The Injustice of Silence

Jennifer Prestholdt:

A thought-provoking and important post by my colleague Ayona Riley. Definitely worth a read!

Originally posted on The Advocates Post:

Ayona Riley Ayona Riley

I graduated from Marquette University in the spring of 2014. As a political science major, I did not have an exact “dream job” pinned down. The only aspect of my post-graduation plans that I had pinned down, was that I knew I wanted to help people. Naturally, throughout my senior year of college I applied to various post-graduate service opportunities. I chose to serve with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), because it was the only program I applied to that emphasized the connectedness of faith and social justice. I wanted to put my faith in action. Through the JVC, I was placed with The Advocates for Human Rights to serve as a full-time program assistant for the Refugee & Immigrant Program and the Research, Education, and Advocacy Program. Aside from serving full-time with The Advocates, I live in intentional community with four other Jesuit Volunteers (JVs).

I applied…

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Why I Send My Kids To Camp

Originally posted on World Moms Blog

I just returned from two weeks in the woods of northern Minnesota. This was my sixth summer reprising my college job as a camp counselor.  The opportunity to be at camp at the same time as my three children has allowed me a unique perspective:  I get to witness firsthand the benefits of sending my kids to camp.

I am proud to work at Skogfjorden, the Norwegian language and cultural immersion program that is one of the fourteen Concordia Language Villages.  Respekt is the guiding principle and all deltagere (campers) promise to have and take responsibility for their actions as part of the Skogfjorden promise. I hope that the language camp immersion experience will inspire my kids’ interest in global affairs in the way that it inspired me to pursue international affairs. But I am willing to bet that most of the following benefits of sending your kids to sleepaway camp apply to pretty much any high quality program.

Kids do things at camp that they may never attempt at home.  Being outside of their normal social circle allows kids to try new things. Sometimes this is as simple as a picky eater who samples food at camp that he would flat out refuse at home.  My daughter, for example, barely nibbles the kid-friendly items in her lunchbox but she chows down on almost everything she is served at camp. But sometimes I have seen kids do incredible things at camp, things that they would never even dream of doing at home.   I remember a girl in my cabin one year whose parents pulled me aside when they dropped her off to brief me on  how incredibly shy she was. And she WAS painfully shy. But exactly one week later, I saw her stand up in front of the entire camp and sing a solo a cappella in the talent show.  It was so beautiful that I teared up.  Her parents saw a video of it on the camp blog and were. Totally. Blown. Away.

The corollary of this is that kids get to explore different aspects of their personalities at camp. At school, a kid may be labeled as this, that or the other, but they get a chance to start fresh at camp.  At camp, most kids just get to be valued for who they are, without having to worry about how they are viewed by their long-term peers.  In fact, two of my three kids kind of don’t want their friends to go to camp with them. It is THEIR place and don’t want to cross the streams of their lives.

Camp helps kids learn how to problem solve and make decisions for themselves. One of the things that I have learned from parenting is that kids actually have very little control over their lives.  Understandably, that is frustrating. In a lot of ways, camp helps children feel in control of what happens to them.  At our camp, kids get to choose between activities twice a day, choose what they want to do during free time, choose how much money they will take out of the bank and what they will buy with it.  I think that these experiences make kids feel competent and independent, which in the end will help them to be better problem-solvers in any new situation.

And sometimes it can lead to brilliance.  One summer, I was assigned to work the camp candy store (or kiosk, as we call it at Skogfjorden). In terms of kid priorities, candy is at the very top of the list.  Since the store was only open once a day, the lines were looooong.  My oldest son showed up one afternoon and placed a massive and complicated order of  soda, chocolate, gummies, etc.  He had done the math in his head and paid with exact change for each category of item.  I flipped out.  “What do you think you are doing? You can NOT have all of that candy!”  “Mom,” he responded calmly, “it’s not for me.”  Turns out he was running a business.  For a small but reasonable fee,  he would stand in line for you and buy your candy.  Understandably, he had quite a customer base.  Not only that, but what he bought for himself he would save until the next morning – when everyone else had eaten up all of their own candy and were desperate for more.  Then he would sell at with a steep markup.  I gave him $20 at the start of camp on Monday.  By Friday, he had doubled his money and started a matching fund for a kid in his cabin who didn’t have much money.  (This was the day I realized that I could probably stop worrying about my small nonprofit salary.  This kid is going to take care of me in my old age.)

Camp forces kids to take a break from their ever-present technology. Everyone talks about how one of the benefits of sleepaway camp is that today’s plugged-in kids are forced to unplug and commune with nature.  That’s true, of course, but it doesn’t capture the sheer beauty of some of the things I have seen at camp.  I helped a 7-year-old with her camp evaluation last week and the most important thing for her was that she “had seen more animals than she had in a really long time”.  This happened on a day that I saw two deer sprint through camp, as well as a woodchuck, a red-headed woodpecker, and a hummingbird, not to mention all the various insects, birds and bees.  (We have bears, too, but that just means you have to sing on your way back to the cabin.) I especially love how the girls in my cabin were constantly showing me the caterpillars, inchworms, moths, shells and frogs that they discovered.

Speaking of frogs, I have to share the beauty of the Night of the Frogs.  It had rained hard – torrentially hard – that day and then cleared off.  On my way back to my cabin, I encountered my son Simon and 3 of his buddies in the middle of the flooded path, catching frogs in the moonlight.  There were frogs EVERYWHERE – big and small.  It was like something out of the Ten Commandments.   The boys had already caught more than a dozen frogs of all sizes.  Somewhere they had found a cardboard box.  They showed me the inhabitants of their cardboard box with pride.  They had worked out a system for catching the frogs and their cooperation was yielding enormous success.  Sometimes, I just close my eyes and remember their young voices raised in laughter and exhilaration.

Kids benefit from relationships with trusted adults who are not their parents.  who are closer to their own age.  At camp, kids have to create new relationships – on their own, without parental influence.  New friends among their peers are important and perhaps what they will remember most about camp.  But the relationships that they forge with trusted adults who are NOT their parents is hugely important.   While counselors are not parents, they are more than teachers.  They are positive role models who have time and energy to listen, talk, and laugh with our kids. They reinforce the messages and values that we parents are trying to instill, but – unlike us parents – they are inherently cool.  Sometimes kids listen better to these non-parental authority figures who are closer to their age. Parenting is a lot of responsibility and I, for one, feel better knowing that my husband and I am not alone in raising these kids.

Camp helps kids figure out who they are, helps them to grow up.  The truth is that putting a kid in the somewhat uncomfortable situation of living with a lot of other people in a small space helps them learn not only about cooperation and teamwork, but how to respect others and negotiate.  This helps kids build confidence, courage, independence, resilience and flexibility.

I sent my two sons off to camp today. They have reached the point in their teenage lives when they don’t especially need – or want – their mom around when they are at camp.  But that’s ok with me. I know that they are in one of the most safe and supportive environments that they will ever be in right now.  And that they will come home to me the better for it.

On The Way, in Oxford

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I was in Oxford, England for a conference last June.  My visit just happened to coincide with the summer College Balls.  I took this photo of students ready for the ball on my way to a meeting.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “On the Way.”

My Daughter Drew Me This Picture

My 10-year-old daughter drew me this picture and slipped it into my briefcase as a surprise.

Sometimes it is children who have the  strongest sense of justice. How do we lose that as adults?

 I’m going to hang this picture in my office where I can see it every day –

a reminder to never give up!

A Mother’s Love is a Force of Nature

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Mother and daughter in Nepal

There are more than 2 billion mothers in the world today by some estimates. In my travels, I have seen the special role that mothers play in making the world a better place for all children.

A mother’s love is a force of nature, whether making sacrifices to ensure that her daughter is able to get an education or fighting for justice for their children. The mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Ayacucho, Peru lost their sons during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out who killed their sons and where their remains are.  

Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru
Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru

With their love, mothers are changing the world – one kid at a time.

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Me with my daughter in Norway.

Happy Mother’s Day – and thank you – to each of you mothers!

“All our SPCS family r safe”

SPCS students enjoying recess.  March 2015. (Credit:  Jennifer Prestholdt)
Students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School enjoying recess in March, 2015. (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Originally published on The Advocates’ Post.

“All our SPCS family r safe …”

This was the message I received from Anoop Poudel, headmaster at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS), on Monday night. We had been desperately trying to reach Anoop and others connected with SPCS since the 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, April 25.  Our concern grew as the death toll mounted and the strong aftershocks continued in the Kathmandu Valley. What a relief to learn that the teachers and 340 students at the school, as well as their families, are safe!

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School in the rural Kathmandu Valley, March 2015. (Credit: David Kistle)

In my role as The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, I coordinate The Advocates’ Nepal School Project. I was in Nepal just a few weeks ago with a team of volunteers to conduct our annual monitoring visit. The Advocates has been partnering with the Sankhu-Palubari community since 1999 to provide education as an alternative to child labor for low-income children in the area who would otherwise be working in brick yards or in the fields.

The Sankhu-Palubari Community School provides free, high quality education to children in grades pre-K through 10. Many of the students walk a long way to get to school – some as long as two hours each way.

The students’ standardized test scores are among the highest in Nepal, a highly competitive honor. And the school was awarded Nepal’s prestigious National Education Service Felicitation Award in 2014. Graduates are now studying at universities, preparing to become doctors, social workers, teachers, and agronomists; many plan to return to their village to improve the community’s quality of life. Their contributions will be even more important now, in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake.

Some students walk - up to 2 hours each way - to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education.  (Credit: Laura Sandall)
Some students walk – up to 2 hours each way – to Sankhu-Palubari Community School to access their right to education. (Credit: Laura Sandall)

The school is especially important for girls, who make up 52 percent of the student body. When SPCS began, girls often left school at an early age to marry or work. Now, they are staying and graduating because families have experienced the benefits of education. (You can read the inspiring story of SPCS’ first female graduate in Kanchi’s Story.)

First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
First grade student at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

The new school year had just started at SPCS, but school was not in session when the earthquake hit. Students in Nepal attend school six days a week; Saturday is the only day when there is no school. Many people believe that, had it been a school day, the numbers of dead and injured in Kathmandu and throughout the Kathmandu Valley could have been much higher.

Even with that one tiny bright spot in a terrible national tragedy, UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.8 million children in Nepal were severely affected by the earthquake. Most of our students, who come from extremely poor agricultural families, are included in that number. Anoop sent me several more texts after the first, describing heavy damage in the area of the eastern Kathmandu Valley where the school is located. Media sources and other Nepali contacts also confirm extensive destruction in the Sankhu area. While we don’t have a lot of information yet, Anoop reported that he believes that more than 90 percent of the students and teachers have lost their homes in the earthquake. They are living outside in temporary shelters because of continuing aftershocks.  Word about the school building’s fate is yet to be received.  The first relief teams are reportedly scheduled to arrive in the area on Wednesday.

Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)
Primary students at SPCS (Credit: Jennifer Prestholdt)

Our hearts go out to everyone in our SPCS family, as well as to the millions of other Nepalis affected by the “Black Saturday” earthquake.  At The Advocates, we believe that support for basic human needs such as water, food, and medical assistance in Nepal is the most urgent need at this point in time. We encourage people to give to reputable international humanitarian assistance organizations involved in the earthquake relief effort (you can find more information in the links below). In the long term, Nepal will need sustainable rebuilding and development programs.

Because education is essential to reducing poverty and inequality, the best way that The Advocates can support the rebuilding of Nepal is to is to ensure that the education of the students at our school continues with the least amount of interruption possible. We remain focused on that goal.

To find people in Nepal:

Use the Restoring Family Links tool on the ICRC website to search for a family member or friend in the area hit by the earthquake.

Use Google Person Finder if you are looking for, or have information about, someone in the affected area.

Use Facebook Safety Check to connect with you friends in the area and mark them as safe if you know that they’re ok.

Articles about how to contribute to the earthquake relief effort in Nepal: 

How to Help The Relief Effort in Nepal

Nepal Earthquake: How To Donate

How To Help Nepal: 7 Vetted Charities Doing Relief Work Following the Earthquake

Don’t Rush to Nepal. Read This First. 

Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)
Photo of pre-K students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (Credit: David Parker)

Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt interviewing a student.Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.  In March 2015, she made her sixth trip to the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal.