Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Last night I volunteered at and attended a fundraising event held by IRC San Diego. A film series of three documentaries, two of which were about refugees and one about the women’s movement in Liberia were held at small theater in La Jolla. ‘Pray the Devil back to Hell’ documents the women’s movement in Liberia strategic involvement during the all too recent civil war. Charles Taylor criminal, leader and warlord displayed a sick exertion of his power while the women of the country displayed their quite but power ability to bring peace. Sitting in fish markets singing songs calling for an end to the violence, withholding sex and blocking exits at peace talks were the tactics of these brave women.

Although ending on a positive note, the end of a brutal war and the election of the first African woman President (Ellen Johnson-Shirleaf), the film was hard to watch. I quickly put down my popcorn that I had bought with eager anticipation. When women are talking of how rape and amputation were regular scare tactics used by the rebel fighters during the war, one’s appetite suddenly disappears. I still find it astounding that human beings can do this to one another. I understand the ability and effectiveness of brainwashing techniques, propaganda and heavy drug use, but their leaders have no such ‘excuse’.

Child soldiers, young boys, were herded up like cattle and treated little better. Fed on a bizarre and caustic mixture of gun powder mixed with highly addictive drugs and food from whatever they could scavenge and steal from the local villages they terrorized, a whole generation of boys were killed or faced with the harsh reality of reconciliation with a nation that feared them. Going from such an extreme way of living to disarmament and detox has to be an extreme challenge to say the least.

Read the book Child Solder by Ismeal Beah. A first hand account of what its was like to be a normal boy growing up in a war torn country who find himself fighting and later recovering.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Well I had originally intended to sit down to write merrily about my Monday morning this week. A youth group from Montecito, CA came down to SD to learn about and discuss Refugees and immigration in general within the context of Mercy, Justice and Compassion. I was going to go in detail about how I prepared for the talk, the verses I used, or discussion and how much fun I had.

Instead I write about a tragic event that has taken place today. When I first saw about it on BBC.com I wondered where such a horrible event was taking place. Then my heart hurt as I read NY. Today in Binghamton, NY a gunman walked into a non-profit agency that resettles refugees and offers immigration services and took 40 people hostage. This was the least upsetting of the events that later followed. The agency was having a citizenship class for those preparing to become citizens and take a test to prove their worth and want to become an American Citizen. The gunman walked into this class of innocents and opened fire. After killing 13 people the man then turned his weapon on himself.

This is upsetting for many reasons and on many levels. Personal levels...I work with refugees and immigrants, they are our clients and my colleagues. I also teach a citizenship class for those who want to and are in the process of becoming citizens. I have spent a night a week dedicating my time and little ability to spend a few hours teaching a small group of eager individuals about American history, US civics, government and general basic ESL. To think that a group of individuals not unlike my students were attacked today is heartbreaking and incredibly scary.

I wish I could adequately describe and convey what my students are like. They are refugees (mostly) for one. That means the world recognized and labeled them as persecuted and unable to return to their homes. The world recognized that and agreed these people were in danger. It takes a lot for the world to agree on anything so this is a big thing. They then traveled thousands of miles to go to a country they did not know, where they did not speak the language, to live simply and often in poverty, to start from the bottom and so that they would not be in danger any longer. They came with hope and little else. They stayed, learning and contributing. After getting a Green Card, after paying hundreds of dollars they decided to become citizens.

Then a guy in NY decides to shoot them. Why would anyone do that.....?! And think this is the 'safe' place to be.

My thoughts and prayers are with those in Binghamton, NY.