What Does Courage Look Like?

Today is video day. I have two videos to share, both of which show in images versus words what courage looks like – no, check that – what courage IS.

The first is a one-minute video of Vilma Saloj, a young Mayan woman born into poverty in rural Guatemala, giving an empowered and moving speech at the MAIA Impact School annual event in Denver, CO. This video is worth every second of your time spent watching it. For context, most Mayan girls in rural Guatemala are lucky to make it to 6th grade and to learn limited Spanish. Vilma is seen here presenting like a pro, in English, with a bold vision of being part of systemic change in her country. #maiaimpact #wearethesolution

The second is also only one-minute long and features Kendra Smith: kickboxer, stuntwoman, former pro-wrestler, personal trainer, and athlete. She travels to Guatemala every year to teach self-defense and kickboxing to the girl pioneers at the MAIA Impact School. She is currently working on a program to incorporate self-defense as a regular part of the school’s curriculum. #warriors #girlpower #stronggirlsstrongwomen #maiaimpact

Those are my messages of hope and joy for today. I’ll close with a poem written by MAIA 7th grader Wendy Palax:

Indigenous Woman

Fighter and entrepreneur

Strong and capable,

Indigenous woman from the land,

Brave and bold.

 

You are like the phoenix that rises

From her ashes,

Your traditions

Are wealth.

 

With your gown of beautiful colors,

Weaved with the hands of your ancestors

Showing a warrior woman

Dancing to the beat of the marimba.

 

You fight for equality,

Shine among the nature,

Woman dedicated to culture,

Indigenous woman of my town.

 

You care for your traditions

For your customs

For your family

For your language

For your gown.

 

You love and care,

Have feelings

Of joy and emotions.

WE ARE THE SOLUTION

Working to Enhance the Voice of Women

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been doing a lot of writing, it just happens to not be happening on this blog site! It occurred to me that I should share some of my recently published writing here. So, in case you missed it, here is a link to an article in the local paper, or you can read below and view extra pictures and a video!

Meg Steere was recently appointed as the first New England-based Board member for the MAIA Impact School (www.maiaimpact.org), a school for indigenous girls located in Sololá, Guatemala. In its third year of operation, MAIA exists to “unlock and maximize the potential of young women to lead transformational change.” Guatemala is consistently rated by the World Economic Forum as the least equitable society in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, countries that have greater levels of gender equality are safer and more prosperous. Educating girls is also among the top ways of combating climate change.

Guatemala Ranking SDG Gender Index

Meg traveled to Guatemala in October 2018 to attend the inauguration of the new school building. She was impressed by the caliber of the school leadership, and that, by design, the school is run primarily by indigenous women with an emphasis on empowering the local community. The school’s model markedly changes the trajectory of its student’s lives. In recognition of their success and their potential, in January 2019 MAIA was awarded the Zayed Sustainability Prize (see video at bottom of this post), demonstrating “impact, innovation, and inspiration to enable inclusive and equitable access to quality education.”

MAIA students are girls who have the talent, courage, vision, and desire to succeed but lack the opportunity. Through education, these women can lead their families and communities out of poverty. One key aspect of their education beyond academics is vocal empowerment. These girls have been raised in a culture that tells them to be quiet—that they are silly and stupid, unworthy and worthless. At school, they learn to trust their voices, to speak up, and to prevent societal judgment from defining their self-worth. This message transcends borders.

Susie Caldwell Rinehart—brain stem tumor survivor, ultramarathoner, mother, life coach, and Colorado-based MAIA Board member —released her memoir Fierce Joy: Choosing Brave over Perfect to Find My True Voice on May 15. Hers is a story of miraculous survival; motherhood; losing her voice, literally and figuratively, and then finding it again; and choosing to conquer her fear of imperfection in order to live her most authentic life. Susie and Meg have both found inspiration and strength in the courage of the Guatemalan girl pioneers. Through Susie’s medical journey, which brought her to MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Susie discovered that “the opposite of joy isn’t sadness, it’s perfectionism.” She began to write her memoir as she underwent months of recovery, radiation, and separation from her family in Colorado. She returned to Boston in early June for her book launch.

MAIA’s impact continues to expand, boldly challenging the narrative and compelling us all to be braver and to rethink what our expectations are—of ourselves and others—and why. Join this brave movement working to close the gender gap in education and catalyzing positive change globally. A portion of the proceeds from sales of Fierce Joy will be donated to MAIA Impact School. 100% of donated funds to MAIA go directly to the students, mentors, educators, and families.

 

The View from a Chicken Bus

This is an exciting day! My essay, The View from a Chicken Bus, was published today in Sky Island Journal, an online magazine!!! Click the link to read the full text. Here’s the intro:

The chicken bus dives and weaves along the tight switchbacks, sandwiched between lushly green, undulating volcanic cliffs to one side and a vast, deep cavern open to the expansive lake below on the other. The retired yellow school bus migrated from the United States to rural Guatemala. Here it was given new life and transformed with wild paint, flashing lights, and blaring music into a chicken bus, a form of public transit.

Outside the dirty bus window, an overwhelming cacophony for the senses unfolds – the scenic natural beauty; the chaotic, crowded, narrow road; scents of cooking, burning wood, exhaust; sounds of honking, birds chirping, dogs yapping. Overloaded motorbikes swerve in and out of traffic carrying 2, 3, 4 people. Small 1990s pickup trucks, their beds full of standing riders, scream downhill inches away.

Read on here: https://www.skyislandjournal.com/issues#/issue-9-summer2019/

 

 

 

 

Nicholas Kristof and the Power of Hope

It’s not just me. Nicholas Kristof, the renowned New York Times journalist and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, also believes there is power in hope. He published an article in the NY Times opinion section on May 29, 2019, entitled Cash, Food and Health Care All Help the Poor, but Something’s Still Missing. It’s about poverty within the indigenous population in Paraguay, and how opportunity (also known as HOPE) can be a transformative force in substantively changing the trajectory of people’s lives.

Hope doesn’t mean just an idea and a good feeling. It means a pathway to something new and the supports to get there. The program in Paraguay references mental health support in addition to guidance on how to grow a small business. No one goes it alone. The notion that anyone is successful completely alone and in a vacuum is one of the biggest fallacies ever promoted.

As I read Mr. Kristoff’s article, I found myself thinking about the MAIA Impact School in Guatemala and the similarities between what he observed in Paraguay and what I have seen happening in Guatemala. The MAIA school, led by courageous and empowered Mayan women, sees hope in the form of providing a real, robust education to young girls with the potential to succeed but no opportunity to do so. These girls are rural, poor, indigenous, and female, four major challenges in a country where machismo is the norm and racism against the indigenous population is severe (of the 200,000 people killed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, 93% were indigenous). MAIA provides not only academic opportunity for these girls, but also the mentoring and support that they and their families need to navigate the extremely demanding road before them. This road begins with these girls beginning to build a path for their families out of systemic poverty. Imagine the trickle-down generational impacts when empowered, educated girls become empowered, educated mothers. The possibilities for change spread like the roots of a strong tree.

MY HOPE is that Mr. Kristoff finds his way to Sololá, Guatemala, as he winds his way back north…this story, the incredible work being done by this school in Guatemala to create hope and an actual opportunity for a viable future needs to be broadcast more widely. The little news we hear about Guatemala in the U.S. fixates on negative imagery from illegal border crossings and migrant caravans to drug cartels and political instability. What if the news focused more on what kind of hopelessness would compel someone to make that fraught journey to an uncertain and antagonistic future? What if they presented solutions that would help people build a future that would be a reason, a means, to stay?

Pulitzer committee, I’ll be awaiting your call ;-)!

 

The Unsung Solution to Climate Change

The top solution for reducing climate change probably isn’t what you think. I am an avid outdoorsperson and have been a proponent of sustainable development and living lightly on the land for decades. But I missed one big factor in considering our environmental impact entirely until relatively recently. During all my years thinking about environmental issues and solutions, I thought very directly and narrowly about the more obvious aspects of the environment from pollution to deforestation.

I have had an epiphany in my thinking about environmental priorities lately, as well as long-term solutions. Project Drawdown, founded by author, entrepreneur, and environmentalist Paul Hawken in 2014, maps, measures, and models the most substantive solutions to stop global warming, and communicates those findings to the world. Project Drawdown researchers published a list of their top solutions to climate change. It’s not recycling more and it’s not riding your bike everywhere or giving up your car – though doing more recycling and less driving aren’t bad ideas either.

What is it? It’s educating girls. If you look at their list of solutions, you will see Educating Girls listed as number 6 and Family Planning listed as number 7. If you combine the total atmospheric CO2-EQ reduction (GT) of these two solutions, which has been arbitrarily split in half by the list-makers, it climbs to the top of the list.

By chance, at the same time this solutions list came across my plate, I had just read The Education Crisis: Being in School is Not the Same as Learning. To quote the article, “Global experience shows us that countries that have rapidly accelerated development and prosperity all share the common characteristic of taking education seriously and investing appropriately.”

This data amplifies the power and importance of what I witnessed at the MAIA Impact School in Sololá, Guatemala. MAIA is an incubator of best practices in education from all over the world. The approach is community-based and culturally appropriate. And they are completely open source, sharing their knowledge and experience with 30 local organizations per year.

I am a little late to the party in figuring this out, but it is abundantly clear that education is the fundamental tool to unlocking the chains of systemic poverty and catalyzing positive, long-term change in communities across the world. Incredibly, by investing in something that is intrinsically good, we simultaneously reduce our impact on the environment. For $250 per month (or about $8 per day), a Guatemalan girl can attend the Impact School, becoming a stronger, more empowered and more self-sufficient individual, while leading the way towards a stable and sustainable future for both her country and our world. That is a transformative, life-altering and life-affirming impact. That is the kind of investment that makes the world a substantially better place – for everyone.

“The schools of the future are being built today. These are schools where all teachers have the right competencies and motivation, where technology empowers them to deliver quality learning, and where all students learn fundamental skills, including socio-emotional, and digital skills. These schools are safe and affordable to everyone and are places where children and young people learn with joy, rigor, and purpose.” – World Bank

#maiaimpact #educationmatters #investinpeople