Small Stories of Hope From Haiti’s Rubble

I have wept each day since the earthquake hit Haiti last week. I find myself compulsively drawn to CNN’s news coverage but then so burdened by the despair, the death, the horror. Especially hard for this pregnant mom are the images and interviews of moms and children. Yesterday MSNBC’s medical correspondent interviewed the mom of a 5-year old with a broken leg. The mom had just found out her daughter’s leg was infected due to lack of antibiotics and would have to be amputated. In front of her small child she told the interviewer she’d rather her daughter die than be an amputee. The fear and despair in that child’s face when she heard her mother utter those words tore me to the core.

But in a tragedy with a death toll possibly topping 200,000, THERE IS HOPE. This hope is all I, and even more so every single Haitian now in mourning, have to cling to.  There are the news stories of dramatic rescues of the living still taking place, a full week after the quake.  There are the stories from our dear friends, Dr. Joe and Linda Markee, now serving on the ground in one of Port au Prince’s few remaining hospitals. There is the outpouring of generosity from foreign nations, including ours, and the promises to make sure that aid continues beyond the immediate to help Haiti rebuild.  There is the above picture, of the Terre Blanche clinic about 120 miles north of Port au Prince. It is still standing and is expecting the arrival of the wounded from Port au Prince seeking medical care. Haiti is a largely Christian nation and the images of the newly homeless singing hymns together in the face of the destruction is a testament to the hope the Haitian people still somehow have.

Like so many Haitians, my hope and comfort comes from Jesus Christ. The horrific images I see on TV make no sense to me but I believe in the words of Jesus in John 11:4 when he says “…this is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  May small stories of hope encourage and lift your spirit as well in the face of so much sadness.

For more on how you can help in Haiti visit Haiti Foundation of Hope.


Make Schools, Not War

imagesThis morning’s paper had a compelling editorial by Nicholas Kristof, co-author of the current occupant of my bedside table, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Kristof (an Oregon native although now he lives in New York) suggests building schools in Afghanistan would more likely lead to peace and a strong Afghan society than sending in 40,000 additional US troops. How’s that Mr. Kristof?

Actually I believe the guy because I’ve got his book fresh on my brain. In both his column and in Half the Sky Mr. Kristof lays out very plainly and factually how investment in education of girls directly leads to economic development, improved health for women and children, and peace. Nations that invest in girls’ education have less terrorist activity (Kristof cites Bangladesh as an example). The converse is nations that are most repressive of women (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo) have much more terrorist activity as well as much higher infant/ maternal mortality rates and great struggles with economic underdevelopment.

Compared to guns and troops, schools are super cheap to build and run. There are fantastic NGOs out there that know how to build them and run them well (CARE, Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, to name a few).  What are the chances the US government, including my beloved President Obama, would turn to cheap-o schools over the economic powerhouse of war though? If you ask me, slim to none. Sure we’ll keep throwing token USAID funding at building schools while at the same time squandering our precious tax dollars on the machine of war. It so angers me that we can’t agree as a nation on funding a public healthcare option but we can go out and put our troops in harms way and kill countless innocent Afghan civilians, all in the name of peace and nation-building. It just doesn’t work. Never has, never will.

The Latest In Corporate Disappointments – Sigg Waterbottles

Why, oh why, do corporations knowingly hide information from consumers? Of course the answer is always the same: money.

But it’s especially disappointing when it happens with a company that seemed socially and ecologically conscious. My complaint today is with Sigg, the makers of those cute metal water bottles like the one I carry everywhere in my purse. In the face of the BPA scare with plastic water bottles I shelled out almost $20 a few years ago to keep myself “safe” with a Sigg bottle. Instead, I now learn, they all along have had BPA in the lining and the company knew about it. The company thought it would be OK with us consumers to advertise their bottles as BPA-free because, in their tests, the BPA didn’t leach out. That’s akin to advertising chocolate-chip cookies as fat-free because the fat doesn’t leach into the milk when you dunk it. If it’s in there, it’s in there and it’s false advertising to call it otherwise.

At least Sigg is taking their old bottles back and exchanging them for free for bottles lined with a new ecocare liner that really, honestly doesn’t have any BPA in it, they swear.  You can see pictures of the old and new liner here so you can decide if your bottle needs to go back. The exchange program is good through October 31st.

The CEO of Sigg wrote an apology letter published two days ago on the Huffington Post. Suddenly he’s more transparent than the water his bottles hold.

I don’t even care that much about the trace amounts of BPA in the old bottles. It probably doesn’t leach out. But tell me the truth. I’m glad to get a new water bottle since my old one is pretty dinged up anyway, but I won’t be buying anymore Siggs down the road. I’ll stick with companies that, at least up until this point, haven’t been found out to be lying to me.

Empowering Women Is The Answer

IMG_5367One of the many seeds that grew into Bambootique was when I read in one of my MBA’s economic textbooks that, when women have work, they are far more likely than men to spend their income on improving their children’s future – food, education, healthcare, clothing, housing, etc.  That was a lightbulb moment for me, although it was several years later before that seed grew into an actual business.  Still it was my own moment of empowerment, when I knew that I could do something profound that could change the lives of women and, in turn, help those women offer their children a better, brighter future.

A few days ago the New York Times ran a beautiful and concrete article on the very topic of eliminating poverty in the developing world through women. The authors, a married couple who co-wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, talk about how when women have work they are less likely to be abused by their husbands because they are seen as valuable rather than as a burden. They provide employment for their poor neighbors.  They invest in their children’s educations. And as a result they boost their countries’ overall economies both now and, hopefully, in the future through their children.

The authors conclude that foreign aid as a blanket solution to poverty is inadequate. Shoving money at problems doesn’t necessarily get rid of them and, in many cases, makes problems worse.  However the authors point specifically to microfinance (giving small loans, mainly to women, to help them start or expand their own businesses) as one aspect of foreign aid that is most successful. Be sure to check out this well-written, well-researched article for more insights on the power of women to change their own lives.

95% of Bambootique’s artisans are women and many are micro-loan recipients through local lending programs. I don’t turn away men who make great products. But my vision is to empower women, knowing that men tend to have greater access to markets and other ways to earn an income than their female counterparts. I’m proud, in my own small way, to be part of such a movement. And I can’t wait to read Half the Sky, which I already have on hold at the library!

Healthcare Debate Unraveled. Thanks Jim Wallis.

I’m getting so tired of the misinformation, soundbytes, and extreme rhetoric of the current debate on reforming the US healthcare system. Rather than talk about the facts and what’s really being proposed, most of the discussion seems to revolve around crazy assertions (like killing senior citizens?) that are not based on any part of the actual bills. Our current system is unjust, giving top-of-the-line healthcare to those who can afford it and leaving almost 50 million others completely without care altogether.  We should be ashamed that we allow such conditions to exist in a Western nation such as ours. The debate should not be about whether or not we reform the system but how quickly we can do it, including a public option for those who the private system just will not support. Every other developed nation has done it. That in and of itself should tell us its a good idea.

Today Jim Wallis of Sojourners (and author of God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn’t Get It) sent an excellent letter to his supporters. He wrote:

As a nation, we are engaged in making decisions about our health care that will impact our families and communities for generations to come.

And I must personally share with you that I’ve had enough of the misinformation and, frankly, misleading statements coming from those who oppose the transformation of a health system that currently renders the best health care to the wealthiest, depletes the savings of solidly middle-class Americans, and leaves 46 million people with no health-care coverage at all.

We don’t have to fall victim to the naysayers – those seeking to prop up the status quo and sustain the profits of the massive insurance corporations.

Business as usual is not what we’re about. It’s not what change is about. It’s certainly not what people of good will from all faiths, who embrace the Golden Rule and seek the common ground of justice and fairness, are about….

This must stop. We are the ones who can stop it. Together, speaking out, acting out, and joining as one on a mission, we can push back the clouds of misinformation and fear-mongering, and allow the light of truth shine through.

Today, right now, let’s join together making the health-care debate factual, worthy of our families and communities. Let’s put the special interests on notice that we want real health-care reform, not misinformation and fear-mongering.

On Wallis’ site he’s posted a fabulous, faith-based guide to the healthcare reform, talking about what’s really true (you’ll be able to keep your own doctor) and what’s not (senior citizens will not be exterminated), as well as the pros and cons of various aspects in the reform such as the public option being proposed. I praise Wallis and his team for speaking out on behalf of the Christian faith community in a reasonable, calm, fact-based way. Such influence is badly needed in the discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Great News For Fair Trade

IMG_4997This recession has had me pretty bummed out, with the constant bombardment of doom and gloom. Want some good news?  Worldwide fair trade sales were up 22% in 2008!  This according to a recent announcement by the Fairtrade Foundation, an independent non-profit organization based in the UK that certifies fair trade products sold in Britian.  Their report looked at global growth of fair trade sales and found the majority of increase in sales was in fair trade tea (up 112%), fair trade coffee (up 14%) and fair trade bananas (up 28%).

A number of developed nations saw fair trade sales increase by more than 50%, including Canada where fair trade grew by 67%. The US saw slower growth of just 10% but in total sales we still remain one of the largest markets for fair trade products.

Here at Bambootique I’ve seen sales so far in 2009 increase 25% over 2008’s sales, a surprising figure given the focus on low-price during this economic crisis. In order to keep paying my artisans fair and living wages I haven’t slashed my prices, haven’t had big sales, and yet customers are still coming back. My experience at Bambootique reflects the encouraging worldwide trend towards greater consumer awareness and action even during difficult times.  Artisans and farmers in the developing world need fair trade more than ever. When we feel the pinch here, they feel an unbearable squeeze as whatever economic opportunities there were dry up completely.

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to each of you who go out of your way to shop for fair trade products, whether from me or from elsewhere. It’s during these hard times that our true priorities and beliefs shine through. Thank you for believing that you can make a difference in the lives of others, even in the small choices you make every day.

$3/ Month? For Kids I Can Do That

The Oregon State legislature just passed a whole slew of new taxes to cover funding gaps across the state. One that caught my eye (or ear actually, since I was listening to NPR) is an approved new tax on health insurance premiums to provide healthcare for Oregon’s uninsured children.  According to the story, the average privately insured Oregonian (such as my family) will pay $3/ month on top of their healthcare premiums. As my friend Jordan pointed out, that’s one latte from Starbucks.  Ouch.

So far there is no organized oppostion to the tax, which amazes me in this tax-phobic state. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love higher taxes anymore than the next person. Whether or not this new tax lowers overall health costs, as proponents for it argue, we should provide healthcare for all children no matter what it costs us. A society that denies a basic human right such as healthcare for its most vulnerable citizens is truly heartless but sadly, that’s what we have become.  It gladdens my heart to see an idea put forward that will ensure all kids, not just certain kids,will be able to get their basic health needs met. I for one can go with one less latte each month.

What To Do About Honduras – Is it Injustice or Justice Served?

I’m conflicted about what to think about the recent ouster of Honduran president Jose Manuel Zelaya.  The military showed up on his door in the early morning hours last week and flew him out of the country while still wearing his PJs. The reason? He had been trying to hold a voter referendum to change the Honduran constitution so he could run for another term (the current constitution only allows for one term). Technically the referendum was illegal so many supporters of the ouster are claiming removing Zelaya was a legitimate military action to uphold the law. Others (including our media and most Western leaders) are calling it a coup.

In the opinion of one of my contacts in Honduras, from the non-profit ACTA de Honduras, the military’s actions were actually upholding the law (and upholding a ruling by the Supreme Court to have Zelaya arrested).  The pictures in our news media are of violent clashes between demonstrators and police, including a few days ago at the Tegucigalpa airport when Zelaya tried to land his plane but was kept out by military aircraft.

Alessandra has pointed out the thousands of Hondurans marching in peace marches across the country, which our media is not reporting.  Also that the military was just following the orders of the Honduran Supreme Court. So who gets to decide this one? The world political leaders or Hondurans? I’m still not sure what to think but I do think our media and our leaders need to pay closer attention to what the Honduran people want.

Some Good News For A Change

I am a self-confessed newspaper junkie and read it cover to cover every morning along with breakfast, coffee and my Bible Study. Hey, I have a two-year old so I’m up early and the mornings are loooong.

Lately the paper has been all doom and gloom but today it suddenly seemed like Pollyanna had joined The Oregonian’s staff.  Hooray, the unemployment rate has stayed steady at 12% rather than rising!  Our state budget is tight but hallelujah, we’re not cutting school days nor food stamps!

And the one I really liked? Kaiser Permanente is providing free health insurance for uninsured kids until they reach 18. It almost seems like a practical joke, too good to be true. Oregon used to cover most kids without insurance through our SCHIP program but that program has been scaled way back with the downturn in the economy. Now over 100,000 kids in Oregon lack health insurance. I want to praise, no hug, no kiss the people at Kaiser Permanente who decided to step up and do something about this travesty.

As great as this gift from Kaiser is to communities in Multnomah County, Beaverton and Salem (the areas where the coverage is being offered), it’s not enough nor, in my opinion, is it the private sector’s responsibility to make sure everyone is covered. Our government should make available affordable health insurance to every single child AND adult throughout the United States. We are the only Western nation not to do that and there’s no excuse for it.  We deprive ourselves and our neighbors of the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” when we allow something as basic as healthcare determine a family’s financial stability.  I’m willing to pay for it and, as we get closer to the reality of universal coverage, I hope our nation steps up and others show their willingness to do so as well.

I Want To Move Here

Twelve years ago my college roommate Lisa and I spent a summer in the gorgeous Black Forest town of Freiburg. Here we shared a tiny dorm room while we studied German at a local language school. We got around the town and the entire Black Forest mainly by our own two feet, as well as by local tram, bus and train.  I lost a lot of weight that summer and felt great. I took my husband Steve back there a few years ago for a vacation and together we hiked Black Forest trails, took local busses and trains and generally loved the car-free existence.

Now there’s a suburb of Freiburg that really is 100% car-free. Vauban was built in 2006 and cars are not allowed to even enter the community. If a resident wants to own a car, he or she certainly can at the cost of $40,000 for a parking space at the edge of the development. 70% of residents don’t own a car at all. Everyone gets around instead by foot, bike and the local city tram that passes right through the suburb. It makes for a quiet, peaceful simpler life. By way of definition cars are practically required for most of the world’s city suburbs. Vauban and communities like it are showing that cars are not required if good planning is done. Vauban, do you have room for one more? Read more in the New York Times.

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