and justice systems to make sure that the perpetrators of violence can no longer act with impunity. In many countries the justice system is not in a position to properly enforce the laws against violence - a situation that reinforces social norms and the culture of fear.
By using data from our surveys to form a better understanding of the causes, context and consequences of violence, Swaziland is starting to overcome that problem.

Scaling success

But it doesn't stop there. The development community must do much more to ensure that girls are not held back by the fear of violence within their communities.
Girls themselves have power and are a vital part of the solution. Interventions such as economic empowerment programmes and safe-space programmes empower girls with the connections, role models and assets they need in order to have greater control over their lives, which in turn reinforces the idea that violence against girls is not acceptable.
For example, in Tanzania we are working to help empower more girls by accessing media training and safe spaces with our new Catapult and Chime for Change project with UNICEF.
We know that all these solutions work. Now we need to scale them so that developing countries are making strides at both a national and community level to prevent violence against girls.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fear or Focus?

      As I sit at my desk on this quiet Summer morning, I am downing my third cup of coffee and thinking about the events of the past year. Life looks abstract compared to last year, my "plans" have been turned on their head and I an enjoying more of life now than I ever have before. That's not just the caffeine talking either...

     Last Spring I cancelled a trip with my husband to Vegas on a whim, a feeling rather, that I should point myself in a different direction. We were to attend a fitness conference that I had been looking forward to forever (OK, not forever, but long enough). One day I called and told him the trip had to be changed due to a tugging at my heart. This is where it ALL began.

     Instead of high rise hotels and cocktails all night, we found ourselves driving through several states with our children in tow. We were able to visit family and take in some scenic hiking. A seemingly small part of me began to open up a bit more with each part of the journey. At our journey's end, we were in the Great Wolf Lodge (HIGHLY recommended!) in Concord, North Carolina. My husband and kids would play while I attended the annual She Speaks Conference. I went with one goal: a book deal. I left with much more.

      The conference was not truly the highlight of my trip, as I gave in to fear and actually spent the majority of the time with my family at the fun hotel :). There was one session I was determined to attend though: Writing Out of Your Passion, lead by Tom Davis. I figured if I were to give this writing thing a chance, that class looked like a good place to start. I still have the handout and I did email friends and family to ask what my gifts and talents were....very eye opening indeed, but that is for another time.

      As I sat in the back of the room, a video began to play about Children's Hope Chest Ministries. My chest grew heavy, as if weighted by an invisible anchor. Although the class itself was wonderful (that class alone was worth the cost of the conference), I left only thinking of this ministry. We made a mad dash home in a straight 17 hour drive. I'm pretty sure nearly 15 hours of it were me bringing Children's Hope Chest up to my husband until he finally said, "Why don't you look into it when we get home?" Well, we came home to a crazy flea infestation, but once that was clear I did look into it.

      Thus began a new life. As you may know, I signed on for my first mission to Chisinau, Moldova and left the soil of the United States with a group of ladies I barely knew. I am now glad to call all of these women dear friends and sisters in Christ. This mission has been followed and my next large trip is to Ethiopia. So, what does ANY of this have to do with fear and focus?

     As I tell my story to friends and family, I feel alive. I am more alive now than I have ever allowed myself to be. As far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to travel. I had stuffed this far down due to one tiny little thing: I was scared to death to fly. Well, that and I just don't travel well. I tend to get very sick and have trouble eating....all the fun stuff. So I thought that yearning was silly. The funny thing that happened was with each plane I boarded (I flew on more planes in 24 hours than I had my whole life!), that fear began to dissipate as I became focused on what I was called to accomplish.

      Focus drives out fear. When focus is present, we have no time for the fearful thoughts to bark up things that simply aren't true. Focus, as it is intended to be, keeps our minds fixed on the priority. My mind stays fixed on the reason behind the flight and the rest of my body can simply relax. Now, I see my life unfolding as I envisioned as a young girl. I travel with more ease, and quite a bit more than expected honestly. I've been able to see things and experience things that my fear had always kept me from. There is great power in learning to focus.

      So, what fears do you hold on to that are allowed to hold you back from your calling? Is it scary to give in to a calling? Yes it is! My whole life is going topsy-turvy, but I love it. I'm having to let go of something I have been comfortable with for a decade and learn new skills. This is far more exciting than simply existing day to day. Immersing yourself in something challenging is the best opportunity to stoke change in a stale life. That whisper of a dream you have held back for so long, perhaps it has roots you cannot see yet. Maybe it's more than simply a dream....maybe it is where your focus should be. Challenge yourself to shut out the fear and focus on the call of your heart to fulfill your unique calling...even if it seems a little scary.



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

That's not my job.....

My children have had chores for as long as they've been able to "do" things. My husband and I have always viewed chores as a great way to teach children responsibility. We work on a commission system as opposed to just allowance. That means if you don't do your work, you don't get the green...just like real life :)

Recently, due to the fact that I had grown weary of the constant need for reminding, I tried taking assigned chores away. I simply put up chores, attached a dollar amount per chore, and let them battle it out. It must be said that my children are 14 and 11 years old, so we're out of the toddler years. Anyways, this worked like a dream.....for about a week. Past that point I was up to my ears in undone chores and children whose social calenders were far too full for jobs. The majority of my day was spent picking up the slack.

I try to be a level headed mom whenever I can, so I sat my kids down and asked what the problem was.

"why is nobody sorting the laundry?"
"That's HIS job."

"Why is the dishwasher not empty?"

"That's HER job."

And so on and so forth the conversation went until my level head wanted to fall clean off my body. What about making more money? What about the freedom to get your chores done and then go about life without having to worry about the wrath of mom? What about responsibility? None of this hit home and we reverted back to assigned chores from then on....

The entire situation made me think more about how we react in life as well. Even in our adult years, we tend to just think that so much is somebody else's job.

"I would give to that cause, but somebody with more money is better suited to give."

"I would volunteer to help, but I simply can't find the time and somebody with grown kids would do a better job."

"I would take food to my neighbor, but my cooking isn't as good as hers."

"I would follow the call to lead a Bible study, but I don't know as much about the Bible as so and so."

"I would go on that mission trip.....BUT I don't have the time, money, support, time, money, money, money, or money..."

Are you getting the picture here?

In Mark 12, Jesus talks about the widows offering stating that "this widow has put more into the treasury than anyone else..".

We are all called to GIVE. We are all called to live outside of where we feel comfortable. We are all called to teach others, help others, give to others, and develop relationships with others. Jesus did not hang a chore chart and say YOU were called to help, but others may stay. We all have the work to do, the question is, are we willing to do the job?

Through my walk I have come to the realization of one thing: IF you are living comfortably  (not by means really, but without anything pressing on you) then you may want to re-evaluate your own walk with God. Why would I say such an audacious statement? Because we are promised pain and suffering here on Earth (please, I'm not telling you to cause your own pain and suffering and then go wail about it....we're not the Kardashians people), but we are also promised the hope of our Father. We reach this hope by first believing in Who Jesus IS and then by sharing this with others, far and wide.

Perhaps you really cannot go on a mission trip (I can assume you are bed ridden or in solitary confinement), but you CAN have a part in missions. You can, of course, give to missions. Honestly, all missions need money and I am no exception. I adore those who can give financial gifts either big or small, but I also think we forget other ways we can be even more involved in spreading the gospel and hope. Consider sponsorship of an orphan in a foreign country (or your own!). Maybe you can volunteer at a local mission. Yes, there is such a thing. A great place to start is your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. A couple hours of your time may just change your life. Speak to your church about missions if they are not already involved. Many churches band together to provide for orphanages and safe houses world wide. Also, never forget the importance of PRAYER. Pray for missionaries. Pray for those who work in the lonely spaces, away from family and friends because they followed their belief in the Holy Word and became the hands and feet of Christ. Pray for short-term missionaries who sacrifice time and money to tell the story of those in need. Pray for those not yet reached. Finally, pray for all to heed the call to the work that belongs to all of us in some form.

The world will never be perfect, but the state of the world can be changed one heart at a time.

In Peace,