Monday, September 28, 2009

Light Within (Ethiopia)- Day 1

Pictures by: Nasir Al-Amin
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

"It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (Our Deepest Fear)

Click here to see more photos from Day 1 on Facebook!

Leaving for Ethiopia: Cleansing the Lens of the Soul!

By: Nasir Al-Amin
*This blog entry was orignially posted on April 28, 2009. It is being reposted as the following blog entries will contain pictures and reflections from this journey.

Tonight, I have a redeye flight to Ethiopia. My journeys to Ethiopia always have a dual agenda/reality attached to them. Outwardly, my journeys are work related. Inwardly, they are transformative, therapy for soul, a stimulus to refocus. Thus, the outward and inward aims of this trip are the following:

1) Yousef: One of the orphans we work with has been in the hospital for a month. Previously he was diagnosed with HIV+ and I have been informed that his body has adjusted to his medication, and thus stopped working effectively. I hear he is in critical condition, so my main aim is to check on him.

2) Commercial Sex Workers (CSW): Last year we launched a project to provide skill training (sewing and tailoring) to 10 women engaged in CSW. I'm going to follow-up with them the about skills they have gained and their life post-intervention.

3) Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs): In partnership with HAPSCO, an NGO based in Ethiopia, ALIF provides monetary assistance for school fees, food, and housing to impoverished and/or HIV/AIDS infected children that have lost one or both parents.

4) Donated School Supplies: A Kuwaiti volunteer, Noura,
donated school supplies for the children we serve. Therefore, I will have the pleasure to see their smiles as I give them the supplies.

5) Listen, Observe and Reflect: My first trip to Ethiopia in 2002 fostered a paradigm shift, in that the way I viewed the world and my role in it changed significantly. Each subsequent trip has helped to cleanse the lens through which I perceive, understand and process life experiences and the realities of others. The poor and marginalized have given me something priceless: "the gift of perspective."

"Where we direct our attention, is where our life flows"

Source: Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

"Life is a force flowing through us. Where we direct our attention, is where our life flows. Every moment is an opportunity to direct our attention to ideas that inspire us. Every day brings the promise of a new beggening, and the opportunity to transform every life challenge into a gift."

The Power of Compassion

By: Dalai Lama
Source: The Middle Way (text)
"I respect the world’s political leaders, but sometimes I think they should have more compassion. If even one of these political leaders cultivates more compassion, then millions of innocent people get more peace. "

The following are direct quotes from the text:

I often tell audiences that the twentieth century was a century of violence, and through that experience we now know that violence cannot solve problems. The only way to solve them is with peaceful resolution. Therefore, the twenty-first century should be the century of dialogue. For that, we need determination, patience, and a broader perspective. Again, this is where compassion has an important role. First, as I mentioned, it brings us self-confidence. Compassion brings us deep recognition of others’ rights. Compassion also gives us a calm mind, and with a calm mind, we can see reality more clearly. When our mind is dominated by afflictive emotions, we can’t see reality, and we make poor decisions. Compassion gives us a more holistic view.

I respect the world’s political leaders, but sometimes I think they should have more compassion. If even one of these political leaders cultivates more compassion, then millions of innocent people get more peace. Many years ago, at an official function in India, I met a politician from the Indian state of East Bengal. The meeting included a discussion of ethics and spirituality, and he said, “As a politician I don’t know much about those things.” He was probably just being humble, but I gently chided him. Politicians need more ethics, more spirituality, I said. If a religious practitioner in a remote area does something harmful, it probably doesn’t have much global effect. But when leaders and politicians are not mindful and compassionate, it is very dangerous.

I believe compassion is not a religious matter. Some people think compassion and forgiveness are the domains of religion, and if people have a negative view of religion they may become negative about these things as well. That’s a mistake. Whether we accept a religion or not is up to the individual, but as long as humanity inhabits this world, these deeper values are crucial and must not be neglected. Everybody is making every effort for material prosperity. That’s fine, but if in the meantime we neglect our inner world or inner values, we will not be happy. We must combine material development with the development of internal, human values. We need to develop respect, love, and a sense of compassion in order to have happier lives, happier families, happier communities, and finally a happier world. We need these inner qualities.

Click here to read the full selection!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Distance Doesn't Matter Only the First Step...


"We must not.....ignore the small daily differences we can make which, overtime, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth. The distance doesn't matter only the first step is difficult."

Click here to read this and other reflections.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Awakening: Ambiguity Fosters Clarity

By: Nasir Al-Amin
(This was my first post after returning from a 6 month stay in Ethiopia, it was written on February 18, 2006.)

Ethiopia was a moment of awakening. It brought the numbers to life; the figures (4.6 million orphans, and 200,000 children living on the streets of Addis) became tangible. The words (domestic workers, poverty, commercial sex workers, child labourers, orphans, under-five mortality rate, and beggars) were now faces, individuals that I built relationships with, people I ate and laughed with, people I hugged and lent a shoulder to in moments of sorrow. In essence, my reality had changed. My perspective and/or worldview was altered by the realty of others. The children and their families became the center. My life, rather my life’s purpose was no longer about me. And it was this shift that nurtured a dormant seed of discontent that subsequently, led to a year of isolation, self-reflection and reprioritization.

After I returned to the States, I would often isolate myself (at first unknowingly) from friends (especially my Ethiopian friends) and environments (Ethiopian restaurants and cafés) that at best reminded me of Ethiopia and at worst subjected me to that dreaded question: “How was Ethiopia?” As Ethiopia was no longer this tranquil place, an escape from America’s dominant culture and norms, a bastion of generosity and love, my own little gem, this utopia that the West had not conquered or found. Ethiopia (both figuratively and literally) in all it splendor had changed and I could no longer articulate this new reality. My life experiences, Columbia diction and education could not prepare me for the emotional component of my endeavor. The veil had been removed, and what I saw left me speechless.

What words can speak to the reality of desperate girls walking the streets at night selling their bodies, or a teenage mother and her baby after a day of begging trying to sleep and stay warm on the sidewalk wrapped in tattered and soiled blankets—shockingly, often one sees groups of street children huddled together employing body heat as their sole means of staying warm. How does one express that somber feeling when children run to your vehicle at traffic lights placing their hands and faces on the car window with a dismal gaze begging for food or coins?

Unfortunately, for some Ethiopians living abroad and in Ethiopia, this reality has become normalized and thus they have become desensitized to the destitute and their plight. So much so that when they speak of Ethiopia and/or their trip back to Ethiopia the latter (destitute families and children) are not apart of the discussion—for instance, some will rave over the industrial improvements of Addis (which is laudable), yet fail to recognize that the conditions that give rise to street children, prostitution, child labour and exploitation have failed to improve. How do I reconcile these two worlds? How do I express to people that their $5-$10 dollar a week Starbucks addiction could change the life of a child begging on the streets of Addis, as this same amount of money could take a child from the streets into the classroom, and secure food, a school uniform and supplies. How do I convey to people that the cost of dinning out two nights a week if collected at the end of one month, could prevent an uneducated and desperate girl from resorting to prostitution for a year.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ethical Travel: Child Exploitation Tourism Video

Source: Action to End Exploitation
Beyond Borders Newsletter, Issue no. 10, Spring 2007

The following are direct quotes from the aformentioned site:

Tips for travellers
*Be vigilant when you travel to high risk countries. Avoid bars and hotels and other places where you suspect child sexual exploitation might be happening.

*Don't visit red light districts. This encourages the proliferation of child sexual exploitation. Even the most innocent of purchases provides indirect financial support for this crime.

*If you suspect child sex tourism when you are abroad, report it to the local police inform the nearest Canadian embassy, or access to report it. Tell your tour guide and hoteliers. Encourage them to inform tourists that sex tourism is a crime.

*When you return home, let your travel agent and tour operator know of your observations and encourage them to take action.

*Visit to find out the tour operators and travel agencies that have committed to fight against child sex tourism by signing on to an international code of conduct for the tourism industry. if you can use their services, then do.

Click here to read more and watch the video.

"My children cry out for food day and night"

Source: IRINnews

The following are direct quotes from the article:
YEMEN: Huda Omar, "My children cry out for food day and night"

Huda Omar, 30, fled war-torn Somalia by boat in 2006 to Oman, where she spent more than two and a half years before paying traffickers to smuggle her to Yemen.But in Yemen she is eligible for protection only, and not support, as she has not been allowed to register as a refugee with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Living in the street with her two young daughters, just metres away from UNHCR’s office in Sanaa, Huda told IRIN her story.

“No one helps us… I and my two children have no income. I am forced to beg for money from passers-by to feed my children and myself. “I have been living in this place for three months without any way to clean, or get drinking water. Nobody cares about my suffering.

“My children cry out for food day and night and I barely sleep at night because of my illness and hunger. My condition is getting worse with time because I don’t have good food and medicine.“My dream in life is to have a shelter for me and my children, and enough food and clean water. But I don’t know if it is possible for me to achieve this dream before I die.”

Click here to read the full article.

Call Firestone TODAY!: World Day Against Child Labor!

The following are direct quotes from the article/video:

Take action today to stop child labor on the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia by calling Bridgestone Americas CEO Mark Emkes at 615-937-1000 and tell him to switch from a quota pay system to a living daily wage for workers on his rubber plantation in Liberia.

For 82 years, Firestone has operated a rubber plantation in Liberia where there is widespread child labor, abuse of workers’ rights and environmental destruction. Workers have an extremely high production quota they must meet every day or their low wages are halved — which means they have to bring their children to work to meet their quota. After a long struggle, the workers on the plantation finally have democratic and independent union. The union is negotiating their new collective bargaining agreement with company management right NOW. The biggest demands for the workers is to switch from a task-based pay system to a living daily wage. Firestone can honor World Day Against Child Labor today by agreeing to end the quota system, but they need pressure from you!

So CALL Bridgestone Americas CEO Mark Emkes at 615-937-1000! Ask for Mark Emkes and say, “On World Day Against Child Labor, I want you to take action to end child labor on your rubber plantation in Liberia by switching from a quota system to a daily wage with a living salary.” Then, call Dan Adomitis at the Firestone Natural Rubber Company at 317-575-7281 or 317-575-7000 and tell him the same thing.

Click here to read the full article.